Friday, January 26, 2018

Joyless and graceless

Anton Raphael Mengs, German, 1728-79, An Allegory of Truth. From Kate Foley's Pinterest.

Q: A government shutdown in the face of Congress's inability to follow a normal appropriations process was resolved, but only for three weeks, with almost none of the real problems solved, including the immigration issue, on which Trump has intruded himself again with a proposal completely unacceptable to the Democrats without whose votes the government can't proceed. The Women's March last weekend drew between 1.6 and 2.5 million marchers still unable to accept this presidency. New tariffs apparently designed to destroy the US solar energy industry were announced. Canada and Mexico, unable to persuade the US administration to cooperate in an updating of the NAFTA agreement, are likely to desert it in favor of the 11-member TPP, leaving the US isolated. There has been an average of one school shooting in the US every two days since the beginning of 2018. Representative Pat Meehan (R-PA) has joined the parade of men in power who have used taxpayer money to pay off the victims of their sexual harassment. What should David Brooks write about on Friday?

A: This YouTube performer, Jordan Peterson ("The Jordan Peterson Moment"). He

analyzes classic and biblical texts, he eviscerates identity politics and political correctness and, most important, he delivers stern fatherly lectures to young men on how to be honorable, upright and self-disciplined — how to grow up and take responsibility for their own lives.
Q: Who?

A:  In the apparently unpublished view of David Brooks's friend, George Mason University economics professor and libertarian blogger Tyler Cowen, the most influential public intellectual in the Western world, and Camille Paglia blurbs at the Amazon listing for his 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos that
“Jordan Peterson is the most important and influential Canadian thinker since Marshall McLuhan. His international fame and impact continue to grow exponentially. Peterson’s bold interdisciplinary synthesis of psychology, anthropology, science, politics and comparative religion is forming the template for the genuinely humanistic university of the future.”
A clinical psychology professor at the University of Toronto. His videos have "attracted something like 40 million views." That puts him up there with the Avengers Infinity War trailer and Alexis Bloomer's 2016 rant apologizing for how terrible Millennials are.

Q: So Brooks admires him a lot?

A: Well, if he admires "joyless", "graceless", "vague exhortatory banality":

Much of Peterson’s advice sounds to me like vague exhortatory banality. Like Hobbes and Nietzsche before him, he seems to imagine an overly brutalistic universe, nearly without benevolence, beauty, attachment and love. His recipe for self-improvement is solitary, nonrelational, unemotional. I’d say the lives of young men can be improved more through loving attachment than through Peterson’s joyless and graceless calls to self-sacrifice.
Q: That's a yes, then?

A: Goes without saying:

He reminded me of a young William F. Buckley.... it turns out to be the perfect antidote to the cocktail of coddling and accusation in which they are raised.
Mr. Buckley, reached for comment in his Hell townhouse, remarked, "I knew I should never have given that freak a job."

But what’s most interesting about Peterson’s popularity, especially the success of his new book, “12 Rules for Life,” is what it says about the state of young men today. The implied readers of his work are men who feel fatherless, solitary, floating in a chaotic moral vacuum, constantly outperformed and humiliated by women, haunted by pain and self-contempt. At some level Peterson is offering assertiveness training to men whom society is trying to turn into emasculated snowflakes.
Q: How do you emasculate a snowflake?

A: Very carefully.

Q: To what extent does the popularity of Peterson's new book say something about the state of young men today?

A: Some young men are buying books! Who knew? That's terrific news!

Q: Are they constantly outperformed and humiliated by women?

A: Well, according to Dr. Peterson, "Chaos, the eternal feminine, is also the crushing force of sexual selection. Women are choosy maters. Most men do not meet female human standards.” He doesn't address the question of whether men are choosy paters.

Q: Sounds like he has a serious problem with women!

A: Heavens, no! You're just like Cathy Newman of Britain's Channel 4 News!

Newman sensed that there was something disruptive to progressive orthodoxy in Peterson’s worldview, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. So, as Conor Friedersdorf noted in The Atlantic, she did what a lot of people do in argument these days. Instead of actually listening to Peterson, she just distorted, simplified and restated his views to make them appear offensive and cartoonish.
I mean, if his views actually were offensive and cartoonish, how could they even have gotten published?

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