Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Caitlin Flanagan: "Why The Left Is So Afraid Of Jordan Peterson"

I'm not sure they're afraid of him. They may just hate him. Perhaps some of both--such things are often mixed.
   I'm not sure to what extent the PC/SJ left can conceive of itself being wrong. It seem to be a mixture of unreflective assumption, quasi-religious true belief, and willful dogmatism. To some extent it just seems to not occur to them that they could be wrong; to some extent they are enflamed with righteous fervor; to some extent they obviously just refuse to recognize the failings of the view. These things probably end up mixed together. That's not a terribly uncommon thing.
   Whether its Peterson that does it or not, Flanagan is, it seems to me, right: the PC/SJ left desperately wants to shut down debate. They know in their hearts, at least much of the time, that they can't win them. Allow the discussion to get off the ground and you've lost. This is part of what motivates Wikipedia to build social constructionist views of race right into the introduction of the entry. instead of admitting that it's in any way an open question. Some of their main strategies are clearly exhibited in the transgenderism "debate," such as one exists. The strategy is: introduce a vocabulary that presupposes the view you want people to believe ("transwomen" "transmen," and the use of 'woman' to describe certain men, etc.). Insist that this terminology must be used; that the terminology itself is obligatory. Insist that anyone who questions the doctrine or the use of the terminology is a *ist (racist, etc.) or *phobe. Insist that refusal to acquiesce causes violence against marginalized groups. And a couple of new ones: insist that disagreement constitutes violence against such groups, that refusal to accept these ways of speaking causes irreparable psychological harm to them, and, so, tolerance isn't enough: you must say the words you are told to say. Because (a) much of the PC/SJ left still falsely believes in strong versions of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, and (b) the rest recognizes the truth of weaker versions: language doesn't determine thought, but it damn sure has a big effect on it.
   Anyway, the overall strategy is to win without fighting by outflanking rational, public discussion. Feelings trump rationality and free speech...and speaking rationally about the issue hurts people's feelings. So tough luck.
   This is pretty good:

   It is because the left, while it currently seems ascendant in our houses of culture and art, has in fact entered its decadent late phase, and it is deeply vulnerable. The left is afraid not of Peterson, but of the ideas he promotes, which are completely inconsistent with identity politics of any kind. When the poetry editors of The Nation virtuously publish an amateurish but super-woke poem, only to discover that the poem stumbled across several trip wires of political correctness; when these editors (one of them a full professor in the Harvard English department) then jointly write a letter oozing bathos and career anxiety and begging forgiveness from their critics; when the poet himself publishes a statement of his own—a missive falling somewhere between an apology, a Hail Mary pass, and a suicide note; and when all of this is accepted in the houses of the holy as one of the regrettable but minor incidents that take place along the path toward greater justice, something is dying.
   When the top man at The New York Times publishes a sober statement about a meeting he had with the president in which he describes instructing Trump about the problem of his “deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric,” and then three days later the paper announces that it has hired a writer who has tweeted about her hatred of white people, of Republicans, of cops, of the president, of the need to stop certain female writers and journalists from “existing,” and when this new hire will not be a beat reporter, but will sit on the paper’s editorial board—having a hand in shaping the opinions the paper presents to the world—then it is no mystery that a parallel culture of ideas has emerged to replace a corrupted system. When even Barack Obama, the poet laureate of identity politics, is moved to issue a message to the faithful, hinting that that they could be tipping their hand on all of this—saying during a speech he delivered in South Africa that a culture is at a dead end when it decides someone has no “standing to speak” if he is a white man—and when even this mayday is ignored, the doomsday clock ticks ever closer to the end.
   In the midst of this death rattle has come a group of thinkers, Peterson foremost among them, offering an alternative means of understanding the world to a very large group of people who have been starved for one. His audience is huge and ever more diverse, but a significant number of his fans are white men. The automatic assumption of the left is that this is therefore a red-pilled army, but the opposite is true. The alt-right venerates identity politics just as fervently as the left, as the title of a recent essay reproduced on the alt-right website Counter-Currents reveals: “Jordan Peterson’s Rejection of Identity Politics Allows White Ethnocide.”
   If you think that a backlash to the kind of philosophy that resulted in The Nation’s poetry implosion; the Times’ hire; and Obama’s distress call isn’t at least partly responsible for the election of Donald Trump, you’re dreaming. And if you think the only kind of people who would reject such madness are Republicans, you are similarly deluded. All across the country, there are people as repelled by the current White House as they are by the countless and increasingly baroque expressions of identity politics that dominate so much of the culture. These are people who aren’t looking for an ideology; they are looking for ideas. And many of them are getting much better at discerning the good from the bad. The Democratic Party reviles them at its peril; the Republican Party takes them for granted in folly.
   I deny that Obama is "the poet laureate of identity politics." He's spoken out against its excesses a couple of times. He does again at the other end of that link. One can think that issues about race, sex, etc. matter quite a bit without falling off into crazy land. He did go too far down that road in some ways. But overall I still think he was pretty level-headed about it. But I agree with that guy about so many important things that I do cut him a lot of slack. So I dunno.
   It's certainly true that identity politics of the left and right are, at root, the same. The right has the real history of violence on that score, so that's a huge asymmetry. But the left has recently gotten into the violence game--and not just against the IP right. Also: comparison of crazy is the wrong route. Left-wing identity politics may not involve carrying around AR-15s, but it now controls the cultural superstructure. Right-wing IP is dying out...or was, until left-wing IP decided to fan its flames. And it's respectable--it's become something like orthodoxy in the parts of the culture that matter.
   Anyway: Flanagan may be onto something.


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