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Yes, political correctness is an attack on free speech

Source: The New Statesman
Source: The New Statesman

The recent outburst over Jordan B. Peterson’s refusal to use gender neutral pronouns has pushed me to write once again on the authoritarian movement under the disguise of political correctness and safe spaces.

Dr. Jordan Peterson is a psychology professor at the University of Toronto with extensive knowledge of political mindsets. He recently released a three-part series, titled ‘Professor against political correctness’, in which he opines that political correctness (PC) is something about which we should be deeply concerned. After watching the series, I can certainly agree. Political correctness has put clamps on freedom of speech. The pro-PC movement is capable of silencing anyone who wishes to disagree with it. This is apparent in Canada where a new law means those who don’t adhere to being PC can be slandered and prosecuted.

During the second part of the series Peterson goes into great detail on compulsory political education. It’s concerning how easy this can be related to once-compulsory consent talks at York. He makes the point that a series of assumptions are made in this sort of scenario, all of which can applied to York’s consent talks. They are: that there is a problem, people are already guilty and, most importantly, that the talks will fix the problem (of which there is no evidence to suggest it will – in fact, Peterson talks about some studies which provide evidence that the talks will do the exact opposite).

Peterson was present at a protest over a free speech. After the protest, a group of students asked him to comment on the supposed Nazi presence at his protest. From the following conversation it was obvious that the student questioning him had no real interest in hearing what the academic had to say. With Peterson unrepentant, they quickly accused the academic of attacking them by not using the requested pronouns. When nothing improved, Peterson eventually gave up trying to maintain the discussion.

As Jordan Peterson said in a recent interview with the BBC“I’ve studied authoritarianism for a very long time – for forty years – and they’re started by people’s attempts to control the ideological and linguistic territory.” That can very easily be seen as the basis of political correctness, the attempt to control how you think and what you say and fear of backlash if you attempt to disagree.

The extent of this in universities is terrifying, even here in the UK. No-platforming, cancellation of debates and the censorship of events like International Men’s Day: all pushed to suppress freedom all in the name of political correctness. The mental loops that are taken to justify the removal of the discussion of the high suicide rates in men amazes me.

In an update by Peterson, he explains his attempts to negotiate the terms of a proposed debate/discussion about political correctness with the University of Toronto administration. The administration has decided to reject the proposal due to fear of legal backlash. It is also very likely that if Peterson stands by his views that he may well be unable to continue his teaching at the University. An unfortunate consequence that he is willing to be subjected to.

This fear of backlash, I believe, has come from so many incidents of PC in play. Professors and university administration have their names slandered and careers upset mainly due to refusal to be politically correct. At Yale, during last year’s Halloween, a professor responded to the university’s statement, providing non-offensive costume suggestions, by saying to her students that they can wear whatever they damn well want. More recently is the forced paid leave of a New York professor after recent pressure over an anonymous Twitter account. The academic told the New York Post, “They are actually pushing me out the door for having a different perspective.” It amazes me that this is the current state of modern universities.

Our intellectuals, the people there to guide us and help us develop as free-thinking individuals, are being cast aside; removed and suppressed. They are not here to cradle us, to give us constant reassurance like our mothers do. They are here to challenge us, to dismantle our ideas with the presentation of new ideas and new perspectives. Allowing us to rethink and rebuild our ideas and challenge them.

Free-thinking and freedom of speech is vital not only in progressing forward in society, but in allowing us to keep those dark ideas in check also. Everyone has them, and to deny that is just blatantly incorrect. Don’t push them into the dark, leaving them to fester and their ideas to grow. You want to remove racism and bigotry from our society? Then keep the light on it, allow the people who advocate for it to speak, put them on the stage. Not to preach but to allow you to openly challenge them, to show the world how flawed their views are. Keeping them in the light allows you to know where the hate is coming from and allows you to dismantle it through speech. Suppressing these people is not going to change their view, it will only strengthen it and it will come back, but it won’t be in the form of speech. The only option you leave them is violence, the very violence PC believes to removing from our society.

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Alexander Waudby

Alexander Waudby

Technical Director of The Yorker. University of York Third Year Mathematics Student.