Dr. Jordan Peterson, the renowned clinical psychologist, is being ordered off to reeducation camp. The regulatory board in his Canadian home province — the College of Psychologists of Ontario — has demanded Peterson undertake a social media “coaching program.” All for the very twenty-first century crime of tweeting the wrong opinions.
What exactly were the tweets? Peterson, a professor turned multi-million copy best-selling author, has amassed an unprecedented following in the history of psychology. He hosts one of the world’s leading podcasts, has sold millions of tickets to live talks and has over 15 million followers across social media.
With an unerring personal commitment to speak his mind on cultural and political issues, often in contradiction to dominant progressive groupthink, he’s courted a lot of criticism.
There’s no denying the professor can be quite the pugilist. Defending the Canadian trucker convoy, he tweeted at Justin Trudeau, the country’s prime minister, that he was a “puppet.” Peterson told Gerard Butts, a former advisor to Trudeau, he was a “prik”
[sic]. In a message about actress-cum-actor Elliot Page announcing her sex-change, he tweeted: “Remember when pride was a sin? And Ellen Page just had her breasts removed by a criminal physician” — a post that led to his suspension from Twitter.
Prior to finding fame, however, Peterson’s academic career was stellar at both Harvard and the University of Toronto, where he is one of the most-cited ever academics, with some 19,500 citations. But since Peterson found fame in 2016, he has found himself in the firing line.
The first serious complaint against him came a short time later, in 2017, when he was accused of inappropriate personal behavior by a client — a claim that was thrown out.
Then in 2018, a complaint was filed that Peterson’s tweets were “transphobic, sexist and racist” — but the tweets given in evidence were none of those things and the complaint was dismissed.
The latest investigation against him, filed in March, is focused not only on Peterson’s tweets, but on his appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience. How Peterson’s discussions on climate change and other issues raised on that podcast might relate to his professional standing is unclear. The implication here seems to be that only experts can discuss issues in the public domain. If so, this is bad news for Greta.
Does the college have fair grounds to take action? According to its code of ethics:
Personal behavior becomes a concern of the discipline only if it is of such a nature that it undermines public trust in the discipline as a whole or if it raises questions about the psychologist’s ability to carry out appropriately his/her responsibilities as a psychologist.
This is sufficiently vague that it could be argued either way whether a probe into Peterson is justified. Wherever we work, we have a responsibility to represent the institution, company or practice that employs us, respectfully. If anyone was breaking the law by inciting violence, for instance, that would be clear grounds for dismissal or punishment. The problem with disciplining someone for having the wrong opinions, as appears to be the case for Peterson, however, is that it makes free speech into a luxury item only available for privileged people with the right views.
If Peterson submits, or loses his case, it may be OK for him — he can continue his various enterprises outside of psychology. He’s unlikely to go back to his clinical work anyway now that he reaches millions of people online. But that surely misses the point. Peterson earned his academic credentials fair and square. And what effect will it have on other clinicians if Peterson is silenced? You couldn’t blame them for thinking they had better keep zip or face losing it all.
This breeds self-censorship. Given there are governing boards across most professions, a climate of fear will spread. Careers take decades to build, and most people need their jobs to support their family, and pay their mortgage.
Peterson being threatened with losing his clinical practice unless he undertakes voluntary “media training,” for which he must pay for himself, is the twenty-first century liberal Canadian equivalent of Maoist reeducation.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.