Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Jordan Peterson and the Wild Web

Male role model: Jordan Peterson debates some opponents

Chris Erskin, who wrote a comment to my post here, has urged that I get up to speed on the Jordan Peterson affair. The following is my first foray into this business and represents my back-of-the-envelopment thesis on the phenomenon. I have conceptualized this thesis on the basis of my rather limited sample of experience so far and I have quite intentionally banged it out as a quick pro tempore treatment before I learn too much about the good professor and the furore he is at the centre of. The reason for this is to see how well this first thumbnail sketch, which boils down my experience and thinking to date, bears up as I learn more; how well can the human mind form a conclusion on a small sample of data and get it right?


“Male” and “Female” are fuzzy multidimensional categories that have competing thematics. For example, at the extremes (and I stress "extremes") one can’t act as a single minded hunter and at the same time a multitasking child rearing gatherer. Competing thematics is common in a systems theoretic context. For example, armour and protection often compete with mobility; it's difficult to satisfy both. Ask a lobster.

However, I must stress the fuzzy multidimensional nature of the male/female categories from which, in advance, we can predict the possibility of such as thing as “blended gender”. As with other biological categories we are likely to find a moderately loose clustering around norms, norms that our conceptual vision often posterizes

OK, so let’s proceed on the assumption that there is such a thing as fuzzy & normative (and I stress "fuzzy" & "normative")  male-female gendering which is a complex and probably largely unknown function of nature and nurture. 

This is where Peterson comes in: My current working hypothesis is that our Western culture, no doubt as a result of societal role changes since the industrial revolution, has, in the long term, resulted in a situation where the normative clustering we find around male and female models is not 100% appropriate to the current societal set-up. This has led to hard feelings on both sides of the normative gender distribution: Females well able to take up tasks otherwise prejudiced to them have felt marginalized and males feel that their masculine dominating & leading role has become threatened.

Enter Jordan Peterson the cool fast talking champion of the male-leaning gender. Intellectually he looks to be incredibly fast on the draw and as well able to handle himself as Clint Eastwood is in the Wild West. A perfect male role model.

He’s applauded by both right wing atheist and Christian males who perceive him to articulate what they have been feeling in their guts for a long time, especially the threat on the polarized conceptions of gender and the denigration of maleness. Many men cheer him on as their champion as he expresses and argues so well for what they instinctively feel.

So summarizing: I see the Jordan Peterson phenomenon as a reaction to:

a)  A societal structure which isn’t a hand-in-glove fit for a polarised model of male and femaleness. The hunter-gatherer and pre-industrial agrarian societies might have been a better fit in this respect.

b) The fact that it has become increasingly apparent in recent times that when "God created them male and female"  this wasn't a clear cut binary distinction but two fuzzy multidimensional categories of a normative distribution.

There may be other aspects at play here as well: The up-and-coming eco-movement, which so often strikes a chord with the female gender, perhaps doesn’t sit so well with the stereotypical male go-out-conquer-and-exploit role.

Finally I must add that I’m not a Marxist social reductionist, Postmodernist or anti-free market. Marxism, certainly in its early forms, had a very weak conception of human nature and still has.  (I think Peterson is probably right about that). But then neither am I a libertarian. Relevant links in this connection are:  

Anyway, that’s my current intellectual state play regarding the good professor. However, it's early days yet. No doubt more analysis to come! This is just my first shot!


ADDENDUM 10/7/18

The day after I drafted the above article my copy of "Premier Christianity" landed on my doormat. It featured an article on the Peterson enigma. Several times the article remarked on his young male following (Probably white males I suspect). e.g.:

Why are so many young men following him? And why should Christians care?

Perhaps by way of answer the article later remarked:

Comparisons have been made to the muscular Christianity that led so many young men to follow church leader Mark Driscoll at one time.

Letting males be males may have something to do with it although I doubt Peterson would be pleased to be compared to Mark Driscoll, and rightly so! (See here and here). The article quotes Peterson as saying:

 "Men and women are not the same"

That, in my view, is very likely true! As I have said above human nature is a largely unknown function of both nature and nuture with gender being fuzzy and normative. But I regard  the social reductionism of Marxism (i.e. positing human beings as economically interchangeable parts) as much an error as does Peterson.  And yet Peterson is also quoted as saying:

...the idea that women were oppressed throughout history is an appalling theory.

Well, it's undoubtedly true that some parties may have an interest in overstating the historical oppression of women, but to my understanding of history these words by Peterson seem as much an overstatement as what he is speaking out against!

On the subject of Peterson's version of Christianity we read:

Peterson has consistently refused to be pinned down on his personal religious convictions. When I pressed him on it, he described himself as a "religious man" who was "conditioned in every cell as consequence of the Judaeo-Christian worldview".  The closest I could get to whether he really believed in God was that he lives his life "as though God exists", saying "The fundamental hallmark of belief is how you act, not what you say about what you think".

In a world poised to react to information what one says is in itself an act. Therefore the acts vs words dichotomy is a distinction difficult to maintain.

However I was interested in this quote from one of his books:

"I knew that the cross was simultaneously the point of greatest suffering, the point of death and transformation, and the symbolic centre of the world"

...and that reminds me of something I wrote on pages 4 & 5 of this document

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