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The Right's Favorite New Intellectual Has Some Truly Pitiable Ideas About Masculinity

February 13, 2018 in Blogs

By Jacob Bacharach, AlterNet

Why does anyone take Jordan Peterson seriously?

More than a decade ago, when he reviewed Harvard curmudgeon Harvey Mansfield’s book, Manliness, Walter Kirn asked: “In just which far-off galaxy has Mansfield set up his telescope to scrutinize the doings of us earthlings?”

Mansfield’s book, whose port-and-pipesmoke fantasy of masculinity was itself at least four decades out of date, was hopelessly wrong for an era defined by Truck Nutz and George W. Bush declaring “Mission Accomplished” to an audience of hooting cable news hosts. Challenged in an interview with the New York Times' Deborah Solomon to name a manly physical pursuit, Mansfield cited opening jars and moving furniture for his wife. How often did he really move furniture, Solomon pressed. “Not every night,” he replied, “but routinely.”

Mansfield was by no means the first fusty old professor to grouse about female troubles—men like him have been grumbling since before women’s studies made a beachhead at San Diego State in the early '70s. But Manliness was written for a popular audience, and it was one of the earliest salvos in a cottage industry dedicated to saving young males from the ravishments of a culture that had either abandoned genders or created too many, depending on whom you ask. The decade or so since has seen the emergence of a self-proclaimed counterrevolution to the conjoined scourges of gay rights, feminism and preferred pronouns. It includes elbow-patched academics, self-proclaimed men’s rights activists, and the vitamin scammers of the so-called alt-right.

It includes Jordan Peterson.

I thought of Kirn’s question when I took a tentative dip into Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. The first rule is “stand up straight with your shoulders back,” which Peterson’s voluminous videography suggests he obeys only intermittently. The chapter on this first rule begins in a J. Alfred Prufrock mood by comparing humans to lobsters—the manifest complexity of our societies and power politics reduced to the scuttling instincts of arthropods.

Devotees of the pseudoscience of evolutionary psychology are fond of this particular maneuver: locate some behavior in the more ancient branches …read more


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