There is something rotten in the realm of Western universities. For two or three years now, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world, there has been a new delirious whiff of political correctness. If, at one time, the university institutions could be places of discussion and criticism open to all the debates, today, they tend more and more to be nurseries for adults, where it is more important to protect young students against possible trauma resulting from the confrontation with the thought of others, than to open their mind.
While this wave of political correctness has mostly affected American and British universities, it has now reached the shores of Lake Ontario. One case has been in the headlines of Queen’s and English Canada’s media since the last academic year. This is Professor Jordan Peterson, who has been teaching psychology (his specialties are the study of personality and the psychology of religion) at the University of Toronto since 1998. Before he was hired, he had been a professor at Harvard. What is at stake for him is first his job and his license to practice psychology. He is also exposed to possible legal proceedings. What he is criticized for (and by “we”, I mean LGBTQ + activists and his own university), is to refuse to publicly use neutral personal pronouns in the presence of, or when he comes into contact with transgender people.
According to the regulations of the University of Toronto, the student has the right to choose the pronoun he wishes to use in his communications with him. Professor Peterson refuses, in the name of freedom of expression and freedom of education, to use these artificial pronouns. “I do not recognize the right of anyone to choose the words I will use, especially since, on the one hand, the words that I want to use are non-regular elements of the English language and, on the other hand, these constructions are the creation of a small coterie of ideologues.
For him, it would be giving in to political correctness to submit to the wishes of a handful of activists, who represent only a tiny part of the population: “I believe that artificially constructed words such as pronouns supposedly “neutral” from the point of view of gender, are the manifestation of a wave of political correctness whose historical roots disturb me (Marxism) and whose psychological motivations seem doubtful to me (because they rest on the will of ‘infantilize and intense resentment of success, whatever its origin). Recall that only totalitarian states have tried to regulate language and knowledge in this way.
Professor Peterson is of the opinion that requiring everyone to comply with such an obligation is a perfectly unrealistic expectation. When we began to want to impose it in universities, Peterson recalls, “They had no idea that, of two kinds, we would soon be over 30, if I refer to those who are the subject of a legal protection in New York City. (…) Perhaps we would be able, if need be, to use “they” to designate the people who ask for it, because they do not correspond perfectly to the traditional categories. But 30 is obviously impossible – and there are now lists that include much more than 30.
Let’s say that it is nevertheless incredible to think that theoretical constructions, ideological constructions, such as those relating to gender, highly discussed and highly debatable conceptions, can serve as a basis for legal texts as important as a charter of rights or a criminal code, without an in-depth public debate taking place. Our governments really must have lost all critical thinking and completely surrendered to the demands of very militant lobbies to make this happen.
For Peterson, with a bill like C-16, “the government, under the influence of the social justice warriors of the radical left, has decided what to say, instead of telling us what we do. do not have the right to say. This seems to me a serious mistake. I think it’s an unwarranted limit to freedom of expression. The law, when it comes into force, could, because of the very real possibility of prosecution, prevent legitimate public debates on gender issues and sexuality and complicate the work of researchers on these topics. The Toronto professor compares the reforms introduced by Bill C-16 with the restrictions on freedom of expression that exist in “authoritarian and totalitarian countries”
What this heartbreaking episode reminds us of first is that freedom of expression in Canada is extremely framed. We do not have, as in the United States, a First Amendment that protects the dissemination of ideas, even contestable (and again, we see today, the particular policies of universities often limit its scope). As the categories of persons who are subject to discrimination are added to the Charter of Rights and the Criminal Code, this freedom of expression is likely to diminish. Because everything becomes subject to interpretation by the courts, and we never know if this or that statement, even if it is stated in an academic context, will be qualified as hateful.
For the moment, Quebec still seems to be spared, to a large extent. But it would be illusory to believe that we will be forever immune. Fortunately, responsible leaders still exist around the world. Like Jordan Peterson, we must salute these courageous individuals. For example, the Dean of Students at the University of Chicago, who in a public letter recently announced to the academic community: “Our commitment to academic freedom means we do not support the so-called prevent warnings , that we do not cancel invitations to speakers whose points of view could provoke controversy and that we do not tolerate the creation of safe intellectual spaces ( safe zones) where individuals could distance themselves from ideas or perspectives that differ from theirs. (…) The diversity of opinions and formations is a fundamental strength in our community. Members of our community must have the freedom to exhibit and explore a wide range of ideas.
On September 30, during a radio interview, Professor Peterson warned: “I have to tell you something that scares me terribly and that you can think about. I think that the continual and carefree push of the people by the radicals of the left movements has the effect of awakening the movements of the right. You can think of it as a prophecy on my part if you will. A beast is inside our communities and this beast uses its claws. If you wake up the beast, the violence then breaks out. I fear that this constant push by radicals left movements has the effect of waking the beast. On November 8, the beast woke up south of the Canadian border.