Cancel culture is in its own way democratic. Woke mobs—social media jackals or institutional flacks—don’t care whether their target for immolation is male or female, famous or obscure, a leading intellectual light or a plodding time-server. All their targets have in common is an audience. A classroom, a Twitter account, a pulpit. The pilot light of their righteous wrath never sleeps. Perceived thoughtcrimes are their tinder.
Targets run the gamut from weak to strong. The weak are limited in resources and support systems. Resistance seems futile. When they feel the heat, they confess to non-existent sins, hoping for mercy. Who can blame them?
Here is how it goes with the weak.
Hamline University is a small private liberal arts college in Minnesota. Erika López Prater, an art history instructor there, was recently fired for showing students in her Islamic art course 14th- and 16th-century masterworks depicting the prophet Mohammed.
Prater wasn’t striking a blow for free speech. On the contrary, the ultra-sensitive instructor fastidiously observed the prescribed rules of deference to Muslim sensibilities, issuing a warning, and encouraging those whose religious beliefs proscribed their viewing to opt out of that session. Nevertheless, a member of the Muslim Students Association declared her action to be “Islamophobic.” Allies coalesced around the offendee. Prater apologized for a crime she had not committed to no avail. As is so often the case, her meekness fanned the flames.
Prater had “adjunct” status, so she was easily disposed of. A petition expressing outrage was launched on her behalf by an international group of Muslim and non-Muslim scholars and students in the fields of Islamic history and art. But a very shaken Prater has no wish to return. What are the odds that the teacher replacing Prater includes these paintings in her course? Probably nil. I’d characterize this incident’s fallout as a win for the bogus “Islamophobia Industry” racket I recently commented on in these pages.
Some who face cancellation take a different approach, because they have the necessary precious independence for it. Public intellectual Jordan Peterson is the extreme opposite of Dr. Prater. He is not beholden to an institution for his living. He does not pander to identity snowflakes. And he never apologizes to the jackals. For his outspokenness on climate change, gender ideology, and Liberal Party illiberalism on social media and in podcasts, the College of Psychologists of Ontario (CPO) has threatened to take away Peterson’s licence to practice clinical psychology if he does not endure a draconian social media “re-education” program with an instructor of their choosing at his own expense ($225 an hour).
The CPO makes no attempt to link their opprobrium to Peterson’s clinical practice, which ended years ago when he became an internet sensation for his videos condemning Canadian “compelled speech” legislation inspired by radical gender ideologues. Indeed, according to Peterson, none of the complainants are former patients or even know any of his patients. They claim their demand is justified because his public statements “lacked professionalism.” That sounds reasonable, but thanks to identity politics, the trope has lost all its wonted objectivity.
(One might assume, for example, that an Ontario male high school teacher claiming to identify as female who, while engaged in his professional duties, wears grotesquely parodic, woman-shaming prosthetic “breasts” in class would be assessed by his school board as “lacking professionalism,” but one would be wrong.)
In Peterson’s case, the CPO’s beef is that while off-duty professionally, he has expressed himself rudely on Twitter. He mocked Gerald Butts, Justin Trudeau’s former principal secretary as a “stunningly corrupt and incendiary fool” on Twitter and, for good measure, “also a prik.” He teased an environmentalist for his over-population anxiety. He tweeted that an obese swimsuit model was “Sorry. Not beautiful.”
To be fair, even Peterson’s friends would agree that as a role model for millions, he should up his social media civility game (and he himself agrees; in his response to the college he said he has already modified his social-media tone). But everyone knows the CPO gambit isn’t really about his Twitter manners. It’s about his conservative views. They want to humiliate him. They want the world to see him sitting in a corner wearing a dunce cap. Message: This can happen to you, bucko (to borrow a petersonism).
For his easily predicted part, Peterson has refused to accept the CPO’s allegation as legitimate, or to comply with their remedy, so the next step, he writes, is “a mandatory public disciplinary session/inquiry and the possible suspension of my clinical licence (all of which will be also announced publicly).”
Like billionaire Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling, who has withstood and triumphed over vicious trans activist trolling, Peterson’s financial independence and widespread popularity render him fireproof. The international media is presently lit up with Peterson’s story, including his own counter-accusations in print and social media. A supportive petition is circulating. A Jan. 11 rally on Peterson’s behalf at the Toronto CPO office has been arranged; a bullish turnout is likely.
Many observers wonder what the college’s C-suite was thinking in arousing Peterson’s formidable combative instincts. In his Financial Post column on the subject, employment lawyer Howard Levitt called the CPO’s move against Peterson “the most boneheaded unforced error I have ever seen,” one that would “propel his already ascendant career into meteoric orbit.” Levitt believes the college’s pronouncement “will be quickly overturned by the court as a wild regulatory overreach.”
Perhaps the decision-makers at the CPO are so immured in their self-righteous echo chamber that they actually are unaware of Peterson’s formidable moral conviction and unique stature in the forum of ideas. No public intellectual in the anglosphere comes as close to absolutism on the subject of freedom of speech as Peterson, nor does anyone doubt his determination to do whatever it takes to preserve his right to exercise it. A pyrrhic victory is their best hope. Why would the CPO want to ride this tiger?
In 2018, I described Jordan Peterson for another publication as a modern prophet. Prophecy often goes hand in hand with irascibility, because the truths prophets see first “are so self-evident to them, they can’t understand why, once enunciated, they aren’t to everyone else.” More important, they “can’t bear idolatry.” Idols were literal stone icons in ancient times. Today they are utopian social theorists who believe they have god-like powers to engineer human souls. “It can be dangerous to smash idols,” I wrote, “because those who believe in them often believe with ferocity, but prophets do it anyway.”
Prophets aren’t for turning or burning. Jordan Peterson will meet fire with fire.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.