There’s an insidious, BS argument technique currently spreading like a rhetorical pestilence through Social Media, conventional media, and even in academic institutions. Here’s how it works:
1. Person A states their argument in good faith, providing a reasonable degree of supporting evidence.
2. Person B deliberately misunderstands Person A‘s argument and re-frames it as something morally objectionable, before replying to that argument instead.
This technique goes well beyond the conventional “Strawman”, in that it shamelessly engages the emotions of bystanders in order to paint a target on Person A. for a mob of people in the midst of a moral panic.
We’ve been informally calling this a “Straw Witch” argument, because the entire point is to rally all the village idiots to burn your opponent at the stake.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the Channel 4 interview conducted recently with Clinical Psychologist and tenured Professor Jordan Peterson—an interview in which this technique was used so flagrantly that it inspired a series of memes:
Seriously though, here’s an example of what actually happened in that interview if you don’t want to suffer through it:
JP: “The reason that I write about lobsters is because there’s this idea that hierarchical structures are a sociological construct of the Western patriarchy. And that is so untrue that it’s almost unbelievable. And I use the lobster as an example because we diverged from lobsters in evolutionary history about 350 million years ago: common ancestor. Lobsters exist in hierarchies and they have a nervous system attuned to the hierarchy, and that nervous system runs on serotonin just like our nervous systems do. And the nervous system of the lobster and the human being is so similar that anti-depressants work on lobsters. And it’s part of my attempt to demonstrate that the idea of hierarchy has absolutely nothing to do with socio-cultural construction, which it doesn’t.”
Interviewer: “Let me just get this straight. You’re saying we should organize our societies along the lines of the lobsters?”
Even someone with a severe dislike of Peterson’s stances on issues would have to acknowledge that the interviewer was nowhere in his league—barely playing the same sport.
That tends to be the case, and that’s one of the reasons why people love him: you can’t deny he’s a legitimately smart guy. Oh wait, you can, if you’re a shamelessly biased asshole writing a smarmy hit piece, featuring a name calling insult game so weak it’d lose you a rap battle to Benedict Cumberbatch:
Before we get to “who”, let’s talk about “why”. We’ll start by clarifying ourselves: this is not a hit piece on Jordan Peterson, but neither is it a puff piece, or any sort of cheerleading/pandering to Peterson’s growing list of—dedicated, if not frothing—Internet fans. Y’all should know better.
We’re not concerned with ideology on Bullshido, just bullshit. However, since the man is an emerging figure in public discourse, our purpose is to cover both the bullshit about him and the bullshit coming out of him.
So those of you with weaker intellectual constitutions who subsist on sugary-simple narratives should probably seek shelter at this point, because the dissonance radius on this cognitive bomb is set wide enough to catch all simpletons of any slant.
To say it’s difficult to write an impartial account of who Jordan Peterson is, and why so many people are paying attention him right now, would be something like bringing up Hitler as simply a “notable” historical figure. Appropriately, bringing up Peterson in certain circles can evoke as many as ten Hitler references (a decahitler, or Dh¹).
Most recently this happened in a conference room at Wilfrid Laurier University, where grad student Lindsay Shepherd—teaching a class on media and communications—was hauled in front of a review panel simply for showing a video of a debate with Peterson as one of the participants. The subject being discussed was the use of gender neutral pronouns in the singular (such as “they”), and if you somehow missed it the first time, this was a Communications class.
Anticipating an administrative brow-beating, Shepherd recorded the event, in which—you guessed it—Peterson was compared to Hitler by one of the members of the panel.
“This is like neutrally playing a speech by Hitler.”
-Professor Nathan Rambukkana, PhD, Wilfrid Laurier University
Full audio below: Trigger Warning: Angry Tears, RAGE³
This is just one of a few incidents that encapsulates the Jordan Peterson phenomenon, and the issues of gender diversity, tolerance, and free speech that follow him around like the cloud on that dirty kid from the Peanuts cartoons.
Peterson rose to public consciousness after pushing back against Bill C-16, 2016: “An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code“ that affords protected status “gender identity or expression”. His criticism of this bill revolves around the fact that it requires people to use a person’s “chosen pronouns” rather than the conventional “he” or “she”. He rejects the “70+ genders” because “those are terms generated by the post-modern neo-marxists. I think those people are reprehensible murderers, so guess what? I’m not going to say their words because I know what they’re like, I know where that leads”.
Where that leads, according to Peterson, is mass starvation and gulags. Jordan Peterson is without a doubt, conservative and on the political right. He abhors Communism and the philosophy behind it, Marxism, and sees many of his fellow academics as a wave of Marxist infiltrators stroking their villain’s mustaches from within the safety of academia to influence younger generations of college students to take up their causes. Those causes are Social Justice and “equity” movements. He rails against these for seeking to provide “equality of outcomes” rather than opportunities.
Central to the ideology of these Marxists, according to Peterson, is the philosophy of “Post-Modernism”, which asserts that “truth” is subjective, and socially constructed–decided by collective agreement rather than existing independently on its own. This isn’t wholly correct, but we’re certainly not going to wade into that epistemological septic lagoon (blah blah blah art criticism blah blah post-structuralism blah Foucault blah blah Sokal smackdown blah). That’s beyond the point we need to address here, especially for a website that got its start by organizing its members to beat the crap out of each other, Fight Club style (TW³: …everything).
But put our own ridiculously problematic history aside for a second and put a mental pin on that last paragraph; we’ll be circling back to it.
(Get it, it’s a Mein Kampf joke? Things can still be funny if you explain them as long as you use a condescending grammatical voice that implies the reader is in on the joke, unlike those other idiots.)
Rather than opening ourselves to charges that we’re re-framing his arguments for our own purposes, let’s directly quote Professor Peterson on various subjects:
“In Venezuela everyone is equal, they all have the same number of bones to gnaw on..”
“…it’s their unconscious wish for brutal, male domination.”
On “White Privilege”:
I think the idea of white privilege is absolutely reprehensible, and it’s not because white people aren’t privileged. You know, we have all sorts of privileges, and most people have privileges of all sorts, and you should be grateful for your privileges and work to deserve them, I would say. But, the idea that you can target an ethnic group with a collective crime, regardless of the specific innocence or guilt of the constituent elements of that group, there is absolutely nothing that’s more racist than that. It’s absolutely abhorrent.
We’re not going to turn this into a repository of quotations; there are plenty of sources on the Internet for that already. We just want those of you who are unfamiliar with the man to get a sense of who he is and what he believes.
Peterson’s current notoriety can be directly attributed to the fact that while planting his flag on the opposite side of the social battlefield, he struck a large vein of disaffected, disenfranchised young males who—left in a moral vacuum due to the waning of traditional cultural values—are looking for guidance on how to live meaningful lives. The young men attracted to Peterson’s message don’t want to abandon the ideals of strength, exceptionalism, individualism, and personal achievement, so often maligned by the left. Like him, they push back against the notion that there’s something innately wrong with masculinity, instead reveling in it—to varying degrees which sometimes stray into territory their “Social Justice Warrior” opponents label as “toxic”.
It’s easy to see the appeal of this approach: it’s positive and affirming, especially to people who don’t see themselves as privileged, but as persecuted. Nobody likes being made to feel they’re guilty simply for having been born into a certain body, which ironically seems to be a point missed by the Social Justice movement when it comes to the primary targets of their war: remember, a war needs enemies. The rationalization for judging only a particular group of persons (in this case, melanin-deficient and bearing the additional disability of a y-chromosome), lies in an entire academic field’s sketchy notions of power dynamics.
But radicalized hostility on one side only ever swings the pendulum harder back to the other side, and there is always someone on either side willing to rally angry people to fight for their agenda, while the reasonable voices lurking a bit closer to the middle try to slow that pendulum/wrecking ball as best they can. Voices like Steven Pinker, who addresses the extremism in academic circles with even-handed clarity:
Like we said, reasonable, right? (Alt-Alt-Right?)
So assuming you had no knowledge of the entire brouhaha coming into this, and assuming you’ve made it this far without gouging your eyes out or making a stupid attack helicopter reference to your bros, here’s where it gets dirty.
Before we start, let’s be clear: the subject of “Truth” and how one comes to know it has been debated for as long as people were capable of debating anything. There’s a whole field of Philosophy dedicated to how we can know things, and so much of these ideological battles can be traced back to fundamental disagreements within it leaking out into the wild like chemical agents into the hands of people poorly qualified to use them—ourselves included (and you too, don’t kid yourself).
Cavemen armed with nerve gas isn’t the point though, because we’ll fully acknowledge that Jordan Peterson is no intellectual primitive (he’s not, get over it). The point is that Jordan Peterson rails against the unfounded, un-empirical assertions of “post-modernist” thought out of one side of his mouth, while preaching out of the other side his own assertions of para-theistic meta-narratives—or to use actual people words—religious bullshit. To be even more clear, because we’re sure some of you are going to deliberately get this wrong just to argue some asinine point⁴, we’re not making a claim with regards to truth in religion one way or another: we’re just pointing out that Empiricism isn’t some kind of a “home base” you can run back to for safety every time you venture into enemy territory, in a game of intellectual tag.
(Resist the urge to make another “safe space” reference. Resist the urge to make another “safe space” reference. Resist the urge to make another “safe space” reference.)
It’s simply bullshit to believe that your assertions about Truth are different than anyone else’s assertions about Truth, when all either of you are doing are making goddamn assertions. It’s bad enough that the word “Truth” itself has been beaten like Ed Sheeran as a stepchild [editor’s note: revisit reference in a year when no longer relevant]. But bouncing back and forth between credible Scientific knowledge and revealed religious “truth” in a discussion of cultural values is like playing Gin with a mixed deck of tarot and Magic the Gathering cards: nobody wins because it doesn’t make any fucking sense.
For those of you less entertained by drawing pretty pictures than tasting the crayons, here’s your reward for clicking on this post. For everyone else, JP memes are top notch even if you hate the guy. Enjoy. Or don’t. Fuck you. This is the only TL;DR you’re getting.
There is no Imperial measurement for Hitler references, except perhaps converting from a base of 9mm².
That’s a Luger/Suicide joke. It’s okay because, Nazis.
Yes, we’re aware we’re not using trigger warnings correctly. Go ahead and add us to the list that includes nearly everyone else on the Internet.
Refer back to the first paragraphs of this monstrosity.
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