Entering in to a thought discourse (argument) is very fulfilling. Adopting Karl Popper’s maxim relating to the falsification of an idea or narrative helps to identify how integral or erroneous a proposition might be.
The essence of postmodernism is to atomise reality. To question objectivity and to accept that change is permanent and desirable. Meta narratives are outdated and that the questioning of reality effectively condemns ‘truth’ as an irrelevance.
Popper comes from a somewhat different place in which truth has no virtue unless it is flawless. In other words it has been scientifically scrutinised to the point where no obvious data is found that rejects its authenticity.
In other words truth should be treated with suspicion and also as temporary. However, it might be permanent.
As an outcome we should never stop searching to improve our knowledge and never rest on any given paradigm and call it truth. There are of course facts but they are in themselves a fluid entity and have never held the status of ‘truth’.
With this strategy I engaged with some of the ideas of Jordan B Petersen. I distanced my self from the sometimes toxic debate by those who support him and oppose him and just wanted to engage with the ideas he narrates.
My first thought is that of inconsistency and provocation. As a clinical psychologist he formulates ideas and conclusions based upon experiment and observation. He also appears to be very reliant upon statistics. Whether applying the mean, mode or median what is absolutely vital is the knowledge of the methodological process from the start to finish.
What is a researcher’s starting point? Where are they on this topic? Have they an agenda?
All of this relies upon the author firstly knowing this themselves and then being totally honest. Both of which have a tendency to be remote expectations. I can understand the accusation that he is ‘alt right’ that has been pinned on him but I also agree with him that every ideological position is vulnerable and as a result makes it very difficult for us to absolutely trust research outcomes.
This then creates a vacuum in which subjectively we merely fill with our sympathies and prejudices determined probably not by lobsters 350 million years ago, as Petersen allures to, but by a complex range of stimuli and that we are not even close to properly comprehending.
The first and probably most dominating aspect of this particular debate with Cathy Newman was that of gender and sex differences. Petersen’s point is that women should be more assertive to enable a success ratio of that of men. But what is success? An externally imposed definition that he later accuses Trans activists of. Groupthink. Thus instead of enabling every individual to reach their own definition of ‘success’ and for all to be equally respected he simply applies an establishment view. His argument here then falls on inconsistency of approach and possibly hypocrisy if he ever sought to defend it.
In the same discussion he accuses Trans activists of being like Chairman Mao. When the comparison with Pinochet is given it is brushed off as right wing. Newman responds that how can Chairman Mao, responsible for ‘over 50 million deaths’, be equated with Trans activists? Petersen’s response is to argue they ‘share the same ideology’. They share the same ideology?
Now this is where we require evidence given a systematic unbiased collection of data utilising a range of methods. Can he provide this? Unfortunately not. It’s an opinion. Not tested and therefore not very useful.
Before we move on it is worth mentioning that the evidence that Mao killed anyone is hard to find. He was the head of a regime in which many people killed other people. The same can be said for every leader or dictator. They may have blood on their hands but so do millions of others who carried out the orders or looked the other way. Our cultural obsession with leadership may influence Petersen’s tendency to accept much of the establishment narrative that has been imposed. Here he may argue that it is his choice which terms he accepts and which he rejects – the classic postmodern consumer pick n’ mix. He may then tell us that we are biologically wired in this way. However, Popper and I would say present us with flawless evidence first please. Otherwise you are making millions of dollars by persuading others that your opinions are worth more. Not very postmodern. More New or Alt Right.
Petersen obviously has a problem with what he calls the ‘radical left’. He may well have some justification. It is disjointed. It is ridden in conflicting perspectives. It cannot agree upon praxis. It has its messages continuously misrepresented by people who have a voice within the corporate mainstream media. Powerful state interests infiltrate it and subvert it.
Instead of in a valid post modern sense, that is that it should be ebabled to be just another consumable that individuals can adopt or ignore or both, it is the victim of a vicious onslaught by forces who themselves are empirically inscrutable and corrupt. Again more ‘alt right’.
One aspect of his conversation that did provoke some sympathy was his discussion of males. He is right to point out, especially given the relatively high suicide rates, that some males have not found the adjustments in identity straightforward. As the hegemonic identity was being undermined by new types, incidentally something that postmodernists should applaud for the range of choices, Petersen felt inclined to suggest that being hegemonic is something to be valued. Not only in males but also in females. A discussion about the FTSE then followed. However, yet again a very conservative notion of identity was imposed that again is anti postmodern. The discussion felt like a dictatorship in which the narrative was purposefully kept narrow and self serving. Again ‘alt right’.
What can we therefore conclude about Mr Petersen? Over to you in a postmodern world. I do not desire to impose upon you via tyranny but to those who avidly follow him and hoover up his every utterance I would just say this. His style no doubt has aspects of postmodernism but he has chosen to leave out too many of its important characteristics for him to be a typical postmodernist. He is Alt Right and would benefit from escaping from his clinical psychology basement and coming out in to the light. Epistemology is not supposed to obfuscate but to enlighten.