Thursday, May 31, 2018
Some Back And Forth On Jordan Peterson
This is a spectacular essay, brilliant I’d say, which isn’t a word I use often.
Wesley Yang is a most compelling, authoritative, trenchant, judicious, fair minded, deep and probing writer and thinker in the way of long form journalism.
And no pussyfooting: he is lucid about what he thinks and where he stands.
To read him is like eating food so delicious that its flavours and tastes and satisfactions seem ineffable. Reading him induces such pleasure that it’s deeply resonant and exhilarating.
As the writer says, he gives sermons, and since I don't like them as a genre or need them (in the sense of, I don't feel the need for them) I can't read what he says. (or don't want to, but it feels like just can't). I have never heard him say anything bad, the one thing I looked at he was quite good. If he wants to build character fine, and I think it has been undermined in all sorts of ways. If he can move a society, which encourages bad character, mainly by making consumption (the universal solvent of character) and success, the measure of the person, to encouraging good character, good for him.
Regardless of whether sermons—he actually goes way beyond sermonizing, though of course there’s a strong element of that and he says so—the gist of this piece as I read it is is a probing examination of what Jordan thinks and says, the depth of which accommodates probing (and shoots down the charge of only sermons)—though at the deepest parts of his thought I don’t get him—to exemplify media fakery, outright misrepresentation of him, and to explore with trenchant acumen the roots of that sheer dissembling.
Where was the probing? It moved all over the place and included all sorts of things about his reception on the left. I doubt there is any thought. The deepest part of his thoughts? Like what don't you get? This sounds like you are talking about Kierkegaard or Wittgenstein. Who is dissembling? Indeed the culture battle seems to be is pretty above-board. Shut your fucking mouth you fascist. Fuck you, I'll say what the fuck I please. Is anyone puzzled by it? Do people wrestle with the ideas of any of these people? They are serious because a lot is at stake but intellectually it's boring. (Granted I am bored by statistics, which is probably where the action is, i.e., truth rather than fictions like God, rights, however useful they may be) but all I need to ruin a day is to study opposing statistical analyses of anything, vs. finding someone who says the stats are on my side. Just google.
Try this, which I just wrote to a couple of guys:
...Take the notorious hit job on him recently in the NYT, written of course by one fairly young journalist and passing muster with her editors. She for one thing called him a sexist purveyor of awful misogyny, an exemplar of “toxic masculinity,” and, so a placeholder for the patriarchy. These ascending tropes have roots in the prevailing general misinformation circulating about Peterson in media of all kinds. And at the height of the ascension sits an ingrained premise of the further left, and maybe not so far left. And in that premise, the patriarchy, is one fount out of which flows the discourse/narratives and the responses to them so roils the hyper nature of the culture and political craziness of our moment. (Obviously Canada in more muted tones shares in them.) So she picks up that theme in her piece and in the social psychology of these things gives the idea the cultural imprimatur and legitimacy of the vaunted NYT. And her case rests on the notion of enforced monogamy, which Peterson has written and spoken about. But her use of the term in application to Peterson is near to defamatory: she says he says the state should by its varied coercive means impose monogamy on women. They can’t leave without state imposed consequences. But he’s not saying that at all. Rather he’s using a term prevalent in anthropology and social psychology and maybe other disciplines too that refers to something like the across the board prevalence of norms that conduce to monogamy. He’s not close to saying anything about the state enforcing anything: he says the opposite: women are and should be free to make choices here. So then with the legitimacy accorded by the imprimatur of the NYT this false meme doubles down on itself on Twitter and FB and in other platforms and sides and becomes, now so well “established” the criterion by which you’re so in by ascribing to it and so out and absurd by dissing it. And so you have in this example a microcosm of the large sweep of what Yang argues.
Now admittedly, as I said, that this dissembling of what Peterson says and thinks is “fake news” is my own claim not Yang’s. But I can see no ground for saying that this dissembling doesn’t fit into the fake news category
I’m open to persuasion otherwise....
Or take any other of the examples Yang rehearses: say the differential in pay pay between men and women, or in the inequality in outcomes among groups, or why so far anyway men are more prevalent in business and politics than women or why more men are in jail than women. Consider the reprise Yang gives to Peterson’s “multivariate” account of some of the factors and how that complexity differs from the simple minded premises of the ideologically hide bound, especially on the left.
To me that’s probing in the way of long form journalism. (He’s not writing a peer review article for an obscure academic journal.) And if that’s not probing to you, then we share different conceptions of what probing means.
He’s listened to and read Peterson for hours and hours and had drilled down to correct understandings of some what Peterson thinks, including noting where on some points he finds Peterson lacking, and sets it against agenda driven takes on him. Why isn’t that probing in the way of long form journalism?
The multivariate analysis is common sense to someone with no hobbyhorse. He was very good on that in the interview on the bbc and the woman was stupid and must have repeated the 7% differential 20 times. What is the interest in that other than the sheer fun of watching an arrogant person get skewered. It was entertainment not a serious discussion between people who knew what they were talking about.
Indigenation goes apace. It is nonsense. What kind of discussion can one have about that? Like, the university is an agent of colonization and we are trying to decolonize, etc. What can one honestly say about that other than laugh or be contemptuous. Wente can be pretty good with a light touch, but she’s a pro and while I admire the rhetoric I am not hearing a serious debate.
As soon as discussion gets serious it gets picky and academic. If one has a public platform one takes sides and offers ones view and it vanishes by the next day. Seminars are boring unless there is basic like mindedness about some fundamentals.
I have ben loving Roths the Counterlife in which he mimics various positions brilliantly, both sides, and what is great is that one understands the passions that underlie them. But debate, discussion, never, the book would drop dead in an instant.