The Pronoun Controversy and Compelled Speech

Over at Reason, John Stossel writes:

“Shame on you! Shame on you!” chanted protestors after psychology professor Jordan Peterson said he’d refuse to obey a law that would require everyone to call people by the pronoun they prefer—pronouns like “ze” instead of “he” or “she.” …

The pronoun controversy seems silly. “If somebody wants to be called ze or zir, why not?” I ask him for my next online video.

“I don’t care what people want to be called,” he answered. “But that doesn’t mean I should be compelled by law to call them that. The government has absolutely no business whatsoever ever governing the content of your voluntary speech.”

What if I politely asked him to call me ze?

“We could have a conversation about that,” says Peterson, “just like I would if you asked me to use a nickname. But there’s a big difference between privately negotiated modes of address and legislatively demanded, compelled speech.”

That sounds like a reasonable, libertarian take on the issue, but for comments like that, Peterson is called “bigot,” “Hitler,” “transphobic piece of s—.”

23 Comments for “The Pronoun Controversy and Compelled Speech”

  1. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    A small note: Peterson makes much of his fears that Ontario’s human rights laws might compel him to use pronouns that he refuses to use as “legislatively demanded, compelled speech”. However, after a search of Canadian news sources on the kerfuffle (by no means exhaustive), I find no evidence Ontario’s human rights laws have been used for that purpose, and no threats that the government intends to use the laws for that purpose. Accordingly, this tempest exists only in the teapot of Peterson’s mind, as far as I can tell.

  2. posted by JohnInCA on

    This guy has been claiming that he’s going to be punished by the government since at least October 2016. It’s now June 2018.

    And the only lawsuits I can find attached to his name in Google is him threatening to sue a college professor for calling him mean names.

    That said, he’s made it clear that he considers using the pronouns that trans folk prefer a capitulation to authoritarianism, even when it’s “privately negotiated”. So yeah, he doesn’t just object to compelled speech (because he isn’t being compelled), he objects to trans people having pronoun preferences different from what he assigns them.

    So yeah. Shame on the liar.

    • posted by Matthew on

      In other words, he’s calling out a cabal of anti-woman anti-gay bigots on their word games. Good for him. I wish he were gay.

  3. posted by MR Bill on

    The Trans folk of my acquaintance pointed me to this frequently ereudite and hilarious deconstruction (that word!)(ok,.skinning)of Peterson by exacademic transwoman Natalie Wynn Parrott:

  4. posted by Jorge on

    My job actually has a policy not to call LGBTQ youth vulgar names if those are their preferred names.

    The bullying and overhyped hair pulling around the trans name issue is only one of many that reveal what has been variously called an entitlement culture, the “snowflakes”, the millennial generation, etc. But it’s the issue that reveals the fault lines most clearly. If it weren’t for discrimination, it would be non-issue. But because it is, there is a certain negotiating power.

    And as often in civil rights issues, the disenfranchized group asks for the wrong thing.

    • posted by MR Bill on

      Ok, I’ll bite..what do you think the right things to ask for would be?

      • posted by Jorge on

        I always favor physical safety and equal opportunity.

        For this reason, in the case of the transgender community, I believe it is mandatory to demand for government officials to use preferred names and gender, and segregate them by preferred gender, in any type of involuntary interaction (police, prisons, courts, enforcement actions, etc.). But for this (or at least something similar), people are likely die of murder or suicide due to circumstances beyond their control.

        When it comes to voluntary associations by private individuals, businesses, and civic or professional associations (Boy Scouts, American Medical Association, etc.), I do not believe there should be laws classifying the use of improper pronouns or gender segregation as discrimination, or social pressure to do the same or be accused of bigotry. These are areas where “negotiation” is possible, and the individual’s power is at their greatest.

        (That’s an interesting revelation, Mr. Jorge.)


        Public schools and other voluntary associations with government are right in the middle. Here, legislation and social custom have a domino effect on both involuntary government associations and voluntary private associations. So I think transgender activists *should* demand for government officials to use preferred names and gender segregation, in order to set a precedent for principles to be used by other, more vital government agencies which would be more resistant to this demand were it presented to them first.

        • posted by Mr Bill on

          Sounds quite reasonable..we cannot compel personal speech, and the right to be an asshole on ones own dime exists.

          • posted by Matthew on

            “we cannot compel personal speech”

            Tell that to Roseanne.

    • posted by Matthew on

      There is no such thing as “el-jibbity-cue youth.” Just. Say. Gay. By refusing to say gay and by making us share space with an ever-changing acronym being pushed by people who want to erase us altogether, you are promoting gay erasure.

  5. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    Peterson is a crank, a gadfly, a self-obsessed contrarian in the best Anglo-Canadian tradition, to be sure.

    But like many in that category, he touches upon simmering resentments in the culture that amplify his voice.

    Cultural resentments can rise up and bite a country right in the ass if the flames are stoked by an unscrupulous prophet of populism, as we have been learning recently in our own country and have learned before (Huey Long, George Wallace) from time to time.

  6. posted by Lori Heine on

    He’s all about the money he can make in his self-appointed guru role.

    He speaks about himself as if he were the Messiah. He offers bland nostrums like “pet a cat” as if they were earth-shaking wisdom. And no matter how many people he delights in pissing off, he never bites the hand that feeds him. And probably won’t, no matter how dangerous it gets.

    That a huckster of this magnitude could be elevated to such rock-star status only goes to show that the political right is as silly, fad-ridden and infantile as the left.

  7. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    He speaks about himself as if he were the Messiah. He offers bland nostrums like “pet a cat” as if they were earth-shaking wisdom.

    Do you suppose he hears voices inside his head? It would go a long way toward explaining why he thinks that the Ontario government is going to compel him to use Flemish pronouns. Just saying.

    • posted by Lori Heine on

      He does rather remind me of Braco the Gazer. All he’d probably need to do, at this point, would be to amble over to the edge of the stage and stare out at his fans to send them into ecstasy.

  8. posted by David Bauler on

    If you watch the Bible Reloaded — youtube — they started talking about Petersen (via a chapter by chapter book review).

    BTW, most transgender people I know have not been on “the left”, so I am not sure why the assumption seems to exist, beyond someone being a dick. I have only known about a dozen transgender people, hardly a scientific review, but their religious beliefs and politics were all pretty varied.

  9. posted by David Bauler on

    Peterson is a deeply religious man who is playing an old-fashion con. Its a very lucrative con, but its just a con, like Scientology or Spirit Science. If he is allowed to wear the libertarian label, it will only discredit the philosophy.

    His opposition to the inclusion of gender identity in the civil rights act, MIGHT just be why people question his commitment to human rights. Especially, when he spreads lies about the bill in question (or simply did not bother to read the bill).

    His attitudes about gender roles — even beyond the transgender issue — are reactionary and a few grunts away from overtly saying, “women should shut up, put out and get married”

    • posted by Matthew on

      Jenn-durr is a heterosexual male-imposed violation of women’s rights and gay rights. You’re worse than he is by using that vile unword. The word is SEX. If you cannot use the word SEX, then you are neither mature enough nor intelligent enough to either discuss nor have it.

  10. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    In news unrelated to Jordan Peterson’s interior life, the Court did not issue an order granting/denying cert on Arlene’s Flowers today.

    The Court granted cert in 5 cases today, and denied cert in 101 cases. Arlene’s Flowers is getting long in the tooth (it is docket 17-108, which means that it was the 108th case docketed this Term out of roughly 10,000 cases) so it looks like the Justices might be divided on a cert decision. We just don’t know why the Court has not acted more swiftly after Masterpiece was decided without deciding the merits.

    The final scheduled conference for the Term is Thursday, June 21, and assuming that the case is distributed for conference again this week, we may have a cert decision on Monday, June 25. Otherwise, I guess, the case will be held over for the next Term.

    • posted by Matthew on

      “In news unrelated to Jordan Peterson’s interior life,”

      Or in Leftist-to-English, more whataboutism to deflect-and-project from your self-loathing Regressive Leftism.

  11. posted by Matthew on

    Libertarianism will fail and continue to fail miserably if it endorses in any way, shape, or form the destruction and mutilation of gay and lesbian bodies or any of these anti-feminist anti-gay word games.

  12. posted by David Bauler on

    —Jenn-durr is a heterosexual male-imposed violation of women’s rights and gay rights.

    Um no. “Gender” is (a) a polite way to refer to sex and or referring to how a given society defines the masculine and the feminine.

    Definitions that can impact the rights of men and women, especially if they are deemed to be unconventional in their gender roles or expression. ‘Sex’ and ‘Gender’ can — context matters — mean the same thing.

    However, they can also mean two different aspects of a person’s identity. Context is important. Sex, Gender and Sexual Orientation often get talked about together.

    Part of the problem is that bona fide transgender people — transsexuals — are actually quite rare. 90% of the gender identity policy only applies in relatively rare situations where gender reassignment surgery is an issue.

    Yet, we have people who use the transgender label to refer to any unorthodox mannerisms or dress or whatnot.

    Transvestites — as an example — are not the same thing as transsexuals. Drag queens and drag kinds are not the same thing as transsexuals.

    Most transvestites are heterosexual, where as ‘drag’ performers are more likely to be gay or bisexual and only cross-dress as part of work or an artistic piece.

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