Renaissance men

Tyler Cowen blogs at Marginal Revolution and he is Holbert L. Harris Professor of Economics at George Mason University and Director of the Mercatus Center.

He is also a polymath. Here, he interviews another of my favorite polymaths.

Jordan Peterson on Mythology, Fame, and Reading People

A snippet:

When I wrote my first book, which was Maps of Meaning, I was very curious about whether the tension between the communist viewpoint and the Western viewpoint, roughly speaking, was merely a matter of opinion, which is something you might think if you were a moral relativist, or perhaps even a postmodernist — that there’s a multitude of ways that you can set up a society and they’re each equally, arbitrarily valuable. And there’s an infinite set of methods by which a society might be generated. That’s one hypothesis.

As I got deeper and deeper into the analysis of both systems, I thought, “No, that’s just wrong.” There’s some things that the West got. What we designed in the West is a playable game, technically speaking, and what was designed by the communists was a nonplayable game. It was destined to degenerate across time because it couldn’t function in a real-world environment. It was an abstraction that couldn’t maintain itself if it was iterated…

…[W]hen you insist that the right way to view the world is victim versus victimizer, and then you coddle people into exaggeration of their own negative, emotion-centered pathology, you’re going to ensure that the political structure becomes more and more neurotic. If you’re aiming at something and you’re moving rapidly towards it, you’re likely to hit it. And that’s exactly what’s happening on the campuses.

Highly recommended. Interesting comments on the purpose of universities, media disintermediation, sex discrimination, and much else.

Nobody is allowed good intentions but us

Here’s what compassion gets you from the rabid Left. (Link broken intentionally. You can fix it if you really want the reference.)

Trump’s Plan to Decriminalize Homosexuality Is an Old Racist Tactic

Because “colonialism.” Don’t you know all cultures are morally equivalent? Except Western Civilization, which is oppressive.

This sleight of mind is how our Leftists forgive female genital mutilation and support boycotting the only democracy in the Middle East; while refusing to express an opinion on, or even acknowledge, the debate among some Imams regarding the proper way to kill gays – throw them off tall buildings or collapse a wall on them.

That is a very partial list of the multi-cultural ‘diversity’ the Left embraces in order to facilitate condemnation of Western culture. (The answer to the Imam’s debate is obvious: How many walls can you afford to collapse?  You can use the same building many times.)

I’d also mention how the Islamic fundamentalist debate on the treatment of trans people is proceeding, but I’m not aware of it.  Perhaps it goes unmentioned in the Quran.  If so, that’s probably good for trans people in strict Islamic countries.

But. If Trump moves to extend some protection to gays in Islamic countries that makes him a racist.

Maybe for those ‘apolitical voters who vote based on feelings’ someone could could point out that the charge of “colonialism” is just one more tired talking point for the postmodernist/critical theorist/intersectionalist wing of the party calling themselves Democrats: They aren’t to be taken seriously from a moral standpoint.

My favorite example of the bankruptcy of cultural equivalence, AKA deeply held moral intuitions, is related by Mark Steyn: The Gelded Age

In a culturally confident age, the British in India were faced with the practice of “suttee” – the tradition of burning widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands. General Sir Charles Napier was impeccably multicultural:

‘You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.’

India today is better off without suttee. If you don’t agree with that, if you think that’s just dead-white-male Eurocentrism, fine. But I don’t think you really do believe that. Non-judgmental multiculturalism is an obvious fraud, and was subliminally accepted on that basis. After all, most adherents to the idea that all cultures are equal don’t want to live in anything but an advanced western society. Multiculturalism means your kid has to learn some wretched tribal dirge for the school holiday concert instead of getting to sing “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” or that your holistic masseuse uses techniques developed from Native American spirituality, but not that you or anyone you care about should have to live in an African or Native American society. It’s a quintessential piece of progressive humbug.

Progressive humbug has become a quintessential piece of Western culture.

Counter-Enlightment mobs on Twitter

Enlightenment Wars: Some Reflections on ‘Enlightenment Now,’ One Year Later

That Steven Pinker piece is rich in references, long, and thoughtful. You will certainly find some things in it to which you object.

For example, I think this sentence, “But no one would suggest that the state of the environment has improved in the past 250 years anyway — on the contrary, many of the improvements for humanity came at the expense of the planet,” is gibberish. A sop, as Pinker says later, to “the relentless fatalism of orthodox environmental journalism and activism.

In fact, allimprovements for humanity came at the expense of the planet,” so Pinker has given us an understated tautology.

At least since the failure of Eden Bank and Trust, none of the progress he documents would have been possible without drawing on the Bank of Gaia. Shall we define high environmental quality as “red in tooth and claw,” with human lives “nasty, brutish and short?” While extreme environmentalists may count humanity as a cancer*, what other environmental metric should sane humans use than human well-being?

It isn’t either/or. Caring about human well-being means we need to care about the environment, and wealthier societies are far better able to do this. We are the only species who are even capable of thinking about how our activities affect other life, but we’re likely to do little of that while starving, or suffering from deadly, preventable diseases.

Pinker more or less acknowledges this disconnect starting a paragraph later, but it doesn’t excuse that sentence.

I also think Pinker is subject to living too near the edges of the Trump Derangement Syndrome cabal, but his points about Trump all have some core validity.

Enough quibbling. A recommended read, which begins:

You wouldn’t think that a defense of reason, science, and humanism would be particularly controversial in an era in which those ideals would seem to need all the help they can get.

I guess! After this weekend’s events on the DC Mall, and the ongoing vitriolic hatred propelled by rushing to preconceived judgment.

The Enlightenment bequeathed us many things. Among them, transistors.  Leading, unfortunately, to Twitter. It’s the hair trigger of a polity in which 15 year olds receive near instant death threats for simply standing still, smiling nervously in the face of a practiced adult ‘bully for profit,’** while being vilely insulted by adult Black supremacists whose probability of being slaves would be far higher (as would everyone’s) without the Enlightenment.

Pinker describes the central Enlightenment idea these collectivists want to destroy:

“Practices that blatantly violate human freedom and dignity, like slavery, serfdom, imperialism, and caste systems, are to be condemned; all other norms and customs are incommensurable across cultures and may not be judged as superior or inferior.”

It’s Enlightenment values that proscribe and yet protect pre-Enlightenment tribal hatreds. Victims of grievance ideology can’t merely ignore the progress Pinker documents, they have to paint it as evil.

*See also, The Simon Abundance Index: A New Way to Measure Availability of Resources
“[E]very additional human being born on our planet seems to be making resources proportionately more plentiful for the rest of us.

**No link to a GoFundMe campaign being run on his behalf, but the goal is $50,000.  Of which $380 has been pledged.  The beg:

On Friday, January 18th, 2019, Native American Vietnam War Veteran Nathan Phillips was mocked and harassed by a group of young men in “Make America Great Again” hats on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The disrespect and intimidation displayed by these young men were heartbreaking to me and many others across the country. Given the atrocious actions the U.S. has taken against Native American communities since colonization started in the Americas, this incident was a reflection of how much of that same ignorance and bigotry is still present in our society.

I know that this is a very small gesture relative to the harm that was caused by this specific incident and the many decades of history leading up to this. However, I hope that this GoFundMe campaign can make even a small difference for Mr. Phillips and his community.

Funds raised by this campaign will go directly to Mr. Phillips to use as he sees fit to aid himself and/or his community.

Nor any link to some far left site called Inquisitr:

“Now, the internet has responded by raising thousands of dollars to support Phillips and a non-profit organization he leads called Native Youth Alliance. The response was meant to put a positive spin on an ugly incident that has gained viral attention and to help the Native American activist, who was caught in the middle of the incident.”

Those are but two examples of fundraising off Nathan Phillips’ bullying.


I recently became aware of Tablet Magazine via this under-reported article: Is the Women’s March Melting Down?, which goes into lengthy, well documented detail exploring connections between The Women’s March and some closeted anti-semites. While it’s not the point of this post, to those who may have interest it’s recommended.  This sort of analysis used to be called journalism.

I subscribed to Tablet’s newsletter because of it, and was rewarded today with a profile of Jordan Peterson from May of this year: The Shocking Truth About Jordan Peterson

“Shocking” is irony, or clickbait, or both.  This is a thoughtful and balanced look at Peterson, which I highly recommend. But, I have a couple of quibbles.

Wesley Yang (the author), makes this point early in the piece:

It really does require watching a few hours of his sprawling, digressive, improvisatory lectures to reach a judgment of who Peterson is, what his motives are, and what would be the likely consequences of his ideas being adopted in the world. In fact, Peterson supports virtually nothing that wouldn’t fit comfortably into the center-left to center-right governing consensus that obtained in the last 40 years in America. How do I know this? Because there are hundreds of hours of video posted online of Peterson talking.

Here is the Achilles’ heel of the campaign to oust Jordan Peterson from the margins of respectable society: You don’t have to outsource your judgment to journalistic authorities in the age of the internet. You can see for yourself.

And that is exactly the reason attacks on Peterson have failed to destroy him. “You can see for yourself,” from decades of lectures.  I mention this because it features in later cavils.

Here are the specifics with which I take issue.

On Peterson’s rejection of gender pronouns:

[He] stated his intention to defy any prospective attempt through the force of law to compel him to adopt gender-neutral pronouns in his classroom at the University of Toronto

Um, not exactly. Those would include minutely gender-specific pronouns, potentially hundreds of them, many not neutral, and which can change on a whim.

About Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Life:

That message was cleverly packaged as “self-help.”

Well, yes, it was categorized that way. But those who bought the book, precisely because they’d viewed those videos, were looking for more of:

[T]he deeper message, which lingered on the inescapability of suffering, tragedy, limitation, and loss, enjoined those consigned to such a fate, as we all are, to meet it through taking on the heaviest burden of responsibility they could bear. In other words, a message that was antithetical to the “get rich quick,” or “visualize your way to success” ethos endemic to the genre.

I think it could have been packaged as “modern philosophical musings on stoicism” and it still would have been a runaway bestseller.  Because of his video history and his viral defense of freedom of conscience, cleverness was not required.

On the repeated suggestion that Peterson is periodically immodest, immoderate and intemperate:

He speaks to journalists, even those who plainly have it in for him, in exactly the same forthright manner as he does anyone else—as if he is free to indulge any thought experiment or rhetorical gambit he likes with a willing and sympathetic interlocutor in pursuit of the truth. He has behaved abominably at times and refuses contrition or regret on principle. He is stubborn as hell…

Jordan Peterson may have already allowed himself to become too immured in the fractiousness of our time to be the figure whose intervention breaks the fever. He is a messenger whose immoderate personal conduct has worked at cross purposes to the essential moderation of his message. While his own personal following is likely to grow unabated, continuing to enrich him, the progressive consensus has immunized itself against his message—one that is fundamentally correct on certain crucial aspects of the conundrum we face—with an assist from Peterson’s own immodest tongue.

Yes, you can plausibly call Peterson’s reaction to the scurrilous attacks documented in the article immodest or intemperate, but a study of the man’s corpus of work will suggest the word “humble.” Watching the famous Cathy Newman interview will strongly suggest the word “patience,” – of a saint – in the face of great provocation.  And, yes, speaking in a consistent and forthright manner can make the press call you immoderate, even abominable. Forthright consistency is not a fault in the speaker, but of the press corps reaction and need to monetize their political views.

Was “continuing to enrich him,” necessary to our understanding?

Yes, Progressive consensus is solidified. In regard to Peterson’s message, that means it’s gone from zero degrees Celsius to zero degrees Kelvin. Progressives would never accept what he says, no matter how he said it. Consider: The left-wing ideological immunization specialists will long since have scoured the wealth of video Peterson has online for vaccine enhancers. Yang, again:

It really does require watching a few hours of his sprawling, digressive, improvisatory lectures to reach a judgment of who Peterson is, what his motives are, and what would be the likely consequences of his ideas being adopted in the world.

Well, they have watched those lectures. That they don’t publish examples of his “hateful” behavior from that long history means there aren’t any.  Still, they “see for themselves,” what isn’t there.  There are precious few attempts to even engage with his points. Half of those are insubstantive “intellectual” dismissals, assuming their premises.

Peterson’s most virulent critics employ willfully ignorant ad hominem attacks on contextually misappropriated outtakes. A point the author makes quite well.


More on Peterson’s interview

Some more buzz on Jordan Peterson’s recent BBC interview. Jordan B Peterson, Critical Theory, and the New Bourgeoisie

1,713,144 views of that interview as I start writing. I’m 3 of them. ;)

1,749,983 as I post.

I linked to it yesterday. I should have embedded it. Better late than never:

But, to the article. Progressives hold (and contemporary society ignorantly acquiesces) that equality and liberation are “unquestioned moral good[s] that no reasonable person could disagree with.

Well, as JBP points out, it depends on your definitions. If those definitions are informed by Critical Theory the outcomes are, as Peterson says, “sub-optimal.”

I would say “morally indefensible.” The interviewer was so immersed in prejudice(s) immune to moral distinction that she couldn’t follow Peterson’s points and kept trying to put words in his mouth: To wit, her unthinking, reflexive arguments against positions she imagined he held. This is not the interview she was looking for.

And readers of Christina Hoff Sommers will recognize that she (Sommers) pointed this out – “boys and young men are now becoming increasingly alienated from the educational system” – long ago in The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men (2000).

As Peterson says at 22:10 of the interview, when asked why freedom of speech grants him the lattitude not to use transgender pronouns under force of law: “In order to be able to think, you have to risk being offensive.”

Peterson has done an interesting one-on-one conversation with Camille Paglia, I think he should also sit down with Sommers and Dr. Steven Pinker.

A case can be made that the main problem with GOP politicians (they are hardly alone), is an unwillingness to offend. Too agreeable. To the extent this is true, it argues that a Trump is necessary – if still not sufficient. It does not argue that you have to go out of your way to offend everyday, however.

Liberal Ayn Rand?

At Slate, Beverly Gage asks “Why Is There No Liberal Ayn Rand?

Ask Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan how he became a conservative and he’ll probably answer by citing a book. It might be Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Or perhaps he’ll come up with Friedrich Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, or even Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative. All of these books are staples of the modern conservative canon, works with the reputed power to radicalize even the most tepid Republican. Over the last half-century, they have been vital to the conservative movement’s success—and to liberalism’s demise.

We tend to think of the conservative influence in purely political terms: electing Ronald Reagan in 1980, picking away at Social Security, reducing taxes for the wealthy.

The answer to “Why Is There No Liberal Ayn Rand?” is right there, in the first sentence of the second paragraph. It’s blindingly obvious (it’s even Ms Gage’s point) that “Liberals” don’t think in terms of ideas. Ideas are hard work, intentions are easier. Liberals like to think in terms of intentions, and mostly they think in terms of how they interpret the intentions of others based on their own intentions to improve humanity. Liberals don’t think like free people, they think in terms of how to apply power to the purpose of perfecting their fellows. To a Liberal, making everybody else perfect is what Liberty means.

The reason there’s no Liberal Ayn Rand is the same reason there’s no Liberal Rush Limbaugh. It’s been tried and it has utterly failed. It’s the very definition of oxymoron.

You might as well ask why there’s no “Liberal” John Galt. A question you couldn’t ask if you’d bothered to pay attention to certain compelling arguments from your opposition. Even if the ideas weren’t compelling to you, would the demands of diversity not require you to attempt to understand? Would not a reasoned defense of your own ideas demand it?

And here the answer is again – in the first sentence of the third paragraph:

Liberals, by contrast, have been moving in the other direction over the last half-century, abandoning the idea that ideas can be powerful political tools. This may seem like a strange statement at a moment when American universities are widely understood to be bastions of liberalism, and when liberals themselves are often derided as eggheaded elites. But there is a difference between policy smarts honed in college classrooms and the kind of intellectual conversation that keeps a movement together. What conservatives have developed is what the left used to describe as a “movement culture”: a shared set of ideas and texts that bind activists together in common cause. Liberals, take note.

But it’s yet more subtle than that. First, the tea party people needed no institutional bastion of conservatism, controlled by an insular elite, to “re-educate” them. They’d have a hard time finding one if they did. They didn’t need the ivory tower re-education camps in the first place. They get it innately. They fundamentally understand it. When they read Ayn Rand, they can see today’s headlines. Our president’s success as a community organizer doesn’t make them swell with pride. Rather, it reminds them of Wesley Mouch.

“Liberals” have not abandoned the idea that ideas can be powerful political tools, they have abandoned the idea that anyone but them is allowed ideas. They are shocked, shocked when anyone deigns to challenge their intentions.

Liberals have channeled their energies even more narrowly over the past half-century, tending to prefer policy tweaks and electoral mapping to big-picture thinking. When was the last time you saw a prominent liberal politician ascribe his or her passion and interest in politics to, of all things, a book? The most dogged insistence on the influence of Obama’s early reading has come from his TeaParty critics, who fume constantly that he is about to carry out a secret plan laid out a half century ago by far-left writers ranging from Alinsky, the granddaddy of “community organizing,” to social reformer Frances Fox Piven.

In fact, no. Tea party criticism is not about the books Obama may have read, it’s about the books he “wrote.”

Liberals may argue that they are better off knocking on doors and brainstorming policy than muddling through the great works of midcentury America.

Policy without theory is untestable, and I can see why “Liberals” would consider that a strength. It allows them the excuse that without Obama’s stimulus the unemployment rate he promised wouldn’t go over 8%, but hit 10% (and more), deserves a Mulligan. He meant well.

And that Obama predicted the unemployment rate, with stimulus, would now be 5.6% is irrelevant. Get that? Not below 6%, but 5point6%. This is the same administration that quibbled over whether an unemployment rate of 8.254% should be reported as 8.3%.

So much for the precision wisdom of the centralized planners. You know, those very same people who turn out to be even more wrong than our president… in some book written by Ayn Rand.

Nothing to see here about testing ideas, let’s just MoveOn:

Ms Gage continues:

Some of this imbalance is due to the relative weakness of the current American left. Liberals are not the logical counterweight to conservatives; leftists are, but they are few in number.

Some of this perceived imbalance is due to self delusion. Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Barack Obama (who, as a teen, was mentored by an avowed Communist, wrote about hanging out with Marxists in college and who, in 1996, received the endorsement of the Chicago branch of the Democratic Socialists of America), Bernie Sanders, Maxine Waters, Barbara Boxer and Debbie Wossname-Schultz are not left? The self-declared Communist (Van Jones) and admirer of Mao (Anita Dunn) whom Obama appointed to positions of power were not left? Please.

And, finally, a note is required on the lead sentence of the closing paragraph:

In the current election this means that liberals also run the unnecessary risk of ceding intellectual authority to the right.

Excuse me, but this is the risk Liberals continually choose. They do it gleefully, confident in the ascendance of their intentions, and with no thought about ideas. There is no necessary or unnecessary when peering down from the summit of moral superiority.

This election may represent increased risk for those who don’t have, or care about, ideas; but they don’t care enough to read Atlas Shrugged or Capitalism and Freedom to find out about the ideas that oppose them. Many of us who’ve read Atlas, have also read Das Kapital and Rules for Radicals and The Black Book of Communism. We have some idea what we’re up against, and, unlike Ms Gage, we can even name Liberals we used to consider serious thinkers. We were wrong, but we could say why.

Peter Singer and Ayn Rand

Peter Singer, Princeton University Professor of Bioethics, speaks out.

Would you kill a disabled baby? [asked by] KAREN MEADE, Dublin

[Singer:] Yes, if that was in the best interests of the baby and of the family as a whole. Many people find this shocking, yet they support a woman’s right to have an abortion. One point on which I agree with opponents of abortion is that, from the point of view of ethics rather than the law, there is no sharp distinction between the foetus and the newborn baby.

Well, he’s right about one thing. The only remaining piece of the puzzle is whether the State has a responsibility to prevent murder.

This is the question upon which Objectivism founders. It purports to base its moral code on the intrinsic value of human life, but labels fetuses as “parasites.” The failure to assert an inherent human sanctity precludes a moral code built on valuing human life.