Jonathan Brun

Jordan Peterson is very dangerous

Council of Nikea, where the roman emperor became Christian.

There are two ways or organizing the world. The first method is the most common and the oldest. It involves the collective adoption of a set of social rules that are imposed though a mixture of state institutions, religious institutions and social pressure. Most traditional societies functioned this way. Grossly simplified, from an anthropological point of view, this way of organizing groups of people evolved first from a “respect your elders mentality”. The young and adults of a group could easily overthrow the elders of a group, but the elders managed to impose a set of rules and convince them to respect the wishes and opinions of the elders. This is referred to as a gerontocracy – where the old are in charge. This then evolved into a system where the old men were the dominant actors in a society and could set the rules, expel unruly members, arrange marriages, etc. Most religious societies and many aboriginal societies still function this way. See the Amish, the Hassidic Jews, religious Muslim society, etc.

The alternative way of organizing society is a loose set of rules that are mutable and changeable, with open membership to that society based on merit and physical and mental force. This way of organizing is more chaotic and unpredictable, but it can lead to more innovation and creation that upsets the current order. Examples of this are societies such as ancient Greece, ancient Rome, and of course, western society since the French Revolution – give or take a bit. No society is uniform and the switch between these two modes is not binary, parts of society can live in a highly structured environment while other parts are far more open and flexible. I live in downtown Montreal, an open and welcoming city, surrounded by a highly insular group of Hassidic jews. We get along, but we share few fundamental values.

These two ways of organizing society appeal to different people at different times. In times of strife or stress, order and rules are nice. In times of abundance and growth, flexibility and loose rules are great. For Western Civilization, the collapse of the Roman Empire gave rise to a static set of Christian rules. The collapse was largely due to the Muslim (read: old style world) expansion through North Africa and the Middle East around 750 AD. This expansion pushed the Roman empire north and finished it off after a slow death since Constantine converted to Christianity.

It took 1000 years for the Christian order in Europe to give way with the renaissance and the levy really broke with the enlightenment and the French revolution, where a static old order was literally decapitated. This opened up room for groups to manoeuvre and eventually led to the industrial revolution in Britain, creating material abundance and further disruption. Two hundred years later, give or take, we are feeling a backlash. With economic growth and wages slowing since the 1990s, certain people who were previously on top due to inherited wealth of the industrial revolution (read: white men) are starting to long for that old world order, one set by old men with clear rules.

Along comes Jordan Peterson. For those who have managed to avoid the guy, he is a University of Toronto professor who is leading a charge towards a return to traditional values. He published a bestselling book, 12 Rules to Life, that lays out a set of rules to put your life in order (and those of others too!). He is a very compelling speaker, storyteller and a passionate advocate for a return to something more primal, older, simpler and more ordered than our globalized, equal opportunity, women laden workplaces. He has a tendency to use hyperlatives and extrapolate from small issues to global crises that will create a world catastrophe. He equates the loss of traditional male masculinity with the death of god, for example. In this Vice interview, he states that “Can men and women work in the workplace… we do not know! [if women and men can work in the workplace]. Lipstick … is a sexual display in the workplace. A women [wearing makeup in the workplace who does not want to be sexually harassed] is hypocritical.” This is  a common strategy for Jordan, things are either clear and simple or unknowable. Nothing in between!

Peterson has been on many, many shows in the past few months and this is not to mention his own YouTube channel, that inclues thousands of hours of video. Whenever someone speaks that much, it is easy to pick and choose their mistakes. I do not know the guy, but after originally being intrigued by him, I find myself called to speak out against this false prophet who is contradictory, scheming and lying. He advocates for monogamy and honesty, but says he would vote for Trump. He refuses to dissavowe right wing white supremacists and believes that college campuses are festering pools or revolutionary children who need to be taught a lesson. I do not really have a bone in this fight, except that I believe in an open society that welcomes honest hard working people and strives to improve the lives of the next generation.

The best and most detailed damaging take down of Jordan Peterson that I have seen is the letter in the Toronto Star by his former mentor and advocate at the University of Toronto, Bernard Schiff. This is a man that housed Peterson and his family for months and lobbied the University to hire Peterson in the first place. In the article, Schiff states plainly,

“He was a preacher more than a teacher.” and goes on to say…

“Jordan is a powerful orator. He is smart, compelling and convincing. His messages can be strong and clear, oversimplified as they often are, to be very accessible. He has played havoc with the truth. He has studied demagogues and authoritarians and understands the power of their methods. Fear and danger were their fertile soil. He frightens by invoking murderous bogeymen on the left and warning they are out to destroy the social order, which will bring chaos and destruction.

Jordan’s view of the social order is now well known.

He is a biological and Darwinian determinist. Gender, gender roles, dominance hierarchies, parenthood, all firmly entrenched in our biological heritage and not to be toyed with. Years ago when he was living in my house, he said children are little monkeys trying to clamber up the dominance hierarchy and need to be kept in their place. I thought he was being ironic. Apparently, not.”

Need I say more? Of course, Peterson’s Darwinian social views also presupposes that there are no institutional prejudice towards certain people and that everyone as an equal shot at life. He seems to think that the game is not rigged and if you follow his 12 rules, you will be ok. To believe something along those lines it to be a complete idiot.

In this BBC interview, the interviewed really pins Jordan to his own cross. One of Jordan’s philosophical cornerstones is that Western society is by nature more individualistic and freedom loving than other society [read Asian and Muslim]. This is both clear and good according to Peterson. Yet, with a bit of pressure it becomes quickly apparent that there was nothing terribly individualistic about the Catholic Church (or the Orthodox Church for that matter). To be a member of Catholic society between 700 AD and 1700 AD was very much a collective act. All your sins could only be forgiven by the church and you could only reach heaven through a clear set of rules and an institution ruled by older [celibate] white men. By the way, Peterson was celibate before marriage. However, Peterson on the one hand labels himself as a liberty loving liberal who believes in individual freedom. Yet, he advocates for a set of clear rules that everyone should follow. Peterson is on the express train to hypocrisy town! The BBC hosts correctly identifies Peterson for what he is, “a fiery evangelical baptist preacher”.

What is so dangerous about all this? Peterson (and others) are creating a narrative for angry white men who feel that they are losing their place in this world. The place they presume to have, is at the top. The presumption of superiority is not based on skillsets, culture, or intelligence – it is based on looking at the past and saying, “that is how it was, that is how it should be”. Yet, the real reason western society excelled and grew over the past three hundred years (after 1000 years of stagnation) was not because of a strict set of rules or a set social hierarchy. Western society grew because we destroyed the rules of yore, tore down oppressive institutions, created the industrial revolution, took land and ressources from the weak and used slave labour to grow our wealth. It wasn’t pretty, but it did establish Western society as top dog. Losing this position is scary and some look towards the past for a solution. This is dangerous and not unlike past social convulsions.

Perhaps the most devastating attack on Peterson was done by standup comedian Jim Jeffries. Jim Jeffries came to fame thanks to a hilarious (and scary) video about gun control in the United States. He simply explained that Americans love their guns, not for freedom and liberty, but because guns are fun! He is correct.

In Jeffries’ interview with Peterson, her gets Peterson to very clearly state that we should not force people to bake cakes for homosexuals or blacks if the [professional] bakers do not want to. A few seconds later Jeffries confronts Peterson with the challenge of getting southern US restaurants to serve black people during Jim Crow era. Peterson’s position crumbles like the cheap deck of cards that it is. Peterson confesses he was wrong and we should force bakeries to serve everyone. At least Peterson admits he is wrong and frankly speaking, he is wrong – across the board on many issues. Peterson has other ridiculous positions such as the one where he says gay marriage is acceptable (barely) because it will reduce the amount of extra-marital sex homosexuals have and they may have sex with less people. Terribly utilitarian, terribly stupid.

Augustus, emperor of Rome

 

There is a tomb in Rome. The tomb of the first true emperor, Augustus. He inscribed his accomplishments and his tips and tools for governing Rome. He stated, you have to build, build, build and invest in conquest. That, my friends, is the solution.

To keep our world of progress and democracy alive, we must build and conquer new frontiers. We must build new technology, roads, bridges, Hyperloops, reusable space rockets, electric cars, artificial intelligence, technology to clean the oceans and the air, and robots to relieve us of menial tasks like driving cars and trucks. We must build social systems that distribute collective wealth to allow for each person to have an equal opportunity in life. We must build tools to communicate across cultures and preserve cultures. We must build systems that welcome immigrants and integrate them into our societies. We must build infrastructure so other countries and civilizations can grow and prosper. Through collective building, we align our visions. When we sent a man to the moon, the whole world looked up to the stars, together. Humans are social creates – we want pride, acceptance, comfort and opportunity. We can try to offer that one of two ways, through a strict set of rules that puts everyone in their place or through a collective effort to build a better world for which we do not yet know the rules.

Additional Links

Mary Beard Documentary on Rome

Published on June 23, 2018