“Like Hitler, or Milo Yiannopoulos”

Back in November 2017, Lindsay Shepherd, a graduate student at Wilfred Laurier University in Ontario, was taken to task by two of her professors for showing a clip of a television show in which Professor Jordan Peterson talked about the problems he saw with Canada’s proposed Bill C-16 and the effects it would have on freedom of speech.

Her professors’ complaint? That showing the video clip was tantamount to putting the students in her discussion section at risk of doxxing, harassment, and physical threat because—they alleged—Professor Peterson had engaged in similar activities directed at his own students.

In her supervising professor Nathan Rambukkana’s words:
[Peterson] is a real person. But he is a real person who has engaged in targeting of trans students, basically doxxing them, if you know the term, giving out their personal information, so that they'll be attacked, harrassed, so that death threats will find them. This is something that he has done to his own students, that he has done to other students, and this is something that the students are aware of. So this is basically like playing—Not to kind of do the thing where everything is compared to Hitler—But this is like neutrally playing a speech by Hitler or Milo Yiannopolous [sic] from Gamergate... To just present information like this neutrally, it can help cultivate an environment where these kinds of opinion, alt-right opinions, white supremacist opinions, anti-trans opinions, anti-gay opinions, anti-women misogynist opinions. Where those can feel like it’s a space where those kinds of opinions can be nurtured and created.
Because, of course, Milo Yiannopoulos is just like Hitler—just ask Twitter this past week. Twitter’s premise being, it would seem, that it is easy to spot when someone is likely to become a mass murdering monster based on the jokes that he makes.

If only there were a way of telling the monsters from the rest of us.

Let’s try a little test. If you had been alive back in 1933, would you have seen Hitler’s rise for what it was—the beginning of one of the worst state-supported mass murders in human history? Are you sure? Because, you see, not everyone did. Some even thought Hitler was a bit of a joke.

Here is the way one reporter for Time Magazine described him in February that year, just after he had been sworn in as chancellor in President Hindenberg’s new cabinet (“Hitler Into Chancellor,” 2/6/1933, Vol. 21 Issue 6, p. 22):
Except for beer, which few Germans consider alcoholic, Adolf Hitler touches no alcoholic tipple. Neither does he smoke. Hot water he calls “effeminate.” Last week, on the biggest morning of his life, this pudgy, stoop-shouldered, tooth-brush-mustached but magnetic little man bounded out of bed after four hours sleep, soaped his soft flesh with cold water, shaved with cold water, put on his always neat but never smart clothes and braced himself for the third of his historic encounters with Paul von Beneckendorf und von Hindenburg, Der Reickspräsident. 
At their first meeting last August, upstart Herr Hitler was not so much as invited to sit down, despite the fact that he represented 230 Reichstag Deputies, by far the largest party in the Fatherland. 
“With what power, Herr Hitler,” growled Old Paul, “do you seek to be made Chancellor?” 
“Precisely the same power that Mussolini exercised after his March on Rome!” chirped cheeky Adolf. (One scowling bust of Il Duce, two portraits of Frederick the Great adorn Herr Hitler’s office.) 
“So!” bristled Der Reichspräsident with the air of a Prussian schoolmaster about to squelch an urchin. “Let me tell you, Herr Hitler, if you don’t behave, I’ll rap your fingers!”
Note the adjectives! Pudgy, stoop-shouldered, magnetic, cheeky. Is Adolf Hitler someone you would describe as “chirping”? Would you worry about whether he wore “neat but never smart clothes”? Would you imagine him as a urchin about to have his fingers rapped by a Prussian schoolmaster?

If only evil were so easy to spot.

Professor Peterson describes his “Maps of Meaning” university lecture course as, among other things, an introduction to evil. Okay, he doesn’t put it quite that way. What he says, and reiterated this past week in his interview with Bari Weiss at the Aspen Ideas Festival, was that he wants to show his students how, if they had been alive in 1933, just like the author from Time Magazine, they would not have seen Hitler coming.

In the interview with Weiss, Professor Peterson bristles at the comparison that the professors at Wilfred Laurier made of him with Hitler and Milo because, he says, professors should be more precise in their speech (at 30:00):
They said that playing a clip of Jordan Peterson was like playing a clip of Hitler or Milo Yiannopoulos. And I thought, well, let’s go a little easy on the Hitler comparisons there, guys; we might want to save that for when it’s really necessary... Because...it’s sacrilegious to use an insult like that except in situations where it’s justified. It’s not appropriate to use a catastrophe like that casually, especially when you’re doing it under the guise of moral virtue. There’s no excuse for it. 
And then, the second thing is, you’re a professor, both of you. Get your damn words straight. Which is it? Am I Hitler or Milo Yiannopoulos? Seriously, those are not the same people. In case you didn’t notice. One of them was the worst barbarians in the 20th century, with the possible exception of Stalin and Mao. And the other one is a provocateur trickster who’s quite quick on his feet and...and...is...what would you say? Is stirring things up in a relatively non-problematic way. They’re not the same creature. 
And so to combine them in a single careless insult during an administrative investigation which was entirely unwarranted, and which was predicated on an absolute lie—there hadn’t been a student complaint, as the university admitted—there’s no excuse for that, and if they weren’t professors, then, well, it wouldn’t have been so bad, but they were.
Worst barbarian in the 20th century or provocateur trickster “stirring things up in a relatively non-problematic way”? To coin a phrase, get your damn words straight. Or, as Professor Peterson puts it in his 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos: “Rule 10 Be precise in your speech.” Because it is when you are not precise in your speech that the lies creep in. And along with the lies, the monsters.

In Professor Peterson’s words (12 Rules, p. 281):
If you shirk the responsibility of confronting the unexpected, even when it appears in manageable doses, reality itself will become unsustainably disorganized and chaotic. Then it will grow bigger and swallow all order, all sense, and all predictability. Ignored reality transforms itself (reverts back) into the great Goddess of Chaos, the great reptilian Monster of the Unknown—the great predatory beast against which mankind has struggled since the dawn of time. If the gap between pretence and reality goes unmentioned, it will widen, you will fall into it, and the consequences will not be good. Ignored reality manifests itself in an abyss of confusion and suffering. 
Be careful with what you tell yourself and others about what you have done, what you are doing, and where you are going. Search for the correct words.... The past can be redeemed, when reduced by precise language to its essence. The present can flow by without robbing the future if its realities are spoken out clearly. With careful thought and language, the singular, stellar destiny that justifies existence can be extracted from the multitude of murky and unpleasant futures that are far more likely to manifest themselves of their own accord. This is how the Eye and the Word make habitable order.
Don’t hide baby monsters under the carpet [here alluding to the children’s book by Jack Kent, There’s No Such Thing as a DragonFB]. They will flourish. They will grow large in the dark. Then, when you least expect it, they will jump out and devour you. You will descend into an indeterminate, confusing hell, instead of ascending into the heaven of virtue and clarity. Courageous and truthful words will render your reality simple, pristine, well-defined and habitable. 
So that is where the monsters come from. They are the Chaos waiting to swallow us whenever we do not pay careful attention to our speech. This, as Professor Peterson argues, is where monsters like Hitler and Stalin and Mao come from as well: from the little lies that we allow to grow into big ones, until they have taken over our whole lives.

Milo’s name came up a second time in Weiss’s interview with Professor Peterson. He was talking about the current difficulty that we have with defining who is to be excluded from polite conversation on both the Left and the Right. Unlike the Left—which he said was very difficult to set bounds for—the Right is simple (at 1:24:10):
JBP: We have a problem. We know how to put a box around the extremists on the right. Basically, we say, “Oh, you’re making claims of ethnic or racial superiority. You’re not part of the conversation anymore.” …. With the radical right, you can kind of lay it down to one dimension: “Racial superiority.” Nope, sorry, you’re out of the conversation.  
BW: [interrupting] But that’s Milo. Who you mentioned before. 
JBP: Well, I didn’t say I was a fan of Milo. 
BW: No, but you called him a prankster
JBP: Well, he is a prankster mostly
BW: Yeah, but he’s also a racist. 
JBP: Well, possibly. Yeah. [nods
BW: [nods
JBP: I haven’t followed Milo that carefully… 
BW: Okay. [nods
JBP: It’s possible that he is. I mean, it’s hard to tell what Milo is exactly. He’s a very complicated and contradictory person. Destined to implode, which is exactly what happened. Well, there’s just no way you can be that contradictory a person and manage it. It’s just not possible. He was just too many things happening at the same time for anyone to ever manage.
BW: [smiles
Something evil happened in this exchange. Did you catch it? It was just at the moment when Professor Peterson turns his head to look at Weiss.

The moment when she says, catching him off guard: “But that’s Milo....”

Whom she then describes in one word: Racist.

Thus, by Professor Peterson’s own criterion, removing Milo from the conversation. Unpersoning him for the purposes of his own argument—without the slightest shred of proof.

At which, confronted with the unexpected, Professor Peterson struggled to choose the correct words:
First denial: “Well, I didn’t say I was a fan of Milo.” I don’t have sympathy for him. 
Second denial: “Well, possibly. Yeah.” You could be right about him. 
Third denial: “I haven’t followed Milo that carefully....” I don’t know him.
Peter didn’t mean it either, when he denied Our Lord. But he did it anyway—three times—because he was scared.
But Peter sat without in the court: and there came to him a servant maid, saying: Thou also wast with Jesus the Galilean. 
But he denied before them all, saying: I know not what thou sayest. 
And as he went out of the gate, another maid saw him, and she saith to them that were there: This man also was with Jesus of Nazareth. 
And again he denied with an oath, I know not the man. 
And after a little while they came that stood by, and said to Peter: Surely thou also art one of them; for even thy speech doth discover thee. 
Then he began to curse and to swear that he knew not the man. And immediately the cock crew. 
And Peter remembered the word of Jesus which he had said: Before the cock crow, thou wilt deny me thrice. And going forth, he wept bitterly. —Matthew 26:69-75
I have called Jordan out on Twitter and this blog over the past month or so for not standing up for what he said about Milo a year and a half ago when Milo’s enemies first came after him in force. Friends tell me I am being too hard on him—that Professor Peterson is bearing a terrible burden being so much in the public eye. That he has been helping people over the past year through his lectures and books, and that any good he is doing would be jeopardized if he were to be too closely associated with Milo, who—they say, agreeing with Professor Peterson in his recent interview—was “destined to implode” anyway, because, well, that is “exactly what happened.”

Or was it? Was Hitler “destined” to oversee the murder of millions of people because that is “exactly what happened” after “cheeky Adolf” came to power? Or would it have been possible to prevent Hitler growing into a monster if those alive in 1933 had been able to recognize the lies?

Tell one little lie, especially one specifically designed to put someone beyond polite conversation—“Milo is a racist”—and you open the door to all the monsters of hell.

Milo may make taboo-breaking jokes, but he stands by his words and does not lie.

Meanwhile, the journalists who speak and write about him lie all the time.

Think on that the next time you hear Milo compared with Hitler thanks to a joke.

See The MILO Chronicles for the full story on Milo and me.

See The Lady and the Logos for further reflections on Professor Peterson’s teachings and their relationship to Wisdom.

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