What we learned at last weekend’s “political correctness” debate, starring Jordan Peterson
On Friday, the city’s culturati spent the first night of the May 24 weekend packed into Roy Thomson Hall for the latest Munk Debate, where the topic couldn’t possibly have been more timely: “Be it resolved that what you call political correctness, I call progress.” On the pro side: New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg and African-American academic and author Michael Eric Dyson. Arguing against: British thespian Stephen Fry and Jordan Peterson, who became the Justin Bieber of Internet free-speech zealots after he posted YouTube lectures decrying PC culture on university campuses. The debate was moderated by Munk Debates chair Rudyard Griffiths.
All four debaters presented impassioned, intermittently effective, occasionally off-topic arguments. But who won? Who came to blows? And which two debaters should definitely be starring in a postmodern buddy cop movie? Here’s what we learned:
Toronto’s elite are anti-PC
Upon entering RTH, the crowd was asked to fill out a survey where they voted for or against the resolution. Going into the debate, 36 per cebt of attendees agreed that political correctness was a form of progress, while 64 per cent were opposed.
It may be politically incorrect to identify political correctness
One of the most remarkable things about the debate was that actual political correctness didn’t get discussed a whole bunch. Onstage was Peterson—the guy who has famously refused to use they/them pronouns to address gender non-conforming students (at his job at a publicly funded university). And yet, that didn’t come up. Instead, the debaters discussed why perceived censorship is different from censorship (Goldberg), how the right are the true perpetrators of identity politics (Dyson), the value of hierarchies and the sovereignty of the individual (Peterson), and why nobody on this continent seems to have any bloody idea what political correctness is (Fry).
A New York Times profile of Jordan Peterson loomed large
On the day of the debate, the New York Times published a profile of the prof, in which the author lays out Peterson’s support for “enforced monogamy” and patriarchy based on innate male superiority. Goldberg quoted from the profile in her opening statement—presumably as a way of articulating the dangerous ideologies that could prevail in the absence of PC culture. Peterson accused her of attacking him personally.
It’s okay not to like your teammate
While Goldberg and Dyson were essentially coming from the same place on the Pro side, the men on the Con side were not exactly two anti-PCs in a pod. Fry, who is gay, opened his argument by noting that he was “standing next to someone with whom I have, you know, differences.” He appeared to be avoiding Peterson’s attempts at comradely eye contact throughout.
It’s also okay to call Stephen Fry offensive names
Or so says Fry himself. He argued that the problem with PC culture is that we have become too uptight about words, including a certain unprintable epithet for gay men. This would have been a great time for one of the Pro debaters to jump in and point out the myriad ways in which language influences thought and indicates societal values—but alas, that may have been a little too on-topic.
But it’s not okay to call Jordan Peterson white
The evening’s emotional climax came during a heated exchange between Peterson and Dyson, in which the former asked if there was a tax he could pay so he could stop hearing about his white privilege. Dyson responded by asking, “Why the rage, bro? You’re doing well, but you’re a mean white man. I have never seen so much whining and snow-flaking—there’s enough whine in here to start a vineyard.” The mean-white-guy thing earned Dyson the night’s only boos. Peterson came back saying that while he may indeed be mean, he was not okay with being called white: “The fact that race got dragged into that comment is a better example of what’s wrong with the politically correct left than anything else that could have happened,” he said, prompting a big cheer from the audience.
Nobody wants to appear dead-set against #MeToo
When Griffiths asked the debaters to address whether #MeToo has gone too far, Goldberg made the point that, in fact, the punishments have largely fit the crimes: “When you look at who has actually lost their jobs—it’s not based on random McCarthyist rumours, it’s people who took their dicks out at work…and now they’re staging comebacks!” Fry said that post-#MeToo political correctness has lead to a “genuine fear” in his industry amongst men who feel like they can’t say what they think. “It’s worrying,” he said, before adding that the revelations of decades of rampant and institutionally condoned sexual assault and harassment perpetrated against women are…also worrying.
Jordan Peterson and Michael Eric Dyson may soon be taking a trip together
Following a heated exchange, Dyson suggested that Peterson might better understand the notion of privilege if he accompanied Dyson to a black Baptist church. Peterson accepted the invitation, and Griffiths vowed to make sure this real-life buddy cop movie would actually happen.
Toronto’s elite are still anti-PC
In the end, the Cons were the winners by a significant margin—a result that probably had a lot to do with Stephen Fry’s wit, Michael Eric Dyson’s name calling and the particular biases of the well-heeled audience.