Signs of the times
‘Someone telling you that you are not oppressed can deal a terrible blow to your self-esteem’
Jordan Peterson: “The UK media seems to have a problem understanding Peterson or even approaching him in a way which is halfway decent” (Adam Jacobs CC BY 2.0)
In Portugal for another leg of my latest book tour I sit in a hotel room for two days answering questions from journalists. I am rather fond of Portugal, and Lisbon and Porto in particular are wonderful places to return to. As on all such trips you learn surprising things. When discussing the migrant crisis with Portuguese interviewers there is the oddity that Portugal managed to avoid nearly all of the 2015 crisis. While people poured through Greece and Italy, Spain and Portugal managed to avoid the largest flows.
As a result — and along with its desire to thank Brussels for its economic largesse — the Portuguese government has made something of a stance about its pro-migrant attitudes. It agreed to the Brussels quota system and even recently announced that it wanted to take more than the number of migrants it had originally been asked to accept.
As ever the devil is in the detail. For it appears that not many migrants want to move to Portugal. This is surprising to some of us. The climate is exceptionally warm, as are the locals, and though the economy is still in trouble, jobs can be found. And yet still they do not come. More embarrassingly, many of those relocated to Portugal have ended up moving back to northern Europe. Perhaps Brussels’ next pitch to the Visegrad countries for enforced quotas should be that the migrants won’t stay anyway.
Something strange is brewing in the culture. For years it has been presumed that the Left had the wind in its sails, that political correctitude would remain the prevailing political backdrop and that those with conservative opinions would continue to whisper them in private yet prove unwilling to uphold them in public. The rise of the grassroots group Momentum in the UK seemed to vindicate this fear. But the times appear to be changing.
One part of that change has been visible in what has rightly become known as the Jordan Peterson phenomenon. But there are other signs of it as well. In May I spent an evening at the London Palladium. The 2,500-seater theatre which is ordinarily used for big West End musical shows or rock concerts was this night hosting a very different act. In huge letters, in lights, all across the front of the theatre was the star name: Rod Liddle.
Inside the theatre Rod’s name was again emblazoned across the back of the stage in an array of ten-foot-high, lightbulb-lit letters. The star was greeted with huge applause from the capacity audience. And for two hours, with an interval for drinks or cigarettes (or, for Rod, both), these thousands of people heard Liddle digress on matters including political correctness, Brexit, Trump and “hate crime”. The distinctly mixed audience lapped it up, laughing a lot and applauding even more.
Of course Rod is not an ordinary journalist. Yet still, nobody could have left the theatre thinking that these are ordinary times. Something is happening. People are showing up to things. Or to put it another way, can anybody imagine a 2,500-seater theatre being packed to the rafters with people looking to attend an evening with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown?
The Jordan Peterson phenomenon certainly deserves that moniker. On a recent swing through London, Peterson sold out the 5,000-seater London Apollo for an evening in which he discussed a whole range of deep and serious issues, many of which are contained in his bestselling book 12 Rules for Life. Yet still the UK media seems to have a problem understanding Peterson or even approaching him in a way which is halfway decent.
On a number of the programmes he appeared on during his latest UK trip (including the BBC and Channel 5) he was countered not only by the host but by another guest brought in specially to oppose him. In each of these cases — and many more besides — the media reveals more about itself than it can possibly mean to. For though they bring Peterson on they still seek to in some way “contain” his views.
When a member of Hamas is brought onto the BBC they do not find themselves countered by the host and another person brought in specifically to argue against them. But then the media class appears to view Peterson and the few voices like him as in some ways more of a threat than Hamas. As well he might be, for although Hamas are trying to annihilate the Jewish state, they are little immediate threat to female television presenters in Britain.
On the other hand, someone who points out that equality of outcome is a chimera and disagrees about the gender pay gap is a direct threat to their livelihood and all the things they have decided to hold most dear. Narratives of oppression can become deeply important to a person, and someone telling you that you are not oppressed can deal a terrible blow to your self-esteem.