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What Brent McCamon SaidWhat Brent McCamon Said

What Brent McCamon Said

In late March, Ottawa writer and researcher Brent McCamon wrote sceptically on Convivium.ca about protestors who tried to prevent University of Toronto Professor Jordan Peterson from speaking at the National Gallery of Canada. The activists wanted Peterson “de-platformed” because of his opposition to State-mandated use of transgender positive pronouns. McCamon, in “Wherefore Art Thou Peterson,” argued the academic advent of so-called “intersectionality theory” is spreading incoherence outward from Canadian university campuses.

For Aaron Neil, a fourth year Bachelor of Commerce student at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business, the protestors were zany, to be put in mildly, in misunderstanding the very contradiction they represent:

“In his article, Brent McCamon aptly identified the lunacy of the university intersectionality activists. From their vantage point, these activists are perpetually the victims of systemic oppression, even though their ideas dominate the campus orthodoxy. Proponents of progressive opinions lord over universities. They flash their victim cards to charge fellow students for the creation of campus “safe spaces,” and dismiss those who dare to disagree with their views as “privileged.”

McCamon cited a CBC interview where a fellow Carleton student bemoaned the fact that “marginalized people” no longer feel safe coming to the National Art Gallery of Canada. To this student, hearing a dissenting view from a clinical psychologist is grounds to feel “unsafe.”

Is it possible that Dr. Jordan Peterson felt safe when protesters referred to him as a “transphobic piece of s***” during his recent attempt to lecture at McMaster University? What about social scientist Charles Murray, who was attacked by protesters after a lecture he gave at Middlebury College? The protestors were so violent that Allison Stranger, a professor at Middlebury, was sent to the hospital with a concussion because she got between Murray and the enraged intersectional social justice warriors.  
Apparently “feeling safe” is only a privilege reserved for the “unprivileged.”

But Sydney Harker, completing a Master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies at Trinity Western University, argued cogently that McCamon made a muddle by getting the nature of intersectionality wrong. Worse, Harker says, he failed to admit the battle isn’t about pronouns but personal dignity and respect:

“Brent McCamon’s article “Wherefore Art Thou Peterson?” describes intersectionality as a ‘worldview’ - even throwing Marxism into the mix.

McCamon has fundamentally misunderstood intersectionality as well as the phrase “State-mandated vocabulary.” The theory of intersectionality was introduced by civil rights advocate Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, first as a means to better understand her own experiences, and later as a framework—not a worldview—in which to study injustices and inequalities to bring social empowerment and reconstruction to those who have faced systematic marginalization.

Though any theory or framework can be misused, it is not about victimhood or identity politics. In regards to State-mandated vocabulary, Bill C-16 adds ‘gender identity or expression’ into the Human Rights Code, a move that has already been taken by almost all provincial governments. At this point, the Human Rights Code already prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, national origin, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, martial status, family status, disability, and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted.

Bill C-16 also amends the Criminal Code by adding “gender identity and expression” to the list of identifiable groups protected against hate propaganda. Again, those groups already include race, religion, national origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, and mental or physical disability. I urge those who have not done so to read the proposed Bill for themselves and recognize that it adds important protection to Canada’s transgender and non-binary communities and is not a threat to “free speech.”

Academic institutions have been historic sites of student activism since at least the 19th century, and will continue to be places where students gather to demonstrate and protest perceived injustices and issues. The claim that this phenomenon is new is a lapse in historical memory.

For those who are far removed from issues that face our transgender and non-binary friends in Canada, it can be easy to walk past protestors at an art gallery and be puzzled by all the screaming and shouting. If you remain unsure what the issues are, step outside the echo chamber of your confirmation bias and research why people are fighting for their right to identity and respect. In the end, this is more than just a conversation about language, and everyone on all sides knows it.

Yes and no, contended Janice Fiamengo, a Professor of English at the University of Ottawa. McCamon did misspeak, Fiamengo concurred, by suggesting suppression of unfashionable ideas is something new on Canadian university campuses. The question now, she said in agreement with McCamon, is how far such prohibitions on unpopular opinions can go.

"Brent McCamon writes: ‘Certainly, some protestors outside the National Gallery were iron clad in their conviction that the mere spectre of Peterson passing through the building had a transformative effect powerful enough to cause its physical and spiritual matter to mutate dangerously.’
Well said! Whatever one may think of disrupting a speaker presumed to promote hateful or oppressive views, the idea of de-platforming that speaker even when he is set to speak on an entirely unrelated topic--and one on which he has demonstrated expertise--is quite remarkable. Is there a statute of limitations on the protestors' interdiction, one wonders. Will it ever be okay for Jordan Peterson to speak in public again? Or does he face a lifetime ban because of one incorrect position? Unfortunately, it is not a matter of if universities will begin ‘stifling the intellectual creativity’ of students and faculty. It has been going on at universities for years, incubated and encouraged there in the name of social justice.

Finally, Christina Lamb, a PhD candidate in the nursing school at Western University and a researcher on conscience rights, saw the actions of the social justice activists at the Peterson protest as more show than substance. Justice involves what we owe one another in community, Lamb says. A minimum owed is the right to speak freely.

“McCamon makes some poignant remarks addressing the current Canadian problem regarding a restricted understanding and subsequent demonstrations of free speech by some of its citizens, and particularly post-secondary students.

I would add that the current theory of intersectionality is a problem because it is stunted by radical introspection and negates a sense of the transcendent or a going out of oneself to connect with another. Moreover, it lacks a rigorous ethic and uses social justice as a virtue signalling opportunity.

Justice, while virtuous, is not reliant on such a simple construct as warding off or silencing those who disagree with you to radically justify the means to one’s end. Rather, justice, or one aspect of it, speaks to what we owe one another in community and to how we each would like to be treated by the other and vice versa.

Free speech embodies this ethic and provides the opportunity for people to not only disagree but also to dialogue about that disagreement and to even reach a consensus. Essentially, free speech enables human connection. Disabling it promotes alienation and erodes an ethical framework in which humans can come to understand each other.

Jordan Peterson’s call to action is therefore a striking one: he invites one to rise above the constraints and limitations of oppression bent ideology to search for the meaning that should mark our human existence. Rather than reducing our human experience to that of fear and victimization by suppressing free expression, the search for meaning should be marked by a sense of solidarity, truth and a compassionate desire to better the human condition by ensuring we are the best versions of ourselves. This can be done by freely searching for who we are, what our purpose is, and then how to live that out from one to another, as best evidenced in following the example offered us in the Incarnation.” 

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Topics: Education

Janice Fiamengo

Janice Fiamengo is Professor of English at the University of Ottawa.

Christina Lamb

Christina Lamb, RN, PhD, Bioethicist, is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Nursing, University of Alberta. Dr. Lamb is interested in how nurses and other, health care professionals understand and practice clinical bioethics.

Sydney Harker

 Sydney Harker is completing a Master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies at Trinity Western University.

Aaron Neil

Aaron holds a Bachelor of Commerce from Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business where he studied Management and Economics. He has also studied liberal arts at Ottawa’s Augustine College.

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