There’s nothing as absurd as a concert without music. But that’s what the NY Times has offered in its hit piece on Jordan Peterson. Author Nellie Bowles describes details of his life and snippets of his statements but never enough to let him make a coherent point.
The “radical left” wants to eliminate hierarchies, which he says are the natural order of the world. In his book he illustrates this idea with the social behavior of lobsters. He chose lobsters because they have hierarchies and are a very ancient species, and are also invertebrates with serotonin. This lobster hierarchy has become a rallying cry for his fans; they put images of the crustacean on T-shirts and mugs.
The left, he believes, refuses to admit that men might be in charge because they are better at it. “The people who hold that our culture is an oppressive patriarchy, they don’t want to admit that the current hierarchy might be predicated on competence,” he said.
The bit about the lobsters is brought up and then never explained. Bowles raises the point as a kind of absurdity: Just imagine “lobster hierarchies” on T-shirts! But she never tells us what the idea was. What did Peterson say about this? What lesson did he draw from it? Why have his fans embraced it?
The answer is that Peterson is making the point that the correlation between serotonin levels and a sense of accomplishment (or failure) is a very ancient part of our biochemistry. The point he makes from this is that part of making it even in the modern world is standing up straight and putting your shoulders back in a way that signals competence and success, even if you don’t feel that innately. It’s not hard to see how this message might be of interest to lots of young men who respond to Peterson’s message about getting their act together and growing up.
Is Peterson right about all of this? I don’t know. I’m sure there are people who could argue the point on any number of grounds. The point I’m making is that Bowles hasn’t even given us enough to understand the point or the appeal it might have. She’s turned it into a punch line without bothering to explain it. It’s a shortcut and a cheap one. There’s another this snippet about a witch:
Mr. Peterson illustrates his arguments with copious references to ancient myths — bringing up stories of witches, biblical allegories and ancient traditions. I ask why these old stories should guide us today.
“It makes sense that a witch lives in a swamp. Yeah,” he says. “Why?”
It’s a hard one.
“Right. That’s right. You don’t know. It’s because those things hang together at a very deep level. Right. Yeah. And it makes sense that an old king lives in a desiccated tower.”
But witches don’t exist, and they don’t live in swamps, I say.
“Yeah, they do. They do exist. They just don’t exist the way you think they exist. They certainly exist. You may say well dragons don’t exist. It’s, like, yes they do — the category predator and the category dragon are the same category. It absolutely exists. It’s a superordinate category. It exists absolutely more than anything else. In fact, it really exists. What exists is not obvious. You say, ‘Well, there’s no such thing as witches.’ Yeah, I know what you mean, but that isn’t what you think when you go see a movie about them. You can’t help but fall into these categories. There’s no escape from them.”
If you know anything about Peterson, you know that his first book, Maps of Meaning, was about archetypes and the ideas of Carl Jung. So there is an answer to Bowles question: Why we should listen to these old stories? In fact, its something Peterson could probably discuss for several hours. But here Bowles forgets to mention Jung or archetypes or any of the context and goes for the cheap shot again: Jordan Peterson believes in witches, y’all!
Later there’s a section about one of Peterson’s speaking gigs:
“You’re a divine locus of consciousness,” Mr. Peterson tells the crowd of 1,200 or so people.
He looks down as he walks. He paces. He pleads — he often sounds frustrated, like you’ve just said something absurd and he’s trying to correct you without raising his voice. He speaks for over an hour without any notes. He runs his hands over his face when it’s all too much. He cries often.
“We love you!” a woman screams from the back of the house
Those with V.I.P. tickets get to shake his hand and take a picture. Many tell him something as they stand, waiting for the flash: “You made me have a religious experience”; “we got back in our faith because of you”; “this is another wedding you can take credit for.”
Snippets of dialogue, descriptions of pacing, pleading and crying. Followed by the adulation of the unhinged crowds. All that’s missing from this description is…everything. This is a description of a rock concert written by someone who hates rock music. The entire experience becomes inexplicable and weird once you remove the music, i.e. the ideas. And that’s obviously what Nellie Bowles is trying to do, make it ridiculous. This will no doubt be applauded by many on the left, but it’s the laziest kind of hit piece imaginable.