The Intellectual Fraudulence of Jordan Peterson (apropos of Daniel Karasik)

Daniel,

I trust that our online paths have crossed often enough for you to know that I generally enjoy your work and I think you produce essays which stand on their own merits. I was not kept abreast of the Facebook “shitstorm,” as you put it, because I am never on Facebook except when I’m shamelessly promoting a blog post such as this, but I did think the vitriol of some of the comments on your  “How to save the Canadian Theatre” piece seemed outbalanced and unfair.

All that being allowed, I have to say that your latest  column in the Toronto Sun, in which you offer a stumbling defence of Jordan Peterson,  is an unfortunate work; as a piece of argumentation it is ill-informed, lazy, and well beneath the standard which I’ve become accustomed to enjoying from you.

You remarked lately on Twitter that you’re a “disillusioned liberal gone left,” and indeed, you  seem to be undergoing some effort to let everyone know it; well, to borrow a potentially spurious tag about a certain Teamsters representative: being a leftist is a bit like being ladylike; if you have to say that you are, you probably ain’t. No matter how many times you repeat your claim to “leftist” bona fides, you can’t simply affirm what has to be proven. It’s not that I doubt you;  it’s just that I sort of wish you wouldn’t keep saying it all the time.

Jordan Peterson has lately appointed himself a critic of the federal Liberal government’s proposed Bill C-16, a brief amendment to the Canadian Criminal Code and Human Rights Act. The amendment consists in adding “gender identity” and “gender expression” – previously non-enumerated by the Charter – to those sections of the relevant legislation that prohibit discrimination and “hate speech” towards identifiable groups. The thrust of Peterson’s advocacy, echoed and enthusiastically embraced by you, is that this constitutes a “serious restriction of freedom of speech”. You write that it is “necessary,” therefore, to defend Jordan Peterson. Plainly, such a thing is “necessary” if and only if the following conditions can be satisfied:

  1. his factual claims (premises) are true;
  2.  his assumptions are reasonable;
  3. his conclusions are justifiable.

This being the case, let us turn now to a more careful study of what it is we’re meant to be “defending.”

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The Left, the Theatre, and the Myths We Need to Stop Perpetuating

Given the massive and probably somewhat brand-destroying lacuna between my last blog post and this one, and given the fact that I’ve spent some of the past hour washing my dishes and sort of muttering softly under my breath about god only knows, I’ve decided to take this occasion as an excuse to get back to blogging.

One of the realities of writing about theatre in the blogosphere is that generally speaking, most of the people doing it have political affinities which are remarkably similar to my own, and while this experience can at times be veritably cockle-warming and sort of affirming, emotionally, it doesn’t always yield the most exciting or useful debates when it comes to politics and theatre. One of the characterizing features of theatre-thinking in this country is that it is dishearteningly echo-chamber-like, especially online. Yeah, we get the odd Twitter conversation about Factory Theatre’s decision to delay the invite to critics, or Kelly Nestruck’s recent (and interesting) article about Equity – but these are concerns about particularities; what’s missing (or at least marginalized), it seems to me, is any kind of fundamental disagreement about what, how, or why theatre is, or ought to be.

I don’t pretend to offer a total paradigm-shift here. But I’ve been thinking a lot about, specifically, the influence of the Internet and the proliferation of a post-New Left vocabulary on theatre artists (at least in Canada), and how these otherwise mostly positive forces might be having a negative effect on not only our artistic practice, but on our ability to talk sensibly about systemic and cultural deficiencies in Canadian theatre.

A warning: this is going to be long, and circuitous. I’m nothing if not verbose. Bear with me – I promise I’m going somewhere with this.

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