I was Jordan Peterson’s strongest supporter. Now I think he’s dangerous

Jordan has studied and understands authoritarian demagogic leaders. They know how to attract a following. In an interview with Ethan Klein in an H3 Podcast, Jordan describes how such leaders learn to repeat those things which make the crowd roar, and not repeat those things that do not. The crowd roared the first time Jordan opposed the so-called “transgender agenda.” Perhaps they would roar again, whether it made sense or not.

.. Jordan cites Carl Jung, who talked about the effectiveness of powerful emotional oratorical skills to tap into the collective unconscious of a people, and into their anger, resentment, fear of chaos and need for order. He talked about how those demagogic leaders led by acting out the dark desires of the mob.

.. Consciously or not, Jordan may have understood that transgender people tap into society’s “collective unconscious” and would become a lightning rod for attention loaded with anger and resentment. And it did.

.. when questioned about the merits of 12 Rules for Life, Jordan answered that he must be doing something right because of the huge response the book has received. How odd given what he said in that same interview about demagogues and cheering crowds.

.. I have no way of knowing whether Jordan is aware that he is playing out of the same authoritarian demagogue handbook that he himself has described. If he is unaware, then his ironic failure, unwillingness, or inability to see in himself what he attributes to them is very disconcerting.

.. Calling Marxism, a respectable political and philosophical tradition, “murderous” conflates it with the perversion of those ideas in Stalinist Russia and elsewhere where they were. That is like calling Christianity a murderous ideology because of the blood that was shed in its name during the Inquisition, the Crusades and the great wars of Europe. That is ridiculous.

.. Jordan, our “free speech warrior,” decided to launch a website that listed “postmodern neo-Marxist” professors and “corrupt” academic disciplines, warning students and their parents to avoid them. Those disciplines, postmodern or not, included women’s, ethnic and racial studies. Those “left-wing” professors were trying to “indoctrinate their students into a cult” and, worse, create “anarchical social revolutionaries.”

.. I do think Jordan believes what he says, but it’s not clear from the language he uses whether he is being manipulative and trying to induce fear, or whether he is walking a fine line between concern and paranoia.

.. Jordan has a complex relationship to freedom of speech. He wants to effectively silence those left-wing professors by keeping students away from their courses because the students may one day become “anarchical social revolutionaries” who may bring upon us disruption and violence.

At the same time he was advocating cutting funds to universities that did not protect free speech on their campuses.

He defended the rights of “alt right” voices to speak at universities even though their presence has given rise to disruption and violence. For Jordan, it appears, not all speech is equal, and not all disruption and violence are equal, either.

If Jordan is not a true free speech warrior, then what is he?

.. What same-sex families and transgender people have in common is their upset of the social order. In Maps of Meaning, Jordan’s first book, he is exercised by the breakdown of the social order and the chaos that he believes would result. Jordan is fighting to maintain the status quo to keep chaos at bay, or so he believes. He is not a free speech warrior. He is a social order warrior.

.. In the end, Jordan postponed his plan to blacklist courses after many of his colleagues signed a petition objecting to it. He said it was too polarizing. Curiously, that had never stopped him before. He appears to thrive on polarization.

.. He cheapens the intellectual life with self-serving misrepresentations of important ideas and scientific findings. He has also done disservice to the institutions which have supported him. He plays to “victimhood” but also plays the victim.

.. Jordan may have, however, welcomed being fired, which would have made him a martyr in the battle for free speech. He certainly presented himself as prepared to do that. A true warrior, of whatever.

.. Jordan is seen here to be emotionally explosive when faced with legitimate criticism, in contrast to his being so self-possessed at other times. He is erratic.

.. Jordan exhibits a great range of emotional states, from anger and abusive speech to evangelical fierceness, ministerial solemnity and avuncular charm. It is misleading to come to quick conclusions about who he is, and potentially dangerous if you have seen only the good and thoughtful Jordan, and not seen the bad.

.. “Bernie. Tammy had a dream, and sometimes her dreams are prophetic. She dreamed that it was five minutes to midnight.”

.. He was playing out the ideas that appeared in his first book. The social order is coming apart. We are on the edge of chaos. He is the prophet, and he would be the martyr. Jordan would be our saviour. I think he believes that.

.. He may be driven by a great and genuine fear of our impending doom, and a passionate conviction that he can save us from it. He may believe that his ends justify his questionable means, and he may not be aware that he mimics those figures from whom he wants to protect us.

.. “What they do have in common is … that they have the answers and that their instincts are good, that they are smarter than everybody else and can do things by themselves.” This was Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state in an recent interview with the New York Times referring to the authoritarian leaders discussed in her new book, Fascism: A Warning.

.. Jordan is not part of the alt-right. He fits no mould. But he should be concerned about what the “dark desires” of the alt-right might be. He could be, perhaps unwittingly, activating “the dark desires” of that mob.

.. I discovered while writing this essay a shocking climate of fear among women writers and academics who would not attach their names to opinions or data which were critical of Jordan. All of Jordan’s critics receive nasty feedback from some of his followers, but women writers have felt personally threatened.

.. Given Jordan’s tendency toward grandiosity, it should not be surprising to learn that he is politically ambitious. He would have run for the leadership of the federal Conservative party but was dissuaded by influential friends. He has not, however, lost interest in the political life.

.. cut University funding by 25 per cent until politically correct cult at schools reined in.

.. On March 19, Jordan was in the Toronto Sun saying that Premier Kathleen Wynne “is the most dangerous woman in Canada.”

.. There was nothing new in the article, but those words are signature Jordan, the language of fear.

.. Jordan is a powerful orator. He is smart, compelling and convincing. His messages can be strong and clear, oversimplified as they often are, to be very accessible.

.. He has studied demagogues and authoritarians and understands the power of their methods. Fear and danger were their fertile soil. He frightens by invoking murderous bogeymen on the left and warning they are out to destroy the social order, which will bring chaos and destruction.

Jordan’s view of the social order is now well known.

He is a biological and Darwinian determinist. Gender, gender roles, dominance hierarchies, parenthood, all firmly entrenched in our biological heritage and not to be toyed with. Years ago when he was living in my house, he said children are little monkeys trying to clamber up the dominance hierarchy and need to be kept in their place. I thought he was being ironic. Apparently, not.

He is also very much like the classic Social Darwinists who believe that “attempts to reform society through state intervention or other means would … interfere with natural processes; unrestricted competition and defence of the status quo were in accord with biological selection.”

.. Social Darwinism declined during the 20th century as an expanded knowledge of biological, social and cultural phenomena undermined, rather than supported, its basic tenets.” Jordan remains stuck in and enthralled by The Call of the Wild.

.. What I am seeing now is a darker, angrier Jordan than the man I knew.

.. In Karen Heller’s recent profile in the Washington Post he is candid about his long history of depression.

.. It is a cognitive disorder that casts a dark shadow over everything. His view of life, as nasty and brutish, may very well not be an idea, but a description of his experience, which became for him the truth.

.. “You have an evil heart — like the person next to you,” she quotes him as telling a sold-out crowd. “Kids are not innately good — and neither are you.” This from the loving and attentive father I knew? That makes no sense at all.

.. It could be his dark view of life, wherever it comes from, that the aggressive group of young men among his followers identify with. They may feel recognized, affirmed, justified and enabled. By validating them he does indeed save them, and little wonder they then fall into line enthusiastically, marching lockstep behind him.

.. These devoted followers are notorious for attacking Jordan’s critics, but this was different. It was more persistent and more intense. That was not outrage in defence of their leader who needed none; she was the fallen victim and it was as if they had come in for the final kill

.. “When someone claims to be acting from the highest principles for the good of others, there is no reason to assume that the person’s motives are genuine. People motivated to make things better usually aren’t concerned with changing other people — or if they are they take responsibility for making the same changes to themselves (and first).

.. I believe that Jordan has not lived up to at least four of his rules.

Rule 7: Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)

Rule 8: Tell the truth — or, at least, don’t lie

Rule 9: Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t

Rule 10: Be precise in your speech

 

Is American Childhood Creating an Authoritarian Society?

More so than any other generation, parents and educators have instilled in millennials the idea that, as Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt put it, “life is dangerous, but adults will do everything in their power to protect you from harm.”

.. kindergartens have “changed radically in the last two decades.” Exploration, exercise, and imagination are being deemphasized and play has “dwindled to the vanishing point.” Instead, kindergartens are introducing “lengthy lessons” and “highly prescriptive curricula geared to new state standards and linked to standardized tests”—curricula often taught by teachers who “must follow scripts from which they may not deviate.”

.. parents since the mid-1980s have purchased fewer multi-purpose, unstructured toys like clay and blocks that “encourage play that children can control and shape to meet their individual needs over time.” Today’s bestselling toys like action figures and video games “promote highly-structured play.”

.. practically every declining health outcome in children can be traced to the sedentary, indoor, micromanaged lives that now define American childhood.

.. children with mothers fearful of neighborhood safety are more likely to watch over two hours of TV per day, instead of playing outside. When American students are moving for only 18 minutes per day at school, it’s hardly a surprise that we’ve seen since the 1970s a more than threefold increase in the number of overweight 6 to 11 year olds.

Experts meanwhile are linking increasing rates of anger, aggression, and severe behavior problems to a lack of free play. These outcomes are consistent with evolutionary psychology theories that consider play to be a critical part of child development, teaching children to cope with, and ultimately master, fears and phobias.

.. University of Chicago law professors Aziz Huq and Tom Ginsburg ask whether the United States is at risk of democratic backsliding. Huq and Ginsburg found that the risk of incremental but ultimately substantial decay in democratic norms has “spiked” and now presents a “clear and present” danger. The authors argue that a “larger shift toward an illiberal democracy” is well within the cards.

.. social scientists have long argued that the origins of authoritarian societies can be discerned in childhood pathologies.

.. In the case of Nazi Germany, Miller is convinced that Hitler would not have come to power but for turn-of-the-century German childrearing practices that emphasized “unthinking obedience” and discouraged creativity. The millions of Germans who ultimately supported Nazism, in Miller’s views, were coping with the legacy of a “hidden concentration camp of childhood”—one enforced by the “clean, orderly citizens, God-fearing, respectable churchgoers” who comprised the ranks of Germany’s authority figures.

.. More so than any other factor—identity, religiosity, income etc.—it was voters’ attitudes on childrearing that predicted their support for Trump. Those who believe that is more important for children to be respectful rather than independent; obedient over self-reliant; well-behaved more than considerate; and well-mannered versus curious, were more than two and a half times as likely to support Trump than those with the opposite preferences.

.. This shouldn’t be surprising considering that few institutions in American society have embraced authoritarianism as decisively in recent years as academia—the arena where helicoptered millennials increasingly get their first taste of independence.

.. Behind these authoritarian efforts are an army of “chief diversity officers”—75 of whom have been hired between 2015 and 2016 at colleges and universities. Their mandate: train students against “subtle insults,” “environmental microaggressions,” and “microinvalidations.”

.. Jonathan Chait sees not simply a “rigorous commitment to social equality” but rather an “undemocratic creed” and a “system of left-wing ideological repression.”

Is Trump Losing the GOP?

Never before have so many leading Republican figures questioned the nominee’s basic fitness for office.

In 1800, the first genuinely competitive election, allies of Vice President Thomas Jefferson said President John Adams possessed a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” For his part, Jefferson was labeled “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father”—not to mention an “atheist” and “whoremaster.”

.. The hard questions about the character and temperament of the presumptive Republican nominee are coming from within his own party, at precisely the time when the most important piece of business for a nominee is consolidation.

.. He’s implying something else: that Trump would not listen to his military, that he’d turn a diplomatic dispute into a casus belli; that he is not to be trusted with the power of the presidency not because of what he thinks, but because of how he behaves.

.. It is rooted in the idea that Trump has the instincts of a narcissistic bully, unable to even imagine that anyone might have a reasonable basis for disagreeing with him

.. What is haunting a significant number of Republicans is that they are on the verge of putting someone in the Oval Office whose character and temperament make him unfit for the job.

.. Unlike so many in the GOP base, who see in Trump’s behavior a fearless willingness to take on a corrupt political system, these Republicans are seeing signs that he is a dangerous figure, not for what he thinks, but for who he is. And no amount of speeches read from a Teleprompter reciting anodyne pieties is likely to change that.

Are Donkeys Stubborn?

When a donkey senses danger, his reaction is to freeze in place and assess the situation. In most cases, he won’t move a single step until he figures out the safest action. This makes him appear stubborn, particularly if we don’t see the danger or fail to realize that a harmless object has him worried. His habit of stopping and thinking, rather than running, is one of his survival means. It’s also the characteristic that makes a donkey a trustworthy mount, especially on precarious trails. A tumbling rock, skittering snake or branch slapping in the wind makes him stop and think instead of bolting, which is what a startled horse would do. Better an ass rode than from a horse thrown, indeed.

Persuasion

A donkey who isn’t actually in a dangerous situation but thinks he is can usually be persuaded through leadership and rewards to give up and go along. But he must have prior confidence that you won’t lead him into danger. For example, a small stream that you know is safe to cross might look scary to your donkey. He might not realize it’s not deep or swift. If he won’t walk through it, get off his back and walk through the water ahead of him so he can see it’s safe. Offer him hay, carrots, apples or a nice scratch on the head for doing whatever you ask. The more he becomes aware he can trust you as a leader and that doing what you ask pleases you, he will seek the rewards of following your instructions rather than his instincts.

Experience

As a donkey has more experiences, he realizes he doesn’t need to be afraid of many things. He will ignore the tree stump, flapping plastic bag and bird taking flight that once caused him to stop in his tracks. You might think he has become less stubborn; in his own mind, he has gained the confidence to perform his job without worrying everything is out to get him. Pay close attention to your donkey’s reactions to objects and situations. Let him explore from an early age. Let him take time to think about things that bother him so he can figure them out, ultimately walking right past without hesitation.