Jordan B Peterson arrives in the Old Country
“I can’t believe how this is being spun. It’s mindblowing…” Thus spake Jordan B Peterson, the Canadian psychology professor, as the United Kingdom’s vast and mighty opinion factories – the dark, Satanic mills of William Blake’s fevered imaginings – began to vomit forth their responses to a Channel Four interview which had covered the gender pay gap, free speech and for some reason the neurobiology of lobsters. It took about forty-eight hours for the First Response Team’s idea that wisdom had met waffle and vanquished it to be buried beneath a thousand tons of hysterical shrieking nonsense, in which JBP had apparently perpetrated a live-on-air hate crime and basically incited violence against Channel Four and its blameless, quivering employees. From St George to dragon in two days. Welcome to Britain.
It may not be so obvious to North Americans – we are, after all, small and distant and our time is mostly taken up with tea-based self-medication for the depression occasioned by our cuisine and climate – but Britain’s culture wars are as intense as anything on offer in the New World. We have a thousand-year head-start on our former colonies, and long practice has enabled us to entrench our battle lines at every frontier where such lines are capable of being drawn, from the old classics like class, religion and political affiliation to more recent favourites such as sex, race, profession, which way you voted in the EU Referendum, broadband speeds in your local area and your views on the Atkins diet. Remember that Thomas Hobbes, the seventeenth century philosopher who assumed that society was a hellish and eternal war between everyone and everyone else, was an Englishman: ‘nuff said.
But what, we hear you ask, have culture wars to do with academic psychologists and their obscure musings on marine crustaceans? We confess that we have been furtive followers of JBP for some time, and the narrative goes something like this. His current incarnation as Culture Warrior from the Frozen North – one likes to imagine mukluks and a great axe, but alas that is not the case – began a year or so ago when he posted to YouTube a video criticising proposed legislation in Canada to make the use of a number of transgender pronouns compulsory, prompting the kind of wearisome festival of outrage which has become an apparently permanent feature of public discourse in Anglosphere countries.
At no point did the good professor express any hostility to transgender people – rather, he framed the argument in terms of freedom of speech. Of course, he is very late to this particular party: that horse bolted so long ago that its remotest descendants are probably extinct. We suspect that this is because there is a superficial distinction between restricting and compelling certain kinds of speech – there is, after all, no conceivable use in the English language for the sentences, “Good lord, madam, that’s an ugly baby you have there,” or, “Hello, mother-in-law, still putting on weight, I see,” and so people can be brought to believe that state-sanctioned silence on certain matters merely represents a sort of universal recognition that some forms of tact are always proper, whereas there is something more obviously Orwellian about the government requiring its citizens to voice specific ideas. Making us speak other people’s thoughts turns us into non-people in a very fundamental sense – mere toys, perhaps, like those dolls which toddlers can make talk by pulling a string on their backs, and the human spirit can not bear it – unless crushed or corrupted.
It is, then, the corruption of the human spirit – deliberate, remorseless, deadly serious and germinated in our wretched universities – which is Prof Peterson’s real dragon, and over the last several months he has been articulating its nature and anatomy to growing audiences across the world. As far as we have understood his extremely long and wide-ranging lectures, this beast has three heads:
Head One: an extreme version of social constructionism, whereby human identity is determined by those social experiences which you have in common with other members of your race or class or gender or hair-colour or whatever, so that people exist primarily or exclusively at the group level.
Head Two: postmodernism, which insists that there is an infinite number of equally valid ways of interpreting absolutely everything, so that our selection of any particular category structure as a way of understanding the world around us is necessarily arbitrary, and we therefore just pick whichever one happens to advance our own interests.
Head Three: neo-Marxism, which combines the group-absolutism and interpretation-by-self-interest of the first two heads into the idea that the only real dynamic in human activity is the struggle between groups for power, using as their weapons the assertion of value structures. Thus the powerful ideas which built the modern world – empiricism, the scientific method, mathematics, reason, individualism and liberalism in the old-fashioned sense (essentially the mind-world contstructed by Bacon, Newton and Locke) – have no intrinsic value of their own, but rather must necessarily be merely the tools selected by the dominant group (assumed to be white heterosexual males or ‘the patriarchy’) to reinforce their place at the top of various dominance hierarchies.
One thinks of Murray Rothbard’s description of something or other (was it the writing of Gerard de Malynes?) as a “tissue of egregious fallacies”, but for an illustration of this preposterous rubbish actually at work consider the following: for the postmodernist campus ideologues, it mattered not in the least that Prof Peterson’s video did not, as we said, express any hostility to transgender people, because for a white, heterosexual male (apologies, cis-male) to use reason and individualistic political and legal ideas, not to mention empirical and statistical observations rooted in the social sciences, to argue against their assertions was just him deploying a set of tools designed for the sole purpose of ensuring that his own group continues to dominate and oppress a less powerful one, and ipso facto an act of violence against their group identity. Indeed, this is the core of the campus radicals’ rejection of free speech: it is built into the ideology that reasoned objections are only a power-play at the expense of the marginalised.
Indeed, the very idea of transgenderism is itself one of the heads of this hydra. Not, nota bene, the notion that there is a small number of people who are uncomfortable in either the male or female categories, which is both incontrovertible and thousands of years old, but rather the SJW activists’ intellectual framework in which biological sex, gender identity, gender expression and sexual preference are completely independent variables. As far as anyone can tell, they believe this for no more sophisticated reason than that the opposite belief – i.e., that there is an almost perfect correlation between those categories – is the established social norm, so it must therefore follow that it was invented and propagated to serve the interests of the patriarchy by oppressing marginalised groups.
For the most part, Prof Peterson has come to his current prominence for insisting on this distinction: that tolerance and compassion for individuals is not remotely the same thing as capitulating to an extremely radical far-left ideology to the extent that it is now being written into law and taught as fact in universities and, increasingly, in schools across the western world, especially its Anglophone core but also to a certain degree in its Euro-periphery, particularly Scandinavia.
Perhaps fortunately, this particular emperor (or tyrannical king, as JBP himself might put it) has no clothes. There is not a scrap of evidence – quite the reverse – that differences between groups are greater than those between the individuals within them; the refusal to see that that the history of consciousness, from primordial soup to homo sapiens, must for Darwinian reasons have been a process of iterative approximation towards the ability to perceive objective reality (otherwise postmodernist professors would continually be walking out into moving traffic), is a completely bizarre rejection of the theory of natural selection – a somewhat interesting move for a bunch of militant atheists; and to contend that social dynamics have a single motivating force, the undefined idea of ‘power’, is so wilfully blind and truly stupid that it is almost impossible to believe that it is taken seriously.
Nevertheless, if readers would like to see just how far down this rabbit hole our academic institutions have gone, we can recommend nothing better than the Twitter account @NewRealPeerReview, which posts links to real PhD theses and genuine journal articles by tenured professors arguing that barbecues perpetuate oppressive gender stereotypes, that Winnie the Pooh indoctrinates children with reprehensible capitalist patterns of acquisition, that complaining about the weather culturally appropriates the lived experience of Inuit fishermen, and that throwing sticks for dogs in the park victimises furry mammals by making them unwilling tools of capitalism through the symbolic acting-out of repetitive low-value labour practices.
While our first instinct might be to laugh at this risible crap – and one certainly should – these academic buffoons are not merely making this sorry stuff up as they go along. They are drawing on a real intellectual tradition whose explicit aims are at the very least the destruction of the intellectual pillars of western civilisation, and at their most ambitious the elimination of humanity altogether. “Nothing else can be stated as the aim of our existence except the knowledge that it would be better for us not to exist,” wrote Schopenhauer, and that anti-Enlightenment tradition – started by Rousseau, Kant and other bastards of that sort – has had another two centuries since then to be developed and refined into the kind of nihilistic gibberish propagated by Lyotard, Derrida, Foucault and all that mob, so that we now teach children that nothing is real except that the world is out to get them, and that if they believe there is anything good about the society in which they live then they are part of the problem. Now that they have climate change in their toolbox, too, they can give the kids the encouraging news that it would be best for the planet if they had never lived at all.
Where Prof Peterson is wrong about this is only in his apparent belief that this ideology can be resisted. We suspect that it will just have to be played out, and hope that there will be enough left in the figurative and actual wreckage to salvage and start rebuilding when at length we are released from the cultural re-education farms to which we will inevitably be sent when this generation’s undergraduates leave their universities and make their way into politics. Hold on tight, folks, because this next thirty years is going to be worse than anyone can imagine…