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Why Jordan B Peterson Appeals to Me (And I Am on the Left)

As a writer who identifies as a leftist, and who sympathizes with Noam Chomsky’s anarcho-syndicalism on a root personal level, I should theoretically be joining the chorus of critics who have decided that Jordan Peterson is a reactionary.

In fact, Jordan Peterson has plenty of followers on the left, but watching the media climate surrounding his book release, you’d think he appeals only to the most reactionary, hyper-masculine discontents of the modern world. To be fair to the journalists, it is true that there are two Jordan Petersons. There is the lecturer, who juxtaposes mythological and religious themes with psychology and evolutionary biology, presenting a synthesis of science and religion, and then there is the social media culture warrior. Watching Peterson’s lectures versus watching snippets of him online, in recent interviews, you are watching two different men. It’s what the digital era does to people – it fragments them. Hundreds of hours of brilliant speeches are to be judged based on a few soundbites on Mic or Vice, or whatever dense abstractions can be made to look absurd by a political writer with no interest in Peterson’s field, such as Nathan Robinson.

But Peterson’s critics have barely engaged with his basic claims. Maps of Meaning is an attempt to take the wisdom of religion and ancient cultures and explain, through a contemporary lens of modern psychology, what these cultures got right. It is an attempt to revive the past as a source of deep knowledge, not wreckage to be discarded at the altar of scientific materialism, or a postmodern presentism.

Jordan B Peterson

Peterson’s argument is simple: repeated cultural symbols, in large part, represent aspects of our psychobiological nature, and many of these symbols have been expressed universally across cultures through myths, legends and archetypes.  Such symbols may include the snake swallowing its own tail (chaos) and the heroic individual (the Self emerging out of chaos). This Jungian work may be difficult to read, and to validate empirically, but it is not subjective mist. Its basic assumptions derive from neuroscience, evolutionary biology and developmental psychology. Unlike postmodern thought, Peterson’s work is built on synthesising what we know from the behavioural sciences with the vast accumulated record of mythological story-telling and what these stories tell us about human nature. It is an ambitious project that no other public intellectual has dared to provide in an age that is exhausted and cynical of grand narratives.

In a better world, Peterson’s critics would be helping him refine his theories and hone his argumentation, moving our cultural conceptions of human nature forward. Instead, the caliber of his critics, and their desire to completely dismiss Peterson as a fraud, have created parallel worlds that do not meet.

Of course, criticism of any public intellectual is always going to occur. Any person who promotes their ideas in the public sphere is going to be scrutinised, often robustly. But the hatchet jobs on Peterson have possessed a particularly malicious tone. One wonders if Western intellectuals as a class have simply become complacent, fat, and soft-in-the-head. In The Guardian and The Baffler, Peterson is a “charlatan”, who uses “quackery”, and is obsessed with “conspiracy theories” of postmodern dominance.

And yet, the “conspiracy” of a postmodern intellectual class becomes a reality when the mere mention of basic scientific facts is condemned as reactionary and immoral. There is a sickly resistance to science among the left-leaning media class, where solid psychometric findings are treated as a matter of moralizing opinion. No doubt, to Peterson’s critics, such findings as average sex differences in occupational interest, or in personality traits such as agreeableness, classify as “pseudoscience.” And no doubt to Peterson’s critics, the notion that cognitive ability, or intelligence, is not arbitrary, and is also heritable, is also “pseudoscience” despite the fact that findings on intelligence are some of the most robust and replicable in all of social science.

These science-blind assumptions do real damage. If we assume that cognitive ability doesn’t matter, and build a society on ruthless ideas of meritocracy where only the cognitive elite can succeed, we will produce a broken system that will produce many, many losers. If boys and men are repeatedly told that masculinity is essentially “toxic” and in need of suppression, this may produce a society of angry, repressed men. At every level of our civilization, human biology is relevant, and engaging with it thoughtfully could not be of more critical importance. If we can’t be honest about the biological aspects of our nature now, how will we possibly deal with debates going into the future? Discussions around gene editing, cognitive enhancement, even artificial intelligence and automation are more crucial than ever. But if we cannot even agree on the basic scientific facts about our own fallible nature, how can we possibly agree on the right ways to proceed?

In an article titled “Jordan Peterson’s Bullshitpublished in the Marxist magazine Jacobin, Harrison Fluss dismisses “real differences between men and women” without even attempting to address the research, let alone counter it.

Fluss’s viewpoint is so ideologically hammer-headed that his hit piece on Peterson argues that the tragedy of being does not come “from an inherently unknowable and mysterious world. It comes from capitalism.” Perhaps, if he had listened to Peterson’s lectures, he would understand that dramatic inequality not only preceded the industrial era, but also preceded the existence of humankind. If we want to do something about it (which we do), why pretend that suffering itself was a capitalist invention?

What is behind this near-uniform reaction from the moralizing, young, intellectual, media class? I almost certainly know what it is: guilt.

Living in a world of inequality, material and otherwise, inspires a profound sense of guilt that can only be suppressed by rejecting all claims to material hierarchy, human nature, and all the tragic inequalities that follow. It’s a sensible impulse, from the perspective of public virtue. I’m sure it feels like the right thing to do. But for the interests of building a cohesive society through the pursuit of truth, it could not be more maladapted.

I identify much more as a leftist than a conservative or a liberal. I have, for most of my life, opposed capitalism, and considered the capitalist world to be akin to fallen nature, a corrupted Eden. But the fatal problem for the left is that these grand, large-scale beliefs offer nothing in the way of defeating personal nihilism and cosmic futility. Peterson’s ideas, and the psychology of religion put forth in Maps of Meaning, resonate with me at a level much deeper than politics. Peterson’s lectures strive to illustrate the soul of the individual, something that is ultimately more compelling than any collective scheme to save the world from itself.

The problem is simple: journalists guilty about inequality portray Peterson as an anti-trans, Cold War lunatic. Then, people who read that commentary and end up watching videos from his Biblical Series, or his Maps of Meaning lectures, do not find a right-wing radical. Instead, they find a passionate lecturer against authoritarianism who is deeply invested in a symbolic, archetypal understanding of human nature. Now, they realize that all these left-leaning outlets have lied to them. Instead of exposing a bigot, they’ve smeared a serious scholar.

Then, the ordinary person’s distrust of the left only deepens.

Even Peterson’s radically-titled videos, such as “Identity Politics and the Marxist Lie of White Privilege, do not focus on race, and are instead long lectures about individualism and the history of the Soviet Union. Yes, I find it unlikely that modern social justice movements have much in common with Stalin or Mao, and I think Peterson overestimates the organization and power of the modern left. But when complicated individuals, particularly existentialist Christians who argue for “Darwinian pragmatism”, are judged by a few soundbites, it creates an intellectual atmosphere of stagnation and spiritless conformity.

After all, those who consider acknowledging sex differences to be sexist cannot possibly be allowed to dictate the limits of acceptable discourse. Those who think that intelligence is an entirely subjective construct should not be allowed sit on the sidelines and tell everyone to get an elite education, drowning themselves into debt trying to learn skills they may not even be able to learn. The US military does not induct anyone with an IQ below 83 explicitly because intelligence is real, and predicts meaningful outcomes.

But to the postmodern left, all of this is completely, and totally taboo. There is no such thing as a “universal human nature” that is influenced by biology. To suggest that would be to “reinforce the status quo” and to suggest that, as Cathy Newman said, “we should model our societies in the image of the lobster”.

Peterson is accused of raising a postmodern boogeyman, but his core claim about postmodernism is true. In postmodern literature, there is no truth outside of discourse. The implications of that are devastating – it means that any scientific findings that make us uncomfortable do not emerge from objective reality, but are themselves constructs, or products of “straight white male bias”. If it is discovered that men and women differ in their interests, occupational choices or in certain personality traits, those findings are already part of a “discourse” on sexism, and cannot be objective. If you want to ruin Western civilization and break the sciences, you’d do no better than to make people believe that the scientific method is a tool of oppression.

The neo-Marxist addition to postmodernism may also seem sloppy, until you understand that any scientific inquiry confirming differences amongst people is ideologically incompatible with the Marxist faith that a world can exist with total equality. Marxist assumptions about a world without any natural hierarchy or limitations suppress a real understanding of individual differences. Worse, they also harm the working class by pretending that equality of outcome is possible, that men and women are identical, and that issues such as cognitive ability are only a concern of “fascists”. They destroy the study of society by attributing all difference to social oppression rather than actually understanding the issues at hand.

But the self-deception doesn’t end there. The choir of critics are utterly confused – they wish to argue that Peterson is a reactionary who is opposed to Enlightenment values, but at the same time they dismiss entirely his empirical work as a research psychologist, and practical experience as a clinician. These writers want to present Peterson’s illustration of the dominance hierarchies of lobsters as the equivalent of “pick-up artists” who fetishize domination and victory—as if there isn’t an entire field of science devoted to understanding the deep evolutionary significance of animal behavior. Here, the left’s scientific illiteracy is again painful. The authors of The Bafflers “A Serious Man” cite “lazy science”, and consider problematic the notion that all people share an “innate psychobiological basis” which gives rise to universally appealing mythological narratives. They decry the notion that there could be such a thing that constitutes human nature, and consider it a reactionary attempt to avoid “alter[ing] our customs through rational critique”.

But this is all backwards! In order to alter anything, we must first understand it. To propose that an innate psychobiological human nature, which has been reflected in our cultural and mythological symbols, is a problem rather than a depiction, is the reason why the left is so incapable of changing the world. Carl Jung wrote in The Undiscovered Self that human beings, without knowledge of their individual and universal nature, will always collapse their rationality into the appeal of fascism and self-destructive movements. The Undiscovered Self is a deep appeal for knowledge of our universal human nature. Such knowledge, argued Jung, would be the basis from which an individual could behave thoughtfully.

This is the founding notion of Peterson’s project, as simply as it can be put: to offer self-knowledge in place of ideological fantasies of overthrowing the world.

Self-knowledge can only emerge from an honest confrontation with nature. Peterson simply points to biological mechanisms, hierarchies and differences that have been produced by hundreds of millions of years of evolution, and argues that this is the foundation we have to work with.

To be clear, I do not think that hundreds of millions of years of Darwinian evolution determines the future – but I also cautiously understand that if we seek to change ourselves, we cannot lie to ourselves about what our history has entailed. There is cooperation in nature, but as individuals, distinct from one another, we require judgements, values and hierarchies to differentiate ourselves and find meaning. If everyone is the same, and no hierarchies of quality can be established, then life returns to chaos: the Ouroboros, the ancient symbol of the snake swallowing its own tail, the place where there is no objectivity, no knowledge, only warmth and desire.

A 17th-century depiction of the serpent eating its own tail.

And once we go there, we’re living in denial, and the world will bully and beat us, and we will lack any defense other than the eternal cry that capitalism is responsible for it all, and so leftist ideology itself becomes a self-perpetuating hell where nothing can be done. The individual level, as Peterson, Jung, Emerson, Rumi and countless other thinkers in dialogue with both nature and the ephemeral soul understood, is the place to focus your attention. Until individuals are honest, the sum total of those individuals will be a mess of self-deception.

The blank slate journalists, in rejecting human nature and its individual manifestations, are rejecting their power to change the world they despise. As long as the media class dismisses descriptive analogies of human society and biological hierarchy as innately wrong for moral reasons, we will be no better than the religious dogmatists who rejected inconvenient science centuries ago.

So finally, I put forward a plea to my fellow travelers on the left, who view our ancient biological nature as an obstacle to progress: we must first come to terms with material reality and human nature if we ever seek to change it. Until we do that, we’ll remain culturally stagnant, and the most unscrupulous actors on the far right, and in totalitarian governments, will seize upon dominance hierarchies and difficult scientific studies to justify their horrible crimes. The left needs to get on board with understanding human nature, because it is through understanding, not denial, that real progress can be made.

 

Alexander Blum’s writing focuses on politics, mysticism and fiction. Visit his website here and follow him on Twitter @AlexanderBlum0.

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137 Comments

  1. Welcome to the Right! (And there are plenty of anti-capitalist Rightists in history, they just don’t get much play in the Leftist Academy or at the donor-funded Conservative Think Tanks. All the German Conservative Revolutionary figures, Georges Sorel & Company, and the Third Position crowd were pretty anti-bourgeois and anti-capitalist.)

    But seriously, how does it feel to be one of the scary hate-filled pseudo-scientific reactionary bastards clinging to your privilege in a futile attempt to thwart the telos of History?

    • This kind of flippant, narrow conception of the possibilities for political thought is exactly why a leftist hasn’t written this kind of piece before.

      • Rod Paynter says

        Methinks your sarcasm meter needs adjusting!

      • Meh says

        It may be flippant but is it really narrow? What does it mean to say that one is “on the Left” if they’re willing to acknowledge the possibility that socioeconomic disparities can be explained in terms of innate differences? Is it not the Left’s whole shtick to say that inequality must be the result of society being setup in such a way that some groups are favored at the expense of others, and that an egalitarian vision of society could be achieved if only we had the will to suitably reorder our world.

        • Hey, I just wanted to respond to this comment because it strikes at the core of something that will become increasingly necessary to specify and delineate. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that capitalism is flawlessly meritocratic and selects the most intelligent and hard-working individuals all the time. That still leaves tremendous problems to be solved because IQ and trait conscientiousness are a cosmic genetic lottery. If any decent-paying job becomes restricted based on these inborn and coincidental factors of the genetics and zip code a person is born into, then what we still have is a kind of neo-feudalistic society where birth determines ability. We can say that’s “natural”, but in no way is it good if it means that a decent salary and a decent life are barred off to the bulk of people. The distinction between “natural” and “moral” is the very struggle of our humanity overcoming our reptilian and primate roots. It has the potential to backfire tremendously (Soviet Union). But we cannot simply push the problem out of mind, and tell citizens of a supposedly free and democratic nation that their class should always be determined by birthright. The contradictions will not hold.

          • Meh says

            Greetings Alexander! I very much share your concerns with regards to the disturbing implications you describe. However, in order to prevent something like that from happening, we need to be able to openly discuss the reality of our situation as human beings so that our political efforts can be effective as well as morally responsible. It may serve the interests of both the political Left and global capitalism to pretend that human beings are (more or less) fungible widgets that can be remolded as necessary, but I think we’ll need to let go of this belief and the egalitarian idealism it supports in order to find a workable solution to the problem you outline. We can’t avoid the “neo-feudalistic” future you envision so long as we can’t acknowledge the forces that will bring it about without fear of running afoul of some cultural taboo.

          • Alexander, you summarize the central thesis of the Bell Curve.

            Charles Murray is, per the SPLC, a “right-wing extremist” and sometimes even called a “white nationalist” (no one told the AEI), and someone who we are permitted to use violence against because he makes arguments and refers to data that people don’t like, and because Hitler and the Holocaust or something. IQ is “pseudoscience” per Vox and Salon.

            You raise what should be a compelling and important concern, but I don’t see how you acquit yourself of associating with “scary hate-filled pseudo-scientific reactionary bastards.” I don’t see how the Soviet Justice system can give you less than a fiver at Gulag.

            Have you ever noticed that Leftist don’t make arguments, or refer to data, or engage in anything like rationality at all, they call be people names, and when they can’t call people names, they associate people with people they can call names, and then they call them names due to association? Ever notice that this was the same thing the Inquisition and the Gestapo did? Just different names.

          • Dave says

            I would be tempted to think that that logic about distribution is a bit backward, it’s overly simplistic to say that only IQ affects wealth, however, instead of just thinking of money, we have to think of final outcome in therms of quality of life.

            No matter what the rules are, everything else being equal the person with a better IQ will somehow be better at seizing opportunities.

            Now it does not mean that we have to have a society that gives outrageously low wage to those who end up not being physicists or lowly engineers, and that those who are gifted who happen to not be born in “high society” have proper access to the education they need to fully develop their skills.

            What we need is a society just, and fair enough to give everyone the opportunity to be the best possible version of themselves, be it the next Einstein, or Joe the Plumber. That if someone makes a really big mistake or falls sick that they don’t fall so low that they can never get back up on their feet.

            So we need a bit of well placed socialism in our free market, yet people need the market to be free enough so that the next re-invention of the toaster can happen!

          • ADM64 says

            IQ has a genetic component, of course, but it is not entirely genetically determined, and certainly not in just one direction. Trait conscientiousness is not a cosmic genetic lottery. That is a fallacy. Character can be built consciously. Furthermore, the notion that a person who lacks an IQ of 140 is somehow destined for failure in a capitalist society is absurd.

            The basic morality of capitalism comes from the fact that it, and it alone, of all the social and economic systems ever devised recognizes, protects and allows people to use their mind and to control their labor, to the limits of their talents. It does not necessarily select the most intelligent and hard-working people (whom, in any event, should not be conflated). But whether it does or not is not the issue. No other system is more apt to do so.

            The notion that a decent job is beyond the reach of “ordinary” people is likewise at odds with the entire history of capitalism. The societies where one sees a kind of neo-feudalistic structure, with birth, not ability, determining position are, alas, characteristic of non-capitalist societies. Moreover, in our own country, we see this sort of stratification precisely in the most progressive states: California is an exceptionally good example of this.

            Your article was decent and I respect you for posting it, but I think your comment is trading in a lot of package-dealing, and there are many facts missing from it. Natural and moral are not more related than you’ve actually recognized. I do not think anyone is telling people in a free society that their class will be determined by their birth. Historically, capitalism in the US said precisely the opposite, and the country was full of examples proving just that.

          • Nicholas says

            I think you’re making a couple of unwarranted inferences, first among them assuming that people who believe in free Enterprise are necessary social darwinists. Charity and social service provision for the poor has been a long-standing project of the well-off, only curtailed in recent decades by the state. For instance, have you ever wondered why so many older hospitals are name “Saint” so and so? Think about it. Second, it’s all well and good to assert that everyone deserves a “decent salery and a decent life” in the abstract, but why stop there? Why can’t everyone be millionaires, or better billionaires, and why would they ‘deserve’ to be so any less? Without defining a mechanism for such a right to material well-being, there is no way to say people deserve one or the other in principle. While one may seem ridiculous, and the other reasonable, they share the same logical standing.

            Capitalism (roughly) says your standard of living is determined by the value you add to your community and society. If you want a good life, *find a way to improve the lives of your neighbors*. While in no way perfect, it at least has its roots firmly planted in the twin virtues of mutual-assent and aligned incentives. Maybe people with higher iqs are better at serving their neighbors, but isn’t serving their neighbors good?

            Now let’s think back to the first day of econ 101: upward sloping supply curve, downward sloping demand curve. How does that effect pie production? Well, there’s the standard supply story: raising the cost of production (taxing) means less production takes place. Targeting the highest producers with the highest taxes disproportionately curtails production, the pie shrinks faster. Sure, says the socialist, but who cares about how much pie there is if not fairly diatributed? Wait, that’s only half the story, look at the demand side! What happens when pie is in short supply? It gets expensive; who is going to be able to afford more expensive pie? Not the poor. What would happen if we increase the supply of pie instead? The cost drops. If we want pie (i.e. a ‘decent’ life) to be within reach of the poor, the best way is to *en*courage, not *dis*courage pie production. This is why, despite what may seem like egregius inequality in the United States, people living at the ‘poverty line’ here are in the top quintile of global wealth distribution, and a full 40% of Americans are in the top dectile. Almost everyone complaining about the financial elite are unwittingly its members. This is the magic of capitalism, a rising tide really does lift all boats.

          • ADM64 : “IQ has a genetic component, of course, but it is not entirely genetically determined, and certainly not in just one direction. Trait conscientiousness is not a cosmic genetic lottery. That is a fallacy.”

            Good points. Alas we know very little about how to improve IQ by non genetic means, though we know a little more about how to damage it. But while trait conscientiousness may be mostly genetic inheritance, people who are not naturally conscientious are generally capable of acting conscientiously with effort. And incentive breeds effort.

            The question seems to be – how should society structure itself in relation to conscientiousness ? Should the non naturally conscientious be incentivised to behave more conscientiously ? It seems that :

            (a) conscientiousness is not equally distributed in the genetic lottery, and
            (b) conscientiousness has significant positive externalities for other members of society

            So rewarding conscientiousness is (a) unfair and (b) good for society. In the last fifty years or so, Western societies seem to have preferred to emphasise (a) and de-emphasise (b). The unfairness of allowing the non conscientiousness of the not naturally conscientious to cause them relative disadvantage is, we seem to think, worse than having society suffer the consequences of having lots of unreformed non conscientious folk milling about letting other people down all the time.

          • ccscientist says

            You object to the most intelligent and hard-working getting ahead. And yet, no one on the Left has a problem with athletes, musicians, and actors getting the benefits of winning the cosmic lottery of birth. Why is it so bad? I am not athletic but I cultivated the talents I do have and did well. Furthermore, working hard and staying out of jail is not an inherited trait, though it may be cultural.

          • Daniel says

            There is a tendency on the left (more than a tendency) to focus on bank account balances. But consider this: the money a millionaire makes does not even come close to the value he provides to his customers. If you buy a truck for example, the cost of the truck is a fraction of the value you derive from the truck. Any thing you buy will always be much cheaper than the value you get from that thing. So it follows that, even though the millionaire has more money, his customers got the better deal.

          • Slawek says

            I think you present quite strange idea of capitalism.

            “Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that capitalism is flawlessly meritocratic and selects the most intelligent and hard-working individuals all the time.”

            “any decent-paying job becomes restricted based on these inborn and coincidental factors”

            I see two assumptions here:
            1. Capitalism selects people, whatever that would mean
            2. Capitalism only wants the best

            Both assumptions are completely wrong. Capitalism only means preserving freedom and property. In such system some people achieve more then the other and it depends on their traits, but everybody gets as much as he contributes.

            You are probably mislead by our contemporary system where capitalism lives side by side with legalized theft, mainly in banking. This theft makes it very difficult for poor people to earn decent living, but it has nothing to do with capitalism. The thieves just steal too much for themselves.

            As you probably have no idea what kind of theft I have in mind you can read a quick version at https://www.mises.ca/the-fraud-in-fractional-reserve-banking/ or a long version at https://mises.org/library/mystery-banking

        • To be on the left means to recognize that although there are differences between people making some more successful than others, there are also those who make massive amounts of wealth by simply leveraging the wealth they already have, and that the extreme inequalities that come from this should be compensated for through taxation and welfare systems, to make sure the competitive environment doesn’t become fatal for those who are neither brilliant nor wealthy, without forcing complete equality of outcome.

          • The idea that there are “those who make massive amounts of wealth by simply leveraging the wealth they already have” is mistaken. Unless you mean by “leveraging” applying the intelligence, imagination, hard work and risk taking. Obviously good luck plays a large role, but good luck is impossible to distinguish from putting yourself in a position to take opportunities. So in a class of 30, one person may finish up with a lucky $10m jackpot when the company she works for is taken over and her stock options pay out big time. Other old classmates may work just as hard in other companies, but those companies never get taken over and there’s no jackpot. Pure luck. Except that no members of the class that choose to go into teaching or social work will ever scoop that jackpot. So not pure luck. A mixture of luck and seizing opportunities. (Which is not to suggest that teaching is a worthless profession, merely that its prospects for generating jackpots are predictable.)

            In the olden days, a family with land might preserve its wealth for generations by sitting on the land for a couple of centuries – though even then there were plenty of prodigal sons blowing everything within a few years. Inherited wealth tends to dissipate very quickly unless strongly buttressed by political power. These days “massive amounts of wealth” come from three sources :

            (a) founding a successful business
            (b) working 100 hours a week in a pressure cooker job requiring very high IQ and very high industriousness
            (c) political graft

            It would be silly to pretend that luck didn’t make a large contribution to the quantum of the pay off for (a) and (b). But there’s no way of taxing the luck without taxing the effort and ingenuity. Tax the luck to death and you’ll do the same for the effort and ingenuity, because you can’t separate the effects of luck from the rest.

            (c) – unless we’re actively involved in it ourselves – we can all agree to do without. Suggestions on a postcard please.

          • ccscientist says

            Please give an example of those “simply leveraging the wealth they already have”. You might say Trump but he was building actual buildings and taking risks (he almost went bankrupt). Other billionaires have started companies that made people’s lives better. Using money to make money can only be done by investing in or creating a business that makes or does something people need. How is this bad?

      • “I sympathize with the goals of the Left” [of course you do, they are utopian], “but I am not willing to cooperate with the Big Lie due to my sense of integrity, but I consider myself a Leftist.”

        Perfectly fair thing to think, but if you are not cooperating with the Big Lie, you make yourself an enemy of the Left. The fact is we all want utopia, but some of us noticed that denunciations of enemies, political correctness, social repression of enemies, propaganda campaigns, spending tax money on useless feelgood programs and the rest of it won’t lead to utopia.

        Arthur Jensen, probably correctly denounced as a racist, in 1968 predicted all the Federal interventions to close educational gaps would not work, because educational outcomes correlate with IQ, and we don’t know how to change IQ. Guess what the results of head start, and special education are? Has utopia eluded us because people like Jensen are allowed to exist and publish, or does utopia elude us because we don’t know how to get there, and pretending we do, doubling down on failed programs, and denouncing critics won’t bring us there any quicker.

        • Meh says

          I submit that appending the phrase “but I consider myself a Leftist” to the above doesn’t represent allegiance to a substantive political claim but a plea for leftists to not vent their wrath at a fellow traveler. Many on the right are quite capable of rejecting the Big Lie while acknowledging that utopia is a nice thought. Hence, my question as to what it even means for someone to be “on the Left” once the Big Lie is rejected in anything other than a nominal sense.

  2. This is fabulous–I don’t agree with everything, but on the major points you wrote the essay that the Left needed to read. Even the Chapo guys admit that these problematic prescriptions of Peterson’s arise from the failure of the Left to provide their own narrative for values and meaning. I think there are a lot of problems with Peterson–but that’s why robust, serious criticism is warranted, not why we should dismiss him.

    Most of all, thank you for bringing up The Undiscovered Self. That book changed my entire approach to politics and made me a happier person. Indeed, I think my biggest gripe with Peterson is the way Jung is getting dragged through the mud because of him!

  3. Rob Darling says

    Peterson is a Liberal. Not right wing. Apparently that is difficult for some folks to understand. But then the definition of Liberal has been mutilated by the right and the left.

    • Dave says

      I am fairly sure he used to say he considered himself right-of-center when he was interviewed back in late 2016 or so, but I may be wrong… anyway, it struck me as strange the first time I heard him say that he considered himself a liberal (however, I am fairly sure he knows more than me where he stands).

      And don’t ask me to produce evidence, he was on so many interviews, it just struck me the first time I heard him say he was a liberal.

      • ESKM says

        To be right-leaning to any extent in these times is likely, because the political spectrum has shifted left whilst half of people still land on one side of the liberal-conservative psychological bell curve distribution and one half on the other. It’s only ideology that’s distorting this.

      • commonparlance says

        I’m pretty he would consider himself a “classical” liberal, the way all these “intellectual dark web” guys do. Classical liberals believe that free speech, property rights, pursuit of happiness, etc are the most important values, as opposed to what you might call equality of outcomes, which is what the Left is often accused of attempting. One can be right or left of center and still be a liberal in this sense. In fact, this is the way the word liberal is used pretty much everywhere on the planet outside the US.

  4. John says

    If we’re lucky, Post Modernism, rather than swallowing or coughing up Peterson, will choke on him.

  5. Thank you Alexander. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Despite being a life-long member of the UK Labour Party, I have become increasingly alarmed by how extreme leftist thinking has become in recent years. I have to admit to having had a few “Oh my God, maybe I’m a conservative” moments in that time frame.

    • benaud says

      Do you think it’s that what was conservative political space now includes libertarians, classical liberals and good ole tories?

      I am a staunch unionist, social liberal but find myself politically homeless and looking at the conservatives.

      I don’t support them, but am looking at them.

      • DiscoveredJoys says

        I consider myself to be a Classic Liberal (UK terminology, see also Wikipedia). I am socially progressive and financially conservative (small ‘c’). No UK political party proclaims this, but the Conservative and Unionist Party (big ‘C’) comes closest.

        • Bill says

          No US political party proclaims this either. The blue dog democrats are a thing of the past and they were closest. Now neither party is fiscally conservative and it’s just a matter of extremes on the social size as if being “socially liberal” means you have to agree with every numbskull idea of the far far left fringe.

          Take for example the “gay marriage” debate. I wasn’t for the government proclaiming recognition of gay marriage. I get called fascist nazi homophobe, of course, because the Left doesn’t get that…the Government shouldn’t need to recognize anything! The only reason the government is involved is for taxes. Marriage LICENSE is a tax. Funny how spending $5 to travel to a location for a government issued ID to vote is “OMG!!!! EVIL!” but mandating $50+ for a license to wed is ok. This will cause Muslims to HATE us and attack us! But yet, this must be done or we will cry IMPEACH!

      • TarsTarkus says

        If you don’t support wholeheartedly the program of the Left, you are an enemy of the left, therefore you are a bigot or a Nazi or something. You cannot get on their good side because you weren’t always with them or thought about not being with them. Conservatives and moderates may not like you, may not agree with you, but they won’t pillory you or try to make you go into hiding and force you from your livelihood for it.

    • Jennifer says

      “OMG, maybe I’m a Conservative.” Exactly what I thought, sister. 🙂

  6. Jason says

    Refreshingly honest piece with great insights – thank you Alexander.

  7. “I put forward a plea to my fellow travelers on the left, who view our ancient biological nature as an obstacle to progress”

    Biology is not the obstacle for the left. It is US global hegemony, militarism, poverty. You don’t sound like a leftist to me.

    • Sam Butler says

      That’s good to hear! I look forward to more conversations with leftists about how biology has shaped sex differences and human nature.

    • Mawe says

      I think he was referring to the philosophical obstacles for leftist thought in general, not pragmatic, practical issues the left is facing that you mentioned, which makes me think this whole article just flew over your head.

      Being dismissive about things like this without giving them any critical response is why people are turned off by leftist movements in general. It’s because of people who have a hard time with mental gymnastics taking a vocal forefront position in leftist discourse. Being willfully ignorant of underlying philosophical issues is the main thing that’s undermining progress here.

      I’m glad you wrote this article. It echoes some of the thoughts I’ve been trying to communicate to my left-leaning friends for a few years now.

    • tony says

      “Biology is not the obstacle for the left. It is US global hegemony, militarism, poverty.”

      Really? The left barely mentions those things. It’s way too busy talking about transsexuals and feminism. One can be a pro-war neoliberal and the left will accept them, but one can not be a social conservative socialist and belong to the left.

      • We have different definitions of left. Mine refers to the Latin American left, which is the global gold standard of leftism, which is anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist. Your definition refers to the anglospheric left, which is a pantomime and of absolutely no consequence.

        • You are correct, of course, Rosa. But the “anglosphere left” is a pantomime of no consequence precisely because of some of the problems outlined in this article.

          It’s a boring old history, but the left must still pay attention to history. Beginning with the splintering of the New Left of the 60s into hippoid quietism vs socialist radicalism vs women’s liberation, the anglosphere left has slowly been subsumed by a kind of radical liberalism and as always liberalism and capitalism and its twin imperialism go together like bread and jam.

          In the contemporary pantomime anglosphere left, capitalism is not the enemy; patriarchy is the enemy. Capitalism is not the enemy; white supremacy is the enemy. Capitalism gives birth to patriarchy, according to this schema, in spite of patriarchal societies going as far back in the mists of time as we can discern. Capitalism gives birth to white supremacy, in spite of capitalist societies where Han Chinese supremacy suppresses everyone else and Hindu supremacy bursts out and pogroms non-Hindus.

          The pantomime left in the anglosphere is nothing other than radical liberalism and as such will never ever effectively oppose capitalism because it is the religion that provides the theological basis for capitalism.

          Alexander’s article is about the oddball phenomenon we are witnessing wherein the anglosphere left expends more energy on viciously underhanded attacks on a modified Jungian-Existentialist intervention into the public dialogue than it does on opposing war, analyzing cultural imperialism, or detailing the depredations of capitalism. Alexander, it seems to me, is calling for a revaluation of leftist values in the anglosphere.

          So maybe tone down the sneering dismissal and reach out the hand of international solidarity?

          I have met a few Latin American leftists in my life and without fail they were all children of the upper-middle classes. So if you don’t mind sharing, Rosa, what does your daddy do?

          • “Alexander, it seems to me, is calling for a revaluation of leftist values in the anglosphere.”

            If so, I liked yours much more than his.

            “So maybe tone down the sneering dismissal and reach out the hand of international solidarity?”

            Perhaps we both should. As to the Latin American left being a upper-middle class phenomenon, you are wrong. There are the Zapatistas (and Zapata himself), the Water Wars in Cochabamba, Lula and Evo Morales who come from very humble, labor backgrounds, and much, much more. Perhaps your perception is colored by the people you hang around with? If so, I am proud you have met leftists among the upper-middle class; the more, the better. As to my dad, he is a mine worker, spokesperson for the union, with the CIA breathing down his neck.

          • Rosa: Thank you for preferring my revaluation. I also like it better.

            And nice to meet you. My father was a union steward in the UEW for many years, one of the most leftwing unions in Canada at the time.

            I met upper-middle class leftists from Colombia and Nicaragua years ago when I was teaching English in a program for refugees. Possibly just the luck of the draw, but without fail our students from working class backgrounds tended to lean right and the doctor’s kids etc tended to the left.

  8. kris says

    Peterson’s real point is how pointless Western society is becoming.
    The World has changed a great deal since 9/11 and the internet revolution, but the left seems like a horse with blinkers trotting along the same worn out old path they have been treading for decades.
    China is developing at an alarming rate and building what are quite obviously military bases in the South china sea. Russia is rebuilding its cold war status under a clever unopposed power tyrant. North Korea is on the verge of Nuclear implosion. India is also exercising it’s military muscles for a likely war with Pakistan and Islam is becoming more popular than Christianity.
    Meanwhile all the Left cares about is the pronouns demanded of LGBT’s and the BLM and #MEEMEE movements. The old mantra that all we have to do is spread our “sweet, inclusive love for all message” more effectively around the world and eventually we will all emerge onto the sunlit plains of utopia. This was always a very unrealistic, naive concept but ten times more so in the present climate. What Peterson is ultimately saying is we in the West need to brace up and realise that everyone in the world is not equal or intrinsically the same as us.
    The rest of the world does not think like us , it does not want the same things we want and we need to develop a more robust independent culture that will be able to deal with these unpredictable and unsympathetic forces in our midst.in order for our very survival.

    • romain dupuy says

      You could not be any closer from the truth. I live in thailand for 17years and work in various asian “dictatorship” like China for a long while. And the most important thing is to learn how other think and view things. Chinese are so far away from our preoccupations as western social advocates. Their set of values are different. People know their place, and accept it or work twice harder to strive. The only difference is that the social liberalism of China creates a true social ladder that the west lost long ago for political reasons ( I believe the left is responsible for this, and the creation of Double standard because of the focus on equality of outcome… )

    • tony says

      Russian military is pretty much defensive. They lack the logistical capacity to invade other countries. Americans are the tyrants of the world, constantly engaged in illegal wars of aggression.

      • MadKangaroo says

        “Russian military is pretty much defensive. They lack the logistical capacity to invade other countries. ”

        Ukraine and Georgia beg to differ, as do all the former Eastern Block nations, Central Asia, Syria, and Afghanistan.

        • Dave Butler says

          More neocon propaganda with no evidence Here is the reality: Russia did not invade the Ukraine, rather it was the US who overthrew the government and put lunatics in charge. Georgia was invaded by Russia only after their aggression and then left. Syria invited Russia to help fight the various Western-backed jihadist groups, and Afghanistan was invaded by the Soviet Union, which does not exist anymore. The Eastern block nations were also taken by the Soviet Union, which, once again, does not exist anymore. It is amazing how many people still think that Russia = Soviet Union and that Russia is communist.

          • Russia used to be a mafioso autocracy with a communist ideology. Now it’s just a mafioso autocracy. If there’s any ideology left it’s closer to fascist than anything else. But Russia is just not very important any more. It’s still got a lot of rockets, but its conventional forces are so clapped out they wouldn’t last twenty minutes in a war with the US. And its economy is, if anything, even more pathetic than it was in Soviet days. Its only real resource is a good stock of highly intelligent people. The resource is wasted by….being a mafioso autocracy.

            But culturally learned techniques survive regime change. The Gulag had much milder precursors in the Tsarist regime, and the Putin regime is quite familiar with Soviet tactics, including making up propaganda excuses for military aggression – feeble excuses but good enough to convince the West’s ample supply of useful idiots – and murdering regime enemies on foreign turf – which the Russians, Soviet and post Soviet, have been doing on a regular basis since the 1920s.

            Post Soviet foreign policy can be summed up in a sentence. Do whatever can be done to keep the oil price as high as possible (since aside from herpes, oil and gas are Russia’s only exports.) This usually means trying to foment as much trouble as possible in oily trouble spots. Fracking is, by an order of magnitude, the West’s most effective “back-in-your-box-Vlad” policy.

    • George Ambrose says

      Excellent framing of the discussion. The context you have highlighted should make us all feel, “unsafe” to use a current over used phrase that characterizes a common lesftist sentiment.

  9. romain dupuy says

    Thank you for the piece. I myself grew up in French socialism and communism ( both my parents were part of mai68 ). I always voted left or even far-left for the past french presidential. But discovering the such as Peterson or even Shapiro ( in a lesser extent ) opened up my eyes on different perspective. I used to love chomsky, I take him a lot more lightly nowadays as I found him lacking values and never talk about personal responsibility ( one of my favorite part of peterson’s lectures… we are master of our game unless we become too agreeable)
    Anyway… I consider myself anarchist ( the chomsky roots ) but a liberal anarchist. Sounds weird ? Actually it is compatible. As a business man I would rather have a free market among free countries… I am still a leftist, but I finally realize the difference between liberalism and capitalism ( which I am really against )
    Than you again for this piece. I wish the left will learn from people like Peterson on how one can express an opinion that can resonate to multiple leaning people without being extreme.

  10. I’m far from being a leftist, but your article made me happy – finally a leftist that understands what he’s talking about! I mean, I tried to read Pankaj’s piece on the NYB, but the article was composed of such a delusional rambling that I stopped in the middle, with all my patience gone, and was sure that because of people like him we would be guaranteed to have a second term for Trump.

    Thanks for your article, even if I disagree here and there. It has intellectual honesty.

  11. I’m endlessly astonished by those on the left who somehow continue to believe that those ideas will somehow result in more ‘fairness.’ What amount of contrary evidence is necessary for them to learn that merely the endless application of failed leftist ideas will not result in different outcomes?

    It is cute that the writer thinks that Jordan Peterson is semi-correct within a narrow leftist band. But the greater question is the same. Find an instance on earth where pouring on socialist theory has resulted in more benefits for more people than just letting capitalism do its job.

    • Softclocks says

      Are you willing to accept socialist policies or will you flat out refuse anything that is not from a “purely socialist state”? As is often the case whenever someone on the right is presented with cases of unmitigated success.

      • Bill says

        An example from a discussion I had with a Leftist friend this morning: The Left is against arming teachers. The Left is also against police officers in schools since it promotes the alleged school to prison pipeline for minorities. Yet the Left also cheers for the officer in Maryland who killed the gunman at the school. I asked…was that gentleman a cop or a teacher — or do you want to have just a trained random person (not a cop, not a teacher) loitering in the schools? They were also against the idea of hiring armed Veterans to do it because you know…PTSD and all.

      • Chester Draws says

        There is no “free” health care anywhere, and never will be. I think you mean universal healthcare funded by general taxation.

        Some countries have very successful versions of it. However many of them are capitalist countries with free market economies. New Zealand and Singapore are countries with state funded healthcare, yet are countries with very small state sectors and very free markets.

        Socialism tries to run the whole economy. Social Democrats let the state only run what it thinks it provides best and leaves business to itself. They should not be confused.

  12. Chris. says

    There’s a few good articles around about this whole drama but yours is right up there with the best. Thank you so much.

  13. Alex says

    Awesome article, #1 on that topic, right from start!

    The author rightfully appropriates conservative ideas, while expressing interest in Chomsky-esques principles (although Chomsky does not prescribe anarcho-syndicalism for an entire country, rather as areas of continuous experiments, away from political influence and networks of power).

    What’s the author view point with regards to the libertarian/authoritarian paradigm that may define our political landscape? What would be an adequate formalism to present it as a valid depiction of our time ?

  14. Emanuel says

    Outstanding piece, and exceptionally even-handed. You managed to tread a challenging tight-rope – bravo!

  15. ga gamba says

    The progs have neglected to recognise Peterson has consistently stated both the left and the right need each other to mitigate their own weaknesses; his dispute is with both radical left and right, i.e. the identitarians.

    One wonders if Western intellectuals as a class have simply become complacent, fat, and soft-in-the-head.

    The peril of group think. When one ideological point of view so dominates all others the debate moves intra-group resulting in factions battling over whose dogma is the purest and purging those who dare to voice even minimal objections. It is astonishing to see time and time again large groups of academics penning public letters against fellow colleagues, most of whom are left-wing, and invited speakers, often right-wing, whilst all other academics (with tenure!) keep their heads down. You’d think an organisation such as Jonathan Haidt’s Heterodox Academy would be able to attract more than 1700 of America’s 1.54m professors. Only 34 of the nation’s approximately 4700 colleges and universities have embraced the University of Chicago principles.

    When more than ninety-nine per cent of tertiary institutions think something as fundamental as free speech harms education you are in a crisis. That many of these schools are state funded yet thumb their noses at the Constitution suggests regents, administrators, and academics fear no consequence. And why should they? The taxpayer foots the schools’ bills for legal challenges brought by student groups and the people responsible aren’t held to account.

    • Niall says

      Where do you get the idea that 99% of tertiary institutions think free speech harms education?

      Did you know that 98% of statistics are made up on the spot?

      • ga gamba says

        Only 34 of approx. 4700 tertiary institutions (0.7%) embrace the U of C principles or a substantially similar statement, a link to I provided in the earlier comment. The other institutions are of the “Yes, free speech is important, but…” + reasons why it needs to be restricted. The reasons given are the typical “causing harm to the marginalised”, “silencing”, and other malarkey.

        98% may be made up (which sounds like BS, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt), but that still leaves the 2% where my comment is.

  16. Hutch says

    The overarching premise of the movie Gattaca is something people need to keep in the back of their minds. Humanity is fragmenting further each day in terms of ability in every field and we cannot go on ignoring the underlying reasons for this.

    I never thought I’d live long enough to have the world condemn me as a conservative for paying attention to evolutionary biology.

  17. “An earlier version of this essay misidentified The Gulag Archipelago as a novel.”

    Yup, that correction made me laugh out loud too.

    “Amazing that Pankaj Mishra, one of the most celebrated intellectuals of our day, scoffs at Solzhenitsyn in @nybooks even though he has not the faintest idea about his work.”

    If Nemesis had deliberately set out to shred both this fellow’s article and his apparent reputation as “one of the most celebrated intellectuals of our day” it’s hard to imagine that she could have come up with a more brutal correction than that. Perhaps “celebrated” and “learned” are not coextensive.

  18. Big Al says

    This was great. Nice job.

    The appeal of nihilistic postmodern language games and radical authoritarian fantasies (see: Žižek) are lost on me. Same with victimization catharsis.

    I’d love for us to apply Orwell’s critical eye to socialism. The contemporary version of: the impulse to find political solutions to feeding hungry children actually can be separated for weasely Stalin apologism.

    The Mishra hot take on Peterson is hilarious. It’s almost a law of physics at this point that Peterson will draw and benefit from smug condescension masking ignorance from the Mishras and Newmans of the world.

  19. Augure says

    But you’re not on the left? AT ALL. Quillette is a fully conservative and reactionnary right-wing (and all that goes with it, anti-immigrationism, islamophobia, traditionnalism, antitheism etc…). Why would you start with a lie?

    • Yeah you’re right people should never step out of their ideological tribes, I should only publish with Mother Jones.

  20. So it goes... says

    Comments can be such helpful indicators of just what an utter misfire a piece represents.

    Maybe this is some some mediocre trolling… Strange for the author to bring up a terrific piece by a superior writer (Nathan Robinson) and then not bother with a critique. Kinda self-defeating.

    It’s unfortunate that people can find merit in this dross. We liberals are anti-science, anti-free speech group-thinkers motivated by guilt that refuse to accept that:

    -IQ tests actually measure important shit
    -the free market, not Marx, cures feelings of cosmic futility
    -yes, let us look to the lobsters for guidance about gender roles
    -white privilege = figment (probably made up by dumb women)

    It’s one thing to science up a justification for traditionalism and barf up a little intellectual ammunition for people that are afraid of progress and resent the greater visibility, participation of the others.

    But one’s true bitter, stunted character is exposed when you reject the very legitimacy of a greatly marginalized community such as non-gender binary individuals. There should be a special place in hell for those who actively fight passage of anti-discrimination laws.

    Peterson is not just a charlatan, he’s a cynical, opportunistic hack.

    • Big Al says

      I think you meant:

      “Peterson is not just a cynical, opportunistic hack, he’s a charlatan.”

      Anyways, progressivism has had the sadz ever since fall of Berlin Wall. You had to give up on a utopia brought on by revolution and radical intellectuals had to accede to a greatly diminished role (basically just some trolling from academia in the rare instances when said academics even get on the radar).

      Whatever you think about the non-binaries, I think we can all agree compared to ushering in the workers’ paradise that this is pretty recessionary stuff for the Left.

      Just like when you get all dressed up as an antifa with your Nazi-hitting stick, but all you can find is a libertarian Samoan because Nazis are hard to find, so yeah, you’re gonna hit the libertarian Samoan, but it’s really not as good as the real thing.

      Now as far as natty Nate Robinson goes, you can’t pick a better example of what’s so unlikable about the Left. Ten thousand words from a smug millennial that amount to, “nobody is as fair and wise as me”? It really is amazing that Nate, who is in fact not a good writer by any reasonable measure, would think that there’s an audience for this type of thing what with his fancy degrees and ties.

    • Meh says

      “But one’s true bitter, stunted character is exposed when you reject the very legitimacy of a greatly marginalized community such as non-gender binary individuals.”

      Okay, but Peterson has not (so far as I know) denied legitimacy to such people. This issue for him, as a liberal, is that it should not be the role of the state to regulate pronoun usage.

    • “IQ tests actually measure important shit”

      “Important” is a value judgement. But IQ tests clearly do measure something that correlates quite well – better than parental socio-economic status – with educational achievement, job and financial success, family stability, staying out of prison and so on. These correlations are the scientific facts with which you need to grapple. Precisely what the “something” is, and what causes it are interesting questions; but irrelevant to the reality of the correlations. The reason why non left wing people keep on banging on about IQ correlations is that they are a refutation of the theory behind roughly 100% of left wing diagnoses of suboptimal social outcomes – that it’s all about socio-economic status (poverty, disadvantage etc.) And that is the same reason why ideologically committed lefties can’t accept the scientific evidence of IQ tests. It would require the abandonment of the central pillar of their ideology. This is also why Alexander Blum’s claim to be “left wing” is unacceptable– if he gives even nodding acquiescence to biological causes rather than purely social ones, he is by necessarily a heretic.

      “the free market, not Marx, cures feelings of cosmic futility”

      Not even a straw man. The free market delivers more goods and services and is compatible with individual liberty. Marxism delivers (much) less and isn’t. The cure, or at least the start of the cure, for cosmic futility – according to Peterson – is assuming personal responsibility. Not capitalism.

      “yes, let us look to the lobsters for guidance about gender roles”

      Even the sarcasm is off target. Lobsters are an illustration of the ubiquity of dominance hierarchies in social animals, not illustrations of gender roles.

      “white privilege = figment (probably made up by dumb women)”

      Wrong again. Peterson doesn’t deny that being white may be a privilege (ie make give you a social leg up) where white people form a substantial majority. But it’s not an advantage in, say, Japan. It’s majority privilege. But harping on about it as if it’s of vital importance in the USA is barmy. “IQ privilege”, “good looks privilege”, “healthy privilege”, “rich Daddy privilege” are far more important. Hence the very non egalitarian effects of discriminating, in the name of “diversity” in favour of well off black American students and against poor white and Asian ones.

      “Peterson is not just a charlatan, he’s a cynical, opportunistic hack”

      If so, he’s a really ineffective one, spending most of his adult life in poorly paid academic jobs, hacking away in backwater almost as far as its possible to get from the traditional routes to hackistic fame and fortune. Moreover his current opportunistic hackery is exactly the same stuff as the backwater academic hackery he’s been doing for the last 30 years.

      I would say, en passant, that he seems to me to be a better talker and lecturer than writer. His style of lecturing, hopping from one idea to another, makes him very engaging and interesting. In print the same hopabout style is less effective. IMHO.

      • Craig Willms says

        well somebody had to say it… You did a fine job, I was going to be less pleasant. And I agree – having read 12 Rules – I prefer his lectures, but I liked the book well enough.

    • “Comments can be such helpful indicators of just what an utter misfire a piece represents.”

      What the hell does this even mean

  21. Alex says

    This article employs a series of like, veiled turns. Almost like rhetorical, confidence games. The author will say something sort of logical, or progressive, but quickly cascade into a secondary thought that is sort of abhorrent, or at least just plain fucking stupid, when you detach it from the emotion conjured by the prior statement.

    For example, in the middle of the article he says something like “science-blind assumptions do real damage.” Which has compassionate optics, it feels like a compassionate, appealing thing to say, right? But very quickly when he actually explains what he means, its like… what the fuck are you talking about, dude?

    Like, in the mode of thinking “science blind assumptions do real damage” he then goes on to say: “If we assume that cognitive ability doesn’t matter, and build a society on ruthless ideas of meritocracy where only the cognitive elite can succeed, we will produce a broken system that will produce many, many losers.”

    But this is fucking absurd, like, strip out flowery language and the misdirect setup of “science blind assumptions do real damage” and he’s outright contradicting his earlier criticisms, and what at least is presented as his central thesis, which is that post modernity is basically rigging the deck against biologically superior traits.

    He’s saying that “ignoring the science of who’s smarter than who, will make a society where only the smart succeed.” Despite the fact, a central tenant of western male chauvinism is that men are simply organically superior to women at some things, and thus naturally more successful than them.

    So which is it, that men are truly organically superior, or that if we don’t protect the fiction of male supremacy, they will compete and tragically lose. And that if they do lose, that it would indeed be a tragedy, not simply the brutal reality of science. 

This is specifically ironic because science has detached from academic thought, to become a sort of imagined refuge of the modern male chauvinist, not because it is objective or true, but because it validates that they are strong, and virile. That the man can endure the pain of truth, because man is is brutal, and cold and rational, above all else. Internet males may never be Sylvester Stallone in Cobra, but they do hope in their prevailing method to become some sort of academic equivalent. 



    Anyways, as he continues, he makes the biggest turn in his rhetorical confidence game. He twists from “If we assume that cognitive ability doesn’t matter, and build a society on ruthless ideas of meritocracy where only the cognitive elite can succeed, we will produce a broken system that will produce many, many losers.” to his next sentence, which is: 



    “If boys and men are repeatedly told that masculinity is essentially “toxic” and in need of  suppression this may produce a society of angry, repressed men.”

    
And this is where he’s really depending on you falling asleep at the keyboard. This line only, only makes any fucking sense if you were already sympathetic to the perception that men are victims to the modern world, but he nevertheless has spent the last few lines, and the article in general, lubricating you up to this precise statement. 



    It’s almost ridiculous. If you work backwards and forwards from that line, the entire appearance of the article changes, you see the strings. Like, as you read backwards you notice this line comes nearly entirely from out of nowhere. He has avoided a gendered argument until right here, and that’s because the writing is subversive.

    He knows his belief lacks the substance to be a thesis, so he has to bury it among substance-similar thoughts, to get you to digest it. Like peanut butter on a hearworm pill.

    The lines immediately preceding it are the stickiest part, he needs you to feel compassion and sympathy, about the terrors of a world run amok, that has left science alone and out in the cold.

    Then, he needs to scare you and frighten you, with the nightmare of a society which ignores justice. Both because fear is a motivator, and he knows that modern society is deeply concerned with confronting injustice.

    But of course the problem is, his central thesis is a fucking lie. And it only adds up if you believe these two prior statements, and you only really believe them if you fall asleep on the article, or are stupid, or are already biased against modern society, and have a victim complex as a man.



    And that’s why it Jordan Peterson, and his followers, are wrong. Because the whole fucking thing doesn’t actually make sense, rationally, unless you already feel it, emotionally.

    
The article, like everything Jordon Peterson himself writes, is a cathartic spirituality of male victimhood unable to confront the realization that being a man is in effect, to be your own own abuser. And we can see it in the way he talks about “toxic” masculinity.

    
“If boys and men are repeatedly told that masculinity is essentially “toxic” and in need of  suppression this may produce a society of angry, repressed men.”


    Boys and men aren’t told their gender is essentially toxic, not at least by the world at large. Yet, he can’t make any separation of his own masculine identity, from the concept of toxic masculinity. He doesn’t recognize that masculinity isn’t itself toxic, but simply can become toxic. That masculinity has run amok, and is destroying men, and women along the way.

    
It’s sad to think that this article, in effect, is a lonely man defending Jordan Peterson simply to lash out and scream into the void. To reconcile his fragility and reaffirm that he is strong despite feeling weak and victimized, as he is, by toxic masculinity.

    But what’s even worse, is that in truth, he isn’t screaming into a void, he just has isolated himself so much he’s forgotten the world is all around him, listening.

    • Oh give me a goddamn break. You know full well that there are more men who are violent and aggressive, on the fat tails of personality distribution. Either you transform that into something positive or suppress it. Peterson believes the former.

      • Joe Bob says

        Alexander- you read that vomit? I got a couple sentences in, stepped back, and checked my shoes.

        There are too many pathological ideologues out there like Ramblin’ Alex to bother responding too. In the same vein, I wish Dr. Peterson would stop giving interviews to propaganda outlets like Vice. They have all the answers, and they know who the bad guys aka “fascists” are. They do not have any intention in real dialogue, honesty, or knowledge.

        It’s a mistake to assume that they do.

    • Meh says

      So let me get this straight: the problem with Jordan Peterson and his followers is that they are “unable to confront the realization that being a man is in effect, to be your own own abuser.” But it’s not the case that “boys and men are repeatedly told that masculinity is essentially ‘toxic.'” Got it.

    • Tom More says

      I just wasted a few minutes of my life reading this crap comment. Socrates , Aristotle, Aquinas and Peterson are disappointed at the waste.

  22. Rocco de Giacomo says

    He’s a tenured professor at U of T and we should be helping him refine his ideas? That’s his job as a tenured prof.

  23. Athena says

    Mr. Blum, I thought your article was excellent and very important. I came across Jordan Peterson six months ago while listening to Camille Paglia on youtube. I’ve also been on the Left my whole life (till becoming disgusted by the Democratic party in the 2016 election) and I’m completely surrounded by Leftists, but I love what Jordan Peterson has to say. I’m afraid to even mention him to anyone I know.

    The Count Dankula conviction yesterday was intensely disturbing.

    Guilt as the driving emotion – I agree. I’ve often thought the White Privilege notion is similar to Catholic Guilt. If you’re born a sinner just for being white, and people of color aren’t born sinners, in a strange way that elevates white people as the only ones who are fully human. I frequently hear friends say things that sound like they care about minority groups, yet the unspoken message is that minorities are helpless.

    • Tom More says

      haha.. as a Catholic.. most of what I’m guilty about.. I ‘m guilty of. Cheers. I actually find Catholicism the only fully coherent worldview on the planet.. especially in its Aristotelian and Thomistic point of view…purpose being real.

    • Louis Rombouts says

      “…I’m completely surrounded by Leftists, but I love what Jordan Peterson has to say. I’m afraid to even mention him to anyone I know.”

      Compulsion through violence or the threat of violence. Not necessarily physical in your case, but surely social. This is exactly how the left operates. It abuses a misplaced sense of morality to justify its unlawful claim on the right to wield violence and thus attempt to force others to obey their broken moral dictates.

      You’re right about the inherent fallacies in their reasoning. It’s not surprising when that reasoning is not based on logic, but on emotion and an incredibly shallow sense of morality.

      In my view, it’s mindboggling how one can see himself as any kind of self respecting intellectual and at the same time identify with the left. I can only see it as some kind of pathological overemphasis of their own conscious ego.

  24. Tom More says

    That was simply wonderful. To finish it off add Aristotelian or Thomistic philosophical parameters on the existence of the finite within the infinite Actus Purus . God.. and you’re done. It is “final cause” missing since Ockham the monk at Oxford breaking with Aquinas ..leading to Hume.. Kant.. Positivists. Postmoderns.. the final train wreck of thought. Wreck because Ockham took the “form” out of “information’, the necessary starting points of thought in form and matter. Nominalism..conceptualism.. leads to where we are. .Stupidsville. Philosopher Ed Feser.. or more gently Mortimer Adler are the way home intellectually.

  25. Swan says

    The snake is eating its own pictures of snakes eating their own tales!

  26. DiscoveredJoys says

    It struck me that the Left (in the Western democracies) has become so focused on competitive victimhood and internal differences that it should be renamed Ouroboros.

    Which is a shame because no political leaning appears to have a lock on ‘the truth’ and with the Left devouring itself the Right has little principled opposition for discourse.

    • Louis Rombouts says

      Which is why there is an enormous political and intellectual vacuum ready to be filled. Peterson is one of the first publicly acknowledged thought leaders here in my opinion. Surely more will follow.

  27. dirk says

    I came across Jordan Peterson through a column of a rightwing and islamophobe scribent in -De Telegraaf-, Dutch newspaper, named Leon de Winter. And by that also came to know about Quillette. What a nice place to come across (although, I am not an islamophobe, why should I?).

    • Louis Rombouts says

      Attributing validity to the word islamophobe is probably the best way to out yourself as someone who is either ignorant of the reality of the Islamic doctrine or wilfully supporting it. Neither are laudible qualities to say the least.

      • dirk says

        Dear Louis, in the Netherlands, islamophobia (whatever it may be) has become the essential issue in political parties, and in potential coalitions. And argumentation or even forms of empathy towards one another seem to be impossible. Doctrines exist in Christianity, Islam, Judaism and all religions or ideologies, even daily life, but it depends very much of your personality whether these doctrines determine your conduct and beliefs

  28. McDaniel says

    I came here hoping for a new take, something to challenge me and make me think. Was really trying to give this a good-faith read, then got to the part where the author reveals that he has no idea what the phrase “toxic masculinity” actually describes. Once it’s clear that an would-be instructor hasn’t even done the reading before beginning to lecture, I lose my motivation to do the work of paying attention. If you’re phoning this in, then so am I. Did not finish.

    • Why would you brag about refusing to read an article because you disagreed with a single sentence? I find that pathetic. And toxic masculinity as a concept is fine until it becomes rather obvious that by ‘toxic’ you mean ‘traditional’, and that essentially, men should become more like women to stop being toxic. I think that’s an obvious point of the progressive worldview.

  29. augustine says

    “Until we do that, we’ll remain culturally stagnant, and the most unscrupulous actors on the far right, and in totalitarian governments, will seize upon dominance hierarchies and difficult scientific studies to justify their horrible crimes. The left needs to get on board with understanding human nature, because it is through understanding, not denial, that real progress can be made.”

    You seem to be implying here that only the far right stands to commit horrible crimes by their misuse of scientific findings, and that only a future catharsis of understanding on the Left, where our real hope lies apparently, will usher in “real progress”. I think the French and Russian revolutions should be enough to remind us of the dangers of falling for any “liberating” philosophy.

    What happened to the promise of advancement via self-realization in individuals throughout the political spectrum? Or is that not what you meant?

    • I think it’s clear that the far right and fascist/racist ideologies therein are far more likely to use uncomfortable science to justify their worldviews than anyone on the left. I think that’s obvious.

      • augustine says

        OK but you still leave the impression that you believe our salvation lies in the reformation of the Left, if they can somehow get over their denial of certain uncomfortable science– the same kind of science that the far Right manipulates for its own ends.

        Is progress then only to be made from a Leftist perspective?

  30. “the author reveals that he has no idea what the phrase “toxic masculinity” actually describes”

    Because the phrase is mere “motte and bailey” sophistry whereby the perfectly reasonable notion that some masculine characteristics may from time to time be harmful in some contexts is deliberately confused with the ludicrous notion that most masculine characteristics are typically harmful. When the latter is challenged, one can recule to the banality of the former, pour mieux sauter when the coast s clear.

  31. Elefo says

    This article is a fantastic representation of the crutch Peterson uses to make himself appear to be more insightful than he actually is. He, and the author here, both try to sell a grand synthesis of rationalism and mythology, but do so by arbitrarily selecting the bits of both that they like. Peterson, by simultaneously aping the languages of various subfields of sociology, analysis, biology, and critical theory, claims to bring the sum total of each discipline’s understanding to bear in some big, unified insight. What he’s actually done is generate a Frankenstein worldview that’s so vague that it’s ‘proven’ by any mundane empiric observation. It’s also so broad that challenges from any angle can be dismissed as ignorant of the other fields he claims to represent, no matter how incompletely or amateurishly he does it.

    The author here does many of the same things. “Hundreds of hours of brilliant speeches are to be judged based on a few soundbites on Mic or Vice,” he notes, invalidating any criticism that does not simultaneously every cavernous argument Peterson has ever made on YouTube. A single paragraph later: “Peterson’s argument is simple”. An argument so simple that if only his critics watched 400 hours of YouTube videos, read his entire written works, and attained an expert understanding of seven different academic fields they’d surely understand it well enough to agree with it.

    Similarly, Peterson relies on his readers’ misinterpretation of his ability to coherently explain individual concepts as deep understanding of the fields from which those concepts originate. It leads this author and others to condemn Peterson’s critics as making “science-blind assumptions,” casting them as rubes who have a “sickly resistance to science” in service of a leftist egalitarian agenda. When challenged, though, it is very clear that Peterson and his adherents have no problem with being dismissive of science – what they have a problem with is being dismissive of THIS science. The specific science that supports surface-level socially conservative claims: Women are paid less because they’re interested in lower paying jobs, racial differences in IQ are inherent and immutable, etc. There is absoluely no interest in delving deeper here, no exploration of the nature of intelligence and the imperfect metrics we use to test it, no acknowledgement of the social and economic forces that shape how men and women see their roles in society which might have led to the empiric observations we see here.

    Which is, finally, why Peterson’s argument essentially boils down to a sort of selective biological determinism. Things have always been this way he argues, pointing to specific myths that actually seem to confirm this and ignoring the others. We are the behavioral products of our evolutionary predecessors, he insinuates, pointing to distant taxonomies that confirm the specific behaviors he wants reinforced while again ignoring the others. If you argue that he is a sloppy and incomplete historian, you must not understand the biology of it. If you argue that he very selectively cites from the sociology literature, you must not understand the economics here. If you have a problem with his obvious misinterpretations of data in the hard sciences, you must be be a philosophical illiterate. The result is an amalgam of science and theory that poorly represents both, but cold-reads those who already believe in a natural, and therefore good, hierarchy.

    • Your argument is just crappy. Where does culture come from? Where do “social and economic forces” come from? They were invented and cast over a blank slate, and everyone just believed it, and now “imperfect metrics” are propping up this phantom culture that arose from nowhere? Come on now, let’s take this seriously.

      • Elefo says

        Again, both you and Peterson cast anyone who doesn’t believe in deep inevitability of this specific social hierarchy as a credulous idiot who think every sociological phenomenon “were invented and cast over a blank slate.” Of course not! Of course humans have tendencies, and of course we see certain patterns emerge time after time. Every school of economic and political theory has thoughts about how we got here and how we might move on to a more perfect society. Peterson just synthesizes the “how we got here” part, concludes that it must be inevitable, and never addresses how we might change things beyond individualist platitudes.

        His rhetorical trick – where he takes a pinch of history, a pinch of science, and a pinch of economics and then concludes (or heavily implies and then backs off when challenged) that the way we’ve always done it is the way it has to be done can be used to uphold the inherent natural order and therefore inevitability of any social structure. And he does it with bad history! Bad science! Bad economics! His premises are often outright wrong, and it doesn’t matter because his conclusions are so vague that there’s no intelligible throughline from assumption to conclusion other than that he sounds smart the whole time.

        • Isn’t the perennial unknown just how malleable we are as human beings, how much of our nature and culture are “hardware” and how much “software”? Going against the current of our nature could be disastrous – or at least, tiring – but it’s simultaneously manipulative to use vague appeals to nature and hierarchy to prop up an unjust social order. As long as we’re still fumbling through the fog of uncertainty about exactly how genetics, epigenetics, and neurobiology shape culture and are shaped by it, we never know for sure when we’re wandering toward the cliff’s edge, do we?

    • Elefo : “what they have a problem with is being dismissive of THIS science. “

      It’s almost as if you want your own “alternative facts” ☺

      “The specific science that supports surface-level socially conservative claims: Women are paid less because they’re interested in lower paying jobs, racial differences in IQ are inherent and immutable, etc. There is absoluely no interest in delving deeper here, no exploration of the nature of intelligence and the imperfect metrics we use to test it, no acknowledgement of the social and economic forces that shape how men and women see their roles in society which might have led to the empiric observations we see here.”

      There’s no harm, and plenty of good, in delving deeper and exploring “the nature of intelligence and the imperfect metrics we use to test it” but you can’t ignore the reality of the correlation between life outcomes and IQ scores. The correlation is there whatever it is that IQ tests are measuring, and whatever imperfections there may be in the measurement. (Though as JP explains in his psychology lectures, all of the measurement in all of the social sciences are based on the ground ploughed by IQ testers, and if IQ tests are flawed measurements, you can throw out all other social science numbers too. So it’s no good to say “we don’t understand exactly what it’s measuring and we don’t trust the scores” – you still have to cope with the fact that the scores predict things. And here’s the rub – they predict things better than measures of social disadvantage.

      As for women’s pay, you should watch the Peterson-Newman interview if you haven’t seen it already. One side has a trite, ready, simplistic formula and the other says “it’s much more complicated than that” and proceeds to explain why it’s more complicated than that. And it’s not Peterson with the trite, ready, simplistic formula.

      So you need to actually come up with your “alternative facts” that show the deeper reasons why you’re right and Peterson is wrong. The difficulty is that the left has become very resistant to actual exploration of facts in the biology meets society area, and has fallen back on rhetorical sniping. Let’s see your actual numbers on “how men and women see their roles in society which might have led to the empiric observations we see here.” Airy speculations butter no parsnips.

      • Elefo says

        The issue here is that Peterson and his adherents absolutely cannot and will not show their work. He operates in the space of correlations, not causative research. He – the consummate logician – fails to appropriately address the confounds which have been present from the beginning in IQ research, and just claims that because it’s mildly predictive that they must all be baked in to the metric. There’s plenty of research on the idea that IQ is not an immutable personal quality and that parental education levels, early childhood nutrition and healthcare, etc, all have large impacts on IQ. Similarly, there’s plenty of research on the fact that IQ isn’t particularly replicable.

        Peterson’s followers are VERY interested in the idea that certain groups have lower IQs than others. In fact, if you dispute it you must be looking for “alternative facts” to promote a leftist agenda. They are VERY VERY UNinterested in the idea that certain groups might have lower IQs than others specifically because they are less likely to live in conditions conducive to developing IQ to potential. Again, Peterson has no true allegiance to scientific rigor – it’s a cudgel he uses to call people who disagree with him scared of the facts. He has no problem ignoring the research when it challenges his conclusions.

        With regards to salary differences, again, this is Peterson’s favorite rhetorical crutch. If you disagree with him, it’s “more complicated than that.” No matter how much you challenge his views, he can always sidestep into another field and pretend that his history invalidates your science, or that his economics invalidates your history. It doesn’t matter that he’s incomplete and sloppy at all of it, you’d need to be an expert in everything and write novels to definitively counter all of his spurious claims – if you don’t, well hey, it’s “more complicated than that.”

        In any case, to put some “butter, not parsnips” on the table, take a look here: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2208795, https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2532788

        Salary differences by gender among physicians and nurses, controlling for job choice, specialty, seniority, and many of the other factors Peterson commonly cites. Population level data with actual statistical analysis, published recently in the premier American medical journal. They come up if you do any serious literature search on gender differences in salary. Peterson either never did such a search, or he ignored this entire body of literature, instead choosing to cite the same tired soft-methodology sociology literature on job choice. So, here, quantitative population level evidence of a salary gap that’s not explained by job choice, experience, seniority, hours worked, etc.

        • Thanks for this comment, with the strong point about the effects of environment on cognitive development, and the fruit of your serious literature search. It actually engages Peterson’s talking points directly and criticizes them on substance, with minimal smearing and contempt. If there were more comments like that one, I wouldn’t be so persuaded by Alexander’s observations about the intellectual atrophy of the left. It’s vital that the status quo be pressed into publicly defending and articulating itself, instead of fending off challenges with lazy power plays and snide dismissals.

        • There’s plenty of research on the idea that IQ is not an immutable personal quality and that parental education levels, early childhood nutrition and healthcare, etc, all have large impacts on IQ.

          It is not controversial that sickness and malnutrition can damage your IQ. But these considerations are almost completely irrelevant to the distribution of IQ in advanced societies. The threshold of healthy enough and well fed enough to reach your IQ potential is low, compared to the standard of living even of people on welfare. So, no, it’s not true that there’s plenty of research that indicates that better health and better food have any effect on IQ – so long as you avoid serious illness and malnutrition.

          Parental education has no measurable correlation with IQ, over and above the correlation with parental IQ – ie to the extent that parental education is correlated with IQ, the correlation is wholly explained by parental IQ – the cleverer the parents, the higher their level of education (on average) and the higher the IQ of their children (on average.)

          So to cut a long story short, your alternative facts are incorrect. It would be really nice if we knew how to increase IQ by environmental intervention, but we don’t.

          Similarly, there’s plenty of research on the fact that IQ isn’t particularly replicable.

          Again, this is drivel.

    • John Davis says

      I’m a Peterson fan and I think you raise some very valid criticisms.However I think it’s important to bear in mind that Peterson is a pragmatist who is more interested in getting the narrative right than the details. It’s easy to find errors in what he says and I think a lot of his logic is questionable but the measure of his work should be “is it useful” rather than “is it without error”. He is trying to address real problems and find real solutions and I believe his work should be judged on its outcomes rather than possibly shaky foundations it is built on. Or, as he might say – “is it true enough?”

    • Craig Willms says

      I don’t know why you would bother with Peterson or this website. You are obviously too smart for this. I myself was temporarily blinded – but now that see the screen again I will say that from what I can tell Peterson and his thoughts, theories and suppositions are works in progress. He alludes to it all the time, he’s still working it out and I for one benefit from some of his thought provoking insights.

      Is it such a stretch to suppose that some of the psychological underpinnings of our ancestors carry forward similar to our biological predispositions?

  32. Roy Coleman says

    “no acknowledgement of the social and economic forces that shape how men and women see their roles in society which might have led to the empiric observations we see here.”
    His lectures deal with that Elefo (hint: Pareto effect) so clearly you are the one displaying “no interest in delving deeper”. As for your assertion of “obvious misinterpretations of data in the hard sciences” you’re now faced with the task of refuting Robert Sapolsky as well. Good luck with that.

    • Elefo says

      This is in fact a perfect example of Peterson citing esoteric scientific concepts in ways that make him sound like he’s applying rigorous scientific analysis to his thinking without actually doing it. Let’s take a look at Peterson on Pareto distributions here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TcEWRykSgwE

      First, he distills the Pareto effect down to a rule of thumb. Namely, that if you have a system of production, the square root of participants will produce half the output. He then goes on to give examples, such as the fact that 1% of people hold ‘most’ of the world’s wealth. He’s correct in that the top 1% of the world’s population do have roughly half of the world’s wealth. The earth has a population of roughly 7 billion, 1% of 7B is 70 million. The square root of 7B is 83.6 thousand. So off the bat his rule of thumb is off by a factor of 800x.

      In fact, he goes on to give the example of Monopoly, where if you pit a handful of people against each other “where they have to trade with each other by flipping a coin, if I win you give me a dollar and if you win I give you a dollar,” the inevitable consequence is that one person ends up with all the money. Of course, if that were actually how Monopoly worked, that wouldn’t be the consequence – if five people were forced into repeated random transactions with balanced odds, the distribution of money would remain roughly equal. The way Monopoly ACTUALLY works, wherein a handful of people purposefully transact in a non-random manner in order to keep as much money as possible, the end result IS that one person ends up with all of it. If they act the way they’re supposed to as dictated by the rules of the game – not randomly.

      He uses that as ‘proof’ that “to blame that on the oppressive nature of a given system is to radically underestimate the complexity of the problem. Nobody actually knows how to effectively shovel resources from the minority that controls almost everything to the majority that has almost nothing in any consistent way, because as you shovel money down it tends to move right back up.” And then he gives the example of Stalinist dekulakization, I can only assume as an archetype of wealth redistribution. Obviously, no mention here of modern measures that have had reasonable successes at deconsolidating moneyed power (eg. midcentury antitrust measures, heavily progressive taxes)

      So he begins by citing a mathematical concept which doesn’t quantitatively explain the phenomenon he’s describing, sets up a theoretical system that doesn’t behave the way he claims it does, and then brings it all to bear by referencing the absolute worst historical counterexample you could think of while ignoring every other relevant precedent. But hey, he sounded super smart doing it. It’s 100% raw, uncut Peterson.

      With regards to Sapolsky, he’s a biological determinist. I’m quoting him here – “For me, the single most important question is how to construct a society that is just, safe, peaceful – all those good things – when people finally accept that there is no free will.” I very much doubt that Peterson, who is an adamant proponent of self-actualization and taking control of ones’ own actions agrees with his conclusions. He’s certainly willing to chop up Sapolsky’s work and cite it piecemeal where it sounds like it supports him, though.

      • ” if I win you give me a dollar and if you win I give you a dollar,” the inevitable consequence is that one person ends up with all the money. Of course, if that were actually how Monopoly worked, that wouldn’t be the consequence – if five people were forced into repeated random transactions with balanced odds, the distribution of money would remain roughly equal.”

        No, that’s crashingly, cluelessly, embarrassingly wrong. The point is – as Peterson explains if you’d bothered to listen- that once you’re at zero there’s no way back. You only get to participate in future repeated random transactions if you still have a stake to bet. Once you’re at zero you stay there. Hence the inevitable conclusion that one person finishes up with all the money.

        • Elefo says

          Again, this is a useless thought experiment because neither Monopoly nor any actual economy works this way, but yes, on a cosmic timescale given infinite transactions some ‘players’ might go bankrupt and be out of the game.

          As long as the transaction size isn’t like, half of the starting wealth – and we assume it’s not because most transactions in a real economy are a small fraction of the transactee’s total wealth, and this model is theoretically supposed to be useful to describe an actual economy – that outcome is so vanishingly rare it’s not worth considering. A player would have to lose a consecutive number of coinflips equal to their wealth divided by the transaction size, the likelihood of which decreases exponentially as the number of flips needed increases.

          But, to repeat, transactions in a real economy are purposeful and not random, so this is again a terrible way to attempt to prove that consolidation is an inevitable consequence of ANY system where transactions occur.

  33. Roy Coleman says

    JP “one-tenth of the top 1% has almost all of that”
    Care to show us how he’s out by a factor of 800x Efeko?

    • Elefo says

      The actual 50/50 wealth split is closer to 1%/99% than 0.1%/99.9%. But even taking your comment at face value, if the numerator were 7 million (0.1%) instead of 70 million (1%), he’d ~only~ be off by 80x.

  34. Elefo says

    Again, both you and Peterson cast anyone who doesn’t believe in deep inevitability of this specific social hierarchy as a credulous idiot who think every sociological phenomenon “were invented and cast over a blank slate.” Of course not! Of course humans have tendencies, and of course we see certain patterns emerge time after time. Every school of economic and political theory has thoughts about how we got here and how we might move on to a more perfect society. Peterson just synthesizes the “how we got here” part, concludes that it must be inevitable, and never addresses how we might change things beyond individualist platitudes.

    His rhetorical trick – where he takes a pinch of history, a pinch of science, and a pinch of economics and then concludes (or heavily implies and then backs off when challenged) that the way we’ve always done it is the way it has to be done can be used to uphold the inherent natural order and therefore inevitability of any social structure. And he does it with bad history! Bad science! Bad economics! His premises are often outright wrong, and it doesn’t matter because his conclusions are so vague that there’s no intelligible throughline from assumption to conclusion other than that he sounds smart the whole time.

  35. Elefo says

    The issue here is that Peterson and his adherents absolutely cannot and will not show their work. He operates in the space of correlations, not causative research. He – the consummate logician – fails to appropriately address the confounds which have been present from the beginning in IQ research, and just claims that because it’s mildly predictive that they must all be baked in to the metric. There’s plenty of research on the idea that IQ is not an immutable personal quality and that parental education levels, early childhood nutrition and healthcare, etc, all have large impacts on IQ. Similarly, there’s plenty of research on the fact that IQ isn’t particularly replicable.

    Peterson’s followers are VERY interested in the idea that certain groups have lower IQs than others. In fact, if you dispute it you must be looking for “alternative facts” to promote a leftist agenda. They are VERY VERY UNinterested in the idea that certain groups might have lower IQs than others specifically because they are less likely to live in conditions conducive to developing IQ to potential. Again, Peterson has no true allegiance to scientific rigor – it’s a cudgel he uses to call people who disagree with him scared of the facts. He has no problem ignoring the research when it challenges his conclusions.

    With regards to salary differences, again, this is Peterson’s favorite rhetorical crutch. If you disagree with him, it’s “more complicated than that.” No matter how much you challenge his views, he can always sidestep into another field and pretend that his history invalidates your science, or that his economics invalidates your history. It doesn’t matter that he’s incomplete and sloppy at all of it, you’d need to be an expert in everything and write novels to definitively counter all of his spurious claims – if you don’t, well hey, it’s “more complicated than that.”

    In any case, to put some “butter, not parsnips” on the table, take a look here: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2208795, https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2532788

    Salary differences by gender among physicians and nurses, controlling for job choice, specialty, seniority, and many of the other factors Peterson commonly cites. Population level data with actual statistical analysis, published recently in the premier American medical journal. They come up if you do any serious literature search on gender differences in salary. Peterson either never did such a search, or he ignored this entire body of literature, instead choosing to cite the same tired soft-methodology sociology literature on job choice. So, here, quantitative population level evidence of a salary gap that’s not explained by job choice, experience, seniority, hours worked, etc.

    • Lmfao it’s always the damn same with you clowns. You write many paragraphs, I begin to think I’ve missed something, that perhaps I’m being too deferential to biology, that I’ve overlooked a lot of factors and have put forth a crude image of humanity. I wonder that. And then, you say “IQ isn’t particularly replicable”, and instantly, I understand that your interest isn’t even remotely in empirical reality.

      • Elefo says

        Putting aside the irony of criticizing someone for writing “many paragraphs” in response to an article where you dismiss Peterson’s critics for not watching his hundreds of hours of YouTube clips, there is in fact a lot of evidence to suggest that IQ probably doesn’t quantify an inherent characteristic.

        Here’s a meta-analysis that finds an almost complete confounder in test motivation: eg. people who try harder on IQ tests also try harder on other things, and this accounts for the vast majority of predictive power of IQ test results. Obviously, this is troubling if you really believe that IQ is a measure of inborn cognitive ability. To quote: “our findings suggest that, under low-stakes research conditions, some individuals try harder than others, and, in this context, test motivation can act as a third-variable confound that inflates estimates of the predictive validity of intelligence for life outcomes.”
        https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3093513/

        Additionally, there is evidence that intelligence is trainable and only partially heritable: http://www.pnas.org/content/105/19/6829?ijkey=1b0237a1eac4eb3e3f81d4eefcbe8bd344bc1f58&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha

        That access to education increases measurable intelligence:
        http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/12/19/1106077109

        And, of course, I might refer you to the original 1977 paper from which much of the IQ-as-predictive measure originates, wherein the author states – literally in the third sentence of the abstract – “[predictive correlations of IQ and adult educational and occupational status] were not high enough for practical purposes requiring long-term prediction for individual normal children.” To paraphrase, childhood IQ is technically statistically predictive, but so weakly that it’s functionally useless. Even in the original study!
        https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17783247

        So why do Peterson’s adherents care so deeply about IQ? Why do they not champion other scientific and behavioral measures, especially ones that have far more predictive value than IQ. There’s significant evidence that gun ownership increases risk of death by homicide or suicide by up to ~3x and ~10x respectively regardless of proper storage and training (https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/160/10/929/140858). There’s evidence that parental income is a significant factor in childhood achievement (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3208322/).

        As someone who sells himself as a champion of objective evidence and has spoken at length on these topics, Peterson is presumably aware of all of this and chooses not to talk about it. I’ve never heard him comment on the strength of a correlation, or confounding factors in the research – he just selectively cites random studies regardless of how relevant they actually are to the body of research he’s referencing. Like I said, he’s not a good scientist and does not have any particular allegiance to rigor therein. He exists to reflect his audience’s presuppositions back to them with a nice, pretty sheen of academic legitimacy. That’s why he has such a close following among armchair Reddit race-scientists and guys who think it’s intellectually brave to bring up the “uncomfortable truths” about Jews.

  36. toddt001 says

    Great article, Alexander. Thanks for writing it. It’s the perfect dopamine/serotonin cocktail for a Sunday morning.

  37. ccscientist says

    It is not merely in order to better change society or overthrow capitalism, even the concrete objectives of the Left founder on their denial of human nature. Feminists repeatedly calling men the enemy lead to a world in which young women who in fact want to marry and have children are unable to do so because relations between the sexes have been poisoned. The claim that women can “have it all” and should focus on their career is in denial of the biological reality that for the health of both mother and child pregnancy needs to be in the early to mid 20s. By age 34 many women cannot get pregnant. This window of opportunity is not a “social construct”. When men and women have sex, hormones are released that are both bonding and relaxing. Again, not a social construct.
    The claim that equality is the goal steadfastly refuses to focus on creating more opportunity by either making it easier to start a business or take your professional license with you or even by growing the economy, but seems instead to resolutely focus strictly on tearing down the rich. This seems to be a clear indication that it is only envy. When it is pointed out that urban zoning laws, minimum wage laws, and many other restrictions actually harm the poor–supposedly the object of concern about equality–this is simply denied.

  38. John ( Ivica ) says

    so we live by LABELS
    we die with ? by labels

    can we ever live without labels … ( NO )

    it is ever more difficult to find people who are ( believe )
    many facets of the political / economic / cultural
    aspects that our so called
    MODERN life
    entails

    Ivica

  39. I’ve always voted left but am non-ideological and have never attempted to purify my reading: any insights into truth that conservatives are willing to share with me, I welcome. Jordan Peterson is clearly non-ideologically aligned in this same sense, and, in fact, is exactly what he seems: a career pedagogue committed to the twin projects of knowledge diffusion and stimulating people to think (consequently, he’s also a free speech advocate). That the regressive left’s near-hourly attempts to discredit him have become a cottage industry isn’t all that surprising: Jean Francois Revel (in The Totalitarian Temptation) pointed out the affinities between the authoritarian right and the authoritarian left way back in the 1970s. Admittedly, witnessing charges of alt-rightism and fascism emanating from individuals who more closely resemble fascists than anything the west has seen since the 1930s is ironic… but it was just as predictable. Nothing is more threatening to committed ideologues than a spirit of skepticism, guided by freedom of inquiry: free-thinking inevitably encourages heresy, or counter-revolution, or some other intolerable form of dissent from the one true path.

    It is perhaps useful to think of Peterson as a current incarnation of Lionel Trilling; if he’s ‘reactionary,’ it’s in the much same sense:

    ‘Trilling’s politics have been strongly debated and, like much else in his thought, may be described as “complex.” An often-quoted summary of Trilling’s politics is that he wished to “[remind] people who prided themselves on being liberals that liberalism was … a political position which affirmed the value of individual existence in all its variousness, complexity, and difficulty.”

    ‘Of ideologies, Trilling wrote, “Ideology is not the product of thought; it is the habit or the ritual of showing respect for certain formulas to which, for various reasons having to do with emotional safety, we have very strong ties and of whose meaning and consequences in actuality we have no clear understanding.”
    ‘Politically, Trilling was a noted member of the anti-Stalinist left, a position that he maintained to the end of his life.

    ‘Trilling has alternatively been characterized as solidly moderate, as evidenced by many statements, ranging from the very title of his novel, The Middle of the Journey, to a central passage from the novel: “An absolute freedom from responsibility – that much of a child none of us can be. An absolute responsibility – that much of a divine or metaphysical essence none of us is.”

    ‘Along the same lines, in reply to a taunt by Richard Sennett, “You have no position; you are always in between,” Trilling replied, “Between is the only honest place to be.”

    Public debate could use many more such reactionaries, and the attempts to silence or discredit them serve to emphasize the need.

  40. Jennifer says

    Having read and listened to everything JP-associated for the last two months, I find this piece the most resonate with my experience of the man’s work. It’s striving for accuracy but doesn’t reek with twisted complexity, dismissal, or condescension, as some articles do when the writer is trying to sound smarter than the subject. Worthy of re-reading to better ingest, not merely to untangle it. Well done, Quillette!

  41. Excellent article, thanks for writing it, and thanks to Claire once again for creating the platform that gives a home to this quality of content.

  42. Victor says

    First of, nice hit and run punch on Nathan Robinson whom, atleast in my opinion, totally scrutinized Peterson here: https://www.currentaffairs.org/2018/03/the-intellectual-we-deserve

    “Peterson’s work is built on synthesising what we know from the behavioural sciences with the vast accumulated record of mythological story-telling and what these stories tell us about human nature. It is an ambitious project that no other public intellectual has dared to provide in an age that is exhausted and cynical of grand narratives.

    What are you talking about? Have you even read Jung? Read “Man and his symbols”, for example; Petersons work are more or less a complete fabrication of that. And Jungs work often resembles to mystecism and is based on scientifical hyphotheses rather than theories – which definitly resembles into Petersons work aswell.

    “There is a sickly resistance to science among the left-leaning media class, where solid psychometric findings are treated as a matter of moralizing opinion. ”

    Eventhough this is a vast generalization with some truth in it i just want to point out that: fact resistance, is a classical conservative trait, indeed.

    “If we assume that cognitive ability doesn’t matter, and build a society on ruthless ideas of meritocracy where only the cognitive elite can succeed, we will produce a broken system that will produce many, many losers.”

    I’m not even sure I understand what you’re insinuating here, but the assumption that we live in a meritocratic society is factoid. About 70% of all jobs, atleast in sweden where I live, has requiered some sort of personal connections. (And I know that the situation in the US is even worse.) In addition to that, about four out of five fortunes in the world are inherited. In other words, we don’t live in a meritocratic society; far from it (eventhough, asfar as I know, most people advocates it).

    “dramatic inequality not only preceded the industrial era, but also preceded the existence of humankind. If we want to do something about it (which we do), why pretend that suffering itself was a capitalist invention? ”

    So what? We’re not living in the past. And that’s not the problem, the problem is that we’re obviously not doing enough (http://time.com/5111971/billionaires-global-inequality-income-oxfam-wealth/) And by the way, “capitalism” is an abstract term; when we talk about the reality and our present political system, please use”crony capitalism” instead next time.

    “Living in a world of inequality, material and otherwise, inspires a profound sense of guilt that can only be suppressed by rejecting all claims to material hierarchy, human nature, and all the tragic inequalities that follow. It’s a sensible impulse, from the perspective of public virtue. I’m sure it feels like the right thing to do. But for the interests of building a cohesive society through the pursuit of truth, it could not be more maladapted. ”

    Please, spare us the pseudo-psychology lecture next time, thank you!

    “The neo-Marxist addition to postmodernism may also seem sloppy, until you understand that any scientific inquiry confirming differences amongst people is ideologically incompatible with the Marxist faith that a world can exist with total equality. Marxist assumptions about a world without any natural hierarchy or limitations suppress a real understanding of individual differences. Worse, they also harm the working class by pretending that equality of outcome is possible, that men and women are identical, and that issues such as cognitive ability are only a concern of “fascists”. They destroy the study of society by attributing all difference to social oppression rather than actually understanding the issues at hand.”

    Sure, but where are all these “neo-marxists” anyway? I don’t know any. I know alot of leftist and no one, that I know of, belive in equality of outcome – only uppertunity (although there is a correlation between them). As I*ve already poited out most people in the world (even leftist) belive in a meritocratic society.

    “There is cooperation in nature, but as individuals, distinct from one another, we require judgements, values and hierarchies to differentiate ourselves and find meaning. If everyone is the same, and no hierarchies of quality can be established, then life returns to chaos: the Ouroboros, the ancient symbol of the snake swallowing its own tail, the place where there is no objectivity, no knowledge, only warmth and desire.”

    Sure, the thing is, if you even belive in sience – game theory – prove cooperation to be superior to competition. So why not try to focus on that instead?

    And last but not least, Alexander Blum, throughout almost the entire text you’ve been arguing with a straw man.

    • Louis Rombouts says

      “the problem is that we’re obviously not doing enough”

      Who do you mean by “we”?
      What is “enough”?

      The only plausible way to read your statement is by concluding that you place a negative moral judgement on the lack of global financial equality. One could question this morality in itself. However, I’ll follow your train of thought for the sake of the argument.

      There’s two ways to approach this reality.

      1) (Global) financial inequality has no signifciant correlation to genetic diversity (and thus genetic traits such as IQ).

      This would imply that the wealth distribution is almost solely attributable to the current power structures and the way history played out. In this view, the rich (predominantly white) man is the big boogie man due to his misbehavior and greed and it is high time he’d start sharing. If he did, we would achieve equality of opportunity fairly easily and thus inevitably equality of outcome or close to it.

      2) (Global) financial inequality has a strong correlation to genetic diversity (and thus genetic traits such as IQ), along with several other correlations, varying in strength.

      This would imply a much trickier situation, wherein achieving equality of opportunity in itself becomes a much more challenging endeavour. In fact, the only way to actually achieve equality of opportunity would be to genetically modify our offspring in such a way that we minimize diversity. If you’re not willing to apply such incomprehensably drastic measures, you could strive for improving equality of opportunity in spite of the inherent genetic diversity working against you. You would be sailing against the current to say the least.

      I personally believe that there is much more truth to the 2nd hypothesis than the first. This brings me to my initial point: from what reasoning do you derive the morality to condemn the financial inequality of the world?

      Why is it so bad that there is financial inequality?

      People can be financially poorer, but mentally, socially and emotionally richer than the vast majority of the global population. Is financial wealth really the lens through which we want to look at the world? Are we really that condemned to such onedimensional thinking?

      Nietzsche said that he didn’t like capitalism because it strengthened the socialistic sentiment. I believe he hit the nail on the head.

      • Victor says

        Haha… obv we’re not talking about genetics when we talk about equality of opportunity. I guess you’re being dishonest or just have poor understanding how the financial sector works. Salaries don’t corrrelates with IQ, and as I mentioned four out five fortunes are inherented, and you don’t need high IQ to inhetent something as far as I know. Besides that there’s no reasonable comparision at all between saleries and to the benefit to society the jobs fiíll..

    • Craig Willms says

      What? 70% jobs in America require some sort of personal connection??? That’s poppycock. Are you making up statistics? This may be somewhat true for government jobs where nepotism is rampant – but not the private sector.

      Also, there are plenty of self-made rich in the U.S. Most successful family businesses don’t even survive the second generation and have nothing left for the third generation to inherit.

      I do however support your statement on crony capitalism. It’s a scourge. The utopians often decry that communism has failed because no one has yet done it right, well the the places where capitalism leaves shambles in it’s wake one will find cronyism rules the day.

  43. Joe Bob says

    “Sure, but where are all these “neo-marxists” anyway? I don’t know any. I know alot of leftist and no one, that I know of, belive in equality of outcome – only uppertunity (although there is a correlation between them). As I*ve already poited out most people in the world (even leftist) belive in a meritocratic society.”

    Equality of outcome is a standard belief on the far left, and increasingly among the center-left. It is explicitly expressed by groups such as Black Lives Matter, but is also exhibited by mainstream UK journalists and US Hollywood celebrities in claiming that all pay differences between men and women must be the result of discrimination. If outcomes such as pay dont break down by equal percentages parallelling the larger demographics, many on the left claim racism/sexism/white supremacy, prima facie. Of course, the left simply ignores the outcomes that counter this conspiracy theory, such as the overwhelming higher percentage of men in prison, the dominant number of women in veterinary medical school, the higher percentage of women who obtain advanced degrees, the higher incomes earned by Asian Americans and Nigerian Americans relative to white Americans, etc.

    Ideologues are consistent with their own ideology, but not with facts. As this essay articulated, we are witnessing a recapitulation of the foolishness of the medieval Church leaders in suppressing facts they viewed as inconvenient to their theories, to the detriment of society.

    • Joe Bob says

      To be clear- the West already has many policies and programs that are predicated on a belief in equality of outcomes between cherry picked demographic groups. We see it with affirmative action in university admissions, law school admissions, medical school admissions, and in hiring decisions as the Google lawsuit made clear.

      The grey area is the matter of degree. The far left wants the numbers of their sacred identity groups to match (or exceed) their percentage in the overall population, meaning strict racial and gender discrimination against asian americans, whites, and males. Of course, this only applies to cherry picked fields and groups- they aren’t calling for more women in the hazardous waste cleanup industry, or for more men to be admitted to Universities (where they are an increasing minority.) We saw a Democratic National Committee manager exemplify this principle last year when she called for no cis-gender white males be put forward for a job in IT. One would think that after suffering a devastating hacking attack, the DNC would want to simply hire the most competent IT professionals regardless of superficial characteristics such as gender, sexual orientation, and skin color.

      The gap between the vision of Martin Luther King and the current Identitarians is glaring.

      https://townhall.com/tipsheet/christinerousselle/2017/10/30/dnc-email-straight-white-men-need-not-apply-n2402482

  44. GentMach says

    This article was fantastic.

    I was called a “misogynist” by “college educated” feminists. Then the “working class” feminists called them “pretentious c****”.

    I do not know which to believe given that both have claimed the title of “feminists”. Indeed, I can see how the left will devolve into a mob that tears down moral authorities as quickly as the rise up. The only thing to stop the madness will be if a stronger force overtakes them.

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  46. Winston Smith says

    The way in which the Press choose to cover Peterson is by no accident or complacent incompetence. It is purposefully malicious and coordinated.

    “In a better world, Peterson’s critics would be helping him refine his theories and hone his argumentation, moving our cultural conceptions of human nature forward. Instead, the caliber of his critics, and their desire to completely dismiss Peterson as a fraud, have created parallel worlds that do not meet. Of course, criticism of any public intellectual is always going to occur. Any person who promotes their ideas in the public sphere is going to be scrutinised, often robustly. But the hatchet jobs on Peterson have possessed a particularly malicious tone. One wonders if Western intellectuals as a class have simply become complacent, fat, and soft-in-the-head. In The Guardian and The Baffler, Peterson is a “charlatan”, who uses “quackery”, and is obsessed with “conspiracy theories” of postmodern dominance. And yet, the “conspiracy” of a postmodern intellectual class becomes a reality when the mere mention of basic scientific facts is condemned as reactionary and immoral.”

    As a class, the Press can no longer be trusted. The Press used the same demonization playbook on Peterson as the media scandal a few years back. Anyone who dared to oppose the Press is automatically “reactionary”, “misogynist”, “conspiracy theorist”, etc. as if the Press can decide it. It is the same playbook as when normal people exposed journalists as sexual predator in the video game industry. Even long after the court sentenced some of the predators, everyone is still demonised for daring to go against the Press.

    “To be fair to the journalists, it is true that there are two Jordan Petersons.”

    At this stage of affair, to be fair to the journalists should really be about teaching people to identify when the Press are trying hard to misrepresent someone. If it seems like there are two Jordan Petersons, the Press are doing their job. It is the job of the Press to misrepresent people. It is the job of the people to understand how the Press do their job.

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