Statues and a bust

At this time of year, the portion of the University of Toronto campus near me is a beautiful place to walk. Beds of daffodils and tulips bloomed in abundance followed by pungent lilacs, flowering crab and the tall candles of horse chestnut trees. Amid the floral splendour around St. Michael’s and Victoria College are representations and remembrances of people from the university’s past who were global figures in their fields.

Here one finds the coachhouse that beginning in 1968 served as the centre for Marshall McLuhan’s program in culture and technology. McLuhan’s foresight on so many topics was daunting. Nearby is one of those selfie-ready statues with literary critic Northrop Frye sitting on a bench. I heard Frye speak in 1966 when he came to Western where I took Honours English. His Fearful Symmetry remains by far the best study on poet and artist William Blake.

U of T has been home to other renowned scholars and scientists in the years since, like John Polanyi, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1986. But the best known faculty member these days is Jordan Peterson, who celebrates the 1960s – not out of any reverence for those above-mentioned greats – but because he’d like to return to that patriarchal time when men were men and women were simply vessels.

Such misogyny is neither bold nor brave. It is but the whimper of a little man who wants to ride on the backs of thick-headed social media yahoos who feel left out. Peterson is no McLuhan or Frye. His best-selling book, 12 Rules for Life, is just a melange of warmed over self-help ideas – such as “stand up straight” – that amount to nothing. I can only hope that no one ever decides to erect a statue to him. The future will think poorly of us for saluting such a social throw-back.

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