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He went on to criticize the “rage, resentment, hostility, intolerance and
‘with us or against us’ certainty” of political correctness and urged that it had
to stop. To be fair, for the most part Dyson—and, even more so, Goldberg—
did not stoop to such traits. Their tactic, as noted above, seemed one more
of obfuscation or even avoidance, never quite getting to what they viewed as
political correctness and how it represents progress. They did talk quite a bit
about American politics, the plight of the oppressed and the outcast, as well
as their own experiences as members of the African-American and feminist
communities, respectively. They argued for the recognition of minority
rights and for changes that allow the voices of those not in power to be heard.
Dyson was a particularly impassioned speaker, perhaps what one would
expect from or even hope for in a Baptist minister, while Goldberg let slip
(more than once) that but for the format of the debate she imagined that she
and Fry could agree on an awful lot. Indeed, they probably could and probably
do. That insight did not, however, do much to advance her position.
Fry more than once wondered why, despite the very interesting discussion,
they were not actually talking about political correctness. Peterson
was aloof and seemed a little bit like the academic out at sea, probably
thinking in a much more disciplined and accurate (and therefore clinical
and distant) manner than the others. His ideas require a great deal of discipline
to unpack, because they uncover uncomfortable truths about the
nature of being. It is a pity that the reaction to him is often so, well, reactionary.
One of Peterson’s basic tenets is that hierarchical structures are not
only power structures; they are also biological structures, sociological structures
and ultimately structures of meaning by which individuals and societies
bring order to the chaotic world they experience. He does not argue
that the world is without injustice or that tyranny does not happen or that
hierarchies are inherently good; he just does not accept that hierarchies are
inherently evil and ought to be dismantled without careful consideration
and thought about what that actually means for society.
The debate illustrated a typical shortcoming of modern discourse. On the
stage were four highly intelligent, highly accomplished, articulate and wellread
individuals. They were notably different in their experiences and temperaments.
And yet they seemed to mostly talk around the issue—perhaps
itself a result of the topic they were discussing. No one, in the current climate,
dares say anything that might find them running afoul of orthodox
thought. One speaks at one’s peril. There is one view on power imbalances,
hierarchical privilege and oppression. There is only the correct view. Anything
else is heresy or at least a clear indication that you belong to that most
despised thing of all: the top of the hierarchy.