Peterson’s politics, my politics, and how much or how little they matter

I see that I need to supply a caveat to yesterday’s post. As expressed in no uncertain terms by the first commenter, a lot of people don’t like Peterson. The comment was “Ugh, seriously?” There’s more vituperous criticism further down, of me (for appreciating Peterson) as well as Peterson himself. When I scan down the first 15 comments or so, I see huge polarization. Some people love him; others hate him. That’s a pretty accurate reflection of the Peterson phenomenon in the larger world.

(Addendum: my review just got published. You can find it here.)

I mentioned this political maelstrom in yesterday’s post, without getting deeply into it. I guess I should go a bit further and summarize the issues as I see them. Some of Peterson’s arguments offend, and they particularly offend people on the (perhaps far) left. For example, he explains dominance lobsterhierarchies as a product of our evolution rather than the construction of an oppressive (white, male) culture. He distinguishes sex differences, which are (he claims and I certainly agree) rooted in biology and evolution, from the social construction of gender. He analyzes the personality traits associated with women and men and argues that the asymmetrical distribution of these traits (something you may have studied in Psych 101) has much to do with the gender pay gap — which is therefore not simply a result of sexism. He certainly doesn’t deny the existence of sexism, or oppression by dominant cultural forces, or the rights of transgender people. Not at all. Yet his infusion of statistically validated facts and an evolutionary perspective into the ideological battles raging (especially in the universities) about diversity, gender, social justice and so forth has alienated and angered many on the left.

The ideas I’ve just outlined don’t seem so radical to me. I’ve heard that Peterson says more controversial things about marriage and women’s roles, etc, though I haven’t read them myself. The famous pronoun war (google it) can certainly be judged from divergent viewpoints. I suppose Peterson really is a conservative in some respects. He’s definitely not trying to be politically correct. In fact a foundational plank of his philosophy is that people should say what they believe to be true, especially if they are voicing unpopular views. He Parksinjailstaunchly elevates free speech over “sensitivity” to the feelings of others. In a response to one interviewer (and this is worth viewing if you want more insight into his politics) he said he greatly admires Rosa Parks for standing up for herself against the systemic racism of her day.

campusmobAs a result of his stated positions, Peterson has been mobbed by what he terms “social justice warriors”– people who espouse extreme leftist views. There’s no doubt that he disagrees with many of their views and he’s angry at the insulting nature of their attacks on him. He’s literally been shouted down on more than a few campuses. Does that make him a right-winger? Not yet. The view of Peterson as a (perhaps extreme) right-winger comes from the next act in this play. People Pcwho really do identify with the right, including the far right, started to proclaim their undying loyalty to Peterson, mainly because the far left seems to hate him so much. In my view, the equation is simple. If my enemy hates you then you must be my friend. Does that make him a right-winger?

This is just a superficial and no-doubt inadequate overview of the social currents surrounding the “most popular intellectual in the world” (something I read recently). But the thing about Peterson is that he’s not a political animal. He says what he thinks to be true, and he really doesn’t care petersoninhelltoo much about the fallout. I personally don’t think he enjoys being in the centre of this altercation one bit. He’s said many times in public that he’d rather people listen to, and argue with, the content of his arguments than slot him into a political ideology.

Anyway, I’m certainly no political commentator, and my understanding of the political face-off around Peterson comes from browsing articles and videos on the Internet. My own political sentiments are firmly on the left, as any regular reader of my blog trumpsurely knows. (When Trump got elected, I wrote a post entitled “Oh Shit.” I was depressed for weeks and made no secret of it.) But that doesn’t mean I have nothing to discuss with people who see things differently. And more to the point, this blog isn’t about politics. It’s about experiential, social, psychological, and neurobiological approaches to understanding addiction. I’d be glad to chat with anyone out there about the the political eruptions surrounding Peterson’s public persona. I’m sure I can learn something. Maybe over a coffee if I’m ever in your part of the world.

emptyhallBut I think it would be a shame to ward off Peterson’s ideas as if he were some sort of vampire, simply because of the political accusations flying back and forth. I don’t agree with everything Peterson says. In my review, soon to come out, I firmly criticize him for cherry-picking scientific factoids to support dubious assumptions and for a style of argument which violates the standards of scientific discourse — namely basing one’s authority on intuitions rather than methodical arguments grounded in data. Yet some of his ideas strike me as valid, powerful, refreshing, constructive, and of particular utility for enhancing personal growth. Whether you consider yourself to be on the right or on the left, it seems there’s much of value here, and I hope you won’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

 

23 thoughts on “Peterson’s politics, my politics, and how much or how little they matter

  1. Peter Sheath May 5, 2018 at 4:39 am #

    Hey Marc, hope you’re well. well you’ve really poked the hornets nest here. I’ve never seen anybody who divides people so much as old JP. Personally I like him a lot. He’s created debate, disrupted the status quo, and presented a very refreshing alternative non-Marxist perspective to things like life the universe and everything. And more power to his elbow for having the balls to stand up against almost the whole of academia and stick to his guns. Obviously I don’t like everything he says, anyone with the media profile he’s got is going to say shit from time to time. Like your good self my politic has always been leftish but, until I read JP, I didn’t realise how successful Marxist/Leninist indoctrination had been, especially in education and governance. Put anything out there on social media and you can see it in action, “I’ve gotta hate you because you stand for something different than me.” Or the blatant mistrust built in to governance monitoring systems and the absolute belief that it’s the right thing to do by the people employed in them. Looking back on my career and education I can see now how I was insidiously nudged into thinking in a certain way, to take a certain perspective and make decisions based there.
    I have read his book, although it’s not the best life coaching book I’ve read, it’s certainly got me thinking about things very differently. Thanks for posting

  2. Eric Nada May 5, 2018 at 11:00 am #

    Marc, Yup, serious can of worms. It’s going to be tough to separate the man form the ideas, let alone your taking his book and applying its points to overcoming addiction. As usual, I like everything that you wrote and agree with it, in this regard. I have followed Peterson and his explosion of popularity for a while now. I have heard long discussions from him and seen him debated. I am still trying to figure out if he is a guy with mostly good ideas and some outlandish ones, or a guy with some good ideas hidden within a mostly problematic ideology. For now, I think he is that latter. While he isn’t a white supremacist, and may be wrongfully attacked by people on the (extreme) left of the spectrum, his having been attacked is actually part of what is giving him so much sudden popularity and clout with those who are making him so popular. He is caught in a wave of popularity that is propelled by extreme antipathy towards certain progressive ideas. It is easy, right now, to gain popularity by pointing out how far some have taken political correctness (some certainly have) but it’s really low-hanging fruit right now. And the social wave that propels and carries his popularity caries within it all of the extreme right, including the alt-right and white supremacists. That doesn’t make him guilty by association, of course, nor does it invalidate anything he says that’s true, but it means we need to be cautious with both him and his message. Add to that the extreme makeover he has had (judging by his recent appearance on Bill Maher), he must be really taking his popularity to heart. It’s too easy to ride the “the left is a bunch of sensitive snowflakes” bus into popularity these days and he seems to be one of those leading the charge, and profiting from that message (like our president). That said, if there are good ideas that he brings up, lets take them and apply them. As I have commented about before, the world’s discussions are very either/or and shouldn’t be if we want to find the best answers. But I do currently contend that his popularity rests on the power provided by mass social either/or thinking.

  3. Dr Ron May 5, 2018 at 11:12 am #

    Thank you for refreshingly transcending dogmatic ideology. My internal conversation, a self generated dogma unto itself, was central to reinforcing my addiction just as it is in recovery where i learned a bit about self forgiveness and empathy, both antithetical to todays flammable discourse (or lack of). I try to remain open minded and teachable and incorporate lessons from various sources and experiences. The pursuit is just really about knowing that I dont know what i dont know and any impediment to that is just a manifestation of my reactive addicted brain.

    • Dr Ron May 5, 2018 at 11:25 am #

      Btw, your closing with the admonition “Dont throw the baby out with the bathwater” is spot on!
      Again, just take what you need and leave the rest.
      Just curious though, have you given any thought as to neurological processes and how they are expressed in the current ideological divide and how they might parallel what we know about addiction and all its manifestations?

  4. Annette Allen May 5, 2018 at 11:18 am #

    Thanks for your very thoughtful post, Marc, yesterday and today. I saw Peterson’s interview on Channel 4 News, as that’s my favourite news programme – they recently outed the Cambridge Analytica CEO for their misuse of Fb data for political purposes.

    I watched the YouTube video of him explaining his book. I liked much of what he had to say although, as a feminist, the dominant hierarchy evolution is something that we need to be consciously aware of, and to have checks and balances in place, because the UK, for one, is still a country where inequality is still rife. And it’s 2018, for pete’s sake!

    I liked his emphasis on our Shadow side, which is where Carl Jung was masterful in identifying it. If we all were more aware of our shadows, and questioned them more, then I think we’d become a more compassionate race and there’d be far less scapegoating. Personally, I’m a leftist who’s interested in more conservative views, to understand why people hold them. I’m also well aware that many would rather die than change!

    But overall, the YouTube presentation: 1:30, so it covers all 12 chapters, made a lot of sense. We’re all here for a purpose, and to live that purpose for a Higher Good – which is so much easier to access and do when the addictions have been mastered – is the stuff of a very meaningful life. Especially in the midst of dark times…

  5. William Abbott May 5, 2018 at 6:24 pm #

    Havent we lost track here of what this is all about ? Marc gets asked to write a review of a book , points out some things he likes about it ( his opinion – remember free speech) in regards to our topic here – understanding addiction .

    And then wham a roast

    I have learned nothing new other than civilized interchange of ideas is on the wane in the English speaking world .

    • Eric Nada May 6, 2018 at 12:01 pm #

      Actually, William, I think there are a lot more measured comments to this than one will usually find in comments threads on this topic and about this man (and his ilk). This is one of the things I really value about those that follow and comment on Marc’s blog on all types of issues. Certainly there are some categorical comments, and there always will be, but more than half of the commenters seem to have an opinion but discuss the importance of grey area. This is one of the reasons I follow and take part in discussions. here.

  6. Donnie Mac May 5, 2018 at 6:47 pm #

    Hey Everyone :
    I recently watched a youtube video on “Why is J.P is so popular ? ”
    It asserted that JP is a combination of a “Strick Father , Psychologist and Priest (or member of a clergy if you wish” It kind of made a bit of sense to me .

    Now we flash back some 15 years ago and I’m sitting in a $10,000 a month rehab talking to this wonderful woman who had a PHD is social change . I am trying my best to get some ideas on how I can get my insurance company to pay for my fat ass to sit in this very cozy rehab another couple of months . Gail ( the PHD) had spent many years working as an administrator for some very large hospital groups in the US so who better to ask ? In the middle of a speech fit for a high school debating team as to why I should stay , Gail blerts out ” It’s not a fight with Daddy you know ”
    The conversation stops dead in its tracks , I cry a little , take my fat ass back to my $10,000 a month room write a few dozen pages do some art and cry a bit more .
    Think it’s all a “fight with daddy ?”

    Ohh and this too, some guy called David wrote some lyrics “And these children that you spit on
    As they try to change their worlds
    Are immune to your consultations
    They’re quite aware of what they’re goin’ through”

  7. Dor May 5, 2018 at 8:03 pm #

    You can’t have a civil discussion with the far left. They are intolerant, and call you vile names if you disagree with their world view. You are wasting your breath if you even try.

    I liked your article about Peterson. A lot of his ideas make sense. Not all, but we shouldn’t follow anyone’s ideas completely. Rather than silence people we disagree with, we should be open to discussing ways of solving societies problem.

    • Eric Nada May 6, 2018 at 12:11 pm #

      Dor, this isn’t a problem with the far left anymore than it’s a problem with the far right. It’s a problem with anyone who takes a stance so rigidly that there is no room to move when new information is acquired. (This is actually very similar to many discussion that have to do with various conversations about addiction and recovery as many people take a stance with no room to learn more).

      • Dor May 6, 2018 at 1:34 pm #

        I agree that it works on both extremes, however 90% of the media (print, tv and celebrities) as well as 90% of academia are far left and they therefore control the message. Conservatives get shouted down on campus when trying to get their message out. Conservative students are afraid to express their views to professors for fear of grade punishment. Regular folks get called Nazi’s. (White supremacists should be called Nazi’s, of course). It’s counterproductive to compromise and discussion.

        • Eric Nada May 6, 2018 at 3:41 pm #

          Dor, I suggest, gently, that those statements are, ironically, basic conservative media talking points. it isn’t true that that the left controls the media. In fact, the Sinclair group alone, the largest media/tv syndicate in the country (alone providing services for 40% of American households), is a very conservative leaning company, and their content unapologetically runs in that direction. While it is true that many academics lean left, it is a very small group that actually wants to stifle free speech, even from very conservative sources. Granted, it should be unacceptable to do at all, and those lines have been crossed in a few schools. But far more often, the same speakers that have been treated terribly on one occasion are able to speak at many other academic venues, unmolested. The fact that it seems like what you are calling the “far left” seems like such a problem is because it is getting so much media coverage and criticism from both left and right media sources, and makes it seem like a more far reaching problem than it actually is. But the biggest problem is still making these sweeping categorical generalizations about the issue, and placing all blame on the “other side.” I will always contend that the major issue underlying all systemic and social roots of addiction are based in faulty emotional and social connection. Taking sides like this is often (not accusing you of this, at all) a way of being connected to an ideology but at the cost of being able to see things from the basic human position that connects us all. This is what is ultimately being trampled these days. It is good for politics but terrible for humanity. I hope that you read this not as an argument personal to you, but one made in good faith discussion.

          • Marc May 16, 2018 at 10:02 am #

            I commend you both for bringing these issues to the table.

            By the way, take a look at this interview with Russell Brand and go to 22:30. That’s where Peterson says that inequality is “the proper concern of the left,” and it’s a “deadly problem.” So he’s not anti-left, and I agree, Eric, that such sweeping generalizations are a problem for “both sides”. Also, I think Eric is right that the media are generally controlled by the right, but Dor is right that most of the action (intellectual, political, etc) takes place in universities, which lean strongly leftward.

            In sum, it’s extremism that’s the problem. And as soon as one side points to Peterson and yells “extreme!” it’s very interesting: what they’re doing is (1) revealing their own extremism and (2) attracting the attention of extremists on both sides. Ironic and fascinating.

            If you want to try to appreciate the overlap between the left and the right, I mean in their non-extreme incarnation, I recommend this fabulous TED talk.

  8. LoneWolf May 6, 2018 at 12:29 am #

    Why does absolutely everything, and I mean everything have to be catagorized, labeled, and put in all the various perspective boxes? Does this lead to more understanding? Why is there such a need to understand everything? Can we not just experience intellectualism(haha spelt it wrong) without ego or judgement? Just because you disagree or even hate another and/or their opinions for the most part, it does not mean they have no validity. In politics, specifically, you pick your poison, the “lesser”(or usually least obvious) of the evils. It’s all bull anyways, being forced to choose and then trying to make people believe that they’ve been given a choice…who is really choosing? and why? Why is society built around a popularity contest that cares not for any of the real suffering going on in the world? This all relates to addiction, the whole corrupt system. That is how control works. Your booze, your drugs, your food, and most importantly, your screen. But what can you do? They’ve made it all so damned entertaining that it’s almost impossible to stay away.
    I’m sober AF, and have been for about six years, sober form the booze. Let me tell ya, it really sucks sometimes! That’s okay because I’m here now.

    • Elise May 6, 2018 at 10:10 am #

      Best comment winner. On so many levels.

      Not that it’s a popularity contest 😉

      • William Abbott May 7, 2018 at 9:36 am #

        I think we could agree on Omar as the worst comment winner

        Not that that is a contest either

    • Carlton May 8, 2018 at 8:25 am #

      Hi Lone Wolf, this term avoids categorization in a way.

      In place of the word “Addicts”, the term: “People Currently Addicted” can be used.

      It seems a mouthful, but becomes automatic pretty easily, and here are some reasons its different.

      1) The common denominator of “People” starts it off.
      2) It accounts for change, even massive change, which may or may not happen.
      3) It does not avoid the word or the serious predicament of addiction.

      There may be more, but it does avoid categorization and may even help “addicts” re-consider how they see themselves.

  9. Peter Sheath May 6, 2018 at 11:51 am #

    Hey Marc
    Peterson is always fascinating, have you seen him with Russel Brand on YouTube, it’s pretty good from both of them. I had grown to not like Brand very much, far too entrenched in 12 step stuff and his own childish bullshit for my liking but in this he’s actually really good. Peterson gets something out of him that I don’t think Russel even knew he had. Two of the most influential thinkers and writers, I’ve recently read, Norman Doidge and Daniel Kahneman, both of them come out in Peterson’s camp. Doidge wrote a wonderful forward in his book that puts across some of the concerns people have about him and gives some very eloquent and personal answers. What I’ve found is that the people who shout loudest and most venomously about him are usually fully indoctrinated unrefined Marxist/Leninists. Unfortunately they probably know not was has happened to them and, quite literally, cannot see any other side but their own. It’s a kind of pathological confirmative cognitive bias, refined and honed by many years of studying nothing else and working, when they do work, within a system that they hate because it confirms everything they’ve grown to detest. We’ve got quite a serious dose of it happening in the UK at the moment with the whole Jeremy Corbyn/momentum Mafiosi thing. For far too long now we’ve been trying to resolve bottom up problems, like behavioural health, with top down solutions. Maybe, because we’ve grown accustomed to think that way, we almost always look at our cultural/behavioural problems from a perspective of, “what’s wrong”, as opposed to, “what’s strong.” The only thing we build from the “top down” is a hole and what happens to resources when they get tipped into a hole? JP introduces a very refreshing perspective around independence, autonomy, resiliency and social responsibility. As opposed to the dependence and entitlement that many of the systems we’ve built create today.

    • matt May 8, 2018 at 4:48 am #

      Hey Peter…

      Very eloquent and to the point as always. Maybe someone should interview you? Oh wait…they already have…:)

      This whole discussion… often fruitful, definitely provocative, occasionally enlightening…keeps rattling to mind the old saw about opinions and assholes. I’m with you on the anti-laterality that conditions Western society… and the tighter the top-down dirt button, the more torrential the shower of shit for those down below when it bursts.

      I have a dear friend who recently came out as transgender. He doesn’t mind when I address her with their non-preferred pronoun because they have the common sense to know that arbitrarily dictating a change in the use of a fundamental grammatical convention like pronouns hamstrings the ability to formulate a fluent, informative utterance. It’s counter-intuitive linguistically, pragmatically and socially. It can hamper effective communication. But I love him dearly and want to address herhimthem in the way that they want. That’s everybody’s right. But it’s gonna take a while for the culture to get used to. My friend would also agree that legislating language use IS a violation of free speech. And that is how this whole JP imbroglio got started…in Canada.

      Perspective taking is hard for humans. When it’s broadened too quickly there’s a defensive tendency to want to rein it back in. Here’s a recent NYTimes magazine article I thought was apropos for some reason. Now I think I need to go vent my opinion…

      https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/24/magazine/online-or-in-politics-backlash-is-as-predictable-as-weather.html

  10. jeremy thompson May 6, 2018 at 6:59 pm #

    Pretty much nailed it with the review Marc.

    • jeremy thompson May 8, 2018 at 6:44 pm #

      I think it is the most balanced, unbiased review I have read of JP so far. He really is unique as far as I can see in being uncatagorizable. You succeeded in capturing what I have always thought of as being a bit of an enigmatic quality to him. Like, what is this guy really about? Is he a scientist, some kind of guru, a theologist, psychologist, reactionary? Perhaps all of them. He really does resist being labeled which is a confusing stance in a time when identity has become paramount. This alone would make any sort of objective review “hard labour”. There are certainly flaws in his platform(s), as you rightly point out, but there is also a lot that is good and helpful and dare I say it, has the ring of truth. l think, from having watched many of his lectures and debates, that for me the best way to view him is as a storyteller. The fact that the story can be about anything from evolutionary biology to authoritarian tendencies in modern society, to my favourite, the psychological interpretations of biblical stories is a testament to his belief of the power of narrative to bring understanding to complex issues.

      Anyways congrats again on a job well done. Really enjoyed reading it.

  11. Carlton May 7, 2018 at 10:40 am #

    Hi Marc, to put some of this into single sentence,

    A person could set a GOAL for a MASSIVE CHANGE, and TAKE STEPS to that goal.

    One goal would be to never use again…..this can be pursued, maintained and recorded, and all the Recovery Programs offer effective ways and methods for this.

    But a goal of having the FEELINGS for the addiction change, is different, and is neither measurable or confirmable.

    Some would say “Recovery”, is when the feelings of want and desire for an addiction, change.

    Is this what is meant by the MASSIVE CHANGE term that is used here?

  12. Jason May 8, 2018 at 10:31 am #

    Well. I enjoy your blog – your message. I have for quite some time now. It’s always encouraging message you. I am grateful for these messages as I still am pretty much sitting upon the fence – unwilling to truly make any effort toward a step, aside from individual acceptance that I am addicted. I had only began to admire Mr. Peterson’s voice and message but maybe a week ago. I want some rules in my life. I do – desperately at times. I was curious of Jordan Peterson’s book. I clicked the link to read your review, but I opted instead to just purchase the book itself since it is shorter.
    .
    .
    .
    .
    I hope you appreciate a little humor. I sure do these days. Thank you for your messages

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *