I always know when my articles will make people angry, but I don’t always know exactly which part will infuriate people until after I release them into the wild.
In the case of my recent Jordan Peterson article, both of the things that upset people the most involve questions of identity.
The Identity of Jordon Peterson
I’ve received a lot of pushback on my assertion that it doesn’t matter what message Peterson intends to convey. A lot of people felt that this was extremely unfair. Isn’t this argument just a license to judge people by their most unhinged fans? Just as it would be unfair to hold Jodie Foster responsible for the Reagan assassination attempt by a crazed Foster fan, it’s unfair to hold Peterson responsible for the alt-right elements of his fan base.
I agree that no one can be responsible for every possible obscure interpretation of their work. But I do hold authors responsible for common misinterpretations of their work. An author’s entire job is to communicate effectively. If a lot of people misinterpret something, maybe the author didn’t communicate their thoughts well. Maybe the author ought to clarify.
Case in point: a lot of people misinterpreted my argument about whether Peterson’s intent matters. So here I am, clarifying.
My argument is that Jordan Peterson provides enough of a basis for an alt-right interpretation of his work that it’s impossible for me to tell which group is interpreting Peterson wrong. Presumably, one group is misinterpreting Peterson. I don’t know whether it’s your group or the other one.
If only a couple people were interpreting Peterson as outlined in my article, I wouldn’t have written it.
Peterson knows about the different ways his work is used within discourse. He could issue a clarification any time. Authors aren’t responsible for every crazy fan, but I would expect them to become upset if large groups of people misinterperet their work in a consistent way. I would expect them to want to clarify their work and their words.
If an author in that position doesn’t clarify, or clarifies in such a way that leaves significant ambiguity, I have some questions. So should you.
The Identity of the Author
Some people are upset about this article because of the identity they imagine for me, the author of the piece. These people do not engage with the ideas or evidence presented in the article.* Instead, they instantly attempt to figure out what kind of person I am. Am I a Democrat? A liberal? An SJW? A communist? How much, exactly, do I support free speech?
The reaction occurs for the same reason that so many of my discussions of Peterson in the lead-up to this article immediately went to “Jordan Peterson is a good guy.”
It doesn’t matter if Jordan Peterson is a good guy. It doesn’t matter if I’m a good guy either.
Look, maybe I’m hot garbage. Maybe I’m in a basement right now, plotting ways I can destroy the version of America you most love. Maybe I’m whatever boogeyman haunts your political nightmares. None of that matters for the purposes of the article. Does the article make sense? Are the arguments good? Do they hold up to scrutiny? Or do you find them uncompelling?
Stop putting work into“friend”and “foe” boxes based on whether or not the author is a member of your tribe.
To quote the Last Psychiatrist (link cw: rape):
When you find yourself hating someone (who did not directly hurt you) with blinding rage, know for certain that it is not the person you hate at all, but rather something about them that threatens your identity. Find that thing. This single piece of advice can turn your life around, I guarantee it.
*I find it interesting that so many Peterson fans who claim that the psychologist’s primary message is a call to rational discussion instantly look for a way to put me into the enemy camp so that they don’t have to engage with my ideas. This reaction definitely supports my original argument that Peterson’s exhortation for open dialogue only extend to people who more or less agree on certain key issues. Back to article.