"We're going to be wrong a bunch in this conversation. Don't take anything I say as gospel because what the hell do I know?"— Jordan Peterson, Jan. 25, 2022
Ahead of his Thursday, Feb. 10 talk at San Antonio's Tobin Center, controversial clinical psychologist Jordan "Red Skull" Peterson graced podcast The Joe Rogan Experience with his gray eminence. And during that conversation last week, the Great White Hope didn't leave us wanting for a "word salad of nonsense."There's a good chance you had more entertaining activities with which to occupy your time than cringe-listening to the four-hour interview. Repeatedly banging your forehead into reinforced concrete might have been a more pleasurable experience. With that in mind, here's an abbreviated list of the dumbest statements Peterson promulgated on Rogan's now Austin-based show.
1. "There's no such thing as climate."
The argument here is that unnamed "climate types" — whom Peterson interpreted as literally suggesting "we have to change everything" to avert "climate apocalypse" — are guilty of incoherence. "And same with the word 'environment'", he elaborated. "It means so much that it actually doesn't mean anything. Like when you say 'everything,' that's meaningless, because what are you pointing to? 'Well, I'm pointing to everything.' What's the difference between 'the environment' and everything? There's no difference. What's the difference between 'climate' and everything? There's no difference. So this is a crisis of everything? It's like, no it's not. Or if it really is, then we're done, because we can't fix everything. But we have to!"
No atmospheric physicist is calling upon world leaders to invent a new primary color or alter the Andromeda Galaxy's gravitation or edit the plays of William Shakespeare for comprehensibility. So, no, the long-term weather conditions prevailing on our planet's surface for the foreseeable future are not "everything." But that doesn't mean that fundamental changes to the wasteful patterns of consumption that we in wealthy countries have grown accustomed to aren't immediately needed. They very much are.
In fact, an international consensus of scientists who prefer to stick to their areas of expertise have warned us that cataclysmic tipping points can't be ruled out should we fail to act with urgency. Humans are causing climate breakdown — not volcanoes, not the sun. The past four decades are the hottest on record, each hotter than the previous. Accelerating temperatures have risen faster in the past 50 years than in the preceding 2,000, and carbon dioxide levels are higher now than they've been in 2 million years. All the world's glaciers are receding simultaneously. Heatwaves, droughts and torrential downpours are increasingly frequent and intense. Every fraction of warming means extreme weather events such as hurricanes become that much worse, and once-in-a-century coastal floods will soon happen annually. The United Nations conservatively estimated that there will be up to a billion climate refugees by 2050.
Drastically lower greenhouse gas pollution would shrink the scope and size of all these impending calamities. That's not "everything." It's just what we higher-order primates on this flying space rock rely on to survive. It's not an "apocalypse," but it will sure do until the apocalypse gets here.
Peterson took a potshot at climate modeling, arguing that since "models do not and cannot model everything," researchers are arbitrarily "deciding which variables to include in the equation." One concrete method to test this charge empirically is to input the data that would have been available to models in the past and check if they predict past temperatures. Indeed, they do — with remarkable accuracy.
Finally, Peterson said, "As you stretch out the models across time, the errors increase radically. So maybe you can predict a week or three weeks or a month or a year, but the farther out you predict the more your model is in error."
Actually, the opposite is the case. Climate models cannot tell you what the weather will be next week, but they are considerably more reliable over longer stretches. That's the difference between weather and climate.
None of the facts above is in serious dispute, yet obfuscators like Peterson, as if casting themselves in the film Don't Look Up, are content to remain stupidly heedless of the entire field of climatology and offer their followers semantic games to dismiss those who earnestly care about leaving a habitable environment to succeeding generations.
Here's a link to our remaining carbon budget, by the way, if you'd like to track the civilization-threatening comet Peterson denies the existence of: The Carbon Clock.
2. "More people die every year from solar energy than die from nuclear energy."
Peterson means the 80 or so roofers who die from falls while on the job every year, some of whom, it's true, install solar panels. He delights in misleading edgelord-isms like this, so that while the rest of us try to engage in an important conversation about the ostensible necessity of nuclear power in transitioning away from fossil fuels, he can strike with a pocketful of sand and run away.
Fact is, there's little risk of renewables causing disasters like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl or Fukushima — any of which could have resulted in mass casualties had the criticality accidents been handled even slightly more incompetently than they were. Terrorists also cannot repurpose radioactive waste from solar power into atomic weapons. Bottom line: as you can judge from this chart, solar energy is the safest and cleanest energy source around, surprising hardly anyone except Peterson.
3. "There isn't any hunger in the world that isn't caused by political conflict. Everyone has enough to eat."
Rogan asked Peterson point-blank, "How many people starve to death in the world?" To which Peterson replied, "Almost none."
That's false. Around 9 million people die annually of hunger and hunger-related diseases — more than from AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. While war remains the primary cause of famine in countries like Yemen, thanks in no small part to the United States' refusal to call for an end to Saudi Arabia's blockade, climate-induced drought and the simple inability to purchase food are responsible for hundreds of millions of hunger deaths. Putting on the rosiest of glasses can't alter the fact that more than 800 million people worldwide are malnourished and on the verge of starving, despite there being more than enough provisions to go around.
4. Universal Basic Income is unworkable because monkeys like to get drunk.
A few years back at the Cambridge Union, philosopher Slavoj Žižek noted Peterson's penchant for "pseudo-scientific references," saying, "You know, he cannot talk about women and marriage without mentioning lobsters, apes or whatever." Evidently, Peterson can't weigh in on UBI proposals either without changing the subject to vervets.
Peterson started off appropriately noting a dilemma political candidate Andrew Yang has made a name for himself by highlighting. "When your economy switches to information and services, what do you do with people who would have been really good at working class jobs but aren't going to be good in the knowledge economy? And the answer is, we don't know." So far, so reasonable. "And the idea that we can just somehow give them money — you can't solve people's problems by giving." Fair enough. But why not?
To justify that statement, Peterson recounted a patient of his who died from drug-related causes. "He wasn't doing too bad when he had almost no money. But he got a disability check because he'd been hurt at work, and every time he did, he was gone on a cocaine and alcohol binge. He just drank up all his money, and he'd end up in a ditch somewhere. More money, he just would've died sooner."
A tragic story, of course, but is Peterson actually recommending poverty as a remedy for addiction? Does an anecdote about a client who "drank up" his disability check mean we should deprive workers of compensation for on-the-job injuries?
Rogan asked if Peterson believed certain people were genetically predisposed to alcoholism, and that's when this train of thought went off the rails. "I worked with a researcher in Montreal who had a monkey farm on St. Kitts, green monkeys. He would capture monkeys in the wild and bring them to his compound, and allow them to access a pretty sweetened mixture of rum. Most of the monkeys could take it or leave it. Five percent of the monkeys would drink themselves into a coma on first exposure. And those are the monkeys that would become alcohol-dependent if you gave them unlimited access."
So, we can't give human beings a guaranteed income because a small percentage of green monkeys got sloshed at your researcher friend's compound on St. Kitts?
Thankfully, we don't have to revert to rum-addled animals to resolve this question. The World Bank reviewed 19 studies on how cash transfers impact purchases of temptation goods and reported "a significant negative effect." Turns out, when you enable people to go back to school, take care of their medical needs — and when they're not constantly stressed about making ends meet — they buy less booze. The researchers concluded that "concerns about the use of cash transfers for alcohol and tobacco are unfounded."
5. "When Henry Ford was pressed on how much he paid his workers, because he paid them a lot, he said, 'I want to pay them enough so that they can afford a car.' It's like, 'If we want to sell our product, how about we expand the consumer market? Well, those people have to have some money.' That was Ford's notion."
No, that wasn't Ford's notion, that's a myth. To quote the business-friendly press, "It should be obvious that this story doesn't work: Boeing would most certainly be in trouble if they had to pay their workers sufficient to afford a new jetliner. So, if creating that blue collar middle class that could afford the cars wasn't why Ford brought in his $5 a day wages, what was the reason? Actually, it was the turnover of his staff. It was nothing at all to do with creating a workforce that could afford to buy the products. It was to cut the turnover and training time of the labor force: for, yes, in certain circumstances, raising wages can reduce total labor costs."
Also, half of that $5 a day was in the form of bonuses that "came with character requirements and was enforced by the Socialization Organization. That was a committee that visited employees' homes to ensure they were doing things the "American way." Workers were supposed to avoid social ills such as gambling and drinking. They were to learn English, and many — primarily the recent immigrants — had to attend classes to become "Americanized." Women were not eligible for the bonus unless they were single and supporting the family. Also, men were ineligible if their wives worked outside the home."
That's market freedom for you.
Whenever Rogan brought up standard criticisms of trickle-down economics and globalization, Peterson defied common sense to handwave the complication away.
Rogan: "There's a long history of businessmen who are total sociopaths, who've achieved immense wealth."
Rogan: "You don't think so?"
Peterson: "I wouldn't say I 'think' that. I know it's wrong."
Peterson's sanctification of the profit motive is oblivious enough to make a Russian oligarch blush. But if we can't find depravity among the obscenely rich in his worldview, where can we find it? Oh right, among social justice activists.
6. Animal rights advocate Carol Adams is crazy and incapable of real human relationships.
Synthesizing veganism and feminism might not be your particular cup of Chamomile tea, but Carol J. Adams has authored more than a dozen books on the subject, has a masters from Yale Divinity School and lives in Dallas with her husband, Rev. Bruce Buchanan of the First Presbyterian Church. Without even mentioning her by name, based on hearing a brief presentation of hers at Oxford, Peterson was fully prepared to give his pro bono diagnosis.
"One of the people who was rallying against meat delivered the most preposterously unsatirizable politically correct rant that I'd ever seen anyone deliver, anywhere, by a factor of about five," he said. "She just about made me convulse. I was sweating. But I did feel bad for her while I was convulsing, because I thought, Oh my god, you're so crazy. You're so utterly crazy. And there's no way you can bring that set of propositions to bear in a real human relationship and have it go anything but terribly wrong. So that means you're completely isolated and all your so-called friends are never offering you any corrective feedback whatsoever."
Adams is neither insane nor antisocial and has dialogued with many interlocutors who challenge her views. Unlike Peterson, who's still ducking Marxist economist Richard Wolff's invitation to debate. But isn't this exactly the kind of bad faith calumny Peterson decries when directed at himself? In this same interview, he patronizingly discussed his experiences with exasperated commenters on social media, contending, "The problem with Twitter is that the price of being a thoughtless prick has fallen to zero." Well, we can't all hurl our baseless accusations from a podcast with 11 million listeners, can we?
7. "We have this idea in our culture that you can be a woman born in a man's body, and that's not true."
Transgender people exist. In the year 2022, we needn't dignify such bigotry with extended refutation.
If you're searching for a self-help guru to motivate you to keep your room clean, Peterson may serve some purpose. If you're expecting this scatterbrained excuse for a public intellectual to provide you with anything resembling an erudite take on the pivotal challenges facing us in the 21st century, you're a century or two too late.
Suffice to say we should all be relieved the Canadian Ayn Rand is no longer professing to teach young minds in a collegiate setting.
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