Last week I wanted to move to a hut in the wilderness, as far away from people as possible. The catalyst for my misanthropy was reading posts on Facebook. My ‘friends’ on Facebook cover all shades of the ideological spectrum. I don’t care what someone believes provided they’re intellectually honest and fair to those with whom they disagree. We learn more from our enemies than our friends. Edmund Burke was correct, we all know very little, so I’m open to all opinions.
Which brings me to Jordan Peterson. It was inevitable that there would be a backlash against Jordan Peterson. Anyone who holds strong views divides people.
And Peterson has become a spokesman for a generation of people fed up with political correctness. Peterson has gone further than this, though. He’s argued, persuasively, that many of the shibboleths of the left-wing cultural hegemony we live under are built on sand. And he’s marshalled research from psychology to support his claims.
While Peterson has not been without critics, the tone of recent criticism has changed from respectful engagement to hysterical denunciation. Jordan Peterson is not beyond criticism. But there is a difference between legitimate criticism and intellectual dishonesty.
The most disgraceful article about Peterson, published in Forward magazine, claimed that he was an anti-Semite and a leader of the far right. Another hit-job in the New York Times wilfully misrepresented what Peterson meant when he used the term ‘enforced monogamy’, which is a technical term in anthropology.
It doesn’t mean, as the author asserted, that women should be forced to have sex with men. These disingenuous articles, though, were not the reason I wanted to remove myself from polite society – bad journalism is published every day.
My problem was the disgraceful way people used dishonest journalism to further an agenda. Maryam Namazie, a prominent feminist, and Ali A. Rizvi, author of The Muslim Atheist, were perfect examples of this type of intellectual dishonesty. Ali A. Rizvi, who – it is obvious from his commentary – has probably never read Peterson or watched one of his lectures, used out-of-context quotes to claim that Peterson was no different to the ayatollahs in Iran. It’s the intellectual equivalent of dismissing Heidegger’s entire philosophy because of anti-Semitic quotes in the Black Notebooks. Or claiming that Marx’s philosophy is redundant because he had a child with his housekeeper. It’s not mistaking the wood for the trees, it’s seeing only one tree and refusing point blank to admit that there’s a forest.
Peterson’s sin, in this instance, was to question whether men and women could work together without sexual tension causing problems. Peterson didn’t have an answer. But seeing that men and women have misunderstood each other since the start of time, often with tragic consequences, it’s a leap to claim that Peterson asking questions means his views are similar to the ayatollahs. Rizvi was making a false analogy, either through ignorance or intellectual dishonesty. It’s easy, for example, to selectively quote Islamic theology to show that Islam is good for women.
And it is easy to selectively quote Peterson and paint him as a misogynist. The difference, though, is that Islamic theology is rife with misogyny while Peterson’s philosophy is not. You consider the worldview first and then narrow it down to the individual. Rizvi did the opposite. He took isolated quotes from an individual and built them into a worldview. Rizvi’s followers on Facebook were even more dishonest. What was frightening about them was their lack of doubt. They just knew that they were right. It was as if a generation of anti-Socratics had come to the fore.
The fact that no society in history has managed to find the perfect equilibrium between men and women was conveniently overlooked. The fact that the whole ‘me too’ movement is predicated on questioning boundaries was also overlooked. Ironically, feminists have had hissy fits for decades about Page Three models and Playboy centrefolds, but again, the idea that there could be a problem about boundaries was invisible to the debaters on Facebook. They had ingested the conventional wisdom verbatim and lost the ability to think. Feminism’s non-answer, the current conventional wisdom, is emblematic. The feminist answer, if we can discern one through a smokescreen of obfuscation, is that the boundaries move when women change their mind. This is not only a non-answer, it’s a definitive form of injustice
If Ali A. Rizvi was reductive and selective in his condemnation of Peterson, Maryam Namazie was positively malignant. She called Peterson the ‘Custodian of the Patriarchy’ and said: ‘Pushing misogyny and white privilege as “reason”. His wet dream – having a couple of OFred’s whilst living it large in The Handmaid’s Tale (sic). She posted the New York Times hit piece as if the ‘enforced monogamy’ quote, as reported, was true, and called him a charlatan. She linked him to Islamic fundamentalism by claiming that ‘Islamists and Mohammed himself state women are source of fitnah (chaos) in society and Peterson says chaos is associated feminine. Thanks for that Ayatollah Peterson’ (sic).
What are we to make of such intellectual dishonesty? The fact that some people cannot debate the best arguments of their opponents, and have to resort to distortion, selective quotation and caricature to score a point is indicative of the challenge Peterson represents to the status quo. Hegel claimed that certain individuals embody the spirit of the age. They represent the underlying tensions in society, for good or ill. Whatever we make of Hegel’s claim, whether it’s true or just abstract nonsense from the most abstract of philosophers, Peterson is representative of a change in our culture. And the custodians of the status quo view him, correctly, as a danger to their most cherished beliefs. It’s not just that he’s articulating a view different to the conventions of the moment, it’s that he’s presenting evidence that undermines their most sacred assumptions.
Their world collapses if the patriarchy is nonsense and socialism is evil, or if there’s more depth to human beings than science can explain. Or if mythology and religion can tell us something worthwhile about the world.
You can tell the quality of a man by the enemies he makes. Feminists, postmodernists and socialists are unnerved by Jordan Peterson.
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