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Jordan Peterson's 5 most controversial ideas, explained
Jordan Peterson is one of the most controversial public figures in recent years. Here's a recap of some of his ideas.
I used to know this guy who liked to talk about Egypt. Five minutes in you’d think, “This dude’s dropping knowledge.” Ten minutes later you’d be searching for the threads. At the hour mark, realizing you haven’t said one word during his screed about freemasons, pyramids, and the Bush administration, you’d desperately seek any possible exit.
Knowledge is worthless without practical application; it becomes, in the words of Alan Watts, a display of “spiritual one-upmanship.” Not that Jordan Peterson doesn’t offer great practical advice. Flipping through my copy of 12 Rules For Life, I’ve found a number of profound sentences. The problem is the path getting there. The threads are often frayed.
Then there's the question of temperament. Watching Peterson react to criticism reminds me of aspiring yogis posting long spiritual quotes underneath pictures of themselves posturing. If you challenge a single word they crumble in disbelief. Their fortress of words locks them in rather than opening them up. Amid their garbled messaging about freedom from ego they’ve actually wrapped themselves so tightly in it they can’t breathe—which is, of course, the basis of yoga.
This was displayed by Peterson when the writer Pankaj Mishra criticized the Canadian professor. Peterson replied by calling Mishra “arrogant” and “racist,” and, after a few moments of Zen reflection, said he’d happily slap him. In his book, Peterson writes, “Have some humility. Have some courage.” He later warns not to “over-estimate your self-knowledge.” Yet he seems to excuse himself from this simple wisdom.
Below are five of Peterson’s more controversial ideas. Some of his sentiments are strong. Sometimes, however, the path to arrival makes you wonder where he was trying to get to in the first place.
White privilege doesn’t exist
There was plenty of deserved blowback when Forbes dubbed Kylie Jenner “self-made.” The environment you’re raised in has a profound effect on both your psychology and opportunities in life. I’m not quite sure how this is even a debatable issue, but in Peterson’s world, it is. White privilege, according to him, doesn’t exist.
After listing numerous categories—health, wealth, age, economic status, and so on—he calls race and ethnicity “post-modernist.” He criticizes one woman's views on white privilege, discussing how her paper was not peer-reviewed or subjected to critical scrutiny. His own scrutiny transforms “white privilege” into “majority privilege.” In China, the Chinese are the dominant race; the culture is built to suit them. And so in America, or Canada, since whites happen to be the majority, the culture is designed to suit them. Whoever the culture is built for is by default privileged; otherwise, the construction would not have been worth it in the first place.
Fair enough. Our gods always look like us. But for someone so insistent about context, it’s baffling that he overlooked the fact that this experiment of democracy is rooted in the idea of a level playing field. Sure, it’s mostly lip service, but still aspirational. Peterson claims that Marxists and post-Modernists (who, according to him, strive to attain the ideals of Marxism) oppress us, yet Peterson’s inability to consider empathy is the true driver of regression. He’s right that we white men don’t have to apologize for every sin of our ancestors. Yet to think those sins did not rig the game on the soil we occupy is absurd, semantics aside. True, factor analysis is important. Looking outside of your window might prove a little more relevant in this regard, however.
The Left and identity politics
Peterson uses William Buckley and, more recently, Ben Shapiro as examples of conservative thinkers who have defined clear political boundaries: racial superiority is not an option. The fringe Right does not represent conservative values (though that line is rather blurred in America right now). The problem, Peterson continues, is that the Left doesn’t know its boundaries. There is no box stating, “you’ve gone too far.”
Peterson is correct: liberalism is destroying itself. One fitting example is the “Abolish ICE” movement now being towed by 2020 presidential hopefuls. What’s happening on the US-Mexican border is frightening and tragic, at least to those of us who care about human rights. But the agency is responsible for much more than these incidents. The knee-jerk reaction of destroying an agency due to one horrific incident is foolish.
Another example is the backlash Matt Damon received last year when he said, “There’s a difference between patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation.” The actor even qualified it by stating that both should be confronted. His original sentiment is so obvious that debating it seems ludicrous—exactly Peterson’s point. The willful unconcern for coherence is dangerous, yet many liberals don’t seem to be taking it seriously.
On the existence of God
Sam Harris has pointed out that the word “atheism” doesn’t appear in his debut book, The End of Faith. That didn’t stop the public from labeling him such. Anyone so vociferously attacking the Bible must not believe in God. But as Peterson points out, such a binary choice is unfair—you either believe in God or not—because the terms are rarely defined. “Belief” and “God” are such generic terms attempting to derive meaning is nearly impossible. That said, Peterson’s explanation of Christ’s spirit living on, for example, is one of the best arguments for a realistic faith I’ve come across. Like David Brooks in The Road to Character, Peterson strips away metaphysics to uncover something valuable in religious literature, without turning to blind faith.
Gay parents raising children
Peterson begins this by declaring the “devil is in the details,” then cites the fact that kids in a family with a father do better than single-parent families. (Speaking of details, interesting that he doesn’t state “families with a mother.”) “I believe quite firmly,” he continues, “that the nuclear family is the smallest, viable human unit—father, mother, child.” If you fragment it below that, you end up paying, he continues. He cites Warren Farrell and Jaak Panksepp’s affective neuroscience. He discusses rough-and-tumble play (based on Panksepp’s incredible work on rats and the PLAY system.) Fathers and children push each other’s limits to “find out where they are.” If juvenile male rats don’t tussle you can treat it with Ritalin and…wait, was the question?
Three-and-a-half minutes into this four-and-a-half minute video he finally gets to the “gay family,” for the first time recalling that yes, women are parents too. Treating gay families in a post-modernist fashion is gerrymandering questions without facing moral responsibilities and—look, here’s the continual problem with Peterson. Many children come from broken homes. Often it’s the father; sometimes it’s the mother. We have to consider that maybe it’s simply hard to research long-term data on gay families because it’s only been about two decades since homosexuals were broadly accepted.
There are plenty of politicians that would gladly overturn gay marriage and homosexual couples adopting children. Peterson misses the most basic, primary, and humane element of this entire conversation: two people in love can do incredible things, including raising children, regardless of gender. Without that love, everything crumbles. The absurdity of the question is only surpassed by the inanity of the response.
“Why are women coming forward now, about events that happened 15 or 20 years ago?” is the question Peterson is asked. Peterson replies:
There’s been an adolescent insistence since the early sixties that sexual behavior can be rule-free. Now a lot of that was generated as a consequence of the birth control pill, because that was a biological revolution. All of a sudden women can control their reproductive function, in principle...What does that make women? Because now they’re a new biological entity. And so, it’s wide open. What are women now? We don’t know.
He continues along this line, for another minute, finally asking where one draws the line between sexual invitation and harassment. If that question needs to be asked, I’m not sure why he’s even pontificating on the topic. Just because you don’t know what a woman is doesn’t mean they don’t. But that might be too much for this fragile ego to handle.
So much for rest in peace.
- Australian scientists found that bodies kept moving for 17 months after being pronounced dead.
- Researchers used photography capture technology in 30-minute intervals every day to capture the movement.
- This study could help better identify time of death.
We're learning more new things about death everyday. Much has been said and theorized about the great divide between life and the Great Beyond. While everyone and every culture has their own philosophies and unique ideas on the subject, we're beginning to learn a lot of new scientific facts about the deceased corporeal form.
An Australian scientist has found that human bodies move for more than a year after being pronounced dead. These findings could have implications for fields as diverse as pathology to criminology.
Dead bodies keep moving
Researcher Alyson Wilson studied and photographed the movements of corpses over a 17 month timeframe. She recently told Agence France Presse about the shocking details of her discovery.
Reportedly, she and her team focused a camera for 17 months at the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER), taking images of a corpse every 30 minutes during the day. For the entire 17 month duration, the corpse continually moved.
"What we found was that the arms were significantly moving, so that arms that started off down beside the body ended up out to the side of the body," Wilson said.
The researchers mostly expected some kind of movement during the very early stages of decomposition, but Wilson further explained that their continual movement completely surprised the team:
"We think the movements relate to the process of decomposition, as the body mummifies and the ligaments dry out."
During one of the studies, arms that had been next to the body eventually ended up akimbo on their side.
The team's subject was one of the bodies stored at the "body farm," which sits on the outskirts of Sydney. (Wilson took a flight every month to check in on the cadaver.)Her findings were recently published in the journal, Forensic Science International: Synergy.
Implications of the study
The researchers believe that understanding these after death movements and decomposition rate could help better estimate the time of death. Police for example could benefit from this as they'd be able to give a timeframe to missing persons and link that up with an unidentified corpse. According to the team:
"Understanding decomposition rates for a human donor in the Australian environment is important for police, forensic anthropologists, and pathologists for the estimation of PMI to assist with the identification of unknown victims, as well as the investigation of criminal activity."
While scientists haven't found any evidence of necromancy. . . the discovery remains a curious new understanding about what happens with the body after we die.
Metal-like materials have been discovered in a very strange place.
- Bristle worms are odd-looking, spiky, segmented worms with super-strong jaws.
- Researchers have discovered that the jaws contain metal.
- It appears that biological processes could one day be used to manufacture metals.
The bristle worm, also known as polychaetes, has been around for an estimated 500 million years. Scientists believe that the super-resilient species has survived five mass extinctions, and there are some 10,000 species of them.
Be glad if you haven't encountered a bristle worm. Getting stung by one is an extremely itchy affair, as people who own saltwater aquariums can tell you after they've accidentally touched a bristle worm that hitchhiked into a tank aboard a live rock.
Bristle worms are typically one to six inches long when found in a tank, but capable of growing up to 24 inches long. All polychaetes have a segmented body, with each segment possessing a pair of legs, or parapodia, with tiny bristles. ("Polychaeate" is Greek for "much hair.") The parapodia and its bristles can shoot outward to snag prey, which is then transferred to a bristle worm's eversible mouth.
The jaws of one bristle worm — Platynereis dumerilii — are super-tough, virtually unbreakable. It turns out, according to a new study from researchers at the Technical University of Vienna, this strength is due to metal atoms.
Metals, not minerals
Fireworm, a type of bristle wormCredit: prilfish / Flickr
This is pretty unusual. The study's senior author Christian Hellmich explains: "The materials that vertebrates are made of are well researched. Bones, for example, are very hierarchically structured: There are organic and mineral parts, tiny structures are combined to form larger structures, which in turn form even larger structures."
The bristle worm jaw, by contrast, replaces the minerals from which other creatures' bones are built with atoms of magnesium and zinc arranged in a super-strong structure. It's this structure that is key. "On its own," he says, "the fact that there are metal atoms in the bristle worm jaw does not explain its excellent material properties."
Just deformable enough
Credit: by-studio / Adobe Stock
What makes conventional metal so strong is not just its atoms but the interactions between the atoms and the ways in which they slide against each other. The sliding allows for a small amount of elastoplastic deformation when pressure is applied, endowing metals with just enough malleability not to break, crack, or shatter.
Co-author Florian Raible of Max Perutz Labs surmises, "The construction principle that has made bristle worm jaws so successful apparently originated about 500 million years ago."
Raible explains, "The metal ions are incorporated directly into the protein chains and then ensure that different protein chains are held together." This leads to the creation of three-dimensional shapes the bristle worm can pack together into a structure that's just malleable enough to withstand a significant amount of force.
"It is precisely this combination," says the study's lead author Luis Zelaya-Lainez, "of high strength and deformability that is normally characteristic of metals.
So the bristle worm jaw is both metal-like and yet not. As Zelaya-Lainez puts it, "Here we are dealing with a completely different material, but interestingly, the metal atoms still provide strength and deformability there, just like in a piece of metal."
Observing the creation of a metal-like material from biological processes is a bit of a surprise and may suggest new approaches to materials development. "Biology could serve as inspiration here," says Hellmich, "for completely new kinds of materials. Perhaps it is even possible to produce high-performance materials in a biological way — much more efficiently and environmentally friendly than we manage today."
Dealing with rudeness can nudge you toward cognitive errors.
- Anchoring is a common bias that makes people fixate on one piece of data.
- A study showed that those who experienced rudeness were more likely to anchor themselves to bad data.
- In some simulations with medical students, this effect led to higher mortality rates.
Cognitive biases are funny little things. Everyone has them, nobody likes to admit it, and they can range from minor to severe depending on the situation. Biases can be influenced by factors as subtle as our mood or various personality traits.
A new study soon to be published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that experiencing rudeness can be added to the list. More disturbingly, the study's findings suggest that it is a strong enough effect to impact how medical professionals diagnose patients.
Life hack: don't be rude to your doctor
The team of researchers behind the project tested to see if participants could be influenced by the common anchoring bias, defined by the researchers as "the tendency to rely too heavily or fixate on one piece of information when making judgments and decisions." Most people have experienced it. One of its more common forms involves being given a particular value, say in negotiations on price, which then becomes the center of reasoning even when reason would suggest that number should be ignored.
It can also pop up in medicine. As co-author Dr. Trevor Foulk explains, "If you go into the doctor and say 'I think I'm having a heart attack,' that can become an anchor and the doctor may get fixated on that diagnosis, even if you're just having indigestion. If doctors don't move off anchors enough, they'll start treating the wrong thing."
Lots of things can make somebody more or less likely to anchor themselves to an idea. The authors of the study, who have several papers on the effects of rudeness, decided to see if that could also cause people to stumble into cognitive errors. Past research suggested that exposure to rudeness can limit people's perspective — perhaps anchoring them.
In the first version of the study, medical students were given a hypothetical patient to treat and access to information on their condition alongside an (incorrect) suggestion on what the condition was. This served as the anchor. In some versions of the tests, the students overheard two doctors arguing rudely before diagnosing the patient. Later variations switched the diagnosis test for business negotiations or workplace tasks while maintaining the exposure to rudeness.
Across all iterations of the test, those exposed to rudeness were more likely to anchor themselves to the initial, incorrect suggestion despite the availability of evidence against it. This was less significant for study participants who scored higher on a test of how wide of a perspective they tended to have. The disposition of these participants, who answered in the affirmative to questions like, "Before criticizing somebody, I try to imagine how I would feel if I were in his/her place," was able to effectively negate the narrowing effects of rudeness.
What this means for you and your healthcare
The effects of anchoring when a medical diagnosis is on the line can be substantial. Dr. Foulk explains that, in some simulations, exposure to rudeness can raise the mortality rate as doctors fixate on the wrong problems.
The authors of the study suggest that managers take a keener interest in ensuring civility in workplaces and giving employees the tools they need to avoid judgment errors after dealing with rudeness. These steps could help prevent anchoring.
Also, you might consider being nicer to people.