Jordan Peterson & Sam Harris - what brings them together for a tour and why do they attract the far-right.

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Jordan Peterson is a Canadian scholar who rose to prominence after his statements concerning a bill passed in Canada (C-16) to prevent trans people from being targeted by hate propaganda and from being denied services, employment or accommodation on the basis of their gender expression and identity. Peterson’s stance consisted in a slippery slope argument whereby this kind of law would supposedly lead to people being fined or imprisoned for not using a trans person’s preferred pronouns. By framing the law as an attack on free speech, Peterson may have mislead many people into thinking that this fantasy of his was actually what the content of the bill was about. Indeed the Canadian Bar Association made a lengthy public reply to his concerns (though without naming Peterson), clearly stating that the bill had been grossly misunderstood.

As it turns out, Jordan Peterson believes that hierarchies of class, gender and race are ordained by nature. As a direct outcome of this, he denies the existence of white privilege or patriarchy and is known to believe, along with many fascist organisations, that ideologies which contradict this perspective are part of a marxist conspiracy (‘’cultural marxism’’) to undermine western values and bring about totalitarianism. With no sense or irony whatsoever, Peterson suggested that kindergarten educators who supposedly target children with “postmodern marxist ideologies” should be tried for treason.

Peterson is often perceived as a very original, refreshing and fascinating thinker. This probably has to do with the fact that instead on relying on the relevant and most up to date research when talking about a topic, Jordan Peterson’s lack of investigation leads him to resort to a patchwork of heterogeneous references including Christian mythology, long discredited ideas developed by Jung, irrelevant ethology involving lobsters, and racist pseudoscience from the previous century. In many ways, he resembles someone who’d be trying to make a quiche but hasn’t been shopping in a long time and so ends up haphazardly replacing the ingredients with whatever can be scraped from under the fridge. In this analogy, the quiche stands for any conservative viewpoint Peterson is trying to defend.

Besides his ubiquitous presence in the media, what makes Peterson a serious threat lies in the fact that a lot of young disenfranchised white men have found his self-help best-selling book “12 Rules for Life” quite useful. Far from providing a radical critique of capitalist society and of structural changes worth collectively fighting for to improve life in general, Peterson provides individualist tricks, quick fixes which conveniently create the illusion that anyone can go a long way without really challenging the status quo. But the marginal improvements experienced by following Peterson’s 12 rules for life may convince his followers that he is onto something, that there may be some truth to his extremely conservative politics. The ingredients are there for a generation of young white men to develop a sense of identity, the feeling that they belong to a group whose potential and whose true nature are stifled by “political correctness” and “identity politics”. A group who may, like Peterson, come to believe that women long for domination, that ‘’lone wolf’’ violence will be fixed by compulsory monogamy, and that the liberalization of divorce laws was a mistake.

What about the other speaker? Sam Harris is an American Islamophobic and imperialist ideologue known for justifying the United State’s wars of aggression in the Middle-East. He embraces the racist and colonialist discourse according to which the West has a moral duty to bring democracy to the Middle-East and liberate middle-eastern women. He does so by painting muslims with a single brush with little regard for political or geopolitical context and little care for muslim voices and research that contradicts his narrative.

He has argued in favour of torture for counter-terrorism purposes, suggested the racial profiling of muslims at airports and embraced the same “great replacement” theory as the far-right saying that “With a few exceptions, the only public figures who have had the courage to speak honestly about the threat that Islam now poses to European societies seem to be fascist.”. He has argued in favour of limiting the number of muslims in the United States and has acknowledged that his view is one neo-nazi Richard Spencer would agree with.

Sam Harris also used his popular podcast “waking Up” to amplify and condone the voice of author Charles Murray, whose 1994 book “The Bell Curve” suggests that blacks and hispanics are biologically inferior to white people. It is worth saying that Jordan Peterson also endorsed this long discredited book in an exchange with right-wing YouTuber Stefan Molyneux . The Bell Curve draws a lot of its content from research financed by the Pioneer Fund, a white supremacist organisation created in 1937 for “the improvement of the white race” and led by Richard Lynn, a race psychologist who gave feedback to the authors of The Bell Curve before publication.

In line with his beliefs on race, Sam Harris also claimed that most of what is said by the Black Lives Matter movement is “dangerously and offensively irrational”. Reducing the Black Lives Matter movement to the question of police shootings, he went on to claim that 99% of police killings of black people in the United States is a legitimate use of force and that shootings of innocents are largely due to the fact “people don’t understand how to behave around cops so as to keep themselves safe”.

As is often the case when it comes to conservative ideology, Harris downplays the role of imperialism, slavery, segregation and colonisation when discussing race, preferring to focus on biological factors as well as on a very simplistic understanding of culture. Just like Peterson, Sam Harris knows how to convey the feeling that his views are moderate and nuanced, that they represent the scientific consensus. But at the end of the day, he and Peterson’s contribution has been to bring far-right ideas into the mainstream, ideas that pose a direct threat to the safety of most of us in society.

Finally Douglas Murray, the “moderator” of the debate, is a British journalist who rejects the concept of Islamophobia and wrote a book entitled “The strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam”. The title says it all.

By accepting to host such a panel, the multinational telecommunication company Three is profiting off of the spread of deeply racist and misogynistic ideologies. Since it was created, the 3arena had exclusively hosted concerts. Whether Three was merely guided by a profit motive or by an actual complacency toward the views of the panel is something the company should be pressured to clarify.

Some will argue that this is a matter of free speech, that even if the panel is entirely right wing and even if it is the only time this venue has ever been used for a political debate, the fact Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris and Douglas Murray are able to invest such a stage is surely proof that their ideas are superior and legitimately becoming mainstream.

On the contrary, it should be argued that this is a telling sign that the liberal marketplace of ideas is no less corrupt than the free-market is as a means to allocate goods and resources.

In the face of rising fascism across the globe, it is high time for liberals to come to terms with the fact that the ideologies that spread best aren’t necessarily the ones backed with the best arguments, but often ones that are backed with money, conveniently elude context, offer simple explanations and use fear and hatred as a currency.

This piece was originally published with a review of the Dublin Harris v Peterson debate

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