freestone_letterhead

#33 On scepticism


Dear Mat,

Even if we cast aside our ideological, manufactured maps it doesn’t quite mean that we’re mapless. Surely the process of evolution endowed us with a series of inherited maps.  Our heuristics are maps that have been charted by our forebears’ efforts at navigating the world. Can these innate maps be wrong? The extinction of more than 99% of all species that have ever lived is ominous.

I submit that even the doubtful sceptic is really a confident sceptic, whose confidence is based on a good run of relatively stable ancestral environments, but whose inherited map is hard to amend when the environment changes rapidly. I also submit that we have been in an especially rapidly changing environment the last 400 years, meaning our maps are out of date.

The “feminine totalitarian state” is a good one. It’s what they called the Leninist and Stalinist regimes (both run by men). It’s similar to the periodic calls to forestall the feminisation of culture; that was big in Victorian Britain (run by men), pre-WWI America (run by men) and now, with calls for corporate culture (run by men) to be re-masculinised.

I know Peterson is currently fighting a battle against people who refuse to accurately quote him, engage with his ideas, or admit anything he says is right. But, there is one insidious aspect to his theories which I noticed right away. The protagonist of his whole schema is necessarily male. Of course this is because the hero of pretty much every myth ever has been male. So in a sense he’s merely synthesising the wisdom of old, which was male. But it’s weird. Every time he talks about the mother figure and the father figure and how they shape you, the you is always male. Makes sense to me. But I wonder about the female students you can see in his lectures. How weird is it to always have the default, the protagonist — of myths, of action films, of society, of Jung and Freud, of The Quran, even of Peterson’s own maps of meaning — be male?

The SJWs are frequently framed as trying to bury the individual, to bow to a big state, or some other abstract authority like Equality or Social Justice or Equity. It’s a good rhetorical ploy, because of course it totally flips the avowed goal of social justice to stand-up to authority, to champion the underdog and to subvert power structures and the status quo.

Obviously, there’s a lot of truth to it. As every movement of the past has shown, people want to control others. Put any group in charge and they’ll greedily cling to power and probably kill the hell out of everyone to keep it. (The French and Cuban revolutions are probably particularly germane examples.) Why would the social justice crowd be any different?

But I’ve got to say, in the interests of proportionality, attacking as totalitarian the very group who are working more than any other to try and wrest power from the incumbents is pretty warped. To clarify, attacking them is fine, there’s plenty to criticise; the problem is attacking them out of proportion to other groups who, for example, already have control over people’s lives and make them submit (governments, religions, large corporations). To clarify even more, attacking them out of proportion is also fine (as in there’s nothing morally nothing wrong with it), it’s just thoroughly un-strategic.

We’re both dedicated students of scepticism. But I feel our scepticisms are diverging. I always feel like the more sceptical the better, but that some things hold up to scepticism better than others. Great example is the philosophy of science. Bunch of scholars pull apart the most impressive scientific theories, citing all sorts of abstruse philosophical arguments to show how even the theories of Einstein or Darwin are questionable. Great stuff. Alas, they never take the second step which is to then turn their gaze to theories in the humanities (including some of their own), which obviously can’t stand up to the burden to which they just subjected science. Ah well, they got halfway there. Using their extreme scepticism we can see that everything’s bullshit, but some of it doesn’t stink so bad (e.g. good science).

That’s why I see hints of an equalising tendency in your casting away of all maps, because it seems to imply that all maps are equally bad. A lamer rhetorician than I would label you with the same criticisms people make of SJWs and their moral relativism. But this letter’s already too long.

Strategically,

Jamie.


Check the box for “Letters” to get our correspondence in your inbox. Feel free to check any other categories also.


Also published on Medium.