Previously, I catalogued a bunch of different takes on Jordan Peterson, before giving my own take.
Since that post, two other pieces about Jordan Peterson have been written that I’d like to share.
“Jordan Peterson, Custodian of the Patriarchy,” by Nellie Bowles (New York Times)
Mr. Peterson, 55, a University of Toronto psychology professor turned YouTube philosopher turned mystical father figure, has emerged as an influential thought leader. The messages he delivers range from hoary self-help empowerment talk (clean your room, stand up straight) to the more retrograde and political (a society run as a patriarchy makes sense and stems mostly from men’s competence; the notion of white privilege is a farce). He is the stately looking, pedigreed voice for a group of culture warriors who are working diligently to undermine mainstream and liberal efforts to promote equality.
Later in the piece, she continues:
“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.”
I laugh, because it is absurd.
“You’re laughing about them,” he says, giving me a disappointed look. “That’s because you’re female.”
But aside from interventions that would redistribute sex, Mr. Peterson is staunchly against what he calls “equality of outcomes,” or efforts to equalize society. He usually calls them pathological or evil.
He agrees that this is inconsistent. But preventing hordes of single men from violence, he believes, is necessary for the stability of society. Enforced monogamy helps neutralize that.
OK, here is a perfect example of how easy it is to misunderstand Peterson. When he says “enforced monogamy,” he’s using a technical anthropological term, one that has to do with social norms, and not enforcing monogamy by assigning sexual partners through the use of state (or other) power/violence.
Peterson himself has attempted to clarify this since the NYT piece, writing:
So, let’s summarize. Men get frustrated when they are not competitive in the sexual marketplace (note: the fact that they DO get frustrated does not mean that they SHOULD get frustrated. Pointing out the existence of something is not the same as justifying its existence). Frustrated men tend to become dangerous, particularly if they are young. The dangerousness of frustrated young men (even if that frustration stems from their own incompetence) has to be regulated socially. The manifold social conventions tilting most societies toward monogamy constitute such regulation.
No recommendation of police-state assignation of woman to man (or, for that matter, man to woman).
No arbitrary dealing out of damsels to incels.
Nothing scandalous (all innuendo and suggestive editing to the contrary)
Just the plain, bare, common-sense facts: socially-enforced monogamous conventions decrease male violence. In addition (and not trivially) they also help provide mothers with comparatively reliable male partners, and increase the probability that stable, father-intact homes will exist for children.
Now, of course, you can still disagree with Peterson’s take here. However, it seems unfair to make it sound like he thinks women should be assigned to men against their wishes.
“The Shocking Truth About Jordan Peterson,” by Wesley Yang (Tablet)
This piece by Wesley Yang is currently my favorite take on Jordan Peterson, because it offers such a nuanced critique.
There is something uneasily poised at the border of grandiosity and grandeur, heroism and quixotism, about Peterson that makes him appealing to undergraduates at the same time as it makes him a target-rich environment for haughty intellectuals and snarky journalists. There are literally tens of thousands of graduate students and ex-graduate students who know more about the intricacies of postmodern thought than Jordan Peterson does. Peterson’s tweeted and blogged responses to the Times piece are indicative of a person with virtually no sense of how he will be regarded by those who do not share his private system of reference. Why don’t you recognize that I’m not speaking of actual men and women but the symbolic Masculine and Feminine in Jungian archetypal thinking? Why don’t you know that “Enforced Monogamy” is an anthropological term? You won’t understand anything about Jordan Peterson until you realize that his confusion on these questions is entirely sincere.
So what does Peterson actually believe? He has consistently defended the moral position that the “individual is sovereign over the group,” a unique feature of Anglo-American political theory and practice that holds that citizens hold their rights against the state rather than through it, which is inscribed into our founding documents, and helps to account for the remarkable capacity of societies built around its doctrines to accommodate high levels of diversity while remaining democratic. The underlying sovereignty of individuals forces state power to operate against a hard constraint that limits coercion, and gives individuals the means by which to push back.
This position is not a “centrist” position between the poles of alt-right and the identity politics of the left, but a distinct position orthogonal to both. It rejects group identity as the foundation of politics in favor of strengthening the individual as a bulwark against what Peterson calls “ideological possession”—the temptation to subordinate the various ends of life into a contest for group dominance. Peterson sees the emergence of identity politics on both the right and left as a single phenomenon, with each pole feeding the growth of the other, as individuals lost amidst the chaos of contemporary life turn to ideologies providing simple solutions to complex questions, a corresponding set of friends—and a corresponding set of enemies. How anyone who has spent a single afternoon on Twitter can doubt that these polarizing group psychological dynamics exist—and explain the growth of political extremism at a time of relative prosperity—is frankly perplexing to me.
So, on the one hand, Peterson should be held responsible for some of his rhetoric, and he should take a bit more care to ensure that he’s being correctly understood by his various audiences. On the other hand, Peterson’s views are quite MODERATE. He is not the radical right-wing ideologue that many people make him out to be.
What’s YOUR take on Jordan Peterson?
Let me know in the comments.