Choice and Jordan Peterson

Published March 4, 2019

Jordan Peterson, a professor of psychology and a psychotherapist, is taking the world by storm. He has been adopted by many as a champion in the culture wars of the day, speaking on behalf of traditional values, of freedom of thought and expression, and of individual choice. He brings fresh perspectives to these culture wars, reflecting his training and professional experience as a psychologist. And, he wears his heart on his sleeve in a manly kind of way.

Before continuing, the difference between traditional values and the orthodoxy of past times should be distinguished. The Enlightenment challenged the prior orthodoxy. During the prior orthodoxy, “truth” was determined by self-perpetuating hierarchies. Laws against blasphemy and sedition, censorship, imprisonment and even torture and execution supported this “truth.” But, if “all men are created equal,” who could claim to be infallible or to rule by divine right? Instead of “truth” being determined by those in power, it would be for each person to determine what is truth.

With the idea that all men are created equal, the state was reduced from the source of truth to the agency for protecting each person in his determination of truth. Instead of protecting us from “error,” the state would merely protect us from the crimes and negligence of others. With the Enlightenment came the scientific method, increasingly more precise measurement, laboratory experiment, and empirical analysis of historical (non-experimental) data. Knowledge and even language came to be viewed as what is practical. Inventions, as advances of more value to users than their cost. Business, as what is profitable. Public policy, as what works. And, with the Industrial Revolution and rising standards of living, the idea that this life was but a test with its reward or punishment coming in the next life was no longer acceptable.

Today, traditional values do not necessarily mean a restoration of the prior orthodoxy, although there are some reactionaries among us. Instead, traditional values combined with liberalism – the emerging conservative-liberal consensus – means only that values that have proven themselves conducive to the pursuit of happiness to almost all people in past times are still fine values. Values such as working and saving, and the proper place for sexual intimacy.

Traditional values combined with liberalism means that in seeking to protect the rights of those who are in some way outside the norm, we do not have to denigrate those who are normal. That we do not have to swap what had formerly been privileged with what had formerly been marginalized, so as to create a new hierarchy. Instead, we can – as a society – adopt a neutral position, allowing people to make their own choices. The fact is, the conservative-liberal position isn’t neutral, but strategic. If there are values conducive with the pursuit of happiness, they will reveal themselves in the prosperity of those choosing those values. Of course, in a complex world, it may be difficult to generalize much about these values.

Furthermore, if there are underlying differences among individuals based on race, sex, gender, language, heritage, immigrant status, IQ, the big five personality traits, physical abilities, height, attractiveness. and so on and so forth, and if parents can bestow some of what is theirs to their children, then there will be differences in outcomes.

Equality of outcomes thus requires continuing interventions into the choices made by individuals. The willingness of progressives to intervene to achieve equality of outcomes reveals that they suspect there actually are differences among individuals, and that their talk of all differences being mere social constructs is rubbish. Conversely, accepting that there are differences, those adhering to traditional values should be concerned about those at the bottom. We should also be concerned about those at the top, of enormous talent in the diverse hierarchies of modern society, that their potential can be developed to the benefit of all. And, certainly, we should be concerned about ourselves, the vast overwhelming majority of the population who are in the middle.