Opinion General

Freedom of speech isn’t just about showing both sides

Jordan Peterson. His name elicits different emotions from different people.  Whether it is respect, confusion or disdain,  it would be wrong to ignore how he and his advocacy has highlighted how, much like our American cousins to the south, Canadians are not all on the same page when it comes to views that we find pernicious.  

A good example is what happened recently with Lindsay Shepherd, a TA at Wilfred Laurier University. Shepard presented a debate that featured Jordan Peterson, a student complained, and Shepherd has since been reprimanded. This particular issue showcases a myriad of issues and has caused quite a lot of debate to what extent a university should be allowed to censor or limit the freedom of speech if at all of its employees.

One of the most common outcries that has since appeared is that this censorship is wrong because it allows universities to restrict your free speech in pernicious ways.  Firstly, assuming everything claimed about this censorship being illiberal, the university can still only really control what you say on university campus or as a representative of the university.  Your own personal time can still be spent speaking or viewing whatever you are interested in, as the university simply cannot control your actions beyond its own scope.  Secondly, whenever you are representing the university in some capacity it is the university’s right to set guidelines and principles for what you can and can’t say, and is then the university’s prerogative to reprimand or seek consequences for those who represent the university in a way they find counter to their own goals and intentions.  Further, ultimately a student complained because they were made to feel uncomfortable in a way that was detrimental to them — so uncomfortable they cannot really focus on their coursework.  Said student then complained, so then it is the responsibility of the university to ensure the crippling discomfort does not happen again.

My second biggest pet peeve is when people claim it is unscientific or unacademic to judge Jordan Peterson’s perspective and then state that there is nothing worthwhile to debate about it.  It’s interesting though that we see an abundance of examples of how we do this already and no one finds it distressing. For example, no one accuses those uninterested in rehashing the racism debate or the feminist equality debate of failing to be good academics when they categorically refuse to recognize sexist and materials that are “a side” but inherently require the denial of access to rights to a group of individuals.  Moreover, you inherently lend legitimacy to whatever it is when you say it has benefit to be debated, making it more likely that people will end up picking up that set up values or ideas.  Since, in regards to pronoun use in specific, the so-called “debate” is about whether we allow equal access to self-identity to a group of individuals who are historically discriminated against in society, it seems strange to so urgently say that we need to “hear both sides” as if it will magically make stances like Jordan Peterson’s morph into a coherent stance on identity and pronouns. 

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