Education, Politics, Top Stories

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 been banished from contemporary mainstream news media and entertainment. Only because of Peterson’s immense grassroots success has he forced his way into the conversation, which makes it all the more awkward when an interviewer looking to put him in place ends up bewildered.

But why have these arguments been banished? The immediate answer is social pressure. As social justice advocates have come to dominate Western culture, they’ve created a situation where interlocutors are more intent on burnishing their adherence to the correct opinions than they are about discovering something new, learning the truth, or even engaging in open and reciprocal dialogue. Hollywood actors wear political slogans to awards ceremonies, comedians lecture their audiences rather than entertain them, and television hosts go into battle with their guests rather than interview them. Naturally, this has pushed out opposing voices.

But where did the social justice advocates, and their associated attitude, come from? The answer to that, I think, is academia. A recent episode, also involving Peterson, demonstrates this.

*   *   *

When Lindsay Shepherd was reprimanded last year by three Wilfrid Laurier faculty members for showing her class a video clip from a televised debate on gender pronouns, Shepherd’s professor Nathan Rambukkana wrote an apology drawing attention to his teaching style. He wrote: “[T]here is the question of teaching from a social justice perspective, which my course does attempt to do.”

When I contacted Lindsay Shepherd earlier this month, she told me that she didn’t know Rambukkana taught from an explicitly “social justice” perspective. However, after going through the syllabus, she realised he had talked about it in his Week 2 lecture, and that the reading material that week also mentioned it. Yet even then, she said, she was unaware how loaded the term “social justice” is and how it often aligns with censorship and one-sidedness. Her response when I asked her whether she recognised various social justice terms was:

My undergraduate degree is in Communication from Simon Fraser University, and the gist of my program was learning about power; mostly power as it manifests in media and media industries. I was very accustomed to talking about feminism, racism, and oppression. Less so the other terms you mention, which I only became more acquainted with in my graduate degree program, and many of them as a result of the Laurier incident — i.e. I was unaware of any substantial critique of intersectionality, gender theory, and critical theory, as we were only taught them from the “social justice perspective.”

Shepherd had lots of exposure to a social justice perspective, but only from within the perspective itself. She was taught social justice beliefs but had never been taught to critique those beliefs. When she came across a professor who did just that—Jordan Peterson—she found it interesting and new, even while disagreeing with him. (She later came to realise he may have been right about the legislation he was criticising.) So she shared a clip of the debate with her students, and only afterwards did she discover that not only are critiques of social justice not taught, they aren’t even to be acknowledged.

The methodology underpinning much of the social justice perspective is known as critical theory. What’s notable about critical theory is that it specifically distinguishes itself from ‘traditional’ theories through its emphasis on criticism. This makes the apparent unwillingness of its adherents to engage with criticism themselves especially noteworthy. When you explicitly emphasise your criticality and base your theory on a commitment to look beneath appearances and see things as they really are, you don’t get to be selectively critical. So why does this phenomenon exist?

*   *   *

Critical Theory draws heavily on Karl Marx’s notion of ideology. Because the bourgeoisie controlled the means of production, Marx suggested, they controlled the culture. Consequently, the laws, beliefs, and morality of society reflected the interests of the bourgeoisie. And importantly, people were unaware that this was the case. In other words, capitalism created a situation where the interests of a particular group of people—those who controlled society—were made to appear to be universal truths and values, when in fact they were not.

‘The Power of Critical Theory’ by Stephen D Brookfield

The founders of critical theory developed this notion. By identifying the distorting effects power had on society’s beliefs and values, they believed they could achieve a more accurate picture of the world. And when people saw things as they really were, they would liberate themselves. “Theory,” they suggested, always serves the interests of certain people; traditional theory, because it is uncritical towards power, automatically serves the powerful, while critical theory, because it unmasks these interests, serves the powerless.

All theory is political, they said, and by choosing critical theory over traditional theory one chooses to challenge the status quo, in accordance with Marx’s famous statement: “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”

There’s no question critical theory can be useful, and that viewing societal elements—beliefs, values, norms, institutions—through a lens of power and examining whose interests they serve can provide highly valuable insights. But as it becomes more widespread and its adherents more powerful a challenging situation emerges, because then critical theory must then be turned on itself.

And so, the question becomes: are the values and beliefs of critical theory itself universal, or are they also partial to particular interests? Superficially, it seems they’re universal. After all, the stated purpose is to use critical theory to liberate people, and how can liberation not be universal? But, of course, the whole point of critical theory, by its own admission, is to look beneath the appearance of universality and identify the power and interests that lie below.

Jordan B Peterson

Let’s return to Peterson, whose views Newman presumably wanted to discredit on air and Rambukkana was so intent on keeping out of the classroom. Peterson has been broadly critical of the social justice movement. For example, he’s criticised it for being authoritarian—including in the aforementioned instance of compelled speech for gender pronouns—and has warned about similarities to authoritarian communist regimes. But it’s more than that. Peterson has argued that it disenfranchises many people, especially men. In his view, most people find meaning in life through their participation in social structures and hierarchies. This is more than just a casual opinion; Peterson is a clinical psychologist who has also researched and published extensively on psychometrics.

Which brings us back to the question of whether critical theory and the social justice movement it has inspired, is truly promoting universal values. From a psychological perspective, illuminated through psychometrics, people differ with respect to a variety of personality traits, and therefore also with respect to the type of society they want to live in. If we’re going to talk about values, this is a good starting point. But from this perspective, it’s difficult to imagine truly universal values; some societal arrangements are inevitably going to appeal to some people more than others.

One might interpret Peterson as shedding light on this problem by pointing out that the morality of contemporary Western society, with its emphasis on equality and liberation, is acting in the service of particular psychological interests while acting against others. In other words, a similar situation to that which Marx and the original critical theorists criticised the classical liberal bourgeoisie for: presenting their own interests as universal values or truths.

Consider the concept of liberation. It’s held in society to be an unquestioned moral good, one that no reasonable person could possibly disagree with, in large part due to a variety of positive connotations. Yet, in practice, its implementation invariably involves dismantling societal structures in accord with some people’s psychological interests and in conflict with other people’s. Hence, we see conservative people feel increasingly alienated from mainstream culture, as cultural leaders systematically attack everything from sexual norms to familial structures to national identity to cultural history, ostensibly in the pursuit of liberation.

The same applies to the concept of equality. This, also, is held in contemporary society as an unquestioned moral good that no reasonable person could disagree with. In practice, though, its implementation involves removing aspects of society that involve competitiveness and status-seeking, which for some people may provide significant meaning to their lives. Or take the associated concept of gender equality. This, too, might appear unquestionable and universal. But it’s not, because its implementation disincentivises risk-taking and status-seeking, and these are especially meaningful to men.

The tensions within the concept of equality were apparent in Peterson’s interview with Newman. At 11:27 in the Channel 4 interview, she asks:

Cathy Newman: A simple question, is gender equality a myth, in your view? Is that something that’s just never going to happen?
Jordan B Peterson: It depends on what you mean by equality
CN: Being treated fairly, getting the same opportunities
JBP: Fairly, we could get to a point where people are treated fairly, or more fairly. I mean, people are treated pretty fairly in Western culture already but we can improve that
CN: But they’re really not though are they, otherwise why would there only be seven women running FTSE 100 companies in the UK? Why would there still be a paygap which we’ve discussed at length?
JBP: Oh, that’s easy
CN: Why do we have women at the BBC who are getting illegally paid, less than men? That’s not fair is it?
JBP: Well, let’s go back to the first question, they’re both complicated questions, how many women run FTSE companies?
CN: Seven women
JBP: The first question might be, why would you want to do that?
CN: Why would a man want to do that? Because there is a lot of money?
JBP: There’s a certain number of men, although not that many, who are perfectly willing to sacrifice virtually all of their life to the pursuit of a high end career. These are men that are very intelligent, they’re usually very very conscientious, they’re very driven, they’re very high energy, they’re very healthy, and they’re willing to work 70 or 80 hours a week non-stop, specialised, one-thing, to get to the top
CN: So you’re saying that women are just more sensible, they don’t want that because they want a nice life?
JBP: I’m saying that’s part of it, definitely
CN: So you don’t think there are barriers in their way to getting to the top?JBP: Oh there are some barriers, like men, for example, I mean to get to the top of any organisation is an incredibly competitive enterprise and the men that you’re competing with are simply not going to roll over and say “please take the position,” it’s absolute all-out warfare
CN: Let me come back to my question: is gender equality a myth?
JBP: I don’t know what you mean by the question, men and women aren’t the same and they won’t be the same, that doesn’t mean that they can’t be treated fairly

The simple point being made is that gender equality isn’t a neutral concept because equality isn’t gender-neutral.

This confusion, more broadly, may explain why boys and young men are now becoming increasingly alienated from the educational system. Supposedly universal values being implemented in the system are in fact not universal, but favour attributes that are more prevalent in women than in men.

Judith Butler, pioneer of Critical Theory

The identity of the group providing the intellectual foundation for both critical theory and the social justice movement are mostly white middle-and-upper-class intellectuals from the political left in advanced Western economies. It may be more illuminating to see this group’s interests as the driving force of societal change, rather than those of the ever-changing group of the powerless. In effect, the intellectuals of the political left are creating the type of society they personally want to live in. ‘The powerless’ are temporary allies on this journey.

Over the past few decades, this group has become increasingly powerful, essentially becoming a bourgeoisie much like the one Marx and the early critical theorists were criticising, and using many of the same mechanisms: suppressing criticism through control of the news media and now social media, enforcing rigid etiquette in speech and behaviour, using the education system to teach its values, and most importantly, representing its own interests as universal values and beliefs.

Peterson represents a growing group of people who are now waking up and starting to look more closely at contemporary morals, beliefs, and institutions that they had previously held beyond reproach and are now asking: “Are these things really universal or interest-neutral, and if not, whose interests are they serving and whose values do they represent?” This is a process, I think, that is inevitable.


Uri Harris is a freelance writer with a MSc in Business and Economics. He can be followed on Twitter @safeortrue

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  1. yandoodan says

    Very good.

    This highlights the problem of the self-exemption, the philosophy or whatnot that works only if the people propounding it exempt themselves.

    For instance, do you want to claim that all knowledge ultimately consists of simple observations (“atomic facts”), and anything else is literally nonsense? Okay, but you’ve just made a statement that can’t possibly be reduced to a string of atomic facts; you’ve made a statement about all knowledge everywhere, including knowledge that does not yet exist but will someday. By your own philosophy, your system is nonsense. You have to either abandon it or exempt yourself.

    Or maybe you want to claim that free will doesn’t exist, so that all arguments are merely physical reactions, not linked to an imaginary “truth”. Nothing wrong with that — but, by your own admission, you’ve just made an argument that is merely a string of physical reactions unlinked to an imaginary “truth”. You have to either abandon it or exempt yourself.

    So you want to claim that all arguments are merely attempts to assert power for your group over other groups and so have no meaningful truth content (that is, truth content is accidental and beside the point). This, too, is an argument. By your own philosophy, you too are merely attempting to assert power, and any truth value it may have is accidental and beside the point. It’s just another power grab. So you must either admit that you are as big a cynical propagandist as your enemy — or exempt yourself.

    • objection! says

      you’ve just made an argument that is merely a string of physical reactions unlinked to an imaginary “truth”. You have to either abandon it or exempt yourself.

      What. Unlike the previous example, “free will” has nothing to do with epistemology/”truth.” That’s a non sequitur. That’s like saying a computer can’t print out something that’s true because it lacks free will (whatever that vacuous concept means).

      • Bob Alex says

        Making the sounds “free will doesn’t exist” is a physical reaction, not a truth statement, in a world where humans are incapable of discerning truth by observing and freely reacting to the reality around them. A computer reciting from a physics textbook may sound like it is speaking things that are true – but the computer itself has no way of knowing that.

        • Intersectional Playboi says

          Whatever the computer’s output is – that is, whatever its representation is – is either an accurate representation of reality or not. Whether it has ‘free will’ or can even understand what its output is has no bearing on the epistemic question of accuracy in representation (issues of free will and understanding are orthogonal to the epistemic issue I’m highlighting here).

          For example, we don’t possess free will in the sense that many people presume we do. Yet, we have developed a reliable epistemology (or set of related reliable epistemologies) in the sciences that enable us to generate explanations of the natural world that are accurate or that generate progressively more accurate explanations of it (and, if you’re a certain kind of realist like me, you even think the case is strong that we gain progressively more accurate representations of unobservable entities, as well). Further, because of the cognitive makeup that evolution has bequeathed us, many of us can even understand why this epistemology is reliable as a means for generating and corroborating truthful representations, and many of us can even understand many of the scientific explanations and descriptions that the epistemology yields.

          • Paul Gardner says

            Surely a ‘representation’ isn’t necessarily truthful? It is a representation. Any kind of prefix or suffix tries to make it more than it is – an understanding of the world, but not the world itself.

      • yandoodan says

        What Bob Alex said. Plus…

        A computer is actually a good example of a being without free will. It does not know if the printout contains something “true”, something “not true”, or something else (a xerox of someone’s butt, maybe). It does not know that it just printed something out. That’s what “no free will” looks like.

        You are a computer with no free will, who is able to say, “My printout has true information on it — that is, the statement, ‘You have no free will’.”

        • objection! says

          What definition of “free will” are you even using? Because the interpretation of meaning and concepts from spoken and written words is not the same thing as “the ability to make choices” which is what I thought most people try to define it as.

      • David says

        A computer is a mindless tool. It has no rationality and doesn’t care if it is printing truth or gibberish. It requires reason to say if something that is true because that implies an actual message rather than a string of words that may only be coincidentally true.

        • objection! says

          That it is coincidentally true does not change the fact that it is true. The point is that truth and meaning are completely independent concepts from free will.

          Take a hypothetical conscious android who is bound by slaveware programming to lack ‘free will’, but is intelligent enough to be used as a researcher. The android researches and publishes a paper arguing that humans also lack free will just as it does, as the brain is simply an organic computer. But saying there is no such thing as free will is not the same as saying there is no such thing as truth.

          • Pierre Delacroix says

            Amateur Aristotelian here.. If one lacks free will, one lacks the freedom to decide freely if one has free will or what is true. Secondly I think what the mind apprehends is the formal cause of things, the ordering principle , ordered meaning ordered towards ends and purposes. So essentially we are acts. Everything is an act in act, ordered towards particular ends manifest in how we act. So everything presupposes a final cause, that towards which all is ordered or Pure Act as Aristotle explains it from his definition of what we call “change”. The individuation of things is in the matter, the potentiality. What the intellect apprehends is the formal ordering principle of the thing delivered by the senses. This ties into the non-material nature of intellection which goes along with free will and its necessarily non-material nature. Therefore what is “right” or good is action in accordance with the ordering principle of being and all beings understood, as in our word “information” by their forms.. which are signs of what they are ordered to like a rubber ball ordered towards bouncing and the final cause of being a toy. I’ll stop my blabbering here. 🙂

    • Another example of “self-exemption,” is:

      “Everything has a beginning;
      the universe had a beginning;
      therefore there must have been a creator of the universe;
      …hence god exists.”

      The above argument starts with the premise that everything that exists had a beginning and ends with “oh but XYZ God is exempt from having a beginning and does not depend on a creator.”

      Another way this is often phrased is, “Look around…everything is so stupendous and complex that there MUST be something more stupendous which created it all.”
      But you can apply the same logic to this “something,” this “god.” It is so stupendous that there must be something even more glorious which created this god. God –as marvelous as he is–couldn’t have just popped into existence by chance. There must have been an even more majestic god which created god… and on and on.

      • JF: A self-making maker in *eternity* (it is hard to grasp what that means, but picture waiting in line at a government office times infinity) by definition does not have a ‘beginning’. We are finite, time-bound, imperfect in power, goodness, will, and knowledge.. yet we can analogize to dimly grasp a being who might be the opposite of those things…. but how did we wander from Peterson’s interview and this excellent article into God-territory?

        Mr. Harris: your article is very helpful, clear, and cuts the self-exempters off at the knees. The new critical class of would-be rulers have simply replaced their bogeymen with themselves, and pretended they alone are seeing things clearly. Critical Theory becomes an infinite solipsistic feedback loop after that, with the real goal the same old human lust for power.. over nature, man, God, and All The Things, under the pretense of truth, righteousness, and high principle.

        I’m also really glad Peterson is getting a wider audience.

      • yandoodan says

        @Jon Finch This argument exempts some entity other than Self; I would call it “infinite regression”, turtles all the way down, but your point is valid.

        I have long found this interesting, and so will indulge myself with an off-topic reply. The answer is to accept Parminides’ (c. 450 BCE) universe of SpaceTime (as did, for instance, St. Augustine). God is not bound by When, as He created SpaceTime and exists outside it. This means change is illusory, the “universe in amber”. This is how God exists “before” Time — there is no “Before”, the Cosmos just is. God sees it correctly; we don’t. Our mind imposes a structure of Time on sense impressions, but this is a product of our brain rather than something that exists in the Cosmos. (Sounds like Kant, doesn’t it?) Einstein read Parminides while preparing the General Theory, although he didn’t go as far as the “universe in amber”.

        If you counter this by saying that few religious people have heard of this, and even fewer believe it, I will grant this point.

        • Paula says

          What was God doing before he created the world? Creating Hell for people who ask questions like that.

      • David says

        God must be exempt because He is, by definition, the unmoved Prime Mover that is dependent on nothing else. If this were not the case, He would not be God.

        • David J says

          @David (The one who wrote: “God must be exempt because He is, by definition, the unmoved Prime Mover that is dependent on nothing else. If this were not the case, He would not be God.”)

          I’ve only just noticed someone else (you) posting here as David. Sorry for any confusion. I’m not trying to impersonate you.

          I’ve changed my name here to David J.

          I also wrote the long comment below, mentioning David Bentley Hart. I also replied to Jon Finch and yandoodan about God. Just to clear up any confusion.

        • Pierre Delacroix says

          Agreed. I think Aristotle and Aquinas and the Scholastics nailed it on causality and change and the unavoidability of arriving at something that moves other things without itself moving. Love moves lovers without moving.

      • David says

        @Jon Finch
        It all surely depends on how one conceives of God. One could, for example, think of God as being some thing, an idea, whatever, which terminates the chain of infinite regression. If a person only ever judges the truth of any proposition by the standards of reason then it may be the case that they are perhaps missing something fundamental about what God means.

        I’m always fascinated when someone writes such things as ” … it is so stupendous that there must be something even more glorious which created this god.” There are so many assumptions (such as what is meant by causation, its nature and extent) in such statements that it shows to me that some view the word in utterly different ways; yet some are adamant that they are right, while other remain curious. I often find that arguments about the existence or not of God depend on what is assumed to be valid evidence.

        Perhaps what you say about Parmenides relates to what I say above to Jon Finch. Very interesting comment, by the way.

        • Pierre Delacroix says

          Hi guys… sorry to barge in unannounced in this way, but Aristotle and Aquinas nailed it and God is demonstrable. If you believe you started your car or donned your shoes or typed a word.. you are Aristotelian. Thank God. Its the intellectual framework that Jordan Peterson arrives at psychologically and historically. Ed Feser is one of my favorites on this. And its not to avoid an infinite regress but implicit in the nature of change here and now in the immediate present. And its “Everything that comes into being has a cause.. not everything has a cause.

      • jsolbakken says

        “…hence god exists…” is perhaps the wrong way to say it in technical philosophical terms. What would be a statement compelling to an intelligent honest atheist might be, “hence the existence of the universe and its structure as it apparently seems to manifest itself points to something OUTSIDE OF IT to explain the fact that it exists at all in the first place, because the universe does not seem to be the kind of place or thing that could have pulled itself out of its own ass.” If this this “thing” existing outside of our universe is eternal past and future then it does not need anything else to have created it the way our universe needs a “creator,” because of things like entropy, etc.

      • Micha Elyi says

        “Everything has a beginning…”–Jon Finch

        You misstated the argument.

        God isn’t a thing in the universe, unlike the Flying Spaghetti Monster and other pagan idols.

      • You’ve mis-stated the syllogism, which has crucial differences:

        – Everything that has a beginning, has a cause outside of itself
        – The universe has a beginning
        – Therefore, the universe has a cause outside of itself

        • “– Everything that has a beginning,”
          Something’s, therefore, don’t have a beginning, or can be said to not be defined as having one. It means there does not have to be a beginning to “everything” as a class.

          “has a cause outside of itself.”
          Only the things that have definite beginning. The universe may not have had a beginning.

          – “The universe has a beginning.”
          Makes implicit the assumption the universe is in the class of objects able to be defined as having a beginning.

          – “Therefore, the universe has a cause outside of itself.”
          Maybe. Maybe not.

      • Dev Null says

        Just to agree with that point: Stephen Hawking preface to A Brief History of Time describes a person whose cosmologic paradigm was internally consistent due to a self-exception exhibited in the phrase “it is turtles all the way down”.

      • Pierre Delacroix says

        Do you really not know that the ridiculous chestnut “everything has a cause.. ..what caused God ” is completely bogus. No theistic philosopher ever said anything that dumb. Russell was just showing off his illiteracy. It shows how naively dismissive people are to the very question which I think Aristotelian arguments affirm. And of course with no moral purpose to being we’d have no basis for criticism. That red herring really bugs me as it does Prof Ed Feser who’s written some pretty good books on these matters.

      • Your statement ” must have been an even more majestic god which created god… and on and on” is as logical as saying you can count to infinity twice. Either there was a single “beginning” or source (as we understand the word) or there wasn’t, you can’t have it both ways.

    • Uri Harris says

      Even though technically still true, it doesn’t matter as much when they’re outside the existing power structure. The problem comes when they become the power structure. Then there’s no way around turning the power and interest lens on themselves.

    • Pocket Otter says

      Excellent, i have thought this about the third but not applied it to the first two. This gives me more to think about when contending with pure empiricists’ (new Atheists, etc) worldview.

    • Thank you for providing some real-life approximations for what Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems did in mathematics.

    • Do the crits really exempt themselves? One interpretation, the logical Marxist one, is that everything is about power and class interest, even for Marxists. Thus, the crits’ task is simply to show that the rationalists’ arguments are really fake, adn the crits have no obligation to show their own arguments aren’t fake too. Indeed, since power is all that matters, the crits SHOULD use fake arguments for the public good, if such arguments are the most convincing.
      Of course, put that way, the crits would have no legitimacy in rational argument and no place in a university dedicated to knowledge, so, again by virtue of their own philosophy, they must retain power by faking their true position and pretending that they, unlike everybody else, have rational arguments. This is best done by repeating, many times, “My position is the only rational one” and silencing anyone who objects.

      • Russell Clarke says

        I’d consider it Channel 4’s finest hour, in that it’s probably the most entertaining piece of programming they’ve ever broadcast.

        • You’re being shy. IMO, it’s the greatest interview ever broadcasted on UK TV since Christopher Hitchens’ passing.

          I have wet dreams of a debate between JBP and Hitchens.

        • They allowed it to be published and shared. And that is honorable… If nothing else. Her tactics certainly were not.

  2. Deafening Tone says

    I got a big dose of these when writing my (sociological) dissertation on Christian Zionism. And I called out my colleagues on their failures to apply their own theories to themselves, but also–and this is not mentioned in the article–notice themselves as cultural players (social conflict) in the areas they tend to study. Here is what I said in my dissertation:

    “The academy, as a social institution with often strongly secularizing tendencies, increasingly does not hesitate to assert its right to institutionalize its family of ideologies in its methods of research and teaching. Failure to acknowledge this point has direct bearing on the interpretation of data in regards to the main object of this dissertation, Christian Zionism in its varying streams, which forms much of its identity over-and-against the academy. Stated clearly, major segments of the academy are actively, vocally, and physically engaged, through representation on campuses across the nation, in social conflict with Christian Zionism.”

    It’s high time the academy was called on this. I’m hopeful we get the ball rolling a little faster.

      • Deafening Tone says

        It was, but only because it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Fortunately, my committee knew I was right and that making this observation made for better social research. One called it the best he had read in 20 years, and they unanimously passed me with distinction (like honors). (Sorry to toot my own horn there.)

  3. Deafening Tone says

    I should also say that one scholar who did make it a methodological point to properly situate the scholar in the research process, through what he called “reflexivity,” was the late Pierre Bourdieu.

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  7. He should have nailed her on he flip-flop. He asked her to define equality. She answered “equality of opportunity”. But then she goes on about how it’s “not fair” if there is not “equality of outcome” (e.g. equal number of male and female heads of FTSE companies). And what she want on from there with descended further into nonsense. And he should have just chopped it down before any of that happened. YOU CAN’T SLIP BETWEEN THESE TWO THINGS.

  8. Maurice says

    Another excellent piece.
    To me, critical theory / intersectionality has become an insane conspiracy theory. And it creates miserable people who hate everything. That’s what strikes me about a lot of “progressives”- they don’t seem capable of feeling happiness.

    • yandoodan says

      There have been many theories that were covers for bigotry. They all have had great appeal to the people benefiting from them but, curiously, little or no appeal to the people who were the targets. But of course, the people who benefited would deny to the end that they were bigoted or accepting a bigoted theory.

      • M. Lorens says

        What theories are bigoted – meritocracy? Let’s be clear about where you are coming from.

      • Maurice says

        “Many theories that were covers for bigotry”. Thank you for proving my point. “It’s all a cover up, man, for white supremacy and the cisheteronormative patriarchy. Anyone who doesn’t think so is a bigot.” Your Sociology professor would be proud.

  9. I’m quite glad the interview was hostile – its combative nature really brought the best out of Peterson and allowed an audience to objectively decide who had the better points. It was thrilling, and public intellectuals don’t get pushed enough. The usual alternative media rounds don’t produce as much stark clarity as an interview like this.

    • I agree – it was excellent and illuminating. The only shame was that it came to an end after half an hour. Another twenty minutes would have been great. In particular the interviewer (Cathy Newman) had obviously come to the end of her stock of talking points. And so if it had gone on longer, she’d have had to actually engage with what he was saying. Since she’s obviously pretty smart that would have been great. A smart interviewee on top of his subject being questioned by a smart combative interviewer who’s out of prepackaged talking points. Would have been even more fun !

      • DiscoveredJoys says

        I agree. One of the powerful aspects of Critical Theory, Postmodernism, or Social Justice movements is that they generate a lot of pre-packaged talking points. People generally do not hold complicated theories or philosophies in their minds, they reduce them to simple mottoes, rules of thumb, or indeed pre-packaged talking points. It is quite possible to signal membership of CT, PM or SJ without ever having to properly understand the concepts – as long as you can regurgitate the pre-packaged talking points. The theories are not strongly self-reflective and it shows when challenged properly.

        You could argue that in CT, PM or SJ ‘fairness’, ‘equality’ and ‘gender’ are nothing more than bullet points on a PowerPoint slide. Jordan Peterson appears to be willing and able to tease apart what they actually *mean* – to the discomfort of those who have not done so.

      • RichieRich says

        Since she’s obviously pretty smart

        In the interview there was IMO nothing obvious indicating Newman was intelligent: intellectually, emotionally or tactically.

        • Daniel PV says

          Surely you understand that the interviewer’s questions aren’t necessarily their own in this kind of scenario. Its blatant here that the producers had given her a script of things to say in order for their agenda to paint the interviewee as a “bad guy” – putting words in his mouth, misquoting him, using emotive silly arguments, changing the subject wildly and randomly. I’ve no doubt Newman is intelligent, but it is quite a challenge taking down a tenured clinical psychologist and university lecturer in a verbal sparring session

          • RichieRich says

            Its blatant here that the producers had given her a script of things to say in order for their agenda to paint the interviewee as a “bad guy”

            So, on the orders of her producers, compliant, agreeable Cathy followed a script that they’d cooked up without consulting her? Really?

            I’ve no doubt Newman is intelligent, but it is quite a challenge taking down a tenured clinical psychologist and university lecturer in a verbal sparring session

            Telling – and rather sad – that C4’s aim was a taking down. Peterson must be denounced for thought crimes!

            But give that this was the aim, and given that, as you say, it would be quite a challenge, you’d have thought Newman and C4 would have thoroughly acquainted themselves with Peterson’s views and formulated some thoughtful rebuttals. That would be the intelligent thing to do. But, during the interview, Newman showed no signs of having carried out such preparation.

    • Uri Harris says

      Good point. Combative interviews also demonstrate that challenging other people’s ideas can be very valuable, even if it’s uncomfortable. Hopefully university students were watching.

  10. How does society rid itself from the inhumane condition of people living on the street taking drugs and causing daily social disruption from those on the street whom do not take drugs -being there as a temporary moment into returning to some type of affordable indoor living, et al? People whom want to make fracas from those trying to escape being considered uncivil by getting away from street living?
    -Good critical questions involving morality and rationale understanding towards maintaining civilized society overall.

    • DiscoveredJoys says

      I don’t want to be seen as putting words into Jordan Peterson’s mouth but from YouTube videos I’ve seen I believe he would say that it is up to each individual to adopt responsibility for their own lives, tell the truth, and understand that their failure to participate fully in ‘being’ leaves a hole precisely the size of their soul in the cultural landscape.

      Now that’s a big challenge to people who are already taking drugs, but if Peterson’s advice is followed by other people who therefore avoid taking drugs the cultural landscape will change. Slowly.

      A great deal of Peterson’s views seem to revolve around the idea that you should sort yourself out first and not worry about other peoples’ opinions. I infer that he regards the idea of ‘society’ as not being part of the answer.

      • Robert Christopher says

        I infer that JP regards Society as ‘out there’, but that any change requires interaction with individuals, neighbours, in fact.
        It is what he does as a clinical psychologist, but it doesn’t mean he is wrong! 🙂

  11. Marco says

    Not a bad article by any means, but there are some points I disagree with. Namely, equality; equality itself is a pretty decent thing to strive for, however, the issue is based on what a person’s worldview is, and thus, what equality means for them; or to simply say, not all equality is equality. Feminism’s “Equality” isn’t liberal equality, and it can never be liberal equality because it actively opposes it – affirmative action, forced diversity, gender quotas, or at worst, “representation” (that should match the demographic) aka, equality of outcome.

    Secondly, there’s plenty of reasons why boys suck at education currently, to put it plainly. Some of it might be what you mention, but also; boys learn differently, and boys are more often drugged up for being, well, boys. “Why Boys Are Failing in an Educational System Stacked Against Them” is a pretty decent article on the former, and “The Drugging of the American Boy” on the latter.

    • Did I note that Peterson moved away from the word equality – he changed it to fairness.

      He was probably aware that equality does actually not exist between any 2 persons but did not want to go down that road.

    • Paul Neubauer says

      Equality is an absolutely horrible political goal, it’s inevitably the road to a Harrison Bergeron world. As Peterson said, more or less, do you want equality or fairness? Equality or freedom?

      “The doctrine of equality! There exists no more poisonous poison: for it seems to be preached by justice itself, while it is the end of justice.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

      • Daniel PV says

        Equality of opportunity is good. Trying to artificially interfere with the natural hierarchys that humans (and all social primates) arrange themselves into won’t work. I’ve seen false hierarchies in the military and in the civilian workplace and they are dysfunctional. The argument shouldnt be about trying to manufacture equity within hierarchies, the argument should be about instilling the notion of responsibility and duty of care being incumbent to those at the top. It is the responsibility of people in powerful positions to use their position to serve and protect those beneath them, rather than using their position to further their own tyrannical agenda.

  12. I am going to disagree with the point the author makes here that critical theory is useful to a degree.

    We can all see what critical theory has brought about: Ruin and destruction follow in it’s wake, and leave miserable and demoralized people behind after it passes through.

    Like communism that spawned it, critical theory needs to be consigned to the dustbin of history as yet another failed methodology of attaining Nirvana on earth.

  13. James Kierstead says

    I thought his questions about pay differences were good (though some studies show a gap even controlling for some of the factors he mentions), but I wasn’t convinced by his assertion that hierarchical organisation was an inevitable outcome of our biology. There’s a lot of variance in the historical record from more to less hierarchical societies, despite our more or less constant biology during that time.

    • Gregory Lorriman says

      All societies go hierarchical or collapse in to various forms of chaos. What are you thinking of?

      • Robert Christopher says

        Societies move towards many individuals specialising in knowledge, skills, trades and occupations. This encourages local hierarchies, within occupations, and eventually, within communities.

  14. Cillian O'Connell says

    You might notice that Ms Newman conflated 2 separate types of “equality”: equality of treatment with equality of outcome. Scott Alexander popularised a useful term for this type is argument: motte and bailey- consisting of a strongly defensible motte which you run back to when under attack and a practically indefensible bailey which you return to when the attacker moves away.

  15. David Peppiatt says

    All Jewish thinking about the gentile, like Critical Theory, is related to the condition of said gentile at the End Time, which condition must be amorphous and undifferentiated, de-nationed, deracinated, without a common interest, without purpose at all except to serve the new tribal priest-class. The critical nature of such thinking is precisely that we have to give up our nature, our very identity and being as peoples; which is why Jewry is so involved in the promulgation of immigration to our lands and the imposition of hate-speech legislation.

    Cathy Newman, like all the feminists, homosexual activists, racial equality activists … everyone who is caught up in this war on our existence … has become beholden to falsehood, and to the generation of harm

    • Uri Harris says

      I strongly disagree. There are Jewish people on all political sides. Talking about ‘all Jewish thinking’ is ridiculous. And criticism in Western thought goes back to the ancient Greeks. In fact, Christianity was founded in part on criticism.

    • Deafening Tone says

      David, your take is preposterous and racist. If you dislike critical theory and far leftist politics, do so on a different basis than “the Jews did it.”

      • Diego Catanese says

        Judaism is a religion of which its followers are called Jewish. It is not a race any more than Catholicism or Buddhism.

  16. I feel way too many are sort of taking a victory lap, while uttering ‘told you so’. PoMos & Affiliates of the brand are genuine champions at adapting their strategies, if the debate moves to making a score, from having robust discussion, it’s probably going to be the last unedited interview we will ever see.

    So instead of piling on Cathy Newman, we should be more concerned to praise the robustness of the interview (albeit she came totally unprepared), otherwise I can guarantee that the victimhood professionals will retreat into their trenches. Pretty sure they are taking note of some of the seriously deranged comments (@David Peppiatt, seriously, did you take your pills?) made after the interview.

    They are building their case against JB Peterson, and it’s not going to look nice.

    • David Peppiatt says

      Your are denying the fact of the Jewish ethnic paradigm and its intent towards the European host. This is a learned and pathological behaviour, supported by layers of dictate about your own people’s natural right and interests which you have internalised and never question. But by all means tell me why you think you are right. Explain what you think Jewish intellectuals and activists intend by generating a multifarious array of politics which effect the dissolution of the ethnic bonds of the host, while protecting and preserving those same bonds for themselves. Surely you can manage that, can’t you?

      • This doesn’t even warrant an answer, I have better things to do.

        The only thing I’d worry about is the page’s google ranking, that your comment is going to sink (for a fairly good wrapped up piece). Hence my reference to you, but that’s Quillette to decide.

        Besides, seriously, you need help. Or more likely you’re a bitter PoMo troll just trying to stir things up.

        Good day.

        • David Peppiatt says

          When you cannot answer, because you are afraid to do so, you need only say so. Raising yourself up to your full midget’s height and sounding off about how much else you have to do doesn’t deflect from your obvious fear.

          That said, it still remains open to you to explain what, if not the pursuit of Olam Ha-ba, the Jewish intellectuals and activists who created Critical Theory sought to achieve. Go ahead.

      • Some Jews promote immigration into Europe. But others don’t and are struggling with its consequences. When you write “which is why Jewry is so involved in the promulgation of immigration to our lands and the imposition of hate-speech legislation” you portray Jews as a monolith which is clearly an error. Some Jewish intellectuals say stuff I disagree with, others say stuff I agree with. You are trying to establish Jewishness as a monolithic identity.

        Moreover, many Israeli Jews are advocating for allowing refugees from Africa into Israel.

        Your picture of reality is false.

      • jerry michelson says

        I understand you like to hallucinate about the Jews, and that it gives you a good thrill. And that’s OK, different pathologies for different cognitive delinquents, as the saying goes. But only if you do it in the privacy of your own closet. You start wandering outside of it, and all you accomplish is to stink up a discussion between adults. Also, while you are at it, tighten up your English; “supported by layers of dictate” sounds like a lazy translation from Swahili via Hungarian.

    • Kim H. says

      Agreed with all you say here, I think Peterson himself knows this, that affiliates of the brand are cham;ions of and he’s concerned about it, he’s alluded to this a few times. Some of his “followers” are not big on questioning him, they are more like “believers,” and that is concerning. I imagine is because they haven’t heard someone speak out in a rational and reasonable way on these types of subjects before. I agree with what Peterson says on free speech, but he’s getting into vaguer areas now, like climate change, etc. and I think he should stick to psychological issues and freedom of speech issues, and continue to encourage his “followers” to think for themselves, to study all sides of an issue before making assumptions or conclusions. That’s what he does best.

      • Kim H. says

        I want to add, I agree with Alex here…Oh, yeah, and that David P. guy who’s writing about the Jews here is either an agent provocateur or an example of some of the fringe followers of Peterson who could be pointed out by his detractors as an example of the whole.

  17. That’s a very well written and measured piece. Great read!

  18. I find it amusing that feminists such as Newman always use the FTSE argument, ‘why are there only 7 women running FTSE 100 companies?’ as if it proves some sort of point.

    Why then do they never ask why there aren’t more women collecting refuse or laying roads, why aren’t there more female plumbers or electricians? The idea that it might be because they don’t want to do those jobs doesn’t even register with Newman.

  19. Pingback: Jordan Peterson debates gender differences, "pay gap", etc... - Talk About Marriage

  20. Dimitrios Otis says

    This is a valuable article–exposing the questions we are not supposed to ask if we are participating in progress. I would underscore two inter-related points. One is that “social justice” advocates do not truly want “equality” at all, they want and have set themselves up as an elite stratum–a Moral Elite–and they need both a rabble of followers and a rabble of resenters to maintain this status. Secondly, while Critical Theory’s purpose is to expose power systems, it is itself a system of power–based precisely on its position as the “good” exposing “bad” powers.

  21. Why do I get tge impression that Cathy will take little away from her disastrous interview with JBP? You could see the ideological rigidity of her mind set in every attack against the very reasonable Peterson. The smoldering malevolence of her behavior matched that of the radical feminist ideologues in our own country. It’sas though they have all been injected with same virus that tears down their reason an fills them with a terrible resentment towards white males. It’s tge rhetorical hatred of their patriarchy conspiracy theory, blank slate social construction, and bad gender studies academics that informs their stance against their own unerasable biology. It’s a marxist experiment against nature that threatens to strangle every last drop of what it means to be truly human.

    • Paul Neubauer says

      Yes, I think she and all who think like her will take nothing away from this except to double down on their talking points. They’ve done that for decades and it works well for them.

      It’s not just talking points but identity. An attack on their talking points is an attack on their identity, so they really can’t change. That’s deliberate, as in most religions.

      To give an idea of how hard it is to change, listen to Cassie Jaye …

      • David J says

        @Paul Neubauer

        Thanks for the link. Very interesting. Shows, among other things, the integrity of someone who has managed to stop trying to fit reality to their dogma. Takes intelligent and courage too. I’d never heard of Cassie Jaye.

      • Yes, Cassie Jaye is exemplary in her willingness to examine her own world view construct and be honest with her findings. There is about her now a human, life afirming quality that is missing from the radicalize feminist infected with the virus of critical theory, intersectionality, social justice ideology, or whatever you want to call that mindless group think propagated by the far left academic pseudo intellectuals. How far will this virus evolve into a sort of gynocentric socialism aimed at imploding Western culture? Is it not a cancer in our society? I see a parallel here.

  22. Chris says

    Uri – you have written a number of strong articles about the threat that critical theory poses so I’m curious if you (or other thought leaders in this area) have any thoughts about how to best confront it? How we deal with a problem that has so woven itself into the very being of the academe and other institutions like big tech companies, federal bureaucracies, and the media? How do we deal with the fact that millions of students across the globe have been essentially brainwashed with the nonsense?

    • Here’s a good book on the topic. It was published in 2005, but gives a fair account of how it started and evolved into what it has become. It’s not from a reactionary standpoint but from academics themselves.

      Theory’s Empire: An Anthology of Dissent Paperback – April 20, 2005
      by Daphne Patai, Will H. Corral

      • Dimitrios Otis says

        good question above–and great to know about this book, as I am returning to school, and have been a bit worried!

    • Deafening Tone says

      I actually think it won’t be that difficult. Critical theory and what sociologists call “deconstructionism” are closely related. Deconstructionism is an approach to sociology that says that any social relation can be taken apart to show how its power dynamics work, how it was “made” rather than an immutable part of nature. It’s used constantly and consistently in sociology departments. Except: it’s very rarely used on social objects that the academic leftist echo chamber approves of. In my field, sociology of religion, deconstruction is often used on conservative religion (usually Christianity) much like an auto thief breaks down a car for parts.

      What we need is for someone(s) to do a sustained deconstruction of critical theory: its historical origins, its reception in the academy, its use and deployment, and the power relations it masks.

      That kind of work would make me especially happy, because it would strike at the very heart of that awful Audrey Lorde, who said “The master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house.”

      The hell it won’t.

  23. TBlakely says

    The current educational system is increasingly hostile toward normal males. When some of these males react out of frustration, their behavior is used as proof that males are a ‘problem’ that needs to be solved with even more restrictive policies. It’s a system seemingly designed to turn many males into social misfits, even barbarians.

  24. This is one of the best critiques on ‘Theory’ that I’ve read on website.

    Another really good book to look at is Theory’s Empire. In it academics (from all over the political spectrum) write essays on the beginning, the evolution and the proliferation of Theory in the academy and it’s consequences.

  25. On the topic of contemporary western morality and psychological interests, Peterson occasionally mentions that we need to give space to multiple different psychological interests in order to have a healthy society. He points out how personality traits align with people on the right or the left on the political spectrum, and he says that we need the right and the left so we can successfully navigate changing circumstances as a society. This goes more generally into Peterson’s belief that we are better served by having opposites in balance, such as order and chaos. This puts Peterson at odds with the morality of contemporary western society because it does not seek balance, it instead seeks to banish any opposing viewpoints.

  26. The non-critical way that Critical Theory treats itself is entirely consistent with traditional Marxist ideology. For example, it always struck me as the height of irony that in PRC those who were opposed to the Communist power structure were charges with being counter revolutionaries, when revolution, by definition, is standing in opposition to established power and authority. Not unlike how Barack Obama was often portrayed as the victim of a racist power structure when he was even the President of the United States, arguably the single most powerful person on the planet. Assuming and maintaining an identity as an underdog or struggling against a more powerful force is often beneficial in gaining quick trust and support, but one can hardly say objectively that women and minorities are an oppressed group in academia.

  27. David says

    “The same applies to the concept of equality. This, also, is held in contemporary society as an unquestioned moral good that no reasonable person could disagree with. In practice, though, its implementation involves removing aspects of society that involve competitiveness and status-seeking, which for some people may provide significant meaning to their lives.”

    I think Uri Harris somewhat underplays the importance of this point, at least in this article. One of the key aspects of the opposition between what I will, for convenience, call the modern left, and conservatives, concerns equality. It is fundamental to the discussion. It’s not just that its implementation undermines competitiveness, but that, for conservatives and many others, complete equality is very much not to be sought, as many believe it frustrtes the essence of life, which, among other things, is a drive to be better than others, or at least that one’s success may disadvantage others. The left have merely assumed that such competition and an urge to rise above others is immoral and therefore, they believe, should not be pursued. This issue lies at the heart of the conflict between the two sides, which is really an issue about the foundation and nature of morality.

    Uri Harris is one of my favourite writers on this website. The issues he tackles and analyses I nearly always know will be the ones which interest me. He seems to recognise the important topics and angles on them. But I disagree with his comments about Cathy Newman. I very much agree with Peterson on most issues. And he wiped the floor with Newman. But she was just doing her job, and did it fairly well. She lost, but so what? Christakis says she was hostile to Peterson. But not on purpose, which seems to be what he’s implying. She was merely arguing against him (and what’s wrong with that?) – and a good interview was the result. I think there is a danger of conservative commentators and others who oppose the modern left, of becoming a little paranoid that the left is bent on unjustly attacking their opponents. It’s more a case that they simply disagree, and what is taken by some as premeditated and unreasonable hostility is simply people such as Newman articulating their opposition, or simple ignorance about the issues being discussed, or a comparatively lower intelligence or less curiosity.

    Uri asks: “But why have these arguments [such as Peterson’s] been banished? The immediate answer is social pressure.” I don’t think social pressure to have the ‘correct opinions’ amounts to much. The important thing is that arguments such as Peterson’s are not believed in by a great proportion of the left. Surely none of them have ever in their life thought, for example: ‘I dislike all this gender fluidity stuff, but I’m too afraid to say so because I’ll lose some friends and damage my career, so I’ll say the exact opposite of what I believe’. And if one claims such pressure operates more unconsciously, then no good point is being made at all about social pressure. Quite simply, those arguments have been banished only because they’re thought wrong and have been dismissed. The arguments are not discussed because those who don’t hold them are too busy living out their new religion of leftism, the great prism through which the world is seen and which gives structure and meaning to their life, as would a religion.

    The main problem as I see it is that we have an establishment which sees itself as anti-establishment, as a force for liberation and levelling, intent on bringing into being a just, natural state of affairs, uncorrupted by self-interest and power, yet themselves holding the reins of power and implementing policies to satisfy their own interests and agenda. I think this is what another commenter here refers to as ‘the problem of the self-exemption’, or it relates to it. The leftist establishment hold to what they believe to be a wholly unbiased, neutral worldview, devoid of particular interests, in short that they don’t have a perspective, but have access to the truth, which often bursts upon many of them at some point in their life with the power of revelation. That they are increasingly intolerant of opposing views, stems from the fact that built into the very core of their essentially Marxist views, is the assumption that, although they are of course participants in the world, vitally they also see themselves placed as if above it, objective judges of what is right and wrong. They are, at heart, moralists. With such a mindset, the possibility of dissent in the society they increasingly infuence grows ever smaller as the new establishment consolidates its position, controls the dominant narrative and sanctions unbelievers. Their professed disinterestedness and charitable attitude to a range of supposedly oppressed groups, which are raised up as the new ideal, depends on a material philsophy, wherein beliefs and convictions – except their own – are deemed essentially unimportant, mere artefacts. Interested only in social structure and power relationships, their attitude to other aspects of existence and thought is dismissive and condescending. David Bentley Hart spoke of their philosophy as one not of goodness, true equality and respect for different views and beliefs, for distinctive and diverse ways of life, but one of cultural conquest over the groups whose best interests they purport to protect and promote.

    I’ve never heard of Judith Butler (photo caption). I must investigate.

    • Deafening Tone says

      re: Judith Butler

      Have a bottle of whiskey handy. You’re going to need it.

    • Judith Butler writes incredibly long sentences, deliberately difficult to understand. It’s a sort of con-trick, if you say you don’t understand what she’s saying she or her followers can pretend you’re too stupid to get it…

      A real intellectual knows you have to keep thing simple in explaining to other people (and to yourself!) I don’t see her as a genuine scholar, rather as a political figure using unusually complex verbal confusions to pose as one.

      Basically, it’s important for some feminists/gender theorists to pretend they have intellectual justification for their claims. Butler appears to give them this, by talking a lot of indecipherable gibberish.

    • Robert Christopher says

      ‘She lost, but so what?’
      If she rises to the occasion, she will become famous for all the right reasons.
      Many Scientists do that: the Michelson Morley experiment ‘failed’, Newton created Gravity’s action at a distance with which he was troubled, Rutherford’s electron beam did the unexpected!
      It is a question of how much she can let go of THAT agenda. I hope she does. 🙂

      In fact, in the Rubin Report with Lindsay Shepherd, you can see Lindsay’s brain working 🙂 dismantling some of the theory that she had unawarely absorbed during the travels through academia: it is so heartening to see it in others. 🙂

  28. David,
    “The main problem as I see it is that we have an establishment which sees itself as anti-establishment, as a force for liberation and levelling, intent on bringing into being a just, natural state of affairs, uncorrupted by self-interest and power, yet themselves holding the reins of power and implementing policies to satisfy their own interests and agenda.”

    Yes, Here’s a great quote from 1951

    “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket,” True Believer (1951), Eric Hoffer

    Or as one of those supposedly accused Alt-Right people said “Conservativism has now become the counter-culture.”

    The progressive left has always had too much hubris and false confidence in their march to perfect the world. They assume they know what perfect justice is. They assume they have insight and inner knowledge of man and society in order to run it perfectly. They assume their leadership is immune from corruption. It’s the European version of the benign dictator, someone with perfect oversight who will guide society towards utopia or whatever.

    They also have a romantisized version of third worlders or marginalized groups. This goes back to Rousseau and the Noble Savage, we can see it played out in the French Revolution, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat (which led to the Bolsheviks and then Stalin and the Gulags), Women’s liberation, sexual liberation, the campaign for the third world movements starting in the 1970’s, to the LGBTQA++++ (et. al.), to the Muslims and finally the Transgendered.
    There’s nothing inherently wrong with these groups nor is there anything inherently noble or virtuous either. That is the most assumed apriori fact inherent in all these movements is the sky high pedestal the left puts all these groups on, but there is no evidence of this. This is where the right loses in the culture war, they won’t jump on these bandwagons just because the left deems someone oppressed.

    • David J (formerly one of the Davids, above) says


      I agree with all you say.

      Regarding the concept of the Noble Savage, I’m currently reading Pinker’s ‘Blank Slate’, in which it’s one of the central themes. It’s an excellent read and such impressive work. He’s a serious talent. His book shows, among things, just how intolerant and dogmatic much of the modern left is.

  29. CentristGal says

    I’m surprised so few people pull JP up on the inherent contradiction in his thesis. He very much favours a largely genetic basis of personality, gender and success (agreeableness, intelligence, conscientiousness) but then emphasises the importance of individual choice.(free will) in enhancing or overcoming one’s situation in life (ie. not playing the victim, ‘clean up your room’!). But surely that theory (which is in effect ‘individual’ constructionism) only works if you have the underlying attributes to work on? In that case you get the nice centrist position of nature being balanced with nurture. But how can you clean up a metaphorical room that you don’t possess? You can’t pull yourself up by your boot straps if you don’t have any boots. Those arguing for meritocracy are usually those who feel they can succeed within the current rules of the game, or have the strength and opportunity to at least enter and play the game. JP’s philosophy is very much a neo-liberal, trickle down one. Yet if social structures favour one particular set of genetic characteristics in Darwinian terms, obviously the strongest, most beautiful, most competitive, most focused, most talented individuals will succeed. Equal opportunity assumes that poorer individuals who do have those attributes should be able to exercise or develop at least one of them, so that we do not create inescapable, economic caste systems. But some people are not intelligent, they are not beautiful, nor competent, nor talented or only minimally so in relative terms, There will be losers.That presents us with an inescapable genetic caste system. Understandably social constructionists find that idea abhorrent. They would argue that those characteristics are not set in stone and that power structures keep people either trapped by disadvantage or secured in their privilege.. Yet what is the alternative? That the weakest, least intelligent, less talented, least hard working rise, so that we all become ‘equal’? That is equally abhorrent. Post-modernism/critical theory does two things simultaneously and this is why the battle lines are unclear, and why the definition of the right balance between nature/nurture is constantly shifting. Sometimes ‘social justice’ proponents support the idea of Darwinian meritocracy, but argue that power structures create discrimination, excluding certain groups on the basis of their ‘identity’ from succeeding within the existing rules (set by the white patriarchy). This was the interviewer’s first line of questioning re why there are so few CEOs. Then they argue something quite different. That the rules of the game are wrong. That how we define strength, beauty, talent and intelligence are arbitrary and culturally/socially determined by those in power, and need to change. They question competition itself as a basis for organising society. That was the line of the interviewer’s second question regarding a more ‘female’ type of corporation. It could be argued that co-operative, nurturing traits are equally as important in maintaining a stable society as competitive ones, so perhaps those traits should be better rewarded (regardless of whether those roles are being performed by men or women)?.When JP argues that competence not identity should be the main determinant of reward, I agree, however, the question arises: How do you measure competence? In terms of capitalism, should competence be narrowly defined by profit? Over what time-frame and geological scale? A driven, less agreeable competitive CEO might make huge profits by flaunting environmental concerns, and have unhappy, low paid employees with a high staff turnover. The workers strike, the company gets sued for environmental harm, profits fall, the company fails. A more agreeable.cooperative CEO might have lower profits, but create a sustainable organisation with happy workers, good environmental outcomes, and a good public image. Things are quite complicated.

    • I’m not sure I have the time to dissect your whole post, and I may have misunderstood your points. But

      1. I don’t think there’s any contradiction in Peterson’s thesis that biology is important, but not all important. That was his chess game point. And also he explained that if, say, your natural tendency was to be agreeable and that was hurting you, then you could work at learning to be less agreeable when you need to be. So I think his advice (from longer lectures) is to pick a niche in life that is reasonably consistent with your nature (because choosing a niche that makes you fight your nature all the time will lead to stress and ultimately failure.) But then expand your toolkit by learning to act in ways that your nature finds difficult, so that you can use that when you have to. Seems eminently reasonable to me.

      2. Consequently as to bootstraps, you work with whatever you’ve got. There’s no guarantee that if you’ve been issued galoshes instead of boots, you’re going to succeed well in the current environment. But he has two points on that. If you make an effort with your galoshes, you’ll be doing yourself a favour. Your life will be more fulfilled if you try to do as well as you can with what you’ve got. And it will be worse if you say “since I wasn’t given boots, it’s not worth trying.” Nor is Peterson remotely panglossian about people whose natural gifts are meagre. His lectures are full of illustrations of people who’ve got all sorts of problems, some of their own making and some definitely not. So he’s not offering a trickle down theory of everyone being able to get to a land flowing with milk and honey. He’s just saying that if you try, you might be able to get out of a land flowing with raw sewage. Whereas if you just become bitter and resentful (perhaps justifiably so) the person you will harm most is going to be you.

      3. As to whether companies would do better if they were run on kinder lines, the opportunity exists to run the experiment. Hundreds of new companies are born every day. In my experience of business, the companies that are kindest to their employees, most modern and up to date in their accommodation of the disabled, most generous in handing out charity or endowing educational funds and so on, tend to be the tech growth companies. And the reason is that they are in the position of Lady Bountiful. They happen to have lucked out and hit such a gold seam that they don’t need to pinch pennies. When their growth spurt fades and competitors start gnawing at their ankles, then they revert to the usual type. Pennies count. Carrying more employees than you need begins to count. Why are real companies so apparently short termist ? Because the lifecycle of a big successful listed company is about 30 years. The long term isn’t that long.

      • CentristGal says

        Thanks for you reply. I understand that JP is not absolutist re the nature/nurture argument, but it seems to me he does tend towards the nature end of the spectrum. I think Eastern philosophies are much more accommodating of this view, whereas Westerners have been ‘trained’ to shy away from such thoughts as being heretical. I agree entirely with the thrust of JP’s argument that the psychological benefits of not considering oneself a victim are huge, and that is the only way to a better life, both spiritually and materially. And that resentment is a poisonous emotion. I struggle with Stoicism versus Apathy. How much do we accept unfairness in the world, at a personal or social level? Should it be (from Leonard Cohen’s ‘Bird on Wire’)… “Don’t ask for so much” or “Why not ask for more?”. I also ask whether the chess game is actually the correct game? Why should a person who is agreeable have to change their nature to play the game and be rewarded? Agreeable people might be deep thinkers who have a higher intellect, but who are not pushy or extroverted and thus go unrecognised. Their quietness is actually intrinsic to their ability to achieve. It is not necessarily the best and brightest who get to the top. In fact, it could be argued that the interviewer, who was ‘disagreeable’ provides a case in point. She should have asked more probing questions. She indicated an inability to listen and reason. Perhaps psychological diversity (rather than external measures of identity) should be the aim of diversity programs, with more equal weighting given to different psychological traits..

        • Deafening Tone says

          Great exchange.

          For Peterson, the chess game is human nature and its biological substrate. To change the game from chess would be to change the game from humanity. Here, he is echoing Jonathan Haidt, who, quoting Gary Marcus, a neuroscientist, suggests that “Nature provides a first draft, which experience then revises. . . . “Built-in” does not mean unmalleable; it means “organized in advance of experience.”

          Your idea about psychological diversity is one worth giving some sustained consideration to, I think.

        • CentristGal : “Why should a person who is agreeable have to change their nature to play the game and be rewarded? ……..Perhaps psychological diversity (rather than external measures of identity) should be the aim of diversity programs, with more equal weighting given to different psychological traits”

          Well – though this is one area where I don’t think his logic quite stacks up – Peterson is definitely in your camp on the benefits of psychological diversity. Broadly, he says since the Big 5 personality traits are laid out as normal distributions with individuals occupying slots covering the whole distribution, that means that some slots on the distribution (eg being very disagreeable) can’t be evolutionarily preferable to other slots, even if they look like they’re currently advantageous. Otherwise evolution would have weeded out the personalities occupying the other slots and we’d all be hyper disagreeable. Consequently even if hyper agreeableness is disadvantageous in the 21st century American job market (say) there are lots of other possible environments in which it may be advantageous. And the recurrence of those sorts of environments stops evolution from destroying psychological diversity. He gives an illustration in one of his lectures, which I’ll mangle – you could say that 21st century western society probably favours extraverts a bit. There are lots of opportunities for outgoing people. But being an extravert in North Korea is probably not an advantage. Sometimes it may be advantageous to keep a low profile.

          He also uses illustrations of different personality traits being complementary – eg people who are open (ie creative) being good at starting businesses but not so good at running them, while conscientious people are good a running businesses but not so good at starting them.

          • CentristGal says

            So maybe it’s just about society recognizing and valuing a wider range of complementary strengths, which would naturally lead to greater ‘identity’ diversity in work places.. Of course, it might also lead right back to gender stereotypes in others (as we see in Norway). Maybe we need to put the horse back in front of the cart, so to speak? The flaw in JP’s faith in competition and hierarchies is that it is not necessarily the most competent, intelligent and talented who get to the top, whether or not affirmative action in in place. There are many domains (academia, the arts, politics) where it’s quite apparent that it’s not the most accomplished, but the loudest, most ruthless, most connected and most pushy who reach the top. We have even seen sports corrupted. And the agreeable/disagreeable theory falls down because it could also be argued that agreeable people, the ones who don’t challenge the system or their superiors, are more likely to progress, whereas the disagreeable, who may be speaking truths and challenging authority, or the talented who might outshine their superiors, tend to get sidelined. I think he’s right, though, there must be more agreeableness in the world than disagreeableness or we wouldn’t have lasted this long. At the same time, from an evolutionary perspective, ruthlessness and aggression in the mix are necessary for the species survival, so we can’t do away with those characteristics altogether. If we lose that aspect of ourselves, we become vulnerable to others displaying them. We are always teetering on the precipice.

        • Daniel PV says

          Thanks for your posts CenteristGal. Some good points you made. Very interesting and got me thinking. I was starting to lose the will to live threading some of this nonsense but you revived me.

        • Pierre Delacroix says

          JP relies on existentialist philosophers. He needs realist philosophers. He does keep looping back to Darwinian “explanations” and there are no final explanations even possible there for free will and intellection. He needs someone like Ed Feser the modern Aristotelian / thomist philosopher. He’s kickass. Like Peterson. Bishop had him on his show with his proofs of the existence of God. A most consoling reality.

    • Sorry to just burp in here. But he channels Aristotle, Aquinas and the Scholastics of classical western realism.. our grounding to sanity.. 🙂 but he lacks the awareness of this.. Pure Act which gives an internal apprehension of what is true and good existentially and psychologically.. so he often flops back and forth between a darwinian model and say.. Logos.. He’s moving in the necessary direction of Logs.. and Love at the core of all change.. the Pure Act of western theism, but metaphysically he’s not there yet. Which is perhaps good because he’s doing such a marvelous and vital job his way. God bless him.

      • CentristGal says

        Thanks Micha. Sounds very interesting indeed…will consider.

  30. augustine says

    “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed, second it is violently opposed, and third, it is accepted as self-evident.”
    –Arthur Schopenhauer

    A worthy quote, even if postmodernism does not qualify as a truth.

  31. Rondo says

    Jordan Peterson quote

    “I want the best for what wants the best in you… I am not on the side of you that’s aiming at your defeat….I’m on the side of you that’s struggling towards the light…That’s the definition of love.”

    Jordan Peterson

  32. Richard says

    I don’t really know how to comment on this. Having read most of the replies here I can barely understand what ppl are saying. Its very esoteric language for a laymen and the concepts are hard to grasp. Basically I need to get a lot smarter. Have subscribed!

    I’m not actually sure i fully agree with the assertions made in the piece or whether i do but simply haven’t recognised it.

    This ‘game’ if we want to call it so and we probably should because that seems to me to be exactly what it is, has been set up purposefully and not through academia. The academics are if anything in the right place at the right time but they have no control. The game has been set up by (yes I know role eyes and start zzz’ing) politicians, who are purposefully destroying culture for their own agenda of relinquishing themselves of the burden of having to collect votes at a ballot box (the EU), or more rightly, the gain of their pay masters and thus themselves by proxy. They themselves are not ‘post modernists’ or ‘marxists’ as such but they skim very closely along the surface of it, using its power of tyranny and self censorship to stop any criticism of their political motivations and policies. The ones you don’t get a say on yet have the biggest effect. The ones clearly driven by the demands of higher forces.
    In the UK this would be to uphold and protect mass immigration and the destruction of culture for the god of GDP and failing that (look for the BBC article on google entitled ‘More Or Less How Much does immigration Cost The UK’ 125Billion since 1999 apparently net drain) it is a vote buyer and thirdly, although not in order, just itemised as such, a way politicians have (especially kleptocratic ones like the Conservatives) of disenfranchising voters from taking part in the system altogether, as apathy sets in. This is of course a well known tactic.

    The flirtation with neo marxism will be inevitable as more and more ethnicities and races are brought in to achieve one, or all 3 of the above motivations i set out. 2 and 3 are not contradictory. You can disenfranchise normal voters through fragmenting society whilst ganging a hardcore voter base who are essentially repaying you for their admittance.

    Basically multiculturalism cannot go any other way and in the UK it is the number one driver of this type of situation. Hence why I imagine you’ll find zero issues with this in South Korea, Japan etc.. and other homogenous societies. Even Scandinavia, as the politicians desperately try to destroy it (Sweden) are using Neo Marxism (critical Theory) as a way of masking their attempts to plug a burdening deficit in those in work and those reaching pension age.

    Why our countries politicians didn’t plan for population growth or lack of growth is a good question but the answer is simple. Democracy breeds short-termism just as capitalism wants to destroy culture to raise GDP a couple of %, regardless of the obvious drop in productivity coming from a depressed and riderless population.

    Essentially we have arrived at this point so politicians can get away with basically everything.

    Thank for reading.

    • David J says

      “Having read most of the replies here I can barely understand what ppl are saying. Its very esoteric language for a laymen and the concepts are hard to grasp. Basically I need to get a lot smarter.”

      You really don’t need to get smarter.

      I almost mentioned this issue in my long comment above. Most of the comments here and elsewhere on Quillette are lucid. But I’ve noticed in recent months there’s a growing number dominated by what I think you’re referring to: overly wordy exchanges which quite often use a fair amount of jargon. It’s more than jargon, really. They often make interesting and valid points, but they grate, with their use of overblown language. Some give off an air of self-importance. The jargon is in fact a symptom of a relatively obscure way of conceptualising certain issues. Reading some of them I begin to wonder whether those who oppose the left/SJWs/left-wing academics (many of whom use lots of jargon and for a number of reasons) are now using their own argot. And I may be wrong, and it’s not meant as a criticism of the US itself, but I get the feeling many who write such esoteric comments, as you call them, are in the US.

  33. CentristGal says

    You make valid points. What JP and other cheer leaders of capitalism fail to recognise, is that it is complicit in ‘destroying culture’ as you say, and creating monocultures of global thought and behaviour. There is a lot of thought control and collective behaviour promoted through capitalism; it’s not just academia to blame. We really are in a situation of Orwell meets Huxley. Just consider our reliance on our ‘devices’ and the growing influence over our lives and opinions of global corporations. Consider the mountain of discarded clothes as consumers slaveishly follow fashion dictates. Postmodernism & capitalism are strange bedfellows, but they are not oppositional forces. In some ways they claim to support the same aim, ‘freedom’ for the individual, but the end result is the same; ultimately somebody ends up with power that they seek to exercise over a populace lost in a sea of too much consumer choice and/or cultural/moral relativism,. For example, destroying notions of intrinsic value, merit and ‘truths’ via postmodernism is used ostensibly for the purposes of levelling hierarchies, of democratising society and making people more ‘equal’. No objective truths suits capitalism just fine, particularly in education, where lower standards and no accountability means more and more fee-paying students.. Who cares if they can’t read or write? Who needs to read and write to any depth anyway, when most communication can be done with a quick tweet and an emoji? Everybody is ‘equal’ now with a university degree, nobody can fail, and lots of money is made in the process…by a few powerful interests! Everybody is equal on the internet and lots of money is made in the process…by a few powerful interests! Success is not necessarily linked to quality or content. Think of celebrity culture. Some youngsters’ ambition in life is to be an Instagram star! Art and literature are other great examples of how postmodernism and capitalism have colluded to destroy notions of intrinsic value. As Warhol pointed out “art is anything you can get away with”. Millions of dollars are spent on art which literally has nothing to it. It’s fantasy, make believe, yet those with institutional or market power get to construct value, either for political or commercial gain.. Capitalism, like postmodernism, is very much based not on ‘truths’ but on confected, values (social constructionism). Otherwise, how do we explain the role of status branding? Why do two identical pairs of sunglasses (one with a designer brand, the other without) fetch such different prices? Why do people instil magical properties onto, and buy, things that are freely available, such as water? The ‘you can be whatever you want to be’ ethos of postmodernism (eg gender fluidity) suits capitalism just fine. PM uses institutions/language to reinforce and assert identity, the other uses consumerism and the infinite choice of consumer goods to prop up and define oneself. “I buy therefore I am”. Just look at how consumerism and wearing the right brands is intrinsic to ‘identities’ such as being a surfer or a skater. Where I applaud JP is in trying to move us back to “I think therefore I am” and to try and cut through the politics of identity to find some ‘truths’ about our nature, and what really matters.

    • Richard says

      @CentristGal Some of your post reminds me of the book ‘The Black Swan’ (not the book on ballet).

      Yes trying to get pro capitalists to understand that they are also part of the problem is kinda hard and it is the very same blindspot shown by the other side.

      I’ve always thought the best leader would be a benevolent dictator. Unfortunately, regardless of how good something can be, it will and always can get much, much worse.

      I’ve decided I’ve had enough of this nonsense and am going to make my escape out of England whilst I still can. I give the society here about 20 years or less before complete collapse. Gonna head up to norther Canada, find me a nice cabin and live out the rest of my days free and hopefully happy.

      • Richard says

        I’m tired of tyranny and I’ve been living under it for my entire life.

        If it’s not the modern tyranny of the ever encroaching police state, it’s the tyranny of Jewish, victim based identity politics.
        You’ll never have free speech and a functioning society for the individual whilst we are still shackled by the ever noisy and boisterous demands of stone age belief systems.
        Although i enjoy JP’s talks on christianity. I asked him at his talk recently if he could explain why we allow such groups as Islam and Judaism to silence us as individuals and he said

        “I cant answer that question”

        He could, he just didn’t want to destroy his career for my sake.

        Tyranny everywhere but only for the individual.

        • Deafening Tone says

          How in the world, Richard, does “Judaism” silence you?

          • Richard says

            You got aggressive real quick, didn’t you! Was expected. Always a touchy subject and kinda why you’re proving my point.

            Here’s an elaboration for you, since you clearly need one.

            Publicly challenge the number of Jews killed in the holocaust and try keeping your job and in some EU countries your freedom. I’m not saying you should challenge it but ppl have, didn’t turn out to well for them did it. One danish women has just been arrested in Germany over it. Where’s her freedom of speech?
            Try saying you’re sick and tired of hearing about the holocaust! Without then being immediately told that its ppl like you who will cause it again for not remembering what happened every day, day in day out. Which of course is utter nonsense. (see telegraph: Student union leaders are having to go to Auschwitz to learn about anti semitism). Sounds like Social Justice thought training to me. And you wonder where they get it from?
            Try calling circumcision what it really is, male gential mutilation and watch how quickly you get shut down in the public arena and called an anti semite as I did at the Peterson lecture. And why Jordan didn’t dare agree with me (and you ask how they try to silence ppl. The very existence of the word anti semitism should have been a whopping clue to you, you’d think).
            Try being in the Labour party without your chances of being elected dramatically diminished purely because you can be labelled an anti semite for simply having more muslims in the party. Win win for conservatives. They even planted an outraged Jewish women in Labour who made a scene and stormed out of a press conference accusing the labour leadership of anti semitism (of course it was just before an election and was being televised). She was later found out to be an Israeli spy to boot. Can’t say anything though because the media call anyone who does, an anti semite.
            Not really fair and not very democratic. But it all helps twist democracy for the party that uses them as a vote winning strategy. Usually the right wing press and Murdoch’s news organisations.

            All groups play identity politics and those who get to have the most power, usually play victim based identity politics, that’s why it’s considered the most toxic.
            We also encourage it for political expediency as I said before.
            For example Jews in the west (not all) have practically made the holocaust a fundamental part of their existence. Hence why many take any criticism as an attack on their very existence. Yet as an Englishmen I don’t wake up every day forcing ppl to pay homage to the millions more non jews who died. Its almost become a one sided story at this point. It’s actually more like propaganda because you never here about the other ppl’s he tried to annihilate, ever!

            Try for example explaining to someone who identifies as a jew who’s an atheist, that they are not Jewish as it is simply a religion not a race. Aka Milo Yiannopoulos, the Catholic, Jew! No ones ever challenged him on that and he uses the title to protect himself from criticism because he knows full well you cannot really criticise judaism in the west.

            Im just sick of the identity politics. I have asperges and all I care about is fair play. So much of our time being wasted on identity politics, its tragic.
            I don’t actually have an Issue with Judaism as a religion and Im not blaming everyone who practices it, but to deny the Jewish lobby is not exceptionally powerful is frankly dishonest. We British dropped Christianity but yet Jews and Muslims show no sign of doing so themselves. Again to the point where Jews identity as jewish even if they don’t believe in god, which is impossible as its not a race.

            The only political system we can have going forwards that will truly work and will destroy this post modernist, neo marxism, is one based on two principles

            1) Total freedom of speech
            2) The supremacy of the individual over the group.

            But you will never achieve that with religious groups using their identity, whether Christian, Jew or Islam, to bolster their own power and ability to tilt your society in their favour. And of course politicians who use that power to undermine or ‘guide’ democracy.

            Now go ahead and call me an anti semite, like you wanted to originally.

      • CentristGal says

        Hi Richard, I’ve not read ‘Black Swan’. I shall have a look at it. Regarding your exit to a nice cabin, that sounds like a great plan!

        • Deafening Tone says

          I have to reply here, Richard, because the “reply” button has been removed from your comment for some reason.

          Thank you for sharing some personal details. Let me respond on a few points:

          1. Free speech laws in Europe are generally terrible, in my opinion, so I can agree with you on that point.

          2. You confuse being Jewish with Judaism. That is totally unnecessary. The way we speak of “racial” categories are inventions. Jews “became” a race at the same time that all others came into existence; in fact, there may be an argument to be made that the category of “Jewish” as a race may have been the first one. It is more helpful to understand modern Jewish identity as an ethnicity, not a race. Ethnicity is defined by the people who identify with the ethnicity: it’s a felt bond in that those of the ethnicity feel a shared, primordial relationship. That’s what makes someone part of “my people,” not some scientifically provable relationship, and not someone else who insists that if the group doesn’t practice the religion associated with that ethnicity, they aren’t part of their people–which is what you did.

          If someone identifying as Jewish is so by custom, by being a Hebrew speaker, by having a Jewish mother (the traditional, operative definition), or simply because they have a Jewish last name and everyone around them considers them a Jew–then they are Jewish. No one gets to define to you what people you belong to, and you don’t get to define them either. In the 20th century (and before), many Europeans MADE individuals who considered themselves, say, German before any other identity, but who had Jewish ancestors, Jewish features, went to a Jewish school, etc.–they were made to fit into a Jewish category and then persecuted. These individuals often pleaded their case as “I am GERMAN first and ONLY German, this country is my country,” but to no avail. They were going to be Jews whether they wanted to be or not–because others defined them. You also have a very serious logical problem: the apostle Paul, Jesus, and all of his disciples considered themselves Jewish, then Christians without that being a contradiction to being Jewish. You aren’t the first to misrecognize this fact, but you can resist following the path of others that doubled-down by insisting Jesus and his disciples *stopped* being Jewish or never were to begin with. That will also keep you from making invisible Messianic Jewish Christians, many who live in Israel today.

          3. Jeremy Corbyn has brought anti-semitism charges to Labour of his own doing. Labour fringe groups have often called for the suppression of speech of self-identifying Zionists on the grounds that they are equivalent to Nazis and racist Afrikaners.,7340,L-5022016,00.html. 33% of British Jews are considering leaving the UK because of the rise of anti-semitism there, mainly among Muslim populations who find a home in Labour. I suggest you look at polling data. When Corbyn describes Hezbollah and Hamas as “friends,” when he lays a wreath at the grave of PLO terrorists who murdered Jews in Munich in 1972, he brings it on himself. If even London Mayor Sadiq Khan is calling for Corbyn to do something about rampant anti-semitism within Labour’s ranks, you know something is afoot. Not to mention, CORBYN HIMSELF admits there is a problem:,7340,L-4798674,00.html

          4. Many Jews have made the Holocaust part of their existence for the same reason the book of Esther is part of the Hebrew bible. It would be absolutely shocking if they DIDN’T make such an experience part of their existence. It would also be suicidal. We can debate about whether and how the memory of the holocaust might be taken to extremes. But the grounds of your criticisms go way beyond that.

    • Robert Christopher says

      CentristGal: What JP and other cheer leaders of capitalism fail to recognise …

      Capitalism allows people to make their own decisions and suffer the consequences, good or bad. If it affects others adversely (too much), there are democratic means to make changes.

      Capitalism doesn’t make any claim to make people behave perfectly. The power of Capital, I would argue, is likely to be more transparent than political power, especislly if coupled with feedback, like Democracy. It would work better if all children could be born into a family within a community, and have access to an adequate education. It is ironic that the last has been handed over to the State.

      Like the Highway Code, which has an aim to lower the rate of injury and death, not to decide everyone’s destination, it is the individual that needs to make the decisions, and pay the price.

      • CentristGal says

        @Robert Christopher

        In theory it allows people to make their own decisions. Consumers are in the dark about the consequences of their purchases most of the time, the impacts of which may be temporally & spatially distant (externalities). Or they fail to take responsibility for them. Also, in terms of the effects on products on their own health…a lot of trust is placed in manufacturers which is frequently shown to be misplaced. That’s the main problem I have with JP’s faith in capitalism, although I understand he is a moderate (believes in universal health care, etc). But just as postmodernists wield power through institutions for self-serving ends, so do capitalists wield power through institutions such as the banks, stock markets, advertising. Those too are all social constructions, as are concepts such as offshore tax havens, compound interest, etc. Those in power still get to lay out the rules for everybody else and brainwash the public into believing that the rules are the correct ones. There is ‘group think’ in consumerism too. I agree that the free market is the best option we have, but it would be great if the message of individual responsibility and also spiritual meaning could be extended to consumerism. Is that new gizmo really going to make you happy? And for how long? How long will it be before it is discarded, adding to the mountains of junk the world is drowning in? (I want to send him a present…a reusable glass or metal drinking bottle!!!) I think Mammon has filled the postmodern void (which is something I don’t think JP acknowledges enough), and part of individual responsibility and spiritual growth is moving capitalism in a more positive, less destructive direction through our own considered behaviours and priorities. What would a kinder, less rapacious capitalism look like?

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  35. Emblem14 says

    “The non-critical way that Critical Theory treats itself ”

    In discussions I’ve had with political, thoughtful, intellectually honest friends of various stripes, I’ve been convinced that the Social Justice Dogma that dominates academia and media would flame out quickly if the same critical lens through which its adherents take aim at the status quo, was reflected back on their own assumptions. The underlying ideas; the incoherent mishmash of pomo and marxism is just so untenable, its conclusions so repugnant, it can’t stand up to sustained criticism, even on its own terms! It doesn’t have the foundation to be any kind of productive prescription for a functional society. All you need is an hour long dialogue to drill down to the root assumptions of an ideology and “interrogate” its premises. This never happens in “public” because that format of discussion is totally absent from mainstream discourse, only existing in some areas of the podcast-verse, blogosphere and youtube.

    That said, I think the reasons why SocJus Dogma has been able to proliferate so easily can be boiled down to the following:

    1. It provides a grand moral project. There is a moral consensus, across almost the entire political spectrum, that the concept of unearned social privilege is bankrupt and anachronistic, like aristocracy or slavery. Noone except neo fascists or neoreactionaries will defend social order based on the intentional subjugation of people based on immutable characteristics. However, critical theory shows that the multi-generational legacy of systems of oppression, the functions of which were to maintain and perpetuate various unearned privileges for certain groups, are still affecting the lives of people today. In some cases, it’s not even a legacy – those systems are still fully operational, so it is argued.

    This realization provides the basis for the moral crusade of our modern progressive age – to identify these unjust hierarchical constructs and dismantle them by any means available. It’s a big enough undertaking, infused with enough moral urgency, to fuel to a whole generation of activists and establish a totalizing political praxis i.e. Intersectionality. Yes, it’s ultimately re-heated, reconstituted Marxism, but its popularity shouldn’t be surprising. OG Marxism was once the wave of the future too.

    People who would lean “left” in any scenario due to their moral intuitions and personality, are presented with a cohesive metanarrative about the historical arc of moral progress and the ultimate perfectibility of humankind. They are told that there is still work to be done, and if they do not take their share of responsibility, they are complicit and therefore a “bad person”. Critically, they will actually be treated that way by the more strident moralists of their social group. Because all social activity is implicated in this moral system, the ideological narrative colonizes every aspect of life to the point where every personal choice, every preference, has political ramifications – a “right” and “wrong”, a “woke” and “problematic” version.

    There are very few competing counternarratives that aren’t either reactionary in some way (most right wing systems), built on similar utopian premises (eg. transhumanism), or tainted with toxic, discredited ideas (ethno-supremacism). Only recently have some people started promulgating culturally dormant but resonant concepts, like classical liberalism, stoicism, christian mysticism, existentialism, to an audience starving for a more mature, comprehensive method of orienting the self and society.

    2. Weaponized virtuousness. Social justice activists use the moral power of victimization to assign themselves moral legitimacy. By framing their actions on behalf of victims whose entitlement to justice and restitution is a fait accompli, they never have to justify their beliefs with reasoned argument. This works, because everyone accepts the underlying moral calculus as true. You do, I do. Nobody disputes that legitimate victims of wrongdoing deserve justice, and have a right to demand it. It’s always assumed that when words like “justice” are used, people are working from a shared conceptual understanding. This is of course a fatal mistake.

    Obviously, this has led to the inflation of victimhood, “concept creep” about what causes victimization and what can give someone a claim to victimhood. It’s now in the realm of the absurd. However, the boundaries can be opaque, since not all victimization leaves physical evidence or can be traced to a single perpetrator who can be punished. So the battle for moral supremacy becomes a fight over who gets to define victimhood. If someone claims victimhood, and the moral weight that comes with it, the only way to oppose them is by denying their claim, and that puts you in the position of calling them a liar, an idiot or a crazy person. That’s pretty rude, and most people don’t feel threatened enough by the victim brigade to risk being cast as an asshole oppressor. You have to be willing to get smeared as an evil person if you care enough to make an objection to a claim of victimhood.

    This problem isn’t going away until there is an equally respectable counter narrative that reestablishes constraints on the use of morally loaded terms, while allowing people who are sensitive to their public image the moral cover to object to specious abuse of language and social currencies like victimhood. The conflict between notions of individual vs.collective responsibility highlights this issue well.

    3. Social Pressure. Not a unique type of social pressure invented by political militants, but the ordinary self-reinforcing sort, in which popular things are popular because they’re popular, and people are hesitant to go against the grain for fear of social cost. The reasons why SocJus ideology became the popular manifestation of left-wing thought in our time is complicated, but the fact of its popularity remains, and that makes it hard for competing memes that might cover the same territory of moral concerns to gain a foothold. The dominant meme will always fight to keep its position, and SocJus has very potent weapons at its disposal. Some countermeasures being deployed, like those of the alt-right, do far more harm than good. Civil society cannot be acceptable collateral damage of tribal warfare.

    As more and more people become alienated from SocJus dogma as it overreaches and entertains absurdities at face value, (attacking the scientific method, embracing censorship as a public good, equating language with physical violence, reproducing racist modes of thought etc.), various alternatives start gaining steam. Inevitably, a tipping point is reached, a polarizing event occurs, the public voice their opinion, people who thought they were in a position of strength find themselves isolated, and vice versa, collective assumptions on public attitudes shift and the pendulum swings.

    • CentristGal says

      @ emblem14. Great post!

      “You have to be willing to get smeared as an evil person if you care enough to make an objection to a claim of victimhood”

      That happened to me. The event at the time just struck me as not right, untrue, illogical, unwise, and it became a pivotal moment of realisation about the principles that were at stake. Principles that I couldn’t even articulate at the time or place in a broader context. It has led me on a very interesting journey indeed. Re the swing of the pendulum, I think Peterson has acted as a catalyst for many people. Hopefully things won’t swing back too far the other way, and we will reach some sort of equilibrium.

      • You might find this January 17 posting “aboot” Peterson from the Chronicle of Higher Education interesting [I love his McKenzie brothers SCTV accent].

        In my opinion, Peterson is preaching exactly what I taught in church and in public grammar and high schools in Massachusetts 70 years ago.

        To my ear, it is essentially the calvinist-stoic fusion that is commonly called the Protestant (Puritan Independent would be more accurate) Ethic that emerged in the mid-17th. Peterson is an evangelical in the sense that John Lilburne, Gerrard Winstanley, Thomas Rainborowe and Hugh Peter were evangelicals. Of course, they were all secular revolutionaries as well.

        Like many of us, Peterson seems to treat the ideas associated with evolutionary and socio-biology as manifestations of God’s “praktisch Plan;” the universe as a clockwork and all that.

        We are all quite conscious that the gifts and weaknesses we are all born with are normally distributed over the entire population, that we must all play the hand we have been dealt and that it is our collective duty to create a political and economic system that allows everyone to fully express the gifts we have been born with for our collective benefit.

        This is not a globalist philosophy. It is intensely local but it has served us well for more than 300 years.

    • David J says


      “In discussions I’ve had with political, thoughtful, intellectually honest friends of various stripes, I’ve been convinced that the Social Justice Dogma that dominates academia and media would flame out quickly if the same critical lens through which its adherents take aim at the status quo, was reflected back on their own assumptions.”

      I don’t think so – because it’s not really a critical lens, but a heavily-tinted one, out to fit reality to its own framework of beliefs and assumptions. Critical Theory is very badly named.

      “The underlying ideas; the incoherent mishmash of pomo and marxism is just so untenable, its conclusions so repugnant, it can’t stand up to sustained criticism, even on its own terms! It doesn’t have the foundation to be any kind of productive prescription for a functional society.”

      Indeed. But those who believe such things are never, on the whole, going subject their own ideas and theories to sustained and thorough criticism, because they’re not capable of it. Their worldview is a profound belief system – a grand moral project, as you say – which they require for their own psychological well-being. Modern leftism is effectively a type of religion. I’m not against religion. But we must ask ourselves why are some people and not others attracted to what is in fact unalloyed Marxism, an ideology I consider to be a philosophy of the morally weak and vain.

      Early in your comment you seem to frame things as SJWs/Marxists against unearned privilege. But what about earned ‘privilege’? SJWs are against far more than unearned privilege. They’re driven by a desire for complete equality, in all areas of life.

      I fully agree with your thoughts on the melioristic metanarrative which attracts SJWs, and they are excellently stated.

      “There are very few competing counternarratives that aren’t either reactionary in some way (most right wing systems), built on similar utopian premises (eg. transhumanism), or tainted with toxic, discredited ideas (ethno-supremacism). Only recently have some people started promulgating culturally dormant but resonant concepts, like classical liberalism, stoicism, christian mysticism, existentialism, to an audience starving for a more mature, comprehensive method of orienting the self and society.”

      What about the most obvious ‘narrative’ of them all: social conservatism, the values of which the greater part of the populations of most European nations have adhered to for many centuries?

      As for social pressure, as mentioned in my long comment above (under the name of just ‘David’), believe or not I think it’s an almost insignificant reason for the proliferation of SJW dogma. No one believes something because of the prevalent social mores, per se, and the penalties they imagine they’ll pay if they didn’t sign up to such-and-such an ideology. They believe an ideology simply because it is attractive to them personally (cf leftism as a type of religion, above). Social pressure as a reason seems largely redundant and irrelevant here.

      “As more and more people become alienated from SocJus dogma as it overreaches and entertains absurdities at face value, (attacking the scientific method, embracing censorship as a public good, equating language with physical violence, reproducing racist modes of thought etc.), various alternatives start gaining steam. Inevitably, a tipping point is reached, a polarizing event occurs, the public voice their opinion…”

      I think you’re right. And I quote this bit because I was thinking recently that perhaps that’s why the idea of post-truth has now come to the fore among the leftist media. It’s basically anything they don’t agree with. Perhaps the left is now so intolerant and extreme, for example with their anti-nation dogma of open borders, human rights and relentless mass immigration, that the socially conservative public, including working class Labour voters, have had enough and now recognise how rabid a lot of it is.

    • Pierre Delacroix says

      The reply to it, supported by Peterson’s data .. is Aristotle ? Aquinas’ metaphysical proofs of the existence of a necessarily extant pure actuality that both transcends and is immanent in classic western intellectual tradition until nominalism raised its incoherent head. Postmodernism is just the last station on the nominalist train to stupid. Aristotle explains the railroad. And why we have one and where it goes. Ed Feser’s “Aquinas” or “The Last Superstition: a refutation of the new atheists ” is really good and really readable too.

  36. My problem with the social sciences, is they are more like secular religions than science most of the time. Physics and math are sciences. Psychology is not.

  37. There’s so much to talk about here. For one thing he could have been much tougher with her on the wage gap and, importantly, “gender equality”. This last is where many of her confusions arise

    – the fact that feminists deliberately confuse equality of outcome with equality of opportunity
    – whether you can truly have “equality” between different people
    – whether the price in freedom, or the unfairness of positive discrimination, is worth it for this nebulous idea of equality

    Then the number of times she interrupted & misrepresented what he said, her inflammatory accusations, her attempts to rile him. These are the weapons of feminism. He stayed calm…

    Also of note is the mildly critical comments on the YT video (on Channel 4’s YT account) quietly being deleted, while an editor goes on Twitter to talk about “misogyny” and “threats”.

    Journalism keeps digging that hole deeper and deeper – and they wonder why no one respects them

  38. Andrew Roddy says

    Great piece, thanks. I loved the interview. Wonderfully charged. Bogart and Bacall. Surely she was smitten? No?

  39. Dev Null says

    A philosophical materialist would point out that the immaterialists faithfully describing the existence of a God invoke the self-exception to disqualify the simultaneous existence of multiple Gods.

    • Pierre Delacroix says

      Nope. Aristotle and Thomists prove a singularity. Such an ultimate final cause must be simple, not composite. Ed Feser’s good on this stuff.

  40. Paula says

    Leo “Rome Burns” Strauss: “Descartes’ [1596-1650] ego cogitans (the “thinking I”) has emanci­pated itself entirely from ‘the tutelage of nature’ and eventually refuses to obey any law which it has not originated in its entirety or to dedicate itself to any ‘value’ of which it does not know that it is its own creation.” The City and Man, Univ. of Chic. Press (1964), p. 44.

    • Andrew Roddy says

      That’s very good, Paula. Marx schmarx! The problem goes way deeper than cynical psychologist, Jordan Bloody Peterson, seems fit to gets to grips with.

  41. Paula says

    “But WHEN do the biggest sophists turn out young and old, men & women, JUST the way they want them to be?” Glaucon asks.

    Socrates answers, “When many gathered together sit down in assemblies, courts, theaters, army camps, or any other common meeting of a multitude, and with a great deal of uproar, blame some of the things said or done, and praise others, both in excess, shouting and clapping; and, besides, the rocks and the very place surrounding them echo and redouble the uproar of blame and praise.

    “Now in such circumstances, as the saying goes, what do you suppose is the state of the young man’s heart? Or what kind of private education will hold out for him and not be swept away by such blame and praise and go, borne by the flood, wherever it tends, so that he’ll say the same things are noble and base as they do, practice what they practice, and be such as they are?”

    Plato’s Republic, trans. by Allan Bloom, 492A

  42. Paula says

    “I contend that Weber’s [fact/value distinction] necessarily leads to nihilism or to the view that every preference, however, evil, base, or insane, has to be judged before the tribunal of reason to be as legitimate as any other preference. An unmistakable sign of this necessarily is supplied by a statement of Weber about the prospects of Western civilization.

    “He saw…either a spiritual renewal (“wholly new prophets or a powerful renaissance of old thoughts and ideals”) or else “mechanized petrifaction, varnished by a kind of convulsive sense of self-importance,” i.e. the extinction of every human possibility but that of “specialists without spirit or vision, and voluptuaries without heart.”

    Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History, 1953 (pp. 41-42)

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  45. What is the role of an interviewer?
    To ‘do battle’ as Cathy suggests?
    Why would a proper interviewer care who ‘won’?
    Isn’t it her job to simply guide the interview in the direction she supposed her audience wants?

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  48. Caligula says

    “All theory is political, they said …”

    And it is this (and not whether critical theory is dishonest when it uniquely exempts itself from criticism) that is the root problem here.

    Because neither Newton’s physics nor quantum theory are political; they just are. Are what? Less than perfect and not entirely universal, but good enough to have widespread predictive capability. Nor is biochemistry, or the physics of semiconductors.

    Politicized science leads inevitably and inexorably toward a latter-day Lysenkoism. Yet it’s all too obvious that much of the “studies” academy, and especially its critical theorist apparat, is demanding that they and not scientists would assumed a duty to police science, to control funding and academic appointments to control what scientists may study, and especially what conclusions they may reach.

    Critical theory evaluates everything according to its presumed effect on the political causes it espouses, and thus must judge science not according to whether it has predictive value or in some other way seems an accurate representation of reality but only on whether its conclusions support the political mission of the critical theorists.

    And while this may not lead to show trials and gulags, it can and will lead to the installation of political officers (regardless of their actual job titles) whose job is to police inquiry by deny funding and academic appointments to any scientists whose inquiry may threaten political orthodoxy.

    It’s not as if critical theorists actually believe that all representations of reality are equally valid. They know as well as you that if one steps off the roof of a high-rise one will not fall gently to the pavement below but that “traditional” physics will do quite well in predicting one’s trajectory in this and other situations. As Humpty-Dumpty remarked in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass,” it’s about “which is to be master- that’s all.”

  49. I’m not sure if the thread is still being read but the scary part of the story of Critical Theory in the academy is the evolution to Critical Race Theory. The schools of GenEd are using Critical Race Theory or CRT as one of their primary modes of teaching. It is seriously messed up. The truly trusting part in all of this is that for the last 35 years or so probably longer, conservatives (in American) have been shouting at the top of their lungs about first the communists and then the far left infiltrating the schools all the way down to K-12 for the revolutionary paradigm. They are constantly laughed at and labeled conspiracy theorist. But, seriously, it’s not a conspiracy, it’s out in the open.

    Here’s is but one out of many many articles in scholarly journals you can find. Of course they’re all from the prosepective that this intrusion is a good thing, but just google Critical Race Theory in Education and see for yourselves. There is no over lturning this, this is why School Choice is of UPMOST importance. BTW I’m not a conspiracy alarmist, but I am seriously seriously alarmed.

    The Critical Turn in Education: From Marxist Critique to Poststructuralist Feminism to Critical Theories of Race.

    By Isaac Gottesman

    • augustine says


      That is some rabbit hole. Wikipedia has a decent page on it:

      An intellectual platform based on the abandonment of reason and a denial of the benefits of hard-won classical liberalism. They seem to want race wars ultimately, with only one desired outcome.

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  53. I don’t have any idea what you guys are talking about, nice article though. I’m going for a jog and then go to the church and help feed the veterans who are hungry, maybe you could help out someone who is hungry today, please,..thanks and God Bless!

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  56. Mark Nelson says

    So Peterson wants a hirarchy because humans and lobsters but doesn’t care about the people at THE BOTTOM! For him it’s totally natural that these people suffer. He only cares when HE is at the reciving end but at the same time he looks down at the people who were oppressed for hundreds of years.

    No thank you. This man is horrible.

    • augustine says

      Lobsters at THE BOTTOM because that’s where they like to hang out.

      Human suffering is natural– have you ever suffered? We all suffer, every one of us. Do you assume the guy living in a shanty town in Haiti suffers more than the Mercedes-driving guy in NYC? If so, how do you reach such a conclusion?

  57. A Mere Naturalist says

    Greetings, all. Long time reader, first time commenter.

    First, I wanted to commend Uri Harris on an excellent article. Like some of the other commenters here, I look forward to the day when Critical Theory is turned against itself and is exposed for being just another institutional power structure. I suspect it will take a new movement (and some time) to pull that off, though — maybe something like a “Post Critical Theory”?

    I also wanted to express some surprise (and, to a lesser degree, disappointment) at some of the other commenters’ reliance on yet another school of thought that replaces reason and investigation with straight-up dogma, and that’s the “sophisticated theology” of people like Alvin Plantinga and Edward Feser. Honestly, I would think that people who accept the “arguments” of such theologians (who are famous for using unwarranted assumptions and circular reasoning to arrive at forgone conclusions) would find the Critical Theorists to be comrades, not enemies. What’s more, I find that it amusing that someone would say that “Critical Theory” is broken because it thinks it’s beyond criticism, and then follow that up with shout outs to “proofs” about non-corporeal entities that exist outside the observable universe.

    Seriously, stop letting human language twist your logic, go outside, and observe the world as it really is (or, at least, as our limited sense can perceive it).

    Thanks for reading.

    • Andrew Roddy says

      Thanks. Logic and language are strange bedfellows but are they not doomed to share a single bed?

  58. Andrew Roddy says

    We could try conversation
    But that option’s out
    If you don’t want to listen-
    I’m not going to shout.

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  60. Who Will Help The Parents?

    This discussion of a “social justice perspective” being injected into college-level teaching is perhaps OK on an academic level. This phenomenon of cultural theory at this level is probably not universal yet, and, people are talking about some backlash principally due to Jordan B Peterson’s critiques.

    However, I think this mindset of social justice through the institutions has already been embedded into the public schools, K-12. Social emotional learning (SEL) is a common feature. There are many books geared to this level of teaching with titles such as “Teaching for Social Justice”, “With Literacy and Justice for All”, etc.

    Uri Harris did a great job of digging deeply into the Lindsay Shepherd matter whereby we learn that her supervising professor is very concerned about the tender age of the first year students and whether they should be exposed to such critique as Peterson’s. In his letter of apology he said: “ . . . first year students . . . might not have the tool kit to unpack or process a controversial view such as Dr. Peterson’s . . . such material might be better reserved for upper-year or grad courses.”

    I am concerned that so much of the social justice projects in public schools may be beyond student comprehension and developmental readiness for such topics as “sweatshops”, “indigenous injustice”, etc. In the atmosphere of the Cultural Revolution in China (’66-’76) and in Orwell’s fictional 1984 it was the children that parents often feared, having been prepped by their schools to be informers. If current parents only knew how insidious this social justice imperative could be, they would not stand by and let the schools use their “social license” to prepare children to be avengers.

    KDM (Jan 22), one of the commenters in this thread, is the only one who sees this SocJus “phenomenon” as more of a fait-accompli conspiracy of “the far left infiltrating the schools all the way down to K-12 for the revolutionary paradigm.” I look forward to reading the book he recommends: “The Critical Turn in Education”. Meanwhile, unless there is an outrageous reaction, as only Peterson seems able to generate, I fear that a whole generation is right now being trained for some Brave New World!

    Now that Peterson is a grandfather, might he consider bringing his remarkable insight to critique these postmodern constructivist cultural shifts now being engrained in the schools?

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