Social media and capitalist dispositions
Another medium for classic conservative social reproduction strategy
I don’t like engaging with liberal wonk and pop culture fetishes, including neophilia, but where I work, there’s a lot of both engagement with and promotion of their baby, psychologist Jordan Peterson. So I’ll mention this as a case of how social media is crude and stupid, and entwined with crude, stupid professional comms. So, meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
Jordan Peterson is a successful academic psychologist whose academic years are mostly behind him. When I say that, you may key in on “successful,” so I should underscore that the framework here is: he is a psychologist. His scientistic theory of natural human inequality is founded on his belief that humans = invertebrates (to be precise: lobsters). As Zach Beauchamp (2018) has helpfully clarified,
The relationship between human and lobster brains is outside Peterson’s area of academic expertise. Experts in the field who have evaluated his claims have found them lacking, as lobsters’ and humans’ neurological systems are radically different. One important distinction is that humans have brains and lobsters (technically speaking) do not.”
It seems to be absolutely standard in Psychology, the belief that human dispositions are both fixed by nature and best represented by random animal behaviours. I can never get over the Psych PhD dissertation defense I guest chaired where the data on human motivation came from intermittently observing four (4) goldfish. That is just the stark, raving insane way that psychologists understand human behaviour. I think they feel such equivalences are scientific? Because animals are natural? Only through anti-liberal arts disciplinary siloing can a discipline get away with such validity-trashing scientism. The crass, anti-biological illogic makes you want to stab yourself in the eyeball. Science: Humans are vertebrates, have brains, and those brains are big because we are radically social, and humans have mostly lived in egalitarian relations.
Peterson has produced psychology studies of personality. He went into Psychology from undergrad Political Science because he felt political mass movement was pathological, and he was interested demagoguery, which he seems to have studied as a how-to guide. His affinity with academia is that he is drawn toward the organizing, civilizing work of the minister, which has gelled into political ambition at this late point in his working life.
You’ll recall that at the turn of the 20th century social-psychologist Emile Durkheim’s big project was to advocate for capitalist churches to organize people in liberal capitalist societies. Little did Durkheim imagine that this would not be a problem. Peterson once wanted to buy a church, before realizing that young people use Youtube as a church. Low, low fixed capital costs.
Like most psychologists, he has expertise in how to manipulate people, and he is an ideological extreme individualist and conservative. As a productive, professional, heterosexual family man, his flamboyant and domineering personality was given a very long leash in Psychology, a profession infamous for its long leash. And who could believe a Canadian is a fascist? Give that man-with-a-plan all the credit in the world, has been the reliable response to Jordan Peterson.
Like all conservative attachés to economic power, his conservative individualism is about advancing himself as a Philosopher King. He harvests status and wealth by delivering to the doorstep of socio-economic power a corralled and disciplined consumer, servant, and political constituency, young men.
While he is recognized for exclusively expressing (sometimes tearful) compassion at the plight of young men, advising them to sit up straight to be competitive, modeling for them both coldly interrupting and trolling and screaming explosively at opponents, Peterson organizes a constituency by manipulating a crowd’s anxieties and narcissistic defenses. The classic, proven conservative marketing pitch and collective platform, to men and youth in liberal societies is:
You feel your birthright entitlements are inaccessible; but you can get your shit together and be the ubermensch, like me, by joining my exclusive pyramid scheme of credit and cooperation, subordinated only to economic power.
Outside of this collective, we do not act in good faith; we do not extend credit, and we do not cooperate.”
Although this conservative sales script is dog-eared, a new generation of surprised-to-be-challenged-in-dear-old-capitalism proto-patriarchs arises repeatedly, ready to buy. Peterson himself was one of these, at an early age steered by Alberta librarians and teachers toward Ayn Rand and Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago inter alia, top sellers among the voluminous anti-egaliberte young-adult fiction hallowed in the English-language tradition, in the imperial, capitalist-slaver Anglo-American empire.
Conservativism’s patriarchal individualism works as exceptionalist flattery and a membership password signal; but the method is organizing a ‘password’-protected, ‘gated’ collective. It is a pyramid scheme, not unlike Tupperware or Avon, but not for busy, isolated 1950s housewives. This is for busy boys and young men, rightly terrified by the commodified competition and instrumentalism marketed through the corporatized university, and anxious to Get Theirs. Joining the network is for recognition, maybe cooperation and credit once you’re in. So continuing male socialization, abjecting the network’s abjected, feminized outside plays a much more important role than even at Amway.
Because the guru Philosopher King, Peterson, is fundamentally the organizing principle for a pyramid network, his various opinions on things outside his limited expertise–personality and the manipulation thereof, as well as navigating academia as an institution–do not have to be, and are not informed, consistent or coherent. This allows him to extend and retract radically inegalitarian conceptualizations here, civilized-comportment principles there, never providing the respect of sincerity, coherency, and consistency, never providing cooperation to interlocutors outside his church. You join his church, you buy and sell his pyramid-scheme commodities (Youtuberie; books; Patreon donations), you hoist his flags. Hopefully your new Peterson-brand friends will hook you up with exclusive financial opportunities at some point.
You know, because they’re rightfully gripped, young men are really hopeful in this regard. I used to watch my brother for years, desperately convinced that his young, pothead, Jewish scion golf-and-drugs buddy would at any moment hand over his family’s wealth so my brother could use it to make a dream bar. I hate to give away spoilers on what eventually transpired there, after years of immovable faith and diligent planning on my brother’s part, but No. No. Nope. Never. No. Capitalism. You can search high and low, but no transgender politeness ever intervened to cause the inevitability of my brother having to settle for a respectable if not blingy career with UPS.
Dude: “We had so much in common: Soup, pot, golf, contempt for women. Why didn’t he open his trustfund to me? To this day, it is a baffling mystery.”
Capitalism: “Dough$ before Bros.”
Peterson is a conservative, and that’s not just about stepping into the Philosopher King ideological organizer role. He’s also a Canadian from oily Edmonton, Alberta, selected for by Anglo-American immigration policy and raised to base all his ideas on a toxic, facile, historically-invalid equation of genocide with egalitarianism. He’s a psychologist, so his political ideas and historical and biological knowledge are on the same level as your average Engineering or Econ 101 student, but he tells a beautiful, familiar tale for such primed audiences, reassuring them that everyone is compleat in conservatives’ eyes, there is never any need for human or intellectual development, just male hardening.
Male hardening. Psychologists sure understand markets.
Peterson’s captivating tweak on the Classic Conservative Marketing Script: ‘In this, our magical land, inegalitarianism is biologically natural; we know because lobsters = humans. Then communism came along to deaden everyone who was otherwise living peacefully in a natural, inegalitarian daisy field. After we bravely, heroically disappeared the communists and thereby buried in Davey Jones’ Locker the unnatural notions of human development, egalitarianism, and democratic social construction forever, “Underground Communists,” AKA postmodernists oozed up to disseminate the devilish notion that (non-class-based, capitalism-compatible) equity and social construction (or at least transgressive textual interpretation) are still legit. RALLY TO ME (Specifically: my Patreon account, political warchest), JUNGIAN WARRIOR IDEAL-TYPES, AND WE SHALL RID THE UNIVERSITY OF TERM PAPERS! In their place, you shall have a totally-gameable, purchasable test bank from a major textbook sales firm in which I have a not-inconsiderable financial interest. ALL SHALL LOVE ME AND DESPAIR!’
Peterson sashays this conservative conspiracy slur in the face of the empirical fact that the post-1968 poststructuralists and postmodernists have nearly all been avowed Commie Hunters, like him. The communists were not disappeared by conservatives working alone, much as conservatives are in fact deeply, madly into mass killing, and would love to take the credit. All those pomos ever wanted was to choose and be chosen by (free-ish market) meritocracy. But even that is, in the last instance, another ancient enemy of conservative entitlement.
So Peterson is another Commie Hunter, but since his Cold War youth, the commies have been successfully hunted down in Anglo-America (Yay, elite/objective freedom!), and he’s reduced to hunting capitalism-compatible ladies, transfolk, and people of color in universities, as the scapegoat cause of young white males’ anxieties. Not the Chamber of Commerce seated on the university Board, nor the parasitical university administrative management and marketeering overhang, all redefining the university as a commodity mine, and students as Tuition Units. No, for those obvious sources of anxiety are powerful, and thus existentially right in the conservative mind. No, the scapegoat for the grand conservative politics of fear will be scholars, professors and fellow students. Peterson’s branded Lobster Crusade no doubt seems deeply relevant to 19-year-old undergrads and their dealership-owning Chamber of Commerce dads.
Okay, compared to hunting Real Commies, this may be a bit of a pitiful hunting ground, more drone practice than WWI trenches, but, dammit, it’s where the boys of summer are at, and–take heart!–there is a respectable market for the hunt. For there are Sexual Enemies who have gone through university civilization, and (though professional men of course generally only reliably provide income-generating professional opportunities to other men) these lady-pretenders have snagged some decent-paying jobs, and potentially could be shot, bagged, and cleared out, so that…ah…so that the youthful members of a special frat collective should forever be free of education for democratic development (“Democracy is hard!”–Ken Doll.), leaving the struggle through adversity to the Weak, and (this is where we make another brave, brave logical leap) instead may be restored to easy, exclusive ownership over that income stream that ideally should be theirs by patriarchal and slaver social contract…if not actual capitalist relations, where dividing and playing workers off against each other is the name of the game. Surely, all the conditions for the Petersonian Longleash Utopia are coming into place–Soup, pot, golf, contempt for women! Psych! Let us wait with ‘bated breath for the Treasure Island bank vaults to spill open for the Lost Boys, while Jordan Peterson nets himself a fat Tory sinecure.
The usual suspects–conservatism’s target congregation/army of energetic, competitive, anxious, entitled men, hugely frustrated on capitalism as it is founded upon the private property principle of scarcity, and thrilled to be urged to scapegoat to avoid a real fight with men of truly exclusive power and their armies (So hard, the lobsters.)–these are Peterson’s devoted congregation.
Similarly, a wider liberal media and audience beckons, catches, and hangs on, fascinated over bits and snatches of Peterson’s whirling, hodge-podge opinions, much as they catch and fetishize the floating values that occasionally attach to liberalism–toleration and inclusivity, civilized comportment and politesse, self-actualization, professionalism, Merit and Competence, entrepreneurialism, equity, commodity scientism, accountability, etc.
Snatching at and clinging to these unmoored bits, loving them because they are optional, elective, all about the virtues of choice and taste, liberal communications professionals adore the conservative Philosopher-entrepreneur King, because he has a market locked and loaded, because he is a proven, credentialed meritocrat (because he has a market and institutional credentials), and because he talks to them not of his expertise, or even his message of a capitalist patronage settlement for young white heterosexualish men, but of uninformed, incoherent, politicized opinions on random but sexy topics.
Experts on Canadian law said that Peterson was misreading the bill — that the legal standard for “hate speech” would require something far worse, like saying transgender people should be killed, to qualify for legal punishment. This is an early example of what would become a hallmark of Peterson’s approach as a public intellectual — taking inflammatory, somewhat misinformed stances on issues of public concern outside his area of expertise” (Z. Beauchamp 2018)
‘Legal opinion? Hey, let’s talk to the chatty Ayn Randie with a PhD in Personality Psychology! He comes with his own market of vigorously-typing/rape-threatening youth! My oil-industry-sponsored Wednesday lunch club at the Palm Room tells me that he’s the next Rob Ford.‘
Comms Pros hate and avoid scholarly experts talking about their expertise, because so often that expertise is not carrying the Chamber of Commerce’s brand message. Comms Pros’ job is to sell shit to a pre-manufactured market, and therefore they elicit insincere, scattershot opinions flying out of a middle-aged white male maw atop a shiny row of institutional brass. Incapable of distinguishing between liberalism and conservatism because clinging to the inessential bits of liberalism as evidence of their civility, incapable of admitting the conservative-friendly, but distinct, anti-democratic taproot of liberalism, absolute private property right, liberals accommodatingly provide conservative entrepreneurs venues to organize the conservatives’ own private Church of the Steep and Immobile Hierarchy. They beckon these conservatives to join them in conversations in which conservatives will not participate in good faith. Their Chamber of Commerce bosses smile on wanly.
The Youtubes overflow with reposted interviews between liberals and the conservative Philosopher-entrepreneur King, invariably labeled “Watch [conservative] Destroy Leftist Ladies.” No lefist has ever been permitted within 8,000 miles of a corporate teevee talking head job, what with that glorious Commie Hunt that perhaps you’ll recall. Never in the interviews is anyone actually ‘destroyed,’ because no one is ever talking about the same thing, or anything at all consistently. To non-congregationalists, the conservative misdirects and dissimulates. That’s what counts for conservatives as ‘destroying’ their opponent.
And it’s all win-win. Liberals love it because liberals are those people who are deeply opposed–for reasons of market and personal interest, and incentived and socialized disposition–to pursuing and advancing radical–rooted–informed and coherent ideas. Across the Pro Comms media, liberals celebrate Peterson’s yogi guru advice to the youth: “Harden up, lads, but don’t develop, and most of all, don’t change society. Leave it to the bosses.” Do you hear that? It’s the smell of paid liberal Loyalists creaming their pants throughout the land. God Save the Queen.
And so society will continue to oscillate between our dumb twin poles of, on the one side, dudes who’d rather punch girls (who won’t carry the dude’s own private genetic stock) than ever get serious, organize, and fight the actual capitalist manufactured scarcity and worker competition that is dividing and riding us all, and on the other side, the comfortable, networked liberals guarding absolute private property right with a whipped cream topping of meritorious taste and choice. For joy, all the livestock are lowing in their pens, and there is past & future wealth to be privately, exclusively extracted to the apotheosis of social and environmental irrationality!
Won’t someone please think of the children?
Peterson is a conservative organizer, by Bernard Schiff.
Pankaj Mishra’s critique of Peterson’s mystical “self help” youth conservative mobilization programme. Self-educated Mishra is sometimes an insufferable colony Anglophile snot; but Peterson’s mysticism is properly historicized in this critique.
The darndest things you find in social media
- Mobs of guys bitching about some moment’s published analysis.
- Mobs of rightwing guys shitting on some woman with a published analysis.
- Mobs of leftwing guys in the Instagrams or Reddits shitting on some woman with a published analysis.
- Rightwing guy snipers in the Youtubes comments section, announcing their intent to rape some woman who has given a speech.
- Young Darlin Brand Princess intellects promoting their brand whilst shitting on other intellectual women outside their promotional collective.
- Young male professional photographer Brand Princesses on the Instagrams anxiously defending the sanctity of their brand.
Online conversations, but with more attractive, loving creatures
Findings: Social media engagement is for 2.5 purposes
a) Professionals with established markets hawking wares, enlarging their market.
b) An outlet for mental health problems.
c) Pack male sociality, which usually looks like mental health problems.
Update April 2019
I am in the processes of slightly reevaluating my view of the political impact of Jordan Peterson. While I have not changed my mind on either conservatism or psychology, which is basically conservative, I am moving toward viewing Peterson as playing a necessary role. This is almost to say that I can see a role, a marginal role, for conservatives in society.
Today, at the end of another long term in which I worked my ass off for students, and spent way too many hours on serving them, when I should have been applying for grants and researching, doing adult things, thinking adult thoughts, like an adult, I unfortunately happened upon a student coming from a makeup test. The student was a Linguistics major, not a major from my department, and she was a senior student. There, within the span of a few short minutes she conveyed to me: 1) the test was too easy; 2) she shouldn’t have taken my 2nd year class because she found its coverage of Enlightenment controversies over the good life to be “boring,” 3) I violated and made feel unsafe the African students in the course because I didn’t say that contemporary African-American moralists denounce the 19th century equation of women’s oppression with slavery, regardless of the fact that those are African students and thus are more likely to be descended from slavers than slaves–a fact she perhaps did not consider since she is not African or African-American; 4) she wasn’t sure if I was going to go “All Jordan Peterson” on her.
I replied in cheerful but kindly, measured tones that since the course–not a seminar but a larger classical theory foundations lecture course, which she took because she thought it would be a slide–is about classical theory and we really couldn’t stop and have a seminar discussion about every thing a contemporary moral authority has objected to about 19th century thought, I wondered what prevented her from raising her hand and mentioning in lecture this crucial, morally-rectifying literature she had learned in her contemporary linguistics theory courses. She replied that she couldn’t formulate her thoughts in time, but that it was my responsibility to convey her discipline’s theory material, cuz it’s objectively moral, the most moralest.
She wrapped up these pleasantries by musing that I could Go All Jordan Peterson on her, to which this this was my immediate reaction: “Get the fuck away from me, you little SJW shit.” It came in the passive-aggressive form of big smiles and a firm, “Well, have a good summer! Good bye,” whereupon I turned and left.
Now two things: 1) I will be discouraging upper-level undergrad Linguistics students from all my classes in the future. My experience is that they are all trained to be disrespectful, snotty little morality-policing SJW shits. Whether introductory or advanced, my courses are not about discursive morality policing, which I do not regard as democratically liberating, so, they’re not for undergrad Linguists! 2) Jordan Peterson? Fine. Fuck it. If he’s out there priming asshole young white men to go to battle with asshole ethnically-ambiguous undergrad girls who insist that scholarship = discourse-determinist moral regulation, just like Good Ol’ Mom made back in her Linguistics philosophy courses, that is fine by me. Enjoy your classically-gendered division-of-labor, kids! Just keep reproducing conservative liberalism amongst yourselves, as is done.