Reading Peterson 7 – Political Posture

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12,…

In October 2016, a Californian science fiction writer decided to read a self-help book. The writer had previously worked on a webcomic that had gained some praise and had just published a tie-in novel to space-opera themed RPG card game. Jon Del Arroz was already open about his support for Donald Trump and modern American right-wing politics, so it isn’t a great surprise that he chose Gorilla Mindset by Mike Cernovich. The ‘self-help’ here was not a gateway to the politics but rather the politics were a gateway to the self-help book.

Cernovich already had a reputation among the alt-right and in MRA communities – a reputation he leveraged through the US presidential election via conspiracy theory mongering about Hillary Clinton’s supposed ill-health and the notorious ‘Pizzagate’ nonsense. Gorilla Mindset was just another way to monetise his internet notoriety.

According to Del Arroz, Cernovich’s book helped reshape his career:

“Gorilla Mindset helped push me there. I don’t know what it was, I can hardly pinpoint the direct lines that motivated me, but I do know it came from this book, along with some helpful support along the way from some awesome sci-fi and fantasy authors in the field who showed me they cared. It triggered something inside of me that let me say: go out there and just be honest. That will resonate. I had to tell myself that every day in the early days since coming out of the closet as a free speech warrior. Those tricks that Cernovich talks about in his book – talking to yourself in the mirror, tricking your mind into a new psychology, it’s very important, actually. It works 100%.”

Whether it did so, I’ve no way of knowing but it really does seem to have reshaped his internet persona. I’ll let readers consider the details of that example in their own time.

Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life is both utterly different from Gorilla Mindset and very similar. The differences are obvious:

  • GM is styled as a manual – lots of dot points, practical tips and even worksheets.
  • 12 Rules are more literary, the advice is more general and is punctuated with a quasi-philosophical discussion.
  • Of the two it is Peterson’s book that is more obviously ideological.

Style and genre aside, the two books overlap.  Cernovich has bold headings like:

Gorilla Mindset shift: Treat yourself like a treasured and trusted friend.

Whereas Peterson has “Rule 2: Treat yourself like someone you are helping”. It’s a subtle difference but a common message around self-care. Peterson’s lobster themed chapter is entitled: Rule 1: Stand up straight with your shoulders back, whereas Cernovich gives you a step by step guide (with unintentionally hilarious photos) on the difference between slouching and literally standing up straight with your shoulders back.

The commonality of the message is not surprising. There are only so many plausible potentially life improving tips available. Cernovich and Peterson both offer advice on eating healthy, paying attention to your kids, being mindful, actively listening, setting personal goals and listening to (and modifying) your inner voices. Cernovich has the advantage of giving more detailed advice on what exactly to eat and what exercise to do – pushing his work closer to the related wellness movement (including lists of vitamin supplements). Peterson is more vague and quasi-philosophical but the broad concepts have a substantial overlap.

The value for good or ill of such generic advice is debatable. Offered without specific knowledge of an individual it might help or do nothing or be actively bad. Even innocuous advice like ‘eat healthily’ can be misapplied.

In some cases, we can see this spectrum of advice that mutates from ‘good but vague’ to ‘vaguely disturbing’ to ‘scarily toxic’.

Consider Peterson’s advice:

“RULE 3 MAKE FRIENDS WITH PEOPLE WHO WANT THE BEST FOR YOU
If I stay in an unhealthy relationship with you, perhaps it’s because I’m too weak-willed and indecisive to leave, but I don’t want to know it. Thus, I continue helping you, and console myself with my pointless martyrdom. Maybe I can then conclude, about myself, “Someone that self-sacrificing, that willing to help someone— that has to be a good person.” Not so. It might be just a person trying to look good pretending to solve what appears to be a difficult problem instead of actually being good and addressing something real.” -Peterson, Jordan B.. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (pp. 81-82). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition

The broader idea of avoiding toxic relationships may well be good advice. Peterson’s spin on a person being ‘too weak-willed and indecisive to leave’ shifts this into a nastier more judgemental spin, with an aspect of victim blaming.

Cernovich though, has a similar line but it’s evolved into something more disturbing:

“When you develop ruthless focus, you may learn that many of your friends and family members aren’t friends at all. They are people who use you for their own ends and become deeply offended when you start living your own life.“ -Gorilla Mindset

It is a step along a line from Peterson who advises being friends with people who want the best for you but there’s a logic that joins the two. After all if Cernovich is making you better then your true friends should welcome this change and not get disturbed as you become a kale-drinking crypto-fascist with excellent posture.

But even Cernovich seems tame compared to the veteran masters of pseudo-psychology: Scientology. L. Ron Hubbard’s “Dianetics” started his own path towards the cult-like religious group. Dianetics was a less subtle mix of generic advice and an odd SF themed mock-Freudianism. For Scientology, the comparable concept is the ‘suppressive person” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suppressive_Person – a concept used by Scientology to pressure followers into cutting ties with any friends or family who are critical of involvement in the organisation.

Scientology, Cernovich and Peterson each have a relationship with mainstream psychology that highlights their differences and similarities. Scientology sees psychology as a false science and as an enemy to their own discipline but in doing so it mimics psychological concepts and terminology.  Cernovich’s Gorilla mindset presents itself as adapting psychology. The ‘mindset’ term is borrowed form Dr Carol Dweck (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carol_Dweck#Mindset ) but the Cernovich’s book itself has little to do with her work (indeed mya be wholly at odds with it) other than the term ‘mindset’. Peterson, on the other hand, is a psychologist both as an academic and as a practising therapist. Yet in all three there is a common theme of overcoming subconscious drives that are holding you back from success.All three (and the self-help genre in general) has a common theme of cleaning yourself up so as to enjoy success.

“RULE 6 SET YOUR HOUSE IN PERFECT ORDER BEFORE YOU CRITICIZE THE WORLD

Clean Up Your Life Consider your circumstances. Start small. Have you taken full advantage of the opportunities offered to you? Are you working hard on your career, or even your job, or are you letting bitterness and resentment hold you back and drag you down? Have you made peace with your brother? Are you treating your spouse and your children with dignity and respect? Do you have habits that are destroying your health and well-being? Are you truly shouldering your responsibilities? Have you said what you need to say to your friends and family members? Are there things that you could do, that you know you could do, that would make things around you better? Have you cleaned up your life? If the answer is no, here’s something to try: Start to stop doing what you know to be wrong. Start stopping today. Don’t waste time questioning how you know that what you’re doing is wrong, if you are certain that it is. Inopportune questioning can confuse, without enlightening, as well as deflecting you from action. You can know that something is wrong or right without knowing why. Your entire Being can tell you something that you can neither explain nor articulate. Every person is too complex to know themselves completely, and we all contain wisdom that we cannot comprehend. So, simply stop, when you apprehend, however dimly, that you should stop. Stop acting in that particular, despicable manner. Stop saying those things that make you weak and ashamed. Say only those things that make you strong. Do only those things that you could speak of with honour.” -Peterson, Jordan B.. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (pp. 157-158). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Cernovich is more succinct (and also more determined you should exercise)

“If you feel unfilled, stop doing whatever it is you’re doing. Try something else. Walk the streets until you’re exhausted. Repeat this every day.
When you finally see what you want, your life will change.” – Gorilla Mindset

If you had to waste money on either book, the ratio of generic good advice mixed in with woo-woo nonsense is about the same. There’s less overt reactionary ideology in the Cernovich book but more weird advice on protein powder. Peterson won’t make you take cold showers. Both are cheaper than becoming a Scientologist.

Better yet I’ve filtered out the potentially useful advice from both books:

  1. Try to eat healthy foods.
  2. Exercise regularly.
  3. Look at some of your immediate concerns and make some small, manageable goals for dealing with them.
  4. Pay attention to your kids (if you have some), respect them and don’t let them be brats.
  5. Be nice to other people but don’t let unscrupulous people take advantage of you.
  6. Take some time out to do something vaguely spiritual, from your religion (if you have one) to take a walk somewhere scenic.
  7. Set yourself some reasonable, achievable goals and work towards them.

The *how* of doing those things is actually the difficult bit and neither Peterson nor Cernovich really help in that (and at times are actively harmful). Like Polonius in Hamlet, general advice is easy to give but hard to act on.

Yet even apparently safe advice (e.g. Cernovich’s emphasis on a healthy lifestyle) has a sinister side. With his target audience of right-leaning young men in a culture where fat-jokes and ableist abuse is common, the emphasis on physical fitness looks more sinister. It is part of a more subtle message that sees success as a package with health and that a lack of either is from being “weak-willed”. Couple that with dangerous advice (e.g. ‘supplements’ will cure your depression) and you have a system for the exploitation of troubled men. Jordan Peterson isn’t as crass to suggest wacky supplements but his (inconsistent) reductionism in Chapter 1 on serotonin puts him only a few steps away.

One additional point in Peterson’s favour is that he avoids promising achiveing your goals via wish fulfilment. For Cernovich this is primarily about changing you psychological state which will then lead to success. It’s borderline magical thinking in that he does imagine a non-supernatural explanation (you’ll get better at doing stuff, in general, making it easier to fulfil your ambitions). Even so, the results he promises are ambitious:

“As an example, I was sitting on my couch in Venice Beach when I started visualizing myself writing out of cafes across the world. Two years later, that’s where I am.” – Gorilla Mindset

This though seems rather tame compared to the 2006 book “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne.

“Your life right now is a reflection of your past thoughts. That includes all the great things, and all the things you consider not so great. Since you attract to you what you think about most, it is easy to see what your dominant thoughts have been on every subject of your life, because that is what you have experienced. Until now!
Now you are learning The Secret, and with this knowledge, you can change everything.” – The Secret

 

“Thoughts are magnetic, and thoughts have a frequency. As you think, those thoughts are sent out into the Universe, and they magnetically attract all like things that are on the same frequency.
Everything sent out returns to the source. And that source is You.” – The Secret

Peterson is far more moderate and realistic, suggesting only that people set themselves positive goals and readjust their goals with experience:

“If you bend everything totally, blindly and willfully towards the attainment of a goal, and only that goal, you will never be able to discover if another goal would serve you, and the world, better. It is this that you sacrifice if you do not tell the truth. If, instead, you tell the truth, your values transform as you progress. If you allow yourself to be informed by the reality manifesting itself, as you struggle forward, your notions of what is important will change. You will reorient yourself, sometimes gradually, and sometimes suddenly and radically.” – Peterson, Jordan B.. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (p. 225). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

This is certainly a much more responsible approach than Cernovich’s and vastly more sensible than magical claims of The Secret.

Where next? In Part 8 I went to step even further away from Peterson and look at some of the roots of these ideas historically. Then I’ve one or two more essays on aspects specific to Peterson’s book and then probably a conclusion. Having 12 parts to these essays would be aesthetically pleasing.

48 thoughts on “Reading Peterson 7 – Political Posture

  1. It’s kind of weird — the right used to deride and dismiss vitamin supplements, (and yoga, meditation, etc. — and therapeutic visualization which they’re all using now,) as hippy/New Age, weak, effete, liberal stuff. Real men on the right ate red meat and fried foods, drank beer and whiskey, and didn’t worry about their health. But around the late 1990’s, media figures on the right found that hocking their own overpriced and generally dodgy vitamin supplements was extremely lucrative. So now they definitely have embraced all sorts of language, techniques and claims of self-improvement from the wellness industry to sell stuff. Alex Jones and Gwynneth Paltrow have similar games going.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. It’s interesting to note that much of the core of the supplement industry in the U.S. is in Utah; Orrin Hatch has been one of their bigger supporters. Amongst other things, supplements are often sold via multi-level marketing and affinity scams, and the Mormon Church tends to have a lot of that going on internally. That may be where a lot of it leaked into the right wing from.

      In the previous post, there was some talk about anti-vaxxers. From some of the discussion on Repectful Insolence about this, it’s like the anti-vaxxers on the left come at it from a naturalistic ‘back to nature’ approach, while the anti-vaxxers on the right come at it from a ‘you can’t tell ME what to do’ approach. I suspect much of the supplement industry support on the right comes from similar anti-expertise attitudes, as well as the affinity scam propagation.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Yeah, Amway’s kind of the unholy union of an affinity scam and a self-help scheme, set up to sucker those who believe they should be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps but who don’t understand the numbers well enough to see the problem.

        It is, unfortunately, one of those things that appeals greatly to the American mindset. And to far too much of the Canadian.

        (My first exposure to Amway was someone I’d gone to school with who tried to get me involved. When I realized he had been talking about this ‘great opportunity’ for several minutes, describing what the company sold, without actually mentioning the company name, I figured there was a problem. I didn’t sign on.)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. There’s a guy called Peter Popoff who has TV ads hawking “miracle spring water” that supposedly heals all ailments, attracts financial windfalls and somehow gets people the houses and babies they wanted. He rakes in millions. It’s just water. He sends people little water packets. I really cannot believe any network would agree to air this garbage. It’s outrageous and predatory. WOO Woo woo <—– sad trombone woo

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      3. Oh, I didn’t mean it was unique to the U.S. and Canada, just that Amway’s whole ‘Work for yourself! Get others working for you with a minimum of effort!’ approach seemed tailor-made to exploit the ‘American Dream’ mindset. I’m not at all surprised that it’s elsewhere as well. I’m sure some sociology student somewhere has studied the spread of Amway using an epidemic model, including survivors gaining immunity due to not wanting anything more to do with it, and mutations to bypass known defences (subgroups such as Quixtar).

        There’s actually a ‘Real Estate Wealth Expo’ coming up in Toronto next month, now with extra Bitcoin (and Sylvester Stallone of all people as a keynote speaker) and a lot of it is just hammering home that the way to make money in this sort of business isn’t by following the advice of the people who made it rich (many of whom had either luck or headstarts that their audience won’t have)… it’s in selling the ‘rags to riches’ story to an audience desperate to believe.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. One of the ways they persuade people to sign on is to sit them down, give them pen and paper, and say “Write down the names of all of your friends and relatives” — and once that’s been done, they say, “See? You’ve got loads of people who will come in under you and make you big profits! Look how easy it will be!”

          Of course, what they don’t say is “A year from now, none of those people will be willing to talk to you any more.”

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      4. Jenora: Whenever you hear the words “great opportunity”, it’s time to walk away. It might be one, but not for you. This rule has served me well. I cannot reproduce here the face my (legit, pro, licensed) investment adviser makes about that phrase.

        Mormons seem to have no natural or acquired immunity to MLM schemes. Maybe some sociology student’s figured that out, too.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. @Lurkertype:
        I think too much of the Mormon culture is structured like MLM for them to possibly have any immunity to it.

        From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affinity_fraud :

        A 2012 article in The Economist reports that Utah is believed to have the highest per-capita rate of affinity fraud in the U.S. due to about two-thirds of the state’s residents being members of the LDS Church. Authorities estimate affinity fraud cost Utahans an estimated $1.4 billion in 2010 alone, an average of about $500 per resident.

        Extremely hierarchical communities are prime targets for grifters, particularly of the affinity scam types, because being a higher-placed person in the hierarchy grants you a degree of automatic trust, and nobody wants to admit that their trust was abused. Other ‘bishops’ and the like will often cover for the grifter even if they’re not actively grifters themselves, because they don’t want the resulting lack of trust from people finding out to spread to them, too.

        Liked by 3 people

      6. Adding on, it’s worth noting that most of the examples on that Wikipedia page are one or both of:
        – Religious organizations, which tend to be hierarchical.
        – Disadvantaged groups such as seniors or African-Americans, which tend to be more trusting of someone ‘inside’ the group.
        The LDS is a bit of both… maybe not so actively the latter anymore, but there are still pretty significant ‘survivalist’ and defensiveness streaks in the LDS remaining from the days when they were actively treated with suspicion by the U.S. government. When you automatically distrust anybody who isn’t ‘one of us’, that can allow you to be taken advantage of by one of the ‘us’.

        Hardly just LDS, of course. Bernie Madoff primarily targeted other Jews, particularly of the more reclusive Orthodox sort.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. @camestros:
        It’s been noted before that Utah is also the North American capital for the multi-billion dollar ‘dietary supplements’ industry, with Senator Orrin Hatch having been one of their strongest supporters. He was one of the authors of a bill which allows such supplements to be pretty close to exempt from FDA regulations.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. @Jenora: I was leaving that as an exercise for the reader. 🙂
        I grew up in a heavily Mormon area, had very close Mormon friends my entire child and teenhood, so I’ve seen it.
        At about 10, me and the (extremely) Catholic neighbor had a compare/contrast with the Mormon girls across the street. We didn’t know the words “WTF” and “wack” but yeah. The Catholic girl was literally spluttering.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Popoff is still around? I remember that he used to have another ‘faith healing’ scam going. The Amazing Randy sent a female impersonator to one of his revival-meetings to be healed of cancer of the uterus. The impersonator was wearing a wire: Randi recorded everything and exposed Popoff. Popoff’s ministry collapsed after that and he got investigated. “But they never learn.” as Philip Marlowe used to say.

        Liked by 3 people

    2. Real men still eat red meat and fatty foods in the rightwing world, they’ve just recast red meat and fat as the lone truly healthy foods that true alphas eat and demonise carbohydrates, grains and even fruit and vegetables. At any rate, most of SFF’s rightwingers tend to be into this whol low-carb thing. Same dietary preferences as before, only now they claim they’re healthy.

      And BTW, there is nothing wrong with eating red meat or fat in moderation, just as there’re nothing wrong with eating everything else in moderation.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s probably how he’s trying to differentiate himself from the others. All the rest of them are PALEO!!! (grunt) when men were men, hunting mammoths (ahem), dragging women back to the cave by their hair, etc. Hardly any green veggies, no fruit, no grains, no dairy, no carbs, all meat and fat. Bacon is their new health food. You can eat bacon all day long, but if you eat an orange, drink some milk, or have a piece of bread, you’ll instantly become weak and fat and girly.

        The vitamins are just to make them SUPER-cavemen and keep their testosterone up, because no girls allowed. Also to support Jones etc.

        (Never mind that hunter-gatherers got most of their food from gathering, including wild grains and fruit. RWNJ are immune to facts.)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well, if Cernovich is in favour of eating greens that at least makes him slightly less unlikeable than the opposition.

        Though I still wonder how he plans to drink kale, since it’s a leafy vegetable. And while kale is healthy enough in itself, when it’s prepared the traditional North German way (with lots of fat, sausage, smoked meat and a Haggis like grit sausage, traditionally consumed with lots of alcohol), it’s anything but healthy. Though I guess the traditional kale tours mean you get exercise.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. Cernovich has his own ‘fit juice’ website!

            What the hell? You know, most of these ‘alt-right’ people–Cernovich, Milo, Trump–are just grifters. What is it about that philosophy that makes them want to scam people?

            (Rhetorical question, I know. They think they deserve to be, and should be, on the top rung of the hierarchy, by any means necessary.)

            Liked by 3 people

      3. “Well we big right wingers, we got golden zingers and we’re loved everywhere we go. We sing about beauty and we sing about truth at ten thousand dollars a show…we take all kinds of pills that give us all kinds of thrills but the thrill we’ve never known, is the thrill that’ll getcha when you getcher picture on the cover of the next effin’ Worldcon ”

        Liked by 3 people

      4. Hey, the Dr. Hook performance Regular Commenter just linked is from Musikladen, a local music TV program here from Bremen. All the big stars of the 1960s, 70s and early 1980s were on Musikladen and unlike e.g. the BBC with Top of the Pops, they didn’t throw the tapes away and now have a treasure trove of live music performances.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Sounds like he’s big on having you drink your greens, exclusively from him. Which of course means they’ve lost vitamins and have no fiber, so they’re just smoothies that taste bad and cost too much.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m coming up with a tentative taxonomy of types of advice:
    1) Physical things that are obvious and probably harmless, but you either know them already and/or a book won’t improve your chances of doing them- e.g. exercise, posture, etc
    2) Personality related things that are either obvious good advice (have goals and take small steps towards them) or Why The Hell Don’t You Do This Already (be nice to your kids)
    3) Woo woo nonsense you should do because (a) incoherent personal politics backed up by dubious professional credentials, (b) some sort of animal does it and so should you, (c) the author had a vision that’s why.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Buried in the JDA section is a real nugget of an insight into his insecurity, motivation, and convert’s zeal: “some awesome sci-fi and fantasy authors in the field who showed me they cared.”

      Liked by 2 people

      1. They cared about getting a new sycophant. About him and his work, not so much. He’s another useful idiot, another dumb weapon for them to wind up and point at the SJWs and catch all the flak instead of them.

        Remember, grifters are talented at one thing: spotting the insecure and using them for their own purposes. He looked like a yummy morsel and useful tool, so they “welcomed” him in.

        Liked by 1 person

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