Jordan Peterson: another take

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30 Responses to Jordan Peterson: another take

  1. Matt Moore says:

    Delightful! Thank you for the pointer. I have pledged to Contrapoint’s Patreon.

    As for Prof. Peterson, I have a similar POV to this YouTuber and also this Vox article: https://www.vox.com/world/2018/3/26/17144166/jordan-peterson-12-rules-for-life

    Probably the weirdest thing to me about the JBP phenomenon is that he is so reminiscent of Robert Bly of 30 years ago – the use of Jungian mysticism as the solution to a sense of lost masculinity. Altho my memory of Bly (I was 16 when Iron John was published) is that he was popular but nowhere near the level of JBP now. Of course, Bly was not on YouTube.

  2. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Glad you liked it. There’s plenty of good stuff there.

    Wasn’t Bly more new agey?

    • Matt Moore says:

      Absolutely. Bly is a poet rather than a psychologist. He’s not going to appeal to arguments from genetics.

      Altho JBP has a big new age / mystical element that sometimes gets ignored by both his supporters and his detractors. Which makes his attacks on “postmodernism” a little surreal. Sure, the academic milieu of post-structuralist / postmodernist theory is a target rich environment for mockery. But being critiqued on your evidence base by a Jungian is bit like receiving a bitchy comment about your weight from a sumo wrestler.

      • paul frijters says:

        “being critiqued on your evidence base by a Jungian is bit like receiving a bitchy comment about your weight from a sumo wrestler”

        that is a fantastic analogy. :-)

  3. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Also, this is must reading if you’re intrigued by JP.

    • Matt Moore says:

      Agree. Already read it. I’m less intrigued by JBP as a thinker than as a mass cultural phenomenon. He is neither a fascist nor an idiot. Some of his advice for young men is actually useful. But I don’t really want to sit thru hours of his videos.

      One thing that comes thru in that profile (and others) is the extent to which feedback from a particular audience has warped him. How he dresses. How he speaks. And the content of his ideas has shifted. Certain things make the crowd cheer. So the temptation is to say more of that stuff. Each public talk nudges him a little further in a particular direction.

      Oddly enough, the missus and I were talking about Mark Latham a while ago. He was gone from a being a troubled but still intellectually acute man to posting pepe and kek memes on twitter. I recently went to read his Quarterly Essay from 2013 and it was… coherent. I disagreed with most of it but he was still capable of marshalling evidence and conducting an argument. And he’s not any more. He just shouts abuse at strangers on the internet like a tramp outside a train station. And I think that’s partly because he has found an audience that has encouraged him to nurture the worst aspects of himself.

      Choose your audience with care because they will shape more than you shape them.

      I doubt I will have that problem but nevertheless…

      • Nicholas Gruen says:

        Agree with all that.

        I’m quite attracted to the basic message he started with – without all the hysterics about the Stalinist left.

        However I don’t mind him bending a little in the direction of his audience. That’s not only ‘human’ but potentially very good if it expands his influence. It will also inevitably ‘warp’ his message to some extent, but he’s in charge of that. It could be anywhere from ‘very little’ to what’s happened now where Justin Trudeau has become an agent of the far left.

        How far they’re prepared to go is sad and pathetic in the case of Latham and a sign of megalomania in the case of Peterson.

        Long ago we fell in love with megalomania, with those characters for whom whatever they’ve got is never enough.

        Oddly enough I think of Beyonce in this because she’s so classy, has so much but always wants more. Why? In a healthy society that would put people off. At least in that regard our society when it embraced amateur sport, and some of its important cultural underpinnings, understood this and you see it in all the sporting heroes who retired to their farms or their butchers shops or whatever and got on with their life. Refused advertising dollars and adulation and all that. Don Bradman tried to sign as many photos of himself and autographs as he could to prevent them acquiring a monetary value on the market.

        They can be bought for $50 around Adelaide.

        • Matt Moore says:

          “he’s in charge of that” – I’m not sure he is, fully. Yes, I think he calibrates his performances in a conscious manner. But the Schiff article is interesting for the extent to which it portrays him as is a creature of his passions in way that is not entirely within his control.

          “In a healthy society that would put people off” – well, that all depends what you mean by a “healthy society”. We have a society that gives people the opportunity to pursue their individuals desires. Isn’t that healthy?

          Beyonce is not my jam. But I recognise her power as a cultural icon. In many ways, she is a throwback to a previous generation of stars – and back further than that. She is not “someone like you”. She is the personification of desires equivalent to star of Hollywood’s golden age. Or an aristocrat of the ancien regime in all their decadence and conspicuous consumption and remoteness. She keeps her distance.

          As far as Bradman goes, he was national sportsman before TV rights changed the money in sport forever. Sportsmen of previous ages didn’t have access to the millions of dollars from TV deals and sponsorships. He retired just as sport became true national entertainment. It should also be noted that income inequality in Australia was higher during Bradman’s batting reign than it was subsequently. Altho we are returning to those heady days of the 20s and 30s. We need to be careful about our nostalgia for times passed.

          • Nicholas Gruen says:

            “In a healthy society that would put people off” – well, that all depends what you mean by a “healthy society”. We have a society that gives people the opportunity to pursue their individuals desires. Isn’t that healthy?

            Is this the 5 minute argument or the full half-hour? ;)

            Yes that’s healthy. Clean air is also healthy and we have quite a lot of clean air. I was referring to other things that were not healthy.

            Beyonce is not my jam. But I recognise her power as a cultural icon. In many ways, she is a throwback to a previous generation of stars – and back further than that. She is not “someone like you”. She is the personification of desires equivalent to star of Hollywood’s golden age. Or an aristocrat of the ancien regime in all their decadence and conspicuous consumption and remoteness. She keeps her distance.

            I was making a different point – about megalomania. She can be all those things, without being a meglo.

            As far as Bradman goes, he was national sportsman before TV rights changed the money in sport forever. Sportsmen of previous ages didn’t have access to the millions of dollars from TV deals and sponsorships. He retired just as sport became true national entertainment.

            Seems question begging to me. This was part and parcel of the culture – the two things were part of one another.

            It should also be noted that income inequality in Australia was higher during Bradman’s batting reign than it was subsequently. Altho we are returning to those heady days of the 20s and 30s.

            Noted. Why are we noting it again?

            We need to be careful about our nostalgia for times passed.

            Thanks for the tip. I was pointing to something that was good about the past. Not saying it was better than we have.

            Arguments were so much better in the old days ;)

  4. paul frijters says:

    I am not a fan of Jordan Peterson’s thinking and his 12 rules are a kind of neo-puritanism that is more faith than science.

    But I have to say that the video and the Vox article linked to above do prove him right on the most essential point of his critique: the culture war that is being conducted against mainstream men and women is setting us up for a horrible backlash. The daily violence of the identity warriors against the self-image of the mainstream is indeed genocidal in nature and pushes many into a kind of Frankenstein identity. I fear that the time will come where Jordan Peterson will be seen as extremely mild.

    • Matt Moore says:

      “Jordan Peterson will be seen as extremely mild” – well, compared to the likes of Richard Spencer or Steve Bannon, he is. He doesn’t have a huge amount to say about race – which is probably just as well. He is not the most virulent popular right-wing YouTuber by a long stretch.

      “The daily violence of the identity warriors” – when you say that, what do you mean? I don’t armed gangs of PC insurgents roaming the streets of Marrickville, Walter Hill-style (and lets be honest, if that’s going to happen anywhere in Australia, it’s Marrickville). So can you spell that out a bit?

      • paul frijters says:

        the Vox article you linked to has lots of examples of the daily violence I am thinking of. Just take the last lines of that article

        [article quoting John P] “We’re so stupid. We’re alienating young men. We’re telling them that they’re patriarchal oppressors and denizens of rape culture,” he says. “It’s awful. It’s so destructive. It’s so unnecessary. And it’s so sad.”

        [journo conclusion] The empathy that he displays for men and boys in his BBC interview and 12 Rules for Life is touching. The problem is that he can’t seem to extend it to anyone else.

        [my comment on journo conclusion] See what I mean? This put-down is so casual, so commonplace, yet so sexist and demeaning if you reflect on it. Try and extend the logic of that concluding comment to any advocate of any supposed minority group and see how that sentence would read and how you would receive it.

        Also, whilst not being a fan of JP, it’s not even true. I would regard JP’s reaction to the transgender stuff as pro-female, and many of his 12 rules are highly empathic pieces of advice that display empathy with humanity, not just men.

        So reflect again on that final comment by the journo. Its the perfect illustration of why JP is so popular and why his essential critique (minus the conspiracy stuff) is correct. Reflect on what the journo implicitly insist is ok to argue for, what is ok to have as a self-image. It is absolutely vile.

        Did you notice first time round or are you too so de-sensitised that it didn’t even register? I wouldn’t blame you if the latter was true. It tells you that the violence is indeed daily.

        • Nicholas Gruen says:

          I agree with most of what you’ve written here Paul, but I’m not sure how vile and violent a lot of the political correctness crowd are. I know there’s a hard core of really terrible stuff that’s going on, but most fellow travellers I think are just easily led.

          I do notice a lot of what you’ve set out there, though I don’t think there’s perfect symmetry between minority and dominant groups. Without necessarily endorsing it, there’s more to be said for exclusivity in groups of people with little power than there is for exclusivity of dominant groups for instance.

          One thing I really DO object to is some of the standard rhetorical slight of hand, or perhaps just intellectually lazy, narrow minded sloppiness, in the article that Matt linked to.

          The relationship between human and lobster brains is outside Peterson’s area of academic expertise. Experts in the field who have evaluated his claims have found them lacking, as lobsters’ and humans’ neurological systems are radically different. One important distinction is that humans have brains and lobsters (technically speaking) do not.

          “If nervous systems were computer games, arthropods like lobsters would be ‘Snake’ on a first-generation mobile phone and vertebrates would be an augmented reality (AR) game,” as Leonor Gonsalves, a neuroscientist at University College London, puts it in a review of Peterson’s argument at The Conversation. “The human brain is hugely malleable … believing that it is ‘natural’ that some people are ‘losers’ because that’s what lobsters do can have dire consequences.”

          Lobsters are outside JP’s academic expertise. Pahleese. Seriously, if you’re going to make that kind of argument, you’re not really trying to engage with some plausible idea of what JP is trying to get at. You’re scoring debating points. A complete waste of time. JP could have made his point about hierarchies without citing brains at all – though it would be a somewhat different argument, it would be the same kind of argument.

          • paul frijters says:

            “most fellow travellers I think are just easily led”

            Indeed! When violence becomes so commonplace that everyone does it, we’re in real trouble. Most Nazis were easily led fellow travelers too!

            “I don’t think there’s perfect symmetry between minority and dominant groups”

            Exactly! Poke a mouse long enough and it peeps or runs away. Poke a bear long enough….

            Agreed on the lobster thing too. The whole article reeks of in-crowd put-downs and ill-disguised hatred of someone with a different view. Its the open hatred against the whole principle that one might want to defend the self-image and mental health of the vast majority of the population that I object to most though. There is a gleeful sadism about it.

  5. Matt Moore says:

    Nicholas & Paul (response on political correctness):

    I chose the Vox article because it is both sympathetic to, and critical of, JBP. Compared to numerous other pieces on him from left perspectives, it is not a hatchet job. It takes him him seriously. It concedes some of his points. As does ContraPoints.

    The Vox article is quite correct that JBP draws authority from his academic background in psychology (I saw and heard him do this in an ABC interview a few months ago) and yet also plays fast and loose with evidence from many other fields. The article by Schiff also talks about this at length.

    (Personally, I think that hierarchies in human societies are inevitable – which is why I agree with Jeffrey Pfeffer that some of the more utopian visions of organisational change through technology will remain pipedreams (1). However, I disagree with JBP and other conservatives in that I see these hierarchies as far more malleable and flexible than they imply. Structures can vary in how much power is concentrated at the top and how rigidly roles are enforced)

    It’s interesting to watch a group of JBP fans try to make sense of his dominance hierarchy stuff here – https://www.reddit.com/r/JordanPeterson/comments/6iilex/ – they are struggling to make sense of some of his abstract jargon but they are genuinely invested in this. They’re throwing in other things where they can. They are trying to get support from each other. They want to improve their lot. Gender doesn’t really show up here. It’s standard self-help group stuff. It’s OK.

    Trigger warning: Now I want to talk about political correctness.

    First of all, I think this term is being thrown around in this discussion in a loose way (which is why I asked you to explain your position a bit, Paul). Generally it is used as a negative epithet – an overzealous policing of language and thought around gender, race, class, and other structures of oppression – frequently undertaken by those who themselves occupy a privileged position.

    I don’t mind political correctness as an idea. I can remember the 70s and 80s when it is fine to say openly racist and sexist things and mock gay people. It has become much less OK to do that and I think this is a good thing. If that makes people sad then part of me says: Tough, change is rarely painless.

    Now I can think of many examples where these efforts to reduce offense to groups given a hard deal are ineffective or counterproductive. Many corporate diversity programs seem to be more about box ticking and compliance than about actual change. In academia (and its surrounding media and not-for-profit environments) especially, there is sometimes a tedious competition to see who can be the most “woke” (2) and call out those who fail to meet some impossibly high standard of awareness. I think “No Platforming” is mostly dumb.

    But I look around and in the stories I hear and in the data I see, there still seems to be a fair bit of discrimination against women and non-whites and gay people. It’s there. And I see lots of supposedly “silenced” non-politically correct people given massive media platforms and doing very nicely thank you. And I simply do not see a society ruled by political correctness.

    Going back to the Vox article comment about JBP and his followers.

    “We’re so stupid. We’re alienating young men. We’re telling them that they’re patriarchal oppressors and denizens of rape culture”

    So there’s a paradox here. Young white men in Western societies do still have more opportunities for advancement that women or non-whites. Traditional (male) view of women as property to be possessed is still current within our culture and it still regularly surfaces among young men (e.g. The Red Pill, PUAs). And yet they no longer occupy an uncontested, culturally dominant position. And to make it even worse, the societies they live in are becoming more unequal with fewer opportunities for social mobility. Relative to others, most of them do not hold as much social and economic power their fathers and grandfathers did. There is a sense of loss and a sense of confusion.

    So a key point here (where I agree with JBP and that I did not read the Vox article as denying) is that those on the left have been a bit rubbish in reaching out to these young men. Scolding people is not a great way of getting them on board. Telling them that they all suck does not help. And now that we don’t have national service, JBP provides them with some structure and framing. And he’s better than Stormfront. And the PUAs (altho even the PUAs encourage young men to get their act together). Or MGTOW (3). But the Vox article is right to challenge him in so much as does the structure have to be so conservative? JBP employs highly imaginative means (combining elements of science and myth to fashion a compelling story) to arrive at a relatively boring end (the 50s, basically). I would love his ends to be as imaginative as his means.

    Finally, someone far more woke than I (4) would say that it’s great that political correctness makes you both uncomfortable. You are both middle-aged, white men who have led very privileged lives. These movements should make you uncomfortable. They are not for you.

    Now a valid rejoinder is that social justice movements can only work in a democracy when you bring the majority of people with you rather than just your elite cadre of wokeness. Even CEOs and economics professors can make meaningful contributions to the discourse. And refusing to discuss certain ideas about race and gender does not make them magically go away, it may simply mean that they arise in more toxic forms.

    These conversations will be uncomfortable. But I don’t think discomfort is a bad thing. As is an acknowledgement that we are all trying to work this out as best we can. So my questions back to you would be:
    – Which parts of “political correctness” do you think have value and which do not? (and Nicholas has alluded to this in his comments about “there’s more to be said for exclusivity in groups of people with little power”)
    – If “political correctness” is bad then what are the alternatives, if you believe that our society needs to change? (and if you don’t, then that question is irrelevant)
    – What might more productive alternatives to JBP’s model of masculinity look like?

    1. https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/faculty-research/publications/youre-still-same-why-theories-power-hold-over-time-across-contexts
    2. Academics seem to want to turn everything into a competition (doing well in exams, publishing). I don’t know why BF Skinner bothered building boxes when he could simply have sat in a university common room.
    3. These acronyms are investigated here (warning: if you hated that Vox article, you’ll REALLY hate this): http://www.wehuntedthemammoth.com/
    4. I actually respect you both. Which is why I have spent over 1000 words going through this.

    • paul frijters says:

      Hi Matt,

      I don’t mind the idea of political correctness, which is essentially the notion of using shaming to enforce social norms and happens in many, if not all societies. I object to some of the content of today’s political correctness.

      But just to confuse you, I actually do think white privilege exists. Indeed, some of my own work is often rolled out as key evidence for that proposition. So there is clear water between me and JP who openly denies the existence of white privilege.

      Conversations about the kind of society we want are important and fluid. A productive way to go about it is to note our ideals and then the discrepancy between the ideals and reality (ie the existence of white privilege) and then to discuss what we might do. A terrible and destructive way to go about it is to continually denounce the majority as inherently and perpetually evil. The logic of that stance is, ultimately, the break up of countries and civil war.

      • Paul
        “the majority as inherently and perpetually evil [ i.e. beyond redemption]” – that is a very pessimistic intrinsically authoritarian belief structure.
        Do you think that is a fair (or realistic) representation ?

        • paul frijters says:

          yes, I think it fair as a description of some of the political correctness going around. The little put-down at the end of the Vox article certainly reads like that.

          But I have hope. Electoral realities might provide a wake-up call long before a really nasty counter-push emerges. We’d then look back on this identity nastiness as a temporary blip, ‘one of those things’.

          • Nicholas Gruen says:

            I don’t think it’s a blip. It’s a ‘hack’ in a political debate – to go ‘meta’ at the drop of a hat and hijack the entire conversation. Can’t see that ending any time soon.

            • paul frijters says:

              I am not so sure. I think the leadership of many left-wing parties completely underestimate the degree to which their traditional supporters feel alienated by these incessant attacks on their identity.

              And of course, other considerations can overtake and marginalise a lot of this identity stuff. Basically any open threat to national integrity would marginalise this silliness overnight. To make the point: can you imagine the video above made on 9/12? Can you imagine any serious mention of the eternal patriarchy on 9/12? Or how you’re guilty because of what some white person supposedly did centuries ago?

              I feel the indulgence can’t last and the question is more what ends it sooner: a truly nasty push-back or a more immediate large threat that makes it obvious that we need to unite in a positive way.

              So yes, I have hope that this is but a blip.

  6. Nicholas
    Haven’t paid much attention to this guy. Could be wrong , but going off the Vox piece, JP sounds more like part of the American folk religion thread than anything else.
    To quote an Armenian Orthodox theologian :

    “folk religion is unreflective religious belief based largely, if not exclusively, on feelings (e.g., comfort), traditional folk ways (e.g., funeral practices), cliches (e.g., bumper sticker slogans) and devotional literature (including poems, songs, religion fiction, etc.). It thrives on urban myths (“evangelegends”) and unverifiable stories passed around among the faithful. It is unreflective and even resists reflection (especially critical reflection).” [ and it doesn’t need to be explicitly ‘religious ‘ either]

    Traveling shows that mixed homespun advice, faith healing, and music- entertainment run by people who had set up their own church, have a long popular history in the US.

  7. Matt Moore says:

    Re: Amateur Megalosaurusmania

    “Arguments were so much better in the old days ;)”

    Yes, we’d all go down the pub and engage in Socratic dialogue. A pint of the usual and some dactylic hexameters on the side please (scuse fingers).

    “I was making a different point – about megalomania. She can be all those things, without being a meglo.”

    It was quite a tricky point to parse. As I understand it, megalomania here means actively and openly pursuing power, wealth and fame? Or does it mean something else?

    My point is that Beyonce is obviously in pursuit of fame, power, wealth and adoration. Aristocrats usually are. But being openly in pursuit of these things is gauche. So you pretend not to be. You present as one thing but do something else. Now Beyonce did not inherit her position but her mode is that of the aristocrat. Of course, her husband is different. There’s no pretense with him. He’s all about the benjamins. Nouveau riche AF.

    Which brings us onto the point about the Amateur Sportsman. Amateurism was linked to being a gentleman. You didn’t have to grub for money in sport because your income came from elsewhere. And as a gentleman, you wanted to keep the riff-raff out. You wanted to operate in the aristocrat mode. The point about 20s and 30s inequality is that amateur sportsmen existed in a society where power and wealth were acquired mercilessly.

    As for Our Sainted Lord Bradman*, he may have signed autographs to prevent profiteering. Or he may just have liked signing autographs. He certainly did not avoid sponsorship and additional income streams.

    “A feature of the Bradman personality seen early was an intense acquisitiveness… in many respects Bradman was more a sportsman of our age than his”

    https://thenewdaily.com.au/sport/cricket/2014/01/28/shattering-bradman-myth/

    In fact, in his ambition, intelligence, aloofness and ruthlessness, he rather resembles Beyonce.

    *In John Howard’s original draft of the Australian citizenship test, applicants were required to swear a blood oath on one of Don’s bats.

  8. Matt Moore says:

    Identity Crisis

    ***An aside: The comment threading on this blog whereby statements get squashed into a smaller and smaller space so that you either give up or have to start again somewhere else is a. a brilliant metaphor for our political predicament and b. rubbish***

    “I think the leadership of many left-wing parties completely underestimate the degree to which their traditional supporters feel alienated by these incessant attacks on their identity.”

    Yes and no. My sense is that both left and right mainstream political parties are only loosely connected to the broader electorate and thus struggle to both relate to, and engage with, them. David Cameron’s bad bet on Brexit and the surprise takeover of the GOP by Trumpists indicate that this is not just a left-wing issue.

    However, it’s also the case that left-wing parties are unstable aggregates of their traditional working class bases living in a post-union world; middle-class, university educated liberals; and minority groups. This fracturing will continue. I think the leaders of these parties know this, they just don’t know what to do about it. They are frantically trying to hold everything together. N.B. Bill Shorten does not use the term “patriarchy” often.

    “Basically any open threat to national integrity would marginalise this silliness overnight”

    I dunno. I think the genie is out of the bottle on this. Nothing short of a mass mobilised war would create the kind of social unity that you want – and it would only do so at a terrible cost (I’m reminded of Walter Scheidel again).

    It’s more likely that political parties fracture and their constituents realign in new ways. Some historically “left-wing” groups (esp. aging working class voters) will go over to the populists or socially conservative, economically redistributionist parties that don’t exist yet. Some left-wing groups will find ways of creating “big tent” messages that work. Or may be they won’t.

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