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Prof. Jordan Peterson responds to CBC cultural appropriation fallout

By Antonella Artuso, Toronto Sun

University of Toronto Prof. Jordan Peterson speaks at the Sandford Fleming building in Toronto on Feb. 4, 2017. (Veronica Henri/Toronto Sun)

University of Toronto Prof. Jordan Peterson speaks at the Sandford Fleming building in Toronto on Feb. 4, 2017. (Veronica Henri/Toronto Sun)

TORONTO - 

Journalists are already self-censoring in the toxic fallout from the CBC’s cultural appropriation controversy, University of Toronto Prof. Dr. Jordan Peterson says.

Peterson, whose fight against mandatory use of genderless pronouns drew international attention, said the impact of political correctness on free speech and broader society is profound.

“This is why I’ve been warning about the emergence of such ideas at the university,” Peterson told The Toronto Sun.

“Anybody who thinks these ideas are going to stay in the university, believe me, they’re engaging in wishful thinking.”

A number of prominent journalists have been criticized for their recent participation in a debate about cultural appropriation, whether writers using the creations of other cultures are exploring or exploiting them.

Steve Ladurantaye tweeted that he would contribute $100 to an appropriation prize, which offended those who see it as exploitation of another culture.

Ladurantaye removed the tweet and apologized fully and repeatedly on Twitter.

The journalist was subsequently reassigned from his high-profile job as managing editor of the CBC’s The National, and his employer sent a memo to all his co-workers advising them that he would be endeavouring to better understand the appropriation issue and, in the long run, would be a better journalist for it.

What are the implications for journalists?

“The first lesson is they’re going to be hung out to dry by their superiors ... And the second is that the radical mob learned that with a relatively moderate level of effort, they can humiliate and take down even journalists that have impeccable reputations and large followings. So if the journalistic community wanted to teach their enemies the lesson they most want to be taught, they taught them that this week.”

In some cases, the journalist apologized. Why wasn’t that enough?

“You never apologize to a mob. You’re not dealing with individuals who you can reestablish a relationship with. You’re dealing with a soulless idea that has people in its possession. And it’s a shifting entity, it doesn’t even involve the same people necessarily across time although there’s often a core, and all the idea is going to do with your apology is note that you believe that the game is fair, the game that they foisted on you is fair and that you’re guilty of breaking the rules.”

Does this promote censorship?

“It promotes self-censorship. I talked to many journalists this week about this issue ... and they all express concern ... They’re all engaging in cautious self-censorship. They’re not saying what they believe, they’re avoiding certain issues. That’s the most subtle form of censorship ... You just avoid the topic altogether and that’s the beginning of the big lie. That’s the sin of omission ... You start by just not saying things, and you end up by saying things that you know to be untrue.”

What about the argument that journalists are being insensitive to other cultures?

“Since when is sensitivity, first of all, the only moral virtue, and second, lack of it grounds for pillorying and destruction of reputation? There’s lots of times when insensitivity is the appropriate response. Insensitivity is the appropriate response to wilful stupidity, for example, or self-destructive behaviour. There are all sorts of places where insensitivity is precisely the appropriate response. You can’t be a critic without being insensitive. If you’re a critic, you’re going to hurt somebody’s feelings. So what, no more criticism? That’s the idea? What the hell are journalists going to do? They’re going to walk around saying that everybody’s wonderful all the time?”