Jordon Peterson and the Problem with Tyranny

Having watched the car crash interview of Jordon Peterson by Cathy Newman, I decided to wade through a large portion of Peterson’s online videos outlining his theories and broader philosophical position as well as the more recent series of interviews he has given and my general impression of his views is as follows;

I can certainly say that I agree with his diagnosis of the current problems with masculinity and toxic feminism and I also agree, at least in principle, with his prognosis for recovery of the problems he diagnoses.

However, where I think his argument becomes extremely weak is in his absolutist existentialism/libertarianism. He basically seems to be suggesting that at all times, people should be “free” to pursue their own goals and that competition should be, barring some rather obvious basic rules of engagement, completely unfettered and the hierarchical chips will then fall where they may. Hence, his obvious issue with the tyranny of imposing equal outcomes on men and women in the workplace. He bases the above philosophical position on the underlying nature of human organisation. That is to say, it is based on “hierarchy”. And many hundreds of millions of years of evolution simply cannot be denied.

One the one hand, the above seems like an eminently sensible idea. And, to a significant degree, it is. But, on the other, these hierarchical organisational structures were evolved and then evolutionarily maintained under specific environmental constraints. That is to say, in the case of humans, under conditions of “low dispersal”.

What I mean by the above is that, for the vast majority of our evolutionary history, we lived in groups of around a hundred or so more or less related individuals ranging from full siblings through to distant cousins. This meant that several social facts tended to pertain. Firstly, most social and economic relationships were more or less transparent. Secondly, to the extent that any small sub-group took the piss excessively out of the majority, this was, as mentioned above, transparently obvious and so such piss taking was extremely limited and/or was dealt with in very short order. Thus, while social hierarchies were of course present in such prehistoric societies, they self regulated to the extent that they never got out of hand.

Fast forward to the dawn of civilisation (circa approximately 5,000 BC) and on up to the present day, these earlier, self-regulating mechanisms that were present in the simpler (and smaller) structures of prehistoric societies became lost in the opaque, complex social, economic and political structures of civilisations. At which point, hierarchical self-regulatory mechanisms no longer work.

In other words, in the absence of at least some form of socialist or other re-distributive mechanisms, the kind of hierarchies that develop in complex industrial civilisations eventually get completely out of hand, leading to instability and eventual collapse of said societies.

What I am saying is this:

Peterson is right when he states that hierarchical social structures are an inevitable facet of human nature.

BUT, his apparent insistence that ANY attempt to ameliorate these structures in a complex society where they are no longer able to self regulate, necessarily leads to tyranny is false. Or, to the extent that there is indeed a risk of tyranny developing out of such (socialist) ameliorations, Peterson does not acknowledge that tyrannies will ALSO inevitably emerge if such ameliorations are NOT employed.

In other words, in extremis, we are faced with the dilemma of being screwed by faceless capitalist plutocrats or by faceless socialist bureaucrats.

In short, the problem is not “capitalism” or “socialism”. These are both symptoms of the problem. The problem is not even “human nature” since human nature is perfectly well suited to the environment in which it evolved.

The problem is complex, socially opaque industrial civilisations.

Stephen Cook