Top lobster

Julian Baggini has a droll review of a new book by Jordan Peterson on the 12 eternal truths or something.

It’s not difficult to see why Peterson’s rules sold in the online marketplace, where attention spans are short and repackaged clichés pass for original insights. In headline form, most of his rules are simply timeless good sense. “Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)”; “Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.” The problem is that when Peterson fleshes them out, they carry more flab than meat.

Actually I would say the problem comes before that, the problem is with his “rules” themselves. They’re too self-conscious, too composed, too pseudo-Chesterfieldish. Writing like that brings me out in a rash. He’s not some guy in the smoking room of a club in St James Square in 1875, he’s an internet-famous academic in 2018. He should relax and get over himself…or else go back to being a real academic who writes academic prose. Attempted aphoristic Wisdom is just embarrassing, though I have no doubt his fans will think it’s genius. They think Peter Boghossian is a genius after all.

Although he advocates a balance between the two, most of the time he argues that we need more order. In practice, this means a conservative return to tradition and what is “natural”. Dominance hierarchies, for example, are said to be “older than trees”, a “near-eternal aspect of the environment”. But since when has “natural” meant “good”, or “is” meant “ought”? If we cannot move beyond dominance hierarchies, then his apparently empowering advice to stand tall has the chilling corollary that others will have to stoop.

Peterson, who has become one of the most prominent critics of anything that can be labelled as “political correctness”, is especially conservative on gender and family roles. “Female lobsters . . . identify the top guy quickly, and become irresistibly attracted to him,” he writes. Generalising from the crustacean to the human he adds, “This is brilliant strategy, in my estimation.”

Ah so that’s why there are jokes about Peterson and lobsters. I’ve seen them around but not known why they were a thing. He fancies himself the top lobster.

Peterson has a knack for penning sentences that sound like deep wisdom at first glance but vanish into puffs of pseudo-profundity if you give them more than a second’s thought. Consider these: “Our eyes are always pointing at things we are interested in approaching, or investigating, or looking at, or having”; “In Paradise, everyone speaks the truth. That is what makes it Paradise.”

My point exactly, except for the part about sounding like deep wisdom at first glance; to me even at first glance they sound like someone trying to sound like deep wisdom.

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