When Lindsay Shepherd – a teaching assistant at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada – played a video of Dr Jordan Peterson to her class she was hauled up before a committee to discuss her violation of a gendered violence and sexual assault policy.
With great presence of mind she decided to record the meeting in secret. The Orwellian nightmare that unfolded made great waves across the internet, especially in circles critical of the social justice left.
I killed myself around minute 25 of the Lindsay Shepherd audio. I'm now tweeting from the other side… https://t.co/ugHvlKZN6v
— Sam Harris (@SamHarrisOrg) November 21, 2017
The recording itself really has to be heard to be believed.
While teaching a class on gendered pronouns Shepherd played a clip of Dr Peterson talking on mainstream Canadian program The Agenda about why he believes it is wrong for the state to compel the use of certain pronouns for transgender individuals.
The University’s Vice-Chancellor as well as Professor Nathan Rambukkana – Shepherd’s supervisor whose particularly nauseating, passive-aggressive drivel makes the recording so outrageous – have both issued apologies, presumably in a bid to manage the PR crisis caused by the content of the tape.
For Rambukkana and his fellow inquisitors the playing of the tape is not the issue. Their problem is that she did not preface it with a statement signalling her disavowal of everything Peterson stands for. When Shepherd tearfully tries to defend herself by stating that she remained professional and neutral Rambukkana quite literally states ‘that’s the problem’, continuing to compare her actions to neutrally playing a speech by Hitler. He then goes on to make it quite clear that it’s the purity of Shepherd’s opinions and the extent of her contrition that make the difference, not what she actually did. He is after ideological capitulation: ‘…that’s not something that you have an issue with? The fact that that happened? Are you sorry that it happened?’ ‘It’s good that you think / acknowledge that’. This is a battle for opinions and minds. It is not enough that you say ‘two plus two is five’. Big Brother demands that you believe it too.
Perhaps the most shocking thing that transpires in the recording, and probably the reason why the university took steps to apologise relatively quickly is that both Rambukkana and his colleague Dr Herbert Pimlott soon let slip the reality of what is going on here; the indoctrination of young people:
Rambukkana: These are very young students, and something of that nature is not appropriate to that age of student, because they don’t have…
Shepherd: They’re adults.
Rambukkana: Yes, but they’re very young adults. They don’t have the critical toolkit to be able to pick it apart yet. This is one of the things we’re teaching them, so this is why it becomes something that has to be done with a bit more care.
Then, in quite possibly the most self-unaware speech I have ever come across, Pimlott – an Associate Professor of Communications Studies no less – ramblingly explains why students can only be exposed to the ideas of someone like Peterson once they have been deprogrammed. Along the way he manages to make his own political position painfully clear and to top it off has the gall to start by talking about confirmation bias (oh the irony):
What I have found is that, um one of the things is a, a notion of confirmation bias… A lot of the [first year] students coming in already hold strong opinions. Whether or not these are opinions backed up with evidence…? And my concern… I’m just adopting the position of a scholar in the situation here is to say well we have these students that come in… they have very (in my opinion, and I’m teaching them in second year even) strong opinions about x, y and z which is… fine, but if they’re going to be challenged about those opinions it’s a much… um… greater deal to do that… it’s… like the world that Jordan Peterson, Ezra Levant Rebel Media and… have constructed I find quite… amusing in a way, or bemusing, because it’s almost like the left has won and controls everything and you’re going to be imprisoned if you don’t adopt cultural Marxist / politically correct [views]. I mean I find it practically ludicrous this is the case given the political and economic realities in Canada… maybe they believe in those black helicopters those conspiracy theorists in the states used to talk about coming to control world government ok. That to me is where a lot of that sort of thinking goes. I do know that there’s people bringing in those ideas [to] the classes I teach. I don’t feel that I’m doing my duty to challenge these already established ideas if what I present in the courses I teach… I don’t feel I’m teaching critical engagement in a world where all the established dominant institutions in society reinforce a number of different types of privileges perspectives and prejudices, where the university is one of the few places where we can actually take people engage them, challenge them… It’s not challenging the faith-based, family and other types of structures in society that they’ve been inculcated with for years… If in an institution which prides itself on having peer reviewed evidence based research is going to work to confirm the kind of biases that are based on stuff that cannot be substantiated in an academic critical way – I find that problematic. And I don’t feel were doing our job as an institution presenting both sides.’
[See here for a full transcript of what he actually said – the above is a truncated version.]
These individuals justify their refusal to teach in a balanced way by constructing narratives around the absolute evil and invalidity of those they disagree with. To his credit Rambukkana does admit as much in his apology. Within the space of this interview he and Pimlott manage to associate Shepherd’s decision to play the tape with pretty much every crazy theory they can think of, as well as Nazism, white supremacy and the Alt-right.
Their attempts to discredit Peterson are, frankly, bizarre. We are talking about a tenured Professor with a long publishing history. The idea that he is a ‘not credible’ ‘charlatan’ whose work has not been subject to peer review after such a career is laughable. Peterson’s opinions expressed on the talk show may not have been peer reviewed, but of course not even Rambukkana would argue that he would apply such a standard to opinions that he agreed with being aired in class.
Is that a peer-reviewed opinion? https://t.co/D55I5X106j
— Lindsay Shepherd (@NewWorldHominin) November 23, 2017
The recording also contains repeated examples of the left-wing tactic of labelling anyone who argues against the intersectional social-justice narrative as ‘Alt-right’ or ‘far-right’. The objective is to instil the fear of such stigma into anyone whose views stray too far. In reality Peterson identifies as a classical liberal, and regularly warns that such polarisation of the debate is resulting in terrible surges in right-wing ideologies. If an academic like Jordan Peterson cannot be treated fairly what chance do the poor first and second year students at Wilfrid Laurier University have of expressing their opinions in classes with teachers who insist that these ideas are ‘not up for debate’?
As I’ve written about before, the outrage of people from this school of thought isn’t necessarily caused by genuine feelings of offence, but arises when they are presented with ideas outside the framework of their ideology that challenge their world view in a way they cannot cope with. Any discussion of their sacred cow issues has to take place on their own terms or not at all. They are upset by Peterson, in particular, because he does not allow them to frame the debate. All this is evidence that their own faith in their convictions is fragile – and the idea that the modern West is some kind of oppressive dystopia is fragile indeed. In their righteous quest to fix problems that many don’t believe exist they have become the totalitarians they think they are fighting.
When I was at school we used to have a rhyme; ‘twinkle twinkle little star, what you say is what you are’. The internet dwellers among you might know this concept as Sargon’s Law. I believe that’s what is going on here in the many layers of hypocrisy exhibited by Shepherd’s inquisitors. They talk about confirmation bias while claiming Canada is a white supremacist hell, call recognised academics charlatans, and say that any academic work which contradicts their world view is invalid because people like Peterson approach their research ‘with a pre determined outcome’. They say they worry about ‘the tyranny of the majority’ but see themselves as the arbiters of reality (already a legal expert has shredded their implication that Shepherd may have violated the Canadian Human Rights code). Well, if professor Rambukkana and Dr Pimlott are so worried about these things, perhaps they should start with the men in the mirror.
If this had been a situation where a softly spoken left leaning young woman had been treated in the same way by two right leaning male academics or employers one might imagine that this story would be front page news. But it isn’t. Because many of the most influential news outlets are themselves guilty of the same biases exhibited by Rambukkana and co. So everyone needs to listen to the recording, and everyone needs to talk about why these people feel so entitled to unilaterally declare what can and cannot be thought and expressed.