THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

Book Review: Twelve Rules For Life

I.

I got Jordan Peterson’s Twelve Rules For Life for the same reason as the other 210,000 people: to make fun of the lobster thing. Or if not the lobster thing, then the neo-Marxism thing, or the transgender thing, or the thing where the neo-Marxist transgender lobsters want to steal your precious bodily fluids.

But, uh…I’m really embarrassed to say this. And I totally understand if you want to stop reading me after this, or revoke my book-reviewing license, or whatever. But guys, Twelve Rules For Life is actually good.

The best analogy I can think of is C.S. Lewis. Lewis was a believer in the Old Religion, which at this point has been reduced to cliche. What could be less interesting than hearing that Jesus loves you, or being harangued about sin, or getting promised Heaven, or threatened with Hell? But for some reason, when Lewis writes, the cliches suddenly work. Jesus’ love becomes a palpable force. Sin becomes so revolting you want to take a shower just for having ever engaged in it. When Lewis writes about Heaven you can hear harp music; when he writes about Hell you can smell brimstone.

Jordan Peterson is a believer in the New Religion, the one where God is the force for good inside each of us, and all religions are paths to wisdom, and the Bible stories are just guides on how to live our lives. This is the only thing even more cliched than the Old Religion. But for some reason, when Peterson writes about it, it works. When he says that God is the force for good inside each of us, you can feel that force pulsing through your veins. When he says the Bible stories are guides to how to live, you feel tempted to change your life goal to fighting Philistines.

The politics in this book lean a bit right, but if you think of Peterson as a political commentator you’re missing the point. The science in this book leans a bit Malcolm Gladwell, but if you think of him as a scientist you’re missing the point. Philosopher, missing the point. Public intellectual, missing the point. Mythographer, missing the point. So what’s the point?

About once per news cycle, we get a thinkpiece about how Modern Life Lacks Meaning. These all go through the same series of tropes. The decline of Religion. The rise of Science. The limitless material abundance of modern society. The fact that in the end all these material goods do not make us happy. If written from the left, something about people trying to use consumer capitalism to fill the gap; if written from the right, something about people trying to use drugs and casual sex. The vague plea that we get something better than this.

Twelve Rules isn’t another such thinkpiece. The thinkpieces are people pointing out a gap. Twelve Rules is an attempt to fill it. This isn’t unprecedented – there are always a handful of cult leaders and ideologues making vague promises. But if you join the cult leaders you become a cultist, and if you join the ideologues you become the kind of person Eric Hoffer warned you about. Twelve Rules is something that could, in theory, work for intact human beings. It’s really impressive.

The non-point-missing description of Jordan Peterson is that he’s a prophet.

Cult leaders tell you something new, like “there’s a UFO hidden inside that comet”. Self-help gurus do the same: “All you need to do is get the right amount of medium-chain-triglycerides in your diet”. Ideologues tell you something controversial, like “we should rearrange society”. But prophets are neither new nor controversial. To a first approximation, they only ever say three things:

First, good and evil are definitely real. You know they’re real. You can talk in philosophy class about how subtle and complicated they are, but this is bullshit and you know it. Good and evil are the realest and most obvious things you will ever see, and you recognize them on sight.

Second, you are kind of crap. You know what good is, but you don’t do it. You know what evil is, but you do it anyway. You avoid the straight and narrow path in favor of the easy and comfortable one. You make excuses for yourself and you blame your problems on other people. You can say otherwise, and maybe other people will believe you, but you and I both know you’re lying.

Third, it’s not too late to change. You say you’re too far gone, but that’s another lie you tell yourself. If you repented, you would be forgiven. If you take one step towards God, He will take twenty toward you. Though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.

This is the General Prophetic Method. It’s easy, it’s old as dirt, and it works.

So how come not everyone can be a prophet? The Bible tells us why people who wouldn’t listen to the Pharisees listened to Jesus: “He spoke as one who had confidence”. You become a prophet by saying things that you would have to either be a prophet or the most pompous windbag in the Universe to say, then looking a little too wild-eyed for anyone to be comfortable calling you the most pompous windbag in the universe. You say the old cliches with such power and gravity that it wouldn’t even make sense for someone who wasn’t a prophet to say them that way.

“He, uh, told us that we should do good, and not do evil, and now he’s looking at us like we should fall to our knees.”

“Weird. Must be a prophet. Better kneel.”

Maybe it’s just that everyone else is such crap at it. Maybe it’s just that the alternatives are mostly either god-hates-fags fundamentalists or more-inclusive-than-thou milquetoasts. Maybe if anyone else was any good at this, it would be easy to recognize Jordan Peterson as what he is – a mildly competent purveyor of pseudo-religious platitudes. But I actually acted as a slightly better person during the week or so I read Jordan Peterson’s book. I feel properly ashamed about this. If you ask me whether I was using dragon-related metaphors, I will vociferously deny it. But I tried a little harder at work. I was a little bit nicer to people I interacted with at home. It was very subtle. It certainly wasn’t because of anything new or non-cliched in his writing. But God help me, for some reason the cliches worked.

II.

Twelve Rules is twelve chapters centered around twelve cutesy-sounding rules that are supposed to guide your life. The meat of the chapters never has anything to do with the cutesy-sounding rules. “Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping” is about slaying dragons. “Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street” is about a heart-wrenchingly honest investigation of the Problem of Evil. “Do not bother children when they are skateboarding” is about neo-Marxist transgender lobsters stealing your precious bodily fluids. All of them turn out to be the General Prophetic Method applied in slightly different ways.

And a lot of them – especially the second – center around Peterson’s idea of Order vs. Chaos. Order is the comfortable habit-filled world of everyday existence, symbolized by the Shire or any of a thousand other Shire-equivalent locations in other fantasies or fairy tales. Chaos is scary things you don’t understand pushing you out of your comfort zone, symbolized by dragons or the Underworld or [approximately 30% of mythological objects, characters, and locations]. Humans are living their best lives when they’re always balanced on the edge of Order and Chaos, converting the Chaos into new Order. Lean too far toward Order, and you get boredom and tyranny and stagnation. Lean too far toward Chaos, and you get utterly discombobulated and have a total breakdown. Balance them correctly, and you’re always encountering new things, grappling with them, and using them to enrich your life and the lives of those you care about.

So far, so cliched – but again, when Peterson says cliches, they work. And at the risk of becoming a cliche myself, I couldn’t help connecting this to the uncertainty-reduction drives we’ve been talking about recently. These run into a pair of paradoxes: if your goal is to minimize prediction error, you should sit quietly in a dark room with earplugs on, doing nothing. But if your goal is to minimize model uncertainty, you should be infinitely curious, spending your entire life having crazier and crazier experiences in a way that doesn’t match the behavior of real humans. Peterson’s claim – that our goal is to balance these two – seems more true to life, albeit not as mathematically grounded as any of the actual neuroscience theories. But it would be really interesting if one day we could determine that this universal overused metaphor actually reflects something important about the structure of our brains.

Failing to balance these (Peterson continues) retards our growth as people. If we lack courage, we might stick with Order, refusing to believe anything that would disrupt our cozy view of life, and letting our problems gradually grow larger and larger. This is the person who sticks with a job they hate because they fear the unknown of starting a new career, or the political ideologue who tries to fit everything into one bucket so he doesn’t have to admit he was wrong. Or we might fall into Chaos, always being too timid to make a choice, “keeping our options open” in a way that makes us never become anyone at all.

This is where Peterson is at his most Lewisian. Lewis believes that Hell is a choice. On the literal level, it’s a choice not to accept God. But on a more metaphorical level, it’s a choice to avoid facing a difficult reality by ensconcing yourself in narratives of victimhood and pride. You start with some problem – maybe your career is stuck. You could try to figure out what your weaknesses are and how to improve – but that would require an admission of failure and a difficult commitment. You could change companies or change fields until you found a position that better suited your talents – but that would require a difficult leap into the unknown. So instead you complain to yourself about your sucky boss, who is too dull and self-absorbed to realize how much potential you have. You think “I’m too good for this company anyway”. You think “Why would I want to go into a better job, that’s just the rat race, good thing I’m not the sort of scumbag who’s obsessed with financial success.” When your friends and family members try to point out that you’re getting really bitter and sabotaging your own prospects, you dismiss them as tools of the corrupt system. Finally you reach the point where you hate everybody – and also, if someone handed you a promotion on a silver platter, you would knock it aside just to spite them.

…except a thousand times more subtle than this, and reaching into every corner of life, and so omnipresent that avoiding it may be the key life skill. Maybe I’m not good at explaining it; read The Great Divorce (online copy, my review).

Part of me feels guilty about all the Lewis comparisons. One reason is that maybe Peterson isn’t that much like Lewis. Maybe they’re just the two representatives I’m really familiar with from the vast humanistic self-cultivation tradition. Is Peterson really more like Lewis than he is like, let’s say, Marcus Aurelius? I’m not sure, except insofar as Lewis and Peterson are both moderns and so more immediately-readable than Meditations.

Peterson is very conscious of his role as just another backwater stop on the railroad line of Western Culture. His favorite citations are Jung and Nietzsche, but he also likes name-dropping Dostoevsky, Plato, Solzhenitsyn, Milton, and Goethe. He interprets all of them as part of this grand project of determining how to live well, how to deal with the misery of existence and transmute it into something holy.

And on the one hand, of course they are. This is what every humanities scholar has been saying for centuries when asked to defend their intellectual turf. “The arts and humanities are there to teach you the meaning of life and how to live.” On the other hand, I’ve been in humanities classes. Dozens of them, really. They were never about that. They were about “explain how the depiction of whaling in Moby Dick sheds light on the economic transformations of the 19th century, giving three examples from the text. Ten pages, single spaced.” And maybe this isn’t totally disconnected from the question of how to live. Maybe being able to understand this kind of thing is a necessary part of being able to get anything out of the books at all.

But just like all the other cliches, somehow Peterson does this better than anyone else. When he talks about the Great Works, you understand, on a deep level, that they really are about how to live. You feel grateful and even humbled to be the recipient of several thousand years of brilliant minds working on this problem and writing down their results. You understand why this is all such a Big Deal.

You can almost believe that there really is this Science-Of-How-To-Live-Well, separate from all the other sciences, barely-communicable by normal means but expressible through art and prophecy. And that this connects with the question on everyone’s lips, the one about how we find a meaning for ourselves beyond just consumerism and casual sex.

III.

But the other reason I feel guilty about the Lewis comparison is that C.S. Lewis would probably have hated Jordan Peterson.

Lewis has his demon character Screwtape tell a fellow demon:

Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man [for Hell], and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours — and the more “religious” (on those terms) the more securely ours.

I’m not confident in my interpretation of either Lewis or Peterson, but I think Lewis would think Peterson does this. He makes the world an end and faith a means. His Heaven is a metaphorical Heaven. If you sort yourself out and trust in metaphorical God, you can live a wholesome self-respecting life, make your parents proud, and make the world a better place. Even though Peterson claims “nobody is really an atheist” and mentions Jesus about three times per page, I think C.S. Lewis would consider him every bit as atheist as Richard Dawkins, and the worst sort of false prophet.

That forces the question – how does Peterson ground his system? If you’re not doing all this difficult self-cultivation work because there’s an objective morality handed down from on high, why is it so important? “C’mon, we both know good and evil exist” takes you pretty far, but it might not entirely bridge the Abyss on its own. You come of age, you become a man (offer valid for boys only, otherwise the neo-Marxist lobsters will get our bodily fluids), you act as a pillar of your community, you balance order and chaos – why is this so much better than the other person who smokes pot their whole life?

On one level, Peterson knocks this one out of the park:

I [was] tormented by the fact of the Cold War. It obsessed me. It gave me nightmares. It drove me into the desert, into the long night of the human soul. I could not understand how it had come to pass that the world’s two great factions aimed mutual assured destruction at each other. Was one system just as arbitrary and corrupt as the other? Was it a mere matter of opinion? Were all value structures merely the clothing of power?

Was everyone crazy?

Just exactly what happened in the twentieth century, anyway? How was it that so many tens of millions had to die, sacrificed to the new dogmas and ideologies? How was it that we discovered something worse, much worse, than the aristocracy and corrupt religious beliefs that communism and fascism sought so rationally to supplant? No one had answered those questions, as far as I could tell. Like Descartes, I was plagued with doubt. I searched for one thing— anything— I could regard as indisputable. I wanted a rock upon which to build my house. It was doubt that led me to it […]

What can I not doubt? The reality of suffering. It brooks no arguments. Nihilists cannot undermine it with skepticism. Totalitarians cannot banish it. Cynics cannot escape from its reality. Suffering is real, and the artful infliction of suffering on another, for its own sake, is wrong. That became the cornerstone of my belief. Searching through the lowest reaches of human thought and action, understanding my own capacity to act like a Nazi prison guard or gulag archipelago trustee or a torturer of children in a dunegon, I grasped what it means to “take the sins of the world onto oneself.” Each human being has an immense capacity for evil. Each human being understands, a priori, perhaps not what is good, but certainly what is not. And if there is something that is not good, then there is something that is good. If the worst sin is the torment of others, merely for the sake of the suffering produced – then the good is whatever is diametrically opposite to that. The good is whatever stops such things from happening.

It was from this that I drew my fundamental moral conclusions. Aim up. Pay attention. Fix what you can fix. Don’t be arrogant in your knowledge. Strive for humility, because totalitarian pride manifests itself in intolerance, oppression, torture and death. Become aware of your own insufficiency— your cowardice, malevolence, resentment and hatred. Consider the murderousness of your own spirit before you dare accuse others, and before you attempt to repair the fabric of the world. Maybe it’s not the world that’s at fault. Maybe it’s you. You’ve failed to make the mark. You’ve missed the target. You’ve fallen short of the glory of God. You’ve sinned. And all of that is your contribution to the insufficiency and evil of the world. And, above all, don’t lie. Don’t lie about anything, ever. Lying leads to Hell. It was the great and the small lies of the Nazi and Communist states that produced the deaths of millions of people.

Consider then that the alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering is a good. Make that an axiom: to the best of my ability I will act in a manner that leads to the alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering. You have now placed at the pinnacle of your moral hierarchy a set of presuppositions and actions aimed at the betterment of Being. Why? Because we know the alternative. The alternative was the twentieth century. The alternative was so close to Hell that the difference is not worth discussing. And the opposite of Hell is Heaven. To place the alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering at the pinnacle of your hierarchy of value is to work to bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth.

I think he’s saying – suffering is bad. This is so obvious as to require no justification. If you want to be the sort of person who doesn’t cause suffering, you need to be strong. If you want to be the sort of person who can fight back against it, you need to be even stronger. To strengthen yourself, you’ll need to deploy useful concepts like “God”, “faith”, and “Heaven”. Then you can dive into the whole Western tradition of self-cultivation which will help you take it from there. This is a better philosophical system-grounding than I expect from a random psychology-professor-turned-prophet.

But on another level, something about it seems a bit off. Taken literally, wouldn’t this turn you into a negative utilitarian? (I’m not fixated on the “negative” part, maybe Peterson would admit positive utility into his calculus). One person donating a few hundred bucks to the Against Malaria Foundation will prevent suffering more effectively than a hundred people cleaning their rooms and becoming slightly psychologically stronger. I think Peterson is very against utilitarianism, but I’m not really sure why.

Also, later he goes on and says that suffering is an important part of life, and that attempting to banish suffering will destroy your ability to be a complete human. I think he’s still kind of working along a consequentialist framework, where if you banish suffering now by hiding your head in the sand, you won’t become stronger and you won’t be ready for some other worse form of suffering you can’t banish. But if you ask him “Is it okay to banish suffering if you’re pretty sure it won’t cause more problems down the line?” I cannot possibly imagine him responding with anything except beautifully crafted prose on the importance of suffering in the forging of the human spirit or something. I worry he’s pretending to ground his system in “against suffering” when it suits him, but going back to “vague traditionalist platitudes” once we stop bothering him about the grounding question.

In a widely-followed debate with Sam Harris, Peterson defended a pragmatic notion of Truth: things are True if they help in this project of sorting yourself out and becoming a better person. So God is True, the Bible is True, etc. This awkwardly jars with book-Peterson’s obsessive demand that people tell the truth at all times, which seems to use a definition of Truth which is more reality-focused. If Truth is what helps societies survive and people become better, can’t a devoted Communist say that believing the slogans of the Party will help society and make you a better person?

Peterson has a bad habit of saying he supports pragmatism when he really supports very specific values for their own sake. This is hardly the worst habit to have, but it means all of his supposed pragmatic justifications don’t actually justify the things he says, and a lot of his system is left hanging.

I said before that thinking of Peterson as a philosopher was missing the point. Am I missing the point here? Surely some lapses in philosophical groundwork are excusable if he’s trying to add meaning to the lives of millions of disillusioned young people.

But that’s exactly the problem. I worry Peterson wakes up in the morning and thinks “How can I help add meaning to people’s lives?” and then he says really meaningful-sounding stuff, and then people think their lives are meaningful. But at some point, things actually have to mean a specific other thing. They can’t just mean meaning. “Mean” is a transitive verb. It needs some direct object.

Peterson has a paper on how he defines “meaning”, but it’s not super comprehensible. I think it boils down to his “creating order out of chaos” thing again. But unless you use a purely mathematical definition of “order” where you comb through random bit streams and make them more compressible, that’s not enough. Somebody who strove to kill all blue-eyed people would be acting against entropy, in a sense, but if they felt their life was meaningful it would at best be a sort of artificial wireheaded meaning. What is it that makes you wake up in the morning and reduce a specific patch of chaos into a specific kind of order?

What about the most classic case of someone seeking meaning – the person who wants meaning for their suffering? Why do bad things happen to good people? Peterson talks about this question a lot, but his answers are partial and unsatisfying. Why do bad things happen to good people? “If you work really hard on cultivating yourself, you can have fewer bad things happen to you.” Granted, but why do bad things happen to good people? “If you tried to ignore all bad things and shelter yourself from them, you would be weak and contemptible.” Sure, but why do bad things happen to good people? “Suffering makes us stronger, and then we can use that strength to help others.” But, on the broader scale, why do bad things happen to good people? “The mindset that demands no bad thing ever happen will inevitably lead to totalitarianism.” Okay, but why do bad things happen to good people? “Uh, look, a neo-Marxist transgender lobster! Quick, catch it before it gets away!”

C.S. Lewis sort of has an answer: it’s all part of a mysterious divine plan. And atheists also sort of have an answer: it’s the random sputtering of a purposeless universe. What about Peterson?

I think – and I’m really uncertain here – that he doesn’t think of meaning this way. He thinks of meaning as some function mapping goals (which you already have) to motivation (which you need). Part of you already wants to be successful and happy and virtuous, but you’re not currently doing any of those things. If you understand your role in the great cosmic drama, which is as a hero-figure transforming chaos into order, then you’ll do the things you know are right, be at one with yourself, and be happier, more productive, and less susceptible to totalitarianism.

If that’s what you’re going for, then that’s what you’re going for. But a lot of the great Western intellectuals Peterson idolizes spent their lives grappling with the fact that you can’t do exactly the thing Peterson is trying to do. Peterson has no answer to them except to turn the inspiringness up to 11. A commenter writes:

I think Nietzsche was right – you can’t just take God out of the narrative and pretend the whole moral metastructure still holds. It doesn’t. JP himself somehow manages to say Nietzsche was right, lament the collapse, then proceed to try to salvage the situation with a metaphorical fluff God.

So despite the similarities between Peterson and C.S. Lewis, if the great man himself were to read Twelve Rules, I think he would say – in some kind of impeccably polite Christian English gentleman way – fuck that shit.

IV.

Peterson works as a clinical psychologist. Many of the examples in the book come from his patients; a lot of the things he thinks about comes from their stories. Much of what I think I got from this book was psychotherapy advice; I would have killed to have Peterson as a teacher during residency.

C.S. Lewis might have hated Peterson, but we already know he loathed Freud. Yet Peterson does interesting work connecting the Lewisian idea of the person trapped in their victimization and pride narratives to Freud’s idea of the defense mechanism. In both cases, somebody who can’t tolerate reality diverts their emotions into a protective psychic self-defense system; in both cases, the defense system outlives its usefulness and leads to further problems down the line. Noticing the similarity helped me understand both Freud and Lewis better, and helped me push through Freud’s scientific veneer and Lewis’ Christian veneer to find the ordinary everyday concept underneath both. I notice I wrote about this several years ago in my review of The Great Divorce, but I guess I forgot. Peterson reminded me, and it’s worth being reminded of.

But Peterson is not really a Freudian. Like many great therapists, he’s a minimalist. He discusses his philosophy of therapy in the context of a particularly difficult client, writing:

Miss S knew nothing about herself. She knew nothing about other individuals. She knew nothing about the world. She was a movie played out of focus. And she was desperately waiting for a story about herself to make it all make sense.

If you add some sugar to cold water, and stir it, the sugar will dissolve. If you heat up that water, you can dissolve more. If you heat the water to boiling, you an add a lot more sugar and get that to dissolve too. Then, if you take that boiling sugar water, and slowly cool it, and don’t bump it or jar it, you can trick it (I don’t know how else to phrase this) into holding a lot more dissolved sugar than it would have if it had remained cool all along. That’s called a super-saturated solution. If you drop a single crystal of sugar into that super-saturated solution, all the excess sugar will suddenly and dramatically crystallize. It’s as if it were crying out for order.

That was my client. People like her are the reason that the many forms of psychotherapy currently practised all work. People can be so confused that their psyches will be ordered and their lives improved by the adoption of any reasonably orderly system of interpretation.

This is the bringing together of the disparate elements of their lives in a disciplined manner – any disciplined manner. So, if you have come apart at the seams (or you have never been together at all) you can restructure your life on Freudian, Jungian, Adlerian, Rogerian, or behavioral principles. At least then you make sense. At least then you’re coherent. At least then you might be good for something, if not yet good for everything.

I have to admit, I read the therapy parts of this book with a little more desperation than might be considered proper. Psychotherapy is really hard, maybe impossible. Your patient comes in, says their twelve-year old kid just died in some tragic accident. Didn’t even get to say good-bye. They’re past their childbearing age now, so they’ll never have any more children. And then they ask you for help. What do you say? “It’s not as bad as all that”? But it’s exactly as bad as all that. All you’ve got are cliches. “Give yourself time to grieve”. “You know that she wouldn’t have wanted you to be unhappy”. “At some point you have to move on with your life”.

Jordan Peterson’s superpower is saying cliches and having them sound meaningful. There are times – like when I have a desperate and grieving patient in front of me – that I would give almost anything for this talent. “You know that she wouldn’t have wanted you to be unhappy.” “Oh my God, you’re right! I’m wasting my life grieving when I could be helping others and making her proud of me, let me go out and do this right now!” If only.

So how does Jordan Peterson, the only person in the world who can say our social truisms and get a genuine reaction with them, do psychotherapy?

He mostly just listens:

The people I listen to need to talk, because that’s how people think. People need to think…True thinking is complex and demanding. It requires you to be articulate speaker and careful, judicious listener at the same time. It involves conflict. So you have to tolerate conflict. Conflict involves negotiation and compromise. So, you have to learn to give and take and to modify your premises and adjust your thoughts – even your perceptions of the world…Thinking is emotionally painful and physiologically demanding, more so than anything else – exept not thinking. But you have to be very articulate and sophisticated to have all this thinking occur inside your own head. What are you to do, then, if you aren’t very good at thinking, at being two people at one time? That’s easy. You talk. But you need someone to listen. A listening person is your collaborator and your opponent […]

The fact is important enough to bear repeating: people organize their brains through conversation. If they don’t have anyone to tell their story to, they lose their minds. Like hoarders, they cannot unclutter themselves. The input of the community is required for the integrity of the individual psyche. To put it another way: it takes a village to build a mind.

And:

A client of mine might say, “I hate my wife”. It’s out there, once said. It’s hanging in the air. It has emerged from the underworld, materialized from chaos, and manifested itself. It is perceptible and concrete and no longer easily ignored. It’s become real. The speaker has even startled himself. He sees the same thing reflected in my eyes. He notes that, and continues on the road to sanity. “Hold it,” he says. “Back up That’s too harsh. Sometimes I hate my wife. I hate her when she won’t tell me what she wants. My mom did that all the time, too. It drove Dad crazy. It drove all of us crazy, to tell you the truth. It even drove Mom crazy! She was a nice person, but she was very resentful. Well, at least my wife isn’t as bad as my mother. Not at all. Wait! I guess my wife is atually pretty good at telling me what she wants, but I get really bothered when she doesn’t, because Mom tortured us all half to death being a martyr. That really affected me. Maybe I overreact now when it happens even a bit. Hey! I’m acting just like Dad did when Mom upset him! That isn’t me. That doesn’t have anthing to do with my wife! I better let her know.” I observe from all this that my client had failed previously to properly distinguish his wife from his mother. And I see that he was possessed, unconsciously, by the spirit of his father. He sees all of that too. Now he is a bit more differentiated, a bit less of an uncarved block, a bit less hidden in the fog. He has sewed up a small tear in the fabric of his culture. He says “That was a good session, Dr. Peterson.” I nod.

This is what all the textbooks say too. But it was helpful hearing Jordan Peterson say it. Everybody – at least every therapist, but probably every human being – has this desperate desire to do something to help the people in front of them who are in pain, right now. And you always think – if I were just a deeper, more eloquent person, I could say something that would solve this right now. Part of the therapeutic skillset is realizing that this isn’t true, and that you’ll do more harm than good if you try. But you still feel inadequate. And so learning that Jordan Peterson, who in his off-hours injects pharmaceutical-grade meaning into thousands of disillusioned young people – learning that even he doesn’t have much he can do except listen and try to help people organize their narrative – is really calming and helpful.

And it makes me even more convinced that he’s good. Not just a good psychotherapist, but a good person. To be able to create narratives like Peterson does – but also to lay that talent aside because someone else needs to create their own without your interference – is a heck of a sacrifice.

I am not sure if Jordan Peterson is trying to found a religion. If he is, I’m not interested. I think if he had gotten to me at age 15, when I was young and miserable and confused about everything, I would be cleaning my room and calling people “bucko” and worshiping giant gold lobster idols just like all the other teens. But now I’m older, I’ve got my identity a little more screwed down, and I’ve long-since departed the burned-over district of the soul for the Utah of respectability-within-a-mature-cult.

But if Peterson forms a religion, I think it will be a force for good. Or if not, it will be one of those religions that at least started off with a good message before later generations perverted the original teachings and ruined everything. I see the r/jordanpeterson subreddit is already two-thirds culture wars, so they’re off to a good start. Why can’t we stick to the purity of the original teachings, with their giant gold lobster idols?

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869 Responses to Book Review: Twelve Rules For Life

  1. curiouskiwicat says:

    ” I see the r/jordanpeterson subreddit is already two-thirds culture wars, so they’re off to a good start. Why can’t we stick to the purity of the original teachings, with their giant gold lobster idols?”

    Problem with this was that having a voice in the culture war is how this guy got attention in the first place.

    • Gaius Levianthan XV says:

      12 Rules for Life itself has quite a bit of politics interspersed with the more general life advice; it’s unusually political for a self-help book.

      On a side note, the r/slatestarcodex subreddit is also about 2/3 culture wars (judging by the volume of comments in the culture war threads vs. everything else in the subreddit, anyway).

      • Alethenous says:

        On a side note, the r/slatestarcodex subreddit is also about 2/3 culture wars (judging by the volume of comments in the culture war threads vs. everything else in the subreddit, anyway).

        This worries me. I’m not sure if it’s my imagination, but I get the feeling that the subreddit is worse than it was even a few months ago. Maybe I’m paranoid, but I fear it’s starting to list into just another vaguely-right-of-stereotypical-Tumblr outpost in the wars.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          >This worries me. I’m not sure if it’s my imagination, but I get the feeling that the subreddit is worse than it was even a few months ago. Maybe I’m paranoid, but I fear it’s starting to list into just another vaguely-right-of-stereotypical-Tumblr outpost in the wars.

          It’s visibly rotting. Watching people polarize in real time is a hell of a thing, matched only by feeling it happen within yourself. We’re all gangrenous there, despite all good intention.

      • patrickwagner734 says:

        “it’s unusually political for a self-help book” because politics is a derivative of culture and culture a derivative of religion, and religion is about God-helping you with self-help, or as they used to say, “God helps them that help them “selves”“.

    • Aapje says:

      Merely (truly) caring about men is enough to take a side in the culture war.

      • Darwin says:

        It’s not, but making this claim is.

        People are remarkably fine with efforts to help men when they are not framed as being in conflict with efforts to help women. But as soon as you start signalling your bravery in standing up to all the anti-man forces in order to try to actually help men, well, yeah, you’ve declared a side in a war and people will start fighting you.

        • toastengineer says:

          People are remarkably fine with efforts to help men when they are not framed as being in conflict with efforts to help women.

          I can’t agree with this, though I might agree that the real problem is that there’s a relatively small group of people who are very devoted to going around to anywhere there’s an effort to help men and loudly screaming that it’s in conflict with an effort to help women.

          • Darwin says:

            And my experience is that there’s a small group going around to anywhere people are trying to help women, telling them that these effort are hurting men and they have to stop and pay attention to men first instead.

            This is probably just a bravery debate thing, we each experience the other side’s trolls who bother to do antagonistic outreach outside of their own filter bubble, but we don’t experience the mainstream conscientious people from the other side who stay within their own filter bubble.

            I just have to say, most of the people I know hate the type of MRAs that have shown up in their spaces and yelled at them, and have a natural revulsion for the term MRA. But, all of them are interested in helping male victims of whatever, reforming the criminal justice and prison system to address bias, etc., if those issues are brought up in a collaborative rather than adversarial way.

          • But, all of them are interested in helping male victims of whatever, reforming the criminal justice and prison system to address bias, etc., if those issues are brought up in a collaborative rather than adversarial way.

            The claim someone made in this discussion was that there were almost no shelters for male victims of abuse. If true, that’s at least weak evidence against the picture you paint, since one would expect that some of the people setting up shelters would have helped male victims by providing for them.

            Do you know if it is true?

          • Aapje says:

            @Darwin

            I just have to say, most of the people I know hate the type of MRAs that have shown up in their spaces and yelled at them, and have a natural revulsion for the term MRA.

            When those who don’t believe in the Social Justice axioms try to speak out, it is very common for militant feminists to try to no-platform and unjustly vilify them, while it is very uncommon for more moderate feminists to speak out against this censorship and abuse. When the moderates are unwilling to take a stand against the extremists, I feel justified in judging the entire movement by what they do or allow to happen (I’m not religious, but Matthew 7:16 seems appropriate here: “By their fruit you will recognize them.”).

            Your narrative that the ostracized are to blame because of their own behavior is a classic narrative by which those who abuse their power to exclude and silence justify their behavior.

            I’ll give you one example, although I can easily produce more. There is an (unfortunately named) documentary ‘The Red Pill,’ which is an overview of the main MRA concerns, allowing many of the prominent MRAs to make their case (and which was not an attack on feminism). It was fiercely attacked by feminists, the director couldn’t find normal funding (and had to resort to crowd-funding), a showing was canceled after feminists hectored a movie theater, the media was extremely abusive and unfair to the (female) director, etc. I’ve seen no concerted attempt by even a small group of feminists to counter any of this and to defend the right for advocates for men to make their case fairly, without being harassed or no-platformed.

            But, all of them are interested in helping male victims of whatever, reforming the criminal justice and prison system to address bias, etc., if those issues are brought up in a collaborative rather than adversarial way.

            I can’t speak to the people you know, nor do I particularly care about the opinions of ‘regular’ people in this context, rather than the opinions and behavior of those who drive policy, who control the media, who run activist organizations, who control the institutions, etc. I oppose the (mainstream) feminism that is driving policy and law. Well-meaning people, who in my opinion have been hoodwinked into supporting a movement that doesn’t do what they think it does, may support collaboration, but they don’t have the power to make it happen, so they seem irrelevant to the claim that collaboration is possible.

            The feminists who actually make policy and control the Overton window, seem to pretty much exclusively fall in two camps:
            – those who exclusively want to help women
            – those who only want to help men as long as it doesn’t go against a traditionalist view of men as the aggressor and the ones with power, which effectively leaves very little room to collaborate in a non-misandrist way.

            The exceptions to this seem extremely rare.

            There is an academic, Julia Serano, who identifies as a feminist and who doesn’t seem to have a strong misandrist bias. However, she rarely writes about gender issues (focusing on main LGBT issues instead), which may be the reason why he hasn’t been ostracized.

            Then you have a couple of people who call themselves ‘equity feminists,’ like Steven Pinker, Cathy Young, Katie Roiphe, Christina Hoff Sommers and Camille Paglia. However, they reject the Social Justice axioms, which seems to make them extreme outliers in the feminist movement and feminist activism or policy-making seems to ignore their beliefs.

            Anyway, if it were truly possible to collaborate with feminism, without being required to adopt misandry, then Warren Farrell, who is one of the nicest, most empathetic and reasonable people around, wouldn’t have felt forced to leave NOW, nor would he have been marginalized as he is.

            If it were possible to truly help men within feminism, then Erin Pizzey would now be working with feminists to run domestic violence shelters for men and women. Erin Pizzey started the first modern domestic violence shelter. However, she is a fact-oriented, non-misandrist person, who noticed that most domestic violence is reciprocal (which scientific victim surveys also show is the case) and she thus advocated an approach to combating domestic violence that is not based on seeing men as exclusively perpetrators and women as exclusively victims. Rejecting Social Justice axioms in this way earned her death threats.

            So…I don’t believe that collaboration with mainstream feminism is truly possible.

          • lvlln says:

            You know, Cassie Jaye’s The Red Pill definitely seems like a good example to point to. I’ve seen the film (full disclosure: I also helped to fund it on Kickstarter), and there’s absolutely nothing in there that could reasonably taken as an attack on women or feminists, or doing anything whatsoever to weaken the cause of helping women. Yet when it was being released, it was regularly violently prevented from being shown or seen by feminist activists. In some viewings in Australia, they had to devise a method of sending out the location and time on the day-of, and having the audience be escorted by police through secret entranceways in order to make the viewings possible.

            Now, the film wasn’t exactly something that was trying to help men’s issues either, just a documentary on various men’s rights movements. Though perhaps it’s arguable that merely having a documentary that covers men’s rights movements is a way of helping men’s issues.

          • I just have to say, most of the people I know hate the type of MRAs that have shown up in their spaces and yelled at them

            Possibly relevant to this pattern is my daughter’s experience at Oberlin, not with regard to feminism but political divisions more generally. The orthodox position among students was that anyone who didn’t agree with left wing views was either evil or stupid, which was a problem for libertarians or conservatives who wanted to defend their views.

            The result was that the ones who visibly did were the sort of people who liked hostile confrontations, exchanges of insults, and the like.

          • loki-zen says:

            Re all of the ‘no feminists do the thing ‘ I totally have seen this happen. It’s really not easy because they are then treated as Insufficiently Pure to be supported by either side. A lot of times this debate happens in feminist spaces (which are full of debate and differences of opinion) and that might be why you don’t see it so much.

            Re men’s shelters the dominant position among feminists I consider reasonable is something like ‘this isn’t our area of expertise, we will support efforts to set these up but not set them up ourselves’ which I think is reasonable. And it’s not just lip service support, I see donating and publicity being done. Ditto for things like paternal leave and criminal justice reform.

            Peterson is an agent of polarisation who reinforces the bullshit of the shoutiest and most toxic voices in SJ from the other side. The notion that feminists and men are somehow opposing parties, that trans people’s identities are inherently political, these are radfem beliefs.

          • Cliff says:

            all of them are interested in helping male victims of whatever

            There are many feminist groups helping female rape victims in Africa. It is now known that men suffer as much and often more than women from rape in Africa. Many men are permanently disabled by repeated rape, abandoned by their families after being raped, raped to death, etc. These groups adamantly refuse to do anything to help the male rape victims, and oppose helping them for fear that it will take funds away from female rape victims. There was a big article in the Washington Post about it.

          • Aapje says:

            @loki-zen

            The notion that feminists and men are somehow opposing parties, […], these are radfem beliefs.

            Many non-radfems argue in a way that make it clear that they base their beliefs on an ‘conflict theory’ or zero sum view, where there is opposition between men and women.

        • Nicholas Conrad says:

          Interesting, since Aapje’s comment made no reference to women or to promoting men’s interests in conflict to those of women… Yet somehow, in direct contravention of your own statement, far from being “remarkably fine” with caring about men, you immediately infer nefarious intent and declare Aapje a culture warrior.

          Remarkably, you have in one fell swoop proved him correct, and yourself false.

          • Darwin says:

            Interesting, because I didn’t ascribe any of those motives to them, yet you seem to assume that I am when I’m merely describing the situation in the culture as I see it.

            Remarkably, you have etc etc etc oh what fun these games are.

          • Yosarian2 says:

            Aapje strongly implied that anyone who “truly cares about men” is already on the right-wing side of the culture war, which seems pretty absurd to me, and is an extremly inflammatory/aggressive statement.

            It seems obvious to me that lot of people (all the men and women who don’t consider themselves on the conservative sides of the culture wars and yet also beleive that they truly care about men, which I would assume is nearly everyone in that category) are going to naturally be offended by Aapje’s statement, and feel the need to defend “their side” of the culture war against the attack.

            I’m a little confused how you could read something like Aapje’s comment there and not see it as him taking a shot across the bow of the “other side” in the “culture wars”. I thought it was pretty clear that was Aapje’s intent, in fact. There’s not even anything necessarally wrong with that (although even if you do want to fight a “culture war” it’s probably best to not start off with such an extremely negitive stereotype about what everyone on the other side is like if you intend to change anyone’s mind about anything), but it seems odd the way people are so quick to deny it.

          • Aapje says:

            @Yosarian2

            It is perfectly reasonably to ‘stereotype’ cultures, IMO, based on average and/or group-level behavior. Stating this isn’t a claim that every individual is like this. For example, I would claim that America has a gun culture, relative to other nations. That a large number of Americans exist who dislike this, who don’t own a gun, etc, doesn’t change the fact that gun laws are what they are and that gun ownership is much more common than most other nations.

            Claiming that America or Americans have a gun culture, is not a claim that each individual American supports relatively easy access to guns for citizens or wants to own a gun.

            Also, I wasn’t talking about intent, but merely about bias.

            I think that it is fair to say that one of the two cultures of the culture war has a very strong cultural belief that a substantial bias exists against black people in some ways. I think that it is fair to say that this culture has a very strong belief that a substantial bias exists against women in some ways. Furthermore, it seems to have a strong belief that truly caring about blacks/women means agreeing that a major effort should be made to reduce these biases.

            My belief is that a substantial bias exists against men in a more or less similar way, that a major effort should be made to reduce it & that those who don’t support that, don’t truly care about men. Furthermore, a lot of the evidence that I base my beliefs on is very similar to the evidence that is and was used to claim that substantial bias exists against blacks and women. That this evidence seems to be weighed very differently when it comes to men, is why I claim that a strong (usually unconscious) bias exists against men.

            Furthermore, this bias seems self-reinforcing, because the bias makes people unable to see their bias and in fact, this bias is defended with the ‘taboo’ mechanism, by which cultures defend their irrationality in various ways (including ostracization and silencing).

            Insofar that my statement is “extremely inflammatory/aggressive” it is because:
            1. I used a pithy one-liner
            2. Arguing that ‘truly caring’ is rejected can be interpreted as people intentionally seeking harm to men.
            3. I pointed out the gap between the abstract ideological beliefs of one of the cultures in the culture war & how that ideology is usually selectively applied, in a tribal manner.

            Criticizing the first reason is fair, especially on SSC, given the local culture/norms. I accept that my statement is ineffective at reaching those who do not yet share my views. It in part was born from frustration at how the mere fact that mainly men seem to find meaning and purpose from what Peterson argues, is used to attack him unfairly by even fairly moderate people on one side of the culture war, while potential increases in male well-being don’t even seem to be considered.

            Criticizing the second is fair, although in my defense, it is very hard to distinguish between beliefs and aliefs in writing.

            However, I believe that the third reason actually causes more pain, as pointing out such hypocrisy strikes at the core of people’s identity and sense of their own ‘goodness.’ There is a reason why taboos exist. They are very powerful tools to protect the ego and bind a group behind a non-rational ideology.

            I believe that it is necessary to confront taboos* that allow a culture to legitimize ill behavior towards people, although not necessarily how I did it.

            * So from my perspective, I am very much in favor of social justice, while I oppose Social Justice.

        • josinalvo says:

          I wish you were right, that we could help men by only framing the issue differently

          How many shelters for battered people exist in the US that accept battered men?

          Is this number compatible with 3% of the battered people being men, nevermind what the real number might be?

          However, it you choose to defend that there should be some much shelters, automatically you are deemed anti-feminist.

          • mdet says:

            If you choose to defend that there should be some such shelters, automatically you are deemed anti-feminist.

            By whom? I’ve seen plenty of feminist stuff complaining about men or “men’s activists”, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen feminists complaining “Can you believe they think there should be shelters for battered men?

            I think what’s more likely is this isn’t an issue feminists think about at all, rather than one they explicitly oppose. (Not-considering men’s issues is still a reasonable complaint!)

            But now that I do think about it, why do battered men need their own shelters? (genuine question) I think that the point of a battered women’s shelter is that the victims aren’t just avoiding their particular abuser, but also future abusers as well, and given that men are on average much larger and more aggressive than women, men are more likely to be future abusers, regardless of what your own gender is. Therefore, if you are a woman, a “women & children only” shelter goes a long way to avoiding future abusers. But if you are a man, a “men only” shelter actually makes it MORE likely that you will come across someone larger and more aggressive than you are, therefore a man’s best hope is for a shelter that takes both men and women. I hope you can see that this reasoning isn’t “anti-men” (even if it is inconvenient), and I won’t think you’re “anti-women” if you disagree with me.

          • Viliam says:

            But now that I do think about it, why do battered men need their own shelters? (genuine question)

            My understanding is that having either a shelter for men or a gender-neutral shelter would solve the problem (of a battered man having nowhere to go), but I suppose neither exists.

            Another problem is that, as far as I know, shelters for battered women do not allow them to bring their male children above certain age (12 if I remember correctly).

            I think that the point of a battered women’s shelter is that the victims aren’t just avoiding their particular abuser, but also future abusers as well, and given that men are on average much larger and more aggressive than women, men are more likely to be future abusers, regardless of what your own gender is.

            I think this type of thinking contributes to the problem.

            If we take this concern literally, we should build shelters where only men (and women; that is, if we also care about battered lesbians) below average height are allowed.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            A lot of shelters that don’t accept men get hotel rooms for male survivors. While some shelters do exclude male survivors, it’s important not to spread the myth that they all do, because then male survivors will believe that it’s impossible for them to get help and remain in their relationships.

          • Lambert says:

            If there exist female and gender-neutral shelters, I suspect women, given the choice, would almost always go to female ones, leaving the gender-neutral ones de-facto male.
            Not given the choice, it would be seen as an outrage that women aren’t given the choice.

          • keranih says:

            I think that most people support the idea of womens shelters, and also (if the idea was brought to their attention) the idea of places for “henpecked” or otherwise abused men to go. I think that most people also default to the idea of a battered woman who has no resources (or else she would have walked already) and there is less cultural support for a man who can’t manage without a woman to care for him.

            I also think that there is a loudly vocal minority of women who care A WHOLE LOT about domestic abuse shelters who buy into the idea that all women are victims of all men, and so strongly resist the idea that men might need shelters also. (I’ve seen this in action – those who accept the idea of “shelters for men” and actually mean “shelters for women and gay men away from abusive men”.)

          • russellsteapot42 says:

            If all of the shelters are women and children only, where are the battered men, who no longer feel safe in their homes, and cannot afford to live in a hotel room, to go?

          • Aapje says:

            @Ozy Frantz

            I personally have strong doubts whether those hotel rooms are actually made available with anywhere the same eagerness as rooms are offered to women. There may be a very strong barrier there, so that these hotel rooms are theoretically available much more than they are practically so. I also wonder whether hotel rooms are made available for children as well, since anecdotal evidence suggests that some/many men who seek a shelter are very worried about their children being abused (some choosing to stay with the abuser to ‘soak’ up the abuse, to prevent the woman from attacking the children instead).

            A hotel also doesn’t have the kind of security that may be necessary. To quote the UN:

            Facility security precautions are extremely important in a shelter both to provide protection and to support women to feel safe, allowing them time to reflect on their circumstances, overcome the effects of abuse and plan for the future. If women do not trust that they will be protected by a shelter or feel safe once inside the space, they are likely to avoid seeking support or leave the site. Where they have no other options, this may force them to return to the abusive environment, placing them at even greater risk for further harm.

            One researcher did a survey of men who sought help, which found that of the men who sought help with a DV agency, 45% thought that they were somewhat or very helpful; of those who sought help with a DV hotline, 31% thought that they were somewhat or very helpful; while of those who sought help with friends/family/attorney/clergy, 90% found that a helpful resource.

            A large proportion of those who sought help from DV agencies (49.9%), DV hotlines (63.9%), or online resources (42.9%) were told, “We only help women.”

            It was also very common for these men to be accused of being batterers, by DV agencies (40.2%), DV hotlines (32.2%) and online resources (18.9%).

            Some of the men also report that the DV agencies (15.2%) and hotlines (16.4%) made fun of them.

            Overall, the men reported that their help-seeking experience was more negative than positive, which is very worrying.

            From my perspective, access to information and support is upstream from domestic violence shelters & it seems very likely that many men never get the kind of information and support that they need, which would then lead some of them to seek out shelter. Instead, many men may give up or seek informal, possibly inferior, remedies.

            because then male survivors will believe that it’s impossible for them to get help and remain in their relationships.

            It may actually be not realistically possible for many men to get help from formal sources, given that many resources seem to be unhelpful or even hostile. It seems very hard to distinguish between those that are actually willing to help and those who do not. So many men may be unable to find the helpful resources that do exist.

            So while I agree that getting men to actually seek help is part of the solution, we also need to be careful not to tell men lies about the level of support they can expect. It may be extremely harmful if men drive up to a shelter with their children, expecting a room and then being forced to return home, perhaps facing retaliation. Also, men who already feel self-loathing for violating the male gender role, may be significantly psychologically hurt if they get accused of being a batterer, are made fun of and/or get their masculinity questioned by someone who claims to aid DV victims.

          • mdet says:

            When I wrote my comment I had assumed that domestic violence shelters were basically homeless shelters that were a little more targeted at people with abusers, and that a man who couldn’t get into a domestic violence shelter could still go to a more general homeless shelter and get roughly similar services, albeit with probably more crowding and somewhat less specialization. Reading the replies, I’m starting to think this isn’t the case. What would differentiate a “gender neutral domestic abuse shelter” from a “general homeless shelter”? (Google didn’t provide any immediate answers)

          • quanta413 says:

            @mdet

            But if you are a man, a “men only” shelter actually makes it MORE likely that you will come across someone larger and more aggressive than you are, therefore a man’s best hope is for a shelter that takes both men and women. I hope you can see that this reasoning isn’t “anti-men” (even if it is inconvenient), and I won’t think you’re “anti-women” if you disagree with me.

            The higher rate of aggression and criminality in men isn’t anywhere close to high enough that you’d be worse off than dealing with the 100% guaranteed abuse of your spouse because you’re already in that situation.

            Like yeah, you might have some-fold rise in violence compared to a women’s shelter, but the absolute risk is still low. Something like .01% or .1% times 10 is still really low compared to 100%. Most male-dominated cultures and places in the U.S. don’t degenerate into stuffing the physically weak into lockers.

            And most abused men probably aren’t getting beat by physically stronger wives.

          • Aapje says:

            @mdet

            My perception is that DV shelters and homeless shelters can vary quite a bit, in part based on how much money is available. Some DV shelters seem to be built like low security prisons, albeit with the intent of keeping people out, rather than in. Others are more like normal houses. Presumably, they tend to offer support services.

            Stories I’ve heard suggest that the guests at DV shelters differ substantially from those at homeless shelters, where the latter has many mentally ill and/or addicted people, resulting in an environment with a lot of misbehavior, theft and bad influences.

            Homeless shelters also sometimes seem to have a policy where people can only stay there on some days, expecting people to sleep on the streets some days of the week. DV shelters never seem to have such a policy.

        • Aapje says:

          @Darwin

          Any claim that men have problems that are not of their own doing and/or that all of society needs to help solve, conflicts with those efforts to help women which are based on and legitimized by a narrative where men have the power in society and use that power to advantage men at the expense of women. People have a tendency to object when their ideology is challenged.

          People with that ideology also work very hard to suppress facts about physical and sexual abuse by women against men. The lack of societal and institutional support for male victims of female misbehavior is part of gender inequality which disadvantages men (and which IMO contributes to people seeing men and women as more different than they are). So any comprehensive effort to address how society treats men differently will conflict with the ideology based on its contents and not the packaging.

          It’s illustrative that both Cathy Newman and my own local newspaper harshly challenged Peterson in an interview for the mere fact that a large percentage of his viewers are men, while I’ve never seen progressives challenge anyone for having many female viewers/fans. Peterson flabbergasted Newman with his story about how he has helped women achieve their goals. The very fact that it was confusing to her that a person can both care about men doing well and yet also care about women doing well, shows that it was Newman who had the perception that speaking to the needs of men implies antagonism towards women.

          • Education Hero says:

            The lack of societal and institutional support for male victims of female misbehavior is part of gender inequality which disadvantages men (and which IMO contributes to people seeing men and women as more different than they are).

            What evidence points to causation in that direction, rather than the biological basis for different perceptions of men and women actually causing the indifference to male suffering?

            Cf. Orson Scott Card’s implicit argument (“Women are community”) in Teacher’s Pest.

          • Aapje says:

            One of my assumptions is that the indifference to male suffering is often justified by rationalizing it as self-inflicted, brought upon themselves, ‘just desserts’ or such.

            The battered woman is commonly seen as a victim of an abuser. The battered man is commonly assumed to be a nasty guy, where the circumstances forced her hand.

            If men who are victims of female misbehavior stop hiding as much as they do and become far more visible, then these men become humanized. Suddenly we are not talking about a stereotype, but about Bob, who has a face and a story.

            My perception is that people empathize far more with real men than the stereotype of men.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            It’s illustrative that both Cathy Newman and my own local newspaper harshly challenged Peterson in an interview for the mere fact that a large percentage of his viewers are men, while I’ve never seen progressives challenge anyone for having many female viewers/fans.

            Nor, of course, is it confined to Peterson. I’ve seen plenty of times where somebody drew attention to the fact that something — be it a book, politician, hobby, or what have you — was disproportionately popular with men, as if this showed that the thing in question was somehow problematic. On the other hand, I don’t think I’ve ever seen any remotely mainstream figure, progressive or otherwise, complain about something being disproportionately popular with women.

          • Randy M says:

            I think the line of reasoning goes “White males are privileged by society, all people are blank slates, therefore anything liked disproportionately by white males must somehow serve to keep minorities down.”

          • Pistol_Episteme says:

            @ The original Mr. X

            I would argue that much of our history demonstrates a tendency to devalue writers, artists, entertainers, thinkers, genres etc. who/which are popular with women. Look at how critics treat “Chick-lit” and Oprah.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          People are remarkably fine with efforts to help men when they are not framed as being in conflict with efforts to help women.

          “Some men are too shy or awkward to get dates, and it’s making them sad” or “Some anti-harassment training programmes leave it unclear what sort of behaviour is OK” aren’t usually framed as being in conflict with efforts to help women, but that doesn’t stop people who raise them getting called entitled jerks who think they’re owed sex by any woman they happen to fancy.

    • jbradfield says:

      Exactly, it’s not clear to me how you can separate Peterson’s self-help shtick from his culture warrior shtick and when you look at the two together, Peterson becomes a weird jumble of inconsistencies and contradictions.

      I haven’t really been following Peterson closely but from what little I’ve seen he’s mostly getting people unnecessarily inflamed over race and gender issues, which doesn’t strike me as a path to “the alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering.”

      • Viliam says:

        Any link for “Peterson getting people inflamed over race issues”? I watched dozens of hours of his lectures and I don’t remember race being mentioned there at all.

        (Unless we are talking about the dragon race, of course.)

        • SaiNushi says:

          People assume that because he fits their definition of sexist, he must fit their definition of racist as well.

          Then he made the mistake of saying that black people on average have lower IQ than white people on average, and Asian people on average have higher IQ than white people on average. They missed the bit where he says it’s barely perceptible and past the point where people don’t care what a person’s IQ is, they’ll hire the likeable guy instead. He pointed to the recent presidential election as proof that high IQ doesn’t matter all that much. And then said that racial IQ is mutable over generations, so maybe we should focus on doing things that help black racial IQ raise. And that people should be judged as individuals, not by stereotypes or averages.

          Taken out of context, that first sentence makes him seem racist.

    • saberlynx says:

      I think we live in a time when everything is political. You can’t do research in psychology or social sciences without being political. If politics is downstream from religion and what JP tackles are essentially religious problems, then in our hyper polarized environment you can’t discuss such issues without necessarily being political. Hell, even the internal/external loci of control issue has become politicized. I think JP comes down firmly on one side and unlike most he doesn’t exactly shy away from taking his stance on a religious or psychological issue to its logical political conclusion. If he had done this ten years ago, this wouldn’t even be a problem. Yes, there will be some controversy among the intelligentsia about his statements, but his pronouncements will quickly become forgotten. Most people wouldn’t even bother to log onto his subreddit. But now we feel compelled to engage in and comment on anything even vaguely political, so in a way it’s not surprising that JP, who doesn’t shy away from politics, draws more and more political controversy. Even previously less political people like the New Atheists are become more and more controversial figures because they stuck to their guns. Having followed the New Atheists since 12 years ago, I don’t think they have changed much, actually. Richard Dawkins still says Richard Dawkins things. Our culture is the thing that changed. Even scholars like Jonathan Haidt who does his best to be measured and more or less apolitical cannot help but generate political controversy.

  2. andreyk says:

    Did not expect this to be so positive. What do you think of the critique here – https://www.currentaffairs.org/2018/03/the-intellectual-we-deserve

    “Jordan Peterson appears very profound and has convinced many people to take him seriously. Yet he has almost nothing of value to say. This should be obvious to anyone who has spent even a few moments critically examining his writings and speeches, which are comically befuddled, pompous, and ignorant. They are half nonsense, half banality. In a reasonable world, Peterson would be seen as the kind of tedious crackpot that one hopes not to get seated next to on a train.”

    • RandomName says:

      “You become a prophet by saying things that you would have to either be a prophet or the most pompous windbag in the Universe to say, then looking a little too wild-eyed for anyone to be comfortable calling you the most pompous windbag in the universe. You say the old cliches with such power and gravity that it wouldn’t even make sense for someone who wasn’t a prophet to say them that way.”

      If I’m interpreting these sentiments correctly, Scott and Nathan are mostly in agreement. Both are saying Peterson’s writing is equal parts vague hand waving and obvious platitudes, with Scott saying (Or at least quoting uncritically? I’m a little unclear here.) that these can help people sort out their own lives. That Peterson can say obvious things we’ve all heard a million times before with a force that makes people listen, or motivates them to act on them.

      • Darwin says:

        Yeah, I’ve heard the claim that Peterson is best understood as a competent self-help guru before, but I haven’t seen it framed in the context of psychotherapy. This does help me understand better how his work can be valuable to people.

        However, most of the times I hear about Peterson, it’s from people talking like he is an intellectual or a political activist. That’s the main thing that worries me about him.

        • manwhoisthursday says:

          Peterson is actually a very good researcher on the science of personality. His paper with Colin DeYoung and Lena Quilty, Between facets and domains: 10 aspects of the Big Five, has been cited nearly a thousand times since it was published about 10 years ago. It’s a significant refinement of the Big 5 model.

        • Viliam says:

          most of the times I hear about Peterson, it’s from people talking like he is an intellectual or a political activist.

          We are living in the age of Twitter — the one thing you do that randomly gets virulent on social networks will define you forever in the eyes of most people who heard your name, while 99.9999% of your lifetime work will get virtually no attention… and if any of it does, it will be interpreted exclusively in the light of That One Moment.

          To meet Jordan Peterson qua Jordan Peterson, look at the stuff he did before he said That One Thing That Got Tweeted:

          * free recordings of his lectures on YouTube. Hundreds of hours. They are about mythology (the “order” and “chaos” and “hero” things), either in general, or focused on Bible specifically, with an emphasis on understanding human capacity for evil (which inevitably does have political connotations);

          * “self authoring” psychological self-help website, which… also succeeds to be the combination of obvious and powerful (for example you are asked to think about various areas of your life, make goals, decide on measurable outcomes; or you have a list of traits, probably based on OCEAN, and you are asked to choose which ones apply to you; or you are asked to choose important moments in your personal history and write something about them);

          * arguably, even the 12 Rules for Life fits here, because it was mostly written before That One Thing That Got Tweeted, and is an expansion of an earlier material.

          (Probably forgot something.)

          • albatross11 says:

            I think this is the normal situation for intellectuals. The set of people who have strong opinions on the intellectual and moral qualities of Charles Murray, Richard Dawkins, Ayn Rand, Noam Chomsky, Jordan Peterson, Andrea Dworkin, etc., is several orders of magnitude larger than the set of people who have actually read any substantial amount of their writings, or listened to a substantial amount of their ideas in any form. I’m not even sure if Twitter makes this worse–I sure remember a lot of news articles working from the assumption that Charles Murray was a nazi white supremacist who hated blacks, back long before twitter. I mean, reading a whole book is hard work–who does *that* before expressing an opinion on the contents of the book?

          • Viliam says:

            The strong opinions of those who never read Dawkins, Rand, or Dworkin are at least somewhat correlated with the actual politics of those people; or at least, not the opposite extreme. I have never met someone who believed that Dawkins is a catholic inquisitor, that Rand is a communist, or that Dworkin is a men’s right activist.

            But people who got their education from Twitter seem to fail at applying even this quite low standard to Peterson.

            (On the other hand, we live in the era where a professional journalist’s understanding of Peterson is “we should organize our societies along the lines of the lobsters”. Why should we expect better from anyone else?)

          • albatross11 says:

            I’m not convinced this is any worse than previous journalists’ understandings of controversial writers. The issue isn’t that the journalists *can’t* understand the controversial writers’ positions, but rather that they *don’t bother* understanding them.

        • russellsteapot42 says:

          I think that for a great many people, Peterson is the first example they’ve found of someone who is on their side of the argument and seems to have any degree of intellectual acumen.

          And it doesn’t surprise me how desperately some people are attempting to tear him down as a fraud: they don’t want that sort of person finding any kind of voice at all.

      • patrickwagner734 says:

        “We should also note, with regard to those who impugn his scientific credibility, that Peterson’s “h-index,” or citation count in peer-reviewed articles and papers, is through the roof, some 8000 to date. This metric, which measures both quality and ubiquity, establishes Peterson as a leader in his field.”[David Solway]

    • j r says:

      What is interesting to me is that, with some minor edits, this is exactly how I would describe Nathan J. Robinson. I have yet to be convinced that Robinson is not, in fact, involved in some grand act of performance art.

      Is this what we deserve? About that, I am not sure.

      • melolontha says:

        Really? I have mixed feelings about Robinson, but I’ve always thought that one of his virtues is a clear and straightforward (but not boring) prose style. Whether he has valuable things to say is up for debate, of course, as it is for any writer — but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him cloak banality in impenetrable pomposity, as he accuses Peterson of doing.

        • j r says:

          It’s not that his writing is impenetrable; it’s that it’s not falsifiable. He, or his persona at least, believes that socialism is The Answer and just about anything he has to say on any given topic is put in the service of affirming his pre-existing belief that socialism is The Answer.

    • Brett says:

      As RandomName pointed out, they’re kind of saying something similar about Peterson (although Scott is much more positive). The heart of Robinson’s critique is that he believes Peterson is basically serving as this ambiguous, cliches-and-self-help-mixed-with-conservative-politics figure that conservative-sympathetic young men can project on to (and treat as something to defend).

      There definitely is some value in being able to sell even just the basic self-help stuff that people need to hear, as long as they follow through on it.

      • andreyk says:

        That is a good point. I guess the it’s fine to appreciate Peterson as a self-help guy, but a Nathan and others here point out he is usually interpreted as doing much more than that:

        ” The Times says his “message is overwhelmingly vital,” and a Guardian columnist grudgingly admits that Peterson “deserves to be taken seriously.” David Brooks thinks Peterson might be “the most influential public intellectual in the Western world right now.” He has been called “the deepest, clearest voice of conservative thought in the world today” a man whose work “should make him famous for the ages.””

        Which is what makes me instinctively dislike him.

        • vV_Vv says:

          Which is what makes me instinctively dislike him.

          Why?

          • andreyk says:

            Because he is a self-help guru spouting generalities and cliches that is being understood as an intellectual saying wise and deep things. Just stinks of a charismatic but un-serious person to me. Of course, this is just my vague impression based on second-hand sources and quotes.

          • Aapje says:

            @andreyk

            As Scott argues, a “self-help guru spouting generalities and cliches” may actually be very helpful to many people. Is it un-serious to actually help non-genius people?

            Someone like Kierkegaard is never going to become the most influential public intellectual. It is always going to be a person who has a simplified ideology/narrative, because most people cannot process more than that.

            I understand your frustration/disenchantment at seeing people being described as intellectuals for works/arguments that are relatively unsophisticated. I have experienced similar feelings when seeing the media talk up people like Ta-Nehisi Coates as great thinkers, when his works seem purile to me.

            There is a theory that argues that people can understand the arguments by people with up to ~20 IQ points more than themselves, but can no longer understand more complex arguments. If true, this suggests that the most influential public intellectuals will tend to write at a level of complexity commensurate with an IQ of 110-120.

            If your definition of ‘serious’ is the kind of sophisticated argument that only gets traction among a small elite, then you will only ever see seriousness in those who influence a small elite, not in those who influence the masses.

          • Jack Lecter says:

            @Aapje:

            There is a theory that argues that people can understand the arguments by people with up to ~20 IQ points more than themselves, but can no longer understand more complex arguments.

            I’m pretty sure there’s a trust issue there which explains part of the effect. People can process a very large edifice of reasoning if it’s broken up and given to them a little at a time, but the process leaves a lot of room for slipping in logical mis-steps. So they have to trust you not to do that, and trust themselves about all the pieces they’ve already checked but can’t hold in mind all at once.

            There’s also, unfortunately, a widespread alief that any very complicated argument can’t be important, and any very important argument can’t have too many dry technical pieces because can-a-robot-paint-a-sunset.

            I’m not saying IQ isn’t important, just suggesting the intelligence gaps we actually observe are probably due to multiple interacting factors.

          • Aapje says:

            @Jack Lecter

            I think that what you bring up is an orthogonal issue, where most people prefer emotionally satisfaction over rhetorical thoroughness.

            Let me give two memes:
            – women get paid less for the same work
            – men are the disposable gender

            Both are highly deceptive and simplistic statements. They both feed on a different ressentiment. The first statement is accepted by people who will pick apart the latter statement for being absurdly biased and vice versa. They both seem much more pleasant to people with the ideology that matches the statement than the steelmanned variants that one can expand them into.

            A white nationalist, who we shall call Adolf Nasi who wrote at the same level of legibility and with the same quality of argument as Ta-Nehisi Coates would obviously not be popular with the same crowd, but I think that he would be very popular among white nationalists. A white nationalist called Adolf Kierkegaard who writes at a far higher level, would not be as popular with white nationalists, just like Ta-Nehisi Kierkegaard would not be as popular as Ta-Nehisi Coates with SJ people.

          • vV_Vv says:

            @andreyk

            Because he is a self-help guru spouting generalities and cliches that is being understood as an intellectual saying wise and deep things.

            I don’t think this characterization is particularly fair.

            Who else is spouting the same generalities and cliches? C.S. Lewis and Marcus Aurelius? They aren’t exactly our contemporaries, are they?

            Peterson is not the typical believe-in-yourself self-help guru teaching you how to get rich quick or pick up hot girls. It’s not even an atypical self-help how-to-win guru, like the CFAR people.
            He speaks of personal responsibility, of doing good and not doing evil, of reclaiming order from chaos as a way to live a meaningful life. Who else is doing this?

          • vV_Vv says:

            @Aapje

            There is a theory that argues that people can understand the arguments by people with up to ~20 IQ points more than themselves, but can no longer understand more complex arguments. If true, this suggests that the most influential public intellectuals will tend to write at a level of complexity commensurate with an IQ of 110-120.

            This may be true, but I don’t think it’s a core issue here.

            You can be smart but unfulfilled, depressed and unwise. Think of the stereotypical miserable PhD student. And you can be not particularly smart (or maybe smart but unsophisticated) but wise and live a fulfilling life. Intellectually sophisticated advice is not necessarily correct advice, and vice versa.

          • Aapje says:

            @vV_Vv

            I was trying to make that point (among others).

            Something can be unsophisticated and yet very beneficial to many people & very unsophisticated, yet merely something that is discussed in ivory towers.

          • Aapje says:

            That second “unsophisticated” should be “sophisticated.” Editing doesn’t work for that comment, for some reason.

          • albatross11 says:

            There are areas where there’s no way to make progress without a lot of hard-to-follow complicated models and ideas. You’re not going to be making any progress in microprocessor design without deep-diving into stuff that can’t be understood without a high IQ and a lot of background knowledge. Similar things apply to developing new drugs, writing a new OS, etc.

            On the other hand, there’s also a lot of discussion about how to live your life, or how society runs or should run, where it seems like the deep-dive high-IQ-requiring stuff doesn’t actually lead to any improved outcomes. I mean, microprocessor design by a bunch of guys with 120 IQs is going to give you slower chips than design by a bunch of guys with 140 IQs, but marxist sociology or critical race theory done by really smart people will probably not yield any better outcomes than if they’re done by more mediocre intellects.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I mean, microprocessor design by a bunch of guys with 120 IQs is going to give you slower chips than design by a bunch of guys with 140 IQs, but marxist sociology or critical race theory done by really smart people will probably not yield any better outcomes than if they’re done by more mediocre intellects.

            It might even yield worse outcomes, insofar as very intelligent people are presumably better at rationalising their prejudices than somewhat less intelligent people.

          • insofar as very intelligent people are presumably better at rationalising their prejudices than somewhat less intelligent people.

            There is research by Dan Kahan that supports something along these lines. For issues that have become linked to group identity, such as evolution, the more intellectually sophisticated someone is, the more likely he is to agree with his group’s position, whether that means believing in evolution or not believing in it.

    • Montfort says:

      I admit to only skimming Nathan’s article, but that quote’s pretty much the picture of Peterson I got from reading Scott’s review, only I’m considering the possibility he may be a charismatic crackpot/cliché generator instead of a tedious one.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I glanced at Maps of Meaning and some of his lectures, and I agree they seem confused and not very interesting. Maybe Twelve Rules had a great editor?

      I agree there’s not much original intellectual substance in Peterson’s method, but I think it succeeds on a kind of artistic level in provoking the feelings it’s meant to provoke. I can’t justify it on anything other than internal reaction, and if I had Nathan’s internal reaction I would probably think the same way Nathan did.

      • weaselword says:

        Would you be willing to review just the section 2.2 of “Maps of Meaning”: “Neuropsychological Function: The Nature of the Mind”? It is 43 pages dense with references to neurology and psychology research, and it’s the basis on which Peterson rests his framework.

        I am not a neurologist or a psychologist, and I really want to know how solid Peterson’s basis is.

      • Downstream says:

        Peterson turned Maps of Meaning into a lecture series (available on youtube) and that’s what earned him the bulk of his fame. I think MoM is a lot more potent than 12 Rules so if you enjoyed the book I recommend going through those lectures.

        • Brad says:

          It turns out I need a new mattress. Mine is seven/eight years old and isn’t very comfortable anymore. Someone suggested that I go to a mattress store so I can try the different mattresses and see what kind I want to get. I rejected that idea because I know that if I go to a mattress store some salesman is going to talk me in to buying a mattress that’s a bad deal and that I haven’t done enough research about. That’s something I know about myself.

          If reading MoM seems confused and not very interesting I worry that going to watch the lectures based on them is kind of like going to that mattress store. It is deliberately subjecting yourself to someone’s charisma.

          • Erfeyah says:

            You are being overly suspicious/afraid of Peterson. He is not a hypnotists that is going to plant ideas in your mind. I would venture that you are afraid of him affecting your belief system and thus being overly defensive.

            As he would say, whenever we learn something new (change our belief structure) a part of us has to die and from its ashes another one is being born. See? That is true, so you can accept it. If he says something that you don’t have a reason to accept.. don’t.

          • Deiseach says:

            That’s something I know about myself.

            But you know that about yourself, at least, so you have a starting point. Get someone to go along with you who won’t be swayed by the salesman, who can say “Excuse me, we’d like to look at this one” or “No, I’m sure it’s a bargain on sale but not what we want” to help you out. Decide beforehand: do you need extra support for your back? Do you like a firm or softer mattress? How much are you willing to pay? Do you need them to deliver it for you? Do they have a website where you can see what they have in stock and on offer before you go to the store? Then stick to that list, get your moral support person, and hit those mattress stores!

          • Brad says:

            @Deiseach

            That’s what I would do if I didn’t have any other choice but to buy in person. But luckily everything can now be ordered online. So that’s what I’m doing.

            Anyway, my point is that there are multiple reasons not to want to watch youtube videos. If it can’t be communicated in writing than it is probably just charisma rather than substance.

          • But luckily everything can now be ordered online.

            I ordered our current mattress online. As best I can tell, it fits the online description, and it is comfortable.

            What I didn’t realize, ordering it online, was that it was substantially thicker than our original mattress, which is why my wife’s side of the bed now has a step stool next to it. I would have noticed that in a store.

            Online has advantages—I buy lots of things that way—but also some disadvantages.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          If anyone watches Maps of Meaning, they should stick to the short 6 hour TVO version, also available on his podcast, as episodes 9,10,12,13.

        • whateverthisistupd says:

          What really earned him his fame was he was pretty much the only professor who got “mobbed” by social justice students and responded in a way that sort of carried a sense of genuine moral conviction and then really stood his ground. All the interest in his psychology work came after that. The only place i ever saw a reference to him prior to that was on a comment on David Chapman’s excellent “Meaningness” Blog which mentioned Peterson and Maps of Meaning. By the way, I think Chapman’s sites are ones SSC readers would really enjoy.

      • pinenuts says:

        Maps of Meaning is poorly written, but Peterson is capable of better writing and has published a couple of articles that lay out his core ideas without the mythological prophecy layer. Definitely connected to the whole predictive coding trend in neuroscience. They’re available online in pdf.
        https://www.researchgate.net/publication/11235376_Complexity_Management_Theory_Motivation_for_Ideological_Rigidity_and_Social_Conflict

        http://www.jordanbpeterson.com/docs/230/2014/26Petersonmythology.pdf
        (Okay, so the second one has a little of the mythology, but it’s pretty cleanly separated from the psychology.)

        • whateverthisistupd says:

          Didn’t he write “Maps” in his twenties? That could account for a lot of it.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            He published the book when he was 36. He claimed to have taken 13 years writing it, that’s no excuse for not rewriting.

      • manwhoisthursday says:

        I’d watch the lectures for his UofT Maps of Meaning course before reading the book. Peterson is a great speaker, but frequently a pretty terrible writer, even in 12 Rules.

    • Bugmaster says:

      That quote is phrased way too harshly, but in the broad sense, I agree with it. The problem I have with Peterson is that whenever he says anything, he does so with total and absolute conviction. Naturally, this makes me doubt everything he says, especially the parts I agree with.

      When Peterson says, “free speech is our only hope against the darkness of tyranny”, I could probably nod my head and keep listening. But when he says, in the very next sentence, “actually the Bible is a metaphor about rescuing your father from the Underworld, which is a deeply spiritual action all humans must undertake”, I want to immediately raise my hand and ask, “excuse me, Professor, but what’s your evidence for this ?”

      Don’t get me wrong, Peterson’s ideas are really engaging and interesting and possibly even profound, but ultimately, profound ideas are a dime a dozen. I want to believe things that are actually true (in the real sense, not in the Petersonian poetic sense), not just things that sound good.

      • WashedOut says:

        whenever he says anything, he does so with total and absolute conviction

        Are you referring to his tone or the epistemic status he assigns to his statements?

        If the former, i agree but dont find it troubling. If the latter, i refer you to his biblical lecture series which he openly regards as ‘thinking out loud trying to figure this complex document out.’ He makes mistakes along the way, re-visits his previous interpretations and makes refinements, and generally comes across as a model of epistemic humility.

        The purpose is discussion and disection rather than preaching his ‘truth’. At least thats how the series came across to me.

        • Bugmaster says:

          Are you referring to his tone or the epistemic status he assigns to his statements? … i refer you to his biblical lecture series which he openly regards as ‘thinking out loud trying…

          I am referring to both. I will grant you that one case of epistemic humility in the biblical lecture series, but to me it sounds like an exception, not the norm.

          • Tarhalindur says:

            Eh. My priors would be that Peterson is using something similar a rule I took to heart back in my forum Mafia days: reevaluate internally but project confidence. Hard to teach, but it’s immensely valuable in that environment (it’s a hallmark of the best players, especially as town); it wasn’t useful for figuring out the gamestate, but it *was* useful for convincing other players that you were right. Considering how much Mafia in its forum form relies on rhetoric, I really wouldn’t be surprised if that principle is useful more generally.

          • shenanigans24 says:

            So he always speaks with absolute confidence except when he doesn’t.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @shenanigans24:
            I think this is a rather pedantic interpretation, but as such, it is correct. Human beings are pretty random; any statement to the extent of “this person always says X” is very likely to be wrong. Most people know this, and auto-correct “always” to “the vast majority of the time” in their minds…

      • Stirson says:

        I believe he answered this sort of question in one of his Q & As. Alas, I don’t have the link on hand, but it’s on his channel somewhere.

        His answer, if I remember correctly, was something to the effect of it only being his interpretation of the stories, and by no means definitive (he’s said as much that every time he looks more into the history of any one of the stories, he discovers something new), and the degree to which you want to call it ‘valid’ or ‘true’ depends on whether or not when you act it out, the outcomes are consistent with what you expect. It’s probably not necessary to equate his tone of conviction with a lack of skepticism.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        When Peterson says, “free speech is our only hope against the darkness of tyranny”, I could probably nod my head and keep listening. But when he says, in the very next sentence, “actually the Bible is a metaphor about rescuing your father from the Underworld, which is a deeply spiritual action all humans must undertake”,

        Except the first thing is probably something Peterson has actually said. The second is not. That’s sort of a “so what you’re saying is we should be lobsters” reduction. There’s a discussion in OT98 about what to name this sort of rhetoric (or really what the definition is), but it’s a deliberate removal of your target’s nuance, so you can then dismiss what they say because it lacks nuance. But it only lacks nuance because you deliberately removed it.

        What Peterson says more often about the metaphors that he’s describing includes phrases like “this is very hard to articulate, which is why it’s done through symbols, stories, and art, but it’s something like that.” “It’s something like that” is practically a JP meme like cleaning your room or calling people “bucko.” So, I think you’ve just removed his nuance, and then are mad at him for not having nuance.

        • MugaSofer says:

          That’s great, except Peterson tends to add so much nuance as to be all things to all men.

          A: It’s something like X, maybe, in a sense.

          B: It’s nothing like X, here’s a pile of evidence. It’s actually Y. Nobody with even a cursory knowledge of either it or X would say this, it’s blatantly false.

          A fans: What kind of strawman is this? Y is like X in a symbolic manner/He never said it was literally like that/He was never really talking about it at all, it was a metaphor for how Z is like X/He said “maybe” so it was just speculation.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            So do you agree or disagree with Bugmaster? He can’t be both over-nuanced and completely lacking in nuance.

        • Bugmaster says:

          FWIW, I was trying to make both of my mis-quotes a sort of a summary for Peterson’s views.

          I would normally agree with you regarding metaphors, except that Peterson has explicitly stated (*) that he believes in two kinds of truth: the physical one (e.g. “ice melts at around 0 degrees C”), and the poetic one (e.g. most of the things he says). Both truths are equally true, in his view; so his metaphors aren’t entirely metaphorical.

          There’s nothing wrong with metaphors, but when I’m making grand life decisions, I personally prefer to rely on (at least some amount of) evidence, and not just on deeply meaningful words that ignite my soul on a deeply personal level. However, my epistemology is very different from Peterson’s; I can completely understand how, from his point of view, both metaphors and real-world observations would be equally true (and, in fact, I believe he privileges metaphors as being more true than plain old physical facts).

          (*) Sorry, I don’t have a video link handy.

          • russellsteapot42 says:

            I mean, he’s a psychologist.

            I think that, when it comes to stories and narratives and such, his definition of ‘true’ is something like ‘psychologically useful’.

            I don’t think he would try to defend that the bible stories describe things as they actually happened. I think he would try to defend the idea that they are psychologically useful because individual meaning can be projected onto them.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Honestly that article became suspect to me when I actually attempted to read the lecture transcript that Robinson warms you not to try to read all of. It doesn’t translate well to writing, but it’s perfectly coherent, with a message so powerful I question the accuracy of the story.

      (Summary of the story is that Peterson’s wife solves a neighbor’s child’s development issues in one day through common sense. A big deal if it’s true, no?)

      • Darwin says:

        Yes, but so massively unlikely to be true that it makes me suspect everything he says even more.

        Honestly, this is what makes me run cold when I read Peterson more than anything: the way he defines other people in simplistic terms, like characters from a children’s fable, but always in ways that define them as weak or simple or lost and himself/his team as glowing saviors able to reach in and fix them.

        Like the woman who lacks any internal structure and is so lost that she will crystallize her entire personality around whatever coherent ideas he hands her… that is not a description of a real human being. That is a description of a narcissist’s power fantasy.

        It feels like Ayn Rand defining everyone who doesn’t live life exactly how she wants them to as ‘leeches’, coming up with these vast frameworks that explain how cowardly and villainous and weak the vast majority of the population in, how they’re only impediments standing in the way of her heroes, who are the only true human beings in the world. It’s not even a question of the politics or philosophy involved, it just makes my blood run cold to see anyone think about other people that way.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Like the woman who lacks any internal structure and is so lost that she will crystallize her entire personality around whatever coherent ideas he hands her… that is not a description of a real human being. That is a description of a narcissist’s power fantasy.

          But he’s not talking about “people.” He’s talking about a specific person. Who was in need of psychotherapy.

          And it doesn’t strike me as ludicrous. I’ve known people like that, who leap from one identity to another rapidly, maybe because they don’t know who they are yet. Specifically I’m thinking of a girl I knew in high school who was like a preppy and then a goth and then a political activist…with each massive change in her perspective on the purpose of life coinciding with a new boyfriend who was in to those things. She was just looking for something to be.

          • Darwin says:

            Yes, teenagers experiment with their identity and tribal affiliations. That’s what adolescence is for.

            But just because that girl you knew was trying out different tribes and belief structures and modes of personal expression, I don’t believe for a second that she was the type of empty vessel that Peterson describes. This is Fundamental Attribution Error 101 – just because you saw her behavior changing in different circumstances, does not mean the core of her personality and being was changing as well.

          • russellsteapot42 says:

            Peterson at no point described his patient as an empty vessel, or claimed that he was dictating the core of her being. The way he described it, he handed her some tools or a narrative, and she instantly used that to order her own internal being.

            Try to read more generously.

        • lvlln says:

          Like the woman who lacks any internal structure and is so lost that she will crystallize her entire personality around whatever coherent ideas he hands her… that is not a description of a real human being. That is a description of a narcissist’s power fantasy.

          I would question how much someone knows about humanity if this looks like a “power fantasy” rather than a “real human being” to them. I’ve known people like that, and in fact, I myself have been someone like that.

          That doesn’t mean his stories are true. But if that’s what you find triggers your skepticism sensor, I’d say it’s poorly calibrated.

          It feels like Ayn Rand defining everyone who doesn’t live life exactly how she wants them to as ‘leeches’, coming up with these vast frameworks that explain how cowardly and villainous and weak the vast majority of the population in, how they’re only impediments standing in the way of her heroes, who are the only true human beings in the world. It’s not even a question of the politics or philosophy involved, it just makes my blood run cold to see anyone think about other people that way.

          Funnily enough, I’ve seen Peterson asked about Rand, and his criticism of Rand’s novels are in line with what you wrote. He says his big problem with Rand is how she simplifies characters as being all good or all bad (not having read any Rand myself, I don’t know how reasonable either your statement or his are), when, in fact, he sees good and bad as being intrinsic to all humans. I’ve seen him say this a few times, usually quoting one of his heroes Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:

          “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          @Darwin
          Agreed! But Current Affairs is trying to say the lecture is incoherent, when the problem is more that it’s hypercoherent.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Yes, I think this is a particularly sleazy tactic commonly employed. Take almost anyone’s extemporaneous speech, transcribe it word for word complete with pauses, filler words, run on sentences, asides, pepper it with inferred CAPITALS and italics and it’s much more difficult to comprehend and makes them sound crazy. It’s almost as if people do not speak like they write or hear like they read…

      • baconbits9 says:

        Summary of the story is that Peterson’s wife solves a neighbor’s child’s development issues in one day through common sense. A big deal if it’s true, no?

        The wife diagnoses the developmental issue in one day, which is different from solving it. What she did was take the first step, but actually solving the issue would have taken weeks and maybe months of time after that.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I read it. It all seemed to be of the form “Here’s something Peterson said. Can you believe he said this?!” Yes? And?

      All I got out of that was “Nathan Robinson is mad.” Okay.

    • vV_Vv says:

      Projection.

    • Yosarian2 says:

      I REALLY don’t think Scott Alexander is going to want to comment on something else written by Nathan Robinson right now, considering recent events.

      • Nornagest says:

        What events are those?

        • vV_Vv says:

          Nathan Robinson wrote a hit piece on Scott, Scott wrote a rebuttal on this blog, some SJW tried to get Scott fired from his job and/or otherwise harassed him in real life.

          • vrostovtsev says:

            If even Scott Alexander is not immune from the SJW hitsquads, it is time to sell insurance against this?

          • Viliam says:

            To make profit at selling insurance, you need to evaluate the risk. People who are more at risk need to pay more for the insurance. Behaviors knowingly increasing the risk may be prohibited by the contract, or may be considered insurance fraud.

            In other words, if someone would commercially sell insurance against losing your job as a result of random Twitter storm, the conditions of the insurance would most likely include “no blogging about political topics”. Scott probably wouldn’t sign that. However, some other people, including readers of this blog, could.

            Or you could have a high-risk category for people who won’t stop blogging, but they would probably have to pay about 5% of their salary (if in case they get fired, you want to pay them bad e.g. 50% of their salary during two years, or whatever your insurance would be). Also you would need to think about the perverse incentives this could create.

  3. “Weird. Must be a prophet. Better kneel.”

  4. WashedOut says:

    But if Peterson forms a religion, I think it will be a force for good. Or if not, it will…..

    What? He is not forming a religion. What’s the basis for the above speculation? Is it simply the observed fact that he has a following, plus the fact he is religious?

    Andreyk:

    Did not expect this to be so positive. What do you think of the critique here – https://www.currentaffairs.org/2018/03/the-intellectual-we-deserve

    “Jordan Peterson appears very profound and has convinced many people to take him seriously. Yet he has almost nothing of value to say. This should be obvious to anyone who has spent even a few moments critically examining his writings and speeches, which are comically befuddled, pompous, and ignorant. They are half nonsense, half banality. In a reasonable world, Peterson would be seen as the kind of tedious crackpot that one hopes not to get seated next to on a train.”

    Gosh, what a surprise to hear more empty ad-hominem from Current Affairs.

    I understand why CA is the go-to for blue-tribe opinions, since the articles are written in a way that clearly articulate all the right blue-sounding noises. What I don’t understand is Scott’s (and SSC’s by extension) continuing faith that CA will offer an analysis sophisticated enough to tackle pretty much any of the ideas that get discussed here or by JP.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I use “founding a religion” to mean “have some sort of self-supporting social structure to make this actually matter”.

      The default scenario is that in five years, Peterson and Twelve Rules go the way of Marcus Aurelius – a decent self-cultivation system that almost no one reads.

      If you want to do more than that, you need to build a social community around yourself. Even though Transcendental Meditation has way fewer followers than Peterson does, I’m much more confident in its ability to exert various effects five years down the line, just because they have good institutions and those institutions can direct people and promote their meditation methods in some structured way.

      I don’t think Peterson is going to “start a religion” in the classical sense, but I think there’s a decent chance he understands this on some level and is trying to do something more lasting with his ideas. Or maybe I’m just projecting.

      Prefer less confrontational or more contentful comments re:CA in the future.

      • honhonhonhon says:

        Remember when rationalists were annoyed at the movement being labeled a religion? Funny parallel; while Rationalistwiki may not have done it with the most charitable of intentions, I guess “religion” is the best-fitting term for “social group for self-cultivation that’s not quite a movement because it doesn’t move”.

        • toastengineer says:

          “Religion” carries a buttton of baggage with it. Seems like the word you’re looking for is “community,” although “community” is a little overplayed.

      • Tarhalindur says:

        I think that Marcus Aurelius comparison might be a very, very good one.

        I don’t agree with sui generis interpretations of the Enlightenment. It’s a rare historical phenomenon, but not unprecedented – I see good evidence for at least five previous Ages of Reason (the Greco-Roman Golden Age, the Islamic Golden Age, one in China around the time of the Hundred Schools of Thought, one in India ending around the time of the Buddha, one somewhere in the Near East around the time of Akhenaten – I’d guess originating in either Egypt itself or Minoan Crete) and suspect one more in Mesoamerica (originating either in Teotihuacan or the classical Maya) and possibly some I either haven’t heard of or whose records were lost. (My hypothesis is that such eras begin when a traditional culture tries to prove its superiority over other cultures and end after that project fails – I’d place Goedel as that moment for the Enlightenment, courtesy of proving that no system of mathematics could prove all of its axioms.) There’s a kind of traditionalist that tends to pop up in such periods (usually towards the end) who regrounds the traditional practices and/or the question of how to live a good life in something other than the traditional culture; the Stoics were a Greco-Roman example.

        Peterson, by my judgement, is aiming at etching his name in the history books as a Western version of that figure.

        Consider the flipside of your comment on Marcus Aurelius: he may not be followed often anymore, but his name and works have survived for the better part of two thousand years, and IIRC so have a couple of other Stoic authors (notably Epictetus and Seneca) who didn’t have the “one of the Five Good Emperors” claim to fame. (Given Peterson’s Jungian mysticism, though, I’m wondering if a better comparison wouldn’t be a slightly later Roman philosopher: Plotinus, founder of Neoplatonism.)

        (Of course, if he *can* found a proper movement/religion then all bets are off. The Chinese rational era gave us Confucianism and Taoism, and the equivalent period in India… well, I did mention that period ended around the time of Siddhartha Gautama, didn’t I?)

    • andreyk says:

      I mean, you may not agree with the article but labeling it ad-hominem is a bit much, it clearly critiques Peterson’s writing style and message and not just him as a person. Like, right there in the quote:
      ” This should be obvious to anyone who has spent even a few moments critically examining his writings and speeches, which are comically befuddled, pompous, and ignorant. They are half nonsense, half banality.”

      • Well Armed Sheep says:

        This is not a very persuasive refutation of the claim that the full CA/NR quote from the parent comment was “empty ad hominem.”

        It is not “a bit much” to say that someone who uses the words: “comically befuddled,” “pompous,” “ignorant,” and “tedious crackpot” to describe their opponent in the space of about 100 words is engaged in ad hominem attacks.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Using insults in one’s writing is not, in fact, a signifier of an ad hominem argument. The latter is a matter of what argument you’re making, not whether you include insults in it. Old article on the matter. (Although I have to disagree with his assessment that “actual instances of argumentum ad hominem are relatively rare” — unfortunately not true in certain corners of the internet. Also, the parts where he says that false accusations of ad hominem arguments are themselves ad hominem arguments don’t make a lot of sense. Other than that though I think it’s a pretty good exploration of the matter.)

          Edit: Oops, left out the link initially

          • russellsteapot42 says:

            I do think that there is a certain amount of well-poisoning going on when one uses negative descriptive words like those without necessarily demonstrating why each of them is applicable. It seems like it is more of an attack on the social status of the target than an honest attempt to demonstrate why they are wrong.

          • Well Armed Sheep says:

            I find this argument completely unpersuasive and it is even unpersuasive on its own terms.

            What function do you imagine the insults to be playing in the relevant quote? Ok, it is not a formal ad hom in the sense that you’d see in a rhetoric textbook, but so what? The clear purpose of the pile of insults is to convince the reader that their target is a bad person that isn’t worth listening to. Circumlocuting around the actual words “ad hominem” because NR never closes the loop and explicitly says “Jordan Peterson is bad and so you shouldn’t believe his claims” is a pointless waste of effort. I don’t think the general use and understanding of the term “ad hominem” is limited to the technical rhetoric meaning of “only those arguments that explicitly take the form a is bad so reject a’s claim.” And I don’t think there is any particular reason why it would be good to reserve the concept of an ad hom for only explicit appeals of that form, when the vast majority of objectionable arguing is done through implicit appeals of that sort and the sort in the relevant quote.

            In short NR is at the very least implicitly making an ad hom attack and should be scolded.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            I mean, Scott here writes plenty of snark all the time, are we to say that these are implicitly ad hominem arguments and he should be scolded? Let people express things rudely, I say.

            I mean, I’m not going to defend Nathan Robinson as some sort of good, honest arguer because, well, that’s pretty clearly not the case. But I think that if you want to enforce this standard of how things are to be said, you are going to find that to violations everywhere

          • baconbits9 says:

            By the standards in the article linked the Robinson piece looks pretty clearly ad hominem to me.

            The mere presence of a personal attack does not indicate ad hominem: the attack must be used for the purpose of undermining the argument, or otherwise the logical fallacy isn’t there.

            Well straight from the Robinson piece

            This should be obvious to anyone who has spent even a few moments critically examining his writings and speeches, which are comically befuddled, pompous, and ignorant. They are half nonsense, half banality. In a reasonable world, Peterson would be seen as the kind of tedious crackpot that one hopes not to get seated next to on a train.

            This is the lead of the piece, it is clearly an attempt to undermine JP’s position, and is a personal attack. Had this paragraph come at the end Robinson could claim that it was his own opinion and that after providing evidence and letting the reader have a fair look at things he wanted to get his shots in, putting it up front makes it an entirely different strategy. It might not be 100% clear because he technically attacks Peterson’s writing, but that is the only defense against the charge of an Ad hominem attack here.

          • quanta413 says:

            But I think that if you want to enforce this standard of how things are to be said, you are going to find that to violations everywhere…

            Obviously. And every society known to man (past some nontrivial size) contains murderers, thieves, and liars. But it’s still worth trying to quash instances of murder, thievery, and lying.

            Scott’s not perfect, but he’s a couple standard deviations from the mean in terms of being charitable and actually making serious arguments.

  5. Fluffy Buffalo says:

    Welcome aboard the train, I guess.

    ETA: Yes, Peterson doesn’t serve the answers to the questions about meaning on a platter, like a cult leader might do. He believes it’s an individual matter, and offers some pointers for the search for a personal meaning, and assurance that the search is not in vain. I suppose that’s the best one can realistically do, and I hope the message doesn’t get lost too quickly.
    (I just had to think of the scene in “The Life Of Brian” where Brian tells the adoring crowd, “You’re all individuals! You’re all different!” and they all cheer in unison “We’re all different!”, and one guy shouts “I’m not!”)

    • Darwin says:

      Unless you happen to individually find meaning in Marxism or social justice or being politically active or happen to be trans. Right?

      Sorry if that sounds snarky, but I think it’s dangerous to pretend that he’s just trying to help people find their own meaning and is agnostic to where they find it, if in reality that’s not true and he very angrily constrains the space of acceptable meaning in some ways.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Unless you happen to individually find meaning in Marxism or social justice

        I guess. But I don’t think it’s going to be very productive for an individual who determines that their problems are all society’s fault. That’s why Peterson’s advice is to clean your room and then fix your family before you go trying to change the world, because those are things you can reasonably accomplish.

        or happen to be trans.

        What does that have to do with anything?

        • LadyJane says:

          Peterson actively and vehemently rejects trans identity, to the point where he’s explicitly stated that he will adamantly refuse to call trans people by their chosen pronouns. It’s partially because he’s upset with the perceived Social Justice establishment for trying to force everyone to use trans people’s preferred pronouns (though you’d think a great moral teacher with a keen understanding of the balance between Order and Chaos would be above such contrarianism, and understand the difference between genuine resistance to genuine oppression and mere petty spitefulness). But mostly it’s because he thinks that trans people’s identities are fundamentally false, and that respecting their identities would constitute a violation of his devotion to Truth.

          And unlike someone like Orson Scott Card, you can’t even say “well, he might have some awful personal opinions, but that doesn’t affect his work,” because the two are tied so closely together. Trans people’s identities being invalid is literally an essential part of his moral and philosophical ideology: In his eyes, trans people should accept that they are the gender they were assigned at birth, and it’s unethical and self-destructive to refuse your given role in society and try to become something else.

          It’s a shame, because judging from what I’ve heard, he does have some genuinely good ideas. But the sexism, transphobia, and support for traditional social roles and hierarchies is so prevalent in his work and so deeply-rooted in his worldview that it’s almost impossible to sort out the good from the bad.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Peterson actively and vehemently rejects trans identity, to the point where he’s explicitly stated that he will adamantly refuse to call trans people by their chosen pronouns.

            This is completely incorrect. He is opposed to being forced to say things, and has no problem with calling a person by their preferred pronouns. It’s just the compelled speech aspect to which he objects.

            I do not believe he has ever rejected trans identity at all, much less “actively” or “vehemently,” nor has he refused to call trans people by their chosen pronouns, much less done so “explicitly” or “adamantly.”

            I think you’re wrong in both magnitude and direction. The rest of your post is similarly bizarre, and you should check your sources.

          • Wency says:

            To clarify, I believe Peterson has only refused to use invented words such as “xir”, or at least he has objected to efforts by the Canadian government to mandate that he do so. He has expressed tolerance towards calling individuals with male biology “she” if they so insist.

            I don’t believe he has spent much (or any) time on trans people as such, which is probably about right for a self-help book directed at a general audience, as trans issues only directly affect a miniscule slice of the population.

            But the prospect of an Orwellian state apparatus that forces people to use certain words does affect pretty much everyone, and therefore he objected publicly.

          • LadyJane says:

            I don’t believe he has spent much (or any) time on trans people as such, which is probably about right for a self-help book directed at a general audience, as trans issues only directly affect a miniscule slice of the population.

            The reason trans people and LGBT activists have a problem with Peterson is not because his books don’t specifically address trans issues; obviously that would be a ridiculous and unrealistic expectation for general self-help books, which is why (to the best of my knowledge) no one was expecting it.

            If Peterson never talked about trans people at all, I wouldn’t have a problem with him. In fact, until he made a name for himself in 2016 by specifically denouncing trans people and the trans rights movement, I didn’t have a problem with him (or even know he existed, for that matter).

          • fnord says:

            He’s explicitly refused to use singular “they”, at the very least.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @fnord, I did too for a while, because I believed that it contributes to unclear and confusing writing by risking making it unclear whether a sentence’s referring to one or multiple persons.

            Unfortunately, I later learned it has centuries of precedent in some aspects of the English language. I still don’t like it, but I don’t think I have standing to object in normal conversation anymore.

          • russellsteapot42 says:

            This is a misrepresentation of Jordan Peterson’s beliefs about transexuality. If you want an exploration of his actual position in that area, you’d be best off watching the interviews he did with Theryn Meyer, a trans woman youtuber and activist.

          • Aapje says:

            @LadyJane

            The reason trans people and LGBT activists have a problem with Peterson is not […] In fact, until he made a name for himself in 2016 by specifically denouncing trans people and the trans rights movement

            I don’t think that you can speak for all trans people and/or claim that they all have a problem with Peterson. Peterson himself claims to have had letters of support from trans people.

            I also disagree that Peterson denounced trans people and the trans rights movement. He specifically denounces one kind of demand/activism. My understanding is that trans people and trans activism are/is quite diverse.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            @Evan Þ:

            Unfortunately, I later learned [singular ‘they’] has centuries of precedent in some aspects of the English language. I still don’t like it, but I don’t think I have standing to object in normal conversation anymore.

            As I understand it, singular ‘they’ has long standing as a pronoun for a generic, unspecified person, but not as a pronoun for a specific named person. At any rate, I find that it is much easier to use it in the first way than the second way.

            That’s not to say that I don’t try to use it in the second way as well if I know that it is important to someone, but it is something that takes more cognitive effort.

          • 天可汗 says:

            As I understand it, singular ‘they’ has long standing as a pronoun for a generic, unspecified person, but not as a pronoun for a specific named person.

            Yes. I’ve seen plenty of claims that singular they “goes back to Chaucer!!!” and the examples are always using it in the generic sense, rather than in the specific sense.

            The extent to which languages can vary grammatically isn’t always obvious to laymen — even linguists had the unfortunate habit of trying to describe languages as having the exact case system of Latin until relatively recently (see James Fraser’s grammar of Lisu, which is distantly related and grammatically similar to Chinese, for an example) — but I see even people with enough linguistic training that they damned well know better repeat the singular-they lie.

            Until there’s a corpus of real examples with singular ‘they’ being used for a specific, named person, as a gender-neutral equivalent to ‘he’ or ‘she’, these centuries-of-precedent claims can only be seen as on par with young-Earth creationism.

          • Aapje says:

            Using ‘they’ for a single person makes me perceive my writing as linguistically incorrect, so I instead use the name of a person who doesn’t want to be addressed with gendered pronouns.

          • LadyJane says:

            I don’t think that you can speak for all trans people and/or claim that they all have a problem with Peterson. Peterson himself claims to have had letters of support from trans people.

            Fair point. I didn’t mean to imply that all trans people had a problem with him, simply that the trans community did. But even that’s an overly broad generalization. Suffice to say, Peterson is quite unpopular among some vocal sects of the LGBT rights movement.

            Using ‘they’ for a single person makes me perceive my writing as linguistically incorrect, so I instead use the name of a person who doesn’t want to be addressed with gendered pronouns.

            That makes sense to me. It’s a tricky situation, and I’m not entirely sure what the best solution is.

            I don’t particularly care for newly-created pronouns myself, I think they’re confusing for most people (and honestly, a little silly). They probably don’t improve the general public’s impression of non-binary people, to say the least. I would use xe/xir pronouns if someone really wanted me to, but I’d greatly prefer to use they/them and I’d probably default to those unless it seriously bothered the person in question. (Although the fact that I’ve never encountered someone using those pronouns – despite knowing a good deal of trans and non-binary and intersex people – makes me wonder if the whole issue of alternative pronouns hasn’t been greatly exaggerated by people trying to make trans people or the trans community look bad.)

            At the same time, I can understand why some people would have issues using the singular “they” too. But non-binary people exist, and their identities are valid, and at least some of them feel extremely distressed by being referred to with male or female pronouns. So I can’t endorse any argument that they should just suck it up and accept a role within the gender binary because “society shouldn’t cater to the whims of 0.1% of the population,” as I’ve heard some people argue. I couldn’t even endorse a trans-inclusive form of that argument that allowed them to choose one of the two conventional genders, rather than sticking with the one they were assigned at birth (as a trans woman, I’d feel like a self-centered hypocrite for drawing the line of acceptability just far enough to include me, without include people even further from the gender norm).

            Probably the best long-term solution is to encourage a gradual shift in how society views sex and gender, which is exactly what’s currently happening, but that’s bound to produce some tension in the short-term for all parties involved.

          • On the singular “they” issue.

            I don’t like it even for the case where it has long been used–a singular but indefinite person. It feels wrong in terms of the internal logic of the language.

            The right solution is to develop a gender indefinite pronoun, analogous to “Ms,” which came into use as a marital status indefinite term. But so far it hasn’t happened—nobody seems to have come up with a candidate that feels obvious and comfortable the way that “Ms,” what you say when you are trying not to make it clear if you are saying “Miss” or “Mrs,” was.

          • liskantope says:

            I don’t think that you can speak for all trans people and/or claim that they all have a problem with Peterson. Peterson himself claims to have had letters of support from trans people.

            Indeed, I’ve seen videos from trans YouTubers like this one (not endorsing the rhetoric used in that video, though).

            My argument in favor of singular “they” could be briefly summed up as follows. Yes, it’s true that the English language doesn’t have a history of using singular “they” for specified individuals, but which feels like a more natural-seeming direction for us to push our language in: singular “they” becoming correct when referring to specific individuals, or brand new personal pronouns entering the lexicon?

          • russellsteapot42 says:

            Indeed, I feel that while singular ‘they’ is a bit awkward, I think it’s far less awkward than any possible alternative, and it seems clear to me that our society is in dire need of a gender neutral pronoun.

            Wider society is pretty much never going to accept Xir, zhe, etc, because they sound alien, but most people wouldn’t be able to tell you whether singular they was wrong if you asked them.

            We might go to our graves thinking it’s awkward, but if it’s proponents use it widely enough, our children won’t understand why there was ever a dispute, just like only English Language historians would understand why it would ever have been awkward to refer to a stranger as ‘you’.

          • liskantope says:

            @russellsteapot42: +1

            Irrelevant nitpick: the singular pronoun “you” used to be used only towards strangers (and I’m not sure it was used in the singular at all originally).

          • russellsteapot42 says:

            I knew it was something like that, but I guess I need to brush up on my Shakespearian.

          • 天可汗 says:

            “You” was originally the second-person plural pronoun, but developed into a formal singular. Similar developments occurred throughout Europe: French vous is from the second-person plural (as is Spanish vos, but that isn’t used in all dialects; Spanish pronoun developments are, for a European language, unusually complicated), German Sie is from the third-person plural, and so on.

            Then the informal singular “thou” disappeared entirely because [off-color remark about the racial characteristics of the English]

          • engleberg says:

            @a candidate that feels right and comfortable like Ms-

            Ms got a lot of help from the US southern accent for ‘Miss’. Saying ‘Miz’ was pretty close, and people still pronounce Ms as Miz because vowels are musical and z has a nice buzz. The Orion’s Arm ‘e’ for anyone in a far future where e might be a sentient computer software, an uplifted raccoon, or an alien, would gain traction from Enery Iggins.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’m very comfortable with the singular “they”. I’m not sure why, but I’ve wondered whether there’s a regional influence.

          • Urthman says:

            most people wouldn’t be able to tell you whether singular they was wrong if you asked them.

            But I’m having trouble thinking of uses of specific “they” that wouldn’t be confusing to the average person.

            “When Chris gets home, they will take you to the store”
            (Who else is going?)

            “Sam went to their room”
            (Sam has a roommate?)

            “Alex can fix their own sandwich.”
            (Okay, I think that one works, it might sound weird but is unlikely to be mistaken. I think it’s safe to use as a possessive with an object that isn’t typically shared. “Jesse spilled coffee on their shirt” is no more ambiguous than “Dave spilled coffee on his shirt.” But my brain does expect Jesse spilled coffee on some people’s somethings until the word “shirt” comes out and it does a double-take.)

            I’m trying here for examples where you really want a pronoun because “Sam went to Sam’s room” or “Jesse spilled coffee on Jesse’s shirt” sounds awkward and affected.

      • warrel says:

        For what it’s worth, there is a ‘Rules for Life for young people’ book by a High-Octane French “Maoist” intellectual which came out in 2017: Alan Badiou’s The True Life. Maybe it’s his bid to be the far-left Jordan Peterson?

  6. suntzuanime says:

    If Truth is what helps societies survive and people become better, can’t a devoted Communist say that believing the slogans of the Party will help society and make you a better person? Isn’t a transgender person who says they’re their chosen gender more likely to flourish and become strong than one who insists on their birth gender?

    You’re confusing claims with facts. The Communist can say that Communism is metaphorically true and helps society and et cetera, but the Communist is wrong about this (and at this point showing a reckless disregard for the truth). By their fruits, Scott, by their fruits! Peterson doesn’t just say these metaphorical truths are helpful, he argues for it and points to various evidences. Look at what happens when people believe the slogans of the party, does that feel like flourishing to you?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      The original fascists/communists didn’t have fruits to look at. I’m sure they assumed things would go great. We don’t need something that tells us today, in 2018, that fascism/communism is bad. We need something that would have told people that in the 1940s, or can tell us today that the latest Hot New Thing is bad.

      We need something that can tell us not to spread misleading propaganda without solving every object-level issue. I don’t want to have to disprove all of the economic theses in Das Kapital (or until a hundred million people have already died) before I’m allowed to say you can’t lie and silence people to promote Marxism.

      • RandomName says:

        Well, you can generalize the past experiences into rules. In that case, Peterson generalizes the experience “It was the great and the small lies of the Nazi and Communist states that produced the deaths of millions of people.” to “And, above all, don’t lie. Don’t lie about anything, ever. Lying leads to Hell.”

        If you’re asking “Well what if some new ambiguous situation, not involving lying or anything like what we’ve previously seen at all comes up? Then what?” Well… why should there BE a way of knowing? Maybe the best we can really do is try out truly novel ideas, preferably in a controlled or limited setting, and see what happens. You can’t always know the results of an experiment before doing it, right?

        • Darwin says:

          >“It was the great and the small lies of the Nazi and Communist states that produced the deaths of millions of people.”

          This is one of the most baffling sentiments to me, and I would be interested if anyone else has a batter explanation of it.

          To me, it seems like it was, you know, the guns and tanks of the Nazi and Communist states, or having violent psychopaths for leaders, that led to most of those deaths. I don’t think the leaders of those countries were intentional liars, I think they were true believers in a bad ideology; and surely they used propaganda to manipulate the masses, but so has every government, good or bad, since the dawn of time.

          I don’t see how ‘lies’ is the defining characteristic that separates Nazi and Communist regimes from other governments. Unless he’s using ‘lies’ to mean ‘bad ideas’, which is wildly misleading in my opinion, and seems perfectly calibrated to give people the wrong idea.

          ‘Don’t hold or follow bad ideas’ is very very different life advice from ‘don’t lie, ever’.

          • toastengineer says:

            To me, it seems like it was, you know, the guns and tanks of the Nazi and Communist states, or having violent psychopaths for leaders

            I’m not super convinced by this myself but I’m trying to steelman a bit:

            The guns and tanks would’ve been useless if there hadn’t been people eager to man them, or at least people eager to force their neighbors to pretend to be eager to man them.

            If Hitler had tried to make a truth-based argument for why Jewish conspirators were responsible for Germany not being a nice place to live, no-one would have listened to him because there simply was no such true evidence. It was because he built his arguments out of seductive lies that he actually came in to power in the first place. And, yanno, ‘cos he murdered all the other political parties and such, but again he wouldn’t have been able to do that without a heck of a lot of lying and convincing.

            If the Communists were truly basing what they did on truth they would have said “aww shucks, looks like the whole ‘eliminate the capitalist framework and everyone will stop responding to material incentives’ thing isn’t working out, I guess we’d better try something else.”

          • suntzuanime says:

            If Hitler had tried to make a truth-based argument for why Jewish conspirators were responsible for Germany not being a nice place to live, no-one would have listened to him because there simply was no such true evidence.

            Well, no, there was evidence. Hitler wasn’t just making shit up out of whole cloth, he could point to e.g. the actual Jewish conspirators involved in the establishment of the Bavarian Soviet Republic. He had a pretty iron-clad argument for the existence of Jewish conspirators undermining the German state, the problem was what he extrapolated it to and the ideological gloss he gave it.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            I’ve only lived about 10 years in a communist dictatorship, but I have some idea about this.

            Imagine a society in which a good part of life is play pretend. Many people don’t really care, but among those that think and feel and care, they all behave completely different in public than in private.

            I have a couple of stark memories from my childhood. One is my father cursing “the beloved leader” in the privacy of our home, and the other is my parents’ scared reaction when I behaved liked a normal child sponge and said “The Idiot” once. They took time and care to explain to me that he’s most definitely not an idiot but a great man, and _definitely_ don’t say anything bad about him in public.

            You’re thinking lies are something some people say and others believe. Not all. The ones we’re talking about here are the lies society tells itself. They’re a Nash equilibrium where everybody thinks the same things, but they can only live the lie – any minority to do otherwise would be punished severely.

            There were no lying leaders and believing followers, they never were, actually – they usually come to power by violent means. That’s why when it ends, it ends suddenly and completely. Anybody still supporting the regime 10 days after the revolution would have been regarded not as an enemy, but simply a bit slow or stupid.

            (Romania, btw).

          • Jack Lecter says:

            @Darwin

            surely they used propaganda to manipulate the masses, but so has every government, good or bad, since the dawn of time.

            This feels true to me, but I haven’t ever actually checked, and I’ve heard it disputed by people who didn’t strike me as stupid. (Most notably by those folks we’re not supposed to mention by name.) It also seems like there are degrees of this- some societies seem to have a lot more propaganda than others.

            I guess I’m saying: this isn’t the sort of thing you’d have a simple citation for, but is there any reason in particular to think it’s true other than it seems plausible?

            EDIT: tl;dr: I’m reflexively skeptical wrt claims of the form ‘all X are Y’ when provided with no support, even if my own experience has been that in fact all X are Y.

          • Mary says:

            “In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is…in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control.”
            ― Theodore Dalrymple

            He then added, “I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.”

          • Tracy W says:

            The facists’ economic policies were failures too. In The Wages of Destruction, Adam Tooze makes a pretty good argument that the Nazis went to war to loot the resources to keep their economy running. For a little bit longer.

            Some of those lies were hiding the true prices of economic goods.

          • Urthman says:

            He then added, “I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.”

            If someone thinks all or even most of the people saying “You shouldn’t equate Islam and terrorism” or “Biological differences are not why there are so few women in the tech industry” or “People who are transgender is a legitimate thing” secretly believe that pretty much all Muslims support terrorism, there just aren’t very many women with the mathematical aptitude to be programmers, and people who think they are transgender are just mentally ill or something, then I would say that person is the one lying to themselves, not the people arguing that these ideas are so demonstrably wrong and harmful you should expect social censure if you propound them.

      • suntzuanime says:

        The original fascists/communists didn’t have fruits to look at. I’m sure they assumed things would go great.

        Is that actually true, though? We’ve talked about good and evil, and how you know what they are but sometimes you bullshit yourself. I doubt if you honestly endorse the claim that the fascists were legitimately and earnestly trying to do good, instead of indulging their hate with whatever justifications they could find. The communists have better PR, but there was an awful lot of hatred and desire for plunder powering them too.

        I think Peterson would say that he’s not spreading misleading propaganda, that these deep metaphorical truths exactly do not lead you amiss and that’s why they’re deep and true. I don’t think he’s in to silencing people at all, I’m not sure where that came from?

        Let’s take Marxist economics as an example – I don’t think it’s obvious that it’s wrong to promulgate metaphors which encapsulate Marxist economics. I think you actually need to know that Marxist economics is wrong to know that that’s the case. I don’t think the metaphorical claim, as he sees it, is any more or less a lie than the clinical reductionist claim it’s a metaphor for.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I’ll bite the bullet and say a lot of fascists thought they were doing good – maybe not all the higher-ups, but at least the rank-and-file. And even the higher-ups just probably didn’t have a clear concept of “good”. If they had performed the mental operation “check if what you’re doing is actually good”, I think it would have come out positive.

          I think it’s overly easy to say our opponents secretly know they’re evil, but we know in our hearts we’re motivated by the right things.

          I’m not sure what you mean by the Marxist econ paragraph. I agree that it’s not wrong to promulgate things you believe. It might be wrong to spread misleading propaganda about them because “the ends justify the means”. I’m not sure what pragmatism has to say about this.

          • fontesmustgo says:

            Everyone thinks that they’re doing “good,” even the higher-ups within brutal fascist regimes. They defined their happiness and security as the highest goods, and consequentialismed their way to justifying the suffering of others. But at all times they were serving the good as they understood it. The math always worked out to creating more good than evil.

            All evil is done this way. All evil is done by deciding that the good I am experiencing outweighs the suffering (if any) of others.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Well, I think this is where you disagree with Jordan Peterson. He thinks the fascists should have known better.

            I don’t know in my heart that I’m motivated by the right things. I’m a petty little shithead. I don’t even give all my money to malaria charities.

            Again, I think Peterson would agree that it’s wrong to spread misleading propaganda. He doesn’t think that these claims about God he endorses are actually misleading.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @fontesmustgo is absolutely right. The attitude of the Nazi leadership towards the worst of the things which they did – see for example Himmler’s Posen speeches – indicates they saw their actions as justified and necessary.

          • suntzuanime says:

            The Nazis claimed to see what they were doing as justified and necessary. This isn’t incompatible with Peterson’s theory! He says that people will bullshit themselves that what they’re doing isn’t wrong. That’s all the Posen speeches are.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I’m not responding to Peterson, I’m responding to Scott’s statement:

            And even the higher-ups just probably didn’t have a clear concept of “good”.

          • Jack Lecter says:

            @scott:

            I think it’s overly easy to say our opponents secretly know they’re evil, but we know in our hearts we’re motivated by the right things.

            Alternate framework: Everyone knows in their hearts what motivates them, everyone is motivated by humanly understandable impulses, but whether those impulses get spun as ‘good’ or ‘evil’ is heavily determined by circumstance.

            This could be true even of things everyone seems to agree are good; in one of my writing classes last semester, we were studying memoirs, and the teacher stressed that it was important to be honest… about the emotional truth. How exactly this differed from the literal truth was never clearly defined, but in cases where the two conflicted we were advised to go with the former.

          • The fascists get a generally darker image in our society than the communists, but I agree with Scott’s skepticism.

            One of John Buchan’s novels, The House of the Four Winds, is set in a fictional central European country and involves a political youth movement called Juventus. My guess reading it was that it was a reasonably friendly portrait of a nascent fascist movement before it had taken power.

          • Viliam says:

            I think National Socialists tried to keep the existence of concentration camps secret. Why would they do that, if they sincerely believed this was the right thing to do?

            Similarly, Communists did not talk much about their gulags, secret services, uranium mines, et cetera. Again, why, if they sincerely believed this was the right thing to do?

            (People who sincerely believe they are doing a good and important thing — effective altruists, vegetarians, etc. — often can’t stop talking about what they do and why they do it.)

            Sometimes people prefer not to talk about things because they prefer not to think about them too much.

          • Evan Þ says:

            I think National Socialists tried to keep the existence of concentration camps secret. Why would they do that, if they sincerely believed this was the right thing to do?

            Perhaps they believed it was the right thing to do, but also (correctly!) believed that other people would vehemently disagree?

            (Also, it was pretty much an open secret by midway through the war.)

          • Mary says:

            I think National Socialists tried to keep the existence of concentration camps secret. Why would they do that, if they sincerely believed this was the right thing to do?

            Based on their rhetoric to those in the know, they thought it was the bitter, tragic lesser of two evils.

            Which, to be sure, let them talk up the suffering of those who had to do these horrible things instead that of those who suffered it.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Viliam

            I think National Socialists tried to keep the existence of concentration camps secret. Why would they do that, if they sincerely believed this was the right thing to do?

            I’d have to doublecheck this, but I’m pretty sure the concentration camps they opened in Germany in the 30s, the transit camps they built in various places, etc, were not secrets – when they were initially opened, the prisoner population was small and made up of political enemies and people deemed “asocial” – there would have been no deterrent effect, which was part of the aim. As time went on, more and more people and categories of people were sent to camps. If I recall correctly, they had one or two which were kind of Potemkin camps, which certainly wouldn’t have been hidden.

            The death camps and combined concentration/death camps like the whole Auschwitz camp system (where those capable of working were generally put in working and living conditions such that they would be worked to death, while those deemed incapable of working were generally immediately murdered) and the mass shootings in the East were secret, but as Evan Þ notes, these were not particularly well-kept secrets – especially the mass shootings, because they were carried out not only by SS men but by police units under SS command and also regular soldiers (both German and German-allied), so more people were involved directly or as witnesses. Officers commanding German units would know that this stuff was going on behind the lines, sometimes they helped, sometimes they just sort of tried to ignore it, almost never did they protest or try to stop it. The death and dual-purpose camps were better-kept secrets, but there were still enough people involved that it would be impossible to keep it secret, enough people outside of the extermination effort would have been involved in using the slave labour in the dual-purpose camps that they would get a decent idea of what was going on, and people in general knew something bad was happening to Jews being deported from Western Europe or rounded up in Eastern European ghettoes.

            Outside of this, the Germans did a poor job of hiding their crimes in general: German soldiers and police took pictures of the executions of civilians targeted for death, suspected of being partisans, or just chosen at random in retaliation for partisan attacks, it would have been fairly common knowledge that Soviet POWs were starving to death, that civilians (especially in Eastern Europe and the USSR) were often killed out of hand or treated in a way that would likely lead to death, etc.

            But they tried to hide their crimes, or, at least, some of them. This wasn’t because they didn’t think what they were doing was OK, it was because they knew other people wouldn’t think what they were doing was OK, as others have pointed out.

            If someone does something and hides it, they must at least have thought it was OK enough to do it. People might tell themselves “oh, I didn’t really want to do that, but it was my only choice/I was compelled/whatever” but I think a fair of that is just self-deception.

        • fontesmustgo says:

          I doubt if you honestly endorse the claim that the fascists were legitimately and earnestly trying to do good, instead of indulging their hate with whatever justifications they could find.

          Their justification was that what they were doing was good – or at least a greater good than the harms they were creating. Their math always worked out so that the good created by their happiness was greater than the harm they caused.

      • Leonard says:

        We don’t need something that tells us today, in 2018, that fascism/communism is bad.

        Actually I think we do. Sad! I mean, we have the fascism thing pretty straight (albeit largely as a point of faith), but communism is still hip as can be. Did you know that the Young Karl Marx got drunk with his good buddy Engels? “The founders of Communism, full of intensity and ambition and sporting contrasting beards, look and act like pioneers of brocialism.”

        I agree that it would be even better to have a thing that tells us about Hot New Thing.

        • Doctor Locketopus says:

          >Actually I think we do. Sad! I mean, we have the fascism thing pretty straight (albeit largely as a point of faith), but communism is still hip as can be.

          Indeed. Unlike being a Nazi, being a Marxist appears to be no hindrance when it comes to (for example) getting tenure. That needs to change.

          • Freddie deBoer says:

            Speaking as a communist, Marxism is out of fashion in the academy. Workers are not currently a sexy fundamental object of interest.

          • Doctor Locketopus says:

            “Out of fashion” (to the limited extent that’s true) is an entirely different thing from being ejected from the academy entirely.

            Marxist professors are tolerated in the academy while Nazi ones are not.

            As I said, that needs to change (to be perfectly clear: that change should not be in the direction of tolerating Nazis in the academy).

          • Freddie deBoer says:

            There’s this whole idea of intellectual and political freedom in academia. You might have heard of it; it’s currently protecting someone like Jordan Peterson from his many critics.

          • Doctor Locketopus says:

            > There’s this whole idea of intellectual and political freedom in academia. You might have heard of it;

            Yeah, I have. That doesn’t mean faculties of chemistry are still obligated to hire alchemists or those who believe in the phlogiston theory, nor does it mean that faculties of medicine are still obligated to hire those who believe that being shot with arrows by elves is a significant cause of disease, nor those who believe that routine bleeding is a useful therapeutic technique.

            The Marxist experiment was run multiple times in the last century, and degenerated into slavery, starvation, and mass murder every single time.

            At this point, it has no further place in the academy (except perhaps among historians who specialize in atrocities), and is no longer an intellectually tenable subject of scholarship. It needs to go.

          • Aapje says:

            @Freddie deBoer

            There’s this whole idea of intellectual and political freedom in academia.

            As the Heterodox Academy argues (and IMO convincingly), many parts of academia have given up on this goal, in favor of a Social Justice agenda, where heterodox opinions are no longer accepted.

            One paper found that in psychology, a large percentage of liberal academics say that they would discriminate against conservatives, when given the chance. The who would discriminate when hiring seems high enough, that any non-liberal would likely be blocked from being hired, by one of the people who are involved in the hiring procedure.

            We see exactly the kind of slow cleansing of moderates and conservatives that you would expect if the entrance to many parts of academia filters out moderates and conservatives.

            Also, various academics, like Bret Weinstein, were not in fact protected (note that he is very liberal, but one who holds at least one opinion with is currently anathema among American Liberals).

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            Speaking as a neoliberal, I gotta side with Freddie here. The right analog to a Nazi professor might be a Stalinist professor, which I don’t think would be tolerated.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Freddie deBoer

            What do you make of the people who say “Smash capitlalism!”?

          • Freddie deBoer says:

            Usually I buy them a beer.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            What do you make of the people who say “Smash capitlalism!”?

            Usually I buy them a beer.

            buy

            Hypocrite! 😉

          • Freddie deBoer says:

            Hypocrite!

            Truly, there is no ethical living under capitalism.

          • I think we need to carefully distinguish between two types of “communism” in academia. There’s the unintereisting, unsophisticated, and possibly dangerous (even to my Marxist values) demagogic variant (which I’d call “not real scientific socialism,” but whatever…for the purposes of this conversation)…for example, someone screaming “down with capitalism!” to his/her students. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’d be surprised if anyone got tenure for such ideas. First because, they are normative and thus not really debatable in any interesting way. Second, because they are uninteresting.

            Then there are sophisticated communists. Your Anwar Shaikhs. Your Andrew Klimans (who argues, for example, from a Marxists perspective that the stagnation of workers’ total compensation since the 1970s has been overstated by other Marxists). For me, Michael Roberts is borderline because he suffers from the syndrome of constantly shouting “recession is right around the corner!” which is not a useful hypothesis without getting much more specific than he does. If he wants my attention, he should be forecasting how long the current boom will last. “The economy’s going to be great for at least the next two years, barring some shock external to the internal logic of capitalism” would be an argument worth hearing. He has some interesting research on how the rate of profit drives investment, and not vice-versa, but a lot of his other writing borders on demagogy.

            The question is, are you seriously going to call for the Anwar Shaikhs and Andrew Klimans of the world to be denied tenure? That’s not only a bad principle…it could also be seriously harmful to our ability to approach some practically useful truth. Like, maybe you think 90% of their stuff is rubbish…but they are well-read enough to engage with mainstream economics, and maybe in their mixtures of mainstream economics and Marxist economics there is some new insight that allows us to dampen the next recession? Like, Michal Kalecki…would you wish that he had never gotten a chance to teach or write his books?

            Now, turning to Nazis…first we have the unsophisticated Nazis. Whatever, we don’t need them in academia, which I think will be obvious just on the lack of interesting things in their work itself (regardless of how controversial their normative claims might be). But what about the sophisticated Nazis? I say, sure, let them into academia. The thing is, you’ll have to show me what a sophisticated version of Nazism looks like. I’m having a hard time envisioning it. But I won’t rule out it exists. If I had to steelman a sophisticated version of Nazism, it would go something like this:

            “1. We Nazis agree with the communists that economic inequality will always generate political inequality. “Liberal democracy” is a sham. The pretense of having equal political power while wealthy bankers run the economy is laughable. Such a situation is always going to breed corruption and dissatisfaction when people realize how short liberal democracy falls relative to what it promises.
            2. However, we disagree with the communists that economic equality is possible. It is not. Economic inequality is inevitable and necessary for a thriving society.
            3. Therefore, we must reconcile ourselves to the fact that there will always be both economic AND political inequality. In other words, we will always be living in some sort of aristocracy. The only question is, who will be the aristocrats and who will be the slaves?

            In theory, anybody could be the aristocrats, but we will get more enrichment of our culture, virtues, genetic health, etc. if some people are the aristocrats rather than others. This enrichment will benefit the slaves too (and remember, it is inevitable that there will be slaves, whether wage-slaves or chattel slaves or serfs), so the best utilitarian course of action for everyone is to identify the strongest, healthiest, most mindful, most intelligent, most virtuous people to be the aristocrats. Now, how do we identify those individuals who are the strongest, healthiest, most mindful, etc.? How can we measure those traits? Maybe we should be Christian supremacists since we will get the most virtuous society if they are the aristocrats. Maybe we should be Mexican supremacists. Maybe we should become high-IQ supremacists…”

            Liberal: “But don’t you know that we will have the most virtuous society if we aren’t any kind of supremacist? If we make nobody into aristocrats or slaves?”

            Sophisticated Nazi: “Oh, you liberal. Yeah, your utopian fairy-tale dream would be nice. But even you haven’t attained it in your favorite societies, and people still correctly sense that they are still slaves. Better to be enslaved to the ubermenschen than to the Rothschilds!”

          • Jack Lecter says:

            Marxist professors are tolerated in the academy while Nazi ones are not.

            Some of us old-fashioned liberals might want to change the former condition rather than the latter.

            I mean, I have the idea most fascists are dumb, and I’m not advocating that the academy employ dumb people, but I also have the idea that an fascist who happened not to be dumb would probably be blacklisted for their political views, and I’m not thrilled about that. And the more broadly we define ‘fascist’, the less thrilled I get; sloppy definitions teach imprecise habits of thought, and I’d like to keep imprecise habits of thought out of the institutions which are putatively aimed at molding young minds.

            Maybe the colleges should stop conflating ‘this is a disrespectable opinion’ with ‘this is a toxic opinion that must be quarantined’. Not (necessarily) because toxic opinions don’t exist, but because exposure to them can also have beneficial effects and we’re not that great at weighing those against the positives.

          • That doesn’t mean faculties of chemistry are still obligated to hire alchemists

            There are two different issues being conflated here.

            If an economics department is trying to hire someone in trade economics and the candidate is a mercantilist, and it becomes clear that the reason he is a mercantilist is that he doesn’t understand the principle of comparative advantage, he doesn’t, and shouldn’t, get hired. That’s the alchemist case.

            But what if a math department is considering a candidate who turns out to think South African Apartheid was a good thing. That’s irrelevant to his ability as a mathematician, so not a good reason not to hire him. But my guess is that it will count heavily against him in practice.

            There is the intermediate case that Citizencokane raises. Suppose the job is in political science and the Apartheid supporter is a highly intelligent person who offers arguments for apartheid that people in the department cannot readily rebut. Insofar as intellectual diversity is a good thing—we would be better educated if we understood the arguments for the views we disagree with—they should hire him. But again, they probably won’t.

          • Viliam says:

            Speaking as a communist, Marxism is out of fashion in the academy. Workers are not currently a sexy fundamental object of interest.

            We have this weird “Marxism in form but without the substance” thing, where there is the eternal battle between the privileged and the oppressed… only the prototype of the “oppressed” is no longer a starving working-class person, but a multigendered dragonkin trust fund kid.

            The actual starving working-class person is probably quite problematic, because they don’t have all the latest politically correct opinions, and maybe not even a Twitter account. Which is probably good, because if they ever start tweeting, the dragonkin is going to make sure they get fired for something. (Seriously, how did “get people fired from their jobs” ever become a left-wing tactics? I mean, that is a weapon designed specifically against the working class…)

          • Doctor Locketopus says:

            > The question is, are you seriously going to call for the Anwar Shaikhs and Andrew Klimans of the world to be denied tenure?

            Yes, that is exactly what I am calling for. Likewise the latter-day Marxist heretics that are called (by their detractors) “social justice warriors”.

            If your ideas have resulted in the murder of a hundred million people, they have no place in the academy or, for that matter, in any bastion of civilized society.

            > The thing is, you’ll have to show me what a sophisticated version of Nazism looks like. I’m having a hard time envisioning it.

            Try Joseph Goebbels (PhD, literature, University of Heidelberg, 1921). Or Josef Mengele, (PhD, anthropology, University of Munich, 1934. MD cum laude, University of Munich, 1938). Or dozens of others, ranging from the dentists who extracted the gold teeth from the victims in the camps to Wernher “I aim for the stars, but somehow I keep hitting London” von Braun (PhD, physics, Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität, 1939).

            The reason you don’t see many “sophisticated” Nazis around nowadays is that it is no longer socially acceptable for sophisticated people to espouse the principles of National Socialism.

            The same needs to be made true for Marxism.

          • j r says:

            @David Friedman

            There is the intermediate case that Citizencokane raises. Suppose the job is in political science and the Apartheid supporter is a highly intelligent person who offers arguments for apartheid that people in the department cannot readily rebut. Insofar as intellectual diversity is a good thing—we would be better educated if we understood the arguments for the views we disagree with—they should hire him. But again, they probably won’t.

            This is a strange comment. There is no argument for apartheid that is not either the political, economic or ethical equivalent of alchemy. It’s weird that you can see this with trade economics, but not with apartheid.

            @Freddie deBoer

            Truly, there is no ethical living under capitalism.

            I like these kind of re-purposed conceptions of original sin.

          • 天可汗 says:

            Speaking as a communist, Marxism is out of fashion in the academy. Workers are not currently a sexy fundamental object of interest.

            Marxism is out of fashion everywhere. Marxist kitsch isn’t, even though most of the people who take it up would hate actual Marxism. Surely you’re aware of the phenomenon of self-proclaimed “Communists” insisting that, actually, so much as thinking the word “class” detracts from the truly important struggle of ensuring that the ‘diverse’ section of the rich can get even richer.

          • Jack Lecter says:

            @j r:

            This is a strange comment. There is no argument for apartheid that is not either the political, economic or ethical equivalent of alchemy. It’s weird that you can see this with trade economics, but not with apartheid.

            He kind of addresses this on his blog, where he’s got an essay sketching out this example:

            When I offer this thought experiment, a common response is that there are no intelligent supporters of apartheid, hence the additional information shows something wrong with the prospective hire. I take that response as evidence in favor of my thesis. Almost nobody who makes it has had the opportunity to argue apartheid with a serious, sophisticated supporter–indeed, I suspect many of them have never met anyone who would admit to supporting it at all. Yet we know that millions of white South Africans did support it for quite a long period; it is a considerable stretch to claim that none of them could have been intelligent and thoughtful. And, in my thought experiment, the supporter of apartheid has already demonstrated sufficient ability to make him a strong candidate before his unfortunate political beliefs are discovered. The confident belief that no reasonable person could support a position that many otherwise reasonable people did support is strong evidence of the failure to be exposed to a sufficiently diverse range of views.

            It seems to me that there’s a difference between apartheid and alchemy, albeit kind of an artificial one: alchemy boils down to questions of fact, whereas apartheid is a question of policy. We should expect the latter to contain tradeoffs, although they may be one-sided, and to involve Humean ‘oughts’, about which there’s no easily verifiable ‘fact of the matter’.

            If I parse Friedman correctly, he’d be fine with rejecting a candidate for believing some disproved fact in a field relevant to the position, but not for believing in a disproved fact in another field or for holding distasteful ethical views. This is my own view of the matter, though, so there’s always the chance that I’m projecting it onto him.

          • There is no argument for apartheid that is not either the political, economic or ethical equivalent of alchemy.

            Do you know this after arguing the question with an intelligent supporter of apartheid, or is it your assumption that there were none?

            If the answer is that you have never had such an argument, you might want to consider what your view would be of someone who made a claim like yours about some position you hold without ever having discussed it with a serious defender.

          • Doctor Locketopus says:

            > The actual starving working-class person is probably quite problematic, because they don’t have all the latest politically correct opinions

            Indeed. Many of them even voted for Reagan (or, more recently, Trump).

            The election of Reagan marks good dividing point between traditional Marxism and the modern SJW offshoot thereof. Those rubes simply would not shut up and do as their intellectual betters ordered.

            After the actual proletariat (as opposed to the fantasy proletariat that exists only in Marx’s fever dreams) disappointed them so, they tacitly agreed to, as Brecht put it, “dissolve the people and elect another”. Thus the constant search for new victim groups that need an academic to “speak for” them. Any victim group member who doesn’t agree to this is promptly burned as a witch.

            Fortunately, the SJW-Marxists aren’t yet in a position to use the same direct dissolution methods as Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, Kim, et al., and thus must limit themselves to vilifying their opponents on Twitter and trying to get them fired.

          • j r says:

            @ David Friedman

            Do you know this after arguing the question with an intelligent supporter of apartheid, or is it your assumption that there were none?

            I am sure that there were plenty of thoughtful and intelligent supporters of apartheid, just as there were thoughtful and intelligent supporters of North American chattel slavery or the Shoah. There are even thoughtful and intelligent believers in alchemy and astrology and Illuminati conspiracy theories. So what?

            My comment was about the argument and not the person making the argument. I will say it again. There is no argument for apartheid that is not either the political, economic or ethical equivalent of alchemy. That is, a successful argument would require logical and historical transformations that are at odds with the reality of what apartheid was.

            If you want to argue that belief in alchemy shouldn’t be a disqualifying, that’s fine. But you were the one who called the disqualifying case by the name of “the Alchemist case.”

            @ Jack

            If I parse Friedman correctly, he’d be fine with rejecting a candidate for believing some disproved fact in a field relevant to the position, but not for believing in a disproved fact in another field or for holding distasteful ethical views.

            OK, now we are getting somewhere. The problem is that the distasteful ethical view in support of apartheid isn’t something like legally separating blacks from whites is perfectly accessible, because race is a real thing and people prefer to stay with their own anyway. That wasn’t what apartheid was. The ethical view in support of apartheid is black people have an a priori lower claim on basic human rights than do whites; therefore it is morally acceptable to exploit their labor in service of maintaining the living standards of whites.

          • I asked:

            Do you know this after arguing the question with an intelligent supporter of apartheid, or is it your assumption that there were none?

            You answered the second half of the question. You didn’t answer the first. I conclude that you have reached your confident conclusion without ever subjecting it to counter arguments by an intelligent defender of the position you think obviously wrong.

            Am I correct? Can you see why doing that might be a bad idea?

            One of the thing the intelligent defender of apartheid might question is your claim about what the view he was supporting was. It’s pretty easy to win an argument if you get to argue both sides.

          • j r says:

            One of the thing the intelligent defender of apartheid might question is your claim about what the view he was supporting was. It’s pretty easy to win an argument if you get to argue both sides.

            As I said above, I’m not interested in the identity of the person making the argument or whether he or she is intelligent. I grant that intelligent people believe ridiculous things all the time. I’m talking about the argument itself.

            In delineating the “alchemy case,” you already concede that there is a category of beliefs that can correctly serve to exclude people from certain positions. You’ve already granted that and without any requirement that we go find a person making an intelligent argument for alchemy. The only dispute is that you don’t think apartheid belongs in that category. It does.

            There are only two ways to argue in favor of apartheid. One is to present a historically/factually inaccurate portrayal of what apartheid was and the other is to posit an ethics grounded in racial superiority. In other words, the only way to argue in favor of apartheid is to be grossly misinformed and unwilling to fill in the gaps in your knowledge or to be a committed bigot (committed enough to be retroactively arguing in favor of a system that most of the rest of the world realized was monstrous decades ago). And while I don’t want to take legal action against either of those groups of people or completely drive them from the public sphere, a search committee would have every right not to want to hire them for their department.

            tl;dr – there is no error in denying an academic position to someone who actively defends apartheid; it is absolutely the correct thing to do from both the academic and ethical perspective. You should pick another example.

          • @j r:

            You have still not answered my original question—whether you have argued the issue with an intelligent defender of apartheid. I conclude that you have not.

            You seem unable to understand my point—that confident conclusions based only on hearing one side of an argument are not to be relied on.

            Imagine someone raised in the Soviet Union in, say, the 1950’s who had never spoken to a defender of capitalism, knew capitalism only from what he was told about it by Soviet sources. Imagine an educated medieval Catholic whose view of atheism was based entirely on arguments he had heard or made against it.

            Either of those people could be just as confident of his views are you are, with just as little reason.

          • j r says:

            You have still not answered my original question…

            You seem unable to understand my point—that confident conclusions based only on hearing one side of an argument are not to be relied on.

            Imagine someone raised in the Soviet Union in, say, the 1950’s who had never spoken to a defender of capitalism, knew capitalism only from what he was told about it by Soviet sources. Imagine an educated medieval Catholic whose view of atheism was based entirely on arguments he had heard or made against it.

            Either of those people could be just as confident of his views are you are, with just as little reason.

            No, I have not answered the original question and that’s because your original question is beside the point. I grant that there are intelligent people who can make an argument for apartheid that is, on the surface, persuasive. That does not change the fact that there is no argument for apartheid that is not either factually incorrect or ethically specious.

            I don’t object to your framework. There are all sort of things that exist in the grey space and for which I would argue maximum tolerance, but you’ve picked a terrible example. Apartheid is not like capitalism and it is not like atheism. You are making a category error.

            By the way, there’s an easy way to prove me wrong. Show me this mythical strong argument in favor of apartheid. Show me one that is what you say it can be and I will admit that I am wrong.

            ps – As a point of fact, my objection to apartheid doesn’t come from only hearing the arguments against it.

          • Aevylmar says:

            @j r: That sounds like an interesting intellectual challenge. Give me five minutes to try to steelman one together.

            I mean, I do agree with David Friedman (and the rationalist community) that ‘dismissing ideas without arguing with their smartest supporters’ is a terrible idea, and you obviously shouldn’t take this as an example of the best possible argument for apartheid – but I also think that trying to put together a good argument for it would be an interesting challenge.

            Without, of course, race coming into it. That would be cheating.

            Premise A: Any reforms other than “maintain apartheid” or “end apartheid” are currently politically impossible. We don’t have the resources right now to build a perfect society; all we can do is flip a single switch.
            Premise B: Rule by an informed, educated minority is better than rule by an uninformed, uneducated majority. All that stuff that they tell you about how going to college (or just going to high school!) makes you a more intellectually capable citizen is true and very important.
            Premise C: The black majority of the South African population is, due to the effects of previous generations of racial discrimination, politically ignorant, horribly educated, and suffering from extreme malnutrition.

            Conclusion: Therefore, we need to maintain apartheid; not because our black population is black, but because they’re peasants and peasants will do a bad job of running a state.

            I am 99% confident this argument is false. But it took me five minutes to put together and it’s based on three premises, none of which are obviously total nonsense. Spend forty hours polishing it, track down some statistics that point in your direction, have lots of obscure sources lined up to appeal to, and you can have a nice long argument – maybe even enough to make a career.

          • No, I have not answered the original question and that’s because your original question is beside the point. I grant that there are intelligent people who can make an argument for apartheid that is, on the surface, persuasive.

            The existence of intelligent people who hold the position does not demonstrate that it is true or even defensible.

            The fact that you have reached a confident conclusion that the position is false without facing arguments against that conclusion from competent people who disagree with it, if true, is what I am objecting to.

            Perhaps I can get the point through to you with a true story that has nothing to do with apartheid. A very long time ago, when I was trying to choose a college to go to, I visited Yale. They were having a program about HUAC, the House Unamerican Activities Committee, which had been a politically controversial institution a decade or so earlier.

            The first part of the program was a movie, “Operation Abolition,” made by supporters of the committee. It showed, very persuasively, with video evidence, that the campaign to abolish the committee had been organized by communists.

            The second part was a movie by the other side, “Operation Conviction,” showing, just as persuasively, that the first movie was a dishonest presentation of the evidence and its conclusion false.

            After that there was written material by supporters of the committee debunking the second movie. Then written material by critics, debunking the debunking (this is from memory of events more than fifty years ago, so details may be off, but you can find the movies webbed if you are curious).

            I concluded that it was very dangerous to reach a conclusion after hearing only one side of the argument. That is what I have been trying to convince you of.

            I am not trying to convince you that apartheid was a good thing. The answer depends on what one believes the alternative was. There have been societies much worse than apartheid South Africa, and neither you nor I knows what sets of institutions would be stable under South African circumstances, although you may think you do; we will have more information on that as we see how the current situation there plays out. Hence we do not know what the alternative was.

            We do know that some African countries ended up with one man, one vote, once, followed by oppressive and murderous dictatorships, hence even less democratic than apartheid South Africa.

            We know that one ended up with a genocide in which something between half a million and a million people were killed, after which the situation reversed and something like two million people became refugees.

            We also know that apartheid South Africa was sufficiently attractive for blacks so that large numbers migrated there from adjacent black ruled polities. It would, I expect, have been still more attractive for blacks under a democratic government following classical liberal policies, since the actual Nationalist government followed interventionist policies that made the country poorer. But we do not know whether that was a possible alternative.

            Do you regard utilitarianism as a defensible moral position (not the same question as whether you agree with it)? If so, you face the difficult problem of demonstrating that what would have happened if apartheid had never been established would have led to more utility than what did happen. If you cannot demonstrate that you have no basis for claiming not only that you think apartheid was a bad idea but that there could be no good arguments against that claim.

            And without having actually faced arguments by people supporting apartheid, or at least seriously arguing for it, you are not competent to do that.

          • Viliam says:

            Truly, there is no ethical living under capitalism.

            Indeed, the only ethical way to redistribute the beer is at gunpoint of People’s Army.

      • sarth says:

        But isn’t that the point of combing through the ancient stories for these universal human “truths?”

        It’s related to why Peterson is fairly conservative. Innovating new lies to restructure society is dangerous, in his opinion. He points to the 20th century as a fantastic lesson in that.

        The ancient truths/lies have been vetted by thousands of years of implementation so we can see the result of them.

        At least, I think that’s part of his point, and where you might be drawing a false equivalence.

        Edit: I’ve thought a lot about that discussion with Sam Harris and I think the ideas there were articulated very poorly. But I think Peterson’s stance included the idea that we shouldn’t cede this idea “truth” to the scientific method.

        If you only see “truth” as being real in the scientifically probable fact sense, then what he’s saying sounds like condoning convenient lies. But if you accept the possibility that there is such a thing as “truth” in some other sense, it isn’t a fair characterization to say he is advocating for convenient lies. He’s not saying every expedient belief is true. He is saying there’s some other kind of truth which can be known.

        • BillG says:

          Yeah, I think there’s some overlap with Nassim Taleb’s wisdom that your grandmother’s advice is more likely to be correct in 20 years on most topics than what you hear around a water cooler at work.

          Replace the crumbling posts in the fence or re-route it, do not just take it down for lack of understanding about why it’s standing.

        • professorgerm says:

          “Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.”

          Thus were the words of Captain Beatty, Fahrenheit 451. I think, perhaps indirectly, Bradbury was getting a similar idea. Scientific facts are one kind of truth, but fundamentally different from this kind of truth.

        • beleester says:

          But on the other hand, the Crusades were perpetrated by very old ideas, not by new ones. The Nazis weren’t the first country that tried to get rid of the Jews, just the first to be capable of exterminating them by the millions. The fascists in Italy borrowed their symbol from ancient Rome.

          A lot of things feel like universal human truths until you actually put them to the test. How do we tell what’s endured because it is “true” (by whichever definition of truth you use), and what has endured because nobody has managed to oppose it until now?

          • sarth says:

            But isn’t that the point of what he’s doing?

            In this framework these “truths” are something that has to be explored, debated, discovered, analyzed, and a dozen other action words.

            In the model I *think* he’s pointing to you don’t just discover the truth, prove yourself correct, and inform everyone. It’s a process. But just because it’s a process doesn’t mean all convenient beliefs, or all compelling beliefs, are equally true.

          • Aevylmar says:

            But on the other hand, the Crusades were perpetrated by very old ideas, not by new ones.

            No, I would say that they weren’t.

            Crusade – the idea of that the Christian God approved of these specific wars, and that fighting in them was meritorious rather than sinful – was a new idea, an idea specifically innovated in the 1090s in response to the political, social, and military situation of the time.

            All who die by the way, whether by land or by sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested.

            This was not said by any Pope before Urban II; it was the head of the Catholic faith using his power as Pope to introduce new rules. (You may note that when the Byzantine emperor Nikephoras II Phocas tried to get the same rule passed in the Orthodox church a hundred-fifty years back, he was refused point-blank). The popular preachers of the age who celebrated it celebrated it as something new; it was now possible for a knight to act as a knight and, instead of being condemned by his religion as a violent thug, be hailed as a hero – provided he directed his violence against the right people. God in his goodness has provided a new way for you to be saved without having to live up to His moral rules! All you have to do is die a hero!

            Other religions had practiced holy war before, sure, and Christian rulers had been praised for conquering the infidel – but the fighting-man of medieval Europe had never been told, “here is a way to save your soul while remaining true to yourself” before. When he was, the force unleashed shook the Mediterranean world to pieces.

          • Baudolino says:

            I’m new to this system and trying to reply to Aevylmar’s comment about the First Crusade, my apologies if this has ended up in the wrong place.

            Urban II was not the first Pope to promise paradise for dying while fighting non-Christians. Pope Leo IV (847-855) promised a Frankish army fighting against Muslim pirates that:

            Now we hope that none of you will be slain, but we wish you to know that the kingdom of heaven will be given as a reward to those who shall be killed in this war. For the Omnipotent knows that they lost their lives fighting for the truth of the faith, for the preservation of their country,, and the defence of Christians. And therefore God will give then, the reward which we have named.

            Further, in 625, during the Last Great War of Antiquity, Heraclius told his army that if they died in battle against the Persians they would be martyrs (and hence go to heaven):

            Be not disturbed, O brethren, by the multitude [of the enemy] for when God wills it, one man will rout a thousand. So let us sacrifice ourselves to God for the salvation of our brothers. May we win the crown of martyrdom so that we may be praised in the future and receive our recompense from God.

            (This is from the Chronicle of Theophanes, using George of Pisidia).

            I also think you may be overemphasising the importance of the specific promise of heaven. The eighth and ninth century world is full of writing by bishops and other religious authorities that celebrates those who wage war against non-Christians as heroic and good Christians, all of which at least strongly implies that they are doing a morally just thing (and hence will go to heaven).

          • Aevylmar says:

            Baudolino, response to your comments.

            You have two points.

            I’m going to start with Heraclius, because the response is simplest to him: Heraclius can say whatever he likes. He is condemned as a heretic by both the Catholic *and* Orthodox churches for being a niece-marrying Monothelete, and my understanding is that the rapid collapse of the eastern Empire was seen by many in it as just punishment for his sins – in particular, his religious sins. I don’t think you can credit him as a source for acceptable religious doctrine.

            I also think you may be overemphasising the importance of the specific promise of heaven. The eighth and ninth century world is full of writing by bishops and other religious authorities that celebrates those who wage war against non-Christians as heroic and good Christians, all of which at least strongly implies that they are doing a morally just thing (and hence will go to heaven).

            I really, really don’t. I think that there is a sharp distinction being made, here, where the Crusade was a new idea and a new thing, and something that wasn’t the case before, and that that is why, when the First Crusade is preached, you have all these people abandoning their homes and charging off to die. I think that, before 1090, wars against the heathens were basically just a subset of just wars, which were still sinful to kill people in, but much less so.

            I do recognize your second point. It is a strong blow against my argument, and I had forgotten it. I’m not convinced it’s decisive, though; that’s a specific commandment for a specific situation, not a “hey, everyone, salvation’s free provided you go do X.” In particular, I’m not convinced it’s decisive because I am far from convinced that the average eleventh- and twelfth- century Frankish knight knew it wasn’t new.

            When I started this argument, I remembered a great primary source in one of my sourcebooks which was a monk preaching the crusade, in which the monk was telling his audience how lucky they were to be born in an age that actually had the opportunity of getting to heaven just by going to die in the Holy Land, but I can’t find the source and at this point I’m starting to wonder if it ever existed. So, with profuse apologies, I wish to quote a bunch of secondary sources describing the phenomenon in the hopes that quantity may trump quality:

            The majority of men were constrained to live lives which their ideals condemned as worldly. In their estimation monks and nuns were “the religious”. This contradiction between the real and the ideal found a solution in the crusading movement. It was possible as a crusader to satisfy religious conviction without sacrifice of lay character, or the adoption of a monkish life.

            (W.B. Stevenson, “The Crusaders In The East”)

            Before the preaching of the First Crusade, most Latin knights still regarded acts of bloodshed as inherently sinful, but they already were accustomed to the idea that, in the eyes of God, certain forms of warfare were more justifiable than others… in the course of the early Middle Ages, Augustine’s work was judged to demonstrate that certain, unavoidable, forms of military conflict might be ‘justified’ and thus acceptable in the eyes of God. But fighting under these terms was still sinful.

            [later]

            In the past, even ‘just war’ (that is, violence that God accepted as necessary) had still been regarded as innately sinful. But now Urban spoke of a conflict that transcended these traditional boundaries. His cause was to possess a sanctified quality – to be a holy war, not simply condoned by ‘the Lord’, but actively promoted and endorsed. According to one eyewitness, the pope even averred that ‘Christ commands’ the faithful to enlist.

            (Thomas Asbridge, “The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land”)

            A defining feature of crusades made them very nearly unique. They were penitential. The idea of fighting ‘for the remission of sins’ had probably been unprecedented when in the early 1080s it had come to feature in the language of Pope Gregory VII and his supporters, as we shall see, but it became a characteristic of crusading and the one that was most attractive to recruits…

            It is this belief that crusades were collective acts of penance that distinguished them from other holy wars. Whereas most Christian holy war demanded service to God in arms by a devout soldier responding to a divine command, everything in a crusade depended on a recruit’s decision to undertake the penance of fighting on a campaign in which his obligations, at any rate if completed, would constitute for him an act of condign self-punishment. It is no exaggeration to say that a crusade was for him as an individual only secondarily about service in arms to God or the benefiting of the Church or Christianity; it was primarily about benefiting himself, since he was engaged in an act of self-sanctification.

            The power of this conception rested in the long term on the way it answered to the concerns of the faithful. The remission of sins was offered to members of a society in which it was almost impossible for a layman of any substance, bound by responsibilities to kindred, clients, and dependants, to avoid serious sin. For hundreds of years Europe remained marked by anxieties about sinfulness and a consequence was the appeal to many of crusading, which provided an opportunity to make a fresh start…

            Bonizo of Sutri took up the idea of martyrdom in battle, which had been occasionally expounded by the papacy since the ninth century, when two popes had averred that soldiers who died in the right frame of mind in combat against infidels would gain eternal life. One of them had reinforced this by promising absolution to the dead, a precedent that seems to have persuaded the canonist Ivo of Chartres, writing at the time of the First Crusade, that death in engagements against the enemies of the faith could be rewarded. Meanwhile, the title of martyr had been extended by Pope Leo IX to those who fell simply in defense of justice, when he referred to the ‘martyrdom’ of those who had fallen in the defeat of his forces by the Normans in the Battle of Civitate in 1053.

            The crusade, however, was going to be presented as an exercise that went far beyond service to God in arms. It was going to be preached as a penance and this, as the conservative opponent of reform Sigebert of Gembloux pointed out, was a departure from previous Christian teaching on violence. Even into the twelfth century opinions on the question of whether fighting could be meritorious ranged from doubts whether sin could be avoided in any act of war to the conviction that altruistic violence could be virtuous. The idea of penitential fighting was revolutionary, because it put the act of fighting on the same meritorious plane as prayer, works of mercy and fasting… it is more likely that Gregory VII was the first to state categorically that taking part in a righteous war could be an act of charity to which merit was attached and to assert that such an action could be penitential.

            (Jonathan Riley-Smith, “The Crusades: A History”, Third Edition)

          • Baudolino says:

            Aevylmar, thank you for your response. You raise some very interesting points. I’d like to respond with three points, on Heraclius, the ninth-century Popes, and the morality of warfare in early medieval Europe.

            Heraclius was celebrated by the crusaders. The Exaltatio Crucis was observed every 14th September in honour of Heraclius’ restoration of the Holy Cross from the seventh century in Western Europe. Images of him appear in a Sacramentary produced in Mont Saint-Michel in around 1060 (New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, MS 641, fol. 155v). You can also see a splendid depiction of Heraclius entering Jerusalem with the Cross in the windows of Saint-Chapelle. So, I think Heraclius is a model drawn upon in the eleventh century for crusaders.

            On Leo IV, you are right that he is slightly unusual. The other example I can think of from the top of my head being John VIII’s letter to Louis the Stammerer in 878:

            that those who, out of love to the Christian religion, shall die in battle fighting bravely against pagans or unbelievers, shall receive eternal life.

            I would observe that one of the sources you cite notes that Ivo of Chartres took inspiration from the ninth-century Popes, which I think does undermine your argument about their lack of relevance for later periods. But I think it’s also important to note the wider context in which these Popes are writing to the Franks. For at least a century the Bishop of Rome has written periodically to Christian elites, celebrating their military endeavours, promising spiritual aid in their wars and asking them for military support. This is a world in which military elites can expect religious vindication for wars.

            You assemble a truly impressive collection of work by great scholars of the Crusades. That said, Crusades’ scholars, being specialists on the High Middle Ages, often have something of a blind spot for earlier periods, as Delaruelle noted way back in the 1940s.

            In particular, I’d like to push back against the idea that prior to Urban II Christian aristocratic elites were particularly anxious about warfare. As you yourself noted in an earlier comment, holy war was fairly common before the Crusades. While ideas of the pacifist Christian did circulate, the vast majority of the nobility are fairly relaxed about their role as warriors, particularly against non-Christians. Something of how such a person was meant to live is suggested by the lament written by Patriarch Paulinus of Aquileia for Duke Eric of Friuli after his death in 799:

            He was generous in offerings to churches/father of the poor, support of the wretched/the greatest consolation of widows here/how mild, how dear to priests,/powerful in arms, fine in mind/He tamed very savage barbarian peoples.

            I suspect that the late tenth-early eleventh century is in fact a bit weird about Christian warfare, under the influence of the Peace of God movement, which might have created a slightly odd backdrop for the Crusades.

          • Aevylmar says:

            First off, thank you for being willing to have long historical arguments with me. I really appreciate it. 🙂

            Anyway, on with the content:

            Heraclius was celebrated by the crusaders. The Exaltatio Crucis was observed every 14th September in honour of Heraclius’ restoration of the Holy Cross from the seventh century in Western Europe. Images of him appear in a Sacramentary produced in Mont Saint-Michel in around 1060 (New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, MS 641, fol. 155v). You can also see a splendid depiction of Heraclius entering Jerusalem with the Cross in the windows of Saint-Chapelle. So, I think Heraclius is a model drawn upon in the eleventh century for crusaders.

            Thank you. Thanks to your statements and the Google searches they provoked, I knew a good deal more about the cult of Heraclius than I did when we started this conversation.

            But, looking into the things they’re saying… just because someone is a hero does not mean that he is a source of religious doctrine – especially when he is, explicitly, not a source of religious doctrine because the religious doctrine he was a source of has been explicitly condemned by the Church. I grant that the medievals felt that he was a hero and did great things – but they also felt that Constantine I was a hero and did great things, and they also felt that Charlemagne was a hero and did great things and I don’t think that this translates to a universal divine endorsement for their words.

            But I think it’s also important to note the wider context in which these Popes are writing to the Franks. For at least a century the Bishop of Rome has written periodically to Christian elites, celebrating their military endeavours, promising spiritual aid in their wars and asking them for military support. This is a world in which military elites can expect religious vindication for wars.

            Religious vindication… yes, sure. Kind of. Charlemagne was crowned Emperor because he did such a good job fighting wars. But think about the language that’s used in this sort of situation.

            First ceremony:

            “To Charles Augustus, crowned by God, great and peace giving emperor of the Romans, life and victory.”

            Early-ceremony:

            “Receive this sword by the hands of bishops, who, though unworthy, are consecrated to be in the place and authority of the holy Apostles, deliver it to you, with our blessing, to serve for the defense of the holy Church, divinely ordained…”

            “For the defense of the holy Church.” “Peace-loving emperor.” Even the bit you quoted –

            He tamed very savage barbarian peoples.

            – the emphasis is on, those heathens over there are aggressing against us, the warrior got them to stop, good for him!

            They had a concept of the ‘just war’, yes, dating back to Saint Augustine. And I think it’s fair to equate ‘just war’ with ‘holy war’. But what Augustine said was (quoting Wikipedia quoting him)

            They who have waged war in obedience to the divine command, or in conformity with His laws, have represented in their persons the public justice or the wisdom of government, and in this capacity have put to death wicked men; such persons have by no means violated the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.”

            That is to say, such people are subjugating themselves to the state, which subjugates itself to God, and so are not morally responsible for the sin. But (first) this is limited – I’ll get to that later – and second, this is totally outside saying that ‘being a soldier’ is a morally responsible thing to do! A soldier for the Duke of Normandy is going to spend half of his time raiding and counterraiding the Duke of Brittany or the Duke of Anjou. And, morally speaking, it would be immoral for him to go off and fight Andalusians instead, because that would mean he was abandoning his feudal oaths to his liege.

            Indeed, note the limits. I have never actually managed to make it through “City of God,” so I’m afraid I’m going to quote Jonathan Riley-Smith again, and you may be able to tell me if he’s got Augustine wrong:

            The conviction, rooted in the law of the Roman Republic, that violence, whether expressed in warfare, armed rebellion, or an internal state sanction, required criteria to be considered legitimate was developed in a Christian context by Augustine of Hippo, the greatest if the early theoreticians. Force could not be employed lightly or for aggrandizement, but only for a legally sound reason, which had to be a reactive one. It had to be formally sanctioned by an authority that was recognized as having the power to make such a declaration. And it had to be used justly. Augustine defined the offence which had provoked violence with a just cause as intolerable injury, usually taking the form of aggression or oppression. He recognized two expressions of legitimate authority. He followed St. Paul in treating all rulers, even pagan ones, as divine ministers, though he saw the Christian Roman emperors especially as representatives of God, who had put them and the temporal power of the empire at the Church’s disposal for its defence. But he also believed that God could personally order violence, which would be ‘without doubt just’. On divine authority, Abraham had been prepared to sacrifice Isaac and Moses had waged war. God, in mandating the use of force, acted not out of cruelty but in righteous retribution. Augustine was prepared for direct commands from God to be transmitted to men under the new dispensation and he referred to the possibility of them coming in his own time in two of his later works.

            He was at his most positive when writing about the right intention required of those who authorized and took part in violence. They had to be motivated by love and this should mean that only such force as was necessary would be employed. It followed that those responsible for the management of violence should circumscribe it in such a way that the innocent suffered as little as possible and that no more force was brought to bear than could reasonably be supposed to achieve the ends for which it had to be used.

            This certainly agrees with what I thought my teachers and other books said, and I think the consequences are grim. Not only would our hypothetical Norman would be morally responsible for any raiding he made against the Bretons, even under his lord’s orders, but it was essentially impossible to leave – he couldn’t betray his lord and seek out another; even if he did, he’d need to go the whole long distance to Spain to find a lord who would be fighting heathens, and the Spanish princes spent half their time fighting each other, anyway. Which is, almost certainly, sinful. And even if he did fight, rape and pillage are (a) half a soldier’s pay, and (b) right out, per the definition of just war. You may get the Pope blessing some wars, but it is simply not possible to be a soldier and spiritually safe, even under ideal circumstances.

            (I don’t think it’s a coincidence, by the way, that most of the Crusaders came from places where there were no pagans in the area.)

            I will admit that serious, practical great lords – with some exceptions, see Fulk Nerra – could feel spiritually safe, despite a career fighting wars. But then, there were very few great lords on crusade, compared to the number of lesser lords and ordinary fighting men and peasants. The Third Crusade is called the Kings’ Crusade because there were three kings on it, instead of the average among the other numbered crusades of ‘one, or slightly less’.

            On the other hand, on crusade you *are* spiritually safe. Anyone who dies on crusade, however he dies – ‘whether by land or sea or in battle with the pagans’ – gets to go straight to heaven. And this is huge.

            I will agree completely that the ‘Peace of God’ movement had a large impact on the crusades – but I think that the new thing they were, the penitential pilgrimage where soldiers can be soldiers – that is, sinning bastards, much of the behavior of the crusaders was *horrific* – and still feel that they go straight to heaven, was the main cause.

          • Baudolino says:

            Not at all Aevylmar, I’m enjoying this discussion as well.

            I still think that Heraclius’s example acts as an important legitimizing device for crusade. Religious doctrine certainly matters, and many of the crusaders could be very theologically sophisticated. But when crusaders in the period talked about heroic archetypes they were doing so specifically because they saw them as examples of people who had done what the crusaders were doing now. That is to say, it legitimized their own actions by making themselves part of a longer heroic tradition. Heraclius is particularly useful for this because he is known as someone who fought to save Jerusalem from non-Christians and is especially associated with the symbol of crusading, the Cross. In doing so, he becomes part of the carefully curated past selected by the crusaders to indicate where they were coming from and what the history of their activity was.

            (Also, they did make Charlemagne a saint, so I think they’re fairly on board with his words and actions).

            You’re absolutely right that the language of peace and peaceful kingship is used a lot (Solomon is often used as an example here). That said, we need to approach this carefully. For example, Alcuin, a key adviser to Charlemagne, wrote in his On Virtues and Vices (which was one of the most popular works of the ninth century to judge by manuscript survival):

            He who disdains to be peaceable [pacificus] denies God is his Father. But this peace is to be kept with the good and those keeping the precepts of God, not with the iniquitous and wicked, who have peace among themselves in their sins.

            Peace may be a virtue, but it is only to be kept with good Christians. Similarly, creating peace often does not mean don’t start wars. It means defeat all your neighbours and thereby forcibly create peace. Tacitus’ old line about ‘they make a waste and call it peace’ is horribly literal here. Hincmar of Rheims interpreted the Sermon on the Mount as follows:

            Be peaceable [pacificus] therefore in fighting, so that by conquering you may lead those you have overcome to the usefulness of peace. For the Lord says: Blessed are the peaceable, for they will be called the sons of God.’

            For a modern analogy which might get across the sense of what Paulinus was saying about Eric, imagine a nineteenth-century British colonial officer telling you ‘..and then we pacified the natives’. You know that means there is a large pit filled with the bodies of people who objected to someone coming along and telling them what to do and taking their stuff. Eric’s most celebrated actions were when he took part in Charlemagne’s conquest of the Avars, particularly in 796 when he sent his men to plunder their fortress. ‘Taming’ here takes place in the context of violence and coercion and both Paulinus and Eric are fine with that.

            With regard to Augustine, I don’t think there’s as much water between him and the crusaders as you think. As Riley-Smith observes, although Augustine believed that defensive wars were just, but he also ‘believed that God could personally order violence, which would be ‘without doubt just’’. I imagine that the crusaders believed they were committing violence at God’s command (‘deus vult’ rather implies it) so I don’t think this fails this test.

            But we can also move past Augustine. Augustine is certainly important for formulating ideas of just war and his City of God is widely read. But he’s not necessarily normative. The emphasis on Augustine as the early medieval authority on warfare par excellence is a modern construction, largely the product of Erdmann in the 1930s. For an example of an alternative that doesn’t emphasise defensive war, we can see Gregory the Great developing ideas of war without reference to Augustine, justifying war:

            for the sake of enlarging the res publica in which we see God worshipped, so that the name of Christ spreads in every direction through the subject nations.

            Gregory’s ideas seem to be fairly influential. Again, I’m going to use an example from Charlemagne’s reign, because that’s what I know best. The De conversion Saxonum carmen of 777 celebrates:

            Through the strength of virtues, through javelins smeared with gore
            He [Charlemagne] crushed down and subjected it [the Saxon people] to himself with a shimmering sword
            He dragged the forest-worshipping legions into the kingdoms of heaven.

            Likewise, Louis the Pious’ conquest of Barcelona was justified by Ermold the Black by putting the following speech in Louis’ mouth:

            “Take this advice to heart, nobles. If this people [the Muslims] loved God and pleased Christ with anointing of holy baptism, there would have to have been peace between us, and peace would have persisted, for we would have been united in the worship of God. But it remains a despicable people, rejects our salvation, and follows the commands of demons. Thus the piety of almighty God, who has been merciful to us, is going to hand over that people to our service. Let’s go right now; let’s hasten immediately to the walls and towers, O Franks, and may your old strength revive your spirits”

            All of this suggests that aggressive war against non-Christians was widely believed to be not just justifiable but laudatory and not just because your king ordered it, thereby incurring no sin.

            Concerning your hypothetical Norman, Urban II didn’t go out and say it’s okay to kill your Christian neighbour for no reason, so I don’t see how his situation changes after the preaching of the crusade. He is still going to have to go to Spain or the Holy Land.

            But let’s talk about an actual Norman, or even two actual Normans. If I say that the Duke of Normandy went overseas to wage war and conquer land in a campaign supported by the Pope, I’m talking about Robert Curthose in 1096, but I could also be talking about his father thirty years earlier. I’m certainly not saying there are no differences in these situations, but that there is a context here that the great lords of France are familiar with when Urban starts preaching and that the distinction might not be overwhelming for them.

            It’s certainly true that there are a lot of non-military people who go on crusade (The People’s Crusade being the obvious example) and this is new. On the other hand, the idea that going on pilgrimage to the Holy Land will allow you to cleanse yourself of sin is not new, and plenty of non-elites have been doing that for centuries. It feels like what we have is that old idea being combined with the old idea that it is morally laudatory to kill non-Christians. This creates something new, but we can see the old ideas behind them.

            Further, the popular crusades don’t tend to be the ones that succeed. The People’s Crusade dies a horrible death at Civetot. The hard core of the First Crusade are the Great Lords and their retinues. The Crusade is led by people like Raymond of Toulouse, Godfrey of Bouillon Robert Curthose and Bohemund of Taranto and their armies do the heavy lifting in the fighting. This is by design. Urban deliberately made sure he had people like Raymond on board before he started preaching. The lack of involvement of kings is in part due to the weakness of the French monarchy at this time (people like Raymond and Robert are effectively monarchs in their own lands), and in part due to Urban’s conflict with Henry IV in Germany.

          • whateverthisistupd says:

            yeah, i’m not so sold on “ancient wisdom.” As sam harris was getting at, where Peterson sees a story in Cain and Abel about the value of delaying instant gratification, it was probably a very literal lesson about the supposed importance of sacrificing valuable things to influence a deity to incur favor, an argument that was actually totally wrong but nearly ubiquitous throughout early human cultures, which found it’s worst manifestation in human sacrifice.

            Being a trans-humanist, people are mostly operating on the same hardware, so the odds that your particular way of smashing evil is going to be the one true one answer is pretty unlikely. Although to be fair to the actual SJ/intersectionalist ideology (at least in its complete articulated form, which many who perform it don’t fully comprehend on a conscious level) there is no end point. Rather, identity groups will have to be in a constant struggle for power, and when the oppressor groups are finally removed, some other group will become doiminant who must be fought against. This is one reason why it’s a very nihilistic ethos, it’s only mode is perpetual conflict, there is no “end goal.” I think if people performing it consciously realized that, it would look far less attractive, since religions often need the promise of some type of heaven as the carrot, but the “victory condition” here looks like everyone being trapped by Moloch.

          • Aapje says:

            @whateverthisistupd

            I think that many of them will be quite able to accept a situation where groups other than them are oppressed. SJ ideology is often applied in a weaponized way, where the needs or concerns of some groups is ignored, claimed to be false, delegitimized (‘entitlement’), etc.

            While I agree that many SJ adherents might recoil in horror if they realized what the ideology is set up to do, I also think that the ideology is filled with methods that people can use to ignore the truth.

          • Aevylmar says:

            Continued Response to Baudolino:

            Heraclius is particularly useful for this because he is known as someone who fought to save Jerusalem from non-Christians and is especially associated with the symbol of crusading, the Cross. In doing so, he becomes part of the carefully curated past selected by the crusaders to indicate where they were coming from and what the history of their activity was.

            Yes – by the time the crusades are going, I think this becomes the case. But the question is, to what extent were the pre-Crusaders thinking that?

            “ For example, Alcuin, a key adviser to Charlemagne, wrote in his On Virtues and Vices (which was one of the most popular works of the ninth century to judge by manuscript survival):
            He who disdains to be peaceable [pacificus] denies God is his Father. But this peace is to be kept with the good and those keeping the precepts of God, not with the iniquitous and wicked, who have peace among themselves in their sins.”
            “Hincmar of Rheims interpreted the Sermon on the Mount as follows:
            Be peaceable [pacificus] therefore in fighting, so that by conquering you may lead those you have overcome to the usefulness of peace. For the Lord says: Blessed are the peaceable, for they will be called the sons of God.’
            For an example of an alternative that doesn’t emphasise defensive war, we can see Gregory the Great developing ideas of war without reference to Augustine, justifying war:
            for the sake of enlarging the res publica in which we see God worshipped, so that the name of Christ spreads in every direction through the subject nations.

            Wow. I did not know how extreme these are, and I appreciate you telling me. Though I don’t take “Ermold the Black putting words in Louis the Pious’ mouth” very seriously as a religious source, the rest of those are spot on. I will update my beliefs in your direction.

            “With regard to Augustine, I don’t think there’s as much water between him and the crusaders as you think. As Riley-Smith observes, although Augustine believed that defensive wars were just, but he also ‘believed that God could personally order violence, which would be ‘without doubt just’’. I imagine that the crusaders believed they were committing violence at God’s command (‘deus vult’ rather implies it) so I don’t think this fails this test.”

            I agree! The question is, were the pre-crusaders passing the test? What I’m arguing is that the crusades were new because of their belief that they were earning penance by suffering to do gods’ will, unlike previous generations of warriors, not that Christianity has never endorsed holy war.

            “Concerning your hypothetical Norman, Urban II didn’t go out and say it’s okay to kill your Christian neighbour for no reason, so I don’t see how his situation changes after the preaching of the crusade. He is still going to have to go to Spain or the Holy Land.”

            Yes, but… I think the situation has changed.

            First, he still has to go to Spain or the Holy Land, yes. But the going is now, in of itself, a pilgrimage, one where every step he takes and any suffering he… suffers… is now, in of itself, atonement; even if he dies on the way, he’s still saved. Second, he can sign on with a large contingent traveling to the Holy Land – the Crusades are ongoing – and third, he has official dispensation from the Pope that This Is A Virtuous Thing To Do, and if his Duke tries to stop him he is acting badly. I think this really is a change in the situation.

            “But let’s talk about an actual Norman, or even two actual Normans. If I say that the Duke of Normandy went overseas to wage war and conquer land in a campaign supported by the Pope, I’m talking about Robert Curthose in 1096, but I could also be talking about his father thirty years earlier. I’m certainly not saying there are no differences in these situations, but that there is a context here that the great lords of France are familiar with when Urban starts preaching and that the distinction might not be overwhelming for them.”

            It’s a good thing you’re not saying there’s no differences in those situations! My understanding is that what the Pope said about William the Conqueror was that he, the Pope, was adjudicating the succession conflict in England, and found William’s claim to be the best, and he therefore declared that William was legitimate king of England and anyone who opposed him was behaving badly. But this is a very different thing from saying that all Christians, everywhere, would be saving their souls by joining the armies of William. Certainly the Pope has been meddling in European politics since well before the fall of the Roman Empire, but I am going to stick to my guns here and say that it was New.

            “It’s certainly true that there are a lot of non-military people who go on crusade (The People’s Crusade being the obvious example) and this is new. On the other hand, the idea that going on pilgrimage to the Holy Land will allow you to cleanse yourself of sin is not new, and plenty of non-elites have been doing that for centuries. It feels like what we have is that old idea being combined with the old idea that it is morally laudatory to kill non-Christians. This creates something new, but we can see the old ideas behind them.”

            With the old idea that it can be morally laudatory to kill non-Christians… if you do it in the right way, for the right reasons, as part of executing the right policies, with the support of the right people. There’s a lot of requirements on it, versus the Pope being as general as possible. But I agree that it is bringing old ideas together as much as – though not a lot more than – it is inventing new ones.

            “Further, the popular crusades don’t tend to be the ones that succeed. The People’s Crusade dies a horrible death at Civetot. The hard core of the First Crusade are the Great Lords and their retinues. The Crusade is led by people like Raymond of Toulouse, Godfrey of Bouillon, Robert Curthose and Bohemund of Taranto and their armies do the heavy lifting in the fighting.”

            I wouldn’t call any of them but Robert Curthose and Raymond of Toulouse Great Lords. Lords, sure, but Bohemund of Taranto, especially, is an upjumped adventurer – he’s a bastard Guiscard who’s busy fighting a civil war with his brothers when he gets the chance to go a-conquering in the east and takes it with both hands. They’re moderate lords.

            I’ve done the most research on the Fourth Crusade (which was not exactly a model crusade), but the impression I got was that you had quite a lot of small groups of knights trickling in on their own – a dribble from here, a drabble from there, the knights from Champagne being lead by the “Marshal of Champagne,” a man without formal feudal title – and, generally, minor lords in command of decent-sized contingents, simply because they’re the least unimportant man from their region who signed on. Sure, it isn’t peasants who win – certainly not – but it’s the lower part of the feudal hierarchy who does most of the work.

            (You’ll note that the Fourth Crusade, when it’s supposed to leave Venice, has three main leaders – one member of the high nobility, the Count of Flanders, one well-bred but fairly minor lord, the Marquis of Montferrat, and the Marshal of Champagne.)

            So I am updating significantly in your direction – and I’d really love your recommendations for in-depth histories on the earlier crusades, or really good translations of primary sources, or frankly anything in-depth you have to offer – but I intend to keep to my claim that the Crusade, the war in which ‘if you died you would go straight to Heaven’, hybrid of holy war and penitential pilgrimage, was a new idea, invented in the eleventh century, and that its impact was a result of its being a new concept (even if one put together in large part from the pieces of earlier ones).

          • JohnBuridan says:

            Thank you Baudolino and Aevylmar for having this conversation on the Crusades! I appreciate scholarly back and forth like this; I can only wish there was more.

      • mark abrams says:

        Von Mises proved socialism can never work quite succinctly in the 1920s. Anyone with half a brain can disprove the labor theory of value. People don’t want to give up the belief that oppressors are the cause of suffering and death. They want there to be some evil power they can vanquish, Jews, Blacks, White supremicists, the patriarchy, religion, anything that they can march against and smash. Because the alternative is hard work.

        • The Nybbler says:

          People don’t want to give up the belief that oppressors are the cause of suffering and death.

          Yeah, but sometimes they are.

      • Z says:

        I think it’s overly easy to say our opponents secretly know they’re evil, but we know in our hearts we’re motivated by the right things.

        I think the problem comes when one side thinks they’re so sure they’re right that they hold their opposition in such contempt that they’re unwilling to have a discussion with them. It leads to a terminal moral blindness. They come to punish all opposition just for disagreeing, even if the dissent is backed by evidence. They come to dehumanize the opposition. And once that’s done, they can start to justify atrocious actions against them.

        It’s clear that was happening in the Soviet Union, and was laid out in The Gulag Archipelago.

        It’s clear that happened in the Weimar Republic, whose extreme political polarization birthed Nazi Germany.

        It’s clear that happened in Mao’s China, it continues to a lesser degree to this day, and is likely to get worse later.

        It’s clear that’s happening right now to a lesser degree in multiple universities, whether it’s to professors putting their careers on the line for saying things that upset people, to public speakers who get banned for the same, or audience members who get physically attacked just for going to listen to them.

        It’s clear that’s happening elsewhere, where people are attacked for defending free speech and the need to be able to discuss differences.

        It’s clear that’s happening with YouTube’s increasingly political censorship policies.

        It’s clear that happened to James Damore. Instead of discussing the sources he cited and moving towards the truth, he was fired.

        That terminal contempt is there. It’s just a question of how far gone are the factions engaging in it, and how powerful are they?

    • Darwin says:

      Yes, but if Peterson is willing to allow objective fact to be a determinant of what types of meaning are acceptable, then we can start kicking down 90% of his metaphysical meditations and he’s not left with much.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        It’s not so much about objective fact but about which objective facts are meaningful. Walk into a room. There are an infinite number of facts in that room. The shape of each speck of dust on the table. The number of dimples on each ceiling tile. The direction the axe murderer is facing. How do you tell which of these facts are meaningful, or meaningfully useful to you?

        We encounter the same issue in politics, where the discussions aren’t over facts so much as which facts are meaningful. Some Americans are killed by illegal immigrants (but it’s incredibly rare), and some black Americans are killed by cops (but it’s incredibly rare). But tell me your preferred political party and I can probably guess which of these facts is important to you and which one is immaterial. Yet, “but the facts are on our side!” is bog standard political rhetoric.

        • And this is why we can be sure that everyone in the world is constantly combing through the data of the world with an ideology. There is no such thing as an “un-ideological” or “no-nonsense” or “common sense” or “apolitical” take on the world, if only because we must heuristically decide which facts to prune our attention away from and which are salient. That often unconscious choice stems from all sorts of assumptions.

          Maybe a supercomputer that analyzed the motion of every atom could be apolitical. But as soon as it has to start pruning out which movements of which atoms are important, and which are not, it obtains the potential to become ideological.

          This is half of the post-modernist program, and I am prepared to go along with them this far. The other half is to assert that there are no objective criteria for evaluating one set of ideological heuristics as better than another because the criteria we use for that will be ideologically given too. I disagree. I agree with the idea above that there are certain objective things that I do not want to experience, such as suffering. If employing Marxist heuristics has a higher chance of bringing me more suffering and less happiness/pleasure/novelty/complex values, and it’s the opposite for a set of liberal heuristics, then I’m going to pick the liberal ideology…with the understanding that I’m still using an ideology and that, if those outcomes reliably reverse in the future (i.e. Marxist heuristics start to bring me happiness/pleasure/etc. and liberal ones start to bring me suffering), then I’ll be open to changing my ideological assumptions.

    • 天可汗 says:

      Communism doesn’t tell you how to make your life better. It tells you what it thinks is wrong with society, and it tells you who it thinks is to blame. I haven’t read Peterson, but that seems like an important distinction.

      • briguybrn says:

        I’ve heard Peterson a few times note that Marx was correct about the problem of the accumulation of wealth. He disagrees that this is a problem of Capitalism, and instead thinks that it is instead a function of how the world works (i.e. that everything follows the Pareto Principle).

        • Viliam says:

          Generally, communism seems to be built on the assumption that all unpleasant laws of nature will magically disappear when we put the Communist Party in power. (Realistically: they will remain, we just won’t be allowed to complain about them anymore.)

          The criticism of capitalism is mostly a criticism of what a SSC reader would call “Moloch”. And you don’t need to convince smart people too hard that Moloch is bad.

          The problem comes with the solution, which roughly consists of: “1. Absolute power to the Communists. 2. ???. 3. Profit (Moloch disappears)”. Experience shows that under communist governments, Moloch refuses to disappear. This is surprising to some, and unsurprising to others; but it is the empirical outcome.

          • dionisos says:

            I am sort of a communism, I hope someone read it, because it is a little frustrating to be continuously compared to someone with the moral of a Nazi, and at the same time the naivety of a 5 years old. (you didn’t say it, and was more fair than that, it is why I answer here)

            First, and I think it is important, you could have only one economical system with true private property, which is a complete free market economy.
            After you have a lot of economical systems which are based on a free market economy, but because it is untenable, add some patches to it.
            And then you have economical systems which are based on concepts radically different than private property, and we generally call that communism.
            That mean communism isn’t a particular economical system, but a super broad set of economical systems.

            I know there are much more constrained definitions of communism than that, anyways if you are skeptical about private property, you will be called a communist (and just after put in the same bag than a super specific set of dictatorial, authoritarian, and violent systems, part of them having a strong private property, which is a little ironical).

            Also I guess there is about the same proportion of “Marxist” who read Marx, than of Catholics who read the bible. (If you wonder, I didn’t read it either, I started it but I felt there were too much tribalism in it and stopped (anyways I don’t consider myself a Marxist))

            “The criticism of capitalism is mostly a criticism of what a SSC reader would call “Moloch”. And you don’t need to convince smart people too hard that Moloch is bad.”

            Yes, thank for that, it is basically exactly that. (except communism add the idea than Moloch will be super strong with private property, and we need something radically different.)
            But I fear you are wrong to think almost all smart people think Moloch is bad, or that Moloch have any importance.

            There are some people who are capitalist for mostly consequentialists reasons, but there also are a lot of people who are capitalist because they think private property is a core moral principle, they will probably say capitalism is super in absolutely all domains, but even if it would lead humanity in a hell pit, they would still think it is good, that it is perfectly fair, and it is just people getting what they deserve (and deserving something is managing to have something in this very system).
            It remind me a little of the concept of hell for some religious people, for whom it seems perfectly normal than their god torture, or let people being horribly tortured, for eternity.

  7. Eric27 says:

    Great analysis, Scott.
    I have read and watched a lot of Jordan Peterson and I would like to try to answer to some of your points.

    You wrote:

    “But if you ask him “Is it okay to banish suffering if you’re pretty sure it won’t cause more problems down the line?” I cannot possibly imagine him responding with anything except beautifully crafted prose on the importance of suffering in the forging of the human spirit or something.”

    I think his answer to that would be: “Yes, it would be okay, but I don’t think it’s possible in the real world to banish suffering without causing problems down the line and we have to concern ourselves with real world matters.” I don’t think he thinks suffering per se is good, just that it is in inevitable in the real world. But I might be wrong about that. He definitely has talked about suffering as a forger of the human spirit.

    You wrote:

    “Okay, but why do bad things happen to good people?”

    In his lecture series about the bible, in the lecture about Cain and Abel he answers that very question I think. He talks about why Abels sacrifice was accepted but not Cains and there he says: “There is [an] arbitrariness about life.” So I think his answer to the question would be: “Bad things happen to good people by chance.” Or more specifically “Bad things happen to all people, good or bad.”

    You wrote:

    “his discomfort with transgender”

    This is the standard criticism against Peterson, but I think it misunderstands him. Peterson isn’t uncomfortable with transgender people. The video that made him famous was about that he objected to that the law mandates what pronoun he should call a transgender person. He has repeatedly said that if a transgender person asked him civilly to use his prefered prounoun he would probably do it. He has videos on his youtube channel where he sat down with a transgender person and had a good, civil discussion.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Thanks, updated the transgender part.

    • Gaius Levianthan XV says:

      The video that made him famous was about that he objected to that the law mandates what pronoun he should call a transgender person

      Except that’s not what the proposed law actually would have mandated (it was passed in July of last year, by the way).

      He has repeatedly said that if a transgender person asked him civilly to use his prefered prounoun he would probably do it

      Actually he said something a bit different- that he would use them if he felt that they were “genuine” but would refuse if he felt that “the fundamental motivations were ideological”. This sounds reasonable enough at first, but he also thinks that “arguments that biology does not determine gender ‘stem from the humanities and are entirely ideologically driven'”– so he’s essentially giving himself an excuse to refuse to use a transgender person’s preferred pronouns regardless of how civil they are being.

      • nameless1 says:

        But with a bit of charity you can assume that a clinical psychologist who is all about healing and helping people would use that excuse only if he sees someone as a perpetator of that ideology instead of being its victim.

        Besides, a purely biological view of gender does not invalidate trans people – brains are biological and it is a common (not sure if true) view that if a testosterone release in the womb kind of does awry and it affects only the genitals but the brain not, or the other way around, you get trans people.

        A purely biological view of gender – the view that male and female brains are different – tends to affect not as much the trans problem but feminism – say, it means the reason there are fewer female CEOs than male because female brains are less aggressive.

        In fact it would mean that aggressive women (people with vaginas) are actually somewhat trans so it would still not depend on the genitals, nor the social roles based on the genitals… it would be solely based on brain structure and how hormones affected it in the womb.

        But suppose it is not the case and Peterson still sees someone with masculine genitals and a female brain a man. I don’t know why would it be the case since he is aware that male and female brains are different. But even if it is the case he is clearly seeing someone who is suffering. And he seems like the kind of guy who would be willing to call that person a she if he thinks ideologues convinced he that he is a she and it gave that person some hope and he really does not want to crush that.

        I think he would only use that excuse if confronting a conscious activist lobbying for political change or something.

        • nameless1 says:

          Wait I just completely forgot about chromosomes. Do ALL trans people have the chromosomes predicted by their birth genitals? Or is it sometimes the chromosomes predicted by their brain / chosen gender? Because in the later case it can be that the hormone release went avry in the genitals, not brain.

          • CherryGarciaMillionaire says:

            Do ALL trans people have the chromosomes predicted by their birth genitals? Or is it sometimes the chromosomes predicted by their brain / chosen gender?

            I’ve seen many people “on Peterson’s side” in the culture wars claim that there are only two genders, which can supposedly be inferred from one’s chromosomes. I’ve found comparatively few individuals online (two, to be exact) who have spoken up about the actual “messiness” of the relevant biology.

            So I will leave this here.

            First, if there are only two genders/sexes, then which gender are each of the following:

            1. X (Turner Syndrome)

            2. XXY (Klinefelter Syndrome)

            3. “XX male syndrome,” where an individual with a female genotype has phenotypically male characteristics

            4. Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, which produces humans who are chromosomally XY but have fully female bodies. A century ago, before human chromosomes had even been counted, there would have been no reason to doubt that such people were women; are they now men, thanks only to scientific progress?

            None of the above can be waved away by dismissing hermaphrodites as suffering from a “birth defect.” (Yes, I’ve seen people try exactly that, to be able to ignore that obvious “third sex” exception.)

            And sure, the above are all small-percentage “edge cases.” But in real science, the anomalies are what hint to you that your theory will eventually wind up a pile of smoldering ruins, with its valid ideas being incorporated into a more-expansive explanation of the full set of evidence. (That is in contrast to Internet “spheres” of experts-on-everything who live by the inherently unscientific idea that “the exception proves the rule.” They know who they are.)

            Further, if one’s own body’s reaction (or lack of same) to hormones can turn an XY genotype into a female phenotype…then how can anyone argue that hormonal injections don’t produce a “real woman” from an XY genotype?

            The other standard claim from the “only two genders” side is that gender dysphoria is a mental illness. Almost invariably they reference the DSM in support of their position—thereby proving they’ve never even cracked it open.

            Because, per the DSM, as authored by the American Psychiatric Association: “The critical element of gender dysphoria is the presence of clinically significant distress associated with the condition…. This condition causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning” (emphasis added). You can google that exact first sentence to get the APA’s two-page PDF, as the first result.

            Conversely, persons like the comedian Eddie Izzard (or the fictional Dr. Frank N. Furter), who embrace and celebrate their transgender status, would in principle not be diagnosed as suffering from a mental disorder/illness.

          • sclmlw says:

            Not sure how the cases you cite disprove sexual dimorphism in humans. As a biologist, this whole “debate” seems bizarre to me. We’ve got lots of evidence from many different species on planet Earth. There are lots of different sex strategies species can adopt. Humans have adopted a male/female sexual dimorphism common to many species. We know broadly how this works, as well as many of the details. To oversimplify: most genes are on the 22 non-sex chromosomes and the X chromosome. The Y chromosome has some stuff, but mostly it appears to function as a sort of biological switch, such that embryos that get a copy switch “on” male developmental apparati and switch “off” female ones.

            In rare cases, people don’t develop exactly this way. These cases do not invalidate any of the basic understanding of sexual dimorphism in humans. Edge cases help us understand it better, but edge cases should not be interpreted as implying humans are not sexually dimorphic, or that the theory should be replaced with a “spectrum” theory that fits none of the evidence very well. What to do with edge cases, where people don’t follow the vast majority of the population is unclear.

            Compare this to asthma. We understand how lungs and human airways work. We don’t always understand why one person mounts an aberrant immunological attack against house dust mite, but we understand all the specific mechanisms involved in that immunological attack, it’s pathogenesis, and its effects. None of this invalidates our understanding of how most people’s lungs normally function, nor even how the pleural immune system functions, even if we’re not sure how to fix asthma.

            By definition, the chromosomal cases cited above are edge cases, so if we’re trying to figure out how to treat them standard thinking may not apply; but then, non-standard thinking could also lead to poor results. For example, it’s unclear injecting hormones is as clear-cut a strategy as assumed above. Genetic regulation and timing are complex, and it’s unclear to what extent clinician-driven substitutions differ in meaningful ways to the complex, microenvironmentally-driven signalling it is trying to mimic. Sex-driven body/brain signaling is a lot more complex than something like insulin release from the pancreas. And in all honesty, it has taken a long time to get even that right (to the extent patients are on adequate doses/schedules of insulin in actual practice).

            That said, just giving insulin saved lives back when we first started clumsily doing it. By definition, we were talking about people whose pancreas didn’t function correctly, so medical intervention was warranted. I’m not saying medical intervention isn’t warranted for edge cases in gender. I’m saying we understand the pathogenesis of those cases less than insulin/diabetes, and it’s a system that is much more complex.

            Everyone who talks about this topic is speaking from ignorance. And it’s unwise of people claim to know the Truth, and denounce others for disagreeing with their proposed solutions (Left and Right) when we don’t even know the causes. But not knowing the causes of transgenderism does not imply sexual dimorphism in humans is wrong.

          • LadyJane says:

            What to do with edge cases, where people don’t follow the vast majority of the population is unclear.

            It might be “unclear,” but I think we can (hopefully) agree that there are definitely better alternatives than “kill them all for being deviants” or “throw them in jail for not conforming to social norms” or “force them to conform to whichever of the two standard genders they were assigned at birth,” as Peterson and his followers would suggest.

            By definition, the chromosomal cases cited above are edge cases, so if we’re trying to figure out how to treat them standard thinking may not apply; but then, non-standard thinking could also lead to poor results.

            Well, we’ve learned that it’s often psychologically beneficial to give trans people hormone treatments that make their testosterone/estrogen levels match what’s expected of their preferred gender. Conversely, treatments designed to make their hormone levels match their assigned gender are almost always psychologically harmful. (I knew a trans man who, prior to transitioning, was given estrogen supplements by a doctor who assumed he was just a cis woman with unusually low estrogen levels; this had the effect of deeply intensifying his existing feelings of dysphoria.)

            We’ve also learned that it’s psychologically beneficial to let trans people live as their preferred gender and accept them as such, and psychologically harmful to treat them and/or force them to live as their assigned gender. Treatments that help them to physically resemble their preferred gender (including genital reconstruction, breast augmentation/removal, laser hair removal and electrolysis, and facial surgery) also tend to be helpful for many trans people.

            From this, I think it’s fairly simple to figure out the correct course of action, given the current possibilities available (although better possibilities may become available in the future, and we shouldn’t discourage attempts to find them). At the very least, we have a fairly solid idea of what not to do.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I don’t know where you get the idea that Peterson wants to force anyone into gender conformity. Are you just slandering him? Am I missing something? Have you been lied to by the word-we-can’t-say? Is this coming from the same place where Scott got the idea that he wants to silence people?

          • It might be “unclear,” but I think we can (hopefully) agree that there are definitely better alternatives than “kill them all for being deviants” or “throw them in jail for not conforming to social norms” or “force them to conform to whichever of the two standard genders they were assigned at birth,” as Peterson and his followers would suggest.

            That’s a very strong claim. Can you offer any evidence to support it? It’s strikingly inconsistent with what other people here have quoted Peterson as saying.

          • Tamar says:

            To answer your question, as far as I’m aware, the vast majority of people who identify as trans are not (otherwise) intersex and do have chromosomal sex corresponding to their primary and secondary sexual characteristics (prior to transition) but not to gender identity. Furthermore, as far as I’m aware, individuals who have intersex conditions where they develop a phenotype close to typical for male or female despite not matching the typical chromosomal arrangement, usually develop a gender identity corresponding to their sex phenotype and do not identify as transgender. For instance, individuals with Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, who are XY, as far as I’m aware typically develop mostly normal female secondary sex characteristics and external genitalia but do not menstruate and usually lack internal female genitalia. As far as I know they do not have a higher rate of identifying as male or nonbinary than typically-developing XX females.

          • LadyJane says:

            @Tamar: The term ‘intersex’ is not limited to conditions that affect the chromosomes and/or genitalia (originally it was solely used to refer to hermaphrodites who had ambiguous or mixed genitalia, but the scope of the term has broadened considerably as medical science has advanced). It’s also used to refer to more subtle conditions affecting secondary sex characteristics, hormone levels, neurological structures, and other factors that aren’t always obviously visible.

            Studies over the past 20 years have consistently shown that the neurology and hormone levels of trans people (even those who haven’t undergone hormone treatments or sexual reassignment surgery) resemble those of their preferred gender more than the gender they were assigned at birth, which functionally counts as an intersex condition in its own right. So I would consider most trans people – and the vast majority of people who suffer from gender dysphoria – to be intersex in some fashion.

          • Tamar says:

            @ LadyJane, Sure, that’s a reasonable perspective, which is why I said ‘(otherwise) intersex’ – most trans people do not have a chromosomal vs. genital intersex condition (at least prior to transition) even if you (quite reasonably) consider transgender (or most instances of it) an intersex condition. I meant to emphasize that for example the vast majority of trans men are XX chromosomally just like the vast majority of cis women. If you have the chance, can you link some of the studies about hormonal resemblance being closer to the identified as gender in trans people prior to HRT? From what I know of sex hormone effects that would suggest a greater prevalence of trans people with distinctly atypical physical secondary sexual characteristics for gender assigned at birth prior to transition, which I was not under the impression was the case, so I’d like more context to understand the situation.

          • Randy M says:

            It might be “unclear,” but I think we can (hopefully) agree that there are definitely better alternatives than “kill them all for being deviants” or “throw them in jail for not conforming to social norms” or “force them to conform to whichever of the two standard genders they were assigned at birth,” as Peterson and his followers would suggest.

            Those quote marks there… I’m quite interested to see if they actually enclose words said or typed by Peterson (note the “and” implies Peterson himself supports this policy, so no saying that you only meant his followers).

          • LadyJane says:

            From what I know of sex hormone effects that would suggest a greater prevalence of trans people with distinctly atypical physical secondary sexual characteristics for gender assigned at birth prior to transition, which I was not under the impression was the case, so I’d like more context to understand the situation.

            It’s purely anecdotal evidence, but judging from my personal experience, that is indeed the case. I had a lot of outwardly feminine traits well before I started transitioning: large nipples and slight breast growth (despite being very skinny), a thin midsection with wide hips, considerably less facial hair than the average cis man, an almost total absence of chest hair. And I’ve known plenty of other trans people with similar conditions; I’ve known more than one trans woman who had fully developed breasts before ever taking hormones, and several trans men who were diagnosed by their physicians as having unusually low estrogen levels for a cis woman.

          • LadyJane says:

            @suntzuanime, @DavidFriedman, @Randy M: After extensive searching, I can’t find any concrete evidence of Peterson claiming that trans/non-binary identities aren’t valid, or that he thinks people with gender dysphoria should just passively accept themselves as their assigned birth gender (though plenty of his followers seem to hold that viewpoint, and it certainly fits with Peterson’s overarching view that people should always accept their given circumstances for the sake of maintaining social cohesion).

            For that matter, I can’t find any evidence of Peterson claiming that trans/non-binary identities are valid either. It’s surprisingly difficult to find any indication of Peterson’s actual views on trans people whatsoever, since all the articles I’ve seen about him are either attacking him for being a bigot or praising him for standing up to the Cultural Marxist trans agenda; the utter lack of any neutral sources on him is enormously frustrating.

            I still disagree with Peterson’s alarmist interpretation of the C-16 law. I still think his paranoia about Cultural Marxism is deluded and utterly ridiculous, almost to the point of being comparable with InfoWars-style far-right conspiracy theories. And leaving aside all the Culture War issues, I still disagree with his fundamental philosophy about accepting your lot in life regardless of how unjust or unfair it is. But I apologize for misconstruing his stance on trans people.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I mean, you were quite a bit more hysterical than that. You didn’t just say “he thinks people with gender dysphoria should just passively accept themselves as their assigned birth gender”, you said he wanted to “force them to conform to whichever of the two standard genders they were assigned at birth”. Which is vastly harsher and completely unsupportable.

            I dunno, I’ve had my suspicions for a while, but can leftists not tell the difference between “it would be good for X to do Y” and “X should be forced to do Y”? It would explain a few things.

          • Nornagest says:

            I dunno, I’ve had my suspicions for a while, but can leftists not tell the difference between “it would be good for X to do Y” and “X should be forced to do Y”? It would explain a few things.

            Less of this, please. Armchair psychoanalysis of large political groups is helpful about zero times out of ten.

          • Randy M says:

            Okay, thanks. And the “kill them all” and “throw them in jail”, were those likewise assumed ex nihilo? Or was that sentence constructed in such a way as to imply Peterson supported death for deviancy with the plausible deniability of only technically linking him to the last item?

          • suntzuanime says:

            I’m trying to be charitable here and view things through the lens of mistake theory instead of conflict theory. Obviously the simpler answer is that Jane is deliberately slandering someone because he doesn’t share Jane’s politics.

          • @ Lady Jane

            You wrote:

            Studies over the past 20 years have consistently shown that the neurology and hormone levels of trans people (even those who haven’t undergone hormone treatments or sexual reassignment surgery) resemble those of their preferred gender more than the gender they were assigned at birth,

            In response to a query that I thought was about that claim, although I might be mistaken, you wrote:

            It’s purely anecdotal evidence, but judging from my personal experience, that is indeed the case.

            If that was your response to a query about the claim of yours I just quoted, then the claim was false—purely anecdotal evidence is not the same thing as studies over the past 20 years. Were you responding to something else? Are there studies you can point to that support your initial claim?

          • but can leftists not tell the difference

            I’m not certain, but I don’t think Lady Jane self-identifies as a leftist.

          • LadyJane says:

            There are different definitions of what it means to force people to do things. Do I think Peterson or his supporters literally wanted to make it illegal for anyone to identify and present themselves as a different gender than they were assigned at birth? Of course not; there are probably very few people who would actively call for that. But a lot of people do want to use other forms of legal pressure to discourage people from transitioning (e.g. not allowing people to change their legal gender marker, not allowing trans people to use the bathroom corresponding to their preferred gender, not allowing doctors to prescribe hormone treatments for people with gender dysphoria). Even more people want to use social pressure to ostracize trans people and publicly invalidate their identities (e.g. refusing to serve or hire or rent to trans people, universally referring to trans people by their birth names and the pronouns of their assigned birth gender and encouraging everyone else to do the same, publicly outing people as trans).

            When someone says that people shouldn’t transition (or engage in homosexuality, or marry people of different races, or pursue careers that clash with their expected gender roles), I don’t think they literally want to stop people from doing so at gunpoint. But I do think it’s extrenely likely that they want to actively and strongly discourage the behavior in question through other means.

            (Also, I’m not a leftist by any means, no more than Aapje is a far-rightist. But it seems like ‘right’ and ‘left’ refer exclusively to Culture War positions around here.)

          • LadyJane says:

            @DavidFriedman: The anecdotal evidence I provided was in response to Tamar asking if trans people often had atypical secondary sex characteristics for their assigned birth gender. As far as I know, there haven’t been many studies done on that, so hard evidence is scarce. I fully acknowledge that my answer was based in a fairly weak claim, as I admitted in that post.

            It was absolutely not meant as evidence of my earlier assertion about scientific studies on trans people. But I have provided links to those studies on these forums before, and would be happy to do so again when I get home tonight.

          • Aapje says:

            @LadyJane

            While I agree with the thrust of your demands/suggestions, I think that:
            – sometimes there are excessive demands and/or excessive burdens placed on others
            – that people should have the freedom to object when they believe that demands and/or burdens are excessive, without facing abuse or retaliation
            – that some claims/demands are based on poor evidence and/or ignoring counter-evidence
            – that there is some opposition to attempts get better evidence and/or to have policies factor in uncertainty and/or counter-evidence

            From my perspective, people who object to excesses are frequently just rounded down to ‘anti-trans,’ which is both unjust and which creates an echo chamber with various bad consequences.

            The way you seem to ascribe a view to Peterson & all of his followers, seemingly based on very little actual fact, so being mostly based on pattern matching to a stereotype, is what I object to.

          • LadyJane says:

            @Aapje: Would you mind giving some examples of what you would consider excessive or unreasonable demands? Preferably examples which are endorsed by a significant portion of the trans community and not just a handful of fringe extremists.

            The main source of controversy with regards to Peterson is the C-16 law, and I don’t consider that excessive or unreasonable. (Again, a law that actually prohibited individuals from misgendering trans people in general would be excessive and unreasonable in my view, but that’s not what C-16 is.)

          • oppressedminority says:

            @LadyJane:

            C-16 only adds gender identity as a prohibited ground of discrimination, but the body responsible for enforcing the law considers misgendering to be discrimination, so in effect C-16 does what Peterson says it does.

            http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/policy-preventing-discrimination-because-gender-identity-and-gender-expression/7-forms-discrimination

          • Quoting from Oppressed Minority’s link to a page of the Ontario Human Rights Commission:

            The Code defines harassment as “engaging in a course of vexatious[40] comment or conduct that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.” Harassment will have happened if the person carrying out the behaviour knew or should have known it was unwelcome.

            Gender-based harassment can involve:

            Refusing to refer to a person by their self-identified name and proper personal pronoun

            That seems pretty clear. Harassment is defined by the fact that the person finds the comments unwelcome. I expect that, by that definition, I have harassed a variety of people on this blog. Nothing in what I have quoted depends on the “harasser” being in some particular relation of authority to the “victim.”

          • LadyJane says:

            @oppressedminority: As I’ve already explained ad nauseum, there’s a huge difference between saying that misgendering people can constitute harassment in certain contexts, and saying that misgendering people is prohibited in its own right. It’s like the difference between a law specifying that continually calling a black co-worker the n-word counts as workplace harassment, and a law stating that it’s now a crime for anyone to use the n-word at all.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            So it’s not against the law to misgender someone, but it is if you keep on doing it when they say not to.

          • LadyJane says:

            @Edward Scizorhands: Only if it’s in a situation like a workplace or a school, where the trans person can’t simply stop associating with the other person without undue cost to themselves.

          • oppressedminority says:

            @LadyJane:

            Thank you for acknowledging that misgendering is considered harassment (and therefore illegal) under Ontario law, if only “in certain contexts”. I personally do not find where the context is specified in this:

            Refusing to refer to a person by their self-identified name and proper personal pronoun

            (from the link above).

            What I find this is doing is making it illegal to be a jerk but only against certain people. I find it very dangerous and very short-sighted for the government to engage in such micromanagement of its population.

            I cant seem to find anything analogous to pronouns for trans regarding other types of protected minorities. The n-word certainly does not fit and even then saying the n-word shouldn’t be illegal in my view. de minimis non curat lex But in this case, the pronoun case seems to be unique in that it is a form of compelled speech, and if I was asked to use “xe, xym, xir…” I would certainly not feel safe in refusing to do so. Relying on the reasonableness of the Human Rights Commission staff is extremely imprudent.

          • Aapje says:

            @LadyJane

            Would you mind giving some examples of what you would consider excessive or unreasonable demands? Preferably examples which are endorsed by a significant portion of the trans community and not just a handful of fringe extremists.

            I am not aware of any studies or other reliable information that shows what a ‘significant’ portion of the trans community endorses (and what percentage is significant anyway?), so I don’t know if my examples qualify.

            One example is the practice of converting male rest rooms into female rest rooms, by removing urinals, and then labeling them gender neutral. IMO, this makes it far less pleasant for many people with a penis to use the rest room, for anatomical reasons, while the benefits seems small.

            Another example is how Kenneth Zucker and his clinic were treated. AFAIK, a fairly high percentage of children who have dysphoric feelings do end up identifying with their birth sex. Some believe that the best approach is to push pre-pubescent children with dysphoric feelings towards transitioning, while others, like Zucker, believe in first (or often) trying an approach where these children are made comfortable with being (partially) gender-non-conforming. AFAIK, there is no solid evidence that either strategy is the best and plausibly, each strategy may be good for a different subset of children and having clinics do both interventions and doing more research, might enable us to better figure out the best treatment for each individual.

            However, it seems that Zucker was attacked by people with a strong prejudice against his preferred type of treatment, far, far more aggressively than the scientific evidence justifies. The case against him seems to have been made very unfairly, by believing questionable evidence against him and ignoring evidence in favor.

            Another example is that research into desisting seems to have difficulty in getting approved, out of fear of a backlash.

            In general, it seems that some trans people and sympathizers want a simple narrative to make it easier to defend trans people and/or trans treatment, which on the one hand is an understandable response to skepticism, but which also can and does lead to a kind of extremism that seeks to suppress facts and voices that disagree with the simple narrative. Even worse, it can cause severe harm when people get an ‘ideological’ treatment, rather than a treatment based on the best scientific evidence.

          • So it’s not against the law to misgender someone, but it is if you keep on doing it when they say not to.

            More precisely, it is if you do it when you know or should have known that they don’t want you to.

          • Lady Jane earlier wrote:

            Studies over the past 20 years have consistently shown that the neurology and hormone levels of trans people (even those who haven’t undergone hormone treatments or sexual reassignment surgery) resemble those of their preferred gender more than the gender they were assigned at birth,

            I looked at the first of your studies, and it says the precise opposite.

            Results revealed that regional gray matter variation in MTF transsexuals is more similar to the pattern found in men than in women.

            Hence the studies have not “consistently shown” what you claimed they did.

            Your second study supported your claim.

            Your third study neither supported nor contradicted your claim.

            Your fourth study supported your claim for post-pubertal but not pre-pubertal subjects.

            From your fifth study:

            After controlling for sexual orientation, the transgender groups showed sex-typical FA-values.

            Again, the opposite of your claim.

            I didn’t look over the rest of the studies, since those are enough to show that your claim is false. The evidence that you claim consistently shows something is in fact mixed. Of the first five studies you offered as evidence for your claim, two contradict it and one says nothing about it.

            I believe that both of the studies that contradicted your claim did find some difference between transsexuals and others with the same sex assigned at birth, but that’s a much weaker claim than the one you made.

          • Only if it’s in a situation like a workplace or a school

            Can you point to where you find that restriction? It isn’t in the passage I quoted from the body that enforces the rules.

          • LadyJane says:

            @Aapje: Regarding your first example, I feel like there wouldn’t be such a push for gender-neutral bathrooms if trans people were simply allowed to use the bathroom corresponding to their preferred gender without any issue. But yes, trying to convert every bathroom into a gender-neutral bathroom even when that requires reconstruction is probably not a good solution. That said, I do think that single occupancy bathrooms can and should be considered gender-neutral as a general rule, since I can’t see any real drawbacks (though expecting every business to change all of their bathroom signs would be an unfair burden).

            The witch-hunt against Zimmer is absolutely disgusting, no argument there. I personally disagree with Zimmer’s approach, but I also don’t know nearly enough about child gender psychology to claim that what he was doing was objectively wrong. At any rate, I think comparing him to gay conversion therapists is completely unwarranted, especially since his methods seemed relatively benign.

            As for the studies on detransitioning, I have really mixed feelings on the subject. I think it’s something that should be studied, but I am greatly worried about conservative groups using the findings as ammunition against trans people. I’ve already seen an abundance of articles from the cultural right about how most people who transition end up regretting it (usually based on the claims of a very small handful of people), and I’d hate to further encourage that trend. Is it worth investigating something if the findings will almost certainly lead to bad outcomes, regardless of what those findings actually are? I would say it is, but I also wouldn’t consider it an easy choice; I think it’s a much harder question than either the Social Justice crowd or the truth-above-all-else rationalists think it is.

          • LadyJane says:

            @DavidFriedman: Indeed, my earlier claim that “the neurology and hormone levels of trans people resemble those of their preferred gender more than the gender they were assigned at birth” should be revised to “the neurology and hormone levels of trans people are atypical for the gender they were assigned at birth, and atypical in the direction of their preferred gender.” In other words, if 1 represents a cis woman’s brain and 2 represents a cis man’s brain, then only two of those studies indicate that a trans woman’s brain is closer to 1 than to 2 (i.e. lower than 1.5), but four of them indicate that a trans woman’s brain would be somewhere between 1 and 2 (i.e. lower than 2.0), and none of them indicate the contrary.* And all five studies very strongly indicate the broader point that there are concrete physiological differences between the brains of transgender and cisgender people, and that these differences can be scientifically observed and verified.

            *I limited my analogy to trans women for simplicity of speech, but my point also applies to trans men, even though some of the studies only looked at trans men and others only looked at trans women. (I suppose an argument could be made that trans-feminine identities are biologically valid but trans-masculine identities aren’t, or vice-versa, but thankfully no one on either side of the debate is making that argument, to the best of my knowledge.)

          • Aapje says:

            @LadyJane

            My impression/theory is that right now, (at least) two very different kinds of dysphoria are lumped together as ‘trans:’
            – Body dysphoria
            – Gender role dysphoria

            These can be hard to distinguish, because people expect those who look male to conform to the male gender role & people who look female to the female gender role. So people with gender role dysphoria can be dissatisfied with their body, in the sense that it causes people to treat them as male or female.

            However, it seems plausible to me that:
            – People with gender role dysphoria who transition get body dysphoria
            – Gender role dysphoria may generally be far more unpleasant at a young age when people have less control over their lives, haven’t found out how to present themselves in a way that causes less friction with others, etc*.
            – Alternative solutions to gender role dysphoria can often be possible (like learning certain behaviors or moving from an intolerant place to a more tolerant area)
            – Trans identity may be harmful to people with gender role dysphoria, because it pushes people too focus on their non-conformity too much. People are also conformist, so a trans identity may cause people to overly resist gender conformity (causing the inverse issue of being pressured/encultured into a gender role)
            – If we don’t research desisting, then we won’t learn to distinguish better between these two groups.

            I see decent (but not great) evidence for this theory in scientific findings, especially about desisting.

            From my point of view, you seem to only worry about people with body dysphoria, perhaps because you personally fall into this category. I worry that you are fighting for maximum support for people with body dysphoria at the expense for people with gender role dysphoria, not recognizing that the needs of body dysphoric people are not the only important consideration.

            The issue of people not recognizing the needs of others is a concern of mine. Even worse, we see that when other people say that they have needs, this gets interpretation as a dishonest tactic to harm others, rather than a genuine need. From my perspective, such assumptions of bad faith, which even extend to science, threaten the very basis of Enlightenment and (ironically) create a society that is all about the power to declare the needs of other groups invalid, to suppress facts/science that has undesired implications, etc.

            * My experience certainly was that my non-conformity to certain cultural standards became less of a problem as I aged.

          • LadyJane says:

            @Aapje: I think you raise some very good points. In fact, one of the reasons we have gender therapists is to distinguish between people with body dysphoria and gender role dysphoria, and advise them accordingly. From everything I’ve seen and heard, they tend to be quite thorough in verifying that patients have body dysphoria before proscribing any kind of medical treatment. Medically transitioning is absolutely not something that’s recommended frivolously (there are some states where it’s legal for people to buy hormones without any diagnosis, but that’s very different from having a mental health professional actively tell someone that they should transition).

            Furthermore, as you noted, medically transitioning tends to cause body dysphoria in the people who don’t have body dysphoria already. As a result, people who have gender role dysphoria and start taking hormones will usually realize in short order that transitioning isn’t right for them, and stop taking hormones before any serious permanent effects can set in (estrogen takes several months to cause any notable physical changes, and even those tend to be largely reversible). You’re right that some people might feel compelled to continue transitioning because of various psychological factors (social pressure, personal sense of identity, sunk cost fallacy, sheer stubbornness), but that’s always going to be unavoidable to at least some degree. I also think the social and cultural pressure for people not to transition is vastly stronger than any of those factors, and probably by several orders of magnitude, which is why I’m concerned about people who should transition convincing themselves they shouldn’t a lot more than I’m concerned about the reverse. Given the current dominant sociocultural paradigm, the former is likely to be a problem far more often than the latter.

            At any rate, I do agree with you that researchers should study the rates and effects of detransitioning. It could help gender therapists further refine their heuristics for determining whether a patient should transition, and it could help improve medical care for those who do end up detransitioning. Beyond that, I do fundamentally agree with the principle that scientists should be free to discover the truth in all matters, without being constrained by external considerations; in fact, in order for the scientific method to work, they must be free to do so. The reason I still consider it a difficult choice is because we live in a world where bad faith actors exist and scientific findings on controversial issues are frequently taken out of context to support social or political agendas. And while I don’t think that justifies preventing research on those issues, I do think researchers should strive to be as judicious as possible in how they choose to present their findings, so as to minimize misinterpretations (honest or otherwise).

          • Aapje says:

            From everything I’ve seen and heard, they tend to be quite thorough in verifying that patients have body dysphoria before proscribing any kind of medical treatment.

            I agree that therapists seem generally quite thorough in the effort they put in and the burdens they place on people with dysphoria. However, I’m not sure whether that translates into a high ability to distinguish between body dysphoria and gender role dysphoria. In general I’m not very impressed by the level of scientific understanding of gender-related dysphoria and I think that far better treatment is likely to be possible if that improves.

            I also think the social and cultural pressure for people not to transition is vastly stronger than any of those factors, and probably by several orders of magnitude, which is why I’m concerned about people who should transition convincing themselves they shouldn’t a lot more than I’m concerned about the reverse.

            I believe that this is a dangerous statement, because it ignores that social and cultural pressure can vary greatly between regions, subcultures, groups, etc. It can be simultaneously true that there is strong social and cultural pressure not to transition on many people, as well as strong social and cultural pressure to transition on other people.

            That kind of overeagerness and its results is also likely to provide munition for those who are against transitioning altogether and reduces support by moderates, so I would argue that focusing so much on one side of the equation is less wise than addressing both sides substantially, even if it may seem necessarily to push very hard in one direction. Such a perception is probably generally wrong, because advocacy is not merely about speaking to people’s conscience, but also very much about assuring people that change is not going to be for the worse, in the end, which requires taking care to prevent excesses.

            And while I don’t think that justifies preventing research on those issues, I do think researchers should strive to be as judicious as possible in how they choose to present their findings, so as to minimize misinterpretations (honest or otherwise).

            I think that people seeking to prevent misinterpretations in one direction (rather than in all directions), for political reasons, is on a continuum with misrepresenting it & designing studies to ensure ‘correct’ outcomes. I prefer a high standard of rigor in all directions, also because it just makes for better science.

        • Aapje says:

          @nameless1

          Trans people are a big threat to a pure nurture view of the sexes and why there is a substantial TERF contingent.

        • Deiseach says:

          male and female brains are different

          Is that the new orthodoxy today? Because I remember the old orthodoxy, where only paternalistic sexist racist homophobes would say male and female brains were different and every right-thinking person knew they were the same so you have no excuse to say women can’t be computer programmers, you fascist!

          Funny how biology changes according to the prevailing ideological requirements of the day!

          • mdet says:

            It is not the new orthodoxy. There is a large amount of infighting and debate around what trans people mean for feminists. There are some who say “Gender is pretty much a social construct anyway, so if someone with J genitals/chromosomes says they’re K gender, then why not?”. There’s Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists — the TERFs Aapje mentioned — who say “We’ve fought hard to decouple behavioral stereotypes from gender, and now trans people are coming in and saying ‘I think and act like a woman, therefore I am a woman’? No thanks”. And there’s a biological-differences faction that says “The differences between men and women are largely biological, and the evidence suggesting trans people’s biology is ‘inconsistent’ reflects this”.

            It’s not hypocrisy that some people support trans people because “male and female brains are different” while other supporters consider this concept bigoted. Those actually are different groups of people.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            For 20 or 30 years, yes.

            It’s a really good read, btw. Don’t have to go deep, I think the good part is in the first 10 pages or so.

            (and in case you’re not sarcastic (I can never tell anymore, maybe we should have little flags designating sides) you could tell exactly the same thing about physics)

          • CherryGarciaMillionaire says:

            The obvious example of tolerance for the idea that male and female brains are different is Simon Baron-Cohen’s “extreme male brain” theory of autism (i.e., in “male systemizing” vs. “female empathizing”).

          • kybernetikos says:

            I’ve got very old neurology books that describe the differences between male and female brains. I don’t think the fact that the median male brain has predictable differences to the median female brain is particularly controversial, or should ever have been so.

            The extent to which this meaningfully and relevantly affects behaviour (the magnitude of the effect), should be used to determine the way people are treated (ethically), is caused by nurture rather than genetics, is good/bad/neutral are all things that are much more debatable. And positions stronger than the evidence would support are often taken by people of particular ideological persuasions.

          • mdet says:

            @Radu Floricica, CherryGarciaMillionaire, kybernetikos

            I am 90% sure Deiseach was sarcastically mocking how progressives called James Damore a bigot for saying there are few women at Google because of male-female biological differences, yet progressives also say we know trans people aren’t diseased / faking it because of male-female biological differences. Deiseach implies that progressives are hypocrites, the actual answer is that progressives, like every other group, are not homogenous.

          • Enkidum says:

            So… not to rain on parades here, but the male vs female brain thing is grossly overstated. Given a random brain, you will have terrible odds at determining the sex of its former owner. There are certain tendencies that become apparent on a group level, but the differences between individuals within those groups are often larger than the between-group differences.

          • Aapje says:

            @Endikum

            We are not that good at finding brain differences by scanning brains, IMO, but if you examine the brain when the owner is still using it, you do find large average differences between the sexes:

            Del Giudice (2009) has recently argued that it may be misleading to report effect sizes for individual dimensions when researchers have identified agreed-upon taxonomies of relatively independent trait dimensions for particular psychological domains (such as personality and interests). Rather, a multidimensional distance should be computed. For gender differences in personality, this means that rather than (or in addition to) computing and reporting d statistics for each of the Big Five traits, researchers should compute a multivariate distance statistic for the entire 5-dimensional ‘space’ of personality – i.e., the Mahalanobis distance (D) statistic, which is the multivariate generalization of Cohen’s d statistic.

            By way of analogy, consider the following example. If asked –‘What is the distance between Los Angeles, California, and Salt Lake City, Utah?’ – you probably would not reply, ‘It is 354 miles on the east–west dimension, and 505 miles on the north–south dimension.’ Rather, you would give the two-dimensional Euclidian distance: ‘It is a little <600 miles.’

            Similarly, Del Giudice argues that researchers should not report gender differences in personality just in terms of five separate d statistics – for extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness – but rather they should also report the Mahalanobis D statistic for the entire five-dimensional space of personality. When Del Giudice computed the Mahalanobis D for gender differences in Big Five traits, based on a published data set, he found that although the mean d for gender differences in individual Big Five traits was 0.27 (conventionally considered to be ‘small’), the Mahalanobis D was in contrast 0.84, suggesting a relatively large mean separation of men and women in the multivariate ‘space’ of personality.

          • quanta413 says:

            you could tell exactly the same thing about physics

            Wait what?

            I’m not sure what you’re referring to. Things I can think of: the never-ending parade of supersymmetric blah blah blah fashions from year to year is getting pretty embarrassing in its 4th or so decade having made no connection to experiment other than to be ruled out.

            But outside of that example much of physics theory has been on solid footing for almost a century. Some for much, much longer. Which direction to expand in is surely affected by fashion. But Newtonian mechanics, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, general relativity, etc. are all essentially the same as when they were first hashed out. And all are still useful to boot. And our understanding and the applications of each continue to improve (more or less from decade to decade).

        • beleester says:

          I think he would only use that excuse if confronting a conscious activist lobbying for political change or something.

          So you’re saying he’ll only insult people when he disagrees with them politically. Phew! Good thing that politics are a minor, unimportant part of life, so that situation will never come up!

          I don’t think you’re making him sound as pleasant as you think you are.

      • andreyk says:

        Yes, besides the article I linked above his misrepresentation of the proposed law is what has me very doubtful he is worth listening to. Seems like a charlatan.

      • Tracy W says:

        but he also thinks that “arguments that biology does not determine gender ‘stem from the humanities and are entirely ideologically driven’”

        I thought that was a fairly pro-trans position. E.g. Georgina Beyersays she always knew, as long as she could remember, that she was female. Given the time and place she was born I am extraordinary sceptical that she got that belief from society.

        And David Reimer was another, more tragic example, of attempting to divorce gender from biology.

        One hypothesis I’ve heard is that there’s a switch for determining sex and a switch for determining gender as part of pre-natal development, and sometimes by mistake they get flipped different ways. (The proponent admitted it’s not a perfect theory as it doesn’t explain gender fluid/non-binary people, but at least “it’s all biology” seems better at explaining Georgina Beyer and David Reimer.)

        This is of course not to say that there’s one right way of being trans. If someone feels that they are trans for non-biological reasons that is as valid as any other. It’s entirely possible for people to get to the same place by different paths. Just that “biology doesn’t determine gender” has some significant empirical difficulties.

    • Aapje says:

      @Eric27

      So I think his answer to the question would be: “Bad things happen to good people by chance.” Or more specifically “Bad things happen to all people, good or bad.”

      Yes, but he also argues that success breeds success and failure breeds failure, because successful people get more and better opportunities, while people who fail get fewer and worse opportunities.

      So this is why he suggests finding the areas in your life where you have the ability to actually achieve success and focusing on those first, because actually achieving that success is likely to open up opportunities that you couldn’t imagine or plan for in your state of relative failure.

      This seems like good advice to me, although it is obviously dependent on both your actual abilities and ultimately boils down to improving your chances at the lottery of life, rather than being guaranteed a result.

      I was frankly a bit confused why Scott thought that Peterson should give meaning to suffering in general, as my interpretation of Peterson is that he thinks that overcoming is what satisfies people. I think that there are different kinds of suffering: the good kind and the bad.

      When I choose to get on a racing bike and torture my legs, I suffer, but it is a controlled suffering that reaffirms my ability and makes me better. When I chose to go to college, I suffered in some ways, but it made me better. When I get an injury, it is also suffering, but one that harms me. If someone beats me up, it is suffering, but doesn’t make me better in the end.

      I think that Peterson sees suffering just as an inevitable consequence of the human condition, something that good people are not immune from. He instead tries to steer people towards choices that actually reduce the ‘bad’ suffering, which means getting out of local optima and accepting some suffering that eventually leaves you in a better place.

    • SkyBlu says:

      “Bad things happen to good people by chance.” Or more specifically “Bad things happen to all people, good or bad.”

      Yes, but I think Scott’s point was that Jordan Peterson’s responses don’t provide a satisfying answer to Theidiocy; If there is a meaning to life, if there is some underlying Order to the world, why does it not seem like good people tend to be naturally luckier/happier/better off than bad people?

      • Eric27 says:

        As I understand Peterson, I don’t think he thinks there is some inherent meaning to life. One of the things he says quite a lot is “Find something worth suffering for.” This is an idea that Victor Frankl described in “Mans search for meaning”, which Peterson references quite often.
        I bet he sees it more as some peoples lifes have meaning because they stumbled upon it or looked for it (something that gave their lives meaning) and some peoples lifes don’t have meaning because they never looked for it or decided that X was what would make their life meaningful.

      • TTS says:

        When I read the “why do bad things happen to good people?” paragraph I immediately thought of some interview where Jordan Peterson says something like “life isn’t fair” when being asked about people having a disadvantaged starting point in life. It seems to me that a simple “life isn’t fair” totally resolves the question of why bad things happen to good people. The question only seems worth asking if you’re starting with the idea that good things somehow should happen to good people. I imagine C.S. Lewis might say that there is an infinitely good and infinitely powerful person who controls the world and makes everything good and fair and just, to which you could reply, “Why do bad things happen to good people, then?”, to which he would maybe reply, “Umm, well, see, it’s kind of a mystery, you see there is—Look! Behind you! A talking lion!”. What I mean to say is that perhaps these complicated explanations are just meant to distract people so that they would not look around and discover the simple correct answer, which is that the ideology they have been taught is not sound.

        I also thought about what makes an answer satisfying and thought that maybe a satisfying answer needs to explain things in terms of a personal motivation. So when you see a broken TV on the ground in front of a building you ask: “Why is this TV here, all broken?”, and someone replies “it fell down from the 5th floor window”, which is not really satisfying, so you ask, “but why?”, to which you get a reply, “John was having a bad day and freaked out and threw the TV out the window”, which now is a satisfying explanation because it links the ultimate cause of the broken TV to a person and that person’s motivation. So maybe this is a hardwired feature of humans and that is why personal deities and such have been so popular throughout the ages.

        • Aevylmar says:

          Lewis didn’t say “Umm, look behind you! A talking lion!” He wrote a whole book about the question. It’s called “The Problem of Pain.” I’m not really convinced by his arguments, but I think you’re doing him a disservice.

          • TTS says:

            I admit that the only books of Lewis I have read are the ones that feature the talking lion, so I’m not even trying to present a comprehensive summary of his views, I just thought that the whole idea of looking for meaning by trying to explain suffering doesn’t make sense. Maybe Lewis’s arguments in “The Problem of Pain” are convincing or maybe not, but why is he even arguing in the first place?

          • Nick says:

            By your own admission,

            The question only seems worth asking if you’re starting with the idea that good things somehow should happen to good people. I imagine C.S. Lewis might say that there is an infinitely good and infinitely powerful person who controls the world and makes everything good and fair and just,

            So you already thought of a reason why Lewis would argue in the first place. And if you’re wondering why Lewis would think God exists, of course he wrote books about that too.

          • TTS says:

            My question “why is he arguing” was of course rhetorical, and so I also knew the “correct answer” all along, which is that he is reasoning from faulty premises. The question is not even so much about whether god exists or not, it’s more about why would you think that life should be fair. My point was that regardless of whether you present Lewis’s argument as being sophisticated and complex, or stupid and simple, Jordan Peterson saying “life is not fair” removes the motivation behind the argument, making the actual quality of the argument irrelevant.

          • Nick says:

            You’ve got it backwards. If Lewis is correct that God exists, then the fact that life doesn’t appear fair becomes very mysterious. And the fact is, as Aevylmar pointed out in the first place, Lewis realized this and tried to address this problem. If Lewis is correct, in other words, then Jordan Peterson saying “life is not fair” just completely fails to address the fact that God exists and that suffering is very mysterious. And of course, if you want to say that Lewis never should have supposed life was cosmically just or whatever, then you have to go back to why he believes God exists in the first place.

          • TTS says:

            You’ve got it backwards. If Lewis is correct that God exists, then the fact that life doesn’t appear fair becomes very mysterious.

            It is not really about god existing or not, it is about believing that god makes things right with his unlimited powers. You could believe that some other mechanism ensures that justice prevails without believing in god at all, and you would end up in the same situation.

            When Jordan Peterson says “life is not fair”, he is basically just stating an obvious fact that anyone can see with their own eyes. When Lewis believes that god guarantees that life is fair, he is believing in something that is in direct conflict with the reality that he himself can clearly see. Maybe you can argue that “god” or “life” or “fairness” mean something else than what we commonly take them to mean, and maybe you can construct complex arguments and write books about it and arrive at some sense of mystery, but it all just seems like a mental exercise that provides short term relief by temporarily making you forget the uncomfortable cognitive dissonance. I find it difficult to understand why in order to find meaning in life you would require an explanation for why reality is something it obviously is not.

          • Nick says:

            When Jordan Peterson says “life is not fair”, he is basically just stating an obvious fact that anyone can see with their own eyes. When Lewis believes that god guarantees that life is fair, he is believing in something that is in direct conflict with the reality that he himself can clearly see. Maybe you can argue that “god” or “life” or “fairness” mean something else than what we commonly take them to mean, and maybe you can construct complex arguments and write books about it and arrive at some sense of mystery, but it all just seems like a mental exercise that provides short term relief by temporarily making you forget the uncomfortable cognitive dissonance. I find it difficult to understand why in order to find meaning in life you would require an explanation for why reality is something it obviously is not.

            Is this a standard you apply everywhere? If not, what makes this case special? Consider the following substitution:

            When I say putting a stick in the water bends it, I am stating an obvious fact anyone can see with their own eyes. When a scientist believes that physics guarantees the stick can’t be bent by so little pressure and there’s an explanation for why it appears bent, he’s believing something that is in direct conflict with the reality that he himself can clearly see. Maybe you can argue that “bent” means something else than we commonly take it to mean, and maybe you can construct complex arguments and write books about it and arrive at some science of optics, but it all just seems like a mental exercise that provides short term relief by temporarily making you forget the uncomfortable cognitive dissonance. I find it difficult to understand why in order to explain the universe you would require an explanation for why reality is something it obviously is not.

            Are you seeing the problem now?

          • TTS says:

            Seeing here is obviously a metaphor for all kinds of perception, including hearing other people telling about things, reading what others have written, and running your hand along a stick and feeling that it is not in fact bent.

            Is this a standard you apply everywhere? If not, what makes this case special?

            I assume the standard here is accepting empirically verified results over results obtained by abstract reasoning from first principles, whenever the two are in conflict, and I would say that I do apply it everywhere.

            Are you seeing the problem now?

            No, I am afraid I still do not see it. I would think that you find meaning maybe by participating in activities where other people understand what you are doing and you understand what the others are doing, which can be thought to be a definition of meaning. I still don’t quite see why, in order to find meaning in life, you need to explain why it must be true that morally good people never get cancer.

          • Nick says:

            I assume the standard here is accepting empirically verified results over results obtained by abstract reasoning from first principles, whenever the two are in conflict, and I would say that I do apply it everywhere.

            No one’s suggesting using “abstract reasoning from first principles,” whatever that even means. We’re not Enlightenment-era rationalists here.

            Why did you even bother to run your hand along the stick, though? What was wrong with the plain evidence of your senses, that you decided as a result to investigate further?

          • TTS says:

            Why did you even bother to run your hand along the stick, though? What was wrong with the plain evidence of your senses, that you decided as a result to investigate further?

            Maybe I have previous experience with sticks, and I recall that every time before when a stick was bent I could feel a force on the other end of the stick, and this time I didn’t feel any force, so my two senses are leading to two conflicting interpretations. Or maybe I am not holding the stick when I see it penetrate the surface of the water, so I cannot tell if there is a force or not, but I recall that when a stick bends it makes a curve and not a sharp turn like it seems to do in water, so the evidence from my sight is not really consistent with the stick bending, and therefore I think there might be something entirely different going on. How did the scientist that believed the stick cannot be bent by so little pressure know what kind of pressure there was on the stick?

            Are you trying to say that Lewis had previous experience that morally good people do not get cancer, so when confronted with an exception he had to find an explanation?

  8. guardianpsych says:

    Your patient comes in, says their twelve-year old kid just died in some tragic accident. Didn’t even get to say good-bye. They’re past their childbearing age now, so they’ll never have any more children. And then they ask you for help. What do you say?

    You get them to grow a plant and give it the same name as the child they lost, or find out their hobby and get them to transfer their energies into that, preferably in a pro social way.

    People need to do stuff and they need to do it with other people. Especially when grieving. Talking is fine, but action is better. (Generally the lower the IQ, the more action and less talk)

    On Peterson – he has correctly identified that modern soceity is descending into a war of all against all because we have no centralising organising values any more (god is dead, globalisation is rupturing nationality, families break apart now theres now lifetime marriages etc) and he’s trying to replace it with a religious set up based on self help values.

    Because one of the values is individual self reliance I don’t think it will fall into culthood, it is going to be hard to create a cult by getting anyone interested in your ideas heavily invested into not depending on you.

  9. Bugmaster says:

    “Weird. Must be a prophet. Better kneel.”

    “Nae king! Nae quin! Nae laird! Nae master! We willnae be fooled again!”

    • JulieK says:

      “The dwarfs are for the dwarfs!”

      • yodelyak says:

        Anyone for a Hegelian synthesis of “The dwarfs are for the dwarfs” and “Nae king! Nae quin! Nae laird! Nae master! We willnae be fooled again!”

        Turn back, O man, forswear thy foolish ways.
        Old now is earth, and none may count her days,
        Yet thou, her child, whose head is crowned with flame,
        Still wilt not hear thine inner God proclaim,
        ‘Turn back, O man, forswear thy foolish ways.’

        Earth might be fair, and all men glad and wise.
        Age after age their tragic empires rise,
        Built while they dream, and in that dreaming weep:
        Would man but wake from out his haunted sleep,
        Earth might be fair, and all men glad and wise.

        Earth shall be fair, and all her people one;
        Nor till that hour shall God’s whole will be done.
        Now, even now, once more from earth to sky,
        Peals forth in joy man’s old, undaunted cry,
        ‘Earth shall be fair, and all her folk be one!’

        (A popular hymn by Clifford Bax, also popularized as a song from the musical Godspell)

        • yodelyak says:

          Mostly I’m just super jealous of Bugmaster and JulieK for getting both halves of this dialogue so spot-on, and with such brilliant references to proponents of their respective halves of the dialogue. I have to go on and on because I want to participate, and the conversation is already complete.

          • Bugmaster says:

            FWIW, I believe Pratchett would reply to Lewis thusly:

            “The merest accident of microgeography had meant that the first man to hear the voice of Om, and who gave Om his view of humans, was a shepherd and not a goatherd. They have quite different ways of looking at the world, and the whole of history might have been different. For sheep are stupid, and have to be driven. But goats are intelligent, and need to be led.”

        • Bugmaster says:

          I have never heard this hymn (not surprisingly, perhaps) — what is your favorite rendition of it ? Normally I wouldn’t ask, but I’ve become aware how much the performance can impact the meaning of a song. For example, this rendition of a popular hymn changes its meaning… well, if not 180°, then perhaps 90° or thereabouts.

  10. AC Harper says:

    I am not convinced that Jordan Peterson writes/lectures as a (modern) philosopher or guru trying to establish the framework for generating meaning in peoples’ lives. I suspect he writes as a clinician trying to establish metaphorically informed world views to help people balance their lives and reduce avoidable suffering. So talk of a Jordan Peterson religion or cult or philosophy are perhaps an over-reach. Maybe his choice of narratives, myths or archetypes misleads?

  11. a reader says:

    @Scott:

    As a psychiatrist, what do you think about Jordan Peterson’s “self authoring” program? Can it really help someone fight akrasia and put order in his/her life?

    @others:

    Did anybody here try it? Did it really help or not?

    @Aapje:

    I was right when I said that “I don’t think that Scott has such an aversion to Jordan Peterson” 🙂

    • Aapje says:

      I disagree. I think he had a very weak and irrational aversion* that could easily change, which is what probably happened.

      * More based on the delivery

    • BillG says:

      I’ve used it, found it valuable. Returns will likely vary based on personality.

      Value for me was in the stepwise process- beginning with highest level goals helped pull away from details, and then condensing down to concrete activities helped avoid paralysis/lack of focus.

      I think it would be valuable for most folks, particularly those who have difficulty articulating either their highest level goals in a concrete manner or figuring out next steps toward attaining those goals at a reasonable level of attainability.

    • kaptajnkabel says:

      Peterson and his fellows tested the program out on students in Holland and it showed remarkably good results.

        • Forge the Sky says:

          Thanks, I’d wondered about that. The initial results were fantastic, but always seemed too good to be true.

          As I recall the largest benefit in the original study was seen by immigrant students who were struggling. Since it’s a relatively easy study to replicate, it might be worth a shot to see if a sample that includes some does anything, but I wouldn’t be too optimistic.

    • a reader says:

      Anybody (who uses Paypal) wants to share with me Jordan Peterson’s Self Authoring Suite Special! (2 for 1) ? The promotional 2 persons suite costs 30 USD – same as the normal 1 person suite – so it will be 15 USD/person. This suite is complete, contains Past, Present (Virtues & Faults) and Future.

      https://selfauthoring.com/self-authoring-suite.html

  12. awalrus says:

    I think Peterson is very against utilitarianism, but I’m not really sure why.

    It’s my impression that his stance is similar to Seeing Like A State,
    cautioning against meddling with complex systems one does not fully understand.

  13. gsalisbury189 says:

    One person donating a few hundred bucks to the Against Malaria Foundation will prevent suffering more effectively than a hundred people cleaning their rooms and becoming slightly psychologically stronger. I think Peterson is very against utilitarianism, but I’m not really sure why.

    It’s because of his Piagetian framework (which is kind of like Aristotelian ethics), which insists that the actions you make benefit you proximally and rippling from there across your own networks, and across time. Donating money abroad might have the effect of helping ‘more’ people, but the effects are disembodied from yourself and your wider circles. This makes it, for one, harder to sustain over time, while investing that same amount of money into more local areas is generally easier to become self-perpetuating.

    The two are diametrically opposed greedy algorithms, which seek to maximize in different ways. In Peterson’s way, it’s easier to reduce suffering amongst more people, but crucially, it reduces the relative suffering differential between your peers. Arguably, suffering is easier to deal with if everyone else is suffering through it the same.

    • JulieK says:

      If Peterson was telling people to donate to the Against Malaria Foundation, how many people would actually do it? For his audience, telling them to clean their room will probably have more of a result.
      Plus, presumably his theory is that cleaning your room starts a process that eventually leads to your giving more money to charity.
      Maybe rationalist-types can read a logical argument and start giving hundreds of dollars every year to fight malaria. But for an average person who doesn’t give anything to charity, (generally) that aspect of his behavior will only change as part of a larger change in his behavior patterns and how he sees himself.

  14. Ketil says:

    One person donating a few hundred bucks to the Against Malaria Foundation will prevent suffering more effectively than a hundred people cleaning their rooms and becoming slightly psychologically stronger. I think Peterson is very against utilitarianism, but I’m not really sure why.

    Perhaps because it is a self-help book, not a help-the-statistics-on-global-inequality-and-suffering-book? The point being that giving money against malaria improves the world, but the giver is still miserable because he doesn’t have a girlfriend, has a lousy job where his talents aren’t appreciated, lacks this, wants for that. This isn’t utilitarian or consequentialist, is is virtue ethics.

    Recently I’ve read up a bit on stoicism, and I find it interesting to contrast and compare (to the ability of my amateur understanding of either topic) stoicism and Peterson. I think there are many parallels, the most fundamental one is to focus on yourself. Be a better person! Chasing hedonism, materialism, or other people’s approval won’t make you happy. Don’t look for someone to blame, don’t complain about your lot in life (which to be honest, isn’t all that bad, considering). Realize that you cannot avoid misfortunes in life, but that you can control how you respond to it. And so on.

  15. Anon. says:

    What is the life expectancy for people with congenital insensitivity to pain?

  16. liskantope says:

    One person donating a few hundred bucks to the Against Malaria Foundation will prevent suffering more effectively than a hundred people cleaning their rooms and becoming slightly psychologically stronger.

    I don’t think it’s quite as clear-cut as that. Peterson’s repeated “learn to make your own bed first” advice, while coming across as rather judgmental and superior in tone given the manner and frequency at which he says it, doesn’t strike me as that incompatible with utilitarianism. I haven’t read the book being reviewed, but I’ve seen a lot of Peterson lectures and interviews on YouTube, and I’ve heard him justify this philosophy as one enabling people to become far more effective at reducing suffering in the world.

    If we learn to get our own lives in order, we can become better effective altruists. I’ve seen this emphasized multiple times by EAs, in the context of discussing mental health issues affecting rationalists/EAs who aren’t sure how acceptable it is to prioritize alleviating their own suffering over directly tackling greater suffering in the world. (Actually calculating how far people should go in taking care of themselves at the expense of energy spent directly on EA causes is a nontrivial problem, of course.)

    • IrishDude says:

      Here’s an interview clip with Jordan getting at what you’re saying. Get your stuff together (e.g. cleaning your room) and you’ll be more competent at taking on the larger, more complicated challenges.

      EDIT: Jordan offers a particular example in Boyan Slat, who, instead of protesting environmental issues, worked to solve them by developing a method to clean plastic from the ocean.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I agree you can make this argument, but Peterson doesn’t find the “actually go out and relieve the suffering” part interesting or worth talking about at all, which is surprising.

      I think the EAs advocate a balance between self-improvement (investing in your future ability to improve the world) vs. current improving the world (without having a strong position on what form that balance takes). I don’t really see Peterson as addressing this.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        I kind of think his approach is more robust. If you happen to live in an universe that has either a well of very deep suffering or a vastness of somewhat less fortunate, it would be at least challenging to focus on finding a balance. Plus, by definition it would be splitting an existing pie.

        Focusing on a rippling self-improvement is immune to a “bad” universe, ends up improving it in the end, and focuses of making the pie bigger. Might be slower, but more efficient long term.

  17. Rocket says:

    A bit of an aside from Peterson, but relevant to the idea of conflicting Order-Chaos drives and uncertainty-minimization: There was a paper about a month ago about getting AI agents to learn new and interesting behaviours, which touched surprisingly close to that.

    Background: Lots of people have tried “reinforcement learning”, where you plop an AI agent in some environment in which it can take actions, and doing certain things nets it a ‘reward’, then you let it do its own thing to try to learn how to maximize that reward. The problem with this is that if reward is rare, as it can be in many scenarios, the AI gets very few opportunities to learn from it. Imagine a game where such an AI only got a reward for finishing a complex level, but no reward for incremental progress: The odds of it coincidentally stumbling into that reward are extremely low, and it will take it a vast, vast amount of time and random button-mashing to join up the dots and figure out which chains of actions got it to that state, and so learn how to get that reward more efficiently in future.

    The paper took a different approach: Rather than purely seeking out reward, the AI agent should give itself its own goal, namely to understand how to manipulate the environment it’s in. They achieved that goal (and here’s where the Order-Chaos part comes in) by giving it two components. The first component looks at the input it’s getting (i.e. what the agent can see in the virtual world it’s in) and the action (i.e. what “buttons” the agent is pushing). It then tries to predict what the agent will see next – in other words, to predict the consequences of that action.

    The fun part comes from the second component, though, which has an adversarial relationship with the first. It’s the bit that gets to choose actions, and it chooses actions so as to maximally challenge the first component. It’s the Chaos, in this analogy, but it’s also the driver of learning, because if the first component was in control, and the only goal was to minimize uncertainty, it would just sit still and stare at a blank wall. With the two components, though, the AI effectively “learns through play”, starting by moving itself around until the predictor component has mastered that before focusing on objects in the scene, and specifically how to toss them around in maximally confusing ways. (Insert your own analogy to toddlers here)

    As well as being an interesting piece of computer-psychology (this is sort of becoming a field lately), the longer-term hope is that such agents will build a model of their environment even in the absence of external reward signals, and so when reward arrives, they’ll have some higher-level abstractions ready to go (“Maybe I need to move the blocks onto the button”) rather than having to painstakingly bootstrap their world-model from raw pixels and rare rewards. In other words, such agents may be far more effective at getting reward than ones that are solely motivated by getting reward.

    • benwave says:

      That’s interesting. “Imagine a game where such an AI only got a reward for finishing a complex level, but no reward for incremental progress: The odds of it coincidentally stumbling into that reward are extremely low, and it will take it a vast, vast amount of time and random button-mashing to join up the dots and figure out which chains of actions got it to that state, and so learn how to get that reward more efficiently in future” Sure sounds like an accurate description of adult life to me!

    • tossrock says:

      Reminiscent of Sax’s ruminations on the “habitable zone” of complexity between order and chaos from Blue Mars:

      “There was orderly behavior, there was chaotic behavior; and on their border, in their interplay, so to speak, lay a very large and convoluted zone, the realm of the complex. This was the zone in which viriditas made its appearance, the place where life could exist. Keeping life in the middle of the zone of complexity was, in the most general philosophical sense, what the longevity treatments had been about — keeping various incursions of chaos (like arrhythmia) or of order (like malignant cell growth) from fatally disrupting the organism.” Kim Stanley Robinson, Blue Mars, 1996

  18. Erfeyah says:

    But it would be really interesting if one day we could determine that this universal overused metaphor actually reflects something important about the structure of our brains.

    He has a chapter in his book Maps of Meaning where he maps the pattern (which is more than just order and chaos – see the same book) onto parts of the brain. Would be really interested to know what you think!

  19. Andy B says:

    But on another level, something about it seems a bit off. Taken literally, wouldn’t this turn you into a negative utilitarian? (I’m not fixated on the “negative” part, maybe Peterson would admit positive utility into his calculus). One person donating a few hundred bucks to the Against Malaria Foundation will prevent suffering more effectively than a hundred people cleaning their rooms and becoming slightly psychologically stronger. I think Peterson is very against utilitarianism, but I’m not really sure why.

    Peterson is preaching a virtue ethic. If he spoke your language, he might suggest that it is consequentially better for his audience to cultivate the virtue of care rather than (or at the very least prior to) the virtue of rationality. To me that seems obviously correct.

  20. nameless1 says:

    I like him, but I really don’t get his overly pragmatic approach to truth. I don’t really get how a conservative version of Rorty’s pragmatism can work. Take this transgenderism thing. The conservative thinks that being born with a penis makes you a man. He does not think it is good for you think you are a man if you are born with a penis. He can accept that it can be horrible for you. He just says you cannot change this reality. But if what is good for you is true, then it is good for you think you are whatever gender you feel the most comforable in.

    Maybe he means it is good for you to accept objective reality. But in that case truth is not what is good for but what conforms to objective reality. And what is good for you is not truth as such, but accepting it.

    Suppose you have terminal cancer. It is the truth and it is not good at all. Accepting it can be good, in the sense that less bad than keeping to deny it until the last moment because it can make you hurry up and do some things you would regret not doing while you are alive. But it is acceptance that is good for you, not truth in itself.

    • lemmycaution415 says:

      He needs the pragmatic concept of truth to discuss religious and mythical ideas as true. the pragmatist William James does the same thing in Varieties of Religious Experience. Peterson develops a version of what James calls the “second born” that emphasizes redemption and construction of meaning through suffering. There is also a less prevelant “first born” temperament that deemphasizes suffering. James’ framework is 100% comparable with Darwinian evolution. Things that resonate with peoples religous temperaments become super popular.

    • LadyJane says:

      But if what is good for you is true, then it is good for you think you are whatever gender you feel the most comforable in.

      From what I can tell, there are two reasons why Peterson rejects this. First, he disagrees with the object-level claim that transgender identities are valid; i.e. he doesn’t think there’s any justifiable cause for a seemingly-male person to identify as a female or vice-versa. He doesn’t accept that it’s possible for someone to have a “female brain in a male body,” or at least thinks it’s extraordinarily rare and not actually the case for 99% of the people claiming it. In his eyes, trans people (or at least the vast majority of them) are either delusional, lying to themselves, or faking it for social status, and in keeping with his near-obsessive focus on Truth above all else, he thinks it’s unethical to play along with their lies and delusions.

      Second, and even more importantly, a big part of his philosophy is centered around accepting your circumstances, including the societal roles that people were born into. This is one of the core aspects of his whole philosophical and ideological framework, possibly the single most important aspect. I can’t emphasize that enough, it’s the lynchpin of his entire worldview, to the point where he believes that people imprisoned in gulags should simply take responsibility for their actions and make the best of their current circumstances. This is why he believes that women should conform to traditional gender roles, and why he condemns blaming social/political/economic factors for people’s problems – not because he doesn’t believe that sociological factors can affect people in negative ways, but because he thinks those considerations are irrelevant, since the real question is how people choose to live within their sociological constraints.

      So even if he did acknowledge the validity of trans people’s claims, he’d still think the correct course of action would be for them to accept that they can’t have everything they want and go along with society’s expectations, rather than struggling against the current to change society’s view of them. Again, this is a man who believes that the correct course of action for a concentration camp guard would be to do his job to the best of his ability, because the alternative would be a state of anarchy that would be worse off for everyone. He is conservative to an extreme, not in the political sense of the word (most political conservatives are actually quite supportive of change, as long as it’s in the direction they like), but in the literal sense of opposing all changes to the current status quo as a matter of principle.

      • nameless1 says:

        There are two ways I could steelman that view. One is sort of parallelly accept/not accept. If you are born in a concentration camp, yes try to get out or try to get the whole thing closed down but in the meantime also make the best of your time.

        The other is that I think Those Who Are Not To Be Named talk about? That all change is from elites, there are no purely popular revolutions. A concentration camp inmate is precisely the one who has the least power to effect it closed down.

        I am not sure I understand that logic, but there is an element that makes sense to me. Every oppression by definition contains disempowerment else it would be very unstable and short-lasting. Even a perfectly liberal structure putting nazis into prison would of course not give guns to them. The whole point of oppression is to put people into a weak condition where they cannot fight back.

        And thus all the historical stories about the oppressed shaking their chains off and rising up are somewhat suspicious? You need elite help. Or you need for the oppression to actually reduce to be able to get strong enough to shake the rest off.

        So I think basically he thinks that it was all right for French knights to launch crusades to help out the oppressed Christians of the Near East, but themselves just had to deal with whatever they had.

      • John Richards says:

        This is a scandalous misrepresentation of his worldview and of his process. He is not about merely “accepting current circumstances.” He is about accepting that the situation you find yourself in is arbitrary and unfair and avoiding bitterness so as not to make the problem worse. If you find yourself born a peasant, there’s still downward room to go. Your life can always become more hellish. He’s not all about the status quo. If he was, he wouldn’t be trying to upset the current status quo of humanities departments. Are you happy that there is so much support for Marxist thought in the humanities departments?

        • LadyJane says:

          He’s not all about the status quo. If he was, he wouldn’t be trying to upset the current status quo of humanities departments.

          It seems more like he’s trying to actively prevent “Cultural Marxism” from becoming the status quo in academia, rather than challenging the existing status quo.

          To clarify, I think it would be ridiculous to suggest that Peterson supports Nazism or Stalinism. I’m well aware that his entire philosophy was largely formed as a response to the brutal horrors of Nazism and Stalinism. To the best of my understanding, his view is that Nazism and Stalinism were caused by attempts at radical social change (which is largely accurate), and so he universally rejects all attempts at radical social change as a result, regardless of the nature of the change itself. He differs from typical reactionaries in that they’re usually willing to support radical social change that reverses the previous radical social change and restores an earlier status quo, whereas he rejects even that. Once Nazism has become the status quo, then the wisest course of action is to simply make the best of it, because if overthrowing the old regime led to Nazism, then overthrowing Nazism will either lead to total anarchy (which would be bad in different ways, and worse overall) or to some kind of super-Nazism (which would be the same kind of bad taken to even more horrific extremes).

          • lvlln says:

            To the best of my understanding, his view is that Nazism and Stalinism were caused by attempts at radical social change (which is largely accurate), and so he universally rejects all attempts at radical social change as a result, regardless of the nature of the change itself.

            This isn’t quite right: there are things specific to Nazism and Communism besides the generic “attempts at radical social change” that he points out as being pernicious, that he particularly has a dislike for. One is identity politics or “class-based guilt,” which is fairly obvious in the case of Nazism, and which played out in practice in Communism in things like dekulakization. Another is “equity” or equality of outcome – limited to Communism – which he regards as a nice-sounding idea whose implementations necessarily require so much tyranny as to become corrupted and murderous almost immediately.

            I’d definitely categorize him as being conservative, in that he has a default skepticism of large-scale social changes (some of this is also driven by his experience as a psychologist; he claims he has observed too many interventions by educated, well-meaning social scientists end up causing net harm to the very people they were trying to help), but I wouldn’t say it’s accurate to say he rejects them all. For instance, he seems to be generally positive on the suffragette movement or the US civil rights movement of the 60s, and he isn’t against gay marriage or Universal Basic Income, though he’s somewhat skeptical of the latter 2 and he hasn’t spoken much on any of the 4, to my knowledge.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        this is a man who believes that the correct course of action for a concentration camp guard would be to do his job to the best of his ability, because the alternative would be a state of anarchy* that would be worse off for everyone

        That doesn’t sound to me at all like a position Peterson would endorse. I understand him to be saying that a society gets to the point of having concentration camps in the first place if people are insufficiently brave and willing to shoulder their duty, in this case, a duty to speak out against the sort of totalitarian ideologues who would want to build concentration camps before they get to a position of being able to actually build them. And that people get to the point of becoming concentration camp guards themselves as a result of thoughtlessly going along with what is expected of them, and not challenging the dangerous ideologies. That is to say, he thinks that it is understandable that less-than-superhumanly-courageous people can become cogs in a murderous ideological machine if society takes a bad course, but that’s not the same as endorsing people supporting the machine to the best of their ability once they have become such cogs.

        Can you point to where your reading comes from?

        *Of course, if the only alternative to concentration camps is an anarchy that actually would be worse for everyone, then tautologically, concentration camps are the lesser evil – but again, I’m not sure where you’ve come across this claim in Peterson’s work – though the guy has a lot of videos, and I’m sure I’ve only seen a small fraction. Can you source that claim as well?

      • russellsteapot42 says:

        “So even if he did acknowledge the validity of trans people’s claims, he’d still think the correct course of action would be for them to accept that they can’t have everything they want and go along with society’s expectations, rather than struggling against the current to change society’s view of them.”

        That is not quite true. If you watch his conversations with trans woman Theryn Meyer, it’s much more that trans people can’t have everything they want, so they must engage with negotiation with society in order to secure as much of what they want as they can, which they can do by agreeing to meet certain societal expectations.

        What Peterson is against is more of the ‘outright rebellion against the categories’ that some trans activists seem to be engaging in.

        • LadyJane says:

          If you watch his conversations with trans woman Theryn Meyer, it’s much more that trans people can’t have everything they want, so they must engage with negotiation with society in order to secure as much of what they want as they can, which they can do by agreeing to meet certain societal expectations.

          I suppose it depends on the exact nature of those expectations, but in general, doesn’t that seem like an unfair and unreasonable burden to place on trans people? Why should people who were born different have to bear the costs of society’s reluctance to tolerate their existence?

          If someone irrationally hated people with red hair and green eyes, that’s on him for feeling that way, not on them for existing. If instead of one person, it was a full third of the population, that still wouldn’t change the fact that it should be their problem for being irrationally bigoted, not the red-haired green-eyed people’s problem for being what they are. In such a situation, it might be likely for red-haired green-eyed people to suffer oppression, socially and perhaps even legally, but it would still be egregiously unjust. And it seems similarly unjust to argue that red-haired green-eyed people should have to negotiate with their oppressors just to be discriminated against less.

          • lvlln says:

            I suppose it depends on the exact nature of those expectations, but in general, doesn’t that seem like an unfair and unreasonable burden to place on trans people? Why should people who were born different have to bear the costs of society’s reluctance to tolerate their existence?

            The issue really comes down to what one means by “tolerate their existence.”

            For instance, one thing I believe he pointed out about the difficulties that trans folk will have in navigating their lives is that their romantic relationships will necessarily be somewhat different from the common “archetypical” romantic relationship. That doesn’t mean they can’t have romantic relationships just as fulfilling as any cis person, but it does mean that they’ll have extra hurdles in the way. For instance, a MtF transwoman who is attracted to men is going to have a much more limited pool of men as potential romantic partners than a cis woman, just because most straight men do tend to distinguish between MtF transwoman and cis woman in terms of their romantic interest. Now, a MtF transwoman in this case could try to reorganize society such that straight men who are attracted to cis women but not MtF transwomen get ostracized and bullied for being a transphobic bigot, but it’s questionable how successful that would be.

            In some sense, this is quite unfair, that a transwoman has to deal with a tougher dating market than a ciswoman, merely for the fact of being trans, something entirely out of her control. But at the same time, this is the kind of unfairness that basically everyone deals with, on a spectrum. A man who’s born short, a woman who’s born ugly, a man who’s born stupid and to poor parents, a woman who’s born with genetic predisposition to obesity and depression, all of these people will face “unfair” obstacles in the dating market that are beyond what others will have to face. Being trans is one characteristic that adds difficulties, and while we can do our best to alleviate the unfairness that is unjust, we can’t get rid of it entirely, at least not without totalitarian control of individuals.

            I think it’s pretty clear he’s against any irrational hatred for trans folk, like in that red-hair-green-eyes hypothetical.

          • LadyJane says:

            The issue really comes down to what one means by “tolerate their existence.”

            First and foremost, it means respecting their preferred gender identity within official contexts: allowing them change their legal gender marker, allowing them to use public bathrooms corresponding to their preferred gender, referring to them by their preferred names and pronouns in professional environments (workplaces, schools, government offices), not refusing to hire/serve/rent to people for being trans, not attacking or threatening or harassing people for being trans, and so forth. Beyond that, I would say that the general rule should be “if it’s not considered acceptable to act a certain way toward cis people, it shouldn’t be considered acceptable to act that way toward trans people.”

            I’m not particularly bothered by the fact that some people don’t want to date or sleep with trans individuals, since as you pointed out, there are plenty of comparable reasons why someone might not want to date or sleep with certain cis people (hair color, skin color, height, weight, body type, intelligence level, or in some rare cases, simply because they’re not trans). Romantic/sexual attraction is extremely complex, and I don’t think not being attracted to trans people necessarily constitutes or even implies a rejection of their gender identity.

            On the other hand, it wouldn’t be considered socially acceptable to consistently refer to a cis person by the wrong name, or to aggressively insist on referring to a feminine-looking cis man with female pronouns. So I don’t consider it socially acceptable to do those things to trans people either.

            I think it’s pretty clear he’s against any irrational hatred for trans folk, like in that red-hair-green-eyes hypothetical.

            That doesn’t seem clear to me at all.

  21. zima says:

    I think Peterson’s psychology videos are great; I learned a lot and did feel my life become more meaningful. But lots of his takes outside psychology are somewhat crazy, and he definitely didn’t help his reputation by threatening a critic on Twitter recently. Overall, this seems like another example of an intellectual becoming controversial because they became well-known based on polarizing views outside their area of expertise (like Chomsky?), but it’d be unfortunate to ignore his insightful psychology work because of it.

    • Erfeyah says:

      Well, while I personally do not believe that swearing was necessary, especially for a public intellectual, the ‘critic’ you are referring to used the arguably far more offensive characterisation of fascist towards Peterson as well as insulting a friend of his based on fake claims. It was a smear piece.

  22. P. George Stewart says:

    What’s wrong with cliches? Sayings and cliches often represent the accumulated wisdom of the human race. The fact that you’ve heard them a million times before doesn’t make them any less true.

    I think the reason Peterson has charisma is probably because he’s had mystical experiences, which give you an inner conviction and enthusiasm that’s completely unshakable, which you inadvertently transmit to others. I rather think that’s the true origin of religion in almost all cases, for left to his own devices, naturalistically-minded man would never have come up with the kinds of ideas you get in religion (and there have always been sceptics – the materialist Carvaka school was recognized as part of the intellectual atmosphere of early Hinduism). But the religious stuff is garbled, third-hand reports of mystical experience minced over with speculative philosophical reasoning.

    Someone has a direct experience of a trivial fact: the universe is a Great Big Thing, and we are as much that Thing as anything else (fallacy of composition? no – “grammatically,” this is like a wall made of brown bricks being brown). And whatever mysterious Engine undergirds the universe we see, we are also That, a chip off the old block at the very least. People get this experience here and there in various ways – unusual stress, cheating death, a walk in nature, doing any of the numerous largely identical contemplative practices that have been developed by recluses in all human cultures.

    It’s almost impossible to understand and directly experience that large but trivial fact in the normal frame of mind: the normal frame of mind is steeped in the illusion of radical separateness. We can’t help but feel we are a separate “thing” inside the body, peeping out from somewhere behind the eyes. The hypnotic trance of being a “self” is so strong that breaking out from it is quite rare.

    But it happens, and when it happens, the person who it happens to becomes fearless, enthusiastic, compassionate, and has a twinkle in their eye.

    This makes them attract followers.

    The followers may or may not “get” the same message.

    The thing becomes institutionalized.

    It becomes socially acceptable, then respected.

    When it’s respected, the rich send their useless second sons and daughters to communities around the thing.

    In order to accommodate some form of progression for the useless second sons and daughters, the “religion” is turned into something palatable, intellectually intricate, etc. – it keeps them occupied.

    Eventually, when the useless second sons and daughters take charge, the system ossifies into dogma, gets enforced by governments, etc.

  23. Alkatyn says:

    Its nice to see a steelman of Peterson, but I’m not sure if this really addresses the problems people have with him.

    If he was just talking about how good things are good in an eloquent way I don’t think people would object to him, but also nobody would have heard of him. He may be good at saying uncontroversial ethical claims in a compelling way, but he also packages them with a lot of traditionalist ideology without ever making a distinction between them.

    Similarly for his supporters, maybe what they get out of the experience in the end is a valuable self help framework. But most of what seems to attract them and what they want to talk about when they talk about JP isn’t that stuff, but the altright-esque talking points.

    For example, I’m not sure exactly how talking about how mainstream academia and the media is dominated by “neo-marxist postmodernists” relates to the project of being a better person. The most sympathetic interpretation would be that its an extension of his truth absolutism, by saying the postmodernist cultural marxists are saying there isn’t such a thing as objective truth. Which a) probably isn’t true of 90% of the people the term is applied to (would be pretty hard to be a journalist with no such thing as truth) and b) doesn’t really connect with the attacks he makes on them, which aren’t about epistemology but culture war stuff.

    Even if we treat the idea of neo-marxistpostmodernists as a real thing, his arguments against them seem to be responses to strawmen that dodge the actual question. E.g. White privilege isn’t real, not because white people aren’t privileged, but because lumping people together into groups is a less valuable thing than trying to do good yourself. Which I’m pretty sure nobody would disagree with. And that if you beleive in talking about groups as privileged thats analogous to the extermination of the Kulaks in soviet russia. Here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZK9h_Mzmu8 and in more detail here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEESNpAu1EU.

    Similarly, his idea that there is something inherently different about males and females, (he talks about it in terms of “archetypes”) and that this should be treated as a normative claim, not just a descriptive one. (e.g. women are inherently more caring so should be mothers). Which is a pretty basic is/ought error, and also seems to contradict his own rules about intellectual modesty (e.g. “12. Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you need to know. Listen to them hard enough so that they will share it with you.”) Which would seem to entail you should take other people’s claims about their experiences with gender seriously. So if lots of women say traditional gender roles suck for them you should listen.

    (Also apparently Frozen is propoganda that says women don’t need men. And that’s bad? Apparently the self responsibility and and determination stuff only applies to men for unclear reasons. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_GtYEPoc9wM )

    • Doctor Locketopus says:

      > would be pretty hard to be a journalist with no such thing as truth

      On the contrary, it is very easy to be a journalist whose output has no connection with the truth. It’s pretty much the default setting, in fact.

    • eyeballfrog says:

      So if lots of women say traditional gender roles suck for them you should listen.

      (Also apparently Frozen is propoganda that says women don’t need men. And that’s bad? Apparently the self responsibility and and determination stuff only applies to men for unclear reasons.)

      One of the points Peterson has made is that in his experience as a clinical psychologist, a lot of women have found themselves very unhappy in nontraditional gender roles. But “there’s a good chance you’ll find the most happiness in a traditional mother role” is not currently an accepted message for women in society. But this too is part of self-determination. Figuring out what will really make you fulfilled in life is just as important for men and women. And for the record, Peterson is quite adamant that men need women. See this (perhaps overly strong) condemnation of MGTOW.

  24. Anatoly says:

    I didn’t read the book, but the way Peterson comes across in this review is essentially the way he comes across to me in the Youtube clips I saw (only phrased much better than I could, because Scott always says it better).

    Someone who says things that are cliches, but with a lot of conviction that rings true, and with outstanding oratory skills. And that may seem like faint praise, but it really isn’t, it’s fulsome praise as far as I’m concerned.

    People are often discussing why Peterson appeals so much to young disaffected males. I used to read a lot of CW material from both sides because I’m stupidly obsessed with understanding both sides of every CW issue I come across, as I imagine quite a few people here are, so e.g. I read both KiA and GamerGhazi for years and I don’t even play games much. And the MRA/PUA/redpill camp has always been full of “fix your own house” type of advice. MRAs have the ironic mantra “Lawyer up, delete Facebook, hit the gym”; leaving lawyering up aside, isn’t that what Peterson is saying?

    Except for two things. One, Peterson is not pushing an ideology and is not shoring up support to wage CW. He keeps bringing things back to your own personality and a chance of leading a fulfilling life. Radical SJ activism is bad not because it’s destroying the society or whatever; well, maybe it is, but much more important is that it’s bad *for you*. Second, and this is something Scott doesn’t mention in this review, and I’m not sure how important it is but I think it might be, Peterson is saying it from a standpoint of an academic and an intellectual. And that carries a lot of authority for intellectually curious people that gave/gives Peterson a huge boost.

    • TyphonBaalHammon says:

      « Peterson is not pushing an ideology »

      Yes he is. He’s consistently pushing against feminism, against “post-modernism”, against all kinds of progressiveness, and also against the far-right. He’s pretty obviously some sort of moderate conservative.

      There’s worse things than being a moderate conservative, but on the other hand it’s really tiresome to see moderate conservatism presented as the apolitical common sense default.

      • Deiseach says:

        it’s really tiresome to see moderate conservatism presented as the apolitical common sense default

        I can see that would be as tiresome as it is seeing moderative progressivism being presented as the apolitical common sense default (as in the “conservatives versus neutrals” thing). You’re right-leaning, we’re plain fact-seekers.

      • Anatoly says:

        He might be a moderate conservative, but he’s not *pushing* moderate conservatism. For example, have you heard Peterson say anything on abortion? Intervention in Syria? Small government? Do you know if he’s for or against US steel tariffs (hey, they potentially affect Canada)? In the time when almost everyone waging CW happily align themselves pro- or anti- Trump, Peterson never even mentions the man. I imagine this takes quite a principled commitment. For example, our host explicitly declared anti-Trump before the election (I’m not criticizing, I did the same on my own blog). Peterson seems to be less political than Scott Alexander. I kind of feel that he’s earned the right to be seriously considered apolitical.

        • blacktrance says:

          Having and advocating for an ideology doesn’t require taking positions on the object-level issues of the day. For example, we don’t need to wonder what Rawls would think about steel tariffs to classify him as a progressive.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        He’s consistently pushing against feminism, against “post-modernism”, against all kinds of progressiveness, and also against the far-right. He’s pretty obviously some sort of moderate conservative.

        Being against ideology is not the same thing as having ideology. This is the old “atheism is a religion too” trope.

        • TyphonBaalHammon says:

          I don’t think this comparison is fair at all. First of all, though atheism is no religion at all, militant atheism can meaningfully be said to have common points with religion.

          Second, Peterson is not just a random dude living a random life, he’s a famous guy actively arguing in favor of some things and against other things.

          It’s not just that he has opinions, but that he makes videos about them, and books, and through them, he exhort people to change their behaviour.
          That corpus of opinions on what to think on certain topics, and what people should do, constitutes an ideology, whether he likes it or not.

          But again, I want to stress that I don’t think it’s in itself bad to push an ideology.
          Maybe Peterson and his ilk do, but that’s their problem, not mine.

          The difference between the atheism-as-religion thesis and the anti-ideology-as-ideology is that atheism by itself does not compel people to do anything in particular. Nonbelief does not entail that you should convert your neighbour.

          Some atheists do and in that they do resemble other missionaries.

          Similarly the anti-ideology conservative creed of Peterson is not just not having an ideology, it’s a pronounced dislike of other ideologies and an active attempt to undermine them, argue against them, etc… And the wider worldview that he promotes is not some sort of neutral status quo from the ether, it’s a very specific idea of how people should behave and society should work, accompanied by frantic shoutings of “DO NOT EXAMINE THIS” if someone points it out.

          • Viliam says:

            frantic shoutings of “DO NOT EXAMINE THIS” if someone points it out

            [citation needed]

            The closest thing to this strawman is frantic shouting of: “Do not assume without evidence that your ideology is right about everything (when e.g. looking at lobsters falsifies your basic beliefs)”.

            It is usually the ideologies who have a problem with examining their ‘sacred science’.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think it’s useful to distinguish between a structure of ideas and an ideology to which you bind your identity or your moral compass.

            A structure of ideas is something we can disagree about, and maybe you can convince me I’m wrong. Even if you don’t, if we’re both working from the same rules of logic and probability and evidence, I may learn from you.

            An ideology to which I’ve bound my identity, or which I’ve identified as morally necessary, is going to be really hard to discuss. To even question the core beliefs of that ideology is likely to make me very uncomfortable or angry, and I’m not likely to learn much interacting with you, nor you with me.

    • Aapje says:

      @Anatoly

      I would argue that it all boils down to these men realizing that that the dominant feminist narrative that claims that they are free in their choices and that they have huge opportunities is a lie. The actual truth is that men can generally only succeed if they to a large extent follow the traditional male role and walk the thin line. At the end of this line, there is also only ‘success’ in a few ways, which has some severe costs, but these costs are less recognized or respected nowadays.

      This is also where the enormous anger at feminists by some men who don’t naturally enjoy the traditional male role comes from, because it is feminism which claims to break this down, but which is seen as demanding traditionalism from men when that benefits women & which tends to refuse to also hold women accountable for their traditionalism, when that harms men. Also, whenever people challenge the feminist narrative, huge forces tend to brought down on them (like most of the media & other institutions).

      Furthermore, the male gender role and the society that believes in it hate male victim-hood, so it is extremely hard for men to organize for male causes or succeed when they do, because it tends to cause disgust reactions on an emotional, unconscious level.

      So instead, a lot of men recognize that any attempt to change society makes them unlikely to end up like Martin Luther King* and more like that homeless person in the park who tries to convert people.

      So then the more realistic choice is to not try to truly change the system, but either disengage (MGTOW), engage from a position of knowledge so you can reduce the risks & perhaps do some anonymous arguing on the Internet (MRA-lite) or go dark triad (Red Pill PUA).

      So I would argue that many of these men choose to turn to traditionalism because they see it as the only realistic option to improve their lives. It’s not like true egalitarianism is an option right now.

      * Although, he ended up shot dead…

      • SkyBlu says:

        I would argue that it all boils down to these men realizing that that the dominant feminist narrative that claims that they are free in their choices and that they have huge opportunities is a lie.

        I may simply be reading from radically different sources from you, but I get the impression that the dominant feminist narrative nowadays is that men are also hurt by gender roles in the exact way you describe: the less you conform to male gender roles, the less male privilege applies to you. However, this doesn’t mean that women who conform to their gender roles are suddenly just as successful as men who conform to them; the system privileges men over women, but gender non-conforming people and anyone else who threatens the system gets the shortest end of the stick. I can’t pretend that there are no feminists who think the way you describe, and feminism does need to be better at actually helping men also, but I think it’s unfair to say that feminism doesn’t recognize this reality and doesn’t intend to help these men.

        • eyeballfrog says:

          but I think it’s unfair to say that feminism … doesn’t intend to help these men.

          I see this as somewhat like Kafka’s toxin puzzle. They intend to help those men, but what have they done to actually help? Can you really be said to intend to do something if you never actually do it?

          • SkyBlu says:

            I am much too sleepy right now to actually look into what specific policy/social changes feminists advocate for to help men out from under patriarchy (I know Ozy has written about some stuff like this but I don’t remember titles nor tags (I might do it tomorrow but I also might forget)). I will say that feminism’s stated goal of dismantling current social institutions/whatever the word for constructs in society is (I’m sleepy I’m allowed to forget words) will also remove the negative effects of those institutions (or whatever the word is) on men, whether or not their intention is to do so. I can’t currently make the claim that feminists have taken, as a movement, substantive action to alleviate the negative effects of male gender roles on men, but I am willing to claim that the ideal worldstate for a lot of feminists today does remove that burden upon them.

          • Aapje says:

            @SkyBlu

            Dismantling restrictive gender roles (also called patriarchy) would obviously remove gender restrictions placed on men. However, I believe that most feminists have a highly distorted view of how the gender roles restrict people and actually want the benefits to women of the male and female gender role, but not the costs.

            Pushing towards that goal, rather than the claimed goal of gender equality, reinforces some restrictive gender roles.

          • russellsteapot42 says:

            One of the major problems that I have with Feminism is that many of it’s proponents strongly object to any group focusing on gender issues that does not fly the Feminist flag, and equates ‘non-sexism’ with feminism.

  25. AeXeaz says:

    Huh, I’ve watched a lot of his youtube videos, and I still don’t understand how Peterson’s ideas are “traditionalist”, or move people towards a “traditionalist” path – could someone help me out here?

    • fion says:

      Belief in importance of institutions such as marriage and nuclear family, belief in “traditional” gender roles, belief that religion is a valuable part of our culture.

      I know people who explicitly want to erode the institution of marriage because they think it is harmful to humanity, who are somewhat estranged from their immediate family and instead form almost familial-strength bonds with their friends and (multiple) lovers, who believe it is healthy and normal to ‘be in touch with your *-ine side’ and who think that religion is dangerous and harmful.

      The first paragraph describes “traditionalist” values and ideas. The second describes values and ideas that are not “traditionalist”.

      *=mascul/femin – the opposite of your birth gender

      • Lambert says:

        Why is it always the nuclear family touted by traditionalists? Extended family has been the norm for far longer, and has increasing benefits in this day and age.

        • fontesmustgo says:

          I would imagine difference in outcomes between Nuclear and Single-Parent families are greater than the difference in outcomes between Nuclear and Extended families.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Because for your garden-variety traditionalist, the “tradition” has nothing to do with what’s actually been practiced for a long time, and has a lot to do with such things as A. what you grew up with, and B. what people tell you the tradition is.

          • Jack Lecter says:

            +1 for insight.

            This is the sort of thing that can come off as snarky, but it answers something than can be genuinely puzzling, especially if you’re not closely acquainted with any traditionalists.

            The difference between what people are optimizing for and what they say they’re optimizing for is practically impossible to point out without sounding sarcastic, with the result that, if you’re not intuitive about this stuff, you can be confused about it for years without anyone setting you straight.

            (I’m not knocking snark, per se, and if snark was your intent you can consider the +1 for insight a bonus; on the margin, there’s a lot to be said for encouraging insightful snark over insightless snark.)

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Yes to be clear I meant that as an honest answer. I did realize it might come off as snarky but didn’t feel like putting in the effort to make sure it didn’t. 😛

          • m.alex.matt says:

            And what their parent’s parents grew up with, and their parent’s parent’s parents, and…

            Or did you not know that nuclear families versus extended families is a socio-geographic divide that goes back a lot longer than a generation? In Northern Europe especially, the nuclear family emerged as a pillar of society in the early modern era, centuries ago. The extended-family-as-cultural-cornerstone was something found in other parts of Europe (and elsewhere).

            This became ESPECIALLY true in past generations of Americans, where a substantial part of the population would end up living in an entirely different part of the country from where their extended family lived. The nuclear family became a key part of the foundation of new settlement on the frontier, for example, for generations after the Revolution.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            I wasn’t aware, actually! Interesting. Nonetheless I stand by what I said. All that may be true but as best I can tell to your average traditionalist schmoe it’s not actually relevant.

          • 天可汗 says:

            Part of the problem is that different American populations have different pre-American traditions. On the one hand, you have the Hajnal Line (later marriage than anywhere else in the world, high rates of never marrying); on the other hand, you have Emmanuel Todd’s family systems (the ‘absolute nuclear family’ structure with no parent-married child cohabitation and no strict inheritance rules are attested in England, the Netherlands, and Denmark); and on the third hand, you have Europe’s religious divisions.

            American ‘traditionalism’ looks a lot like the actual traditions of England, but England’s traditions are very unusual and have been so for a long time. If you want to be properly cross-cultural about tradition, you’d expect extended-family cohabitation, cousin marriage, and most women married by 21 — none of which were common in England.

        • shenanigans24 says:

          How could you be close to your extended family without your nuclear one? Traditionalist don’t have anything against extended families but they are obviously an extension of the nuclear family.

          • Randy M says:

            Pretty much. Extended family is helpful and good. Who, that is in favor of long marriages (ie, nuclear family) is in some way against it?

            But there’s definitely more legitimate reasons to leave your parents or cousins than to leave your children or spouse.

  26. Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

    I see the r/jordanpeterson subreddit is already two-thirds culture wars, so they’re off to a good start. Why can’t we stick to the purity of the original teachings, with their giant gold lobster idols?

    Tragically, the most ardent Peterson defenders on the internet are the ones that are failing the hardest to follow his “teachings”.

  27. Doctor Locketopus says:

    >One person donating a few hundred bucks to the Against Malaria Foundation will prevent suffering more effectively than a hundred people cleaning their rooms and becoming slightly psychologically stronger.

    Just about everyone will be more strongly affected by (say) a dozen local children being killed in a school bus accident than they will be by (say) a thousand people being killed in an earthquake in Uzbekistan. When it comes to your own child, or a child who is otherwise close to you, even one child being killed is going to cause you more distress than the thousand people in Uzbekistan. A holder of the homo economicus or utilitarian view would argue that the Uzbekistan event should somehow make us feel worse, but that is not how human beings actually work.

    Similarly, while it might be emotionally rewarding to write a check to an organization that tries to prevent animal suffering, that is not going to give you anything like the direct psychological reward you’ll get from bandaging up a kitten’s injured paw.

    People have a stronger emotional connection with those nearer to them, and, of course, no one is nearer than oneself.

  28. edgepatrol says:

    Ahhh. I have been hoping you would read his new book and post your thoughts on it. 😉 I enjoyed reading this, and tbh I also enjoy JP’s philosophy quite a bit, although it’s not without its own set of errors.

    As to why bad things happen to good people, I have been meaning to tell you that I’ve NEVER read a more satisfying answer to that question, than the one at the conclusion of Unsong.

  29. Deiseach says:

    You become a prophet by saying things that you would have to either be a prophet or the most pompous windbag in the Universe to say, then looking a little too wild-eyed for anyone to be comfortable calling you the most pompous windbag in the universe.

    I was smiling a little up to this about Peterson the Prophet, but I have to admit it made me pause: if he’s just a pompous windbag as his critics and opponents are insisting he is, why are they so wound up about him?

    The only thing I really know is that he gets called a transphobe because of some kind of refusal to use special pronouns, but is the trans activism movement really so big a deal that someone has to be burned at the stake for not falling in line? As I said, the little I know of it is that A (where “A” means “people online as in on Tumblr and sometimes in the sub-reddit and quoted articles from elsewhere”) says Peterson wants to murder trans people (or the like) and this is all because – he won’t use “preferred pronouns” if he thinks the particular ones are stupid?

    I don’t know. I don’t think Peterson is doing anything strange, new or startling (“eat your vegetables, stand up straight, wash your clothes” is what our mothers told us) and I certainly find it very difficult to think of him as a guru or inspired seer or anything other than a middling public sort-of-intellectual, but he seems to provoke a striking response out of all proportion in those who detest him, so maybe he is a prophet – and as we know, they kill the prophets and stone those sent to them.

    • lvlln says:

      The only thing I really know is that he gets called a transphobe because of some kind of refusal to use special pronouns, but is the trans activism movement really so big a deal that someone has to be burned at the stake for not falling in line?

      Peterson himself has commented on the sort of absurdity at this. After all, though he’s been public for a while, he never courted fame, and what caused him to be famous was a few YouTube videos he made some night when he couldn’t sleep, due to being consumed by thoughts about a client of his who was being bullied by social justice warriors.

      This is where I think he’d say the “post-modern neo-Marxism” comes in. The issue was never truly about pronouns, it was about power. For one, he’s been consistent in stating that he sees no problem with using preferred pronouns, as long as it’s negotiated in good will between himself and the person who wants him to use a certain pronoun. What he objected to was enforcing the use of preferred pronouns in law. So it’s not that the trans activism movement is particularly big, but rather that there’s a larger movement that’s using the trans movement as a tool to achieve greater ends than just convincing people to use certain pronouns.

      Especially making the issue confusing is that this isn’t even a “trans activist” issue. After all, the vast majority of trans people just want to be called the pronoun they identify as rather than the one of their birth, whereas what made Peterson so famous was his objection to a law compelling the use of recently-created pronouns such as “xe” or “xer.” The proportion of people within the trans population who go by these non-standard pronouns is fairly small, I believe, so it’s not necessarily clear that compelling others to use such pronouns is a major interest for the trans community at large. Which points to a larger, deeper cause.

      It’s hard to say how much of this is Peterson being hypersensitive to totalitarianism due to his field of expertise and applying a particularly strong pattern-matching algorithm. On the one hand, of all things, totalitarianism seems to be not such a terrible thing to be hypersensitive to. On the other hand, I think the reaction of the left to Trump shows that being hypersensitive to totalitarianism can cause incredible amounts of harm to oneself and to others that far exceed the original threat that triggered the response in the first place. On the other OTHER hand, the left that caused this harm seem to have, at best, a cargo cult level understanding of totalitarianism while Peterson’s understanding seems actually meaningful.

      • Iain says:

        whereas what made Peterson so famous was his objection to a law compelling the use of recently-created pronouns such as “xe” or “xer.”

        It looks like it is time for me to yet again step in and point out that the law in question said nothing of the sort. It merely added “gender identity or expression” to the existing laundry list of prohibited grounds for discrimination, just after “sexual orientation” and just before “marital status, family status, disability or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered”.

        At the federal level, that is. Peterson’s home province of Ontario updated made the equivalent change on a provincial level way back in 2012.

        If this is what a meaningful understanding of totalitarianism looks like, then sign me up for the cargo cult.

        • Nicholas Conrad says:

          You’re not wrong, but you’re not *not* wrong. The text of the legistlation doesn’t directly mention pronouns, but the body charged with *enforcing* it DID explicitly list on their website mis-pronouning as a cause for enforcement under the law. So while technically correct that the “law” doesn’t mention it, the legal opinion of the enforcing body is that it’s broad enough to encompass pronouns, and in fact the “law” in the broader sense of the government-at-large did explicitly mention pronouns. By the way, a distinction Peterson had made *many* times, so good job feeling smug about knocking down that haggard strawman.

          • lvlln says:

            I believe this is the video where Peterson criticizes C-16 and which triggered the firestorm of controversy around him. This distinction is a core part of his argument for why he considers the bill to be pernicious.

            Perhaps I ought to be clearer in saying that the law doesn’t explicitly compel the use of such pronouns, but rather that it amends existing policies around enforcement such that use of such pronouns is now compelled under threat of legal punishment.

          • Anatoly says:

            When I tried to get to the bottom of this some time ago, the most thorough and convincing argument I could find about it claimed that mis-pronouning wouldn’t fall under the law after all.

            Now it’s also written in a very smug style and I’m loath to take it on faith, but the article seems to make good points, especially when it claims that most everyone talking about it interprets the phrases in the law in a prima facie way, which extra confuses the picture.

          • but the body charged with *enforcing* it DID explicitly list on their website mis-pronouning as a cause for enforcement under the law.

            Do you have a link to that? It’s relevant, since one side is claiming that Peterson’s interpretation of the law is obvious nonsense and if it isn’t that casts serious doubt on other claims made by that side.

          • Jack Lecter says:

            @Nicholas Conrad: Seconding David Friedman’s request for a link. Partly ’cause I’m lazy.

          • Aapje says:

            AFAIK, the legislation is enforced by the courts, mostly. So presumably, any decision on this matter would require an actual case and then perhaps a decision by the Canadian Supreme Court.

            Of course, institutions also make policy, also on their interpretation of the law, which doesn’t have to concur with the courts. Peterson’s university threatened him with dismissal if he refused to use pronouns when asked.

            @Anatoly

            The article you link to seems to mainly argue that Peterson is wrong to complain because it is civil law, not criminal law, so he can’t be put in jail for it, but merely fired.

            While that is a reasonable rebuttal to Peterson’s claim that he might be put in jail for refusing to use pronouns when asked, it doesn’t address the question whether people can legally be fired or face other court-mandated or -supported consequences when refusing to use pronouns when asked.

          • opressedminority says:

            Bill C-16 added gender identity to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination to the Canadian Human Rights Act. So on a superficial reading of the bill, there is no legislated prohibition against pronoun usage. But the Act is managed by the Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Tribunal, and this is where the trouble starts. The HRC is an investigative body and the HRT is a pseudo-judicial tribunal with relaxed rules of evidence, where they are allowed to ignore stare decisis and basically where everything goes in order to achieve a “progressive” result.

            There are similar commissions and tribunals in all Canadian provinces, including Ontario. The Ontario human rights tribunal has published guidelines that it would consider misgendering to be discrimination and against the law, and the Canadian human rights tribunal has said that it would follow the Ontario guidelines.

            So JPB is actually quite correct that using the wrong pronoun can land you in legal trouble. You can argue that it’s not against the law, and legally speaking you would have a point. But the body charged with enforcing the law just said that it is against the law. You can scream that you are a loyal soviet subject all the way to the gulag, it wont matter.

            That’s what the professors at Laurier University told Lindsey Shepperd in the recorded interrogation: that she broke the law by showing a five minute clip of JBP to her students (a clip of a show from TV Ontario, a public broadcaster).

            The HRT’s decisions are subject to judicial reviews by real courts, but by the time you’re in a real court you’ve spent $100,000+ in legal fees and you’ve spent the last 4 years of your life under the stigma of being a bigot. Also, real courts in Canada are just as activist and progressive as the HRT so there is likely no relief there either.

            As for jail, you can always end up in jail if you refuse to comply to a court order and are found in contempt of court.

          • From Aapje’s link, a letter to Peterson from his university:

            The law of Ontario, specifically the Ontario Human Rights Code, protects against discrimination based on gender expression and gender identity. Depending on the context, if personal pronouns are being used, the refusal by a teacher or colleague to use the personal pronoun that is an expression of the person’s gender identity can constitute discrimination.

            That doesn’t prove Peterson’s view of the law is correct–his university might be wrong. But I think it’s inconsistent with the claim that Peterson is obviously wrong in his view.

            What I was responding to, however, was:

            but the body charged with *enforcing* it DID explicitly list on their website mis-pronouning as a cause for enforcement under the law.

            That was the website link I was asking for.

          • oppressedminority says:

            DavidFriedman:

            This is the link to the Ontario Human Right’s commission stating that misgendering someone is discrimination (and therefore against the law):
            http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/policy-preventing-discrimination-because-gender-identity-and-gender-expression/7-forms-discrimination

            Gender-based harassment can involve:

            Derogatory language toward trans people or trans communities
            Insults, comments that ridicule, humiliate or demean people because of their gender identity or expression[44]
            Behaviour that “polices and or reinforces traditional heterosexual gender norms”[45]
            Refusing to refer to a person by their self-identified name and proper personal pronoun

            The bill that Peterson was fighting is federal, but the Canadian Human Rights Commission stated their intention to follow the Ontario guidelines.

          • baconbits9 says:

            In addition here is a link to a piece put up by Brenda Cossman who debates Peterson on the law here. The key quote is

            Non-discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression may very well be interpreted by the courts in the future to include the right to be identified by a person’s self identified pronoun. The Ontario Human Rights Commission, for example, in their Policy on Preventing Discrimination Because of Gender Identity and Expression states that gender harassment should include “ Refusing to refer to a person by their self-identified name and proper personal pronoun”. In other words, pronoun misuse may become actionable, though the Human Rights Tribunals and courts. And the remedies? Monetary damages, non-financial remedies (for example, ceasing the discriminatory practice or reinstatement to job) and public interest remedies (for example, changing hiring practices or developing non-discriminatory policies and procedures). Jail time is not one of them.

            As far as I can tell (as a layman) the legal (or at least this one) disagreement with Peterson’s interpretation boils down to the fact that this is written in the civil code as opposed to the criminal code and that the threat of jail time is a secondary threat only to be included if fines are not paid (and technically that the sentence would be for contempt of court).

    • Doctor Locketopus says:

      > The only thing I really know is that he gets called a transphobe because of some kind of refusal to use special pronouns

      That is not quite correct. He refuses to be ordered to be use those pronouns. He doesn’t refuse to use them at all (and in fact has said that he probably would use them if requested).

      There is a subtle but important difference here.

      Example:

      I am an agnostic (more or less), but still generally refer to the Pope as “His Holiness” should I happen to mention him.

      That’s not because I believe the office of Pope has any special holiness associated with it (I don’t believe that at all) but because it’s the polite convention and I don’t wish to be gratuitously rude to those who do believe the Pope is holy.

      That’s an entirely different thing from someone ordering me to call the Pope “His Holiness” or else be hounded from my job.

      • Riley Martine says:

        Someone in another comment linked Robinson’s The Intellectual We Deserve. The relevant piece is as follows:

        Peterson first came to international prominence when he publicly opposed Canada’s Bill C-16, which added gender expression and identity to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act. Peterson claimed that under the bill, he could be compelled to use a student’s preferred gender pronoun or face criminal prosecution, and suggested that social justice activists were promoting a totalitarian ideology. In fact, there was nothing in the bill that criminalized the failure to use people’s preferred gender pronouns (full text), and I share the belief that government legislation requiring people to use particular pronouns would be an infringement on civil liberties. But since that’s a position shared by Noam Chomsky and the ACLU, it’s not a particularly devastating criticism of the left.

        After this, the linked essay talks about Peterson’s comparison of trans activists to Mao, and how “The first thing is that their philosophy presumes that group identity is paramount. That’s the fundamental philosophy that drove the Soviet Union and Maoist China. And it’s the fundamental philosophy of the left-wing activists.” (Quote from Peterson) The essay continues with a restatement of the goals of activists:

        I think it’s worth remembering here what anti-discrimination activists are actually asking for: they want transgender people not to be fired from their jobs for being transgender, not to suffer gratuitously in prisons, to be able to access appropriate healthcare, not to be victimized in hate crimes, and not to be ostracized, evicted, or disdained.

        Peterson’s stance of not wanting to be “forced” to use correct pronouns is disingenuous and reeks of the “identity politics” he is seeking to vilify. He makes a demonstrably false claim about the bill and opposes it on supposedly virtuous grounds. In the process, he compares people fighting for trans rights to Mao and summarily dismisses their progress and actual ideals. This has, unsurprisingly, attracted people with a genuine distaste for our (trans people’s) existence.

        I desperately wanted to be wrong, to think that maybe all of this was a misunderstanding on my part, that Peterson really does only not want to be forced to say something, and that his followers are equally rational, thoughtful devotees. And, to be fair, my position has softened since I started writing this comment, as I did more research. Since I saw it linked in another comment, I went to /r/jordanpeterson and searched for “trans”.
        Here are the top 5 link titles, unedited:

        “Why should your right to freedom of speech trump a trans person’s right not to be offended?”
        Trans man on the failures of the social justice movement (tumblrinaction x-post)
        “I called a trans boy a girl by mistake… and it may cost me my job as a teacher: Maths tutor suspended after praising pupil using the wrong gender”
        Charity calls police after a teacher ‘misgenders’ a trans pupil and say he has committed a ‘hate crime’
        What are some of Jordan Peterson’s more controversial ideas, aside from trans people and gender identity?

        Wonderful. I have seen this rhetoric before, quite often, and it is /never/ in communities that seek the betterment of circumstances for trans people. One linked community is /r/tumblrinaction, and if you are not already familiar, I would encourage you to spend a few minutes in that cesspit to see exactly how strong my distaste for it is. There are a few comments from the /r/jordanperterson subreddit I would like to highlight here:

        On nonbinary people:

        Just pick “he” or “she” and move on. Society is a group dynamic, it can’t cater to every whim of every individual. The bigger issue here is the growing tyranny that wants to enforce these ridiculously minor rules. The bigger issue is the stripping away of our freedom of speech to make way for ridiculous and unrealistic demands. (+28)

        On the rarity of “true” trans people:

        My intuitive feel is that there are true trans people out there, but they’re very rare, and likely a product of genetic flukes or hormones going haywire in utero so you wind up an XY-chromosome baby with a feminized brain or vice versa. (+186)

        On the origins of the LGBT movement:

        They are just hijacking this Trans-topic. Nothing more.
        I mean has anyone ever made the research and went down the rabbit hole on how this entire LGBT-something something Movement started?
        I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if the start was an internet troll and nothing else. (+36)

        On who is pushing this nonsense:

        Great post, except one thing: it ain’t “middle America” pushing the nonsense. It’s the attention-seeking hive-mind women (and their beta-male partners) on the Coasts.

        On respecting a trans-male student’s pronouns:

        “my 2nd person pronoun isn’t ‘you’, it’s ‘grue’, so if you want to praise me you have to say it like ‘grue did a good job!’ ”

        fuck. these. people. (+56)

        On transtrenders:

        Having known several in some stage, the fact that it’s becoming “in” worries me. I think there are some genuine trans people to whom reassignment may very well be the best course of action, but it attracts people desperate for an identity. If you meet someone who’s trans and it’s the centerpiece of their personality, I suspect that may be a problem.

        I have no problem with anyone doing whatever they want, but 40% suicide rates are a pretty big fuckin deal.

        Also it’s evil to give hormone treatments to children. They are children. Wait until the kid’s an adult and let them make their own choices, that shit is fucked up. (+23)

        I hope I do not have to go into detail on why the ideas espoused here are harmful.

        These are all quotes I cherry-picked from the multitude available. There were plenty that seemed reasonable, and even a few trans people defending him. However, I still am convinced that what he says and does is ultimately harmful to the trans community, and attracts those who hold ~problematic~ views. Characterizing his argument as free speech avoids the reality of the effects it has.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          > Characterizing his argument as free speech avoids the reality of the effects it has.

          But isn’t this what free speech means? Allowing opinions you disagree with? Not just have a slight preference against them, but strongly believe that they’re “bad” – but still chose to support the freedom of expression because of a rule that lives at a higher level of abstraction, that says stuff like “I want all opinions visible in the public agora, because it’s a better strategy long term”, or stuff like “There is a 1% chance I am wrong, so by having the dispute in public we can correct our mistakes”.

          Having only arguments with “good” consequences is the opposite of this – partly because it utterly breaks meta rules like that, and because _somebody_ still has to chose which arguments are right – and that’s a slippery slope if there ever was one.

          • Riley Martine says:

            It is not illegal to make people uncomfortable, and it is not illegal to offend people, and I doubt it ever will be. (However, hate speech is an offense that is illegal.) Repeatedly doing so may lose you a position, but come on, it’s really not that hard to get someone’s pronouns right. Free speech is not on trial here. It is not a slippery slope.

          • Well Armed Sheep says:

            >(However, hate speech is an offense that is illegal.)

            Not in the United States.

            In Canada and the UK it is in practice illegal to make certain groups uncomfortable or offended. People are prosecuted for doing so. Free speech is very much on trial, and it very much is a slippery slope. One can’t simply say “well, that isn’t free speech”–that’s an attempt to hide a moral judgment in a definitional shift. If your reason for suppressing speech is that it is morally bad, you are no different than any other censor.

          • Jack Lecter says:

            @Riley Martine:

            (However, hate speech is an offense that is illegal.)

            Something that’s always bothered me about this: do you have a precise definition of the term?

            I’ve looked into it before, and I recall coming away with a feeling that the whole approach was overly broad and vague. But the law does that sometimes.

            It would be disingenuous for me to suggest that this is my only issue with ‘hate speech’ laws, but it’s definitely one of them.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            It’s not that hard to say “The great leader and teacher Comrade Donald Trump” either. But if it were made mandatory, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that it would raise a free speech issue.

        • Tenacious D says:

          In fact, there was nothing in the bill that criminalized the failure to use people’s preferred gender pronouns, and I share the belief that government legislation requiring people to use particular pronouns would be an infringement on civil liberties.

          Robinson is coming at this from an American perspective. He even refers to the ACLU in the next sentence. I’d suggest that this overlooks differences in how free speech issues are approached in the US and Canada. IANAL, but I’ll note that the faculty of law at Queen’s University invited Dr. Peterson to give a guest lecture on compelled speech so at least some lawyers in Ontario see it as an open question on this side of the border.

        • WashedOut says:

          Firstly, from your lower comment:

          Repeatedly doing so may lose you a position, but come on, it’s really not that hard to get someone’s pronouns right. Free speech is not on trial here. It is not a slippery slope.

          With any half-decent education it is not hard to learn the pronouns of the English language. However now you are talking about “someone’s” pronouns, which is an individual who occupies any arbitrary point on a gender ‘spectrum’, a point which many such people insist is ‘fluid’ (subject to change). By definition, what could be harder or more fraught for the naive English speaker than to be coerced into a constant, evolving game of guess-who wherein the onus is entirely on them to correctly abide by the rules of the pronoun-definer? Honest question.

          Some of the quotes you’ve cherry-picked appear to be simply mean-spirited and aim to upset trans people. Some of them are scientifically ignorant. A lot of them are plain expressions of frustration. You don’t offer your own take as to why this frustration might exist and be so widespread, esp. among young men, but im sure you can hazard a few correct guesses.

          However, I still am convinced that what he says and does is ultimately harmful to the trans community, and attracts those who hold ~problematic~ views.

          Views are problematic insofar as they demonstrate an unwillingness to be tested in free civil dialogue by the scientific process. Given the postmodern left’s recent displays of violent intolerance toward their outgroup (e.g. campus protests in the last 2 years), i’d say the search for views that are truly “harmful” should extend beyond the listenership of a middle-aged classical liberal Christian.

          Characterizing his argument as free speech avoids the reality of the effects it has.

          You don’t “characterize” something as free speech. Someone is allowed to say something precisely because the foundational right to free speech exists.

          Free, open dialogue (including hurt feelings) or violence – pick one.

          • LadyJane says:

            Some of the quotes you’ve cherry-picked appear to be simply mean-spirited and aim to upset trans people. Some of them are scientifically ignorant. A lot of them are plain expressions of frustration. You don’t offer your own take as to why this frustration might exist and be so widespread, esp. among young men, but im sure you can hazard a few correct guesses.

            Quite frankly, it’s becoming increasingly hard for me to care why they’re frustrated. I can sympathize with the unemployed Rust Belt factory worker who voted for Trump because he wanted manufacturing jobs to stop being automated or outsourced to China. I have no sympathy for the racist who voted for Trump because he hates Mexicans and Muslims, or the hardcore social conservative who voted for Trump because he hates LGBT people. And I have even less sympathy for the straight white dude who isn’t actually racist or sexist or homophobic or transphobic himself, but allies himself with racists and sexists and homophobes and transphobes just to spite the SJWs he hates so much. At least the actual bigots have the courage of their convictions; the rabid anti-SJW is simply a vindictive contrarian prick who doesn’t care if he hurts innocent people as long as his side in the Culture War wins some points.

            You don’t “characterize” something as free speech. Someone is allowed to say something precisely because the foundational right to free speech exists.

            Except, again, Peterson’s interpretation of the C-16 bill is just flat-out wrong. The bill doesn’t make it illegal for someone to misgender trans people in general, it makes it illegal for someone to consistently and deliberate misgender a specific trans person as part of an ongoing campaign of harassment. It doesn’t mean someone can go to jail or be fined/sued for accidentally misgendering a trans co-worker, or even for deliberately misgendering that co-worker in a conversation with other people outside of the workplace. It doesn’t even mean that someone can suffer legal consequences for writing a public article that deliberately misgenders a trans celebrity.

            If I continually referred to a black co-worker with the n-word, that could also be construed as harassment. Hell, if I misgendered Jordan Peterson by continually referring to him as a woman in public spaces, and kept going out of my way to do so, that could be construed as harassment too. The law just takes the same standards of harassment that apply to everyone else and applies them to trans people.

            For what it’s worth, if any government proposed a law that actually prohibited individuals from misgendering trans people, I would whole-heartedly oppose it.

            Free, open dialogue (including hurt feelings) or violence – pick one.

            What if I believe that people shouldn’t be punished by law (or by extralegal violence) for offensive speech, but should still be punished by social ostracization, termination of employment, expulsion, etc.? I don’t think the government has any place enforcing tolerance at gunpoint; that doesn’t mean I’m against punishing intolerance in general, just that I don’t want the state doing it by force.

          • Except, again, Peterson’s interpretation of the C-16 bill is just flat-out wrong. The bill doesn’t make it illegal for someone to misgender trans people in general, it makes it illegal for someone to consistently and deliberate misgender a specific trans person as part of an ongoing campaign of harassment.

            That does not seem to have been the opinion of Peterson’s employer. From the letter sent to him by his dean that Aapje linked to:

            The law of Ontario, specifically the Ontario Human Rights Code, protects against discrimination based on gender expression and gender identity. Depending on the context, if personal pronouns are being used, the refusal by a teacher or colleague to use the personal pronoun that is an expression of the person’s gender identity can constitute discrimination.

            Nothing there about restricting it to an ongoing campaign of harassment.

          • LadyJane says:

            @DavidFriedman: Well, that depends on exactly what you consider to constitute harassment. If a trans person’s employer or co-workers kept deliberately misgendering them, I would consider that a form of workplace harassment. The same applies for a classmates or professors in an academic environment.

            In my opinion, it’s unfair and unreasonable to put a student in a position where they have to deal with people actively invalidating a fundamental aspect of their identity on a day-to-day basis, especially if one of those people is in a position of authority over the student. That’s a level of emotional and psychological distress well beyond what’s generally considered acceptable for a professional setting. It’s also likely to hinder the student’s performance, discourage them from participating in class, and make them feel unwelcome at the school.

        • shenanigans24 says:

          Not calling people by their preferred pronouns discriminates against their gender expression or identity. The law defines that discrimination even if it doesn’t expressly list all actions that could be discriminatory (as no law would do that anyway. It’s like saying patting a woman on the butt isn’t harassment because the law never mentions butts.

          Peterson received a letter from his legal department at the university saying he would be discriminating in violation of the law if he doesn’t use preferred pronouns.

          His stance has been, that if you think he’s wrong address the legal department who wrote that letter and has not changed their opinion. He has read the letter out loud and made it available. So besides interpreting the law by himself (I would argue correctly) he has evidence that his interpretation is correct by lawyers charged with enforcing it.

        • Doctor Locketopus says:

          > /r/jordanperterson subreddit

          “Randos on /r/jordanpeterson” and “Jordan Peterson” are two different things.

          Entirely.

          This “guilt by association” technique of finding some (alleged) follower or associate of the person one wants to denigrate and imputing the second party’s opinions to the first party is, in fact, right out of the totalitarian playbook.

          > Peterson’s comparison of trans activists to Mao,

          Maybe they (and you) should stop acting like Mao.

  30. lvlln says:

    Searching through the lowest reaches of human thought and action, understanding my own capacity to act like a Nazi prison guard or gulag archipelago trustee or a torturer of children in a dunegon, I grasped what it means to “take the sins of the world onto oneself.”

    (Bolding mine)

    1st, “dungeon” is misspelled there. Is that an error from the original book, or did Scott just transcribe it incorrectly? Based on the lack of “(sic),” I’m guessing the latter.

    2nd, I think Peterson crystallized these concepts during the 80s, during which there were the child sex abuse hoaxes that were based on literally nothing but figments of imaginations. Nazi prisons and gulags and the guards and trustees thereof are very well established empirically, but I wonder how much the child dungeon torture that inspired him was based on a hoax, rather than real human behavior. Of course, torturing children a dungeon has been proven to happen, like that Ariel Castro guy a few years back, but I don’t know how much it was known in the 80s.

    • andrewflicker says:

      See, I thought this was a reference to Omelas.

    • Null Hypothesis says:

      It’s kind of funny you mention that since Peterson himself, delivered just as an anecdote during one of his lectures, gave one of the best breakdowns of that very hoax.

      He does a great job articulating the main issue I have with a lot of child psychology studies, which is that the idea that you can control the input given to kids, and expect them to be unaffected, is ridiculous, and most child psychology are almost embarrassingly obviously dependent on this priming.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Did the early accusers of Satanic child abuse actually have histories of psychiatric disorders?

      • Doctor Locketopus says:

        We’re seeing this play out in a realpolitik way right now.

        An astounding number of children are now terrified that they are going to die in a school shooting, even though the actual probability of that happening is somewhat less than that of the child being struck by lightning, and a couple of orders of magnitude less than the child being killed due to texting while driving.

        I mean, schools in the Midwest now spend more training time on school shootings than they do on tornadoes. Schools on West Coast spend more time on it than they do on earthquakes.

        That’s just nuts. It’s simultaneously terrifying the kids and making the kids less safe.

  31. Dry Raven says:

    As someone who is deep into the Peterson hole, I have a warning. Peterson is like an alien whose words travel through several layers of perceptual distortion before they come out to a regular human being. You think you understand what he means when he says something, but he means something entirely different. His words come out like static to people, and they make the mistake of thinking they understand his intent because the sentence still parses in English. But he’s changed the meaning of all the words. Reading 12 rules for life is like watching him attempt to simulate a normal human being with hilariously punchy sentences, but maps of meaning and his absurd recursive diagrams is where you should go if you want to get an idea of what’s really floating around in Peterson’s head.

    • Mr Mind says:

      Then I ask you: how do you know you’re reading at the correct layer? Is there a formal documents that says: this is the correct translation from Petersonian to human?
      Otherwise, how could you know that you’re at the correct level, instead of being at a level that is not enough deep or one that is too deep, that you invented for yourself?

      • Dry Raven says:

        My answer 1: Your interpretation is always partially correct and partially incorrect, other people are mysterious and their words shrouded in depth even they don’t fully understand.
        My opinion: You can only ever look at your projection of another person. Your image of Peterson is simply a refuse of aged implicit desires, a mirror masquerading in his image.
        My answer 2: You are always at a level you’ve invented for yourself, whether you like it or not.

        • Mr Mind says:

          Then, accepting your premises, I have a problem with this sentence:

          You think you understand what he means when he says something, but he means something entirely different.

          Because if we basically cannot cross the subjectivity barrier, then it’s meaningless to warn about what Peterson means.

          • Dry Raven says:

            Things are only partially subjective, you must negotiate with your reality to decide what kind of game you’re playing. You can’t just decide to play any game. Our experience is characterized by many constraints.

            I’m basically just saying that regular person conversation-game X and regular person conversation-game Y have greater coherence with each other than they do with Peterson’s alien-conversation-game zeta.

            But I do really mean it. Peterson uses words like they are new identities to try on, rather than tools interpreted by his single identity. I’ve almost never seen or read anyone else who uses words in this way. But I am not particularly well read, so hey.

  32. Deiseach says:

    They were about “explain how the depiction of whaling in Moby Dick sheds light on the economic transformations of the 19th century, giving three examples from the text. Ten pages, single spaced.”

    Oh gosh. This makes me smile an evil smile, as one of the three examples I’d love to use would be this whacked-out (technical term) description of preparing the spermaceti obtained from cutting up the whale that Melville himself uses:

    It had cooled and crystallized to such a degree, that when, with several others, I sat down before a large Constantine’s bath of it, I found it strangely concreted into lumps, here and there rolling about in the liquid part. It was our business to squeeze these lumps back into fluid. A sweet and unctuous duty! no wonder that in old times this sperm was such a favorite cosmetic. Such a clearer! such a sweetener! such a softener! such a delicious mollifier! After having my hands in it for only a few minutes, my fingers felt like eels, and began, as it were, to serpentine and spiralize.

    As I sat there at my ease, cross-legged on the deck; after the bitter exertion at the windlass; under a blue tranquil sky; the ship under indolent sail, and gliding so serenely along; as I bathed my hands among those soft, gentle globules of infiltrated tissues, woven almost within the hour; as they richly broke to my fingers, and discharged all their opulence, like fully ripe grapes their wine; as I snuffed up that uncontaminated aroma, – literally and truly, like the smell of spring violets; I declare to you, that for the time I lived as in a musky meadow; I forgot all about our horrible oath; in that inexpressible sperm, I washed my hands and my heart of it; I almost began to credit the old Paracelsan superstition that sperm is of rare virtue in allaying the heat of anger: while bathing in that bath, I felt divinely free from all ill-will, or petulence, or malice, of any sort whatsoever.

    Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers’ hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally; as much as to say, – Oh! my dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill-humor or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.

    I dunno what kind of economic transformation this describes but it would be fun to work it out 🙂

    • Aapje says:

      I wonder how many people masturbated to that…

    • Nick says:

      After having my hands in it for only a few minutes, my fingers felt like eels, and began, as it were, to serpentine and spiralize.

      What kind of Lovecraftian horror is this gunk?!

  33. Jacek Lach says:

    > But that’s exactly the problem. I worry Peterson wakes up in the morning and thinks “How can I help add meaning to people’s lives?” and then he says really meaningful-sounding stuff, and then people think their lives are meaningful. But at some point, things actually have to mean a specific other thing. They can’t just mean meaning. “Mean” is a transitive verb. It needs some direct object.

    I would contest that! Yes, for a perfectly rational agent that is the case; you can just look at the effects of your life, see that it is on net positive, and call that ‘meaning’.

    But what we really care about when talking about the people, is the *impression of meaning*. It is not important for your wellbeing whether your life is actually rational-meaningful. It is important if your system 1 is satisfied with your life in the certain ways, that it signals this satisfaction in certain ways that we call ‘meaningful’.

    As such, it’s not strictly necessary to tie your meaning to some objective measures. If your life feels meaningful, and you have reasonable expectation that this feeling will persist (so presumably – if you accept the assumption that this feeling of meaning evolved, culturally or genetically, for ‘a reason’, i.e. meaning is adaptive – just cheating system1 with drugs is not the right long term answer), and not causing too many negative externalities… Then you’re good?

    Obviously meaningfullness is not the only thing one should optimise their life for. But it’s definitely one of the things you should be looking at.

  34. greghb says:

    If you can’t get from

    “the depiction of whaling in Moby Dick sheds light on the economic transformations of the 19th century.”

    to

    “the meaning of life and how to live”

    then you have much to learn as a kabbalist.

    • Peffern says:

      There goes Scott Alexander, always with the macabre whale metaphors.

      • greghb says:

        The etymology of “macabre” is unknown, but it’s suspected to come from Maccabees, the sect of Jews who lead the revolt against the Seleucid Greeks, purified the Temple, and whose victory is commemorated in the holiday Chanukkah. It’s not coincidence that you chose that word, so what are we meant to make of a Maccabean whale metaphor?

        In Moby Dick, Captain Ahab pursues the whale at all cost. In the story of Chanukah, the Maccabees pursue their traditional way of life at all costs. But the historical Ahab was an evil king of Israel, who lead the nation astray by endorsing idol worship — and he ultiamtely failed. The Maccabees were holy and successful. What accounts for the difference?

        First ask: what was the commercial purpose of whaling in the 19th century? Whale fat was rendered into oil, especially to be used in lamps. (Literally to “shed light”, as Scott said.) What was the miracle of Hanukah? That a single jar of oil lasted for eight days, ensuring that the lamp in the Temple could burn continuously.

        The lesson is obvious. Ahab was wrong to pursue the whale in order to have enough oil. Only God decides who gets enough oil. Rather Ahab should have followed the example of the Maccabees and tried to purify the Temple, at which point God would have made sure that he got the whale (oil) he needed.

        This is essentially Peterson’s 6th principle: “set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.” Don’t read “house”, but “Temple” — which is the house of God on earth. And don’t read “whale” but “world”.

        In other words, purify your Temple before you attack the whale.

        If this doesn’t connect how “the depiction of whaling in Moby Dick sheds light on the economic transformations of the 19th century” to “the meaning of life and how to live” then I don’t know what does.

        • Deiseach says:

          Captain Ahab also sets up an idol for his crew, the golden coin he nails to the mast, which he promises to the first man to raise sight of the great whale. Thus he diverts their purpose to false worship from the True Light to the false golden sun of the coin, the worldly wealth which deceives and leads astray:

          It so chanced that the doubloon of the Pequod was a most wealthy example of these things. On its round border it bore the letters, Republica del Ecuador: Quito. So this bright coin came from a country planted in the middle of the world, and beneath the great equator, and named after it; and it had been cast midway up the Andes, in the unwaning clime that knows no autumn. Zoned by those letters you saw the likeness of three Andes’ summits; from one a flame; a tower on another; on the third a crowing cock; while arching over all was a segment of the partitioned zodiac, the signs all marked with their usual cabalistics, and the keystone sun entering the equinoctial point at Libra.

          The task of the whaling crew is (ultimately) to seek light – the oil for the lamps – but Ahab bends that task to his personal vengeance; he seeks the whale not for its oil but for its blood, to satisfy his anger and vengefulness, and sets up a golden idol to distract his men into abandoning their lawful mission and following the false way which eventually leads them all down to death, save Ishmael, the sole survivor. Ahab of the novel repeats the errors of King Ahab in setting up false idols and making himself the ultimate authority rather than submitting to God, and receives the fruit of his actions which end in disaster.

  35. userfriendlyyy says:

    My problem with Jordan Peterson’s world view is that he completely ignores the structural problems in the way of self improvement. It’s all well and good to do everything in your power to make yourself stronger and improve your lot in life but it risks turning all of his devotees into fervent believers in the Horatio Alger myth. There will always be a segment of society that can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps; but it is an absolute certainty that it will not work for everyone. Then the problems arise when all those Horatio Alger’s go ‘I did it my self, your moral failings must be why you didn’t so you deserve what you get.’

    It just feeds into the individualistic narrative that everything about your life is 100% the result of things you have control over. Just ignore why your wages aren’t going up, just work harder to get paid more. Just ignore that you are making less than your parents when they were your age, just keep working harder to get paid more.

    It completely ignores workers banding together to demand better treatment. I’m not even against some of the self improvement stuff but I cringe when it is offered as the sole solution.

    • fontesmustgo says:

      I don’t know Peterson well enough to say whether he offers “self improvement stuff… as the sole solution,” but he strikes me as too thoughtful and humble for that. I doubt that he would suggest that anyone take his advice as anything less than a partial guide to living.

      You directly control little in your life, but you control some, and you’re almost certainly not doing everything you can to help yourself. Getting yourself in order won’t solve all your problems, but it will be an improvement – perhaps to the point where the structural inequities won’t matter to you as much. Certainly it’s faster. You won’t overthrow cisheteropatriarchical capitalism by the summer, but you can lose some weight and get organized.

      And if you’ve done that and you still want to band together to demand better treatment, self-improvement will enhance your charisma, clarify your thinking, and give you more energy – all things that will make you a better labor leader (or participant in a movement).

      • lvlln says:

        I’ve seen an interviewer push him on this a couple times (same interviewer in 2 different occasions), and I’ve never quite seen a response from him that was fully satisfactory to me. The best response I saw was him comparing society to a military helicopter, and how attempting to fix it or make improvements without fully knowing what you’re doing is more likely to cause it to spin out of control and send us all crashing to our fiery deaths than it is to actually make things better. Instead, better to start small, gain an understanding of the things around you and make incremental improvements that you KNOW are better, even if they’re tiny and don’t do anything to fix the underlying, larger problems that may be the far greater source of your problems.

        The disasters of Nazism and Communism in the 20th century, which seem to take up a lot of room in his mind, do serve as pretty good evidence that his way might be the way to go.

        And yet, fact remains that there HAVE been activist movements in the US, like the suffragettes or the civil rights movement in the 60s or the more recent gay marriage movement that have caused what I think are unambiguously good society-wide changes. So it’s hard to find his argument fully convincing; sometimes, even something as complex as a military helicopter really has a simple and dumb problem that a simple layman with no specialized knowledge can fix.

        Now, one person Peterson does bring up a lot is Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who he claims found himself in the GULAG system in Stalinist USSR and, instead of resentfully decrying his current unfair predicament (I think it’s fair to say that pretty much anyone who suffered in the GULAG system probably had it far worse for unfair reasons than pretty much anyone in modern US society – at the least, I doubt that many people in modern US would be willing to trade places with someone in the GULAG system), he decided to take responsibility for each of his decisions that eventually led him to that place, and he decided to fix each of those things and to see how much good he could do. Peterson claims that this eventually led to him writing and publishing the GULAG Archipelago, which had a large impact in discrediting Communism and eventually leading to the downfall of USSR.

        So he seems to think that bringing about good societal change comes from taking full responsibility for one’s own predicament and working to fix it, rather than from finding something someone else is doing wrong and then coercing them into doing it right. Not knowing the history myself, I don’t know if Peterson’s account of Solzhenitsyn is apocryphal or deluded in some way, though, which is part of what I don’t find so fully convincing.

        I do think it’d be unfair to say that Peterson would say anything like “I did it my self, your moral failings must be why you didn’t so you deserve what you get,” or that any honest engagement with what he says would lead anyone to say anything of that sort.

        • fontesmustgo says:

          [S]tart small, gain an understanding of the things around you and make incremental improvements that you KNOW are better, even if they’re tiny and don’t do anything to fix the underlying, larger problems that may be the far greater source of your problems.

          I’m not seeing this as in conflict with your example of (for example) same-sex marriage.

          First, my point about timelines holds: you’re not going to change the world quickly. The Overton Window shift on homosexuality was comparatively fast, but it still took decades. If you were a gay man in 1980 hoping for full legal and social recognition/acceptance of your romantic relationship, you had to wait for a huge chunk of your life.

          Second, to the extent that there were incremental improvements, they resulted in significant part from the types of small-scale behaviors that individuals can control for themselves. Gay marriage became thinkable when heterosexuals saw homosexuals living their lives not as the God-hating exotic hedonists they expected, but as ordinary folks. Along the way, hating someone simply for the sex of their romantic partner seemed increasingly arbitrary and weird.

          I am not arguing that homosexuals were doing something wrong that they needed to improve, but I am suggesting that individual behaviors had an aggregate effect of normalizing homosexuality.

        • Randy M says:

          he [Solzhenitsyn] decided to take responsibility for each of his decisions that eventually led him to that place

          This seems like a weird thing to say. Weren’t there plenty of virtuous actions that could lead someone to be in, particularly, the soviet gulags, like failing to produce enough or honestly critiquing the communist system or party leaders, etc.?
          Taking responsibility generally means identifying faults of yours that lead to a problem.

          • Lambert says:

            In One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, most of the prisoners of the camp seem to be there simply for having been captured by the Nazis during the war, under the pretext of being spies (for a regime that no longer exists).

          • Randy M says:

            All the more odd, the, would it be to tell them to “take responsibility for the decisions that led them there.”

          • lvlln says:

            I don’t know Solzhenitsyn’s life story (though I did recently read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich), so I can’t really say what it meant for him to “take responsibility” for ending up in the GULAG system. I don’t fully recall what Peterson said on this, either. I think the point might have been that, for better or for worse, the USSR government and the GULAG system were essentially forces of nature in the environment in which Solzhenitsyn lived. The system was corrupt, unjust, and unfair, but he also made various decisions along the way that didn’t minimize his odds that he didn’t end up in a GULAG camp. And maybe even if he acted perfectly, the random injustice of the system would’ve ensnared him anyway. But instead of focusing on that and deciding that he would’ve ended up there anyway, he focused on those decisions that contributed to increasing the chances of him ending up there, and strove at least not to make those decisions again.

            One issue I have with this is that it has major survivorship bias. How many other people did what Solzhenitsyn did in the GULAG system and still ended up starved or frozen to death or just didn’t do much of worth? But then again perhaps the point is that good things such as the great societal change that he helped to create, or even personal survival, are never guaranteed, but the best way to make them possible is by taking responsibility for oneself.

            But that also runs into the civil rights movement counterexample.

            As an aside, writing this out reminded me of a couple of things. One was a Vietnam vet and former POW that Jocko Willink interviewed on his podcast, who said that one rule he followed as a POW was to exercise every single day, even on days where his wrists and neck were bound to the stocks the entire time. Another is a possibly apocryphal story about people in some death camp (I think it was Nazi) surviving only by virtue of surreptitiously changing his own name to someone else’s in the list of people to be executed on a certain day and delaying his execution long enough that he got freed.

          • Lambert says:

            I think you’re on to something.

            Perhaps you’re not responsible for getting into the GULAG in the first place, but an awful lot of One Day is about how one’s actions in the camps affect one’s chances of ever getting out. That the only way to survive is to accept that you are a zek, to take care of what few personal possessions you have and to take care of your relationships with the others in the camp.

          • Mr Mind says:

            @lvlln

            One issue I have with this is that it has major survivorship bias. How many other people did what Solzhenitsyn did in the GULAG system and still ended up starved or frozen to death or just didn’t do much of worth?

            Not only this, but also: how many did thrive in a Gulag without doing anything particularly significant?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            “And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?… The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If…if…We didn’t love freedom enough. And even more – we had no awareness of the real situation…. We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward.”

            -Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

            It’s been a decade or more since I read the book, but my memory is that this theme is constant throughout the work. The author has great sympathy for those whose lives were destroyed by the communist system, as in fact his own was… but at the same time, he constantly returns to how complacency, venality, cowardice, greed, and spite among the people themselves made the system possible. He argues that the Russian people, including himself, refused to make hard choices to uphold the right, and so evil reigned unhindered.

            @Mr Mind – Not only this, but also: how many did thrive in a Gulag without doing anything particularly significant?

            The author gives numerous examples of how people survived and even thrived by hoarding what volition remained to them; writing songs or poetry, whole books, working on mathematical theory, and so on. One story that stuck with me is the guy who surmised that the two numbers stamped on the bottom of his gruel bowl were its radius and circumference, used them to make a ruler from a thread pulled from his cell’s mattress, measured and memorized the dimensions of his cell, and then “walked to freedom” by pacing and counting his steps. In this way he retained his sanity through multiple years of solitary confinement. I would argue that retaining your sanity despite the best efforts of a totalitarian superpower to destroy it qualifies as a significant achievement.

            The book is also full of numerous examples of those who simply died, or who preyed upon their fellow prisoners.

        • Iain says:

          Some problems can be solved by self-improvement, and some problems are systematic. And yet, fact remains that there HAVE been activist movements in the US, like the suffragettes or the civil rights movement in the 60s or the more recent gay marriage movement that have caused what I think are unambiguously good society-wide changes.

          Yeah, I think this is important.

          Jordan Peterson pushes the self-improvement angle very heavily. In a lot of ways, that’s a good thing. Everybody has things in their life that they could improve. If you are a clinical psychologist trying to give useful advice, that is absolutely where you should focus.

          But not all problems are solved by the quiet pursuit of individual excellence. Sometimes problems are systemic, and need a movement to solve. And that’s where Peterson goes off the rails. Take this bit, from his interview with Cathy Newman:

          PETERSON: No, I’m saying that the philosophy that drives their utterances is the same philosophy that already has driven us to the deaths of millions of people.
          NEWMAN: Okay. Tell us how that philosophy is in any way comparable.
          PETERSON: Sure. That’s no problem. The first thing is that their philosophy presumes that group identity is paramount. That’s the fundamental philosophy that drove the Soviet Union and Maoist China. And it’s the fundamental philosophy of the left-wing activists. It’s identity politics. It doesn’t matter who you are as an individual, it matters who you are in terms of your group identity.

          This is a wholesale rejection of the idea of systemic fixes. It is a fully generalizable counter-argument: “You can’t have a movement to address discrimination against Group X, because that would privilege group identity over individual identity. Nice try, Mao.” (Ironically, Jordan Peterson is not above using group membership as a shield himself.)

          • baconbits9 says:

            This is a wholesale rejection of the idea of systemic fixes

            No it isn’t, it is wholesale rejection of group identity being used for systemic fixes, this would not preclude systemic fixes such as the early civil rights movements in the US.

          • lvlln says:

            baconbits9 is absolutely right. The similarities between Communism and identity politics isn’t that they both call for systemic fixes to problems. It’s that they elevate group identity over individual identity. It’s very possible to address discrimination against group X while still privileging individual identity over group identity. The suffragettes and the civil rights movement of the 60s and the recent gay marriage movement did just that. They didn’t call on all men or all white people or all straight people to be considered oppressors who all benefit from systemic oppression and thus need to be resisted and punished. They called for individuals to be treated as individuals – for women to have the same voting rights as men because female individuals are equal to male individuals, for blacks to have the same access to services and protection as whites because black individuals are equal to white individuals, for gays to have the same access to marriage as straights because gay individuals are equal to straight individuals.

            Those were quite explicitly about rejecting the privileging of group identities over individual identities. Those combated systems in place that deemed certain individuals as worthy of fewer rights or privileges based on their membership in certain group identities. Identity politics and, say, dekulakization are the direct opposite of those, where individuals are deemed worthy of fewer rights or privileges based on their membership in certain group identities.

          • ilikekittycat says:

            Wow, I hadn’t read that last bit before, but that confirms Peterson’s understanding of Marx is terribly sloppy. Proletarian/bourgeoisie aren’t group identities, they’re material circumstances. Marx wasn’t advocating for vulgar workerism. The whole point is to destroy the notion of “worker” as a category that defines someone at their core. It couldn’t be more different than modern social justice notions of “I am BLACK and you MUST acknowledge the dignity in that forming the core of who I am, and choose to present as, forever” “I am TRANS and…” etc. etc.

          • Aapje says:

            @Iain

            No, it is the rejection of populism/reductionism:
            – All white people benefit from and should want a policy that benefits the upper class
            – All black people benefit from and should want affirmative action

            Etc.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ Ilikekittykat

            Marx’s whole deal is that if there are differences between groups that there must then be perpetual conflict between them. The only way to end the conflict is to end the differences and make people 1 group, this is identity politics to its extreme. Peterson is in the tradition where by each individual is treated as their own group which is on the far end of Marx.

          • benwave says:

            @baconbits9 where did Marx say that? My reading of Marx made it very clear that the particular character of capitalism was what was forcing workers and capitalists into competition, not the mere fact that it was possible to draw meaningful category lines around them.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @baconbits9 where did Marx say that? My reading of Marx made it very clear that the particular character of capitalism was what was forcing workers and capitalists into competition, not the mere fact that it was possible to draw meaningful category lines around them.

            Marx deals with the different economic and political incentives between groups. It isn’t workers vs capitalists, it is every group vs every group with internal divisions in addition. In the communist manifesto he writes

            This organisation of the proletarians into a class, and, consequently into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves

            . The bourgeoisie finds itself involved in a constant battle. At first with the aristocracy; later on, with those portions of the bourgeoisie itself, whose interests have become antagonistic to the progress of industry; at all time with the bourgeoisie of foreign countries

            The lower middle class, the small manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the artisan, the peasant, all these fight against the bourgeoisie, to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle class

            Wage-labour rests exclusively on competition between the labourers.

            His solution is that in the socialist society everyone’s economic and political interests are aligned. It is not a classless society, but a society of a single class to which everyone belongs, where all ownership is public and so everyone’s interests are toward the public good.

            Further he says

            To be a capitalist, is to have not only a purely personal, but a social status in production.

            When, therefore, capital is converted into common property, into the property of all members of society, personal property is not thereby transformed into social property. It is only the social character of the property that is changed. It loses its class character.

            and finally

            From the moment when labour can no longer be converted into capital, money, or rent, into a social power capable of being monopolised, i.e., from the moment when individual property can no longer be transformed into bourgeois property, into capital, from that moment, you say, individuality vanishes.

            For reference here is the version I am quoting from

          • benwave says:

            @baconbits I have a lot to learn about late-career Marx, it would seem. But I’m not here to defend the communist manifesto.

          • Hoopdawg says:

            I would invite everyone to actually read the text baconbits9 linked above if only to see how dishonest he is in his selective quoting.

            I especially love the part where Marx’s restating of a bourgeois strawman of communism is taken as his actual position.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I’ll help every do that Hoopdawg, here is the surrounding text for each quote with the parts I quoted in bold.

            Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for a time. The real fruit of their battles lies, not in the immediate result, but in the ever expanding union of the workers. This union is helped on by the improved means of communication that are created by modern industry, and that place the workers of different localities in contact with one another. It was just this contact that was needed to centralise the numerous local struggles, all of the same character, into one national struggle between classes. But every class struggle is a political struggle. And that union, to attain which the burghers of the Middle Ages, with their miserable highways, required centuries, the modern proletarian, thanks to railways, achieve in a few years.
            This organisation of the proletarians into a class, and, consequently into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves. But it ever rises up again, stronger, firmer, mightier. It compels legislative recognition of particular interests of the workers, by taking advantage of the divisions among the bourgeoisie itself. Thus, the tenhours’ bill in England was carried.
            Altogether collisions between the classes of the old society further, in many ways, the course of development of the proletariat. The bourgeoisie finds itself involved in a constant battle. At first with the aristocracy; later on, with those portions of the bourgeoisie itself, whose interests have become antagonistic to the progress of industry; at all time with the bourgeoisie of foreign countries. In all these battles, it sees itself compelled to appeal to the proletariat, to ask for help, and thus, to drag it into the political arena. The bourgeoisie itself, therefore, supplies the proletariat with its own elements of political and general education, in other words, it furnishes the proletariat with weapons for fighting the bourgeoisie.

            That covers the first two quotes, so what was taken out of context there?

            Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class. The other classes decay and finally disappear in the face of Modern Industry; the proletariat is its special and essential product.
            The lower middle class, the small manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the artisan, the peasant, all these fight against the bourgeoisie, to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle class. They are therefore not revolutionary, but conservative. Nay more, they are reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history. If by chance, they are revolutionary, they are only so in view of their impending transfer into the proletariat; they thus defend not their present, but their future interests, they desert their own standpoint to place themselves at that of the proletariat. The “dangerous class”, [lumpenproletariat] the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of the old society, may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution; its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue.

            It is unfit to rule because it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery, because it cannot help letting him sink into such a state, that it has to feed him, instead of being fed by him. Society can no longer live under this bourgeoisie, in other words, its existence is no longer compatible with society.
            The essential conditions for the existence and for the sway of the bourgeois class is the formation and augmentation of capital; the condition for capital is wage-labour. Wage-labour rests exclusively on competition between the labourers. The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the labourers, due to competition, by the revolutionary combination, due to association. The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.

            Anything in these two? Nope.

            You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property. But in your existing society, private property is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths. You reproach us, therefore, with intending to do away with a form of property, the necessary condition for whose existence is the non-existence of any property for the immense majority of society. In one word, you reproach us with intending to do away with your property. Precisely so; that is just what we intend.
            From the moment when labour can no longer be converted into capital, money, or rent, into a social power capable of being monopolised, i.e., from the moment when individual property can no longer be transformed into bourgeois property, into capital, from that moment, you say,individuality vanishes.
            You must, therefore, confess that by “individual” you mean no other person than the bourgeois, than the middle-class owner of property. This person must, indeed, be swept out of the way, and made impossible.

            I guess that it is this last one which you are claiming is Marx is defending against a strawman of communism, but it is not so, Marx is in agreement. He is saying ‘if this is what you call individuality, then yes we are getting rid of it’.

          • benwave says:

            Thank you for quoting out larger portions of the text. I still probably have to go through and read the whole thing (sigh) but with the context around them, I am largely unconvinced they say what you propose they say. The first quote says that competition between workers under capitalism is a force preventing workers from uniting to change capitalism. The second gives some examples of competitions that capitalists find themselves in. The third proposes that various fractions of society are in competition with capitalists to retain their claim over the means of production by which they make their living. The fourth is saying the same as the first. The fifth suggests that Marx thinks the idea that ending of private ownership of the means of production will destroy individuality is nonsense.

            Most of these quotes refer to conflicts between groups which once again, is caused by the particular character of capitalism. I don’t mean to claim that competition would not exist in another possible economic mode, but I don’t think your selection generalises to show that Marx thought that “if there are differences between groups that there must then be perpetual conflict between them.”

        • Z says:

          Not knowing the history myself, I don’t know if Peterson’s account of Solzhenitsyn is apocryphal or deluded in some way, though

          The Gulag Archipelago is in audio book format on YouTube. It’s long, but it won’t take long at all to determine whether Peterson’s account of it is faithful.

    • manwhoisthursday says:

      I think Peterson would say that in the West there is a lot more opportunity out there than people are taking advantage of. In other words, the problems of most people in the First World . . . are First World problems.

      That isn’t to say that there aren’t a non-trivial number of people in the West who don’t have really serious problems that they can’t do much about: IQ under 85, serious physical illness, genetic propensity to mental problems etc. But those aren’t most people.

    • BillG says:

      I don’t think he ignores these structural impediments at all– in fact, I think he explicitly addresses that it will always be the case that there will be impediments. “Of course the order is tyrannical.”

      His solution is to address what is in front of you. If there’s nothing that you can impact beyond cleaning your room, start there. If you have the power to chip away at some of that tyranny, do so. The problem he correctly points out is how many folks default to screaming at the biggest thing they can scream at, in the process failing into foolishness or inactivity.

      For example, if you are not making a fair wage that supports a reasonable lifestyle, your only option may be to change your qualifications, work a bit harder and advance some in a ladder. Or, you may have the option to help influence a corporation’s compensation scheme in a way that makes the world a better place. If you do, that’s in front of you and you should do so. Or, you may have a leadership role that lets you impact the market on a grander scale. If you do, that’s in front of you and you should do so. In each case, you will have the expertise and access to address the problem in front of you.

      The situation he decries is the guy who shows up late for work and misses out on available advancement options, all while explaining the horrors of the system. Maybe showing up on time and working diligently won’t solve his problem, but his current approach definitely will not.

    • thepenforests says:

      See that’s interesting, I have a sort of similar reaction, but from the opposite side. I worry that, far from being neglected, messages about structural problems have completely saturated the cultural zeitgeist, to the point where even people who could pull themselves up by their bootstraps are discouraged from trying. I see Peterson as reacting to (and pushing back against) that cultural narrative, not because it’s invalid but because it’s become too all-encompassing.

      I won’t put words in Peterson’s mouth, but speaking for myself: I unreservedly agree with your last sentence – I think it’s obviously the case that structural problems lead to gross injustices in society, and that anyone who claims that “self-improvement” can completely nullify these is lying, mistaken, or engaging in wishful thinking.

      But that being said, I think the counterpart sentence “I’m not against the ‘dealing with structural problems collectively’ stuff, but I cringe when it is offered as the sole solution” is also a valid concern, and in fact is (in my estimation) probably a more pressing one, at least at the moment. I think it’s almost certainly the case that many social justice messages, while helping a great deal of people, have caused harm to many others by pushing them away from self-improvement. And I don’t think the idea that social justice messages even can cause harm is widely acknowledged enough.

      I can’t help but see this as one of those Should You Reverse Any Advice You Hear situations, in that I genuinely believe there’s a huge group of people out there who haven’t heard messages like Peterson’s nearly enough, and who would benefit from listening to him.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        100% endorsed.

        • userfriendlyyy says:

          I really wasn’t talking about social justice. I meant more along the lines of economic justice. Peterson tends to help you optimize becoming a cog in the machine status quo. Sure, doing so will help you make some material gains. But it doesn’t help those people who are already working a full time minimum wage job get anywhere except assistant manager maybe. What does that pay $10/hr? He also encourages you to just do what you have to succeed. If that owner treats you like crap there really are not many options, you can’t afford college and the other jobs are just as bad. Sounds like a wonderful life.

          There are SOO many jobs where decent people work hard and barely make ends meet. Fixing your outlook is not a realistic solution for many of these people. Better working conditions is. The only way we ensure that every person is treated fairly at work is by collectively organizing and giving workers more power.

          My preferred solution is a federally funded, locally administered, Job Guarantee at a living wage with benefits for anyone ready, willing, and able to work. It sets a floor for what we as a society see as acceptable working conditions for human beings while giving private sector employees leverage to negotiate better conditions. It has AMAZING bipartisan appeal among the poorest Americans and there is no end to the things that would be an overwhelming societal good that the market has failed to provide. Building out Green infrastructure for one.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Peterson tends to help you optimize becoming a cog in the machine status quo.

            I don’t really see how you can defend this position. Peterson specifically says that if you show up and do your job well that other people will want to open doors for you, and never advises that you take and keep a terrible job indefinitely.

            If that owner treats you like crap there really are not many options, you can’t afford college and the other jobs are just as bad. Sounds like a wonderful life.

            You are aggressively stacking the deck here. So the only job you could possible get is $10 an hour, and the boss is terrible and every boss is terrible. Even then you haven’t given a reason why Peterson’s advice is harmful in this situation.

          • userfriendlyyy says:

            if you show up and do your job well that other people will want to open doors for you

            Is just false, or the only doors they can open are small fry like up to assistant manager.

            His advice is terrible because it practically advocates complacency. Do you have any idea how many millions of people are going above and beyond in hopeless dead end jobs while not making enough to make ends meet. The one and only thing that has ever substantially increased workers working conditions is collective organizing. Otherwise we wouldn’t even have the 5 day work week and child labor laws.

          • j r says:

            I meant more along the lines of economic justice. Peterson tends to help you optimize becoming a cog in the machine status quo. Sure, doing so will help you make some material gains. But it doesn’t help those people who are already working a full time minimum wage job get anywhere except assistant manager maybe. What does that pay $10/hr?

            I think that you’re taking this hypothetical advice in the wrong way. The point to buckling down and being the best damn fry cook at McBurger’s isn’t really to make it to assistant manager (unless that’s what you want). The point to doing the thing in front of you to the best of your ability is that it develops the discipline and focus that you’ll need to take the steps necessary to move away from that and towards a more sustainable and fulfilling long term path.

            Put another way, if you ask a ten-year old child what she wants to be when she grows up and she says Assistant Manager at a fast food franchise, its time for a Dutch Uncle moment.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Is just false, or the only doors they can open are small fry like up to assistant manager.

            This is obviously not true in the US as data on income mobility within lifetimes attests.

            His advice is terrible because it practically advocates complacency.

            Indefensible. Complacency would be doing enough to not get fired, and this isn’t his advice at all, and he believes his advice will lead to change.

            Do you have any idea how many millions of people are going above and beyond in hopeless dead end jobs while not making enough to make ends meet.

            I don’t because there are no real definitions of ‘above and beyone’, ‘dead end jobs’ and ‘making ends meet’, but a recent study claimed that 73% of American adults would spend at least 1 year in the top quintile of income, marginal revolution recently linked a claim that total income for the bottom quintile was up almost 70% since 1980. It seems very unlikely that a large percent of the country are working hard year in an year out and struggling to make ends meet.

          • To add to Baconbits point …

            Average real income in the U.S. at present is about twenty to thirty times as high as it was, on a global level, through most of history. That number is enough to show that “making ends meet” is not an objective standard, since what you define as failing to make ends meet is many times higher than the income on which most people in the past lived.

          • suntzuanime says:

            But the government has banned many of the conditions under which people lived in the past – they’re not available at 1/20 the cost, they’re just not available at all. And some of the other conditions might be available so long as you don’t have children, but asking your children to live in those conditions could get them kidnapped by the state. And if you want to have a minimally functional social life, the standard for what goes into that has increased, etc… “Making ends meet” may not be an intertemporally objective standard, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a real standard or that failing to make ends meet doesn’t have devastating consequences. In human society most stuff is graded on a curve.

          • userfriendlyyy says:

            @ j r

            The point to doing the thing in front of you to the best of your ability is that it develops the discipline and focus that you’ll need to take the steps necessary to move away from that and towards a more sustainable and fulfilling long term path.

            All well and good to develop discipline and focus, but out of the half million fast food cooks in this country making less than $10/hr how many do you think will be able to use those acquired skills to climb the social ladder? Does having kids make it more or less likely our fry cook can take some community college classes and level up?

            Even under the rosiest of scenarios there are bound to be a significant number of people who max out at the top 90th percentile of fry cooks making $12/hr, presumably with minimal benefits no matter how much focus and skill building Peterson can get them to do.

            In a society where 3 people have as much wealth as the bottom 90% are we satisfied telling that guy just keep plugging away and you’ll get there?

            To the extent that @thepenforests above is talking about breaking up in to social / racial groups I agree that has been done WAY too far and needs rolling back. Where it has not been done AT ALL is class groups. Warren Buffett’s line

            `There’s been class warfare for the last 20 years, and my class has won’

            is very true. The only way working people get a better deal is by sticking together and demanding better conditions somethings Petersons waves away by talking about Mao and Stalin.

          • baconbits9 says:

            All well and good to develop discipline and focus, but out of the half million fast food cooks in this country making less than $10/hr how many do you think will be able to use those acquired skills to climb the social ladder? Does having kids make it more or less likely our fry cook can take some community college classes and level up

            This is a misrepresentation. Your link says that there are 513,000 fast food cooks with the mean hourly wage being $9.89 and the median being $9.55, so roughly a quarter of a million cooks are making $9.55 or less and a substantial portion are making more than $10 an hour.

            The 90% level is $12.16 an hour, so there is an obvious pathway forward for hard worker cooks to make 20%+ more than your $10 minimum without changes jobs or employers. Further Wal-Mart reports its average hourly earnings for a full time worker at $13 an hour, so if working hard at McDonald’s can get you a good reference for Wal-Mart and you go on to be an average employee there that is a 30% boost. If they have a similar distribution as the fast food cooks do then the 90% percentile would be in the $15-16 dollar an hour range.

            it is entirely reasonable to expect a hard working fast food cook to be able to increase their earnings by 20-50% over a few years, and anecdotally I, and other people I know, have done so in similar situations.

          • lvlln says:

            The only way working people get a better deal is by sticking together and demanding better conditions somethings Petersons waves away by talking about Mao and Stalin.

            I don’t think I’ve seen anything to indicate that Peterson is against things like unionizing and collective bargaining. From what I can tell, he’s been pretty good about comparing only identity politics to Mao & the like, not any sort of coordinated action. For instance, I believe he’s spoken positively about universal health care like the kind his own home country provides, and he has stated he has no in-principle problem with Universal Basic Income, though he does have skepticism that stems from his worry that it could be harmful to some people, specifically drug addicts who haven’t overdosed yet only by virtue of not having enough $ to buy the drugs necessary to do so. Surely it’s possible to effectively stick together and demand better conditions without using class-based guilt to demonize and punish individuals purely on the basis of identity categories. That said, he does tend to be highly suspicious of coordinated action, more suspicious than is warranted, IMHO.

            On the broader point of economic inequality, Peterson has pretty consistently spoken out about the problem of inequality and has criticized the left for not taking it seriously enough, rather than denying that it’s a problem. Certainly he hasn’t said that one should just accept one’s lot in life and not attempt to make changes. He mainly has a big problem with people who he considers arrogant for thinking that they know how to fix the problems in society before they try everything in their power to improve their lot. It’s not a blank denial that structural changes aren’t possible – he doesn’t say don’t dare criticize the world, he says just to make sure your house is in perfect order first. Again, my opinion is that even this is a bit stronger than my liking, but there’s a world of difference between that and just saying that people shouldn’t stick together and demand better conditions.

          • userfriendlyyy says:

            @baconbits9

            This is obviously not true in the US as data on income mobility within lifetimes attests

            Hummm like this data?

            We estimate rates of “absolute income mobility” – the fraction of children who earn more than their parents – by combining historical data from Census and CPS cross-sections with panel data for recent birth cohorts from de-identified tax records. Our approach overcomes the key data limitation that has hampered research on trends in intergenerational mobility: the lack of large panel datasets linking parents and children. We find that rates of absolute mobility have fallen from approximately 90% for children born in 1940 to 50% for children born in the 1980s. The result that absolute mobility has fallen sharply over the past half century is robust to the choice of price deflator, the definition of income,and accounting for taxes and transfers. In counterfactual simulations, we find that increasing GDP growth rates alone cannot restore absolute mobility to the rates experienced by children born in the1940s. In contrast, changing the distribution of growth across income groups to the more equal distribution experienced by the 1940 birth cohort would reverse more than 70% of the decline in mobility. These results imply that reviving the “American Dream” of high rates of absolute mobility would require economic growth that is spread more broadly across the income distribution.

            Or this?

            The report found that millennials—15 to 34-year-olds in 2013—were worth roughly half as much as the boomer generation and are earning about 20% less in comparison to young adults in 1989. While millennials earned $40,581 on average in 2013, members of the boomer generation earned $50,910 annually in 1989.

            What I meant by complacency is accepting the status quo power relationship at work. Excepting that all fry cooks will just have bad lives and if he doesn’t want a bad life he needs to fix himself. Rather than realizing there is no world where fry cooks don’t exist for at least a while and demanding a living wage.

            Our entire society has been intently focused on individualistic self improvement (get a fitbit, monitor your sleep, be on call 24/7, save your boss money by getting a gym membership, college isn’t a societal good generating a more educated workforce it’s building human capital and you better be ready to pay out the nose for it, single payer health care is bad because having a healthier society isn’t important because I’ve got mine jack, ect.)

            73% of American adults would spend at least 1 year in the top quintile of income,

            You left out household. Sure, Husband wife have their parent move in to watch out might bring the household to over $110k/yr. Or maybe a boomerang kid working part time with both of his parents working full time.

            that total income for the bottom quintile was up almost 70% since 1980.

            Adjust for inflation.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Do you have any idea how many millions of people are going above and beyond in hopeless dead end jobs while not making enough to make ends meet.

            According to BLS data, not very many. There’s this gilded-age stereotype of an idle-rich and working-their-butts-off-at-80-hours-a-week-poor, but in the twenty-first century, work-hours scale in a straight line with income quintile.

          • userfriendlyyy says:

            @DavidFriedman;
            @suntzuanime had a good response to you but I’d add I would like us to ensure that everyone ready willing and able to work knows that they have a Guaranteed Job at a living wage even if DC and Wall Street get so greedy that they explode the world’s economy. I want honest, hard working people to know that they are not just trash, that society hasn’t discarded them, and that they have value. I want there to be less Americans killing themselves on opiates every year out of desperation than died in the entirety of the Iraq and Vietnam wars combined.

            Sure, we are better off in the sense that we aren’t running around naked hunting animals for food but we are nowhere near living in a society where most people are happy, healthy, and secure.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Adjust for inflation

            Adjust for taxes and transfers

          • userfriendlyyy says:

            @baconbits9
            To your attempted debugging of the fry cook data. My point all along has been that yes, it is possible to make small improvements by working harder. That does nothing for the rest of society. What happens if every last one of those fry cooks becomes Peterson devotees?

            Like I said, well and good to improve yourself where you can but it is not a universal solution and actually is marginally detrimental to universal solutions. That fry cook who worked extra hard and got a little bit ahead is likely to have some resistance to collective action because his first thought will be ‘I worked my way up, why can’t you?’

            @lvlln
            Thank you for the clarification, I’ve read a bit of Peterson but I’m certainly not an expert on the nuances of all his opinions. I apologize if I’ve made unfair straw men or representations.

            @Edward Scizorhands
            Hours worked is a poor metric because rich people are salaried and don’t get paid any differently if they work 35 hours or 80 so there is a constant pressure to be seen to be doing your part and working longer. Poor people get paid hourly and their pay jumps to time and a half if they work over 40 hrs, a punishable / fireable offence at many jobs (including ones I’ve worked at). Plus there are jobs that won’t let employees go over 32 hrs to avoid having to offer health insurance.

            @everyone…
            Geez you guys all respond quickly, this has been a fun and enjoyable conversation unfortunately I have things I need to do today. I will check back later tonight or tomorrow and respond if there is anything else.

          • userfriendlyyy says:

            Still meaningless without inflation adjustment. Besides, taxes and transfers go almost entirely to healthcare. You want to see something even worse? Go look at wealth distribution.

          • baconbits9 says:

            To your attempted debugging of the fry cook data. My point all along has been that yes, it is possible to make small improvements by working harder. That does nothing for the rest of society. What happens if every last one of those fry cooks becomes Peterson devotees?

            Productivity would rise, so real output would rise and real wealth would rise, that is the expected outcome of many people choosing to do their best (and is the case for universal college education).

            Like I said, well and good to improve yourself where you can but it is not a universal solution and actually is marginally detrimental to universal solutions. That fry cook who worked extra hard and got a little bit ahead is likely to have some resistance to collective action because his first thought will be ‘I worked my way up, why can’t you?’

            You have started with, and without defending, the assumption that collective action is the primary way in which gains are made and not individual action.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Still meaningless without inflation adjustment.

            That graph (99% sure) is inflation adjusted as well.

            Besides, taxes and transfers go almost entirely to healthcare.

            Even if true, so what?

            You want to see something even worse? Go look at wealth distribution.

            The wealth distribution is not actually scary at all as it lines up very nicely with age, you could come to the conclusion that everyone is going to die rich if you looked at it through an age prism (which would also be an inaccurate way to look at it, but just as valid as using it for scare tactics).

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            but it is not a universal solution and actually is marginally detrimental to universal solutions. That fry cook who worked extra hard and got a little bit ahead is likely to have some resistance to collective action because his first thought will be ‘I worked my way up, why can’t you?’

            “Don’t try to get better, it might work!”

          • baconbits9 says:

            “Don’t try to get better, it might work!”

            No, its worse than that. Its “Don’t try to get better if it works you will make other people feel bad”

          • The Nybbler says:

            @baconbits9

            That’s crabs, not lobsters, I believe.

          • userfriendlyyy says:

            @baconbits9

            Productivity would rise, so real output would rise and real wealth would rise, that is the expected outcome of many people choosing to do their best (and is the case for universal college education).

            I wish.

            Wage stagnation experienced by the vast majority of American workers has emerged as a central issue in economic policy debates, with candidates and leaders of both parties noting its importance. This is a welcome development because it means that economic inequality has become a focus of attention and that policymakers are seeing the connection between wage stagnation and inequality. Put simply, wage stagnation is how the rise in inequality has damaged the vast majority of American workers.

            The Economic Policy Institute’s earlier paper, Raising America’s Pay: Why It’s Our Central Economic Policy Challenge, presented a thorough analysis of income and wage trends, documented rising wage inequality, and provided strong evidence that wage stagnation is largely the result of policy choices that boosted the bargaining power of those with the most wealth and power (Bivens et al. 2014). As we argued, better policy choices, made with low- and moderate-wage earners in mind, can lead to more widespread wage growth and strengthen and expand the middle class.

            This paper updates and explains the implications of the central component of the wage stagnation story: the growing gap between overall productivity growth and the pay of the vast majority of workers since the 1970s. A careful analysis of this gap between pay and productivity provides several important insights for the ongoing debate about how to address wage stagnation and rising inequality. First, wages did not stagnate for the vast majority because growth in productivity (or income and wealth creation) collapsed. Yes, the policy shifts that led to rising inequality were also associated with a slowdown in productivity growth, but even with this slowdown, productivity still managed to rise substantially in recent decades. But essentially none of this productivity growth flowed into the paychecks of typical American workers.

            You have started with, and without defending, the assumption that collective action is the primary way in which gains are made and not individual action.

            My point, which has been inferred by most of the links is that individual action can be effective for some people some of the time. Since the neoliberal revolution workers pay has stagnated. (same link)

            Since 1973, hourly compensation of the vast majority of American workers has not risen in line with economy-wide productivity. In fact, hourly compensation has almost stopped rising at all. Net productivity grew 72.2 percent between 1973 and 2014. Yet inflation-adjusted hourly compensation of the median worker rose just 8.7 percent, or 0.20 percent annually, over this same period, with essentially all of the growth occurring between 1995 and 2002. Another measure of the pay of the typical worker, real hourly compensation of production, nonsupervisory workers, who make up 80 percent of the workforce, also shows pay stagnation for most of the period since 1973, rising 9.2 percent between 1973 and 2014. Again, the lion’s share of this growth occurred between 1995 and 2002.
            Net productivity grew 1.33 percent each year between 1973 and 2014, faster than the meager 0.20 percent annual rise in median hourly compensation. In essence, about 15 percent of productivity growth between 1973 and 2014 translated into higher hourly wages and benefits for the typical American worker. Since 2000, the gap between productivity and pay has risen even faster. The net productivity growth of 21.6 percent from 2000 to 2014 translated into just a 1.8 percent rise in inflation-adjusted compensation for the median worker (just 8 percent of net productivity growth).
            Since 2000, more than 80 percent of the divergence between a typical (median) worker’s pay growth and overall net productivity growth has been driven by rising inequality (specifically, greater inequality of compensation and a falling share of income going to workers relative to capital owners). Over the entire 1973–2014 period, rising inequality explains over two-thirds of the productivity–pay divergence.
            If the hourly pay of typical American workers had kept pace with productivity growth since the 1970s, then there would have been no rise in income inequality during that period. Instead, productivity growth that did not accrue to typical workers’ pay concentrated at the very top of the pay scale (in inflated CEO pay, for example) and boosted incomes accruing to owners of capital.
            These trends indicate that while rising productivity in recent decades provided the potential for a substantial growth in the pay for the vast majority of workers, this potential was squandered due to rising inequality putting a wedge between potential and actual pay growth for these workers.

            “Don’t bother getting better, your boss and the bankers take almost all the extra gains”

      • Incurian says:

        All debates are bravery debates?

      • benwave says:

        Another idea in that vein is that those structural problems are only able to be addressed and improved by people who have already found their own stable footing as a person. On a personal level, ‘cleaning your room’ is a prerequisite for cleaning up all of human society.

        My personal impression is that dealing with structural problems collectively is not an overpushed message, but then I mostly tend to interact with people who already have the self-improvement part working for them. So, maybe I am just seeing and responding to an unrepresentative world.

      • Null Hypothesis says:

        I mean, it’s pretty obvious that Peterson would agree that systemic problems can certainly exist and do bad things to society.

        The whole reason he was catapulted to fame was the C-16 Bill in Canada, which he argued gave a ‘human rights council’ authority to prosecute people for failing to use particular gender pronouns.

        He was pretty obviously arguing that that would be a systemically bad law, and that crossing the line from saying; “You cannot say some hurtful things” to “you must say these specific things” interferes with society’s ability to think and discuss and reason stuff out, and that’d obviously be bad independent of how ‘sorted out’ any individual’s life is.

      • lvlln says:

        But that being said, I think the counterpart sentence “I’m not against the ‘dealing with structural problems collectively’ stuff, but I cringe when it is offered as the sole solution” is also a valid concern, and in fact is (in my estimation) probably a more pressing one, at least at the moment. I think it’s almost certainly the case that many social justice messages, while helping a great deal of people, have caused harm to many others by pushing them away from self-improvement. And I don’t think the idea that social justice messages even can cause harm is widely acknowledged enough.

        (Bolding mine).

        I agree with this point. This almost looks like a sort of a growth mindset/fixed mindset kind of dichotomy – I’m not really up on the research, but isn’t it the case from the psychological literature that people tend to do worse at self-improvement if they believe that they lack the ability to self-improve? Always emphasizing the unfairness and injustice of life and how it’s all stacked against you seems like a formula for making sure that people in bad situations don’t find ways to escape those bad situations. It’ll be great for their sense of guilt, because it externalizes responsibility, but sense of guilt isn’t the only thing that matters, and real-world circumstances also matter somewhat.

        A slightly different, but related point: I don’t recall if it was Scott, but I recall reading a post by a psychiatrist a brief period after Trump’s win of an LGBT patient coming to him crying, in deadly fear that they were in real danger of soon being sent to death camps where they’ll be shoved into gas chambers. I had already noticed the incredible harm that the SJ movement was causing in its opponents as well as for its cause simply by emboldening its opponents & making more people join their ranks, but I think that was the first time I noticed so clearly that the SJ movement was directly causing unnecessary suffering in the people it was claiming to support. Since then, I’ve noticed more similar examples, like a couple women saying they’re choosing not to pursue a STEM career because the SJ messaging tells them that those jobs are hotbeds of misogyny where they’ll never get a fair chance.

        There are grains of truth there, such as the fact that Trump’s administration really will probably end up being net negative to LGBT people compared to if Clinton had won, and there probably exist various obstacles in certain STEM jobs that women have to face that men wouldn’t, but the overwhelming message are the exaggerated versions stated above. I think that’s why I think Peterson’s message of personal responsibility is appealing and isn’t a bad thing right now, even though there’s a lot in that message I don’t find compelling.

        I vaguely recall sometime after Bush 2’s election that some right-wing pundit wrote some essay saying that he decided to support Democrats and their policies, because sometimes if you’re in a car swerving way to the right into a ditch, the correct thing to do is to jerk the wheel sharply to the left.

      • RobJ says:

        I think the biggest reason messages about structural problems keep getting repeated from certain corners is because there is a significant portion of the population that just doesn’t buy them. I don’t know if repeating these messages ad-nauseum is an effective strategy to get people on board, but the reason they get repeated so much is because they continue to get pushed back on so hard.

        Personally, I’d say different messages are more important for different folks, but there’s no controlling your audience in the internet age.

        • Aapje says:

          Sure, but you can flip that around and argue that people are pushing back in part because there is a significant portion of the population that just doesn’t buy into the ability of the individual to improve their lives significantly.

          • RobJ says:

            I mean, maybe it gets downplayed too much in the rhetoric from certain corners, but even today 90% of the advice anyone gets from friends, family, teachers, etc. is about improving themself. It’s not like at the parent-teacher conference the teacher will say “Little Johnny is disruptive in class, but it’s due to structural racism so it’s not his fault.
            He should put no effort into improving his behavior, but protest instead.”

            I’m sure the emphasis on structural issues gives people an excuse not to take responsibility for themselves, but people are pretty good at finding those excuses in any case. Maybe it makes a difference at the margins, but my feeling (and granted, this is just a feeling) is that the improvement in our institutions based on this awareness will be far greater than any potential loss of internal locus-of-control by individuals.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Most parent teacher conferences devolve into the teacher skirting around the fact that they think its the parents’ fault, and the parents skirting around the fact that they think its the school’s fault.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Even if we granted the premise here, what can an individual do about it? Structural issues in the way? One person can’t fix those, it is self defeating to say ‘hey, not your fault oh well’. Peterson’s message is deal with what you can deal with, very explicitly he starts with things that an individual clearly can do and tells them to build from there. Structural impediments might get in the way, but these are secondary considerations as you won’t even bump up against them if your are getting in your own way.

    • shenanigans24 says:

      If telling people to help themselves works for 95% of people and telling people they are helpless and screwed works for 0% of people you should go with the first option.

    • John Schilling says:

      Unless your names are “Martin”, “Luther”, and “King”, you’re not going to solve the problem of structural oppression in your society. The only ways your miserable life gets even a little bit better are, A: you improve yourself, not society, or B: a whole bunch of other people improve society for you. You can join that team if you like, but it won’t make any measurable difference to society and if it makes a difference to you it will be because you’ve joined a community and not because of the improved society. Also, if you really want your personal membership in Team Improve Society to have even a slightly measurable impact, you’re going to need to be an extraordinary person. So personal improvement seems like a win all around.

      Unless you’re a team leader and you think all your followers will defect if they are capable of making their own lives better by their own efforts, of course.

  36. Anonymous says:

    Super-saturated solutions are really cool.

  37. Philipp says:

    Scott, I’m surprised no one on this thread (I’ve not looked at the sub-reddit) has taken you up on the C.S. Lewis angle, so I guess, as something of a Lewis fan, that I’ll bite. I’ll state at the outset that I’ve not read Jordan Peterson, though I have watched a few clips of him and read quite a bit about him.

    I realize that your talk of C.S. Lewis ‘hating’ Jordan Peterson is hyperbole, but it’s well worth realizing that he was actually a man of broad friendships and, much though he later rejected his youthful flirtations with non- or anti-Christian ideas, a broad personal experience. I mean, the man had variously been a dabbler in the occult (something he rejected with particular ferocity, after one of his spiritualist friends went insane), an idealist, and an atheist materialist, before he became a Christian, in part through the long intellectual influence of George MacDonald and G.K. Chesterton (two very different figures) and in part because of a late-night conversation with Hugo Dyson and the very Catholic J.R.R. Tolkien. Of his friends throughout his life, one of the closest was the anthroposophist Owen Barfield, and another, Charles Williams, was, well, it’s rather hard to figure out, but at least eccentric.

    In fact, Peterson sounds, whenever I hear him described, as a kind of prophet of what Lewis called ‘the Tao’ in The Abolition of Man. Lewis is not, so far as I can see it, using the word in the technical sense–this is not Tao as ancient Chinese doctrine–but instead borrowing a word to refer to the basic sense of right and wrong, truth and goodness, and, at least to some degree, beauty and order as reflections thereof. It is, in other words, the natural law, understood not as an arcane system for judging morality in the abstract (the unfortunate impression some less-talented writers leave), but as it is really is: the basic moral order imprinted in the universe itself and in the hearts of mankind.

    The central problem of The Abolition of Man (and a central problem also of the novel That Hideous Strength, which was likewise published in 1943 and is very close to it in thought) is the failure of modern education to teach that sense of right and wrong: its tendency to produce ‘men without chests’, or people whose actions are not grounded in the law of nature, in what is true and good, but ultimately only in their own preferences. From this perspective (or so I infer–I don’t have the book in front of me and I don’t remember whether he treats any kind of sophisticated utilitarian thought), utilitarianism, though it purports to judge what is moral, must fail, as it is not ultimately beholden to what is actually right in and of itself. At best, the utilitarian, despite his doctrine, still acts on the basis of his ingrained sense of rightness, and that sense of rightness needs to be shaped to the Tao, or it is nothing.

    So, where does this leave Jordan Peterson? Not, I think, straightforwardly on the outside. I doubt Lewis would see in him a proto-Christian, since Peterson knows scripture and rejects Christian orthodoxy, but he is at least–or so it seems–a man with a strong apprehension of right and wrong, who is trying to grow the chests of people, especially young men, whose morality has been stunted. He is, as it were, on the side of the Tao.

    To any Christian, and Lewis was one, there is a danger here, of course, and that is that Peterson is nevertheless still not on the side of God. Morality simply is not, because it cannot be, a matter of self-help and self-improvement. There, I think, your own characterization of Lewis goes wrong. He is not part of a “vast humanistic self-cultivation tradition”; though he does draw on ancient philosophy, he is a Christian lay theologian, and therefore believes in human frailty and the need for divine grace. ‘We have not got to try to climb up into spiritual life by our own efforts’, he wrote in Mere Christianity. ‘It has already come down into the human race. If we will only lay ourselves open to the one Man in whom it was fully present, and who, in spite of being God, is also a real man, He will do it in us and for us.’

    One cannot speak for a dead man, and others know Lewis’s works better than I do. Nonetheless, I suspect that he would see in Jordan Peterson a man who sees clearly some of the worst errors of his own age, but who can only be a kind of stop on the way to the full truth, who is (of course) Christ himself. Like the world’s moral traditions which, Lewis believed, reflected the truth of the Tao, he might prepare for the Gospel; but making of his teaching a Gospel–treating it, that is, as if it really could make people good enough–would simply be to pave yet another path that leads away from God and real health of the soul.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Small point: “‘men without chests’, or people whose actions are not grounded in the law of nature, in what is true and good, but ultimately only in their own preferences. ”

      I read that passage somewhat differently– the problem is that the emotional connection to what is right was getting broken, so people could affirm what is right in theory but not act on it. I suppose that all that’s left is preferences.

    • Macrofauna says:

      A little more on Lewis:

      So despite the similarities between Peterson and C.S. Lewis, if the great man himself were to read Twelve Rules, I think he would say – in some kind of impeccably polite Christian English gentleman way – fuck that shit.

      I believe the impeccably polite way in question might be the one Lewis said in Mere Christianity, in the section on conceptions of God, against a statement of the Pantheists: “Don’t talk damned nonsense.”

      There’s a footnote: “One listener complained of the word damned as frivolous swearing. But I mean exactly what I say — nonsense that is damned is under God’s curse, and will (apart from God’s grace) lead those who believe it to eternal death.”

      • Philipp says:

        Oh, I agree, Macrofauna; the quotation is quite to the point. But I don’t think Lewis would dismiss Peterson’s efforts to encourage morality and self-discipline, even while he deplored his notions about God. It’s a matter of taking what is good and rejecting what is not, something Lewis also believed in quite strongly–witness, for example, the end of The Last Battle, in which a pagan who tried to worship his god rightly ends up actually worshipping the right God, or the pervasive presence of Greek mythology in Lewis’s writing.

        The key thing, I think, in understanding Lewis, is not to imagine that all the God-stuff is just window-dressing, which calling him a ‘humanist’ tends to imply. Neither seeing Lewis as straightforwardly antagonistic to Peterson’s way of thinking nor as a member of the same tradition is quite right. There are aspects of agreement, along with a fundamental divergence on what was for Lewis the most important point. I simply think that Lewis was intellectually broad enough to be able to recognize that agreement, though I don’t doubt that he would have sternly warned Peterson’s readers (mostly, it seems, young and impressionable men) against thinking that it was enough.

        I may have misstated things, Nancy, but I don’t think, as I now re-read the passage, that what you are finding in it is substantially different from what I had inferred in my previous readings (though again, I didn’t have the text in front of me; always perilous!) Lewis wrote, ‘It still remains true that no justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous. Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism.’

        The problem is that mere theory is not, in Lewis’s eyes, enough actually to ground one’s actions in what is right; that requires a genuine love and desire for rightness and goodness. To say it rather differently, I think, from the way he did, the Tao isn’t just an idea; it is a conviction and a way of life, and the path to it leads not through philosophy in the abstract, but through moral formation. I rather elided the problem of sentiment, but then, I don’t think Lewis is aiming at the weak feelings we often call ’emotions’. He is talking about a properly-balanced impulse toward what is good and away from what is evil–an (if I may be a bit colloquial) ‘ick-factor’ that is aimed at what is really repulsive, and, yet more importantly for any Christian, a desire aimed at what is truly good. Does that seem closer to the mark?

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      So, where does this leave Jordan Peterson? Not, I think, straightforwardly on the outside. I doubt Lewis would see in him a proto-Christian, since Peterson knows scripture and rejects Christian orthodoxy,

      Peterson always dodges the “are you a Christian” or “do you believe in God” questions. He says “he acts as though God exists.” We don’t actually know what Peterson’s religious beliefs are, or whether or accepts or rejects Christian orthodoxy.

      In my imagination, Lewis would chastise Peterson for his temerity.

      • Philipp says:

        Like I said, I don’t know Peterson well. Everything I’ve read suggests that his stated views on scripture are far from orthodox, but I concede that that may not be quite the same thing as consciously rejecting Christian orthodoxy per se. If it really is true, however, that he sees God chiefly as metaphor–or treats him as such in practice–it would be very difficult to reconcile him with Christianity. With aspects of Christian law, maybe, but the first commandment is still ‘love the Lord Your God’, and Christianity is precisely something more than law.

        Temerity or timorousness, by the way? That sounds to me more like the latter.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          If it really is true, however, that he sees God chiefly as metaphor–or treats him as such in practice–it would be very difficult to reconcile him with Christianity.

          He treats God at least as a metaphor, as do I. I do not have the language to describe God. When I refer to God as “Father,” I’m using a metaphor. My father is a swell guy, but he’s not God, and God is not literally my father.

          I’m a practicing Catholic. I treat God as a metaphor…and then much more than that. Peterson treats God as a metaphor…and then we don’t know because he doesn’t answer those questions. It could be that he doesn’t answer the questions because he, as you say, rejects Christian orthodoxy. It could also be that he is a Christian, but as an academic/speaker/seller of books wants to speak in a broader a language instead of simply being another televangelist. I’ve watched a lot of Jordan Peterson and I honestly couldn’t tell you which one it is.

          Temerity or timorousness, by the way? That sounds to me more like the latter.

          Yes, that. Words are hard and make me look bad 🙁

          • Philipp says:

            Words can make us all look bad. I was just trying to make sure what you meant, as I can see a way of construing temerity to fit the context, but it seemed a little unusual–letting one’s own worries get in the way of speaking the truth could I suppose be seen as a kind of rashness, as it fails to treat the most important things as the most important.

            I’d be happy to learn that Peterson is more orthodox than he’s been made to sound. As I said, I don’t know, and you certainly sound better positioned to judge.

          • tjohnson314 says:

            Perhaps I’m misunderstanding, but based on how frequently Peterson mentions Jung’s archetypes, I think he believes that the metaphors are what’s actually Real in some deeper sense.

            So it might not be as simple as distinguishing between metaphor vs. something more than a metaphor.

        • Jaskologist says:

          My impression is that whatever Peterson might call himself, his beliefs are very far from orthodox. However, what I’ve seen in his series on the Bible is not heretical. It is perfectly licit and even scriptural to interpret the Biblical stories in a metaphorical way, as long as that is in addition to the literal meaning (and there’s some wiggle room even there). I don’t think it would be a hard task to harmonize his neo-Jungian interpretation with an orthodox belief system.

          Probably you’d have to dial down the love affair with Marduk, though.

          • wondersforoyarsa says:

            If you’re speaking for Lewis, I think you’d be quite mistaken on dialing down the Marduk love affair. ‘Till We Have Faces anyone? The man loved pagan mythology for all the reasons Peterson does.

      • PaulVK says:

        You can’t talk about Peterson’s “god” and not consider Jung. Peterson isn’t a Jungian like some I’ve encountered since delving into this on YouTube but Jung is a huge influence on Peterson. Jung brought Peterson to the Bible and Jung has not be exorcised from Peterson’s religious matrix.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Lewis seems broadly friendly to non-Christians who approximate Christian morality, but broadly hostile to people who do that and say “And this, not that boring literal Jesus stuff, is the true essence of Christianity”

      • fontesmustgo says:

        This is consistent with a Catholic (and some forms of Protestant, although I can’t speak for the hundreds of sects) understanding that ignorance and doubt of Christ is less of an obstacle to salvation than rejection of Christ. Faith is hard – much harder than deciding that the words in the Gospels to provide a coherent and workable moral code. Doubt is preferable to erroneous certainty.

      • Philipp says:

        That’s quite true. I’m not sure, from what others are saying, that that is what Peterson is doing, but it sounds as if his work is at least susceptible to that reading.

        EDIT: Fontesmustgo, that’s akin to the interpretation of the famous ‘blasphemy against the Holy Ghost’-passages that I’ve most often heard. It’s one thing, and very bad, to worship a false God or not worship God; but it’s much, much worse knowingly and intentionally to reject him (or persist in sin, which amounts to the same thing), as that is the kind of thing that, by its very nature, can’t be forgiven.

      • PaulVK says:

        Lewis was hard on Freud but I’m less clear on his take on Jung. Jung shows up infrequently in Lewis’ main texts but more often in the letters. Owen Barfield frustrated Lewis to no end but Lewis loved and respected him and his Theosophism. If I had a clearer picture on what Lewis thought of Jung it would be easier to guess what he’d think of Peterson.

    • wondersforoyarsa says:

      I think I can speak as someone who is reasonably read up on both Lewis and Peterson, and I think they would have got along just fine. I’m not sure how familiar Peterson is with Lewis, but I think he’d benefit from reading him. I’d love to see him read some N. T. Wright as well. But I digress.

      Anyway, it’s a remarkably bad reading of Lewis to see him as someone who’d hate someone because they aren’t a strong apologist for dogmatic Christianity. He would of course argue for it himself, but he also recognized an ally when he saw one. He was a great admirer of the good in pagan religion, and indeed all human striving towards truth, goodness, and beauty. That he saw all this fulfilled in Christ, and God himself to be the source of that good (even if the person himself doesn’t believe in God), didn’t make him petty and tribal.

      So I’d very much agree, Philipp, with your argument. I was going to make the point about the Last Battle, when I saw you’d already brought it up. However, I might go even further. I think Lewis might even fully embrace Peterson as a fellow Christian for the purposes of public discourse, even if in private he’d urge Peterson to more direct faith. I don’t think Lewis would see Peterson as the sort of liberal theologian that he abhorred – those who were embarrassed by the faith of the past, and just wanted some feel-good religious trapping sprinkled on social niceties and modern philosophy. Because that’s not Peterson’s attitude toward the Western heritage at all.

      Peterson doesn’t push Christian dogma – this is true. But he doesn’t reject it or belittle it, either. I’ll say this – as a traditional dogmatic Christian myself, I don’t really find anything he says problematic from a religious perspective. Some of what he says I don’t agree with (though it’s always interesting), but I’ve never heard him say anything that would be incomparable with classical faith. Not affirming and rejecting are two very different things. And Peterson is constantly suggesting that we may very well need to go deeper than praxis – into metaphysics – but that he just can’t be the guide here.

      As far as the “fuck that shit” comment – where Lewis would say “Don’t talk damned nonsense” – he was referring to pantheists talking of evil and suffering and cancer as equally valid expressions of the divine. Peterson and Lewis would be shoulder to shoulder on this.

      I really don’t think Lewis would look down on Peterson’s theology at all – his “let’s just act like its true, and not worry about proving the metaphysics”. Take this quote from Mere Christianity:

      The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him…

      Compare this to Peterson’s answer to a question about how a person who is an atheist might come to believe again:

      I would say that you start believing not by convincing yourself that the statement “there is a God” is true, like a fact is true, but rather act out the proposition that you should shoulder your cross and stumble uphill towards the city of God. That’s belief, man!

      By this logic, I’d say Lewis would consider Peterson a believer in the ways that really matter – at least in public. And he might also respect Peterson’s wish to keep his dogmatic commitments private.

      I think I’d love to be a fly on the wall for Peterson to join Lewis at The Eagle and the Child. I think they’d talk late into the night, and enjoy every minute of it.

      • Philipp says:

        Interesting thoughts, wondersforoyarsa. I suppose what I think of is what Ransom says to Jane Studdock, before they are going to go out to find Merlin in That Hideous Strength–that her obedience to him is enough for the moment, but Christ (‘Maleldil’) will have her for himself, in the end. Although Lewis was willing (too willing, maybe; I think the scriptural witness is almost totally against the idea) to countenance the possibility of salvation for the not-explicitly-Christian, he still retained a clear awareness that one cannot stand outside of Christ and the Church forever, who is visibly called to it.

        Getting back to the quotation from Mere Christianity, is Peterson a man who is trying (or advising others to try) ‘to climb up into spiritual life by our own efforts’? It’s one thing to give that advice about love to just anyone; i