Jordan Peterson seems like a good guy, he’s a smart guy, he’s doing good work, he’s fightin’ the left’s dangerous political moves in Canada, but I’m starting to not be able to stand him.
What has me real triggered is a recent show he did with Joe Rogan. This show is just one in a series of appearances by Peterson, but it’s one which might be the straw on my camel’s back. Here’s my problem with Peterson: he’s exactly the sort of mind that would come up with and steadfastly support the New Deal, and the New Deal is exactly why we have the problems we do in “North American” culture. Yet, Peterson is oblivious for a couple of important reasons. These reasons can clarify to libertarians the scale and nature of the obstacles facing our worldview.
Peterson is a liberal individualist. He thinks people should be themselves, and through freedom take us from “the boundary of order and chaos” into a possibly better world. No problem there. But then, he imagines some sort of ethical constraint inspired by contextualizing the individual within the broader social psychology and needs of “others”. And, then he goes on to almost nearly support the “just right” sort of government interventionism against “the unbound, unfiltered wild free market” so that society can achieve some kind of harmony. This is how we got the New Deal. Sure, there were communists, socialists, collectivists and so forth who supported the program. It could never have happened if there wasn’t that certain set of American liberal intellectuals who in their effort at clever nuance not only saw the reasonableness of expert managed reasonably limited government oversight of all society, but who believed they saw its absolute necessity.
In turn, it is this “reasonably limited government oversight” of everything that has made individualism impossible, and made identity politics and leftism the natural cultural outcomes of American society. Where’s Peterson’s error?
One thing that annoyed me about this podcast was the confusion of what might be called the science of social psychology with sociology. I would ascribe to sociology a certain materialist – economic – dimension, whereas social psychology deals more with the biological influences on human social outcomes. According to sociology, groups will create artificial and arbitrary modes of differentiation between people in order to facilitate unequal norms so that society can function in conditions of inequality. Social psychology, on the other hand, might say that people associate with genetically similar persons and have natural tendencies to mistrust or have different moral standards to apply to ethnically different persons. Obviously, these two categories overlap, by virtue of us being who we are, trapped between natural imperatives (make babies with beautiful mates, then protect them and their future) and abstract intellectual pursuits (rational economic activity, intellectualism, idealism). While the balancing of these two phenomena represents a major component of the human story, each phenomenon itself has its own self-contained story. The “racial consciousness” of German philosophy is different entirely from the bureaucratic social organization proposed by modernism. It just so happens, for example, that Naziism combined them.
What’s notable about the question of social psychology is the degree to which many extroverts, for example, seem unable conceive of human life outside of it. Isn’t obtaining status in society the be all and end all? Isn’t spreading our genes as far and wide as possible our lone human purpose? Well, no, it isn’t though. Take Ayn Rand, who’s philosophy conceived of individuals who sought only to manifest in reality the vision of their mind. This was enough to give them meaning. If they were the only human alive and their architectural vision had to be manifest in sticks and stones, so be it. That’s not to say that social psychology affects all humans to some degree, or even that it’s a primary factor for all humans, but JEEZ if all life amounts to is gaining status then that’s pretty pathetic.
I take a certain approach to society in which I fail to countenance obviously absurd notions. For example, a person that belittles and cruelly persecutes a kid in the lunch room as part of his or her own quest for social status – that is not a good person. As a kid, my reaction to these types was always to scoff at their pretense to status. I never understood why some of my friends who worshiped these popular types didn’t seem too bothered with how they treated the socially destitute. Maybe that’s why I never became a socialist, since a lot of the college lefties were huge A-holes. They want material equality, meaning they want you to work while they don’t, so they can cavort with all the women. And the women loved it. That’s socialism: material equality so the cool kids can impose shame-fueled social inequality. Want to kill a young population’s pretenses at socialism? Impose upon them enforced romantic equality.
I think Peterson would acknowledge the truth of all this. His error, then, is undue deference to social psychology. It’s almost as if he takes the imperatives of social psychology for granted, and then understanding the difficulties they produce, seeks to manage them with ethics designed only to create a harmony among otherwise destructive forces of tribal instincts. The error lies with his acquiescence to primacy of these awful social instincts. While this might be a wise choice, I think it falls short, and there’s evidence of that in Peterson’s other beliefs.
As I showed, invoking Ayn Rand, there are forces of meaning which are or could be relevant to humankind (including religion) that reject or transcend social psychology. The question is, in the battle between reason and instinct, which might win? The answer comes with an understanding of Praxeology.
Praxeology is genius because it stands right in the middle of this question. It neither rejects nor accepts the pitfalls of human nature. Instead, it takes humans as they are, but then introduces them into a medium of economic activity. It doesn’t ask whether humans will act rationally or not, but rather supposes that at least at times they can. It is the interposition of this material medium, the real world, between human desire and outcome, with reason as the only meaningful interface, that moderates human instinct.
Thus, it is not a question of absolutes. This “free market” that most intellectuals are desperate to mistrust or reject is the arbiter of material outcomes that imagination can’t be. Human evolutionary psychology might derive meaning from activities that benefit the tribe’s propagation of genes, but “the market” is rather indifferent to anything other than cost calculations.
People like Peterson, but mostly those worse than him, are frustrated by the market because – unlike humans – it can’t be manipulated by myth, literature, force, or feeling into conforming to the genetic aspirations of the “race” or “tribe”. Peterson seems so close to realizing this, but then, falls back on “well we have to appease this social psychology anyway.”
Why is this? I have no doubt that his knowledge of economics, particularly Austrian Economics, is probably lacking. But overall I’d have to place blame on his environment. He has been socialized, whether he likes it or not, perhaps even by admission, to the worldview of modern intellectuals with its magical thinking that upholds the promptings of social psychology as inherently meaningful.
This is a larger problem of the intellectual class wherein intellectualism is “nationalized” and we have a mis-allocation of resources (etc.) in the field of ideas. Certain ideas can’t compete against the consensus. That social psychology would become the handmaiden of state power, and that this would become the broad consensus of academia can’t be a suprise. Jordan Peterson is cloistered in this ideology, and without perhaps realizing it, he’s a servant of this consensus and its continuation.
One place this comes up is his obsession with discussing Hitler’s evil. I for one don’t think Hitler was a good guy. By all accounts, he was evil. But he was not evil incarnate, and the idea that he or the German nationalist worker’s party are evil incarnate is a product of the allies’ victors history.
Here’s one area that demonstrates this: the left’s rejection of eugenics. Observe the tautology – eugenics is evil because Nazis did it, but why are the Nazis evil, it is because they did eugenics. The left would love to do eugenics. An era in which the liberal bureaucracy scientifically manages genetic outcomes so that social psychology could be employed in the direction of the greater good would be a golden age of liberal ideology. There’s no more holistic or consistent application of their beliefs then that. The only reason they don’t support the idea is because the Nazis did it. Well, from their perspective, so what? Because the Nazis are the enemies of the New Deal bureaucracy, and therefore must be evil!
What emerges is a tension of cognitive dissonance. Liberals, by the nature of their ideology, would salivate to engage in eugenics. Therefore, the barrier which rejects this desperate desire must be esoteric. To cross over into “that” realm, even though liberals really want to, is to enter the realm of esoteric (and incomprehensible) evil. In this sense, the myth of Nazis as evil incarnate is essential to regulating, defining, and limiting liberalism. It’s as if Peterson himself knows this intuitively. He keeps talking about ethical constraints on biological imperatives, then goes on to speak on the incomparable evil of the Nazis.
Peterson said something that gives it away. In defining Nazi evil he said we have to “give the devil his due” to understand the true evil of the thing. “No one would question the charisma of Hitler, no on would question the economic success he brought about.”
Hold your horses buddy. I question the economic gains of that regime. This is what the establishment believes! Hitler was sexy and successful, but crossed the line into evil. New Dealism wants to be Hitler! Only limiting themselves by invoking abstract evil.
National socialism is the inevitable, most consistent endgame of New Deal politics. By defining Hitler as evil, the New Dealers set an artificial limit for themselves and made an excuse for why they couldn’t cross it. Now, the world can never claim that New Deal policies don’t work, because they’re never allowed to be comprehensively applied. And they never will be because of the spectre of Naziism.
What a mindtrick!
The problems with Hitlerism are easily defined. Subordination of individual to state, the centralization of everything, the championing of the greater good over private needs. The race factor doesn’t play as much a role as is claimed, more a concession to German nationalism than some esoteric philosophy. National socialism prioritized planning, central management, and unity. All left-liberal ideals by the way. And, by the way, this was all back-firing by 1938. Labor was unhappy, the aristocrats grew impatient, the youth ran off to the forests. The central planning and management didn’t work. But instead, we hear about how “evil” these people were.
Peterson claims the Nazis are evil because they turbocharged the holocaust during the war, instead of just waiting until the war ended to resume evil. Yeah dummy! That’s how war works. Only a god-forsaken New Dealer would possibly conceive of war as this act of civilization where reasonable but tough decisions are made by a gentleman bureaucracy. War always, everywhere, warps morality. Of course the holocaust would get worse towards the end of the war. And, yet, to Peterson, this is proof of the Nazi’s particular, singular evil.
What Peterson needs is some Austrian economics, some Praxeology, and some time away from the pressures of the establishment consensus.
Note that social psychology is relevant to human economic life. That’s only because it a tool of the state and not necessarily a political necessity.
Men want to kill and do war? Have sports.
Men want to impregnate mates? Legalize prostitution.
The purpose of human life is derived from our own choices, experiences and preferences. Biology might compel us to desire certain things. So what? Gratification of instinct requires economic activity. Praxeology can tell us that there’s mating, then there’s prostitution, there’s also celibacy and religious devotion – and means to get there, and choices to be made along the way. “We” are not constrained by our instincts, unless the state wants us to be.
And so God-bless-him, Jordan Peterson is taking a break from my life. His fight is noteworthy, but he’s trapped in the same delusions he’s combating.
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