I look forward to Jordan Peterson’s inevitable decline into dishonorable obscurity

Partly because I’m growing tired of the frequent puncturings of his obvious lunacy, even the well-written ones, because he and his fanboys just keep blithering on. The latest, though, by Pankaj Mishra in the New York Review of Books, seems to have had some effect — Peterson is raging on Twitter and threatening to slap him. You know, that “underlying threat of physicality” that Peterson believes to be a necessary part of our social interactions.

I sympathize. If I met Mishra, I’d have to get physical too, and shake his hand.

Closer examination, however, reveals Peterson’s ageless insights as a typical, if not archetypal, product of our own times: right-wing pieties seductively mythologized for our current lost generations.

Peterson himself credits his intellectual awakening to the Cold War, when he began to ponder deeply such “evils associated with belief” as Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, and became a close reader of Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. This is a common intellectual trajectory among Western right-wingers who swear by Solzhenitsyn and tend to imply that belief in egalitarianism leads straight to the guillotine or the Gulag. A recent example is the English polemicist Douglas Murray who deplores the attraction of the young to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and wishes that the idea of equality was “tainted by an ideological ordure equivalent to that heaped on the concept of borders.” Peterson confirms his membership of this far-right sect by never identifying the evils caused by belief in profit, or Mammon: slavery, genocide, and imperialism.

Reactionary white men will surely be thrilled by Peterson’s loathing for “social justice warriors” and his claim that divorce laws should not have been liberalized in the 1960s. Those embattled against political correctness on university campuses will heartily endorse Peterson’s claim that “there are whole disciplines in universities forthrightly hostile towards men.” Islamophobes will take heart from his speculation that “feminists avoid criticizing Islam because they unconsciously long for masculine dominance.” Libertarians will cheer Peterson’s glorification of the individual striver, and his stern message to the left-behinds (“Maybe it’s not the world that’s at fault. Maybe it’s you. You’ve failed to make the mark.”). The demagogues of our age don’t read much; but, as they ruthlessly crack down on refugees and immigrants, they can derive much philosophical backup from Peterson’s sub-chapter headings: “Compassion as a vice” and “Toughen up, you weasel.”

Peterson’s response:

Yeah, if those quotes were attributed to me, I’d be pissed off, too.

“Shameless” implies that there is something to be ashamed of

This story bugs me: it argues that Stormy Daniels is just like Donald Trump in shamelessness. I can agree that her tactics are interesting and she has a good chance of smacking Trump upside the head, but implicit in the story is the idea that she ought to be ashamed, and her refusal puts her in the same plane as Trump. So the story contrasts her with the respectable women who have accused the president of harassment.

Many of the women alleging that Trump victimized them (which Daniels, by the way, does not) have proceeded by insisting on their own respectability: They want nothing from him; they simply spoke up because they’d been harassed or assaulted by a presidential candidate, and they wanted to do the right thing. The Trump campaign’s response was to characterize his accusers as attention-hungry profit-seekers. In one case, he implied that she was too ugly to harass.

OK, but why shouldn’t they have insisted on their respectability? They did nothing wrong. The only thing that prevented them from being effective is the complicity of the media, who have been very willing to downplay women’s concerns. Those characterizations by the Trump campaign should have been a whole big story on their own, and should have brought him down. They weren’t, and they didn’t.

But Stormy Daniels is “different” than other women. She’s shameless.

Stormy Daniels is immune to these attacks. Just as Trump bragged about not paying a dime in taxes — “that makes me smart,” he said during one presidential debate — Daniels is open about her desire to profit. Why wouldn’t she? She says she has a story to sell, and she’s 100 percent open about her desire to sell it. She’s the only person in this story as shameless as the president himself. And the White House is reeling as a result.

It’s a truism at this point that Trump benefited from a tiresome double standard. The reality TV star entered an electoral landscape filled with intelligent and image-conscious suits who understood respectability as the sine qua non of political viability. Trump refused to be respectable. He embraced his image as a corny, narcissistic, overtanned procurer of women’s bodies, and twirled and winked at the mountain of crimes and improprieties he stood accused of. It worked: No single charge could stick for very long. Particularly — and this is the nub — because he didn’t seem to mind. For a scandal to stick to someone, they have to worry about it. Trump may talk endlessly about people “laughing” at the United States, but when it comes to his own image, he has the lifelong rich man’s imperviousness to the opinions of the poor. That has protected him from scandal. His narcissism only extends to those he sees as equals or superiors; everyone else is expendable.

Every point there is correct, but it’s just the bias that bothers me. Daniels is open and honest about her career as a sex worker, and she should be. She has nothing to be ashamed of — she hasn’t lied and swindled and trampled over others (I assume — I suppose she could be the Donald Trump of the porn industry, but I haven’t seen anything to suggest it). To claim that she is shameless implies that she has something to be ashamed of, which assumes that sex work is automatically disgraceful.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, is a corrupt liar who is doing his damnedest to wreck the country, and is engaged in shameful behavior — he is harming people, and harming the nation, which Daniels is not doing. This is not about shamelessness, it’s about honesty, and in that regard Daniels and Trump are completely different.

Maybe the alt-right is non-binary

Jason Wilson writes about the alt-right’s tactics. Here’s one perfect example: Andy Ngo is a kind of inflammatory yellow journalist whose specialty is capturing tiny slices of left wing events that he then distorts into the kind of lie useful for enraging the Fox News/Breitbart crowd. For instance, here’s how he handled a visit by James Damore to Portland State:

In the lead-up to Damore’s appearance, Ngo penned an article for the Wall Street Journal alleging that the event had been threatened, writing that that “we expected controversy. But we also got danger.” The evidence of danger, as reported in Willamette Week, was “two violent threats on Facebook, three diversity events held on campus as counter-programming, and a scornful blog post”.

This was more than enough for Fox News, who ran an item under the headline “Antifa targets ‘Google memo’ author James Damore’s talk at Portland State”.

Impressive. Everything is coming up antifa nowadays. I suspect this post makes me antifa, at this rate.

Then the ever-ridiculous Peter Boghossian chimes in. This is where it gets really interesting, because there is a phenomenon many of us have noticed before: people who like to claim to be on the Left, usually referring to themselves as “classical liberals” or “centrists”, who are remarkably consistent in siding with the Right to deplore anything and everything anyone on the Left does, yet also pay lip service to rejecting the traditional Right. Maybe we ought to start recognizing that the usual political binary is often invalid, and that there are multiple axes of polarization. Maybe we ought to appreciate that someone like me can despise, for example, Bill Donohue, and so can a Boghossian, and at the same time, Boghossian and I can mutually reject each other. It’s amazing! More than two categories? Brains will explode!

Still, people will cluster in domains of mutual sympathy, it’s just that there are definitely many more than two of them. Boghossian helpfully engages in a little taxonomy for us, in the process of saying stupid stuff.

Boghossian does seem to see members of her discipline in a dark hue. At the Damore event, he said that “diversity is a Trojan horse for a political agenda.”

When asked later what was inside the Trojan horse, he said “the diversity they try to create is the most superficial kind of diversity and doesn’t include ideological diversity.”

When asked who “they” were, Boghossian replies “all disciplines infected by postmodernism, and women’s studies and gender studies in particular.

“It’s intersectionality, it’s diversity, it’s those values which are riding in the wake of postmodernity,” he added.

“Jordan Peterson speaks about this, Gad Saad speaks about this, Steven Pinker speaks about this, there’s a whole circle of us speaking about this.”

Despite his criticisms of the campus left, however, Boghossian insists that he is not rightwing, that he “can’t stand Republicans”, and complains about recent accusations that he is “alt-right”. He insists it’s all about Enlightenment values.

Ngo too. “I identify as a centrist if I was forced to answer”, he writes, adding that “Freethinkers is a nonpartisan organization”.

Strange, then, that they, and the movement that Boghossian claims membership of, take such trouble over antagonizing the left, and drawing rightwing attention.

I’m actually kind of impressed here. There are quite a few people mentioned in the article who I, as an outsider to their group, would have lumped together, and there’s Boghossian, unconsciously affirming my taxonomy. Yes — Boghossian, Peterson, Saad, Pinker, they all belong in a single taxon. The defining character seems to be, at least in the context of this excerpt, that they are all pretentious academics who do not understand the meaning of the word “post-modern”, while hating it fiercely, all while huddling under the banner of the Enlightenment, an 18th century movement that they believe entitles them to consider themselves progressive. They also consider themselves liberal while hating diversity in a multicultural nation, and despising gender and women’s studies at universities that are encouraging students, who are mostly women, to examine the complexity of our social and cultural environment.

They’re a weird, regressive bunch. Their clique also includes other people mentioned in the article, like Christina Hoff Sommers, the anti-feminist who calls herself a feminist, and Dave Rubin, the cheerleader for right-wingers who insists he is a centrist, Enlightenment liberal.

I’m perfectly willing to recognize that this is an ugly mess of a beast that is completely different from the ugly mess of a beast called the Republican party. The American landscape is filling up with a diverse collection of shambolic monsters, united only in their willingness to shit on anything that resembles a progressive vision of our future.

Petty and vindictive

That’s the message Donald Trump is sending about himself with the firing of Andrew McCabe, 26 hours before he would have earned his full pension for 21 years of service in the FBI. What amazes me is that he thinks he’s sending a positive message.

“a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI”…I think what those hard-working men and women ought to see is that their retirement is now subject to the whims of a tyrant — that what they earn can be whisked away at the last moment by a president who is going to gloat over his ability to punish them. Every federal employee has got to be questioning how reliable their employer actually is.

Get ready. Trump is surrounding himself with sycophants and is probably thinking of firing Mueller next. Do you think Republican-controlled congress will react responsibly to that?

The kids have the right idea

An asshole pulled a knife at a school meeting to demonstrate that gun control was pointless, because he’d be able to murder the 17 year old girl in front of him.

“I’m considerably larger than you, OK?” the man tells the student in cell phone video recorded during the incident. “If something happened, if I decided to attack you, it would take the cops three to five minutes to come here — probably 10 if the traffic’s bad.”

The man, whose name was not released, apparently disagreed with 17-year-old senior Jade Pinkenberg, who spoke up during the school board meeting to argue against arming teachers.

“What are you going to do now?” the man says, as the teen backs away.

Jesus. You could also pick up a rock outside and kill someone with it. That’s not the point. These weapons enable a violent attitude, and give individuals to commit mass murder in minutes. That’s why we want these weapons removed from society.

Fortunately, the kids in the audience are smarter than Ol’ Knifey.

“I protested peacefully this morning and got suspended,” student Jo Herman tweeted. “A man threatened a kid with a knife at a PTA meeting and got gently escorted from the school. Show me the logic.”

Republicans really do want to destroy higher ed

Just look at what’s being done to the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point.

Many professors in Wisconsin saw their fears of a 2015 change to state tenure law realized last week. That’s when the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point announced its plan to cut 13 majors — including those in anchor humanities departments such as English and history and all three of the foreign languages offered — and, with them, faculty jobs. Tenured professors may well lose their positions.

Here’s what’s being cut:

The shock was part size, part substance. Cutting 13 majors — in any disciplinary area — is significant. But the cuts are concentrated in the humanities and social sciences, raising serious doubts about the institution’s ability to deliver on its liberal arts mission. Here is the full list of nixed majors: American studies, art (excluding graphic design), English (excluding English for teacher certification), French, geography, geoscience, German, history (excluding social science for teacher certification), music literature, philosophy, political science, sociology and Spanish.

Note that what’s being demolished isn’t the whole program in those fields — just the possibility of majoring in those disciplines, which means that these fields of study are being reduced to support programs for more valued programs, which happen to be the sexy and more readily vocational STEM side of campus. So students won’t be able to drink deep from the well of English literature, but they’ll just get little bit of exposure they need for their computer science degree, which ain’t much. They’ll still keep a few English professors around, but they aren’t going to be happy with a job that is reduced to teaching a few low-level service courses to biology and physics majors who resent being there. As for the other disciplines…chemists and auto mechanics don’t need no music literature or philosophy or art. They’ll wither and die.

UWSP is going to be reduced to a vocational college.

The plan is part of the campus’s Point Forward initiative to stabilize enrollment by investing scarce resources into programs Stevens Point sees as distinctive and in demand. Those include business, chemical engineering, computer information systems, conservation law enforcement, fire science and graphic design.

Business schools don’t even belong in a university. Those other majors certainly are legitimate and useful, but they are all specifically applied skills, which is fine, but they aren’t going to have the depth that I expect out of a university’s curriculum.

The key phrase there is “scarce resources”. They aren’t that scarce, they’re just not given to universities by the state as part of an ongoing strategy of gradually starving education out of existence. Wisconsin has just lurched farther ahead in this destructive program than other states, but Republican legislatures everywhere would love to cut the education budget and use it to pay off lobbyists and their own election campaigns.

It’s not just UWSP. You know they’re also gunning for the jewel in the crown of Wisconsin’s educational system, UW Madison. UWSP is just a harbinger for every other college in Wisconsin and the country.

Don’t get cocky

The good news is that Conor Lamb has officially won a special election against a fervent Trumpkin in Pennsylvania.

Voting for Saccone is exactly what the president wanted his supporters to do. Trump cared enough about Saccone winning that he joined him on the campaign trail multiple times and sent Vice President Mike Pence and members of his family, including son Donald Trump Jr. and daughter Ivanka Trump, to stump.

He even pushed a controversial announcement on steel and aluminum import tariffs so it would land a week before the special election.

None of it worked.

Trump voters ended up either staying home or proving they could just as easily cast their votes for a Democrat with the right message, especially when Trump wasn’t the candidate on the ballot.

It’s a loud clear sign that Trump’s influence with the electorate is waning. However, I still worry — the Democratic party has a tendency to get over-confident and blow it in the long run. I don’t want us to be thinking we can sail to victory. I want Democrats to be worried.

School walkouts today!

Students all around the country are staging a school walkout at 10:00 this morning, including those at our Morris area high school. I approve. Unfortunately, this is just a protest with training wheels, tightly circumscribed by the powers-that-be — the students are only walking out for 17 minutes (in memory of the students killed at Parkland), and school administrators have hedged them in with stern warnings about how they will be penalized if they skip school.

It’s a start, though. Look at it as the school’s allowing a little bit of practical learning that will serve the students well in these Trumpian times.

Next step: make your parents and school officials intensely uncomfortable, throw off the chains, and fight for changes they dislike. Vote. March in the streets. Say rude words to old white men in power. Flip the bird at the president of the United States — he does not deserve respect. Question everything.

It’s the only way we’ll make this country better.

Baby steps today, but it’s a rehearsal for grander progress tomorrow.

He did what?

Donald Trump has fired his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, but we’ve known that was coming for a long time, and this kind of chaos is standard operating procedure in his administration. I was more surprised by his firing of his personal assistant, John McEntee.

McEntee was one of the longest-serving aides to Trump and his position dates back to the early days of the campaign. Prior to that, it was mostly the president’s family that surrounded him, along with Stephen Miller, Dan Scavino and Hope Hicks.

He wasn’t well known in public but was constantly beside Trump for the last three years. His responsibilities consisted of having markers for Trump to sign autographs, delivering messages to the residence and ensuring the clocks in the White House residence were adjusted for daylight-savings.

Or rather, I’m not surprised at the firing, I’m rather more surprised that this job even existed. I could do those things! Maybe I’m more capable of a job in government than I ever expected. I’m honestly trying to imagine holding a position where my duties involve only being presentable, having a selection of pens in my pocket, and being able to carry pieces of paper. Of course there was the terrible twice yearly stress of having to cope with time changes.

I’m also impressed that someone could fall short in his performance of such a job.

I wonder if White House HR will be posting an ad for his replacement? I’d be curious to see the job requirements.