Toronto·Point of View

Why Stephen Fry is arguing against political correctness, with Jordan Peterson

The award-winning British actor, writer and activist, says there's an "ugly" culture war going on, but he isn't sure that political correctness will lead to peace.

Culture war 'deeper and weirder and odder' than ever, says award-winning performer

Stephen Fry says he wants everyone to feel comfortable and unafraid in the world, but isn't sure that political correctness helps with that. (Dominic Steinmann/Keystone via The Associated Press)

Stephen Fry, the award-winning British actor, writer and activist, says there's an "ugly" culture war going on, but he isn't sure that political correctness will lead to peace. 

Fry will argue that point at a Friday night Munk debate at Roy Thomson Hall, where he'll be paired up with the controversial University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson. Together, they'll argue against Michelle Goldberg, a New York Times columnist, and Michael Eric Dyson, an author, professor and broadcaster.

CBC Radio's Here and Now asked Fry about Peterson, and why he's against political correctness. Here's his response:

"I'm very, very... I won't say dreading, but I'm, hmm, somewhat tentative about this whole thing. I don't think Jordan Peterson is a man with whom I necessarily share an enormous amount of, you know…

But to me, that is the point. I wanted to appear with someone from a different side of the political spectrum, if you can put it that way, in order to express, as much as anything, just a sense of worry.

Stephen Fry will also be on an upcoming episode of The National. (David Donnelly/CBC)

The two sides of the cultural war, which are no longer left and right, they're something deeper and weirder and odder, are drifting further and further apart every week that passes. Such that each is standing on its own edge yelling at the other and neither is hearing. They're just making frantic faces at each other.

It's ugly and it's unpleasant and it's a terrible shame to live in this culture and feel there's so much enmity, resentment. We've seen what happens when it goes to extremes; we've seen the terrible carnage and destruction that can cause. The misery.

I am, you know, an old fashioned lefty. Not really a progressive, more a liberal hand-wringing, milksop, Milquetoast liberal who just wants everything to be nicer and better and wish people can be charming to each other. Which is obviously not really a polished political manifesto, but it's a feeling.

My only problem with politically correctness really, apart from the fact that it's po-faced, sanctimonious, self-righteous occasionally, is that it's not effective.- Stephen Fry

And I've always championed things that have been regarded as rather leftish, simply for personal reasons, like you know gay equality, being a gay man. Being Jewish as well, from a family many of whom were destroyed, I always say I've never particularly been big fan of racism. And as someone who's lived with bipolar disorder all my life, mental health is something I've spoken up about.

I've always been on the side of these things and I've been very happy to see the end to the national conversation in saner and saner ways. But I do not believe for a second that political correctness has hastened those advances, at all.

And my only problem with politically correctness really, apart from the fact that it's po-faced, sanctimonious, self-righteous occasionally, is that it's not effective.

I want people to be effective.

I want, yes, gay people and transgender people and people of all kinds of races and, you know, marginal identities as they may see themselves — I want them to feel comfortable in the world and not hated and not afraid. But I don't think political correctness is the way to achieve that.

That's my problem."

With files from Here and Now


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