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.