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


Malcolm Gladwell: ‘If my books appear oversimplified, then you shouldn’t read them’

This argument enraged various sports pundits when Gladwell made it in The New Yorker, where he’s been a fixture since 1996. But it will presumably only enrage them more to learn that he doesn’t fully believe it himself. “When you write about sports, you’re allowed to engage in mischief,” he says. “Nothing is at stake. It’s a bicycle race!”

..  he’s “totally anti-doping … But what I’m trying to say is, look, we have to come up with better reasons. Our reasons suck! And when the majority has taken a position that’s ill thought-through, it’s appropriate to make trouble.” His expression settles into a characteristic half-smile that makes clear he’d relish it if you disagreed.

.. Gladwell has always excelled in this role as intellectual provocateur. At their best, which is often, his articles and books force you to reappraise assumptions so deeply held that you didn’t realise you held them, and millions have found the experience intoxicating. What if the most successful entrepreneurs aren’t the risk-takers, but the risk-averse?

.. The point isn’t necessarily to accept his conclusions, but to be jolted – even if via the improbable medium of ketchup – into seeing the whole world afresh. This galls some critics, who’d prefer it if Gladwell made smaller, more cautious, less dazzling claims.

.. He’s also responsible more than anyone else for the birth of the modern pop-ideas genre, in publishing and beyond. “Without Gladwell,” Ian Leslie wrote recently at Medium.com, “no Daniel Pink, no Steven Johnson … no Brainpicker, no TED. I exaggerate, but only slightly.”

.. He’s also responsible more than anyone else for the birth of the modern pop-ideas genre, in publishing and beyond. “Without Gladwell,” Ian Leslie wrote recently at Medium.com, “no Daniel Pink, no Steven Johnson … no Brainpicker, no TED. I exaggerate, but only slightly.”

.. The outcome of the original David-and-Goliath clash wasn’t a miracle, he argues: it’s just what happens when the weak refuse to play by rules laid down by the strong.

.. this one is a very Canadian sort of book,” says Gladwell, who was born in Fareham, in Hampshire, but grew up in Ontario. “It’s Canadian in its suspicion of bigness and wealth and power. Someone told me – did you know that there’s never been a luxury brand to come from Canada? That’s never happened. That’s such a great fact to have about your home country.”

.. Conversely, having power can backfire, not least because it tricks the powerful into thinking they don’t need the consent of those over whom they wield it. In a compelling account of the Troubles, Gladwell argues that the British were plagued by a simple error: the belief that their superior resources meant “it did not matter what the people of Northern Ireland thought of them”. More isn’t always more.

..  He is routinely accused of oversimplifying his material, or attacking straw men: does anyone really believe that success is solely a matter of individual talent, the position that Outliers sets out to unseat? Or that the strong always vanquish the weak? “You’re of necessity simplifying,” says Gladwell. “If you’re in the business of translating ideas in the academic realm to a general audience, you have to simplify … If my books appear to a reader to be oversimplified, then you shouldn’t read them: you’re not the audience!”

.. To some critics, usually those schooled in the methods of the natural sciences, it’s flatly unacceptable to proceed by concocting hypotheses then amassing anecdotes to illustrate them. “In his pages, the underdogs win … of course they do,” the author Tina Rosenberg wrote, in an early review of David and Goliath. “That’s why Gladwell includes their stories.

.. You make your case, you illustrate it with statistics and storytelling, and you refrain from claiming that it’s the absolute, objective truth. Gladwell calls his articles and books “conversation starters”

..  I’m puzzled by how much vitriol was directed at him. If I was going to be psychoanalytic about it, I’d say it has to do with anxiety within the world of journalism, about its loss of authority

.. King’s organiser in Birmingham, Wyatt Walker, used cunning to turn the movement’s weaknesses into strengths. By delaying street protests until late afternoon, when Birmingham’s black residents were walking home from work, he led authorities to believe that onlookers were actually protestors. (“They cannot distinguish even between Negro demonstrators and negro spectators,” Walker later recalled. “All they know is negroes.”) By luring police into arresting hundreds of children, they overwhelmed Birmingham’s jails, turning police commissioner Bull Connor’s eagerness to arrest black people against him. Perhaps it wasn’t “right”, by some definition of that word, to send children for arrest

.. Perhaps it wasn’t “right”, by some definition of that word, to send children for arrest, or to engineer confrontations between passers-by and police dogs – but Gladwell argues: “We need to remember that our definitions of what is right are, as often as not, simply the way that people in positions of privilege close the door on those at the bottom of the pile.” Underdogs have to use whatever they’ve got. And in the end, “much of what is valuable in our world arises out of these kinds of lopsided conflicts … the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty.”