More intellectual dark webbery

I saw this awful glib vacuous article about Jordan Peterson by Caitlin Flanagan in the Atlantic yesterday but it was so crappy I couldn’t face posting about it, so how helpful that Eric Levitz at New York Magazine took it on.

He starts, wittily, by complaining about the way identity politics is crippling the argumentative skills of center-right hacks like Flanagan, which is a good joke because her whole shtick in her piece is omigod identity politics.

Now, they’re content to merely assert their identity as tellers of uncomfortable truths (and don’t you dare ask them to validate that identity, empirically; if a center-right contrarian identifies as unfailingly rational and free of racial, gender, or class biases, then one must accept this as her personal truth). In fact, these “intellectual dark web” browsers have become so defensive of their identitarian ideology, they’ve grown blind to any and all realities that might complicate their worldview.

If this dire assessment of the center-right sounds overwrought, just take a gander at Caitlin Flanagan’s new essay on Jordan Peterson in The Atlantic.

The thesis of the column is simple: For years, a silenced majority had been suffering under the tyrannical hegemony of left-wing identity politics — until Jordan Peterson set their minds free with his devastating rebuttal of that creed’s bogus premises. Flanagan writes that what Peterson “and the other members of the so-called ‘intellectual dark web’ are offering is kryptonite to identity politics”; that Peterson provided her son and his friends with “the only sustained argument against identity politics they had heard in their lives”; and that the left is afraid of Peterson’s ideas because they are “are completely inconsistent with identity politics of any kind.”

It’s simple, and it’s empty and worthless.

Not once in her (nearly 2,000-word) column does Flanagan define the “identity politics” she’s inveighing against, or so much as summarize Peterson’s argument against them. She does offer some examples of what she considers to be representative of the former: The Nation’s decision to apologize for publishing a poem written in African-American vernacular by a non-black poet; the alt-right’s pursuit of a white ethno-state; and former president Barack Obama — whom she dubs “the poet laureate of identity politics.”

She’s right about the Nation and the poem, he says, but then lots of lefties have been objecting to that move too. The claim about Obama is moronic.

Flanagan would rather attack an imaginary, monolithic left than contend with the actual one. And by positing Barack Obama as an exemplary practitioner of identity politics, she renders her conception of that phrase incomprehensible. Obama literally launched his political career by proclaiming that African-Americans must “eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white” — and that there was “not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.” The man’s commitment to a politics of universalism was so emphatic and unyielding, he spent his last year in office lecturing college students about the evils of “political correctness.”

Exactly, and he’s always been about that, to the point that he annoyed everyone when he edited the Harvard Law Review by commissioning so many pieces by conservatives.

If there is a reason that Flanagan associates Barack Obama with identity politics — beyond the fact that he is an African-American who participated in politics — she feels no need to spell it out. For an identitarian contrarian like Flanagan, assertion is sufficient; argument, unnecessary. People from her intellectual tribe recognize that Jordan Peterson is good, and identity politics (a phrase that ostensibly covers the political worldview of most everyone to her left or right) is bad. The fact that a person like her is making this claim is all the substantiation required; because people like her, her son, and Jordan Peterson are capable of perceiving objective reality, unmediated by ideology.

Flanagan actually implies this: She writes that once her son and his friends had digested Peterson’s thought, they found that it was suddenly “possible to talk about all kinds of things—religion, philosophy, history, myth—in a different way. They could have a direct experience with ideas, not one mediated by ideology.”

It’s an irregular verb, you see – I see things as they really are, you have an ideology, they have a fanatical ideology.

Here is how Petersen, who never allows identity to color his thought — and perceives ideas from myth, history, and philosophy, directly, unmediated by ideology —assessesThe Feminine Mystique:

I read Betty Friedan’s book because I was very curious about it, and it’s so whiny, it’s just enough to drive a modern person mad to listen to these suburban housewives from the late ’50s ensconced in their comfortable secure lives complaining about the fact that they’re bored because they don’t have enough opportunity. It’s like, Jesus get a hobby.

And here is how such a man perceives the feminine, in general:

You know you can say, “Well isn’t it unfortunate that chaos is represented by the feminine” — well, it might be unfortunate, but it doesn’t matter because that is how it’s represented. It’s been represented like that forever. And there are reasons for it. You can’t change it. It’s not possible.

No ideology there, no sir!

Flanagan accuses “the left” of having an “obliterating and irrational hatred of Jordan Peterson” and says there’s no coherent reason for that hatred.

By definition, there can be no coherent reason for anyone’s irrational hatred of anything. But if we take Flanagan’s argument to be that the left has no rational basis for seeing Peterson as contemptible and dangerous, then her argument is absurd.

Peterson argues that human beings do not yet know whether it is possible for men and women to work together without the former sexually harassing the latter, to such an extent that segregated workplaces are preferable. He has stated, point blank, that women who do not want to be sexually harassed at work — but nevertheless wear makeup to the office — are hypocrites. In her essay, Flanagan accuses the left of mendaciously attaching “reputation-destroying ideas” to Peterson. But rest assured, Peterson has attached these ideas to himself:

Perhaps, Flanagan agrees with all of this. Perhaps, she thinks that, “Can men and women work together in the workplace?” is an open question, and that the only reason why women put on lipstick is to trigger thoughts of sex in men’s minds — and thus, if women who wear lipstick to the office get sexually harassed, they bear some responsibility for their own plight. But does Flanagan really believe that it would be incoherent for feminists to detest Peterson on the basis of these views?

Or did she simply ensconce herself in an ideological safe space that shielded these remarks from her awareness?

In other words is she just as smug as she has always been? Yes she is.

Read the rest of Levitz’s response.

One Response to “More intellectual dark webbery”