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Where Legends Gather

Critiques of the Free Speech Debate at UoT

Moderator: Moran
Free Speech Advocates: Peterson
Anti-Free Speech Advocates: Bryson, Cossman

[Insert intro here. I don't care. I always wrote the essay before the thesis, you know. I looked at the evidence first. :^)]

Toward the end of Peterson's opening statement, [clip] he said "I just sat in my office at home and threw up a couple of amateurish videos more or less attempting to articulate my feelings about a couple of policies."

At no point in his videos did Peterson claim to be presenting any information as an expert in the field, nor as a scholarly paper. Yet, University of Toronto student groups falsely claimed it absurd that he "[suggested] that these comments add value to classroom discussion." [clip]

This brings us to Bryson's opening quote, words suitable for the spirit of democracy, open dialogue, and debate: "I do not want to be here. I do not want to dignify this man and his ideas in public debate." [clip] She continued and said "If you only hear this, know that I am unwavering in my belief that the fundamental rights and the humanity of trans and non-binary people are not up for debate." But, love, that's not what this debate was about; it was about potentially abusable and restrictive policies regarding pronouns. Are you sure you were in the correct debate hall? No one on this panel suggested anything close to taking away the fundamental human rights or the humanity from anyone.

Bryson continued "...Of crucial import to my argument today is that this is a relationship structured not on juridical grounds, this is not about the law, but on ethical grounds." But...this is about Bill C-16. Who let this woman on stage?

"The very real effects of the knowledge claims that we make as scholars require that our claims be subjected to rigorous critical scrutiny," she went on, "...We need to identify and address the claims made in the recent public works of Jordan Peterson; claims about trans people, claims about the validity about gender identity, claims about the proper use of pronouns, and claims about academic freedom rights. And let's be clear, we have a unique difficulty here today in subjecting these claims to scholarly scrutiny. What kind of claims can you have in 'amateurish videos'? Although this man is making these claims as Dr. Jordan Peterson, as a professor, and a clinical psychologist employed at a great Canadian University, the claims are not being made in relation to any publicly accessibly body of peer-reviewed scholarship." And Peterson never claimed his remarks in these videos were a scholarly source, nor as a peer-reviewed work with all the supporting evidence Bryson so desperately sought. This false labeling and misunderstanding of Peterson's videos were a major cause for confusion on Bryson's end.

Peterson made these claims, criticisms, and statements on his own YouTube channel, in his own name, on his own platform. Technically.

Because an employee's words are also employer's words, Peterson technically did make those claims as a scholar and as a professor representing the University of Toronto. Technically.

In spite of this fact, Peterson, as an individual, was making these claims expressing his own personal opinions. Peterson is entitled to have, share, and express his own personal opinions on his own personal time on his own personal platform. Technically.

I may have a neat suggestion for the University of Toronto to add an ':^)' after each sentence in their mission statement and other relevant documents claiming that they champion and stand up for free speech.

Bryson continued by listing Peterson's claims, but again failed to realize that Peterson levied these criticism toward C-16 from his personal perspective, not as a doctor of gender studies with fifty years of mastery in the field. "On the subject of pronouns and gender expression," Bryson went on, "Dr. Peterson is emphatic that, 'I don't recognize another person's right to determine what pronouns I use to address them. I won't do it.'" I believe that most people are misunderstanding what Peterson is saying here.

Peterson is not saying "I will intentionally misgender individuals." He is not transphobic. Peterson is saying "I refuse to give another individual the (legally-backed) right to force me to use a pronoun." In other words, Peterson takes umbrage with compelled expression. He believes he should not be legally forced to use ze/zer/invaderzim pronouns, else he face legal action. He does not want to use these pronouns because he does not believe they are viable pronouns.

Peterson is taking Murphy's Law into account, because the slippery slope can be quite slippery. What Peterson warns regarding C-16 is the vaguely written legislation that could be ripe for abuse. "The SJWs say only the worst of the worst will get punished," Peterson says. "Think again. With them at the helm anything can and does happen." Murphy's Law: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. "...by the way, if you're an employer, you're responsible for everything that your employees say and everything that anybody interprets what they said, whether it's unintentional or intentional, whether or not a complaint has been made." [clip]

Of particular concern is Peterson's claim that the tribunal which will decide the outcome of these cases of 'hate speech' are not only 'the social justice warrior-type,' but that their methods reflect the online counterparts who seek to destroy a target's character, reputation, and actively seek to terminate targets from employment. [clip] One need not dig too far into history to see similarities.

When asked by Moran if Cossman had assuaged and of his worries: [clip]

Peterson: "No, it doesn't give me any comfort. And the reason it doesn't give me any comfort is because as far as I'm concerned, what this is actually about has already played out in my case and I already explained that to you. I want to tell you some of the pernicious things about the legislation..."

Moran: "You mean C-16?"

Peterson: "Actually I mean the policy guidelines that it will be interpreted within because the legislation itself is only a couple of paragraphs and looks innocuous. But I would say a legal doctrine is something like a virus and it has a life."

Moran: "That's not what we think."

Rather than allowing Peterson to complete his thought, Moran jumped on the word 'virus' assuming Peterson meant that a legal doctrine was an awful disease. Peterson, sticking to the issue, went on to say "If you let it go into a living system it propagates and it has effects. And the effects are a consequence of the philosophy that's embedded inside the law. And if you really want to know about this you should read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn 'Gulag Archipelago' because what he does in that book is tell you how the hypothetical humane doctrines that were embedded in radical Marxism at the end of the 1800s unfolded into Soviet society and demolished it, along with many other societies..."

Once again, Peterson remains on course pointing to the underlying, structural flaws which could be abused should C-16 pass and the worst possible scenarios play out.

Afterward, Cossman takes issue with Peterson's take on the possible legal repercussions of C-16, to which Cossman claims that she has simply seen and explained the law as it is today. [clip] To ensure the stability of a program, or the stability of online servers, or the foundations of a building, it must be put under stress. A stress test can reveal not only possible limitations, but also provide insight into possible improvements. The current climate and debate regarding this particular issue is a stress test of C-16. But one stress test is insufficient. That Peterson's refusal to say ze/zer/attackhelicopter/invaderzim could result in legal action is insight that needs a patch. A lot of patching, better foundations, more rebar, and superior scaffolding to create a better draft. Cossman, a thirty-year expert in law, knows the law of today, but she made no claims or suggestions during this debate of what the law could look like in five, ten, twenty years down the line. Think here of the slippery slope and Murphy's Law. We must assume the worst possible scenario, the most extreme examples, and prevent terrible legislation by stress testing.

Cossman ends by ensuring the audience that one would not go to jail for refusal to pay damages. However, if Peterson's claims are true that the tribunal is comprised of the social justice warrior-types, then Cossman would certainly be unaware of the potentially severe judgment that Peterson could be subjected to due to his statements, positions, and the current controversy.

Bryson continues her Trumpian pandering to University of Toronto students and administration by calling the University 'great' for the twentieth time, while simultaneously suggesting Peterson has not read any recent books or essays: "It's really good to keep reading if you're going to be employed at a great Canadian university. Point two: pronouns. Let's put pronouns in some kind of context, and I think it's really helpful in going back to what Justice Minister Wilson-Raybould said yesterday following the passing of C-16: 'It's our collective responsibility to recognize and reduce the vulnerability of transgender-diverse persons to discrimination, hate crimes, and hate propaganda.' And a lot of what we've been hearing here is hate propaganda."

Bryson's continued insistence that Peterson not only submit work for peer-review, but that he read peer-reviewed studies suggests that Bryson has not read any peer-reviewed studies that challenge the positions she herself holds. Her demeanor toward Peterson can be summed up as: disrespectful. But this is perfectly fine because she is on the right side of history. Peterson ought to be grateful that Bryson has "dignified him and his ideas in public debate." Her claim that Peterson has said a lot of hate propaganda. further demonstrated her ad hominem style during the debate, as well as her misunderstanding of both the debate over legislation and his arguments.

[clip]"One thing I would like to point out before I answer that," Peterson said, "just so you all notice, is that I have in fact been denounced today. And what I am saying has in fact been described as 'hate propaganda.' So one thing I'd like to suggest to you, every single person in the audience: you're next. So keep it in mind." Wondering about why bother using pronouns, Peterson reasoned "I don't know why the hell I use the pronouns I use. I use them because they're part of the language. I use 'he' and 'she' because that's what everyone uses. So then I had to think about 'Well, why do we in fact use pronouns?' and we use them in part for the same reason that we use other categories and that's to simplify the world for functional purposes, roughly speaking..."/

Bryson claims that "I would say that I recognize practices of peer review, and practices of peer review are not denouncement. Practices of peer review are practices that we utilize to make assessments about knowledge claims," believing, incorrectly, that she has not denounced Peterson, when she clearly did. "...a lot of what we've been hearing here is hate propaganda."

One must wonder if Bryson intentionally omitted context from her previous statement, perhaps attempting to take advantage of peoples' poor memory. If so, perhaps she intentionally misled the audience into believing that Peterson's videos were an attempt at a peer-reviewed YouTube video. Bryson is either incompetent or malicious, because she states "...I think we've managed to reproduce this difficulty here today characterized just now by Dr. Peterson as 'simplifying the world for functional purposes.' Simplifying the world for functional purposes is not what I recognize to be academic practice. This is not how we relate to knowledge."

Peterson never claimed that his positions were a result of 'simplifying the world.' What Peterson actually said was in regards to language and the use of pronouns: "we use them in part for the same reason that we use other categories and that's to simplify the world for functional purposes, roughly speaking..." Not the first time Bryson mischaracterized Peterson's perspective.

Cossman incorrectly believed that Bryson's 'hate propaganda' comment was criticism of Peterson's claims, instead of denouncement: "I've spent a career being concerned about the way in which thoughtful discussion is often shut down...And I think that professor Peterson has actually performed some of this today in so far as he just said that he was denounced here today and that they're going to come for you next. So the thing is, about speech, is that everybody gets it. And you say something and you then get criticized. So professor Peterson hasn't been denounced, some might want to, but he has been severely criticized and that is actually what speech does." She ends with the open minded idea, unable to hide her condescending tone: "I think that there is an important way to have public discussions around a whole range of issues. I would welcome a discussion on the role of hate speech provisions. I would welcome a discussion around the role of hate speech and its desirability about whether the Supreme Court of Canada is right not right in upholding its constitutionality. But I would like to have that debate with someone who is knowledgeable about the law." Because only lawyers should be able to debate, criticize, and discuss legal issues.

Toward the end Cossman and Bryson were quick to take the high ground on their high horses, displaying nothing but disdain for Peterson. Further debates are necessary not only for more options of open dialogue, but more importantly, for higher quality opponents. This will definitely be a difficult task, however, due to the poor state and the decline of educational standards over time, thus the lesser scholars available for debate, and lesser schools exist who value free speech, logic, and reason.