Tuesday, August 06, 2019

The problem with Jordan Peterson

Andrea Seaman says he’s not nearly as pro-freedom and pro-reason as he thinks he is. But her criticisms are amazingly poorly informed.  Libel has never been protected free speech so when Peterson sues for libel, that tells you NOTHING about his attitude to free speech.

And his tracing of morality to evolution is a perfectly respectable idea in moral philosophy, indeed the increasingly dominant one.

And the fact that he has certain religious and spiritual ideas is again common among people with  scientific interests. That religion is incompatible with science is an old canard that religious people routinely reject.

So Andrea is using some very cheap shots indeed

Jordan Peterson, formerly an obscure professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, has become famous throughout the West. His popularity began with his opposition to oppressive legislation in Canada, which he argues can force people to use certain gender pronouns, and it peaked with the now famous Channel 4 News interview and the release of his book 12 Rules for Life. Peterson presents himself as a defender of science and reason against so-called social-justice warriors and the postmodern left, people who refuse to accept biological realities and the principle of free speech.

His rhetoric is certainly very powerful. His refusal to bow down before a torrent of criticism, from those attempting unjustly to paint him as a right-wing extremist, is inspiring. Combine this with his passionate entreaties towards men to ‘grow the hell up’, take on responsibility for their own lives, and stand straight with their shoulders back, and you can sense why he receives massive support from many young white men who feel besieged by a left that routinely labels them racist, homophobic and pillars of ‘the patriarchy’. This is Peterson’s positive side. Who can disagree with telling men – steeped in our modern culture of snowflakery, low ambitions and self-pity – to man up?

But there are two major problems with Peterson. First, his commitment to free speech is not nearly as strong as he thinks it is. Although he fiercely opposes hate-speech legislation and campus censorship, he has also launched a $1.5million defamation suit against Wilfrid Laurier University because some of its staff compared him to Hitler. Lindsay Shepherd, then a graduate student and teaching assistant at the university, recorded the comments, which were made in a private meeting, and then released them online. Peterson says his lawsuit is intended to ‘convince careless university professors and administrators… to be much more circumspect in their actions and their words’. So watch what you say, professors and administrators of Canada, or Peterson will set the law upon you!

He has since filed a second defamation suit for $1.75million against Wilfrid Laurier University. He argues that the university’s statement about his first lawsuit was libellous: the university claims that his original suit was unjustified because the publicity achieved by the exposés of the unfounded allegations against Peterson boosted his reputation. It also points out that his motivation in pursuing the suit is authoritarian, as demonstrated by his warning that professors and administrators should be more ‘circumspect’ in their words, and that, if anything, Peterson should be suing Shepherd, given she is the one who released the recording.

Peterson also allegedly threatened to sue Kate Manne, an associate professor at Cornell University in the US, the online news platform Vox and Cornell University, all for an interview Manne gave to Vox. In it, she described Peterson’s ideas as misogynistic, among other unflattering epithets. Given Peterson earns millions through his YouTube channel and his book deals, it seems unlikely he is pursuing these cases for the money. Maybe he, who likes to lament the thin-skinned nature of our society, just can’t handle criticism?

The second problem with Peterson is the weakness of his commitment to science and reason. He may continuously talk of ‘the scientific literature’ and the realities of our biological condition, but his understanding of (if not commitment to) science is fundamentally flawed.

Take his discussion of rats. He can’t stop referring to something apparently discovered by the neuroscientist and psychobiologist Jaak Panksepp – that in rats’ brains there is a ‘play circuit’. So, if one little rat play-wrestles with a bigger rat, relays Peterson, then the little rat will stop playing with the big one if the latter does not allow the former to win a certain number of times. This, he claims, is evidence of how ethics emerges out of nature. Ethics, he proposes, is something natural in our brains, as in those of rats. Morality, he suggests, is a product of our neural activity, which tells us how to act.

Peterson here is blurring the line between science and morality. It may well be that the small rat stops playing if the big rat beats it every time. But that is simply how it is, not how it should be. The former is the domain of science, the latter is the domain of ethics. To see ethics in the mechanical workings of nature and unfree beasts is as unscientific as discovering the hand of God in His supposed creation. Morality is simply not an object of scientific investigation. Its existence and properties cannot be proven or disproven by empirical methods.

In this, Peterson reveals that he is mired in scientism, rather than science – and a particularly strange form of scientism at that. He mixes investigation of the material world with investigation of the non-material world, to the detriment of both. He has suggested that ancient depictions of entwined snakes foreshadowed the discovery of the DNA double helix. Here spiritual experiences apparently offer insight into the real nature of fundamental parts of our biological being, and vice versa. It’s almost Deepak Chopra.

For a man so fixated on being academically rigorous, fact-based and reasoned, Peterson talks a lot about spirits, gods, dreams and mysticism. He has suggested that psychedelics can bring on ‘transcendent’ and ‘metaphysical’ experiences. This type of superstition was the very thing the Age of Reason tried to extinguish. Peterson fatally combines science with mysticism. Often when he talks about science he becomes mystical, and then tries to back it up with deep evolutionary or scientific ‘truths’.

It is invigorating to see Peterson fill up stadiums with many people of my generation, capturing their positive spirit of rebellion against PC orthodoxy. But we should be sceptical next time he presents himself as a warrior for free speech, or cites ‘the scientific literature’, or some primeval spirit or other. He’s not nearly as pro-freedom and pro-reason as he thinks he is.



Nationalism, Rightly Understood, Is a Necessary Ingredient of Political Success
Nationalism has a bad name. For many Americans, mention of the word summons up visions of Hitler and Nazism. Some condemn nationalism as thoughtless bragging that your nation is better than others, which should be discouraged just as second graders are told not to brag, lest they hurt classmates’ feelings.

Historical and international perspective is supplied by one of the conveners of the well-attended National Conservatism conference in Washington last month, Israeli think tank head Yoram Hazony, in his 2018 book, “The Virtue of Nationalism.” Hazony argues that nationalism first emerged in the northwest corner of Europe, in Tudor England and in the Dutch republic rebelling against the overlordship of the king of Spain. These were small maritime nations, growing rich through international trade even while threatened by massive monarchies. In the years of religious wars, they were the most religiously diverse and tolerant polities in Christendom.

Hazony contrasts nationalist states with what he calls imperialist polities, which include international organizations such as the United Nations and political entities such as the Holy Roman Empire, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, which was not just trying to govern Germany but to conquer “untermensch” peoples. As an Israeli, he is very much aware that his successful nationalist state is under constant attack from such imperialist bodies.

Nationalist states, he argues, can provide peaceful havens for those of differing cultural views and economic interests who share a common citizenship. They will, he argues, protect their individual liberties and (here some readers will disagree) abjure external conquests. “The best political order that is known to us,” he writes, “is an order of independent national states.”

This is congruent with the words of two of President Trump’s thoughtful speeches, delivered in Warsaw, Poland, in July 2017 and in Normandy on D-Day this year. In them he pays generous tribute to other nations’ nationalism and how they have advanced human liberty. It is also congruent with the rhetoric of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he tries to give effect to British voters’ decision to leave what, in Hazony’s terminology, is an increasingly imperialistic European Union.

Hazony seems to me on solid ground in arguing that nationalism, rightly understood, can be a force for good. Trump’s words on D-Day, and those of presidents before him on earlier anniversaries, should remind us that the Allies who cooperated in that enterprise were all led by nationalists — America’s Franklin Roosevelt; Britain’s Winston Churchill; France’s Charles de Gaulle; and the leaders of Canada, Poland, Norway and Australia.

One might add that an ally left unmentioned, the Soviet Union dictator Josef Stalin, temporarily portrayed himself as a nationalist rather than a communist to rally his people to fight on the Eastern Front even as democratic nationalists worked together to open the front on the West.

The nationalist sensibility is an important part of domestic partisan politics. In an article I wrote for The Public Interest in 1993, I argued that the political parties and political leaders of Western democracies partake, in varying proportions, in four different dispositions — religious, socialist, liberal and nationalist.

Each has its strengths and weaknesses. Religious parties come to grief when people abandon religion (like the Christian Democrats in largely secular Western Europe), and they struggle to amass majorities in religiously diverse nations like the United States.

Socialist parties’ weakness is that socialism just doesn’t work. When that became apparent in Britain, Margaret Thatcher controversially rolled back postwar Labour Party policies in the 1980s. More quietly, Scandinavian nations rolled back their welfare states in the 1990s. Now venerable social democratic parties have all but disappeared in Germany, France and Italy.

Liberal parties — liberal in the 19th-century sense: secular and free market — have sometimes governed effectively but proved incapable of defending themselves against destruction. Britain’s Liberals, dominant in 1916, were ground to bits between the Conservatives and Labour in 1924. The dominant secular party in Italy was swept from power by Mussolini’s brownshirts in 1922, and the one in France by Hitler’s troops in 1940.

Only parties with a strong nationalist strain have proved to be lasting — including, over most of their histories, America’s Democratic and Republican parties. Today we’re told that Donald Trump’s Republicans are dangerously and self-destructively nationalist. Headline speakers at Hazony’s conference — tech mogul Peter Thiel, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, national security adviser John Bolton, Sen. Josh Hawley — seemed to disagree. And many observers are wondering whether Democratic presidential candidates’ enthusiasm for open borders is a politically hazardous trashing of a sensible nationalism long essential for political success.



Don't worry, the South is still booming

The North loses residents and economic activity to the low-tax South

Anyone who understands real estate knows it’s all about three things: location, location, location. In recent decades, many of the hottest locations in the country have been in Dixie. Much of this growth has come at the expense of the Northern states. In the last several decades, the North has lost more than 5 million residents and hundreds of billions of dollars of economic activity to the low-tax and business-friendly Southern states.

Miami, Dallas, Charlotte and Nashville are the happening cities, replacing struggling places like Chicago, Hartford, New York, Baltimore and Providence.  We would urge people to go to our friend Travis Brown’s wonderful book “How Money Walks,” which shows the places Americans are moving to and from.

But now we are told by liberal think tanks and the media that the South’s ascent has stalled out. The Wall Street Journal recently announced in a front page headline: “The South Is Falling Behind.” After several decades of speedy development, things have supposedly changed. Over the last decade, the WSJ says, the southeast “recorded the country’s slowest growth in output and wages … and the highest unemployment rate.” The implication is that low tax rates don’t work anymore as a magnet.

Not so fast. These kinds of stories don’t take into account that the South isn’t monolithic. Some Southern states have low tax rates and others don’t. The four states with the best economic climate — Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas — are all high-flyers, thank you. Three of these four, have no personal income tax and the 4th, North Carolina, has cut its income tax sharply.

These big four in the South have attracted 3.04 million net new residents from other states over just the past decade. That’s a 4.6 percent rise in population due to net migration from other states. Does that sound like a decline?

Contrast that performance with the four states of the apocalypse — Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. This group is in the worst fiscal condition in the nation, they are losing residents every day and they have among the highest taxes and the most anti-business policies.

These states lost 2.8 million people (6 percent of the population) over the past decade to other states and if you go to Texas or Florida you will meet lots of rich and middle class residents who came from one of these four states. Naples, Florida, for example, is now nicknamed Chicago South, because so many former windy city families now live there more than six months of the year. 

The big four in the South saw a 10.5 percent gains in jobs from 2007-17. The four northern states gained a meager 2.5 percent. For every job in these high tax state, the low tax states attracted four.

Over the last decade home values in the high-flying Southern states were up an average or 10 percent. In the loser states of the North home values fell. The loss of jobs and population and is now being reflected in declining home values in these Northern states. Nowhere is this collapse in home prices more evident than in Connecticut, where a cascade of tax increases have led to an exodus of millionaires. So much for the benefits of progressivism.

All these rumors of a southern slump are highly misleading. Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas are following a winning economic formula of low tax rates; right to work laws; business-friendly regulatory climate; and low costs. Anyone who thinks the boom in Dixie has ended needs to travel to places like Raleigh and Tampa and Houston and Chattanooga and see what’s happening with their own two eyes.



TX. Austin's Mad Homeless Camping Policy

On June 20 the Austin City Council repealed ordinances prohibiting homeless camping around town. They had to move on or the police could cite them. Police oppose this policy and went into a low-level revolt. The people oppose this policy and have also gone into a low-level revolt.

The policy went into effect in a political blink on July 1. That very day, tent cities began popping up all over town. Those tent cities grew. A Twitter hashtag — #austinhomeless — grew up to chronicle the issues the city's residents now face.

Since my last article on this subject, a theory to explain the policy change has swept across Austin and a petition to stop the policy has appeared. I'll get to the theory later.

The petition is the work of Travis County Republican Party chairman Matt Mackowiak. Austin and Travis County are both deep blue. But this issue has some questioning their allegiance to a Democratic Party that is running the city over a cliff.

"I created the petition 15 days ago and we now have more than 20,000 signatures," Mackowiak told me. "The goal was to create an easy way for people to express their opposition to the Homeless Camping ordinance. We haven’t spent one cent on advertising. This thing has gone viral."

It has, and it's still accepting signatures.

"The Mayor and the City Council have needlessly threatened public safety, public health, tourism, and our economy," Mackowiak adds.

The hot Austin summer has seen tents and associated Baltimore-style filth sweep across town — and a grand unified theory to explain the indefensible is sweeping across town too.

The Austin City Council could amend or rescind the policy at its August meeting. Or, it could leave it in place. It's a safe bet the mayor will seek more money, paid for by taxpayers, which will make Austin that much more unaffordable. Cutting taxes and reducing spending to lighten the burden on taxpayers will not be on the agenda.

Mo money. Mo money. Mo money. Agenda items one, two and three.

"Our hope is they will end this disastrous policy on August 8. If they don’t, we will ratchet up the pressure considerably," Mackowiak says. We'll see.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here (Pictorial) or  here  (Personal)


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