13 February 2018
A new weapon of choice has emerged from the arsenals of would-be character assassins. It comes out whenever a target is simply too reasonable and perhaps likeable to be dealt with in the usual way—when you can’t just label them a Nazi or fascist. The tactic has most recently been used on Dr. Jordan Peterson, whose recent rise to fame has come at the cost of one news programme’s reputation in particular.
No, I’m not talking about the ‘so you’re saying’ method of misconstruing and destroying a person’s argument. I’m talking about the way public figures are deemed guilty based on the most bare-bones of association: fandom. Instead of outright calling a person this or that, you instead infer the label by pointing to the some of the bad eggs in their audience. You can also take this a step further by holding them accountable for the actions of their fanbase, regardless of whether a sizeable portion is doing anything wrong.
All the hit pieces I’ve read on Jordan Peterson reference the fact that his work has attracted some unsavoury individuals, which is apparently enough to link him to the alt-right ideology.
This is mischaracterisation at its most devious. They aren’t saying anything about his beliefs or positions; they’re cherry-picking members of his audience and using their opinions as a way to dismantle Peterson’s. It’s an especially dishonest thing to do in the internet age when a fandom can consist of millions of anonymous profiles and Twitter eggs.
Peterson is not his fanbase. His fanbase is not him, and no celebrity can control who finds their work appealing. The idea that Peterson can be judged based on who follows him is completely ridiculous, as it removes all nuance from the discussion and blindly asserts the falsehood that correlation equals causation.
There is no evidence to prove that Peterson’s work is sustaining the beliefs of any neo-Nazi, much less causing them. Yet many make it out to seem as if that is the case, as if Peterson’s lectures and self-help book are radicalising young men.
Politics is messy and allegiances are often founded on the notion of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend.’ Peterson is outspoken on his hatred of radical leftism. That makes him a ‘friend’ of anyone who agrees, including those who are aligned with the other extreme.
As the man himself explained, ‘part of it is that if you stand up against the radical left, it isn’t obvious where you’re positioned on the political spectrum, because everybody to the right of the radical left is going to agree with you and that’ll include people on the radical right. Then people say, “oh well, look, you’ve got people on the radical right supporting you; you must be radical right.” It’s a reasonable question but it’s generally not posed in a reasonable way.’
It is unreasonable to believe that a person’s opinions are reflected in their audience. It is the kind of collectivist thinking that occurs you’ve spent your entire life lumping people together according to their ‘group’ rather than identifying them as individuals with unique interests and desires.
This is an issue faced by numerous figures, not just Jordan Peterson. Celebrities and pundits should denounce members of their audience whom they find distasteful. However, the existence of those people in their following should not indicate any wrongdoing on the part of the celebrity.
How about instead of combing over their audience, we listen to what they actually have to say? Surely, if the person is as bad as they are made out to be, their arguments can be refuted easily.
But sadly, that just isn’t the world we live in nowadays. For many, it’s far easier to look at all the things on the fringe than it is to tackle the central points.
Maybe it’s because they can’t.