I’ve not paid much attention to the Jordan Peterson phenomenon. What little I’ve read or heard from him has struck me as the intellectual equivalent of one of those Peeps that are, for some reason, eaten around Easter — just empty, sickeningly sugary nothings that are hardly worthy of even a momentary glance. After reading this profile and interview with him in the New York Times, my initial dismissal of him seems well warranted. It is a cavalcade of trite gibberish and dangerous misogyny. He likes to say things like this:
The left, he believes, refuses to admit that men might be in charge because they are better at it. “The people who hold that our culture is an oppressive patriarchy, they don’t want to admit that the current hierarchy might be predicated on competence,” he said.
If your irony meters just burst into flames at the notion that men are inherently more competent than women, rest assured that the rest of what he has to say quite clearly undermines his argument. He simply is not competent as an intellectual. That’s why he says things like this:
Mr. Peterson illustrates his arguments with copious references to ancient myths — bringing up stories of witches, biblical allegories and ancient traditions. I ask why these old stories should guide us today.
“It makes sense that a witch lives in a swamp. Yeah,” he says. “Why?”
It’s a hard one.
“Right. That’s right. You don’t know. It’s because those things hang together at a very deep level. Right. Yeah. And it makes sense that an old king lives in a desiccated tower.”
But witches don’t exist, and they don’t live in swamps, I say.
“Yeah, they do. They do exist. They just don’t exist the way you think they exist. They certainly exist. You may say well dragons don’t exist. It’s, like, yes they do — the category predator and the category dragon are the same category. It absolutely exists. It’s a superordinate category. It exists absolutely more than anything else. In fact, it really exists. What exists is not obvious.”
There’s a very useful word in the English language for passages like this, groups of words that make no sense whatsoever. That word is gibberish. There’s nothing remotely coherent or interesting about any of this. It’s like trying to take a bite of air. And then comes the dangerous misogyny:
Violent attacks are what happens when men do not have partners, Mr. Peterson says, and society needs to work to make sure those men are married.
“He was angry at God because women were rejecting him,” Mr. Peterson says of the Toronto killer. “The cure for that is enforced monogamy. That’s actually why monogamy emerges.”
Mr. Peterson does not pause when he says this. Enforced monogamy is, to him, simply a rational solution. Otherwise women will all only go for the most high-status men, he explains, and that couldn’t make either gender happy in the end.
“Half the men fail,” he says, meaning that they don’t procreate. “And no one cares about the men who fail.”
The author of the article, the one who interviewed him, helpfully points out the obvious: Peterson is, in every other instance it seems, absolutely, 100% opposed to the notion that society should ensure and equality of outcomes. That’s the entire basis for his support for societal hierarchies, after all — some are just better, more competent than others (and frankly, I agree with him on that — intelligence, talent, discipline and other traits are not evenly distributed in society and some will always be more successful than others in a myriad of ways. But so what?). But suddenly, in this one circumstances, he wants “enforced monogamy” to make sure that every man is equally successful with women.
He does not apply his logic to mass poverty, or to jobs, or to social programs that help those who are worst off. He believes in hierarchies and that virtually every existing inequality is a natural one, not one caused by inadequate distribution of resources, or systemic racism or sexism, or any other argument he considers to be liberal claptrap. Indeed, he says that the entire notion of white privilege is a myth. He is an opponent of any form of affirmative action to address such inequalities — except when it means requiring women to have sex with men they don’t want to have sex with. Then suddenly he is a socialist — from each (woman) according to her ability to each (man) according to his need.
The article notes that Peterson’s home is decorated with Soviet propaganda, which he says is intended to remind him of the atrocities and oppression of communism (and again, he’s right; living under the Soviet model would have been a nightmare in pretty much every conceivable way). But if he had even a tiny bit of ability to question his own assumptions, he would recognize how much he’s ducking directly into the punch with his proposal for “enforced monogamy.”
So my initial dismissal is now confirmed. When he isn’t being just vapid and incoherent, he’s being downright frightening. It makes me wish there really was such a thing as an “intellectual dark web” to which he could be banished. Meanwhile, he’s bringing in $80,000 a month in donations alone while claiming to be so horribly oppressed because people like me point and laugh at his ridiculous intellectual pretensions.
Update: A friend of mine, who is gay, just made an excellent point. How would Jordan Peterson feel about the idea of “enforced monogamy” for gay men? Should he be required to provide sex to gay men who have trouble finding sexual partners so they don’t feel bad and go kill people? Of course not.