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More-dan Peterson: Video and Additional Comments – Consequential -isms

More-dan Peterson: Video and Additional Comments

This title is bad and I should feel bad.

…anyway, Jordan Peterson has now posted the video of his UWO talk:

Helluva clickbait-y title for a talk that proceeded without disruption or protest. Really makes you think you’re in for a repeat of McMaster.

Two quick further thoughts:

(1). At around 12:15, he begins his attack on the claim that “biological sex, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual proclivity vary independently.”

As best I’ve been able to tell, this claim appears nowhere in Bill C-16 or the OHRC’s “Policy on preventing discrimination because of gender identity and gender expression.” What the latter actually says that “[a] person’s gender identity may be the same as or different from their birth-assigned sex.” This is a far weaker claim than “biological sex and gender identity [and gender expression and sexual orientation] vary independently of one another,” in the sense of having no significant statistical correlations among them, which is the sense in which Dr. Peterson presents and criticizes the claim. In Appendix B of the OHRC’s Policy, under the entry for “Gender identity,” we in fact find the following: “For most people, their sex and gender identity align [emphasis mine]. For some, it does not. A person may be born male but identify as a woman, or born female but identify as a man.”

Additionally, the “Backgrounder” to the Policy lists a number of comments and suggestions solicited by OHRC (from “everyone and their dog,” according to Peterson) prior to the most recent revision of the Policy. Though there’s plenty among these comments with which one could take issue (and some of them positively contradict other comments and even themselves), we don’t find, even here, a claim as strong as the one Dr. Peterson is criticizing. What we see instead are claims like the following:

“A person’s gender identity can be the same as, or different from, that which is typically associated with their assigned sex at birth.”

“Note that the most common pathway, of being cissexual, is not the only pathway.”

“Gender identity is linked to an individual’s intrinsic sense of self and their sense of being female, male, a combination of both, or neither regardless of their biological sex.”

“[G]ender expression doesn’t necessarily correspond with gender identity (e.g. identify as male, but express their male gender identity in ways perceived as ‘feminine’ or of the female sex – e.g. makeup and nail polish).”

“People can express a gender (or gendered attributes) that are different from their gender identity (e.g. identify as female, express “male” attributes/gender).”

“Gender expression and gender identity may not ‘match’ or correspond – e.g. born male, gender identity is female, and gender expression could be ‘male’.”

“[G]ender identity and gender expression may or may not be linked – e.g. a butch woman might identify as a woman but present a more masculine gender expression.”

The strongest claims I could locate can be found in two places:

  1. In the Policy’s Appendix B entry: “Sexual orientation and gender identity are different.” Specifically, the claim there is: “A person’s gender identity is fundamentally different from and not related to their sexual orientation. Because a person identifies as trans does not predict or reveal anything about their sexual orientation” [note that the emphasis here is on an individual person, not on groups of people, to which statistical correlations would be more directly relevant].
  2. in a Backgrounder comment on “Cisnormativity,” where it is alleged: “This assumption [‘that it is normal for a person’s gender identity and expression to “match” the sex they were assigned at birth’] overlooks the reality of sex and gender variance – trans people, intersex, and diverse gender expressions by cisgender people as well.”

But even these are still importantly distinct from the claim at issue. In fact, the only place outside of Peterson’s own material I could find this claim, in relation to Bill C-16 and its background legislation, was in Conservative senator Don Plett’s March 2nd Response to Debate at 2nd Reading of Bill C-16, wherein he states:

“This theory [it’s not clear what, exactly, he’s referring to here] is also based on the concept that sex, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation all vary independently of one another — an interesting assertion for a sexually reproducing species.”

For all I know, though, he may have cribbed this line from Peterson’s own writing and talks.

So, again, the apparent conflict between these views on the relationship between sex and gender identity seems to come down to a difference of emphasis rather than anything more substantive. For Peterson, who is principally worried about the tyranny of a small minority, the statistical correlation between sex, gender, etc. is the important thing to emphasize. For trans people and trans advocates, who are worried about a more insidious “tyranny of the majority,” it’s important to emphasize that these properties do not covary necessarily. The latter are worried about the slide from “normal” in the statistical sense to “normal” in a…well…normative sense—the sense that would sanction gender policing. Many of the comments on Peterson’s videos (e.g., “Boys have penises, girls have vaginas”) suggest this isn’t an idle or frivolous concern.

(2). In the wake of the talk, UWO Philosophy Professor Samantha Brennan penned this short op-ed.

The dilemma of which Dr. Brennan writes is real, and I don’t doubt for a second that Peterson and his supporters would have spun any protest—even a content-directed, non-disruptive, non-deplatforming protest—in precisely the way she describes. Hell, he apparently had no qualms about spinning the complete absence of protest into “Mayhem.” But the contrarians don’t deserve all the blame here; I also suspect that the individual who leveled that awful comment at Brennan during her talk would not have been satisfied by the kind of protest just mentioned.

“Shutting down” the enemy is now a quick path to global—if fleeting—heroism among half the population on any major social media platform, and being “shut down” has quickly become a fast track to heroism among the other half. Little wonder campus culture seems to be growing inexorably more censorious; for all the complaining we hear, this is apparently what everyone actually wants. To those who have pitched careers, reputations, moral purposes, or identities on complaining about the behavior of a pernicious Other, the most salient threat is not that the conflict will escalate but that it will resolve peacefully.

Given Peterson’s avowed insistence on the importance of safeguarding campus free speech, he and his supporters should be celebrating his reception at Western and holding it up as a model for other universities. Hell, this would be the right thing to do even if he’d been met with a non-disruptive protest of the sort Brennan countenances. If you want to see the entrenchment of good behavior, you reward it; this is basic operant conditioning. But good behavior doesn’t fit the narrative that makes my crusade just and necessary (and, perhaps, lucrative). Good behavior can be taken as evidence that the crusade is starting to succeed or as evidence that there was never a problem meriting such a crusade in the first place.

This shouldn’t matter. Good behavior ought to be encouraged and proliferated. If that means at some point a winding down of one’s crusade, then so be it. In his second appearance on Sam Harris’ Waking Up podcast, Peterson characterizes the archetypal hero as the person with the flexibility and self-mastery to participate and prevail in any dominance hierarchy, whatever its organizing rules. By his own definition, then, no single crusade makes a hero, and perhaps we ought to regard any desperate clinging to a single crusade as a signal of diffidence in one’s capacity for heroism. Would this be enough to start reorienting people from problems to solutions, from “war”-making to peacemaking? Probably not by itself, but I suspect it couldn’t hurt.

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