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Durham City Council spars with Jordan Peterson about upcoming speech at DPAC

Jordan Peterson speaking at the 2018 Young Women's Leadership Summit
Jordan Peterson speaking at the 2018 Young Women's Leadership Summit

Jordan Peterson, a controversial Canadian professor who has said that the “masculine spirit is under assault,” is slated to speak at the Durham Performing Arts Center—but some Durham leaders are not thrilled.

Durham City Council has publicly denounced Peterson’s appearance, calling his views “racist, misogynist, and transphobic,” yet defending his right to free speech. 

“We would like to be clear that we respect Mr. Peterson’s right to hold his opinions and to freely state his opinions without government interference. However, we wish to emphasize that a person’s right to free speech does not include the right to a platform or an audience,” the Council wrote in a statement posted by Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson, Trinity '03, and signed by all seven council members, including Mayor Steve Schewel, Trinity '73 and Ph.D. '82.

The Council noted that while the City of Durham owns DPAC, its management companies—Professional Facilities Management and the Nederlander Organization—are responsible for the venue’s shows and performers.

Peterson, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto with a YouTube following of nearly 1.3 million subscribers, is set to speak Sept. 10 as a part of an international book tour. His self-help book, "12 Rules for Life," arose from his response on the Q&A service Quora and has sold more than 1.1 million copies.

Peterson first attracted controversy by criticizing the 2016 Canadian bill C-16, which added gender identity and expression as protected groups under the country’s Human Rights Act and hate speech laws. His YouTube series against what he saw as “political correctness” sparked a political and cultural debate in the country.

Indy Week's Laura Bullard called for DPAC to disinvite Peterson, but Peterson argued he wasn’t invited—he rented the venue, he said, in a lengthy response to the Council.

“Everything that is reprehensible about the radical and ideologically-possessed left–all the moral self-righteousness, the platitudes, the clichés, the mindless celebration of diversity for the sake of the demonstration of tolerance, the naivete, and the appalling malevolence of casual denunciation—is on painful display in this missive,” Peterson wrote. “Exposure to such a piece of writing left me with a strong desire for a hot shower accompanied by plenty of soap and a scrub brush.”

Peterson’s response also displayed the names and email addresses of the seven council members, who then received a “flood of angry emails,” the Herald Sun reported.

In a tweet Monday, Peterson offered the council members free tickets to his event. 

“If they attend, they will not see a political event, but a serious and engaged discussion involving several thousand people who are trying to set their respective individual houses in order,” he wrote.

Indy Week argued that DPAC should reconsider its “invitation” because Peterson has cast doubt upon the notion of white privilege, among other things. The New York Times has said he is a force against equality. 

“He is the stately looking, pedigreed voice for a group of culture warriors who are working diligently to undermine mainstream and liberal efforts to promote equality,” the May 18 feature read.

Peterson interpreted the Council’s statement as a tactic to claim the moral high ground.

“The City of Durham’s statement is one of the purest demonstrations I have yet seen of the tendency for the ideologically possessed to use denouncement tactically as a means to amplify and exaggerate personal or identity-group virtue,” Peterson wrote

Ben Leonard profile
Ben Leonard

Managing Editor 2018-19, 2019-2020 Features & Investigations Editor 

A member of the class of 2020 hailing from San Mateo, Calif., Ben is The Chronicle's Towerview Editor and Investigations Editor. Outside of the Chronicle, he is a public policy major working towards a journalism certificate, has interned at the Tampa Bay Times and NBC News and frequents Pitchforks. 


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