Last week Jordan Peterson went to Sam Harris’ podcast. I had mixed feelings about it. I thought nothing good could come out of that. And as I had expected, Sam Harris trounced Jordan Peterson. Completely. The podcast got into a complete bog down on epistemology, where Jordan Peterson tried to define the word “truth” as “good”, and Harris wasn’t buying it, explaining 30 times how it’s very useful to have a concept of truth which is separate from the concept of good. Peterson stood his ground and confronted with volley after volley of sheer logic, refused to concede the point. The guy is stubborn. Which would be ok if he explained his logic, which he fails to do.
Now, I’m no fan of Sam Harris. I find him a bit of a narcissistic douche. You can see that on his completely unhinged criticism of Trump. And of course his dumb promotion of atheism alongside some senseless mystic crap aided by Amerindian drugs or something. This guy wants to be a liberal with the status it brings, but he wants to make sense too. And he also wants to be a guru. He’s trying to sell you the leftism of yesterday as it if were some new awesome deal. Well it doesn’t work like that.
That said, Sam Harris is smart. He’s very articulate, his thinking is fast and precise. The guy can do logic. All things which aren’t Jordan Peterson’s strong suit. So he got trounced. He didn’t get trounced on ideology, mind you. Jordan Peterson has semi-overtly become a prophet of Gnon, mostly on grounds of his brave refusal to submit to Ontario’s Social Justice Tribunals. Sam Harris would never confront the establishment openly like that. But, credit where it’s due, he’s no fan of the extreme left either, and he has been quite outspoken as a critic of Islam, which hasn’t made him any friends in polite society. So the guys aren’t that far away in ideological terms. But they’re selling different stuff. Sam Harris is selling logic. Materialism. Science. Jordan Peterson is selling pragmatic psychology. But Sam Harris knows his stuff better than Jordan Peterson knows his own stuff.
Now not knowing quite well what he’s selling doesn’t stop him from making $15,000 a month on Patreon, which I’m sure Sam Harris isn’t making. So maybe he knows what he’s doing better than anyone in pragmatic terms. But still, I do like consistent and articulate ideas, so let me do some fisking of Mr. Peterson. I do think he’s on the right direction, widely speaking. His stuff has more potential than Sam Harris. Atheism has been tried. There was this thing called objectivism. Doesn’t work very well. Pragmatic philosophy is a more robust philosophical framework to understand how living beings actually work. And putting that in a wider Darwinian framework is exactly the way it should be done. But it’s hard. It’s really hard. So I don’t blame Jordan Peterson for being confused. I do blame him for being so inept at arguing with Sam Harris. Getting emotional I guess works for a class full of 18 year old girls or to do clinical therapy, but it sure fails to work as robust pragmatic philosophy. It’s a pity, because again he’s on the right track. He has really brilliant moments. So I’ll try to improve on some of his ideas myself, I believe I have an advantage. Jordan Peterson is trying to understand Wittgenstein while being monolingual. It doesn’t work very well like that. As insightful as he is, he just lacks in worldly experience. And that comes pretty handy if you want to see things as they are and not just as your culture primes you to see.
Anyway, you can check out the podcast here. If you have a long commute by all means check it out. Seeing Sam Harris come up with a very good thought experiment every 5 minutes is something to behold. He’s really good at it. But all in all I found the whole conversation pretty infuriating. The two professors speaking of morality this, morality that, how we need to make science subordinate to morality, either through cold unbiased logic, or through wholesale reform of our definition of reality. I’m starting to hate the very sounds of the word “moral”. I mean, please. Science is already subordinate to morality. To morality as it actually exists in the world: to politics. Try to make science against the establishment. Try to deny global warming, or HNU. Heck, Jordan Peterson himself is getting tarred and feathered and risking life and limb for fighting those who would subordinate science to social justice.
Yet again, Professor Peterson is a prophet of Gnon, of a sort, and he is a brave man, so he deserves the benefit of the doubt. I went through the whole set of lectures of this Maps of Meaning class he gives every year, and some other stuff. I’ve reached the point where he’s repeating the same stuff all over again, so let me put some highlights and my comments on them.
The first few sentences. Brilliantly put. It doesn’t work. Evolutionary thinking takes you to the dark side. The Dark Enlightenment. I don’t agree that rationality is new, though. Language is new, but animals are plenty rational at following their goals. A good compromise is to say, indeed, that it hardly matters, but he should explain why. He should explain that behavior is what matters, and what we call “rational” behavior is a tiny subset of behavior which doesn’t need any special rules to explain.
Watch until 39:30 or so. I don’t know if he has read Roissy, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Yes, sexual selection is very important. Natural selection is adapting to a changing enviroment. Sexual selection on the other hand drives you back to a more fixed, ancient standard. That standard of course evolves, but slowly. So modern men still kinda like cavewomen and modern women most certainly like cavemen.
Watch until 1:14 or so. This guy has balls of steel. Here he’s telling a psychology class, which must be 80% female, that conflict resolution requires violence, better still the complete destruction of the enemy. But women don’t do that; and when men get an annoying women, it’s really hard to know what to do. Because the way to resolve that would be to beat the hell out of her. But that’s not proper in our society, so men will basically remove themselves out of society. Which to some extent is happening.
The Yungian argument for immigration restriction. “Every place where the things that you expect to happen, happen, is your territory. You’re at home whenever you know what to do”. Yes, yes. Bringing people from foreign cultures into your land makes you not know what to do; because you learn what to do, you learn your culture when you’re a child. Bringing foreigners, especially hostile foreigners, messes with the cognitive map of your environment. How many people in Europe say they don’t feel at home in their own countries?
Yes, yes. It’s behaviorism. Prof. Peterson is a smart guy to make that connection. But there’s nothing wrong with behaviorism. You’re the guy who said that you can’t be a rationalist if you understand evolution. Well if you’re not a rationalist you’re a behaviorist. Or you should be. Now of course, Behaviorism with a capital B was a historical movement with people like Skinner, and yes many of those guys were blank-slatists, who though they could condition any behavior on any animal given enough time and food pellets. Then they were beaten by the nativist rationalism of Chomsky. But Chomsky and Fodor and all those were full of shit too, let us remember that. There is no necessary link between nativism (i.e. anti-blank slatism, the idea that the brain has an innate structure) and rationalism (or it’s modern descendent cognitivism). Conversely there’s no necessary link between behaviorism (the idea that the brain is organized to produce behavior and not to manipulate abstract information) and blank slatism. Surely we can all agree that the brain has an innate structure, and innate behaviors. We call that instincts. Surely we can say that some behaviors are hard coded, and others rather less soft-coded, and others very soft-coded, so that there are pathways that given certain experiences over time will produce broadly similar behaviors. That’s all compatible with a behaviorist perspective while being perfectly nativist.
And please, let us stop with the Magna Carta nonsense (1:50:00). The Magna Carta wasn’t about “the people” against “the monarchy”. It was about the nobles vs. the king. The nobles had hereditary rights which the king couldn’t invade. That happened in Hungary in 1222 too, by the way. It resulted in the complete destruction of the Hungarian state by the absolutist Turks, but anyway. The point was about how to share the spoils of state power, not about “the people”. That came way later when the much expanded nobility fought a war against the English king in 1642, by which time demotism was a thing.
So people aren’t consciously computing what to do in every instance. Which is… behaviorism. Come on Jordan, don’t fight it. Join the Dark Enlightenment.
The point of how wolves and other animals have evolved strategies to come up with a dominance hierarchy without having to actually kill their rivals is a good one. Humans of course do that all the time, with the highly ritualized wars of tribal people, where people basically just show up and shout to each other. Or the very limited wars of antiquity with those chariots and stuff. Then cavalry happened and proximity vs. diversity produced vicious war. Those guys just didn’t get the joke. There’s this story on the Mongol invasion of Japan. The early Samurais had this fairly lame form of warfare, where they would run to the battlefield, start reciting their ancestry. My father was Lord Fujiwara this my grandfather was Lord Fujiwara that, I am the lord of here and there, then they would have this jousting contest and maybe have their minions shoot an arrow or two. Then the Mongol army came with gunpowder bombs and shooting arrow waves on sight, killing thousands of people in minutes.
Now of course we’ve gone back to ritualized fights to minimize bloodshed. We call that democracy. You count the armies’ soldiers, whoever has more gets to rule for some years.
Jordan Peterson has many little gems like this; you might have caught the general gist of his worldview. But then he goes into epistemology and moral realism and he gets confused. You can see that very clearly because he actually doesn’t know what to say. He stops for seconds trying to find a way of putting it. I think he’s trapped. He’s pwned by his Christian rationalist substratum. Next time let’s see if I can help him get out of his confusion. Hopefully I’ll be briefer than Moldbug’s depwning Richard Dawkins.