A few days ago, Munk Debates teamed together two titans of wisdom and eloquence, psychologist Jordan Peterson and actor Stephen Fry. They argued against the current wave of political correctness as being a form of progress. Their opponents were Michael Dyson and Michelle Goldberg. The debate lasted about ninety minutes, and it got heated at a couple of instances. I am not going to do a thorough, line-for-line analysis of this. I think plenty of people will do that. What I am going to do, instead, is focus on the salient points and moments.
First, I think both Dyson and Goldberg made a solid observation about the framing and context of this “individualist versus collectivist” outlook that Peterson argued. They noted how minorities have had group identities thrust upon them, that it is a product of the history of oppression against these groups, that these groups have not been allowed to exist as individuals. This is a point that I rarely see raised on the left, and I thought it had potential to produce sincere insight. Unfortunately, I think they showed their intellectual butterfingers about this because they continued to, willfully, embrace the groupthink that they claim is imposed on them. They did not offer a sufficient reason why trying to argue for political correctness in such an unfair dynamic is even a good idea. That was was a major failure on their part.
Peterson stuck to his usual stump speech, more or less, about the radical left, postmodernists, equality of outcome, and so on. I felt that there was nothing particularly new that he said in the debate, except in some of his responses. A highlight of the debate, in my view, was when Dyson referred to Peterson as a “mean, mad, white man.” Peterson aptly noted that his race should not have been worth mention, that it was “a hell of a thing to say in a debate.”
I would say that this was the crowning example of how Dyson was intellectually dishonest across the entire discussion. He wheezed so much hot air about the importance of individuality and how group dynamics have unfairly been put upon minorities, but he incessantly made remarks (like that to Peterson) that showed he had little interest in addressing any individuals, frequently making boorish, prejudicial claims about groups. The fact that he thought inviting Peterson to speak at a primarily black audience mattered to the points being raised — whereas it mattered not one bit to Peterson — cemented this.
As a supporter of reparations for slavery and Jim Crowe, I think Peterson offered Dyson an excellent challenge. Encouraging him to be precise, he asked how much someone such as himself should be taxed for a reparations program. Dyson pouted over this, as if having to articulate how a policy (that he supports) should be implemented is an excessive burden. Now, I can at least begin to answer that question, and the fact that Dyson would not is deeply troubling.
Goldberg did not stand out very much, until the very end where she seemed to have intentionally mischaracterized Peterson’s claims about women in the workplace and his infamous “enforced monogamy” quote. The issues here should speak for themselves, particularly in how she was so defiant that Peterson did say those things, even though he did not. Whatever, that topic has been discussed to death by now, even in these short few days. To her credit, though, she is against de-platforming, +1.
I thought the best content of the night came from Stephen Fry. He correctly indicated that it was hard for anyone to commit to the topic of political correctness. He stated, as I have stated myself, that political correctness might seem good to the left now, but he also pointed out that it can be a weapon of the right, and the left may find themselves in dire straits, should the pendulum ever swing the other way. He also observed that the rise of the far-right in America and Europe is not the product of the right being more successful but of the left failing to do its job properly, and much of that comes back to their wayward crusade for political correctness. Again, the fact that Dyson considers an inquiry into how a reparations program would work to be dismissive shows just how little substance the left has.
In summary, Peterson and Fry were the clear winners of the debate, and Fry was the MVP. His artisan English and adherence to the topic made him the superior voice on the topic of political correctness.
Oh, and ten points to Gryffindor for “huckstering, snake-oil, pulpit talk”!