Sunday, August 19, 2018
Why Jordan Peterson Makes the “Woke” Left So Deranged
At the Atlantic, writer Caitlin Flanagan has published a must-read for those who find themselves impatient with liberal sanctimony, p.c. virtue-tripping, transgender pronouns, the “white privilege” theory of any and all racial inequities, and the censuring of twitter, Facebook and Youtube freethinking deplorables such as Gavin McInnes and Jared Taylor. Her piece explores the reasons why the alt-lite's favorite self-help author Jordan Peterson is so popular, especially so with liberal-minded young men, such as her son. These young men, she explains,“graduated from high school and went off to colleges where they were exposed to the kind of policed discourse that dominates American campuses” and now found Peterson’s work, especially his podcasts, absolutely liberating. They'd voted for Hillary, called home in shock when Trump won, talked about flipping the House, and "followed Peterson to other podcasts—to Sam Harris and Dave Rubin and Joe Rogan. "
What they were getting from these lectures and discussions, often lengthy and often on arcane subjects, was perhaps the only sustained argument against identity politics they had heard in their lives.
That might seem like a small thing, but it’s not. With identity politics off the table, it was possible to talk about all kinds of things—religion, philosophy, history, myth—in a different way. They could have a direct experience with ideas, not one mediated by ideology. All of these young people, without quite realizing it, were joining a huge group of American college students who were pursuing a parallel curriculum, right under the noses of the people who were delivering their official educations.
Because all of this was happening silently, called down from satellites and poured in through earbuds—and not on campus free-speech zones where it could be monitored, shouted down, and reported to the appropriate authorities—the left was late in realizing what an enormous problem it was becoming for it. It was like the 1960s, when kids were getting radicalized before their parents realized they’d quit glee club. And it was not just college students. Not by a long shot.
Flanagan contends that “There are plenty of reasons for individual readers to dislike Jordan Peterson, many legitimate reasons to disagree with him on a number of subjects.” But, she continues, there is no coherent reason for what she describes as the left’s “obliterating and irrational hatred” of him. “What, then, accounts for it?” she asks.
Flanagan answers that while the left may seem “currently ascendant in our houses of culture and art,” it has in fact “entered its decadent late phase, and it is deeply vulnerable.”
The left is afraid not of Peterson, but of the ideas he promotes, which are completely inconsistent with identity politics of any kind. When the poetry editors of The Nation virtuously publish an amateurish but super-woke poem, only to discover that the poem stumbled across several trip wires of political correctness; when these editors (one of them a full professor in the Harvard English department) then jointly write a letter oozing bathos and career anxiety and begging forgiveness from their critics; when the poet himself publishes a statement of his own—a missive falling somewhere between an apology, a Hail Mary pass, and a suicide note; and when all of this is accepted in the houses of the holy as one of the regrettable but minor incidents that take place along the path toward greater justice, something is dying.
When the top man at The New York Times publishes a sober statement about a meeting he had with the president in which he describes instructing Trump about the problem of his “deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric,” and then three days later the paper announces that it has hired a writer who has tweeted about her hatred of white people, of Republicans, of cops, of the president, of the need to stop certain female writers and journalists from “existing,” and when this new hire will not be a beat reporter, but will sit on the paper’s editorial board—having a hand in shaping the opinions the paper presents to the world—then it is no mystery that a parallel culture of ideas has emerged to replace a corrupted system. When even Barack Obama, the poet laureate of identity politics, is moved to issue a message to the faithful, hinting that that they could be tipping their hand on all of this—saying during a speech he delivered in South Africa that a culture is at a dead end when it decides someone has no “standing to speak” if he is a white man—and when even this mayday is ignored, the doomsday clock ticks ever closer to the end.
In the midst of this death rattle has come a group of thinkers, Peterson foremost among them, offering an alternative means of understanding the world to a very large group of people who have been starved for one. His audience is huge and ever more diverse, but a significant number of his fans are white men. The automatic assumption of the left is that this is therefore a red-pilled army, but the opposite is true. The alt-right venerates identity politics just as fervently as the left, as the title of a recent essay reproduced on the alt-right website Counter-Currents reveals: “Jordan Peterson’s Rejection of Identity Politics Allows White Ethnocide.”
Here’s the larger cultural and political point:
If you think that a backlash to the kind of philosophy that resulted in The Nation’s poetry implosion; the Times’ hire; and Obama’s distress call isn’t at least partly responsible for the election of Donald Trump, you’re dreaming. And if you think the only kind of people who would reject such madness are Republicans, you are similarly deluded. All across the country, there are people as repelled by the current White House as they are by the countless and increasingly baroque expressions of identity politics that dominate so much of the culture. These are people who aren’t looking for an ideology; they are looking for ideas. And many of them are getting much better at discerning the good from the bad. The Democratic Party reviles them at its peril; the Republican Party takes them for granted in folly.
It would be interesting to do a quantitative/qualitative analysis of this Backlash Theory, also called the Theory of Reactance. It makes gut level, intuitive sense. But I'm sure those in denial, otherwise known as Democrats need numbers.