Listening to Jordan Peterson and Joe Rogan talk about nonsense for 4 hours so you don’t have to

Monday 31 January 2022

The headlines hit me as soon as I woke up – Hear ye! Hear ye! Jordan B. Peterson claims trans people mark the collapse of civilisation. Gather your trumpets, locusts, and lambs; it seems St John forgot one more on his list – in a tranny’s eyes you’ll see the end of times. 

Put yourself in this position: You’re 25 years old, just starting your PhD; and after all those years of listening and listening, finally, you can actually start thinking of what sort of contribution you want to make to your field. You keep your heroes close to heart because you’re still young enough to have a few left, but you’re also finally getting old enough to really appreciate the value and meaning of compromise. It is, as one of my wonderful supervisors accidentally let slip once, – one of the most exciting periods in your life. Not even COVID can fully rain on that parade; for the parade, after all, is still outstanding.

A caveat, amidst this rosey garden of privilege and lecture schedules: you’re trans. 

Now, as most respectable opinions go, that is neither here nor there. These are enlightened circles, and as such we all declare our pronouns like our parents once signed letters with their name in ink. Done, dusted, squared away. On to more interesting things. Except… as it turns out, you’re the interesting thing. If the art of philosophy is the art of clarifying the unknown then an education in philosophy is an exercise in scalpel sharpening. The terror then is to find yourself with a scalpel ready in your hand and the only unknown left being you. The terror heightens when you realise academic impartiality; the neutral, objective, lens; is an anaesthesia that wears off quick when it’s your body on the autopsy table. 

What’s causing all the uproar, is that it’s a messy, messy affair to evaluate the ontic foundations of identity, personhood, and sanity. If you take my existence seriously, as all the pronoun signatures signal to me that you do, then I confess – my existence does not make sense. Welcome to my twilight zone of being both surgeon and burst aneurysm. The optimist would say I struck gold, but realistically this is an unfortunate situation for everyone involved. And everyone is involved.

We live in a primitive time, neither savage nor wise. Half measures are the curse of it. Any rational society would either kill me or give me my surgeries. Instead I have to patiently listen to Jordan B. Peterson sitting smugly in black tie telling millions I am just a creative-type personality who has taken performance a step too far. 

This was my intention: to listen through the four hour plus of The Joe Rogan Experience, making careful notes, in the hopes of then relaying a neutral, objective, take on whether the headlines were hyperbole or not. Essentially, to put my big boy academic trousers on and go toe-to-toe with the boogieman of queer nightmares. 

This was the result: I couldn’t make it past 1hr 15mins because my heart ached too much. 

The sad part is there’s a lot I agree with Jordan B. Peterson. He’s not half wrong on a lot of things. What’s actually horrifying is that because he’s on the right track about things we’ve been getting very wrong, he feels it is his prerogative to weigh in on an issue he is not equipped to handle. Being equipped to handle this issue does not just require the brilliant abilities in conceptual synthesis Jordan B. Peterson no doubt has, but it requires starting from the correct vantage point. I am the first to admit that if I sit down to listen to Jordan B. Peterson rant on about the structure of reality by the time he’s reached the subject of us trannies I can perfectly well understand why he would speak of us the way he does. But that doesn’t matter. Others have begun the task of explaining why Jordan B. Peterson’s theories of gender are an intellectual overstep on his behalf, what I want to emphasise is the damage he does in engaging in these discussions. Listening to him stumble onto the subject of me as if I were a natural extension of the poor rhetoric surrounding climate change and political corruption, hurt me so much it made me reevaluate my profession of choice. Not because I think he’s right or wrong, but because unpacking his narrative is so labour-intensive I fear I’ll be bled dry by the end of it. 

If you came here to find out whether or not to be outraged at Jordan B. Peterson, I suggest an alternative. Consider every moment of silence as Jordan B. Peterson’s real contribution to gender studies. 

Now, I’m not being facetious. I mean it. Pause with me The Joe Rogan Experience at just past one hour and thirteen minutes. Let the quiet settle in as you no longer listen to Joe Rogan stumble around finding the words to be able to ask whether I’m a pervert or not without having actually to ask if I’m a pervert or not. The power of the pause button gains triumph over the braids of melody Jordan B. Peterson has just sang us poetics of. How wonderful this silence. 

What we’re left with is a rather elegant situation: Either I am a delusional pervert, or I am not. Pick whichever side, I couldn’t care less, because irregardless or not of who’s right, one fact we know for sure remains – taking a gun and shooting me would be a mercy before de-transitioning. If Jordan B. Peterson wants me to entertain the thought that I am in the midst of a confused, hysterical episode, I’ll take him up on it. He is, after all, an incredibly reasonable man. But then Jordan B. Peterson must in turn seriously entertain the knowledge that for someone such as myself, any bodily regression to a former “intact” self, would be a fate worse than death. Which is precisely the elegance of the situation: Jordan B. Peterson is trying to convince you that my existence and its psychological and philosophical coherence is an argument to be won about the structure of reality, when it is firstly and foremost a matter of my very real existence.

We return to this silent moment the pause button continues to make possible. 

Please allow me in the quiet to consider perhaps for the first time, what my existence could mean to me, just to begin with. Give me this moment, before I’m aggravated one more time with a pronoun circle, to engage with my existence as something other than a position to defend or declare. If I surrender then in a speculative argument with Jordan B. Peterson, it’s for a glimpse of what’s actually possible: new explanations thanks to the uncovering of one true fact: de-transitioning would be worse than death. Feel the full force of the gravitas of that sentence. Forget if I’m a pervert or not, that is simply not the interesting part of this situation (even if it is up for grabs). The interesting fact is that an otherwise perfectly sane and well developed adult has voluntarily undergone a successful gender transition and can attest to the fact that undoing that would be tantamount to their death. Is that not just a fascinating thought to entertain? What new answers could we give to old questions starting from that premise alone instead of trying to decide whether or not my existence collapses the Matrix. That! That is why I say with all sincerity that we must really consider every moment of silence as Jordan B. Peterson’s real contribution to gender studies. It is his silence that opens up the space for someone like me to even be able to consider for themselves what the repercussions of their existence means for everyone else. 

We can only hope that our contributions are as rich as his silence, because this silence is glorious.

– (He/him)