One ingredient in the astounding fame of Jordan Peterson is his capacity to show just how lazy, obtuse, unprepared, smug, knee-jerk, and prejudiced are many journalists at leading publications.
In a tendentiousÂ New York TimesÂ profile, for example, Peterson is held up for ridicule when he cites â€śenforced monogamyâ€ť as a rational way of fixing wayward, sometimes violent men in our society.Â If men had wives, theyâ€™d behave better, Peterson implied, and they wouldnâ€™t â€śfailâ€ť so much.Â The reporter, a twenty-something from the Bay Area, has a telling response to Petersonâ€™s position: â€śI laugh, because it is absurd.â€ť
Her condescension is unearned.Â With no background in social psychology or cultural anthropology, she doesnâ€™t get the framework in which Peterson speaks.Â But that doesnâ€™t blunt her confidence in setting Petersonâ€™s remarks into the category of the ridiculous.Â And the category of the sexist, too, as the subtitle of the profile makes clear: â€śHe says thereâ€™s a crisis in masculinity.Â Why wonâ€™t womenâ€”all these wives and witchesâ€”just behave?â€ťÂ
By â€śenforced monogamy,â€ť though, all Peterson means is a society that prizes stable one-to-one relationships, not a society that forces women into domestic servitude.Â Itâ€™s a term drawn from sociology (hardly a right-wing, patriarchal zone).Â But the reporter, Nellie Bowles, casts it as pernicious nonetheless.Â She didnâ€™t bother to do any homework in the fields in which Peterson works.
Another blatant case of ineptitude is an interview aÂ VoxÂ reporter did with a feminist philosopher, the subject being Petersonâ€™s recent book,Â 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. The reporter, Sean Illing, displays his integrity with one of his first questions.
Peterson has been called a â€śsexistâ€ť and a â€śmisogynist.â€ť To be honest, Iâ€™m not sure this is a fair characterization of his work, but I havenâ€™t read his book and I havenâ€™t listened to all his lectures.Â Iâ€™m curious what you think.
What is one to say about a journalist who not only doesnâ€™t bone up on the central subject of an interview, but also doesnâ€™t realize that admitting this destroys his credibility? (Peterson has a rebuttal to theÂ Vox interview here, where he points out the astonishing professional irresponsibility of the professor.)
A few weeks ago, Peterson sat down with theÂ EconomistÂ for a long interview largely on the issue of male-female relations. At one point (around minute 43), Peterson notes that everyone in society is â€ścontrolledâ€ť in one way or another.Â The conversationÂ shifts into the ways in which women sometimes get out of control, acting in a â€śbullying, detestable mannerâ€ť (Petersonâ€™s words) toward other women.Â Itâ€™s hard to â€ścopeâ€ť with that, he observes, because it can be â€śunbelievably vicious,â€ť and it usually takes the form of â€śreputation destruction, innuendo, and gossip.â€ť
It isnâ€™t hard to imagine the interviewer, a liberal female, growing irritated at a man talking about women behaving badly.Â When Peterson concludes that women engage in those kinds of tactics much, much more than men do and states, â€śThatâ€™s what the data indicate,â€ť she has to interrupt.
â€śWhere is that data on innuendo and gossip?â€ť she asks, in a tone blending mockery and annoyance.
Clearly, she thinks that no such data exist.Â Peterson pauses for a moment, as if he has just understood that she has no awareness of the context of his remarks.Â The area of adolescence studies has probed these tactics thoroughly, he tells her, and â€śitâ€™s a well documented field.â€ťÂ Researchers have studied aggressive behavior and found clear differences in male and female expression.Â Women prefer verbal forms of it, men physical forms.
â€śThereâ€™s a whole literature on that,â€ť he continues.
But the interviewer still has a hard time accepting it: â€śJust to be clear, you think that is predominantly a female modus operandi.â€ť
Peterson rightly picks upÂ on her choice of words.Â â€śItâ€™s not that I think it.Â Itâ€™s that the clinical literature indicates that. â€¦ Iâ€™m notÂ making this up!â€ť
She still acts as if the whole outlook is new to her, and rather offensive, too.Â Once again, we have a journalist who didnâ€™t read anything of the background material when she prepared for this interview.
These three cases typify what we might call the Peterson Effect.Â Peterson brings social science findings to bear on thorny matters of men and women.Â Those findings run against the progressive goal of eliminating male-female differences.Â The journalists are unaware of the science, but they are steeped in the ideology.Â Itâ€™s an obdurate mix of ignorance and certainty.
Peterson fans like his interviews because they have experienced that smugness before.Â To watch someone stand up to it, to hear him cite clinical data and hold firmly against a party line they know is dishonest and coerciveâ€”that goes a long way to explaining the Peterson phenomenon.
Mark Bauerlein is senior editor ofÂ First Things.