What is Jordan Peterson’s new anti-censorship website like? – The Guardian

Search “free speech” on Thinkspot – the new social media platform devised by best-selling Canadian self-help guru, vociferous foe of postmodernism and “cultural Marxism” and noted carnivore Jordan Peterson – and you’ll find there, among the results: “The Ten Commandments of Free Speech and Free Thought”, by Skeptic magazine founder Michael Shermer, a podcast titled “Free Speech Not Islamist Speech” by ex-Canadian naval intelligence officer Tom Quiggin, and several video lectures with titles like “Count Dankula on Free Speech,” “What Its [sic] Like to Be A Free Speech Warriors [sic]” and “Banned Lecture: Ethics and Free Speech”, that last one courtesy of Thinkspot’s free thinker in chief, Jordan B Peterson.

Part Facebook/Twitter-styled social media site, part Patreon/Kickstarter-modelled crowdfunding platform, Thinkspot was born out of a purported crisis in free speech. In late 2018, Patreon booted a slew of fringe conservatives and “alt-right” figures – including British far-right agitator Milo Yiannopoulos, anti-feminist YouTuber and failed Ukip hopeful Carl Benjamin, and Canadian white nationalist conspiracy theorist Lauren Southern – from their website.

Jordan Peterson was disconsolate, believing the bans were politically motivated, constituting a galling affront to the sanctity of free expression. In the wake of the “Patreon Purge” Peterson announced the “establishment of a Patreon-like enterprise that will not be susceptible to arbitrary censorship”. And so, almost a year later, enter Thinkspot: the place where self-identifying members of the so-called intellectual dark web (IDW) can gather to agree on the importance of reason, lament the blight of postmodernism, and share beef jerky recipes.

Peterson, it should be said, has proved particularly adept at exploiting crises in free expression where none actually exist. He emerged from obscurity in 2016 over his opposition to Bill C-16, a Canadian amendment to the human rights act and criminal code outlawing harassment on the basis of gender identity. “If they fine me, I won’t pay it,” he told a Canadian public access show. “If they put me in jail, I’ll go on a hunger strike.” He remains, as of this writing, not only unjailed but enormously wealthy, having been propelled to international celebrity. He subsists, of his own volition, pretty much entirely on steak.

As someone who has followed the rise of Peterson, who has written and spoken critically of him in the past, and who has received personal emails from his slavish acolytes threatening to beat me up, I found the prospect of Thinkspot almost perversely fascinating. I instantly registered for the beta test of the site. Left languishing in the queue, I pressed a friend for access. Logging into the site provided a dull thrill, like crashing a very boring party to which I was not officially invited. I skimmed the Free Speech Statement (“without fertile ground for free expression, our purest exhibition of free will congeals into a reductive calcification … ”), expecting a refuge far away from the accursed meddling “social justice warriors”, where big brains can hash out dangerous ideas without fear of reprisal and where the speech couldn’t be freer.

A Jordan Peterson protest at the University of Toronto after the release of his video series attacking ‘political correctness’ in academia

A Jordan Peterson protest at the University of Toronto after the release of his video series attacking ‘political correctness’ in academia Photograph: Vince Talotta/Toronto Star/Getty Images

As it turns out, being “free speech warriors” is rather expensive. Registering as a Thinkspot “contributor” costs $2.50 (£1.90) a month, while “unlocking” content from certain big-name Thinkspot contributors will set you back considerably more. Unsurprisingly, Professor Peterson proves the biggest ticket. Access to all his posts costs $240 annually (beta users get 50% off). Second priciest is Mikhaila Peterson, his daughter and fellow all-beef diet apostle, whose current video offerings include the above mentioned jerky recipe. Without paying for contributor access, Thinkspot users can only comment on the contributor-created content, reduced to second-class-citizen status as mere fans.

Indeed, Thinkspot feels very much like a pay-to-play Jordan Peterson fan site. Reposts of video lectures from the “Peterson academia archives” are accompanied with descriptions so wildly high-flown that they veer into parody. Stuff like: “The lecture is an exercise in mastery, both of technique and analysis, as Peterson commands a symphony of material across centuries and various analytical frameworks.” Do such worshipful, obsequious descriptions, I wonder, meaningfully constitute the “purest exhibition of free will”, or rather the sort of “reductive calcification” that turn anti-PC psychology professors into rarefied authorities, lecturing eclectically, fingers flittering wildly, in the cozy confines of their paywalled gardens?

More than anything, however, Thinkspot puts me in mind of that joke from The Simpsons where Marge bakes and decorates a totally superfluous cake in an effort to dissuade Homer from ruining his daughter’s actual birthday cake. In the social media ecosystem, Thinkspot feels very much like that ad hoc dummy pastry: a place where the alt-lite-affiliated, the self-mythologising provocateurs of the ludicrously named intellectual dark web, the “race realists” and conspiracy theorists and tedious dullards who believe themselves oppressed simply because they’re disliked, can mix with like-minded others. There they can exchange and annotate their self-important manifestos, grifting each other for subscription fees to unlock highly exclusive and surely incendiary content, and leaving the rest of us well enough alone.

John Semley is the author of Hater: On the Virtues of Utter Disagreeability

Dark Web

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