43) Jordan Peterson, Part 2: More Problems with Fundamental Assumptions; Sub-section 1: The Naturalistic Fallacy

— from — https://www.google.ca/search?q=running+away+from+a+bear&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjtjd6Ng_LdAhVk2oMKHUJxDOsQ_AUIDigB&biw=1422&bih=780#imgrc=WH65B9lCNXoMQM:

Sub-section 1: The Naturalistic Fallacy

I get a kick out of the old joke — How fast do you need to run in order to outrun a bear?

You know, faster than the other guy…..


The weird thing about getting eaten by bears is that it IS totally natural, as natural as falling off a log or getting a sunburn. No plastic, metals, electricity or advanced computing required. Not a single human invention is necessary, not a single alteration from Nature in the raw.

Lots of other things we have come to see as undesirable are natural. Ebola. Rape. Eating your own babies sometimes.

Reasoning that follows the basic logic of “it’s natural, so it’s good” is understood as the Naturalistic Fallacy, an elemental error in reasoning. It’s easy to make this mistake, especially when reasoning about complex things, or when you’re motivated to believe that your way is the Right way. The Naturalistic Fallacy — let’s call it “Bear Food” reasoning — kicks into high gear fairly commonly when people talk about things they feel are fundamental to “human nature,” and other things they may care about, like ethics.

For example, it is not uncommon for people who are against homosexuality to say it’s “not natural”, the seemingly logical implication being, “which makes it bad.” This kind of reasoning often has religious overtones to it; if something is ‘against nature’, it seems to be “not what God intended.” Over the years, people have objected to all sorts of things based on Bear Food reasoning, especially if it involves the body: masturbation; sex toys; anal sex; oral sex; group sex; sex outside of marriage; gay marriage; transgendered people; eyeglasses; immunization; genetically engineered organisms; Marilyn Manson; rock music; sex robots; reading novels; slavery; men having power over women; men having political power; women being silent or simply unwelcome in many institutions from the church to med school to university to golf clubs to the cigar smoking room at the fancy party where all the business deals go down while the women gather in their fancy dresses in a different room to talk about women-stuff-that-never-makes-it-into-the-history-books.

Bear Food reasoning creeps into Jordan’s thinking quite a bit, it seems. For example, he emphasizes biologically-rooted differences between the sexes, in conjunction with the argument that one’s sex is an almost-100% binary construct (male vs. female), that gender identity aligns almost 100% with biological sex, and that therefore the man/woman dichotomy in sex (and by extension, gender), is Good. This coheres with other beliefs, such as the idea that people who do not feel they are included within traditional binary gender categories are somehow deluded, insecure and having an identity struggle that has arbitrarily fixated on “gender identification” because it is the zeitgeist of the times, or in other ways they are, quite simply, psychologically unhealthy. Exactly what Jordan believes about these things, I make no claims about; that’s for him to say. But this set of beliefs concerning gender are repeated and argued frequently by his fans and other public figures with whom he has an affinity, like Ben Shapiro.

Bear Food reasoning is implicit in Jordan’s discussions of the different strategies employed by men and women — for example, men are “naturally” more dominance-striving, competitive, action-and-thing oriented, whereas woman are “naturally” more agreeable, person focused, and relationally oriented. This is rooted in the different adaptive strategies that men and women evolved to emphasize as a result of women being more biologically vulnerable (especially during pregnancy and child-rearing years) and biologically expendable (the tribe can reproduce successfully with very few men, but not very few women). Thus, women, with their greater proportion of time necessarily devoted to child-raising, and with the inevitable biological vulnerability that comes with pregnancy, became more of the caretakers, home-makers and helpers, tethered more to the hearth and community. Men, with with their greater biological expendability, physical strength and such, became the Hunters and Warriors. As human civilization progressed, tribes evolved into more complex societies, and power relations become increasingly hierarchical, militaristic and economic; it was therefore “natural” that the more aggressive, dominance-seeking, less relationally-oriented men, seized the top of the societal power structure for themselves and over the intervening few thousand years while society became increasingly institutionally structured, laws, religious beliefs and practices, and social customs cohered around the separation of power between men and women. This isn’t because of some oppressive “patriarchy” though; it’s just the way things are; after all men and women just are different. “And that’s that!”

After all, if you believe that men, by and large, ‘naturally’ move into positions of societal power (military, economic, political), then it makes perfect sense to proscribe the Male and Female gender roles into religion, law, how little boys and girls are raised, and in short, to expect society to be organized in ways that favour male power. You won’t believe that the power imbalance between men and women is the result of some spooky bogeyman like “the Patriarchy,” but instead exists because it is “the right way to be”. You might explain it in terms of a meritocracy that rewards aggressiveness more than agreeableness, and other preferential reward structures for traditionally “masculine” traits.

This gets spun further into a set of arguments that “the Patriarchy” doesn’t even exist, that women have not been oppressed, that men have not been unduly favoured by the institutional power structures of the past and that, indeed, today’s men and women are, for the first time “waking up” to the fact that what determines one’s outcomes in the meritocracy that our society is argued to be, is largely one’s own commitment to taking action to better one’s circumstances.

Thus, as you go down Jordan’s train of argumentation, what starts with an attempt (perhaps?) to simply describe the biological Facts of Life, slides into making value claims about those apparent facts based on underlying assumptions that “what is natural, is good.”

Lobsters – Dominance Hierarchies – Serotonin

A great amount of Jordan’s thinking, and his public impact, hinges on the lobster example (Dominance hierarchies more generally).  We’ve already discussed the problem at a more theoretical level — in terms of the insufficiency of dominance-hierarchy logic to adequately describe human functioning or development, at pretty much any point in life.  I think the largely singular emphasis on Dominance Hierarchy logic leads to a viewpoint of human nature and society that is riddled with fairly obvious untruths, but it can be hard to keep them in mind when you’re overwhelmed with enough charismatically-emphatic statements, rhetorical flourishes, personal tales, Disney movies and Bible stories.  This huge amount of information and verbiage makes it FEEL as though there is a vast amount of good, solid reasoning and mountains and mountains of evidence.  This is what social psychologists would say is a “peripheral” manipulation strategy, in which the person is convinced simply because the vast bulk of the material they are confronted with provides seemingly irrefutable justification for itself.

The way the Naturalistic Fallacy plays a role here is that, even IF the lobster-logic is true, and Dominance Hierarchies really are so fundamentally important for our functioning, you STILL cannot conclude that this is the most Right, Good or even Functional way to be.  Serving a particular function in a particular way is not necessarily retained as “the system” grows and complexifies and changes over time.  A particular functional adaptation at one point in time might work very differently at another point in time.

Thus, even to the extent that Dominance-systems were functional across evolutionary time, this is not a logical justification for concluding that Dominance-systems still function the same way today, or will in the future.

For example, think of violence as an adaptive strategy for a person to adopt in life.  Sometimes, this might work out great.  If you’re in an environment full of violent people, then becoming super bad-ass might well be the most adaptive strategy you could take.  In this context, violence is good.  But remaining violent as you go into other contexts won’t work out the same way.  The exact same adaptive strategy can become maladaptive once the circumstances change….


I’ll leave the implications of this for us to think about for a while. What DOES happen to all these arguments, if we can see the Bear Food reasoning that gives false credibility to them? What happens to your own beliefs about men, women, gender, success in society, the glass ceiling, the Patriarchy, society as a meritocracy, rape culture, feminism, and any number of other “culture war” issues? ……what if very large narratives in our culture, big beliefs that people hold dear, are built around myths, untruths, illogical reasoning, and faulty assumptions? What conclusions might we reach, and what forms of social organization might we invent and structure the world by, if we challenge and expose these faulty assumptions, and start again with different ones?

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