Wesley Yang in Tablet:
It is easy to make anyone look moronic or sinister when you control the means of their representation. It is trivially easy to hang someone by their own words when you control where the sentences begin and end. You decide whether to seek clarification if someone speaks in an ambiguous or ungainly manner. You decide whether to print or broadcast the clarification. You place the words into a sequence that confers meaning onto them, or strips them of their intended meanings. You can use free indirect discourse to inject your own construction of your subject’s ideas in a way that preserves or alters their meaning.
All this came to mind as I read a profile published in the New York Times Style section of the University of Toronto psychology professor turned YouTube celebrity Jordan Peterson, and the thunderstorms of tweets that it engendered.
Peterson is by temperament exactly the sort of person born to be a target for digi-journalists and social-media mobs. He has an absolutist commitment to speaking his own truth at all times regardless of the consequences. He has opinions that cut against the grain of some of our most ferociously policed orthodoxies. He often speaks in a rather involuted private jargon with little concern for general intelligibility, and lacks awareness of how he comes across. There is something laughably sophomoric about the unbounded scope of his 19th-century intellectual ambition. He speaks to journalists, even those who plainly have it in for him, in exactly the same forthright manner as he does anyone else—as if he is free to indulge any thought experiment or rhetorical gambit he likes with a willing and sympathetic interlocutor in pursuit of the truth. He has behaved abominably at times and refuses contrition or regret on principle. He is stubborn as hell.