Is Jordan Peterson a modern day Immanuel Kant

Academic Climate Change? There is resistance to left orthodoxy in Anglo-Saxon universities

Those who demand diversity often only want simplicity: The culture of debate at universities has suffered greatly. A recent case at a university in Waterloo, Canada, continues to expand. Psychology professor Jordan Peterson defends freedom of speech to the limit - and capitalizes on it.

The scandal made a professor famous all over the world and ostracized a student in the academy. The doctoral student Lindsay Shepherd, as a tutor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, showed her communication class a few minutes from an argument on Canadian television: Jordan Peterson, psychology professor in Toronto, resisted using transgender people with the pronouns they wanted (« ze ”,“ xem ”), as required by a new law in Canada. The tutor therefore had to face a tribunal with those responsible for diversity at the university. Her professor rebuked her for saying that such a debate should no more be expected of the students without comment than a speech by Hitler.

Lindsay Shepherd put the rebuke that she had secretly recorded on the network. This sparked an outcry and an apology from the university. And Jordan Peterson came to prominence beyond Canada: He also appears in crowded halls as a speaker in Australia, England and the USA.

Peterson is celebrating a bestseller with his book “12 Rules for Life”, which is currently being translated into forty languages. And he attracts an audience of millions with his talks and lectures on YouTube. On the other hand, Lindsay Shepherd suffers from hostility at her university and in the academy, so that she threatens the end of her academic career. That's why she is now suing a million dollar loss, and Jordan Peterson, slandered as a Nazi in the affair, joins her.

So it's not about a trivial dispute in the Canadian hinterland: The scandal in Waterloo throws a spotlight on the culture war that has been raging at Anglo-Saxon universities for decades. And thanks to the prominence of the protagonists, it may lead to a turning point.

The new simplicity

The cases that have attracted the most attention in recent months: At the Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon, protesters chanted retired philosophy professor Christina Hoff Sommers as "a well-known fascist who justifies racist and sexist violence" because she as a “factual feminist” for the American Enterprise Institute dissected feminist myths with facts. At Middlebury College in Vermont, activists chased away the author Charles Murray, whom the left has ostracized since his scientifically reputable 1994 book "The Bell Curve" on intelligence research. And at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, protesters persecuted progressive biologists Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying for alleged racism until the couple left their jobs. The two had initially resisted a power-hungry new president making the school the "College of Social Justice".

The students, who refuse to do anything that contradicts their worldview, are incited by the "postmodern neo-Marxists" who have conquered the humanities faculties in recent decades, claims Jordan Peterson. Because they see Western thinking only as a means of power to oppress all non-white and non-male people - this repressive system needs to be deconstructed by social activists.

What appears to be pure polemics is confirmed by an unsuspecting witness: the social psychology professor Jonathan Haidt, who, born into a Jewish family in Brooklyn, has always viewed himself as “liberal” in the American sense, i.e. as a leftist. Since his bestseller “The Righteous Mind. Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion ”from 2012, he points out that his like-minded people stifle the pluralistic thinking that universities are supposed to convey: while in the social sciences in the 1990s there were“ only ”three to four of a Republican Leftists have come, which has led to fruitful controversies, the ratio is now one to seventeen - the conservatives, but also the libertarians and other nonconformists, are threatened with extinction in the monoculture of American universities.

Then, according to Jonathan Haidt in his forthcoming book on “Pampering the American Spirit”, no one would bother the students with the thoughts that they are now violently defending against.

On the one hand: The ideas of the "old white men" from Plato to Kant undeniably led to colonialism and imperialism, to economic crises and environmental catastrophes; but at the same time they created a civilization that offers people more quality of life, freedom and happiness according to all conceivable standards - especially people who do not feel like men or women. On the other hand, it is wrong to see humans as freely malleable beings, for example to claim like a gender professor in the television debate with Jordan Peterson that it is “incorrect to say that there is such a thing as biological sex” - the Evolutionary biology shows what still shapes human nature after millions of years, i.e. also leads to differences between genders, ethnicities or cultures.

Offensive thoughts

Not only Jordan Peterson, who explains his rules for life with the hormonal balance of the lobster (because the serotonin in crustaceans has the same effect as in humans, which is why they respond to Prozac), reaches a mass audience with his offensive thoughts. The philosopher Christina Hoff Sommers collects hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube with her amusing, but always argumentative and factually precise clips. In addition, she and journalist Danielle Crittenden are now demonstrating in her podcast “The Femsplainers” how serious issues can be discussed in a relaxed manner, in an impressive conversation with her friend Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who fled Somalia and the Netherlands displaced critic of Islam. And the neuroscientist Sam Harris, author of bestsellers on the “new atheism”, lives on donations for his “Waking Up Podcast”, for which he debates for hours with leading scientists and intellectuals about the big questions from spirituality to cosmology.

Sam Harris is currently touring with Jordan Peterson, from Vancouver to London in fully booked halls. And in November he is even planning a “Day of Reflection” in New York, where traditional celebrities such as the journalist Fareed Zakaria will also appear. The nonconformists are already coming together online, in discussions on YouTube and via podcasts, but also in the Internet magazine “Quillette”, founded by the Australian psychologist Claire Lehmann three years ago in her living room. You also joke that you call yourself “Intellectual Dark Web”.

The new intolerance

However, his heads do not remain in the dark - on the contrary: Jordan Peterson is currently considered by many to be the most influential public intellectual in the English-speaking world. At universities, however, hardly anyone teaches the positions they hold.

In order to actually promote universal thinking again at universities, Jonathan Haidt initiated the Heterodox Academy three years ago. What began as a blog now unites over 1,800 academics who are only united by their - actually self-evident - credo: “I believe that at universities, people with different worldviews and interests should meet in an environment in which they can express themselves freely and challenge themselves . "

At the first congress of the Heterodox Academy with 350 participants, which recently took place in New York, some of those affected by the new intolerance also reported on their experiences. And Lindsay Shepherd received an award for her courage. It should be a consolation prize for the brave tutor: it is possible that her lawsuit promotes climate change at American universities - but hardly that she still has a career in the Orthodox academy.