A little knowledge

Updated 25 May 2018

Updated 4 Jun 2018

Updated 31 Dec 2018

I’ve been ignoring Jordan Peterson because his ideas are so monumentally idiotic and sexist that the time spent would be wasted. But, like reading reviews of horrible movies, there are just so many good take downs they need documented. His world view echoes in quality and spirit ex-Google employee James Damore’s “manifesto” from August of last year (who also had cogent and detailed takedowns). Both pseudo-science their way across biology, the social sciences, psychological archetypes, biological imperatives, and any other subjects that, when combined with conspiracy-like selectivity, can be used to get the results they want (think of how quantum theory’s Heisenberg uncertainty principle is used to explain some sort of fungible reality in the macroscopic world). Nonsense can be harmless, but with Peterson and Damore’s fractured extrapolations, too often violence, and not hilarity, ensues.

The adventure started (for most) last Friday with the NYT excellent and terrifying article titled Jordan Peterson, Custodian of the Patriarchy. Peterson’s been around for a while, examined most notably by David Futrelle on his website We Hunted the Mammoth, but the effects of Jordan and his ilk have only really risen to the surface of culture in the last couple of years, showcasing disaffected male teens as they lash out with cars or guns against women and POC. As one commenter elaborated: the angry privileged are manifesting as self-described oppressed white males railing against perceived social slights, incels against perceived gender injustice, and Trump, as leader of a superpower, against a bullying world.

Like the Google misogynist, Jordan Peterson has a wealth of scientist detractors eschewing printed rebuttals instead for justifiably casual Twitter rebuttals.

First thread (ht ladycrumpet) has Sarah Taber providing better examples of human biological tendencies than Peterson’s beloved lobsters (surprise! it’s humans and other primates):


Then there’s Bailey Steinworth’s deep dive into how lobsters et al. actually interact:

Lobsters aside, the On Point segment ‘Incels’: The Movement Behind The Toronto Attack has host Meghna Chakrabarti speaking with a psychotherapist and several reporters, including David Futrelle. Subjects: the many, unacknowledged instances of terrorism against women, and the viscous cycle of self-hate that keeps Peterson followers as followers.

One phrase often used during discussions of Peterson and his type is that of an “intellectual dark web.” This is used as shorthand for any idea the speaker feels is too dangerous for consideration from, or suppressed by, the scientific community. This gets to the key cause. As people flock to Oprah-level bland life lessons and advice from her charlatan doctor (now part of Trump’s White House), they simultaneously rail against years/decades of documented science in favor of an Insidious Conspiracy. Occam’s whatever be damned.

Eye. Roll.

Updated 25 May 2018

Further critiques, both commenting on Peterson’s black-and-white view of “equality of opportunity” and the ideas coming from the intellectual dark web (a subject all on its own) among others.

An essay titled Reconsider the lobster by philosophy professor Kate Manne in The Times Literary Supplement. She looks at the book that started it all, Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life, and walks through each “rule” for “life”.

On his romanticizing of the past:

“It was easier for people to be good at something when more of us lived in small, rural communities”, he reflects. Strictly speaking, this seems false, or at least vulnerable to counter-examples. It was just easier to seem good relative to other people when one knew less about their exploits.

On his blind spot for the violence coming from those traditionally in power:

Greater equality of opportunity is of course a necessary condition and symptom of social progress. But new opportunities and better odds for at least some members of historically subordinate social groups cannot be expected to come as good news to all of history’s traditional winners. It may result not only in disappointment and shame among some of them, but also resentment and violent outbursts among others.

And the quotes from the more radical of his followers are chilling and bizarre.

Another essay, Jordan Peterson Does Not Support ‘Equality of Opportunity’ by Eric Levitz from New York Magazine. He examines Peterson’s frequent cherry picking and kind of fallacy of composition logical errors.

The reason (most) progressives posit the gender-wage gap or racial disparities in incarceration, or income inequality … is that they believe that in a society as racist, sexist, and economically stratified as our own, it is safe to assume that such inequalities are not solely rooted in meritocracy or social utility.

The main point of both is that Peterson’s sweeping generalizations and flawed metaphors ignore, to the detriment of his followers, a more nuanced examination of our society and of humanity. We can hope that, much like the downfall of Richard Spencer, Peterson will face a similar reckoning through isolation now that his toxic views are more fully broadcast.

Updated 4 Jun 2018

I was Jordan Peterson’s strongest supporter. Now I think he’s dangerous – A detailed history of Peterson’s time as a professor at the University of Toronto, written by Bernard Schiff, a close co-worker of Peterson’s and a former professor there.

One student, however, hated the course because he did not like “delivered truths.” Curious, I attended many of Jordan’s lectures to see for myself.

Remarkably, the 50 students always showed up at 9 a.m. and were held in rapt attention for an hour. Jordan was a captivating lecturer — electric and eclectic — cherry-picking from neuroscience, mythology, psychology, philosophy, the Bible and popular culture. The class loved him. But, as reported by that one astute student, Jordan presented conjecture as statement of fact.

Jordan Peterson may be a ‘public intellectual’, but his latest theory isn’t very clever – from Hadley Freeman in The Guardian. She quotes his absurd response to the New York Times article in his blog, On the New York Times and “Enforced Monogamy”, and offers a sharp, counterpoint:

[He states that] “socially enforced monogamous conventions decrease male violence” [yet] up to 70% of women globally have been abused by their partner, and two women a week in England and Wales alone are killed by former partners. No, we’re just told we should cure violent men with our magical vaginas, and if we fail to do so, our vaginas were presumably insufficiently magical [emphasis mine because holy shit that’s a good line].

Updated 31 Dec 2018

He believes that the image of two coiled snakes present in ancient art means the civilizations knew about DNA.


I believe [the entwined snakes] is a representation of DNA.

He believes that birth control is bad for civilization.


I think it’s partly also a consequence of the fact that we haven’t adapted to the birth control pill yet. It was a major technological revolution, the birth control pill, and it’s only been 50 years, and we haven’t figured out what it means for women to have control over the reproductive function and what the consequences of that should be socially. The leftist types, especially in the 60s, thought you could just blow sexual morality apart completely because now people are free to do what they want. That isn’t working. There’s a backlash against that on the left as well.

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