To help guide your expectations of what we’ll explore in this series of posts: there are 8 key points of contention, and one point of agreement, that I’d like to raise.
Here’s a Table of Contents.
Prologue: (i.e., the part after the Table of Contents…) 🙂
Foreplay) Agreeing on freedom of speech: yayyy!!!
Part 1) Problems with Fundamental Assumptions: “In this corner, Dominance hierarchies!!! (crowd goes WIIIIILLLLLLLD!!); and in this corner, Compassion!!! (Woooo…..????…*pin drop*)”
Part 2) More Problems with Fundamental Assumptions:
A) the naturalistic fallacy;
B) issues of scale
Part 3) The Bucko Mistake: why telling Bucko to straighten his shoulders, clean his room, and sort himself out can cause bigger problems
Part 4) The Problem of Collective Assholeification: the much bigger, much subtler, but even more important mistake in telling Bucko to sort himself out
Part 5) The Perfect House Problem: why being told not to try to change the world until you have your house in perfect order is, potentially, at least as murderous as Post-modern NeoMarxism and all that…
Part 6) The Myth of “The myth of white/male privilege”: Hi, my name is Dan, and I’m a white male. “Hiiii Dannn”. Smiles and nods all around while I take my seat in the circle.
Part 7) Psychology at the Ending of the World
Now let’s get started.
Prologue: A Personal Note
This might not be the right way to get this message out. I don’t know. I sure ain’t perfect. I am a bit concerned that something I say comes across the wrong way, or people think I have unsavoury motives of some kind or other. This is something that, more often than it should, holds me back from doing things. I’m sure you’ve felt that way before. Who hasn’t? Heck, it can be scary just talking to a person at a dinner party; walking into a public debate that often seems to draw fairly extreme reactions out of people? yikes…
But, I feel it’s important to try here, and share a few thoughts about the whole phenomenon of Jordan Peterson. It’s….complicated to get into, personally, for a bunch of reasons….which is why I’m starting this series of essays with this ‘personal prologue’, because I think it is important to contextualize my views.
On a personal level, I genuinely liked Jordan when I first met and go to know him. We have never been personal friends per se, but were always friendly and collegial. I believed in him as a person (more on that later), and totally got a kick out of talking to him.
More than that, I have always felt an intellectual kinship with him in large part, despite the fact that we seem to disagree about some Pretty Big Things (*cough cough* — climate change…). But we have quite overlapping intellectual backgrounds and interests, we draw from many of the same sources and we even taught some of the same courses in university. We also had fairly similar early lives, childhoods, teen years, etc., coming from similar sub-cultures, and having absorbed similar philosophies while growing up.
Of course, we’ve always disagreed about certain things, as I mentioned. But whatevs, right? That’s what science and learning and being a curious person are all about — exposing yourself to the unknown, being open to differing perspectives, especially well-reasoned ones, thereby challenging yourself to consider things in new ways.
And like Hamilton, “man, the man is non-STOP!”. Jordan is a super-smart dude; he thinks, and talks, and listens, and reads and learns, ALL the time. He works like mad. Whoever thinks he’s just spouting bullshit is not paying attention to the depth to which he has tried to articulate and explain his reasoning. So come on, let’s not straw-man people and write shitty essays where we try to tear them down and call them names. I’ve read a few of these online that have made me feel disappointed. Sure, people are upset and concerned about his public teachings, but personal attacks and ad hominems are just low-quality ‘arguments’ that go nowhere except to further polarization.
Let’s do better than that.
Jordan and I had adjacent offices for about a decade, which was great; every now and then would come a rare opportunity, when both of us happened to be in our offices and neither of us was immediately involved in a meeting or prepping for class. In these opportunistic moments, I would stick my head in his doorway, and say “hey Jordan, you got a couple minutes? I got a question for ya…”. I would ask him some deep, thorny question, and inevitably he would respond, without hesitation, “You know, I’ve thought a lot about that, because it gets right to the heart of….blahblahblah”, and I’d sit down, buckle up, and hang on for the ride. I totally understood why so many students and others were captivated in his lectures and got so much out of them.
I also believed in his integrity as a person. I want to be really clear about that. I wholeheartedly believed that Jordan was fighting for The Good as he perceives it, and was doing so out of genuine caring for people to live better lives. For anyone who has criticized Jordan at a personal level, written nasty things, etc., you gotta remember, even if you disagree radically with his conclusions (which I do, in many cases that I will articulate), this is a person who has devoted many, many years, thousands and thousands and thousands of hours, to helping people — in his clinical practice, as an educator and advisor to countless students, as a colleague and collaborator on a vast number of research projects and collaborative relationships. I have ‘overheard’ through the wall between us, the research meetings and Skype meetings and phone calls and interviews he has given in his office for many years. The guy works his butt off trying to help people. And sure, being a psychologist or a scientist or a teacher doesn’t immediately mean you’re a good person, and counter-examples are easy to find, no doubt. But you have to give a person the respect they deserve. Someone who has spent their many-more-than-10000-hours in studying and working directly with human suffering and growth, deserves some respect.
(On the other hand, according to Jordan’s own logic, it is highly possible that he’s not actually trying to help people, but just trying to advance himself due to his own needs for power….)
Having said all this, I do want to spend some time developing a critique of some of Jordan’s key points and public communications. We do have quite deep points of disagreement, and for those who care about what Jordan has to say, I think the implications are important. I hear a lot of people say things like “Yeah, he makes a lotta sense, but you know, I don’t agree with him on everything…”. But if you press people for precise points of disagreement, you don’t find many, or at least many that aren’t based on a misunderstanding of what Jordan has actually said.
So, I think I have a good sense of what Jordan has said, and what he means. And I will try to convey as clearly as I can, the important points of divergence. I think I have sufficiently expressed, here and in other places, my appreciation with much of his teachings, but it’s time to look at the other side. I think some of it is, unintentionally I’m sure, downright dangerous and could cause harm. Which is why I feel it’s necessary to talk about this.