I bought this because of my interest in Jordan Peterson and because it received some good reviews as a dispassionate presentation of how a University of Toronto psychology professor suddenly became a world famous, polarizing “public intellectual.”
I was disappointed. I found it superficial and unenlightening. There are a lot of interleaved, ten second soundbites: Pro/con, “He is the ultimate father figure.”/“So, you’re anti-justice. Are you a Batman villain?” There’s a “what” to this documentary, but we are left to wonder why anyone holds such opinions.
This film doesn’t help in understanding the virality of a intellectual cultural phenom whose dozens of 2.5 hour University lectures attract ~5 million views each on YouTube. Or why an assistant professor of sociology will grade any paper mentioning Peterson with an “F;” seeming to confirm one of Peterson’s criticisms of the modern University.
Strictly as a documentary, it very nearly does manage to take no position. As an examination of Peterson’s ‘rise’ it is short on context or background.
Peterson’s objections to Bill C-16 gave him a viral blip when he publicly objected to compelled use of whimsical, invented pronouns: His corpus of prior work made him a phenomenon.
In fact, it’s the hundreds of hours of video he already had published that protected him from the SJW mob (and, until the Bill C-16 blip, was the motivation for the filmmakers to create this movie). There is no sign in this history of the patriarchal, sexist, transphobic, authoritarian, fascist thinking with which he is charged. A point which is not made evident in the film, despite a few truncated clips of his earlier work.
There’s much, much, much more explanation of Peterson’s rise in the video record preceding his tussle with the Canadian nanny-state. Peterson’s rise was propelled by the fact that he is a charismatic speaker and a powerful teacher.
The filmmakers’ attempt at even-handedness may be sincere, but the overall impression is more that Peterson promoted a free speech controversy as a way to enrich himself, not that he was risking his career. For an American audience, without a sense that freedom of speech in Canada is clinging to a cliff by one hand, the film is simply puzzling.
Supposed allies are shown expressing trepidation about Peterson’s outspokenness. This objection is to be expected from most Canadians, whose government has an uneasy relationship with freedom of speech and who are congenitally uncomfortable with controversy. See Mark Steyn, Lindsay Shepherd, etc..
And there are unanswered, factually incorrect slurs. A former supporter turned critic finds evidence of authoritarian impulses in Peterson’s collection of Soviet-era art (prominent in the movie). The reasons for this art are precisely the opposite of what is implied. If Peterson was asked for a response, it’s on the cutting room floor. Here is that response from an interview of Peterson:
[Tyler] COWEN: Let me start with a very lateral question. Why do you collect old Communist memorabilia and propaganda?
PETERSON: Well, part of it is dark comedy. Really, I spent quite a bit of time on eBay for a number of years. And I had read this article by a psychologist named James Pennebaker. He said that the past turned into history at 15 years. That’s when you start to see people commemorate events in the past. At that point, it was 2004, and I thought, “Oh, that’s interesting. It’s 15 years since the Soviet Union collapsed. Maybe I can go online and see what historical memorabilia is left over.”
So I went on eBay, looking up Soviet artifacts, and I thought that was so comical because there isn’t anything more capitalistic than eBay, right? Seriously, that was completely unrestrained capitalism. And then all this Soviet-era stuff was for sale. I thought it was absolutely comical that I could buy paintings of Karl Marx discounted on the world’s most intense capitalist platform…
Some of it is intensely propagandistic, and I’m interested in that because I’m interested in propaganda… So it was interesting to surround myself with these works that were battlegrounds between art and propaganda.
Here’s a vastly better look at Jordan Peterson from the Claremont Review of Books: The Jordan Peterson Phenomenon and it takes less time to read than it takes to watch the movie.
I was quite disappointed, and it caused me to wonder if those cancel culturists pressing theaters to scrub scheduled showings (that link also has a positive review, for contrast) had any idea what was in it. They couldn’t have watched it. Maybe that was just a marketing ploy by the producers.
2 stars anyway, because I learned more about his parents and his family because of the access Peterson granted.
It is sympathetic to leftist Googlers, and that sympathy seems justified in the case of the doxxing described. However, it fails to mention that among the first things to happen to James Damore was doxxing and defaming from the left. It should be remembered he wrote his common sense, scientifically grounded memo in response to “sensitivity training” mandated for all employees. That the memo couldn’t be tolerated tells us all we need to know about Google culture.
The article ignores the deplatforming and/or demonetizing of numerous center-rightists who offend leftist sensitivities (Dennis Prager, for just one example). That Google can’t see this as a negative reflection on their culture tells us more than we need to know about their culture. Tiku doesn’t discuss harassment of conservatives by the left, which I must imagine constituted a “hostile work environment” long before this SHTF. We get little from her in that regard. We’re meant to think the majority of Googlers were harassed by a tiny group of conservatives, with little to no provocation.
It is further obvious that Google’s culture skews rigidly left based on political donations, its executives’ assistance to Barack Obama, and who the internal activist stars are. It’s clear from their push to hire based on sex, sexual orientation, skin color, and ethnicity that they agree with SJW tropes.
Still, this is a very interesting peek behind the Google curtain. Let’s look at some outtakes.
Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the former Montessori kids who founded Google as Stanford grad students in the late ’90s, had designed their company’s famously open culture to facilitate free thinking. Employees were “obligated to dissent” if they saw something they disagreed with, and they were encouraged to “bring their whole selves” to work rather than check their politics and personal lives at the door. And the wild thing about Google was that so many employees complied.
Complied???? “Complied” is fulsome BS. They were selected via policies guaranteed to ensure their willingness to complain about any social or political issue that made them want to run to their “safe spaces,” and then sensitivity trained. It isn’t possible for the SJWs to check their identity-group politics at the door in the first place.
The culture was, and is, far from “open.” It is characterized by internecine tribal struggles between privileged, brilliant people with generally very poor social skills, whose idea of free thinking is mostly modeled after 1984 leavened with touches of Rules for Radicals.
[T]o a remarkable extent, Google’s workers really do take “Don’t Be Evil” to heart. C-suite meetings have been known to grind to a halt if someone asks, “Wait, is this evil?” To many employees, it’s axiomatic: Facebook is craven, Amazon is aggro, Apple is secretive, and Microsoft is staid, but Google genuinely wants to do good.
Well, for a given definition of “good.” And that is The. Whole. Problem. “Evil” is whatever does not toe the Progressive line. The motto should have been “Don’t be doubleplus-ungood.”
According to The Wall Street Journal, members of one mailing list brainstormed whether there might be ways to “leverage” Google’s search results to surface ways of helping immigrants; some proposed that the company should intervene in searches for terms like “Islam,” “Muslim,” or “Iran” that were showing “Islamophobic, algorithmically biased results.” (Google says none of those ideas were taken up.)
Didn’t take them up. But they openly considered substituting their opinions as reality because they are so sure of their righteousness and so drunk on their power. No one with a grounded definition of evil, and a gram of introspection, would have dared bring that up unless it was preceded with, “One thing we cannot do…”.
For this article, WIRED spoke with 47 current and former Google employees. Most of them requested anonymity.
Wouldn’t need anonymity if “Don’t be evil” meant anything, would they?
I hate that argument because it’s often applied to fee speech: “I’ve done nothing wrong. I’ve got nothing to hide.” It’s quite clear from Google’s example that it’s other people who decide whether you have anything to hide. And a lot of those who work at Google want to decide to hide your opinion, or prevent you from forming it, and, at all costs, stop you from expressing it in the first place.
YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and head of communications Jessica Powell urged their colleagues to consider how they would have reacted if Damore had applied the same arguments to race, rather than gender. That persuaded them: The engineer had to go. In a note to employees, Pichai said he was firing Damore for perpetuating gender stereotypes.
If all else fails, play the race card. I don’t know Wojcicki’s or Powell’s race, but is smacks of cultural appropriation, doesn’t it?
Stereotypes can be valid, or we would see many more whites in the NBA, and many women’s world weight lifting records completely smashed. But, you can’t say those biologically male lifters doing the smashing aren’t really women. The same type of rational arguments DO apply to race. This is not how free thinkers react when there is scientific evidence, presented without vitriol. It is just a replay of the reaction to Murray’s The Bell Curve.
Pichai tried to assure the left without alienating the right. “To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK,”
Well, nobody said that. But claiming someone did indicates management’s attitude, which had to be double-reverse engineered from a faulty understanding of the word stereotype, and a “la la la, I can’t hear you” inspired ignorance. Ostriches.
Two days after Damore was fired, Milo Yiannopoulos, the former tech editor at Breitbart, shared the Reddit collage image with 2 million Facebook followers. “Look at who works for Google, it all makes sense now,” he wrote—as if these eight employees had been the ones who made the decision to ax Damore.
“As if?” They WERE the ones who forced that decision!
At the time, Google was run as a triumvirate, with CEO Eric Schmidt playing the role of resident grown-up. Schmidt argued that if Google stopped censoring search results, it would never get back into China.
The “grownup” is the one who wants to knuckle under to totalitarian demands to suppress information. I.e., to betray Google’s mission: https://about.google/
It doesn’t say “except in countries with totalitarian dictatorships, that put millions into re-education camps because of their religion, and want to destroy the capitalist system that made Google possible.” I guess it’s not evil to interpret it as “useful to despots,” though.
“The legacy of the China decision was a giant dose of goodwill from Googlers around the world,” Schmidt wrote in How Google Works; it reaffirmed the company’s principles “governing how all tough decisions should be made.”
Schmidt takes credit for a policy he opposed. If you aren’t evil, it’s an easy decision.
As Google seemed to close in on winning the [Maven] contract, executives from the cloud team pondered how a deal with the Pentagon—especially one that could be linked to autonomous weapons—might reflect on Google’s non-evil brand. In September, a few weeks after the meeting with Mattis, they discussed spinning up some positive PR that would focus on the “vanilla cloud technology” aspects of the Maven contract. “Avoid at ALL COSTS any mention or implication of AI,” wrote Fei-Fei Li, a Stanford professor and Google Cloud’s chief scientist for AI.
Censor search in China and object to a US military contract. Fit those ethics together for me, will you? An ethical approach might have been not to do either one.
HR had become “weaponized,” they said; Googlers on both sides of the battle lines had become adept at working the refs—baiting colleagues into saying things that might violate the company’s code of conduct, then going to human resources to report them.
And what did they expect would happen after the cancel culture they encouraged became commonplace and was rewarded?
In early June 2018, Pichai finally published the AI principles that Google had promised its employees. They included a list of four applications of AI that Google would not pursue, including weapons, technologies that gather and use information “for surveillance violating internationally accepted norms,” and technology “whose purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights.”
“Don’t be evil” notwithstanding, they entertained a project to co-operate with the Chinese Communists that would shove human rights under the jackboot, and surveillance violating internationally accepted norms. They had to write that down. I guess it depends on your definition of “norms” and “principles.” Is it a norm because China does it to a billion and a half Chinese?
Google asked for chaos, I’m glad they’re getting it. The moral is don’t let a bunch of middle school mean girls run your company via internal social media.
See also: Not the ‘fairest’ sex, if the powerful logical and emotional arguments against men competing, at their whim, with women in sports does not galvanize resistance to the SJW idea of “equity,” then nothing will.
Here’s just one implication, Free Speech: People are being kicked off social media for “misgendering” men who think they are women. Let them think it, but don’t put them in the 100 yard dash with chromosomal women.
Governments are beginning to compel use of made up pronouns on University Campuses. If the transgenderists are allowed to destroy sports, they’ll force that on the rest of us.
I asked some questions in my post of February 17th about a suggestion that conservative political philosophy needs emotional appeals rather than rational arguments:
The writer [Gorka] makes a vital point that most people who support capitalism miss: we will never win the argument about capitalism being superior to socialism because many voters are only interested in emotions, not arguments. Accordingly they feel that capitalists are mean and socialists are compassionate, concerned about people. The only way to be compassionate is to take from the capitalists and give to them since capitalists got rich by making them poor. Unless and until conservatives can make a compassion appeal they will lose politically more and more. Forget trying to reason with people for whom reason is never a part of their feelings. So far Democrats have won the compassion battle. Republicans have always been out-compassioned. A completely different approach is needed. I think it can be done. Republicans can start by stopping trying to win rational arguments. They don’t win with apolitical voters who vote based on feelings.
I said, “[So,] We should take the Ocasio-Cortez Green New Dealas she suggests… “aspirational”; and respond with our own surreal proposals because we can’t win otherwise? What would that argument look like?”
I was facetious (unicorns and fairy wings were featured) in answer to my own question, but the suggestion we should go full compassion mode is still knocking about in my head, so I will attempt to provide some more serious answers.
Let’s start with defining “emotional argument.”
Politically, propaganda is the first definition that pops into my head. But let me suggest a more neutral definition: Emotional ‘argument’ appeals to deeply held moral intuitions. What those intuitions are matters.
For example, the Left often succeeds by touching instinctive feelings about fairness versus cheating and exploitation. They are successful with this in part by inflaming class envy. “Tax cuts for the rich must be stopped!”
Take the current MSM attack on the Republican tax cuts, “REFUNDS ARE DOWN!”. Well, yes. And that’s to be expected isn’t it?
If you make $30,000 at a tax rate of 10%, your annual taxes would project to be $3,000. Since there are many vagaries in the tax code and life circumstances, you decide to withhold an extra 10% per month, or $25.
If your tax rate is cut to 9%, your taxes would be $2,700, and your contingency 10% extra withholding becomes $22.50 per month.
At the end of the year everything works out perfectly and all your extra withholding – the money you loaned the government – is refunded. In the first case your refund is $300. In the second case it’s $270. Your refund is lower. But you paid $300 less in taxes.
Some people are disappointed that the government let them keep an extra $300 because their refund (money they gave the government they didn’t have to, and irrelevant to the concept of ‘tax cut’) is $30 lower. They could have just given the government an extra $100 a month if the higher refund was so important.
What ‘compassionate’ explanation can be given to people who use payroll taxes as a savings account on which no interest is paid? What ‘conservative’ emotional appeal could possibly apply? Only a rational argument will do.
One compassionate meme we would need is an appeal to individual responsibility – which the Left overwhelmingly ignores because it would blunt their class envy rhetoric. Leftists see fairness as equality of outcome. Anything else is prima facie evidence of oppression.
The Left continually insists the ‘rights’ of this or that victim group are being violated by a dominant group of ‘oppressors,’ and they never talk about their own responsibilities. They’re too busy telling you what your responsibility is to ‘victims.’
I contend the root problem isn’t a perception that conservatives lack compassion. It’s education.
The Millennials can’t remember very much – and they don’t learn very much either. It’s easy being hot for socialism or communism when you actually have a very little idea of what it is and what it did throughout the 20th century. And the Ys have that ignorance in spades; one third of them think that George W Bush killed more people than Stalin and 42 per cent have never heard of Mao – but over 70 per cent agree with Bernie Sanders. Some research suggests that only 15 per cent actually have a correct understanding of socialism… To be fair, that’s not strictly their fault; that attaches itself again to their Boomer grandparents who have been in charge of our failing education systems during this time. Combine the modern indoctrination-cum-dumbification taking place in schools and universities with the attention span-killing impact of information technology and social media, and you have a barely literate cohort, which is simply not equipped with the necessary mental tools to learn about the real world even if they wanted to.
Any surprises that socialism is now nearly synonymous with Gen Y?…
Millennials… are said to be unrealistic and have both the inflated expectations of life and the inflated perceptions of selves. They think the world owes them a living – a good one too – though without necessary too much effort. Things came very easily to them when they were growing up; when that suddenly stops – when the reality finally intrudes – they get angry, frustrated, lost: the world is deeply unfair and is conspiring against them… Having been told their whole lives how special they are, they tend to be over-sensitive and find it difficult to cope with criticism or obstacles…
Socialism is the response of a spoiled child when faced with the world that does not genuflect to its every wish the way their parents did – the world as it is must therefore be evil and has to be changed to something radically different. Gen Y, of course, did not just magically became [sic] the way they are – they were brought up like that…
For a rational approach, I’m going to turn to an educator whose message is attractive to many angry, frustrated, and lost millennials: Professor Jordan Peterson. If Peterson has a single main point, it might be that personal responsibility is the root of meaning in life, lack of which I think is the millennials’ angst.
We’ll take a brief look at his common sense (at least it used to be) insight into the benefits of individual responsibility and a peek at the biological basis for moral intuitions of fairness.
This clip starts at 32:25. Be sure to watch until at least 35:06, but just after that there a Q&A which starts with a question about rights.
“Now, you’ve got something to sell to young people. You can sell them freedom of speech, and you can sell them responsibility.” We could try. We could start in our educational system by eliminating participation trophies in Kindergarten, and ‘Identity Studies’ and safe spaces in Universities.
I do not know how these ideas can be turned into 30 second ‘branding messages,’ but you could start with (from the Q&A at about 40:39) “Your capacity for speech is divine. It’s the thing that generates order from chaos… Nothing brings a better world into being than the stated truth.” It’s worth it to just keep watching after that.
That isn’t an empirical defense of free speech. It might even be called an emotional appeal, but here is Peterson’s rational defense of free speech:
Interviewer (Cathy Newman, hostile): Why should your right to freedom of speech trump a trans person’s right not to be offended?
Peterson: Because in order to be able to think, you have to risk being offensive. I mean, look at the conversation we’re having right now. You’re certainly willing to risk offending me in the pursuit of truth. Why should you have the right to do that? It’s been rather uncomfortable. […] You’re doing what you should do, which is digging a bit to see what the hell is going on. And that is what you should do. But you’re exercising your freedom of speech to certainly risk offending me, and that’s fine. More power to you, as far as I’m concerned.
… a few seconds pass…
Peterson: (chuckling kindly): Ha. Gotcha.
Interviewer: You have got me. You have got me. I’m trying to work that through my head. It took awhile. It took awhile. It took awhile.
It will take awhile to fix academia. It took a long time to break it.
That excerpt is from a highly recommended interview which ran on Britain’s Channel 4, which I will describe as a half hour tour de force of rational argumentation demolishing Leftwing knee-jerk compassion. If you haven’t seen it, go here. Fourteen million people already have. I think the vast majority of those were interested in the rational points about fairness.
Now, what can the origins of the moral intuition of fairness tell us? The clip below starts with Peterson describing experiments observing rats at play. Watch at least up to about 20:20, where he begins to talk about chimpanzees and then postmodernism. (That is well worth a listen, too, and it relates to this post, but the rats segment is sufficient to the question of human moral intuition about fair play.)
“Rules across the set of all games,” is a vital observation. People who know children will have observed how a 2 or 3 year old reacts to losing a game, or even a roll of dice; anger, tears, withdrawal. If a child hasn’t internalized the concept of “the set of games” by the time they’re 4, it’s likely they never will. Other children will not want to play with them, because they are poor sports. And adults will find them unpleasant to be around, because such children have never abandoned the idea of zero-sum interactions. I suspect this is at least a partial explanation for the existence of SJW’s, because their brand includes participation trophies, safe spaces, and unearned self esteem.
It is, therefore, a yuge problem for Donald Trump that he brands things as zero-sum: He wins; “They” lose. His trade policy is perhaps the best example, but hardly the only one. This doesn’t excuse his opponents’ excesses, but it makes it far easier for them to portray him as an ‘evil’ conservative. And to portray conservatism as compassionless. (One could argue the emotional appeal we really need is that “compassionless” is what we should want from government, but that’s another post.) Trump’s default emotional appeal is to something other than fairness, and his past business conduct simply cements the meme.
For social animals, success is more about being invited to play than winning every game. This deeply held moral intuition starts with biology and spreads to culturally enforced norms. It is not, as postmodernists would have it, solely about dominance and submission carving us into identity groups. The idea that power is everything informs much of the Left’s claims that they’re compassionate, even though when put into practice their ideas inevitably result in misery. They have seized the high ground on “good intentions.” Compassion and good intentions are not at all the same thing.
Jordan Peterson’s ideas are very popular among millions of young people immersed in the nihilist orthodoxy spewing from our institutions of higher education. They have excellent attention spans for solutions to their angst. They like Peterson precisely because his dozens of academic online lectures each offer a couple of hours of rational arguments about pursuing meaning in life, in spite of the suffering inherent in being alive. The Left cannot compete.
Maybe it isn’t overtly emotional appeals we need to enable rational discussion, maybe it’s rational discussion we need to rouse appropriate emotion. There is an audience.
Peterson’s rational ideas are emotionally compelling for those seeking meaningful lives. You only have to read a few of the letters he’s received to understand the desperate need for substance, not branding. This is not to say he’s convincing the committed Leftists (far from it, they despise him), or that he’s reached universal pop-cultural awareness, but people are bringing their own need for meaning to him. In droves. Maybe a way to combat the fantasies of Ocasio-Cortez is to support Peterson.
To close, another source for an appeal to moral intuition comes from a man considered of the left while he lived. How much times have changed will be clear if you read Kurt Vonnegut’s quite short story Harrison Bergeron.
This story examines what happens when everyone is MADE to be equal in the cause of ‘fairness’. Maybe the Koch brothers can be persuaded to finance re-releasing the 1995 movie based on the story. Some of our budding socialists might get a clue that good intentions have to be aligned with good results.
The Other Club has had a lot to say about free speech, so here are some selections on that topic from the past: Rotted links, mysterious artifacts from the Blogger editor constraints, and interesting HTML from converting to WordPress included: