jordan peterson
The leftist magazine Jacobin has published a "review" of sorts of the work of Prof. Jordan B. Peterson, with reference to his new book 12 Rules for Life. Written by Harrison Fluss, the article is affectionately titled "Jordan Peterson's Bullshit". According to Fluss, Peterson's thought is "filled with pseudo-science, bad pop psychology, and deep irrationalism." The article is quite an entertaining read - if you enjoy pulling your hair out. If I were to lower my standards of civilized speech for a moment, I'd even call it bullshit. Let's take a look. Fluss begins by commenting on Peterson's recent interview with Cathy Newman. By the second sentence, we can already see how it will end.
With his recent book's success and with over 40 million views on YouTube, Jordan Peterson's star is on the rise. His conservative and alt-right fan base is heralding his interview with Channel 4 News' Cathy Newman as a victory against "PC Culture."
Apparently Fluss has access to the demographics of Dr. Peterson's fan base. I'd like to see those statistics for myself. Who knows, maybe I can count myself among the outliers, not being conservative or alt-right. But then again, maybe the shoe fits? "Alt-right" is no different to many other popular words these days that serve as catch-alls thrown about by lazy thinkers in order to smear anyone who might violate even the tiniest jot or tittle of the Law of PC Culture. (Note that Fluss puts PC Culture in quotation marks, as if to imply there's no such thing.)

But really, if alt-right is taken to be white nationalism or some such nonsense, then Fluss is simply not telling the truth. It may be handy to manipulate language in order to browbeat your opponents, but it's not very civilized. Maybe Fluss should take some of the good doctor's "pop-psychological" medicine and try to tell the truth, or at the very least not to lie. Because to call all of Peterson's fan base conservative or alt-right is simply not true.
Newman's attempt to refute Peterson through cordial debate failed after she conceded to elements of his worldview, including the need for corporate hierarchy and an ethos of competition.
Calling Newman's approach cordial is a stretch. But given that Fluss engages in the same sort of "so what you're saying" mental hallucination process, it's easy to see why he interpreted it in that way. I don't think Peterson was arguing the need for hierarchy and competition (though I'm fairly sure he'd argue that there are benefits to both). He was merely pointing out that these things are inevitable. They're part of human nature. But communists deny human nature, and there's the rub.
In response to Newman's statistics about the wage gap, Peterson argued that this inequality was a necessary part of the capitalist dynamic. He even complimented Newman on securing a high-paying job thanks to what some people would consider "masculine" characteristics.
The wage gap is a necessary result of equality of opportunity. It's a result of fairness. If you let people make their own choices, you will get wage gaps, because people will make different choices. A person who chooses to work less will make less than a person who chooses to work more. A person who chooses a lesser paying job (even though they could choose a higher-paying one if they wanted to) will make less than the person who chooses that higher-paying job. The only way to escape this is through authoritarianism.
Despite Newman's relatively polite behavior, she soon faced a misogynistic backlash.
"Polite". Funny how the article doesn't include any quotations demonstrating the "misogyny" of the backlash. The sample of comments I read on Twitter and YouTube blasted Newman for being obtuse, refusing to listen, and putting words in Peterson's mouth. Some people are not very civilized, so perhaps there were comments making denigrating references to her sex, but I didn't see them. But then again, misogyny is another one of those words. If you say something offensive to a woman, you might be accused of misogyny. Say the same thing to a man and you can be pretty sure you won't be charged with misandry. (For more on the politics of gender, I highly recommend Stephen Baskerville's recent book The New Politics of Sex: The Sexual Revolution, Civil Liberties, and the Growth of Governmental Power.)
Peterson is often portrayed as an enigma. Those on both the Right and Left defend him against charges of fascism and membership in the alt-right. Mainstream pundits admire his so-called consistency and coherence - some even praise him as a great philosopher. This is certainly true of David Brooks's recent New York Times op-ed, which extols Peterson as a public intellectual for the YouTube age.

Peterson's fans argue that he is not a fascist, just a classical liberal; not a racist, just someone who acknowledges "ethnic differences"; not a misogynist, just honest about the real differences between men and women. Many of his fans see his arguments not only as commonsensical but also scientifically accurate, a belief supported by Peterson's credentials as a professor of psychology and a clinical psychologist.
The not-so-subtle implication: these "defenders" are wrong. Peterson is alt-right, a fascist, a racist, a misogynist. He's not consistent or coherent, his arguments are not commonsensical or scientifically accurate. Those are some heavy charges. They're also wrong.
With all of the focus on issues of free speech and how the Left allegedly has turned authoritarian, there is something missing in discussions of Peterson. Rather than being an "enlightened" and "scientific" critic of postmodernism, Peterson's critique of the Left is fundamentally Nietzschean.
Peterson's empirical observations, which range from zoology to pop psychology, all share an aristocratic disdain for modernity. His worldview aligns with classical liberalism's elitist and antidemocratic tendencies, as epitomized by Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek's respective praise for Benito Mussolini and Augusto Pinochet.

But Peterson adds something to his predecessors' economic liberalism: a tragic conception of Being (which he capitalizes, after Heidegger) in which the world is divided between winners and losers. This authoritarian worldview naturalizes domination, weaving hierarchy into the very fabric of existence.
The next time my nephew beats me at Scrabble I'll be sure to rail on him for his dominating authoritarianism. And the next time I go to a concert I'll be sure to balance out the band's internalized aristocratic elitism by giving equal attention to some talentless hack playing an out-of-tune rendition of "Stairway To Heaven" in his mother's basement. The claims that Peterson has 'disdain for modernity' is an example of someone making an allegation for which there is not only no evidence, but for which there is evidence to contrary. As such, it's not even worth refuting.
Critics often mock Peterson for his comparison of lobsters and human beings.
If any of those nameless critics actually do so, they might want to consider the possibility that they're willfully obtuse morons.
According to his most recent book, 12 Rules for Life, the sea creatures' life-and-death struggle is a model of human society.
Newman and Fluss were made for each other. Nowhere does Peterson present the Great Ancestral Traditions of The Lobster as a "model" for human society, as if some crustacean Moses etched his nation's wisdom into the sea floor: "Thou shalt compete! Thou shalt win! Thou shalt dominate! Thou shalt get all the lady lobsters and feast on the delicious appendages of your beta-male inferiors!" A model implies something to be normatively imitated. Jordan doesn't go that far; he simply uses the lobster to show that certain aspects of human brain circuitry are very old and thus very entrenched.
Following battle, the combatants experience a chemical effect: the superior lobster begins to secrete more serotonin, while the weaker, or inferior, lobster is deprived of these happy chemicals. Echoing the worst features of nineteenth-century social Darwinism, Peterson uses this example of lobster hierarchy to analyze human society.
I think I'm beginning to grok "Jordan Peterson's critics". They don't like common sense, and they don't like facts. It's as if they take any empirical observation about the way things are and then infer that the person making that observation believes that such a state of affairs is the anti-Marxist utopia we all must follow. Why else would Peterson point out a similarity between the lobsters and humans? He must want us to be like lobsters! No, I'm afraid that's self-evidently inane bullshit.

Peterson obviously doesn't think the world is perfect. That's why he has a "tragic conception of Being". But rather than offer his listeners some nonsensical pipe-dream utopia where there is no competition, everyone is "equal" (even those who are not), and all the bad things about humans can be re-educated out of them, he presents something much more useful: reality. The world is a tough place. You will encounter competition. You will suffer. You will experience malevolence - people that want to hurt you just for the sake of hurting you. You may even be utterly destroyed. But you can learn to navigate it. You can bear the burden of life and bring a little order into the world - maybe even a lot of order.

The world may not be just a dog-eat-dog world, as some of the social Darwinists thought. But "dogs" still eat "dogs". And knowing that means that just maybe you won't be eaten. And that's not to say that you have to engage with the world with the same mindset as all those other "dogs". To return to Cathy Newman, she approached the debate using the very "dominance hierarchy" ethos that people like Fluss rail against when "critiquing" Peterson. Rather than lower himself completely to her level, however, Peterson was the one to attempt to be cordial and polite.
He reduces class conflict to a natural and eternal struggle for existence that no political or economic revolution could ameliorate.
And out comes Fluss's ideological delusion into the open: political or economic revolution can ameliorate the struggle for existence. Show me a person who has never struggled. Show me a revolution that has not resulted in more suffering. More to the point, Peterson does not talk about 'class struggle', does not see it as the be all and end all of human existence, as the radical Marxist Fluss and his ilk do.

I'm sympathetic to the suffering that leads many down the road to Marxism and other revolutionary ideologies. But the Marxist dream is impossible. There will always be inequality. And by refusing to admit as much, leftist ideologues actually deny that inequality also provides what is best about humanity. As one of my favorite psychologists, Dr. Andrew Lobaczewski, put it in his book Political Ponerology:
It is a universal law of nature that the higher a given species' psychological organization, the greater the psychological differences among individual units. Man is the most highly organized species; hence, these variations are the greatest. Both qualitatively and quantitatively, psychological differences occur in all structures of the human personality dealt with here ... Profound psychological variegations may strike some as an injustice of nature, but they are her right and have meaning.

Nature's seeming injustice ... is, in fact, a great gift to humanity, enabling human societies to develop their complex structures and to be highly creative at both the individual and collective level. Thanks to psychological variety, the creative potential of any society is many times higher than it could possibly be if our species were psychologically more homogeneous. Thanks to these variations, the societal structure implicit within can also develop. The fate of human societies depends upon the proper adjustment of individuals within this structure and upon the manner in which innate variations of talents are utilized.

Our experience teaches us that psychological differences among people are the cause of misunderstandings and problems. We can overcome these problems only if we accept psychological differences as a law of nature and appreciate their creative value. This would also enable us to gain an objective comprehension of man and human societies; unfortunately, it would also teach us that equality under the law is inequality under the law of nature.
The "class conflict" taken to its logical forced egalitarian end would be to stamp out nature's genius, and humanity's greatest achievements. Without inequality we would not have great or even good music, we wouldn't have philosophy or literature or art. Hell, we wouldn't even have Marx, that prolific bearded bastard.

Back to Fluss:
The individual lobster - sorry, human - must develop an aggressive, alpha-male attitude in order to climb the social ladder.
No, but he sure as hell should know how to fight, because predators are attracted to weakness, and even magical Marxism can't get rid of predators. Having a sword and knowing how to use it is not the same thing as using the sword to cut your way to the top. But more to the point, yes, the social ladder is ruthless, and it takes a very competent individual to climb it, and climb it well. It's easier to be ruthless oneself - there are fewer rules. Ironically, the point is proved by the history of communism. The only reason Stalin made it to the top was because he was the most competent of the most ruthless. If Peterson were really saying what Fluss thinks he's saying, Peterson would be an admirer of Stalin, which he most certainly is not. In fact, Peterson is saying something very different, which Fluss can't seem to understand. To climb the ladder, and climb it well, requires qualities not found in the stereotypical "aggressive, alpha-male attitude". Funnily enough, Fluss almost makes Peterson's point for him in the very next sentence:
Peterson bases his worldview on one example from the animal kingdom - an example belied by other instances in which animals engage in mutual aid and cooperation.
Aside from the fact that only humans share intentionality and truly cooperate outside of kin groups, Peterson makes this very point, if Fluss would bother to actually familiarize himself with what Peterson actually says. In several of his talks, Peterson makes the point that even in the chimp world, the best alpha males are those who can get along with their competition. If they're too tyrannical, the "beta-males" team up to take them out.

Imagine how hard it would have been for a relatively decent person to climb the ranks of the Soviet power structure. They probably would've been snuffed out before they left the Komsomol. It they were really clever, they might make it a bit higher in the Soviet hierarchy. But even imagining they could get to Stalin's inner circle, they'd be trapped. In such a situation, it's either "follow the leader," or else find yourself disgraced, or with a bullet in the head.

In a recent interview, Peterson pondered the meaning of the saying in the Gospel of Matthew that the "meek" shall inherit the earth. He points out that the word (from the Greek praotes, synonym epieikeia) actually means something like "those who have swords and know how to use them but keep them sheathed." Probably a better definition would be "having the right to justice, but choosing not to take it", but the idea of restraint is still there. In Latin, the word is clementia, clemency. Julius Caesar gets a bad rap these days - mostly thanks to the legacy of that spineless blowhard Cicero - but few seem to remember that he was the first Roman known for his clemency. Caesar could fight - and he has gone down in history as one of the greatest generals of all time. But in an age when leaders like Sulla could draft up proscription lists stripping their political enemies of all property and all legal protection, with rewards offered for any informer whose information led to the death of the proscribed - the victims' decapitated heads then displayed in the public Forum - Caesar was a paragon of virtue. He was also a poet, an engineer, a lawyer, an orator, and a master of the Latin the language. The guy invented the book and the newspaper, for goodness sake.

Caesar certainly had ability to kill his enemies and to adopt the practices of the dictator Sulla. But he didn't. He climbed the social ladder of dirty Roman politics without becoming a monster. Instead, he made mercy and gentleness (clemency) his rallying cry, his "new method of conquering". He forgave his enemies, opting to make them his friends instead. He was adored by the Roman people, his soldiers, the Jews, and the ladies. He was a master statesman. But even that wasn't enough. He was betrayed by some of his closest friends, in league with his greatest enemies. He forgave them, and they repaid him by stabbing him to death during a meeting of the Senate. It was the November 22, 1963, of its time. (For a leftist reappraisal of Caesar, check out Michael Parenti's Assassination of Julius Caesar. For a great bio, see Arthur Kahn's Education of Julius Caesar.)

All that just goes to show that "climbing the social ladder" has always been a difficult game. It's possible to do it well, but it requires skill and strength of character. Even then, it's likely to kill you. It may not be pretty, but that is life. The more competent you become, the more responsibility you take on.
Peterson's writings are a hodgepodge of Christian existentialism, Donald Trump's The Art of the Deal, and E. O. Wilson. But the main philosophical issue is his Nietzschean conception of power. Only a strong will, exercising itself against a contingent and meaningless world - and against the weak - can ever hope to flourish.
This is a total misrepresentation. Peterson may be a fan of Nietzsche, but his conception of power is not one that confronts a contingent and meaningless world, against the weak. As Peterson himself puts it (paraphrased), it is one of finding what is best for you, your family, and your society now and in the future. More than anything else, Peterson advocates the Kierkegaardian 'will to meaning', and it is precisely that advocacy that seems to anger radical Marxist atheists like Fluss.

After a few paragraphs alleging to reproduce Peterson's critique of the "metaphysics of reason" - which I'm skeptical Peterson himself would agree represents his views - and critiquing that critique, Fluss sums up what he asserts to be the essence of JBP's "Nietzschean version of Christianity and original sin":
The strong will inherit the kingdom of heaven, while the weak are destined to fail.
I'd say this depends on how you define strong and weak.
When we theoretically confront Peterson, we need to do more than refute his pseudo-scientific claims, his bad pop psychology, and his Cold War-inflected version of history. The real challenge is overcoming his fundamental irrationalism.
I'm curious as to who "we" may be. And how to confront Peterson "theoretically". I'll assume it doesn't mean refuting straw men, but that does seem to be what this "we" does best.
Our tragedy as human beings is much more banal than Peterson's romanticism would have it. We do contend with a fundamental irrationalism, but it doesn't come from an inherently unknowable and mysterious world. Rather, it comes from capitalism.
There you have it, folks. If you happen to meet Buddha on the road, let him know: the source of all human tragedy is actually capitalism.
Peterson's philosophy reflects the brutal nature of capitalism's irrational demand that we sacrifice human beings for profit, which he transforms into a call for individuals to sacrifice themselves for something transcendent and holy. In other words, Peterson tries to Latinize the bourgeois kitsch with mediocre calls of self-actualization. But the self is not actualized: it is told to kill or be killed in capitalism's endless competition.
I thought Cathy Newman was bad. But this is so far removed from anything Peterson actually says that it's mind boggling. But, hey, maybe it's just me. Maybe according to the logic of historical materialism, learning to clean your room, taking personal responsibility, sacrificing short-term pleasures for long-term well-being and preparing the ground for a better future is actually murder.
Ironically, Peterson's critique of postmodernism is itself very postmodern. His description of postmodernism as a new form of "dialectical materialism" that exercises totalitarian thought control not only echoes Cold War polemics against Marxism but also certain tendencies within French postmodernism. These accounts, such as Lyotard's, accuse the Enlightenment, Hegelian dialectics, and Marx of constructing "metanarratives" on top of an irreducibly complex reality. Peterson shares the French post-structuralists' fear that reason lends itself to a logic of domination. Indeed, Peterson recapitulates Heidegger's own influential rejection of the "Cartesian Self" as the launch of a new stage of civilizational nihilism.
Maybe Peterson has somewhere expressed his fear "that reason lends itself to a logic of domination", but I've never personally heard him express himself in such a manner. As far as I can tell, Peterson is actually a firm proponent of reason. You can't have truth and logos without reason. The world is intelligible, and some conceptualizations are more accurate than others, even if approaching absolute truth may be a bit like Zeno's paradox, getting closer to the the finish line without ever quite making it there.

But I actually agree that Peterson's critique of postmodernism is actually postmodern, just perhaps not in the manner Fluss thinks it is. Yes, Peterson rejects postmodernism's rejection of reality and truth. But modernism had its problems too - problems that led directly to the problems of postmodernism - including its own streak of antirationalism in the form of performative contradictions (denying in speech what you affirm by action). That divorce of theory and practice was largely the result of modernism's wrong ideas about the absolute primacy of sense perception, and a mechanistic and valueless conception of nature, leading to the inability to defend the existence of causation, the world, and values, among other things.

Without getting into all the nitty gritty, I'd just recommend interested readers to check out David Ray Griffin's book, Whitehead's Radically Different Postmodern Philosophy. Whitehead's philosophy was an attempt to reconcile science with "our moral, aesthetic, and religious intuitions". Neither modernism nor postmodernism succeeded in that. I think Whitehead came the closest. Peterson's attempt to reconcile science and religion is an effort in the same direction. (By the way, a bunch of us here at SOTT read Stephen R. Hicks's Explaining Postmodernism after hearing Peterson recommend it. You can check out our interview with Hicks on The Truth Perspective.)
Any attempt to confront Peterson's worldview must deploy the legacy of reason within Marxism's own commitments to dialectical logic and human freedom. But we cannot limit ourselves to composing philosophical polemics or debunking Peterson's many scientific and historical errors. The fight against reaction does not start in the liberal editorial office but in organizing concrete struggle.
For a guy that seems to have a beef with realities like competition, fighting, and struggle, Fluss is awfully combative. Maybe he should check his alpha-male aggression and try having a conversation.
Peterson's narrative reduces leftist sentiment to resentment, envy, and anger among society's "losers."
No, actually. Peterson has repeatedly spoken of the need for the left as a voice for the working class. The problem with a lot of leftist sentiment, however, is that it is based on resentment, envy, and anger, not any genuine concern for the guys fixing your electric lines.
This echoes George Orwell's dismissal of British socialists as merely filled with spleen and bile against the rich; Peterson compares the analysis of the Left in Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier to Nietzsche's critique of slave morality. Orwell rejected socialist "cranks," a category that included feminists, in favor of a commonsense approach that appealed to the educated middle class, an analysis that pushed him rightward toward the end of his life.
And maybe Orwell was on to something. Maybe he was on to many things.
We must reject the characterization of Peterson's fan base as normal people who are sick and tired of the politically correct left; this assumption simply repeats Nietzsche's disdain for the common struggles of the oppressed, including the struggles of racial minorities, women, and LGBTQ people.
There's that Borg collective "we" again, with no concern for empirical reality. Fact: many (most? again, I'd love to see Fluss's demographics) Peterson fans are normal people who are sick of PC culture. But facts don't matter. "We" must reject that characterization not because "we" have any good reason for doing so, but simply because to do otherwise might challenge our problematic identity politics.
It accepts a standard of normal as defined by the mainstream media or, worse, by the alt-right themselves. For instance, Peterson's refusal to respect people who use different pronouns to express their identity is no small issue, but a central one for recognizing the humanity of transgender people.
This guy is insufferable.

Peterson does not speak for what is "normal." His jargon of authenticity - that he is just a simple academic fighting for truth amid so much political correctness and censorship - masks his authoritarian ideas.
Bloody hell, it's meme time.

He calls Marxism a "murderous ideology," ...

...but his paranoid and conspiratorial politics are hard to distinguish from the alt-right's denunciations of cultural Marxism. Indeed, the line between Peterson's authoritarianism and Richard Spencer's paleo-Nazism is a blurry one.

In their appeal to middle-class liberals, the reactionary's best alibi has always been militant anti-communism.
And by the final sentence, Fluss has lost the plot completely, although that doesn't mean we won't soon see him in the middle of an antifa march, smashing windows and punching people.