When P.Z. Myers is cited positively and unironically by Vox Day, you know there’s something amiss with the universe. There’s heresy in the air and right-on-right attacks going down.
On the one hand, we have Jordan Peterson: transphobic right-wing purveyor of semi-coherent self-help books for people frightened by women going to university. On the other hand, we have Vox Day: a man who regards the terrorist child-murder Anders Brevik as a hero and who pushes a violent nationalism based on pseudo-scientific race theories. While we could see Peterson as at least being more moderate than Day, we can’t ignore that Peterson is a kind of gateway drug into the morass of confused thinking based on male resentment at a changing society. What Vox has in toxicity, Peterson has twice as much in reach.
Who is the more appalling of the two? Perhaps we need another candidate…
[more appalling people after the fold]
The introduction to Vox Day’s “Jordanetics”, a polemic attacking the Canadian academic, is written by Milo Yiannopoulos. Milo was once a media favourite like Peterson but having alienated conservatives with remarks on child sexuality, Milo is now a has-been with cancelled tours and a diminishing profile. Still, you might think that professional jealousy aside, Yiannopoulos would avoid attacks on Peterson. After all Peterson is good for business, bringing in more lost souls looking for direction with his gospel of tidy rooms and misogyny. However, Peterson has sinned and both Yiannopoulos and Day are keen to enumerate his sins.
For Yiannopoulos, Peterson’s sin is Faith Goldy.
Goldy is a Canadian ‘political commentator’ i.e. a far-right activist who presents themselves as being a reporter on events. Goldy presents herself as reporting on the far-right, while actually acting as a promoter of extremist causes. Notably, she covered the 2017 Charlottesville neo-Nazi ‘Unite the Right’ rally and not long after took part in a neo-Nazi podcast. These actions (and previous stunts) had led to the gradual removal of support for Goldy from various platforms and sponsors. Among this mass withdrawal of support for Goldy by less extreme conservatives, was Peterson. Over to Milo’s version of events:
“Remember Faith Goldy? She was booted from a conference line-up by Peterson, who un-personed his fellow panelist with a classic mealy-mouthed non-explanation, insinuating that she was “too hot a property.” Goldy has made some mistakes, appearing on podcasts with unsavory characters. I would not personally appear on the Daily Stormer podcast, especially not in the wake of Charlottesville. But she is not, as far as I can tell, a racist. Peterson himself said, “I don’t believe she’s a reprehensible person.” But he went ahead and killed her career anyway. Peterson made her untouchable—persona non grata—and he did so knowing what the consequences to her life would be. After all, if you’re too much for the “extreme” Jordan Peterson, you must really be beyond the pale, right? Goldy has since been physically assaulted by protesters.”Day, Vox. Jordanetics: A Journey Into the Mind of Humanity’s Greatest Thinker (Kindle Locations 116-122). Castalia House. Kindle Edition.
Goldy is, as far as I can tell, a racist but then my standards are luckily not those of Milo Yiannopoulos. More to the point the basic dilemma of trying to review this book is made manifest before we’ve even left the introduction. These are bickering and inconsistent arguments made in bad faith about people who act in bad faith towards one another. Peterson was right to disassociate himself from Goldy, but then he was wrong to associate himself with her in the first place but his own confused views on ‘free speech’ is exactly why he was associating with her and if he’d thought that through Peterson wouldn’t have the media career he currently has. Meanwhile Yiannopoulos then falsely blames Peterson for all the subsequent problems that Goldy faced as if the only thing that ‘killed’ her ‘career’ was Peterson.
It’s just layers of terrible people being terrible. A mess of characters who each have tried to make a living flirting with fascism to show how edgy and free-thinking they are by promoting ideologies that demand conformity of thought and behaviour. It’s easy to end up defending Peterson against Yiannopoulos’s accusations but tracking through Peterson’s decisions leads to the only rational, ethical conclusion being that Peterson really shouldn’t be the phenomenon that he is. He should have quit his role in disgust with himself a long time ago. Milo’s point is false and exaggerated and even crypto-crypto-facsists should have limits & standards but there is a cascade here that Milo recognises and Peterson does not. Peterson isn’t very different from Goldy, he just hides it better (including from himself).
So we are stepping into a morass and before doing so it is worth asking whether we should. Why wade through a cesspool when there’s a clear warning sign at the edge of the cesspool (the author name and the cover photo and the intro author’s name) indicating that this is a toxic cesspool of ideas that are bad in multiple dimensions: ethically, factually, logically and psychologically. But I want to see where the cracks are and what foments division.
Which takes me to the second sin that Yiannopoulos levels at Peterson. I say ‘second’ but it comes first in the introduction:
“Peterson’s watershed was a tweet he must now bitterly regret sending, because it gave the game away entirely. He said Brett Kavanaugh should accept his Supreme Court nomination and then quit. Peterson, apparently forgetting everything he knew about the feral Left, claimed that this might somehow soothe the activist wing of the Democrat Party into treating the rest of us with a bit more civility. Ugh, come off it. I remember thinking to myself, Jordan Peterson of all people cannot possibly believe this. And no amount of thrashing around on social media afterwards, claiming he was just engaging in a thought experiment, has persuaded anyone that he was just floating an idea out there.”Day, Vox. Jordanetics: A Journey Into the Mind of Humanity’s Greatest Thinker (Kindle Locations 67-71). Castalia House. Kindle Edition.
I think for both Yiannopoulos and Day, Peterson’s Kavanaugh’s Tweet is not the same kind of sin against their orthodoxy as Peterson distancing himself from Goldy. By the time Peterson posted his idiosyncratic take on the Kavanaugh hearings, he was already been attacked by Vox Day. This particular sin is Day and Yiannopoulos elevating a confused idea into ammunition to discredit Peterson. It also illustrates a problem that both Yiannopoulos and Day have with critiquing Peterson. The bulk of their critique is to repeat what left-wing critics of Peterson have already said and hence they need at least SOMETHING that is distinctly of the right to attack Peterson with. Of course, neither of them can say “the SJWs are right about Peterson”.
Here’s Yiannopoulos again:
“When he’s limiting himself to Tony Robbins-style self-help, Peterson’s prescriptions won’t do you any harm.”Day, Vox. Jordanetics: A Journey Into the Mind of Humanity’s Greatest Thinker (Kindle Locations 105-106). Castalia House. Kindle Edition.
I didn’t write that exact sentence in the essays I wrote on Jordan Peterson but I could have done. There’s nothing spooky about Yiannopoulos or Day ending up writing similar critiques of Peterson as I have or many others have because the obvious issues with Peterson are obvious. Likewise, both Yiannopoulos and Day highlight:
- Peterson’s confusing writing style makes it very difficult to describe what he is saying
- The apparent practical advice of the “rules” don’t match the actual content of the chapters in ’12 Rules for Life’
- Peterson appears to describe very specific psychological problems he has as universals truths about people
- Peterson’s supporters don’t seem to have read what he wrote nor can they explain it (focusing instead on the ‘rules’ in general)
- That Peterson gets his facts wrong frequently
- He often cites papers, books etc that actually say the opposite of what he is claiming
- Citations, when you check them, often turn out to be to his other works
- He often contradicts himself or obscures what he is saying
- He often appeals to evolutionary psychology but he doesn’t seem to understand evolution (or psychology, despite being a professor of psychology)
- His arguments are often mystical in nature
- Lobsters? Really?
The simplest and perhaps most appropriate response to Peterson is to say “This doesn’t make sense. None of this makes any sense.”
Which takes me back to Kavanaugh. Day raises all of the issues above but he can’t say that the left’s critique of Peterson was correct. He also needs at least some arguments to attack Peterson from the right.
Even so, Day can’t avoid treading over ground already covered by the left. That includes citing biologist and atheist P.Z.Myers:
“The metaphor for the chapter begins with lobsters. Peterson illustrates the primal nature of creatures as they jockey for social position. The winning lobster, who attracts the best and most females, gains material advantage and social position, quite literally stands tall against his fellow lobsters. Then, arguing that human social order predates humanity because we are direct inheritors of the social hierarchy of crustaceans and share common ancestry with them, Peterson asserts that the Dominance Hierarchy is the primary architecture of society. Peterson’s reliance upon evolutionary theory here reveals his ignorance of it, for as biologist P.Z. Myers points out, his idea is not consistent with current evolutionary history.”Day, Vox. Jordanetics: A Journey Into the Mind of Humanity’s Greatest Thinker (Kindle Locations 1293-1299). Castalia House. Kindle Edition.
For Day to not just concede that Myers is right about something but to borrow his authority to defend his argument is remarkable. I think the very first time I read about Vox Day was on P.Z.Myers blog, possibly in this post:
I’d forgotten that Myers described Day back in 2012 as a “sick puppy”: a phrase that would presage later events. However, Myers has been pointing out Day’s obnoxiousness for longer than that:
I should note, that this is a good thing (as far as it goes). When confronted with absurdities and falsehoods, Day has to turn to scientific authorities and at least some semblance of truth. Day and Peterson have a weird symmetry here.
- Peterson is a purveyor of rightwing nonsense but accepts that he needs to at least appear to concede ground to common standards of decency (e.g. Goldy’s neo-Nazi connections being a step to far).
- Vox Day is a purveyor of rightwing nonsense and feels no need to concede ground to common standards of decency BUT he does feel like he has to at least make an attempt to look like he is making rational arguments
Neither Peterson nor Day actually have a rational ideology and both push an ideology that either is or leads to species of fascism based on misogyny. However, the veneers they apply are different. Peterson pretends to be centrist, liberal and mainstream but makes little effort to look rational. Day pretends to be fact-based, logical and rational but makes little effort to look reasonable. In the world of crypto-fascist punditry, there’s a need to distinguish your product from the other feller’s.
Which takes us to anti-Semitism.
We’ve seen two sins so far that Day uses to distance him from Peterson: Goldy and Kavanaugh. However, the trigger for Day’s ongoing campaign against Peterson was a third issue: Peterson trying to attack anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on the right. Here is Day quoting Peterson:
“No conspiracy. Get it? No conspiracy. Jewish people are over-represented in positions of competence and authority because, as a group, they have a higher mean IQ…. There is no evidence whatsoever that Ashkenazi Jews are over-represented in any occupations/interests for reasons other than intelligence and the associated effects of intelligence on personality and political belief. Thus, no conspiratorial claims based on ethnic identity need to be given credence.”Jordan Peterson ‘On the so called Jewsish Question’ quoted In: Day, Vox. Jordanetics: A Journey Into the Mind of Humanity’s Greatest Thinker (Kindle Locations 172-175). Castalia House. Kindle Edition.
Peterson’s argument is wrong fractally. It’s wrong in so many ways but at least we can say his intentions weren’t terrible. It is essentially a racist argument in the sense of directly promoting a racial theory of social outcomes. Peterson has advanced before the idea that IQ is primarily genetic (i.e. Peterson isn’t using IQ here to simply imply better educational experiences or environment for a particular social group) and that IQ is intelligence (rather than a proxy for it) and that IQ causally relates to socioeconomic outcomes. I shan’t debunk all that here and I’ve covered why that is all mistaken in plenty of posts prior. However, while broadly racist, Peterson’s argument is trying to not be anti-Semitic. Of course there’s not a way to be broadly racist in a way that does NOT promote prejudice against ethnic minorities but I’ll need to also leave that aside for the moment because I need to look at Day’s argument.
Day himself also believes in the broad racial theory of IQ Peterson is making use of here. However, Day also believes in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Indeed, he thinks he is sort of a victim of collusion or least wasn’t granted the same advantages as a former peer of his. It’s time for yet another appalling person to add to our roster: Ben Shapiro.
Here’s Day again:
The problem was that having been nationally syndicated twice in my youth, first by Chronicle Features and then by Universal Press Syndicate, I knew perfectly well that some individuals of a certain persuasion, such as Ben Shapiro, just to provide a specific name, had been systematically promoted, presumably due to their ethnic identity, at the expense of more intelligent, more successful, and more popular colleagues. In my experience, Peterson’s statement was flat-out wrong. For example, when Ben Shapiro and I were both writing for WorldNetDaily in the early 2000s, I was the third-most-read weekly columnist there, behind Pat Buchanan and Ann Coulter. Ben Shapiro, on the other hand, wasn’t even in the top ten; if I recall correctly, his column readership numbers usually came in towards the bottom of the top twenty and averaged less than one-third of my own and one-fifth of Pat Buchanan’s. But while Ann Coulter and I were both signed to the elite Universal Press Syndicate, the less discriminating Creators Syndicate not only passed over most of the WND columnists who were observably more popular than Ben Shapiro, they told newspaper editors that they had to take Shapiro’s column if those editors wanted to run columns by other, more popular columnists syndicated by Creators in their newspapers.Day, Vox. Jordanetics: A Journey Into the Mind of Humanity’s Greatest Thinker (Kindle Locations 176-186). Castalia House. Kindle Edition.
Like Peterson, Vox Day is keen to point out that he isn’t an anti-Semite, although as we can see he definitely does believe in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. That Ben Shapiro got wider syndication than he did might have something to do with Shapiro’s columns being less stridently obnoxiously rightwing and hence having a potentially wider audience can’t be the case in Day’s view because Shapiro’s columns weren’t that popular at World Net Daily – a far-right news outlet. It’s never easy to tell with Vox which bits are genuine beliefs on his part and which are calculated deceptions but I think this is unfiltered Day here. Now, for all I know, Shapiro may have all sorts of family connections or people doing special favours for him but his success or otherwise isn’t a manifest counter-example to Peterson’s claim.
But, as I said Peterson is fractally wrong here. He is right that anti-Semitic conspiracy theories are nonsense but Peterson doesn’t have a way of saying that they are nonsense that isn’t fallacious because that would require Peterson to acknowledge that social outcomes arise out of complex, interrelated social effects and behaviours. Because if Peterson DID acknowledge that then he’d have to acknowledge that systemtic sexism and racism might actually be things that impact people even in circumstances where decision makers aren’t overtly or knowingly racist or sexist.
Luckily for Day, Peterson’s multilayered errors extend into the details of the argument he uses. That’s handy for Day because he really wants to debunk Peterson’s argument without debunking the underlying theory that IQ determines social outcomes. Peterson’s claims about the mean IQ of Ashkenazi Jews aren’t true (I mean, they aren’t true in many ways but they are specifically not true in a specific way). That allows Day to use maths! He’s so proud of his specific debunking that it gets its own appendix at the end of the book. He’s also so pleased with himself that he provides this unwitting comment which I feel like framing with a space where it says “Jordan Peterson”
That’s just one of many unwittingly ironic quotes from Day about Peterson that applies so easily to Day himself or to his friends such as Mike Cernovich, Stefan Molyneaux or, indeed, Milo Yiannopoulis. It is grifters all the way down.
Speaking of grift, I’ll take a moment to note that Chapter 2 of this book nominally by Vox Day is primarily a cut and paste of negative comments from Peterson supporters to one of Day’s videos.
Following are a list of comments left on my YouTube channel, Darkstream by Vox Day, each in response to one of the 17 aforementioned videos. They are all reasonably representative of the positions being taken by the pro-Peterson commenters;Day, Vox. Jordanetics: A Journey Into the Mind of Humanity’s Greatest Thinker (Kindle Locations 512-514). Castalia House. Kindle Edition.
Seriously, what follows is rambling quotes from YouTube and that is the majority of the chapter! The chapter that follows that (Chapter 3) is a rambling transcript of one of Vox Day’s video’s about Peterson, padded out with some more of the comments left behind on YouTube.
Can you guess what Chapter 4 is? Did you say “Is it positive comments to Vox Day’s video cut and pasted from YouTube”? You did? Well done! Who is so foolish to read this stuff? Oh, um, I am.
So is it actually heresy that Vox Day is chasing here or is it simply money? After all Peterson and things Peterson related is big business and it is big business among Vox Day’s target market: disaffected men who feel victimised by women. The Peterson bandwagon would be a hard one for Vox Day to jump on in a supportive way, which leaves the only other option of attacking Peterson and letting his outraged fans fuel Day’s marketing.
As I’ve noted before, with motives and particularly with the ideology v grift motives of the alt-right, Ockham’s razor doesn’t apply. Multiple causes should be assumed rather than just the simplest. There’s always a money-making dimension as well as an ideological one.
I’ve tried to give a sense of the dimensions of Vox Day’s critique of Jordan Peterson. One part is criticism that is familiar (essentially that Peterson is incoherent & dishonest) and another part is that Peterson is insufficiently right wing/secretly leftwing (Day claims Peterson is a Marxist). These two parts don’t need much further illustration. The valid arguments day uses have been better put by others and the political argument is just a new version of Day’s usual attacks on conservatives he feels are insufficiently rabid.
However, there is a third dimension to Day’s critique, which for want of a better word I’ll call ‘occult’. ‘Occult’ works in two ways here. Firstly Day contends that there is a hidden meaning in Peterson’s work and secondly Day contends that it is demonic. Again, neither of these should be surprising to anybody familiar with Day’s writing. To be fair to Day reading Peterson is likely to make anybody wonder what Peterson is really trying to say. Day is correct that the common sense rules that Peterson promotes in 12 Rules for Life, have very little to do with the text contained in the chapters about each rule. Obscurity is part of Peterson’s con – to appear to be profound by being opaque. Day recognises this but goes further.
I think, that actually Peterson doesn’t know what he is trying to say in much of what he writes. His writing appears garbled because it is garbled and trying to decipher his meaning beyond his basic prejudices is like trying to decipher a code that reads “qwertyuiop” We can reach rational conclusions from such a code (i.e. that somebody or there cat pressed the top row of the keyboard in order) but we can’t read the code in the normal sense. Peterson’s writing gives us insight into aspects of his psychological state, his fears and his prejudices but not much else. Vox Day though takes a different tack. Vox is looking for demons.
The demonic looms large on the alt-right. We’ve seen claims that demons are controlling the left or that witchcraft is rampant. Vox Day has a particular fixation on Alestier Crowley, the infamous English magician, seeing his demonic influence everywhere including in Disney:
“As I’ve told my children, Let It Go is an expression of pure Crowleyian evil; it doesn’t even rise to the less evil version of W. Somerset Maugham, as there is no due regard for civic mores.”http://voxday.blogspot.com/2017/11/let-it-go-to-hell.html
“Disney is run by literal satanists preaching Alastair Crowley’s “do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” to children. They are one of the primary engine’s of the West’s degeneracy and decline. It is not an accident that everything they touch, in every industry, turns into morally radioactive slime.”http://voxday.blogspot.com/2017/10/the-devil-that-is-disney.html
Now Disney and Frozen are things on which both Peterson and Day might find common cause. However, Day is on a literal witch hunt.
“Peterson’s philosophy shares a number of components with that of esoteric religious figures, including L. Ron Hubbard, Aleister Crowley and Helena Blavatsky. His 12 Rules for Life rely upon some of their fundamental tenets, although, again, he hides them beneath commonplace metaphors and large quantities of word-salad. Over the course of the book, you gradually begin to recognize when he is attempting to sneak one of them past you.”Day, Vox. Jordanetics: A Journey Into the Mind of Humanity’s Greatest Thinker (Kindle Locations 1239-1242). Castalia House. Kindle Edition.
To be fair to Day, he’s not wholly wrong. I also argued that Peterson’s work fits within a framework of writing and beliefs that does connect with L.Ron Hubbard and Helena Blavatsky. (see https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2018/03/07/note-quite-reading-peterson-8-roots-and-themes/ ) However, the connection is magical thinking about willpower that doesn’t necessarily imply active belief in the occult. Those same strands that connect Peterson and W.B.Yeats directly also indirectly connect with Ayn Rand and Donald Trump…and probably to Vox Day.
Vox Day is looking for a more literal satanism.
“In Peterson’s philosophy, the world is fallen into evil due to the actions of men. If men acted benevolently by staying inside their own heads and limiting their actions to their imaginations, Paradise on Earth would be the result. It is hard not to notice the overt parallels to Aleister Crowley’s Satatnic philosophy. Like Peterson, Aleister Crowley also believed that Heaven could be constructed on Earth, but only if enough men managed to master themselves.”Day, Vox. Jordanetics: A Journey Into the Mind of Humanity’s Greatest Thinker (Kindle Locations 1964-1967). Castalia House. Kindle Edition.
“Ironically, Peterson’s perspective is darker than that of the notorious Satanists, for Peterson cannot even conceive of the joy of life in a world of suffering and pain. And while Peterson’s defenders will undoubtedly be tempted to question the connection between Peterson’s philosophy with the Thelemite beliefs of the infamous “Beast 666” sex magickian and master of the Ordo Templar Orientis, or with the controversial founder of the Church of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, the spiritual connections are undeniable.”Day, Vox. Jordanetics: A Journey Into the Mind of Humanity’s Greatest Thinker (Kindle Locations 1978-1981). Castalia House. Kindle Edition.
It is here that Peterson identifies how Rule 10 empowers his student to cast magical spells upon reality, to give structure to chaos and re-establish order though one’s speech. By speaking carefully, by speaking precisely, we can reorder reality to our preference. But should we speak carelessly or imprecisely, the spell will not work. Crowley’s spells were defined in a similar manner. Illustration:
It is my Will to inform the World of certain facts within my knowledge. I therefore take “magical weapons”, pen, ink, and paper; I write “incantations” –these sentences– in the “magical language” i.e. that which is understood by the people I wish to instruct; I call forth “spirits”, such as printers, publishers, booksellers, and so forth, and constrain them to convey my message to those people. The composition and distribution of this book is thus an act of MAGICK by which I cause Changes to take place in conformity with my Will. —Aleister Crowley, MAGICK
Time and time and time again throughout Rule 10, Peterson asserts that the use of precise and specific words in the face of chaos will prove to be its antidote. Peterson considers precise speech, the sort of speech that makes material manifest, that isolates and separates things from their unknowable histories, to be a white magic.Day, Vox. Jordanetics: A Journey Into the Mind of Humanity’s Greatest Thinker (Kindle Locations 2470-2481). Castalia House. Kindle Edition.
To say that Peterson employs magical thinking (which he does) shouldn’t be confused with saying that Peterson believes in magic. I don’t think Peterson’s thoughts and beliefs are sufficiently coherent for him to actually believe in magic in any serious sense. Day is over-extrapolating here, although certainly 20th century occultism is part of the blended plum-pudding milkshake that Peterson pours liberally into his work. The error Day is making is assuming that these clumps of matter are the signal in the noise rather than just the noise made by Peterson’s dysfunctional thinking.
Having said that…I wouldn’t be surprised if Peterson heads off in a more overtly spiritual/occult direction in the next phase of his existence as a pundit.
I don’t normally do conclusions well here because I use this blog to get thoughts out of my head. However, having spent time reading too much by Jordan Peterson and too much by Vox Day and then reading Vox Day reading Peterson, I feel I should arrive at a point. The point is where I started: this is just layers of appalling people argue about the right way to be appalling people.
I don’t believe that truth and goodness are the same thing or that logic alone is needed for sound ethics or that the scientific method, properly applied, leads to a deeper enlightenment. However, there’s a kind of comfort in seeing that appalling people will eschew both ethics and the instruments of reason but cannot live without either. There’s an implication that reality has a bias towards not being a shitty person. Even Day and Peterson try to claim that they think that also while actively engaged in deceiving themselves and others.
1 Rule for Life: Honesty is a virtue – to yourself and others.