How dare the APA refuse to recognize that men and boys are violent creatures of instinct


Jeez. Jordan Peterson really hates human rights and gender issues. Those things really fire him up, which suggests there’s something deeply wrong with him. So he’s been meeting with Doug Ford to complain, and it’s disturbing that Ford thinks Peterson is providing credible input, especially when Peterson is raging about basic human decency.

Oh, yeah, he also hates education. But that’s nothing: man, is Peterson pissed off about the American Psychological Association.

The American Psychological Association (APA) recently released its Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men. It manages to be simultaneously predictable, reprehensible, infuriating and disheartening — no mean feat for a single document. Make no mistake about it: this document constitutes an all-out assault on masculinity — or, to put it even more bluntly, on men.

The coup of the APA undertaken by the ideologues is now complete. The field has been compromised, perhaps fatally. And the damnable guidelines provide sufficient, but by no means exhaustive, evidence of that.

He’s very upset that the APA argues that traditional masculine roles can do harm (I imagine they’d say the same thing about traditional feminine roles, but this document focuses on men and boys), and translates their words to be men who socialize their boys in a traditional manner destroy their mental health. How horrible! Except it’s true. “Traditional” here means narrow and limited, and they are quite right to say that wedging kids into a predetermined role can be damaging. Why should this be considered controversial? Here’s the specific quote from APA Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men (pdf):

Boys and men have historically been the focus of psychological research and practice as a normative referent for behavior rather than as gendered human beings (O’Neil & Renzulli, 2013; Smiler, 2004). In the past 30 years, researchers and theorists have placed greater emphasis on ecological and sociological factors influencing the psychology of boys and men, culminating in what has been termed the New Psychology of Men (Levant & Pollack, 1995). For instance, socialization for conforming to traditional masculinity ideology has been shown to limit males’ psychological development, constrain their behavior, result in gender role strain and gender role conflict (Pleck, 1981, 1995; O’Neil, 2008; O’Neil & Renzulli, 2013), and negatively influence mental health (e.g., O’Neil, 2008, 2013, 2015) and physical health (Courtenay, 2011; Gough & Robertson, 2017). Indeed, boys and men are overrepresented in a variety of psychological and social problems. For example, boys are disproportionately represented among schoolchildren with learning difficulties (e.g., lower standardized test scores) and behavior problems (e.g., bullying, school suspensions, aggression; Biederman et al., 2005; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015). Likewise, men are overrepresented in prisons, are more likely than women to commit violent crimes, and are at greatest risk of being a victim of violent crime (e.g., homicide, aggravated assault; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2015).

Those are facts: boys exhibit more learning disabilities, men are more likely to commit violent crimes. Why? The APA argues (and backs up with literature citations) that one source of conflict in the lives of boys and men is the social constraints we place on them — that we socialize boys to belittle education and to deal with conflict with violence. Peterson knows this is true; he’s bragged about wanting to beat people up. These are also real problems that, if you are genuinely concerned with the welfare of boys and men, you ought to want to address.

So what is Peterson objecting to? He wants to insist that the nature of boys is instinctively aggressive.

First, there is no scientific evidence that aggression, per se, is learned. Like fear, pain, hunger and thirst, rage is instinctual. The biological evidence for this is crystal clear and unshakeable.

Whoa. It is definitely true that anger has biological correlates — sure, take blood samples from people in fights, their adrenaline is way up, as is their blood pressure, etc. I don’t even know what he means by “instinctual”, but he seems to think it implies a response that is ungovernable by reason. But that isn’t true! If someone steps on your foot, do you instantly ball up your fists and punch them in the face, in the same way that you’d pull your hand back from a hot stove? You might “instinctively” feel anger or distress, but normal men and women don’t respond automatically with aggression…and you probably also cool quickly if the offender expresses remorse and an apology. You know, those learned responses we have to help diminish aggressive reactions, so we don’t end up in jail or in a bloody melee. I think it’s crystal clear that most of us have social and psychological mechanisms for reducing violent responses, which is a good thing to encourage.

But let’s play Peterson’s game. Let’s give him the idea that males are naturally, biologically, fixedly aggressive, and that you can’t unlearn it. Then where’s the harm in raising them in an environment that encourages peaceful resolution of conflicts and teaches alternative methods for cooperating? If he’s right, it won’t make a bit of difference, that boys will be battering each other and assaulting the girls, and he and his culties will be standing smugly aside giving the thumbs up to all the helter-skelter viciousness. Boys will be boys, you know, and if the APA wants to try and civilize the little thugs it won’t change a thing.

But Peterson wants to also argue that better behavior can be taught — it’s just that the only way to do that is via traditional masculinity, taught by men, and that the real problem is all those fatherless families where the boys are being let down by their mothers.

So the idea that aggression is learned is not only wrong, it’s backward. Aggression is easy. Civilized behaviour is difficult. It is the integration of aggression that is learned. And it is primarily men who teach it, particularly to aggressive boys.

To back that up, he points to the elevated rates of social problems in fatherless families, which is true. He doesn’t seem to appreciate the compounding factors involved here: that these families are often also produced by economic stress and disruption, that fathers are often the ones responsible for the abandonment of their families and failure to teach that “integration of aggression”, and that he doesn’t show how enforcing traditional norms somehow corrects the problems. Nope, none of that. Blame for any problem of learning disabilities or increased incarceration rates falls only on those single mothers — the ones who typically step up and take the majority of the responsibility for raising the kids in those fractured families, for which the fathers are blameless.

And also the APA is the problem. Look at the venom frothing in this characterization:

The primary axiom of the ideologues who generate this kind of propagandistic discourse is that Western culture is to be regarded as an oppressive patriarchy: unfairly male-dominated, violent, racist, sexist, homo-, Islamo- and trans-phobic — and as uniquely reprehensible in all those regards. There is no doubt, to give the devil his due, that human history as such is a blood-drenched nightmare — and that is also true of Western civilization. However, to view humanity in general or the West in particular as solely characterized by its pathology is indication of a profound and fatal failure to discriminate good from bad.

Wait. The APA guidelines are some horrible propaganda that blames all of Western culture, and only Western culture, for oppression, and that it holds all men at fault for this “blood-drenched nightmare”? Wow. I’ve gotta read this dramatic story of feminist accusations against the whole of Western civilization. So I did.

I was disappointed.

Rather than raging against the patriarchy, the document is strongly and appropriately centered on the welfare of men and boys. It’s a set of reasonable suggestions for how psychologists ought to regard the role of men and boys in their lives, and it’s essentially entirely positive. This is a pro men paper, that encourages professionals to respect and treat the unique problems of men and boys. I read it looking for any hint of a “kill all men” attitude, or any sign of victim-blaming, and it just isn’t there. There also isn’t anything about blaming only Western culture.

It’s a long document, so I’ll just pull out the 10 short guideline recommendations. You tell me where this looks anything like Peterson’s mischaracterizations. I tried hard to find the all-out assault on masculinity or the reprehensible, infuriating and disheartening content.

  1. Psychologists strive to recognize that masculinities are constructed based on social, cultural, and contextual norms.
  2. Psychologists strive to recognize that boys and men integrate multiple aspects to their social identities across the lifespan.
  3. Psychologists understand the impact of power, privilege, and sexism on the development of boys and men and on their relationships with others.
  4. Psychologists strive to develop a comprehensive understanding of the factors that influence the interpersonal relationships of boys and men.
  5. Psychologists strive to encourage positive father involvement and healthy family relationships.
  6. Psychologists strive to support educational efforts that are responsive to the needs of boys and men.
  7. Psychologists strive to reduce the high rates of problems boys and men face and act out in their lives such as aggression, violence, substance abuse, and suicide.
  8. Psychologists strive to help boys and men engage in health-related behaviors.
  9. Psychologists strive to build and promote gender-sensitive psychological services.
  10. Psychologists understand and strive to change institutional, cultural, and systemic problems that affect boys and men through advocacy, prevention, and education.

OMG. Boys and men have multiple aspects to their social identities? Horrendous. Everyone knows we should make The Hulk our ideal at all times and in all situations.

“Encourage positive father involvement…”, how evil. Oh, wait. Except that’s what Peterson thinks is good, too.

They want to reduce aggression, violence, substance abuse, and suicide? WHERE DOES THIS INSANE ANTI-MEN AGENDA COME FROM? Probably feminists.

We apparently need a stronger call for gender insensitive psychological services. Men thrive when treated insensitively. Because we’re tough.

I think the real objection Peterson has is that the APA doesn’t endorse the reductionist biological determinism that he, a non-biologist with a demonstrable ignorance of biology, wants to assign to human behavior. The APA doesn’t subscribe to his crackpot theories, imagine that.

Comments

  1. Zeppelin says

    Looking forward to a near future where the internet right’s response to anyone mentioning Peterson will be “Who? Him? No-one ever took that guy seriously, it was just memes. You’re just trying to strawman us by bringing up a fringe figure, because you’re afraid to engage with [new internet angry man] and get Destroyed with Facts and Logic!”. That seems to be the inevitable fate of these reactionary “intellectual” figures once they get big enough to receive serious attention from leftist commentators who pick apart their schtick.

  2. raven says

    Jeez. Jordan Peterson really hates human rights and gender issues.
    Those things really fire him up, which suggests there’s something deeply wrong with him.

    Jordon Peterson who???
    He’s had his 15 minutes of infamy and is taking his rightful place on the lunatic fringes along with Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones.

    And yeah, there is something deeply wrong with him.
    He hates just about everything that happened in the world since the Dark Ages.
    A partial list would be women, nonwhites, atheists, education, liberals, progressives, Trans, and the nonviolent.
    If you add up his lists of hates, it’s most of humanity.

  3. chigau (違う) says

    There is a well-known method for controlling aggressive behaviour in male domestic animals.
    I doubt that Peterson would agree to it, though.

  4. leerudolph says

    Jordan Peterson, as quoted by PZ:

    It manages to be simultaneously predictable, reprehensible, infuriating and disheartening — no mean feat for a single document.

    No mean feat for a single document; yet a feat that (apparently: I admit I have not taken a really deep dive myself) many documents that Jordan Peterson has written have consistently achieved, over and over again! He is indeed blessed by his accomplishments. Now he should consider quitting while he’s ahead!

  5. ridana says

    You tell me where this looks anything like Peterson’s mischaracterizations.

    It looks to me like mostly #3 (which acknowledges the very existence of power, privilege, and sexism, let alone their effects) and a little bit of #7 (which views acting out with aggression and violence as being problems) are the parts that triggered his outrage.

  6. mcfrank0 says

    ridana @8: I agree. It looks like he saw the word “sexism” in #3 and saw the work of “those darn feminists” in the entire document.

  7. llyris says

    Sure, aggression is instinctual. If he wants to call it that. The three year old, having been told he can’t have what he wants, beats his fists against the wall, throws himself to the floor, swings a pathetic punch at his mother. All true.
    The three year old, having been told she can’t have what she wants, beats her fists against the wall, throws herself to the floor, swings a pathetic punch at her mother. All true.
    He wants us to believe girls aren’t naturally aggressive. And yet women don’t go around bashing people at the pub. It couldn’t possibly be because girls are heavily socialised to curb aggression, assertiveness, and desires, and to get along? It couldn’t possibly be that the three year old girl is punished for her aggression but the three year old boy has his behavior excused by the adults around him.

  8. microraptor says

    chigau @5: He’d probably be fine with it so long as it was only being done to non-whites.

  9. says

    I’m starting to think Peterson isn’t a very good psychologist. And may need to talk to someone himself.

    He’s already a vacuous apologist for authoritarianism and status quo male chauvinism, and has some kind of vendetta against teaching young people to be smarter than he is. Throw in his mid-20th century sociopolitics and his bunking-in with unapologetic ChrisTalibans like Prager and you have a scared little man, running about telling all the other sour-faced grey suits that the sky is falling, and oh what shall we do about all these pesky fuckers telling us to accept that people aren’t how we necessarily want them to be. Oh but clean your room!

    I become more and more baffled, every time I hear something new, as to how he’s become this beacon on a hill for middle-class honky males. Vanilla (but deeply flawed) self-help is one thing; outright Quixotic loathing of tertiary education and disavowal of what his own professional colleagues recommend is another.

    I’m 42, white, Australian, middle-class, liberal, and many of my contemporaries, including good friends, swear by his book and his railing against PC Gone Mad™️. We’re a well catered-for demographic and experience privilege in a vast array of areas relative to most others. We’re ostensibly grownups who can accept difference even if we don’t quite understand it. We see the need for education and equality, and the results of same. How have we embraced this crabby old elbow-patched uncle, railing at the table about the feminisation of boys and bewailing the loss of certain narratives (as if they’re inherently of great value)? How in Hell’s Kitchen did we allow this whiny little fuck to be our guy?

  10. says

    On the other hand, regarding the article, I’m sure Beepy’s aware that he can just denounce the shit out of something in the most histrionic manner possible and shore up his base, because his base won’t read the document, only his endless propagandising of it. A certain Canadian house bill comes to mind as a prime example.

    I don’t care if he’s actually a charalatan – he acts like one constantly and fucking knows what he’s up to. Calculated outrage translates to followers, clicks and bucks, whether you believe your own nonsense or not. Cough Ray Comfort cough.

  11. gorobei says

    First, there is no scientific evidence that aggression, per se, is learned. Like fear, pain, hunger and thirst, rage is instinctual. The biological evidence for this is crystal clear and unshakeable.

    This is typical Jordan Peterson: start with truth, then slide into unproven rubbish. Pain, hunger, and thirst are basic, fear is a higher level thing. Aggression is different too: it’s a response. There is no crystal clear biological evidence for “this,” because “this” isn’t even a coherent idea.

    I was lucky enough to be taught that false rhetoric is bad (liberal arts and all that,) Peterson seems to have learned it’s a good thing for his con.

  12. William George says

    “I’m in a rage about people not wanting me to be in a rage!” doesn’t seem like a reasonable position to me, Jordan.

  13. Holms says

    Peterson from OP
    First, there is no scientific evidence that aggression, per se, is learned. Like fear, pain, hunger and thirst, rage is instinctual. The biological evidence for this is crystal clear and unshakeable.

    I love the fact that he backs this up with citations… to himself.

    PZ from OP
    To back that up, he points to the elevated rates of social problems in fatherless families, which is true. He doesn’t seem to appreciate the compounding factors involved here: that these families are often also produced by economic stress and disruption, that fathers are often the ones responsible for the abandonment of their families and failure to teach that “integration of aggression”, and that he doesn’t show how enforcing traditional norms somehow corrects the problems.

    Not only that, he also neglects to compare the issues faced by boys raised by single mothers with issues faced by boys raised by single fathers, i.e. father absence to mother absence. The paper he cited also appeared to only compare fatherless boys to boys with both parents, however I only skimmed it.

    Probably the single most salient comparison to make in support of his hypothesis, and he didn’t think of it / bother to do it.

    And so his key finding, that single mothers have additional difficulties in raising boys, is easily accounted for by the generalised statement: single parents of either sex have additional difficulties in raising children of either sex. Turns out two incomes and two people are better than one and one at something as demanding as raising kids.

  14. patricklinnen says

    This study came up in a front page post on Ars Technica. The cranks came out in droves with mistaken-on-purpose comments about the article and the study itself.

  15. says

    MRAs: Men have much higher suicide levels, they are the real victims of oppression!
    Feminists: You know, the first part is true. Let’s do something about it. Let’s raise boys who don’t suppress their emotions and who don’t see seeking help for mental health issues as failure.
    Jordan Peterson: How dare you suggest that raising boys to be manly men who never cry (except for sports events!) is harmful!
    MRAs: I’d rather have a dead son than a soy boy.


    MRAs: What’s with this violence against women shit? Men are much more likely to be victims of violence!
    Feminists: The overwhelming majority of those who commit violence are men, Let’s teach boys that violence is not a good solution. Don’t say “boys will be boys”, teach them how to be better!
    MRAs: You’re demonizing masculinity!
    Jordan Peterson: Aggression and violence are good and natural. They make discussions rational because reasons.

    +++

    And so his key finding, that single mothers have additional difficulties in raising boys, is easily accounted for by the generalised statement: single parents of either sex have additional difficulties in raising children of either sex. Turns out two incomes and two people are better than one and one at something as demanding as raising kids.

    I’m currently working as a special ed teacher and yes, the overwhelming majority of the kids with severe behavioural issues are boys, and yes, they are being raised by single mothers. But they’re not difficult because their mothers are single, often their mothers are single because the boys are difficult. Raising a kid with severe ADHD is a challenge I don’t envy them.
    And sometimes they are difficult because their parents split up and are unable to behave themselves like grown ass people and the kids suffer.

  16. DanDare says

    I have male friends why I am deeply worried about. They claim not to know about JP yet every time JP pulls out a new angle it comes out of their mouths. I heard from them about the “assault on manliness” only a few days ago.
    It’s a subject that is very hard to talk with them about. As soon as I disagree even a bit the hackles rise and angry loud generalisations follow.

  17. linusbern says

    Peterson should write about the needy/contradictory psychology of the right.

    They scorn and despise academics and intellectuals as know nothing eggheads, but if one reinforces their politics they worship them like the next Einstein.

  18. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    @22: Doing that would mean believing in personal responsibility as anything besides a weapon against brown people.

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