The Dangerous Arrogance of Jordan Peterson

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I must admit, when I first stumbled upon Jordan Peterson, I had a bit of a man-crush. Many of the topics that he so skilfully elucidated rang clear and true for me—his explanations of human social hierarchies, infringement of free speech, the importance of symbolism, etc. Here was a man who had his act together, and I considered him a person who might help me get my act together.

How wrong I was.

The biggest problem with Peterson is how convincing he is. The confidence of the man is staggering. Like so many others, I was swept away by Peterson’s fearless erudition—he speaks as though his life depends on it—a thrill to watch. And yet, peel away his near-invisible facade, and you’re in danger of finding baseless pseudoscience, delivered with a vehemence that is difficult to resist. As it turns out, at times, Jordan Peterson’s emphatic claims are nought but sound and fury.

The most alarming illustration of Peterson’s charlatanism is from back in August, when he posted a YouTube clip from PragerU, a popular media company that posts quick consumption political videos. The video was a seemingly well-made denial of climate change, fronted by Richard Lindzen – an American physicist. Lindzen opens the video with an attempt to convince us of his credibility – he’s published 200 scientific papers, and has taught for 30 years at MIT, with the impressive title of Emeritus Professor of Atmospheric Sciences.

The video was absurdly incorrect, utilising a classic data trick to mislead viewers. It presents a small, 10-year chunk of data from a graph to illustrate that the climate isn’t warming. When the data is presented for its full-range of 42 years, it clearly shows rising temperatures. He then does this a second time, but with carbon dioxide levels.

It turns out that despite Lindzen’s shining credentials, he’s made a career out of climate change denial, and his work has never been taken seriously by fellow scientists. The Global Climate Coalition claimed his work on “The Role of Water Vapor” to be “weak”, after which Lindzen stopped touting it. His examinations of climate feedbacks —processes that amplify or diminish warming—are completely one-sided, lending a laughably unscientific bias to his work.

The real smoking gun though, are the payments made to Lindzen by Peabody Energy— American’s biggest coal mining company—to carry out “research” to spread the insidious idea that man-made climate change doesn’t exist. He’s literally on the payroll of energy companies. The man has zero credibility.

Then there’s the makers of the video—PragerU—a right-wing non-profit who claims to promote “Judeo-Christian values,” but is better known for turning young liberals into young conservatives. Some examples of their videos are “Why you should be a nationalist“, “The inconvenient truth about the Democratic Party”, and “Was the civil war about slavery?When it comes to climate change, republicans often sit on the denial side of the fence, so it’s no surprise that PragerU are creating videos that perpetuate the idea. The “U” in their title exists to make the company sound like a university—a trusted academic source. In reality, PragerU is just another YouTube propaganda machine, which has amassed over a billion views according to its own marketing director.

Most importantly though is the current scientific consensus on climate change—a whopping 97%. Almost every single scientist that has worked on climate change agrees that it’s a man-made phenomenon, but that doesn’t seem to be enough for Jordan Peterson, whose believes that after “reading a lot” of climate-change literature, his conclusion is superior, and so justifies his spread of PragerU drivel. This is mind-boggling arrogance—Peterson is a clinical psychologist, climate science isn’t his field. It would be like Einstein barging into Peterson’s practice and declaring that his treatment of patients is all wrong, regardless of the fact that Peterson has been treating patients for two decades, and Einstein for no time at all.

Peterson has authored or coauthored over 90 peer-reviewed articles on clinical psychology, social psychology, and personality theory, topics on which he’s undoubtedly well-versed, and for which he has every right to throw his hat into the ring. But when it comes to climate change — one of the most important issues of our time — it is simply not his place to be creating doubt.

Peterson has almost a million followers on Twitter. That’s a million people who, after watching the video, might be erring on the side of climate change denial. This is remarkably irresponsible.

While Peterson’s climate change prattlings are his biggest moral failing, his track record for nonsense isn’t slight. He once claimed, in earnest, to have gone 25 days without sleep, a whopping 14 days longer than the documented record. That’s quite a feat.

Regarding religion, Peterson was a strong proponent of God in the years before he burst into the limelight, believing that society will literally unravel without faith in a higher power:

“To say ‘I believe in God’ is equivalent, in some sense, to say ‘my thought is ultimately coherent, but predicated on an axiom (as my thought is also incomplete, so I must take something on faith).’

To say ‘I don’t believe in God’ is therefore to say ‘no axiom outside my thought is necessary’ or ‘the necessary axiom outside my thought is not real.’ The consequence of this statement is that God himself unravels, then the state unravels, then the family unravels, and then the self itself unravels.”

Jordan Peterson

In Peterson’s view, a Godless society is one of nihilistic anarchy in which the rulebook is thrown away, because religion and only religion can add meaning to our lives. I suspect there’s many philosophers who would disagree with him, if they thought it worth their time. Since rising to star-studded fame, Peterson has claimed that he no longer believes in god, but “he’s afraid he exists.” Perhaps he looked a little closer at the demographics of his fans and realised that preaching wouldn’t do him any favours.

Then there’s Peterson’s views on the struggles of women, who according to his extensive expertise, and despite swathes of historical evidence, have been treated fairly over the years:

“The idea that women were oppressed throughout history is an appalling theory.”

Jordan Peterson

Nevermind the fact that women were treated like second-class citizens by being unable to vote; nevermind the fact that stronger, larger males have been bullying women into submission throughout our evolutionary timeline; nevermind the fact that despite being equally skilled, women don’t receive the same wages as men. This is all just nonsense to Peterson, who dismisses it with an arrogant wave of his hand.

Peterson’s straight-faced, unerring conviction is of a man who expects to be taken seriously. How is that possible when he spouts such utter bullshit? As a long-practising psychologist with an obviously high IQ, he has great insight to offer the world, but his hogwash pseudoscience just subverts anything good that he has to say.

As time marches onward, Jordan Peterson is appearing less a scientific intellectual and more a conning prattler. There’s a long history of Prattleson forcefully ejaculating his opinions on topics that he has absolutely no expertise in. He simply doesn’t have the credibility or authority to voice his ideas so haughtily, especially concerning matters related to the survival of our species.

When it comes to climate change, for the sake of his fellow humans, Peterson should keep his opinions to himself.

13 thoughts on “The Dangerous Arrogance of Jordan Peterson

  1. Hi Rob. Great article. I was about to fall asleep when I came across a video of him on YouTube in which he used broad philosophical concepts and terms in a way which pained my intellect and I was losing all hope because his entire discourse appeared gibberish and often whimsical. So I Googled something and your article turned up and I can now sleep peacefully. Thanks.
    Part of the reason for my frustration was that I dont have a strong academic background; I am self educated and rely on giants to guide me (but I don’t idolize them without reflection because I think that would be an insult of the intellectual legacy of a genuine and modest thinker) through the labyrinths of worldly darkness. Knowledge is my guiding light and spirit. But to see this guy use knowledge in a way which is antithetic to knowledge is appalling; and deleterious to people who look for some sort of answers to put their discontent and restless thoughts to rest. I hope he finds his sanity soon and learns that the only way he can help people is through sincerity; by not supporting specific prejudices or by simply being quiet for the love of God. He should accept the limit of his intellect to produce valuable thoughts without misrepresenting other popular ideas. Thanks again.

  2. So the dangerous thought is, if you’re Christian and believe in the God that created this world for humans to exist, and still believe that the climate is ever changing over millennial (especially how long it took before man got here), then we’re crazy to share that notion? I don’t think he’s dangerous by having his say, any more than Hilary in all her kooky opinions about eliminating the electorial college. His opinions won’t change society. And if people follow with such vehements, then they become followers and not doers. I take everything with a grain of salt, he has some good things to say. One, that we should just try improving in our own spheres of influence. I do my part to raise respectable kids, I compost, I recycle, I pick up litter I did not make. Volunteer at schools. I pay tithes, and give to other charities, and I vote. Can we do more? Always. Peterson dangerous? Hardly.

    1. Anyone who has a massive influence—Jordan Peterson, Hillary Clinton, or anyone else—has a moral responsibility not to mislead people. Especially when it’s something as important as climate change, which is probably going to affect the lives of millions and millions of people (particularly those living in poor countries such as Bangladesh).

      Peterson arrogantly dismisses the work of thousands of scientists—97% of climate scientists, to be exact—and his climate change denial will infect the minds of a LOT of people. And you don’t believe that’s dangerous? What could be more dangerous than a man who is pushing false information about climate change, the NUMBER ONE crisis of our time?

      1. Scientists are not infallible! I remember the scientific warnings in the 60’s that the population bomb would cause mass starvation. When I was in high school we were warned that Canada would soon be a frozen wasteland. Then we had Al Gore declaring that the polar ice cap would be melted by 2013. And Suzuki warning about climate change while he jaunts around the world burning more fuel than an average family would in their lifetimes.
        Don’t judge people like me who believe that the world is much greater than all the doom-saying scientists whose work is not proven.
        Peterson is not harming anyone with his words.
        What is harming us is the globetrotters rushing from meeting to meeting, slavering, and congratulating each other on their own wisdom.
        What is harming us is governments who throw billions of dollars at an unproven theory, while making their citizen tax payers poorer.
        What is harming us is people like you who causing our school children to grow up with a great fear for their future.
        The scientist’s theories will change as time goes on. “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools”

      2. I’m aware that scientists aren’t infallible, but what would you consider to be a “proven theory”? At which point do you actually believe what the scientists have to say? Or do you just outright reject their studies, even though the vast majority all agree on man-made climate change?

  3. IMHO the issue of global warming/climate change/climate ‘crisis’ is:

    One side lays the entire blame on man; the other on ‘ebbs and flows’ on an evolving terra. Unfortunately, neither side wants to recognize contributing actors of the other side.

    Just like stats, science (read: scientific method approach to answers to specific questions) supports multiple ‘theories’.

    Scientific pursuits follow the money. The money is currently in “proving” man-made climate change as the culprit.

    There’s a ‘consensus’ man-made contributions to ‘climate change’ (especially w/7b ppl :p) is ‘hurting’ the climate, yet the focus of modern science is to eliminate variables of a naturally evolving climate in an effort to prove man-made contributions can be eliminated enough as to ward off impending doom.

    Personally, environmental protections are vital, but the claim that science supports retractions in human behavior will curtail future repercussions hasn’t been scientifically studied as much as the impact of humans on climate has.

    Most of life relies in the grey areas, yet we regulate/govern/live in the small realms of absolutes.

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