Nathan Robinson’s discussion of Jordan Peterson is gold from beginning to end, and most damning when it quotes Peterson’s would-be profundities:
- “There is no being without imperfection.” No shit.
- “To share does not mean to give away something you value and get nothing back. That is instead what every child who refuses to share fears it means. To share means, properly, to initiate the process of trade.” Could mean anything, depending on interpretation: if I share my food with a hungry person, and ask for nothing in return, I may still have “gotten something.” But the maxim could also be interpreted as a defense of avarice. You can find a justification in it for whatever your worldview already is.
- “You can’t make rules for the exceptional.” By definition.
- “The future is the place of all potential monsters.” The future is the place for all potential everything.
- “People do not care whether or not they succeed; they care about whether or not they fail.” Which is apparently different.
- “People aren’t after happiness, they’re after not hurting.” I’m actually after happiness, thanks.
- “Life is suffering. That’s clear. There is no more basic, irrefutable truth.” Anything is “irrefutable” if it’s not clear what we mean by it.
- “You cannot be protected from the things that frighten you and hurt you, but if you identify with the part of your being that is responsible for transformation, then you are always the equal, or more than the equal of the things that frighten you.” Unless you are frightened of leopards, and are subsequently eaten by leopards.
The multiplicity of possible interpretations is very important. It makes it almost impossible to beat Peterson in an argument, because every time one attempts to force him to defend a proposition, he can insist he means something else. For example, he sees the world as fundamentally divided between the forces of “chaos” and the forces of “order,” and explains the difference:
[Chaos is] what extends, eternally and without limit, beyond the boundaries of all states, all ideas, and all disciplines… It’s the foreigner, the stranger, the member of another gang, the rustle in the bushes… the hidden anger of your mother… Chaos is symbolically associated with the feminine… Order, by contrast, is explored territory. That’s the hundreds-of-millions-of-years-old hierarchy of place, position, and authority. That’s the structure of society. It’s the structure provided by biology, too…It’s the flag of the nation… It’s the greatness of tradition, the rows of desks in the school classroom, the trains that leave on time… In the domain of order, things behave as God intended.
It’s very easy to hear the echoes of authoritarianism, even fascism, in this: strong men create order, which is what God intends, and the social structure is preserved by deference to authority, tradition, hierarchy, flags. (Heck, he even talks about the trains running on time!) But the moment one tries to critique this, to talk about the dangers of adhering to flags and traditions for their own sake, Peterson will angrily insist that you have misunderstood his theory: order is symbiotic with chaos, not superior to it! (“Order is not enough.”) The feminine is necessary as well, because chaos is associated with “possibility itself, the source of ideas, the mysterious realm of gestation and birth.” If you try to suggest that he has justified patriarchy, he will tell you that when he refers to the “symbolically masculine” he does not mean “men.” But it’s usually unclear what he does mean, and any attempt to figure it out will be met with a barrage of yet more jargon. (What, for example, are we to make of his interpretation of The Simpsons, which stresses the importance of having a cruel bully around to keep the soft effeminate kids from taking over: “Without Nelson, King of the Bullies, the school would soon be overrun by resentful, touchy Milhouses, narcissistic, intellectual Martin Princes, soft, chocolate-gorging German children, and infantile Ralph Wiggums. Muntz is a corrective…” An endorsement of bullying the weak, surely? But Peterson would deny it.)
Peterson is best to make arguments that are trite or meaningless, because when he makes arguments specific enough to be falsifiable, ouch. Willful misreadings of Orwell are endemic to reactionary pseudo-intellectuals, but this one is particularly amazing:
I don’t mean to say that all of what Peterson says is in the category of the “not even wrong.” Some of it is actually just wrong. He is an unreliable guide to the facts (e.g. “there are far more female physicians than there are male physicians,” which is false for both the U.S. and Canada, or his promotion of a bizarre conspiracy theory that Google is manipulating the search results for “bikini” to include plus-sized models for politically-correct reasons, which they aren’t.) His reading comprehension skills are… limited. Here is Peterson describing an important political awakening he experienced from reading George Orwell, who he says finally convinced him not to be a socialist:
My college roommate, an insightful cynic, expressed skepticism regarding my ideological beliefs. He told me that the world could not be completely encapsulated within the boundaries of socialist philosophy. I had more or less come to this conclusion on my own, but had not admitted so much in words. Soon afterward, however, I read George Orwell’s Road to Wigan Pier. This book finally undermined me—not only my socialist ideology, but my faith in ideological stances themselves. In the famous essay concluding that book (written for—and much to the dismay of—the British Left Book Club) Orwell described the great flaw of socialism, and the reason for its frequent failure to attract and maintain democratic power (at least in Britain). Orwell said, essentially, that socialists did not really like the poor. They merely hated the rich. His idea struck home instantly. Socialist ideology served to mask resentment and hatred, bred by failure. Many of the party activists I had encountered were using the ideals of social justice to rationalize their pursuit of personal revenge.
And here is George Orwell, in The Road To Wigan Pier, which Peterson says convinced him that socialism was folly because socialists were resentful:
Please notice that I am arguing for Socialism, not against it. […] The job of the thinking person, therefore, is not to reject Socialism but to make up his mind to humanize it…For the moment, the only possible course of any decent person, however much of a Tory or an anarchist by temperament, is to work for the establishment of Socialism. Nothing else can save us from the misery of the present or the nightmare of the future […] Indeed, from one point of view, Socialism is such elementary common sense that I am sometimes amazed it has not established itself already. The world is a raft sailing through space with, potentially, plenty of provisions for everybody; the idea that we must all co-operate and see to it that everyone does his fair share of the work and gets his fair share of the provisions, seems so blatantly obvious that one would say that nobody could possibly fail to accept it unless he had some corrupt motive for clinging to the present system. […] To recoil from Socialism because so many socialists are inferior people is as absurd as refusing to travel by train because you dislike the ticket-collector’s face.
Orwell flat-out says that anybody who evaluates the merits of socialist policies by the personal qualities of socialists themselves is an idiot. Peterson concludes that Orwell thought socialist policies was flawed because socialists themselves were bad people. I don’t think there is a way of reading Peterson other than as extremely stupid or extremely dishonest, but one can be charitable and assume he simply didn’t read the book that supposedly gave him his grand revelation about socialism.
But do make sure to continue for the excerpts of the verbal presentations of some who wants “to completely defund Women’s Studies departments because he thinks they churn out meaningless verbiage.” They’re…amazing. Actually, just read the whole etc.
One thing you have to say about anti-PC, it’s the single best way for bullshit artists to unaccountably be taken seriously. Anyway, Nickelback jokes were tired anyway, so here’s your go-to if you need a stock joke about bad Canadian exports.