Thursday, November 15, 2018

so let's talk about this thing

I'll have to admit that I was pretty disappointed when I saw this post:


My first thought was Dammit, Jim.  You're better than this.  I'll admit to not knowing a ton about this Peterson guy, but he strikes me a uneducated person's idea of a smart guy.  A Newt Gingrich with actual credentials, if you will.  Here are the actual details of Jordan Peterson's career as I know them, please feel free to correct me in the comments.
  1. He first came to my attention as a guy who went to war with his university over a change in policy.  Normally, I am all for academics pushing back against administration dictates.  Sometimes I work with faculty on how exactly to do that.  BUT the thing he chose to go to war over was his God-given right to misgender transgender students.  If you've ever been in a classroom with a teacher you don't like, you can maybe understand how the power differential between student and professor feels from the short end of the stick.  Being in charge of impressionable young people first experiencing life out from under the shadows of their parents, even for just a couple of hours a week, is an awesome responsibility with real world repercussions that can last the rest of a student's life.  Anyone who takes a so-called Principled Stand for the right to be mean to their students has festering dogcrap where his soul should be, in my opinion.
  2. Peterson regularly rails against postmodernism and postmodernists, including people who don't fit actually those categories.  For example, he regularly goes in hard against Michel Foucault, who wasn't a postmodernist, but a poststructuralist.  Peterson can't tell the difference between the two or likes lumping people together for rhetorical purposes.  Neither of these is a good thing, in my humble opinion.  There's plenty to critique Foucault for, but I always get the impression that Peterson's real objections to him is that he is A) French and B) gay.  I'm pretty sure he's even called Foucault the worst guy that ever lived, or something like that.  Maybe he never heard of Hitler?  Or Stalin?  Leopold II?  Any of these names ringing a bell? 
  3. One of the funny-haha/funny-strange things about Peterson's critique of left-wing intellectuals like Jacques Derrida is that he regularly yells at them for being imprecise and playing dodgy rhetorical games to make their points, but his own arguments against them seem to rely on imprecision and rhetorical flourish.  Weird.
  4. He apparently believes that because lobsters and humans share a certain chemical in their brains, somehow that proves that human gender relations should be ordered the same way lobsters do it.  I swear to God, if I didn't know he was a real person, I would have thought Charles Dickens or Laurence Sterne invented him to lampoon intellectuals with their heads up their asses.
  5. Peterson is one of those right-wing intellectuals who like to go on TV and complain that they are being silenced.  Does that mean all the left-wing academics who have never been on TV are being even more silenced-er?  I dunno.
  6. What is up with his suits?  Most public intellectuals dress on the shabby side of middle class respectable.  Think Einstein frumping about in his sweaters or Carl Sagan's infamous turtlenecks.  Peterson dresses like he'd rather be in the aristocracy than do honest work teaching and researching.  Again, weird.
  7. He's written at least one self-help book that apparently is being taken up in numbers by the kind of young men who need a Really Smart Dude to tell them to shower regularly and make their bed.  I actually don't have an objection to that.  A couple weeks ago I was waiting for my train home and the student sitting next to me was reading Peterson.  My gut reaction was to tell him to put that trash away and do his homework.  But I didn't, because I know that while self-help books tend to be banal tripe, but they are banal tripe that has an audience.  You can make a nice living writing self-help books because people are dumb and need to be told what to do.  I'm not making judgements on this point.  I am just as often a dumb guy who needs to be told what to do.  So if a smidgeon of advice from Peterson once helped James turn his life around, I say bless Jordan Peterson even though he seems like a dillhonker to me.
Man, "Bless Jordan Peterson for helping James out" sure sounds like one of those things that cishet white dudes say that really sticks it in the back of other folks who didn't win the privilege lotto, though I mean it more in the vein of the backhanded Southern compliment "bless his heart" than in the Jesus sense of "blessed are the peacemakers."  Overall, I think the world would be a better place if Peterson worried less about being a public figure and a little more about being a good person, but that doesn't change the fact that he probably has helped a few people out along the way with the same sort of advice one can find reading nearly any self-help book.  Heck, most of Charles Atlas's pamphlets come down to "exercise and clean living helps you get your life together, son."  It ain't rocket science.


(And really, it just kills me that this guy can't seem to build a credible, evidence-based case against people like Foucault and Derrida.  It's not that hard!  You just have to put in the work to read and try to understand what the hell they are up to.  I'm a farm boy who thinks Thundarr the Barbarian is the pinnacle of human culture, and I can understand at least some of what those cats are doing.)

But let's get back to the James situation.  As much as I respect Kiel Chenier, I think he may have made the wrong call when he announced he was ending his working relationship with LotFP.  This is not a callout post written to harsh on Kiel, though.  If we're going to harsh on anyone in this space, I think it should be, first of all, Peterson (that lobster thing is still making me crazy), and second of all, Raggi, for dropping this turd in the punchbowl.  But I'm not for kicking James to the curb and here's why.

First of all, having a "problematic fave," as the kids on the tumblers say, is in and of itself not a sin.  We live in a world where purity tests will damn us all.  Can we do better?  Should we do better?  Of course.  I think it would be great if James repudiated Peterson completely.  But if, as James suggests, this was the guy whose writings offered him a hand at a time when he was trapped in the Pit of Despair, who I am to now tell him to reject that guy?  If you've ever been down in that pit, you know that whoever helped you out of it is now one of your "ride or die" people.  (I got that from tumblr as well, please correct me if I am mangling it.  I still use "groovy" unironically, so my lingo may be a tad out of touch.)

Second and more importantly, I believe that the material matters.  The material conditions of Lamentations of the Flame Princess as a publishing outfit is that it throws a lot of work to people who Peterson would dislike on spec because they don't fit well into his patriarchal heteronormative magic lobster world.  And, in case you didn't know, James pays freelancers better than pretty much any other outfit I know of.  Compare this to people who proclaim liberal politics but pay starvation wages and otherwise do crappy things (Evil Hat is the poster boy of the moment in this regard.  Great work exploiting then dumping Contessa, Mr. Hicks.  Green Ronin also comes to mind).  I'll take the metal weirdo with the dodgy hero over the perfomatively woke hacks any day of the week.  And I think Kiel would do better sticking with LotFP, taking James' money, and writing an adventure that repudiates everything that Jordan Peterson stands for.  Definitely there should be at least one lobster monster and a wizard who never does any proper magical research because he spends too much time at the tailor.  But hey, if I'm not judging James, then I'm sure as hell not judging Kiel here.

Okay, I'm judging James a little.  Jordan Peterson?  Really?  You couldn't have gone with someone like Steven Pinker, or Stanley Fish, or even Harold Bloom.  I guess I'll have to take cold comfort in the fact that you didn't mention PragerU.

(Seriously. though, Conan with a lightsaber, Chewbacca, and a curvy witch team up to wander Gamma World and pummel mutant cyborg wizards.  WHY IS THIS NOT THE WORLD'S BIGGEST FRANCHISE???)