Jordan Peterson, Cathy Newman and Online Abuse

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I was sent an early copy of Jordan Peterson’s book ’12 Rules for Life: An Antidote To Chaos’  and just finished reading it moments before tapping this out. Images of lobsters, tampons and The Little Mermaid are still fresh in my mind, such is the breadth of material he tackles. I’ll embark on a fairer, more sincere analysis another day—as the Canadian professor has found himself at the centre of more ‘controversy’, this time in my home country.

I don’t really have strong views on Peterson. I’ve simply not absorbed enough of his output. Although, the way in which people are committed to shutting him down wherever he goes makes me want to see what all the fuss is about. See how that works?

I have however noticed the creepy personality cult that he appears to have inspired and when I hear him speak on the topic of god and religion, I get a Deepak Chopra vibe. Not to mention a bit drowsy.

That aside, he appears to be a deeply thoughtful, well-educated and intelligent individual who is often worth listening to whether you agree with him or not.

A person who has pitched their tent firmly in the ‘not’ camp is Channel 4 Journalist Cathy Newman. Her now infamous interview with Peterson went viral last week for all the wrong reasons:

Never before has the straw man fallacy been so perfectly demonstrated than by Newman’s repeated use of the phrase “so what you’re saying is..”

I can’t help but feel Newman was let down by one of her researchers. I suspect she may have been handed a cheat-sheet containing the views of Peterson’s most rabid critics, rather than those of the man himself.

Needless to say it was a deeply hostile, agenda-driven approach to what could have been a productive discussion. It’s possible to disagree with every single thing that Peterson says in this interview and yet still find yourself flabbergasted by whatever it is Cathy Newman is attempting to do. It’s as though she was reacting to some unseen spectre whispering “get back in the Kitchen, love” in her ear.

At one point Newman actually asks “why should your right to freedom of speech trump a trans person’s right not to be offended?”

The social media response to Cathy Newman has not been kind to say the least, and as reported in The Guardian, ‘C4 calls in security experts after presenter suffers online abuse’:

De Pear [Channel 4 Editor] said on Twitter on Friday: “Our Channel 4 News on-screen journalists expect to be held to account for their journalism but the level of vicious misogynistic abuse, nastiness, and threat to Cathy Newman is an unacceptable response to a robust and engaging debate with Jordan Peterson.

“Such is the scale of threat, we are having to get security specialists in to carry out an analysis. I will not hesitate to get the police involved if necessary. What a terrible indictment of the times we live in.”

It’s not clear what form these ‘threats’ took and what amount of credibility they had. This story was also picked up by several other mainstream news outlets. To his credit, Jordan Peterson issued a condemnation of any such behaviour and demanded that people ‘stop’:

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Abuse and online threats are completely unacceptable of course, and anyone who spends their time behaving in such a manner must be a desperately tragic individual.

However, we may be getting a very skewed picture of the situation if information compiled by blogger ‘hequal’ is anything to go by.

After some analysis of relevant tweets, they claim that Jordan Peterson received ‘30 times more violent sexist’ abuse as a result of this interview compared to Cathy Newman.

They summarise their findings below:

Non-sexist violence aimed at Newman or her supporters: 2

Sexist violence aimed at Newman or her supporters: 0

Non-sexist violence aimed at Peterson or his supporters: 8

Sexist violence aimed at Peterson or his supporters: 55

Assuming their methodology is a good one, these findings raise some inconvenient questions for those who like to play victimhood Olympics in order to detract from genuine criticism.

Will these newspapers now be updating their coverage with this information? Will those holding Peterson responsible for the way his disciples behave now extend the same measure of responsibility to Cathy Newman?

Doubtful. I expect this will be filed in the bulging cabinet at leftist HQ labelled ‘It’s ok when we do it’.

Stephen Knight is host of The #GSPodcast. You can listen to The Godless Spellchecker Podcast here, and support it by becoming a patron here.

7 comments

  • Newman’s question, “why should your right to freedom of speech trump a trans person’s right not to be offended?” is actually a good one. It gets to the nub of the question du jour. Granted, Newman asked it in a snarky manner, but it’s good to have the topic aired, responded to and effectively skewered in less than 150 words. Newman’s dumbfounded response to Petersen’s classical liberal explanation was truly shocking: it reveals a lot about the culture of the newsroom she works in, that it appeared never to have occurred to her that Peterson’s freedom of speech was hers as well.

  • > Assuming their methodology is a good one

    Well it’s certainly not good enough to justify throwing around figures like “30 times more”. All it would have taken was one single Twitter account anywhere in the world to like & retweet one single violence-endorsing tweet* to drop that figure of about “30 times” down to about “15 times”.

    If instead they had steered clear of any spurious calculations, and used a headline like “We found much more Twitter-based endorsement of violence against Peterson than against Newman, albeit with limited data“, I would say they’d done a great job.

    * – This one: https://twitter.com/tijanamiljovska/status/953515642577027072

  • I don’t get any Deepak Chopra vibe. Pearson applies Jungian ideas of archetypes in treatment of patients to explain the causes of their behaviour, and these same archetypes explain the enduring popularity of certain works of fiction and recurring themes in folk stories from different cultures. I haven’t listened to D.C. much, because I find it painful: he’s a fantasist screwing money out of the gullible, whereas .J.P. is a deeply thoughtful therapist.

  • Look, these days, if anyone says anything even remotely insensitive on twitter it is retweeted 1000s of times yet here we are with claims of abuse so rampant that De Pear claims to have been forced to bring on security experts to deal with the volume of hatred. He then even raised the specter of police involvement (scary!) while no one at channel 4, or anywhere really, to this point has shown even a single offensive and/or abusive tweet let alone the number required that would warrant such drastic action.

    The lack of any evidence at all calls to mind Hitchen’s gold: absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

  • Newman responded afterwards by saying she enjoyed the interview as a challenging argument and I got the impression that they both did. In fact there was almost a flirtatious moment when Peterson said that many people probably thought she was a difficult person to get on with and she agreed with him, laughing. The fact that she had trouble answering his reciprocal argument on free speech was hardly a “Catastrophic fail” It was just that Peterson has obviously thought a lot more deeply about the topic than anyone presently on the talking heads circus. So few people have had the courage to articulate and stand up for the counter feminist argument on mainstream media that it is hardly surprising that Newman was taken by surprise. Is it impossible these days to just enjoy a refreshing and stimulating political discussion without both sides going bananas over who got the better of who??

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