Wednesday 2 March 2022

The Peterson Question


I think I was a bit old to get sucked into the Jordan Peterson cult of personality, thankfully. I’ve enjoyed his psychology lectures where he uses Disney as examples and I believe he helped get a lot of young men interested in the field. I think he was once a much needed voice of debate against certain people we are expected to blindly follow without question (ironic I know), but in recent times it has become clear he’s squarely sided with the right-wing and rather than engaging in intelligent debate he clearly has a political (mostly financial - anyone else notice his tour tickets are about £150?) agenda.

Now, his philosophy of “take responsibility for yourself” is fundamentally good advice. The issue is where this strides over into the political sphere. To acknowledge that you must do something to make your life better is vital, but as with all conservatives, Peterson lets this idea blend into politics as an excuse for powerful people to pass blame onto those who are suffering. Self improvement is great and all, but it’s incredibly difficult to better yourself whilst living through poverty, discrimination, abuse and prejudice, where governments and institutions are actively suppressing you, making daily life unnecessary difficult and making upward mobility near impossible, all whilst saying it’s your own fault.

It is fair to say that if you’re suffering you need to ask yourself what you’re doing wrong and what you can change to make your life better, it’s always an early step and truthfully if you cannot put the effort in, who else will? But people like Peterson place all blame on the individual and this is a horrific stance on political policy and actively hinders normal people’s ability to not only better themselves but live happily. It becomes a policy of victim blaming.

He talks of meritocracy often, an idea that people should be awarded for their hard work and effort, that those who are better should be awarded as such. But the sickening fallacy of meritocracy is that it is the lie that conservatives tell themselves, that they deserve their higher quality of life where those who suffer bring it on themselves because they’re not trying hard enough, that they’re slack or immoral. But conservatives fail to see how their, well, privilege, has given them advantage. This is not only disgusting but moronic too. To have a real meritocracy you would have to remove privilege outright, inheritance wouldn’t exist and all children would be raised equally to allow their natural ability and drive to push them forward. You don’t hear people like Peterson calling for that, though, so they don’t even believe in the meritocracy they claim, really they just believe the lie, that their privilege is deserved and people’s suffering is their own doing, the lie that society is fair.

Think of the saying, “Give a Man a Fish, feed him for a day, teach a man to fish, feed him for life”. People such as Peterson are obsessed with this idea. But they believe in it incorrectly, they see it aimed towards the starving man, they see it as a story that tells people that they get what they deserve, that you work hard and fish, you eat, you beg for food you should starve. All whilst elevating the man that can already fish, as if he’s morally upright and perfect for telling the starving man he should learn to fish. A real world version of this saying would involve a cocky 20 year old fishing out on his daddy’s yacht, who owns the lake, owns the fishing equipment shop, charges people $500/hr to learn how to fish then ends the night having a big fish BBQ whilst insulting the starving locals whose livelihood was ruined when daddy bought the lake. 

The fallacy of conservatives is that they believe the world is already perfect, they’re successful so why aren’t you? They believe you’re just not trying hard enough and if you got some grit and put some more effort in, you’d finally be happy if you just stopped being so lazy. Ignore the small loan of $2 million daddy gave them or the book deal.

Peterson’s self help is geared towards well off people who can’t quite achieve the tip of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. They already have their basics covered, they’ve never known suffering, they’re just having a bit of an existential crisis because they finally have to tidy their room.

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