His end message is pretty harmless. “The only thing we can be sure of in life is suffering. So do your part to make less of it.” And how do you operationalize that? Get a job. Clean your room. Go on dates. Have kids. Be responsible. Read Dostoevsky, Orwell, and the Bible.
Stop comparing yourself to others. Try to deal with people as people, not as demographic categories. Focus on building up your own character. Don’t expect life to be one chain of happy moments.
This is sooo not the end-of-the-world, devote yourself to destroying your enemies in the culture war sort of message I assumed it was going to be. Take out Orwell and Dostoevsky, and its essentially what you hear at any church worth its salt.
But it could have been that. And that is perhaps what I think the critics of Peterson don’t get. It could have been that. But its not–and we should be grateful for that.
So you are a 20-30 something man looking to live a purposeful life. You can’t look to religion, ‘cuz thats gone. You can’t look to your community, because that is gone too. What’s left? Well, our culture has sketched out three main paths:
1) The eternal man-boy. Life devoted to the man cave and the xbox live subscription.
2) The ally revolutionary. Life devoted to perpetual social justice agitation.
3) Sordid careerism. Life devoted to making money and climbing career ladders.
All three of those are pretty unfulfilling, though the devotees of each won’t admit it. You have a choice between one form of hollowness or another. And then you have some introverted types, or those who lack confidence, or what have you, who are not able to succeed in any of ’em
and you know, this is actually a kind of dicey situation. What happens to societies full of brooding, listless, hollow men? Men who can’t find a way to care about their communities, the people around them? Men who find no value in themselves? No value in the existing order?
Peterson provides a constructive way out of that. He helps them fill in the hollow spots. He’s not the only one to do this–I think, for example, of the incredibly successful podcast @TheArtOfCharm, which is a hit with the same demographic and for pretty similar reasons
Now @TheArtOfCharm is a bit more relationship and networking focused, but it hits all the same beats: he is how you improve your character. Here is how you find meaning in your life. Here is how you can be a man in this modern age when all of the rules seem to have disappeared.
And like Peterson, the AoC folks are a pretty compassionate lot–dealing with their audience as people, not as a demographic category.
But here is the thing to think about folks:
If these 20-30 year old men weren’t listening to Peterson, or to AoC, who *would* they be listening to?
This is one of the reasons I am genuinely *happy* @TheArtOfCharm exists. Because if you are not listening them, who do you go to for answers?
Well, you go to the Red Pill people. I don’t think I have ever encountered an online community that is as well…. *evil* as that one.
They really are that bad. But if they are the only one who offer answers, the only ones who speak real to this demographic… then what can you do?
Which is why I’m so happy the @TheArtofCharm exists. They meet the same need without the ugliness.
By & large that is all Peterson is doing. So before you get on the bandwagon and throw him onto the fire, just remember…. he could be saying something very different to his audience. He could be what his enemies actually say he is.
“He enables the alt-right!” some will say. I don’t think that is true–or at least I don’t see any evidence for it. But let’s say every single alt-righter reads listens to his lectures. Well, good! He will moderate them. His message is intentionally moderating.
But it did not have to be. He could actually be mobilizing his masses to rush into the culture wars. He could be trying to intensify all of that. But he really is doing the opposite. Care less about politics, read more old books is a big part of his shtick.
Now when it comes time to criticize him, I largely see two avenues (beyond the kind of unthinking knee jerking seen in some circles) of attack, neither of which I find particularly convincing. The first says that Peterson is and his message is just too 一般
I just don’t have any respect for the people who hate motivational works for just restating the obvious.
Look, the truth is: everything important that needs to be said about how to live the good life had already been said by 600 AD
If you are looking for revolutionary insights on how to be a good person, you will hear nothing new. Its been out there for millennia. There are only so many ways you can spin “Treat people like you want to be treated,””Don’t pin your happiness to other people’s opinions of you”
and so forth. In Church we sometimes call these stock things “sunday school answers.” But what churches understand, but intellectuals contemptuous of self-help do not, is that the people who actually live these things are the people who are constantly reminded of them.
We NEED to hear sunday school answers *every* week. Because forcing yourself to think through them regularly, and in different contexts, is what leads you to actually living them. Intellectuals get bored with all that, which is why so many are walking turd faces.
Now the second line of attack, well it isn’t really a line of attack. It is the one that frustrates m the most. It is the one that intensely dislikes the Peterson, AoC, Art of Manliness ecosystem of self help on demographic grounds.
You’ll hear people say “oh all the Peterson fanboys are white men, in their late 20s” as if that condemns him. It is almost as if his critics wish these people just didn’t have their own set of worries & insecurities about life–as if criticizing the people
who help them come to terms with these insecurities would get rid of the fact that they are there. And yeah, I your right, this group really has a better time of it than 99% of people have had it in all human history. Easy to dismiss their problems.
When you compare their problems to say, anyone living in Europe or Asia, 1937-1950, their struggle to find meaning and purpose is almost comical.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t real. And real things have consequences.
You are not going to be able to banish this demographic. You are not going to be able to banish their insecurities. You are not going to banish their longing for meaning. And you certainly won’t be able to banish their identity as men.
The only question then is this: What will their identity as men lead them to do? What will their longing for meaning lead them to do?How will their insecurities shape who they will become?
Peterson has some answers for them.
If he wasn’t there, who would they be listening to?
Cloak of Shadow wrote a lovely fic here. It’s obviously the domain of a blog devoted to the power of communities.
There was once a woman who built her house upon the sand, acting against the wise counsel of her elders. The rains came down and the flood came up, and the house went tumbling down into the water with her within it, and she soon drowned.
There was once a woman who built her house upon the sand, acting against the wise counsel of her elders. And while she was away on a long trip, the rains came down and the flood came up, and she returned to find the house gone, and her fortune with it, and they say she never had another home of her own again.
The famous biblical parable is interpreted in terms of unorthodox social community. There are two Approved directions for community in modern America: throw everything in to your job, or throw everything into your heterosexual nuclear family with 2.3 kids. (A third path might be devotion to a larger extended family which either includes your nuclear unit or adopts you into theirs.)
We exist at a cultural moment where stepping outside these paths is not legally forbidden… but it is socially discouraged. It’s impolite to tell people not to pursue their chosen path, so this discouragement comes in the form of skepticism. Particularly afterwards. If a heterodox relationship fails – be it queer, or a polycule, a bash full of platonic friends, or involving BDSM power dynamics, or one with a large age gap, a community based on an all consuming hobby – the failure will be blamed on the weirdness (ignoring how many normal social relations fall apart.) And in the rush to say “I told you so”, often sympathy will be lost along the way.
In these entry passages, the heroine was warned against taking up with a weird life path, she ignored them, and it ended badly. In the original scenario it destroyed her life along with it, and in the first subversion, she is too full of despair – or out of time or trust – to ever try bonding again.
There was once a woman who built a house upon the sand, acting against the wise counsel of her elders; and, being wealthy, she built it beautifully, beyond the dreams of architecture. And while she was away on a long trip, the rains came down and the flood came up, and she returned to find the house gone. But the better part of her fortune remained to her, and her friends at once urged her to build a grander home upon the rock, and forget her youthful folly.
Our heroine retains her youthful beauty and can form a community again, and this time is urged to do so more in line with expectations. (Who knows if she does?)
Not to mention the class aspect. If young white people do weird things in their twentysomethings, no harm done, they can go have a normal stable life later.
There was once a woman who built her house upon the sand, for she had been raised inland, far from the sea, and her elders had not known to counsel her otherwise. And while she was away on a long trip, the rains came down and the flood came up, and she returned to find the house gone, and her fortune with it. So she returned to the houses of her elders, who dwelt inland, and they found a place for her in the home of her cousin, where she lived for the rest of her days.
Of course far from cosmopolitania people might not even be worldly enough to warn of weird relationship structures. And if she engages in one, and it goes badly, she might just return home and take up with the aforementioned extended family model.
There was once a woman who yearned to build her house upon the sand, but whose elders had counseled her against it. And so she went away and studied, and in time she returned and built a house on stilts upon the very edge of the beach, well-pillared against the storm. And she dwelt in that house for the rest of her days, and spent most of her time in maintaining it.
If she works hard enough, and plan for what might go wrong with thoughtful deliberation, she may even stably survive in her chosen social family. But striking out on your own like that often requires perpetual effort in a way that prepared paths do not.
There was once a woman who yearned to build her house upon the sand, but whose elders had counseled her against it. And so she went and she searched the shore until she found some place where the beach was sheltered and solid and rocky, and there she built a house beyond the dreams of architecture. And they say she was very happy there, although she had a great deal of difficulty getting her mail delivered.
… or it just may be difficult to interface with the normal world again.
There was once a woman who built her house upon the sand after much study, and did not complain that it required a great deal of maintenance. But it was built on stilts, and the day came when she could no longer climb the stairs to her front door, and had to move in with her daughter, who dwelt inland.
… or when she reaches old age, it may be that these new-fangled communities are not as useful anymore and have not been tested at all life stages. So then she might need to retreat once more to the traditional.
There was once a woman who built her house upon the rock, in accordance with the wise counsel that had been given her. And she dwelt there unremarkably for the rest of her days, and only occasionally complained that she had no view of the water.
Maybe she just gives up on her dreams, goes with the herd, and laments it occasionally.
There was once a woman who built her house upon the rock, in accordance with the wise counsel that had been given her. But desiring a view of the water, she uprooted certain of the trees that stood atop the cliff face that separated her from the ocean. And in time the cliff washed away under the rains and floods, and the house came tumbling down with her within it, and she soon drowned.
It’s also possible to wear a “beard” of nominally adopting the traditional lifestyle, but code-switch into your preferred relationships behind closed doors. And this too may carry danger (in fact, worse risk than most of the other solutions.)
There was once a woman who built her house upon the rock, in accordance with the wise counsel that had been given her. And she dwelt there happily and unremarkably for the rest of her days, until the plague rose in that country, and laid low all those souls within it.
Of course, following social norms is no protection against disaster, and we might all die due to Out of Context circumstances away. This is often considered an argument for living a life that might be brief as you enjoy it.
There was once a woman who built her house upon the sand, having been encouraged to do so since her earliest youth. And the rains never came, and no flood ever touched her beach, and she dwelt there all of her days. And everyone agreed that this was proof of her great skill and cleverness.
Our social norms are contingent and sometimes arbitrary. One can easily imagine them being the exact opposite, and being praised for your desired lifestyle, just as much as your chosen community dragging you down to doom.
(Consider the gifted person told to follow their dreams, gets a PhD in something non-STEM, and… you know the rest.)
There was once a woman who built her house upon the sand, having been encouraged to do so since her earliest youth. And while she was away on a long trip, the rains came down and the flood came up, and she returned to find the house gone, and her fortune with it. And everyone agreed that this was the fault of her unworthiness, and barred her from their doors.
… and one can imagine these different social norms still belong to a community that is cruel and judgmental, and when the vagaries of life do lead to ruin, still castigating her for her disfavor from above, even though there was little she could do.
There was once a woman who yearned to build her house upon the sand, where she might have a view of the water. But she went away and studied, and when she returned she instead built a house upon the rock, and to it she appended a tower that rose higher than the trees, from which she might observe the ocean unimpeded.
Perhaps she tries the same beard scenario, but with only a little bit of putting herself into her preferred lifestyle, taking more creativity and care in figuring out how.
There was once a woman who had a friend, with whom she loved to walk along the beach and watch the sunset. And where they lived is not important to this story or any other.
Friendship. Sometimes people are worth the risk.
Note that this is not the only axis to view the interpretation through. Any obsession that is unorthodox, or other cultures that value mainstream defaults. One could even critically analyze this entire thing in view of the financial crisis – lost houses, hoocoodanode, “if the world blows up, the world blows up.”
Aella had an essay last year that I thought was a much less offensive version of the famous Geeks, Mops, and Sociopaths essay.
Community forms based off of a common interest, personality, value set, etc. We’ll describe “people who strongly share the interest/personality/value” as Possums: people who like a specific culture. These people have nothing against anybody, they just only feel a strong sense of community from really particular sorts of people, and tend to actively seek out and form niche or cultivated communities. To them, “friendly and welcoming” community is insufficient to give them a sense of belonging, so they have to actively work to create it. Possums tend to (but not always) be the originators of communities.
This community becomes successful and fun
Community starts attracting Otters: People who like most cultures. They can find a way to get along with anybody, they don’t have specific standards, they are widely tolerant. They’re mostly ok with whatever sort of community comes their way, as long as it’s friendly and welcoming. These Otters see the Possum community and happily enter, delighted to find all these fine lovely folk and their interesting subculture.
(e.g., in a christian chatroom, otters would be atheists who want to discuss religion; in a rationality chatroom, it would be members who don’t practice rationality but like talking with rationalists)
Community grows to have more and more Otters, as they invite their friends. Communities tend to acquire Otters faster than Possums, because the selectivity of Possums means that only a few of them will gravitate towards the culture, while nearly any Otter will like it. Gradually the community grows diluted until some Otters start entering who don’t share the Possum goals even a little bit – or even start inviting Possum friends with rival goals. (e.g., members who actively dislike rationality practices in the rationality server).
Possums realize the community culture is not what it used to be and not what they wanted, so they try to moderate. The mods might just kick and ban those farthest from community culture, but more frequently they’ll try to dampen the blow and subsequent outrage by using a constitution, laws, and removal process, usually involving voting and way too much discussion.
The Otters like each other, and kicking an Otter makes all of the other Otters members really unhappy. There are long debates about whether or not what the Possum moderator did was the Right Thing and whether the laws or constitution are working correctly or whether they should split off and form their own chat room
The new chat room is formed, usually by Otters. Some of the members join both chats, but the majority are split, as the aforementioned debates generated a lot of hostility
Rinse and repeat—
One thing she misses is that the Otters DO have a belief system they will enforce, their own ideology as it were, and if they become too dominant they’ll kick people out too. Your weird little subculture will take up whatever the norms of the mainstream culture is, and prosecute based on that. The famous-but-somewhat-incorrect NRX quote is “Every organization that is not explicitly right-wing, becomes more left-wing over time.” So even if you’re, say, a super-tolerant universalist that wants no one to be kicked out ever, you have to struggle with the standards the Otters will eventually set up too.
I read Rod Dreher of The American Conservative because he‘s always bumping up against the negative consequences of movement and social conservatism, but is always pulled by his fanatical devotion to the church, with all the anti-porn, anti-trans and fetus-obsessed politics that come with it. He’s been vacillating like this for over a decade.
The comments section may be the most interest thing about his blog, since it’s not the usual cavalcade of name-calling you get in spaces where liberals and conservatives meet. They’re actually willing to call out their own side and have internal debates. It’s a window into a world you don’t see here. This is why I was so interested in the commentariat’s view of this article about women unsatisfied with unambitious and immature modern men.
It’s a concern shared by left and right for different reasons. The right is obsessed with family formation, birthrates and raising men who are successful enough to let (make?) women stay at home. The left is concerned that unsuccessful men are a burden and annoyance to women.
Dreher also gave readers a prompt:
I’m curious to hear from readers of all generations about their own experiences on this front, and their experiences with their adult children. What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self? What advice would you give to parents in the middle of raising kids, who want to raise them to be desire marriage and family?
Interesting responses after the jump:
The Blue Lady’s little church—she still felt weird when she used that word—was growing now, on Kavekana. Street kids told Lady stories to other kids. They came to Izza sometimes, asking which story was right and which wrong, and she, scared by what saying “wrong” would make her, guided the stories that did not fit her goddess into ones that did. She made new rituals and upheld the old. Two years had passed since they last mourned a god. They rescued kids from Penitents. Someday it would end, of course, in fire, or a knife across her throat, or with Craftsmen’s demon chariots in the sky. She didn’t have any illusions about what the world did to people who tried what she was trying. But she might as well build with passion, and enjoy the building while it lasted. What other choice did she have? Shivering in some godsforsaken corner until the world tore itself to shreds anyway? Because doom came. It found you wherever you ran. She knew that as well as anyone.
“The Ruin of Angels”
Just a reminder to anyone who didn’t know, that the Craft series by Max Gladstone has a fantastic thematic focus on tribes vs legalistic society. It is probably the most endorsed modern book series for this blog.
In its aftermath, an inquiry found, unsurprisingly, that the majority of those who died were poor, old, and lived alone. More surprising was the gender imbalance: significantly more men died than women. This was especially strange considering that in Chicago in July of 1995, there were more old women who lived alone than old men.
What made these men more vulnerable than the women? It wasn’t physical circumstances. Both groups lived mostly in “single room occupancy” buildings, or SROs—apartments of one room in what used to be called flophouses. It was social circumstances. The phrase “No known relatives” appears repeatedly in police reports of the dead men’s homes. Letters of regret were found on floors and in backs of drawers: “I would like to see you if that’s possible, when you come to the city”; “It seems to me that our family should have gotten along.” The single rooms of the deceased are described as “roach infested” and “a complete mess,” indicating few or no visitors. The women, according to Eric Klinenberg, who wrote a book on the heat wave, had people who checked up on them and so kept them alive; the men did not. “When you have time please come visit me soon at my place,” read another letter, unsent.
What conditions lead to this kind of isolation? Why men?