Free Speech Hero Jordan Peterson Threatened Numerous Defamation Lawsuits Against His Own Critics

BAILEY T. STEEN | TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2018

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, the controversial university professor, self-help guru, lobster enthusiast and the reactionary right’s symbol of free speech, has now threatened multiple defamation lawsuits against his critics for their very questionable descriptions of his beliefs.

According to new reports from The National Post and The Cut, the professor is now suing Wilfrid Laurier University, Cornell University and Vox Media for over $1.5 million each in damages for allegedly defamatory statements which label the man either a “misogynist” by suggesting “it doesn’t seem accidental that [Peterson’s] scepticism about objective facts arises when it’s conveniently anti-feminist”, as well as some kind of “anti-semite” the likes of “Adolf Hitler”. His lawyers demand all these statements to be “immediately retracted”.

It appears two of these lawsuits are all being filed through the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, the same Canadian legal system that Peterson criticised to fame for their anti-free speech stance when it comes to issues such as “gender identity or expression” being labelled grounds for discrimination under Bill C-16. Peterson has made clear that on principle he would gladly refer to transgenders and non-binary students whatever pronouns they want, but would refuse to do so if compelled by laws that restrict his fundamental human right to free speech. His critics, however, shouldn’t hold their breath if they’re waiting for his defence of their own.

The first lawsuit is being made against Wilfrid Laurier’s own professors Nathan Rambukkana, Herbert Pimlott and their Diversity and Equity Office staffer Adria Joel, who each compared Peterson to the former third reich leader by suggesting he was an anti-semitic “charlatan,” among other things, during their private meeting with teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd. The footage of this conversation grew wide-spread media attention when it was released by Shepard, who at the time was being accused of transgender discrimination by merely presenting her literature class a TV Ontario debate regarding gender-neutral pronouns where Peterson was a panelist.

This shouldn’t be confused with the lawsuit brought forth by Shepherd, now suing the school for $3.6 million for making her “unemployable in academia” based on the firing squad meeting presented above. His lawsuit should be considered far more questionable since Laurier argue their comments are not defamatory due to the fact they were only made in the context of a private meeting, never intended for public scrutiny.

“They played no role whatsoever in uploading the recording of the impugned words to YouTube, and are not responsible in any way for any repercussions flowing therefrom,” the university said in their defence statement. “Rather, these defendants state that the impugned words were uploaded to YouTube by Shepherd, and that she is therefore responsible for the damages, if any, that flowed from the impugned words being broadcast on YouTube.”

Shepard has the defence the release of her footage was protection from unethical termination, showcasing the narrative her university superiors would push on her record in the event that she was forced to leave and there was no evidence to clear her name. There’s an argument for due compensation. Peterson, however, has only seen an increase in revenue, media coverage and guest appearances since their remarks came to light.

In his second lawsuit, Peterson is directly going after Laurier’s own statement of defence where they asked for the lawsuit to be dropped. Instead of dropping the charges, Dr. Peterson is taking issue with their claims that he “benefited from the press” surrounding the controversy, writing this claim was just about as ridiculous as saying “those who survived the Holocaust should be grateful to their oppressors for teaching them survival skills.”

Peterson has since published a New York Times bestseller, “12 Rules For Life”, made regular appearances on right-wing YouTube shows Louder With Crowder, The Rubin Report and The Daily Wire, bipartisan TV guest spots on BBC, Fox News, Real Time With Bill Maher, Comedy Central, holds sold out speaking engagements across the nation and currently makes over $60,000 per month on the crowd-funding site Patreon (up from the $52K from months before the video’s release). Peterson has since hid the amount of money he receives through the site, possibly to help bolster the credibility of his own lawsuit’s as he move towards making them single action.

For my money, the world clearly just can’t get enough of Dr. Peterson, and he’s certainly a big boy with a decent amount of big money for his earned reputation. But maybe that’s just not enough for him. Understand that his second lawsuit also takes issue with the university’s claims that the “stated purpose” of Peterson’s original defamation lawsuit is “causing academics and administrators to be more circumspect in their choice of words and that the lawsuit is being used as a means of unduly limiting expression on matters of public interest.” Ironically, instead of counter-addressing these claims through more speech, Dr. Peterson is seeking retractions and another $1.75 million in damages for their words, despite the existence of his own YouTube video where he directly states he hoped his lawsuit would convince professor to be “much more circumspect in their actions and their words.”

Perhaps — and please don’t sue me for this obvious theory, Peterson — these notions of being more careful with their words is less about the university taking their own personal responsibility and more about silencing critics who will otherwise face the wrath of the legal system he rightfully criticises for coddling people’s feelings. We’re more than happy to air Peterson’s response, completely in fairness and context, rather than just the cries of his lawyers.

But alas, the lawsuits don’t seem to just stop at Laurier. According to an exclusive report from The Cut, Peterson’s third lawsuit is being made against the author of “Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny” and Cornell University assistant professor Kate Manne, who recently criticised his book, and the majority of his work, as being “misogynistic” in a July interview with Vox.

In their letters to Manne, Cornell chair Derk Pereboom and Vox journalist Sean Illing, Peterson’s lawyer, Howard Levitt, demanded that all three parties “immediately retract all of Professor Manne’s defamatory statements, have them immediately removed from the internet, and issue an apology in the same forum to Mr. Peterson. Otherwise, our client will take all steps necessary to protect his professional reputation, including but not limited to initiating legal proceedings against all of you for damages.”

What could have been said to hurt this so-called anti-authoritarian’s feelings?

For starters, Peterson’s wishes readers to not see Manne’s central contention that Peterson’s book includes “some really eyebrow-raising, authoritarian-sounding, and even cruel things” about the opposite sex, continuing to make an observation that “it doesn’t seem accidental that [Peterson’s] skepticism about objective facts arises when it’s conveniently anti-feminist.” The lawyer told all three parties his client was unhappy with her assertions that “for many of Peterson’s readers, the sexism on display above is one tool among many to make forceful, domineering moves that are typical of misogyny.”

Manne cited a section in his book where Peterson described a particular client he was serving as a clinical psychologist. “According to Peterson,” she said, “the client announced, ‘I think I’ve been raped.’ He wrote that he immediately thought that alcohol was involved.” The section reads:

“How else to understand “I think”? But that wasn’t the end of the story. She added an extra detail: “Five times.” The first sentence was awful enough, but the second produced something unfathomable. Five times? What could that possibly mean? My client told me that she would go to a bar and have a few drinks. Someone would start to talk with her. She would end up at his place or her place with him. The evening would proceed, inevitably, to its sexual climax. The next day she would wake up, uncertain about what happened — uncertain about her motives, uncertain about his motives, and uncertain about the world.

Miss S, we’ll call her, was vague to the point of non-existence. She was a ghost of a person. She dressed, however, like a professional. She knew how to present herself, for first appearances … Miss S knew nothing about herself. She knew nothing about other individuals. She knew nothing about the world. She was a movie played out of focus. And she was desperately waiting for a story about herself to make it all make sense.”

“I’d raise an alternative explanation,” Manne said. “Maybe she was raped — five times, as she stated — and then was effectively undermined or even gaslit by her therapist. To be clear, I’m not saying that that is what happened. I can’t possibly know, on the basis of what Peterson writes here. But I’d certainly like to know more, and I’m surprised Peterson has not yet been asked about these and similar passages, in which he comes across as highly contemptuous of female clients.”

Manne continues to liken Peterson to a “stereotypical postmodernist”, a branch of intellectual theory he criticises for the rise of social justice warriors, for a statement which appears to cast doubt on her claims. He stated:

“Who are you? What did you do? What happened? What was the objective truth? There was no way of knowing the objective truth. And there never would be. There was no objective observer, and there never would be. There was no complete and accurate story. Such a thing did not and could not exist. There were, and are, only partial accounts and fragmentary viewpoints.”

So what exactly is Peterson contending? Manne and Illing didn’t release some public statement suggesting he was some kind of ‘rape apologist’, making it clear to their readers this was an unclear interpretation of passages where they’d prefer clarification from Peterson. Instead of an explanation, of course, lawsuits and retraction demands followed, against a conversation that seems fitting of standard book club discourse.

There’s real no way to prove or disprove Peterson’s feelings towards women. Illing, stating he hasn’t read the book, made sure to push back on the opinions which label Peterson a “sexist” and a “misogynist” throughout his career. “To be honest, I’m not sure this is a fair characterization of his work,” Illing said. “I’m curious what you think.” Manne, being an critical individual, disagreed.

She didn’t accuse the man of a #MeToo rape crime, but merely questioned the intentions and assertions made throughout his work. Sure, there’s certainly an argument her criticisms are just wrong. She herself is a biology denier on Peterson’s claim that, on average, “Boys’ interests tilt towards things; girls’ interests tilt towards people”, which is considered a biological fact according to The National Institute of Health and The American Psychology Association. She considered this a “sexist stereotype” pushed by Dr. Peterson.

That said, should it be a crime to disagree? Is it illegal to disagree of one’s science, therapy methods, sources and intellectual character? Whether it’s in private or the public space? Or is this just a hypocritical scare tactic from this so-called warrior of liberty? “It’s a classic attempt to chill free speech,” Manne told The Cut. “Like many of his ilk, what he really seems to be demanding — when one examines his actions rather than words — is to be able to speak free from legitimate social consequences, such as other people talking back.”

Thanks for reading!

Bailey T. Steen is a journalist, designer and film critic residing in the heart of Victoria, Australia. He’s also a proud Putin Puppet on occasion.

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