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Notes

Munk Debate on Political Correctness

Political Correctness Debate Notes

Political Correctness Debate
Political Correctness Debate

 

This Munk Debate featuring Michelle Goldberg, Michael Dyson, Jordan Peterson, and Stephen Fry was an enjoyable one. There were a lot of personal attacks levied on Peterson. The part that stuck out was Michael Dyson calling him an “angry white man”. Peterson responded by calmly pointing out that invoking his race was a testament of the poor quality of his argument (and character). Michelle Goldberg spent half of her time trying to shock the audience citing appalling Peterson quotes. Stephen Fry played a mediating and productive role, by defending the principles of free speech, showing off his self-deprecating humor, and steering the debate back on course when the others strayed off topic. Jordan Peterson – when he was not preoccupied with finding reprehensible the targeted array of personal insults thrown his way – made a few solid arguments for his side that were left unanswered.

Here are my notes for the rest of the debate.

Michelle Goldberg

Opening Statement

Michelle started off the debate by quoting Peterson as saying, “that the people who rebel against the patriarchal hierarchy are not willing to admit that the hierarchy is based on competence.” She criticizes this viewpoint, and states that his worldview is one that views “any challenge to the current hierarchy as political correctness.”

She then quotes Peterson again, “If you ever meet someone mouth those three words: equity, diversity, exclusivity – then you know who you are dealing with and should stay away from them. He argued that the movie Frozen is politically correct propaganda, and at one point he floated the idea of creating a database of course content so students can avoid postmodern critical theory.”

She argues that in the attempt to fight political correctness, “Peterson tries to purge our thought of certain analytical categories that mirrors I think the worst caricatures of the social justice left that want to get rid of anything that smacks of colonialism or patriarchy or white supremacy I also don’t really think.” She quotes Peterson again as calling for “enforced monogamy to remedy the woes of men who don’t get their equal distribution of sex”

From the New York Times article.

Violent attacks are what happens when men do not have partners, Mr. Peterson says, and society needs to work to make sure those men are married.

“He was angry at God because women were rejecting him,” Mr. Peterson says of the Toronto killer. “The cure for that is enforced monogamy. That’s actually why monogamy emerges.”

Mr. Peterson does not pause when he says this. Enforced monogamy is, to him, simply a rational solution. Otherwise women will all only go for the most high-status men, he explains, and that couldn’t make either gender happy in the end.

But through a tweet, Bret Weinstein points out that the New Your Times have, in fact, used the term “enforced monogamy” as a “positive progressive ideal in 2000 & ’02 before Jordan Peterson’s use.”

Highlights

She then recalled what he cited about makeup, and work-spaces with men and women in an interview. In the interview Peterson’s point was that the social of experiment of men and women has been going on for less than forty years – and we don’t know that it can work for sure. Peterson’s point about lipstick and high heels was that they served no other purpose than being sexually provocative – so why should they be allowed in the workplace? Prior to the debate – Michelle hunted for juicy soundbites but didn’t take any of Peterson’s arguments seriously. She spent her time citing controversial-sounding one-liners than try to build a solid case for her side.

But she did make an important point, however, and it was that an ideological leftist authority manipulating people wasn’t to blame. That shaming was an organic phenomenon. She made the distinction between feeling like you were being censored and being censored. Peterson’s objection to her is based on the left’s dominance of the social sciences and humanities in academia. But this isn’t necessarily the case in the real world. While academia and Silicon Valley are left leaning, there is a clear counter-movement from emerging from the extreme right in places like Germany and Austria in Europe.

Michelle made another good point: the people who got in trouble for the me-too movement didn’t get in trouble for mild behavior. And that many have perpetrators have gotten away with their transgressions in the past – and in the present.

But overall, it was a poor performance. By her own perfect admission, she can be guilty of painting brushstrokes that were far too broad. (Not nice taking things out of context is it?) She consistently made inaccurate accusations throughout the debate and avoided properly addressing the questions Peterson asked her.

Michael Dyson

Opening Statement

The radical left’s numbers are too small. Patriarchy is the demand of some men to have their exclusive vision realized. The problem is people don’t treat me like an individual, they treat me as part of a group. Young black people in America die unarmed because of their group identity. This animosity has denied us – as a group – the opportunity to exist as individuals. The biggest snowflakes are white men who complain that they can’t be as racist, sexist, and homophobic as they used to be. They (white men) act innocently. Keyser Soze said. “the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world he didn’t exist.”

Highlights

He made an important point about the difference between slavery in America vs ancient Greece when replying to Fry’s point about how slavery has been experienced by all cultures including the British, Romans, and Greeks at some point in time. A closer review of history would reveal that the African American slaves had it much worse. They were never rewarded for or even allowed to pursue scholarly goals as Greek slaves were.

Michael also correctly pointed out that debates about political correctness didn’t exist before – when slavery was the norm. There have been barriers that have existed that kept minorities from being able to compete in the game. The pursuit of individuality is a luxury that marginalized groups such as minorities and women have not been provided with.

However, throughout most of the debate, Dyson was all over the place. He went off topic far too often, attacked the man instead of the argument, and seemed to be overly self-congratulatory, smug, childish and unfocused.

Jordan Peterson

Opening Statement

The reason why Western societies function better than anywhere else is because they are predicated on the idea that people should deal with each other as individuals – not as members of a group. But what has spread in universities and corporate culture is the collectivist narrative – one that suggests that (1) you should define yourself according to an ethnicity, gender, race, or other group and (2) the world is a battleground between different groups. According to this worldview, everything is defined as a power game – including history. Free speech, as a result, no longer exists. To the individual, free speech is how you make sense of the world. But for the radical left type collectivist, you speak according to the rules of political correctness because you view speech as nothing more than a power game. Hierarchies do become corrupt, but we have mechanisms in place to stop them from becoming too corrupt and they work relatively well. The disposed need to have a voice, and that should be the left’s function, but viewing the world as a power struggle between different groups isn’t going to solve the problem.

Highlights

Peterson asked Dyson to get specific and point out how he expected him to pay for his white privilege. Should he be taxed earning 10% or 20% or 30%? Dyson could only muster a repetitive, pedantic, parroting of the word “specific” that Peterson invoked into his question.

Peterson asked Michelle to give him specific example of when the left go too far as they clearly do so – as evidenced by the Gulag, Mao and the other atrocities of the 20th century. There was no reply of note.

For most of the debate, Jordan was solid. He did a good job of holding his nerve while being constantly attacked and slandered by the other side who just as often accused him for being famous and successful as they did for being white and Canadian.

Stephen Fry

Opening Statement

There is too much certainty, there needs to be an end to the blind clash between both sides of the debate. “it’s time for this toxic binary zero-sum madness to stop before we destroy ourselves.” I am opposed to political correctness not only because “I have spent a lifetime loathing and opposing preachiness, piety, self-righteousness, heresy, hunting, denunciation, shaming, assertion without evidence, accusation, inquisition, censoring – my real objection is that I don’t think political correctness works.”

I believe that one of the greatest human failings is to prefer to be right than to be effective.” He then goes on to say, “progress is not achieved by guardians of morality but to paraphrase Yevgeny Zamyatin – by madmen, hermits, heretics, dreamers, rebels, and skeptics.” And he ends with a brilliant Bertrand Russel quote, “One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid and those with imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.”

Highlights

Stephen Fry was clever and witty as always. He played a more peaceful role and attempted to stick to the topic on several occasions.

“The ability to play gracefully with ideas” Oscar Wilde is disappearing from our culture.

Fry described Michael Dyson’s rhetorical style as “huckstering, snake oil salesman” was brilliant. But then he politely conceded that he found that style to be “endlessly refreshing and vivifying.”

As a champion of contrarianism, he understand the power of language to affect people’s behavior. “People are aggregating in groups – there is prevailing fear in society. The feeling of being censored is evident in culture. The liberals are illiberal in their demand for liberty. Homogeneous in their demand for heterogeneity, undiverse in their call for diversity. You can be diverse without being so in your language and behavior.”

Stephen Fry was brilliant, coherent, imaginative, and intelligent throughout the entire debate.

The Problem with this kind of debate

Michael Dyson and Michelle Goldberg were in a position where they had to tread lightly. They were playing within the bounds of their own group’s expectations. Peterson and Fry – two individuals who became notorious for standing out and being unabashedly politically correct – were playing a different game. They were appealing to an audience that had no strict expectations of what they could or couldn’t say. That’s why the debate felt like two individuals debating two ideologues. But that’s not a fair or nuanced enough interpretation.

If I had to summarize the entire debate with one paragraph, it would be this: Michael Dyson and Michelle Goldberg were arguing that marginalized groups have not had the opportunity to realize their own potential – to become individuals. Peterson and Fry were saying that political correctness and the censorship of free speech are not the answer – that they will make things worse, not better.

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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