I’m not proud of this.
But I have a secret guilty pleasure.
Not his conclusions mind you, they are unquestioningly false (I’ll explain why later in this blog), it’s who Jordan enrages that makes me laugh.
Don’t get me wrong, for all those who see Peterson as the messiah, I think he has some great thoughts and is interesting and I enjoy his style of process, but his entire philosophical framework falls over so quickly it’s surprising he’s still getting the level of media attention online that he does, but what I love about Peterson is that he annoys people I don’t particularly tend to like.
It’s not that Peterson has stumbled upon great truths in the human psyche, it’s that he provokes such blind rage in people who seem very certain of their own intellectual superiority which only ends up serving to alert everyone else to their mediocrity whenever they stumble against him in an argument.
Finding glee in winding people up who you don’t like much is the secret ingredient in the cultural cocktail that is Trumpism.
90% resentment mixed with 10% self loathing, Trump supporters don’t care that Trump’s bloated narcissism poses an existential crisis to the American people, it’s that he annoys liberals, artists and actors who they’ve spent a life time resenting and being talked down to.
Trump is in the 40s in terms of approval ratings in America, that means despite the hate and venom Trump has spat, his base still love him because their resentment towards the liberals he enrages is greater than their disgust at Trump himself.
The politics of resentment is a cultural reality, and I suspect that much of it has been driven by the unprecedented power of internet communication.
Social media is one of the great two edged swords of our time.
On one side, voices that had been silent due to corporate gatekeepers now have power and platform, on the other side we now know what the ‘other’ truly thinks of us.
The great French Existential Philosopher, Sartre, said ‘Hell is other people’.
That needs updating.
Hell is other people’s twitter feeds.
Before social media, the only opportunity to engage with the ‘other’ in politics was letters to the editor, talkback radio or at political events or rallies, in those environments the debate stayed within certain parameters, in social media there are no parameters. We micro aggression police each other ruthlessly on media networks that are algorithmically fuelled by outrage and social media pile ons. The insults are taken personally, grudges built and subjective evidence gathered from a cacophony of voices screaming into the void which replaces our public broadcasting town squares.
The reason why the whole ‘do you hear Laurel/Yanni’ aural experiment scared so many is the certainty with which we all felt at hearing what answer we heard. The vast majority of meaning in communication is taken from the tone, and in the social media world we all live in now you lose tone and the ease with which to misinterpret and lash out when we are so convinced of our righteousness means we have communication networks that do everything except communicate.
Identity politics has gone full circle when white men now feel like they are a minority. Recently some stale pale males have come out in their NZ newspaper columns complaining that white men are under attack.
Karl Du Fresne & Martin Van Beynen are of course right, it’s hard being a heteronormative white cis-male these days. The pile ons, the constant attacks & blame for every perceivable injustice within society, the hashtag death of due process and a new evidential threshold of mere accusation that would make the Salam witch trials look judicious means that it feels like white men are always under attack, which is funny because do you know what that feeling is like fellow white men?
It feels like what women, PoC & queer have to put up with all the time.
Being made to feel uncomfortable as heteronormative cis-males is a reminder to the constant wall of criticism many others have to walk every day and we should let that discomfort humanise us rather than divide us but that’s a difficult emotional step to take when you are constantly accused of a privilege you barely notice.
When you consider the horrific male suicide stats, worst mental health outcomes, educational low achievement, emotional damage, lower life expectancy, substance abuse and worst health outcomes up against getting paid 12% more through the gender pay gap, the privilege concept looks less and less privileged to those told they have it.
Toxic masculinity has left men broken with no socially acceptable forms of emotional support other than alcoholism, sport and suicide, THIS is why Jordan Peterson is winning.
Resentment and backlash from men barley coping with their own amputated emotional range is why he has surged in online popularity. Peterson is not winning because of any universal truth revelations, he’s winning because broken men are so desperate for a way to feel good about themselves that being told to stand tall, clean their rooms and the intricacies of Lobster DNA look palatable.
Evolution and society aren’t the same. Peterson can talk about evolutionary hierarchy and how it’s powerful and I agree with him, but that doesn’t justify unjust hierarchy in culture. We don’t have any impact over evolution, but we sure as hell have power over our cultures.
If society has created hegemony that denies agency to all, then we the people have to change that hegemony because we hold those truths of the importance of the individual to be self evident. Peterson glosses over all this with his assurances that all we need is equality of opportunity and that we should never look at the equality of outcomes – which is just absurd.
Unfair and unjust hegemony doesn’t want you to look at the equality of outcomes because those results demand change, but this isn’t about rational evaluations of philosophical platforms, this is about hurt men seeking identity at a time when their identity is being challenged endlessly on social media platforms fuelled algorithmically by personally subjective outrage.
So what do we do?
I think an enormous dollop of kindness, empathy and dare I say it, forgiveness is needed by progressives.
We on the Left are great at hunting traitors, the Right are great at finding recruits. I think we spend too much time in progressive politics trying to be right rather than trying to be effective and that the flags of identity politics are threatening to undermine solidarity to the point we can’t bring a majority with us.
Screaming ‘I’m different and you’re wrong’ isn’t much of a hearts and minds campaign which is why I think liberals should give Roseanne her TV show back.
I know, I just went there.
If we acknowledge the current discourse of anger and social media pile ons is probably pushing people apart and not bringing them together, then perhaps liberals in America campaigning to bring back Roseanne could be a way of trying to be more forgiving and kind to those who fuck up rather than feeding the resentment?
I acknowledge I say that as a white heteronormative cis-male who has never lived under the shadow of the grotesque racial insult she tweeted out at 2am in the morning. That legacy and the hurt it brings is something I can read about, listen to, sympathise with but never fully understand, so some might argue my desire to forgive Roseanne is ridiculous because I will never understand the hurt her thoughtless words created.
And that’s valid.
Recently I opined that I thought it was inane to attack a Pakeha pack rape survivor for getting a moko as a cultural appropriator because I believed the unique set of circumstances in that example didn’t make it a case of white middle class girls wearing Native American headdresses at a boutique music festival.
But, as many Māori woman rightly pointed out to me, it’s their views on this that are paramount, not mine, and I accept that, so any attempt to offer forgive Roseanne would need African-American agreement first because what she said impacted them.
But I think it’s something worthwhile for liberals to explore.
Because Roseanne as a show is worth saving. I know it’s not popular to point out now after her Trump support, but her show was the first mainstream TV show to explore issues like periods, working class issues and class injustice, It is worth redemption.
It’s also a show that is incredibly popular with the very people who feel culturally ostracised so to forgive Roseanne, to help her get her show back and to call on her to do better would do more to build the bridges we so urgently need now.
The Left are excellent at pointing out what’s wrong but we are hopeless at forgiving and offering redemption for those that do the wrong. If our goal is to exclude everyone who doesn’t agree with us, we can’t gain the mandate to implement the change we all desperately want.