Recently, Canada’s semi-annual Monk debate featured clinical psychologist, Jordan Peterson, and African American sociology professor, Michael Eric Dyson. The debate topic was: Be it resolved what you call political correctness, I call progress. Peterson opposed the motion, Dyson affirmed.
Peterson stated that we need a grand narrative to unite us. What’s playing out is a debate between an individualist narrative and a collectivist narrative, but the question is, what story should be paramount?
What’s paramount is the sovereignty of the individual.
Now, there’s some utility in the collectivist narrative because we all belong to groups, but the collectivist narrative that I regard as politically correct is a radical leftist view that claims you’re not an individual, but you exist as a member of a group. (Ethnicity, sex, race, etc.) And the only way to view the world is a battleground of groups of different power, and history itself is viewed as nothing but the power maneuvers between groups.
This eliminates any consideration of the individual, and in that formulation, there is no such thing as free speech because, for an individualist, that’s how you make sense of the world, but for the radical left collectivist associated with this type of political correctness, when the individual speaks, all they’re doing is playing a power game on behalf of their group.
Then Peterson acknowledged historical oppression and stated the proper place of the left is to give a political voice to the dispossessed. But that’s not the same as proclaiming all of us are to be identified by the groups we belong and construe the world as a battleground of different forms of tyranny in consequence of group affiliation, because that’s not progress.
Dyson responded by calling Peterson’s assessment an abortive fantasy. And claimed the radical left didn’t exist, because their numbers were too small and “they’re not running anything.” (So, existence is predicated on group size and power. This makes Peterson’s case.)
In 1967 Harold Cruse, a Black intellectual, wrote an essay called “Individualism and the “Open Society.” Cruse maintained, “America, which idealizes the rights of the individual above everything else is, in reality, a nation dominated by the social power of groups, classes, in-groups and cliques…The individual in America has few rights that are not backed up by the political, economic and social power of one group or another… These people (that) want to be full-fledged Americans, without regard to race, creed, or color…Do not stop to realize …This is a figment of the American imagination and (The Great American Idea of individualism) has never really existed.”
I’ve pointed this out to prove Peterson’s “collectivist narrative” has well documented historical roots. So, Dyson’s “abortive fantasy” wasn’t about Peterson’s opening statement he was referring to the great idea of individualism.
Dyson stated he’s amazed whenever he hears about collectivist/identity politics (from the right) because “White folks” invented race. The invention of race was driven by the demand of a dominant culture to subordinate others. And White supremacy has thrusted identity upon those outside of the dominant group preventing their ability to be individuals. Dyson’s analysis is accurate, but it’s a justification for the existence of the collective battleground throughout the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries as a byproduct of White supremacy, and if that’s carried over into the 21st century, how is that progress?
But the paramount question is, can individualism be prevented?
Frederick Douglass illustrated the metaphysical fact of individualism in the letter he wrote to his former owner explaining why he ran away. Douglass wrote, “Nature does not make your existence depend upon me, or mine to depend upon yours…We are distinct persons and are each equally provided with faculties necessary to our individual existence. In leaving you, I took nothing but what belonged to me…Your faculties remained yours, and mine became useful to their rightful owner.”
Then Dyson stated individualism is the “characteristic moment in modernity,” but the knowledge that he brings as a person of color makes a difference.
Once again making Peterson’s case, because he never denied the utility of the group.
(J. Pharaoh Doss is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier.)
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