Ep 514 – Of Left and Right and Grumpy Old Men

Panel Discussion

Posted August 14th, 2018

Glenn and Bob are joined by one-time Mormon Stories Europe host Claudia Fox Reppen to discuss our meandering parallel journeys navigating politics, religion, and all things in between.

Bob

Glenn

  • Brett

    Lindsey Shepard was a graduate student and a TA, not an assistant professor. Her treatment by the folks at Laurier was shameful.

    The context (which isn’t an excuse) was the ongoing controversy in 2017 where Peterson advocating for the registration of leftist professors on a website he claimed he had ready to go and his stated intention to purge 75% of his colleagues. This was unfolding over November of 2017.

    https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/jordan-peterson-creating-climate-of-fear-and-intimidation-u-of-ts-professors-say/article36924134/

    When the university investigated it, Shepard was completely vindicated and the president apologized to her, calling what happened and the gender and sexual violence policy a “significant overreach”.

    https://web.archive.org/web/20180620024321/https://wlu.ca/news/spotlights/2017/dec/president-statement-re-independent-fact-finder-report.html

    My interpretation of the recording was that these professors (who usually don’t feel insecure) were feeling really insecure and took it out on a vulnerable graduate student instead of challenging Peterson directly or putting his unhinged ideas into context.

    It’s a pretty good case study on how precarious graduate student employment is and the petty tyranny that tenured professors can engage in.

    However, I don’t think you’ve made your case (exploration?) that this is a consistent and identifiable movement. Sanford Unger’s data is showing that this is a very mixed bag with significant disparities in reporting.

    https://medium.com/informed-and-engaged/campus-speech-protests-dont-only-target-conservatives-though-they-frequently-target-the-same-few-bda3105ad347

    • Thanks for the correction, Brett. I’m intrigued by your quick and implied assessment that this should be divorced from any association with what Peterson himself warned and talked about. Reading between the lines, I think you’d like to imply that this was already a thing, not related to Peterson or his ideas, and that “petty tyranny [of] tenured professors,” as you called it, has little to do with the Peterson context.

      I think that’s a possible explanation, but I’m not convinced by it.

      • Brett

        Yeah, there’s not really lines to read through. Contemporary with Shepherd in 2017 there was a raging dumpster fire of ‘progressive’ Canadian literature professors exposed including at UBC (Stephen Galloway) and and Concordia exploiting their female students. The sexual exploitation part is way more common, but stealing research or leveraging university policies to turf a disliked TA like Shepherd’s situation is relatively common too. It usually goes out over the whisper networks, but Shepherd was part of a cultural touchstone and a media firestorm.

        Peterson is a tediously ordinary Male Canadian Academic In Fifties Self Destructs. It’s basically a media replay of the J Phillippe Rushton saga at UWO in the 1990’s

        • I’m not sure what you’re arguing for, Brett. It’s clear that you have a negative opinion of Peterson, that’s for sure. And it seems true that issues at universities like this would likely persist/exist independent of him.

          But I disagree that the intersection of those two thoughts leads to a “nothing to see here” conclusion.

          • Brett

            Oh, there’s something to see and it’s worth talking about, but it’s also not an international communist conspiracy.

            I’m arguing for Peterson being rather ordinary, and I have this persistent quixotic belief that evidence convinces people.

            I do dislike Peterson, I have a problem with people trying to register my colleagues as subversives. I also have a level of expectation for ethical behavior from professors and psychologists that Peterson breached.

            Ordinary “Male Canadian Academic In Fifties Self Destructs” don’t usually try to register my colleagues as subversives. So *that’s^ exceptional.

            There’s the old bloggernacle line from Kate Kelly “Equality is not a feeling, it can be measured”. Peterson’s claims that a broad swathe of intellectual inquiry is being oppressed by neo-marxist postmodernists is not a feeling. It can be measured. I’d like to see some evidence for Peterson’s claims.

            Stanford Unger’s data set is the closest I’ve seen, and it doesn’t support Peterson’s claims. I’d love to re-evaluate with better evidence.

          • So let me get this straight, you’ve identified one report that suggests “campus speech protests don’t only target conservatives,” a claim none of us had on this podcast. But it is enough of a basis to believe that we think there is an international communist conspiracy because we are willing to entertain a discussion on ideas that Jordan Peterson has, many of which are unrelated to this.

            Independent of that, you are referencing other anecdotes and Kate Kelly, no less, on how this isn’t about feelings. Leaving aside the irony of referencing Kate Kelly in defense of not letting emotion into a discussion, you then go back to your report and remind us that you have evidence even if said evidence a) doesn’t really contradict anything we said b) isn’t particularly convincing as a reason to ignore Peterson unilaterally and c) doesn’t do anything to support your claim that “he’s ordinary.”

            This still leaves me unconvinced of much of anything.

          • Brett

            Nah, Bob. Peterson’s the one who claims there’s an international communist conspiracy. Specifically what he calls the neo-marxist post-modernists.

            I’m curious how far you will push believing that this particular iteration of the middle-aged Jungian charlatan proclaiming a moral panic has useful insights.Like I argued with Jake earlier, I think you’re falling for Hugh Nibley somewhere between No Ma’am That’s Not History and Temple and Cosmos. I can try to point out evidence, but you do you.

            Referencing Kelly is partially to get a rise, but also not about taking emotion out. It’s about evidence. Peterson’s making a substantial claim. He needs to back it up. You’re referencing the Shepherd incident at Laurier as proof of a broad social leftist thingy that the intellectual dark web is arrayed against. Back it up.

            Are folks actually getting fired? Having their right to free speech infringed on? Deplatformed? Evidence is really mixed from the data sets I found. Want to prove that wrong? Find another data set, let’s look at the methodology and analysis tools.

          • Lol, evidence is mixed… doesn’t that mean it supports me as much as you think it supports you? Confirmation bias much? Notice how I’m not invoking evidence because I don’t think it’s particularly clear here. It’s, at best, your word: mixed.

            I just take Peterson at face value, listen to him in full (for whatever particular context), chew on it a bit, contemplate, etc. and ultimately go on with my life. I’m not subscribed. He didn’t change my life. And, sure, he can overstate things. I’m simply advocating for more than dismissal, never mind my partial worry about character assassination by association. Honestly, I’m not really sure what we’re even talking about here, half the time. I just know you want me to know that you really like evidence. And who doesn’t? I love it too.

          • Brett

            “Lol, evidence is mixed… doesn’t that mean it supports me as much as you think it supports you? Confirmation bias much?”

            Yeah…. you didn’t take a look at brief summary of the Unger data set, did you…

            Unger’s data shows that there’s definitely a set of deplatforming actions against a small subset of conservative commentators, but that it doesn’t extend very far beyond the high profile folks. However, what he also found was that there are firings, deplatforming and suppression of student speech across a variety of criticisms of the right with only local news coverage.

            Why is your response to take Peterson at face value? Why not look up the claims he makes to independently corroborate them?

          • I did look at it, and I’m not refuting it. I just don’t find it compelling as reasoning to discredit Peterson. This brief summary has nothing to do with the vast majority of Peterson’s thoughts and ideas. And where it is relevant, I don’t think it’s contradictory. I’m not sure that Peterson made a case for how university de-platforming is exclusively against conservatives. But for anyone who has made that point, sure, this refutes that. Sounds good.

          • josh

            Please do a podcast with Brett!

          • Glenn

            Brett, if you’re up for this, email us at infantsonthrones@gmail.com

          • Josh

            Thanks Glenn! I at least would really be fascinated.

  • Aaron

    Hi guys, long(ish) time listener. I think I may have pinpointed a lot of (at least my own) distaste for Jordan Peterson. Glenn landed on it when he said “I think I’m more worried about the far left at this point than the far right.” I think Jordan Peterson has this effect on a lot of people, at least that I’ve interacted with online. And while I can appreciate a lot of the criticism of the far left, including the stuff that was touched on in this episode, I think this attitude is pretty misplaced in 2018 America. Currently conservatives control all three branches of government, and are working to dismantle environmental regulations, worker protections, and the social safety net. Given the way that this is unfolding, I think the excessive focus on the problems on the left ignores the glaring problem we have with the far right right now. I understand your “the evil we know vs the evil we don’t” hand waving of the issue, but things are a little different this time around. Years ago we as a country were at least operating on the same set of facts, but now we can isolate ourselves in our own little bubbles (be they the internet or cable news networks) that tend to breed extremism. If you spend any time watching conservative news networks (fox or talk radio for example) I think you’ll find the identity politics, tribalism, and dehumanizing language (specifically of libs) are just as bad if not worse than anything you’ll find on the left. We’re also dealing with real, measurable environmental problems that we need to start acting on if we want to get any handle on it and large scale deregulation is only going to exacerbate that.

    Focusing on the (admittedly real) problems on the extreme left feels like it’s missing the forest for the trees. Especially when you (as Jordan Peterson does) consider the left to be too extreme when they advocate for equality of outcome. Unfortunately for many of his followers, this means that anyone who points out structural issues in our country that prevent it from being truly equal is a far leftist whose ideas will eventually lead to the gulag.

    There’s actually quite a bit I like about Jordan Peterson, and a of places where I think his thinking is extremely flawed. And I think he brings up conversations that are worth having. But I think he stokes a lot of outrage from the right and doesn’t do enough to point out the very real flaws in the conservative perspective, as well as downplaying the danger of fundamentalist religion. In a lot of ways, it’s his audience and the cult of personality that has developed around him that tend to make people reject him out of hand.

    • Brett

      You might find David Niewert’s work on the rise of the militia movement and the neo-nazis in the Pacific Northwest really interesting. He’s documented a really soft-touch approach to blatant domestic terrorism from the FBI and state police over the last 20-25 years. Niewert has been super influential on my thinking about the disorganized fascist elements int he United States. His Eliminationism In America series fundamentally changed my view of the western migration. http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2006/12/eliminationism-in-america-i.html

  • Kristin Bilal

    I have listened to every one of your podcasts (I think) since I started my long, tortured exit out of Mormonism about two years ago. I have never commented before, but thought I would give it a shot on this episode since you were wondering how your “only-discuss-ex-mormon stuff” audience might respond. I am a huge fan of your collective intellects and humor and I really enjoyed this episode. I found it equally engaging and thought-provoking. In general, I find it refreshing to hear you discuss ideas that I otherwise would not be exposed to. (I work full-time, take independent study classes to try to finish my degree and I have three children, which doesn’t leave much time to explore books by Jonathan Haidt or Sam Harris.) I can listen to your podcast and feel be both intellectually stimulated and supported in my faith transition all at the same time. Thanks for the efforts you put into producing this podcast. It really has saved my sanity. 🙂

    • Thanks for commenting, Kristin, and for all the nice words! I’m so glad you found this both engaging and thought-provoking.

  • josh

    Claudia’s comments on the Asylum seeking Migration taking place in europe were very restrained. Living in Germany has helped me see the immense complexity of the situation. When Sam Harris and others are attacked for being racist or Islama phobs, is very problematic. There are deep dividing cultural issues here and its difficult do adress them. There are no safe diologues possible, especially in Germany.

  • Melissa

    I love that you talk about things outside of the mormon context. I love that it is an exploration where you don’t know everything. Part of why I left mormonism is that I felt ignorant about the world and I wanted a guide to the world in general. I still feel that way. I don’t know where I’m at politically or religiously.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Melissa. I sometimes feel the same about participating in liberal spaces, especially when I get abstract feedback that I’m doing it wrong.

  • Gabriel von Himmel

    Why dally with the bogus, what’s with the link to Sam Harris that goes nowhere. Is this an authentic action to drive folks to a parochial scandal?

    Rhetorical But for what?
    Really for the “love of Jesus,” Fix this for Infant authenticity.
    My how decisive.

    Not sure why a link to nowwhere –– but to your limp waisted ranking to make more chat. . .
    Work on this with a more–light hearted note on the idea that the presistence of doubt
    is, and will always be so.

    Do more secular stuff. Infants have more to offer.

    gabby.

  • Sirpa Leppänen

    This discussion reminded me of discussion that has been going on in my country (Finland) now for a while and it’s tiresome. It centers around something called “tolkun ihminen” which refers to a person standing in the middle or being the voice of reason. There’s been this argument (that was also made in this podcast) that the so called “far left” is “loving everyone and opening boarders and taking everybody in”. It’s a strawman argument, since no one can find the “far left” who is pushing for this kind of thing. If there’s the far right, the nazis who say the red cross workers helping refugees should be killed (no kidding, they are saying it here) then what is the fal left saying? They’re not saying “let’s kill all the nazis”, so there really is no two opposite extremist views here, only one. I hate this discussion of the “middle ground person” (tolkun ihminen). We have a MP who said it should be criminally punsihable to save refugees from drowning in the mediterranian sea. I guess it’s the “far left” who thinks such idea is abhorrent and awful. I suppose the middle ground people are then saying: “naah….we can’t save them all anyone, some are gonna drown no matter what so just save a few, let’s be reasonable.” The problem with the middle ground person is that they’re letting themselves be defined by the extremities, what ever they are.

    Also, I don’t really know who Jordan Peterson is, so not commenting him or the case of the canadian teacher, but there is such a thing as the illlusion of balance. When you bring in a professional medical doctor to debate a homeopath you create this delusion that these are both equally valid, but different views. You are omitting the fact that they are not, since one has tons of research and scientific proof behind it and the other has not and is more equal to reading a cristal ball or something. So that’s what you should balance it with. One should also be careful not to start normalising racism and other discrimination by creating this illusion of balance.

    • Glenn

      Tiresome, huh? Thanks for that. FWIW, no arguments were made in this episode. No agenda was being pushed. No conclusions were made or shared. And, most importantly, no refugees (or Nazis) were harmed in the making of this episode. It was all just a big rorschach test (tolkun ihminen flavored), just for you. Your response to it is quite fascinating. And I am sorry that you live in so much pain.

    • I think you need better “far left” examples before assuming the person in the middle is silly for being in the middle. This was part of our point. The unintended consequences of the far left are more subtly subversive and often times aren’t recognized as problematic until they get past a certain point of no return. It’s much easier to criticize the far right because they are blatantly abhorrent and typically awful even in small doses whereas the far left can be perceived as benign (rather erroneously, I think) when in small doses. But let me also be clear that it’s not a competition (to me): they are both bad.

      You are also promoting the frustratingly inaccurate fallacy that being in the middle = being ok with normalizing racism at least a little. I think this is a straw man argument and have yet to meet a moderate who would articulate their position in this way. You don’t need to be closer to one side to fully reject the worst ideas of the other side.

      Ironically, the assumptions in your comment are actually proving the point of how once you get too far into the left, you start playing subtle (but eventually dangerous) games akin to thought policing. It’s a classic left tactic to be worried about other non-lefters normalizing racism rather than worrying about how and why they are so concerned about what they think others are thinking about in the wrong way just based on said others not self-identifying with enough of a left label…

      • Sirpa Leppänen

        There might be a culture barrier here and normally I don’t comment on the US politics, since I’m an outsider, but since Claudia brought this discussion closer to home, I decided to give my two cents. I have no idea what the “far left” in the US consists of and who they are, but I’, hoping to get an example. In my country nobody’s been able to demonstrate what and who the “far left” is and what exactly are they pushing for. Until someone does, it’s just a strawman to me.

        • I thought we gave some country agnostic examples. The far left often assumes intent prematurely (and sometimes is guilty of thought policing) and often wants disproportionately harsh punishments for certain offenses they feel. It certain cases, a sort of “guilty until proven innocent” mob mentality approach to justice is encouraged. Then there’s the issue of identity politics and intersectionality, which — if taken seriously — doesn’t end well as a solution. Then there’s the idea of mandating equality, etc. I guess I don’t have specific examples for Finland, but if you study trends here in the US and/or many governments from history, you can see how these are not just philosophical concerns.

      • Sirpa Leppänen

        Also wanted to say that I’m a long time fan of IoT and since I too have moved further away from mormonism I do appreciate that IoT is not as mormon centric as it used to be, although I do enjoy the GCs and other mormon jokes every now and then. I’m aware I cannot escape my mormon past as much as I would like to and can’t avoid the way it has shaped me, so I appreciate that these other topics also get a little bit of mormon spin to reflect on how the mormon background has effected us also in other areas. Sorry if my comment came out as too negative and hurt Glenn’s feelings. That wasn’t the intent.