The Difference Between Snowflakes and Champions of Free Speech
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.
UPDATE (10/1/18):Another instance of Peterson’s attempt to silence critics by threatening a lawsuit .
“because she said things about him and his work that he didn’t like”
this is misleading, and you know that.Report
In what way is it misleading?Report
the basis for the lawsuit isn’t preference, it’s what peterson and/or the person writing the legal complaint thinks are libelous (e.g.) false statements about peterson. you may think he’s wrong to think they’re false, or that his lawyers are wrong or whatever, but this clearly isn’t about mere preference (like/dislike) and characterizing the objection that way is being misleading.Report
A statement’s being false isn’t sufficient to make it libelous, so the e.g. is out of place here. The law of libel requires commentary on public figures to be not only false but to be made with actual malice or reckless disregard for truth. It’s not like Manne isn’t making arguments for her views based on Peterson’s work. That is why the libel claim, at least made under US law, is laughable, and Justin’s charge that Peterson is moving against her because she said things he didn’t like is very plausible.Report
ok, but bad libel suits are not indicatve that a person is suing based on personal preference, and merely bringing a libel suit forward is not at odds with positions pertaining to academic freedom at universities or in general. it could be that jordan peterson legitimately thinks he is being libeled by her.
you seem to be saying “well, he’s really wrong, and because of that, this has to be abou his ego.” yes, it’s plausible. but it’s one plausible take among many. it’s certainly not so probable that the wording in this article isn’t misleading, such that running with it wasn’t intellectually irresponsible.
you know better, and I know justin does too.Report
So what you’re saying is that I can fairly sue Peterson for writing “Maps of Meaning”, not because I don’t like it, but because it contains so many errors?Report
ok, reminder: the claim under dispute is that peterson did this “because he didn’t like the claims.” this is clearly false.
if you sued peterson over claims he made about you, and you thought those claims were erroneous, you clearly would not just “dislike” “not like” those claims. that’s a dishonest simplification, and irresponsible to advance.Report
In the US, Peterson would be a “public figure” and under that standard (“actual malice” – i.e., it would require that Manne knew the claims were false and said them anyway, which seems very unlikely) any of these would be libelous. Under a “normal” standard, which is what I _think_ would apply in Canada (*), it at least seems arguably that statement (a) (that Peterson engaged in academic misconduct) and even more so (f) (That Peterson has plausibly engaged in serious professional misconduct) could be seen as libelous. The other claims don’t seem close to me, as they are either plausibly read as statements of opinion (what Peterson says “sounds authoritarian” or is “cruel”, or that some statement is misogynistic) or really are cases of Peterson just not likely what was said (about his ego, for example.) But, (a) and (f) do seem at least plausibly libelous under a standard that doesn’t use a “public figure” exception.
(*) I’m a lawyer, among other things, and have taught free speech law (mostly to non-law students), studied it in law school, and worked on a few related legal cases, but it’s not my specialty. I am a “tourist” as to Canadian free speech law, but this is my understanding of how it works here. I’d be happy for correction from people with specific knowledge that is better.Report
An important typo! – I said that under the US standard “any of these [claims] would be libelous.” What I meant was that the opposite! – that _none_ of these claims would be libelous under the US standard. That’s an important difference! (I think I was mislead by the “very unlikely” parenthetical – a good reason to strive for a simple sentence structure.)Report
in a different sense: , if you make a complaint that I falsely advertised some product, and you sue me for this, the complaint clearly goes beyond “not liking” the advertisement. phrasing it as an issue of preference makes the objection look pettier, more petulant and more frivolous than it is.Report
That’s a terrible analogy. Manne’s claims are not falsely advertising his work. She is not saying something obviously false about him. According to her definition of misogyny, his ideas are misogynistic. That’s very reasonable.Report
I doubt “according to my definition” defenses are good defenses when it comes to libel accusations in general. Perhaps the fact that Manne wrote a literal book defending her definition (and stated it immediately after making the charge) makes it an unusual case. But, also, it seems like one could respond that her assertions would all too easily be taken in the ordinary way (especially once the interview gets chopped and tweeted and shared and commented on in the broader digital space), and it is the ordinary reading that is damaging.
(When I’m grumpy, I sometimes think the whole point of “ameliorative analysis” such as that done by Manne and others is to be able to make charges, using a highly stipulative definition that renders them strictly true, that will nevertheless retain some of the oomph of the ordinary meaning.)Report
Reconceptualizing commonly-held ideas is a cornerstone of philosophy. Philosophy necessarily presents new and thought-provoking definitions based on new and thoughtful analysis. If Peterson can’t handle this then he shouldn’t tread in the waters of philosophy.Report
“manne’s claims are not falsely advertising his work”
false advertisement and libel are both kinds of lawsuits that pertain to false information. the unifying principle of the analogy is clearly “laws pertaining to false information exist.” that you think the information isn’t false is irrelevant, and that you chose to reply to this with “she’s not advertising” is missing the principle here.Report
If you can’t ascertain whether the claims are false or not, how exactly are you expecting the lawyers to figure it out? Do they know something we don’t – were they skipping their law classes to study the correspondence theory? Or are we implicitly conceding that the most well-funded party with the best lawyers will prevail via rhetoric?Report
whether lawyers find the claims legitimate or not is irrelevant to the claim that peterson is making this suit based on preference. lawyers could find his claims ridiculous, but that would not mean they were preference-based. people make false or ridiculous claims based on things other than preference all the time.
a: “you should not eat ice cream because it is hazardous to your health because aliens pooped in it.”
b: “wow, way to not like ice cream.”
a’s claim is false, ridiculous, and yet clearly not based on preference.Report
I’m not convinced, Alfred. If someone said I shouldn’t eat ice cream because aliens pooped in it, in most contexts, I’d think their normative claim was based on preference. I’d probably assume the aliens pooping bit was a funny way of presenting a post-hoc reason for that preference (post-hoc reasoning that people do all the time for preference based beliefs and claims).
For example, “Ew, I’d never eat mint chocolate chip ice cream! It’s basically alien poop.”Report
That is exactly what is happening. Does not seem misleading.Report
no, libel is not merely claims you dislike there is nothing here that suggests the basis of the complaint is mee preference.Report
Libel suits can be filed because of mere preference. Weinberg seems to be saying Peterson knows what libel is, threatens a libel suit regardless, so must be threatening libel for mere preference. That’s not misleading, is it?Report
Do you not understand that people can file a libel suit if they like, regardless of whether or not it is a valid case of libel? Wouldn’t it be the case that the libel suits that fail turned out in fact not to be valid libel suits?Report
Consider “According to my definition of ‘murder,’ [named academic] is a murderer.” That utterance may get one published. It also may get one sued.
The modern tenure-track minces words (literally). Thank goodness, most courts don’t.
Calling someone a misogynist is defamatory per se, or ought to be. A claim not for the faint of heart: its speaker better be darn sure it’s true.Report
Just a quick note: Manne didn’t actually call Peterson a misogynist, though she did criticize his ideas as misogynistic. https://twitter.com/kate_manne/status/1042898963706339329Report
Justin — if Kate Manne starts a go fund me (or similar) to cover her legal expenses, would you please let your readers know? I certainly would love to donate to help defend her.Report
If I hear anything about this, I’ll let you know.Report
Hi Justin. You write:
That’s an interesting way of putting the issue. It certainly exhibits the political angle you’re coming from. In the interest of dialogue, I want to push back against your characterization that there is a structural parity between concerns about, say, the way Heather Heyting and Brett Weistein were treated at Evergreen, or the altercation that occurred at the ‘free speech’ wall there, and the kind of thing that goes on when someone is brought up on legal charges of libel. In the first place, there is a well-defined legal system that prosecutes charges of libel through transparent mechanisms desiged to give the accused the benefit of the doubt in criminal proceedings, and to give the accused the opportunity to address one’s accusers and bring to bear countervailing evidence in civil cases. They are not perfect, but one virtue of these institutional mechanisms is that they help see to it that due process is observed. Another is that by filtering outrage through channels of established adjudication they mitigate the influence of mob mentality.
On the other hand, the mechanisms that have led to episides like Evergreen are fostered by an avowedly political contingent of the University operating with the aim of keeping political opponents from freely discussing certain ideas in shared public and institutional spaces. Furthermore, these extra-legal mechanisms of suppression are facilitated and given institutional support from administrators who, like President Bridges at Evergreen, have bought in to the political ideology that fosters this suppression of debate.
There’s more to be said, but that should be enough to get the ball rolling. And notice nothing I’ve said here speaks either for or against Peterson and his case against Manne, et al. In fact, from what I can tell it may not be out of place to praise Manne as a ‘brave champion’ for standing up for what she believes. My point is just that, whatever you think about ‘snowflakes and champions of free speech’, there are important structural disanalogies between the pursuit of a libel suit and the effort to keep academics and students at university from hosting or taking part in politically-charged discussion.Report
Of course, it’ll be easy to find disanalogies if you hand pick the cases on your side. Peterson came to prominence when he claimed that his free speech rights were being disrespected by the threat of legal proceeding against him under the Ontario Human Rights Code. His whole schtick was exactly “these snowflakes cannot handle disagreement about gender identity so they’ll not let me say things I want to say”. There is indeed a disanalogy as being misgendered in a classroom is significantly worse than being accused of being misogynist in an interview, so I grant your point to some extent.Report
Also, Peterson’s objection to the proposed legal change was predicated on the fact that it would have outlawed and made punishable a long-standing linguistic pracice about which there is no remote consensus in view, and yet one side is trying to force the change anyway. So my distinction looks to pretty-well characterise the difference here, too. And again, I want to explicitly flag that I can say all this without any commitment to what justice, good faith, etc. require about the specifics of Peterson’s position.Report
That is not what Bill C-16 proposed.
This. It is simply not true that “the proposed legal change was predicated on the fact that it would have outlawed and made punishable a long-standing linguistic practice”. BTW the change is now law, it was passed with criticism mostly only from fringe figures on the far right.
To say it “outlaws” or “makes punishable” a linguistic practice is correct only in the sense that certain racial slurs, used in certain contexts, are also punishable as hate speech. But however long-standing, standards for linguistic practices change, and rightly so.
As for the idea that “there is no remote consensus in view” about this issue, I don’t know what this means. Does consensus mean everyone has to agree? In that case, we *never* have that so it’s irrelevant. Does it mean widespread agreement? If so, I’d wager that most Canadians, even though many of them don’t understand it or are confused by it, at least understand that people’s personal choices, in matters like gender identity and expression that don’t really affect anyone else, ought to be respected, and that includes not purposefully mis-gendering them. Sure, some people still use racial slurs, and some people will insist on purposefully mis-gendering people, because they are disrespectful. But it’s not as if all of these people are being rounded up and jailed. It all depends on the context of discrimination and harm.
Honestly I’m baffled that this should be controversial. So someone wants to be “they” instead of “he” or “she”. Big deal, it hurts no one to comply, but it *does* hurt people to not comply! And, for the deontologists out there, it also disrespects them.Report
It is simply not true that “the proposed legal change was predicated on the fact that it would have outlawed and made punishable a long-standing linguistic practice”.
I’m not sure this was clear at the time. After all, CUPE sent this lawyer out to make videos in which it was asserted that this is *exactly* what the law was supposed to do.
So I think it was pretty reasonable at the time to think that this would be the effect of the law. And not just for “fringe right wing people,” unless you think the trans lawyer for CUPE is “fringe right wing.”Report
I don’t agree with you that refusing to call someone “Ze” hurts them. Or at least, I don’t agree that it hurts them in the sense that should trigger the harm principle that undergirds liberal societies. I just published something on this in the past week.
Dan: Peterson got his 15 minutes of fame for whining about C-16 in 2016. But he’d already been living under a similar law in Ontario, which amended its human rights code to include gender identity and expression as protected categories in 2012 (actually, the OHRC goes a bit further than C-16). Nobody was ever dragged away and jailed for using the wrong pronouns, either before or after C-16. (To be clear, Peterson opposed Ontario’s amendment to the HRC on the same grounds, but didn’t get an army of YouTube failsons out of it.)
And it’s easy to see why: the code is clearly meant to protect people in those categories from things like harassment, workplace discrimination, and hate crimes. C-16 did the exact same thing, adding them as protected categories to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the criminal code. What that means is that e.g. if you commit a hate crime, your use of particular patterns of speech during the commission of that crime can be considered an aggravating factor. It doesn’t make wrong or deliberately contrarian pronoun use into a hate crime. It doesn’t take too much brainpower to look at the other protected categories, which include colour, and see that nobody’s being jailed for simply being racist (only for committing racially-motivated crimes). Because that’s not what’s being criminalized.
The summary of C-16 makes all that abundantly clear: “The bill is intended to protect individuals from discrimination within the sphere of federal jurisdiction and from being the targets of hate propaganda, as a consequence of their gender identity or their gender expression. The bill adds “gender identity or expression” to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act and the list of characteristics of identifiable groups protected from hate propaganda in the Criminal Code. It also adds that evidence that an offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on a person’s gender identity or expression constitutes an aggravating circumstance for a court to consider when imposing a criminal sentence.”
What’s more, Peterson had plenty of opportunities to inform himself at the time. He was, in fact, told any number of times by people who know better (both publicly and privately), but he continued to misrepresent the content of C-16. Hell, even the Canadian Bar Association was in favour of C-16, and explained to him that he was wrong. During the debates over C-16, lawyers and scholars repeatedly pointed out that the law doesn’t require people to address students by their preferred pronouns. He just refused to listen. And persists in doing so to this day.
Also, your CUPE video is from last year (and for BC, not ON; the BCHRC is different from the OHRC. In this case, it’s interacting with extant laws against workplace bullying and harassment). So: not quite contemporaneous (though yes, still a little misleading). The letters Peterson actually got from the university simply told him that misgendering students could (note the modal) be ruled to be discrimination under the OHRC (again: that’s different from C-16). They went on to affirm their commitment to his academic freedom and freedom of speech.Report
Of course patterns of language change. I might even agree that this is a pattern that *should* change. But my point is that changes concerning the conditions under which one is entitled recognition as a woman/female or man/male are being advanced without anything like a consensus, even among the experts, that these changes ought to be enacted. Look what’s come to light about the way Kathleen Stock has been treated, for instance. Those who sound concerns about what is happening are excoriated for CrimeThink. That’s not an indication of a healthy method of instituting a linguistic change. And again, I can say all that without staking a claim on the first-order ethical question!
Of course not–notice ‘remote’. There’s nothing even approaching consensus on this stuff.Report
Thanks, this is helpful. Though it looks like there’s disagreement about just what was being proposed, and what it’s consequences would be, as Daniel Kaufman notes below.Report
Preston, your comment about Canadian law is false.
Despite Peterson confusing the Senate during his testimony, the law he was protesting was passed.
It turns out that nobody has been thrown in a gulag yet.
Scare mongering – that’s what made Jordan Peterson famous.Report
Yeah, this doesn’t seem a very helpful way of putting things. But I can understand that this is the way you’re coming at it.Report
Well the original claim was made as a general statement, so some characterisation of the target problem has to be made. If people want to make this about Peterson then that should be the target. Once we start trading in generalizations concerning the kind of behavior in cases like the Evergreen fiasco, or, say, the way Rebecca Tuvel and her work were treated, then there are lots of things to distinguish the general phenomenon from a legal suit.Report
Peterson is trying to shut down legitimate debate about his views. That’s a bad thing (though I don’t much like the term ‘snowflake’, I guess some people would say he’s being a snowflake).
It’s also a bad thing when people advocating social change do it.
It is an iteration of a story, but I don’t think it’s the story you gesture at in your second and third paragraphs. It’s a more common (less interesting) story about the temptation to except yourself from rules that you apply to others.Report
The essay goes from “champions of free speech” to a discussion devoted entirely to the latest antics of Jordan Peterson, so it’s unclear to me what Justin thinks he is demonstrating about those of us who are concerned about some of the things happening on our university campuses. Peterson could be a complete ass and that wouldn’t suggest anything in particular about our concerns.
Personally, I must admit to having little use for Peterson, who strikes me as a ponderous mediocrity. I also don’t know that the issue with regard to what’s happening on college campuses is free speech, per se. I think of it more as a problem regarding the possibility of critical engagement with a number of topics in the humanities and social sciences, with regard to which there is a prevailing orthodoxy among the professoriate in the relevant disciplines and in which there is a high degree of self-selection for those who embrace that orthodoxy among the students.
I would like people like Kathleen Stock to be able to advance gender-critical arguments and express concerns about things like the UK Gender Recognition Act, without having a group of activists collaborate in trying to deprive her of her livelihood by pressuring her institution to fire her. (See Lucy Bannerman, “Trans Goldsmiths lecturer Natacha Kennedy behind smear campaign against academics,” The Times, September 8, 2018.) It’s really as simple as that. This strikes me as crucial, not just because of the nature of the university and the purpose of academic inquiry, but because of the requirements of a liberal, civil society, and what it has to do with snowflakes or Jordan Peterson escapes me. I mean, I guess we can focus on these sorts of spectacular, highly visible examples if we want, but I don’t know why anyone would want to. At least, not if he or she is interested in having a serious discussion with those on the other side of the issue.Report
Justin’s comments might come off as a tu quoque defense of internet mobs. Peterson threatens to sue Manne for libel, thus everyone who complains about free speech on college campuses is really just concerned with protecting their own ideas and is morally equivalent to those who try to get people fired for speech they find offensive. However, charity dictates that we not attribute this obviously bad argument to Justin and take him to be merely pointing out that Peterson in particular is a snowflake, with no implications for the Tuvel or Stock cases.Report
Then why have “champions of free speech” in the title, if the focus is entirely on Peterson’s absurd lawsuit? And why the lead up paragraphs, before “the latest iteration of this story”?
It’s not been my impression that Justin is very interested in having a serious discussion with those concerned with these sorts of issues on campus. He just links periodically to articles representing the “nothing to see here” side of the question, with occasional commentary of the sort given in the current post.Report
Charity dictates that we ignore the things that might make it seem as if he’s generalizing from a single anecdotal case. Or anything that might suggest that Justin is ignoring that fact that anyone can *try* to frivolously sue someone to shut them up, and that this has little bearing upon freedom of speech issues because there are clear legal definitions regarding what counts as libel and courts tend to decide these things objectively and in a disinterested manner. We must also ignore anything that might suggest that Justin is unaware of the fact that there are obvious legal recourses available to the victims of frivolous lawsuits (countersuits) whereas there usually is no such recourse for victims of internet mobs try to have their careers or their work destroyed. For that matter, we should ignore anything Justin says that might imply that he thinks that there should be equivalent sanctions for deliberately lying about someone to damage their reputation and expressing general ideas that are offensive or potentially dangerous.Report
The charitable interpretation appears to be that Justin never made this post at all, and it was made by a spambot.Report
Given the general terms in which Justin framed the original post, there’s no room to say he was really only talking about Peterson in particular. He begins by making oblique references to the “many kinds of speech” that have been (he asserts) treated inconsistently “time and time again”. He then explicitly refers to Peterson as merely “the latest iteration of this story”. Justin says below that he thinks “we” are getting better at having this conversation, but he needs to be trying harder if he wants to be taken seriously as someone genuinely interested in talking about what motivates different parties. One gets the impression that the conditional is vacuously true because the antecedent is false.Report
To be honest, I thought Manne’s review was a little sloppy, and that the sloppiness was clearly motivated by her overall political project. But Peterson looks far worse here. There is clearly no outright libel in the piece and the issues Manne raises are important and worthy of discussion. Instead of crying “Libel!” he should have just directly discussed the fact that, for example, she quotes him in a dishonest and unscholarly fashion at the end of the Vox piece (curious readers can verify for themselves).Report
I’m going to leave this comment up but (a) ask you to substantiate your claim in the last sentence and (b) ask other commenters to in general refrain from this kind of “hit and run” comment. Thanks.Report
Hit and runs are reserved for Justin himself at this blog! (E.g. Justin’s undefended comment about Peterson’s motives.)Report
Finally we agree on something, Joshua.Report
Of course I was kidding. You let it happen all the time in the comments, even in this thread! Kaufman casually insults Peterson as a “ponderous mediocrity” and this is fine. There is an unacknowledged double-standard here.
Which is fine, I suppose. It’s your blog!Report
I’d be happy to back up my characterization of Peterson, but I didn’t think it particularly relevant in this discussion thread.Report
Does it matter that the purported insult was framed as being about Kaufman’s psychology, “strikes me as ponderous mediocrity”, and he doesn’t actually predicate ponderous mediocrity of Peterson himself? Is it only really an insult if we think Kaufman is a good barometer of these things? What if I’m inclined to think Kaufman is a good barometer? And what if I only express myself using rhetorical questions? If I say that I think Peterson is a misogynist, is that libel?Report
Avalonian was willing too. But he got the warning, not you.Report
Sorry, I had typed it all out but worried that it was too long for a blog comment. Peterson, ruminating about what to tell a female patient about her conflicted memories of past sexual encounters:
“What was the objective truth? There was no way of knowing the objective truth. And there never would be. There was no objective observer, and there never would be. There was no complete and accurate story. Such a thing did not and could not exist. There were, and are, only partial accounts and fragmentary viewpoints.”
Manne, in Vox: “Funnily and sadly enough, Peterson sounds like a stereotypical postmodernist here — one of his chief intellectual foes. And it doesn’t seem accidental that his skepticism about objective facts arises when it’s conveniently anti-feminist.”
Literally the next sentence in the passage from Peterson: “But some are still better than others.”
I don’t think this section of Peterson is an intellectual tour de force or anything. And again, he is wildly overreacting in this. But the omission is clearly motivated, designed to make him seem more like a postmodernist than he is. Imagine the reaction any of us would have if such an omission were made in a review of one of our books.Report
“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.”
Jordon Peterson aside–I don’t give much of a shit about him–do you think is a fair and accurate description of what’s going on in these debates? Do you see these kind of thing as elevating discourse, as providing a careful analysis of what’s happening? Do you think the people complaining about harms to vulnerable are never or are only infrequently motivated by maintaining power or status for themselves (e.g., as in the Tuvel Affair)?Report
It’s worth noting that liberals and conservatives tend to identify radically different groups as “the vulnerable” and “the powerful”. Trump won the presidency by promissing to fight the elites (like academics!) on behalf of the exploited. If you follow mainstream conservative media, you’ll see that it portrays conservatives as fighting for the vulnerable against the powerful.Report
In general, “what’s going on in these debates” is a mix of things. For any claim or action made by a large group of people, among that group you are likely to have people with genuine moral concerns for a person or idea they think need support, some people who just like to complain out of habit, some well-meaning folks who maybe don’t know a lot about the subject but want to support others whose judgment they trust, and people more directly motivated by egoistic concerns such as regaining friendships or raising their social status.
As for what “elevates discourse,” I’ve come to think that this is complicated. Here’s one type of discourse elevation: a new related and important issue comes to be discussed in a sophisticated way. How does that happen? I would imagine that social scientists who study social change empirically have a lot to say about this. I don’t know that literature, so what follows is just based on my observations.
The first thing is that the new issue has to be raised, and it has to get attention. How is that done? One way is just (literally or figuratively) shouting about it. And some people play that role, clamoring loudly about the issue at every possible opportunity. They may come off as unsophisticated or uncivilized or presumptuous or annoying or aggressive, and so this work may have various professional or social costs for them, but what they (at least sometimes) succeed in doing is getting us to think about the issue. And it’s after that, I think, that a critical mass of people can become a tentative audience for more serious work on the issue, and then, as with other topics, through time and experience the discourse gets more sophisticated.
While personally, I’m not much of a group guy or joiner or shouter, I have come to appreciate the instrumental role that groups that include people of varying motivations, reasons, sophistication, temperaments, and tactics can play in making discourse better. And the push and pull between that noisy discourse and calls for more civility in certain domains also has an instrumental role here, too.
I think that we’re getting better at talking and thinking about more and more stuff, but the elements of this progress are complicated, tangled, and hard to control. Like most things.Report
The thing is, when shouting reaches a certain level, it doesn’t help in furthering discourse, it prevents that from happening.Report
The TLS review seemed fair for the sort of work reviewed. The legal claims would fail in the US but may be something in Canada. If Manne has no assets in Canada the suit is not really any threat to her. US discovery for a Canadian lawsuit is too much work to make sense, but people waste money in lots of foolish ways. The judgment would not be enforceable in the US for policy reasons.Report
Recovery in law suits is tricky in any case, and especially ones like this (where enforcement in the US would likely be barred by US first amendment law, on the grounds that Peterson is a “public figure” and so the claims above wouldn’t rise to liable, at least in the US. (Note that in general there are conventions that allow for cross-border recovery in law suits, but here it would be barred on public policy grounds.) But, at least in principle, if Manne were to travel to Canada, then any assets she had there (maybe even ones available to her there, though I’m much less sure about that) would be subject to attachment. Would that likely happen? Probably not – I doubt it would be worth the effort it would take – but it probably would be a possible outcome, and it’s not implausible that Manne might want to travel to Canada, so it’s not the case that there’s no risk here.Report
It’s always bizarre to see Peterson spread insane conspiracies wrt. physics/econ/philosophy/etc. in a manner characterized by ‘identity politics’ complain about identity politics. It’s still unclear to me how one ought approach the increasingly popular conspiracies that he’s spreading; we’ve seen, say historians successfully shoot down d’Souza’s conspiracies about history, but I’m not sure if the same is achievable in these other domains (at least on the same scale as Kruse’s debunking of d’Souza).Report
Oops, that first sentence should also be: “…see Peterson, who spreads…, complain about identity politics.”Report
I don’t defend Peterson’s threatening a lawsuit or his similar actions. And I respect Manne’s work.
But her review of Peterson’s books seemed to me off the mark. It struck me as an academic version of Clinton’s deplorables remark. Manne’s review mainly is that Peterson’s book appeals to young, white males who are losing their privilages and Peterson gives this respectability through an existential vaneer. Well, I am a middle aged, brown guy who believes in equality and I liked Peterson’s book. It is doing some interesting things, including merging psychology and existential theology. Am I deluded for thinking this? Or misogynistic? I don’t think so. There are many dimensions around which our age is going through convulsions, and no one of these is the most fundamental. It is perfectly understandable to read 12 rules for life through the prism of feminism, and find fault with it. But it is a mistake to say thereby one sees to the heart of Peterson’s broader project. At least not without noting there is a whole other of seeing Peterson’s latest book, which is in relation to his first book and his academic work for decades, and not only through the prism of the last two years.
Is Peterson’s existential thinking just a cover for white men losing privilege? I can see someone thinking that. Just as someone might think Heidegger’s talk of Dasein was just a cover for anti-semitism. That doesn’t make that reading of Being and Time right or the most woke.
It’s unfortunate people as intelligent as professors Peterson and Manne are not able to see the genuinely interesting things in each other’s work, but seem to see each other only through the prism of our social battles.Report
Some complicated back and forth in this thread. I can’t say I haven’t skimmed over some of the finer distinctions. But that’s because I’m struck by a far more pedestrian observation:
Is it not in the least bit rich that someone like Peterson–a purported proponent of free speech–is launching libel causes that at least have a patina (to put it mildly) of vindictiveness to them?
I mean, was his whole shtick not, ultimately, to ‘toughen up buttercup’? What am I missing here? My first–and last–reaction upon hearing news of this libel suit has been an exaggerated eye role. I’m not even predisposed to the fancy intellectual footwork of sorting this out with distinctions.
And /even if/ this bears the barest semblance of libel, would he not argue that getting ‘dusted up’ is part and parcel of living in a big bad free society?
I mean, does this not just wear itself on its face as infantile hypocrisy? Am I spinning in a frictionless void? Is my entire hermeneutic for ‘well that’s obviously asinine’ completely wrong?
On quite a number of occasions now, in DN threads about whether there is a free speech issue on campus, Justin has appealed to the availability heuristic to argue that we shouldn’t be generalizing from the (by now several dozen over the last few years) individually newsworthy stories about coercive suppression of speech in US universities. It’s not clear to me why the same couldn’t be said about the OP here, which is drawing a rather general conclusion from this particular incident (which, let’s stipulate, puts Jordan Peterson in a terrible light).Report
(I don’t know why I keep coming up as “David Mark Wallace”; it’s incompetence on my part, though, not a rebranding exercise.)Report
Hi David. The point I’m making about the difference in perception and labeling of structurally similar claims is not something I’m basing solely on the Peterson example. It is something I’ve been saying for a few years (for example), based on a steady stream of complaints about political correctness in the media, as well as various personal conversations on the subject.
You and others might be interested to learn that this is not a view I held, say, a decade ago. I think back then I would have sounded more like the typical worrier about political correctness. It has largely been through the education I’ve gotten running this site (covering the stories, learning more, listening to different perspectives, talking with lots of people, trying to think carefully about these issues), that I’ve changed my mind.
Sure, it’s possible that the examples and events and conversations that effected these changes in my thoughts were just the ones that made it through some availability filter. I’m only human, so no doubt some of them are. Surely there are some complaints about the kinds of speech labeled “politically correct” or about the kinds of people labeled “snowflakes” or “coddled” or the kinds of activities labeled “virtue signaling” or “grandstanding” that fall outside the interpretation I’ve given them in the original post. However, I do think the use of these labels, whose function is to encourage dismissal rather than engagement, is a clue that my interpretation applies. Even in the absence of such labels, the interpretation I provide of such complaints can be a useful tool for understanding what’s going on.
I do appreciate a good attempt to hoist me by my own petard, though. 🙂Report
I appreciate you taking the observation seriously and in the spirit it was intended – it wasn’t intended as a gotcha.
As a point of interest, my own views have changed over the last decade in more or less exactly the opposite direction, and again largely as a result of engagement with the philosophy blogosphere, which seems to have generated a continuing stream of examples of coercive suppression of free speech, or attempts at coercive suppression. I have taken seriously your availability-heuristic response to that “continuing stream”, though, and I’m pleased that you are taking your own advice in assessing your own view!Report
It’s worth noting that Peterson is also suing Laurier because he was “libeled” when one of the profs, in their private disciplinary hearing with Shepherd, called him a “hack”. That’s even more snowflakey than the Manne thing.
What happened to Shepherd in that meeting was wrong. But Peterson certainly wasn’t harmed by it, let alone in a public manner. The hack just can’t hack it.Report
Please, let’s not misrepresent by omission. Peterson’s legal action for defamation against Laurier says that statements were made in the disciplinary meeting to the effect that Peterson is comparable to Hitler, deliberately spreads hatred, is a member of the alt-right, is unfit to be a professor, breaches the code of ethics of his profession and university, is a white supremacist, expresses opinions that are uninformed and uneducated, is sexist, misogynist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, is a deplorable person, is incompetent, a reprobate, lacks integrity, lacks appropriate ethics to be a psychologist and a professor, is a bully and abusive towards students, wants to deprive minorities of any rights, organizes attacks, even death threats, on students … A bit more serious than being called a hack.Report
Someone in a private conversation said all those mean things about him, and now he is upset about it, to the point he feels hurt and is now suing. This is straightforward snowflake behaviour. There is no misrepresentatiom here.
Had Michel listed all those things in their comment, their main point still stands: Jordan Peterson is a crybaby hypocrite (is this more or less serious than being a hack?).Report
Hang on: some of those claims are not like the others. Most of the things on Andrew Gleeson’s list are, as you say, just “mean things”. But some of them are straightforwardly factual claims, and among those claims are claims that certainly look defamatory if they’re untrue: accusations of criminal activity, most obviously, but also accusations that he violated his employer’s disciplinary rules.Report
I think Invisiblessed is assuming that the “mean things” are among the things for which Peterson is suing. If the assumption is correct, then calling him a “crybaby hypocrite” looks appropriate. Given the assumption, even if some of the things look defamatory if untrue, Invisiblessed’s point stands.Report
It is a sad commentary on the debasement of language in our public culture if comparing people to Hitler and calling them a white supremacist, accusing them of targeting and spreading hatred against minorities, of (as a professor) bullying and abusing and threatening students, of being incompetent and a charlatan in one’s professional field, etc. are now considered as no more than saying “mean things” about them. Bear in mind too that these comments were not made as gratuitous abuse but were advanced, in a university panel of inquiry, specifically as grounds for alleging that Lindsay Shepherd had misbehaved in showing the Peterson video in class. That is, they were not uttered as casual hyperbolic banter or angry invective, but as serious, literally true accusations. Whether, under all the circumstances, they constitute defamation will be decided by the court. But there can be no doubt that morally they constitute extreme vilification and provocation.
I do not believe that defamation laws are in principle inconsistent with a proper understanding of free speech (the devil is in the details). That said, I agree that one should not normally sue (or threaten to sue) over many of the above things. Peterson has been publicly called these things over and over again ever since he became a public figure and (to the best of my knowledge) has never sued before. He has done so on this occasion in order to support Shepherd in the face of continuing serious mistreatment of her by the university which she alleges in her own earlier suit (it is not a defamation suit). There can be reasonable debate about the wisdom and propriety of his doing so, including over whether such action is consistent with his support of free speech. But it needs to be based on a truthful presentation of the full facts. The notion that there was “no misrepresentation” in Michel’s post simply isn’t true.Report
Andrew Gleeson, there may be a misunderstanding between us. I agree that there might have been misrepresentation in Michel’s post. But as I understood Invisiblessed’s post, the “no misrepresentation” point was about Peterson’s being a “crybaby hypocrite.” To put the point more clearly, Invisiblessed might have written “there’s no misrepresentation here: Peterson is a crybaby hypocrite.” My claim was that this is the point that stands if Peterson is suing partly in response to the “mean things” that were said.Report
Andrew: Very well. I combed through the transcript of Shepherd’s meeting for you, and have compiled all the instances pertaining to Peterson and the things that were said about him. It’s too long to post here (and you can easily look it up yourself), but here’s a complete summary:
*Alleged alt-right involvement (common media characterization, basically true although maybe alt-light is a better characterization. Certainly he has a *lot* of alt-right followers).
1: Allegedly doxxed student activists so they’d get harassed. (True, matter of public record, minus the motivation, obviously; incidentally, he potentially libeled one of them in the process, if we’re gonna get all snowflakey about it.)
2: Allegedly lectures “about critiquing feminism, critiquing trans-rights, critiquing, white surpemacy”. (True, also a matter of public record.)
3: “[Playing a video of his OHRC testimony] is basically like playing – Not to kind of do the thing where everything is compared to Hitler – But this is like neutrally playing a speech by Hitler or Milo Yiannopolous from Gamergate.” (The implication here, especially in context, is that it’s pretty clearly because what’s being communicated is not quality research; it’s propaganda and inflammatory claims.)
4: Alleged to make false claims about the effects of C-16. (True, matter of public record.)
5: Alleged to lack the academic evidence required to be credible on the topic of C-16. (True, matter of public record.)
6: There’s some ridiculing of the idea, attributed to Peterson (qualified as “ludicrous”–although maybe what’s being expressed is doubt that Peterson genuinely believes these things; the context isn’t clear) that the political left controls everything and that people will be imprisoned for not adopting cultural Marxism. (Those are, at least, things Peterson has said publicly. So…)
7: He’s called a charlatan “when it comes to the academy,” although just what that means isn’t clear from context. (It may mean that some of his academic work is charlatanry. That’s certainly true where Maps of Meaning is concerned—just read up on his account of the incompleteness theorems!) He’s also clearly called a charlatan with respect to the issues which propelled him to internet stardom, because he’s promoting ideas that aren’t substantiated, and are sometimes just plain false. (That’s pretty much indisputable, and a matter of public record.)
5/7 are straightforwardly true, and matters of public record. 3 is the Hitler claim, and it’s pretty clear from context that it’s quite a mild claim about his ideas being entirely unsupported by evidence and thus not worth engaging. 7 is the charlatanism claim, and it’s also basically true. It’s probably mostly false in relation to some of his work in psychology, although it’s not clear that it was referring to that work in the first place.
So, all in all, that’s pretty weaksauce. To be honest, I think my characterization was more accurate than yours. Regardless, it’s not much grounds for libel. He’s Canada’s meltiest snowflake.Report
Oops, I didn’t number the very first claim. So it 6/8 straightforwardly true claims concerning matters of public record.Report
[I first tried to post this about 9 hours ago, but because of some glitch it did not appear]
My point is that it is misrepresentation by omission to say that Peterson was complaining about being called a hack (a very mild insult). He complains about much more than that to put it mildly. He complains of all the things I listed. And even if the most actually said against him was what you allow (such as doxxing student activists to get them harassed; that what he communicates is not quality research but propaganda and inflammatory claims; and that some of his academic work is charlatanry) that is still much more serious than hackery. In fact the word ‘hack’, which you place in quotation marks as if someone actually used it (you write “when one of the profs, in their private disciplinary hearing with Shepherd, called him a “hack” ”) is not spoken on Shepherd’s audio tape.
Nevertheless, so that I am not accused of avoiding the issue, your account of the charges made against Peterson in the Shepherd meeting (i) omits several of the most serious charges laid, and of the charges it does cover either (ii) they are not ones that Peterson complains about, or (iii) you do not deny the charges were made but say they are true, albeit in diluted form. I’ll try to cover these as briefly as I can.
(1) Omitted charges:
*Peterson doxxed students not just for any kind of harassment but “so that death threats will find them”.
*Peterson has received funding from an “alt-right white supremacist website” (Patreon – yes that’s right, the site that banned Lauren Southern) and his opinions are morally equivalent to “white supremacist opinions, anti-trans opinions, anti-gay opinions, anti-woman misogynist opinions”. It is true no one says in so many words that Peterson is a white supremacist, but given where it is said he gets funding from, and given it is also said he is “highly involved” in the white supremacist alt-right (see below) the implication that he sympathizes with white supremacy is clear.
*Talking about Peterson, and drawing an analogy with white supremacist Richard Spencer, a professor says “there are public figures out there that bring hatred, that target groups” and connects this to the suicide rate among trans people. It is absolutely clear he means this to apply to Peterson: Peterson “brings hatred and targets groups”.
*Shepherd is accused of targeting trans folks and thus (by implication) of “spreading transphobia” (inadvertently perhaps) because she played a video of Jordan Peterson explaining his views on Bill C-16 and on pronouns. The inescapable implication is that in that video Peterson spreads transphobia and targets trans people. Earlier on in the audio tape it is stated explicitly that in the video Peterson is “targeting someone due to their gender identity or gender expression”. Given the association with transphobia, and the other comments catalogued here, it is clear that the word “target” has very sinister connotations indeed. At one point it is associated specifically with the charge of doxxing trans students to get them harassed and to enable death threats to be made against them.
Clearly all these charges are light-years beyond that of being a hack. They are not fairly or accurately summarized with that word.
(2) Charges on your list Peterson does not complain about:
*That he critiques feminism; that he made false claims about C16; that he says the political left “controls everything” and that “people will be imprisoned for not adopting cultural Marxism” (BTW, a really fair-minded account of his views).
(3) Charges against Peterson you say are true, albeit in diluted form:
*The charge that he is “highly involved with the alt-right”. You say this is true but immediately dilute it to “alt light”, and then further dilute it to “certainly he has a lot of alt-right followers”. For the record Peterson is absolutely not alt-right, a movement which is white supremacist or it is nothing.
*He doxxed student activists so they’d get harassed. You immediately qualify this saying it is true “minus the intention”. That is quite a dilution. And notice the position it leaves you in. You admit that in the meeting he was described as acting with an utterly vile intention, and you agree that is not true, or are at least are not willing to say it is true. That charge is already light-years beyond the charge of being a hack.
*Hitler. Here you dilute the charge by saying the comparison is merely meant to convey that Peterson engages in propaganda and makes inflammatory claims (as I have already said this itself is already much stronger than calling him a hack). But then why mention Hitler (rather than just Yiannopoulos)? Given all the other accusations made in that meeting (white supremacy, death threats etc.) it is highly understandable that one would take the comparison as meant quite seriously. I doubt you would regard the comparison as “mild” if it was made about you or someone you think well of. That said, I concede that people often make comparisons to Hitler thoughtlessly (that is part of the debasement of language in our public culture that I mentioned in another post above). But they still should be held to account for that thoughtlessness (I don’t mean that should be by law).
*That parts of his academic work are charlatanism. Not true of his academic work I am familiar with.
I believe that the vast majority of the charges laid against Peterson in that meeting are extreme and untrue. The substance of that cannot be argued here. I have expressed no opinion about whether or not, in all the circumstances, they constitute defamation. A court will have to decide that. My concern is just that if there is to be discussion of Peterson’s views it needs to proceed on a fair-minded basis – and yes, that applies to him and his supporters too. I stand by my original point that it is not nearly a fair summary of his law suit to say he is complaining about nothing more serious than being called a hack, a statement which clearly leaves the reader with the impression that that is all that was said against him.Report
Just so I’m clear here, Andrew: you think Rambukkana made a comparison between Peterson and Hitler. That is, you think Rambukka said something like Peterson and Hitler share similar and significant properties. Now, I read the transcript, and when Hitler was brought up, it was in response to Lindsay Shepherd’s claim that content needs to be presented neutrally and that a T.A. can’t take sides. Then Rambukkana’s rebuttal (poor as it may be) was to bring up Hitler, Gamergate and white supremacy. In his words, his rebuttal seemed to be something like: ‘it’s like neutrally presenting content x, y, z’ (where x, y, z aren’t topics that one can be reasonably neutral about). Correct me if I’m wrong, but the argument seemed to be more of a reductio or counterexample to a pedagogical principle Shephard was raising, which is very different than a direct comparison between two people. That is, it is different from simply saying Hitler has the properties x, y, z, which are terrible properties to have, and Peterson also has the properties x, y, z.Report
Justin, this post reads as if we’re supposed to pick sides in a culture war. Of course you don’t say that everyone is either a ‘snowflake’ or a ‘free speech champion’, but you divide people into two classes with a strong suggestion that one class is better (or less fairly treated, which might amount to the same here). Is this really what you want to be doing? And what responses could you really expect? We could agree that Team B are bad people (knowing that Team B have special names for so agreeing) or we could object and say they’re not so bad (in which case we would likely be taken for members of Team B, and so a bad guy on the view of the OP and many others). This is not a nice rhetorical position you put the reader in.Report
Thanks Kevin, this is helpful.
Justin, this nicely sums up something that’s bothered me about the way you present these things. Your take is so one-sided and uncharitable that those of us who are interested in seeing philosophers exercise care and precision about the issue have to weigh in as if we’re in favor of ‘the other side’. That’s not a dialectically stable position to be in, and you are doing your readers (and the philosophical community) a disservice by presenting the issue as you do here, where in the very first declarative sentence you present the conflict as one between those who “speak up loudly for the social change, or complain about harms to the vulnerable” and those who “speak up loudly for the status quo, or complain about harms to the powerful”. You can do better than this, and it would be better for all of us if you did.Report
I added a comment here that is intended to be a partial response to your comment and some similar ones.Report
If I were to ask readers to get one thing from this post, it would just be this: in thinking about these debates, to the extent we are making assumptions about the parties involved (including their motivations, intelligence, fortitude, honesty, etc.), we should do so in an evenhanded way.
Often, I see “social justice warriors” interpreted cynically, while “free speech champions” are taken at their word. The former are judged by the behavior of the worst who share their ideas, while the worst of the latter are seen as unrepresentative of the cause. I see complaints about the conditions of the badly off characterized as whiny evidence of weakness, while complaints about those complaints are characterized as valiant defenses of our values. I see the outrage expressed by those who believe they’re not being heard deemed a harm to civil discourse, while the speech that tells people to dismiss rather than hear that outrage is deemed part of such discourse.
It is natural for “free speech champions” to be upset or think they’re being treated unfairly when they and their actions are interpreted in line with the same assumptions they often deploy in interpreting those they complain about. One reaction is to complain about this. Please understand, I’m not objecting to complaints about what I do. (I mean seriously, is there anyone in philosophy who does more to provide a welcoming public space for complaints about himself than I do?*) I just hope that when such complaints are voiced, they’re accompanied by the recognition that those whom they complain about know just how they feel.
(*This is not intended to be a complaint about myself!)Report
Hi Justin. Thanks for hosting this space. It is a time-consuming activity, and I’m sure it often goes thankless.
I appreciate what you’re doing here, and despite its flaws I’m sure the community benefits from this blog. All the same, I’d be much more inclined to take the original post as an attempt on your part to induce reflection on how the “free speech champions” interpret others if it was an isolated case of a one-sided presentation. So sure, encourage your readers to be evenhanded. But these conversations are better served when they’re framed evenhandedly to begin with.
This criticism doesn’t lesson my appreciation of what you’re doing here, but as someone who cares about this stuff it’s frustrating to always have to come off like I’m on the ‘other side’ because of the way the thing is framed to begin with. We can do better, I think.Report
Thank you for the reply, Justin, and for the service to the profession that this blog does.
Given the clarifications that you offer, I see the initial post differently. You *are* calling for interpretive fairness from a certain class. At the risk of appearing stubborn, however, I wish to note that the rhetorical position of the reader/ potential responder hasn’t changed much. There’s still a pressure to appear as a member of a side in a culture war.
Let me explain with reference to the substance of the debate. I’m sympathetic to many of the concerns of those labeled ‘snowflakes’. But I also recognize, in my own activity, the justice of some of the acccusations against them. I know that grandstanding, piling on, and virtue signaling are real things because I, as a leftist academic trying to make it in our subculture, feel the compulsion of them all the time. I catch myself about to pile on, or in the act of piling on, (or virtue signaling, etc.) frequently enough that I become skeptical about others’ denials of the phenomena. I’m pretty sure that I see others doing it also, though as you say it may be that I misinterpret their behavior. So if I read a post at the Daily Nous or elsewhere about ‘champions of free speech’, they always seem to me to be some mysterious Other (all my colleagues at least, will be quick to announce themselves on the ‘snowflake’ side) that I’m supposed to join in in deriding. But that doesn’t feel to me as if it has much integrity to it. I didn’t join gangs and cliques as a kid, and I’m not about to be conscripted into one now. But as Preston points out, if I express any reservations I run the risk of appearing as if I’m on the other side. In fact I very much worry that I appear that way now, even though I’ve been fairly clear that if I had to pick a team I’d pick the snowflake side!!Report
The ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality is such a bad influence. Our job is to rethink the boundaries of the problem. Justin’s been giving us ‘snowflakes’ against the ‘champions of free speech’. No one who is of moderately good will, is paying attention, and is minimally reflective should unqualifiedly accept either of those appellations today. To get people to see that, we have to be able to see it clearly ourselves. And so we should resist the urge to pick a side.
Alright, I’m going to bed. Spending the weekend with the department on the grounds of a monastery in Bohemia that’s been here since the 14th century. If you guys figure it out when I wake up, I’ll buy the beer the next time you’re in Prague. The Czech Republic is an amazing place.Report
In case this isn’t obvious to everyone: The cited law is CANADIAN in nature (Google it.) Canada has *very, very* different free speech laws than the U.S. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_defamation_law
Although that complaint would quickly get tossed in the U.S. (and might even result in an anti-SLAPP suit) it may well be viable in Canada.Report
I don’t see why people think Peterson looks bad here. In her Vox interview, Manne claims that Peterson says “eyebrow-raising, authoritarian-sounding, and even cruel things in his book.” She then quotes Peterson’s description of one of his patients, who suspected that she had been raped five times, as “a ghost of a person” etc. Finally, she states:
“I’d raise an alternative explanation: Maybe she was raped — five times, as she stated — and then was effectively undermined or even gaslit by her therapist. To be clear, I’m not saying that that is what happened. I can’t possibly know, on the basis of what Peterson writes here. But I’d certainly like to know more, and I’m surprised Peterson has not yet been asked about these and similar passages, in which he comes across as highly contemptuous of female clients.”
She thus seems to imply that Peterson didn’t entertain the possibility that the woman was raped and that he treated the woman cruelly and/or in an authoritarian manner. She explicitly claims that he comes across as contemptuous of female clients. I realize there are some tricky interpretive issues here. Maybe she can be read as just “raising some possibilities” without in any way endorsing them. (Though we know there are limits to how much “just raising possibilities” avoids implying actualities; consider “just raising the possibility” that Obama was born in Kenya.) Maybe her saying he “comes across” in his book as contemptuous of female clients and eyebrow-raising, cruel, and authoritarian doesn’t amount to her saying he is any of those things in his practice. But these seem like tricky issues to me. So whether Manne’s statements amount to an accusation of professional malpractice, it’s not at all unreasonable to hear them that way. To my mind, that makes the libel case reasonable. Though I have no idea whether it’s strong enough to prevail.Report
I’m no philosopher of language, but I would have thought that one of the main functions of stuff like “To be clear, I’m not saying that that is what happened. I can’t possibly know…” is precisely to make it unreasonable to “hear” Manne’s words as “implying actualities”.Report