Chris Selley, Simona Chiose: Two takes on the business interests of Jordan Peterson, hero of the anti-PC crowd

Interesting analysis of the business models supporting Peterson in both the National Post and Globe.

Peterson canbe judged to some extent by the company he keeps as detailed in the longer and more comprehensive Globe article:

On Sept. 1 last year, Peterson had 161 supporters on the crowdfunding site Patreon, contributing US$1,058 a month; as of this week, he had 3,609 supporters contributing an astonishing US$39,084 a month. That’s about three-and-a-half times his salary from the university. When Peterson was denied a research grant to study the link between personality and political beliefs, including belief in political correctness, Ezra Levant’s Rebel Media framed it as a left-wing conspiracy and launched a crowdfunding campaign on his behalf. It currently sits at 266 per cent of its goal: $195,230.

“It’s unbelievable. But all of it is unbelievable,” says Peterson, referring both to the money and to the last eight months in general.

Naturally, this outcome does not sit perfectly well with Peterson’s detractors on campus. “It does seem to me rather tacky that he has been posing as a victim of PC prejudice and representing himself as at risk of jail or dismissal from his job,” says Ronald de Sousa, an emeritus professor of philosophy at U of T. Lawyers’ opinions have convinced de Sousa that Peterson has nothing legitimate to fear from the law, and nothing except a “tut-tutting letter” — which he calls a “regrettable decision” — to fear from the university administration.

Physics professor A.W. Peet is rather more blunt: “He has been dehumanizing trans and gender-diverse people … for fun and profit.”

Rebel’s intervention certainly adds an edge. Peterson says he watches very little of the online news outlet’s output, which is not surprising: it is not known for its academic or journalistic rigour, or indeed for consistent sanity. At one anti-Peterson rally on the U of T campus, then-Rebel contributor Lauren Southern took the microphone as if she were an attendee, not a reporter; when organizers said they wanted to give trans people priority to speak, she lied and said she was one. Rebel contributors have included Paul Joseph Watson, a 9/11 Truther and friend of uber-conspiracist Alex Jones; Pizzagate delivery man Jack Posobiec, who was briefly Rebel’s “Washington bureau chief”; and Tommy Robinson, former leader of a gang of racist hooligans called the English Defence League. Peterson says he knows “for a fact” Levant isn’t Islamophobic, noting they were recently at a meeting with several moderate Canadian Muslims. But the network did spend the hours after the massacre at a Quebec City mosque torquing garden-variety confusion into a conspiracy theory that the killer was, in fact, Muslim.

Peterson says he would always prefer his work be associated solely with himself but that he’s “disinclined to look a gift horse in the mouth.” Peet has no qualms with crowdfunding academic research per se, but thinks there should be rules governing it — for example, when a third party like Rebel intervenes on a professor’s behalf. Such guidelines are under development at U of T, says spokesperson Althea Blackburn-Evans. But if they put any crimp in Peterson’s plans, he could easily make up the difference some other way.

If Peterson’s fundraising numbers are astounding, perhaps the astounded have underestimated the fury being inspired by modern preoccupations like white privilege and cultural appropriation, and by the marginalization, shouting down or outright cancellation of other viewpoints in polite society’s institutions. The biggest applause line at last weekend’s Conservative Party of Canada leadership convention came when winner Andrew Scheer promised to withhold federal funding from universities that “shut down debate.”

“It’s (bad) enough that the media elites find the views of many conservatives unfashionable or outré,” says one Conservative strategist, describing the mood among party supporters. “Now the trendline on university campuses seems to be to ban any expression of conservative ideas … or any questioning of liberal orthodoxy.”

Peterson is by no means appealing only to reactionaries or partisan conservatives, however. His YouTube channel, which has 290,000 subscribers, is not a source of Rebel-style rants and conspiracies. Recent videos include the first two of his ongoing 12-part lecture series, The Psychological Significance of The Biblical Stories. (Some of his crowdfunding money went toward renting the Isabel Bader Theatre at U of T for the series, but he says he made it back through ticket sales.) His Patreon account promises “lectures about profound psychological ideas.”

“History has shown that political correctness, and all that comes with it, is the first step on a very dark path,” says Philip Sibbering, a games designer in the U.K. who contributed to the Rebel-sponsored crowdfunding effort. Sibbering notes the intellectual intolerance of the Nazis, which all of society now rejects, and of the Marxists, which all of society does not. “Any research that could allow us to understand the root cause and effect that brings political correctness into being is vital.”

Stephen Kaiser-Pendergast, a film editor based in Los Angeles and another crowdfunding contributor, first discovered Peterson through his interviews with Dave Rubin and Joe Rogan, two prominent critics of political correctness. (The interviews have 185,000 and 1.9 million views on YouTube, respectively.) “Working in narrative film, I have a vested interest in any kind of remedy for politically correct thinking, which I see as among the most significant of threats to artistic expression,” he says. “However, I mostly remain on his (YouTube) channel for the academic material. I have had a lifelong interest in understanding human behaviour and I find Prof. Peterson’s channel to be a treasure-trove.”

Peterson has big plans, and money to make them happen. He plans to curate “a series of conversations with moderate Muslims about the possibility of developing a bridge between that faith and the fundamental beliefs of the West.” It began on Thursday when he interviewed Ayaan Hirsi Ali (though she is more of a former Muslim than a moderate one). [a rabid anti-Muslim activist would be a more accurate description]

Source: Chris Selley: Jordan Peterson, hero of the anti-PC crowd, just keeps winning | National Post

The Globe’s Simona Chiose also covers the story more in depth from a more critical angle, along with analysis of follower comments:

Prof. Peterson’s vociferous defence of free speech isn’t new to universities. What is new, however, is the way that social media has amplified the discourse – and “weaponized” and globalized this long-running drama. The professor’s unrelenting stance has earned him scores of angry critics, but the attention has also helped him rack up followers. He now has almost 300,000 subscribers on YouTube and thousands of patrons on Patreon, a crowd-funded subscription content site where he earns more than $30,000 a month. On Twitter, his followers hail from Shanghai and Berlin, St. Petersburg and Pune, Toronto and San Francisco. And under the guise of anonymity, these anti-PC warriors can harass their opponents through posts, memes and videos and organize campaigns on no-holds-barred message boards.

The existence of this parallel, online space is hardly mentioned in free speech debates or arises only in lateral mentions of concerns about “safety on campus.”

But an investigation into the controversy around Jordan Peterson shows how this world grows and operates. With his vast online reach, Prof. Peterson has attracted small volunteer armies willing to defend his views. The Globe and Mail reviewed hundreds of pages of discussions about Prof. Peterson and his views on anonymous message boards, including 4chan and voat – two of the least moderated or monitored online forums. The conversations, which range from immature to obscene, show that the professor’s critics were the subjects of “doxing” campaigns, where activists are personally identified and harassed online.

Prof. Peterson says he can’t be held responsible for the harassment that his critics endure online, however, and justifies his hardline position on free speech by saying it allows hateful views to be exposed to the cleansing light of day.

“It’s extraordinarily dangerous to drive hate speech underground,” he said in a conversation last fall. “There are a lot of terrible things that people shouldn’t say, but that does not mean you should stop them from saying them, because you want to know who is saying them and you want to bring discourse to bear on their perspective,” he said.

In short, Jordan Peterson has redefined the notion of the faculty celebrity and pushed the university into new territory, trying to decide what protecting free speech means in the age of Internet trolls.

How U of T’s Jordan Peterson has made money from online notoriety

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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