John Stossel: On campus, opening eyes is a challenge
“Shame on you! Shame on you!” chanted protestors after psychology professor Jordan Peterson said he'd refuse to obey a law that would require everyone to call people by the pronoun they prefer — pronouns like “ze” instead of “he” or “she.”
It wasn't just radical college kids protesting. Hundreds of Peterson's academic colleagues signed a petition demanding that the University of Toronto fire him.
The totalitarian left doesn't just demand that their own point of view be heard. They want resisters like Peterson never to be heard. When he gives speeches, they bring bullhorns to drown him out.
“I don't care what people want to be called,” he said. “But that doesn't mean I should be compelled by law to call them that. The government has absolutely no business whatsoever ever governing the content of your voluntary speech.”
What if I politely asked him to call me ze?
“We could have a conversation about that,” said Peterson. “Just like I would if you asked me to use a nickname. But there's a big difference between privately negotiated modes of address and legislatively demanded, compelled speech.”
That sounds like a reasonable, libertarian take on the issue, but for comments like that, Peterson is called bigot, Hitler and transphobic.
“That it has to do with transgender people is virtually irrelevant,” Peterson said. “The issue is compelled speech.”
Peterson sensibly says differences in average temperament between males and females might explain why many choose or thrive at different professions. It's not all discrimination.
That drove one anchorwoman into a frenzy of baseless accusations, including, “You're saying that women aren't intelligent enough to run these top companies?”
“No, I didn't say that at all,” Peterson replied, deadpan.
The problem is not that Peterson says shocking or outrageous things. It's that the left, especially on campuses, has become so extreme that just stating facts of life offends them.
Peterson observes, correctly, that the world poverty rate has been cut in half in the 21st century, while the description of the world heard on campuses is that things are worse than ever, mostly because of inequality, oppression and patriarchy.
Part of the problem, says Peterson, is that “social justice” courses change the meaning of the word “justice” from rightfulness or lawfulness into a demand for justice for groups, based on the assumption each group must be equal to every other.
In a free society, that's impossible to guarantee, even if everyone is equal under the law. But students are taught that every time there's a difference in outcome, it's an injustice, a new reason for outrage. The anger never ends.
Peterson says the activists who are so angry about injustice should be happy they live in societies like America, places founded on individual liberty and free markets.
“Everyone is doing better here than anybody has ever done on the face of the planet throughout recorded history, and the whole West is like that!” he said. “To call that all a tyrannical patriarchy is indicative of a very deep resentment and ahistorical ignorance that's so profound that it's indistinguishable from willful blindness.”
That's opened some young people's eyes.
But as Peterson has learned, these days some on campus get very angry if you try to open people's eyes.
John Stossel is a columnist for the Tribune Content Agency.