The Problem with Jordan Peterson

–Our long form analysis of Jordan Peterson, and more specifically the movement that has been created around him, including its ideology, shortcomings, and more


loyalty that extends beyond reason what
the peterson fans need to understand is
that this type of devotion is partly
what fuels the unfair criticisms of
peterson it’s a circle when a public
person has a huge group of zealous
attack dogs who pounce on any critic of
the movement the movement becomes more
fun and attractive to criticise to
outsiders now I’m not saying it should
be that way but without question this
kind of cringy fanboy behavior of so
many peterson fans is itself what turns
people off of jordan peterson people
strawman peterson people shouldn’t
criticize peterson dishonestly but the
adoration of his fans is part of what
feeds it and you might say oh that’s
unfair and I’m agreeing with you I’m
saying yeah that is unfair but there are
many peterson fans who would benefit
from being a little bit more self-aware
one of the most disconcerting things
about peterson fans is how seriously
they take themselves something that
open-minded people with a sort of
healthy diversity of intellectual
influences rarely do they rarely take
themselves so seriously most people
actually learn to become embarrassed
about taking themselves so seriously and
they eventually grow out of it which may
be some peterson fans will do so to be
Peterson talks about the importance of
thinking for yourself Peterson gives
fans a way of feeling smart without
actually having to thoroughly study the
intellectuals that Peters
sites much less the countless
philosophers with viewpoints that
directly contradict Peterson in really
credible and important ways being a
loyal unquestioning Peterson fan doesn’t
really demand much of you right it’s
easy many in Peterson’s audience are
relying on his interpretations and his
conclusions about philosophical issues
and current events without doing much
thinking on their own and that’s what
gurus do and enable their followers to

The Washington Post doesn’t actually quote Jeff Sessions and the Context

But here’s the thing. In this nearly 2,000-word article, the Post apparently couldn’t find the room to include the actual question Franken asked. Instead, the authors wrote:

At his Jan. 10 Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, Sessions was asked by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) what he would do if he learned of any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of the 2016 campaign.

I am not saying that this is an indefensible paraphrase of Franken’s question. Certainly, a lot of Democrats think this gets to the heart of it. But a lot of other people think it doesn’t capture it at all.

Here’s what Franken’s asked Sessions in its entirety:

CNN has just published a story and I’m telling you this about a story that has just been published, I’m not expecting you to know whether it’s true or not, but CNN just published a story, alleging that the intelligence community provided documents to the president-elect last week that included information that quote “Russian operatives claimed to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.” These documents also allegedly say quote “there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.” Again, I’m telling you this is just coming out so, you know . . . but, if it’s true it’s obviously extremely serious. And if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russians in the course of this campaign, what will you do?

A reasonable person — a category that I think includes Jeff Sessions — can read this and believe that the crux of the question Franken is asking can be found in that last sentence: “And if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russians in the course of this campaign, what will you do?”

And it just so happens that’s the question Sessions answered.

.. He told me that the Post has a giant screen on the wall of the newsroom that displays in real-time their web traffic. Ben noted that nearly all of the most-read stories were anti-Trump. He asked whether we can rely on the press to be objective when all the market incentives are for Trump-bashing all the time.

.. One of the great (or terrible) things about the Internet is that it allows the suits to put numbers behind everything a journalistic outfit puts out. This makes it easier for editors to substitute data for their own judgment. The same dynamic was at work with the advent of sophisticated TV ratings.

.. In the world of business, this kind of thing is a huge boon. Walmart’s revolutionary impact on retail stems in no small part from its ability to micro-slice data so they can manage their inventory in incredibly efficient ways. The Peoria, Ill., store sells nine sets of Wolverine superhero underoos every week while the Gary, Ind., franchise only sells three but it also moves a huge amount of air fresheners (because Gary smells so bad), etc.

But journalism is supposed to be different. Editors are supposed to use their judgment about what information readers should get. Sometimes, this involves a lot of eat-your-spinach reporting that isn’t exactly sensational or sexy — but is important nonetheless.

.. And while obsession with web-traffic statistics is a real problem (back when I ran NRO, I’d hit refresh on the traffic software like a monkey hitting the pellet dispenser in a cocaine study every few seconds), the real problem is that we are in an era of groupthink, populist fervor, and cultural and political panic.

.. The New York Times refused to quote Jeremiah Wright’s inflammatory rhetoric even as it reported on the controversies about it.

.. like with the Post leaving out Franken’s actual question — isn’t to say the editors didn’t have defensible arguments for their decisions, it’s simply to say that the media have a tendency to look for excuses to invoke their ideals when that will yield the kind of news that supports their ideological or partisan leanings.

Liberals have either not noticed this or dismissed this tendency for the most part, because it comports with their own ideological and partisan worldview. But conservatives have noticed. That’s why Donald Trump’s “fake news” rhetoric has such wide currency on the right.

.. To the extent that Donald Trump has damaged democratic norms (and he has), his success is attributable to the fact that elites — in journalism, but also in academia and elsewhere — have corrupted those norms to the point where a lot of people see them as convenient tools for only one side in the political and cultural wars of our age.

.. There’s a reason why so many conservatives have become perverse acolytes of Saul Alinsky. They think the Left broke all the rules and therefore the only recourse for the Right is to play by the same tactics. The problem with this approach is that when you adopt amoral (or immoral) means, those means tend to create new ends: Winning.

.. It’s telling how the chief defense of Trump’s behavior during the campaign was, “At least he fights!” Conservatism isn’t supposed to be just about fighting, it’s supposed to be about fighting for something. Populism is about winning for its own sake.

.. Donald Trump didn’t create the deterioration, but the way he practices politics is having a centrifugal effect on the process, pulling things apart even more.

.. It’s sort of like what football would look like if you removed all the rules save for the requirement to get touchdowns (and, I suppose, the requirement to relinquish the ball after scoring), with the fans cheering whatever brings victory to their team. A player killed a guy? At least he fights!

The Bow-Tied Bard of Populism

Tucker Carlson’s latest reinvention is guided by a simple principle—a staunch aversion to whatever his right-minded neighbors believe.

“I’m so pathetically eager for people to love D.C.,” he admits. “It’s so sad. It’s like I work for the chamber of commerce or something.”

If this boosterism seems out of character for a primetime populist like Carlson, he doesn’t seem to mind the dissonance. He speaks glowingly of his Northwest Washington neighborhood, a tony enclave of liberal affluence where, he tells me, he is surrounded by diplomats, lawyers, world bankers, and well-paid media types. They are reliably “wonderful”; unfailingly “nice”; “some of my favorite people in the world.” If you’ve watched Carlson on TV lately, you know they are also wrong about virtually everything.

.. “Look, it’s really simple,” Carlson says. “The SAT 50 years ago pulled a lot of smart people out of every little town in America and funneled them into a small number of elite institutions, where they married each other, had kids, and moved to an even smaller number of elite neighborhoods. We created the most effective meritocracy ever.”

“But the problem with the meritocracy,” he continues, is that it “leeches all the empathy out of your society … The second you think that all your good fortune is a product of your virtue, you become highly judgmental, lacking empathy, totally without self-awareness, arrogant, stupid—I mean all the stuff that our ruling class is.”

.. Carlson’s true talent is not for political philosophizing, it’s for televised partisan combat. His go-to weapons—the smirky sarcasm, the barbed comebacks, the vicious politeness—seem uniquely designed to drive his sparring partners nuts, frequently making for terrific television. Indeed, if cable news is ultimately theater, Carlson’s nightly performance is at once provocative, maddening, cringe-inducing, and compulsively watchable. Already, in its few short months in primetime, Tucker Carlson Tonight has created more viral moments than it had any right to do.

.. Though he has earned a reputation among his media antagonists for being an ambush artist—luring guests onto his show under false pretenses and then humiliating them with “gotcha” questions—Carlson says he’s always upfront while booking interviewees, and strives to avoid mean-spiritedness.

.. When I ask him why he was so infuriated by Duca, he thinks about it for a moment.

Finally, he answers, “It was the unreasonableness … It’s this assumption—and it’s held by a lot of people I live around—that you’re on God’s side, everyone else is an infidel, and by calling them names you’re doing the Lord’s work. I just don’t think that’s admirable, and I’m not impressed by that.”

.. the essence of Carlson’s case against the educated elites and well-heeled technocrats that comprise America’s ruling class (not to mention his neighborhood). They are

  • too certain of their own righteousness,
  • too dismissive of dissenters,
  • too unwilling to entertain new ideas.

.. When Carlson first joined primetime last year, he assigned his show a mission statement: “The sworn enemy of lying, pomposity, smugness, and groupthink.”

.. united in their hatred of a common enemy, the smug elites who Carlson rails against every night. And while he may have spent his life happily living among them, he’s clearly demonstrated he has no qualms about taking them on.

My Unhappy Life as a Climate Heretic

My research was attacked by thought police in journalism, activist groups funded by billionaires and even the White House.

I believe climate change is real and that human emissions of greenhouse gases risk justifying action, including a carbon tax. But my research led me to a conclusion that many climate campaigners find unacceptable: There is scant evidence to indicate that hurricanes, floods, tornadoes or drought have become more frequent or intense in the U.S. or globally. In fact we are in an era of good fortune when it comes to extreme weather.

.. The insurance industry scientist Robert-Muir Wood of Risk Management Solutions had smuggled the graph into the IPCC report. He explained in a public debate with me in London in 2010 that he had included the graph and misreferenced it because he expected future research to show a relationship between increasing disaster costs and rising temperatures.

.. In 2015 I was quoted in the Los Angeles Times, by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Paige St. John, making the rather obvious point that politicians use the weather-of-the-moment to make the case for action on climate change, even if the scientific basis is thin or contested.