Bob Hepburn: Has Jordan Peterson finally gone too far?
It’s being called the hottest event in Toronto these days, with tickets costing as much as scalpers are charging for Toronto Maple Leaf playoff tickets.
The event is a debate between Jordan Peterson, the University of Toronto psychology professor, who has become the darling of the far right, and Slavoj Zizek, a famous Slovenian philosopher.
Tickets for the April 19 event went on sale in March for the 3,100-seat Sony Centre venue and instantly sold out. Online ticket resellers are now charging up to $950 for a seat. So popular is the debate that Peterson and Zizek are live-streaming it around the world — at a cost of $14.95 per view.
It’s another in a long line of sold-out shows for Peterson, who shot to fame in 2016 when he criticized legislation aimed at protecting gender identity and openly refused to use people’s preferred pronouns.
Overnight, Peterson became an international hero for those who believe political correctness has gone too far, especially young white men who feel the world is stacked against them these days.
In interviews, podcasts and YouTube videos he has railed against such topics as “the radical left,” socialism, Justin Trudeau, feminism and the idea that women have been oppressed throughout history.
Peterson has also become insanely rich touting what some critics have called half-baked ideas and “the greatest scam of our time.” He has 1.16 million followers on Twitter, 1.5 million YouTube subscribers and nearly 3 million copies have been sold of his book,
But Peterson may finally have gone too far.
For years, he has insisted he’s done nothing to promote racism, misogyny, Islamophobia or a stream of other issues that stoke the fires of the far right. That may be true in a strict sense.
Troubling, though, is the fact Peterson has done little if anything to distance himself from white supremacists, racists and bigots. Nor has he done anything to silence those who spread their hate on social media and who cite his writings and lectures as “proof” that they are on the right path.
The worst example of this is a photo taken in New Zealand a few weeks before a white nationalist murdered 50 Muslims in terrorist attack last month on two Christchurch mosques. The photo shows Peterson with his arm around the shoulder of a man wearing a T-shirt with the words “I’m a Proud ISLAMAPHOBE” on the front.
Peterson’s apologists say it was just one of thousands of photos taken each year with fans. They also say Peterson now insists on measures to avoid such photos from happening again.
But did Peterson speak out against the man wearing the T-shirt? Did he denounce Islamophobia? Not at all.
Instead, Peterson ranted about how unfairly he was treated when a New Zealand chain of booksellers temporarily pulled copies of his book from its shelves in protest and when Cambridge University withdrew its offer of a visiting fellowship. Cambridge vice-chancellor Stephen Toope said the New Zealand photo was a “casual endorsement by association” of Islamophobia and the message was “antithetical” to the work of the Faculty of Divinity, which made the fellowship offer.
Outraged, Peterson accused the school of “signalling their solidarity with the diversity-inclusivity-equity mob,” adding it was “kowtowing to an ill-informed, ignorant and ideologically addled mob.”
Such fury! No wonder Peterson has been called “the patron saint of those perpetually angry.”
Never one to criticize his cultlike followers on the far right, Peterson insists the suggestion he is appealing to disaffected, angry young white men is false. In an article he wrote in February for The Australian, Peterson says of his speeches, “people are not attending for political reasons — just as I am not speaking for political purposes.”
If that’s true, then what was the guy in the T-shirt doing at the Peterson event in New Zealand?
At next week’s debate Peterson has an opportunity to stand up straight with his shoulders back — his Rule No. 1 — and denounce and shut down the haters and far-right thugs who have turned him into their idol.
He should do it before their hatred and violence goes any further.
Bob Hepburn is a politics columnist and based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @BobHepburn