“Seriously?”: Part One of Critiquing Jordan Peterson’s Politics
Neoconservativism for the Angry Birds Generation
There’s one issue that Jordan Peterson believes should prevent Justin Trudeau from re-election. Is it the fact the Canadian prime minister is putting our species’ survival at risk by fighting for the expansion of the Tar Sands project (and letting the oil companies which are exceeding the paltry pollution limits off the hook)? How he appointed someone to head the Foreign Office who was possibly complicit in the torture of POWs in Afghanistan? If not, could it be because he continues to sell arms to Saudi Arabia even as it obliterates the infrastructure and society of Yemen, in the what the UN has described as, “the world’s worst humanitarian disaster for fifty years”? Or if it’s none of that, perhaps it’s because, as Linda McQuiag points out, Trudeau champions trade agreements which allow “investors [to] bring lawsuits over government policies they don’t like, and their lawsuits will still be decided by special tribunals where they will enjoy stronger legal protections than are available to any other group in domestic or international law”?
Nothing so trivial! No, it’s because Trudeau ensured half his cabinet was female. Because only something like “20 to 25 percent” of MPs were women (it was 26), this showed he “knows nothing about competence,” and it was “an abdication of responsibility of a magnitude we haven’t seen before in Canadian political history”. Those successive leaders who pass the buck, right up until now, when it comes to redeeming the state’s relations with the First Nations count for naught, in Peterson’s reading.
This sort of monomania about egalitarianism pervades his output. So focused on it because — and he’s always eager to tell audiences how much thought he’s given this — it is the foundation of totalitarianism. Forget the evils we can do something about here and now. He’s read Solzhenitsyn brother, and he knows that the pursuit of equality is something far worse. (Never mind that, in the case of Trudeau, a leader committed to neoliberal economics, the ideal is entirely superficial.)
I am repeatedly told by people who admire Peterson how “very smart” he, but here is someone who simultaneously buys into personality politics: thinking the stunt showed Trudeau to be far to the left of Canadian people, even of the “radical left;” while wanting kudos for apparently being the only man in the Great White North who was able to see through the PR bluster, employing the fan favourite: “virtue signalling”. Jordan, he’s either the sincere reincarnation of Lenin, or an opportunistic, media-savvy politician riding a general wave of liberal right-onness. Which is it?1
Does it matter, you might ask. Well yes, unfortunately it does. Because Peterson is increasingly marketing himself as a systematic thinker, and as bizarre as it may seem, is being treated as such. Leading the troop as he fumbles into areas in which he has no expertise, and making connections wherever he treads to his premier fixation.
The lynchpin of his world-view: the supposed return of the “totalitarian,” is an odd one, but it’s not without precedent (see the New Atheists). The concept of totalitarianism, as it is employed by Peterson, was popularised by the unsavoury ‘greats’ of the Neoconservative movement: Jean-François Revel, Jean Kirkpatrick, Norman Podhoretz; and was always set against ‘authoritarianism’. Totalitarian societies, so the rationale went, had a strong dictator, an overbearing military, and a strict imposition of Marxism. While this was much the same in authoritarian ones, honest neocons granted, the despot of the latter camp gave a more or less free hand to international capital, and better yet, instead of being given positions of power, Marxists were systematically rounded up, tortured and shot.
This meant that the United States and western Europe could feel guilt-free when doing business with the military regimes of post-1972 Chile, the Philippines, Pakistan, Indonesia, the Congo, and yes, even Saddam’s Iraq. Indeed, it was obliged to do so should it spell trouble for those naughty totalitarians.
As such: the heinous death of 2,200 Hungarians as a result of the 1953 invasion showed what the Soviets were all about. Arming, training and diplomatically supporting governments which ethnically cleansed small nations (as Indonesia did to East Timor); enacted genocide (Bangladesh in 1971); and others which, in the decade of 1980 alone, murdered 70,000 (El Salvador) and 100,000 (Guatemala); and, of course, waging its own war to prop up the quasi-fascist Catholic regime of South Vietnam, which killed upwards of 3 million, however? These things deserve no comment; and if so, only with the recognition that our lofty, ever-gleaming ideals are so much better than theirs.
In the late USSR, troublesome authors had their manuscripts confiscated and faced jail time, in Batista’s Cuba or the Shah’s Iran they were desapareció or assassinated. Abroad, the Soviets kitted out left-wing forces which brought into law secularisation and female emancipation; their jihadist enemies, which included the House of Saud, and those brave fellows in the Mujahideen, fought for just the opposite…
I can just about hear the shrill chants of “false equivalence” die off in the distance, as the smarter neocons begin to register the realities of blowback. But it won’t be long before they’re back upon me, reminding me of their other intellectual breakthrough. Shouting about how this is a dangerous world, and that, in order to protect the Anglosphere — sorry, Civilisation — compromises are required. Sometimes, in the service of a holy, pseudo-Gibbonian Civilisation, we have to get nasty and align ourselves with some real bastards.
Only now, the big, bad bear to the east is dead. So it isn’t that that is causing Peterson to strain those poor vocal cords. Interestingly, it isn’t even the Muslamic hoards. (Although he no doubt made his frenemy Sam Harris spurt across his handset when he tweeted “Islam already rules the world” as it has become dangerous to criticise it. He forgot to add: incredibly lucrative.) It is the West’s abortive cubs which, pouring forth from the lap, will one day turn on their hapless mother and become Her gravedigger. It’s those unimpressed, always impressionable, ingrates which will prove the supreme danger to the inheritance. And who is leading them astray? The Postmodern Neo-Marxists. It’s always the bloody Postmodern Neo-Marxists.
He criticises these thinkers (which apparently seek to emulate Stalin …This would be funny if he wasn’t taken so very, very seriously) for holding Western society up to the impossible standard of a utopian state. Thus allowing them to obsess over the corruption, inequality and imperial ambitions of the West, all because they imagine a comparative Golden Age where such things could not exist. This he does however, while painting his own future: a bleak one of fifty-odd genders enforced by the decked out Thought Police who spend their downtime spectating former Classical Liberal professors be guillotined. Only this could explain why he spends his time fixated on the inconsequential figures of the so-called social justice warrior Left. (Even his brave stand against that proposed “Orwellian” legislation was a charade. You can read about that here.) Why he planned to build a database of “cultish,” ill-defined culturally Marxist university courses and “corrupt” professors. Why he repeatedly overlooks real calamity and damaging state excess . So much so, he’s willing to stoke a new McCarthyism.
Because the dystopia in his mind is just as potent as the utopia he projects into his adversaries’, and that would certainly affect him in ways the present state cannot.
Of those Western ills he almost always refuses to name them, let alone explore them. Yet something else I’m told by his acolytes, is that Top Lobster bravely rejects the dictates of Political Correctness — or in the increasingly mainstream lingo, he’s politically incorrect. What people mean by this is nebulous, ranging from “why must others stigmatise me for being thoughtlessly and needlessly mean?” to “the prefabricated and conditioned phaseology by which ‘we’ (and it’s always ‘we’ in regular PC talk) express and imbibe the politics of the permissible”. That second definition was provided by Christopher Hitchens and is the best I’ve encountered. At one point, he meant the established precepts that allow military Keynesianism, the illusion of ‘Western’ exceptionalism, and an overbearing, unlawful national security state, to go unchallenged in the mainstream media. Little has changed.
Here again we come to a question of emphasis and priorities. To borrow Orwell’s expression, of all the things it wouldn’t do to mention in our culture, are the ‘racial’ differences in IQ, the downsides of Islam, and the biological foundations of gender really the least permissible? Are those issues really the ones in greatest need of courageous spokespeople — regardless of the inherent validity or otherwise of them — and therefore the most in want of protection? To my mind those matters get a fair amount of coverage, and, thanks to earlier neoconservative efforts, even sympathy for the less ‘progressive’ interpretations of them in the mainstream. How many people, to take an example, are familiar with Herrnstein and Murray’s shady conclusions, compared with the excellent rebuttals provided by Stephen Jay Gould? And when was the last time you heard “religion of peace” pass lips not contorted into a theatrical sneer?
It isn’t just a passion for free speech that leads people like Droner Harris, Douglas Murray and Jordan Peterson to want to have an “honest” debate about a very particular set of issues. In the same way it isn’t solely a love for democracy which has driven neoconservatives into invading the patch of some former client. It becomes clearer as time passes, that these personalities have their own allegiances and highly selective biases, and their claims to simple open-mindedness sound increasingly absurd. To test this: note how mute Peterson has been, and will remain, on the subject of the attack on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement by Canadian law makers and university administrations. [Update: asked for a comment on this, similar free speech injustice, I recieved nothing.]
Old Contradictions, New Tenor
During a symposium on the Israel-Palestine dispute, Peterson was asked to give a speech. (Why?!) After some throat clearing in which he admitted his complete lack of qualification to assess one of the most pertinent conflicts raging today, he decided to lay out the problems as he sees them. In this, a troublesome “ratty,” “Godforsaken,” “dusty” corner of the world.
In his first point, one he returns to, he did exactly what the far-Right across the board wish everyone to do, and that was to conflate Israel with “the Jews”.2 They are not the same, despite the best efforts of those like Arnon Sofer, fighting to make the country an ethnostate. Arabs aren’t the only victims — a designation the psychologist despises — black Africans are being systematically denied asylum. He said,
“Maybe even the enemies of the Jews perversely respect them because they’ve done so well in the Middle East, and it’s just annoying. You don’t want to be thinking success is necessarily going to attract admiration, right? We know from the Cain and Abel story that success can attract murderous resentment, and the desire to destroy.”
Yes, I’m sure that throughout history, those residues of ethnic cleansing scattered around the globe were moved most of all by the annoyance of witnessing their self-appointed replacements doing so well. Their sense of victimhood had nothing to do with the inherent moral outrage and pain one experiences seeing loved ones put to the sword, and then being banished from an ancestral home. It’s first and foremost envy, followed up by resentment. What a vulgar reading of people (or of Man). And how telling.
(As Gore Vidal recognised of those thoroughly unserious figures of literary criticism, the type who take themselves all too seriously, “envy is the only credible emotion”. Inculcate someone in an environment of superficiality and oneupmanship, held together with myths of superiority and alternative barbarisms, and should it be a surprise when they turn out to be suspicious most of all of ‘do-gooders’? Boats this leaky can’t afford to be rocked. Sigh, but more on neoliberalism later.)
It’s odd that someone who is so obsessed by the supposedly simplistic conceptions put out by the supposedly uniform Postmodern Neo-Marxists, is habitually resorting to morals of Old Testament tales. If I was to allow myself to be as reductionist as he often is: why is Peterson propagating a rancid conception of the human animal, one that will only reinforce the cynicism and paranoia of a fan base already prone to seeing every show of solidarity as virtue-signalling, and imagining a hemisphere being corrupted — and it’s always that word — by a conspiracy of academics?
With all that, Peterson nevertheless states this a moment later: Israel is in part a “shining beacon on the hill … thriving in the midst of this Third World chaos”. He clarifies, it’s a “peaceful, honest and law-abiding state,” being as it is, on side with “the West”. Now the Jewish state isn’t that at all, it’s a beacon of democracy and pluralism. Are you keeping up? For those claiming there’s something new about Peterson, these slips into dithering Reaganite territory ought to set them straight. Because there’s nothing original about these conflicting talking points; not when the Finger Painter-In-Chief regurgitated them and certainly not now.
When it does come to explaining the injustices present in our societies, he responds with, well, what do you expect from bipedal fleshy lobsters, competing in the grand game of Evolution?
There’s a tyrannical element in every culture, something-something The Lion King, so bloody grow up and deal with it already! But, for example when he talks about Sykes and Picot, Western policy makers are imagined as essentially benevolent — good, civilised guys “making the best with a bad lot”. They were not representatives of imperial hierarchies seeking to maintain and extend dominance like any competent homo crustacean would, they were simply well meaning blokes who, by a complete fluke of history, had the burden of the Arab and Jewish Questions foisted upon them.
Peterson is again, to use another tiring cliché he is fond of, having his cake and eating it too. (He claims to admire Orwell yet seems oblivious to Politics and the English Language.) It’s inescapable power play at home; tacit acceptance of, ahem, exploitative faux-virtuous rhetoric in matters foreign. In this case, Britain and France’s claims to civilising the Orient.
This allowing, as it does, Westerners to moralise about the Third World’s campaign of spurning those attempts to bomb it into the *almost* Nuclear Age, it’s no great shock that many of those who take Peterson seriously also subscribe to the New Atheist school of foreign policy. A project which has nothing to do with combating untenable belief.
Towards the end of that particular speech, and as the verbal ticks became harder to contain, we got, “we’re one execution from utopia. That’s the vision of the Left”. The warnings to those irritating protestors about the foolishness that can result from judging entire groups is here helpfully demonstrated. Could Peterson name a single influential, contemporary leftist who claims anything even approximating that? I know of none. But perhaps one of those cowardly, snowflake opponents who refuse to debate him, and whose communications his staff have the bad luck of repeatedly overlooking, really do?
Part Two to follow… right now
1 Coincidentally, this tendency of conservatives to oscillate between seeing leftist “ideologues” as true believers and power-mad cynics — practically in the same breath — is something Žižek has spoken about. An engagement between the two (which looks to be on the cards following Peterson’s badgering of a Twitter quote account) would be interesting. Though I suspect since actually reading Žižek’s work and reassessing previous debates, Peterson is beginning to reconsider his hubris.
2 Please note that I am not calling Peterson far-Right, I’m saying he’s fallen into a linguistic trap routinely set by extreme rightists. Sadly clarifications like this are needed.