Sunday , December 17 2017

Stop Lying

Summary:
Jordan Peterson is hands-down the most interesting “public intellectual” I’ve discovered in the last 10 years. I’ve been listening to his podcasts and I occasionally have to turn them off to process the profundity I just heard. Not only is he on top of several disciplines where I am not well-read, but he also can distill complex subjects down into quick, practical conclusions. For example, his advice for young depressed people who are overwhelmed by the injustice of the world: (1) Clean your room, and (2) Stop telling lies in your daily life. I am in awe of the thinker who produced such output. Yes, Peterson is notorious for his stance against “gender neutral pronouns.” Forget that stuff for a minute. If you want to hear him at his best, listen to this lecture.

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Jordan Peterson is hands-down the most interesting “public intellectual” I’ve discovered in the last 10 years. I’ve been listening to his podcasts and I occasionally have to turn them off to process the profundity I just heard.

Not only is he on top of several disciplines where I am not well-read, but he also can distill complex subjects down into quick, practical conclusions. For example, his advice for young depressed people who are overwhelmed by the injustice of the world: (1) Clean your room, and (2) Stop telling lies in your daily life. I am in awe of the thinker who produced such output.

Yes, Peterson is notorious for his stance against “gender neutral pronouns.” Forget that stuff for a minute. If you want to hear him at his best, listen to this lecture. It is nominally about “The Psychology of the Flood” (in the Genesis account of Noah) but he doesn’t even talk about Noah for the first hour. Even if you’re an atheist, check it out. (In fact, especially if you’re an atheist, check it out.)

Here are two key points from that lecture:

==> At some point deep into it (sorry I didn’t jot down the time), he says that people have outsourced the problem of sanity. What he means is, we get constant feedback from each other, when our behavior exceeds the bounds of social acceptance. (Raised eyebrows, explicit verbal condemnation, social ostracism, etc.) That’s how we collectively solve the problem of maintaining our sanity, and it’s why someone who is isolated from everybody else will “go crazy” (my words, not necessarily his). I was on a road trip listening to Peterson on this, thinking, “Man this is like how Hayek thinks about prices,” and then Peterson himself went there! He explicitly likened his discussion of social cues to how the stock market works, because “Nobody knows what billions of prices should be, it’s too damn complicated” (or words to that effect).

==> Around 74:00, Peterson explains that people don’t see “objects” in the world. For one thing, we see other people, and people are “too damn complex” to be mere objects. But beyond the social world, it’s more accurate to say we see the world in terms of “tools and obstacles.” And then when Peterson elaborates, he says something like (not exact quote), “Once you adopt a conscious goal, how you perceive reality is transformed into the things that tools that help you achieve the goal and the obstacles that get in your way.” This is very complementary (coming from the psychology / neurobiology side) to the writings of Mises and Hayek on the social sciences.

Now it’s true, Peterson gets into areas that make some people really uncomfortable. For example, in this classroom excerpt he offers a theory for personality differences between men and women, and why this can lead to conflict in romantic and business relationships. (Note, the title of the YouTube is clickbait.) The short version: Women are designed (Peterson would say through evolution) to optimally deal with helpless infants. This is not the optimal way to interface with adult men. Couple that with physical strength differences, and you end up understanding–so Peterson thinks–a lot about the male/female dynamic.

In the below clip, Peterson is explaining to Camille Paglia why it’s up to women to police themselves:

That’s obviously not something you would offer in a job interview at GE, but surely you can understand what he was saying.

With that context, let’s turn to this recent critique of Peterson. Among other claims, it said of the above interview–without linking of course: “In a conversation with Camille Paglia, he lamented that men can’t exert control over “crazy women” by physically beating them.

The author of the hit piece also wrote: “What [Peterson] is not, however, is the author of any lasting work of scholarship, the originator of any important idea, or a public intellectual of any scientific credibility or moral seriousness. Peterson’s sole discovery is that “postmodernism” can be usefully exploited alongside the more familiar, established populist scare tactics.”

Here’s a list of his peer-reviewed research. (It’s odd that Peterson could have taught at Harvard for five years, too, isn’t it, given that he is just a provocateur?)

Now if the above hit piece had come to my attention because a bunch of antifa people circulated it on Twitter, that would be one thing, and I wouldn’t have brought it up. But it was promoted by an Austro-libertarian colleague, and I’ve seen others in our camp offhandedly refer to Peterson in very derogatory terms.

If you don’t like his stances on postmodernism, or you hate the type of people who have embraced him in the last year, fair enough. Go ahead and say that. But don’t link to articles that quite obviously lie about his positions and work. As Peterson stresses, you fracture yourself if you consistently lie in your daily life, as a matter of course.

(Note: I’m not saying I’m perfect. But on this issue, I really do try to practice what I preach. For example, people often say, “Krugman wants aliens to invade, ha ha!” [Look at the title of this YouTube.] I try to be careful and not misrepresent him on that, since what Krugman said was that he wanted us to erroneously believe aliens were going to invade. Etc.)

Robert Murphy

Robert Patrick Murphy (born 23 May 1976) is an American economist, consultant and author. He is an economist with the Institute for Energy Research (IER) specializing in climate change and a research fellow with the Independent Institute, He was a senior fellow in business and economic studies at the Pacific Research Institute, and he is an associated scholar at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. In addition to economic subjects, Murphy writes about, and has presented an online video class in, anarcho-capitalism on the Mises Institute website. Murphy also has written in support of Intelligent Design theory and expressed skepticism of biological evolution.

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