“A Glitch in the Matrix” — Jordan Peterson, the Intellectual Dark Web & the Mainstream Media
Today I’m publishing my new documentary, “A Glitch in the Matrix” — Jordan Peterson, the Intellectual Dark Web & the Mainstream Media. It’s about the relationship between truth and reality, the ideological blind spots of the mainstream media and the existential threat of polarisation — all seen through the lens of Jordan Peterson’s recent viral interview with Cathy Newman on Channel 4 News.
I have a fairly unique perspective on the clash as I have worked at Channel 4 News (and its offshoot More 4 News) since 2006 as reporter and producer, and also made the first full documentary on Jordan Peterson — “Truth in the Time of Chaos” — released just over a month ago.
I also attempted to liaise between Jordan Peterson and Channel 4 News in the bad tempered aftermath of the interview.
I believe this interview resonated so much (over 7 million views at the time of writing, with hundreds of online analyses and responses) because it’s a cultural watershed moment, and in my documentary I try to unpack all the deeper levels of why that is — from the political all the way down to the psychological and archetypal.
This blog post accompanies the film, where I try to explain why I’m making it — and why I think the issues it covers are so important, timely and essential for the broadcast media establishment to understand and integrate — if they are not to speed their way to obsolescence. It is meant to add to, not replace watching the documentary.
I still have good friends at Channel 4 News and a huge amount of respect for the programme, so this post is also an attempt to contextualise and explain to them why I’m publishing this film, and why I’m risking the charge of disloyalty to do so.
It feels uncomfortable to publicly comment on a programme that has given me so many opportunities and support, but — to paraphrase Jordan Peterson — there are consequences to speaking out, but there are also consequences to not doing so — and if the thesis I put forward in the documentary is correct, then the consequences for us not moving through the levels of polarisation and miscommunication we are currently experiencing — and were glaringly obvious in the interaction with Cathy Newman — could be fatal.
I also believe that the perspective I’m putting forward in the documentary is essential for the wider broadcast media to assimilate — too many organisations are operating with a set of ideological filters that are increasingly out of step with the world as it is — and this is an existential threat to the broadcast media itself as the digital shift continues and the opinion formers of the future vote with their eyes and desert them.
The new documentary is influenced by the thought of the psychologist Carl Jung, as is Jordan Peterson, and particularly his concept of the shadow — those things about ourselves we repress or deny. In fact I believe that what we are seeing right now in culture and politics is the eruption of, and the necessity to integrate, that shadow on a vast cultural level — and if we can’t own our own tendencies to anger, reactivity, judgementalism and so on — particularly ‘liberals’ who cloak their shadow in an ideology of ‘inclusivity and tolerance’ — then we won’t survive.
Another of Carl Jung’s concepts was that of synchronicity, how meaningful coincidences that have no causal relationship are related on a deeper level. This was actually the subject of much of my interview with Jordan Peterson in Toronto — we talked a lot about how when you are ‘aligned with yourself’ (having integrated the shadow, for example) — that things start to line up. So it was ironic (synchronistic) to say the least that of all the places that he could have had the interview that went viral — it happened to be Channel 4 News, the programme I worked on for ten years — and I am, as far as I know, the first person to make a documentary about him.
So the task then was to work out what I should do about this. My first thought — especially in the aftermath when C4N and Cathy felt under attack, and Jordan seemed to be feeling that this was part of a media conspiracy by C4N to spin the aftermath as ‘journalist under attack from alt-right troll army’ — was to try to connect them up privately so Cathy could explain what was going on in reality, and they could have a conversation out of the public spotlight.
Without revealing the content of private messages, Jordan was keen to do this, Cathy and Channel 4 News were not.
Intellectual Dark Web
The documentary also looks at the emergence of a new group of thinkers, their prominence made possible by the internet, that have been dubbed the “intellectual dark web” by internet discussion show host Dave Rubin.
The clash between Cathy Newman and Jordan Peterson was not only a clash between two worldviews, it was a conflict between new and old media, and in particular a clash between the assumptions of the mainstream media and the new emerging and evolving perspective of the intellectual dark web and their growing band of followers.
“The mainstream media is based on an old dying model that is being replaced by new media and new technology so quickly that its faults are becoming glaringly obvious. Fortunately thanks to YouTube, podcasting … the mainstream media’s stranglehold on information which really is a stranglehold on your ability to think clearly about the issues of the day is crumbling at an incredible rate. Now the question is who and what will replace it. A few months ago Eric Weinstein came up with the phrase intellectual dark web to describe this eclectic mix of people from Sam Harris to Ben Shapiro to his brother Bret Weinstein, Jordan Peterson — all of whom are figuring out ways to have the important and often dangerous conversations that are completely ignored by the mainstream.” Dave Rubin: What is the intellectual dark web?
One theme that nearly all these thinkers have in common is a conviction that the chaos of the times is because the structures that have run western society for decades are breaking down — and this is a reflection of a deeper ideological — even spiritual crisis.
They also understand that we are facing existential threats due to the way we interpret the world — the way the human mind rarely deals with reality as it is, and instead relies on oversimplifications and abstraction — which can lead us into catastrophic error when the world changes and our assumptions and beliefs don’t.
And that the evolutionary traits that are hard wired into us — in particular our tribalism — in the age of social media, nuclear power and exponential technology, is more likely to lead to us exterminating ourselves than surviving.
“We’re now on too crowded of a planet and the toys we’ve been able to produce from science are too powerful. Evolution gets you here and it almost certainly will end in a self-extinguishing event if you keep playing the evolutionary game — and there is no thought and there is no proof that there is a way to use evolutionary building blocks to avoid the fate of having unlocked the twin nuclei of cell and atom, they’re just too powerful as tools.” Eric Weinstein — Rubin Report
They all recognise that we have created an ultra fragile world — and that the tools we have built are too dangerous. Particularly social media’s tendency to create filter bubbles around us means that polarisation is increasing to the point where we’re likely to act it out.
And they argue that it’s now essential to have much deeper conversations than we are used to if we are to get through the next few years.
“I think the reason that this is a tumultous time is that it is a time for discussion of first principles — and first principles are virtually at the level of theology — because they are the things that you assume and then move forward, so what should we assume?” — Jordan Peterson, The Rubin Report
Even when I interviewed Jordan Peterson in October, I was sure that he was soon to be much more famous — the core message of his thought is so aligned with the times — as I described in my blog posting about him in June last year — “Insisting on the Truth in Times of Chaos”.
In fact my first question to him was about whether he was ready for his meteoric rise to continue. He was on an exponential curve even before the interview with Cathy Newman, but this clash fed into it and became the moment of mainstream crossover.
Channel 4 News is one of the most accomplished news programmes in the UK — regularly winning sackfuls of awards, including an unprecedented two international Emmy awards in a row — which is given to only one TV programme in the world each year.
It was clear to me in the immediate aftermath of the interview that this was a slow motion car crash for Channel 4 News’s credibility, and career defining for Cathy Newman, unless they took charge of it and organised a second interview where they could have a proper exchange of ideas.
The cutting edge of thought has moved online, away from the broadcast media and towards the much longer interviews conducted by the likes of Joe Rogan, Dave Rubin, Sam Harris and others. The fact that this interview would now be up forever — and as Peterson’s meteoric rise continues (and will continue) — was an ongoing demonstration of the inadequacy of broadcast media to understand and adapt to the times.
I can fully understand the perspective within C4N — the last thing you want as a news organisation is to become the story — and you just want it to go away, especially if you feel that there is a level of animosity directed as your colleagues. But if you do find yourselves in the middle of the story, I believe it’s essential as a journalist to try to find out what happened and why, and not to do sois something of a dereliction of duty.
My documentary is an attempt to do that — and to explain how this clash was a product of exactly the same ideological blinkers that meant the mainstream media failed to predict Trump and Brexit, and even helped create the conditions for them to happen.
It’s an attempt to follow the thread of truth and see where it leads, no matter how difficult or challenging it is.
Peterson’s entire body of work is about how people see the world differently, and that communication between the two sides is essential if we are to avoid conflict.
“A lot of what determines your political orientation is biological temperament far more than people realize. Liberals are high in a trait called openness — which is one of the big five personality traits — and it’s associated with interest in abstraction, interest in aesthetics. It’s the best predictor of liberal political leanings and their low in conscientiousness which is dutifulness and orderliness in particular whereas the Conservatives are the opposite. They’re high in conscientiousness — dutiful and orderly — and they’re low in openness and that makes them really good managers and administers — but not very good entrepreneurs because they entrepreneurs are almost all drawn from the liberal types.
And so these are really fundamental fundamentally biologically predicated differences and you might think about them as different sets of opportunities and limitations and certainly different ways of screening the world, and each of those different temperamental types needs the other type. Let’s call this a diversity issue. If you start understanding that the person that you’re talking to doesn’t share your political views — it isn’t because they’re stupid.
People actually do see the world differently. It’s not merely that they that they are possessed of ill-informed opinions. The whole point of a democracy is to continue the dialogue between people of different temperamental types so that we don’t move so far to the right that everything becomes encapsulated in stone and doesn’t move or so far to the left and everything dissolves in a kind of mealy mouthed chaos and the only way that you can you can navigate between those two shoals is by is through discussion which is why free speech is such an important value. It’s the thing that keeps the temperamental types from being at each other’s throats.” — Jordan Peterson
The difference in attitude between the new and old media can also be seen in the clips used in the documentary. Channel 4 News retain copyright of their material — uploading a film with a clip from the interview is automatically and immediately flagged with a copyright violation. However, the clips I’ve used from the Rubin Report, the Joe Rogan Show and others are not flagged.
These new online players understand that people making clips from their content is a good thing as it gets their ideas out there — they are operating from an abundance mindset while the mainstream media are largely operating from a scarcity mindset.
I also hope that this documentary might help contribute to an open discussion about the kind of ideas raised by the likes of Jordan Peterson — which I believe can happen in the UK more easily than anywhere else. As Bret Weinstein says about the media landscape in the US: “When you plug our economic system into certain things like journalism — truth seeking cannot withstand direct contact with market forces. When you do that you generate artificially feeble truth seeking mechanisms and it eventually invades them all. So it’s very easy to beat the mainstream media in terms of analysis.”
But the UK broadcast media doesn’t have the same dynamics as the US around money. The far sighted people who set up the BBC in the 1920s recognised the immense power of broadcast media and created an organisation that was at arms length from direct political control — and we also have a media regulator — Ofcom — with real power to rule on bias — completely differently from the US.
What we have instead in the UK — as I describe in the film — is a kind of liberal groupthink that acts in a similar way, but is more subtle and hopefully easier to shift than the financial imperatives of the US media.
The UK has also not been split and polarised by the culture wars as deeply as the US — we have historically had a talent for synthesis, while the US does polarisation. I remain hopeful that the discussion that cannot be had in the US, can be had here in the UK.
Let’s hope so — because our future may depend on it.