That Jordan Peterson interview with Cathy Newman again: – Looking For More (updated)

In my earlier article I suggested a little caution before people get excited about clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson on the basis of his interview with Cathy Newman. If we want to know whether this guy is a friend/ally we are going to have to do a little more digging. That’ll mean reading his books – I presume a few people have already.

The interview itself does not give us an ally. Note, I am not talking about whether or not he is a Christian. I note that a few articles suggest that he is. My question is whether the worldview articulated in the interview itself is one we would align with.[1] 

Again, for clarification here, this is not as simple as whether we agree with Jordan Peterson’s worldview. I am talking about the World-view presented in the interview, which may be an accurate portrayal of Peterson’s worldview or it may be a distorted one.  In terms of presenting that worldview fairly, responsibility lies both with interviewee and interviewer. The problem is that the interview leaves us falling short in a number of ways because of that. It isn’t helped by the fact that because Newman just doesn’t seem to catch up with what Peterson is saying that she doesn’t ask the questions that would really illuminate.

Example 1:

Peterson’s argument is that we have tried the experiment of having gender equality of outcome in a number of different countries and it just hasn’t worked.

He specifically says

“Equality of outcome is undesirable. That’s already been demonstrated in Scandinavia.”

The issue here is about the types of free choices people make and that they will still choose certain career paths.  Earlier in the interview, they talk about whether it is desirable for the pay gap to be closed.  For Peterson, the question is about “How?”   He notes the variable factors affecting pay and this includes factors affecting career decisions. Newman gives the example of women having children.

Peterson responds

“Or choosing careers that get paid less, which women do a lot.”

So, back to the question of equality of outcome, Peterson suggests that you might be able to enforce equality of outcome but if that comes at the cost of totalitarian enforcement then that isn’t a good thing.

Now the question I would want to ask if I was in Cathy Newman’s seat -and assuming the worldview represented would be “But actually how long does it take to change things? Aren’t some of these things deep seated over a few millennia? Can we assume things will just change over-night? I would also want to check the possible presupposition that the only way that change can happen is through a totalitarian enforcement of a type of equality. So a more helpful conversation will start to consider distinctions between

  • – What is desirable and what is possible?
  • – How we might achieve things – means to ends?
  • – The time it might take to make something possible?

Example 2:

Peterson talks about a specific quality of agreeability being particularly associated with women and that this characteristic is not a predictor for high performance leadership roles.

Peterson says:

“There is a personality trait known as agreeableness, agreeable people are compassionate and polite and agreeable people get paid less than less agreeable people for the same job and women are more agreeable than men.”[2]

He explains that this is only one factor, that there are multiple variables affecting pay but that this alongside gender is one of those many factors. A question at this point might be “But you’ve said that gender is one variable. Now if I’ve understood you right, you seem to be saying that agreeableness is another variable but if this is a variable that is linked to femininity isn’t it still to do with the gender variable?”

Whilst there is some discussion about whether we ought to accept that agreeability is not a predictor for career success, we don’t really get our teeth into it. Furthermore, Peterson talks about how he advises women who want to succeed and would encourage them to go and ask for that pay rise. He explains that assertiveness training is offered. So a further question that is left hanging is “are agreeability and assertiveness different things. Can I be polite and compassionate whilst still being assertive?”

Example 3:

As we’ve seen above, Peterson argues that one of the factors in any pay gap is to do with the types of careers that women generally choose.[3]

“Or choosing careers that get paid less, which women do a lot.”

Now at the 15-minute mark, there is some discussion about whether or not it is possible to define equal pay because the question is to do with who decides the value of different jobs. We are almost onto something important here but instead of digging into that point the interview jumps on to Newman saying that women might as well go back to playing with their Cindy dolls (which is a gross misrepresentation of his position) but the question is lost.

Example 4:

Around about the 4 min mark there’s a discussion about whether or not some women seek to dominate men. Peterson argues that this happens with a minority of women who have previously had bad relationships with men. They will settle for a relationship where they can dominate but it is suboptimum. He says:

“I think it is very bad for them. They are very unhappy, it’s very bad for their partners although their partners get the advantage of not having to take any responsibility.”

Cathy Newman challenges this as a sweeping generalisation – what gives Peterson the right to say this? His response is “I’m a clinical psychologist.”

Newman then says:

“So, you are saying that you’ve done your research and women are unhappy dominating men?”

Peterson responds “I didn’t say women are unhappy dominating men, I said it was a bad long term solution.”

Newman comes back with “Okay you said it was making them miserable.”

He then talks about the time frame is it over long term – acknowledges (and this is helpful to our understanding of sin) that there is a short-term pleasure from dominating.  It is not clear at this point in the interview if they are referring back to the earlier statement in the interview or something in the book because specifically in the interview he does not use the word miserable but he does specifically say “They are unhappy.”

He goes on to say that the happiness question depends on whether you are thinking long term or short term. It is possible to have short term happiness through dominating but it doesn’t work for the long term. This is another area where I am left looking for more. The point about short term pleasure is pertinent to any discussion about sin.  The question about what true happiness is and the extent to which we value it is also worthy of further discussion, especially if we are going to see how practical advice for how we live is rooted in what we believe

 

Conclusion

So, the interview doesn’t really get us very far in thinking through these things. Actually it can’t and never will because it doesn’t get us anywhere near what God thinks about these things and so it can’t really get us to true wisdom because wisdom starts with the fear of the Lord.

That’s not to say that there aren’t interesting points made and lessons to be learnt but we are a long way short and left looking for more.

Because it sits in the worldview of evolution, it doesn’t really help us to answer what this world should look like. Newman seems to have a view of what this world ought to be but does not know how to connect that with what it is and cannot offer a foundation for her views. In this interview at least, Peterson seems content with describing the World as it is and effectively the advice is to conform to what is rather than what you think it ought to be. He can make suggestions about what people could do if they wanted to achieve certain things in the context of this world as it is. He can explain what the consequences of making those choices in  this world as it is but the worldview of this interview doesn’t really help us to think about what things should be like.  We are not taking to the creator’s purposes, to the problem of the Fall or the promise of redemption and that’s why we are left looking for more.

 

[1] Note, I have updated this article in response to a friend’s question as to whether or not I had misrepresented Peterson in the initial post. When I first wrote the article I quickly summarised some examples from the programme.  Looking back at the summaries, I don’t think I did misrepresent. However, the safest way to avoid doing that is to flesh out those summaries with quotes and fuller descriptions of the conversation with its nuances at those points.

[2] 7 mins 17.

[3] Note, there’s a lot of discussion about whether there is an actual gender pay gap or whether there are differences in terms of pay between careers and how you measure them. Newman is focusing on a median pay gap between men and women.

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