Monday, July 02, 2018

Jordan Peterson's Lawsuits


Since my original post about Jordan Peterson discrediting himself as a champion of the right to free speech I have gotten a response from more than one person that I would paraphrase like this: Peterson is suing the two professors at Wilfred Laurier University and threatening to sue the one at Bloomsburg University for libel because the former said he is “analogous to Adolf Hitler” and the latter said that he is a “white nationalist” and a “misogynist.” If libel law is not incompatible with free speech then what he is doing is not inconsistent with it.

This is like saying: if a 12-gauge shotgun is not incompatible with free speech, then my pointing one at you and threatening to shoot if you say one more word in defense of Donald Trump is not inconsistent with it.

A lawsuit is an attempt to use government coercion against someone. A threat of one is a threat to coerce. What feature of libel law makes it possible to think this is consistent with free speech? I would put it like this: Libel law does not prohibit points of view or ideas, however bad they might be. The tort of libel consists, roughly, in maliciously harming someone by damaging their reputation by making false statements about them. Moreover, the harm has to be something that is in some way measurable in money, since the whole point of a libel suit is to get compensation for the harm that the plaintiff has suffered.

In all the public pronouncements Peterson has made defending his lawsuit threats and explaining their motives, I have not seen him say one single thing about how these professors have harmed him. What he has said is things like this: “So I think this is a warning, let’s say, to other careless administrators and professors who allow their ideological presuppositions to get the best of them to be a bit more careful with what they say and do.” In other words, he wants to intimidate people with bad ideologies to avoid being led by them into saying objectionable things. This is not the point of libel law. It is, however, the point of typical censorship regulations.

There is an obvious reason why he does not talk about the harms he has suffered. Notice that the professors he is threatening or attempting to coerce teach at Wilfred Laurier University and Bloomsburg University. I was employed as university faculty continuously from 1974 until I retired in 2016, and I never heard of either of these institutions until this case. On the other hand, Peterson is a tenured professor at The University of Toronto – one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Beyond that, he is probably the most prominent professor in the English speaking world right now, at least as far as the mass media are concerned. Every week, hundreds of people (for reasons that I do not pretend to understand) give him thousands of dollars by contributing to his web site.

The idea that comments that one group of these professors made about him in a closed meeting and the other in an obviously intemperate twitter message can damage his professional reputation and cause him damage is patently absurd. However, unsophisticated people who do not understand the law very well can easily be intimidated into silence by threats of a lawsuit from someone who, like Peterson, has vast financial resources, even if the lawsuit is in fact frivolous and groundless and would violate their rights if successful. To deliberately intimidate people into silence by threatening coercion that would violate their rights is itself a violation of their rights: their rights to speak freely.

Jordan Peterson is the biggest kid in the schoolyard, and he is picking on little kids who have no way to harm him, but who do seem to be able to make him very very angry. He is simply a bully, and like any bully he is violating the rights of others: in this case, rights to freedom of speech.

4 comments:

MicroBalrog said...
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J Seagull said...

It is not necessary to prove great damage to win a lawsuit for defamation, slander in this case, not libel, since the words were spoken, not written.

If I defame you to just a single third-party, you still have a case for defamation against me. Now you're unlikely to win much at all in the way of damages, as the damage to your reputation is minimal. But the degree of damage is simply not relevant to whether I defamed you. So you can sue me for defamation, and after three years in court, with all the attendant legal fees, win the case and be awarded $1.50 in damages.

That your career goes sailing on, and you continue to be wildly successful, also does not have anything at all to do with whether I defamed you. Defamation need not succeed to be defamation.

Barto of the Oratory said...

PETERSON'S LAWSUIT PROVES THAT HE'S LIKE HITLER

The lawsuit of Jordan Peterson (hereinafter "JBP") against a prof, because that prof said that JBP is like Hitler in some unspecified way, IRONICALLY proves that Peterson is like Hitler.

Below is my reasoning, which I will express despite the severe risk that JBP will sue ME.

First, JBP constantly proclaims that liberal activists are like Mao & Stalin.

When Cathy Newman interviewed JBP, she asked him if it wasn't unfair to compare transgender activists to Mao.

JBP said it was right to equate trans activists to Mao & Stalin because they all have the same underlying philosophy.

But are trans activists really planning to set up gulags & mass murder for those who won't accept LGTBQ rights?

What JBP is obviously alleging is that trans activists are UNCONSCIOUS Maoists/Stalinists. JBP is "psychoanalyzing" these activists.

Whether or not you agree with JBP's speculation about the unconscious motives of these activists, should he be legally allowed to express this speculation of his?

Or, should the law find that JBP has illegally slandered these trans activists?

One thing is sure: What JBP has done, in insisting that trans activists are like mass murdering Mao/Stalin, is the EXACT MORAL EQUIVALENT of what the prof did in saying that Peterson is like Hitler.

So, if this other prof is morally wrong in what he did, then JBP is equally morally wrong in saying trans activists are like Mao.

How then can JBP justify what he's doing in suing that other prof?

Someone asked JBP that exact question in a comment on one of JBP's videos. JBP answered that the difference was that this other prof identified him by name when making the Hitler comparison, whereas JBP did not mention the names of any of the trans activists.

The commenter on YouTube answered that that's a LEGAL distinction but not a MORAL distinction; that the fact that Canada does not authorize lawsuits for group defamation (as some nations do) does not change the moral status of JBP's slander/defamation against trans activists. JBP never responded.

I believe that any reasonable person can see that comparing, to Mao or Stalin (who carried out more political murders than even Hitler), people who do not espouse Maoism or Stalinism, political murder, or gulags, has the same moral status as comparing JBP to Hitler.

In many European nations, it IS a crime to defame/slander groups in society (Jews, gays, Muslims, Catholics).

So, why doesn't JBP recognize the moral problems with his own claims that liberal activists are like Mao/Stalin, while at the same time filing a lawsuit against a prof who said that JBP is like Hitler?

After all, JBP presents himself as an expert in morality.

Since JBP grants to himself the right to psychoanalyze the unconscious or conscious-but-kept-secret motives & intentions of Liberals, surely we have the right to likewise psychoanalyze the unconscious or conscious-but-kept-secret motives & intentions of JBP.

As such, I think the most logical explanation of JBP's inconsistency is that JBP applies one restrictive Free Speech standard to Liberals & another non-restrictive Free Speech standard to Conservatives.

Such a double standard is nothing new. In all authoritarian/totalitarian regimes, there's always been Free Speech to criticize the enemies of the State, while no Free Speech to criticize the State. In Hitler's Germany, there was total Freedom to criticize Marxists.

And so, I conclude that JBP IS LIKE HITLER, insofar as both Hitler & JBP believe in or operate according to a double standard regarding Free Speech: one restrictive standard for Leftists, & another non-restrictive standard for Rightists.

Please remember that JBP believes that I do not even have the legal right to speak or write this very comment that you've just read! JBP is using the power of the State to bankrupt people like me for what I just wrote. How is that NOT like Hitler?

Barto of the Oratory said...

DEFAMATION/SLANDER LAWSUITS MUST BE BASED ON A FACT ALLEGATION THAT'S PROVABLY NOT TRUE

Authentic cases of defamation/slander do not violate the right to Free Speech.

For example, if someone stated that Jordan Peterson had made anti-Semitic remarks, or had denied the Holocaust, or had celebrated Hitler's birthday, or had had sex with his students or his counseling clients, then Peterson would have a legitimate & moral claim of defamation/slander upon which he could base a lawsuit (because, as far as I know, there's no evidence that Peterson's done any of those things).

In the USA, at least, lawsuits for defamation/slander cannot succeed if the suit is for an insulting political opinion or comparison.

The professors being sued by Jordan Peterson merely stated their scholarly opinion/judgment of Jordan Peterson's competency and of his ideas and ideology. They did not state any fact about Peterson which can be proven untrue.

When Peterson debated the Christian philosopher William Lane Craig (see YouTube), Peterson said that Dr. Craig's statements were "like the devil speaking."

Now, should Dr. Craig be able to sue Peterson for that? Of course not. Peterson wasn't that Dr. Craig is literally Satan. He was just saying that he finds Dr. Craig's statements so horrible that they merit comparison to the falsehoods that the devil is recounted as stating in the Bible and in other literature.

Likewise, when a professor said that Peterson is like Hitler, he wasn't saying that Peterson is literally like Hitler in every way, but was just saying that he finds Peterson's ideology so horrible that, in his opinion, it merits comparison to certain elements of the horrible ideology espoused by Hitler.

There are many websites run by attorneys that explain the OPINION EXCEPTION in the U.S. law of defamation/slander.

Canadian law is more like European law, so it may be different, may be less free, may allow lawsuits that are immoral from a consistent philosophical point of view.

If people could sue one another for insulting political opinions, the courts would be jammed full all the time. Common sense says that would be an unworkable and undesirable system.

After Russian recently invaded Ukraine, Prince Charles of Great Britain publicly said that Putin is behaving like Hitler.

Should Putin be able to file a defamation claim in a British court against Prince Charles? Certainly, Putin is unlike Hitler in many ways. Putin has never carried out, or proposed, genocide. Putin does not make anti-Semitic statements. Putin does not preach about the superiority of the Aryan Race.

So, using Jordan Peterson's concepts of Free Speech and Defamation/Slander, since Putin is not in every way like Hitler, it seems that Putin should be able to sue Prince Charles for millions of dollars and win. But I think most of know that would not be a right conclusion.