January 25, 2018

A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME:

Why Can't People Hear What Jordan Peterson Is Saying? (Conor Friedersdorf, Jan. 22nd, 2018, The Atlantic)

My first introduction to Jordan B. Peterson, a University of Toronto clinical psychologist, came by way of an interview that began trending on social media last week. Peterson was pressed by the British journalist Cathy Newman to explain several of his controversial views. But what struck me, far more than any position he took, was the method his interviewer employed. It was the most prominent, striking example I've seen yet of an unfortunate trend in modern communication.

First, a person says something. Then, another person restates what they purportedly said so as to make it seem as if their view is as offensive, hostile, or absurd.

Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and various Fox News hosts all feature and reward this rhetorical technique. And the Peterson interview has so many moments of this kind that each successive example calls attention to itself until the attentive viewer can't help but wonder what drives the interviewer to keep inflating the nature of Peterson's claims, instead of addressing what he actually said. [...]

The interviewer seemed eager to impute to Peterson a belief that a large, extant wage gap between men and women is a "fact of life" that women should just "put up with," though all those assertions are contrary to his real positions on the matter.  

Throughout this next section, the interviewer repeatedly tries to oversimplify Peterson's view, as if he believes one factor he discusses is all-important, and then she seems to assume that because Peterson believes that given factor helps to explain a pay gap between men and women, he doesn't support any actions that would bring about a more equal outcome.

Her surprised question near the end suggests earnest confusion:

Peterson: There's a personality trait known as agreeableness. Agreeable people are compassionate and polite. And agreeable people get paid less than disagreeable people for the same job. Women are more agreeable than men.

Newman: Again, a vast generalization. Some women are not more agreeable than men.

Peterson: That's true. And some women get paid more than men.

Newman: So you're saying by and large women are too agreeable to get the pay raises that they deserve.

Peterson: No, I'm saying that is one component of a multivariate equation that predicts salary. It accounts for maybe 5 percent of the variance. So you need another 18 factors, one of which is gender. And there is prejudice. There's no doubt about that. But it accounts for a much smaller portion of the variance in the pay gap than the radical feminists claim.

Newman: Okay, so rather than denying that the pay gap exists, which is what you did at the beginning of this conversation, shouldn't you say to women, rather than being agreeable and not asking for a pay raise, go ask for a pay raise. Make yourself disagreeable with your boss.

Peterson: But I didn't deny it existed, I denied that it existed because of gender. See, because I'm very, very, very careful with my words.

Newman: So the pay gap exists. You accept that. I mean the pay gap between men and women exists--but you're saying it's not because of gender, it's because women are too agreeable to ask for pay raises.

Peterson: That's one of the reasons.

Newman: Okay, so why not get them to ask for a pay raise? Wouldn't that be fairer?

Peterson: I've done that many, many, many times in my career. So one of the things you do as a clinical psychologist is assertiveness training. So you might say--often you treat people for anxiety, you treat them for depression, and maybe the next most common category after that would be assertiveness training. So I've had many, many women, extraordinarily competent women, in my clinical and consulting practice, and we've put together strategies for their career development that involved continual pushing, competing, for higher wages. And often tripled their wages within a five-year period.  

Newman: And you celebrate that?

Peterson: Of course! Of course!

Another passage on gender equality proceeded thusly:

Newman: Is gender equality a myth?

Peterson: I don't know what you mean by the question. Men and women aren't the same. And they won't be the same. That doesn't mean that they can't be treated fairly.

Newman: Is gender equality desirable?

Peterson: If it means equality of outcome then it is almost certainly undesirable. That's already been demonstrated in Scandinavia. Men and women won't sort themselves into the same categories if you leave them to do it of their own accord. It's 20 to 1 female nurses to male, something like that. And approximately the same male engineers to female engineers. That's a consequence of the free choice of men and women in the societies that have gone farther than any other societies to make gender equality the purpose of the law. Those are ineradicable differences--you can eradicate them with tremendous social pressure, and tyranny, but if you leave men and women to make their own choices you will not get equal outcomes.

Newman: So you're saying that anyone who believes in equality, whether you call them feminists or whatever you want to call them, should basically give up because it ain't going to happen.

Peterson: Only if they're aiming at equality of outcome.

Newman: So you're saying give people equality of opportunity, that's fine.

Peterson: It's not only fine, it's eminently desirable for everyone, for individuals as well as societies.

Newman: But still women aren't going to make it. That's what you're really saying.

That is not "what he's really saying"!

In this next passage Peterson shows more explicit frustration than at any other time in the program with being interviewed by someone who refuses to relay his actual beliefs:

Newman: So you don't believe in equal pay.

Peterson: No, I'm not saying that at all.

Newman: Because a lot of people listening to you will say, are we going back to the dark ages?

Peterson: That's because you're not listening, you're just projecting.

The problem is really that interviewers increasingly follow the Charlie Rose model, where
they think the point of an interview is their questions, not the subject's answers.  Rose and his ilk often even include the answer they want in the question, which tends to leave the subject nothing to say.  


MORE:
What Right Not to Be Offended? (BEN SHAPIRO, January 24, 2018, National Review)

[T]he segment of the interview that grabbed the public's imagination wasn't Peterson's discussion of the wage gap or the biology of hierarchical relationships. It was a very simple exchange over the value of truth. Newman questioned Peterson on why he refused to go along with the trendy Leftist cause du jour: using pronouns chosen by individuals rather than pronouns that describe their biology. "Why should your freedom of speech trump a trans person's right not to be offended?" Newman asked. Peterson, ever the gentleman, answered the question without guffawing: "Because in order to be able to think, you have to risk being offensive. I mean, look at the conversation we're having right now. You're certainly willing to risk offending me in the pursuit of truth. Why should you have the right to do that? It's been rather uncomfortable."

Newman misdirected: "Well, I'm very glad I've put you on the spot." But Peterson pursued: "Well, you get my point. You're doing what you should do, which is digging a bit to see what the hell is going on. And that is what you should do. But you're exercising your freedom of speech to certainly risk offending me, and that's fine. More power to you, as far as I'm concerned."

Newman had no answer. Point to Peterson.



Posted by at January 25, 2018 5:26 AM

  

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