Wait, what? Jordan Peterson says he’s an evolutionary biologist!


Hard to believe, but he actually makes that specific assertion.

Uh, no, he’s not. He could not get a job as a biologist, let alone in a narrower field like evolutionary biology.

I haven’t listened to the rest of the interview — I was just informed that he made this claim at about the 12 minute mark, confirmed that it was actually said, and closed the window. He is either delusional or dishonest, and not worth listening to further.


I felt compelled to complain about his dishonest misrepresentation while strolling through a park.

Comments

  1. says

    Of course he never said that. You’re missing the context. You say yourself you didn’t listen to al of it, so how can you know? What he clearly meant was that evolutionary biologists agree with him.

    How’s my JP fanboi impersonation going?

  2. says

    You’re scarily good at it, except I think the JP fanbois would also be insisting that Peterson is a better evolutionary biologist than mere biologists.

  3. jazzlet says

    I finally listened to an eight minute or so snippet of Peterson, which appeared to be him giving a lecture to a small class of students. I would have hated to have him as a lecturer, he was rambling, didn’t appear to have any particular points to make, but worst of all he was addressing each section of what he was saying to different individual students most of whom were female, not to the whole class. Distinctly creepy.

  4. Rob Grigjanis says

    He’s an evolutionary biologist in the same sense that Richard Carrier is a theoretical physicist; no doubt he has insights that mere trained biologists have somehow missed over the last 100 years or so.

  5. lumipuna says

    I just remembered something my psych 101 teacher long ago said, making snarky references to this supposedly common stereotype that psychologists are good at manipulating people.

    Maybe there’s something to it?

  6. jazzlet says

    lumipuna
    The way he was paying intense attention to each of the female students in turn, speaking only to them at that moment, giving only them the benefit of his insight, was certainly manipulative.

  7. Jack-booted Verbalist says

    My daughter and her partner love this man. Love him.
    I actually observe her being less kind and patient with people, since they’ve become fans. It worries and surprises me.

  8. optifix says

    Another gem a few minutes later:

    Is it a truism of evolutionary biology that what we learn from lobsters can be applied to humans?
    Some of it is because the neurochemical structures are very, very similar-
    Now I’m no expert-
    Yeah, but I am.

  9. KG says

    optifix@10,

    I’m no expert, but I think the neurochemical structures of hyenas are more similar to those of humans than are those of lobsters. Among hyenas, females are dominant over males. So, Jordan, shut up and make the nearest woman a sammich.

  10. says

    I’m an evolutionary biologist, by the way, not a political philosopher, so my timescale is thousands of years, not hundreds of years.

    Wow. First, he’s definitely a political philosopher. He’s a very, very bad one, but he philosophizes about social order and which social orders are better than others, and he gets paid thousands of dollars per month via Patreon to do it. Denying that he’s a political philosopher is just stupid on his part – though that’s not a huge surprise.

    Second, he’s definitely not an evolutionary biologist. Whatever he gets paid for on his Patreon account, it’s sure as hell not using synapomorphies or population genetics to establish evolutionary relationships.

    Third, what the fuck has hundreds of years vs thousands of years got to do with whether one is an evolutionary biologist? Lenski’s been doing serious evolutionary biology on the timescale of decades, studying the response of moth coloration in English populations over the course of industrialization and later implementation of clean air laws is a study over a couple centuries, while a recent article I read over at ScienceMag.com was about a study of cichlid evolution on the timescale of millennia, and another study examined the evolutionary relationships between the ediacaran biota and the Stage 3 Cambrian animal Stromatoveris psygmoglena, a relationship which must span at least 25 million years, if it can be confirmed to exist.

    “Thousands” of years is no more a characteristic perspective of evolutionary biology than tens or hundreds or millions would be. All those perspectives are important to evolutionary biology. Even if individual biologists might be more interested in one of these than the others, that choice of perspective doesn’t make one more genuinely an evolutionary biologist.

    Fourth, what the fuck does thousands of years versus hundreds of years have to do with political philosophy? While studying different organisms allows a biologist to work with minimum timescales of hours, studying political philosophy, I have had drilled into me, requires a minimum perspective of a human generation. If you’re working with less, analyzing individual policy decisions or legislative processes and not connecting them to an ongoing fabric of social organization, you’re doing what we call political science not political philosophy. So, you’re dealing with a minimum useful measure of a couple of decades, but does that mean that political philosophy is a discipline that never looks back as far as a thousand years?

    Pfft. Hardly.

    Lord, as much as I gave short shrift to Kierkegaard, Nietzsche & Kant, I would have been pilloried if I had asserted that the reason I didn’t have to address them wasn’t because I was addressing specific questions on which they were largely silent but because, geez, weren’t they old already? But okay, they’re only relevant on the timescale of hundreds of years, not thousands. Except their works reached back thousands of years, as did those of Hobbes, as did those of Aquinas, as did those of Marx. (And Machiavelli claimed to do the same, though to my reading he seems more to assume his theorizing is timeless than to examine social contexts across time to establish his theories.) But what about the political philosophers whose work does not just consider thousands of years, but actually was written thousands of years ago. Can’t we dismiss them?

    Sure. Just try asserting to a political philosopher that no one should read Plato anymore because he wrote thousands of years ago, not hundreds.

    My goodness, it’s almost as if he is utterly ignorant of the foundations of political philosophy despite raking in the internet monies for flapping his gums about political philosophy!

    Which all leads me to, fifth, a personal conclusion:
    Jordan Peterson, you wouldn’t recognize the difference between a century and a millennium if it bit you right on the epoch.

  11. petesh says

    @13, Dr. CD: Sitting ovation! (Only because I have trouble typing standing up.) Socrates would have recognized this guy — there have always been plenty of that ilk — and chewed him up and expectorated. He had a method, dontcha know. And, unlike JP, he was smarter than the average bear.

  12. mailliw says

    I think Sascha Baron Cohen’s Canadian psychologist persona is his most brilliant comic invention ever.

  13. gijoel says

    But he’s so serious. Look at him, he looks like a depressed beagle left in the rain. We should trust him because he looks so serious. A man like that wouldn’t give a creepy smile. Oh, wait.

  14. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

     
    Video: Jordan Peterson’s Most Pseudoscientific Claim Ever (11:22)

    The Cosmic Serpent is where Peterson’s claim definitely comes from. In the book, an anthropologist travels to Peru, does ayahuasca with the natives, and proposes the idea that thousands of years ago, they took hallucinogenic drugs to tap into an innate knowledge of DNA seated deep within their brains.
    […]
    Jordan Peterson proposes that […] in order to explain the common appearance of snakes forming helical structures in ancient art. Meanwhile in reality, […] humans on every continent but Antarctica have witnessed snakes mating.

  15. says

    Peterson’s timescale comment sounds a lot like the classic “ancient truths” defense of woo, that the so and so’s have been rubbing cat poop on their feet for thousands of years to treat sore feet so it must work. I had a Peterson fan use that argument to defend his statements that implied men are rational and women chaotic, that since people have believed that forever it must be true. But as we all know lots of what people have believed for thousands of years is nonsense.

  16. chrislawson says

    Anyone care to see Jordan Petersen back up his claim of expertise as an evolutionary biologist by, say, calculating a Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium or working out a molecular clock rate, or even defining a few basic concepts like horizontal gene transfer or genetic drift?

  17. Rich Woods says

    @chrislawson #21:

    Given everything else he’s spouted off about, I doubt his ability to spell DNA correctly.

  18. leerudolph says

    @19: “his statements that implied men are rational and women chaotic”. Mars implies; Venus infers.

  19. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    Does anyone have a canonical list of all the things Jordan Peterson has claimed to be?

    Hardly. I wish someone would cannonize him, but…

  20. =8)-DX says

    I kept hearing and reading it wrong. Surely he meant to say “I’m an evolutionary psychologist”. I mean he isn’t one of those either, but at least him publicly admitting his nonsense theories are drawn from a field rife with pseudoscience and quackery would make sense.

    =8)-DX

  21. John Morales says

    =8)-DX, I concur.

    (It’s charitable, as well as being very plausible, especially since he was speaking extemporaneously)

  22. lotharloo says

    Probably he meant “evolutionary psychologist”. It is still stupid and wrong but at least somewhat understandable why he thinks of himself that way.

  23. says

    I have never been so confused about my field of study that when questioned, I get flummoxed and state that I am a “developmental physicist.” He is also quite calm and deliberate in his statement. Don’t you know you have to look at the context?

    There’s being charitable and there’s giving him far too much credit.

  24. says

    What are his publications in evolutionary biology (or evolutionary psychology for that matter)? By the way, how does one become an evolutionary psychologist, get a psychology degree and start putting ‘evolutionary’ in front of it? Has Jordan Peterson ever done any work in population genetics to try to look at evidence of selection on particular cognitive traits?

    Apparently evolutionary psychology consists of being able to conjecture an adaptationist just-so story for a particular cultural or social phenomenon in the complete absense of comparative genetic or phylogenetic evidence.

  25. says

    His particular speciality appears to lie at the border of personality testing and organizational psychology. All his consulting work before this recent pop-intellectual turn, for instance, is about using a personality questionnaire he developed in order to assess job candidates and help businesses narrow down the field of prospectives.

    It’s not even a particularly novel field of research, but it is a legitimate one: if your organization has its own culture and you’re hiring important positions with a lot of power (or a large number of entry level positions which collectively could have a large effect on your organization and its culture) from external candidates where fit into the culture is not yet known, some form of personality testing can be useful. IIRC he calls his personality assessment The Big Five™. I assume because he boils down the test results to performance on 5 axes which he feels best predict success in something or other.

    To put it mildly, that is not evolutionary psychology. Attribute testing in psychology is one thing, and generally is used in a large numbers of the subdisciplines. How and when it is applied tells you more about the subdiscipline to which a researcher belongs, and he’s squarely in the organizational psychology subdiscipline on that one. The only reason that I say that he’s at the boundary of organizational psych is that he has a history of going off on wild tangents.

    In one of the court cases on which he was a consulting expert witness, the defense wanted him to testify how people with certain scores on Peterson’s The Big Five test were more likely to give false confessions. Peterson hadn’t studied false confessions and had done literally zero research work on whether his The Big Five results correlated with likelihood to confess, much less likelihood to falsely confess. The court prohibited his testimony, and issued an atypically scathing commentary in doing so about Peterson’s problematic incompetence at determining the limits of his expert knowledge. They even suggested that, if he were to testify on anything in which he was, in fact, expert, that he semi-script his answers because in the hearing to determine whether he could be an expert witness (he was challenged by the prosecution specifically because he didn’t know anything about confessions) he gave long rambling answers that were frequently non-responsive to the questions and even totally off topic and irrelevant to the hearing. I’ve never read the testimony from that hearing (which I presume is public) because that sort of thing doesn’t end up in online databases the way that the actual decisions of the court do, but it’s incredibly normal for nervous people to go off on tangents in court because most people are nervous and that’s one of the common reactions to the unfamiliar and anxiety-provoking environment. For Peterson to be called out by both the trial court AND the appeals court (when the defense appealed the decision disallowing Peterson’s intended testimony on false confessions) AND for the appeals court to suggest scripting answers which is a HUGE no-no because while you’re writing the script for the answer you’re not under oath, Peterson had to be seriously non-responsive and long-winded and off-topic. Imagine him talking about the DNA helix and Chinese art when asked about a particular person’s The Big Five test results and you’re in the ballpark of how off-topic the courts thought his testimony would be.

    This is all to say, Peterson has a subdiscipline, and it’s not evolutionary psychology. But he also has a documented history of asserting that he has expertise where he plainly doesn’t and FURTHER has a history in being unable to control his motor mouth.

    So, sure, thinking that he meant to say “evolutionary psychologist” is the generous interpretation, but based on his history of asserting expertise outside his (sub-)field that has been documented by the Canadian court system all the way up to the level directly underneath the Supreme Court of Canada, the reasonable interpretation was that he really was asserting expertise outside his actual area of expertise.

  26. Saganite, a haunter of demons says

    Is there a sort of “stolen valor”-thing for evolutionary biology? Because he totally tried to steal that valor or whatever.

  27. says

    I remember the days I spent in the corps. I got called up at 19 when I was in college. They sent me off to camp, trained me, then sent me to spend day after day in the trenches. There we were, rock chips literally flying through the air right next to our heads. In the morning you’d eat cold beans and drink bitter, lukewarm coffee. During the day you’d be so cramped up, getting down low to the rocks, you thought you’d never feel your legs again. Then you’d have to jump up and hump 70 pounds over a hill at a moment’s notice before diving right back into the trenches again. And the sights! I still have nightmares. We all saw things that challenged our very sanity.

    I don’t think I would have been friends with any of the others – I don’t think I would have met any of the others – if it hadn’t been for those months together. And, of course, we’ll never forget our dead friends: Opabinia, Hallucigenia, and Wiwaxia: you will be forever remembered.

    So raise a glass to absent friends and present common derived characters. Our time in the evolutionary biology corps has made us – one and all – better educated than any of us could have managed alone.

  28. zenlike says

    30 plus years.

    30 plus years this guy is studying, working in, and teaching in a specific scientific field.

    And we are supposed to believe that he just accidentally blurts out a different scientific field.

    Just like that.

    OK. Tell me how this makes it better? Tell me why would should pay any attention to such an easily confused and obvious imbecile?

  29. blf says

    Tell me why would should pay any attention to such an easily confused and obvious imbecile?

    You need a new desk. Or head. Possibly both.

  30. KG says

    IIRC he calls his personality assessment The Big Five™. I assume because he boils down the test results to performance on 5 axes which he feels best predict success in something or other. – Crip Dyke@34

    The “Big Five” are fairly standard in personality testing, not an invention of Peterson, but I assume he has produced his own test. AFAIK, tests for them are fairly reliable (i.e., people get similar results on re-testing), but their validity (what they actually tell you about how people will behave) is still questionable. Oddly, Peterson is also a fan of the woo-peddler and Nazi sympathiser Jung – not a common combination with personality testing these days I would think, although Jung did talk about at least one of the “Big Five”, extroversion/introversion.

  31. Kenny says

    You are being foolish : Jordan Peterson is an evolutionary psychologist.
    He just misspoke and it didn’t get noticed.

    To pretend that he’s lying just reveals your dishonesty.

  32. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    To pretend that he’s lying just reveals your dishonesty.

    What about your fanboi dishonesty, as he isn’t an evolutionary psychologist either? Calling himself anything doesn’t make him one. Evidence is needed.

  33. says

    Peterson sure seems to misspeak a lot. Perhaps he should consult his physician to make sure it’s not a symptom of some health problem.

  34. says

    @Kenny:

    Read my comment @ #13.

    Even if he misspoke that one word – substituting biologist for psychologist – that doesn’t explain how he gets the ridiculous idea that political philosophy is a discipline with a frame of reference of “hundreds of years” that contrasts with the frame of reference of “thousands of years” for evolutionary psychology.

    We know he’s spouting bullshit (although it’s possible he’s too ignorant to be knowingly spouting bullshit, hence it’s possible he’s not lying) because he’s asserting a causal connection between temporal frame of reference and two specific disciplines. Evolutionary psychology has a minimum frame of reference of a couple human generations – tens of years, not thousands. It has a maximum frame of reference of billions of years, not thousands. Political philosophy has a minimum frame of reference of a couple human generations and a maximum frame of reference at least as old as homo sapiens, and possibly a bit older than that. That’s well into the tens of thousands of years and getting into the hundreds of thousands. Philosophical hypotheses about social organization so long ago depends on contemporary observations of hunter-gather societies, and its rare and certainly less reliable than hypotheses about historical societies (i.e. societies that left written records, in this case probably detailing acts of governance, social organization, details of governmental structures, etc.), but there are social philosophers who grapple with important questions about the purpose of the organizational structures we observe in hunter gatherer and early agrarian societies.

    So we know for a fact that thinking back as far as hundreds of years vs. thinking back as far as thousands of years has nothing at all to do with whether you’re a political philosopher or an evolutionary biologist or an evolutionary psychologist.

    His entire thought process shows profound ignorance on the facts underlying the point he’s attempting to assert – that his point of view of “thousands” rather than “hundreds” of years is dependent upon not being a political philosopher and is properly determined by his being an evolutionary whatever.

    If he knew anything about evolution, he’d know that evolution doesn’t demand that study of it work from timescales of thousands of years. If he knew anything about political philosophy as an academic discipline (rather than simply as the hobby of philosophizing about politics), he’d know that political philosophy doesn’t limit its investigations to timescales less than a millennium.

    His statement is a stupid statement, and swapping out one word doesn’t change that.

    But even if it did change that in this particular instance, Peterson is so relentlessly wrong about so many things that if he can’t even get the name of his own specific area of study correct, why should we seriously consider anything at all that comes out of his mouth?

    We already know that this is a man with a track record of asserting expertise far beyond his actual specialized knowledge. We already know that swapping out one word clearly leaves his full statement as completely full of ignorant bullshit as before. Showing up to defend him as too clumsy to remember he’s a psychologist isn’t going to help him.

  35. blf says

    The thread lotharloo@40 linked-to says the eejit calls his the Unfakeable Big Five. As at least one of the referenced judge’s decisions says (paraphrasing from memory) “He provided no evidence his test cannot be faked.” Other commentator(s?) claim his test looks much like other Big Five tests…

  36. blf says

    RationalWiki has the exact quote I paraphrased in @46:

    [88] The situation here is even more remote. It is difficult to see how Dr Peterson’s technique of assessing the personality of a person for his private consulting business satisfies the Daubert factors to make it admissible for a forensic purpose. Dr Peterson provided no evidence that his technique of personality assessment has been properly tested for the purpose it is being used for here, detecting when an agreeable person may falsely confess to the police. All Dr Peterson could say is he hired university students to try and fake the personality assessment and they couldn’t do it. That is not scientific validation. There has been no peer review of the technique of the Unfakeable Big Five. Dr Peterson provided no rate of error or accepted deviations. In fact, he claimed, without any proof, that his assessment tool cannot be deceived while other personality assessment techniques can be. Finally, there is no evidence that the Unfakeable Big Five is generally accepted as a forensic tool. It was designed and is used for Dr Peterson’s private consulting clients to hire employees.

  37. Holms says

    #5 Rob Grigjanis
    I’ve heard that before, that he tried to ‘correct’ physicists on the topic of physics, and I am sad to have missed it at the time. I don’t suppose you know where that took place, and roughly when? I might give the wayback machine a go.

    #16 gijoel
    That’s a common manner amongst psuedointellectuals. Maintaining a grave demeanor while spouting nonsense – because as we all all know intellectuals never get animated about anything! – while steepling their fingers is their usual m.o.. Being seated in an armchair next to a fireplace is a common add-on for those that want to go the extra mile, with perhaps a tumbler of something on hand as a bonus. Truly pretentious idiots will even have a replica human skull on a shelf behind them.

    …Anyway, it’s an act of sorts. They have it in their head that intellectuals never emote, and so a person with opposing views becomes exasperated or angry at the streeam of bilge, they will take that as ‘proof’ that said opponent is being arguing emotionally rather than rationally.

  38. says

    @Holms:

    I’ve heard that before, that he tried to ‘correct’ physicists on the topic of physics, and I am sad to have missed it at the time.

    It’s not exactly the same, but I saw a Canadian talk show discussing his opposition to human rights laws generally and C-16 specifically. There were several guests opposing his point of view, only one of them a lawyer. When the lawyer explained exactly what C-16 did, but then an activist was asked if they would call pronoun misuse “harassment” the activist said that they would based on the effects of pronoun misuse. I was very disappointed that the activist didn’t specify that we were talking about repeated and intentional misuse, but hey, what are you going to do.

    Nonetheless, Peterson immediately claimed that his fears about the law were justified because the activist with no legal background would call something harassment based on effects (which almost certainly would not manifest on a single misuse, even a single intentional misuse) even though the lawyer had made clear that the law doesn’t ban random pronoun screwups.

    So he wasn’t telling the lawyer that the lawyer was wrong about law. What he did was completely ignore the lawyer’s informed and authoritative description of what the law actually did in favor of using a non-lawyers personal opinion of how the word harassment should be used in non-legal contexts so that he could support his assertions that the law would do exactly what he was just told by a lawyer that the law wouldn’t do.

    It only misses being an exact parallel because in the panel context he wasn’t telling the lawyer that he was wrong to his face, but rather speaking to the moderator while directly contradicting the lawyer’s statements.

    It was an amazing show of chutzpah.

  39. Owlmirror says

    After listening to the part before and after the statement under discussion, and doing a little web research, I noticed a few things:

    1) The interviewer, Stephen Sackur, is referencing this review/essay by Paul Thagard, after talking about how Peterson thinks that the Judeo-Christian system is so important. The specific paragraph he reads from (he is not exact in his reading — there’s more than a little paraphrasing) is this one:

    Peterson seems to assume that the only alternatives to religious morality are totalitarian atrocities or despondent nihilism. But secular ethics has flourished since the eighteenth century, with competing approaches such as David Hume’s appreciation of sympathy, Immanuel Kant’s emphasis on rights and duties, and Jeremy Bentham’s recommendation to promote the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

    2) Paul Thagard is not a political philosopher, specifically, nor does the interviewer refer to him as such. The interviewer does say that he is a fellow (to Peterson) Canadian, but that’s all. So Peterson bringing up political philosophy is a non sequitur.

    3) I am disappointed that Paul Thagard’s discussion of secular morality did not touch on moral philosophy from before the Enlightenment, such as that of Epicurus (which influenced Bentham, by the way) or the secular parts of Buddhism (which may have influenced Hume), or Plato’s Euthyphro dialogue with respect to its criticism divinely-commanded morality. It is the (falsely presumed) lack of pedigree of secular morality that Peterson is sneering at with his blather about being an evolutionary biologist/psychologist/whatever. It might not be possible to derive an “ought” from an “is”, but given that we do have “oughts”, neither totalitarianism nor nihilism are somehow more derivable from evolutionary psychology/biology/whatever than Epicureanism.

    4) I am really disappointed that no-one has pointed out that the Judeo-Christian bible is far more like a totalitarian legal code than anything else. There are arbitrary taboos enforced with the death penalty (the Sabbath laws; sexual purity for betrothed and married women; homosexuality), a system of punitive fines in the forms of sacrifices for other arbitrary taboo violations (conveniently to be performed by a priest at the temple in the capitol), commands to commit genocide, different sets of laws for in-tribe vs. out-tribe members, and so on and so forth. Even the New Testament is hardly better, with infinite punishment awaiting those who fail to follow the arbitrary law of believing in the sacrifice of Jesus.

    5) Further to (4) above, the idea that all humans have equal rights — including that right to free expression and the right to dissent from religious claims — that governments should respect does not come from the bible or Judeo-Christian morality. The idea does not come from totalitarianism nor from nihilism nor from evolutionary psychology. They come from secular morality; the Enlightenment ethics that Peterson sneers at for being too young.

  40. consciousness razor says

    Owlmirror puts it very well in #51. Crip Dyke, I think your line of argument (about the supposed timescales of different disciplines) is not quite on the mark. Peterson’s full of shit, obviously, but the specific topic he was addressing gives some strong hints about how his confused-as-fuck thought processes apparently brought him there. It’s no accident that Hume, Kant and Bentham all lived a couple of centuries ago, and their work (the parts at issue) fits squarely in the framework of moral and political philosophy.

    He thinks of himself as being concerned with more “primordial” issues that (one might think) date back to the distant past of human evolution. And you’re supposed to think these things couldn’t be reconciled with what Hume and friends were addressing in their work, because (and make no mistake, this is fallacious) they didn’t know about evolution and/or about all of the fantastic results (!) in evo-psych that we’ve only recently learned (at least those of us in the secular world of academia).

    At the same time, he also takes it for granted that the Bible/Christianity offers many of the same lessons, if you squint at it just right. This is utterly implausible for non-believers, but if you thought the Bible was inspired by God, who has insider knowledge about everything, then you might accept it and not stop to worry yourself about the fact that as a document it’s also engaging with questions in political philosophy just as much as Hume was (if not more so)…. And, if you just don’t know a fucking thing about the subject, like Peterson, you might think new-ish Enlightenment era people (Hume and friends) were the originators of lots of ideas, ones that actually go back to ancient thinkers (roughly as old as the Bible, definitely older than some parts) such as Epicurus, etc., as Owlmirror correctly pointed out. He’s really going wrong in a whole lot of different ways, simultaneously; it’s just a big clusterfuck of confusion… but I guess that sums up 90% of everything he says.

  41. says

    I read some of the comments on PZ’s video about this, and my absolute favorite genre was “Um actually Jordan Peterson has a degree in political science so that makes him qualified to teach the history about how ancient cultures knew the shape of DNA and depicted it in art checkmate SJWs.”

  42. Rob Grigjanis says

    Holms @49: I had an exchange with Carrier, on his blog, about his essay “The Ontology of Time”. Pointing out the dodginess of the physics just resulted in vague, prickly, content-free defensiveness from him, so I didn’t stick around long. But I did look up some other articles by him about physics, and saw other folk getting the same brush-off.

    There was also an exchange with a Carrier fan on Pharyngula, which you can see here. The most fascinating part was the fan’s unquestioning faith in Carrier’s physics. A trait of true fans everywhere, I guess.

  43. says

    I think your line of argument (about the supposed timescales of different disciplines) is not quite on the mark.

    Maybe. But my first point is that no one timescale defines either of those disciplines, and my second is that Peterson should know that.

    If he’s saying, as he actually does, that to be a political philosopher is to examine humanity on a timescale of centuries, then he really hasn’t read any Marx or Hegel or Kierkegaard or Nietzsche, authors who are extremely relevant to contemporary political philosophy. Kierkegaard in particular is interesting (to me) here in seeking to examine the church/state relationship over a couple thousand years.

    So his conclusions about timescales don’t follow from his premises. He might have some other background stuff in mind, but what he said was If PP => Centuries; If EB => Millenia. The other stuff, which may very well be important to him, can, I think, be said to stand or fall separately from his timescale assertions.

    But maybe, as you seem to be suggesting, the timescale assertions relative to discipline can’t be separated from those other things. Then I suppose I would be “not quite on the mark”. I won’t worry too much about it though. At the very least, it’s yet another case where he far too clumsily argues his case. We have had multiple people visit pharyngula and argue that Peterson can’t be understood from short excerpts and that you need to watch hour long videos because he’s just bad at communicating in short formats, which leads to misunderstandings like the “enforced monogamy” thing in the NY Times where some people thought that sounded ominously vague on tactics and horrifying in the potential particulars … and then it turned out he said he didn’t want to use laws to assign women one-to-one to violent incels, but rather use cultural and societal pressures to encourage individuals to prioritize the hetersexual, monogamous pair-bonding which he believes benefits society while leaving ominously vague which tactics he would endorse. So, all the speculation was dramatically wrong because we didn’t understand he was referring to a wide range of social strategies from subsidizing wedding planners to acid attacks to honor killings but definitely not legislation, so why can’t everyone just calm the fuck down?

    This is a delightful tendency of his to miscommunicate quite creatively and in such a way as to cloak himself as a martyr. First, he makes a sweeping statement, consistent with his love of broad, transcendent things. Next, he takes note of criticisms of his statements that are so massively vague that they clearly include endorsement of morally repugnant actions. Then he responds to those criticisms by insisting that they rely on misinterpretations which are a big deal because some small amount of speculation on his meaning falls squarely inside the boundaries of his statements but squarely outside the boundaries of his intent. Finally, he clarifies by specifically excluding a small percentage of the awful interpretations instead of categorically rejecting all the meanings which at least a majority of persons would find objectionable.

    The whole “enforced monogamy” bit is just a perfect example as he’s advocating enforced monogamy to “ensure” (his word) that violent incels get laid in order to “control” young men’s violent tendencies. Then he goes out of his way to say he never advocated legislation and doesn’t want a statute that assigns unwilling women to specific violent incels, just wants social policies and practices that “prioritize” pair bonding and that specifically discourage women from sleeping around. He never responds to the criticisms that if he knew anything about how women are discouraged from sleeping around in countries that “prioritize” monogamous heterosexuality, he would recognize that this includes shit like so-called “honor killings” which are really just xenophobically-labeled versions of the red-blooded heterosexual US guy’s murders based on the theory that if I can’t have you no one can. Oh, and also the if I can’t have you no one can killings themselves. Not to mention that marital rape was legal in some parts of the US until the 19-fucking-90s. Not to mention that making it easier for women to leave relationships reduces women’s suicides and women’s defensive murders of violent men partners/husbands. Not to mention that making abortion illegal is one of those things that societies do to put pressure on women to permanently partner up with heterosexual dudes and that, maybe in Canada there’s no chance for abortion to be outlawed any time soon, but when you’re talking about “enforced monogamy” in the USA-based NY Times that concept of social rules that punish women for sleeping around is very close to bringing about a new period of criminalizing abortion, and that bit of monogamy enforcement leads to extremely dangerous illegal abortions that cost thousands if not millions of lives each year around the world.

    But we’re the monsters because we take him at his word that he is advocating for what he says he’s advocating.

    Fuck him. If he really does have some legitimate point about the primordium and his affection for it or his insights thereunto, I see no reason not to ridicule him for making that point by insisting that political philosophy is a discipline with a characteristic temporal perspective of centuries rather than one with a variable temporal perspective ranging from a couple decades to interrogations of our deep past of hunter-gatherer tribes. Or, of course, mocking him for the even less valid characterization that evolutionary biology has a specific characteristic timescale when its valid timescales vary even more widely than those of political philosophy.

    Maybe I’m missing something important about Peterson and deep time, but he’s proved himself so unreliable that I have no reason to think that – if I wanted any insights into human prehistory or human innate social tendencies – Peterson is the source to go to get any valuable insights. Anything of his that has actual value, I’m sure I can get somewhere else.

  44. Holms says

    #54 Rob Grigjanis
    Aha yes, I dimly remember similar patronisingly dismissive shit from him. He seems to want to be regarded as a genius.

  45. blf says

    He seems to want to be regarded as a genius.

    He is a “genius”. If you can decipher what he is bellowing, what he bellowed is invariably not even wrong. Most eejits have a case of stuck-clock syndrome, where sometimes they get something correct(-ish), even if only by accident. Not this one. He’s always spectacularly impossible. Pure “genius”.

  46. consciousness razor says

    Crip Dyke:

    If he’s saying, as he actually does, that to be a political philosopher is to examine humanity on a timescale of centuries, then he really hasn’t read any Marx or Hegel or Kierkegaard or Nietzsche, authors who are extremely relevant to contemporary political philosophy. Kierkegaard in particular is interesting (to me) here in seeking to examine the church/state relationship over a couple thousand years.

    Well, he’s woefully ignorant, no doubt. Let’s just go through this, one step at a time. He starts with some bullshit about the wisdom in “traditional stories” and especially the Bible (~8:30 or so). More droning, questions, droning. Repeat.
    He replies to the interviewer discussing a criticism (after ~10:00) with a remark that Enlightenment humanism and science has only flourished for a couple of hundred years. The critic had named Hume, Kant and Bentham (HKB). Peterson wrongly assumed that the idea is that we could ignore everyone before them, that it’s only a benefit directly from the works of HKB and nothing else. It’s as if he thought the critic was claiming it suddenly popped into existence a couple of centuries ago and started doing good stuff for us. And, the critic is supposed to think, we should only have to appreciate/understand that, not necessarily all other political philosophy in general. (He seems to think this must be done to the exclusion of older thinkers, including the authors of the Bible, and so forth.) The basic question is then “why doesn’t Peterson appreciate/understand it?”

    He says that he does. (Just blowing smoke up our asses, but whatever.) However, a couple of centuries is not very long, in the big scheme of things. The thought is that the evidence presented (after he’s done with it, so it will be mangled it beyond recognition) may only demonstrate some short term benefits. That’s when the bullshit claim about 1000s vs. 100s of years appears. From his point of view (so he thinks), there are bigger concerns about the long-term viability of the HKB project, which is not demonstrated because HKB lived not that long ago. In other words, the value of Enlightenment science/humanism over a short period of time is not in question (he at least pays lip service to this), but its long-term value is.*

    So what are you claiming above? If there exists some political philosophy which is relevant/beneficial beyond the timescale of a couple of centuries (if it makes any sense to talk this way), that would not imply that all political philosophy is, nor would it imply that HKB in particular are. You cite other political philosophers who are not HKB, which doesn’t get us anywhere.** It may still be that we won’t benefit from HKB permanently. Perhaps that time has already come to an end; or in any case, that project may ultimately be doomed in the long run. That’s the sort of silly, bullshit-infused, paranoid concern that we should all have, as expressed in response to a twisted version of a second-hand account of what some critic said.

    There definitely are other ways of interpreting it, but that’s a pretty straightforward one. Just run with it for now and consider your response, on the assumption that this is basically correct.
    ** Incidentally, the ones you happen to cite are also not very old, just like HKB. In fact, they came from a later generation than HKB did. There’s overlap with Bentham and Hegel, of course, but the latter was still younger, not much older.

  47. says

    Thanks, CR:

    You listened to more of the video than I did.

    I was merely claiming that you cannot automatically tell timeframe from discipline, the way that the direct reading of Peterson’s limited comment implies. But you’ve gone further with what he’s saying and the context in which he’s responding.

    He’s still oversimplifying carelessly or whatever, but since I’m not interested in watching the longer piece I’ll concede to you that such simplifications (but not the assertion that he’s a biologist) were reasonable given the earlier portions of the interview.

  48. consciousness razor says

    No big deal. However, I will say that him calling himself a biologist, as ridiculous as that may be, is also not where I would’ve decided to bear down … an odd choice for PZ. That’s pretty insignificant (at least it is to me) compared to the rest of the shit he’s spewing, which consists of condemning science, secularism, humanism, liberalism, modernism, and basically anything that’s not his own special brand of nonsense.

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