Thursday, July 19, 2018

Jordan Peterson

I've been wanting to make an in depth blog post on Jordan Peterson for quite some time now but I've been too busy to dedicate a whole day researching and writing such a piece. So I'm going to have to squeeze this down into an extended blurb instead.

In the past 2 years, Jordan Peterson has become an internet celebrity, largely from his popular videos on YouTube. Let me begin by saying I am both a fan and a critic of Peterson. I can see his good, his bad, and his ugly sides. And I've noticed that with most people, they either love him or hate him. I'm a little of both. I've seen events where I've thought Peterson was absolutely killing it. Like this one below:

But then I've seen far too many events where he makes the most absurd noises that he's little different from Ray Comfort. He's a complicated fella. And he can't be easily boxed into any one category. So with this brief post, I hope to do him some justice.

Let's start with what made Peterson internationally famous: Bill C-16.

Bill C-16 is a Canadian law that adds gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination. Peterson publicly opposed the bill, saying that it could make it illegal to refer to people by the pronouns of their biological sex, and that it could compel people to refer to others using the gender pronouns they prefer.

Now when you read the bill it says no such thing. But the question is, is the wording of the bill sufficiently vague enough such that it could be interpreted in a way to enforce compelled speech, opening up all the concerns Peterson has? The answer is, I don't know. I'm not a lawyer. If it is possible, then Peterson has a legitimate point. If not, then perhaps he's just wrong, but not transphobic, as he is labeled by much of the Left. We shouldn't be ascribing to malicious intent what we could to ignorance.

The greater debate on gender differences that acts as a background to the Bill C-16 debate is real. I generally agree with Peterson and Bret Weinstein: biological sex is not a social construct, it is a real objective distinction, and there are differences in the way men and woman behave that are not purely environmental. My view is that gender expression is to a certain extent a social construction. What "men" wear, and what "women" wear, and how each gender is supposed to look, and what they're supposed to like, is to a degree socially constructed. It differs from culture to culture, and from era to era. So Peterson is mostly right on this topic, even if he's wrong on the bill.

Moving on, where I think Peterson is the most wrong is on his definition of truth and his views on religion. Let's start with his definition of truth. It's hard to get Peterson's definition in a single sentence. But if I could put it into my own words, his definition of truth would be something like that which helps you to survive, or that which leads to morally good outcomes. This is obviously problematic, and one only needs to look at how Peterson justifies the "truth" of Christianity to see how it leads to easily avoidable problems.

On Peterson's view, Christianity is "true" because it benefits societies as well as individuals, and that which leads to morally good outcomes is truthful. But when pressed on if god exists, or if Jesus literally walked the earth, died on the cross, and was bodily resurrected, Peterson can't answer that question directly. In fact, he appears utterly stumped in trying to answer it. Despite having said he spent 20 years trying to reconcile religion with science, it seems that it never occurred to ask himself if the core claim of Christianity is true. Furthermore, he peddles the same 50 year old nonsense that atheism leads to gulags, and that atheism is tantamount to communism. Peterson got his ass handed to him in his discussion with Matt Dillahunty, when Peterson tried to pull the old, "you're not really an atheist because you act like a believer" spiel, and Dillahunty shot it down appropriately. See the full video below. This is probably Peterson's weakest area.

Regarding Peterson's alleged white supremacy and sexism, I think much of the Left is blowing this out of proportion. I've watched probably a hundred hours of Peterson's speeches, debates, and lectures, and I can tell you, Jordan Peterson is many things, but he's not a white supremacist. He's mildly conservative. And the protesters banging on the walls of the buildings he speaks in who are convinced his events are Nazi rallies are so out of their minds, it's laughable. It makes the Left look so absurd and pathetic that it's the main reason exactly why people are leaving liberalism and moving toward the Alt-Right. Peterson never said he thinks the government should force women into having sex or marriage with men who can't find women. Enforced monogamy is simply the common socially enforced expectation that people be faithful to a single partner, like what most cultures have had their entire existence. You'd think the majority of women would be in support of such an idea, given how widespread the criticism of male sexual promiscuity is among women. But if all you know about Peterson is from reading the hit pieces on him, you will never accurately understand his views. That's why you must actually listen to the people you disagree with.

I think the hit pieces on him from various left-leaning publications have the malicious intent to smear Peterson in an attempt to make him as toxic as possible, so that he can be dismissed outright. He's been called a gateway to the Alt-Right. Some people might go full on Alt-Right because of Peterson, but so what? I hate this popular idea on the Left that you can't agree with anyone who the far-Right could use to legitimize their views. It creates extreme tribalism.

I've recently been wondering: what would Hitchens think of Peterson? I have a strong feeling I know what he'd say about Peterson's religious views. He'd tear them to shreds. But what would Hitchens think of his other views, like on psychology, for example? I have no idea, but it's worth debating. It does seem that Peterson is reversing the effect the New Atheists have had on creating a general dislike of religion. Peterson seems to be the one person who can make people sympathetic to religion (particularly Christianity) in an increasingly secular world. I've heard stories about former atheists who've found use for Christianity after hearing Peterson. This is alarming to me, and that's why I feel I have to fight back. The good thing is that Peterson's views on religion are the most patently false and easiest to refute. But you can't throw out everything he's said just because he's wrong on religion.

We have this tendency to dismiss an entire person when we find something absurd that they believe or said. But the truth is, everyone believes something absurd. So by that standard we would dismiss everyone, which wouldn't be logical. Instead we must judge a person's views on a case by case basis, and that involves understanding their body of work. I can see both Peterson's strengths and weaknesses, and I can call myself both a fan and a critic at the same time. We all should be just as hospitable.

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