My half-sister is Jewish. As such, I would like not to live in a world where Nazis and anti-Semites are hard to detect. For her own well-being, I would like to know exactly who the real Nazis of the world are without equivocation. Unfortunately, there has been a lot of work by the far-left in recent years to confuse people about the concepts of Nazis and Nazism. This past Friday, we saw another one of those examples by Ari Feldman, writing for Forward about Jordan Peterson, and I saw it as prudent to respond today.
I recently wrote about a similar attack on Peterson by NBC. On Friday, little over a week later, this misleading hit piece by Feldman was put out. Attempting to conjure notions of Peterson being informed by or associated with anti-Semitism, the article is just one entry in a long series of attempts to malign this Canadian psychologist, as will be made clear.
Feldman’s opening sentence cuts right to the chase:
Jordan Peterson is a public intellectual adored by neo-Nazis, white supremacists and conspiracy theorists.
This is a very tired argument that is routinely made by his critics. For one, we do not know that it is particularly true. In fact, we have a lot of reason to think that it is not true, and even Peterson’s quotes in the article would indicate that he is a very poor role model for Nazis, as this excerpt suggests:
He has accused white supremacists of having a “pathology of racial pride,” and written that “identity politics” –- the idea that drives white nationalism — is “misguided.”
This does not stop them from saying he has received praise from sources such as The Daily Stormer, a site that is known to make false associations with public figures in order to tarnish their images.
Moving beyond that, the centerpiece of Feldman’s smear against Peterson is the baffling discussion about how Peterson discusses the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, and Jewish intelligence. At no point do they actually produce any meaningful quotes from him that speak negatively about any of these. What we see are repeated, sinister interpretations that come straight out of left field.
They produce a clip of a Q&A session during one of Peterson’s talks, in which he is asked about the relative success of Jews in society, such as being over-represented in fields like finance, law, and medicine. Peterson dismisses the anti-Semitic answer of the “Jewish Conspiracy” and instead points to research that indicates that Ashkenazi Jews tend to be more intelligent than the general human population. To most ears, he is merely pointing out that Jewish folks are more likely to be smart, and smart people, not surprisingly, are more likely to be successful.
Feldman heard differently. He references Professor Deborah Lipstadt, who apparently described Peterson’s attention to IQ as “suspicious.” She goes on to say that his remarks triggered thoughts of Kevin MacDonald and his statements on Jewish intelligence, which mask an underlying anti-Semitism, and “worried the same is true of Peterson.” The actual connection or similarity between the two is not meaningfully elaborated beyond her own gut impression.
In my home state of North Carolina, our motto is esse quam videri (to be, rather than to seem). This idea is apparently lost on Feldman. What we see in this article are several attempts at making Peterson seem like a neo-Nazi figure but nothing to demonstrate that he actually is one. He goes on to give a very vague idea of Peterson’s views on the Holocaust, arguing that he does not address anti-Semitism as being a factor behind it, as if to imply that he denies its significance. The contrived efforts to mischaracterize him are consequently so clunky in their language that it makes it difficult to break it down. In any event, he is quoted as saying:
I don’t see how you can distinguish cause and effect when discussing the relationship between anti-semitism [sic] and the Holocaust because they are different element [sic] of the same thing. The question is ‘what is driving both?’
This is not exactly a dismissal of anti-Semitism as relating to the Holocaust. Peterson appears to be saying that they are both drawing from the same aspect of human nature. Perhaps this is fair, considering that the Holocaust targeted more than just Jews. Whatever the case, this quote does not provide the lone reader much help on understanding the nuances of Peterson’s views on the Holocaust, and this was probably the intention.
Despite the odium of this sloppily written piece, they do pull some punches. They quote a former undergraduate of Peterson’s, who described him as odd but hardly anti-Semitic. They even mention that Peterson argues we should be grateful to the Jewish community for their contributions to society. So, all things considered, this is not the vilest act of libel that we have seen against Peterson, but these efforts to moderate the tone at the end of the article still fall flat.
Going back to where I started all of this off, I think the greatest sin committed by Feldman is not so much the attack on Peterson but the cheapening of terms and ideas in public discourse. Nazis and Nazism are a big deal, after all. The Holocaust alone resulted in 11 million deaths, and the carnage from the Third Reich’s war in Europe expands that number to about 40 million. These words should not be used lightly, and yet they are in this very publication.
The carelessness in which figures and issues are discussed by the likes of Feldman increases the chance that ordinary people will come to doubt the racism of truly pernicious actors, such as President Trump, as nothing more than liberal propaganda. Moreover, it is extremely disrespectful to the victims of the Holocaust, some of whom are still alive today. Imagine being right next to a survivor and telling them that Peterson, of all people, is the same as the people who abducted them from their homes, beat them, enslaved them, slaughtered their family members, and tried to kill them. Imagine just how belittling such an accusation is of their pain and loss…
In the old fable, crying “wolf” is a danger only to the boy telling the lie. At this level, however, lying is not only dangerous to the liars. It is dangerous to everyone else. We will forever struggle to advance ourselves culturally and politically while misinformation of this nature abounds.
We can only hope that these efforts to smear Peterson backfire, as the attack by NBC appeared to do. This requires us all to step up and speak out against these efforts, to concede not one inch on the battlefield of truth. As such, I hope you all will continue to stand by Dr. Peterson, as long as he is right and no longer than that. In the meantime, I have a room to clean.
See another in Joe’s series on Peterson: Be Precise in Your Actions.