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]
Don’t worry, not a long post about Jordan Peterson and the malignant nexus of self-help and fascism. No, just a link to somebody else’s long post about Jordan Peterson and the malignant nexus of self-help and right wing politics.
The article compares Peterson, the recent NXIVM cult and Ayn Rand. Added for completeness.
I think the answer is simply ‘no’, as is traditional for questions that are headlines.
Still, I was pointed at this piece: https://catherinecgill.wordpress.com/2018/05/24/the-correlation-between-arts-degrees-and-hating-jordan-peterson/comment-page-1/#comment-433
Gill is a journalist/writer who writes opinion pieces for UK newspapers (The Times among others) and is sometimes a talking head on Sky News.
Her recent blog post on Jordan Peterson starts:
Something concerning of late is the number of Left-wing journalists laying into the scientific theories of Jordan Peterson, even though they have arts degrees! I have nothing against arts degrees, incidentally, but I do take issue with people pontificating about areas they know nada about…
A few things to unpack here:
- Yes, if you google the background of a bunch of journalists you are likely to find lost of arts degrees. That’s a side effect of looking at people in a profession that suits people with arts and humanities backgrounds. Are there journalists with more science-based backgrounds? Sure, but they are going to be less common than those without.
- Are the people criticising Peterson disproportionately people with Arts degrees? I don’t know but I doubt it.
- Is an arts degree an impediment to criticising the scientific basis of Peterson’s claims? Well, no. Peterson’s scientific claims aren’t very strong or highly technical. There are plenty of debunkings, so a journalist who knows how to look stuff up and do basic research shouldn’t have a hard time evaluating that he’s talking nonesense.
- An arts degree, or specifically a degree in lietrature is probably a very GOOD grounding for engaging with Peterson’s writing (at least the stuff relevant to why he is in the news). Peterson’s arguments (such as they are) are cultural criticism and his mode of argument (such that it is) is not logico-empirical but closer to the modes used in literary criticism. Peterson rests his cultural/political arguments on Nietszche, Dostoyevsky, Jung, and the Bible not on science.
- Yes, he does include some science in his arguments and it is uniformly garbled (more on that).
- “I do take issue with people pontificating about areas they know nada about” – then you should take issue with Peterson.
But before I continue some links:
Psychology Today on Peterson: https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/hot-thought/201802/jordan-peterson-s-flimsy-philosophy-life
Leonor Gonçalves Research Associate in Neuroscience, Physiology and Pharmacology at UCL on Peterson: https://theconversation.com/psychologist-jordan-peterson-says-lobsters-help-to-explain-why-human-hierarchies-exist-do-they-90489
P Z Myers Professor and Evolutionary developmental biologist https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2018/03/15/the-criticism-jordan-peterson-deserves
That’s just three I had to hand.
“Generally, the Left has huge issues with psychological theory. This is because of their belief that people are ‘blank slates’ who can be shaped by the environment, so as to justify their desire to engineer it. Thus they cannot stand anyone who cites biological variables in human development – for example, personality traits have genetic components – as Peterson and all psychologists will do…”
This is a version of Steven Pinker’s argument, although Pinker’s argument has a bit more nuance than that. Is it correct? I guess for some value of “generally”. The left is more sceptical of arguments that propose biological determinism in various forms as an argument against social change. Some of that scepticism gets expressed as over-generalised ‘blank slate’ style arguments but those arguments are not a neccesary part of left wing views. There’s no shortage of people on the left who can recognise:
- What is actual evidence from biology about various traits.
- The capacity for humans to not be constrained by that.
To use a simple analogy, that your basic hair colour is genetically determined does not prevent you from dyeing your hair and is certainly not a reason for the state to ban hair dyes or for people to discriminate against particular hair colours or for somebody to repetedly point at your obviously red hair and declare that it is ‘really’ blond because ‘genetics’.
I’ll leave this last quote from her piece as an exercise for the reader:
“This aversion to psychological theory is part of the reason why I have never been published in this subject in a left-wing publication. I have a First Class Honours BSc in Psychology and 86 in a neuroscience paper – sorry for the brag, just making a point – yet I am deemed as “right wing”. Why? Because I was always accurate about reporting my studies. It is astonishingly frustrating to have an ideology planted onto you for being factual.”
[ETA: I don’t think I’ve posted this link before. Prof. A.W. Peet’s list of Jordan Peterson rebuttals http://ap.io/pet/12/ ]
So the original French title of the song “Windmills of Your Mind” translates as “Windmills of My Heart”. Somebody with more talent than I could probably spin that factlet out into a lengthy essay on the difference between the Continental and Analytic strands of philosophy in the Twentieth Century.
Instead it behooves me to bow to the inevitable wheel within a wheel and present to you like a tunnel within a tunnel, like a turd within a loo, Vox Day reviewing Jordan Peterson’s Twelve Rules for Life. Regular Link and Archive Link.
Fairs fair, I’ll concede to agree with a lot of what Vox Day writes about Peterson here. Elsewhere, Vox is going further off the rails trying to dismantle Peterson’s theory of truth. Of course, Peterson doesn’t actually have a theory of truth, he’s just spouting the first thing that comes into his head and then covering up the mess with argle-bargle. Vox’s main concern is that Peterson is offering a heretical alternative to Vox’s more extreme position on the question of ‘how pro-fascism can we be without admitting it’. Peterson I’ll grant is somebody who really doesn’t want to be a fascist but for reasons best known to him has accepted a whole pile of premises which makes him susceptible to right wing authoritarianism. Is ‘fascist ideation’ a concept? I feel uneasy just making up a term by adding ‘ideation’ to it.
“However, the more sophisticated reader cannot help but notice that Peterson does not follow his own rules, particularly the three which relate to speaking precisely, telling the truth, and getting one’s own house in order before trying to fix the world.”
Correct and I think this is the most obvious and negating of Peterson’s book. He fails on all three fronts in the book itself and even more broadly when you look at his wider statements, videos etc.
This next paragraph by Vox Day also is hard to disagree with:
“Peterson is an engaging and accessible writer when he is simply recounting events of the past or relating experiences from his own life. He is a sympathetic author, and he effectively communicates the way in which the tragedy and suffering he has experienced throughout his life have made a deep impression on his psyche. It is when he tries to wax profound and articulate his underlying philosophy that his writing invariably wades into a swamp of nonsensical name-dropping that is less Jungian than Joycean, a meandering waking stream of consciousness that not only fails to substantially support the nominal premise, but often bears no relationship to it whatsoever.”
After that Vox’s review becomes less insightful. His agenda here is to try and negate the influence of Peterson on people within Vox Day’s target audience – the ideologically adrift anti-left seeking order. His capacity to critique Peterson is limited by his inability to address many of Peterson’s more silly ideas because Vox shares many of them (e.g. IQ essentialism, dominance hierarchies as the main tool for analysing society etc.)
Vox correctly points out that Peterson is not a conventional Christian but then neither is Vox Day. He also says that Peterson is not of the right but fails to explain how he is of either the centre or the left. Vox is closer to understanding Peterson when he focuses on his essential incoherence but pushes on as if the contradictions Peterson pushes don’t matter and a single message can be divined within the details.
Who is worse? Vox is a clearer writer when it comes to non-fiction but then he says much worse things than Peterson does but then again Peterson seems to be a more prevelant gateway drug for this nonsense. It’s just a layers of appaling really…it’s like…it’s like…
Like a fascist reviewing fascists,
Like a heel reviewing heels,
Like some nonsense written clearly,
Like some similie on wheels,
Like some appalling human being
With a mega-selling book,
Like a wannabe sci-fi author,
With a podgy skin-head look,
Like a tunnel in a tunnel with a tunnel underneath,
Like a really boring lecture on the nature of belief,
Like a song with too many lyrics,
Like Canadian academe,
Like you really hate this party,
But you don’t want to make a scene,
Like the windmills that you start,
In the Netherlands of your heart.
So, on average a rabbits weighs say 2 kg and I don’t know, maybe a lobster typically weighs 0.5 kg? Rabbits can be surprisingly aggressive but lobsters have a thick exoskeleton and claws. Obviously, rabbits can run away more easily but we haven’t determined where this conflict is occurring. Sure, a rabbit can adapt well to a wide range of terrestrial environments but they aren’t aquatic mammals and would simply drown if they tried to engage a lobster on the sea floor. You’d think that lobsters aren’t cut out for sustained warfare in burrows but if we extend our range of what we count as a ‘lobster’ then we’d need to consider the Engaeus aka the Tasmanian Burrowing Crayfish. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engaeus Burrowing crayfish also live on mainland Australia in southern Victoria – so it’s not impossible that there are recorded cases of rabbits fighting crayfish. Having said that, if we are extending out the definition of “lobster” to a completely different species we may as well extend “rabbit” to include wombats.
Now imagine the same argument but I said that a rabbit weighs 55 pounds based on a misunderstanding of this article https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/03/ralph-worlds-largest-bunny-rabbit_n_3006487.html It is worthwhile considering if the quality of argument has actually got much worse if it included that error. One way to think of this is in terms of local versus global issues in an argument. I’m borrowing freely from how Imre Lakatos talked about counter-examples in mathematical arguments and applying it badly to the exact opposite – nonsensical arguments.
- The rabbit mass error is an error but it has little impact on the whole argument (which is a silly argument). The scope of the error is highly limited. The pro-lobster side of the argument may feel happy when they debunk the error but their position hasn’t improved.
- The redefinition argument, so as to include crayfish under ‘lobster’ has a much wider scope. It changes the nature of the argument and has a much broader impact.
- Neither of those two issues actually address the broadest level of the argument which is that the premise is silly. Lobsters and rabbits are not in direct conflict because of the kinds of animals that they are. For them to actually be in a direct conflict they would need to be different kinds of animals and hence none of the actual features of either rabbit of lobsters is relevant to the question.
‘Yes, thank you for clarifying that,’ I hear you say as tiny voices in my head, ‘but what has this got to do with anything and could you maybe just draw more beard pictures instead?’
It’s Vox Day feuding with Jordan Peterson – yes I’m sure Vox would prefer wolves rather than rabbits but obviously, lobsters would beat wolves*.
I was tempted to discuss the argument in more depth but it really is about as silly as lobsters versus rabbits but with added racism (specifical anti-semitism). The problem with looking at either of their arguments in any detail is that they globally make little sense and are full of local errors. To discuss the local errors in any detail requires assuming for the sake of argument the more absurd premises – which would be one thing if we were looking at, say, homoeopathy but in this case, the absurd premises are particularly venomous ones i.e. anti-Semitic or more generally racist ones.
Both Peterson and Vox Day are IQ essentialists. That is they think
- that IQ *is* intelligence (which it almost certainly isn’t),
- and that evidence of hereditary aspects of IQ demonstrates that intelligence is overwhelmingly genetic (which is doubly questionable),
- and evidence of some correlations between IQ and social success in modern societies demonstrates that social success is genetic (which is now a stack of suppositions),
- and that different degrees of social success among different ethnic groups/nations is CAUSED by differences in IQ of those groups (which we can probably assume now is just plain wrong),
- and that those differences are genetic.
It is a house of cards but one with some numbers based on research of very variable quality. Also, it is definitively a racist theory, as in it is literally a theory that asserts that different groups of humans are more or less inferior on a very broad range of traits due to inherent differences. I’ve discussed IQ many times before, so I won’t rehash all those arguments, other than to say the first point is the core error: we can collect interesting and useful numbers using scientific and ‘objective’ methods but the INTERPRETATION of those numbers is not simply established by having reliable numbers. That the numbers used in IQ arguments such as these tend not to be that reliable ANYWAY is a more local issue.
Peterson and others that we might call ‘moderate racists’ if that wasn’t an oxymoron, like these IQ essentialist style arguments because they see them as being a bulwark against demands for equality. For them, it demonstrates that modern societies are a meritocracy and that inequality of outcome is due to fundamental biological differences between people.
Vox Day’s ideology is far more overtly racist but the rationalisation is much the same. So shouldn’t Vox Day and Peterson be pals? Ah, you might think that but remember both Vox and Peterson also both believe strongly in dominance hierarchies as a biological imperative and as a kind of the social norm for masculine behaviour. Which is a kind of weird self-fulfilling psychological theory i.e. Peterson’s psychology is largely bunk but it does actually sort of work for people who believe Peterson’s psychology. Put another way: Vox and Peterson are warring lobsters. They’ll react to others encroaching on their territory as either:
- Obviously superior lobsters – who they’ll acknowledge as such.
- Lobsters of equivalent rank but who are both willing to stay a safe difference away in the neatly defined territory.
- Rival lobsters that require a showy dominance display so they stick to their own territory.
- Lower ranked lobsters who can be easily chased away.
Note, when I say ‘lobsters’ these are Petersonian-lobsters, not the actual crustaceans who actually have nothing to do with this at all. Also humans don’t really behave this way – this is a kind of self-imposed behaviour.
Peterson isn’t smart enough to impress Vox (here Vox is correct) but Peterson is getting a lot of fuss and attention as a thinker on the right. Hence, following the psychological theory of both of them, they have to fight. Specifically, they are fighting over anti-Semitism and when I say ‘fighting’, I think is mainly Vox moaning about Peterson rather than vice-versa.
Peterson decided to counter anti-Semitic arguments by arguing that the success of some Jewish people in Western society was due to on an average higher IQ of Ashkenazi Jews. That offends Vox as he likes to push anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Of course, the factual basis Peterson’s claims is based on weak and dodgy research and requires assuming complex social phenomenon can be explained by one numerical parameter. Vox’s could then mount a counter-argument that picks holes in Peterson’s position by pointing out errors and weaknesses. Now it doesn’t matter to Vox that many of the weaknesses he points out are actually the same weaknesses in Vox’s own arguments about IQ (e.g. over generalising from a weak study with few participants who aren’t a random sample) nor does it matter that neither of them address relevant questions about who exactly they are talking about.
Peterson set up his argument as a false dichotomy (success of some Jewish people in America being either genetics or conspiracy) and then arguing for ‘genetics’. By doing so, the very way he framed the argument helps more overt anti-Semites because somebody like Vox Day can point to weaknesses and errors in his argument (mainly local ones) and declare that they’ve proved the other part of the false dichotomy. Put another way: bad arguments generate worse arguments.
Peterson thinks he’s scoring a point against anti-Semitism when he uses what is racial theory in a positive light towards a group that has been persecuted and marginalised. However, there is never any positive way to use racism – all he manages is to create a strawman for more overt racists to knock over. The effect is like a ratchet of prejudice – Peterson pulls readers into accepting a set of dodgy ideas that once accepted make it difficult to avoid believing a whole set of even worse ideas.
*[wolves are basically just dogs and any dog I know, if it saw a lobster would just freak out and run away. So, in this specific case, the question has an answer: lobster beat wolves by being weird looking.]
I didn’t discuss famous life coach/motivational speaking Tony Robbins much in my series on Jordan Peterson and the wider phenomenon of self-improvement as gateway to fascism. However, time serves to provide more examples of what I was trying to articulate and Tony Robbins has unwittingly elected to demonstrate the vague point I was making.
The main headline has been Robbins criticising the Me Too movement against sexual harassment and assault. That is bad enough but in relation to the connection between self-help and a dysfunctional view of society, Robbins’s behaviour is better demonstrated by a specific incident:
“During his speech, an audience member named Nanine McCool, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, is given a microphone to ask Robbins a question. She starts off by saying, “I think you misunderstand the #MeToo movement…” before Robbins cuts her off.
When Ms McCool gets the floor back almost a full two minutes later, she explains that she feels Robbins has mischaracterised an entire movement by claiming that women are using it for their own personal gains.
Robbins then goes on to use Ms McCool to make his point. He walks her backwards through the aisle of the stadium by pushing against her fist, asking her why she’s resisting his push in order to make his point. Pushing against someone else doesn’t make you more safe, he explains.”
It may seem like a contradiction that a spokesperson for self-empowerment is arguing against pushing back against bullies but it absolutely fits 100% with the underlying message. Pushing back works when it is done collectively and the one thing that simply unites conservatism, libertarianism, self-help and fascism is opposition to people organising from the ground up without direction from leaders.
I’m also kicking myself because I relaise that I didn’t talk about the cult of personality aspect of characters like Robbins and how that joins them neatly with cult-like organisations, fascism and authoritarians & totalitarians in general (and for another example see Ayn Rand.)
Here’s a longer piece on Robbins https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/life-and-relationships/anthony-robbins-where-have-you-been-20180408-p4z8gk.html
The first courtesy of Jim Henley:
Gun Culture And Wellness Culture Come From The Same Place
Fear. Suspicion of established authority. A feeling of intense disempowerment. People turn to guns for the comforts that others get from oils and energy crystals.
The second I saw in a tweet by N.K.Jemisin
Why Are White Men Stockpiling Guns?
Research suggests it’s largely because they’re anxious about their ability to protect their families, insecure about their place in the job market and beset by racial fears
An older piece – one man’s story about how he became involved in “Men’s Rights” and how he got out.
I Was a Men’s Rights Activist
One man’s journey from misogyny to feminism
I discovered the men’s rights movement when I was 22, working at a bookstore in downtown Kelowna, British Columbia. I was trying to earn some money before starting my second year at university.
I was in the self-help section “facing” our most popular books — arranging them so their covers, and not their spines, faced outward — when I noticed the title Spreading Misandry: The Teaching of Contempt for Men in Popular Culture.
How the alt-right arepreying on depressed men online.
The Alt-right is recruiting depressed people
Alt-right figures are targeting vulnerable communities with videos and, unfortunately, it seems to be working.
A video on YouTube entitled “Advice For People With Depression” has over half a million views. The title is generic enough, and to the unsuspecting viewer, lecturer Jordan Peterson could even look legitimate or knowledgable — a quick Google search will reveal that he even spoke at Harvard once. But as the video wears on, Peterson argues that men are depressed and frustrated because they don’t have a higher calling like women (who, according to Peterson, are biologically required to have and take care of infants). This leaves weak men seeking “impulsive, low-class pleasure,” he argues. Upon first glance he certainly doesn’t seem like a darling of the alt-right, but he is.
I think this was already posted in the comments but I can’t find by whom – sorry, for not crediting them!
Infowars and Goop!
Goop and Infowars Have Way More in Common Than You Thought
On Thursday, Quartz posted an article revealing how the luxury lifestyle website Goop and the right-wing conspiracy hub Infowars essentially sell the same wellness products. This is remarkable — and hilarious — given that the two media platforms could not be targeting a more disparate audience: The former is essentially a sentient Instagram feed run by Gwyneth Paltrow that tells mostly affluent, mostly liberal readers how to live and what to buy. The latter is headed by always-shirtless conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, whose far-right fans believe Sandy Hook was a hoax and that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are literal demons. Nevertheless, Goop’s spiritual wellness products and Infowars’ virile supplements are just about the same thing. But dig a little deeper, and beneath the SoCal beauty of Goop and the underground paranoia of Infowars you may find that the two share more in common than just the “alternative” medicine they sell.
The alt-right and male virility
What Is It with the Alt-Right and Male Virility?
The alt-right is a loosely defined coalition of various far-right conservatives, hate groups, social regressives and conspiracy theorists. It’s a nebulous collection of what Hillary Clinton rightfully called a basket of deplorables, and, boy, they sure are making headlines lately with openly Nazi protests that feel more like a chan raid that got way out of hand than anything else.
There is one weird thing that does seem to unite a lot of these groups across their various denominations, though: male enhancement pills. There is an obsession with chemically restored virility.
But by the way these supplements and useless but mainly harmless
We Sent Alex Jones’ Infowars Supplements To A Lab. Here’s What’s In Them.
“You could grab a bottle for around $10 and skip the 2X+ price markup from Infowars,” one lab review reads.