Jordan Peterson is a Canadian professor of psychology, who has recently become famous because of his critiques of political correctness, post-modernism and left-wing notions of cultural appropriation and gender theory. His rise to prominence has been sudden: he is now ubiquitous on television, newspapers and magazines. Peterson is particularly popular amongst educated young men, frustrated with the prevailing progressive culture in academia and respectable society more broadly.
But despite his academic credentials, Peterson’s ideas don’t stand up to scrutiny. He argues that men are victims of the feminisation of culture and public policy, when women are still more likely to be victims of gender-based discrimination. His climate change denial is repudiated by the overwhelming majority of scientists, and his obsession with ‘Cultural Marxism’ is both highly conspiratorial and borderline anti-Semitic. And while he views even mildly leftist views as a stepping stone to totalitarianism, he turns a blind eye to the far more blatant authoritarianism of the contemporary political right.
However, Peterson’s gravitas shouldn’t be viewed in isolation, but as part of a broader trend. It’s undeniable that most professors are on the liberal side of the political spectrum, even if they aren’t the raving Marxists in Peterson’s imagination. There is clearly an awful lot of dissatisfaction with what is often a narrow spectrum of views on college campuses, and demand for a greater degree of intellectual curiosity, where taboos are broken and a wider range of ideals explored. Conservative notions of hierarchy, order and discipline ought to be debated thoroughly, not dismissed as antiquated prejudices.
Peterson also inadvertently reveals the poverty of contemporary conservative thought. Rather than debating progressive ideas rationally and factually, today’s conservatives increasingly prefer to indulge in conspiracy theories, ad hominem attacks and playing the victim card. For instance, instead of simply explaining why social constructivism isn’t a good theory for understanding human institutions and behaviour, conservative pseudo-intellectuals attack constructivism’s proponents as evil post-modernists who lack morality and wish to bring down Western civilisation.
So while I agree with Peterson insofar as I think popular left-wing ideas ought to be scrutinised and debated freely, engaging in paranoia only emboldens Peterson’s critics. Conservative professors, however few there are, should be given more publicity. But only if their ideas are grounded in facts, and if they have a basic regard for the legitimacy of their opponents. If the likes of Jordan Peterson were to become the face of conservative academia, universities will become even more of a progressive echo chamber than they already are.