Author: Uri Harris

Jordan B Peterson, Critical Theory, and the New Bourgeoisie

Earlier this week, clinical psychologist Jordan B. Peterson appeared on Britain’s Channel 4 in an interview with TV journalist Cathy Newman. It didn’t go well. Journalist Douglas Murray described it as “catastrophic for the interviewer”, while author Sam Harris called it a “nearly terminal case of close-mindedness”. Sociologist Nicholas Christakis perhaps described it best: Christakis mentions two important things about Newman. First, she seemed hostile towards Peterson, clearly going into the interview with a moral prejudice towards him. Second, she seemed unable to engage with his arguments, instead misrepresenting them (“You’re saying women aren’t intelligent enough to run top companies?”) or taking issue with them (during a conversation about unhealthy relationships, Newman asked: “What gives you the right to say that?” Answer: “I’m a clinical psychologist.”) At one point, she was rendered speechless. It was as though she had never heard arguments like Peterson’s before, and was taken aback to discover they existed. As a presumably well-read person, why had she not been exposed to arguments like this before? The answer, I think, is that these arguments have largely …

How Activists Took Control of a University: The Case Study of Evergreen State

The student protests that took place at Evergreen State College earlier this year were remarkable, drawing international coverage and substantial analysis here and elsewhere. Video recordings of students screaming at biology professor Bret Weinstein are iconic, as are those of a faculty member telling two other faculty members “you are now those motherfuckers that we’re pushing against.” The most memorable scenes, though, are those that involved college president George Bridges. The scenes of Bridges meekly acquiescing to students’ demands for delayed homework after they occupy his office and hurl insults at him, telling him to “Get to work” and to “Get the fuck out of here”, and of him later standing up in front of students as a focal point as they scream at him, nodding as a student tells him “We had civilisation way before you ever had, coming out your caves” are surreal. Throughout these scenes, Bridges repeatedly apologises to the students. On several occasions, he’s admonished for raising his hands while speaking, which he immediately accommodates by lowering them or putting them …

“White Women Tears”—Critical Theory on Lindsay Shepherd

Two weeks ago, I analysed an incident at Wilfrid Laurier University, where teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd was reprimanded for playing a video clip from a televised debate on the compelled use of gender pronouns, and I connected it to the influence of Critical Theory in academia. Last week, I defended Jordan B. Peterson—a Canadian psychology professor who was part of the debate Shepherd played and who became a central figure in the Laurier media coverage—against criticism that he’s a far-right ideologue who misunderstands what he’s criticising. In this article, the final one in the series, I examine what I perceive to be two important flaws in Critical Theory, and show that understanding these flaws helps make sense of the seemingly inexplicable reactions to the Laurier incident by some students and faculty. *    *    * As I mentioned in the first article, Critical Theory is a methodology developed by a group of Marxian social scientists during the early-to-mid 20th century, motivated by the belief that traditional scientific methodology—which concerns itself with describing, explaining, and …

In Defence of Jordan B. Peterson

A few days ago, Canadian author and English professor Ira Wells published an essay expressing concern about popular Canadian psychology professor and social critic Jordan B. Peterson. The essay was written in the wake of an incident at Canadian university Wilfred Laurier, where a teaching assistant was reprimanded for playing a short clip of a televised Peterson debate over the compelled use of gender pronouns. (I analysed the incident in Quillette last week.) Regrettably, Wells’s essay is littered with inaccuracies and casual insults, accompanied by a moralistic undertone that is sure to turn off Peterson’s supporters, and perhaps even neutral observers. Nevertheless, I think he succeeds in condensing many of the common criticisms of Peterson, which makes the essay worth responding to as the foundation for a genuine debate of these issues. I suggest reading it if you haven’t already done so. Wells’s main criticisms, as I understand them, are as follows: Peterson is celebrated in the news media as a champion of free speech and liberal, democratic values, while in fact promoting a far-right …

Wilfrid Laurier and the Creep of Critical Theory

The social justice movement is known for routinely staging demonstrations, shouting down (and shutting down) speakers, and issuing demands. More significantly, however, its ideas and terminology have become part of the fabric of university culture. As psychologist Jonathan Haidt said in an interview earlier this year: This is all so new. There’s been, I believe, a kind of a moral revolution, a new moral culture emerging on campus but it really is only in the last two years. If any of your viewers graduated from college in 2013, they probably haven’t seen it. … [I]t’s organized around victims of oppression, it’s a vertical metaphor of privileged and oppressor people, and victims. This idea that everything is power. To make way for this moral revolution, values that historically have defined secular universities are increasingly being swept aside. The most recent example is perhaps the most chilling. Lindsay Shepherd, a young teaching assistant at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada, was reprimanded for screening a five-minute clip from a televised debate on public education channel TVOntario between …

Are the Social Sciences Undergoing a Purity Spiral?

A couple of years ago, six social scientists published a paper describing a disquieting occurrence in academic psychology: the loss of almost all its political diversity. As Jonathan Haidt, one of the authors of the paper, wrote in a commentary: Before the 1990s, academic psychology only LEANED left. Liberals and Democrats outnumbered Conservatives and Republican by 4 to 1 or less. But as the “greatest generation” retired in the 1990s and was replaced by baby boomers, the ratio skyrocketed to something more like 12 to 1. In just 20 years. Few psychologists realize just how quickly or completely the field has become a political monoculture. While the paper focuses on psychology, it briefly mentions that the rest of the social sciences are not far behind: [R]ecent surveys find that 58–66 per cent of social science professors in the United States identify as liberals, while only 5–8 per cent identify as conservatives, and that self-identified Democrats outnumber Republicans by ratios of at least 8 to 1 (Gross & Simmons 2007; Klein & Stern 2009; Rothman & …

Donald Trump and the Failure of Mainstream Social Science Part III

I published an article on Sunday where I argued that mainstream social science is pervaded by ideology and that this blocks good scientific methodology. I attempted to demonstrate this yesterday with a concrete example. Today, as the final part in the series, I suggest some methodological changes. First, let me briefly restate what I consider the core problem: prevalent use of morally charged terminology in the social sciences that serves to enforce an underlying ideology. Examples include terms like progressive, xenophobia, and authoritarian. Why does this terminology exist? The answer, I suggest, is that throughout Western society over the past couple of centuries, values have consistently shifted in a particular direction, and this has led social scientists to consider the trend universal. This leads to a conception of values as having a temporal direction. Some values are of the past, and some are of the future, and the more one travels in either direction the more pronounced this becomes. Which is reflected in the use of morally charged terminology. Values that are considered of the …