The Atlantic has an interesting piece on Jordan Peterson today. Actually, the piece isn’t about Peterson per se, but about what is driving the left’s over-the-top reaction to Peterson. Author Caitlin Flanagan notes that the cultural gatekeepers on the left seem determined to make sure Peterson remains outside the camp, but so far it’s not working:
It’s hard to think of a best-selling self-help book whose author has not appeared on the classic morning shows; these programs—Today and Good Morning America and CBS This Morning—are almost entirely devoted to the subject of self-help. But the producers did their part, and Peterson did not go to their studios to sit among the lifestyle celebrities and talk for a few minutes about the psychological benefits of simple interventions in one’s daily life. This should have stopped progress, except Peterson was by then engaged in something that can only be compared to a conventional book tour if conventional book tours routinely put authors in front of live audiences well in excess of 2,500 people, in addition to the untold millions more listening to podcasts and watching videos. (Videos on Peterson’s YouTube channel have been viewed, overall, tens of millions of times.) It seemed that the book did not need the anointing oils of the Today show..
There is an eagerness to attach reputation-destroying ideas to him, such as that he is a supporter of something called “enforced monogamy,” an anthropological concept referring to the social pressures that exist in certain cultures that serve to encourage marriage. He mentioned the term during a wide-ranging interview with a New York Times reporter, which led to the endlessly repeated falsehood that he believes that the government should be in the business of arranging marriages. There is also the inaccurate belief that he refuses to refer to transgender people by the gendered pronoun conforming to their identity. What he refuses to do is to abide by any laws that could require compelled speech.
There are not-so-subtle attempts to ignore or damage him by the media being driven by what looks like fear. Flanagan concludes the core of the rejection of Peterson is fear, fear that he is undermining the foundation of modern leftism: identity politics.
The left, while it currently seems ascendant in our houses of culture and art, has in fact entered its decadent late phase, and it is deeply vulnerable. The left is afraid not of Peterson, but of the ideas he promotes, which are completely inconsistent with identity politics of any kind…
When the top man at The New York Times publishes a sober statement about a meeting he had with the president in which he describes instructing Trump about the problem of his “deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric,” and then three days later the paper announces that it has hired a writer who has tweeted about her hatred of white people, of Republicans, of cops, of the president, of the need to stop certain female writers and journalists from “existing,” and when this new hire will not be a beat reporter, but will sit on the paper’s editorial board—having a hand in shaping the opinions the paper presents to the world—then it is no mystery that a parallel culture of ideas has emerged to replace a corrupted system. When even Barack Obama, the poet laureate of identity politics, is moved to issue a message to the faithful, hinting that that they could be tipping their hand on all of this—saying during a speech he delivered in South Africa that a culture is at a dead end when it decides someone has no “standing to speak” if he is a white man—and when even this mayday is ignored, the doomsday clock ticks ever closer to the end.
I think this is essentially right and not just about Peterson. Many of the members of the so-called Intellectual Dark Web were (or still are) left-leaning individuals who refused to buckle before the identity politics juggernaut. That’s the case with Bret Weinstein who was accused of racism by students at Evergreen State College and refused to go along with his own public shaming. Not only that, Weinstein pointed out that the students themselves were behaving like an irrational cult based partly on their assumptions about race.
Not so many years ago, Sam Harris was considered part of the avant-garde of new atheism. Then he ran afoul of the left’s embrace of Islam by suggesting that not all religions are equally harmful. Suddenly he was an Islamophobe, a weird label through which the left equates belonging to a specific religion by choice with immutable, heritable characteristics like race.
Peterson’s move from mostly unknown college professor to whatever he is today started with a law in Canada which, as mentioned above, he took as an attempt to compel speech. He rejected it on the basis that individuals should not be compelled to say things by their government. It was about individualism over the demands of identity politics.
For Peterson, the most important achievement of western society is the recognition of the importance of the individual. As he says in the clip below, our free market system based on the individual is terrible except when compared to all the others. The left really does have something to worry about if their focus on unionizing people by race and gender fails.