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University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson has made headlines with his blistering critiques on political correctness and genderless pronouns and is an ardent defender of free speech. Peterson has developed a theory on how leftists play the “PC game” and has strategies on how to fight back against it. Below is Peterson’s profound conversation with the Daily Wire.
Tell me a little bit about about your background.
I am a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto and a clinical psychologist. I taught at Harvard for six years as well back in the ’90s.
What prompted you to get involved in fighting against political correctness and the use of genderless pronouns?
Well I’ve been studying the development of authoritarian political systems from a psychological perspective for 35 years, so I’ve been watching what’s been happening on college campuses and in broader society now for decades. There was a huge upsurge of political correctness in the ’90s but it quelled itself, but then in the last five years it’s come roaring back with a new vigor, I would say. So there has been some recent legislative moves in Canada as well as policy decisions at the University of Toronto that I felt were ill-advised, to say the least. So…I decided to make a couple of videos so I could articulate what I was feeling and thinking and see if I can get some clarity on the issue. So that’s the story.
One of the things you have written about is Bill C-16. Could you talk about that a little bit?
Bill C-16 is a piece of legislation that is being considered at the federal level at Canada–we have a federal government and provincial governments like your state governments–and… Bill C-16 purports to extend human rights protection under the Canadian Human Rights Act and the criminal code to gender identity and gender expression and make transgressions against those two categories a hate crime, essentially. So it appeared to me when I was reviewing similar provincial legislation that we have already implemented laws at the provincial level that make misgendering someone a hate crime, and so that would be part of the unwillingness and refusal to use gender-neutral pronouns.
In writing about this you have talked about your opposition to using gender-neutral pronouns. What is your reasoning behind that?
Well, I don’t like the language itself, especially the made-up ones, the manufactured word ze or zir and that sort of thing. I don’t regard them as legitimate words; I regard those as the ideological construct of radicals who hold a view of the world I find disturbing and dangerous as well as impractical and narrow-minded. So, I’m not using their words because that would make me a mouthpiece of their particular worldview and ideology, and I’m not going to do that. More importantly perhaps than that is that I don’t believe that the government should be legislating what words we have to use. That’s a new type of legislation. Previously, when there were restrictions put on speech, the restrictions were of the form, that there were things you could not say any longer. So for example, perhaps you’re not allowed legally to deny the Holocaust. But this is the first legislation that I’ve seen that actually mandates the words that you must use. And then there’s issues of sheer impracticality, which I don’t think the formulators of this legislation saw coming, and it’s one thing to have, say, 2 genders: he, she and arguably they–although that means we have to sacrifice the singular–but you see in states like New York and cities like New York City, legal protection being extended to 31 different gender identities, each of whom, as far as I can tell, would all be entitled to their own pronoun, and that’s just simply untenable that is going to happen. It can’t work. It’s not a solution that anyone can actually implement. So there’s many reasons for my objection to the legislation.
One of the things you talk about in your videos is the “PC game,” so why don’t you tell me a little bit about the PC game and how genderless pronouns plays into that.
The way I describe the PC game is that people…have to simplify the world in order to live in it, and that’s fine. But there’s a difference between functionally simplifying it and radically oversimplifying it to make a particular kind of moral or emotional point, and so the point of the PC game is to look like a good person without having to do any of the work that being an actual good person would entail, and also identifying a set of enemies that you can vent your resentment and unhappiness upon. And so the way you play it is that you identify a domain of human activity, whatever that domain might be, it could even be…the organized games that children play. Then you note that some people are doing comparatively well in that domain and some people are doing comparatively poorly, then you define the ones that are doing well as perpetrators and the ones that are doing poorly as victims, then you ally yourself on the side of the victim and announce your moral superiority. That gives you light to persecute the perpetrators and feel good about yourself and then to move on to the next domain, where you can play the same. It’s an ugly game. It’s counterproductive, and it’s typical of ideological games in that it radically oversimplifies things for unstated reasons.
How would you say this PC game is used in regard to genderless pronouns?
Well it’s another group that’s being victimized and singled out, and that group is…I wouldn’t say the transgender community because that’s not exactly right, see because…it’s more people who refuse to or aren’t willing to attribute to themselves traditional gender categories. See, the traditional transsexual person, so to speak, is someone who’s male who desperately wants to be female, and of course is not only willing to be called by female pronouns but actually want that, they’re not gender-neutral people. They are people who search desperately for identity on the other side of the gender coin. But the argument, I guess, is around people who have a non-standard gender identity that doesn’t fit the binary categories and apparently those people have the right to demand that other people address them by whatever special term they deem suitable. And so, it’s part of the PC left of continual hunt for new victims to brandish at people so that more and more control can be implemented over other people’s behaviors and actions and speech, action and words.
So how would you recommend fighting back against the PC game?
Well that’s a good question…I did suggest that people purchase a set of stickers that I’ve produced that are anti-PC stickers that can be placed on posters and so forth that broadcast PC message but I would say, you know, that’s kind of…a pinpointed and rather minimalist attempt, although it’s something. I think that people have to speak out against being identified with a group, you know, so for example there are students all over the United States in particular–this isn’t quite the case in Canada–who are being called out on their white privilege, identified with a particular racial group and then made to suffer the consequences of the existence of that racial group and its hypothetical crimes, and that sort of thing has to come to a stop. Like that’s racist in its extreme. Any attempt to reduce the individual to a category is well, also part of the PC game, but it should be resisted. Certainly at minimum by logical argumentation…refusal to accept those arguments is valid. So that being said, people need to speak up in their classes. They need to push back against it and not put up with it…and I believe that rational argumentation about this is the most effective way forward but…now there’s a free speech group that’s just organized on the University of Toronto campus that sent a letter to the university administration today, so that sort of organization can be extraordinarily useful. I think that identifying the people who are behind this as individuals and calling them out on their behavior is also extremely useful, because the social justice warrior types like to act in mobs and you can’t fight them all, but you can certainly stand up against individuals who foment mobs. And so I think you need to start paying close attention to the ringleaders of this sort of movement. Women studies departments are particularly egregious offenders, I think…and people have to be awake to what’s happening and start to stop going along with it.
So then when it comes to genderless pronouns, what would be some good ways to fight back on that front?
Well one is certainly to refuse to use at least the made-up version…but also to go after the people that are pushing these sorts of things, especially on campuses, with reasoned argumentation, letters and protests if necessary to indicate to those who are pushing this agenda forward that there is resistance to it, and serious resistance to it.
Since you started to become more vocal in coming out against genderless pronouns and so forth, how have you been treated on campus, would you say?
Oh, well I don’t think anything’s really changed. I would say I’m slightly more self-conscious walking around on the campus, but that’s not a big deal. And the university, as you may or may not know, has agreed to host a public lecture on the issues that I’ve been discussing, so I will have an opportunity to speak at that. The university sent me a couple of letters warning me about my speech, but when I met with the dean and the faculty of arts and science, he and the other people at the pinnacle of the administration at the University of Toronto agreed there was an issue there that needed to be discussed at least, and so that’s how we’re going forward with it. It’s not like I’m feeling uncomfortable on the campus–except like I said a slightly heightened self-consciousness–but whatever, that’s hardly a catastrophe.
But I would also say that, you know the media has been reporting this–the traditional media at least, although not the online media–that I’m being the subject of a great backlash against my actions, but I would say that’s not precisely true. I’ve received perhaps a thousand emails supporting me…in fact I’ve received almost no emails commenting negatively on my YouTube videos, I would say no more than handful or five, and even a couple of those agreed I had the right to say what I said, just that they didn’t necessarily to the manner of which I formulated my argument. And so I would say public opinion–and that’s also true in terms of YouTube comments, if you look on the videos or other forums online where this is being actively discussed–I would say 95 percent of the comments are positively oriented towards what I’ve said.
You mentioned earlier in the interview that political correctness had kind of surfaced in the ’90s and then it was quelled, and now it’s come back in the last five years. So, why do you think that happened?
I think one of the things that caused it to be quelled in the 1990s was that the U.S. went into an economic boom and, you know, the general level of political dissatisfaction was actually very low, so I just think that people were motivated to grind their ideological axes quite to the degree that they are right now. But I also think the other issue is that was 20 years ago, and the universities of hordes, let’s say, of very politically savvy left-wing activists, women’s studies departments in particular, who advertise the fact that they basically transform their students into ideological political activists who are devoted towards a certain kind of social transformation, social and political transformation. And I tried to do some rough estimates, and the numbers that I have produced, you know, which may be in error by a factor of 10 – seems to me to indicate that the universities produce between 300,000 and 3 million dedicated, radical left-wing political activists in the last 20 years, and those people have become disseminated into positions of power and authority all through our institutions. I think you see them in large organizations and corporate organizations. I think that human resources departments are particularly egregious offenders, and then in any sort of political organization, these activist types tend to ride to the top and dominate, and you really see that, for example, in university student unions, where, you know, the voting turnout for student union elections is very low, and the student unions…it’s easy for them to come to be dominated by really committed activist types. So, it’s everywhere, roughly speaking.
Plus our society is quite confused about everything at the moment, so that doesn’t help either. The counterarguments to the politically correct positions aren’t easy to formulate, and you’ve done the risk of paying a high price if you do dare stand up and say no, I’m not doing this thing that you’re requesting of me. I don’t think it’s reasonable. And that’s one of the things, of course that’s happened to me, and I’m not complaining about that by the way, and I’m not feeling victimized by it either. It’s just…the social justice warriors are quite well organized to bring a lot of group-oriented pressure to bear on any single person who inadvertently or purposefully transgress against their sacred axioms.
That begs the question then, how exactly did academia become so far left?
Well I think it started in the ’60s, although the ideological groundwork was laid far before that, but…once the student leftists in the 1960s, once that became popular as a movement, I think that the intellectual climate on the universities moved far more to the radical left, partly even as a consequence of promoting free speech, weirdly enough. But then more and more people were trained in that manner of thinking and then the new hires at the universities were more likely to be left-leaning in their orientation. It was also a consequence of the proliferation of French philosophical doctrine that was imported from France. The French had a very active public intellectual life on the radical left. Many of them were avowed communists, all but one were at least Marxists, people like…Jean-Paul Sartre, who had a disproportionate influence on thinking in departments like English, for example, where deconstructionism was all the rage. So there are intellectual reasons for it as well as social reasons.
Then I think what happened was…at some point, you have people thinking one way in a department. No one who doesn’t think that way can get hired. So the system starts to feed back on itself, and I think we have come to the point where that’s happened. So I think I heard at Brown University, for example, there are 60 Democratic faculty members for every one that’s Republican…so I think I heard that Berkeley for example is 35 to 1…Jonathan Haidt has been pointing out for some time that social science is so left-leaning that it’s very difficult for the science to proceed without bias. And we’ve been doing research in my lab – I’m not a right-winger by the way, I don’t really identify myself, so to speak, in any particular position on the ideological spectrum – we’ve been trying to sort out scientifically what constitutes liberal belief and conservative belief and politically correct belief and trying to get rid some of the implicit bias in the formulations, because what’s happened so far is that social sciences tend to study conservatives, as in conservatives are the object of interest as peculiar and difficult to understand. Of course, that’s not the unbiased sort of approach that you’d hope that scientists would take, where representatives from both ends of the political spectrum would be regarded as equally observed on serious manifestations of humanity to be subject to careful analysis and understanding. And we’re trying to do that at my lab…and I think Jonathan Haidt has done a very good job…as well. I think he’s a very credible researcher. I thought that far before he did any political comments, his work on disgust was extraordinarily interesting, I think very well done.
Right, and this actually a transition into my next question here, which is where exactly you stand politically, but it sounds like based on your comments that you’re kind of like more in the middle?
I’ve studied the temperamental basis of political beliefs, and my temperament pulls me in two directions, because I’m very high in trained openness – which is creativity and an interest in aesthetics and ideas – and that presupposes me towards being a liberal, but I’m also very high in industriousness and in conscientiousness, and that sort of presupposes me towards being a conservative, so, you know, I would say that in some ways I’m a radical traditionalist. I know that’s a strange combination of traits, but, you know, I believe that we have plenty to learn and our society needs to be continually updated, but we should be very careful about dispensing too rapidly with the wisdom of our traditions.