In some traditions, fathers are expected to murder any offspring who have brought dishonour upon the family. This homicidal tradition comes to light most commonly when a Muslim father murders a daughter who has been indiscreet in a sexual way. When the behavior of a child casts a shadow over the reputation of the family, fathers in such traditions feel justified in taking the life of the child. He gave the child life, so he considers it right that he be the one to take it away if necessary.
In the tradition of modern academic cultures, a professor may take on a graduate student, a postdoc, or a junior professor, and become something of a father figure to the younger scholar. In that setting, the mentor – or father figure – may feel responsible for the behaviour of his charge. If the “father” feels that his “child” has dishonoured the academic family in any way, he may feel justified in figuratively “murdering” his charge, putting him down to satisfy a matter of honour.
Jordan Peterson’s Mentor at the University of Toronto
In the 1990s Jordan Peterson was recruited as a professor by the psychology department at the University of Toronto. One senior professor in the department, Bernard Schiff, claims to have taken Peterson under his wing, soothing the feathers of jealous nestlings in the department and making the path clear for Peterson to follow a somewhat unconventional path as professor, active clinician, researcher, scholar of a deeply philosophical depth psychology, author, entrepreneur, corporate consultant, and local media celebrity on Ontario public television.
Peterson’s unconventional career path, his uncommon energy, his sheer output of well-cited research papers, and his personal charm all made him the object of both admiration and resentment by his “siblings” in the Department of Psychology. But his unconventionality also made him something of a feather in the cap of the man who claimed to be his academic father and mentor. But presumably only for as long as Peterson knew his place, maintained proper respect (and subservience), and did not do anything to dishonour the “father” or the academic family in the department.
He joined us in the summer of 1998. Because I liked him, and also because I had put myself on the line for him, I took him under my wing. I made sure he went up for promotion to associate professor the following year, as the hiring committee had promised, and I went to the dean to get him a raise when the department chairperson would not.
When he was renovating his house I invited his family to live with mine. For five months, they occupied the third floor of our large house. We had meals together in the evening and long, colourful conversations. There, away from campus, I saw a man who was devoted to his wife and his children, who were lovely and gentle and for whom I still feel affection. He was attentive and thoughtful, stern and kind, playful and warm….
On campus, he was as interesting as I had expected him to be. His research on alcoholism, and then personality, was solid, but his consuming intellectual interests lay elsewhere.
… In 2001, three years after Jordan arrived, I took early retirement and left the university. I stayed in touch with Jordan and his family, and while our contacts might have been infrequent, they were always familial and affectionate. __ Bernard Schiff as MacBeth
Having established his legitimacy as the academic father of his academic son, Jordan, Schiff proceeds to explain his reasons for turning on Peterson, and to the attack which he assumes will take Peterson down and restore honor to the family.
Jordan’s first high-profile public battle, and for many people their introduction to the man, followed his declaration that he would not comply with Bill C-16, an amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act extending its protections to include gender identity and expression. He would refuse to refer to students using gender neutral pronouns. He then upped the stakes by claiming that, for this transgression, he could be sent to jail.
I have a trans daughter, but that was hardly an issue compared to what I felt was a betrayal of my trust and confidence in him. It was an abuse of the trust that comes with his professorial position, which I had fought for, to have misrepresented gender science by dismissing the evidence that the relationship of gender to biology is not absolute and to have made the claim that he could be jailed when, at worst, he could be fined [ed.: although he could also be subsequently jailed if he refused to pay the fine — an implicit admission of “guilt”.]__ Bernard Schiff
Making a Personal Disagreement into a Public Backstabbing
It is clear from the article excerpted above that Schiff holds a strong sense of anger and personal resentment toward Jordan Peterson. Schiff proceeds to paint Jordan Peterson as a Hitleresque demagogue and a public menace.
What I am seeing now is a darker, angrier Jordan than the man I knew. In Karen Heller’s recent profile in the Washington Post he is candid about his long history of depression. Depression is an awful illness. It is a cognitive disorder that casts a dark shadow over everything. His view of life, as nasty and brutish, may very well not be an idea, but a description of his experience, which became for him the truth. But this next statement, from Heller’s article, is heartbreaking: “You have an evil heart — like the person next to you,” she quotes him as telling a sold-out crowd. “Kids are not innately good — and neither are you.” This from the loving and attentive father I knew? That makes no sense at all. __ Schiff Creating a Frame
When a former friend and elderly retired academic chooses to air his personal animosities toward a colleague in public – with the clear intent to permanently damage the former friend’s reputation – some deep and usually concealed undercurrents of disturbed emotion have been unleashed with savage intent, in full public view.
This is not the act of a wise father who wishes to reconcile with an errant son and reach a quiet, private accommodation and meeting of the minds. This is the act of what seems to be a disturbed individual who is using his privileged position as former guide, mentor, and family friend to have gotten close enough to sink the knife into a vulnerable place, in the public square.
Schiff states that he feels betrayed by Peterson’s stance against Canada’s Bill C16 – the mandated speech law – which could ultimately have the effect of jailing a person who was unwilling to follow the capricious whims of mentally troubled persons of uncertain gender. Schiff has a trans child in real life, you see, and takes Peterson’s stand of conscience against compelled speech as a personal affront and betrayal. That is unfortunate, and seems to be part of Schiff’s motivation to attack Peterson publicly. Another strong motivation appears to be a deep philosophical and political divide between the two men, which Schiff is apparently unable to surmount or forgive.
How Should Peterson Respond to the Public Backstabbing?
Quietly, and largely behind the scenes. If Schiff represents his early acts of kindness and benevolence toward Peterson in an accurate manner, then Peterson owes him a debt. One does not react in such circumstances toward an old friend to whom one is indebted in the same way one would act toward an impertinent stranger or mere acquaintance who mounts public attacks of a personal nature.
It is important to know that such attacks – by strangers or by close friends – cannot negate Peterson’s achievements, or take him down. Peterson is the only one who can take himself down, in the eyes of his rapidly growing crowd of admirers and fellow travelers in the deep traditions of free speech and purposeful living.
Envy and resentment are common among the past friends and acquaintances of anyone who achieves any level of success or public acclaim whatsoever. Anyone who takes the advantages life has given him, and works long hard hours to good effect, is at risk of being attacked from behind by people who may have been nursing secret resentments for some time.
Once a person achieves momentum in the path of personal fulfillment, it is best not to be sidetracked by personal attacks, no matter who the attacker may be. Personal debts should be acknowledged, but each individual must pursue his own path and follow his own conscience.