Jordan Peterson is Not a Con Man

  • by Gitabushi

That probably seems like a strange title for a post.  The explanation is, several months ago, a friend challenged me to read “Jordanetics” by Vox Day, and bet me $100 by the time I finished, I would be convinced Jordan Peterson is a con man.

The bottom line up front is: not only was I not convinced Jordan Peterson is a con man, I am now convinced Vox Day is.

“Jordanetics” isn’t a short book, and I don’t really want to spend the time it would take to detail, point by point, what I disliked about Vox Day’s argument. I will make enough points to explain why I wasn’t convinced, and then stop; but I will take specific questions, or respond to any of Day’s best arguments that you might think I missed.

But first, I need to explain what my view of the two men was before I started reading “Jordanetics.”

I had never heard of JBP until recently.  I can’t remember whether it was 2 years ago, or less than a year.  You know how you can’t believe it’s already been x number of years since some big event like Katrina or 9/11 or the Sandy Hook shooting happened?  I don’t think my first encounter with JBP was anywhere near that significant, I’m just trying to point out how memory plays tricks with time.

The first I really heard anything worth checking out was when he was interviewed by a British Journalist and he wiped the floor with her. Full video here:

Since then, I’ve heard about his 12 Rules for Life to Reduce Chaos or something like that, and without having heard many of the Rules, I vaguely agreed.

I have never read any of his books. I haven’t studied his life or his background, and I’ve never watched his videos. I do not think I am the audience for his message.

I do support what I understand he is trying to do.  In fact, I think I was trying to be JBP before JBP was JBP.  Meaning, all the way back in my early blogging days in 2002, I was interested in thinking about life, trying to understand the key elements of success in life, love, work, marriage, etc., and then share the lessons I learned with others, in hopes of helping them live a better life without having to make the mistakes I made.

I have said several times that I consider myself a philosopher, not that I have come up with any new philosophical precepts, but that I see philosophy as part of the software that determines how you act and react in life. If you are having a bunch of problems in life, you are using the wrong approaches, and you probably have the wrong paradigm.

Often, the difference between laughing off an insult and being deeply wounded lies in your paradigm.  The exact same words or actions directed at you can have a widely disparate result, based solely on how you decide to perceive those words and actions.

So what I see JBP doing is trying to teach a better paradigm that leads to better decisions and a happier life.  I approve of this, and I support this.

Vox Day, however, says that JBP is not trying to help people. Vox asserts that JBP is actually a Leftist trying to teach an evil ideology by cloaking it in ostensibly libertarian wording. Day asserts that JBP is actually trying to ruin people’s lives, and he devotes an entire book to proving it.

I think he failed utterly to make his case. In fact, it might be possible to see every accusation Vox Day made of Peterson as projection.  I’m not going to try to prove that.

One other point to make before I get started: I think Vox Day is an idiot. I thought that before I read this book, and I believe it even more strongly now.  By “idiot”, I don’t mean I think he has a low IQ, or is unintelligent, or lacks thinking skills. I mean that I think he believes stupid things. George Orwell is credited as saying, “Some ideas are so stupid only intellectuals can believe them.”  I think this applies well to Vox Day.  I had previously encountered him on Twitter saying that the US Constitution was written for White People, and only White People can live effectively under it.

This is stupid.

I’m sure he has plenty of reasons for his view. I’m sure he has a logical chain of reasoning that leads him to that conclusion, and he cannot be reasoned out of it.

It is, nevertheless, stupid and wrong. That’s not the point of this post, however, so I’ll leave it for now.  The point is just that he is able to talk himself into positions that are wrong, lacks the ability to recognize the flaws in his reasoning that lead him into untenable and incorrect views, and is unable to find his way out of the maze of his own confused thinking.

To me, this makes him an idiot, regardless of his overall intelligence.

More examples that support the idea he is an idiot, but from the book:

Vox Day attempted to address potential criticism of his arguments against Peterson by saying there’s no way he could be jealous, because he has a much hotter wife than JBP has.  This is incredibly shallow, and if I were Vox Day’s wife, I would divorce him for that statement.  It puts all the value only on his wife’s appearance, which will objectively fade over the years, and downplays her character and any other strong points she has.

He explains that his opposition of Peterson began when Peterson asserted that Jews are not engaged in a conspiracy to keep them in positions of power.  His personal anecdote that he thinks proves JPB wrong is that Ben Shapiro was chosen by the Creators Syndicate over more popular authors from among the WND writers; his conclusion is the only possible reason for this is Jewish power brokers in the publishing were helping Ben Shapiro only because he was Jewish. His evidence for this is that Ben Shapiro was only 10th in readership; Vox Day, passed over by Creators Syndicate for pressure bundling, was third, behind Ann Coulter and Pat Buchanan.  But that listing right there provides a clue that Vox Day wasn’t thinking the right way. Readership is one possible way of gauging popularity, but not the only way. Sometimes a writer will get more readers by being controversial; a writer who actually has good ideas that persuade people might not even be in the top 10 for readership, but would still be someone a syndicate would want to promote. Other possible metrics to use when deciding on which writer to promote might be reader engagement, or those who were forwarded the most, or even just plain ideology: Barack Obama would surely get more readers than Anne Coulter or Vox Day, but it would be daft to assert Creators Syndicate wouldn’t hire and preferentially promote Obama only because he’s not Jewish.

This inability to think of other explanations plagues the whole book or even choose good metrics upon which to base his reasoning plagues the entire book.

At one point, his justification for his views is based on the number and ratio of likes/dislikes his videos received on YouTube.  For me to accept this as a valid metric, I would ideally like a control group, but at the very least, I needed him to explain why he thought it was a good metric, and a comparison to a few other YouTube videos.

But no.  We are supposed to just accept whatever Vox Day decides is the correct answer. If we’re lucky, he might handwave away one or two alternate explanations, but for the most part, there is only Vox Day’s perspective.

A good example of this is Day’s mocking of JBP’s lobster analogy.  Full disclosure: I haven’t read anything by Peterson, and so I can’t be 100% certain Day is explaining Peterson’s views accurately or not.

However, Day hits Peterson on two points on this analogy, and both seem either dishonest or idiotic to me.

First, Day shows off the aforementioned inability to consider other possibilities.  He says that JBP says to not be the low-status lobster, or you’ll be bullied by high-status lobsters. And you do that by not acting like a low-status lobster anymore, but instead, adopting some of the appearances and habits of high-status lobsters.  But JBP says high status lobsters are bad because they are the source of bullying of low-status lobsters. So Day concludes that JBP is saying to be good, but not *too* good.  Be mediocre. Choose the middle way.

Without even reading JBP’s writings, I can see that Vox Day is trapped in a Rule or Be Ruled paradigm, where if you aren’t low-status, you must be high-status, but you can’t be high status, so you must be mediocre.  It is actually easy to avoid this trap, and just recognize there is a liberty paradigm, too: I don’t have to participate in Rule or Be Ruled, Bully or Be Bullied.  I can adopt the trappings of the high-status to avoid being bullied, but refuse to bully anyone myself.  I can reject the whole status system and walk my own path, but do so in a way that doesn’t look like I”m low status.

Why can’t Vox see this?

Next, Vox slams JBP for the poor scientific basis of the lobster analogy.  JBP claims we inherited a social order similar to lobsters from a common ancestor, and Vox excoriates that.

This is a dishonest line of attack. Rather than addressing JBPs’ point about dominance hierarchies, he attacks a tangential point, and then pretends that debunks the main point.

This is typical of Vox Day throughout the book.  He doesn’t seem to understand when JBP tries to use an analogy to make things easier for people to understand. Throughout the book, he takes analogies as literal, he takes literal things as analogy, he cites JBP’s admonition to speak precisely to make JBP seem dishonest when he says something that might not be precise, takes him at face value when he might be exaggerating for effect, and then assumes JBP is lying when he says something that might make JBP look good.

For instance, when JBP relates a story about his daughter being bullied, and the JBP doesn’t describe anything he did in response, Vox takes that as JBP truthfully relating how he did nothing to protect his daughter, ignoring the fact that JBP is under no obligation to tell us anything of what he said or did at that time, that he is only relating the story to make a point, and the surrounding details were shared or concealed or perhaps even changed in service to the point he was trying to make. And yet, when JBP says, “If I had my druthers, I’d rather not be speaking politically at all,” Vox just assumes and asserts JBP is lying, because he does speak politically.  His only evidence is citing JBP saying “I won’t be happy until I’m elected Prime Minister,” but without any context. I can think of a dozen ways both sentences can easily be truthful, but Vox Day apparently can’t.  Probably because he doesn’t *want* to.

Basically, Vox Day changes his interpretation of anything JBP said to be able to take JBP’s words in the worst possible light, and never, ever considers any other possible way to interpret.

If Vox Day had used the same style of critique against the Bible, he would call Jesus a madman or a liar for insisting that anyone would actually ever try to make a camel pass through the eye of a needle.

Another dishonest tactic Vox Day uses throughout the book is to constantly compare JBP to three people most conservatives wouldn’t like or trust: Carl Jung, L. Ron Hubbard, and Alistair Crowley.  The arguments are mostly on the same order of, “JBP breathes oxygen. Hitler breathed oxygen. Therefore, JBP is *exactly* like Hitler.”

JBP’s 12 rules actually echoes Christian precepts multiple times. Vox, however, compares those rules to very similar precepts of Crowley and Hubbard.  Rather than emphasizing the connection Christian wisdom, Vox asserts, without any compelling argument, that JBP must be inspired by Crowley and Hubbard.

Again, if Vox Day wanted to critique the Bible in the exact same way, Christianity actually comes from Satan.

As such, Vox Day trying to attack JBP might well be an evil attack trying to keep people away from truths that might actually help them in their lives.

I don’t really think that’s true, but that’s the logic Vox Day uses throughout the book.

I’m starting to get really bored, so:

Other things I didn’t like about the book include Vox Day’s methods of establishing himself as an authority. He mentions no less than three times that he’s a nationally-syndicated writer, as if that means something. He mentions more than once that he was in a successful band, as if that means something. He mentions that he was a National Merit Finalist, and claims to be well-educated.  He claims that being an author of 15 books makes him more successful than JBP, who has only written two.

To the extent that all these things are true, JBP’s credibility and authority dwarfs Vox Day’s.  JBP is clearly better educated (PhD), clearly more successful, and wasn’t raised in the US so had no chance to participate in the National Merit system.  And that is yet another example of Vox Day having no idea how to properly use metrics to make his point. Does *anyone* say that someone’s success as an author is based on the number of books they’ve written?  Or do most people point to the number of book sales as a better indicator?

I could get really into the weeds, but let’s cut to the bottom line.

I was not convinced JBP is a con man because for JBP to be a con man or even just a fraud, two things have to be true:

  1. JBP’s teachings are false, useless, or unhelpful, and
  2. He knows it, but pushes it anyway to make money

Vox Day attempted to make the second point by arguing that following JPB’s Rules will lead you away from Christianity and into trouble, but it was wholly inadequate.  You’d have to accept too many premises that superficial resemblances to Crowley’s writings were more integral to JBP’s teachings than to philosophy and other mental health concepts that they are clearly and more directly based on.

Worse, he completely whiffed on the first point.  The Wisdom of Crowds isn’t universally applicable, but it almost always true that if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. That JBP is a runaway bestseller is a testament to the reality that millions have read JBP and found his advice to be useful, even if Vox Day disagrees. He can’t deny that reality; he can’t say that all those people who claim to be helped and have evidence of an improved life are deluded.

So I still don’t think JBP is a con man.  I think he intends to help people, I think he does help people, and I think money has flowed to him as a reward for his success in doing so.

I think Vox Day is a con man for four reasons.

  1. I paid $6 for his book and it was badly written, with poor logic, substandard reasoning, and projection. I feel conned out of $6.
  2. He padded out the book with YouTube comments (without fully explaining how/why he selected those comments for inclusion) and included a completely unnecessary transcript of one of his YouTube videos.  There are few things more useless than a video transcript for making a point, and this one was worse than most, comprising out-of-context JBP quotes and sick burnz retorts that Vox Day had any number of weeks to think of, without giving JBP any chance to respond. Think The Daily Show gotcha-ism, only with 1/1000th the wit.
  3. The whole reason for the book is Vox Day is punching up to try to gain attention. JBP is leading a popular phenomena, Vox Day apparently feels like his own contributions to philosophical thought have been ignored, and so wants to gain attention and followers by dragging JBP down a little bit.  This can be deduced by the fact that Vox Day plugs his own writings and accomplishments multiple times, much more than would be necessary to critique Peterson, and then provides his own 12 Rules in an Appendix.
  4. To use a Vox Day style of reasoning, Vox Day went to great pains to say that he *never* lies. Never, ever. He says this so that we will trust him in everything he says.  And then later in the same book, he says it takes a grifter to recognize a grifter. He claims JBP is a grifter. By his own reasoning, Vox Day himself must therefore be a grifter.  If Vox Day is not a grifter, he could not recognize JBP as a grifter.  So we know beyond a doubt that always-fully-honest Vox Day has now admitted he is a grifter.  Knowing that Vox Day is a grifter, can we now assume JBP is a grifter?  Not necessarily.  Vox Day didn’t say he was never wrong, he just said he never lies.  So he could have mistakenly identified JBP as a grifter; that would make Vox Day a grifter who merely *thinks* he recognizes a fellow grifter.

I hated the book “Jordanetics.”  I think Jordan B Peterson is helping improve society somewhat. I think he’s not the savior of mankind. I think Vox Day doesn’t know how to apply his intelligence effectively, and is a con man.

 

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4 thoughts on “Jordan Peterson is Not a Con Man

  1. I liked your review of Jordanetics. I have not read the book and I have not read any of Jordan’s books. I have listened to some of his talks and I can find no fault with his reasoning, generally speaking. In essence, Jordan tries to teach men (and women to an extent) to take responsibility for their lives and how not to get hampered by emotional stumbling blocks. He is not the new messiah or some bright star that is here to save mankind. Jordan’s popularity stems from his frankness and from his logical reasoning against what is ostensibly an emotional culture of outrage and political correctness to the point of stupidity, and that is why he is popular.

    As for Vox, I have read his blog from time to time in the past and disagreed with him more often than I agree. I also think he is a bit of an anti-Semite (though he tries to cloak it) and it is for this reason that I don’t read his blog anymore.

    I think you are correct here:

    “Vox Day apparently feels like his own contributions to philosophical thought have been ignored, and so wants to gain attention and followers by dragging JBP down a little bit.”

    Vox overestimates his abilities and I think the man is somewhat jealous of Jordan’s popularity. The popularity which he thinks he deserves. His blog is popular, I don’t deny that, but its nothing compared to Jordan’s global reach and so he tried to jump on that wagon by attacking Jordan’s credibility. Like all detractors of Jordan, he failed to debunk the logical conclusions of Jordan’s various arguments because he neglected to break the chain of logic that creates the conclusion. For some reason people keep missing this key requirement.

    Anyway, it was a good read. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Add to it that Jordan Peterson is VERY good at crafting an appealing image and selling himself. Probably goes along with that psychology thing. You don’t get as popular as he is without being very good at marketing yourself and your image (or having someone else who is very good do it for you).

    Personally, I find Vox Day offputting in some ways (like this one) and prescient in others. I get a lot of value from his observations on politics and culture and his ability to build under, over, and around the systems built by people who hate people like you and me is invaluable. I don’t like him, but I think we might need him.

    Liked by 1 person

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