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When Jordan Peterson’s Defenders Selectively Use History

Both Tavana and Peterson have expressed support for capitalism and Western civilization without ever addressing the atrocities committed in their name.”

Recently, Merion West contributors Matt McManus and Conrad Hamilton were criticized for their negative reviews of Jim Proser’s biography of Jordan Peterson, a man considered by many to be the most important public intellectual alive today. The critic in question, Kambiz Tavana, excoriated both authors for their “viciousness” in denigrating the self-help guru, who, by all accounts, has gained a mass following for his lectures on ethics, personal morality, and the evils of “postmodern neo-Marxism.” For Tavana, Hamilton and McManus’ critiques of Jordan Peterson’s philosophy and political arguments are a clear example of the Left’s narrow-mindedness and provincialism, and Tavana encourages both writers to examine their own “sweeping sentimentalities” about social justice and the atrocities committed in its name.

Not having read Jim Proser’s biography, I will refrain from making any statements about the book in question or its reviews by McManus and Hamilton. Interestingly enough, Tavana also omits any clear references to the biography or the reviews in question, instead preferring to introduce his article with a brief summary of one of Jean-Paul Sartre’s lesser-known works called L’Engrenage, or In the Mesh. The plot hinges on a naive and idealistic revolutionary named Jean Aguerra who rises to power and ends up becoming the very tyrant he sought out to destroy. A clear allegory for left-wing revolutionaries in general, Tavana uses this story to hammer Hamilton and McManus for their presumed belief in “equality of outcome” and all the historical atrocities committed in its name. In contrast, Jordan Peterson and his followers are portrayed as devoted truth-tellers trying to engage in honest criticism of McManus and Hamilton’s excessive egalitarianism. Tavana then encourages both writers to read the Black Book of Communism, a book dedicated to exposing the human casualties of Communist regimes in the 20th century, implicitly connecting their political and social egalitarianism with the monstrous totalitarianism of Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. 

There is much to unpack in Tavana’s rather brief article, so let me start with the play In the Mesh. It is interesting for Tavana to be including a work by Sartre, given the latter’s long affiliation with Marxism and revolutionary socialism. Sartre was famous for his work on existentialism—and for his attempts to combine existentialist philosophy with Marxism, an attempt that ended in failure and Sartre’s later conversion to anarchism. But, while he was a Marxist, Sartre was a major advocate for socialist revolutionaries and political regimes: he reportedly visited  Castro’s Cuba, along with Simone de Beauvoir, and he later publicly supported the pro-independence revolutionaries in Algeria fighting against French colonial rule. Given this context, Sartre’s writing of In the Mesh may be construed as his recognition of the inherent futility of violent revolution and the repressive authoritarianism that such revolutions inevitably devolve into. 

After briefly summarizing the events of In the Mesh, Tavana goes on to criticize McManus and Hamilton for their “unfair” criticisms of Jim Posner and Jordan Peterson. Without highlighting any clear points of disagreement or any errors or misinterpretations the two authors might have made, Tavana goes on to condemn them for criticizing Jordan Peterson, while he is currently undergoing rehabilitation. He then criticizes their shared belief in “equality of outcome,” a concept that is neither defined nor elaborated upon, beyond its association with the crimes of Communist regimes and the naive idealism of leftist radicals. 

Anyone who has read McManus or Hamilton’s work on socialism, egalitarianism, and liberty would know that neither of them are communist revolutionaries intent on building the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” McManus considers himself a social  democrat along the lines of Aneurin Bevan and John Kenneth Galbraith. As such, he is content with retaining the capitalist mode of production but is eager to restrain the disruptive forces of the market with a social safety net—and with government provision of public goods such as healthcare and education. Conrad Hamilton describes himself as holding left-wing political ideals, and he appreciates Karl Marx’s contributions to political philosophy and sociology, though I am unsure if he considers himself a Marxist or agrees with the revolutionary project that Marxism implicitly entails. Tavana’s baseless accusations, thereby, fall flat after a cursory glance at both authors’ work, which leads one to wonder whether or not Tavana himself is being “unfair” in his criticism of the two.

Regarding the issue of “equality of outcomes” purportedly shared by McManus and Hamilton, Tavana neither outlines what this belief entails nor offers a concrete example of this belief in practice. “Equality of outcomes” has long been a straw man argument of right-wing and even moderate critics of the Left, who imply that the Left’s commitment to social egalitarianism automatically leads to totalitarian social engineering as depicted in an Ayn Rand novel. Few (if any) leftists advocate the complete leveling of all social hierarchies and demand that all individuals be treated exactly the same way. Even radical leftist philosophers like Karl Marx ridiculed the idea of “equal outcomes” and total leveling of all social hierarchies, preferring instead to reduce disparities in economic remuneration and abolish all unjust social hierarchies (such as those based on race or gender) and subject the remainder to public (i.e. democratic) control. 

Obviously, this does not excuse the crimes committed in the name of Communism, though it does demonstrate how anti-communists are all-too eager to play with the facts to suit their ideological arguments.

Finally, Tavana’s reference to the Black Book of Communism as an ironclad refutation of Marxism, communism, and leftist egalitarianism in general is unsound for two reasons. The first is that the work itself is of dubious repute, having been accused of major historical inaccuracies and over-counting the number of deaths under Communist regimes. The automatic association of deaths attributed to famine with genocide is generally suspect, and there is an open debate as to whether or not famines in Communist countries were deliberately engineered (with the preponderance of evidence indicating that they were not). Noam Chomsky (a fellow critic of Communism and skeptic of postmodernism) accurately conveys this ambiguity when comparing “capitalist” India’s public health system with that of “socialist” China, noting that the former had higher mortality rates that more than offset the number of deaths attributed to Mao’s infamous “Great Leap Forward.” Obviously, this does not excuse the crimes committed in the name of Communism, though it does demonstrate how anti-communists are all-too eager to play with the facts to suit their ideological arguments.

The second flaw of Tavana’s (and Peterson’s) reliance on the Black Book of Communism is that it is completely hypocritical. Both Tavana and Peterson have expressed support for capitalism and Western civilization without ever addressing the atrocities committed in their name. Peterson considers himself a “cultural Christian” inspired by Christian morality, yet he fails to acknowledge or atone for the millions of deaths attributable to Christianity. Likewise, Peterson and Tavana’s condemnation of socialism’s crimes ignores their own indifference to the crimes committed under capitalist and/or Western regimes, such as the Great Irish Potato Famine or the massacres in the Belgian Congo. This hypocrisy is glaring considering that Peterson (and by association Tavana) bases his whole political philosophy on the rejection of totalitarianism and genocidal ideologies. This suggests that both men are guilty of employing the same narrow-mindedness that they accuse the Left of.

It is clear that Tavana’s critique of Matt McManus and Conrad Hamilton provides the reader with little indication as to why these authors’ views on Jordan Peterson are flawed or erroneous. This is a shame, given both authors’ relative evenhandedness in analyzing Peterson’s worldview and even accepting some of his arguments as valid, including McManus’ sympathetic essay on human suffering and its contributions to meaning. One can easily imagine fruitful discussion of Peterson’s political philosophy, its connection to his self-help message, and how it relates to historical development and the fundamental components of human nature. Unfortunately, Tavana’s article only hinders such discussion with fallacious associations and baseless straw man arguments. With defenders like these, Jordan Peterson clearly has no need for critics.

Elie Nehme studied political science at California State University, Long Beach.

48 thoughts on “When Jordan Peterson’s Defenders Selectively Use History

      1. Hopefully as you grow and mature Elie you will learn more empathy and realize that comments like this one say a lot about you. And it’s not pretty

      2. Glad we see where this Elie is coming from, trivializing the health and life of another human being. Now we can disregard everything he wrote

        1. Actually I don’t see that his health has been even mentioned in this article. They do criticize his ideas. Being sick or healthy does not validate the correctness of an idea, or the truth of a discussion. Much of the ideas discussed by the authors occurred before his addiction. Maps of Meaning was written in the 90s after all.

      3. As they say, “the internet is written in ink” Maybe this
        come back to haunt you next time you apply for anything

      4. I’ll tell you, these leftists make it so easy! incriminating themselves with their own words and confirming all the worst suspicions people have about them–themselves!!

        1. Can you define what a “leftist” is? It’s kind of a term so large and vague that it seems rather pointedly unspecific and meaningless, and becomes little more than a rhetorical sleight of hand

      5. Since I still have faith in the human potential to grow, I believe that one day this author will grow up a bit, become wiser, and look back on the callous boy he was in 2020 and be ashamed. But I believe he can still grow and be something better than he is now

    1. I pray for Jordan Peterson, and tonight I’ll also pray for the author of this piece. May he find compassion in his heart

      1. I agree it would be nice to see Peterson demonstrate some compassion by conducting textual analyses of his opponents – i.e. post-modernism – before blanketly condemning them without any specifics.

      2. Pray all you want, bruh. Praying isn’t going to magically erase legitimate criticism of Peterson’s work or statements. What are you saying, anyway? One is not allowed to criticize someone else’s past or present work when the other person is ill? LOL the IDW right is just as SJW as they claim the left is, probably worse.

    2. What does his health condition have to do with his arguments?
      Wow that’s quite the fallacious diversion there.

      – Terry Bradshaw

  1. Unfortunately, I can’t even get past your initial quote into the article without the BS meter sounding.

    Peterson has spent plenty of time discussing the wrongdoings of modern, classical, and ancient Western civilization.

    Instead of writing hitpieces, perhaps your time would be better spent doing research and learning something rather than spewing misinformation. Now I know that you need to make Merion their ad revenue Elie Nehme, and I doubt they hired you to learn – but rather to get that revenue.

    It’s sadly ironic how those who try to detract from capitalism always benefit from capitalism while spreading their propagandistic, hypocritical misinformations.

    THEN you go to your comments section wishing death upon another person. You are a truly disgusting mouthpiece for an agenda which cares nothing for you.

    1. I’d be interested to see examples of Peterson actually indulging in a serious critique of Western civilization. As near as I can tell, he takes a very Francis Fukuyama or Niall Ferguson approach and remains apologetic. In fact, in most cases, Peterson barely manages to define what western civilization means to mean, so the concept remains mostly a nebulous concept of whatever he agrees with and believes is good. Communistm, for example, is certainly a part of the Western intellectual tradition, and can’t reasonably be excised intellectually. I’m also not sure what in terms of the research required for this article the author was missing and would be interested to hear specifics, or to see where in the Tavana article (that this article redresses) that the appropriate argumentation and substantiation was used.

      1. Sorry but it’s down-votes for you, no examples or backing of assertions provided.

        – Terry Bradshaw

  2. “the millions of deaths attributable to Christianity. ” Falsely attributable, as Jesus himself explained so thoroughly. A poorly argued article.

    1. So the millions of people murdered in the religious wars of the Reformation, the Crusades against pagans in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and the religiously-inspired murders of abortion-providers in the recent past have nothing to do with Christ?

      1. During the time of this virus, a lot of people have been talking about how the best of human nature has been on display, with people making donations, pitching in, supporting each other. Elie Nehme has reminded us here that the worst of human nature (as he shows how sad he has) is not going anywhere

      2. First off, how can you be so offended by the deaths of millions of people when you just condemned a man to death?

        And to answer your question, people misconstrue religious messages and scripture all of the time. We see it with every radical version of every religion. There are radical Buddhist monks in Myanmar who pillage and rape villages, would you attribute these actions to Buddha? It would be a mistake and gross misunderstanding of the scripture, just as you have grossly misunderstood the capability of people to take something good and turn it into pure evil.

        However, keep spouting your misinformation and ill-informed opinions, maybe you’ll learn from them, but the first problem is, what Dr. Peterson tends to champion, that you need to be honest with yourself, and if that bothers you, then maybe the publication you are writing for is pressuring you to write pieces like this. But if what you said is truly in your heart, you need some serious time for self-reflection. And I’m not speaking of any particular god, and maybe that god is just a superimposed version of yourself, either way, you should ask someone for forgiveness for condemning a dying man to his death.

        1. Spot on, Cody. I remember in the Queen’s speech yesterday, she was talking about how people of “all faiths and no faith” can use this time for meditation and prayer. I’d encourage Mr. Nehme to do that as well: to use this to grow and expand as a person and try to understand what in him would make him wish harm on another human being

        2. I’m not offended by millions of deaths, either from Christianity or communism or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. If anyone is offended here, it is JP’s defenders (who are offended by any criticism of him whatsoever).
          Also, not really sure where I “condemned” Peterson to death. If you’re referring to the comment I made to Eric above, that was a tongue-in-cheek reference to his critique of how I timed my essay. But considering you tend to take the most uncharitable interpretation of any criticism of JP or his followers, I guess I can’t blame you for getting triggered.

          1. Typical coward. Called out for his despicable comments, then retreats by invoking the non-response of ‘I was joking and you can’t handle a joke.’ Have the courage to stand like a man rather than insult the people with the bravery to call you out.

          2. How many different names are you going to use here? It’s obvious that you’re the same person.

          3. “I’m not offended by millions of deaths.” You can’t make this stuff up. Keep sticking your foot in your mouth Elie

          4. “But considering you tend to take the most uncharitable interpretation of any criticism of JP or his followers” It’s like you’re doing the exact thing he described JP fans as doing, and in a completely unselfconscious manner, which indicates you aren’t even aware of the poignant irony inherent to you legitimately believing “not being offended by” equates to “being indifferent to” the deaths of those millions. While yes, he could have worded it in a manner that would give way to less uncharitable interpretations, it is also just as effective as it stands for revealing your own lack of honesty with yourself.

          5. I have an equation for you: Elie Nehme=excrement. This is even worse than his trash piece at Areo. Shame on anyone who would give this scumball a platform

        3. Wha?!?!

          Condemned a man to death??? How does anyone writing in comments or the story itself have that kind of power?

          You SJW righties are so easily triggered and highly sensitive in general. Also, try using logic for a change instead of implied ad hominem.

          -Terry Bradshaw

  3. Hi Elie,
    Greetings from Ireland .
    I think people are defensive about Jordan Peterson because they cant reconcile the hostility and criticism being levelled at him from left leaning people with their own experience of JP through his books or videos.
    I have watched some of his videos and listened to some of his podcasts and he comes across as interesting, intelligent and common sensical. I think his defenders believe when they read the criticisms of JP that the critics haven’t bothered to engage with his work in any meaningful way and instead rehash lazy untruths/simplifications and/or deliberately misinterpret him in order to support their preconceived notions of him.
    I think JP has said on many occasions that he abhors all killings and atrocities, regardless of who committed them.
    I personally think that some of the above comments are OTT. I had interpreted your “better late than never” comment in the way in which you explained.
    Stay safe everyone

    1. I agree with you Pat. I think Elie’s critique was fair. I initially misinterpreted his comment too but saw that he explained what he was going for. I think it was a pretty cogent response to Tavana’s piece. Hope you’re staying safe too, Pat

      1. Scott, you seem like a nice person. I’d just direct your attention to recalling that this Elie Nehme is clearly a disaffected, angry Bernie Bro kid type. His writing screams blanket opposition to anyone other than the rather arbitrary people who are aligned with his political movement. His argument is tired and uninspiring, and, honestly, I think much of the anger in these comments more results from a lurking frustration with even having to read such an uninspiring and uninteresting argument (if you can call it that)

        1. If ever I’ve seen a comment that consists of pure unintentionally ironic projection, this is it. LOL

          -Terry Bradshaw

    2. Pat thanks for having probably the only reasonable comment i’ve seen on here so far. I agree – many of his supporters have not really textually engaged Peterson and seem resistant to discussions on the roots of his intellectual tradition, his sources, the methodology of his argumentation etc. They also seem to do so when presented with information or resources about his intellectual opponents on “the left” (whatever that means) or on their supporting texts (i.e. postmodernism, structuralism, the frankfurt school, marxism etc).

  4. Jordan Peterson announced last week that he is in the process of writing his next book. He is looking for an illustrator.

  5. Amazing. Peterson, though a biased right wing loon, is clever, knowledgeable and can still be instructive to listen to. The cult like hysterical comments of the slightest criticism of the privileged, drug addicted, whiny, sanctimonious, entitled, hypocritical, pandemic denying, should clean his own room before harming others who have it far worse, just eat meat folks, looney tunes scammer, trump supporting, grifter, pretentious, fascist con artist is breathtaking to witness.

    1. These commies hate America, and need to get the hell of here. Go move to North korea…wait a sec Billy Bob is such a weenie not even N Korea would take him. Hey Billy Bob, grow a pair

  6. The Irish Potato Famine and the atrocities in the Belgian Congo are the results of capitalism how exactly?

  7. What’s with all the obsession of left-wing media with Jordan Peterson? He is not even against you guys in general, like the right-wing friends of yours, he is simply criticizing SOME ridiculous ideas some of you guys came up with. Cherry-picking a few pieces related to you and even writing a book to attack him is simply silly and childish. You’d better spend your energy on the actual right-wing movement, Trump and Trump supporters, and not on attacking someone who actually has public mental health at heart.

  8. Elie Nehme is attacking Peterson’s ideas and references to Christianity out of his biased religious believes, as his religion in Islam. Muslims criticizing-attacking Christians and Christians criticizing-attacking Muslims based on religious believes shows a primitive medieval level of thinking.

  9. @Elie Nehme:
    (1) “Jordan Peterson, a man considered by many to be the most important public intellectual alive today”
    A ridiculous statement out of ignorance and illiteracy. “Many” means “a majority of people”. SOME, not many consider him an important public intellectual, but definitely not “MOST important public intellectual alive today”.

    If you have problems with using English language, please seek help and refrain from publishing articles using wrong vocabulary.

    (2) “Peterson’s political philosophy…”
    Even more ridiculous. Jordan Peterson does NOT express any “political philosophy” , he does not make any political statements.

    The rest of the article is equally ridiculous and makes no sense. it’s like criticizing a giraffe by pointing out flaws of an elephant and not even mentioning anything related to the giraffe. Someone’s prefrontal cortex is clearly underdeveloped.

  10. “Few (if any) leftists advocate the complete leveling of all social hierarchies and demand that all individuals be treated exactly the same way.” ….
    As a centrist, I don’t say, “Well, few (if any) on the Right advocate for the creation of steep, oppressive hierarchies that result in individuals being permanently, devastatingly unequal.” True, 95% of those on the Right want equality of opportunity in most of society and therefore want only healthy hierarchies… But it’s that pesky 5% of folks, that latent potential for Right-wing tyranny, that stubborn fact of history that Slavery and the Holocaust came from the Right-gone-too-far. If the Right stands for hierarchy, it is a “sin” of the Right. So, we learn. And we don’t wait, we don’t sweep it under the rug. Because it’s not enough to say, “It’s an extreme version (white supremacy) of a good thing (hierarchy); most of us here on the Right don’t want to abuse it. So we’ll ignore it when society takes a first step down that road.” Wrong. We root it out in ourselves individually and as a society. Millions died historically because of policies that came from ideas like that. That form of tyranny should be peacefully and lawfully but Adamantly opposed.

    History is equally clear about the results of maniacal pursuit of equality of outcomes… aka communism, aka dismantling of 99% of hierarchy. It’s a thoroughly documented “sin” of the Left. Millions died. And we ought to resist it just the same. We don’t wait, we don’t sweep it under the rug. We certainly don’t act like there’s no potential there, and claim moral superiority and try to demolish anyone who disagrees like the Left is doing actively, continuously, today, this very moment, as we speak.

    There’s still room for dismantling of hierarchies, maybe even a lot of dismantling. But we’re not going to go hurdling down that road blindly. We’re not going to be like a clueless driver, slamming on the brakes cause they’re about to miss the exit. We’re going to be aware, we’re going to check the GPS 10 miles out, and then we’ll see the sign with a mile to go, and then a quarter mile and then we’re going to move over and slow down, take the exit to stay on Route Regulated Socialism-informed Capitalism. Cheesy/dumb analogy but really, if we don’t “take the exit” that road ends in a very bad place. The Left can go too far and we must be aware, and take action even if it’s just on the horizon.

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