My morning is made. I have read a review of Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos in the Johannesburg Review of Booksthat savages it appropriately. I chortled through the whole dang thing. Cheered me right up, it did.
And what sort of intellectual does the Idiocracene usher forth? The kind that writes a self-help book for assholes, basically. 12 Rules for Life is a Gladwellian shotgun blast of childhood anecdotes, Bowdlerized mythology, common sense behavioural techniques, grossly undercooked philosophical concepts (Heidegger’s ideas get a proper reaming here), along with a soupçon of mystical Christianity, a dash of Eastern religious-type stuff—oh, and emoticons. (¯\_(ツ)_/¯) It’s all ready-made for the Trump era, where resentment of ‘postmodern’ campus lefties and their intersectional, Black Lives Matter, materialist tendencies have become fodder for prime-time alt-right outrage.
Every paragraph is a wonderful shellacking.
How did Peterson become such an effective Iron John bromide machine? He is a clinical psychologist, a professor of psychology, and a renaissance-style polymath, which in his case means cinching seven or eight basket-weaving disciplines together into one spectacular black hole of knowledge, a negation of the very principles of rigorous scholarship. Peterson appears to have read widely, which is to say: not deeply. Many academic bullshit merchants have done queasy work jamming thinly understood Big Concepts into stocking-stuffer books, but never have they tried to force Charles Darwin, Carl Jung, Jesus Christ, Goethe, Dante, Erich Neumann, Yeats, and literally hundreds of others into a fucking Huffington Post listicle.
Maybe I ought to just quote the whole thing?
Peterson, it should now be clear, is a crank of drunk uncle proportions. But he is also the ‘the most influential public intellectual in the Western world right now’, which should not be mistaken for an exaggeration. It’s all caved in on itself, the Western world and its various satellites, in their various stages of orbit decay or escape velocity—we’re all Walter Benjamin’s ‘Angelus Novelus’, gazing at the detritus of history, blown back to the future by the force of the mess. And there’s Jordan Peterson, waiting for us with his rulebook, reminding us to eat a decent breakfast, to pull our flies up, and to refuse futzing with pronouns to accommodate the transgendered.
Nah, I’ll stop there. Go read the whole thing.
Why, you might be wondering, am I so pleased with such a brutal takedown? I’ll tell you. It’s because I made two YouTube videos, Jordan Peterson and the Lobster and PZ Replies to the Lobsterians, which means I am now inundated with comments and email from Very Serious Fanbois, and also more than a few Very Hateful Fanbois, all trying to set me straight. They sound similar to the Cultural Marxism Haters, who also send me similarly clueless tirades. They like to read my mind and tell me how they understand biology so much better than I do, thanks to Peterson’s instruction. It’s utterly nuts.
Here’s a recent example.
Peterson’s point is that through the process of sexual selection we have evolved to climb social hierarchies. The male that rises to the top has more offspring. But I guess sexual selection isn’t a thing in biology anymore. Females don’t select for the most powerful male they can get, they don’t want guys at the top of the social ladder, they prefer the stressed out poverty stricken guys at the bottom instead. Gender is a social construct now anyway, so I guess that explains why PZ Myers doesn’t “believe” in sexual selection. Maybe old PZ’s can explain why dominance hierarchies exist across species, cultures, and throughout time if they have no basis in biology?
They all have this caricature of how males acquire mates — it’s by dominating them, don’t you know — and they love to cite “sexual selection” as a singular force with a singular direction that every biologist ought to bow down before and acknowledge.
Here’s my reply to that guy.
No. That is Peterson’s CLAIM. It is unsupported by the evidence.
Of course biologists accept sexual selection: females choose mates, & vice versa.But it’s far more complex than you imagine. Define “powerful”: is it the guy who can beat up other guys, or the guy who gathers the most food, or the guy who is most helpful with children, the guy who can help her achieve her professional goals, etc.? There are multiple criteria for mate selection. You and Peterson WANT it to be a certain narrow type of behavior that is often the antithesis of what a woman might desire.
It’s not that they prefer stressed out poverty stricken guys — it’s that most people want a cooperative peer who can respect and understand their situation, the better to assist them in living the life they have. Many of us chose our partners because we like them, because we live and work together well, not because we dominate or are dominated by them.
I am so sorry you have fallen for these Peterson lies. They are a recipe for a miserable life.
So he insists on telling me again what Peterson’s point is, as if it wasn’t all laid out in its simplistic glory, and tells me I shouldn’t be reading 12 Rules for Life, I need to read his other works to savor the full force of his obscurantism.
Peterson’s point is that through the process of sexual selection we have evolved to climb hierarchies and that’s partly why they keep showing up everywhere. He’s saying that the ‘patriarchy’ is not some huge conspiracy, and that hierarchies have been around longer than humans. Males further up the hierarchy are more attractive to females. But I guess in a world where gender is a social construct this is taboo. His 12 rules for life book is an extremely cut-down and simplified version of what he’s saying, it is not intended for an academic level of analysis – his papers are. Attacking him at an academic level based on his ‘childrens’ book is like a creationist attacking biologists based on a grade 1 science book – you of all people can do better than that (and as a skeptic who’s been listening to you for years I really wish you would). If you actually want to make a meaningful contribution to the discussion (and I for one hope you do) you’d have to first dig a little deeper. Maybe you could even have an actual discussion with him, I’m pretty sure millions of people would listen to it.
Again, I replied.
I know what Peterson’s point is. You keep telling me. But it’s obvious. And it’s wrong. The hierarchy is a social construct! Try hard enough, and you can imagine them everywhere, exactly as you’re doing.
And oh, god, don’t tell me to read his academic work. I looked some of it up. I started his Maps of Meaning book. They’re WORSE. They are impenetrable gobbledygook. You think they’re brilliant because they’re so difficult, but the reason they’re so difficult is that they’re garbage.
Now I’m getting these comments outraged that I said “The hierarchy is a social construct!”, because they translate “social construct” into “imaginary, nonexistent” thanks to all the repetition of that theme in their cohort, and are trying to convince that dominance hierarchies really do exist, as if I was saying otherwise.
This is a pseudo-intellectual movement led by an ignorant guru that I would like to see collapse under the weight of its inanity, but I know from experience that that won’t happen. People still think Deepak Chopra has something to say, and they’ll be revering Peterson for decades to come, in exactly the same way.