I visited the Jordan Peterson new social media platform

Back in June self-help guru Jordan Peterson announced his own new social media platform called “thinkspot” dedicated to “free speech”. I said at the time that it was likely to go the same way as the alt-right Twitter alternative Gab (see https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2019/06/13/jordan-petersons-new-version-of-gab-will-have-all-the-same-problems-as-gab/ ).

Having signed up sometime ago out of morbid curiosity, I finally received an invite to the Beta version yesterday. Seeing what has been built, I have to reverse my previous opinion. I don’t think thinkspot will necessarily go the same way as Gab i.e. become so overwhelmed with the worst parts of the net as to be abandoned even by the not-quite-the-worst parts of the net.

What is much less clear is what thinkspot is supposed to be. Perhaps the biggest and most obvious difference with other platforms is that thinkspot does at least have a clear business model other than advertising. You can join for free but a free account has very limited features. That “free” part in “free speech” does not mean “free” in the money sense. If you want to post your own content then you have to buy a subscription.

The more basic Platform Subscription costs $2.50 billed annually i.e. $30. That $30 buys you:

“Access to all Contributor forums

Your own thinkspot user page, includes unique posting privileges and verified icon

Exclusive ts. videos, livestreams, and podcasts

Coming soon:Upload your own podcasts and video blogs, start discussion groups, and create newsletters even eBooks.”

If you are thinking that $30 sounds a bit steep you aren’t going to want to click on the other offer. “Contributor” isn’t another level where you get to be a contributor but rather it is another level where you pay an extra fee to subscribe to a contributor. The current list is as follows: [links from me to Wikipedia bios]

Those seven are the contributors you can subscribe to but there appears to be 20 contributors in total including Peterson’s daughter Mikhaila.

I’ll acknowledge that for once we have something that looks like practical consistency of thought from Peterson. The man loves hierarchies and that’s what he has implemented. Essentially there are four levels.

  1. Basic users – free and you get to write comments on things other people write.
  2. Platform subscribers – $30 a year and you get your own page and you can write things there.
  3. Subscribers to contributors – a minimum of an extra $30 a year per contributor you subscribe to. This gets you additional content.
  4. Contributors. How somebody gets to be a contributor is unclear but you can get paid.

So this thinkspot is very much NOT a Facebook or a Twitter alternative. Joining gets you all the privileges of being in the comment section of other people’s content. A better analogy would be with the long-form blogging platform Medium — which itself is a bit vague about what it is supposed to be.

The pay-walls at least do mean thinkspot is unlikely to follow the same path as Gab. The people the platform cares about (the Contributors) are shielded. I don’t know if they can de-subscribe a user they don’t like but at worst if they were being hassled by trolls those trolls would be paying the Contributor for the privilege.

The platform is (and I’m being as generous as possible) a confusing mess. When you start there is a kind of step-by-step guide which is unhelpful. From the get-go I am automatically made a follower of all 20 of the Contributors. That means I’m greeted with a feed/timeline of posts with next to no context from these 20 people. I’m not sure what I get in addition if I subscribe to a contributor as well. I decided to make my experience less confusing and unfollow somebody.

I picked “Bishop Barron” on the grounds that like most of the names I’d never heard of him [“Bishop Robert Barron is the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles”] and unfollowed the Bishop. That helped a lot as it made clear the difference between different kinds of Contributors. You can use the Bishop’s forum for free, whereas Jordan Peterson’s forum you have to pay for. By the way Peterson himself isn’t actually posting to thinkspot currently. As of October 16 his pinned post says:

“Jordan is still taking some time off, but is expecting to return soon. In the meantime, his team will continue posting his previously prepared content and works in order to keep the thinkspot vision going. Thank you all for your continued support!”

So I wouldn’t spend that $240 yet…OK I wouldn’t spend it at all.

What about the site’s commitment to free speech? The site has a long statement that is linked from its Terms of Service https://www.ts.today/home/speech_statement It starts like this:

“At thinkspot, we believe that the life-blood of the great democratic project is ensconced foremost in ideas and the uninhibited articulation of thought. The innate human affinity for inquiry, reflection, and opinion are natural complements to the concept of ideas, yet the battle over their latitude in society seems to be eternal. So while ideas intrinsically are essential to our existence, it is the context with which they exercise influence that holds equal if not greater significance. It is our team’s conviction that without fertile ground for free expression, our purest exhibition of free will congeals into a reductive calcification, whereby misleading rhetoric is weaponized by autocrats, monoliths, and those who privilege power over principle. “

…and carries on in much the same way, extolling the virtues of free-speech yet somehow never really saying anything.

The Community Guidelines provide a clearer idea of what they mean in practice. “Free speech” is explained in terms of the US First Amendment and US law i.e. if it is speech that you can be sued for or prosecuted for in the US then it is not free speech but something else. I’m not a lawyer or a US constitutional expert but then I’m not sure the author of the community guidelines is either. There are warnings about the following things that can be removed:

  • Copyright infringement etc
  • Defamation
  • Obscentity
  • Pornography
  • Incitement and Fighting Words
  • Terrorism
  • CyberStalking/Harassment
  • Doxing
  • Brigading
  • Spam
  • Impersonation
  • A bunch of other prohibited transactions (e.g. selling stolen goods)

The list is not a surprise — whether it is Twitter or Gab, the primary motivation for a platform to moderate content is the platform’s legal liability. The question is more how the platform will police things and who they will police.

The defamation clause is an interesting example:

Defamation
Defamation, a false statement about another that tends to damage the reputation of that person, is not protected by the First Amendment. Any defaming language that plainly contravenes U.S. law is forbidden and will be removed.”

Gab (and I think WordPress as well) insisted that they would take down defamatory content only if there was a court ruling. What is or is not defamation in the US is unclear (not just the US obviously). So it is not a matter of simply applying some simple legal criteria and removing posts/comments that break the defamation-law. That’s not how laws on defamation work. Having said that, the guideline implies a more useful standard of removing content that appears to be defamatory.

Of course, whether the sites moderators will do so is another question.

Overall, thinkspot is a service for its Contributors. A contributor gets a moderated comment section and a possible income stream. Low level users get moderated, Contributor’s get “free speech”. The site reflects the Petersonian view of the natural order of things: the big important guy gets to say what they want without censure or criticism, the proles get to listen politely.

P.S. My invite comes with the privilege of sending out 10 free invites to others. If you want one, just ask in the comments and I’ll send it to whatever your comment email address is (or email me if you want it to a different email). I’m not sure why you might want one other than morbid curiosity but you then get 10 free invites also. Gosh! It’s like some sort of scheme that is shaped like a pyramid…

A bad survey about the ‘Intellectual Dark Web’

This is an edited version of three Twitter rants from yesterday. It started as an off-cuff reaction but I was too far into it before I thought that it should be a blog-post rather than Tweets.

Stephen Pinker tweeted out a very weird bit of science theatre created by Michael Shermer.

Pinker has enough critical thinking skills that he should look at it with hefty scepticism…but obviously isn’t. It’s pretend science, using play-acting at science to refute what is obvious and ignores the core issues.

The “survey” by Michael Shermer (which should be a red flag in itself) was sent to 34 notable people associated with the label “Intellectual Dark Web” and asked where they stand on a number of issues. The survey was anonymous, so the views identified in the survey can’t be matched to the individuals asked. https://www.skeptic.com/reading_room/preliminary-empirical-study-shedding-light-on-intellectual-dark-web/

Each and every one of the people surveyed is a public figure who have made multiple public statements about politics and social issues. I don’t need an anonymous survey to find out what Andy Ngo or Sam Harris thinks, I can go and read what they say. And it is what they SAY that matters and what defines the IDW term not what they might privately think. If Sam Harris thinks he has warm & fuzzy liberal beliefs that’s nice but the whole point of the “dark web” label was the contrarian issues he promotes. Maybe Ben Shapiro secretly believes Global Warming is real and climate change is caused by humans. I don’t know but what matters is he propagandises the opposite. If an anonymous survey of the 34 “Intelectual Dark” Webbers reveals that their underlying views are more centrist and mainstream then that is not evidence that the public perception of their public positions is wrong. Rather it confirms a key point about the IDW.

The fundamental issues with the disparate group lumped together as the Intellectual Dark Web is that they are DISINGENUOUS about their politics. It’s not news that Jordan Peterson thinks of himself as moderate and reasonable. We knew that already. It doesn’t change that he (and Harris & Shapiro & Ngo & Quillette) frame and enable a perspective that bolsters the far right. The whole “we are the reasonable ones” is part of the schtick of the IDW. That they’ll boost that in an anonymous survey is, frankly, wank.

Let’s be sceptical as I’m sure Dr Pinker and Shermer would want us to be. Let’s take one conclusion Pinker raises from the survey: The members of the IDW are “concerned w climate” Let’s look at the survey: The survey agrees: “67% strongly agreed that global warming is caused by human actions (no one strongly disagreed)” So their you go! Hoorah! No, no let us be sceptical first. If this was GENUINELY true would it not be easily observed?

To the empircism-mobile! Here’s the output of the Quillete Climate tag https://quillette.com/tag/climate/ zoiks! A hefty TWO article, one concern trolling Greta Thunberg and the other saying people shouldn’t be mean to capitalism. Yes, Quillette is just one source but it is one that connects Steven Pinker on the one hand (who we can observe genuinely does advocate for action on Global Warming) with Andy Ngo on the other hand (who genuinely does have connections with the alt-right and violent far right groups) via Claire Lehmann (Quillette’s founder, fan of Pinker and one time boss of Ngo).

Yes, Steven Pinker himself has a better record on the of global warming but the issue he raised was to look collectively at the IDW and their media-organs. Broadly this is not a group trying to do very much about helping with the issue. And wow, think of the actually good the IDW could achieve given their actual audience. Whatever they may think of themselves, collectively they do have the ear of many on the right – exactly where climate change denial and bad science on the topic is endemic. You’d think these out spoken people might be busy being outspoken on a potential planet wide disaster.

It gets worse. The actual sample was only 18 not 34 people. Nearly half of the 34 didn’t answer. So when the survey says “67%” (the percentage favouring gun control and which believes global warming is real) actually means “12 people” That’s actually both more plausible and more wretched. Even if we accept that 12 of those IDWs think climate change is real, it says almost nothing about the group. Any one member of the original 34 people is a hefty 3% of the population being sampled and hence missing any one of them can have a large impact on the results. This is particularly true given that we already know that the label of “Intellectual Dark Web” is being attached to a group with a very broad range of views on many topics.

Shermer is assuming non-response to the survey is random across the traits being surveyed (i.e the 18 is a random sample of the 34). There is no reason to believe that and really anybody who is wants to seriously call themselves a sceptic should dismiss any general conclusion from the survey without substantial additional supporting evidence.

Indeed there’s good reason to assume that the 18 who responded is not a good random sample of the 34, just on the nature of the numbers. It is very hard with small numbers in a survey for the sample to be representative because one person makes a big difference. Shermer hides that by quoting percentages rather than raw totals but with small number percentages hide how few people he’s talking about. It’s not invalid to look at proportions with small sample sizes, sometimes that is all you have but there’s a point where 12 out of 18 is more informative than 67%.

We can illustrate the issue with the women who were surveyed. Of the 34 named people in survey associated with the “Intellectual Dark Web” 8 (24%) are women. In the survey 3 (17%) are women. So are the IDW 17% women (generalising from survey) or 24%? Obviously 24% is the correct figure but 17% is the equivalent of the the kind of survey conclusions Shermer presents. In fact any one woman listed is 13% of the IDW women, so one more woman answering makes a huge different to sub-sample of women. Any one person is 6% of the whole sample of 18 people!

Circling back to 67% claim. Again assuming everybody who responded is being honest (which I doubt) the survey actually found that 12 people of the 34 who were asked believed in gun control and the same number believed that global warming was real (which I’ll add isn’t saying much, some prominent sceptics will say global warming is real, just as many anti-vaccination campaigners will say they support vaccinations – it is the ‘but’ that follows where the issues lie). That might mean 67% or there about of 34 believe in gun control but a safer conclusion is no less than 35% do (12/34) and no more than 82% (28/34). Given how granular this data is, hoping the estimate is in the middle isn’t supported.

This is why I call it theatre. It is the wrong methodology applied badly. It illustrates methodological snobbery. Synthesising the complex views of a small group of people is exactly where qualitative methods work better. It is a domain where you need to put on your humanities hat and apply those humanities skills. Shermer is using sciencey film-flam by presenting a pointlessly anonymous survey and presenting the results as percentages as if there were proportions of the whole group.

Don’t get me wrong I absolutely LOVE applying basic quantitive methods to things and place where they don’t always make sense. It’s very much my hobby but even on this less than 100% serious blog I’d throw more caveats at better numbers than Shermer is using.

Jordan Peterson’s new version of Gab will have all the same problems as Gab

I’m not sure I have to write a post to accompany the headline as I’ve encapsulated the main point in the headline.

The longer version is this. Jordan Peterson has announced his own social media platform “Thinkspot”

He described that freedom as the “central” aspect saying, “once you’re on our platform we won’t take you down unless we’re ordered to by a US court of law.” That will be a profound contrast to platforms that ban users for “misgendering” people who identify as trans, or for tweeting “learn to code” at fired journalists. The only other major rule on comments he mentioned was that they need to be thoughtful. Rather than suggesting that some opinions are “off limits,” Peterson said they will have a minimum required length so one has to put thought into what they write. “If minimum comment length is 50 words, you’re gonna have to put a little thought into it,” Peterson said. “Even if you’re being a troll, you’ll be a quasi-witty troll.” All comments on the website will have a voting feature “and if your ratio of upvotes to downvotes falls below 50/50 then your comments will be hidden, people will still be able to see them, if they click, but you’ll disappear.”

These are mainly features and claims offered by Gab or seen in other platforms. Gab, of course, descended so rapidly into nothing but Nazis, dodgy-porn, and dodgy pornographic Nazis that Vox Day found himself harassed off the platform by obnoxious Nazi trolls as if trying to embody the concept of “unintended irony”.

Peterson’s platform will have the added advantage over Gab in that there’s no shortage of Nazi-trolls who actively hate Peterson, so they’ll have an added incentive to destroy the platform intentionally in the same way the destroyed Gab unintentionally.

The only unusual feature mentioned is a minimum comment length. That will be very hard to beat I’m sure!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Peterson’s own pitch implies that they won’t ban users for harassment. This pretty much guarantees that people who don’t want to be harassed won’t use it (at least not for long) and the people who want to harass will.

Ye Olde Skull & Lobster: Reading Vox Day So You Don’t Have To: Part N+1

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]

Continue reading “Ye Olde Skull & Lobster: Reading Vox Day So You Don’t Have To: Part N+1”

Peterson and the ‘Thing’ again

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.

https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/3kyxvv/nxivm-jordan-peterson-and-the-reincarnation-of-ayn-rands-cult

The article compares Peterson, the recent NXIVM cult and Ayn Rand. Added for completeness.

Is Criticism of Jordan Peterson an Arts v Science thing?

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.

Gill continues:

“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:

  1. What is actual evidence from biology about various traits.
  2. 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/ ]

Les Moulins de Mon Cœur

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.