- Jordan Peterson has constantly been in the headlines for his ideas on gender over the last three years.
- While on Joe Rogan's podcast, he explains his thoughts on the gender differences in society.
- On another episode, Peterson discusses the development of character through competition.
Like many people, I first discovered Jordan Peterson on the Joe Rogan Experience. Since Episode 877, the Canadian professor has been on at least five more times, making him one of the more popular recurring guests.
Peterson is one of the most polarizing thinkers of our day. This is apparent from my own articles on him. When I criticized his ideas on gun control, I received numerous negative emails, tweets, and comments, most of them grammatical nightmares (as trolling goes). Yet when I shared his tips for better writing, liberals derided me for entertaining anything the man says. If nothing else, Peterson is a perfect example of how you simply can’t make everyone happy (nor should you desire to).
More importantly, it is possible to appreciate certain aspects of a person’s ideology while being critical of others. Many fans of Peterson seem to be “all in,” while critics won’t take seriously anything the man says. It makes you wonder how either “side” can be in any sort of relationship at all. If Kellyanne and George Conway can maintain a marriage, it is certainly possible to hold conflicting thoughts about a philosopher in your mind and still contemplate value.
Alas, Twitter demolishes all subtleties. Regardless, here are two moments from JRE worthy of discussion.
Jordan Peterson Explains the Gender Paradox – Joe Rogan
Jordan Peterson rose to prominence (and to some, infamy) for his ideas on gender-neutral pronouns. In the above clip, he discusses the “gender paradox” in depth, which he defines thus: “As societies become more gender-equal in their social and political policies, men and women become more different in certain aspects, rather than more similar.”
Peterson is pulling data from the contested “Nordic paradox,” which states that as societies promote gender rights, less gender balance is observed in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers and upper management positions in certain sectors.
Peterson believes there are two types of equality you can pursue. The first is equality of opportunity. He notes that talent is distributed everywhere. Some differences between men and women have been minimized, while some industries, such as academia and health care, are now dominated by women. Though this might place stress on family structure, he concludes that one of the best indicators of economic health in developing countries is their attitudes toward equal rights.
The second is equality of outcome, or equity. Peterson claims the ultimate equity is utopia, but there’s an issue. If you were to break down humans into twenty categories (he says there are many more) such as gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, attractiveness, and intelligence, it would be impossible to represent everyone equally everywhere.
“There’s no way you can regulate a society so tightly that every single one of those groups is equally represented in every single one of those occupations at every single level of the hierarchy.”
Are discrepancies between men and women socialization or biological? The relationship between biology and culture is culturally dependent, he continues, then offers a hypothesis: If the differences are primarily social, men and women will become more alike the more egalitarian the society. Yet that’s not what happens, according to the Scandinavian research.
Men are more interested in non-animate things, such as technology, gadgets, and automobiles, while women are more interested in people. Societies are better off economically the more equal rights are emphasized, yet Peterson points to the Nordic research.
Interestingly, David Brooks points out a different phenomenon in America: Millennials are divided not by occupation but by political leaning. He attributes this to female mobilization and male backlash, given the 21-point gender gap between Democratic-voting women and GOP-leaning men under age 35.
Brooks does not claim war or even a paradox. He concludes the disparity is more the product of politics than gender:
“I have to say that this rising war between the sexes feels phony to me. Millennials seem to be in fundamental agreement on how to live. I detect less day-to-day difference between men and women than in earlier generations.”
Not that Peterson’s data are off, necessarily, but building an argument from one geographical region alone is suspect. As Nima Sanandaji, author of Nordic Paradox, points out, the discrepancy between male and female professional roles is attributable to welfare state policies, which, while well-intentioned, paradoxically hold women back from achieving many positions Peterson cite as evidence of gender discrepancies.
On this topic, it appears Peterson is picking and choosing studies to bolster his preexisting belief, which, of course, never makes for good science.
Joe Rogan – Jordan Peterson on the Importance of Competition
In this clip, Peterson points out that the world is “functioning unbelievably well, even though it has its problems.” Joe Rogan has often pointed out that societies battled less upon realizing that trading with enemies is more beneficial. This obviously isn’t always the case; populism is also reversing this trend. But Peterson is right. We are better off today than likely at any point in history, regardless of how terrible the news becomes—and we need to recognize climate change will greatly affect this upward trend.
Peterson also claims systemic prejudice is decreasing, which might not hold as much water. Nevertheless, developing economies are increasing rapidly thanks to access to clean water, medicine, and cellular technologies. Opportunities are spreading out globally.
Here Peterson dives into liberal notions of an equal playing field, opening the discussion of competition. To frame the argument, he points out many people that claim they want an equal playing field default to listening to a very limited range of music—they want the “best of the best” and don’t invest time to discover a wide range of musicians. Thanks to streaming services’ pro rata payment system, the best make more per stream than everyone else, which is not healthy from a competitive standpoint.
Competition, however, is healthy, and also necessary. It’s encoded in our biology. Rogan mentions a favorite subject of his: participation trophies. Every child receiving a trophy for playing is a terrible way to teach them about life. Not keeping score, even when it’s obvious one team has beaten the other, sets a dangerous precedent. Competition does not have to be brutal, but it does have to exist.
Peterson counters with an issue Paul Bloom brilliantly wrote about: Empathy can also be dangerous. Over-emoting often points to emotional lacking. No one argues for complete abstinence from empathy—it is arguably a quality that helped us ascend to the peak of the animal kingdom—but it also softens you. It blinds parents to the struggles existence demand. Enter snowplowing parents whose children can do no wrong.
Peterson then contemplates the idea that “it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” The sentiment confuses children. Holding the idea that they’re supposed to be a good sport who doesn’t care about the outcome and try to win is illogical to a developing (and many developed) minds. Focusing on a single game instead of the bigger picture is what drives parents to miss the larger point.
Which is this: You could give the star player the ball every time if you want to win a game. A good coach, however, teaches the star how to make his teammates better. The goal is the championship, not a single game. Life, Peterson continues, is not a single game, nor even a single championship—it is a series of championships. The way to train to win the series is to develop your character.
That occurs by focusing on winning the largest number of games across the span of a lifetime, which Peterson claims by reciting the most fundamental kindergarten lesson imaginable: Play well with others. This means you want to win, but you want to train others to play well together. Then the kid becomes fun to play with, setting them up for a lifetime of teammates to play with and coaches to learn from.
“Don’t forget, kid, that what you’re trying to do here is to do well at life. And you need to practice the strategies that enable you to do well at life while you’re in any specific game. And you never want to compromise your ability to do well at life for the sake of winning a single game.”
Peterson recommends teaching this between the ages of two and four, but really, this applies to all of us at any age. And this lesson—play well with others—is one that we could all work on at this point in our history together.