On occasion, an academic becomes so preoccupied with his own ideological convictions that he becomes blinded by them. Such is the case with University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson. His great obsession with postmodernism — the belief that interpretations of reality are contingent — was on display during an episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, a podcast on which Peterson’s views recently garnered widespread interest with more than one million views in just four days.
Peterson’s public notoriety began when he insisted that transgender activists who demand he use their preferred pronouns represent a “a postmodern, radical leftist ideology.” Since then, he has been adamant that anyone who subscribes to postmodernism will, at best, “emerge nihilistic” or, at worst, become an “anarchical social revolutionary.” According to Peterson, postmodernism “rips out the ethical foundations” of students, leaving them “depressed.” His characterization of postmodernism, however, appears rather suspect.
As a doctoral student, when I was studying postmodernism at the University of Ottawa, not a single professor cast truth aside as meaningless, nor did anarchy reign supreme. In fact, students became more enlightened about the endless possibilities and interpretations that postmodernism facilitated. This led to improved critical thinking, not blind dogmatism. So why the stark contrast between the experiences of Peterson and myself? The difference lies in the fact that Peterson’s basic assertions do not accurately reflect postmodernism’s foundational lessons.
First and foremost, postmodernism teaches that immutable truths — those fixed for time and eternity — do not exist. This does not lead to the relativist nightmare dreamed up by Peterson in which all truths are “equally valid” or “anything goes.” To resolve the relativist dilemma, claims are challenged in an open, adversarial forum, the purpose of which is to…