As regular readers know, our mission at the Diary is to connect the dots. As we like to say, we’re sometimes right, sometimes wrong…but always in doubt.
Recently, we tried to connect the dots here in our hometown of Baltimore. Why is it that the once-prosperous areas of West Baltimore now more closely resemble a third-world city than a neighbourhood in the most powerful country on Earth?
Our conclusion was that the feds undermined the two most successful win-win deals in history: marriage and work. Get the ‘world improvers’ out of West Baltimore, we said, and it could be one of the most dynamic, prosperous places in the country.
We wrote that ‘Diary’ entry, and went about our business.
Alas…some readers found our thoughts ‘offensive’. Among them were some who work for the giant search engine Google. They said they were considering banning us from their network!
Where are they going with this, we wondered.
As Dan Denning reported in the monthly newsletter The Bill Bonner Letter, a growing number of college students believe that ‘offensive speech’ (ideas they don’t agree with) should be outlawed. Some think it’s acceptable to respond to ‘offensive speech’ with violence.
Many young people aren’t aware that the first amendment is intended to protect ‘offensive speech’. (There’s hardly any need to protect ideas that people don’t find offensive.)
What next? What does the future hold?
We don’t know…
But it is worth exploring. Here’s what we think.
We hope you find it enjoyable…and perhaps a bit offensive.
The offending truth
‘Sort yourself out, bucko.’
Within the space of 24 hours, two friends — one in Buenos Aires and one in São Paulo — urged us to pay attention to what they described as ‘the hottest thing on the internet’.
That was a little overstated. Jordan Peterson is hot…but only with a very small percentage of the population — the readers of earnest journals on the Left, such as The New Yorker…or scurrilous websites on the Right, such as The Rebel Media.
Broadly, the Left hates him. In fact, the hate mail he gets is amazingly vicious. Typically, writers compare him to Hitler and denounce everything that he says, without paying too much attention to what he actually is saying.
The difference between men and women
That’s the amazing part. Mr. Peterson is not really very right-wing at all. Read his work carefully, and you’ll find that he is really a rather mild-mannered intellectual trying to understand how the world works.
But when you are a professor of clinical psychology, understanding how the world works inevitably involves trying to understand how men and women interact (since so many of our phobias and discontents seem to centre on our relationships with the opposite sex).
And trying to understand how those relationships actually work immediately puts you at odds with the many people who think they know how they should work.
In particular, Mr. Peterson is convinced that men and women are different.
‘Does that mean you think it’s all right to pay women less than men?’ asked Cathy Newman, a particularly annoying TV interviewer in London earlier this year — or words to that effect.
When asked this sort of question, Mr. Peterson paused momentarily. You could almost see his brain deconstructing it into its constituent parts, trying to come up with an answer that was not stupid. He could simply say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ but a binary response wouldn’t do it justice.
‘Maybe’ is the right answer. Because there are certainly circumstances in which paying women less than men…or men less than women…is probably better than paying them the same thing. Even then, ‘better’ requires careful definition.
In the vineyards of the Calchaquí Valley in Argentina, for example, owners don’t care what sex their pickers are; they just want the grapes picked. So they pay per gamela — the yellow plastic bins that are used to collect the grapes. A picker earns 8 pesos per full gamela. And a good picker can fill 75 of them a day…giving them an income for the day of about the equivalent of $30.
The female pickers typically pick about half as many grapes as the male pickers. In order to pay the women the same amount as the men, you’d have to pay them twice as much per gamela. Is that a good idea? Yes, if what you really want is to get more money into feminine hands. No, if you want to get the grapes picked.
‘Maybe’ is never a very satisfying reply to a TV interviewer — especially not to Cathy Newman. She was determined to put Peterson in his place, and she probably thinks that the best place for him is the penitentiary.
But the more she tried to trap him into admitting that he is a hopeless misanthrope whose views shouldn’t be taken seriously, the more patiently and clearly he explained his views, which must have infuriated her even more.
Mr. Peterson, a Canadian, is most famous for resisting a law that requires people to address transgender people with a specific pronoun, neither ‘he’ nor ‘she.’ ‘I’m not going to be a mouthpiece for language that I detest,’ he said in a November 2016 debate at the University of Toronto.
The professor explained that he would address any student as requested. But he would not submit to a government requirement aimed at changing his speech.
Most likely, he was making the distinction between two kinds of rights.
There are positive rights — such as the right to collect Social Security. And there are negative rights — such as the right to not be put in jail for something you didn’t do.
As we see it, it is one thing for the feds to prohibit you from yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater; it is very much another thing for them to insist that you address fellow citizens as ‘comrade’.
In the former, your right not to be trampled by a panicking crowd is considered more important than the prankster’s right to say whatever he wants. In the latter, you are forced to say something you don’t want to say, violating your right to free expression.
Neither left nor right
Peterson’s kind of careful parsing of ideas and logic is infuriating to the Left. Those on the Right, meanwhile, think he is on their side, so they don’t bother him.
But as we listened to him speak, we came to see that he is neither on the side of the fascists on the Left…nor of the bullies on the Right.
When asked to explain why he thought compelling certain kinds of speech was a bit like what Chairman Mao might do, for example, he explained (as we recall it):
‘We’re not talking about murdering millions of people. We’re talking about philosophy. And the philosophy is the same. Leftist activists want to put everyone into categories. And then, you get your rights and responsibilities depending on what category you are in. I’m against it.’
Both right-wing activists and left-wing activists favour the ‘us versus them’ approach. On the Left, if you are a woman, a cripple, a transgender person, or a ‘person of color,’ you are assigned certain rights, according to your category. ‘Identity politics’, it is called.
On the Right, the categories are more traditional. Their ‘us’ refers to native-born Americans. Keep the Mexican immigrants and the Chinese imports away!
Mr. Peterson favours individuals…which has no support on either the Left or the Right.
He has written two books. The first, a 600-page academic tome, is entitled Maps of Meaning. It is apparently very hard to read or make sense of.
His more recent book, however, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, is a bestseller. We have not yet read that, either. All we have done is listen to him in a couple of interviews…and read about him on the internet.
But from what we can tell, Mr. Peterson is worth checking out. He is not afraid to think clearly. When he was an undergraduate, he explains, he almost had a mental breakdown. He was appalled when he heard himself speaking. He realized that much of what he said, he didn’t really believe. From then on, he resolved to say only what he really thought.
In his interviews and speeches, you can see that he is still doing it…carefully thinking before he speaks…hesitating while he tries to separate honest thoughts from facile claptrap…working hard to avoid the blah-blah myths and balderdash of popular (and university) culture.
That is, of course, what makes him so unpopular on the Left. He thinks too much. And then he realises that so much of what the socialists and the mainstream liberals hold dear is nonsense, desperately in need of deeper reflection.
On the issue of gender equality:
‘If it means equality of outcome, then it is almost certainly undesirable. That’s already been demonstrated in Scandinavia. Men and women won’t sort themselves into the same categories if you leave them to do it of their own accord. It’s 20-to-1 female nurses to male, something like that. And approximately the same male engineers to female engineers.
‘That’s a consequence of the free choice of men and women in the societies that have gone farther than any other societies to make gender equality the purpose of the law. Those are ineradicable differences — you can eradicate them with tremendous social pressure, and tyranny, but if you leave men and women to make their own choices, you will not get equal outcomes.’
Should more women be forced to study engineering? Should more men be required to become nurses, just so the ‘gender equality’ goal could be achieved? Maybe.
And why are so few of the major corporations run by women?
‘There are any number of men, although not that many, who are perfectly willing to sacrifice virtually all of their life to the pursuit of a high-end career. So they’ll work…These are men that are very intelligent. They’re usually very, very conscientious. They’re very driven. They’re very high-energy. They’re very healthy. And they’re willing to work 70 or 80 hours a week, non-stop, specialised at one thing, to get to the top!’
‘So you think women are just more sensible? They don’t want that, because it’s not a nice life?’
‘I’m saying that’s part of it, definitely!’
Another highlight of the interview was this exchange:
‘You cited “freedom of speech”. Why should your right to freedom of speech trump a trans person’s right not to be offended?’
We’re not sure how Peterson responded to this question. We were too busy thinking of the answer we could have given Ms. Newman, as follows:
‘I wouldn’t put it that way. I don’t offend anyone. People may be offended, of course, by what I say. But that is not my intention.
‘I just try to say things I think are true. I’m not going to stop saying what I think is true just because someone may or may not be offended.
‘And right now…you are certainly taking the risk of offending me. Should you not ask these questions because it might offend me? Should you only ask questions if you are sure they won’t offend me?
‘Of course not. Because you’re trying to get at the truth, too. And that’s the way it should be. The truth is more important than protecting people who might be offended.’
We are especially sensitive to this point. Hardly a day goes by that we don’t offend hundreds or thousands of readers. We don’t intend to offend people (although we sometimes delight in provoking them).
But if you can’t say what you think — for fear of offending sensitive readers — what would be the point?
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