What is the difference between those accused of being whiny, coddled, politically correct snowflakes and those who are considered brave champions of free speech?
If you speak up loudly for the social change, or complain about harms to the vulnerable, then you’re called a politically correct snowflake. If you speak up loudly for the status quo, or complain about harms to the powerful, then you’re called a champion of free speech.
We’ve seen this time and time again. Many kinds of speech given dismissive labels (such as “politically correct” or “grandstanding” or “censorship”) don’t differ structurally from many kinds of speech given complimentary labels (such as “politically incorrect” or “standing up for our values” or “calls for civility”); rather, they tend to differ in either who issued them, or whose interests they serve.
The latest iteration of this story is Jordan Peterson, a University of Toronto psychology professor who markets himself as a fearlessly politically incorrect, tell-it-like-it-is, defender of free speech, threatening this past summer to sue Kate Manne, an assistant professor of philosophy at Cornell University, because she said things about him and his work that he didn’t like.
Manne, whose book Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny made its timely appearance last year, criticized Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life in a review of the book for the Times Literary Supplement and was interviewed about Peterson’s ideas at Vox.
The Cut reports:
In letters to Manne, Cornell, and Vox, Peterson’s lawyer, Howard Levitt, demanded that all three parties “immediately retract all of Professor Manne’s defamatory statements, have them immediately removed from the internet, and issue an apology in the same forum to Mr. Peterson. Otherwise, our client will take all steps necessary to protect his professional reputation, including but not limited to initiating legal proceedings against all of you for damages.”…
Among the statements Levitt objected to: Manne’s contention that Peterson’s book included “some really eyebrow-raising, authoritarian-sounding, and even cruel things,” as well as her observation that “it doesn’t seem accidental that [Peterson’s] skepticism about objective facts arises when it’s conveniently anti-feminist.” The lawyer and his client were equally unhappy with this line: “I also suspect that for many of Peterson’s readers, the sexism on display above is one tool among many to make forceful, domineering moves that are typical of misogyny.”
As journalist Irin Carmon notes:
Ironies abound, but one is that Manne—a young, untenured scholar who argues that misogyny isn’t about hatred as much as it is about enforcing hierarchies—is being threatened with legal action by an older man who ranks much higher than she does in the professional and cultural pecking order.
According to The Cut, Peterson’s lawyer, Levitt, said that it was a mistake to think the legal threat was an attempt to shut down Manne’s speech, and warned that to do so would “encourage the radical left practitioners of identity politics to avoid such debate by castigating our client with libelous false aspersions to avoid engaging in the constitutionally protected (and desired) clash of ideas.” Wait. Who’s avoiding the clash of ideas? Certainly not Manne. Have you seen her Twitter?
Below is the letter from Peterson’s lawyer (via The Cut):
You can read more about the story here.