Home > Critical Thinking, Current Affairs, Dystopia, Musings, Philosophy sans Sophistry, Reason, Secular Religions, Skepticism > Some Initial Thoughts on Jordan Peterson: Dec 6, 2017

Some Initial Thoughts on Jordan Peterson: Dec 6, 2017

About three weeks ago, the blogger more commonly known as Rollo Tomassi asked me about my thoughts on Jordan Peterson. In case some of you don’t know much about this person, just google his name or search Twitter for posts by him or about him. To make a long story short, Jordan Peterson is currently a professor in the department of psychology at the University of Toronto who has reached a level of fame (or notoriety) on some parts of the internet because of his allegedly non-establishmentarian views on topical issues such as postmodernism, political correctness, white privilege and cultural appropriation.

So what do I think about this guy and his views and positions? Are they genuine or based in a desire for fame and money? Well.. what I am going to say about all that in the rest of this post (and maybe a future one) is not going to be liked by either his supporters or detractors. My analysis of other people tends to be a bit more complex than saying that they are irredeemably bad or unremittingly good. I like to understand the environment which they grew up in and how they achieved, or fell into,their current position.

So let us start with how Jordan Peterson reached where he is today.

1] According to Wikipedia, he grew up in a small town (Fairview) somewhere in the middle of the province of Alberta in Canada. Basically that is the Canadian equivalent of growing up in some one horse town in west Texas or the deep south. In other words, he grew up in an environment that was socially conservative, quite racist and not progressive- to put it mildly. It is therefore not surprising that many of his current publicly held viewpoints are somewhat CONservative. The fact that he now often glosses over his early background tells you something about how he sees unpolished CONservatism.

2] It seems he got into the big university in that province, moved on to a more prestigious one in the east, then went on to Harvard and came back to Canada after a few years. This is a very common pattern for career climber types in Canadian universities and provides an interesting insight into what he wants in life. In case you are wondering, many Canadian universities prefer to recruit people who have spent some time at ivy-league universities because it looks good for the university- regardless of whether the person in question was the best candidate for that position.

3] He attempted to get into the media spotlight since the early 2000s. While his early attempts were not very successful, they did get him onto what is basically the Canadian version of a PBS type channel. It is noteworthy that these attempts at media exposure steered clear of the type of subjects and issues for which he is now famous. For many years after his initial forays into media exposure he was basically a TED-talker type who offered his “insights” into hard to define topics- which is another way of saying that his act involved appearing to provide erudite answers for deliberately vague topics.

4] His break into semi-fame came when he started to upload his lectures to YouTube in 2013. That is also when I first came across his name on various blogs- especially in their comment sections. As many of you also know, the ‘alt-right’ movement also took off at around that time. However the action which contributed most to his public persona involves his public position on the C-16 bill (in 2016), which he correctly pointed out could be used to severely restrict freedom of speech. It also helped that the bill in question was being pushed through parliament in a pretty heavy-handed manner.

And this brings us to the question as to how this small-town raised prof with CONservative leanings became an internet celebrity. Alternatively, why didn’t other far more well-known academics step into the public discussion about those topics. Surely, there is no shortage of academics in Canadian and American universities who will go on record for their support of a variety of other social and political causes- from talking about ‘climate change’, rights of transgender people etc. Why are so many academics unwilling to support ideas such as free speech, even at the level they used to a couple of decades ago? What has changed?

5] In my opinion, the most important change in academia and pretty much every other large institution in western societies over the last 20-30 years has been their capitulation to the ideology of neoliberalism. But what does an ideology such as neoliberalism have to do with the silence of entire institutions on issues such as free speech? Well.. a lot, but it basically comes down to two types of effects.

6] Firstly, neoliberal institutions tend to hire and promote only certain types of people.You have to be consistently pleasant-acting, spineless, middle-manager type to reach even the middle-levels of these institutions. There is zero tolerance for dissent, independent thinking or opinion. In neoliberal institutions, everything is about money and appearances. Also, expressing opinions that are not approved by higher-ups or not ‘fashionable’ is severely discouraged. It is therefore not surprising that almost no other academic of any public stature in Canada has expressed views that are even marginally similar to Peterson.

7] Secondly, embracing neoliberal ideology results in concentration of power- specifically of the institutional type. What was once a dynamic and flourishing eco-system of small, medium and large institutions decays into a mono-culture full of monopolies and oligopolies. The people who reach the highest level of power in these institutions are cut from the same proverbial cloth and run those institutions solely to maximize their personal profit and power. Consequently, they try to minimize any appearance of dissent and try to force their beliefs (in reality, what they want others to believe) upon their employees.

8] The net result of this institutional governance shift has been that any idea, cause or belief which runs contrary to the neoliberal goal of making maximal amounts of money for a select few is ignored, suppressed or ridiculed. In other words, ideas such as freedom of speech or even suggestions of ideological non-conformity are now perceived as too risky and potentially career-ending by many people in the system. That is also why these issues were raised by somebody like Peterson, rather than by somebody who was far more “famous” than him.

I should also point out that the neoliberal elite like to be seen as enlightened, just and deserving of their ill-gotten gains. That is why they are quite happy to support various “social justice” movements as long as those movements do not question the socio-economic status quo. To summarize this post, Jordan Peterson’s ascent to fame has more to do with numerous failures and dysfunctions within the current socio-economic-cultural setup (aka ‘the zeitgeist’) than innate ability or belief in the causes he is promoting. He just saw an under-served market and rode that opportunity to fame.

What do you think? Comments?

  1. VV
    December 6, 2017 at 1:42 pm

    His willingness to run contrary to the prevailing ideology put his career in jeopardy. He certainly seems to believe passionately in the causes he’s supporting. The failures of the zeitgeist are specifically what he chooses to fight. I don’t see this as opportunistic nor do I begrudge his fame.

    Firstly, it is really hard to fire a tenured prof in Canada. Secondly, it is clear that he always wanted a career beyond academia.

    • VV
      December 6, 2017 at 6:41 pm

      It takes courage for anyone, including tenured profs (see Amy Wax, Herman Hesse, more) to speak out publicly these days about any conservative issues. College campuses are responsible for the freedom of speech violations that are so common now (see speech codes). He certainly took a risk and has been attacked. A lot. I do not hold an aspiration for public life against him. It is a common desire among intellectuals, at least those who can manage to find listeners.

      • VV
        December 6, 2017 at 6:43 pm

        Hans Herman Hoppe, not Herman Hesse. Forgive.

  2. December 6, 2017 at 6:27 pm

    It’s humorous, there is a guy doing “Sorting Myself Out” videos on Youtube. I almost feel bad for him because he seems extremely gullible, he’s done videos with alt-rght racists like Blonde in the Belly of the Beast. He is a huuuge JP fanboy. He talks about the “future authoring program.” I’ve mentioned on my blog that I bought it (mostly out of curiosity and for shits and giggles.) It asks a bunch of questions and supposedly helps you structure your life. With coupons you can get it for around $20 so it is no big loss. I found it fun to go through, however, I enjoy writing. I don’t think it is life changing. I suppose for someone who has NEVER done any self reflection it could provide a few interesting insights. However, I have already had more life changing insights through the use of psychadelic drugs. But, hey for less than the cost of a visit to a dive bar I guess it’s okay.

    He is also selling an online personality test. There are free tests that also measure these traits including one from Tony Robbins. The problem from what I can see is that his personality test doesn’t have enough questions so one is likely to get false positives…

    Another thing I am loathe to admit, I saw an article where a feminist said he talks over the people he is interviewing. I absolutely agree and noticed this in the James Damore interview. He took someone who is likely more politically naive and essentially used him as a pawn. Couldn’t find the article, but I hate it when I agree with a feminist. (It’s also kinda fun seeing him talk over tough guys like Joe Rogan and Jocko Willink.)

  3. December 6, 2017 at 6:37 pm

    JP tweeted an image similar to this:

    https://i.redditmedia.com/dTdD3K0gD0Fd4jgHTcmh8oIIpYqkbBoka1mSbcfUBkg.jpg?w=900&s=abd2d7a44554d07d77007d9910c12b82

    Now, when I saw it I thought it was politically savvy. He is obviously trying to distance himself from the alt-right after Charlottesville. However, he is making a similar mistake that right wingers make when they cry “big gubbymint” whilst supporting big military. He is blind to the fact that without “collectivism” and his precious “dominance hierarchy,” he’d just be some dude talking about philosophy rather than a high status, politcaly connected professor.

  4. Ben
    December 8, 2017 at 1:44 am

    How ironic that you claim there is a neoliberal monoculture at universities yet you childishly call conservatives CONservatives and automatically disqualify anyone who opposes your opinion (which explains why you never address his arguments).


    Perhaps you haven’t read enough of my previous posts on the problem with CONservatives.

  5. anon
    December 8, 2017 at 10:09 am

    Peterson is too much the insider and altogether too slick to trust entirely. He’s a self described judeo-christian traditionalist. If that’s your scene perhaps he has something to offer. But really he’s selling men what they’ve always been sold minus the flagrant faggotry of the current era and with high minded psycho-social and mytho-poetic rationales and justifications. For those who prefer their gruel in a pretty bowl I suppose. And for the good of civilization you understand.

    I wrote something about that years ago..

    https://dissention.wordpress.com/2011/11/10/modern-contraception-destroyed-internal-slavery/

  6. December 8, 2017 at 11:27 am

    JP, either very suave or very slippery…

    depending on your views…

  7. Yusef
    December 11, 2017 at 4:59 pm

    “In my opinion, the most important change in academia and pretty much every other large institution in western societies over the last 20-30 years has been their capitulation to the ideology of neoliberalism. But what does an ideology such as neoliberalism have to do with the silence of entire institutions on issues such as free speech? Well.. a lot, but it basically comes down to two types of effects.”

    I think your mistake lies in the way you’re lumping together disparate phenomena. The first big, post WWII change in academia (I mean after the huge post WWII change wrought by the GI bill and other gov’t initiatives to democratize higher education) was during the Reagan administration’s first term when hatchet men were sent out all over the country, installed into state universities and initiated massive cutbacks of most programs, across the board. Cut backs in funding, cut backs in classes and degrees offered, scaling back in tenured-track professors hired, etc. This entirely changed the landscape of higher education and it had nothing to do with “capitulating to neoliberalism.” (At least at that time. It was the prelude to that, though.)

    This was the beginning of the “Adjunct Professor/Lecturer/Instructor” as filled by someone with a full PhD, a solid publication record, etc. In other words, this was the beginning of the end of academic freedom per se, where the institutional guarantees of intellectual independence for professors and PhD’s in the academic world were being dismantled. I don’t think you can ignore it. It isn’t simply a matter of intellectually capitulating. It is a matter of deciding what price of compromise you’re willing to pay in order to do the job you dreamed of doing and spent years of your life preparing to do.

    The only real thing I disagree with you on is assigning this to “neoliberalism.” It is more broad than that.

    I also don’t think it is enough to identify a trend towards stifling free speech on campuses and elsewhere. Increasingly conservative as the Supreme Court has been, it has been remarkably consistent on supporting the rights to free speech. Notice one of the most remarkable Supreme Court decisions in recent history (the last 20-30 years of which you speak) was the Supreme Court’s upholding of Larry Flynt’s right to slander Jerry Falwell (and Falwell’s mother).

    As a matter of fact, I wonder when it will be when one of these celebrities accused of sexual harassment will attempt to defend their actions on the basis of their right to free speech– and will win, maybe, if it goes to the highest court in the land.

    • hoipolloi
      December 21, 2017 at 11:48 am

      @Yusef: “This was the beginning of the “Adjunct Professor/Lecturer/Instructor” as filled by someone with a full PhD, a solid publication record, etc. In other words, this was the beginning of the end of academic freedom per se, where the institutional guarantees of intellectual independence for professors and PhD’s in the academic world were being dismantled.”

      I can relate to what is being said here. A PhD with publication record made to work for another entrenched PhD is worse than slavery of the recent past in the U.S.

  8. A.B. Prosper
    December 13, 2017 at 5:31 pm

    I like his videos but something in my gut tells me his is a manipulative skunk and not to be trusted. Something is just off about the guy

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