False Claims of Racism Are Also Dangerous

Even the suggestion of racial animus can get you fired these days as a Winston-Salem manlearned recently after he asked an African-American to prove she was entitled to use the community pool.

So, too, did John Schnatter, the founder of Papa John’s Pizza, who was forced out of his company in response to fierce public and corporate backlash because he uttered the N-word during a role playing game about controversial language.

These are extremely harsh penalties for such ambiguous acts. It is frightening that lives are being ruined by a shadow police state of social media activists and cowardly corporations that play judge, jury and executioner – and that so few people seem alarmed by this.

At the risk of falling prey to the intolerance I abhor, I am sometimes tempted to demand sanctions for those who falsely accuse others of hatred. If the charge of racism can carry such damaging consequences, then those who lodge it should be warned not to do so lightly. If racist thoughts are so dangerous that those who might hold them should be shunned, justice demands such damning accusations be a last resort, the result of careful study, stated with profound hesitation.

That is not what happened on July 6 when every member of the Durham City Council signed a letter accusing Dr. Jordan Peterson, the bestselling author and University of Toronto professor of psychology, of “racism, misogynist and transphobic views” in advance of his talk at DPAC in September. Durham’s elected leaders added that, “Those who seek to exclude or deny the humanity of others will find no comfort here. … [in a city and community] that “reject and resist bigotry.”

Let the depth of that condemnation of Peterson – and, presumably, the thousands of people planning to attend that event – sink in. Consider, too, that it was not issued by a group of random citizens but by elected officials.

With blithe recklessness, these leaders present no evidence to support their claims. Instead, they appear to have only read an article in the Indy Week newspaper. That piece, in turn, does not seem based on a close reading of Peterson’s thoughtful book, “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos,” or his YouTube videos, but slanted stories about Peterson from the New York Times and the Guardian newspaper.

The Indy Week article calls Peterson a racist because he believes “white privilege isn’t real.” So a racialist concept that, Peterson argues, pretends people don’t belong to various groups (white, gay and disabled) and have various characteristic (rich, pretty and low IQ) is the litmus test for racism?

It calls him a misogynist because, in addition to questioning the notion of an oppressive patriarchy, he supports the concept of “enforced monogamy.” Although the Times article falsely suggested he wants to force women to marry men, the term means that society is better off encouraging people to pair off and remain loyal to a single partner. Do you disagree?

He’s “homophobic” because, even though he doesn’t oppose gay marriage or gay adoption, he believes the traditional nuclear family is best for children because men and women are not the same and being reared amidst that difference is preferable. Is that hateful?

He’s “transphobic” because he rejected a Canadian law that would force him to call students by their preferred pronoun – which he’s generally happy to do, absent state coercion. Should the government dictate our speech?

Peterson’s book draws on ancient texts – especially the Bible – the insights of Nietzsche, Freud and Jung and along with the latest scientific literature to argue we have been too quick to ignore the wisdom of the ages in our headlong rush to reinvent society during the last few decades.

It is a serious book, erudite and provocative. One can disagree with any and all of his contentions. But they should be approached with an appreciation of their complexity and in good faith.

The Durham City Council failed to do that. Instead it sought to score points by calling Peterson a monster. At the least they should read his book, attend his lecture and then tell us what they think.

This column ran in the Raleigh News & Observer on July 19, 2018.

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