Thoughts on JP

JP… Jordan Peterson. Thoughts on a genius by me!!! Stop laughing. He was described in 2018 by the New York Times as, ‘the most influential public intellectual in the Western world’; in the same newspaper I was described as – Oh no, I am still looking for what they said about me, google clearly is not what it used to be.

In the run up I did a ‘what level is my English test’ (Macmillan Readers Level Test) and came out at B2, with the comment, ‘With an upper intermediate level (B2), you could potentially work in an English-speaking environment, so this practice is very concrete. … It includes tasks that measure your listening and reading skills, as well as your range of English grammar and vocabulary skills.’ Did not surprise me… I can read something if I have listened first to the author, but struggle to read something that is new.

Nice to know I could do something potentially, but I preface this with the knowledge that the comments below are not exactly going to mean he will quickly need to revise what he has written! I watched the now-famous interview by Cathy Newman of Jordan P and realised that there was only one winner. Imagine me interviewing him and catching him out. In my dreams, but in reality might be a bit of a nightmare.

Peterson seems to have a right wing, neo-liberal stance that defends hierarchy (after all lobsters are hierarchical and we are evolved from them…), and refuses to bow at the feet of political correctness, thus insisting that (e.g.) any pay gap between male and female is due to a number of factors, and so will not engage with the ‘we need to correct this with a feminising of the context’ kind of approach.

Anyway what follows will be a few comments that might be way off the mark but what the heck here goes!

Like all (self included) who are committed to, or influenced by, a level of ideology, ideology can determine our response, and we tend to see those who adopt the opposing ideology as wrong, attributing to them aspects that they probably do not fully (or at all) endorse. This was the blatant issue in Cathy Newman’s interview or, if not the issue, it was that he is so incredibly intelligent and good with words that he avoided every trap she set for him. I come at the whole thing from quite a different ideology – his is thought through, mine…????

I am not a Marxist (who knows what I would be if I were able to read intelligently) so do not write to defend ‘Karl’. Peterson states that particularly after the horrors of Stalinism that ‘no thinking person could be a Marxist’. With this as a foundation he goes on to talk about the unreachable ‘equality of outcome’ in all spheres for all people. Something of a straw target, methinks here. Most Marxists (and neo-Marixsts) are opposed to the communism that was exhibited in most communistic states, viewing them as nothing less than state-capitalism, rather than some form of democratic socialism. To propose that there are injustices in the system, that oppressive hierarchies exist does not make someone a Marxist, and certainly not an advocate for Stalinism. I do not see how the French revolution, the American revolution, not to mention the Protestant reformation, could escape his (to me) seeming critique of reacting to the oppressions present within the Western world. Those responses were not motivated by a Marxist ideology!

Peterson suggests he believes in an ‘equality of opportunity’ but not that of ‘equality of outcome’. The latter he says is the drum beat of the left, and into that he (rightly) says that gender is one factor among a number that means the outcome is one of consistent pay differentials and opportunities between males and females in the working world. It seems that one suggestion he makes is that females should be less agreeable(!!) and then there would be more females in the positions where they are not currently present. He also claims that there is no, or insufficient, empirical evidence to suggest where there is a feminisation of the environment there is any shift.

He is right to oppose a solution if it were based on a simplistic analysis such as he seems to suggest is made by feminists. He is right to oppose an imposition from (the left) on the rest, thus insisting on pc speech while silencing freedom of speech. However… oh the word ‘however’. By responding as he does one of those factors (gender) that is an acknowledged factor (even by him) that affects pay differentials is effectively silenced. When I read Scripture God responds to the voice from the oppressed, the marginalised, the ones who are resisting the voice of those who are in a hierarchical position and are holding that position to perpetuate keeping others in their subjected position. If gender is one of the factors then that has to be addressed, and the critique from those who are on the ‘underside’ needs to direct the dialogue not those who are in the power position.

It brings me to his justification of hierarchy. In reality all people believe in ‘hierarchy’ in the sense that no-one suggests that children are ‘equal’ to parents, to teachers. Most also believe in some authorities that need be submitted to (it is not police that is objected to, for example, but any police abuse of power). To suggest that we should expect – from the lobster and up – hierarchies but not critique the kind / the effect of current hierarchies, nor consider that the healthy changes that have taken place in history with shifts in hierarchies (slavery, for example) seems to me lacking in real openness. From my little world, the challenge currently is that of the nature of power and how it is exercised, the kind of power that is rooted in Imperialism seems to be in total conflict with the Jesus-model of ‘not so among you’.

He is both helpful and unhelpful when he critiques the scapegoating of a system. He is helpful in that if we live with a blaming culture there is no progress, so we are to take responsibility for ourselves. However, it remains that opportunities are not equal, the system is biased in favour of some. The level of education that can be accessed, the level of finances inherited, the context one lives within all present us with boundaries. There are always wonderful stories of people who made it out of a difficult situation, who rose to the ‘top’ (what kind of word is that?) in spite of their background. Yet the majority with those challenges do not, and more importantly, cannot follow suit. (This has always been the case in the imperial system, there are enough testimonies to the freedom the empire offers to perpetuate the myth.)

I have no doubt that a number of people (young men in particular) have found his ’12 rules’ incredibly life changing. However (however, again?), however to consider that what is present in our society, in the light of the Gospel vision, is defensible I do not consider that we should think of the book nor his contributions as giving us much sight into what we should be pushing into.

I rest my case… all written at a B2 level, so cannot be opposed!

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