Friday, January 26, 2018

Is The Chaos Jordan Peterson's Book Is Intended To Combat "The Eternal Feminine"?

I wrote a post earlier about Jordan Peterson's views and his great influence, especially on men. You should read it if you are not familiar with Peterson's arguments.  In that post I predicted that Peterson would loom large, very soon, among social conservatives.

But I never expected that both Peggy Noonan and David Brooks would already be writing about him!  Peggy loved Peterson's book (which I have not read yet), and didn't seem to notice that its message wasn't exactly intended for her.

David had a more complicated take on Peterson's arguments.  I'd like to single out one quote from him, this one:

All of life is perched, Peterson continues, on the point between order and chaos. Chaos is the realm without norms and rules. Chaos, he writes, is “the impenetrable darkness of a cave and the accident by the side of the road. It’s the mother grizzly, all compassion to her cubs, who marks you as potential predator and tears you to pieces. Chaos, the eternal feminine, is also the crushing force of sexual selection. Women are choosy maters. … Most men do not meet female human standards.”

So.  Chaos is the eternal feminine.  And what is the name of Peterson's book?

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

Now that is fascinating.

Brooks doesn't like everything about this new brutal worldview Peterson espouses:

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.

I would agree.

But let's return to the first quote above.  What does it mean that "most men don't meet human female standards?"  Most adult men in this world do marry, right?

And that "women are choosy maters" bit.  I smell  evolutionary psychology behind this way of thinking, the assumption that women are the only ones who are choosing in the mating game, that men either exert no choice, somehow, or that men aren't picky at all, perhaps willing to mate with every single woman around them.  

This sounds like confusing short-term mating (one night stands) with long-term relationships.   It also  smells of the older views that women choose resources while men choose youth and fertility, based on the assumption that such behavior has been hard-wired into us during some postulated Era of Evolutionary Adaptedness (EEA).*  Recent evidence suggests otherwise.

A later PS:  I have purchased the book and have read four chapters this evening.  The treatment of chaos as feminine and order as masculine IS in the book, but Peterson appears to ask the reader to walk the path at the border of the two. 

Labeling chaos and order that way is similar to the Taoist yin-yang circle where the yin is associated with female, darkness, softness and so on and the yang is associated with male, light, hardness and so on.  Peterson readily borrows from all sorts of places, to make the legs for his grand theory, including from evolutionary psychology (with some not-so-great links) and from the patriarchs of the Old Testament to create his how-to-live-today manual.

A review will be forthcoming next week, either here or elsewhere.

*  The problem with that EEA concept is that its environment is either left unspecified altogether or when it is specified, the assumption is that humans then lived in small nomadic kinship groups.

How does a nomadic kinship group create men who have more resources than what are built into their bodies?  And wouldn't those embodied resources consist of youth, health and strength? In other words, I'd argue that if anything is hard-wired in humans in terms of mating preferences, it would be the preference for youth and health, in both women and men.

An additional — and serious — problem is that we have no actual proof of any human hard-wiring of this type.  Women's historical preference for wealthier men can alternatively be explained by the fact that marrying up was about the only generally available way for women to accrue wealth during those historic eras when women were not allowed to inherit wealth, to own certain kinds of businesses or to attend university as a way up in the society.

The Golden Age of Free Speech. Is That The Online World?

When we argue with someone on Twitter or Facebook, are we engaging in a public debate?  Or a private one?  Is the online world in the public sphere or in the private sphere?  What speech is public and what is private?  Are we now living in the utopia where freedom of speech applies to everyone, where objective markets exist to weigh each idea, then let them box against each other while neutral judges decide the winner?

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Courtland Sykes On Women's Rights

Reality is more wonderful than any amount of irony and sarcasm I can cook up on this blog.  Take, for example, this mysterious new candidate for the Senate from Missouri, one Courtland Sykes.  After reading about his views I was sure that he, and his fiancée Chanel Rion, were made-up figures.

But Snopes says Mr. Sykes is real, in any case.

He has the most hilarious opinions about women's rights.  This tweet summarizes his statement:

And retrograde his opinions are, indeed.  He is roughly fifty years too late to argue that point, even when it applies to middle-class white women in this country.

But there IS one group which would utterly agree with him, and that's the most patriarchal school inside American fundamentalism, the school which includes the Quiverful, the school which disapproves of sending daughters to college, and the school which deems the value of women to be in their subjugated service to their husbands at home.  That school, by the way, does NOT believe in any kind of gender equality.

So Courtland (Courtie?) is fully in touch with that part of today's fundie Missourians.

He is also in touch with those manosphere sites where "make me a sandwich, bitch" is viewed as the finest putdown to any woman.  I guess we could put the two arguments about women's innate inferiority together to argue that first God created Adam and then, when Adam wanted a sandwich, God created Eve.  And Eve offered Adam an apple.

Oh my.  I love these kinds of weirdos.  Note the adjectives Courtie uses about feminists: nasty, crazed, with snake-filled heads!

Well, that last part does apply to me.  But wait!  There's more:  When he has daughters he is going to turn them into good housewives, perhaps with a tiny home-based enterprise on the side (would he have to approve it? chastity belt patterns?).

He is not going to let them become "career-obsessed banshees who forego home life and children and the happiness of family to become nail-biting manophobic hell-bent feminist she devils."  You know, like, say, doctors, dentists, librarians, managers, politicians and so on.

Mmm.  Mr. Sykes is very much opposed to Islamic extremism, too, which is funny because the ISIS guys would totally agree with his statement about women's rights.

I also loved the end of that statement where Courtie equates Hillary Clinton's loss* to Donald Trump with a clear sign that Americans want a world where women are sequestered from the public sphere altogether and where their first obligation is to have the dinner ready for their hard-working hubbies at 6pm on the dot.  In other words, the end of any kind of equality between men and women.

I have no idea if Courtie is a viable campaigner.  But his knowledge of feminism is terrible, as is the knowledge that his fiancée demonstrates on her website**.

What's weird about his rambling arguments is that he juxtaposes some sort of a nightmare picture of what he interprets as the results of more equal opportunity in the labor market with a nightmare picture of how he wants women to behave, which only seems to depend on what their husbands or fathers or brothers think is appropriate for them.

* Remember that Hillary Clinton won three million more actual votes than Trump.  Does that mean the reverse?  That the majority of Americans are perfectly fine with women's leadership and other public roles?

**  The way they both use the term "radical feminism" is utterly wrong.  Courtie's hatred of women-with-careers should be aimed against liberal feminists, and Chanel Rion gets radical feminism totally and completely wrong, too.

Added later:  Remember the Vagenda of Manocide?  This guy seems to have similar primal fears.


I have been thinking of the lefty concept of inclusiveness and of the concept of a wide tent in politics in several contexts recently.  What does inclusiveness mean?  Is it just opening the gate or does it require more fundamental changes?

When we aim for inclusiveness, do we simultaneously exclude anything or anyone?  Should Democrats support very pro-life politicians when the party platform is pro-choice?  Does this mean changing the platform? Are pussy hats as the banner of a movement something which excludes people who do not have vulvas from participating in Women's Marches as women?

And who decides the answers to such questions?  Is it the previously excluded people?  Is the decision done by one or two individuals in power?  Or should it be a democratic majority vote that decides the answers?

I have no answers to these question.  Instead, I offer you a  parable which might clarify some of the questions.  I offer it in three modifications, but there are more possible modifications* which might be relevant in some real world situations.

First, a warning:  My parable is truly terrible in one sense: I use two medical conditions, one invented and one real**, as very rough stand-ins for someone being oppressed or mistreated  by the general culture or for someone having minority views and values (such as in the case of being pro-life when the majority in some group is pro-choice). 

This does not mean that there's anything objectively wrong with oppressed groups (defined by, say,  race, sex, gender identity, sexual preference etc), something that would justify the oppression they experience, or that having minority views is somehow objectively wrong. 

I just couldn't make up an example which would otherwise demonstrate the dilemmas we face in equally simple terms.  So read the parable with that in mind, please. 

With that reservation, here are the initial three forms of the parable:

1.  This form of the parable sets out the basic case which applies to the other two, except for the modifications I introduce.

You are the organizer of an amateur oil painting school or club in an imaginary word which looks almost like ours except when I introduce changes.  You currently have one hundred members, and new members are admitted or refused based on your decision alone.

A new member applies for membership.  This person suffers from red-green color blindness.  You decide to accept this member into the school, but because of the red-green color blindness, you also decide to remove all green and red colors from the colors the school uses, because you feel bad that the group would be employing colors which one of the members cannot appreciate.

What is the outcome of this decision?  Note that if you had included the person without any modification of the colors that are used, the only outcome is that a new person has been accepted, but that person cannot enjoy all the colors others can in the school.

By ruling out the use of red and green, you create real equality of access to the arts and you completely include the latest member in the group.

But you are also excluding something by that choice:  The other one hundred students no longer can use red or green in their work.

2.  Assume the basic facts of the previous parable, but now add something new:

People with red-green color blindness in the imaginary world of my example have been treated dreadfully by the general culture.  They have been formally and legally excluded from all arts education where red and green colors are used, and they have been physically attacked by bigots in that culture for being different.  Indeed, some of those bigots are probably among your existing school members.

How does that modification affect your decision to include the new student and to remove green and red colors from the palettes? 

It seems to me that the decision to do all that now has a greater feeling of justice.  Something more is achieved by the simultaneous inclusion of this new student and the refusal to have that person's source of oppression used by others in the group.  In short, the costs and benefits are different in this formulation than in the previous one, where the ignored costs to the initial one hundred members loom much larger.

3.  Let's complicate things even more.  Keep everything from the second form of the parable, but add more details: The weird imaginary world I'm painting here doesn't only have red-green color blindness, but also a problem where the only colors someone clearly sees are red and green.

Individuals who suffer from that are also mistreated by the general society, tend, on average, to have lower status and lower incomes and so on.  And it so happens that all of your one hundred initial students suffer from that condition.

What would your decision about the new student be now?  Suppose that it's the same as in the first form of the parable.  What are the benefits and costs of your decision now?  You are being fully inclusive toward the new student, but you are making the experience of painting worse for your other one hundred students.

Both the new student and the existing students are subject to oppressive acts by the wider culture.  How are you going to evaluate the fairness of this decision, compared to the second version of the parable?


It's worthwhile to go through these examples by varying the decision-maker.  I used a dictator model in these decisions, but the outcomes might be different if we let the entering student decide what to do or if we used some form of voting.

I think different real-world examples match different forms of my parable, so the conclusions we might arrive at will not always be the same, and of course in the large majority of real-world cases inclusion just means opening the gates.  The goals of the group might change later, in an organic sense, but there would be no specific need to alter them at the outset. 

It's also probably the case that the gains and losses in each form of the parable*** when applied to real-world examples, will vary in different places and at different times.


*  An interesting modification would be one where the incoming student is clearly more privileged than any of the existing students, has a better eye for all colors and so on.  Would that affect anything about how to include that student or not?

**  I chose the color blindness because my family has so much of it.  I even have one female family member who has simultaneously two different types of color blindness (a very rare event).  The conditions have very little real-world significance and in one sense could be interpreted here as seeing the world differently because of different life experiences.

***  Some costs to the existing group, for instance, could be very minor, almost trivial, while the benefits to the incoming individuals are very large.  The reverse is also possible.  This really depends on specific examples we are using and the whole history behind them. 

And sometimes the losses to the existing group are necessary losses, because what is lost is the very advantage due to oppression.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Short Posts, 1/24/18: Ursula Le Guin, Sex And Traditional Hierarchies, and A Men-Only Charity Dinner in London

1.  Ursula Le Guin died yesterday at the age of 88.  I love her books, both fantasy and science fiction.  Some of them I keep on the Kindle by my bed for those moments when I wake up, heart beating like a jackhammer, out of some nightmare.  Her later writing is so simple and deep, like clear water with iridescent shadows.

The Left Hand of Darkness and the Dispossessed are her most famous works.  My current favorite, however, is her 2011 short story collection The Other Wind.

2.  It truly pays to spar with the other side in political debates, if not out loud, then at least inside our brains.

I benefited from my recent watching of Jordan Peterson's arguments in that sense.  In one of the YouTube videos he asks why the "radical far left" privileges tackling race and sex discrimination* over, say, the discrimination people viewed as ugly might face, or over the bad treatment of individuals on all sorts of grounds.

The answer is fairly obvious once we consider it together with Peterson's arguments that hierarchies are innate for human beings.  Traditional human hierarchies, the kinds where the top positions are reserved mostly for men, were built on both the general exclusion of women from those positions and on the social rules that women exist to carry out the necessary reproductive and support work so that the traditional hierarchy can exist.

Likewise, "outsiders" (including those of other races and foreigners) are excluded from such group hierarchies.  To the extent that they live in the same culture, their role has usually been limited to low-level physical labor, even slavery, or their cultures have been segregated from the mainstream cultural hierarchy.

In other words, Peterson's traditional concept of human hierarchies has historically depended  on the control of women and also of racial and ethnic minorities, when present.   This can be seen in the large number of laws which in the past have been used to exclude, say,  women from certain occupations, higher education, equal rights to inherit property or to own wealth, and so on.  There have been few (if any) laws which ban ugly people from climbing hierarchies, however badly they might be treated on the individual level.

3.  Yesterday's Financial Times  reported on** an exclusive men-only black-tie charity dinner in which all the guests were wealthy men, out for the night to help good causes, eat good food, drink good alcohol and at least grope, if not eat,  pretty women.

How could they grope pretty women, you might ask, given that the event wasn't at all "inclusive" and there were no invited female guests?

The answer:

British politicians, charities and businesses voiced outrage on Wednesday after a report that some of the men who attended an all-male black-tie charity dinner had groped, verbally harassed or propositioned young women hired as servers.
The fallout from the report, by The Financial Times, reached the floor of Parliament, where Jess Phillips, a Labour lawmaker, said, “What happened was women were bought as bait for men, who were rich men.”


The Financial Times sent reporters under cover to work as “hostesses” for the Presidents Club dinner and auction last Thursday. The annual ritual for prominent men in business and media, where alcohol flows freely, raised about $3 million this year. The newspaper reported that criteria for the job included being “tall, thin and pretty,” and wearing “skimpy black outfits with matching underwear and high heels.”

Mmm.  Bait for the fishing of rich men.

The New York Times' headline for the article is "U.K.'s Most 'Un-P.C.' Charity Dinner Faces Harassment Accusations."  That is extremely weak tea, that reference to political correctness.

The Financial Times article strongly suggests that the servers were picked on the basis of their sexiness and looks, that they were required to match that expectation in their skimpy dress, high heels and makeup,  and that they were encouraged, in a pimping style, to be available for groping and perhaps more.

But they were paid only for being servers and weren't even allowed to keep any tips they received

Though I guess we could view this dinner as the most politically "incorrect" in that it assumes women's presence at this charity dinner is only desirable in the form of paid fresh sexual bait, and not as equal guests.

Addendum:  The organizer of this event, the Presidents Club, announced today that it is closing down after a day of strong criticism in the British Parliament and the disavowal by the charities the dinner was supposed to benefit.

*  The lesser treatment of gays and Lesbians shares at least some of the same hierarchy-propping reasons.

** This may be behind the paywall for you, but if not, it's well worth reading, having much more detail.  It states, for example, that the servers were encouraged to drink alcohol, and those who tried to hide in the toilets in order to avoid the gropers were pushed back into the activity.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Meet Jordan Peterson. Or On the Channel 4 Interview About Pay Gap.

Jordan Peterson is a clinical psychologist, a professor of psychology in Canada, and the iconic guru of a new self-improvement movement that has a very large mostly male following (1).

He has come out with a book: 12 Rules for Life.  An Antidote to Chaos.  It is going to sell well. Google tells me that many areas already have men's groups based on Peterson's ideas, and the viewership of his YouTube videos is usually in several hundreds of thousands and more.  The comments attached to the videos are full of gratitude and adoration.  Clearly the advice Peterson gives has helped many, though it seems that it is men his message is aimed at and it is men that it largely seems to truly affect (2).