Cutting Jordan Peterson Down to Size

Peterson Newman - BBC.jpg

Professor Jordan Peterson is a polarizing figure—and certainly one who needs no help defending himself. He plainly enjoys the cut-and-thrust of the Twitter wars, and takes great delight in goading his political enemies. So perhaps it was inevitable that our national media would take an interest in cutting him down to size.

This week the Globe and Mail ran an op-ed by John Semley asking whether Peterson was "just another angry white guy." Here are a few of Semley's choice descriptors of Prof Peterson. He is "an absurd figure" and "a wholly unimposing specimen." He promulgates "a medley of undercooked ideas warmed under the heat lamp of his own faintly flickering intellect." He uses "spookily Orwellian" language to justify "the most noxious, moronic ideas." Prof Peterson is "the intellectual as guru-mystic, and the guru-mystic as shameless huckster." His aim "is little more than the pursuit of his own vanity and the P.T. Barnum-ism padding of his own pockets." He is "an intellectual snake oil salesman," and "a prophet, for profit."

Apart from these ad hominem slurs, Semley turns Peterson's stated abhorrence of "right-wing identitarians" against him, suggesting that, in fact, he provides the alt-right "the illusion of intellectual heft." Semley also appears to hold Peterson responsible for death threats received by BBC interviewer Cathy Newman, calling him "the rare 'dangerous scholar' who is actually dangerous."

John Semley is a fine writer with as strong a grasp of the culture wars as any Canadian. He knows the issues, and he knows the stakes. So when he pitches a hatchet job on a Canadian intellectual to the Globe and Mail, he knows exactly what he is doing. And more power to him. Semley should be free to write whatever he likes, just as the Globe should be entirely free to publish it.

But let us not be coy. The Globe's "Editorial Code of Conduct" requires that its regular freelancers "not only conduct themselves honourably, but be seen to do so by the public." That's because the Globe is not just some ephemeral click-bait backwater. No, indeed. "The Globe and Mail’s long-standing tradition of journalistic integrity and credibility is essential to its reputation as Canada’s most trusted news source. This reputation is rooted in the conduct of the editorial staff. Unless all employees strive for the highest standards of journalistic integrity, we cannot hope to sustain the trust we have inspired in our readers for generations."

If the Globe and Mail ends up on the slag heap of defunct legacy media, which seems more likely than ever, it will not be because it failed to pander to the tastes of the Twitter generation, but because it succeeded, and only too well.