LONDON, ONTARIO – For my birthday last May, our favourite son gave us tickets for the Jordan Peterson lecture that month at Centennial Hall; a gig that got bumped to a very chilly night three weeks ago by a sudden conflict in Dr. Peterson’s schedule. (On the off chance that you’re reading this and don’t know very much about JP, this Hermaneutics post from March of 2018 will fill in his back story and give you some sense of why I regard him as one of the most important – and most urgently necessary – thinkers of our time: Dr. Peterson Will See You Now.
A well-established and very popular professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, Peterson suddenly came to broader public notice in September of 2016 when he declared his opposition to a new federal bill which – however compromising or meddlesome its implications might be – many folks were prepared to accommodate out of a vague sense of compassion for those of untraditional sexual identities. At first glance Bill C-16, which amended the criminal code to affix gender expression and identity as a protected ground to the Canadian Human Rights Act, seemed harmless enough.
But then Peterson pointed out that this new amendment, when enforced in conjunction with Ontario Human Rights laws, showed our government blundering into dangerous and unprecedented territory in which they were assuming the power to compel citizens’ speech. Having devoted decades to studying the perils of authoritarianism, Peterson knew how quickly civilization can crumble once tyrants are allowed to hijack language and override the citizenry’s personal beliefs. And so he drew his line in the sand.
Peterson understood that in calling out the suicidal drift of the academic/juridical/governmental complex in Canada, any hope of continuing to enjoy the quietly focused life of a university professor was about to expire. But he never could have foreseen, let alone planned, the utterly incredible career which was to take its place; nor the global renown he has attained through his books and lecture tours and ubiquitous use of internet media. It turned out that an awful lot of people all around the world were waiting for some brave soul to take a stand against the diminution of dignity and freedom that our arrogant elites were imposing on entire populations.
For almost eight years now the fearlessly articulate Peterson has withstood the bullying ire of ignorant and/or malevolent busybodies who seek to criminalize long-held human rights; such as freedom of conscience, speech and association. The crafters and shapers of what we broadly know as Western jurisprudence took care to anchor and enshrine those rights of self-determination – not in the government or the state or some ruling class – but in the inviolable soul of each and every citizen to employ as he or she sees fit. When witless politicians cave to lobbyists for every fraudulent scheme under the sun – from the Great Reset to the war against climate change, to the validation of men with dicks who insist they’re women – precious individual rights are discarded to make room for coercive programmes of redistribution which invariably favour certain groups and penalize others but which everybody ends up paying for.
Because each of these tyrannical causes is, at heart, insane, their ‘spokespeople’ – see, I can use gender-inclusive language when I’m talking about idiots – are utterly incapable of debating someone of Peterson’s intellectual heft. His principled resistance to these and a dozen other benighted schemes has inspired millions of citizens to start pushing back against such incursions against liberty and has made him a particularly conspicuous lightning rod that must be cut down to size. So instead of debating him, they try to shout him down or cancel him by lobbing absurd mischaracterizations and slanders that can be easily refuted by referencing the hundreds upon hundreds of hours of lectures and interviews that Peterson has made freely available to anyone who can log onto the internet.
While the postponement of the London lecture last May was a little dashing at the time, I became more than reconciled to the eight-month delay when I saw that Peterson’s rescheduled London appearance was going to take place the night after his hotly contended gig at Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre. Deliciously enough, what really yanked Ottawa’s chain was that his lecture was taking place on the first anniversary of the Freedom Convoy’s historic convergence in our federal capital. In that stirring display of grass roots populism last winter – a display that simultaneously awakened consciences all around the world – a herd of affable horn-honking truckers from across the country let our leaders know that their freedom-squelching, economy-crushing measures for combating the spread of the Wuhan batflu were wildly out of line and deeply resented.
Our government had never looked more out of touch with the aspirations of the Canadian people. And in his paranoid refusal to come out from under his bed to meet with the Convoy’s leaders for even a minute – followed by his heavy-handed imposition of the Emergency Powers Act to clear the riff-raff off Parliament Hill – the Prime Minister’s cowardice and arrogance were exposed for all to see. It was not Ottawa’s proudest hour. And one year later, our grand metropolis of lobbyists and hacks was thrown into a tizzy of anticipatory dread at the prospect of calling that debacle back to mind by hosting this principled figurehead of resistance against government overreach.
And so Peterson’s opponents set out to head him off at the pass by rolling up their sleeves and composing a slanderous letter of objection. “The Squeamish Inquisition,” columnist Rex Murphy nicknamed the consortium of thirty-six groups who petitioned the Canadian Tire Centre to cancel the Peterson event. The petitioners described themselves as “a coalition of organizations, small businesses and labour unions that represent thousands of residents from equity-deserving communities [who] experienced the traumatic events of the occupation of our city by the far-right.” Their barely literate letter of complaint was a masterpiece of smear, projection, guilt by nonexistent association and seemingly deliberate (unless they really are that stupid) misconstruing. I found this section of their delirious letter of petition particularly rich:
“Peterson was an avid supporter of the so-called ‘Freedom Convoy’ that spurred the occupation. He even had some of the leaders on his podcast including B.J. Dichter and showed support for Tamara Lich. However, this is not the only reason that we express our concern around this event. The toxic, and often violent, rhetoric touted by Peterson – whose quasi-academic ideas are misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, and racist has led to an increased environment of hate, especially toward the trans community, that has been very present in Ottawa. Last year, for example, anti-trans activists arrived in Ottawa to protest in front of multiple high schools in local neighbourhoods to protest the teaching of so-called “gender ideology” with arguments similar to those of Peterson who rose to infamy through his opposition to Bill C-16, the Bill that amended the Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender identity and gender expression. Thankfully, those in the community came together to block out this hatred. Peterson has also advocated in favour of ideas like “enforced monogamy” that encourage the superiority of men over women and insinuates that they should be treated as sexual objects instead of equals.”
Several of the groups who signed this shameless screed were themselves the recipients of millions of taxpayers’ dollars from the Trudeau government to aid them in advancing their woke agendas. The Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity, for instance, received $1,094,624 from the federal government last year. Wisdom 2 Action, got $994,661 to investigate youth experiencing gender-based violence. The Canadian Anti-Hate Network (CAHN) which received a comparatively modest $268,400 from the government last year, is perhaps the slimiest of the bunch. A Canadian judge recently threw out their case when they tried to sue journalist and Quillette editor Jonathan Kay for linking the group with the notorious thugs of ANTIFA.
CAHN’s chair, Bernie Farber, was called out during the Freedom Convoy for circulating a photograph of an anti-Semitic flier that he said the truckers were passing around until his photo was proven to have been taken at an unrelated Florida event several weeks before. Late last summer, CAHN released an educational handbook, or “anti-hate toolkit,” which designated the Red Ensign – the flag of Canada for our first hundred years – as a hate symbol. They declared that the Red Ensign’s “usage denotes a desire to return to Canada’s demographics before 1967, when it was predominately white. Its usage in modern times is an indicator of hate-promoting beliefs.”
Well, that would certainly be alarming news for all the Canadian veterans and citizens who gather each Remembrance Day at cenotaphs across the country where the old flag is flown in commemoration of those who sacrificed their lives in the two world wars. And – not to lower myself to the same cretinous level as these pedantic, race-obsessed bores, or anything – but if I got out my paint-tone chart from Color Your World and set it up next to every complexion in the country, wouldn’t I find that the numerically predominant pigmentational hue of the Canadian populace was still a little . . . uh . . . white-ish? Perhaps I should apply for a big fat government grant to see if my suspicion is true.
Just going by the jargon-loaded or wussy names of most of the other petition signatories, it’s pretty easy to suss out the shallow ideological pools from which they drew their anti-Peterson animus. There’s the Centretown Community Health Centre, Defend Choice, Kind Space, Council of Canadians, Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 2626, Ottawa Pride Hockey, Project Agape, Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women, City for All Women Initiative, Planned Parenthood Ottawa, The Autistic and Neurodivergent Liberation Front of Ottawa, Horizon Ottawa, Criminalization and Punishment Education Project, EmDash, Tall Tree Psychology, Women's Initiatives for Safer Environments, PRIDE in Mississippi Mills, Ottawa Queer Arts Collective, TransForming Connections, Democratic Socialists of Canada Ottawa-Gatineau Chapter, Community Solidarity Ottawa, OCETFO Human Rights Committee, Ottawa Dyke March, the Ottawa branch of International Workers of the World and, last but certainly not least, the Ottawa-Carleton Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario 2SLGBTQIA+ Committee.
A few of the other signees, however, were real head-scratchers. Why would the Bright Light Veterinary Eye Care clinic affix their name to this petition? Or a nightclub called LIVE! On Elgin, the Veterans Accountability Commission, the Ottawa Historical Fencing Society or the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum? Among the many imaginary hate-crimes that have been laid at Jordan Peterson’s feet, I haven’t heard it suggested that he has it in for near-sighted dogs, bar bands, middle-aged soldiers, antiquarian swordsmen or quilters. But perhaps I’m not up to speed on these things because I haven’t been reading the right government-funded toolkits.
Such a petition would probably be enough to get a lesser-known figure shut down. But Peterson all but laughed this one off, tweeting a few days before his show, “Thanks to all thirty-six groups protesting my forthcoming Jan. 30 Ottawa lecture (many funded by @Justin Trudeau’s Liberals) we’ve been forced to expand seating to accommodate all the extra purchasers of tickets.”
Jordan Peterson’s global stature allows him to soar beyond the cancelling clutches of the socially embittered and the politically aggrieved. He’s a world player now, filling halls, theatres and arenas on virtually every continent. Who could have predicted even ten years ago that there would be such large, rapt audiences for meaty two-hour lectures woven through with mythological, psychological, historical and religious themes? Savvy leaders and politicians leap at the opportunity to be interviewed by him for his popular podcasts, as do writers and artists, scientists and economists, and teachers, academics and commentators specializing in every field.
This October Peterson will be venturing into entirely new territory when he assembles an international symposium of thinkers in Britain that he hopes will create an alternative programme for political reform to that put forth by the snide Malthusian globalists of the World Economic Forum. Three key challenges that the group is set to address will be the enhancement of energy production and distribution, the protection of individual freedoms and the inculcation of a culture that actually promotes family life. “You don’t get to save the planet by making energy prices so expensive that no one poor can afford them,” Peterson said. “That’s off the table. You don’t get to impose your utopian vision in the service of your narcissism on the poor.”
After all the hullabaloo in the press, it was anticipated that at least a few protesters would turn up to hurl some abuse at the crowd streaming into the Ottawa hockey arena but not a single one did. According to press reports, the only discordant figure was a young man brandishing one of those increasingly popular “Fuck Trudeau” flags. (I suppose this might seem prissy but I really do wish that those of us who yearn for our petulant prime minister’s removal would can the vulgarity and leave such boorish utterances to the lefties and the social justice warriors. I infinitely prefer American Catholic commentator Michal J. Matt’s rather elegant designation for Trudeau as “that little ferret.”)
Though there’d been no cancellation campaign before the London show, as we walked through Victoria Park to Centennial Hall, I was briefly hopeful that London might show up Ottawa by producing a few malcontents to mill about and voice their objections. Wellington Street was packed with cars and taxis dropping people off and we could see about a dozen people standing on the boulevard out front of the hall, holding signs and a flag and calling out slogans. But even before we crossed the street, we could tell that those voices were not raised in anger. Nor did we hear that invariable war cry of the unimaginatively butt-hurt which begins, “Hey, hey. Ho ho . . .” The words on these non-protesters’ – perhaps we could call them attesters’ – signs expressed gratitude for Peterson’s stalwart testimony and more general exhortations about the importance of standing up for the truth and the rights of individuals. And the flag they were waving back and forth was the defamed Red Ensign’s successor, the red and white Maple Leaf. So – terribly sorry, Bernie – there was no hearkening back with this crew to some idyllic, xenophobic past.
Jordan Peterson’s son, Julian, unobtrusively played guitar and sang respectable covers of songs by Paul Simon, Hank Williams and Tom Waits as people were patted down by security and filed into the hall. This took quite a while; as it always does at Centennial Hall, even when they haven’t sold out every seat in the joint. Centennial Hall is one of the smaller venues hosting Peterson on this tour and I was told that the demand for tickets was so high that they could have sold out the house three times over.
Our seats in the balcony had less leg room than a budget airline provides so I wasn’t inclined to fold myself into mine even one minute before Tammy Peterson came out to introduce her husband and the presentation got underway. So leaving my coat on my seat, I stepped out into the outer hallway where I fell into conversation with an older couple from one section over who were also sparing their legs for as long as they could. When I marveled at the lack of protesters outside, the woman laughed and said, “That’s probably because it’s been too cold for the poor things to venture outdoors.” This reminded us of Peterson’s observation from a few years ago that one sure way to keep whiners and moaners away from your event was to hold it in the morning before your average misery-guts can be bothered to get out of bed.
The primary focus of Peterson’s lecture was the cultivation of strategies and attitudes that will enable us to resist succumbing to the resentment, deceit and arrogance that bedevil so much of our discourse today. To put his points across – touching on everything from the soul-shaping adventure of marriage and raising kids to learning to regard awe as an orienting instinct that can direct you to what matters most – he referenced such great life teachers as Moses, Homer Simpson and Carl Jung. He spoke extemporaneously, often sculpting his thoughts with his almost equally expressive hands; prodded by a few key words written out on large cards and set out on the stage floor; mostly taking his cues about what to drive home from the audience’s laughter or deep silence or murmured surprise. It was a classic and compelling rhetorical voyage such as only Jordan Peterson can pilot.
As there was at least one cameraman discreetly filming the proceedings, I hope the London lecture turns up on his podcast so that I can go over it again – with the possibility of pausing and rewinding – so that I can take it in more completely. For in truth, I was a little distracted; though not in a way that irked me. No small part of the great pleasure of that evening was to simply look around that jam-packed hall and marvel at the impact that this one man is having on so many people’s lives; helping them to throw off the corrosive cynicism of this age and dare to take on some responsibility to make life better for themselves and the people around them.
Three of my favourite audience members were sitting right in front of us; two very young men and one very old. Yes, at least three quarters of the people in that hall were male. And contrary to what a lot of the signatories to the Ottawa petition might try to tell you, this is not a bad thing. It is a very good thing indeed. I had heard of the phenomenon – call it the Peterson Effect – of men who’ve taken such personal encouragement from Peterson’s message that they express their gratitude to him by dressing up when they attend one of his lectures. That was the case with these two youngers – eighteen or nineteen years old, I’d guess – decked out in crisp rented tuxes.
Peterson probably wasn’t going to see them, filed away in the third row of the southeast corner of the balcony. But my wife did, and has reached that point in life where she isn’t shy about commending young strangers who’ve taken some effort to do their best. It always makes me cringe a little when she does this, as if she’s invading somebody’s personal space and they might take offense. But that’s just me being goofy. Nobody resents being complimented. These boys just beamed and thanked her for noticing. And when they turned back around to face the stage, I couldn’t help wondering if they’d quite mastered the arrangement of that strip of elastic around the back of the neck that holds a bow tie in place.
And the old man; I think he touched me most of all. At least eighty years old – which is to say, a mere ten years older than me – and pretty shaky on the balcony stairs. Leery of catching some sort of bug, he was one of very few people in the hall who took the precaution of wearing the dreaded Covid mask. He wasn’t so well dressed as his neighbours but I hoped his wife or someone he loved had made him that worn out sweater. The homage he paid our speaker was in coming out at all, on his own, on such a bitterly cold night. On his lap was a clipboard with a pen attached by a string for taking notes and his hardcover copy of Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life.
It’s hard to think of another voice in our world today with such a capacity not just to awaken the dreams of those starting out on their own great adventures, but to impart some wisdom and perspective to those who are wrapping up their sojourn here and turning their gaze to the unknown country up ahead.
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