FEAR AND CLOTHING
Jordan B Peterson - dapper Victorian anachronist
A weekly column on the vagaries and charms of fashion
I read in the New York Times that Jordan B Peterson, public intellectual (as opposed to private intellectual) and psychology professor at the University of Toronto, has taken to wearing old-school three-piece Victorian-style suits when he expounds his positions on gender politics and his 12 rules for life to his sold out mass, largely male audiences. To his credit he explains rather dourly (he is a serious man) on various TV shows and podcasts that the gender split in his huge audience is not his fault. It is because YouTube is primarily male-oriented and he is not projecting his ideas on Tumblr. Tumblr is skewed female.
If you have not yet listened to Jordan B Peterson, please do. He is apparently the antidote to movements like #menaretrash. A hashtag which admittedly causes many men to argue that the ladies are crying wolf. Obviously #notallmen is a thing. Even the women subscribing to the hashtag do not believe that all men are trash, but they are probably referring to the impact of untrammeled patriarchy on their lives and those of fellow women around the globe. They have distilled things like driving regulations in Saudi Arabia, genital mutilation in several countries, sexual slavery, salary discrepancies, workplace discrimination and disturbing statistics involving battery, abuse, rape and femicide into this hold-all hashtag. It is a leaky vessel, I know – but I think women might be really, really angry.
But enough about women; I mean they even have the vote in almost all countries; let’s focus on the men. Many of them have never heard a positive word in their lifetimes. they have told Jordan B Peterson as much. So thank God, their big male deity, for their public intellectual. He maintains that this newly minted gender situation where Dior T-shirts are emblazoned with the rubric of feminism etc is the unsavoury net result of the work of a small coterie of post-modern Marxists who are troublemakers. Chimananda Ngozi Adichie please step up. They are just giving university kids and other women a bad name.A small minority can affect so many people – non disciplines like Women’s Studies can propagandise the world, oversimplify the universe and impact in a wholesale manner on what people think – and this is even more true with the onset of social media. I am quoting Jordan B Peterson here, but I may as well be speaking about him. He has benefited from the onset of social media and become a global phenomenon of note. And the dispossessed males of the universe are listening.
I actually agree men are in crisis. I really don’t think all men are trash, I personally adore several – some are even my friends. But I think the gender debates happening at present are throwing up all sorts of troubling feelings for the men and this puts them on the back foot. It does not help when they lose their jobs and all the attributes of malehood that go with wage earning etc. Out of work men are dangerous and that is a fact.
Jordan B Peterson’s appeal is that he appears to be presenting a biologically determined viewpoint. He says : Look guys, the research says we all behave in a particular manner, and if we just behave according to our predetermined biological imperatives and also “man up” everything will be okay. Take monogamy – he says it is good for both men and women for biologically determined reasons. He points to statistics involving children raised in monogamous families and also explains that monogamy keeps men from getting aggressive. This is not a bad thing – who can argue with that?The only problem is that biology is a moot point. Just as you conclude that we are biologically determined to behave more like chimps than bonobos, the damn scientists and anthropologists produce examples of human populations behaving in an entirely different biologically determined fashion. It appears that human society has forged its way forward over time in many mutually beneficial arrangements. Some involve poly-amorous societies with 12 wives, cue Jacob Zuma and American pastoralists, while others involve matriarchal hierarchies with multiple visiting lovers in China. Some are totally gender egalitarian – like the Khoisan and the commies of the former Soviet Union, while other folks love a harem. How on earth can you draw any conclusions about our biological predispositions in terms of our gendered relations?
There is obviously a latter day dominant narrative in the western hemisphere that has worked pretty well for all sorts of people, but predominantly men like Bill Clinton, Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump, and the world is now meant to believe that this particular conjunction of swinging dicks and hegemony also implies biological destiny. But they are just a small blip in the history of humanity.
Which makes me wonder about the interesting Victorian anachronism of Jordan B Peterson’s outfit choice. He is referring to a small segment of humanity for whom this particular set of socially determined structures worked really well for a particular period of time. And then it didn’t. Women and other genders got uppity, and men's roles changed – which is why there is so much unhappiness and confusion for both men and women and everyone else on the gender spectrum. You can hark back to the Victorian past and hope it will all get better but that is like saying fossil fuels are the way forward for all human transportation. All these ideas are a finite resource and we may have reached the end of this particular story. Our biology is probably not a deterministic force; we can choose the way forward.