Jordan Peterson. Jeez.
“Everywhere in the world is urbanising, right? The small towns are disappearing, evaporating, everyone’s moving to the cities, and so if you’re stuck – so to speak – in a small, isolated community, and there’s very little to do, and no economic future, and very little hope, and a fragmented community because so many people have left, high rates of poverty and single families and multi-generational histories of alcoholism and so forth you set the stage for nihilism and suicide so that is where I would look first.”
Ministry of Health (2013)
All suicide is awful. If you wanted to pick one glaring statistic out for New Zealand though it would be the over-representation of Māori men in the statistics.
The list of factors contributing to suicide that Peterson lists are applicable to many Māori men. And the reason for that is the legacy of colonialism. Peterson of course denies identity and the historical contexts that have hugely impacted the lives of people with marginalised identities as a factor.
This denial is not new. It is exactly what people of his ideological ilk do all the time about everything to do with identity. He did it again in another interview in NZ.
“To pick your cabinet by genitalia is not an acceptable technical move.”
Which is correct when practiced to represent one gender 100% of the time in an organisation, and less true when done to create 50-50 balance.
That’s why women, for generations, campaigned to gain the right to vote and stand as representatives. After millennia of male genitalia being used as a criteria for access to decision-making many countries were forced to drop that standard. We can all – hopefully – agree that was good. Because Peterson then detaches the argument from the legacy of those generations of marginalisation he doesn’t have to make the mental effort to suggest how to correct the ongoing imbalance. 100+ years on we still don’t have balance in Aotearoa. Perhaps, for a time, we need to try a few things to manufacture the balance? Having a 50-50 balance is mild compared to what probably needs to happen: change the whole adversarial party system which favours culturally created masculine characteristics.
Peterson also, in this line of reasoning, treats us as purely biological. Talking about genitals is fine – if it’s your kind of thing – but then not talking about culture, expectations, gender, norms, conditioning? That’s cheating. He’s pretending that genitals are just silly (they are), arbitrary things with the same level of meaning in society as whether you can curl your tongue or not. It all comes back to his fucking stupid lobsters.
His solution is always the same: do nothing. If anyone takes a political action predicated on the idea of identity – of any kind – he is against it. If he proposes a solution (he usually doesn’t) it is just the ending of something without any method or mitigation of consequences. We can assume what he was telling people in Aotearoa about suicide was: “end small towns!” I feel like anyone – anyone at all – could think of three major problems with that in ten seconds (problem one being that it would have no effect on the suicide rate… well, it might push it up).
His solution to the fact that there are too many old, white men on boards and in power in Aotearoa as Julie Anne Genter suggested? Because she’s white she should step aside for a person of colour. He was joking, but he doesn’t suggest a solution. He talks about studies that are crystal clear, he mentions research, and he is never asked: what studies? what research? how does this relate to your actual area of academic expertise? So he says things like: affirmative action is the same as being a far-right fan of ethno-states because it is asserting that racial differences do exist, and that people are racially different.
No. Just no. One is asserting a biological difference and a racial hierarchy. The other is asserting that escaping historically harmful conditioning requires deliberate, correcting behaviours. All Peterson ever wants to do is take identity out of it. And dismiss people who live those identities and tell him differently. How do you presume to talk about suicide in New Zealand and not talk about race and the history of race particular to this culture? How can you come here and dismiss gender as a significant factor and not talk about domestic violence and sexual assault? There is more in common between genders than different, he says. Sure. Seems reasonable. But there is also a very, very wide difference between the number of male and female victims of sexual violence.
He speaks a lot of commonsense, apparently. In my experience this means: insisting on a return to the established norm. Sometimes Peterson makes good points, and has an interesting perspective, but “sometimes interesting” does not override for me his “do nothing”, “accept biology” and “historical injustices are irrelevant” agenda.