Jordan Peterson is taking some heat from the liberal left, and seems to have become the champion of the alt-right (overnight, it seems) by refusing to use words like zhe, zher, and so on and acquiescing to the weird and bullying demands of the gender-fluid.
Wikipedia tells us that:
Peterson’s critiques of political correctness ranges over issues such as postmodernism, postmodern feminism, transgender rights, white privilege, cultural appropriation, and environmentalism.
He watched the rise of political correctness on campuses since the early 1990s, and considers that the humanities have become corrupt, less reliant on science, and instead of “intelligent conversation, we are having an ideological conversation”. From his own experience as a university professor, he states that the students who are coming to his classes are uneducated and unaware about the mass exterminations and crimes by Stalinism and Maoism, which were not given the same attention as Fascism and Nazism. He also says that “instead of being ennobled or inculcated into the proper culture, the last vestiges of structure are stripped from the students by post-modernism and neo-Marxism, which defines everything in terms of relativism and power”.
So, I’m actually fairly sympathetic to this, as sweeping and vitriolic as this seems. There is a way in which some people use language that makes it in principle, beyond criticism – kind of like theology. Forcing that one use this language, or framing, in a sense, makes you agree with the conclusion, and there is really no decent discussion that can be had when the boundaries are purposefully drawn out in this way.
A sweeping call-out of BS towards the soft sciences is nothing revolutionary. Neither Jordan Peterson or the Alt Right can lay claim to any originality in this. You might remember the Sokal affair-here’s the text – where a physicist Alan Sokal manages to get a swamp article titled “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” published in a postmodernist peer reviewed journal with the sole intent to make fun of the institution itself. You have to admit, this guy has flair – and impressive trolling skills.
In this case, it was a physicist making a claim that some of this weird post-modernist social construction theory is mumbo jumbo. Now you might expect that anyone that makes a sweeping criticism of the BS soft sciences would mostly be doing hard science, but you would be wrong. A physicist doing this is actually quite atypical.
Think about it this way: Physicists are doing their own thing, not reading post-modernist literary criticisms. This is why in almost all cases, it takes a swamp to critique a swamp. Hence peer review can become a perverse exercise where all the swamps are reviewing each other – at which point, the outsider criticism becomes perfectly justified. So, although it seems counter-intuitive at first, it’s almost always the dude living in the glass house that’s doing the rock throwing, and Jordan Peterson is certainly living on dubious construction material.
Anyway, I’ll spare you some serious agony by giving you a summary of the podcasts between Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson (but if you don’t believe me or wish to set on fire to 2 hours of your life feel free to watch).
Video 1: Darwinian conception of truth
Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson start with an agreement on why censorship is bad, and free speech is absolutely critical. No problems here for the first 20 minutes here. Gender identity is discussed, as is Bill C-16 and its sweeping implications (it feels way overstated in the typical libertarian sense – OMG if you allow extension of human rights, then we’ll be Venezuela next thing you know it), but I am no legal expert here. Suffice to say, that I 100% agree that free speech is absolutely critical, and more practically, why would you shout down ideas if you think they don’t warrant merit? Anyway that’s the good part.
This follows by 2 hours of durdling between accepting a Darwinian conception of truth (where truths are predicated on survival morals as well as on, you know, actually being true), and a materialist conception of truth (Also known as, uh, truth). The conversation gets stalled here for basically the entire podcast as they come to a standstill at accepting or not accepting these frameworks. At this point, I’m feeling pretty much the way I do with discussions with the more radical wing of feminists.
Watching the first podcast – not my fault. Watching the second, definitely my fault. We see even more clearly that Jordan is about as dubious as Jacque Derrida, who I’m sure he would despise, and the conversation essentially won’t proceed further because they can’t agree on very simple common language.
It becomes even more evident that Jordan doesn’t think that social construction is BS; he thinks that leftist social construction is BS.
Confirmed: It takes a swamp to throw shade at a swamp. If you were as unlucky as me, you can waste another 3 hours of your life, listening to Peterson talk about Christian existentialism, Jungian Archetypes- this *IS* literary criticism. Please, esteemed Jungian psychologist, tell me more about how sociology and anthropology lacks rigorous scientific methodology and are a Marxist conspiracy.
Now, I don’t claim to know a thing about Jungian archetypes, Christian existentialism, or even social construction theory more than some tiki-brandishing asshole from the alt-right (I’m pretty confident that I can pretend better though). Far be it for an idiot like me to wholesale dismiss what Jordan does professionally, but I certainly can tell you this: The style of discussion here is exactly the same as the very SJWs that this guy is criticizing.
What do I mean? Redefining terminology or framing it in a certain way is, in fact, political. You are rendering your position effectively immune to empirical criticism, making it a kind of “unfalsifiable” claim. If you argue with someone that doesn’t share that framework with you, then you need to come to some neutral language, where you can communicate and debate. Otherwise, it will have to degenerate into “your truth” “my truth.” You have to be able to agree to a goalpost – if the ball goes past here, I concede my point; if it goes past there, you concede the point, or else, you aren’t even communicating in any meaningful sense. You can have these swamp conversations over hard liquor at a bar, but it’s not useful otherwise. I think Sam Harris is himself guilty of this often when he talks about religion – what counts as doctrinal vs what counts as cultural needs to be parsed out by real world examples. Without defining a parameter, it’s kind of true by definition. Now I’m not saying that framing or construction is BS by definition – but it has to serve some purpose. Have I been unfair? If you’re a fan of Jordan Peterson, tell me what I’m missing.
The general critique with these ideological “sciences” is that (at their worst) they insisting on using language that makes their position immune to real-world criticism by removing the empirical facts from counting. (e.g. That’s only valid from the perspective of patriarchy and white-privilege). If you press any ideologue (liberal, conservative, Christian, libertarian, whatever) hard enough – you will eventually get to a point, where they will lead you to a profoundly circular state: “X is true because it’s good. It’s good because it is true.” If you ask which is it, they will tell you “both.” This always happens, and they won’t even realize that something is wrong here. Now this is convincing enough for the ideologues themselves, but the problem is that you can’t have a conversation with anyone who doesn’t agree to the basic assumptions in the first place. These are all cases where you start off with a conclusion, and then refuse to change your position despite any evidence – and this diverges clearly from science.
So you can see how gender studies can easily cross this fine line. If it becomes too ideologically motivated, then it can slip into dubious territory – discounting criticism (because it comes from a male/white) (framing is classist/non-inclusive) (criticism itself becomes patriarchal) by definition. This is similar to religion – insofar as you need to have faith to understand – but you can’t have faith because you don’t understand. To a believer though, it’s simultaneously true. To a non-believer though, it’s ridiculous circularity and you just can’t proceed with someone who argues in this fashion. You’ll see it with liberals, conservatives, libertarians. At its worst it can end up manipulating data and statistics as a “ends justify the means.” When something becomes “beyond criticism” it ceases to be a science or even an academic endeavor. This type of thing can rapidly approach gibberish.
Now I’m not even against gender studies, or even Jungian psychology and post-modern deconstruction or any of that jazz. There are very important lessons that gender studies can teach us. It can expose various implicit biases that are otherwise difficult to see – and show them for what they are. The fact that so many men feel the need to counter-promote an anti-feminist stance is telling of these very biases at play. If we were intellectually honest at all, there’s many obvious cultural and biological reasons that all sorts of violence and milder forms of discrimination are largely a one-way street. The idea that “sexism is not real” is egregious intellectual dishonesty made possible only through near complete delusion. You don’t need to be a Marxist social constructionist academic swamp to realize that sexism and racism exist, and that often they are implicit within our assumptions, and that we should be on guard against them. You also don’t need to overstate your case, shout down or censor opposing viewpoints, or be less than intellectually honest. When someone posts something about male circumcision or prostate cancer, this is not patriarchy that needs to be opposed.
This all seems like common sense right? Except, as the adage goes, common sense is not all that common. Instead, we all seem to line up behind our feminist and bro heroes, completely disregarding the actual content (Do you really think the alt-right who watch Info-wars and the paranoid who listens to the likes of Alex Jones are interested in Jungian archetypes? Do you really think that some 19 year old SJW reads Noam Chomsky?) No they grab a YouTube clip of someone foaming at the mouth, ranting off, and decide that this is the cultural hero for them. Am I being too ahbv here? Tell me PC police.
Meanwhile Life in Vancouver:
Zhi, zher, is it weird? Sure. Does it impose an unreasonable cost to people to ask them to give in to a “genderfluid” naming convention where it depends on one’s subjective whims? Do you think getting the law involved sets a dangerous precedent?
I can already hear libertarians yelling “statist Nazi!”
Wait, let’s get back to the real world though. When has someone ever imposed this weird pronoun demand on you, if ever? Perhaps this is a thing in academia 2017 (I don’t know). Perhaps you once went to a Rainbow Gathering. Yes, weird shit like this happens. I have no idea if they are trolling. I’ve experienced first hand, being accused of being classist by using academic language – imagine that – a swampwalking creature like me using “academic classist language.” But is this really so bad – am I butt hurt enough from this one incident that I’m now an anti-feminist, or fear that I’m going to become some underclass as a hetero-normal male? Seems rather unlikely. In this apocalyptic scenario where we have to call someone zher once in a blue moon, what exactly is your beef in any practical sense?
Vancouver is quite liberal in Canada, and insanely liberal by American standards (think Portlandia). Yet, the most imposing thing I see is “washrooms for people” in Commercial Drive and Main Street, where the fucking hipsters dwell, and at left-wing get-togethers, there is sometimes a perfunctory acknowledgement that Vancouver is on the unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. This is the state of moral collapse in Vancouver. Businesses are dying, human rights are getting trampled left and right, white males are being systemically killed, people are starving, and it’s basically Venezuela. We’re one small step away from descending into total chaos (for conservatives) and nazism (for libertarians).