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Jordan Peterson on responsibility – and on why it is important that he is not a politician

Jordan Peterson is everywhere just now, and I do not think he will soon stop being everywhere. (He was also referred to here in yesterday’s SQotD.) Was this what it was like when John Wesley got into his communicational stride? When interesting things happen now, you find yourself understanding similar events in the past much better, events which had formerly seemed almost unimaginable.

I spent the small hours of this morning, the end of my version of last night, listening to this conversation, that Peterson had with an Australian politician called John Anderson, who is a new face to me. It was the video equivalent of not being able to put the book down.

In this conversation, Peterson repeated one of his most characteristic ideas, to the effect that people should bear the most responsibility that they can possibly carry. This is not merely because others will appreciate this and benefit from it, although that is a likely consequence and a definite feature. It is also that when life turns bad, when tragedy strikes, when God is throwing custard pies around, the fact that you are living your life meaningfully, as opposed merely to living it pleasurably, will be a great solace, in a way that merely having lived pleasurably will not be. “We are beasts of burden.”

This is what Peterson means by the word responsibility. Responsibilities are things that we all need, to make and find meaning in our lives. The happiness you get from doing something meaningful, even if often rather painful and perhaps very painful, is far deeper than the happiness you get from some merely pleasurable pastime or addictive drug or hobby. We all need fun. But we all need for our lives to be more than just fun.

Sometimes, depending on his audience, Peterson expands upon the idea of responsibility by using the language of Christianity, of the sort that is being used a lot today, on Good Friday. (Interesting adjective, that.) Do as Christ did. Live your life by picking up the biggest cross you can carry. Whether Peterson is himself a Christian and will at some future time declare himself to be a Christian is now much discussed, I believe. (I am an atheist, by the way. Which is a species of thinker for whom Peterson has a lot of respect, because at least we tend to do a lot of thinking.)

I have always been deeply suspicious of the word “responsibility”. It has again and again sounded like someone else telling me that I must do what he wants me to do rather than what I want to do. If he is paying my wages, then fair enough. But if he is explaining why I should vote for him, and support everything he does once he has got the job he is seeking, not so fair.

The sort of thing I mean is when a British Conservative Party politician says, perhaps to a room full of people who, like me, take the idea of freedom very seriously: Yes, I believe, passionately, in freedom. The politician maybe then expands upon this idea, often with regard to how commercial life works far better if people engaged in commerce are able to make their own decisions about which projects they will undertake and which risks they will walk towards and which risks they will avoid. If business is all coerced, it won’t be nearly so beneficial. We will all get poorer. Yay freedom.

But.

But … “responsibility”. We should all have freedom, yes, but we also have, or should have, “responsibility”. Sometimes there then follows a list of things that we should do or should refrain from doing, for each of which alleged responsibility there is a law which he favours and which we must obey. At other times, such a list is merely implied. So, freedom, but not freedom.

The problem with politicians talking about responsibility is that their particular concern is and should be the law, law being organised compulsion. And too often, their talk of responsibility serves only to drag into prominence yet more laws about what people must and must not do with their lives. But because the word “responsibility” sounds so virtuous, this list of anti-freedom laws becomes hard to argue against, even inside one’s own head. Am I opposed to “responsibility”? Increasingly, I have found myself saying: To hell with it. Yes.

I have often been similarly resistant to the language of Christianity, of the sort that dominates what is being said in churches around the world today. How many times in history have acts of tyranny been justified by the tyrant saying something like: We must all bear our crosses in life, and here, this cross is yours. “God is on my side. Obey my orders.” The truth about the potential of life to inflict pain becomes the excuse to inflict further pain.

I suffered the final spasms of this way of thinking at the schools I went to, not long after the Second World War. “Life is cruel, Micklethwait, and I am now going to prove it to you by making it even more cruel. I am preparing you for life.” This kind of cruelty may now have been more or less replaced by over-protectiveness, by excessively shielding children from activities that might prove painful. Peterson has a lot to say about that also. Much modern law-making, of the you-must-not-eat-too-many-sticky-buns sort, is motivated partly by this sort of thinking.

But getting back to what Peterson says about “responsibility”, the deeply refreshing thing about how he uses this word is that, because he is not a politician, he separates the benefits to me of me choosing to live responsibly from the idea of him deciding what he thinks these responsibilities of mine should be, and then compelling me to accept them whether I judge them to be wise or appropriate or meaningful for me or not. The process he wants to set in motion in my mind is of me thinking about what my responsibilities should be. He is arguing that I should choose my own cross, as best I can, and then carry it as best I can, because this is what will be best for me. He is not telling me which cross it should be, in a way that he calculates will be advantageous for him.

It helps a lot that Peterson chose his moment to step upon the political stage by vehemently opposing a law that might compel him merely to speak in a certain way. As he himself says, you see what someone truly believes by watching what he does. Peterson really does believe in freedom, as well as in a great many other interesting things.

Maybe, sometimes, a politician may actually mean what Jordan Peterson means when he talks about responsibility. Trouble is, if he does not make himself crystal clear about what he is and is not saying, you are liable to mishear him as just wanting to boss you around. Jordan Peterson is not the boss of me, and he is not trying to be. He is simply presenting me, and all the other multitudes of people who are listening to him now, with an argument, an argument that I for one find very persuasive.

Another way of putting all this is that Peterson is not telling me anything I didn’t already know. (He gets this a lot, apparently.) What he is doing is reclaiming and cleansing an important word.

It’s a joke, you fucking cunts

While we’re at it, why not gas the dog?

Mark Meechan a.k.a. “Count Dankula”, the man who imperilled us all by making a funny video of a little dog lifting its paw like a Nazi salute, has been found guilty of a crime under the Communications Act 2003 at Airdrie Sheriff Court.

If we are handing out punishments to obvious non-Nazis for doing stuff that reminds people of Nazis I don’t see why that Seig-Heiling pug should get away scot-free.

Fair play in the Scottish Parliament

In 2011 the Scottish Government Executive* passed the stunningly illiberal Offensive Behaviour at Football Act. Judge it by its defenders: a Scottish National Party Member of the Scottish Parliament called John Mason said, “We should all know by now expressing political views is no longer acceptable at football matches.”

He framed the issue as if the only thing required of citizens was that they should keep up to date with the inexorable increase in what is deemed “unacceptable” (to whom is never specified). Once they know the rules, they will of course comply, so politics becomes merely a matter of Filch hammering up new decrees on Hogwarts wall.

Earlier posts on the same topic were “New stirrings at the Old Firm” and “Free speech for all (neds need not apply)”.

But, for once, a Ministry decree has been removed from the wall.

The BBC reports:

MSPs vote to repeal football bigotry law

MSPs have voted to repeal Scotland’s Offensive Behaviour at Football Act.

The legislation was passed by the then-majority SNP government in 2011 in a bid to crack down on sectarianism.

But all four opposition parties argued for it to be scrapped, saying it unfairly targets football fans and has failed to tackle the problem.

Ministers argued the move was “foolhardy” but were outvoted by 62 to 60, meaning the Football Act will be taken off the statute book in April.

The legislation has deeply divided opinion from the start, with those who support it saying it was needed to fight the scourge of sectarianism within Scottish football.

But opponents say the law treats football fans as “second class citizens”, and is not needed as police and the courts already had sufficient powers to deal with offensive behaviour.

They also claim that the law is badly worded, and therefore open to different interpretations of what is and is not “offensive behaviour”.

*As Sam Duncan S reminds me, in 2011 it had not yet decided got permission to call itself a Government. Added later: apologies again, Duncan S, not Sam Duncan. This post is jinxed.

Samizdata quote of the day

In Britain in the 21st century you can be punished for mocking gods. You can be expelled from the kingdom, frozen out, if you dare to diss Allah. Perversely adopting medieval Islamic blasphemy laws, modern Britain has made it clear that it will tolerate no individual who says scurrilous or reviling things about the Islamic god or prophet. Witness the authorities’ refusal to grant entrance to the nation to the alt-right Christian YouTuber Lauren Southern. Her crime? She once distributed a leaflet in Luton with the words ‘Allah is gay, Allah is trans, Allah is lesbian…’, and according to the letter she received from the Home Office informing her of her ban from Britain, such behaviour poses a ‘threat to the fundamental interests of [British] society’.

This is a very serious matter and the lack of outrage about it in the mainstream press, not least among those who call themselves liberal, is deeply disturbing.

Brendan O’Neill

Samizdata quote of the day

Yesterday the Labour leader posted a video to his social media accounts. Dogged for days by accusations he was complicit in passing information in multiple meetings to the Cold War Czechoslovak agent Jan Sarkocy, and having dodged questions on the topic by the press, Corbyn (or Agent Cob as the Statni Bezoecnost called him) decided he would not answer the questions but attack the press that were asking them.

Matt Kilcoyne

By the authority vested, very scantily vested, in me…

The Gambling Commission has said that scantily dressed female croupiers are “unacceptable”.

Gambling Commission condemns outfits at trade show

Scantily clad women are “unacceptable” at a betting industry conference, Britain’s gambling regulator has said.

Sarah Harrison told the BBC that some women working at the ICE Totally Gaming event were wearing “little more than swimsuits”, while men wore smart suits.

The chief executive of the Gambling Commission said the body could boycott future ICE Total Gaming events.

But the event’s manager said the complaint was directed at a “very small” number of firms taking part.

Kate Chambers, managing director of ICE London, also said the show has been encouraging exhibitors to represent women more respectfully.

[…]

Earlier, Ms Harrison told BBC’s Radio 4’s Today programme of her dismay at seeing a gender disparity at the show, with some women on exhibition stalls doing promotional work in revealing clothing.

“The men were wearing smart suits and women were being asked to wear not much more than swimsuits. That’s totally unacceptable; it’s not reflective of the modern economy,” she said.

“This isn’t about political correctness. It’s about good regulation and good governance, because businesses that have a more diverse workforce are more likely to make better decisions. And that’s critical from a regulator’s point of view.”

“It’s about good regulation and good governance, because businesses that have a more diverse workforce are more likely to make better decisions” is one of the weirder non-sequiturs I have come across lately. It sounds like someone inputted a load of modern buzzwords into a 1980s Turing Test chatbot program. But that is a side issue.

What part of the legal remit of the Gambling Commission gives it authority to regulate the style of dress of people working in the gambling trade? It is meant to protect “vulnerable people”, that is, gambling addicts or people at risk of becoming gambling addicts. It also has a role in ensuring the law regarding gambling by minors is followed. Women employees who wear sexy dresses at a gambling trade show come into neither of these categories. How dare Sarah Harrison imply that they are either vulnerable or children. How dare she lay down the law on whether their dress is “acceptable” or “unacceptable” to her, when there is no law to lay down. She exceeds her authority.

Samizdata quote of the day

He doesn’t mean to be a monster and I don’t want to see him as one, but in his presence my blood ran cold. I was afraid of him. I was even more afraid of the way the earnest folk in the room laughed as he joked about the unintended consequences of various programmes to clean up the act of the idiotic, self-destructive great unwashed, I realised that I might be the only one there who included himself in the category of “the people” to be shaped as opposed to the smug elite doing the shaping.

No one seemed remotely concerned for the freedoms of those on the receiving end of Dr Chadwick’s mind bending, “nudging” and manipulation — the benighted mugs who ultimately pay to have such well-shod professionals sneer about them behind their backs.

– Tom Paine writing an article titled ‘An unexpected encounter with a monster

Oh boy, do I feel Tom’s Pain (sorry).

It reminds me of the following remarks I made when speaking to a rather earnest employee of Her Majesty’s government. It was at a PPE dinner at an Oxford college, filled to the rafters with pretty much the same people who filled the room where Tom Paine’s blood ran cold. As I was clearly very off-message, she had just told me that “You’re the sort of person we need to convince”:

“Don’t waste your time trying to convince me its all for my own good, because the objective isn’t my good, its making sure the people in this room have power. If you keep nudging people, and you just won’t stop, eventually they’ll punch you in the face. But we both know the reason that doesn’t happen to you is because Mao’s dictum is entirely correct. Your presumed right to do what you do to the hoi polloi is embedded at an axiomatic level, you don’t have any coherent moral argument to back it up, and why should you? The only reason you can do what you do is because you keep the police force funded, which is why you don’t need to convince me of anything.”

For some reason I don’t get taken to those kind of dinners any more 😆

Samizdata quote of the day

But Justice Gorsuch took not an “expectation of privacy” approach to the question but a property rights approach. Under common law, he said, “possession is good title against everybody except for people with superior title.” Absent probable cause, a trespass action would be available against anyone searching the car. Thus, “by virtue of his possession,” Byrd would have a right to resist a carjacker or throw out an overstaying hitchhiker. “So why not the government?”

Roger Pilon

Samizdata quote of the day

A defendant who makes the wrong choice will wind up in jail; a prosecutor who charges improperly will suffer little, if any, adverse consequence beyond a poor win/loss record. Prosecutors are even absolutely immune from lawsuits over misconduct in their prosecutorial capacity.

So I think we should give prosecutors some skin in the game. Let juries be informed that they may refuse to convict if they think a conviction is unjust — and, if that happens, let the defendants’ attorney fees and other costs be billed to the government. Also, let juries be informed that, if they believe the prosecution itself was malicious or unfair, they can make that finding — in which case the defendants’ costs should come out of the prosecutor’s budget. (If you want to get even tougher, you could provide that the prosecutors involved should be disqualified from law practice for a year or stripped of their immunity from civil suit. But I’m not sure we need to go that far).

Glenn Reynolds

Samizdata quote of the day

Public regulation is static by principle. According to his knowledge of the past, a regulator will define conditions for the presence. However, she cannot know what will come in the future. By definition, innovation represents the direct opposite. Innovator cares not about what people did in the past or what the current situation is. Innovation is a projection of the future. The issue arises when these two concepts collide in a concrete case. The regulators then judge the innovation on the basis of the old standards and the innovators judge the regulation based on their own vision of the future.

Today the static barriers of government regulations are exceeded by new technological innovations and new entrepreneurs. Therefore, it is necessary to take a step back and look at these issues from a broader perspective. We can also look at this problematics simplistically and see if the new technology fits into the official regulatory box, or not. And if it, by chance, doesn’t fit, we ban it automatically.

Robert Chovanculiak

The pitchforks are out for Count Dankula

“M8 Yer Dugs A Nazi.” That link takes you to a video in which a man who wished to annoy his girlfriend trained her cute pug to lift its paw in a “Nazi salute” in response to Nazi slogans. Well, it used to. At present for me it takes me to a video of a black screen saying “This video is not available in your country”. Mark Meechan, the man who made the video, is from Scotland and I am in England, but I do not think that explains it.

From the Telegraph‘s account and even more from a swing round Mr Meechan’s “Count Dankula” YouTube channel, it does sound as if his humour tends towards the crass and tasteless. But do these words from the beginning of the video sound to you like the voice of a man committed to the triumph of Nazism?

The court heard that at the start of the clip, he said: “My girlfriend is always ranting and raving about how cute and adorable her wee dog is so I thought I would turn him into the least cute thing I could think of, which is a Nazi.”

In the video, the dog is seen perking up when it hears the statements and appears to lift its paw to the “Sieg Heil” command in the video, which has now been viewed more than million times.

Mr Meechan is currently on trial at Airdrie Sheriff Court for committing a hate crime. If convicted he faces up to a year in prison. The verdict was due two days ago but has been delayed for reasons unknown.

One of the more detailed reports on the case came from the Washington Post:

The dog is also seen watching a Hitler rally during the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. The dog appears to raise its paw when Hitler proclaims “Sieg Heil.”

“Who’s a good wee Nazi?” Meechan praised the dog.

The video ricocheted around the Internet and has now been viewed more than 3 million times. Some found it amusing; others feel it was crude and anti-Semitic, including a woman who Meechan says confronted him, then spread dog feces on his front door.

Prosecutors say it’s a hate crime.

That April, soon after the video was posted, police knocked on Meechan’s door in Coatbridge, a town in North Lanarkshire, Scotland, he told Alex Jones. The officers told him that he was being charged with a hate crime and that the video could be seen as promoting violence against Jews. They told him to change his clothes, took pictures of his apartment and hauled him off to jail.

He spent a night there and is now on trial for violating the Communications Act of 2003, which prohibits using public telecommunications to send discriminatory religious messages.