Jordan Peterson on ABC’s Q&A

I watched last Monday’s episode of ABC Q&A with Jordan Peterson so you don’t have to.

While Peterson can occasionally come across as eloquent, during the course of debate he has a tendency to commit logical fallacies.

While he wasn’t given much time during Q&A, I have outlined a few examples.

Given Peterson’s extreme popularity, I would encourage you to do your own analysis of these arguments, and see whether they stand up to scrutiny.

1. Toxic Masculinity (9:22)

In the middle of responding to a fairly benign assertion about feminism, Peterson makes this remark:

“If it’s true that theres something toxic about masculinity per se, what will that inevitably mean as women adopt more masculine roles… is that toxicity magically going to go away?”

Is this a legitimate definition of ‘toxic masculinity’?

The term refers to stereotypical masculine gender roles that have negative consequences for both the individuals in those roles, and the people around them.

Terry Kupers defines toxic masculinity as:

“the constellation of socially regressive male traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia and wanton violence”

Examples might include:

  • The excessive and regular use of violence to assert dominance and resolve disputes
  • The repression of emotion and psychological trauma, leading to a sense of isolation, despair and suicidal thoughts, or a lack of meaningful connection with other human beings
  • A pride in sexual promiscuity, to the detriment of personal relationships with women
  • Misogynic and homophobic behaviour

Peterson’s use of the term does not measure up with the definition. By suggesting the concept of ‘toxic masculinity’ refers to masculinity as a whole, rather than particular and specific conceptions of masculinity, Peterson attempts to build his argument that feminism is inherently anti-male.

This is an example of a straw man argument, where the terms of an opponents argument are rewritten in a weaker form so they can be easily knocked down.

While women could hypothetically adopt toxic forms of masculinity, this is irrelevant. The point of discussion around toxic masculinity is to identify and discourage these negative conceptions, and focus on building healthier, more positive images of masculinity that lead to better outcomes for the individual, and wider society.

There is nothing wrong with “men per se” — and this idea is fundamental to the very concept of toxic masculinity.

Verdict: Straw man.

About climate change… (36:00)

Host Tony Jones asks:

“If a young person believes that global warming is something that needs to be tackled quickly, and they can’t until they grow up and become prime ministers to do it, do you think collective responsibility overrides individual responsibility in a huge issue like that?”

Peterson responds:

“No. I think that generally people have things that are more within their personal purview that are difficult to deal with, and that they’re avoiding, and generally the way they avoid them is by adopting pseudo-moralistic stances on large scale social issues so they look good to their friends and their neighbours.”

With this response, Peterson essentially denies the possibility of a legitimate social movement: they become mere manifestations of individuals avoiding confrontations with their psyche.

By adopting this frame, Peterson sidesteps the compelling body of scientific literature about climate change — and the swathes of modelling and analysis which argues the need for urgent, collective, global action — to put forward his philosophical view that the individual is sovereign over all.

He also sidesteps other important conversations about structural inequality — from the widening wealth gap in the United States, to unaffordable housing in Australia, to growing job instability through the ‘gig economy’.

This is why Peterson is often regarded as a political quietest, or even a conservative. He discourages participation in social movements, and minimises the affects of structural forces on the lives of individuals.

In this context, feminism becomes little more than a collective projection of psychological instability.

Verdict: Side-step.

This is the correct response.

Lets talk about quotas… (45:28)

When Terri Butler suggests that a MPs in a representative democracy should be representative of the make-up of constituents, Peterson drags the conversation back to one of his favourite topics: gender quotas.

Peterson asks Terri Butler why we don’t advocate for quotas for female bricklayers.

“If there is evidence of structural inequality and oppression because women aren’t precisely represented at 50% in all professions at all levels, then why don’t have a conversation about having women represented int all professionals at all levels? Why do we talk about politics and positions of power?”

Like with ‘toxic masculinity’, Peterson is trying to put forward a straw man argument. Here he finds himself in the strange position of advocating for the idea of gender quotas pushed to an absurd extreme, so he can then denounce the idea of gender quotas as absurd. (The circular nature of this strategy should be clear.)

Gender quotas are a tactic which attempt to correct historical, social and cultural impediments to women occupying positions of power.

Whether you agree with the use of quotas or not, the gender parity of bricklayers is irrelevant.

Verdict: Failed straw man.

Lachlan is Sydney-based musician, writer and meditator. Buddhism / philosophy / literature.

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