A Riveting Debate on Group Identity

Abiola Oke
3 min readNov 11, 2018

There are few things that I find as pleasurable as a good debate. In this debate on Political Correctness — what some see as political correctness others see as progress — Author Michelle Goldberg and Professor Michael Eric Dyson debate Professor Jordan Peterson and Actor Stephen Fry. The debate was a battle of wits, eloquence, knowledge, and experience. The debate deviated from the primary focus to one on individualism vs. collectivism, the origins of these ideologies, and how they’ve subjugated people over time.

Goldberg’s stand-out point for me was when she spoke about her right to define her identity against the ones that have collectively been assigned to her by those who have never been forced to identify themselves; white patriarchy. She also makes a distinction by pointing out that, what we call political correctness evidenced by the fear of speaking one’s mind, is a byproduct of social media rather than true-censorship as Peterson and Fry would suggest.

The tensest moment of the debate came when Michael Eric Dyson challenged Jordan Peterson on his white privilege and how white privilege created group identities that prevent people of color from enjoying the freedoms of individuality which Peterson rebuffed and asked Dyson to quantity in percentages how much white privilege he had and what he should do about it.

Peterson argued that in a battleground between different groups, our western society removes the individual; he claimed that group rights were dangerous by asking the debaters to describe how society holds groups accountable. He asked the left to define ways in which they could go too far. He says that know when the right goes too far, e.g. Charleston, but that we don’t describe when the left becomes extreme. He argues that extremism exists on both sides — that the left goes too far in their occupation of the Humanities and the Social Sciences. Peterson says that our society doesn’t account for when the left goes too far.

Professor Dyson believes that group identity politics has prevented black people from existing freely as individuals since they came to America. He points out the realities of inequality for black people in America; Peterson finds no suitable rebuttal nor cares to address when Dyson makes these claims. Dyson, similar to Goldberg, points out that group identities were foisted upon us, that we would like to be individuals but unfortunately white privilege prevents us from doing so.

Actor Stephen Fry starts off slow but presents his points the most civility amongst the bunch. He argues that political correctness has always existed on the right — look at the censorship of bodies and language on television. What Fry is concerned with, is that liberal political correctness will lead to the sort of fear that will prevent people from speaking honestly about issues and circumstances — there is a culture of fear amongst people who have a difference of opinion. He laments that our society is losing the ability to play gracefully with ideas. Fry suggests that liberals are hypocritical — that liberals are illiberal in their demand for liberality, exclusive in their demand for inclusivity, homogenous in their demand for heterogeneity and non-diverse in their quest for diversity.

In my observation, it’s clear from these debates that nuance is a deficit of groupthink; increasingly so when you add the social media element. Freethought and critical thinking is under assault in our society. When people present ideas that do not represent a group in the manner that the group sees itself and discourse devolves into Invectives — I find that to be very dangerous. We need more platforms like this debate were people can express different ideas and perspectives. We must all acknowledge that none of us fit into neatly packed groups or archetypes — our identities are more individual and complicated than the groups we’re identified by.

Truly a good debate. Hope you enjoy.