Anarchists

When cultural arbiters try to silence a thinker, you have to assume he is saying something valuable.

1/28/18
By Peggy Noonan,
from The Wall Street Journal,
1/25/18:

When a British interviewer tried to shut Jordan Peterson up, I knew he had something interesting to say.

I saw the interview this week between British television journalist Cathy Newman and clinical psychologist and social philosopher Jordan Peterson. It burned through the internet, in part because she was remarkably hostile and badgering: “What gives you the right to say that?” “You’re making vast generalizations.” He seemed mildly taken aback, then rallied and wouldn’t be pushed around. It was also interesting because she, the fiery, flame-haired aggressor, was so boring—her thinking reflected all the predictable, force-fed assumptions—while he, saying nothing revolutionary or even particularly fiery, was so interesting. When it was over, you wanted to hear more from him and less from her.

I wondered when I first read the headlines: What could a grown-up, seemingly stable professor (former associate professor of psychology at Harvard, full professor for 20 years at the University of Toronto) stand for that would make a journalist want to annihilate him on live TV—or, failing that, to diminish him or make him into a figure of fun?

He must have defied some orthodoxy. He must think the wrong things. He must be a heretic. Heretics must be burned. I had not known of his work. The interview was to promote his second book, “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.” Mr. Peterson is called “controversial” because he has been critical, as an academic, of various forms of the rising authoritarianism of the moment—from identity politics to cultural appropriation to white privilege and postmodern feminism. He has refused to address or refer to transgendered people by the pronouns “zhe” and “zher.” He has opposed governmental edicts in his native Canada that aim, perhaps honestly, at inclusion, but in practice limit views, thoughts and speech.

It is a good book, blunt and inspiring. We live in a time when so many young (and not so young) people feel lost, unsure of how they should approach their lives, or life in general. Mr. Peterson talks about the attitudes that will help find the path. It is not a politically correct or officially approved path, but it is an intensely practical and yet heightened one: This life you’re living has meaning. Back to the hostile interview, and the labeling of Mr. Peterson as “controversial,” which is a way of putting a warning label on his work. When people, especially those in a position of authority, like broadcasters, try so hard to shut a writer up, that writer must have something to say. When cultural arbiters try to silence a thinker, you have to assume he is saying something valuable.

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