I should clarify on the first point you make: At the time I wrote my article back in June, I knew much less about Peterson’s problems with ethics committees. I actually thought Schiff might have had a real point here in his criticism at that time. My original skepticism was based in my preference for Peterson. Yes, I admit my bias here. However, upon looking more deeply into the issue over the months since June, Peterson appears to have been vindicated here. I would like to hear more from Schiff. My problem with Schiff is that he does not grapple with the points Peterson has made in response. Skepticism toward one-sided stories does not necessarily mean I would not trust any such stories at all. Rather, I would maintain a healthy skepticism even if I accept such stories as true. A clinical psychologist and tenured professor having problems with ethics committees is something which necessitates taking into account more perspectives that that of a single critic.
On ‘oversimplifications which obscure or misrepresent complex matters in the service of a message which is difficult to pin down’:
Having studied the perspectives of numerous thinkers throughout all of recorded history, I fail to see Peterson’s outlook (his ideas and shortcomings) as markedly difference from the majority of game-changing intellectuals. He has his biases, as well all do. In a recent four-way discussion on the Intellectual Dark Web (titled ‘Understanding the Intellectual Dark Web, from the Left,’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbswOWDVXLc&t=0s ), philosopher Matthew Tarnas Segall critiques Peterson’s approach to postmodern thinkers (arguing that Peterson has not read enough Derrida or Foucault to articulate a systematic critique of their perspectives). Perhaps this is true. I would balance any such hypothetical concession, however, with a practical concern — how to gage whether someone has truly understood the views of people whose views he opposes, especially considering that the impact of these postmodern thinkers is often derivative, lack an understanding of history and human nature, and have had little impact outside the ivory tower. Jordan Peterson explores complex topics from a multidisciplinary (though largely psychological) perspective. This necessitates a certain amount of simplification for the sake of practicality.
I will grant you that Peterson is not an authority on the complexities of the modern left. He is useful in combating the radical left-authoritarians and critiquing totalitarian government of the past century. His knowledge of left-libertarian perspectives appears to be lacking. I would be interested in a back-and-forth between Peterson and Noam Chomsky. Moreover, Jordan Peterson, though a classical liberal, seems to be more comfortable with center-right figures at present (in opposition to radical leftist mobs like Antifa and identitarian groups like BLM).
The video clip you include with Peterson on borders is part of a larger speech in which Peterson articulates a reasonable twenty-first century conservative platform (he has also made a speech for a left-wing case for free speech):
Peterson on Conservatism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nyw4rTywyY0&t=2s
Peterson’s ‘A Left-Wing Case for Free Speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ne5VbOMsQJc
On to the content of the video clip you included in your response:
The first problematic thing I noticed in this clip is that Peterson lumps liberals and the left together (he has shown in other clips that he understands the difference between the two, hence his referring to himself as a classical liberal (in the nineteenth-century British sense). He begins by speaking about psychological differences between liberals and conservatives based on studies he has undertaken (peer-reviewed).
As someone who has read Maps of Meaning several times, I think it is essential to reference how Peterson perceives the world and how we interact with it. The world is both a place of things and a forum for action. Much of Peterson’s work (especially the complex analyses he puts forth in Maps of Meaning) focuses on how human beings have interacted with the world around them. His Jungian psychological outlook is grounded in the human experience more than the classic empiricist perspective of assuming that the mind is a blank slate and that we are merely passive observers of some objective reality.
Psychologically speaking, Peterson argues that liberals generally rank high in trait openness and lower in trait conscientiousness while conservatives rank high in trait conscientiousness and lower in trait openness. Borders are significant here because strict borders allow for those who are conscientious to better administer a given conceptual area. The problem is that, if borders are to strict, stultification follows. Borders are a necessary bulwark against chaos in order to promote order. A certain amount of chaos is necessary to allow for the fundamental changes which keep societies dynamic and able to survive. I would not go as far as saying that Peterson argues that liberals uniformly reject borders. He argues that they are far more likely to question borders, seeing potential in loosening borders to a greater or lesser degree in certain circumstances. He does move from his experience testing for personality traits of liberals and conservatives to practical concerns outside the laboratory. Peterson speaks of important and complex issues in this clip, which are partially improved by watching the entire speech. I think Peterson would do far better if he were to have a discussion with a prominent intellectual on the left regarding these issues and have that filmed. It would yield greater insight to the viewers as well as to Peterson and the person with whom he speaks.
While we may disagree on our views on Jordan Peterson, I would argue that it is quite a stretch for those who want a border wall in the US to find significant justification in Peterson’s arguments. Trump supporters may be initially attracted to Peterson’s articulating the necessity of borders but will likely find Peterson less appealing the more they know about him. Moreover, a southern US border wall would be ineffective, expensive, and simply stupid. I maintain that Trump is going to build only a few glorified fences while siphoning most of the money to businesses his family owns or to reward his political/business friends.
On other critics of Postmodernism: I brought up Paglia, Boghossian, Chomsky and others because they have written critiques of postmodernism and the postmodern influence in academe over the past fifty years. I am not calling them postmodernist as you mention. Side note: I only mentioned by college experience because it is relevant. I have seen the proliferation of postmodern ideas in the humanities as an undergrad and in greater detail as a grad student. This experience is quite consistent with what Camille Paglia has been saying about the changes in academe over the past few decades.
On Marxism: while many academics do indeed find Marxism compelling, Peterson argues that many do so because they are paid very low relative to their intelligence. He has also argued, citing Orwell’s Road to Wigan Pier, that middle class socialists often do not like the poor, they merely hate the rich. The Marxist professors I’ve had cannot all be lumped into a single box, but I have noticed elements of deep-seeded bitterness and resentment underlying their worldviews. This is further supported by the fact that few seemed interested in helping in sour kitchens, living amongst the working class (this does not include adjuncts who have no choice due to low pay), or helping the staff who clean the various university buildings for low wages. I also have to ask myself — what is more likely, that someone is truly a champion of the working class because they say so and write articles about it or that they are using their intellect to construct an abstract perspective to cover over the uncomfortable reality around them?
An article appeared in Quillette a few months ago which argued that Marx was an important thinker for his time but he should be viewed now as more of a footnote (Man of Yesterday: Karl Marx and His Place in History, a review of a Marx biography). It is an interesting read if you have the time. Here is just one excerpt from the article: “Marx’s analysis of capitalism was based largely on British manufacturing in the first half of the nineteenth century. He never caught up with post-1850 developments, such as the rise of the limited liability company, the expansion of credit (of which he was as suspicious as any small town widow) or the explosion of consumer goods production, and he had little or nothing to say about the sectors that make up the bulk of the contemporary (21st century) economy: financial and other services, resources and construction. Sperber emphasizes that Marx was far more interested in agriculture than in the business corporation, and demonstrates that his theories were dictated and circumscribed by time and place” (https://quillette.com/2018/05/05/man-yesterday-karl-marx-place-history/)
On Facts and the Humanities: The far left and the alt right seem interested in the humanities only as much as pieces of various texts can be taken to justify their ideologies. I have been using the term ‘ideology’ quite a bit. I would argue that Peterson’s view of ideologies as fragmentary mythologies is more or less correct from a practical standpoint. An ideology is a low-resolution way of viewing the world. As a Classical Humanist, influenced by the thinkers of the Renaissance, I would argue that the humanities are about promoting the excellence of the individual through analysis of the great books and emphasis on the core skills of grammar, logic, and rhetoric. The humanities are not beholden to any ideology or political faction. The bureaucratic growth and creation of politically-motivated departments have deeply undermined the goals of a humanist education over the past few decades. I could go on and on about this, but I’ll return to the topic at hand. You mentioned the humanities and the alt right and I just had to throw in my brief two cents on the matter.
On Peterson and the Alt Right: Jordan Peterson is a classical liberal and has espoused views in line with British liberal thinkers over the past two centuries. The Alt Right is a far-right, authoritarian movement of pathetic losers whose high point will likely have been that gathering in Charlottesville last year. Peterson has repeatedly criticized the Alt Right. Moreover, the Alt Right does not like Peterson. Sure, some in the Alt Right may have approved of Peterson’s criticisms of the far-left but that says nothing beyond the fact that people outside the far-left are more likely to oppose the far left. Peterson has argued repeatedly in defense of free speech whereas the leading figures of the Alt Right do not care about free speech and have made it clear that they are only using the issue as a means to discredit the left.
Modern conservatives are not the Alt Right. Conservatives tend to be cautious of radical ideologies and dedicated to preserving traditional institutions. The Roman orator Cicero was a conservative who died defending the mixed constitution of the Roman Republic against authoritarian forces. I would argue that many modern conservatives share this desire to protect the mixed constitution of the United States from those who would try to make any one person or branch too powerful. Moreover, the real significant political divide, I would argue, is not between left and right (the horizontal axis of the political compass) but between libertarians and authoritarians (the vertical axis). When looking at the political compass from this perspective, Antifa and the Alt Right are far more alike than members of each group would like to acknowledge.
I would argue that groups on the left use the term Alt Right (and inflate the numbers of Alt Righters) as scare tactics to gain greater support or decrease the number of prominent dissenting opinions in order to promote their own agendas.
I am more than a little concerned with the conclusion of your response. You talk of less rational people. First of all, I would take the position that people are not rational but have the capacity to use reason as a tool to move through the world. The evolution of the human brain is predicated on reptilian and mammalian stages which developed based on the need to survive and reproduce, not to perfect rational thinking. Second, I would argue that we have to grapple with the fact that most people will not see past their biases and change their views in any significant way unless severe enough events in their lives necessitate such changes. Third, going back to Schiff, I would argue that his critique of Peterson is rather shallow as he does not grapple with such complexities as I have mentioned previously (ex: his critique of Peterson’s problem with ethics committees). I would also say that I have been addressing the points Schiff has been making. Admittedly, my June article has many areas which can be improved upon. With that being said, Schiff’s critiques remain unconvincing. I would like to see Schiff engage with Peterson’s positions at a deeper level rather than mere hit-piece.