Critique of Jordan Peterson - Male Rights Activist - 'Father Figure'
JORDAN PETERSON – ’12 RULES FOR LIFE, AN ANTIDOTE TO CHAOS’ - published 2018
(or ‘Keep everything the same as it always was, because I can’t stand any challenge especially about women’. I’m a Male Rights Activist masquerading as an Expert).
No. 1 International Bestseller
Jordan Peterson is a great read; I enjoy the things he says. He right on parenting, has read all the literary classics, illustrates his points with diverting quotes and anecdotes, and covers a huge range of different academic disciplines. When you listen to him, it is hard not to believe what he says. He is the archetypal Wise Old Man.
BUT when you stop and analyse what he is saying, you reach a different conclusion. When you check the notes, think about each point and ask yourself what the evidence is, for and against, you find yourself calling ‘Foul! No evidence for this opinion’ or ‘This is just stating the obvious’, or ‘These are weasel words which persuade us like a TV advert does, without actually saying anything concrete’.
This book consists of fun, pseudo-learned chatty anecdotes and chunks of knowledge which do not in any way whatsoever prove, test, or examine The Rules. After reading it you have the feeling that the Rules have been proved, even though they very definitely have not! Peterson should have gone into advertising. Maybe he has.
The 12 Rules themselves are basically Truisms which can be restated simply as follows:
1. Take responsibility for your life
2. Help yourself
3. Pick your friends
4. Comparisons are odious
5. Teach your children to behave
6. Take the log out of your eye before you criticise the speck in your neighbour’s eye
7. Pursue meaningful goals
8. Tell the truth
9. Don’t be a know-all
10. Speak clearly
11. Don’t stop people who are concentrating
12. Be kind
Anything controversial? No - 6 is biblical (Matthew 7.5) as are 7 and 8 - Philippians 4.8. We are in the realm of folksy wisdom here.
Each chapter covers one rule, stating it at the start, discussing it, and then neatly restating it at the end, a bit like a mathematical theorem with QED at the end, but without the actual proof.
This formula is padded out using convincing-sounding techniques discussed below. But the main problem is:
PETERSON DOES NOT RESPECT WOMEN. OR STUDY THEM. OR READ THEM.
A quick scan of his index reveals SIX TIMES as many references to men as to women. Anyone would think most of us didn’t exist. Of the 20 women he deigns to name, 2 are Peterson family members, 2 Disney characters, 4 mythological figures, a monarch and a prolific breeder. Only 10 women are mentioned for their achievements, and only ONE of these is a feminist writer: Iris Chang, who wrote an account of the Nanking Massacre. Where is Audre Lorde, Mary Wollstonecraft, Gerda Lerner, Germaine Greer, Chimamanda Adichie, Mary Daly, Sheila Jeffreys, Janice Raymond, Kate Millett? Peterson silently dismisses feminism wholesale without referencing a single one of its classic texts. Easy peasy. A bit of pseudo-science and some weasel words and the whole of our herstory is gone as if it was never written. Forget feminism
Race doesn’t even get a mention in the index, let alone in the text. This is what we mean by erasure and white male entitlement.
Peterson’s main, titular point is the supposed contrast between Order and Chaos. He unquestioningly accepts his own ridiculous assumption that Order is masculine and Chaos feminine. The worldwide army of women who take unpaid responsibility for cleaning up after, shopping for, washing and ironing for, cooking for, feeding, bringing up, transporting about and comforting their menfolk and children might disagree.
He uses weasel words and the power of suggestion to introduce Order and Chaos, but does not stick his neck out to make an actual pronouncement. No, he says on page xxviii ‘Order is typically portrayed as masculine… Chaos.. as the antithesis….. is presented imaginatively as feminine. … Order and Chaos are the yang and yin’ (my italics). He doesn’t prove or even assert that Order and Chaos actually are in any sense masculine and feminine. No, he relies, without a single quotation, reference or example, on a generalisation about how he says they are ‘portrayed’ and ‘presented’.
Google disagrees: if you Google ‘order and chaos’ today (27.9.18), the first few pages relate to a computer game, and then comes an article on TV tropes, focusing on the correspondence between good (order) and bad (chaos). Not a mention of masculine and feminine. What we see here is Peterson’s misogyny, reading ‘male/female’ for ‘good/bad’. You have to search ‘Peterson Order and Chaos’ to find his views. Apology to women needed.
For someone who likes historical quotes, Peterson could really use Cicero’s pithy ‘Cui bono’ meaning ‘Who benefits’? Had he asked who benefits from his acceptance of existing hierarchies, biological determinism, deference to mere popularity (50 Shades books figure on p10 but author EL James does not make it into the index), he would have had to admit that it was him and men like him who gain from his approach. ‘To him that hath shall be given.’
Here are Peterson’s Top 10 Techniques to get his point across with no actual evidence :
1) Examples from academic disciplines using long or technical terms to create an impression of cleverness. They add little or nothing to the actual argument. For example, the irrelevant etymology of the Greek word ‘hamartanein’ on p92.
2) Vague or sweeping statements which don’t actually prove anything, eg ‘That is where meaning is to be found’ (p44), ‘we need rules, standards, values’ - how about the value of researching a huge political movement like feminism before condemning it, Professor Peterson? Page 47- ‘Women have been shaming men since the dawn of time’ – a) how do you know and b) given the standard of your logic, are you surprised? My favourite is ‘Meaning is the lotus striving upward through the dark lake depths’ (p201)– one for Pseud’s Corner?
3) Examples from Peterson’s ‘clinical practice’, mostly mere assertion: on page 18 he advises a fat-and-protein-heavy breakfast – based on research from 1966! He advises clients to ‘get regular sleep’ – no consideration for night-feeding babies, sick children, disturbance by other family members, noise from traffic, snoring or poor housing. Life is simple for Prof Peterson.
4) Self-evident truisms: ‘You deserve some respect’ (p62), ‘It would be good to make the world a better place’ (p63). ‘Precision specifies’ (p280). These add nothing to our knowledge. ‘Alleviation of pain and suffering’ gets a plug on page 198. Allusions to FGM, rape, intimate partner violence, sex-selective abortion, prostitution, domestic slavery, forced and child marriage or honour killings would be too much to hope for.
5) Zippy-sounding out-of-context quotes: page 48: ‘’Chekhov advised, ‘If there is a rifle hanging on the wall in Act One, it must be fired in the next act. Otherwise it has no business being there.’” How this relates to Rule 2 I cannot see, even after several readings. It does relate to the preceding anecdote about Adam and Eve (which also does not directly relate to Rule 2) and functions as a diversion to distract the reader from this irrelevance.
6) Weasel words, advert-speak which imply that he is right without actually citing evidence: ‘You could begin by treating yourself as if you were someone you were responsible for helping’ (Rule 2). Yes, you could, but this does not prove anything. You could begin by eating sugary cereal for breakfast, but this does not prove that you should. It is mere suggestion.
7) Assertion, pure, blind assertion without support of fact or argument. Daddy knows best. Page 199 ‘Expedience is the following of blind impulse’. On the contrary, it may be the result of careful consideration, as when someone takes a shallow breath of fresh air in order to blow into a breathalyser, hoping the alcohol-laden air deep in his lungs will stay there and he will avoid prosecution. Or it could be Neville Chamberlain claiming ‘Peace in our time’ for fear of starting war in Europe, surely a carefully calculated statement, albeit later proven wrong.
8) Aunt Sallies, that is false statements stated simply in order to be knocked down to make the knocker-down look good. Page 12: ‘Considering nature as a purely static process produces serious errors of apprehension.’ No need for long words here, Heraclitus said it more simply around 500BC – ‘Everything flows’, or ‘everything changes’. I have never met anyone who said nature was static, have you?
9) Avoidance of any subject which are difficult or threaten his stable male-run world-order. One of his principles (p142) is the abstractly-phrased ‘Parents should come in pairs’. Well, Professor, they always do, it takes two to make one. The passive phrasing hides the identity of the half of the pair who 90% of the time is absent – the man, of course!
10) Unquestioning acceptance of existing hierarchies – Peterson gives no criticism of Christianity, despite excellent recent work on the destruction it wrought in the ancient world and its well-known role in modern war-mongering from the Crusades onwards. His sympathies lie always with the self-pitying, over-privileged male: p297 ‘It’s worse, I think, for the young men.. they’re sexually suspect’. Could this be because of all the male-on-female sexual violence?!
This man is plausible, appealing and totally, totally misleading in his arguments. A Male Rights Activist disguised as Daddy.
Listen to Daddy. He loves you. Don’t tell anyone. It’s our little secret.
Written by Janice Williams