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Don’t Feed the Troll

A Not Particularly Eloquent or Highbrow Analysis on Jordan Peterson’s Appeal


We should be grateful to people who use epithets like “social justice warrior” or “cuck.” Such people are essentially saying in a word or acronym, “I am an asshole; please disregard everything I have to say.” Once upon a time, you would have to piece together a history of objectionable statements and opinions to determine if someone was a hateful bigot or arbitrarily adversarial jerk. Now, they have provided others with handy (to borrow their own parlance) trigger words for identifying them as people whose opinions require no consideration. As lawyers, we’re going to be charging monstrous sums for our services, and it’s nice when people don’t waste our time.

I’m bringing this up because I somehow ended up in two conversations about Jordan Peterson in a twenty-four-hour period. One of these conversations was post-hockey bar talk, in which some teammates were expressing sympathy for the Wilfrid Laurier teaching assistant who got in trouble for not immediately and utterly dismissing everything Peterson has to say. The other conversation was with an Obiter writer who expressed some respect for Peterson (as we were flipping through the Obiter archives and laughing at how savage some of the old articles were). Ladies and gentlemen, meet testosterone and alcohol.

To be fair, my teammates weren’t defending Peterson, and mainly expressing sympathy for a woman who was reprimanded for expressing an unpopular opinion. We’re law students. Defending what most people consider indefensible is something most of us will have to do at some point, if not on a regular basis. Considering that conversation led to someone asking if I’d joined the “Pen 15 Club” and subsequently writing “penis” on my hand, let’s just say that wasn’t the intellectual low point of the night. Also, Wilfrid Laurier’s treatment of that teaching assistant was shameful, so my teammates were in the right (and two or three beers in, but that’s just hockey).

As for the Obiter writer, we pretty much had to agree to disagree. We like each other and don’t want that to change, so we changed the subject. We did agree that Peterson’s relevance is largely dependent on his ability to antagonize liberal intellectuals, and that a lot of his popularity stems from otherwise-intelligent people being too willing to feed the troll. Either way, you’ll probably see a pro-Peterson article in the future, and it might even be anonymous, because of the whole Wilfrid Laurier thing.

Anyway, if you’re lucky enough to not know who Jordan Peterson is, he’s the U of T psychology professor who’s infamous for refusing to use gender-neutral pronouns, railing against the liberal academic status quo, and showing just how much a tenured professor can get away with.  He’d be a garden-variety alt-right troll if it weren’t for the fact that he’s an admittedly accomplished academic.

I’m going to skip over addressing any of his particularly objectionable views for a few reasons. First of all, you can look them up on your own. Second, it’s too close to exams to waste hours listening to his YouTube videos for a play-by-play. But most importantly, the guy is getting rich off a combination of outrage and alt-right desperation for a figurehead whose success is entirely dependent on their willingness to say horrible things for money. Peterson is getting over thirty grand a month in crowdfunding for saying things that would embarrass the stereotypical racist uncle. Granted, he might be getting a lot of that money for better reasons than validating 4chan trolls, but since he was barely making 1/30th that amount before bitching about gender-neutral pronouns, it’s not a stretch to assume he’s cashing in on his notoriety more than his academic credentials. A person can gain a lot of wealth, influence, and fame by pandering to the lowest common denominator, and it’s no coincidence that few people seemed to know or care who Peterson was before he started screeching about identity politics.

The point is that we need to be careful about giving people like Peterson this sort of attention. Putting aside that he feeds on the disdain of liberal intellectuals like a real-life Eric Cartman licking tears off a victim’s cheeks, he’s become so notorious that he seems to have found modest traction among actual academic circles. That is traction he would never have found if the visceral reaction of his detractors wasn’t so intense as to inspire curiosity. Yes, it’s unusual for an academic to use epithets such as “social justice warrior” in all seriousness, but that doesn’t change the fact that people who use such epithets don’t deserve the time of day (or at most, a dismissive, “well, aren’t you a prick?”) He didn’t elevate hateful rhetoric by associating it with his credentials; he demeaned himself and his position with hateful rhetoric. We could have dismissed him out of hand, but instead, we helped make him famous. Well played.

In any case, don’t feed the troll. Once upon a time, Jordan Peterson was once a fairly ordinary psychology professor who certainly didn’t get where he was by being wrong about things. Then, one day, he said something monumentally wrong, some people were validated, others freaked out, and now he’s making mad money on making people mad. Somehow, I doubt the trans students he initially offended wanted him to flourish because of his disdain for their gender identity, and yet here we are. He could have been one more insensitive U of T prof with a bad reputation, but he instead became a champion for a world of alt-right trolls who think someone else’s identity is somehow their business. I can almost hear him laughing, and I can’t necessarily blame him.

At least he didn’t trigger me into writing an entire article about him.

Wait, shit.

Good luck on your exams.