Interesting article: Jordan Peterson’s Gospel of Masculinity.
Many black writers seem to aspire to be Ta Nehisi Coates. That is, intellectual pretenders.
Kelefa Sanneh is able to resist, though the New Yorker article title subtly labels Peterson a sexist by conflating Peterson’s audience demographics with his message. The message, in fact, has no sexual orientation. That it resonates with a male audience more than with a female audience is because men and boys are routinely vilified as a group. So the idea of ‘redemption’ through individual responsibility is more compelling for males.
Sanneh says, “modern liberal culture” when he should be clear and say “Cultural Marxism” or “Postmodernism.” It’s a misuse of the word “liberal” even in today’s context, and specifically in Peterson’s context. Peterson only uses the word to describe a Canadian political party, or to claim he is a “Classical liberal.”
Summarizing Peterson as, “by turns, a defender of conformity and a critic of it” is a misleading twist. There’s some banal truth in it, but Peterson’s main concerns are how humans can find meaning and truth. Differentiating order from chaos on a case-by-case basis is a consequence, not a motive. Sanneh, in fact, almost says so, “he [Peterson] thinks that if readers pay close attention, they, too, can learn when to be which,” but doesn’t quite accept the appropriate inference.
Sanneh writes, “Peterson excels at explaining why we should be careful about social change, but not at helping us assess which changes we should favor,” but any careful consideration of Peterson’s body of work cannot help but provide exactly the guidelines needed to openly debate organic social change. That’s exactly his point about the value of Western Civilization, despite its flaws.
The message is simple. To paraphrase, “Take responsibility for your life. Start small. Do things which are better for you, your family and your community – today, next week, next year. You already know what those things are.” What short circuits this simple plan is group identity politics and the culture of victimization. It’s hard to know when to conform and when to dissent when your conform/dissent divide is defined by a collective.
The fact that Peterson advocates personal responsibility over intricate laws governing how everyone should live is another social change guideline. Sanneh: “We can, most of us, sort ourselves out, or learn how to do it. That doesn’t mean we will ever agree on how to sort out everyone else.” Exactly. We’re not responsible for sorting everyone else out, and should avoid the impulse. Sanneh seems not to see that that’s the point.
These are minor quibbles, however, with a well written and perceptive article which will reach an audience that needs to hear it. For example, Sanneh writes,
“In “Maps of Meaning,” he [Peterson] traced this sense of urgency to a feeling of fraudulence that overcame him in college. When he started to speak, he would hear a voice telling him, “You don’t believe that. That isn’t true.” To ward off mental breakdown, he resolved not to say anything unless he was sure he believed it; this practice calmed the inner voice, and in time it shaped his rhetorical style, which is forceful but careful.”
You can see Peterson carefully, constantly rechecking his beliefs in his lectures.
I was interested enough to check Sanneh out a bit. His father is a practicing Roman Catholic, and Yale Divinity School professor of World Christianity who happens to be a black Gambian. His mother is a linguist teaching at Yale; she’s a white South African.
In 2015 Sanneh penned a surprisingly dispassionate (for a New Yorker article) look at race and culture – “Don’t Be Like That: Does black culture need to be reformed?” in which, to some extent, he defended the 1965 Moynihan Report’s points about the disintegration of American black families.
“To some extent,” because while Sanneh acknowledges there are two sides to the Ferguson shooting of Michael Brown, he never mentions that “Hands up! Don’t shoot,” the meme that provided the impetus for NFL “Take a knee” protests, was a fabrication (according to Barack Obama’s DOJ) used in the ongoing exploitation of blacks for political gain. In itself a collectivist contribution to the decline of black family values.
The 2nd article could have been a chapter in Charles Murray’s Coming Apart. It ties in to Peterson’s message in pointing out the damage to people that results from abandoning individual responsibility in favor of group victimization politics and from banning some questions from public conversation.
P.S., You can get a free copy of Maps of Meaning here. And I can also recommend 12 Rules for Life, still Amazon’s number one most read book more than a month after its release.