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I listened to two Youtube interviews with Jordan Peterson, which took place in 2022, concerning environmental things like climate change. He does say some useful things, but his arguments regarding climate and environmental responsibility are so poor and weak that I feel I can no longer trust him. I now I find I suspect everything he says.
Below, you will find the Youtubes and then comment on them, and then an insightful response to my web page from Prof. Alaric Searle, who also values JP. The first Youtube, 5 minutes is 'OK'ish. The second one, longer, contains details of his thinking, and this reveals several deep flaws. Alaric's response takes a different line, looking at how Jordan Peterson's approach has developed.
The first part is fairly standard negative stuff. But in the second part he mellows, and comes up with some positives about climate and environmental responsibility, then a clearer view of what is negative about environmentalists. In the latter, he mentions five things. The first four are negatives I can agree on, but the fifth is not; it is like a sting in the tail, seming to me to be a falsity disguised by truths. Here is a transcript of what he said from 3:58/5:53 to the end:
"We're struggling for a better vision. And I would say a lot of activism on the left, to give the devil its due, is also struggling for a better vision. The notion that we should be stewards of the environment, which is a much better way of conceptualizing it, ah, caretakers,/" "Conservers" [interrupted the interviewer], JP: "Conservers, yeah yeah" [interviewer inserted a few more words that were not entirely clear] JP: "right right. Well, tenders of the garden, right, keepers of the garden. That's our divine obligation, let's say. That / There is something in that. That is part of what drives the environmentalist ethos, on the positive front.
The negative front is something like, yknow, 'Human beings are a cancer on the planet, we are despoilers of nature, and we are viewed as anthithetical to the natural order instead of an emergent part of the natural order. [Here JP used his hands graphically]. And we are obliged to shoulder a / like an anti-nihilist burden of guilt for violating the natural order. And you can see an impulse in that, to tending. But you can also see it's warp/ it being warped in a terrible way by / by guilt and shame, and accusation, and envy, and the desire for revenge on God for creating such an appalling place, let's say. And that's what it is most fundamentally; and that's the spirit of Cain." [end]
1. Great to see him acknowledge our responsibility for the environment so positively. And also to see some of the ways in which we sinful human beings are erring in our response to it. Nice and clear. But he adds a twist at the end, which seems heinous to me.
2. I agree with his view that environmentalists are speaking "guilt, shame" - Does not the Bible say we must acknowledge our guilt and repent, not just ignore it and be positive, like JP seems to imply.
3. I agree that some on the left do "accusation, envy". After all, are not human beings sinful creatures? So what's the problem? According to my understanding of Scripture, all human beings are sinful. Are not the rightwing also sinful?
4. But - and here is the sting in the tail - "a desire for revenge on God". Where does he get this from? I have not encountered that among environmentalists among whom I have worked, except in a very few. Has JP really lived among these people like I have and understood them, or has he just caught this from some anti-environmental commentator?
Had he not added that one, I would have found JP quite good even on climate change, though i might have a different attitude: Whereas JP treats the environmentalists as enemies or evil, I would rather see them as "sheep without a shepherd" as Jesus saw the crowd of his day.
But he did add this. So I am left wondering, "why does he add it?" It is the one statement that would wind up Christians like me!! To characterize it as desire for revenge on God and the "spirit of Cain" is calculated to wind me up. Did he deliberately design to add that, so as to get Christians to by-Pavlovian-reaction go against environmental concern? Were the first four words mere sugar to coat the poison pill of this piece? Shame on him, if so! If I am more charitable, I might allow it was not by design, but merely something he has come to believe. If that is so, where did he get it from? What evidence does he have that environmentalists can be characterized as wanting "revenge on God"?
That last piece made me question JP's real integrity. So I listened to a longer interview.
In this one, I found almost nothing of the positive concern and the positive understanding of environmentalists that is there in the first one. All I found was poor argument ending in incoherent anger. The argument was poor in six ways: argues from metaphor rather than reality, paradigm-model treated as an undeniable truth, false 'facts', false characterization, false generalization, false interpretation, which leads him to anger and obfuscation.
Argument from metaphor: He argues from metaphor nor from reality. Twice. Metaphor hides more than it reveals, because it focuses the mind on one aspect rather than the several aspects that are important.
Treating model as an undeniable truth: Even if he were not arguing from analogy, his argument would not hold. From his hierarcy, expressed as a triangle, in which "low-ranking" birds are across the bottom, he makes the argument that it will be poorer humans who will suffer most if we take effective political and economic action on climate change. Now, his hierarchy is not a truth, but a paradigm-model, a way of seeing things. He directs us to see things his way. On the basis of this way of seeing things, he tries to argue that environmentalists want to kill off lots of poor people - a very very serious claim. Such a strong claim requires the basis of the claim to be exceedingly strong, a truth that nobody could deny. It is not. It is merely his way of seeing things. Indeed, I'm not convinced that Avian Flu works quite like that. In the UK, for example, one of the most affected species is Gannets, which are far from "low-ranking"! So it is reasonable for me to question the conclusion of his argument, that environmentalists don't mind killing lots of poor people. (Especially since my experience of them tells me the opposite.)
False 'facts': JP misundertands climate models. He claims they cannot predict much in advance, but he seems to be thinking of weather models, for which long-range prediction is uncertain. Climate models are different. As one scientist pointed out, his argument is like saying that you cannot predict when a pot of water on a stove will boil because you cannot predict the occurrence of every bubble.
False Characterization: JP lumps all environmentalists together as of only one type - and does that throughout the video. According to him, we are all wanting to kill the poor, we all want to destroy capitalism, we are all tyrannical, we are all panicking. Not true, Jordan!
False Generalization. He uses one report, which he claims is from Deloitte, to characterize all our thinking. That report, he claims, tries to predict the future, linking climate with the economy. But what is the status and purpose of that report? For example, was it intended as a kind of truth-for-all as he seems to assume, or was it just one scenario among several, which are discussed in other reports? Is it a report from 2022, or from the early 1990s, when some such reports were perhaps less careful than they should be? And does he faithfully represent what the report really says?
No sources: He gives no details of the report, we would like to read it for ourselves. (I tried to find the report, but could not.)
False intepretation: From the report, he claims, "So what the Deloitte consultants are basically saying is 'Well, yknow, it's kind of unfortunate, but according to our models, a lot of poor people are going to have to die. So that a lot more poor people don't die in the future.'" What does the report actually say? His word "basically" betrays that this is probably his own interpretation of it, not what it actually says. (I am unable to check what the report actually says, because I could not find it.) From this interpretation, he characterizes all environmentalists as wanting poor people to die for the sake of our ideology. If that were true of us all it would be atrocious. But my experience of environmentalists is just the opposite.
Anger and Obfuscation. From that point onwards JP becomes angry, and even swears. His arguing becomes a tirade and incoherent.
Not if the Bible is true. The Bible tells us "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" and "all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags." The Bible shows that, even with all the privileges of being people of God and having God provide and protect powerfully, the people of Israel turned their back on God's ways and went to evil, to "affluence, arrogance, unconcern" [Ezekiel 16:49]. The human heart is "deceitful above all."
It is why humanity needs a Saviour.
Yet JP ignores both sin and salvation. Or, rather, while he is well aware of, and condemns unfairly, the sin he sees in environmentalists, he treats people like himself as essentially sinless. He presumes that they will selflessly solve all the environmental problems with their innovativeness. I have not heard any recent American president say "We serve the world and sacrifice ourselves for the sake of the world." It is that which is needed if his solution is to work. If JP has heard that, please can he let me know who said it, and let me know on what grounds we may hope that it will be so.
My hope is in Christ Jesus, not in the innovativeness of selfish, wealthy people in North America.
I am very disappointed. I, who used to like and respect Jordan Peterson, can no longer do so. Not because he might disagree with my views, but because of the deep flaws in his arguments.
Do all his views rest on arguments with such flaws? That is what I now wonder. How can I trust anything he says? If all his pronouncements are likewise based on such flawed arguments, I regret to conclude that Jordan Peterson is just not worth listening to. His supposedly clear, courageous statements, which I used to value, are shown up to be like a weak staff that is likely snap at any moment that I put any reliance on it. I am not willing to risk that.
It may be that his longer interview was clouded by anger while his later, shorter one, better expresses his real attitude. However, I would have to hear something longer, where he sets out his positive vision for climate and environmental responsibility in more detail. Does he truly recognise its central importance? Or it is, to him, a mere nice-to-have, ancillary to all else? Does he understand the way environmental damage has led to poverty?
If so, perhaps Jordan Peterson is worth listening to after all - but I won't know until I have heard that.
Many thanks for the thoughts you offer on Jordan Peterson and the environment. All valid points. My explanation as to why he loses the plot over environmental issues (the same problem has appeared in his assessment of Trump - and, as a psychologist, he really should know better!) is as follows:
A rather different approach to your thoughts - but, I hope, they might be of interest.
This page, "abxn.org/ccge/jordan.peterson.html", is an expression of part of a project to understand the links between climate change, global economy and other matters including society's beliefs and aspirations. It is designed to stimulate thinking and discourse. Comments, queries welcome.
This page is written on behalf of the CCGE Group by Andrew Basden, but the views expressed herein are his and not necessarily those of the other members of the Group. Written on the Amiga with Protext in the style of classic HTML. Andrew Basden's text is Copyright (c) Andrew Basden 2008 - present, but you may use this material subject to certain conditions. Alaric Searle's text is Copyright (C) Alaric Searle, 2022.
Created: 11 October 2022 Last updated: 13 October 2022 modified some, and added another flaw, treating model as undeniable truth. 19 October 2022 added response from Alaric Searle.