Jordan Peterson and Toxic Masculinity

In the May 3 edition of Harper’s, former Jordan Peterson follower Omer Aziz examines the teachings of wildly popular psychologist Jordan Peterson about masculinity. Aziz immersed himself in Peterson’s teachings as an acolyte for a short period of time but has emerged as a critic. The essay covers much ground and in this post I primarily hope to convince readers interested in Peterson to go read it. In addition, I want to highlight a point or two and make one of my own.

Aziz begins by offering hypotheses about Peterson’s appeal to young men. I have often puzzled over this. He seems to point readers to the father figure that Peterson can become to young men who need direction and focus. This possibility leads to the question: if men need a father figure, what hole in their sense of masculinity are they seeking to fill? Aziz asks:

If Jordan Peterson was the solution that a whole generation of men were turning to, then what was the problem? What was the void that these diverse men were feeling, and why? In the shadow of the debate over feminism and women’s rights, what was happening under the surface of men that led so many of them to this paternal psychologist scolding them about Western civilization, the tyrannies of feminism, cleaning your room, and growing the hell up?

In trying to understand why sane young men turn to the often incoherent and conspiratorial Peterson, these are good questions. Peterson fans I have spoken with seem to feel at war with women (I only know male fans). Peterson is the general in charge of the resistance.

Aziz then brings up some of General Peterson’s more objectionable pronouncements about women. About oppression of women, Peterson once said:

I don’t think there is a great deal of unjust discrimination against women in comparison to the degree of unjust discrimination against men. I think that hasn’t really been true for probably, well, at least ten years. And I know that’s not very long. But then, I also don’t buy the argument that throughout history, men have, what would you say? Singularly oppressed women? I think that’s absolute bloody nonsense.

Even the casual reading of history which Aziz provides puts the lie to Peterson’s bluster.

Aziz also highlights Peterson’s recent statement in an interview where he said feminists don’t criticize Islam because they unconsciously long for brutal male domination. Some followers said this statement was taken out of context or a joke. However, he has tweeted this same sentiment in the past.

Reading Aziz’s essay reminded me of others in the past who, like Peterson, have lamented soft men (Aziz mentions Robert Bly’s Iron John). During and after World War II, “momism” was the enemy of that era’s tough men. Author Philip Wylie coined the term in a popular 1943 book, A Generation of Vipers. In 1946, military psychiatrist Edward Strecker claimed the rigors of war revealed that thousands of men were handicapped for military service by overprotective mothers. In Strecker’s view, these mothers were threats to the nation.

Wylie, not having feminism and leftists to blame as does Peterson, just blames mothers and “momworship” for the demise of men.

Meanwhile, Megaloid momworship has got completely out of hand. Our land, subjectively mapped, would have more silver cords and apron strings crisscrossing it than railroads and telephone wires. Mom is everywhere and everything and damned near everybody, and from her depends all the rest of the U. S.  Disguised as good old mom, dear old mom, sweet old mom, your loving mom, and so on, she is the bride at every funeral and the corpse at every wedding. Men live for her and die for her, dote upon her and whisper her name as they pass away, and I believe she has now achieved, in the hierarchy of miscellaneous articles, a spot next to the Bible and the Flag, being reckoned part of both in a way.

Instead of Peterson’s leftist plot, 1940s mom haters like Wylie simply pointed to controlling mothers.

“Her boy,” having been “protected” by her love, and carefully, even shudderingly, shielded from his logical development through his barbaric period, or childhood (so that he has either to become a barbarian as a man or else to spend most of his energy denying the barbarism that howls in his brain – an autonomous remnant of the youth he was forbidden), is cushioned against any major step in his progress toward maturity. Mom steals from the generation of women behind her (which she has, as a still further defense, also sterilized of integrity and courage) that part of her boy’s personality which should have become the love of a female contemporary. Mom transmutes it into sentimentality for herself. (pp. 195-196)

I could also bring up Mark Driscoll and his provocative claim in 2000 that we live in a “completely pussified nation.” Many in Driscoll’s orbit told me that he attracted young male followers who wanted a father figure. I don’t know if anyone has done a comparative study of Driscoll and Peterson but I suspect there is significant overlap. Driscoll famously had some things to say about the place of women which might resonate well with Peterson fans.

Peterson has found a way to sell a message which as found a home with certain men over the years who are looking for a reason why they experience the world the way they do. Blaming moms, egalitarians, or feminists is another way to say with Adam, “Lord, it is this woman’s fault.”

To that I say, “Grow the hell up.”

 

Image: Dr.Jordan Peterson delivering a lecture at the University of Toronto in 2017. March 20, 2017, Source: Adam Jacobs, Wikimedia, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Jordan Peterson Agonizes Over How to Answer a Question About God

I have heard rumors that some evangelicals like Jordan Peterson’s work. He gets all angry when he says words like intersectionality and postmodern so that really hooks some of my evangelical brethren, I guess. I have a hard time following what he says so I don’t get it. The video below is a good illustration of why his work seems like what he criticizes.

“It all depends on what you mean” is fine when he wants to use it but it isn’t fine when his ideological opponents want to do it.

Carl Jung, who I think Peterson considers an intellectual influence, didn’t particularly like this question either. Once, Jung compared himself to a witch doctor who found God in his dreams. On another occasion, Jung said he didn’t have to believe, he knew. According to his disciples at the time, he believed in a spirit or at least an immaterial existence but didn’t hold to the Swiss Reformed doctrines of his family.

Image: Dr.Jordan Peterson delivering a lecture at the University of Toronto in 2017. March 20, 2017, Source: Adam Jacobs, Wikimedia, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

The Social Justice Debate: Jordan Peterson on White Privilege

Last week I posted John MacArthur’s response to a seminary student’s question about social justice in the church. In that reply, MacArthur invoked the concept of intersectionality and defined it in a manner which echoed Jordan Peterson in his infamous lecture on white privilege.

Since I first heard Peterson on white privilege, I have considered writing a critical response. The MacArthur post provoked me to finally get to it.  In the 10 minute clip below, Peterson explains why he doubts the privilege associated with “white privilege” is actually due to whiteness. Here is the clip. He begins with his views of intersectionality, followed by a critique of white privilege which starts at 4:45.

He doesn’t play fair here by only criticizing one theoretical article from 1988. Nearly all social science concepts start with a notion of some kind which then serves to generate testable hypotheses. As of now, there are empirical studies on the concept. However, his audience leaves thinking white privilege is only the idea of an isolated professor.

At 7:01, Peterson reads from a list of attitudes and behaviors taken for granted by white people. The list was crafted by Peggy McIntosh in a 1988 paper (the full list is here) titled, “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies.” Note that she says it is a personal account.

Okay, so here’s her white privilege list, some of it, there’s like 50 things. ‘ I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.’ ‘If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.’ That’s actually a wealth thing, by the way. ‘I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.’ ‘I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.’ ‘I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.’ ‘When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.’ There’s 50 of those, I think, something like that.

Okay, is that white privilege, or is that, like majority privilege? Is the same true if you go to China, you’re Chinese, is the same true if you’re Chinese? Is it majority privilege, and if it’s majority privilege, isn’t that just part of living within your culture? So let’s say you live in your culture, you’re privileged in that culture, well obviously. That’s what the culture is for. That’s what it’s for. Why would you bother building the damn thing if it didn’t accrue benefits to you? Well, you might say one of the consequences is that it accrues fewer benefits to those who aren’t in the culture. Yeah, but you can’t immediately associate that with race. You can’t just do that. Say it’s white privilege. There’s many things it could be. Certainly could be wealth. And the intersectional people have already figured out there are many things it could be. So like, what the hell? Seriously, well, what’s going on?

Well, we let these pseudo-disciplines into the university because we’re stupid and guilty, seriously. And they have no methodological requirements and plenty of power and plenty of time to produce nonsensical research and produce like resentful activists and now we’re bearing the fruits of that. It’s not pretty, so white privilege.

So Like Seriously What’s Wrong?

Other than Peterson’s argument by exasperation, the main problem I see is his assumption that majorities of one kind or another build and own the culture. In America, that is silly, and an aspect of white nationalist fantasy. I realize he is Canadian but his arguments apparently appeal to Americans who like the majority white. In America, our history leads us straightaway to race. You can’t talk about majorities and minorities without talking about race.

Let’s apply his argument to America instead of China and see if it doesn’t sound like race is at least one of the important issues of privilege in America. Remember he is criticizing the idea of white privilege. Here is what he said in the video. After that I will substitute America for China.

Okay, is that white privilege, or is that, like majority privilege? Is the same true if you go to China, you’re Chinese, is the same true if you’re Chinese? Is it majority privilege, and if it’s majority privilege, isn’t that just part of living within your culture?

Now let’s substitute America for China.

“Okay, is that white privilege, or is that, like majority privilege? Is the same true if you go to [America]? If you go to [America], you’re [American], is the same true if you’re [American]? Is it majority privilege, and if it’s majority privilege, isn’t that just part of living within your culture?”

See the problem? He seems to be saying that the real, true Americans are the majority Americans. He solidifies this messages by asking, “isn’t that just part of living within your culture?” Jordan, what do you mean “your culture?” In America, the culture isn’t mine as a member of any majority. It is supposed to belong to all citizens. However, it is very clear to me that simply because I am white, I never have had to deal with some things that my African-American friends have had to deal with. By law, it is just as much their culture as mine but they contend with different social rules that they did not get to construct.

Peterson continues to talk about “your culture” as if it belongs to some unspecified majority alone. In what is the most shocking part of this rant to me, he justifies majority privilege as the right of the majority. Then he essentially excludes the minorities from the culture by saying they “accrue fewer benefits” and “aren’t in the culture.”

So let’s say you live in your culture, you’re privileged in that culture, well obviously. That’s what the culture is for. That’s what it’s for. Why would you bother building the damn thing if it didn’t accrue benefits to you? Well, you might say one of the consequences is that it accrues fewer benefits to those who aren’t in the culture. Yeah, but you can’t immediately associate that with race. You can’t just do that. Say it’s white privilege.

An American distinctive is the belief that people from all kinds of backgrounds can make good and have a better life. Many of us want to believe in the promise of America for everybody to realize the same benefits of being an American. Peterson appears to promote a backward view toward an America where the majority stores up benefits for themselves. In the end, he doesn’t refute the concept of white privilege as much as he tries to shout it down. For what purpose? I can’t think of any good one.

While I believe the concept of white privilege does need more empirical support, I also believe there is a use of the term which is simply descriptive. It stands for the observation that race matters in American society and has mattered since the founding. One does not need to embrace identity psychology to simply recognize that racism has not been eradicated from our cultural institutions (e.g., the church, political parties, law enforcement, etc.) and that efforts to minimize that fact are corrosive to our culture.  White guys stomping around yelling, “seriously, what the hell?” doesn’t get us any closer to treating others as we want to be treated or ensuring equal treatment under the law.

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Image: Dr.Jordan Peterson delivering a lecture at the University of Toronto in 2017. March 20, 2017, Source: Adam Jacobs, Wikimedia, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.