Author, professor and online personality Jordan Peterson gives campus lecture

Sal Iovino, Opinions Co-Editor

On Tuesday Oct. 19, University of Toronto professor, introductory author for the 50th anniversary edition of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago”, and social media presence Dr. Jordan B. Peterson visited the University’s campus to present a lecture on the subject of “The Liberal Arts Tradition versus Totalitarian Culture.”  Attendees included members of the Bucknell Program for American Leadership, the Open Discourse Coalition and a swath of University students, as well as members of the surrounding Lewisburg community and beyond. The lecture was followed by a Q&A session with Peterson and a book signing, promoting his newest self-help book “Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life,” released earlier in 2021.

The lecture began with a preface by Associate Professor of English Paul Siewers. President of the University’s Conservatives Club (BUCC) Isabella Carrega ’22 then introduced Peterson, citing her personal fascination with his work in 2016. The clinical psychologist’s appearance at the University was his first public talk since February 2019, and his remarks focused upon the value of free speech and open discourse. Peterson was met with a grand welcome by the audience in attendance before proceeding with his lecture.

Throughout the discussion, Peterson touched on topics such as the psychology of happiness, love, the importance of free speech and the mechanisms that keep society stable. Peterson denounced totalitarianism, and the “demons” that exist in society that try to create limitations on speech and thought, saying, “Free speech isn’t a right among other rights… free speech is the process by which we stop everything from degenerating into hell.” He particularly focused upon the parallels between speech and music, emphasizing that the freedom to make errors in speech is similar to practicing music, and that eventually errors in speech can be manipulated into well articulated ideas.  He adhered strongly to many of his well-known viewpoints from his previous debates with other thinkers as seen on YouTube, and encouraged the audience to embrace the tenet of personal responsibility.   

Peterson avoided his more widely-known views of college campuses for much of the lecture, only addressing the “liberal arts tradition” once.  He criticized professors for placing limitations on students’ writing, claiming that they encourage students to “regurgitate the information they’ve been told”.  This was met with a rousing applause from much of his loyal audience, and brought the lecture to somewhat of a climax.  Peterson remarked of viewpoint diversity, “no, it’s not another type of diversity,” but it is instead in the “care of consciousness itself.” He continued on to discuss his ideas regarding humans possessing a natural inclination towards personal development, the value of perception and the natural totalitarian instinct that exists in institutions such as religion. Upon concluding with the thought, “What’s deepest? Freedom of speech,” Dr. Peterson was met with a standing ovation from many of his supporters, at which time Professor Siewers opened a live Q&A session.

During the Q&A session, University students and visitors alike were able to ask Peterson personal questions regarding their own lives, thoughts and theories as well as clarifications of Peterson’s own ideas presented during the lecture and from other lectures. After about half a dozen questions over half an hour of discourse, Siewers closed the lecture, moving forward into a book signing in the Weis Center lobby.  Many were able to have personal copies of Peterson’s novels signed, taking pictures and have brief conversations with him. 

Dr. Peterson is currently a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, and has training as a clinical psychologist. He first gained widespread notoriety in 2016 after testifying before the Canadian parliament as they discussed Bill C-16. Peterson testified then that the bill, “requires compelled speech,” because, “refusing to refer to a person by their self-identified name and proper personal pronoun, which are the pronouns I was objecting to, can be interpreted as harassment.” His popularity swelled again in 2018, after he was interviewed by the BBC’s Channel 4 journalist Cathy Newman for the release of his then-newest book, “Twelve Rules for Life.” Currently, the full 30 minute interview between Peterson and Newman has over 33 million views on YouTube. London’s Sunday Times reported Peterson “told Newman there were ‘multiple reasons’ for the gender pay gap. He claimed that women were more ‘agreeable’ than men and gender was a smaller component [of that gap] than ‘radical feminists’ claimed.” Dr. Peterson has since gained over two million Twitter followers, and posts regularly on YouTube of his interviews, lectures and debates.

The Open Discourse Coalition, in an email to their subscribers, lauded the occasion; “Dr. Jordan Peterson spoke to a sold-out Weis Center thanks to the supporters of Open Discourse Coalition and the Bucknell Program for American Leadership. Afterwards, students waited in line for up to an hour to meet him in person.” They further extended their “gratitude for allowing us to serve and engage students in pursuit of open discourse.”

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