‘On Wednesdays, we hate Jordan Peterson.’

Spit-Gate, LaBeouf leaked texts, and reported feuds aside, some of you may have also seen comments about Jordan Peterson from Olivia Wilde amongst the hot-mess that is the promotional tour for Don’t Worry Darling. The comments typify many depictions of Peterson from aspects of the left:

WILDE: We based [Chris Pine’s character] on this insane man, Jordan Peterson, who is this pseudo-intellectual hero to the incel community. You know the incels? […] They’re basically disenfranchised, mostly white men, who believe they are entitled to sex from women. 

Olivia Wilde, Interview Magazine

It’s difficult to be so wrong in so few sentences, but Wilde has done an exceptional job. Let’s take her claims one at a time.

i) ’Jordan Peterson, who is this pseudo-intellectual’

Peterson isn’t a pseudo-intellectual by any reasonable definition of the term. Peterson is one of the most cited psychological experts in his field, having been referenced over 11,000 times, rivalling Nobel Laureate standards. 

ii) ‘hero to the incel community’

He isn’t a hero to the incel community – his (at times slightly hokey) message of personal accountability and self-improvement is antithetical to the fatalistic worldview incels have that they are destined to be genetic dead ends. The point of these ‘black-pill’ communities is to find others in this situation and wallow in the notion there isn’t any point in trying to improve themselves. 

iii) ‘believe they are entitled to sex from women’

The whole point is that incels don’t think they’re entitled to sex, in fact, they think the exact opposite. Most are extremely self-loathing – they believe they don’t deserve sex to the point where they have some of the highest levels of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation of any group you can find.

iv) ‘mostly white men’

Incels aren’t also just white men – the best study to date of incels shows there is a higher proportion of ‘incels of colour’ than in the ‘normal’ population (36.4% in the incel group vs 24.8% in the control). Incels are also more likely to be disabled (23.5% vs 15.6%), failed by the education system (17% NEET vs 9%), and more likely to be left-wing (44.7% identifying as left-leaning vs 38.8% as right). In another study, it was reported 86% have experienced bullying as a child, teen or adult. Given the stats above, you’d think Wilde and alike might have more sympathy with these communities given their predilection for intersectionality.

Now I don’t want this to be a defence of incels, nor Jordan Peterson. Others have already done this. And in the opposite vein, there are plenty of good examples of left-leaning reasoned criticisms of Peterson and incels. The first episode of the fantastic Modern Masculinity YouTube series, Conroy’s take both from The Guardian, and this on incels. My view is that Cathy Young nails Peterson-takes the best though, so here’s a little from her outstanding op-ed on Peterson:

In reality, Peterson’s ideas are a mixed bag. He says some sensible and insightful things, and he says some things that rightly draw criticism. But you wouldn’t know this from reading Peterson’s critics, who generally cast him as a far-right boogeyman riding the wave of a misogynistic backlash. That’s a mistake.

Cathy Young, LA Times

This phenomenon doesn’t simply go for Peterson alone. What drew my attention about Wilde’s comments is that they were so demonstrably false if she’d done only the most basic of research before mentioning incels or Peterson. In the process she made herself look uniformed and she rightly lost credibility. But she isn’t alone in this flaw. The tendency for casting figures as boogeymen on the left is common currently. 

The problem is it damages the accuser more than the accused. But it’d be one thing if an opinion like Wilde’s simply discredited her alone – unfortunately, it doesn’t. People will tar all the left with this mistake. It feeds into a larger narrative those on the right and in the centre have about the ‘loony left’ and their ‘silly, woke opinions’. And it happens far too often. The moderate left shouldering the madness of the extreme.

Jordan Peterson visited a school last week. The headteacher was reported to the police for hate crime, as well as being reported to Ofsted for ‘breaching safeguarding’. More ammunition for Piers Morgan to bemoan cancel culture.

The problem is the result of a ‘word of mouth’ process that has gripped the left in the internet era. It’s a form of heuristic. An heuristic is essentially where you use a rule of thumb or quick process to make a snap judgement. We do it all the time – want to know if a restaurant is good, you read a review. 

In the rapid news cycle, we want hot-takes, we want views on people or policy that are easy to digest, ones that fit our team’s narrative, and ones that won’t get us cancelled. So people have farmed that process out to the internet. Rather than investigate claims or issues themselves, people go to their usual sources to get the ‘correct’ take for their side – usually an account that posts bold white font messages on pastel backgrounds and explains ‘How X is problematic’.

But to build on the review analogy, it would be like only reading the review and not going to the restaurant yourself, and then parroting that as your view. Useful up until the point you meet someone who has actually been to the restaurant, i.e. someone who has actually read Peterson. 

That might work for an obscure figure, but there are millions of people who have consumed both of Peterson’s recent books and content online. Hurling accusations at Peterson like ‘Incel God’ when many people know he demonstrably isn’t that thing, ain’t a great strategy for winning people over to your side.

Peterson isn’t some obscure figure that can be straw-manned. He is an internationally best-selling author, and here he is being posted on the most followed man’s Instagram page. Criticism of him needs to be water-tight and accurate if it is to be believed.

It’s lazy and it’s counterproductive to simply retweet, repost, or regurgitate a hot-take and internalise a narrative about someone or some issue because someone you might agree with on other issues has said so. 

Yet again I’m saying: do the work. Don’t simply follow the leader, like some teen seeking validation about what is cool. Don’t be guilty of group-think. Don’t be guilty of buying into the narrative of ‘On Wednesdays, we hate Jordan Peterson’ simply because your political Regina George says so.

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