11 Jun 2018


Jordan Peterson, Krugman, Potpourri, Scott Adams 23 Comments

==> CONTEST! Get your video posted for free admission to the Contra Cruise. Details in the middle of this episode (which is also quite good).

==> I differ with the Pope on transubstantiation *and* climate economics.

==> This is a great Tom Woods interview of Saifedean Ammous. He is an economist with a very particular interest in Bitcoin, and he makes the case passionately. (Note, I’m not necessarily agreeing with all of his positions.)

==> This is a great Scott Alexander post talking about the reaction to the “Intellectual Dark Web” stuff. My favorite part is when he points out the absurdity in a Reason response:

So. Threats against a professor and his family forcing him to leave town. Another professor told that she would lose her job if she communicated research to the public. A guy needing $600,000 worth of security just to be able to give a speech without getting mobbed. Someone showing up to a lecture with a garrote. And Reason Magazine reads all this and thinks “I know what’s going on! These people’s only possible complaint is that they feel entitled to have everyone agree with them!”

Incidentally, Elizabeth Nolan Brown’s Reason piece is a great example of why Jordan Peterson fans will become gradually impervious to legitimate criticism of their hero. There are plenty of things JP has said in interviews and especially on Twitter that make my eyebrow shoot up. But I get boxed into “defending” his most provocative claims when people utterly misrepresent what he said. (I won’t say “lie” because I do not claim to understand the behavior of people who so obviously misrepresent him. I am open to believing that they really think that the people who like Peterson do so out of hatred of women, instead of e.g. all the reasons his fans will list when you ask them why they like Peterson.)

Anyway here’s part of what Brown wrote about JP:

His YouTube videos and recently published self-help book are full of sensible advice—interspersed with wisdom about how all feminists have “an unconscious wish for brutal male domination,” rants against postmodernism (which has reached almost mythical megavillain status in Peterson’s worldview), threats to hit other academics, and goofy parables about lobsters.

OK so the “threats to hit other academics” doesn’t have a hyperlink, but I presume she is talking about the time somebody wrote a hit piece (in the New York Review of Books, not in a journal article) on JP saying he and JP’s colleague were courting fascists, and JP said on Twitter, “And you call me a fascist? You sanctimonious prick. If you were in my room at the moment, I’d slap you happily.”

So yeah, obviously JP shouldn’t have tweeted that, but it’s a bit misleading to summarize that as “threats to hit other academics.”

Anyway, the line about “how all feminists” desire domination is not correct. Now Brown went out of her way to write “all” in there. What I mean is, just imagine you are in casual conversation talking about someone’s views on a group. If you say “all” then you are deliberately emphasizing that the person thinks this of all members of the group.

Only problem is, that’s not what JP was doing. If you follow her link, you get a little snippet of a video from a guy who clearly hates JP’s guts. If you scroll down in the comments you’ll get the full context. What happens is that in the middle of a 4-hour interview (specifically at 2h14m27s) the topic comes up of how “radical feminists” (the term JP uses) inexplicably criticize American society for all sorts of stuff, but never criticize the US government’s cozy relationship with Saudi Arabia, even though that government literally subjugates women. On the face of it, that is weird. JP says he can’t understand it except in psychoanalytic terms–remember, the guy is a psychologist and a fan of Freud–and then he offers the bombshell statement that is the gift that keeps on giving.

To summarize, this is what’s so annoying about a lot of the criticism of Jordan Peterson. If people had just linked to this and said, “You on board with this Murphy? A lot more than just expositions of Noah’s flood huh?” then I would agree. But instead Brown has to say it’s JP’s opinion of “all feminists.”

EDITed to add: After I posted the above, I skimmed the NY Review of Books hit piece again to make sure I had characterized it fairly. It had this link to a FB post where Peterson asks about “feminists” (not just “radical feminists”) avoid criticizing Islam because of a desire for domination. So perhaps that’s what Brown had in mind, although her link was to a video where he was talking about “radical feminists.” And in any event, the more important thing is that she omits the part about “Why don’t they criticize Islam which subjugates women?” The way Brown is depicting it, JP is saying anybody who cares about women’s rights is actually seeking domination.

23 Responses to “Potpourri”

  1. Dan says:

    Yeah, I was telling someone on Facebook that I like Peterson, but he’d rarely even come up on my radar if it wasn’t for people constantly taking him out of context, saying he believes the opposite of what he actually believes, or just plain making things up that he never said.

  2. RPLong says:

    What’s amazing to me about Jordan Peterson is how little his critics know about basic psychology. I never imagined that psychology was such a blind spot for so many well-educated people until I started reading criticisms of Peterson. 9 times out of 10, each criticism can be summed up as, “I am completely unaware of a basic psychological finding or principle that Peterson is using to make a particular point, so I am going to assume the worst and most uncharitable layman’s interpretation of it, and then ATTACK!”

    It’s like if someone read Adam Smith’s line about the invisible hand and started going ballistic about how economists have deified a man who believes that the wealth of nations is dictated by ghosts.

  3. Harold says:

    ” the guy is a psychologist and a fan of Freud”
    Pretty sure that he a fan of Jung rather than Freud.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Harold wrote: “Pretty sure that he a fan of Jung rather than Freud.”

      Am I fan of Mises or of Rothbard? You must choose.

      • Andrew_FL says:

        Bob if you think Jung is to Freud what Rothbard is to Mises you’re either a bigger heretic about Rothbardian thought than I could’ve imagined or you don’t know much at all about Jungian psychology.

        • Dan says:

          Or you could interpret him as saying he is a fan of both Mises and Rothbard and Peterson is a fan of both Freud and Jung without comparing them against each other.

          • Andrew_FL says:

            If that was Bob’s intent he still should’ve picked a pair that was more analogous.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      I don’t know how this is possible, but in a lecture on psychoanalytic theory JP manages to praise both Freud and Jung. Harold/Andrew you should email him and set him straight.

      Also for the future I will check with you Andrew before I make an analogy that is 100% fine.

      • Harold says:

        It is a matter of emphasis really. One thing Peterson is well known for is being a fan of Jung. It is one of his principle characteristics, and he uses it to define his world view. If you look at the video you posted a few days ago on Peter Pan he goes all wobbly at about 4:40 when he mentions how wise Jung was. That is only anecdotal and illustrative rather than evidence. He may also like Freud but he is not particularly known for that.

  4. Keshav Srinivasan says:

    Bob, I think the real reason why feminists don’t spend much time criticizing Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women is simple: they don’t want to encourage Islamophobia. Liberals view both women and Muslims as oppressed groups, and so they don’t want to demonize the second group in the process of supporting the first.

    Now having said that, liberals certainly do view oppression of women as a problem in Saudi Arabia, and if, say, Obama were to impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia for their oppressive laws while affirming his respect for Islam and Muslims, they would applaud the move. They just don’t want to contribute to efforts to smear all Muslims a misogynistic, homophobic, etc.

    It’s the same reason why liberals don’t talk much about black-on-black crime: they don’t want to contribute to the demonization of black people.

    • Dan says:

      Why not criticize those things while affirming respect for Muslims or black people? What good is feminism if they are so easily cowed to the point they won’t speak out on the worst treatment of women in the world because they fear being labeled something they don’t agree with?

      • RPLong says:

        Indeed, by withholding their criticism, they implicitly accept the notion that Saudis oppress women because Saudis are Muslims, rather than due to some other reason.

        To see how weird this is, think of Harvey Weinstein. Nobody suggested for a moment that his religion was somehow behind his despicable behavior. Those who withheld their criticism of Weinstein don’t seem to have done so for fear of offending other members of his religion.

        So, not only is it not required to offend someone’s religion when criticizing their treatment of women, it’s actually really bizarre to think that such criticism would be a religious matter to begin with.

        • Keshav Srinivasan says:

          The difference is that there are large numbers of people who are trying to use treatment of women in Saudi Arabia as a way to tar Islam and Muslims. Whereas there isn’t a largescale movement to use Harvey Weinstein to tar Judaism and Jews. (That’s not to say there’s no such thing as antisemitism, but it’s mostly confined to the alt-right.) So by giving prominence to Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women, you’re contributing to people’s negative attitudes towards Muslims, in a way that you’re not contributing to antisemitism by highlighting Harvey Weinstein.

          This post by Scott Alexander illustrates this point well:


          “I suggested imagining yourself in the shoes of a Jew in czarist Russia. The big news story is about a Jewish man who killed a Christian child. As far as you can tell the story is true. It’s just disappointing that everyone who tells it is describing it as “A Jew killed a Christian kid today”. You don’t want to make a big deal over this, because no one is saying anything objectionable like “And so all Jews are evil”. Besides you’d hate to inject identity politics into this obvious tragedy. It just sort of makes you uncomfortable.

          The next day you hear that the local priest is giving a sermon on how the Jews killed Christ. This statement seems historically plausible, and it’s part of the Christian religion, and no one is implying it says anything about the Jews today. You’d hate to be the guy who barges in and tries to tell the Christians what Biblical facts they can and can’t include in their sermons just because they offend you. It would make you an annoying busybody. So again you just get uncomfortable.

          The next day you hear people complain about the greedy Jewish bankers who are ruining the world economy. And really a disproportionate number of bankers are Jewish, and bankers really do seem to be the source of a lot of economic problems. It seems kind of pedantic to interrupt every conversation with “But also some bankers are Christian, or Muslim, and even though a disproportionate number of bankers are Jewish that doesn’t mean the Jewish bankers are disproportionately active in ruining the world economy compared to their numbers.” So again you stay uncomfortable.

          Then the next day you hear people complain about Israeli atrocities in Palestine (what, you thought this was past czarist Russia? This is future czarist Russia, after Putin finally gets the guts to crown himself). You understand that the Israelis really do commit some terrible acts. On the other hand, when people start talking about “Jewish atrocities” and “the need to protect Gentiles from Jewish rapacity” and “laws to stop all this horrible stuff the Jews are doing”, you just feel worried, even though you personally are not doing any horrible stuff and maybe they even have good reasons for phrasing it that way.

          Then the next day you get in a business dispute with your neighbor. Maybe you loaned him some money and he doesn’t feel like paying you back. He tells you you’d better just give up, admit he is in the right, and apologize to him – because if the conflict escalated everyone would take his side because he is a Christian and you are a Jew. And everyone knows that Jews victimize Christians and are basically child-murdering Christ-killing economy-ruining atrocity-committing scum.

          You have been boxed in by a serious of individually harmless but collectively dangerous statements. None of them individually referred to you – you weren’t murdering children or killing Christ or owning a bank. But they ended up getting you in the end anyway.

          Depending on how likely you think this is, this kind of forces Jews together, makes them become strange bedfellows. You might not like what the Jews in Israel are doing in Palestine. But if you think someone’s trying to build a superweapon against you, and you don’t think you can differentiate yourself from the Israelis reliably, it’s in your best interest to defend them anyway.”

          • RPLong says:

            Keshav, thanks for the link. I have to emphasize, however, that I already understood your idea. Our difference of opinion here is not caused by insufficient understanding on my end.

            I don’t know if you’ve ever helped raise a child. Sometimes parents, in an attempt to shield a child’s ego, abstain from constructive criticism. This has the opposite of the intended effect: Instead of a child becoming more resilient to criticism, the child becomes more fragile, since he or she never hears such a thing.

            The same is true of special demographic groups. If we’re always terrified of painting Muslims in a bad light, then we inadvertently condition them to refuse to accept any criticism as anything other than Islamophobia. It makes things worse.

            We need to speak up more often. If done in a compassionate way, the result will be an Islam that is resilient to criticism and a world full of Muslims who dare to consider new kinds of freedoms without feeling as though they’ve turned their backs on their religion.

            • Keshav Srinivasan says:

              RPLong, I think currently Islamophobia is a far bigger problem than Muslims’ sensitivity to Islamophobia, racism is a far bigger problem than black people’s sensitivity to racism, etc. If that dynamic ever flips, then the calculus might change.

              • RPLong says:

                You appear to have misunderstood me. I’m not saying that sensitivity to Islamophobia is a problem, I’m saying that by withholding criticism, we’re further isolating an already-isolated group.

              • Keshav Srinivasan says:

                I was responding to your statement “If we’re always terrified of painting Muslims in a bad light, then we inadvertently condition them to refuse to accept any criticism as anything other than Islamophobia.” It sounds like you’re saying that the risk is that we might be conditioning Muslims to be oversensitive to Islamophobia, i.e. overclassifying criticism as Islamophobic when it’s really not. What I’m saying is that that risk is far smaller than the risk of exacerbating Islamophobia by highlighting stories of Muslims behaving badly.

              • Dan says:

                Keshav, if you fear that then when you criticize SA’s treatment of women, you simply offer counter examples of Muslims who are treating women with respect. It makes no sense to stay silent about the most brutal conditions for women if you’re a feminist. They gain nothing positive from their silence.

              • RPLong says:

                Keshav, I’m confused. How do you know what the exact level of risk is for either thing? You’re using quantitative language for a qualitative idea.

                And anyway, the risk is certainly greater for some people than it is for others. When writing comments on a blog, it seems odd to self-censor about the poor treatment of women in a whole country if that poor treatment is factual. If you’re sitting down for dinner in a Saudi household, the situation may call for more tact. I don’t think it’s impossible to have that discussion in that household, but I agree that the risk for expressing Islamophobia is greater there.

              • Dan says:

                What’s funny is that the only people who would accuse a feminist of Islamophobia for simply criticizing brutal treatment of women in Saudi Arabia is their fellow liberals. It’s their fellow travelers that they fear of being unreasonable.

      • Keshav Srinivasan says:

        It’s not about fear of being labeled as something, it’s about genuine concern for blacks and Muslims. They don’t want to amplify instances of blacks and Muslims behaving badly, because they don’t want to feed into negative attitudes people have about those groups.

        That doesn’t mean they don’t believe in fighting for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, they just don’t want to make it the main thing that people hear about Muslims.

        • Dan says:

          I get that and I’m saying that’s idiotic. As you say people are already using the treatment of women in SA to tar Muslims. These feminists holding their tongues on this brutality to talk about the gender pay gap are ceding the conversation to those with nefarious purposes, according to the way you lay things out. It’d be like if libertarians stopped talking about police brutality because some people use it as an opportunity to tar white people as all racists. No, you speak up and condemn, but you add the missing nuance to the discussion. Holding your tongue is stupid and counterproductive. It makes you look like a hypocrite.

    • guest says:

      “Bob, I think the real reason why feminists don’t spend much time criticizing Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women is simple: they don’t want to encourage Islamophobia.”

      That’s what makes feminists dangerous. There is a religious obligation, in Islam, to subjugate women.

      So, you cannot be consistent and oppose their laws, but respect their religion from which those laws are derived.

      That was the basis for James Clapper’s insane statement that the Muslim Brotherhood was secular.

      Again, these people are dangerous.

      Islam is not a religion of peace, and more people *should* criticize it – especially more libertarians (a lot of whom seem to go out of their way to poo-poo Israel as against Muslims; Muslims want to exterminate Israel, while Israel wants to be left alone – Muslims are the main aggressors).

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