[Marxism] Jordan Peterson on the Campaign for Trans Rights
marxmail00 at gmail.com
Tue Dec 25 08:19:32 MST 2018
Unrelated to recent exchanges on the issue of trans rights and self-identification, I recently came across this very worthwhile piece on Jordan Peterson (probably the leading “organic intellectual” of neo-possibly-not-quite-fascism-at-least-not-yet, and the alt-right). I was struck by the structural parallel between Peterson’s treatment of the demands and actions of trans activists, and the way Phil has failed or refused to recognize the difference between verbal threats and no-platforming, on one hand, and actul physical assault and murder of people identifying as women, on the other:
"Peterson first came to international prominence when he publicly opposed Canada’s Bill C-16, which added gender expression and identity to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act. Peterson claimed that under the bill, he could be compelled to use a student’s preferred gender pronoun or face criminal prosecution, and suggested that social justice activists were promoting a totalitarian ideology. In fact, there was nothing in the bill that criminalized the failure to use people’s preferred gender pronouns (full text), and I share the belief that government legislation requiring people to use particular pronouns would be an infringement on civil liberties. But since that’s a position shared by Noam Chomsky and the ACLU, it’s not a particularly devastating criticism of the left. And when Peterson goes beyond the very narrow issue of compelled speech, his take on social justice isn’t much much more sensible than his lecture on Jungian archetypes in the story of the pancake-dragon.
Examine, for example, how in his Channel 4 interview Peterson talks about the “totalitarian” tendencies of the activists who tried to add gender identity to the human rights bill:
PETERSON: I did compare them to Mao … I was comparing them to the left-wing totalitarians. And I do believe they are left-wing totalitarians.
NEWMAN: Under Mao millions of people died!
NEWMAN: I mean there’s no comparison between Mao and a trans activist, is there?
PETERSON: Why not?
NEWMAN: Because trans activists aren’t killing millions of people!
PETERSON: The philosophy that’s guiding their utterances is the same philosophy.
NEWMAN: The consequences are …
PETERSON: Not yet!
NEWMAN: You’re saying that trans activists, …
NEWMAN: Could leads to the deaths of millions of people.
PETERSON: No, I’m saying that the philosophy that drives their utterances is the same philosophy that already has driven us to the deaths of millions of people.
NEWMAN: Okay. Tell us how that philosophy is in any way comparable.
PETERSON: Sure. That’s no problem. The first thing is that their philosophy presumes that group identity is paramount. That’s the fundamental philosophy that drove the Soviet Union and Maoist China. And it’s the fundamental philosophy of the left-wing activists. It’s identity politics. It doesn’t matter who you are as an individual, it matters who you are in terms of your group identity.
While Cathy Newman was repeatedly unfair to Peterson’s views throughout the rest of the interview, here she was perfectly right to be confused: what Peterson is saying makes no sense. He wonders how there could be any difference between transgender activists and Mao’s China, then is told that the difference is millions of deaths, then denies that transgender activists are going to cause millions of deaths, then says they follow a totalitarian philosophy that drives people to mass murder. The reason he’s stuck here is that there’s no evidence the Canadian Human Rights Act is about to bring us a gulag archipelago, but that’s what his grandiose statements about left-wing totalitarianism imply will happen. So he must either allege Alberta is about to get its own Great Leap Forward or draw a distinction between Mao’s Red Guards and the University of Toronto LGBTQ center, neither of which he wants to commit to. So we get another heaping dish of Peterson waffle."
As I’ve said before, the threats and abuse being directed against trans-reluctant feminists by some trans activists are appalling, and I think their use of no-platforming in such cases is totally counter-productive (which doesn’t mean I don’t ever support it in other instances). But the failure (or inability) to recognize the gulf between abuse and-no-platforming, on one hand, and physical assault and murder of people identifying as transwomen, on the other, can only damage the left.
My sense is that Phil honestly doesn’t realize that categories like “biologically male / female” simply can’t be treated as having normative political meaning except as part of an oppressive project. “Nature” doesn’t provide policeable social boundaries, and the struggle for human emancipation is set back when the pretense that it does is on the rise (as it is with Peterson et al).
Anyway, this issue aside, the whole piece at the link is worth reading — a thorough and informed take-down of Peterson that also helps explain his prominence in the current period persuasively.
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