Dr. Jordan Peterson, who has enjoyed a surge into fame over the past year, has become a bit like the Yanny and Laurel audio meme. People listen to what he has to say but disagree wildly about what they are hearing.
Some hear a man with important ideas that can help people live a more fulfilling life, others hear a dangerous misogynist who wants to set back the cause of liberated women, trans people, and the rest of the cast(e) of oppression. In a feature for The New York Times Magazine this weekend, Nellie Bowles clearly came down on the latter side.
The first paragraph makes this obvious: “Look back to the 1950’s he says.” It’s not clear from the article if this is a quote from Peterson. In any event, this interpretation has an essential mistake. When Peterson talks about changes in gender, sexuality, family, and work, he is exposing central contradictions, both evolutionary and social, that he believes are making people unhappy.
He is not suggesting that all women should aspire to be a 1950s Donna Reed housewife, but that on many levels some women do want something closer to that lifestyle. Part of the evidence for this is that since the sexual revolution the question of whether women can “have it all” has been so often on our tongues and pages. Peterson suggests the answer, in many cases, is no.
He isn’t telling women not to strive for whatever they want, or to be forced into anything. But that’s the progressive narrative against him, one that the Timesreinforced. A perfect example of this is Bowles’ mischaracterization of Peterson’s argument that societies are better off with “enforced monogamy.”
I was in Vancouver Friday November 3rd talking at an event sponsored by the very active University of British Columbia Free Speech Club (start one on your campus — if you’re a student, that is :)). I wanted to delve more deeply into the ideology on the radical side of the leftist spectrum, and to specifically address the idea of white privilege. Hopefully that’s what I did.
You’d have to be living under a rock to be unaware of the existence of a rising challenger to the modern intellectual status quo, Jordan Peterson. Peterson, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology in Canada has really impressed me with his latest interview, which is making the rounds online. It took me a while to really give him a chance, primarily because I have this weird thing about psychologists. But I’ve been blown away. Take the time to listen to this 25 minute interview and consider the extent to which he, objectively and without bias, calmly and rationally puts a leftist in her place.
What shocked me about this interview is the extent to which the interviewer literally could not comprehend what Peterson was saying. Aside from Peterson’s poise and logic, the most astounding thing about this conversation was that she couldn’t understand him. Tom Woods refers to a 3×5 card of approved opinion, and boy did she stick to it. She couldn’t wrap her brain around the extremely simple explanations that Peterson was going through in answer to her attempts to corner him. In response to nearly every answer, she shot some weird, completely unrelated non-summary of his views back at him. He couldn’t help but laugh. What are you talking about?!
In this video is a bifold lesson: 1) how to carry yourself and remain calm and cool (Peterson provides a great model) and 2) how intellectually lacking the left really is– this is really how they think. I think Peterson is a hero. He stands up for what he believes in and has been completely unwilling to give in to the most stunning narratives of our time. I promptly preordered his book as well.
Watching this was a tremendous use of my time and I usually can’t spare the time to watch 25 minutes of something like this. But I’m glad I did. For further reading on this interview, Dan Sanchez has a nice little commentary here. And the Atlantic published a longer analysis that made some great points, including this:
But what struck me, far more than any position he took, was the method his interviewer employed. It was the most prominent, striking example I’ve seen yet of an unfortunate trend in modern communication.
First, a person says something. Then, another person restates what they purportedly said so as to make it seem as if their view is as offensive, hostile, or absurd.
Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and various Fox News hosts all feature and reward this rhetorical technique. And the Peterson interview has so many moments of this kind that each successive example calls attention to itself until the attentive viewer can’t help but wonder what drives the interviewer to keep inflating the nature of Peterson’s claims, instead of addressing what he actually said.