Jordan Peterson has recently come under fire for an interview he did with Jim Jefferies for how quickly his stance flipped at a very basic question. During the interview, Jefferies pressed Peterson on his stance that a business shouldn’t be forced to serve customers it chooses not to (the now famous “Bake the cake” situation). The interview, freely available on Youtube, involving this exchange takes place over little more than 40 seconds before the flip-flop takes place.
I’ll start off by giving a quick synopsis of the interview. Jefferies starts off by asking Peterson if a business ought to be forced to bake a cake for a gay wedding to which Peterson replied they should not be forced to. Next, he was asked if the same principles applied if it was, for example, a black couple. Peterson again stated that they ought not be forced to do so, but added that refusing based on race would be wrong to do. At this point, Jefferies dives briefly into the civil rights movement, the ending of racial segregation, and that society had improved from the outcome. When he asked if it was the right thing that the businesses were forced to be inclusive Peterson replied that it was right. When the (obvious) next question of “why is that different from today?” arose, Peterson had little recourse other than to state that he had been wrong in his claims. The result of this brief exchange between the two is quite telling of two misconceptions. The first is that the ends justify the means, and the second is that a person that is intelligent in one area is intelligent in others by default.
When we are conflating freedom of speech and freedom of association with the market one thing that needs to be understood is that the notions at play are ideological ones; not practical ones. In the case of the results of the civil rights movement in relation to businesses being able to refuse service based on race can we say that the results were a good thing? Of course. The ends achieved are indeed in this writer’s mind a great thing, but the question of means remains in play.
Was the inclusiveness worth the state violation and restriction of freedom of association or freedom of speech? Could society have eventually reached the levels of inclusiveness that we have if, rather than enact new laws of forced association, the government only removed the racist laws that they had had in place? To the former question I remain skeptical; to the latter, it’s too far into the world of conjecture to be sure. This writer, however, believes that eventual economic opportunity and the general ideological shift in society that was already underway would have eventually progressed us this far. As I said this is the realm of conjecture, but I would like to believe that humans are capable of general compassion without the force of the state.
The second issue with this interview is the perceived “Cult of Peterson” and the belief that he is intellectually superior to most. Jordan Peterson is a clinical psychologist and Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto (a fellow Cannuck no less). He entered the public eye not for some breakthrough in psychology, but rather for a personal opinion which then evolved through his profession. He made the news for his anti-political correctness stances, in particular, his stance against enforced usage of pronouns, and his eventual psychological work to understand the mindsets of those that perpetuate these stances. While some of it is contested overall it brought a fascinating angle to the discussion of Postmodernism, feminism, white privilege, and the rest of the Id-pol sphere of public debate. The issue here lies in what is known as an “appeal to authority” or “appeal to false authority” fallacy.
These two fallacies are defined respectively as such: the first is to claim that an argument has to be right because the person who made it is an expert in the field of discussion, the second is the same as the first except they are not truly an expert in that field; just a person considered an authority in general. Jordan Peterson is a psychologist. He is not an economist, nor adept at legal matters, nor anthropological developments in society, nor the philosophy of forms of rights, nor would he be fully equipped to tackle a complex societal issue such as when rights collide with the morality and practicality of the state and economy.
A close friend of mine said “if you’re going to defend freedom of association and freedom of speech you’ll find yourself opposing human rights to a degree” and I think he’s right in a sense. We have a perception of what our rights are, but we forget what happens when rights collide. Freedoms are human rights, and even if freedom leads to negative ends it’s not something to be sacrificed for the imagined “Greater Good.” It’s important to form and hold ourselves to well thought out principles as we navigate through life. The mistake Peterson made was jumping into lobster infested waters without learning how to swim.