In defense of Cathy Newman on Channel 4
Posted on februari 6, 2018
Sorry for this rant, it is going to be long.
Jordan Peterson is a psychologist at the University of Toronto. He is also a frequent debater in the media, and has written books. He has millions of followers on social media, and when Cathy Newman interviewed Peterson on Channel 4 News it was watched over 5 million times.
So what, then, is so exceptional about Jordan Peterson?
New York Times wrote in an interesting analysis about the “Jordan Peterson Moment” in social media. Peterson seems to attract young men who feel lost in today´s society. They don´t feel they belong. Peterson delivers “stern fatherly lectures” (NY Times) to these young men.
So, what is the message, what kind of advice does Peterson give these young men? It is a very conservative message. It is about straighten your back, it is about taking a position back (from feminists, I guess), it is about being strong, becoming an “adult”, it is about talking the truth (now that´s good, but who can object to that?)
Moral advice such as these aren´t controversial, but there are other parts of Petersons ideas that are highly controversial. Among those ideas you can find the “truth” that pay gap between men and women is a construction and doesn´t exist, that it´s a lie that Patriarchy is an invention by men (it is nature given), that society is organized (and should be) in a hierarchical system (because even lobsters do so) and that feminism and the quest for gender equality destroys the society.
Peterson opposes both gender equality and the rights of LGTB- activists.
There are indeed a number of questions one would want Peterson explain. So when Cathy Newman interviewed him in a highly interesting and also entertaining conversation, she asked Peterson a number of questions that I think most women – and indeed all feminists – find it urgent that a wellknown and influential person like Peterson answers.
But what happened? I watched the interview and what I saw was a very professional journalist doing her job, asking tough questions. At one point – only one point – she laughed and admitted that Petersons answer got her speechless, for a second (and then she was back on track again).
On the other hand Peterson changed his answers at several occasions. In the beginning of the interview, Peterson said there is no such thing as a pay-gap between men and women. When forced to admit that this really exists – Newman could giving him detailed info about it – Peterson changed his version, admitting that a pay-gap exists, but, he says, it is not because of gender. Then between which categories does it exist?
Pushed to answer, Peterson finally said that there is a pay-gap between “agreeable” persons and “not agreeable”. This “agreeable”-thing seems to be linked to gender, but no, it is not so, said Peterson, but it COULD be so.
I fully understand the confusion of Cathy Newman. Who wouldn´t be confused? So when she says: “You say that…” she does what every good journalist would do in a similar situation: she tries to summarize and make things comprehensive.
But the fan club of Peterson, 99 % young men, the kind who wears strange caps, hiding on youtube or Twitter, trying their best to avoid social situations in real life (and above all, I guess, women) don´t understand that this is normal behavior from an interviewer (they don’t watch the news), so they understand Newmans statements as an attempt to tell Peterson what he thinks. Oh! And it´s like their mother´s trying to tell them what THEY think. Horrible!
Peterson won the match! They scream all over Twitter. And if I make fun of them, it is nothing compared to the thousands of young men making fun of Cathy Newman on Twitter.
And yes, of course this also meant personal threats to Cathy Newman. This is why, dear readers, women don´t raise their voices regarding issues like these.
However, I think it is urgent that women do raise their voices. And also, I think it is urgent that liberals, social democrats, green politicians, leftists and above all, feminists, raise their voices. Why?
Because Peterson´s videos on youtube have been seen something like 40 million times. According to NY Times Peterson might be the “most influential public intellectual in the Western world right now”. I don´t believe that, but of course he is influential.
So let´s have a closer look on what he says.
Obviously, he is a Darwinist. He often returns to talking about lobsters and their hierarchical system. Interestingly the return to biology seems to appeal to conservative – and indeed also conservative Christian – men. Funny to think about the hatred from both conservatives and the Church during the time of Darwin now turned into admiration of animal life!
If conservative men not for anything in the world would want to be compared to animals back at Darwin´s times, now they willingly claim to be animals. However, not all animals are popular. Aggressive chimpanzees are popular among conservative men, but the cousin, the sex-loving Bonobos (who are bi-sexual) don´t match the criteria of the conservative lobby (and a lot of other animals are also less popular).
Peterson also is a pessimist. Society is a dark place, life is about the survival of the fittest, and young men have to acknowledge this fact and understand that they have to fight. There is little place for empathy or “soft values”. “Life is about remorseless struggle and pain” said David Brooks in NY Times. No surprise, that Brooks also mentioned Nietzsche in his analysis (please do remember that Nietzsche´s thinking influenced the Nazi thinking, although this wasn´t the intention of Nietzsche).
Peterson frequently uses biblical stories in his education of young men – but from what I have read, he doesn´t believe in God. No surprise, either, that some conservative Christians are deeply impressed by Peterson, obviously not seeing that he is miles away from Evangelical teachings about mercy, forgiveness and hope.
My last point about Peterson´s message and teaching has to do with why this person appears in history right now. I would say, that after every period of achievements from women (and progressive men) to make the society more equal, someone like Peterson would appear on the scene.
Remember, that after the introduction of the pill 1960-70 men also felt lost and started questioning their identity as men. In 1990, the American poet and writer Robert Bly made success with his book “Iron John: A Book about Men”. He inspired men to go out in the forest together to try to find themselves by using axes and making sculptures of their penises.
And earlier, after the period during and after WWII, when women started working and seemed capable of doing the same kind of work as men – then there was the movement called “Moral ReArmament” (created in 1938) that attracted a lot of men. (Next time, I will give you a telling story about this movement).
At this very moment, there is a global macho- trend. Why? I personally believe it is linked to the feeling of being threatened by globalization, the feeling of being threatened by feminism, the loss of traditional masculinity.
The macho-trend – Putin, Trump, Mr Orban in Hungary, “Law and Justice” in Poland – also is a trend characterized by nationalism, anti-globalization, anti-EU and isolationism.
It is a deeply conservative and also deeply worrying trend. It is a trend that looks back, instead of finding new ways for a better future. It sends messages of hopelessness and despair – this is not what Peterson says, on the contrary he claims to be a person who is a liberator.
I see a person who is everything but a liberator. Where is freedom? Where is hope? Where is compassion? Where is love?
This is why I think all freedom lovers, all hopers, everyone who is FOR a quest for better ways to find masculine and feminine identity so that we can create a good society for all, should pay attention to these ultra- conservative messages and oppose to them.
Peterson and his fans obviously have a hard time with countries like Sweden. During the interview with Cathy Newman Peterson says that the “outcome” of gender equality isn´t a success in Sweden. Why? Because people seem to choose the wrong profession in Sweden: not enough women become engineers.
It is true that there is a lot to be done in this field. But Peterson seems to forget some important things about Sweden: a lot of people are more than satisfied about the possibilities for a generous father-leave – something unique in the world! He seems also to leave out the fact that Scandinavians are among the happiest people in the world, according to recent polls. And that some Americans leave the US for Sweden only because of the gender equality we have achieved!
As for me, I felt happy and blessed last Friday when I saw two young men walking with their babies in center Stockholm, talking and seeming not unhappy at all.
Maybe the unhappy young men hiding on youtube should rather talk to young fathers about the meaning of life and stop listening to Peterson?
Just a suggestion.
Finally, if some men want to become lobsters, it´s fine with me. I certainly don´t want to be a lobster, I want to stay human, and I think there is a reason for us talking about “human rights”: we can, and we will, continue to build a good society for everyone.
And I hope there are many more like me out there. Peterson seems to want a war between men and women: ok, let him have that war. But as we aren´t lobsters and don’t like violence, let´s fire back on him in a way that he probably would hate: with love.
So, my last point will be that I admit that Jordan Peterson indeed has some charm, he is probably a nice guy, he is good-looking and I can understand that young men feel that they finally got a father-figure. But I fully agree with NY Times about his teachings: they are “vague exhortatory banality”. However, these banalities might become influential. Don´t let them!