The idea of open dialogue and free debate is a precious achievement of lowercase-l liberal society. Most human societies have mechanisms to suppress heresy and protect the orthodoxy that binds people together, but modern liberal societies hold free speech to be one of the key pillars of the social order. In order to foster independent thought and new ideas, liberal societies allow the expression of unpopular and heterodox ideas.
Yet the ideal of free speech has found itself increasingly under attack, most importantly from a far-left orthodoxy that sees itself as the vanguard of history. Thanks to the commanding heights of American culture — institutions such as colleges and universities, the legacy media, professional associations, and more — this orthodoxy is in the air Americans breathe, and many are barely conscious of the fact that they are embracing this orthodoxy at the expense of free speech.
In recent years, universities — which ought to be the bastion of free speech — have set up repressive “speech zones,” restricting speakers to hidden alcoves on campus. In many cases, student activists have sought to silence speakers who come to campus to share views that conflict with the far-left orthodoxy.
Newspapers and online outlets, which also seem a natural fit for free speech, have forced out prominent individuals due to their willingness to consider or publish viewpoints that disagree with this orthodoxy. James Bennet, a New York Times opinion editor, resigned after facing backlash for publishing an op-ed from a sitting U.S. senator. Glenn Greenwald, the co-founder of The Intercept, resigned after the free-speech outlet he founded suppressed his voice in reporting on Joe Biden’s corruption.
Yet an even more bizarre spectacle took place this week. According to VICE World News, staffers at the Penguin Random House publishing company actually broke down in tears at the prospect of publishing a book. No, that’s not a joke. It’s not satire. It actually happened. When staffers heard that Penguin Random House was going to publish a book by Jordan Peterson, a Canadian psychology professor whose book 12 Rules for Life proved an international bestseller, they threw a tantrum.
“People were crying in the meeting about how Jordan Peterson has affected their lives,” one employee told VICE. “The company since June has been doing all these anti-racist and allyship things and them publishing Peterson’s book completely goes against this. It just makes all of their previous efforts seem completely performative.”
So, let’s get this straight: Penguin Random House has been kowtowing to the extreme woke crowd in promoting the destructive ideology of anti-racism (more on that here) but that’s not enough because the publishing company is still publishing books written by tremendously popular authors who sell copies by the cartload? A publishing company does not necessarily endorse the views of authors it publishes, just as a newspaper does not endorse the views of authors it publishes.
So, what about Jordan Peterson “triggered” these publishing company employees? They couldn’t exactly say. Oh sure, they used mindless ad hominem words like “hate speech,” “transphobia,” and “white supremacy,” by which they really meant “his ideas are too icky and disgusting to actually look at.”
“He is an icon of hate speech and transphobia and the fact that he’s an icon of white supremacy, regardless of the content of his book, I’m not proud to work for a company that publishes him,” a junior employee VICE identified as “a member of the LGBTQ community,” explained.
So mature. Yes, some people for whom this employee feels contempt are fans of Jordan Peterson, so this employee couldn’t be bothered to actually investigate what Jordan Peterson has to say about anything. How original.
Had the employee bothered to read 12 Rules for Life, he — or she or “xi” or “they” or “it” or whatever pronouns he or she prefers to be called — might have found the book sophisticated, scientific, and illuminating. I certainly did.
Peterson’s bestselling book encourages people to take control of their lives, to abandon victimization, and to value the truth. Yes, Peterson disagrees with the radical transgender orthodoxy, and he is notorious for criticizing a law that would force people to refer to one another using their chosen pronouns. Peterson also explains that biological sex is real and that men and women are different in some ways — oh, the horror!
Peterson clearly contradicts transgenderism, but that hardly justifies accusations of “transphobia.” The professor has clearly said he will refer to people by their preferred pronouns when they ask him — he only objects to a government order on speech.
Does this make the professor a heinous “icon of hate speech,” an “icon of transphobia,” or an “icon of white supremacy”? No. If anything, Peterson is an icon of sanity in a world gone increasingly mad.
It seems there is little these triggered publishing company employees need more than to actually read Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life. Luckily, they work at the company that published it! Perhaps the staff can lend them some copies.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.