Discussions are too often about dominance rather than truth seeking, argues Spencer M de Gauthier. That’s why we so often talk past each other.
De Gauthier is a former communist who literally got his ass kicked by “social justice warriors.” In the process of trying to understand what happened he discovered the Youtube videos of Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, whom Cathy Newman recently interviewed on the BBC’s Channel 4.
It wasn’t really a discussion, though, because Newman didn’t listen to anything Peterson said. Instead she responded to Peterson’s nuanced statements with, “What you’re really saying is…” And then she’d insert the most simplistic and derogatory statement she could think of.
Peterson, an expert on myth and psychology, became a Youtube star after criticizing a Canadian transgender equality bill (C-16, which eventually became law). Peterson doesn’t oppose civil rights—he opposes the law’s requirement that people use alternative gender pronouns in the workplace. The government compelling you to say something, he argues, is as much an affront to free speech as the government prohibiting you from saying something.
Peterson’s critics called him a bigoted transphobe. And Peterson attracted an alt-right following leading some to incorrectly associate him with the alt-right.
It is fair to say that Peterson hasn’t done enough to denounce the alt-right—if he criticized the right’s identity politics like he does the left’s then his alt-right followers would likely abandon him. The alt-right fails to understand that Peterson’s take down of identity politics also applies to them. After all, he likes to compare Nazis to communists.
But back to Newman’s interview of Peterson. De Gauthier notes that,
What is actually happening is not a conversation or a true argument (the highest form of which is for two persons to work together to earnestly ascertain the truth), but “a dominance hierarchy dispute with an ideological overlay.”
De Gauthier compares modern day efforts to persuade others with rhetoric (or coercive shaming) rather than reason, and the relativistic view that “truth” is not universal but context dependent (and power is usually the context) to the sophists. Socrates often debated and defeated these ancient Greek bullshit artists, arguing instead that truth matters.
Though de Gauthier is talking about social justice warriors, I think the rhetorical aspect is equally true of the right. But rather than relativism the right tends to appeal to religion or an idealized past. The right’s “alternative facts,” however, are as non-rational as relativism.
Newman, like the sophists, is not engaged in a serious quest for truth. She’s engaged in a dominance display. Peterson, however, refuses to play her game. He remains calm and collected. He does not attempt dominance over her. He only tries to correct Newman’s misperceptions. As a result Newman looks foolish, but this is her own doing. Peterson doesn’t catch her when she falls, but that is a reflection of true equality: Peterson neither attacks Newman nor puts her on a pedestal.
The gender wage gap is a particular sticking point for Newman. Peterson states that there are 18 factors attributable to the gap, and while gender discrimination is one it’s not as big of a factor as progressives claim. Newman claims that Peterson was really saying that this is just the way it is and women should put up with it.
But the research backs Peterson up. Politifact states that the claim that women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man makes for the same job is “mostly false.” The Economist reports that for the same job, women earn 98 cents. Even the American Association of University Women concedes that their “regression analysis of earnings one year after graduation suggests that a 6.6 percent difference in annual earnings remains between women and men after accounting for all variables known to affect earnings.”
Newman also took issue with Peterson’s reference to research showing cross cultural personality differences between men and women, which interestingly are greater in countries with more gender equal. So biology does play a role with gender, but not the crude biological determinism that some on the right advocate. Peterson compares it to the rules of chess: biology sets the stage, but within that there’s a lot of flexibility.
These research findings contradict progressive ideology. People like Newman resort to personal attacks because they can’t win the argument with facts. But trying to win an argument regardless of the facts places dominance above truth.