When I learned that noted Bing user Jordan Peterson was coming to Edmonton, I went through a rollercoaster of emotions. Eye-rolls. Audible sighs. Wondering what I was going to eat for lunch that day. The whole gamut, really.
If you hadn’t heard of Jordan Peterson by now — good for you — he’s a mediocre university professor with bad opinions and a weird Kermit the Frog voice who alt-right fanboys have glommed on to as their newest Dad-like stern authority figure.
He initially became famous for refusing to use pronouns outside the gender binary in the hypothetical and non-existent scenario that the government would force him to do so. Brave.
Since then he’s been very successful at convincing the media and his rapidly growing, cult-like fan base that he’s a radical troublemaker. He’s done so by refusing to abide by what he terms political-correctness-gone-too-far: like complaining about how he can’t get physical with “crazy women” or saying that feminists support the rights of Muslims because of their unconscious wish for brutal male domination.
His Twitter account even had Truth and Reconciliation Commission chair Murray Sinclair musing that “Jordan Peterson is racist. Are we really surprised?”
Now Peterson is on a tour where he’s peddling a book filled with self-help bromides to his overwhelmingly young, disaffected, white, male audience. We’re talking about heavy stuff like cleaning your room and sorting yourself out mixed in with fuzzy Jungian formulations and lobster hierarchies.
But when you distill the essence of Peterson’s message, it’s just Ayn Randian, objectivist, selfishness-is-good nonsense with a dash of self-help histrionics. It’s a philosophy that lets entitled, privileged people feel perfectly justified in continuing to be entitled and privileged. It totally ignores that the structure and design of our system keeps marginalized people from having their voices heard. And that not only is it the fault of marginalized people that they ended up that way but also that they’re coming after you — in the form of social justice warriors.
“How do you overcome the suffering of life?” Jordan Peterson cried out in one of his YouTube lectures. “Be a better person!”
That’s not how social change works. Women didn’t get the right to vote because they all woke up one day and decided to clean their room and live a more focused life.
And after Edmonton’s regional theatre, the Citadel, refused to rent out a space to him for his book launch he used that to gin up tens of thousands of dollars worth of free advertising from the local media who covered the “controversy.”
The Citadel and the local media played right into Peterson’s hands. He thrives on using perceived slights against him by the establishment to build his brand as some kind of revolutionary rabble-rouser. It’s a form of performative anti-establishment rebellion that just so happens to comfortably maintain the status quo and existing power structures.
We chose to not play his game. We are not going to his venue to picket and protest. We are not going to organize a group of people to get down in the mud with his fanboys. We’re certainly not going to “debate” him. Instead, we’re throwing a party the same night he’s speaking to celebrate Edmonton’s amazing and resilient queer and trans communities.
We’re bringing people together to dance and laugh and celebrate the surviving, the thriving, the growing and the living.
We’re also putting on an organizer training the day before our event to give people in the community the skills they need to build the necessary people power to bring about real social change. Building this capacity in our communities is just as important as throwing a party.
Part of offering a meaningful counterpoint to Peterson is ignoring the reaction that he seeks. Don’t get distracted by his obvious “Take a swing at me, bro,” routine. He’s a flavour of the month.
Real power is found not by protesting Peterson or entertaining his nonsense ideas but by building and organizing an enduring coalition between queer and trans people, Black people, Indigenous people, people of colour, women and other allies that can stand and act together in solidarity. Jordan Peterson will be gone, eventually. His 15 minutes of fame will end. And if we orient our resistance around specifically reacting to him, everything we’ve built will go away with him.
Peterson is coming to Vancouver on Feb. 15. If you really want to get Peterson’s goat, don’t spend your time and resources responding to him — don't play into his grift. Instead, build something enduring. Build power and networks and trust.
Social change happens when large, organized groups of people demand it. And while you’re building that large, organized group, make sure to throw some parties and crack some Kermit the Frog jokes too.
Read more: Gender + Sexuality