Movie review

The Rise Of Jordan Peterson

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.


God Fearers
An Open Letter to Christian Readers of Jordan Peterson & Roger Scruton by James Bryson

This should be widely read. It is an astute connection of Peterson and Scruton with current religious, cultural and political issues. The only objectionable error is referring to them as ‘conservative,’ when they are both liberal in the classical sense. Other bits with which one might take issue are matters of opinion. The author’s take is as an orthodox Christian writing to Christians.

The analysis is also interesting because while Scruton and Peterson are both “defenders of the faith,” their defense is often unsatisfying to the orthodox, triggering to the Unitarian wing, and anathema to Liberation Theologists such as Pope Francis.

The orthodox generally focus on Peterson’s refusal to publicly avow Christ as Savior. The latter two groups object to his defense of Western civilization generally.

The orthodox critics make two mistakes here. One, if you want to interest the great unwashed in the possibility of salvation through Christ, how can you object to raising people’s curiosity about the meta-narrative of the idea? Two, if you wanted to preserve the West’s intellectual canon – which is heavily predicated on your faith and inextricable from it – why attack your obvious, and effective, allies? What’s to fear: Doctrinal impurity among those who would otherwise disdain to glance at your religion? Let them come to understand what you helped build before imposing a litmus test.

Feeding a hunger for meaning, demonstrating that people will spend dozens of hours deeply exploring the West’s foundational texts is a threat to those ‘Christians’ who take Christ as optional; to those who believe they can perfect mankind – given secular power. Not to you.

The author largely dismisses such criticism. He does, however, offer his own challenge to Scruton and Peterson:

I promised to say a word about where Scruton and Peterson might be pushed from an orthodox Christian point of view. They do not need advice from me, especially since it’s the authenticity of these men—that they are what they seem and mean what they say—that holds our attention. So I preface these criticisms by saying that I do not think for a minute that they should change who they are or radically alter the course of their arguments. Instead, I suggest that Scruton and Peterson should simply continue to become more deeply who they already are.

This brings me to something Peterson and Scruton have in common: the Kantian “as if.” Peterson says he acts “as if” God exists—that “he’s afraid” he might. This simply won’t do when it comes to God. The way to convince men of integrity and seriousness, like Peterson and Scruton, is to meet them where they are strongest and most convinced—that is, as moralists.

Neither would ever countenance the idea that you should treat your wife “as if” she were your wife—”as if” you had made a promise to love and cherish her until death do you part. Nor should you treat a friend merely “as if” he were your friend. Friendship and matrimony must be grounded in an indubitable reality, or else they are nothing at all. When put to the test, “as if” arrangements will show themselves to be mere fantasies projected onto the screen of unreality. One need only appeal to the pragmatist in Peterson to make the case: How well are marriages doing in our “as if” culture? How abundant is friendship, good will, and respect for the rule of law?

The whole thing falls apart if it’s not real; that is, if it’s not true. No amount of willing or acting “as if it’s true” will do. God must be the ground of all reality through Christ his Mediator—the eternal and incarnate Logos. There is no other way to see and accept the goodness of being that Scruton and Peterson defend. This is something we believe, but it is also possible to know it, just as it is possible to know ourselves even as we are known. This does not demand a leap of faith in an existentially absurd sense—it’s a deeply rational vision, both logically and intuitively, and it is one that we, Scruton, and Peterson already share. But we need to make ourselves continually aware of it. This is what we call the sacramental life.

This is interesting but, for me, unconvincing. “As if” doesn’t seem to me to indubitably apply equally to a wife and to God. One still calls for that willing suspension of disbelief. I also find “How well are marriages doing in our “as if” culture? How abundant is friendship, good will, and respect for the rule of law?,” circular, in context. Peterson and Scruton would certainly answer, “Not as well as they should be,” but that doesn’t prove anything. Nonetheless, it’s the best offering I’ve seen.

Estranged from beauty and grace

James Lileks at The Bleat.

“These are people who are estranged from beauty and grace, by their own hand. Not dark souls but lazy ones. Not bleak hearts but banal ones, looking for the perpetual frisson an adolescent male gets when he drifts to the brotherhood of the numb and the bored. They have nothing to rally around except rejection; they have no cause but the tiresome imperative of the Transgressive; they have no idea where they stand in human history, how a hundred million people would claw and climb over a mountain of broken glass to sample the ease and bounty they take for granted. They believe in nothing except the self, but as it happens they hate themselves as well.”

RTWT, it’s almost all that good.

Lileks is talking about the impulses displayed by the Dayton shooter, who apparently took his “pornogrind“ subculture a tad too seriously. Much to the chagrin of his fellow nihilist poseurs.

Jordan Peterson is not so poetic, but he would agree completely.

See also: Meaning and Millennials

Meaning and Millennials

“I think that often people come to the conclusion that life is meaningless because that is a better conclusion to come to than the reverse, because if life is meaningless, well then who cares what you do. But if life is meaningful, if what you do matters, then everything you do matters, and that puts a terrible responsibility on the individual. And I think that people are generally unwilling to bear that.”

-Jordan Peterson

Professors Jordan Peterson and John Vervaeke are colleagues in the University of Toronto Department of Psychology. They share an interest in the study of life’s meaning and reject moral relativism as nihilistic. They’re students of science and metaphysics.

Vervaeke, psychology specialties: Perception, Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience
PhD 1997 University of Toronto, Philosophy
BSc 1991 University of Toronto, Specialist in Cognitive Science
MA 1985 University of Toronto, Philosophy
HBA 1984 McMaster University, Philosophy, Summa Cum Laude

Peterson, psychology specialties: Social, Personality and Abnormal
PhD 1991 McGill University, Clinical Psychology
BSc 1984 University of Alberta, Psychology
BSc 1982 University of Alberta, Political Science

Their voices are sorely needed as the Humanities move ever deeper into postmodern despair, absurdity and self-deception; and Science faces political pressure to abandon scientific method as sexist and/or racist.

Our educational system has gone to a lot of trouble to replace such sources of meaning as family, competence and merit by deconstructing individual responsibility into a collectivist competition for victimhood participation trophies. Reason is similarly challenged: There are no truths, only interpretations.

This has negative consequences, especially for those who grew up during this cultural shift. To be sure, much of what follows doesn’t apply to most Millennials, but we see evidence daily that there’s a problem.

One example: We’re told Millennials in the workplace desire “purpose over paycheck.”

Purpose should be easy: “You do this. We pay you.”

Instead, it seems likely “purpose” in that phrase substitutes for “precisely aligned with my life values and goals,” or “meaningful.” There’s nothing wrong with such an aspiration, but it isn’t realistic. For one thing, your colleagues would all have to be of one mind. That’s one reason jobs that provide life meaning are not common. Even self-employed I couldn’t be sure my job would always fulfill a particular “purpose,” including meeting payroll. And who could make sure the customers would co-operate? But, some people expect job “purpose” to be supplied by others.

In any case, as we’ll see, Millennials don’t appear to be finding deep meaning through their employment. That might indicate they are incapable of finding it in themselves.

And why would they be? They’ve been conditioned by effusive praise to expect meaning to find them. Meaning becomes external. Like a job. Or ‘Likes’ on Facebook.

A Millennial meaning deficit is strongly suggested by the fact that Millennial suicide rates are soaring: They experience high rates of depression: And they may be the “quintessential postmodern generation.”

They’ve been cut adrift in a sea of narcissism by their parents and their professors, who should have taught them moral values and how to think, but handed them participation trophies and moral nihilism instead. Many Millennials have come to expect constant and instantaneous validation of their merit, whether they’ve displayed any or not. That applies to their opinions too, many of them are convinced that simply taking offense grants them some sort of moral authority.

They’ve been misled about their capabilities. They’ve been lied to about their prospects. They’ve been suckered into huge student debt by what amounts to academic fraud.

A growing cultural anomie should not be surprising. Nor should we wonder why Millennials flock to hear Jordan Peterson, and increasingly John Vervaeke, speak for two hours about how to find meaning. For a dozen lectures.

Reason and meaning are under siege because of guilt by association with Western Civilization. Peterson and Vervaeke are playing defense. Some examples:

I’d say watch the whole thing, but this link will start at 2:04. Watch until you want to stop. TWT is 20:49.
Jordan Peterson *NEW* The Meaning of Life

Here’s an interview about meaning: John Vervaeke: The Meaning Crisis (39 minutes) Again, the whole thing is worthwhile, but the link starts at 18:32. There, Vervaeke puts his finger on the epistemological question raised by Postmodernism. It’s a serious question.

Vervaeke has recently started a series of lectures on YouTube: ‘Awakening From the Meaning Crisis.

Immodest proposals

Freedom distributes everything unevenly (diversely). Obviously, Statism does too. The difference is that when the state decrees who should be favored it relies on the opinion of the currently fashionable gang of ‘intellectual’ nannies. They know how we should conduct ourselves. Where we should live; what we can say; how we should eat; the conditions of employment we should desire.

Too many female doctors go part-time or stop working — why that’s a big problem

“Female doctors are more likely than their male peers to shift to part-time work or stop working a few years after completing their medical training, according to a recent study published in the journal JAMA Network Open. Women, moreover, are more likely than men to cite family as a consideration in determining their work status…

“It’s very common for people to see this and say some women are just choosing to put family first — which is wonderful and a great choice for anyone who wants to make that. But in reality, what we’re seeing is that often there isn’t choice,” lead study author Elena Frank, the director of the University of Michigan’s Intern Health Study, said in a statement.

“Medicine has a big opportunity and, really, an obligation to set an example for how to support women and families,” she added.

I think this is confusing “medicine’s responsibility” (whatever that is) with feminist politics. That doesn’t mean women’s preferences don’t present a problem, though:

The U.S. is projected to experience a shortage of between 46,900 and 121,900 physicians in both primary care and specialty care by the year 2032…”

Research shows that hospital patients treated by female doctors are less likely than those treated by male doctors to die or be readmitted within a month of being discharged…

You can project a decline in the quality and quantity of available health care, exacerbated by female M.D.s leaving the work force.

How can “medicine” seize this opportunity? The suggested solution is “[W]ork flexibility, paid parental leave and on-site day care” for female doctors. We’re being told that government has to seize the opportunity on behalf of “medicine:” That these policies would keep female M.D.s on the job, though there’s no evidence presented for that, and there is evidence that women might still respond to motherhood the same way they do now.

It’s not just medicine, either: Why Are Seemingly Satisfied Female Lawyers Running For The Exits?.
Law is mentioned at about 2:23, but watch the whole 13 minutes.
This is really salient:

Even if we apply more resources to support female careers in medicine, work remains attention to other things even while someone else is bonding with/watching your child.

Nonetheless, I’d support Dr. Frank’s options for any woman for whom it would solve the problem. All they have to do is negotiate for it: “Look, I want part-time work where I have significant influence on the specific hours I work. No ‘on-call.’ I want a parental leave savings account matching contribution. And I want you to pay for day care at a nearby provider. I’ll take a salary reduction in order to get that.” That is a choice, but it isn’t the “government as caretaker” idea being promoted. Leadership diversity would not be served.

So, are you surprised women are more likely to cite family? Well, men are more likely to internalize their responsibility – to economically support their family. How, for example, are these female doctors able to quit a lucrative profession they worked hard to get into? Did they marry into the patriarchy?

Even worse, according to Elena Frank, director of the University of Michigan’s Intern Health Study the problems are (emphasis mine) “not just because of the blow to leadership diversity in health care.”

That made me laugh. Sexual-apparatus-based diversity as a leadership credential is more important than health care quality and quantity.

There’s more angst along the same lines. The author proceeds from an assumption that while it may be fine for women doctors to choose family over work, the real problem is that they don’t have a choice because they are forced want to spend time with their children. They are hostages to housewifery and motherhood, lost to the leadership diversity project.

There are some questions we might ask about this. First, “Did Dr. Frank think to search for any female doctors who labor under her recommended conditions?” It’s likely there are some, and would nicely test her hypothesis.

Second, “Assuming approximately the same resources are required to educate each medical student, does that mean women are, on average, a non-optimal use of those investments?” Much of the investment is made by the female medical students, of course, but one can rationally argue that society is worse off because these women later abandon their profession – having occupied a scarce seat in med school.

What to do? Provide “free” female medical school education on the stipulation they must work until they’re at least 60? Somehow I think quality of care might suffer. And why wouldn’t that option be open to males, too?

That’s rhetorical. It wouldn’t promote chromosomal ‘diversity.’ Though now I’m wondering about trans people… First, for which side are they counted, diversity-wise? Anyway…

First, let’s stipulate that women do make different choices than men, including working conditions. See here and here for rigorous proof. In one case there’s a free wheeling entrepreneurial startup from the “woke” era. In the other case there’s a extensive, hidebound rule-set.

It is not arguable that males and females are not treated equally in either case. And they make the same choices.

I know the counter argument will be that the system was set up by males, and so favors a male view of working conditions. But, if you look at the reasons there is a “wage gap” you’ll see it’s just reality that’s in the way, and accommodating women’s choices would require… well, you think about what could be done without dedicating even greater resources exclusively to women.

But, back to female M.D.’s plight. Let’s look at some other possible fixes in order to grant women (for whom a medical career is only temporarily most important) Dr. Frank’s prescription. Can we give them incentives to consider that initial choice more carefully? Or, can we establish disincentives to following their own later anti-leadership diversity choices?

1- We could have the government insist female M.D.s must never marry, or must promise only to become married to a lower earning spouse. This might lock them into their chosen profession, making it sort of equal to most men, who are typically willing to work longer hours in more dangerous and uncomfortable occupations. Choice. For family.

2- Alternatively, I suppose, we could psychologically screen female Med school applicants. We could reject those most likely to care about children (though feminine empathy and compassion probably get lost, too), or we could find those women who will insist their husband be the primary caregiver, or women who agree to sterilization. This isn’t optimal, but it’s surely cheaper than mandating paid leave, on-site daycare, and employee selected work hours. In total, it’s no more or less coercive than making everyone, including the childless, pay for female M.D.s post-partum guilt.

After all, whoever is a stay at home parent gets continual compensated leave, intimately directed day-care, and work hours only constrained by the children’s needs – which seems to cover the whole objective.

3- Or, maybe these potential leadership diversity exemplars could work part time, and/or save up so they can take leave, and/or get together and fund their own day care close by their workplace. Doctors can afford these perks without outside support. Giving female doctors extra money to accomplish this is like requiring taxpayers to pay for Sandra Fluke’s birth control pills.

Taking leave and working part time don’t help so much with the doctor shortage, of course, and I have a suspicion that what’s meant by “work flexibility” (since part time work is readily available already) is fewer hours for the same salary.

None of these remedies solve the economic problem: female doctors not only are a riskier initial investment than male doctors, but would end up costing more for maintenance. If I were a feminist, I wouldn’t be advertising it.

As a species, we might prefer a biological imperative which didn’t require trade offs based on sex. One where men didn’t die from work-related accidents 10 times as often as women, for example, though I’m sure we’d just be exchanging the current trade-offs for other (maybe worse) inequities.

But leadership diversity must be served.