Last Wednesday, Room for Discussion of the University of Amsterdam invited famous psychologist and author of the critically acclaimed self-help book ’12 Rules for Life: An antidote to chaos’ Jordan Peterson to speak on the topic of ‘society in crisis’ for their lustrum week. The event did not go unnoticed and ended up causing quite a bit of commotion.Who is Jordan Peterson and what made his appearance at the Room for Discussion such a newsworthy event? Medium Magazine is here to give you the scoop!
Who is Jordan Peterson?
Let me give you a quick recap: Jordan Peterson is a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto. Peterson has been sharing his ideas on life for years, either through YouTube videos of his lectures filmed by his students or by answering questions on the popular user-based forum Quora, like this particularly famous one. This Quora answer spread like wildfire and inspired him to write his book ’12 rules for life’, which was published last January. Around the time Peterson wrote the what would later become draft version of 12 Rules for Life on Quora, Canada passed a new law: the c16 law. The c16 law is a law that basically states that it is punishable by law to discriminate anyone on the basis of their gender identity and/or gender expression. This includes refusing to use the preferred gender pronoun of the individual in question. Peterson criticized the law, stating that the government threatening him with criminal prosecution for not using someone’s preferred gender pronoun is limiting his freedom of speech and thus constitutes censorship.
‘Conservative, patriarchal, anti-feminist’
It was this response to the Canadian law which really put Peterson in the limelight and brought his ideas to a whole other landscape: The political one. A lot of Peterson’s approaches to certain topics are considered to at least somewhat challenge the worldview of left-leaning liberals. His words are often taken out of context and used by far right-wing movements to justify certain extreme behaviours, such as discrimination. This has lead to some 80 staff members of the University of Amsterdam penning an open letter, requesting the Room for Discussion to invite another guest speaker to oppose Peterson’s ideas, as they view his worldview to be too radical and state him to be ‘conservative, patriarchal (…) and anti-feminist’ among many other things. This fierce response to news of his guest appearance brought up fears of violent protests during his talk.
See you there, cowards
Peterson has responded to the letter on his website. Among other things, he flames the staff members for speaking on behalf of others, stating that students are interested in hearing what he has to say and have come to hear him speak, not some other randomly chosen guest speaker. He also refutes their claims that his ideas are based on pseudo-science, showing of his status in the academic world by referring to his credentials in teaching at university level and the countless scientific articles he has written. He ends the letter by calling out all the people that signed the letter as follows:’ See you in Amsterdam, you cowards, denouncers and totalitarian wannabes.’
The bottom line
Despite fears of a protest with perhaps dangerous consequences taking place, the Room for Discussion did not budge and did not invite another guest speaker to sit opposite Jordan Peterson. Instead, they opted to have an extra 20-minute Q&A session at the end of his speech. The discussion went by surprisingly well and peacefully, with no major offenses taking place during. People opposing Peterson’s worldview were given the right to protest silently, by being allowed to hand out pamphlets to the audience explaining why they are so against his ideas. Peterson himself expressed his regret at the fact that many of his ideas are used in a political context, while he’s mainly speaking from a psychological point of view. In regard to how to deal with a society in which it is so easy to receive political backlash from the smallest mishap in your speech and/or writing, he advised the audience to learn to write well and to not take the academic field of humanities for granted. At the end of the day, what matters is that we give each other space to have an insightful discussion. If you oppose someone’s views, at least make sure you have listened to all their points and considered them carefully, coming from themselves. It is only than that we can have a meaningful discussion and actually learn from each other.
Cover: Folia / Final Editing: Ivo Martens