Category Archives: Book Review

The Bible: Recipe for Genocide or Junk Sculpture?

What exactly is the religious rationale for Israel as a Jewish state? Who better to ask than an America Jewish secular journalist. We can assume that makes our investigative journalist a zionist (90% of Jews support Israel — DV Ed note: This is not a definition of a Zionist), but, as a journalist, and secular, our protagonist assures the reader he is interested in giving us as objective a version as can be expected.

David Plotz’s Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible (2009) puts the Old Testament (OT) under his microscope, knowing virtually zip about the religion, not practicing, nor forced to go to Saturday Hebrew school. Locke’s ‘blank slate’, sort of.

Plotz loves the ironies and contradictions of his journey and the Bible itself. He starts out believing vaguely in the existence of God, but not observing the rituals. During his 365 days of plodding through the book, he comes to admire the rituals, and starts observing Shabat Friday dinners, complete with prayers, celebrating Passover, New Year, Sukkoth.

But he’s not at all happy with the God the OT reveals. “I leave the bible as a hopeless and angry agnostic. I’m brokenhearted about God. God made me rational so I must use the tools to think about him. Submit him to rational and moral inquiry. And he fails that examination. The history of Judaism is an effort to grapple with the bible’s horror.”

Wow. But I’m sure Netanyahu is nonetheless delighted with Plotz. The zionists from the start wanted to dump the religion. Ben Gurion et al were atheists and saw Judaism as harmful, the negative legacy of ‘the Jews’. Think of zionism as extreme liberalism.

Succeeding minority governments give token power to the ornery Orthodox parties, but hold their noses. They need them for legitimacy as a religious state. No country except Israel recognizes being Jewish as an ethnicity in the census, not even the US. And neither the US nor Canada ‘do’ religion in the census anymore. What is a poor atheist to do?

Suddenly, the old archetype of the ‘wandering Jew’ becomes important as a way to establish this slippery ethnic label. But no! Jews no longer need to wander. They can make aliyah and go to Israel, the Jewish state.

Bible as land deed?

So agnostic Plotz is forced to turn to the Bible. What about the ‘proof’ that God gave ‘ the Jews’ Jerusalem etc.? Plotz finds that in Genesis, Jeremiah and Nehemiah, there are promises of land to Abraham at least four times, each time with different boundaries. The only mention of an ‘Arab’ is in Nehemiah, when Geshen is told “you have no share or claim or historic right in  Jerusalem.”

So how to get it? In their conquests, in Deuteronomy, the tactics are laid out: a city about to be invaded is offered the chance to surrender and be enslaved, or annihilated and women/ children taken as booty. That’s what Joshua told the Canaanites when the Jews decided to invade and take their ‘promised land’.

To quote the famous Judophobe Henry Ford: you can have any colour you like, as long as it’s black. A special deal for any non-Jewish city in the promised land: annihilation only. I.e., very black. But not to worry, fruit trees should be spared.

Plotz analyzes the biblical heroes. Abraham, Rebekah, Jacob get what they want because they finagle, cajole, argue, deceive, play mind games, misuse God to advance their lies. Isaac is almost sacrificed, tricked by Jacob and Rebekah twice. He is the accidental patriarch. A bit of a putz, like Moses’s brother Aaron, a very lax (cowardly?) priest, who shrugs off the golden-calf feasting, and was let off the hook.

But Plotz likes these wily trickster heroes. They start poor, bargain with God and get what they want. Great models for the Jews over the millennia.

Jeremiah is a favourite. Though all gloom and doom, he is the template for the Jewish character traits that have made the tribe the longest surviving and wildly successful star of world society today. He was the priest under the Babylonians, and ordered his flock to submit. This is the key to the success of Jews in diaspora (adaptable, cultured, flexible), but in its incarnation as Judenrat,1 a bit of a problem.

As they were getting ready for the gloom and doom exile, Jeremiah promised his flock they would someday return, that old contracts and land arrangements would apply “when Jews return to Zion.” This is the clearest land deal (no lavish boundaries from Iraq to Egypt). The most ‘historical’ one, unlike the legendary Noahide covenant, with Abraham as stand-in for the human race, or the conquest of promised land after the exodus, that whole episode at best a jolly good yarn.

But, of course, this is all ‘angels on the head of a pin’ stuff. The entire OT is a long, complicated pseudo-history, jam-packed with one genocide after another. Junk sculpture, according to Professor Emeritus in the Bible Department at Bar Ilan University and the Harry M. Starr Professor Emeritus of Classical and Modern Hebrew Literature at Harvard James Kugel (the Professor of Disbelief). Bits and pieces cobbled together in a postmodern pastiche. A bit like the state of Israel.

Universal God vs blood and guts

Plotz looks for hints of the universal God and finds them. Isaiah is the first. When not telling Isaiah of massacres, God explicitly values good deeds over professions of faith. There are brief moments of eloquent words of a new saviour, who sounds an awful lot like Jesus”

  1. The lion lies down with the calf (not the lamb). The leopard with the kid.
  2. The saviour resurrects the dead, offers eternal salvation.
  3. It is the will of God to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin … through him the will of the lord shall prosper.
  4. The servant of God is despised and rejected by others.

Plotz doesn’t have much use for Leviticus. It is full of rules for animal sacrifice and lots and lots of ‘Off with her head!’. There is no ‘Brokeback Mount Sinai’. But when bible-thumpers quote it to kill gays, Plotz suggests taking the offensive. There are death sentences for dozens of reasons (cursing parents, violating the Sabbath, sex with a menstruating woman). Unlike the New Testament and the Quran, the OT is littered with this craziness, plus torture and full scale genocide. Wahhab surely used it as a template for his extreme Islam. There is none of this in the Quran.

Plotz quotes the colourful “Let not the land spew you out for defiling it, as it spewed out the nation that came before you.” [Leviticus 18:28] But wait a minute. Who is the nation that came before the Jews when Israel was created? If the zionists have defiled Palestine, then they can expect the same treatment. Watch what you wish for, you might get it.

Time after time, reading Good Book, I was, like Plotz, appalled by the violence, the cruel vengeful, jealous God of the OT, grateful that I was not forced to have the God of Judaism as my standard. But Plotz is a proud Jew, and while rejecting the God (or at least defying him, like Plotz’s plucky patriarchal heroes), he brushes off the rituals and dives right in.

70AD the new ‘covenant’

If Plotz is a good example of today’s Jew, the zionists have won. Who cares what the world thinks? ‘We’ know we’re an ethnicity, the top dog chosen people. Who needs God? (But keep the OT just in case.)

Another Jewish look at Israel with the Torah in mind, Douglas Rushkoff’s Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism (2003), has no truck with using the Bible for a land grab. Rushkoff emphasizes the universalism of Judaism. God is no longer just for ‘the tribe’, not associated with piece of land. God uses the Israelites to teach others, and uses other people (and war) to teach Israelites lessons, but God does not directly intervene after Moses. God is internalized, like the Hindu atman (the eternal sustaining essence within every individual).

Rushkoff downplays the genocides, instead, arguing that the Jewish obsession with conquering Palestine is childish, that Jews have to grow up.  They will “lose the zionist claim over a patch of sacred soil, but get to claim the entire planet as a kind of Jerusalem.” The destruction of the temple in 70AD is really a leap forward in the holy covenant. Forget the temple. God is distant, but that’s ok for grown-ups. Humans must take responsibility to enact the holy teachings.

Rushkoff sees Judaism after 70AD as methodology, epistemology, holography. A Jewish ‘kingdom’, like any kingdom, will inevitably decline. The diaspora meant the spread of Jewish laws and values throughout the Roman empire and beyond. Isn’t that better than a corrupt, violent ‘kingdom’? Rushkoff warns that anti-Jewish prejudice is increasing. The Holocaust is wearing thin, the Jewish people risk losing their noble role in history with the reversion to tribal thinking, flouting, as it does, world opinion.

While Plotz relishes the ironies and contradictions undermining the OT (Leviticus’s “one standard for stranger and citizen”, and slavery/ tribal chosenness; visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generations of those who reject me, but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments), Rushkoff points to the main irony: Israel is obsessed with territory, but the religion was founded and refounded on disengagement from the land. Everywhere is ‘holy land’. This take on the Bible is very different than that of Plotz, but Plotz’s vengeful, jealous God is the one at work at the moment.

There are still genuine True Torah Jews who go even farther than Rushkoff, and insist Israel is an abomination, that peace means (probably) Muslim rule, but that’s okay. Muslims have a great track record ruling Jews (unlike Christians). And there is a new wave of antizionist Jews in the diaspora who reject Israel in its present form, and work with Arabs and all, in a universal way. Where is today’s Daniel to translate this writing on the wall.

  • Related Read: “Hating the Bible
    1. A WWII Jewish-German self-enforcing intermediary that served the German administration for controlling Jewish communities in occupied areas.

    The Right Book at the Right Time

    If Vladimir Putin really wanted to hurt the United States he’d send Russian bombers to drop copies of Ron Ridenour’s Russian Peace Threat: Pentagon on Alert on schools throughout America. Chronicling US crimes and obstructions against peace for over 100 years, this Tsar Bomba of a book ranges over the 1918 US invasion of Russia, US capitalism’s neverending collaborations with fascists and takfiris, the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK’s assassination, Soviet involvement in Afghanistan and the momentous year 2001 when Vladimir Putin offered to align Russia’s foreign policy with the US only to get repaid by the US serving notice that it would withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, setting off a new arms race. (Your humble reviewer believes that the only reason for the US to leave the ABM Treaty is that Dick — the real “decider” — Cheney decided that a nuclear war could be fought and “won.”)

    Aside from an exciting account of the Russian revolution, there’s little in the book about Russia’s domestic affairs over the past century. Instead, Russia and the US are contrasted in their foreign policies and dealings with each other. The chief takeaway is that Soviet and Russian leaders from Stalin to Khrushchev to Brezhnev to Gorbachev to Putin were/are a whole lot more cautious, practical and less ideological than their US counterparts. (Fidel Castro wanted the Soviets to leave tactical nuclear weapons in Cuba but the Russian leadership overruled it for the sake of peace. Russia played an instrumental role in the Iran nuke deal and, of course, convinced Assad to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons.) The worldwide “communist conspiracy” was largely a mirage covering up a reality of the US continually poking the Russian bear with fascists on its western border and Islamic fanatics on its southern border.

    Ridenour has been something of a Zelig-like figure on the left: one of 4,000 people that Nixon put on a list to be rounded up and incarcerated in a concentration camp and also a target of dirty tricks instigated by the FBI and the LAPD. He reported from the 1973 Wounded Knee occupation, lived for years in Cuba (writing  for Prensa Latina) and once, during an anti-war protest with Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden, witnessed the LAPD beat up wheelchair-bound Ron Kovic with blackjacks.

    The timeliness and necessity of Russian Peace Threat was shown on February 12 when the Smithsonian magazine published an Uncle Sam-splainin’ article about the US invading Russia in 1918. The article worried itself with the problems of the US invaders rather than pointing out the criminality and real reason for the invasion. US troops, says the headline, were just “caught up” in this war — pure happenstance that they were thousands of miles from the US, killing innocent Russians defending their homeland. But, as Ridenhour meticulously details, the truth is that the international capitalist class was terrified of the success of the Russian Revolution and doing everything and anything to keep it from spreading, strangling it in its “cradle” as the racist war criminal Winston Churchill said. Capitalism is always and forever the most insecure system — it knows perfectly well how unjust it is. Nowhere in the Smithsonian article is it mentioned that the US destroyed 25 villages in the Russian Amur district alone or that America’s democracy-spreaders burned the peaceful village of Ivanovka to ground, killing 1,300 inhabitants.

    One of my favorite parts of Russian Peace Threat is the blow by blow account of how Cuba defeated the United States of Satan at the Bay of Pigs. It reminded me of Marx’s description of the communards in the Paris Commune. Also gripping is the story of Russian submarine Captain Vasili Arkhipov, sometimes called “the man who saved the world” because of his cool-headed actions during the Cuban Missile Crisis. As Ridenour details, there’s actually a lot more to this story of nuclear-armed Russian submarines off the Cuban coast during the crisis. Cut off from all communication with the world, the submarines had no clear orders when to fire their nuclear torpedos, besides being pounded by depth charges and unsure if war had started between the US and Russia.

    Interestingly, the Cuban leadership always had a more positive view of JFK than one would think considering that, of the 638 US-sponsored assassination attempts on Castro’s life, 42 came under Kennedy’s presidency. (Reagan led with 194, followed closely by Nixon with 184. Even the pious homebuilder Jimmy Carter tried 64 times to kill Castro.) Bobby Kennedy is quoted as suggesting a “Remember the Maine” false flag in order to launch another invasion of Cuba. And JFK, just 10 days before he died, approved a CIA plan for destroying Cuba’s largest oil refinery, a large electrical plant, sugar refineries, railroad bridges, harbor facilities and the underwater demolition of docks and ships. Yet the Cuban leadership’s overall view was that JFK had to appease crazy US generals and CIA officials.

    Bobby Kennedy suggesting a “Remember the Maine” false flag might come as a surprise to many but is completely in line with the history of the US ruling class. Ridenour ticks off the list of false flags, skullduggery and psy-ops: the “Maine,” the Gulf of Tonkin, Operation Northwoods, Operation Mongoose, COINTELPRO, Operation Mockingbird, the tale of Iraqi soldiers throwing Kuwaiti babies out of incubators and Gaddafi’s Viagra-popping “black African mercenaries” raping their way across north Africa on their way to Europe until mercifully euthanized by NATO bombs. Immense lies have to be told repeatedly to prep the US working class for war. Reading the list makes me wonder why many left-ish pundits are so incurious about 9/11 — about why, for example, World Trade Center Building 7 fell for two seconds in freefall into its own footprint even though no planes touched it. Considering how monolithically deceitful the corporate media is on Syria or Venezuela, is it paranoid or just common sense to believe that Operation Mockingbird (or something like it) is still going on?

    Another stand out chapter concerns the Soviet “invasion” of Afghanistan in the 1980s. With the US arming, funding and training Islamic fanatics in the countryside, the progressive government in Kabul begged Soviet leaders for 20 months to come to their aid. Russian leaders resisted and were bitterly divided — some, like Alexei Kosygin, foresaw the disaster to come for Russia — but they finally assented and, as the architect of the chaos and bloodshed Zbigniew Brzezinski said, “We gave the Russians their own Vietnam.” (Here, too, we see the Soviet leaders’ preference for caution and practicality rather than ideology. This time it was in the person of Leonid Brezhnev who urged Afghan President Taraki to go slower on social reforms to get more public support for them from conservative Afghanis.)

    It appears that Syria, Iran and Russia are driving the US out of Syria but it’s well worth pondering Afghanistan then and Syria now when the US can bring the world’s deadliest weapon — the US dollar’s reserve currency status — and almost unlimited resources to bear on any conflict. (Trump said in December that he’s getting out of Syria but ever since he said it, the US has increased both personnel and war material in Syria.)

    Ridenour notes that the US and Britain have used the Muslim Brotherhood and assorted takfiris for almost 100 years to divide and conquer Southwest Asia. Brainwashed Americans will be surprised to learn that Afghan women could vote, be politicians, were most of the nation’s teachers, allowed full education, worked in most trades and decided whom to marry and what to wear — and all of that (and more) is what the US destroyed because Brzezinski wanted to give Russia its “own Vietnam.” The US modus operandi is to do exactly opposite of what it says, in other words: “help” means “destroy” — something that Venezuelans are currently getting very familiar with.

    There’s so much more in Russian Peace Threat: General Smedley Butler exposing the “banker’s plot” to overthrow FDR, the US/Russian space race, the 2014 US-funded overthrow of the Ukrainian government and the 1990s disintegration of the Soviet Union which is now looking like one of the greatest disasters in working class history, not just because of the suffering and shortened lives of the Russian people but because it turned Uncle Scam loose to wreak unbridled havoc on the world.

    How important, interesting and useful is Ridenour’s Russian Peace Threat? Look at the photo below of all the pages I turned down. (An index would have made it even more useful!) With Russia moving its borders closer and closer to US military bases (ha, ha), the US placing missile launchers with both defensive and offensive capabilities in eastern Europe, the Russians countering with the development of hypersonic weapons, the shortening of the time either side has to decide whether to launch nuclear missiles, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock now at two minutes to midnight, the eagle and bear parrying and squaring off in the Ukraine and Syria and, perhaps, now in Venezuela — well, this is the right book at the right time for explaining much of the current world.

    Who will Displace the Omniciders?

    Citizens challenging the towering threat of climate crisis should never underestimate the consequences of our dependence on fossil fuel corporations. Real engagement with the worsening climate disruption means spending more of our leisure hours on civic action. The fate of future generations and our planet depends on the intensity of these actions.

    This was my impression after interviewing Dahr Jamail, author of the gripping new book, The End of Ice, on my Radio Hour. Jamail, wrote books and prize-winning articles, as the leading freelance journalist covering the Bush/Cheney Iraq war and its devastating aftermath. For his latest book, Jamail went to the visible global warming hot spots to get firsthand accounts from victims of climate disruption. His gripping reporting is bolstered by facts from life-long specialists working in the regions he visited.

    Readers of The End of Ice are taken on a journey to see what is happening in Alaska, the mountain forests of California, the coral reefs of Australia, the heavily populated lowlands of South Florida, the critical Amazon forest, and other areas threatened by our corporate-driven climate crisis.

    Jamail, an accomplished mountaineer, precisely illustrates the late great environmentalist, Barry Commoner’s first law of ecology. Namely, that “everything is connected to everything else.” Jamail makes the connection between the rising sea levels and the untold catastrophes engulfing forests, mountains, and the wildlife on land and in the sea. Jamail is not relying on computer models. What he is seeing, photographing, and experiencing is often worse than what the models show in terms of accelerating sea level rises and the melting ice of the glaciers.

    Jamail’s trenchant conversations with bona fide experts who have spent a lifetime seeing what mankind has done to the natural world, presents a compelling case of the threat the climate crisis poses to human survival.

    Jamail, near the end of his narrative, writes: “Disrespect for nature is leading to our own destruction… This is the direct result of our inability to understand our part in the natural world. We live in a world where we are acidifying the oceans, where there will be few places cold enough to support year-round ice, where all the current coastlines will be underwater, and where droughts, wildfires, floods, storms, and extreme weather are already becoming the new normal.”

    If you don’t know that melting ice and permafrost is a big tragedy, then that is all the more reason to read this book and immerse yourself in its vivid prose.

    His chapter on south Florida and its millions of residents is probably the one scenario that will bring the alarming message home to people in coastal communities worldwide. South Florida could be underwater in fifty years or less. Many of the houses, buildings and infrastructures are located only a few feet or yards above sea level. Engineers and some city officials see Miami Beach as doomed and say Floridians must prepare for evacuations.

    There are other more approaching, intermediate dangers. As Jamail writes: “One major source of concern is the Florida aquifer. Once that water is contaminated by saltwater, it is over.”

    Already, some banks will not provide 30 year home mortgages for vulnerably located houses. Some home values along the ocean are starting to be adversely affected. Insurance companies are reluctant to publicize their projections but their actuarial tables are not, shall we say, consumer friendly.

    Then there are the lethal-storm surges during major hurricanes as sea levels and high tides rise relentlessly.

    Most businesses, people, and municipalities are looking the other way. Two-term Governor Rick Scott (a corporate crook) even prohibited state employees from uttering or writing the words “climate change” in any state documents. It is admittedly hard to face such catastrophe while the sun is shining and most normal life continues. In 2017, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave Florida Power and Light, the go-ahead to build two new nuclear power plants (they’re too expensive and won’t be built) to join its aging plants on the beach. Shades of the Fukushima disaster in Japan 8 years ago.

    None of these warnings are recent. Climate scientists warned President Lyndon Johnson about the dangers associated with carbon release in the atmosphere in 1965. President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore released a detailed, urgent, report, with pictures and graphs, about climate disruption in 1993 to demonstrate that the clock was ticking. Unfortunately, in the following seven years, they mostly did what the auto industry wanted them to do—nothing.

    Some of the most poignant passages in Jamail’s book are the informed cries and worries of the onsite specialists he interviewed. People you have never heard of, but who should be heard all the time. One of them, Dr. Rita Mesquita, a biologist with the largest research institute in Brazil for the Amazon forest says, “We are not telling the general public what is really going on.” While the general public is spending more time in virtual reality and, with growing urbanization, becoming estranged from nature, this ominous disconnect is widening.

    The new president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, has openly vowed to bolster more commercial development in the Amazon and on indigenous tribal land.

    How will India’s billion plus people get their water if its rivers dry up because the glaciers in the Himalayas have melted? How do you relocate 30 million people from Mumbai from rising sea levels? How do you head off spreading diseases due to habitat destruction? Meanwhile, 100 corporations (e.g. ExxonMobil, Shell, and state entities) continue to be the source of 71% of total global carbon dioxide emissions.

    There are 600 cable channels in the U.S. transmitting largely junk programs. How about one percent of them (six) being dedicated to the global stories and urgencies of climate catastrophes, and to how movements like Drawdown (of greenhouse gases) are succeeding in cutting these menaces (see Drawdown by Paul Hawken) around the world?

    Think about what we should be doing with some of our time for our descendants so as not to have them curse us for being oblivious, narcissistic ancestors!

    We can start with instructing our Congress to deploy its transformative leverage over the economy. The only reason Congress has been an oil, gas, and coal toady, instead of an efficient, renewable energy force, is because we have sat on the sidelines watching ExxonMobil be Congress’ quarterback.

    Working Class Heroes

    ‘Imperialism abroad — despotism at home’ was once the credo of the Democratic Party, part of its 1900 platform. One of the tidbits Dan Kovalik — author of The Plot to Control the World: How the US Spent Billions to Change the Outcome of Elections Around the World (2018) — passed on at his Toronto book launch.

    Yes, the US is the big interferer in others’ elections, as Kovalik documents. But as counsel of the Union of Steelworkers and lawyer for beleaguered workers in Colombia, Kovalik gave his listeners insight into the little known role the US trade union movement plays — its betrayal of trade unionists abroad. Dozens of Colombia worker-heroes owe their lives to his lawyer smarts and dedication to the working class. As an American, he takes the evil of  imperialism seriously and risks his own life to fight it. A real ‘working class hero’.

    Kovalik doesn’t pretend to document all the US crimes (read William Blum for that). Rather, in The Plot he takes you on a world tour to Eurasia, Africa and the Americas for key election rigging moments, moments that he connects with viscerally, and brings to life.

    He doesn’t get to Venezuela, but it’s really not necessary. Same old, same old. There is a clear template that has been honed over the decades, and that makes the Maduros and Talibans around the world justifiably cynical about US ‘democracy promotion’.

    Kovalik contrasts the pathetic claims of Russian interference in US elections with the real, devastating US interference in the key 1996 election there that catapulted an unpopular Yeltsin back into their White House to allow the US to rape and pillage another four years. And as orchestrator of the 2014 coup in Ukraine that brought neo-fascists into power, joining Europe’s new right.

    And Vietnam. It never stops giving. Kovalik highlighted the revelation in the mid-2000s of President Johnson’s secret tapes (it seems Nixon wasn’t the only one who dabbled in that) of South Vietnamese officials and his political foes, that reveal how Nixon convinced the South Vietnamese to hold off on peace talks, that if he won, he would get them a better deal. Johnson calls this treason.

    But Nixon won, and who’s going to impeach a standing president for treason? (Okay, two million more Vietnamese dead. Who cares?) It was LBJ’s tapes stored in the Watergate complex calling him a traitor that Nixon was after, but all that we heard about was the break-in of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office. Much better to get rid of Nixon using some nice sex scandal (sorry, that’s Clinton).

    So there’s a parallel with Clinton’s impeachment, and with Trump’s maybe impeachment. When you’ve decided to go after a president, it better not be political (for their war crimes, bombing and subversion abroad).

    “All US presidents since WWII have been war criminals,” says Kovalik. The sheeple need to keep believing in the emperor’s ‘new clothes’. He can do naughty things, but he is basically a good guy. Never a traitor or war criminal.

    And another parallel — Reagan’s ‘October surprise’ in the 1980 election — collusion with the enemy to hold onto the hostages at the US embassy until he was elected. The ‘enemy’ would get arms in exchange. It worked and, despite being exposed, Reagan was not impeached for treason.

    Willson lost his legs protesting illegal arms shipments to Nicaragua.

    But then, as Kovalik told us,  it was Reagan who gave the go ahead in 1987 to the train driver to run over Vietnam veteran Brian Willson at the Concord Naval Weapons Station where arms were shipped to the Contras in Reagan’s so-called “secret war” in Nicaragua. Willson survived and is a friend of Kovalik. Another working class hero.

    Kovalik recounted how the trade union movement has been working hand-in-glove with the CIA since the launching of the Cold War in the late 1940s. “People joke it’s really the AFL-CIA.”

    Instead of supporting the Venezuelan workers in their current US-inflicted crisis, the US trade unions are supporting the attempt to overthrow the workers’ government. One would expect trade unions in the rich West to be sympathetic to their brothers in the imperial periphery, but this ‘workers of the world unite’ philosophy, once the credo of the Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World) is long gone.

    The credo resurfaced during the Great Depression and WWII, when the union movement surged ahead in America. Enter the Cold War, and the unions became government appendages, and the CIA began actively to work through them to quell workers everywhere.

    When the CIA had its knuckles rapped by the Church Committee in 1975, there was a brief pause in subversion, but by 1979 they were back in action everywhere, doing the same dirty work through Reagan’s National Endowment for Democracy, again using the trade unions as a cover for subversion.

    Everyone knows about the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre (bad) [Too few people are aware of monopoly media disinformation (bad) and believe unskeptically what they are told. Read “Massacre? What Massacre?” and decide for yourself the truth of a massacre in Tiananmen Square. — Ed] knows about , but how about the same year, the Caracazo massacre in Venezuela, which resulted in the same thousand + deaths (no one knows for sure), when the neoliberal agenda was suddenly inflicted on the nation (no election endorsing it), doubling prices and privatizing huge swathes of the economy?

    No problemo. The IMF blessing is enough ‘democracy’. (Hey, guess where the Bolivarian revolution started?)

    China bad, El Salvador good

    We are programmed: China, Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua bad, Colombia, El Salvador, whoever-obeys-the-US, good. Kovalik shakes his head in exasperation.”The US pushed countries into Soviet hands with threats, and then protested that they were secret communists and must be destroyed openly.”

    Cuba, of course, is the wonderful exception to US diktat, lucky enough to have a still powerful Soviet Union willing to stand up to the US bully. Was Castro a commie all along? Well, he certainly was after the Bay of Pigs.

    Which brings us to the 1823 Monroe Doctrine. Once upon a time, the US could just move into any American country (Canada, the British-controlled exception) and wipe out any pesky caudillo. Nicaragua and Cuba were given especially harsh treatment in the 1930s. After Cuba held on to its revolution, the tide started to shift. But with Trump’s latest threat to invade Venezuela, it seems the empire is hell-bent on more Monroe.

    Kovalik marshalls devastating facts:

    *Rome at 33 military bases to keep its world empire in tow, Britain 36, the US 1000.

    *The Colombian and United States governments worked overtime on mass killings in Colombia between 2002 and 2009. Trade unionist have been killed at the rate of one every three days over the last 23 years, half by the security forces. (Remember: Colombia good, Venezuela bad.)

    *The Wayuu natives are experiencing a slow motion genocide, as their main source of livelihood, the tributary of the Río Ranchería, was diverted to service Cerrejón, whose slogan is “responsible mining”. It is Latin America’s biggest open-pit coal mine (690 square kilometers), a joint Swiss-British-Australian-US firm, ‘responsible’ only in the sense of responsible for destroying the nation that lived there in peace with nature for millennia.

    *Samantha Power won a Pulitzer Prize for A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide (2002), which chastises US inaction on genocides in the 20th century. Obama made her UN ambassador, where she was able to advance her noble cause using R2P (responsibility to protect), advocating what? More invasions, Libya being Power’s finest hour.

    Peace? Boring :(

    Which brings us to peace. How to promote it? It’s so hard to get there. Revolution is exciting, even if naughty (Fidelistas, Sandinistas, Chavistas). But who cares about the drip torture of the empire when you’re trying to build a peaceful society? Bo-oring.

    Kovalik recounts how Americans were shocked that he still proudly shows a selfie with the Sandinista Daniel Ortega, another close friend, despite the (fake) news about him murdering, torturing, embezzling. “Building a socialist society, resisting endless slander and subversion, overcoming apathy and the legacy of corruption and hopelessness, that’s hard, exhausting work. Sure you make mistakes, but they’re honest mistakes, and you learn from them. You don’t give up.”

    As a lawyer, Kovalik fights to make international law function. “The law should protect the weak against the powerful. But that’s not what’s happening. The US loves to use the International Criminal Court, but refuses to join, as that would mean it could (would) be brought to court. Only Africans have been prosecuted there.” Ditto for the International Court of Justice. R2P is a violation of international law, a gimmick introduced in post-Soviet times to give the imperial system a sheen of respectability.

    How to appeal to the youth of today, the hope of the future? “When young people tell me there’s no hope, no future, I find it hard to disagree with them, but if we can show the youth that the only way to end global warming is to dismantle the war industry, there really is hope. It is the key to a future worth living.”

    IQ, Equal Pay for Equal Work, Population Control, Mao, and Communism

    “Prepare for Struggle, Prepare for Famine, Work for the People.”

    Jordan Peterson posits IQ tests as indicators of intelligence and predictors of long-term success.1 This is not scientific. Intelligence is definitionally problematic as is designing tests to measure whatever is deemed to denote intelligence. Nowadays, intelligence is considered a multi-faceted concept that cannot be measured comprehensively and accurately by a paper-and-pencil test. Moreover, it is extremely difficult to isolate a multitude of other factors and attribute any result exclusively to intelligence; e.g., parental upbringing, socio-economic levels, health, spiritual beliefs, personal inclinations, etc. Into this mix Peterson adds conscientiousness, with the same problems of how to define and how to measure. So such studies would be subjective, and at best any experimental designs would provide correlational statistics. Even resorting to multivariate analyses would not be without problems.

    Multivariate analyses are an aid to, not a substitute for critical thinking in the area of data analysis. Meaningful results can only be produced by these methods if careful consideration is given to questions of sample size, variable type, variable distribution etc., and accusations of subjectivity in interpretation can only be overcome by replication…. Perhaps a major cause of the continuing misuse of statistical methods is the insistence of many journal editors in psychology and related areas, on articles being laced with multivariate analyses, and on encouraging the pedantic use of signifance levels, i.e. the inevitable p less than minus, as if such inclusions lent an air of respectability to their journal which it might not otherwise have had…2

    In addition, the argument on IQ tests and the role of conscientiousness in “success” and “happiness” is a mined territory because covertly it recalls the dark side of eugenics. If IQs and conscientiousness are the litmus tests for the rank and suitability of individuals in a given society, then how far are we from doctrines adopted by fascist states vis-à-vis their people? The argument becomes seriously explosive in the context of poverty, depending on how one construes the correlation between IQ and success. For instance, according to many sources, Americans living under the poverty line are over 40 million. A question: would Peterson be poised to say that their poverty is a direct function of their IQ and conscientiousness? Any one who dares to pose the question on IQ or conscientiousness must (1) examine their own shortcoming on both matters, and (2) examine the social, economic, and cultural factors conducive, functionally, to lower IQ and social adaptations. Caveat: examining is not a judgement but a process leading to assumptions that must be further tested for factual or theoretical validity.

    Equal Pay for Equal Work

    Although physicists can unravel the mathematical laws of the universe and rocket engineers can calculate how to launch several probes on missions throughout the solar system, according to Peterson, humans are incapable of determining what is equal. “The introduction of the ‘equal pay for equal work’ argument immediately complicates even salary comparison beyond practicality for one simple reason: who decides what work is equal? It’s not possible. That’s why the marketplace exists.” (loc 5403) And just how fair or effective as a distributive mechanism is the marketplace?

    First, since the dawn of time, world societies and their economic systems have varied from Babylonia, Pharaonic civilization, ancient China, Rome, Islamic civilization, aggressive Mongolian expansionism, etc through to modern systems such as capitalism, socialism, communism, Italian fascism, social democracies, etc. Equal pay for all or advocating for equality of pay to all never existed. Roman soldiers took less that centurions, and engineers and artists took more than qualified labor and artisans. Early Islamic social laws, as distinct from religious laws, had legislated that qualified artisans and poets receive special pecuniary treatment, so also that the fighters that took less than their commanders did. Karl Marx, Fredrick Engels, and even Vladimir Lenin never advocated for equal pay because they acknowledged the important role of creativity and expertise in the making of a valid economic model.

    Why does Peterson accept decision of payment being left to the marketplace regardless of equality for the work done? Is the marketplace an entity that popped into existence by itself? Or did it have human hands behind its creation? Of course humans brought about the formation of the marketplace. And which humans would be expected to benefit the most from such an entity? Or did he expect his readers to absorb his statement naively and leave it unchallenged? To make the point, is there a design behind Peterson’s many groundless assertions? In the end, it seems to me that Peterson’s phrase — “That’s why the marketplace exists” — is a poor ideological construct in terms of cause and consequence. Most likely, he came up with it to close a complex argument by pointing to the predictive power of personality characteristics, however, it does not develop as a compact sequential argument. And why should having a extroverted versus introverted personality, or an assertive versus relaxed demeanor demand differential pay for equal work? Peterson provides such as explanations for unequal pay for the same work; to be fair, he does not say such should be the case. But by leaving it up to the market to determine, Peterson by default chooses the status quo wealth and income allocation.

    Second, Peterson is positing that the markets can better provide for fairness in remuneration. However, the grotesque inequality that exists in the world clearly adduces that Peterson is dead wrong.3 Does Peterson agree with a market that pays a CEO in a day what a company worker makes in a year? Remarkably, a system within which such unfairness and such inequality do exist is well known: it is called capitalism. Recently, a study has revealed that 26 persons own as much as 3.8 billion of the poorest people. How has this happened? What’s Peterson theory on the matter?

    Yet Peterson writes, “Don’t blame capitalism, the radical left, or the iniquity of your enemies. Don’t reorganize the state until you have ordered your own experience. Have some humility. If you cannot bring peace to your household, how dare you try to rule a city?” (loc 2926)

    And what if a person’s experience is unordered because of the mayhem of the state? What if the state is wreaking havoc with households? Did not the American Revolution occur because Great Britain was wreaking havoc with colonial households through unfair taxation? Does poverty not wreak havoc on households? By taking over a city, people may be able to implement a system and policies that bring about equality and peace. By equality, I mean equal opportunity to all people, with remuneration based on effort and sacrifice — although Peterson will throw up his arms and say something like we don’t know how to measure effort and sacrifice. But we will never know how to measure effort and sacrifice to Peterson’s pleasure until we start trying; because to leave things the way they are, to the caprice of the market, is just intellectual cowardice. We can be sure, however, that the marketplace itself does not know how to remunerate workers equitably for work done.

    Peterson’s Rule 6 is: “Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.”

    However, there are myriad personality, societal, and worldly factors (greed, sexism, racism, nationalism, war, etc) that work against setting up “perfect” order in one’s house. And what exactly is meant by “perfect” order, and is it even achievable? Perfection is an elusive, and probably unattainable, goal. Therefore, if perfection is unachievable, what Peterson in essence is telling us is tough luck, keep plugging away at trying to reach perfection, and in the meanwhile accept the world the way it is — however imperfect that may be.

    If not the marketplace, then who decides what is equal pay for equal work? Of course we decide. We pool our brain power to determine criteria as to what is fair remuneration; afterwards we refine and tweak as is necessary. This is infinitely more sensible than sitting our collective butts and allowing the marketplace of fetid capitalism to lather the masses with inequity and penury.

    Peterson opines:

    We are not equal in ability or outcome, and never will be. A very small number of people produce much of everything. The winners don’t take all but they take the most, and the bottom is not a good place to be. People get sick there, and remain unknown and unloved. They waste their lives there. (loc 1784)

    “We” (a pronoun used often by Peterson) are all different, certainly in many, many ways. We have different predilections, different desires, and different levels of skills. I avoid stating “different abilities” because abilities can be developed to higher levels through proper training and sheer hard work. Not every person is interested or inclined to sharpen their skills in certain endeavors to exhibit a high level of ability.

    Granted we are not equal; everyone is superseded by someone else in some facet. Besides, being ranked number one is often subjective and usually ephemeral.

    And I disagree emphatically with Peterson; it is the workers that produce most of what the public consumes. Managers and executives supervise and issue orders but produce little by way of physical work — and perhaps much of the intellectual effort comes from workers. In fact, many of the bourgeoisie may be considered leeches on the working class.

    Peterson acknowledges the greed of the “winners.” However, I would not construe a group of humans who selfishly grab an inordinate lion’s share for themselves as “winners” while relegating the rest to a sick, unloved ignominy — quite the contrary.

    Why does Peterson prioritize production as deciding distribution of wealth by the marketplace? Is production the end-all and be-all of humans? Does it supersede human attributes such as love, empathy, caring, and sharing?

    Peterson is advocating dog-eat-dog capitalism. Fuck the market! It all boils down to what kind of world we want. How do we want our societies to look like? Our societies are a mirror unto who we are, unto our our sense of morality. Do we want and accept a society, as Peterson describes, composed of winners and losers? Do we accept joblessness despite the unemployed being desperate for work? Do we accept homelessness, the hungry, shanty towns, hygienic conditions, etc for any among us? Do any of us feel comfortable walking past someone obviously down-and-out?

    Do we desire a society free from the ills that define a sick society?

    Or do we roll the dice for each person and let the dice (i.e., the market) decide our happenstance?

    Because in a sane and morally centered universe, the most meaningful abilities are the ones whereby we can provide warmth, succor, dignity, compassion, and love to our fellow humans.

    Dominance is abhorrent. Enlightened thinkers are well aware of that. Hierarchies, excessive self-indulgence, and profligacy are not to be admired. If a permanent hierarchy, then love and altruism must situate at the pinnacle of the human hierarchy. Even primates have evolved altruistic behaviors.

    What does it mean have abilities and only use them for self-serving reasons? What purpose, besides self-love and egoism, does it serve to sit on top of some hierarchy (other than a hierarchy dominated by altruism, love, and goodwill)? When Albert Einstein reached the pinnacle of fame as a physicist, did he preen and become self-important? No, Einstein remains a beloved scientist because he loved his fellow humans. Naturally, Einstein was a socialist.

    Importantly, the world would be a better place without inequality. A recent book by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, The Inner Level: How More Equal Societies Reduce Stress, Restore Sanity and Improve Everyone’s Well-being,4 is a British empirical study that hearkens back to Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation that told of an age where equality and cooperation were the norm in society. A review of The Inner Level relates “how more equal societies reduce stress and improve wellbeing” for all of us.

    The Monster Mao? China’s “one-child policy” and Cultural Revolution

    Mao Zedong in Dandong, China 🄯 Photo by Kim Petersen

    Peterson also takes potshots at Chinese communism, especially targeting Mao Zedong for vitriol. He employs wording designed to evoke the ire of the reader: “horrors,” “inferno,” “genocides,” “monster,” “totalitarians.”

    “… the bottomless horrors of Hitler, Stain, and Mao.” (loc 2100)

    “… the inferno of Stalinist Russia and Mao’s China…” (loc 3911) The wording of this sentence, however, points at the countries that Stalin and Mao live in rather than directly at the personnage.

    “… the genocides of Stalin and the even greater monster Mao.” (loc 3947)

    Peterson joins chairman Mao and the Cultural Revolution with China’s one-child policy: “… the horrors of Mao’s Cultural Revolution and its one-child policy.” (loc 5059)

    Peterson is speaking loosely (although Peterson is emphatic about the importance of his words5 ) and inaccurately. First, the one-child policy was implemented in China in 1979. Mao Zedong died on 9 September 1976. During his life Mao was a mixed bag on child birth; initially he encouraged large families, but later he saw family planning as more important. It was in 1979 that the one-child policy was enacted under chairman Deng Xiaoping. Second, the one-child policy is not to be understood as an absolute. It applied particularly to the majority Han and especially in urban centers. Minorities and rural Chinese were not stringently regulated under this policy. Third, China had a rapidly growing population at the time the policy was enacted. China’s population has since reached 1.4 billion people. Some estimates say the policy resulted in 400 million fewer Chinese today. What would the population of China look like today without the one-child policy? And what demands would such a huge population pose for the environment, species extinction, quality of life, employment, and several other factors? Consider to what extent the one-child policy has had on curbing population growth and the fact that China today is the world’s largest economy slated to eliminate poverty in 2020.

    As for the “monster Mao” a book review of Was Mao Really a Monster? wrote:

    The continued attacks by anti-Communist academics and authors on the reputation and standing of Mao Zedong continue unabated. Indeed, they will last as long as there is a bourgeois class trying to prevent socialist revolution, or having failed to prevent it, trying to undermine it in order to restore capitalism.

    Peterson points specifically to “Mao’s murderous Cultural Revolution.” (loc 5434)

    Dongping Han, a history and political science teacher at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina, wrote a book that presents a different take on China’s Cultural Revolution than that of the western narrative which portrays great tumult across China, targeting intellectuals for re-education, and rampaging hordes committing violence. There were horrible excesses that occurred. Chinese know well of this, and several Chinese films chronicle the mayhem of the Cultural Revolution. But there were also important improvements in Chinese society. Focusing on Jimu, a rural area in Shandong province, Han details improved living conditions, democracy, health and education, infrastructure, and agricultural practices during this time.6

    Furthermore, the Cultural Revolution as some westerners allege did not impact negatively China’s economic growth.7

    Nonetheless, the Cultural Revolution, as well as the Great Leap Forward, must be seen, in many respects, as colossal blunders — blunders that cost the lives of far too many people and caused much suffering. Mao as the leader is accountable for the mistakes under his leadership. He was misguided; he became a megalomaniac. But Mao’s goals for the Chinese masses were noble, and he still has a great following among Chinese people.

    Population Control

    Peterson seems to think the more people on the planet, the merrier.

    No one in the modern world may without objection express the opinion that existence would be bettered by the absence of Jews, blacks, Muslims, or Englishmen. Why, then, is it virtuous to propose that the planet might be better off, if there were fewer people on it? (loc 5091)

    It is a false analogy. Peterson conflates religious identity, skin color, and nationality. Which sane person proposes this?

    First, what Peterson’s hypothetical posits is alarming and genocidal, so morally based people do not express such an opinion. What betterment can be had by genocide?

    Second, who claims it is “virtuous to propose” having a planet with fewer people? Whether such a proposal is virtuous or not is irrelevant. Relevant is whether managing the number of humans living in a finite ecosystem, such as Earth, would avert future dangers wrought by rampant population growth or even to bring about a betterment of the present human condition and the condition for the other species on the planet.

    Third, as Peterson has worded it, what is proposed by others is depopulation, whereas a morally centered proposal would be for a lowering of the number of humans through birth control and not culling specific groups of people. If that is to be achieved through non-coercive means, then objection should be minimal. If through forced compliance, then there must be a logical and moral rationale for such a decision being reached, and it must have been reached through informed and genuine democratic means applied fairly across peoples and not result from a unilateral decision imposed on the entirety of peoples.

    Fourth, there are logical and morally based reasons for limiting population growth that can be discussed elsewhere, among them are exacerbating global warming that imperils life on the planet, the scarcity of resources for sharing, extinction of animal life by human incursions into their territories, habitat despoliation by pollution, etc.

    China and Communism

    Communist China is currently world’s largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity. Many critics deny that China is communist. So what is communism in China? Godfree Roberts lists some important features of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

    1. The Party’s Genesis. It was founded by Mao and others because Chinese governance needed a new look after the old one had apparently failed. In fact, it wasn’t that Confucian government had failed: it was because Chinese officials and the Emperor forgot Confucius’ instructions. So Mao called his revolution ‘communist’ even though Confucius’ teaching was much more radical than any written by Marx: The Common Good: Chinese and American Perspectives.

    2. Membership qualifications. They must swear to serve the people first and enjoy the fruits of their service last.

    3. Membership behavior. Most of the 90,000,000 Party members do, in fact, serve the people first and enjoy the fruits of their service last. That’s a lot of unselfish people and, when they act together, they can influence the whole country.

    4. Party power. They use their power democratically and have dismissed several heads of State since 1950. They do not tolerate underperforming leaders as we do.

    5. Leadership behavior. You can see that the Party’s leaders and theoreticians are substituting Confucian terminology for Marxist language. China is retiring to the Confucian roots it never left–only this time the Party is interpreting Confucius’ doctrine of compassion radically.

    Roberts concludes by quipping, “Marx would be delighted.”

    I will quibble with the conclusion of Roberts on point 5. Confucianism still has influence. However, CPC general secretary Xi Jinping stated, “In contemporary China upholding the theory of socialism with Chinese characteristics means upholding Marxism in its truest sense.”8 Under Xi’s chairmanship a widespread crackdown on corruption has been ongoing.

    In stark contradistinction with neoliberalism, Xi emphasizes public ownership dominance.9 The success of socialism with Chinese characteristics will be determined by measuring the benefits accrued to the Chinese people10 — such as rights to education, employment, health care and care for senior citizens.11 Moreover, the benefits are envisioned as for all the world’s people.12

    Xi states China is anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist, and anti-war. The rising dragon has a socialist market economy that strives for peace and universal security. This started with Mao Zedong leading his comrades to overthrow the despised Guomindang and establish communist governance in China.

    Conclusion

    Most of Peterson’s 12 rules are quite sensible. The rules, per se, are trite, cute, and sprinkled with home-cooked wisdom. My focus was Peterson’s digressions, many of which point to a self-assured intellect whose assertions and arguments often fall short. Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Life became more than just rules. A self-help book became an anti-communist polemic. Capitalism, atrocities wrought and abetted by capitalism, as well as capitalist gulags eluded criticism. Peterson digressed into political economy, history, wealth distribution, dominance hierarchies, gender differences, religion, free speech and censorship, and more. Peterson’s 12 Rules left this reader feeling unsatisfied and underwhelmed. The author needs to explain the deep themes that guide his elaboration and scope of work. Was his intention to grace readers with 12 idyllic rules of life, or was his undisclosed intent to warn us about the “evils of communism” over and above contemplating his rules?

    Throughout 12 Rules, Peterson writes about the hardship of living: “Life is suffering. That’s clear. There is no more basic, irrefutable truth.”13 A misleading statement because life must not be viewed through such a parochial prism. Life is ecstasy, rapture, sorrow, pain, anger, jealousy, hate, love, and much more. This all points to Peterson, on certain matters, being a polemicist. He chooses one end of the pole and pronounces; the other pole, or points along the continuum are often, if not outright denied, just marginalized or ignored.

    It is often said that money cannot buy happiness, but unmentioned by Peterson is that money can avoid many of the hardships and suffering that life throws at you. Yet, Peterson is too intelligent not to be aware of this. He skips this because his thinking is not about finding solutions but rather to describe the world as he sees it. Nonetheless, the ability to pay rent, put nutritious food on the table, put clothes on one’s back, and afford necessary transportation go a long way to easing hardships in life.

    There are examples of communist governments that have eased the hardships of life and brought great improvements to their people. Cuban communism must be singled out for the great strides it has made during and since the Cuban Revolution — despite US sanctions.14 It is only fair to point out the achievements made by the communist government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea — despite US sanctions. Another, of course, is the communist government in China.

    As Xi often states, China is only in the earliest stages of socialism,15 and communism is to be attained farther down the road.16 The CPC’s goal of ending poverty in China by 2020 is a massive step in the right direction. To the extent that Chinese socialism is successful, especially compared to the status of western capitalist countries, it poses a challenge to the capitalist classes in these countries. Why would the working class accept being relegated to the lower rungs of a society when they see Chinese in the future thriving in a classless China? China may become the template for an economic and social revolution that brings about a fairer distribution of income (something still lacking in China currently) elsewhere. China is an economic colossus whose success should throw light back on Cuba, North Korea, and also the great achievements made by the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela.

    Despite the bombast of Jordan Peterson and Donald Trump, socialism remains a viable force for change in the world.

    1. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.17
    1. Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos, (Penguin Random House UK, 2018: loc 5372.
    2. BS Everett, Abstract to Multivariate analysis: the need for data, and other problems, British Journal of Psychiatry. March 1975, 126: 237-40.
    3. See Part 5.
    4. Allen Lane, London 2018.
    5. Peterson’s Rule 10 is: “Be precise in your speech.” Ergo, the words in 12 Rules must be seen as an accurate reflection of Peterson’s thinking: “I’m very, very, very careful with my words”
    6. See Dongping Han, The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Life and Change in a Chinese Village (Routledge, 2001).
    7. See Gwydion Madawc Williams, “Was the Cultural Revolution a success?” Quora, 11 February 2018.
    8. Xi Jinping, On the Governance of China, (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2014): loc 230.
    9. Xi, loc 1275.
    10. Xi, loc 554.
    11. Xi, loc 707.
    12. Xi, loc 947, 4010.
    13. Jordan Peterson, loc 2947. See also locations 191, 335, 1787, 2768, 2909, 2959, 3780, 4048, 4765, and 5737.
    14. See Isaac Saney, Cuba: A Revolution in Motion, (Fernwood Publishing, 2004) and Arnold August, Cuba and Its Neighbours: Democracy in Motion, (Zed Books, 2013). Review.
    15. Xi, loc 352, 1566.
    16. It is anarchism that will bring about communal individuality and reduce inequality. See Alan Ritter, Anarchism: A Theoretical Analysis, (Cambridge University Press, 1980): 76-83. pdf.
    17. Apologies for the delay in getting out part 6, but I was in East Africa without laptop.

    Understanding the Soviet Union, Inequality, and Freedom of Expression

    In a book which seemingly offers simple, but clever, rules to help people gain control over their lives, psychologist Jordan Peterson curiously pours a lot of vitriol on Marxism/communism and the nation states that practice(d) communism.1

    Peterson writes that Marx discombobulated history and culture:

    Marx attempted to reduce history and society to economics, considering culture the oppression of the poor by the rich. When Marxism was put into practice in the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, Cambodia and elsewhere, economic resources were brutally redistributed. Private property was eliminated, and rural people forcibly collectivized. The result? Tens of millions of people died. Hundreds of millions were subject to oppression rivalling that still active in North Korea, the last classic communist holdout. (loc 5256-5257)

    As a minimum, what Peterson stated is overtly brazen defamation of Marx. But before defending Marx from the groundless invectives of Peterson, it should be noted with utmost comfort that Peterson’s approach to analyzing the thought of Marx and his role in history and issuing verdicts thereof manifestly demonstrates Peterson’s poor knowledge of Marxian thought. What is remarkable here is that naïve ideological parochialism supplants informed elements of debate. To explain, Peterson is overconfident that he, as a psychologist, can read the mind of Marx. So he volunteered to tell us that when he summoned his spirit to his couch, this told him that he was attempting to “reduce history and society to economics.”

    Surprisingly, Peterson comes across as incognizant that Marx’s principle pillar of historical materialism rests on the paradigm that all societies, regardless of stage of development, follow specific and historically developed economic models that inexorably shape their lives and societal structures. Marx gave the greatest example on this matter when he described the endless cycles of a typical Indian village that persisted since the dawn of history until Britain colonized India thus introducing its economic model that gradually obliterated the old system. Another example, when Britain colonized Mali, it instituted that villagers could not tender their produce for barter and had to use money (introduced by the colonial office) as a means of exchange. This forced the villagers to abandon their villages and work as salaried labor in town — and this is exactly what Britain wanted to tighten its grip on Mali.

    To expand on this argument, Peterson is attempting to reduce Marxism to what he claims was put into practice in the Soviet Union and Eastern Asia. Marx did not say that culture, per se, oppressed the poor. Marx said that each historical epoch is constructed around a particular mode of production that helps to shape culture. Under capitalism it is the capitalists that control the means of production, thus the bourgeoisie (the rich) are able to manipulate culture to benefit their self-interest over that of the proletariat (working class). John Storey, a British emeritus professor of Cultural Studies explains that Marx situated culture on a ‘base’ and ‘superstructure’:

    The ‘base’ consists of a combination of the ‘forces of production’ and the ‘relations of production’… The superstructure consists of institutions (political, legal, educational, cultural, etc.), and what Marx calls ‘definite forms of social consciousness’ (political, religious, ethical, philosophical, aesthetic, cultural, etc.) generated by these institutions. Marx provided a general theory of history and politics, in which it is important to locate a cultural text or practice, there will always remain questions that relate to its formal qualities and specific traditions.

    Finally, has Peterson ever been to North Korea? What information does he rely on to draw his conclusions? Wikipedia? Western corporate-state media? Has his home-and-native land, Canada, ever achieved housing for all its citizens? Tuition-free university education for all? Jobs for everyone? One should be aware and cautious before parroting monopoly-media disinformation.

    Plunging further into history, Peterson notes:

    The decayed social order of the late nineteenth century produced the trenches and mass slaughter of the Great War. The gap between rich and war was extreme, and most people slaved away in [bad] conditions … Although the West received word of the horrors perpetrated by Lenin after the Russian Revolution, it remained difficult to evaluate his actions from afar. (loc 5270)

    Peterson leaves out many crucial points. For example, why was there a gap between the rich and the poor? What political-economic ideology precipitated WWI? Why does Peterson not mention western forces fighting in Russia to overturn the revolution? Why would western powers want the revolution overturned?

    In part 2 of the Real News interview with Marxist Alexander Buzgalin deals with these points and more:

    PAUL JAY: Good. Once again, let me get this right- Professor Buzgalin is Professor of Political Economy and director of the Center for Modern Marxist Studies at Moscow State University. So, picking up from part one, the 1920s in the Soviet Union, after the revolution, my understanding, at least. It was a time of tremendous excitement, of transformations, beginnings of modern movie-making takes place in the Soviet Union, some of the innovations are world class. Why and how, and I know this is an enormous question, really boil this down- how does something so transformative turn into such bureaucracy?

    ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: It’s a really great, very important and very difficult question. A brief and little bit primitive explanation: The Soviet Union was born in the- appeared in a period of terrible contradictions. So, world capitalism, World War I, terrible bloody war, for what? For killing of millions of people for the profit of corporations. And one result was material basis and cultural basis for a new society. So, it’s like a kid that appeared in the dusty, cold atmosphere without good parents or without parents at all. How to survive? It will be some mutations. And we had mutations and we had very small chances for growing up, for normal development of this kid.

    New socialist trend, not socialist country, but trend, movement in socialist direction. And of course, we received a lot of mutations. Firstly, it was real huge energy, created by revolution, by victory in civil war. Energy of creation of new society, enthusiasm and so on. In the same time, in new economic policy in the 1920s, we had a lot of elements of market capitalism and so on. It was, by the way, not a bad model of combination of capitalism, market, and new socialist trends, with big contradictions. But then, because of terrible conditions, absence of material base inside, and the very dangerous, very aggressive-

    PAUL JAY: Meaning the absence of any modern industry.

    ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah. It was necessary to create, during ten years, modern industry and a huge military complex in order to prevent defeat in the war against world fascism. By the way, I want to stress, in 1930s, fascism became rule. It was Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, then all Europe capitulated.

    PAUL JAY: And strong support in Britain and the United States, including the King of England.

    ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, and by the way- yeah, Britain and the United States were not very sympathetic to the Soviet Union rule at all. And one minute, one very important fact. When German fascists, Nazi, took power, it was one country around France, Belgium, Denmark, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, strong industrial states altogether- Britain, the U.S.- no problem to defeat Germany. And what was the result? Germany occupied France, Poland, Belgium, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, Austria. Nobody can resist- democratic liberal capitalism could not resist to fascism. And only this strange mutation, Stalin’s socialism, could have a victory.

    PAUL JAY: And I think a lot of people in the West don’t understand how clear this was, what was coming as early as 1930, 31, 32-

    ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, but after that, we had this bureaucratic mutation because of all these reasons. And the more we had power of bureaucracy and the less we had the real control from below, real opportunity to make something in social organization from below, the more we had degradation of socialist trends. And we moved from domestic socialism, in the atmosphere of capitalism around, towards attempts to build consumer society, but without the opportunity to consume. The economy of shortage consumer society.2

    Peterson read a book by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, yes, a book that details horrible injustices. But Buzgalin lived in the USSR, saw the fall of the Soviet Bloc, and lived through the transformation to modern Russia. Russia is not communist today, but Russians did try to bring back communism and were thwarted by American interference in the Russian presidential election to get their man, the inebriate Boris Yeltsin, into the Federal Assembly.

    Peterson turns to another writer, George Orwell, to expose Stalin’s crimes: “He [Orwell] published Animal Farm, a fable satirizing the Soviet Union, in 1945, despite encountering serious resistance to the book’s release.” (loc 5301)

    In the preface to the Ukrainian translation of Animal Farm Orwell wrote:

    I have never visited Russia and my knowledge of it consists only of what can be learned by reading books and newspapers. Even if I had the power, I would not wish to interfere in Soviet domestic affairs: I would not condemn Stalin and his associates merely for their barbaric and undemocratic methods. It is quite possible that, even with the best intentions, they could not have acted otherwise under the conditions prevailing there.

    But on the other hand it was of the utmost importance to me that people in western Europe should see the Soviet régime for what it really was. Since 1930 I had seen little evidence that the USSR was progressing towards anything that one could truly call Socialism. On the contrary, I was struck by clear signs of its transformation into a hierarchical society, in which the rulers have no more reason to give up their power than any other ruling class.

    Unlike Peterson who sees Marxism as an ideology predestined to produce atrocities, Orwell sees that corrupted humans have corrupted Marxism. Orwell was a contemporary who refused to judge Stalin, whereas Peterson removed in time does judge Stalin. Orwell considers that there may have been circumstances that forced Stalin to act in barbaric fashion. Buzgalin cited some of those circumstances above, although he does not name such as an excuse for Stalin’s barbarity.3 Does Peterson take into account the circumstances and the times when he passes wholesale judgment?

    Inequality

    Turning to the present, communism has waned in many countries while at the same time the burgeoning of neoliberalism has seen inequality soar.

    Peterson offers a puzzling take on inequality. He favors a hands-off approach to it: “We don’t know how to redistribute wealth without introducing a whole host of other problems…. But it certainly is the case that forced redistribution, in the name of utopian equality, is a cure to shame the disease.” (loc 5351)

    Tim Di Muzio, a senior lecturer in international relations and political economy at Wollongong University in Australia, states that capitalism is a pathological addiction in which capitalists seek differential accumulation – to primarily increase the wealth gap between themselves and others; in other words, greater wealth inequality. (p 49) For this reason, the capitalist system cannot rid wealth inequality or significantly reduce the inequality, and neither is capitalism — the nebulous invisible hand aside — designed to do this.4

    Peterson says we don’t know how to redistribute wealth. Certainly he admits that he doesn’t know how to do it. Indeed, he even warns against trying redistribution, by implying redistribution to be an untoward “utopian equality.” Why in the name of “utopian equality”? Why not in the name of fairness and dignity for all humans? Peterson is at odds with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which states that one of the freedoms sought is a world where humans are free from want. As stipulated by the UDHR, among those human rights affected by inequality are:

    • Article 23: Right to work, to equal pay for equal work, and to form and join trade unions
    • Article 24: Right to reasonable hours of work and paid holidays
    • Article 25: Right to adequate living standard for self and family, including food, housing, clothing, medical care and social security.

    Does Peterson think that the current distribution of wealth is fair? If it is not fair, then does Peterson suggest leaving the current maldistribution as is? And what caused a maldistribution to occur? Should not the conditions that caused such a maldistribution be dealt with? The gap between the rich and the poor is widening. In 1820, the gap was 3:1, in 1950, 35:1, and in 1992, the gap was 72:1.5 The “World Inequality Report 2018” declares an increasing gap between haves and have-nots and points to capitalism as a cause. That this is a gargantuan problem, is adduced by the fact that about half of the planet’s population must get by on less than $2.50 a day (80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day). What “host of problems” is it that Peterson would consider to supersede the dignity of half the globe’s population?

    Why focus on redistribution of wealth? What about the capitalist system wherein the maldistribution occurred? Peterson says don’t redistribute. However, if communism leads to Gulags as Peterson claims, then by the same logic does capitalism not lead to maldistribution and inequality? But Peterson does not argue for a economic reform. Would it not be logically and morally preferable to have a system that allows for a fair distribution at the outset that would not require a redistribution. But that might require a revolution, something Peterson also eschews as he considers that would cause suffering.6

    Peterson on Compelled Speech

    Peterson came into wider public prominence when he railed against the Canadian government’s Bill C-16 which amended the Canadian Human Rights Act to include “gender identity or expression” as grounds protected from discrimination. Peterson mischaracterized the bill as compelling speech by using hate laws. Nonetheless, Peterson gained a following based on his pro-freedom of expression.

    In his book, Peterson seemingly contradicts this pro-freedom of expression stance:

    I do not understand why our society is providing public funding to institutions and educators whose stated, conscious and explicit aim is the demolition of the culture that supports them. Such people have a perfect right to their opinions and actions, if they remain lawful. But they have no reasonable claim to public funding. (loc 5359)7

    Unlawful opinions? Really?

    What does Peterson mean by “demolition of the culture”? Culture is an abstract, something that cannot be physically demolished. Sure, artifacts of the culture can be destroyed, but Peterson did not write cultural artifacts. And what does Peterson mean by “lawful”? He gives no examples of institutions and educators behaving unlawfully. What Peterson writes sounds curiously like a call for censorship. One wonders whether orating for the replacement of capitalism (and its maldistribution of wealth) with communism in western society is beyond the bounds of accepted discourse. In other words, if you don’t like the cultural set-up, and you want to exercise your freedom of speech, then the dominant culture will put you on the street. That would be, in essence, governmental violence, and it would cause suffering — something Peterson says he seeks to avoid.

    Peterson appears to be treading a tightrope here. He supports freedom of speech, but seemingly sets out parameters in which free speech may not occur. First, Peterson holds that it must conform to societal dictates as far as public funding is concerned. Yet is that not censorship? It stands as an antipode to compelled speech – something Peterson adamantly opposes. Hate speech aside, but are not forced speech patterns similarly egregious as enforcement aimed at preventing utterances? Second, one might wonder exactly what Peterson means by the “conscious and explicit aim is the demolition of the culture that supports them.” Culture? That is a wide-encompassing term. Does Peterson consider “the demolition of the culture” that sends soldiers abroad to overthrow governments not to the home government’s liking, to devastate foreign lands, to decimate civilian populations, and to plunder the resources as deserving of being cut off from public funding? Third, Peterson argues that speech must “remain lawful.” Where is the freedom in that? Of course, freedoms come with responsibilities. One does not run into a public school and foolishly yell “Shooter!” while knowing full well that no shooter has been spotted on campus, thereby causing a stampede of students and a potential for injuries. But the right to dissent, even against a prevailing view in society, is a sine qua non of a country that professes to cherish democracy and freedoms. After all, how often is it that a majority, or substantial section, of a society has gone amuck? Nazi Germany, imperialist Britain, imperialist USA, colonial Canada, Wahhabists, Zionists, all spring to mind to be parked alongside the brutal excesses of some communist governments. It is incumbent upon people whose consciences are pricked by iniquity caused by or in complicity with their society and country to speak out and steer the ship-of-state back on a proper course. Most people whose consciences are seared are not about to be dissuaded from doing what they consider right by a cut off in public funding. Lastly, what does Peterson propose for the criteria and regulating of the “institutions and educators whose stated, conscious and explicit aim is the demolition of the culture,” so as to determine what and who should be deprived of public funding? Who should decide? As a basis, a standing bureaucracy would be required for this task.

    In a so-called representative democracy such as the United States, universities and research and development are largely funded by government. If these institutions and scientists are antithetical to the agenda of the government, then should their funding be cut off? Case in point, the overwhelming majority of the scientific community has sounded the alarm about the increasing potential of a looming catastrophe: fossil-fuel burning causes emissions of greenhouse gases and this is cited as the cause of global warming, melting ice caps, thawing permafrost, and weather calamities. Yet, one can observe the Donald Trump government stacking agencies whose purported agenda is to protect the environment signalling a rejection of climate change, raising the profile of a sprinkling of climate skeptics, and caving in to the interests of Big Oil.

    1. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.
    2. Part 6 will discuss IQ, equal pay for equal work, Mao Zedong, and Chinese communism
    1. Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos (Penguin Random House UK, 2018).
    2. Success and Mutation in the Soviet Union – RAI with A. Buzgalin (2/12),” The Real News, 12 July 2018.
    3. The longtime communist ruler of Albania, Enver Hoxha, in his With Stalin: A Memoir, paints a far more flattering portrait of Sta1in than western historical accounts.
    4. Tim Di Muzio, The 1% and the Rest of Us: A Political Economy of Dominant Ownership (Zed Books, 2015): 48-49.
    5. Anup Shah, “Causes of Poverty,” Global Issues, 30 April 2006.
    6. See part 3.
    7. Peterson: “Neither should we teach them [our children] unsupported ideologically-predicated theories about nature of men and women—or the nature of hierarchy.” (loc 5382)

    Understanding the Red Menace

    For anyone who has read or listened to Jordan Peterson, it is obvious that he has an intense dislike of communism. On this subject his reasoning appears very shallow.

    Thus the author asserts in his 12 Rules for Life: “Solzhenitsyn’s writing utterly and finally demolished the intellectual credibility of communism, as ideology or society.”1

    First, Peterson’s claim that Solzhenitsyn’s writing demolished “the intellectual credibility of communism” is a non-sequitur for one fundamental reason: there is no dialectical validity whatsoever when support for a claim comes from places with similar or identical ideological views. In this case, for an apparently anti-communist thinker such as Peterson to quote another anti-communist thinker such as Solzhenitsyn in support for his thesis is a futile intellectual exercise in the art of persuasion. In terms of analogy consider this: what do you think of American supremacists or ultranationalists who when asked to prove the notion of so-called American exceptionalism, reply by citing what Barack Obama said on the subject?

    Pertinently though, in none of his literary and political writings dealing with communist issues had Solzhenitsyn succeeded at demolishing Marxism — the ideological, economic, and philosophical matrix of communism. His ire, however, was directed at Soviet communism. But even here, Solzhenitsyn was mostly critical of the excesses of the Soviet state while never delving into the details of the positive social manifestations of Soviet social structures. In other words, his tight bias against communism was such that he just saw things through the prism of his personal views.

    Second, I am not here to defend or denigrate communism; this is not the subject of this article. But from an intellectual viewpoint, if Peterson wants to demolish either Marxism or communism, he should do that by pointing to where Marx went wrong in his over 20 books and papers, or at least show us where Lenin, the founder of the first communist state, erred in his conception of such a state. It seems that he skipped this crucial step entirely, maybe because dealing with the Marxian concept of historical materialism from multiple angles requires special preparation that he was not ready to undertake. Said alternatively, what passages in Das Capital, Theories of Surplus Value, The Holy Family (Marx and Engels), Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, etc., did Peterson find to be intellectually corrupt enough to demolish communism? Based on the preceding, how is it possible then that Peterson goes straight to the climatic point by giving a verdict without trying to evaluate all philosophical, political, social, or economic debates initiated by Marx?

    Furthermore, others might counter that Karl Marx demolished the credibility of capitalism as an ideology that has any place in a morally based society. However, I will not comment on the intellectuality of capitalism. I would not characterize Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations as intellectually devoid — quite the contrary. Likeliest, what passes for capitalism today would nonplus Smith. Yet Peterson would hold Marx’s Capital and Marx and Friedrich Engels’ Communist Manifesto to be intellectually deficient?

    What, in essence, does such a statement reveal? To pronounce on intellectual credibility inescapably means that the person doing the pronouncing considers himself intellectually credible and sufficiently informed of the subject matter. In any case, such a person would be capable of reading Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago; tying it to communist theory, as applied in the Soviet Union and elsewhere; and determining the ineluctable, consequential impact of such an ideology on society.

    A subsequent epistemological analysis would speak to the veracity of any conclusion having been reached and also to the intellectual rigor of the individual making such a claim.

    The events that are documented in The Gulag Archipelago are not denied or contested. What I contest is that the prison labor camps, as is intimated by Peterson, are a predictable outcome of communism. Either the Gulag was an aberration that appeared in a society striving towards a communist state or it was an inevitable outcome of a state on the path to communism. Many more questions arise: for example, were prison labor camps the norm throughout the history the Soviet Union? Or were they bound, particularly, to the authoritarian rule of Josef Stalin? Does the Gulag system exist in other communist states? Does the Gulag system exist in capitalist states?

    It is important to understand what is a Gulag. Writing in a forum — which Peterson touts — Konstantin Zhiltsov (whose profile identifies him with a LLB from Moscow State University) wrote: “GULag was a simple administration, not much different from US Federal Bureau of Prisons.”2 Specific to camps, as opposed to locked-in penitentiaries, Zhiltsov wrote that they “existed long before communists and will exist without them just as well.”

    On the question of camps:

    Do they exist in modern Russia? Of course, yes. The majority of prisoners serve their sentence there. Of course, the regime is much different from Soviet times, much more lenient (that depends on security level, though). For example, prisoner’s labour is a right and not a duty (in the GULag system of camps, for example, it was mandatory, nowadays prisoners decide themselves to work or not to work).

    So, the form is the same, but the “soul” inside of them is much different.3

    Penitentiaries, rightly or wrongly, exist in most nation states. And forced labor camps are found in the US. It is via the US that in communist Cuba, the most notorious Gulag continues. Irene Khan, Amnesty’s general secretary, described the United States’ incarceration facility at Guantánamo Bay (de facto US-occupied territory in Cuba) as “the gulag of our time.”

    Did the fact that Solzhenitsyn criticized the Gulag in the Soviet Union confer his approval of capitalism in the West? Political analyst Radha Rajan wrote, “Solzhenitsyn was as critical of what America and Europe represented in the twentieth century as he was of the Soviet Union and Stalinist repression.”4

    Does this point to a bias ingrained in Peterson’s thinking? Nowhere in 12 Rules did Peterson mention, for example, that “Noam Chomsky’s writing utterly and finally demolished the intellectual credibility of capitalism, as ideology or society.”5

    What happened to the Soviet Union immediately after the fall of communism? Has capitalism burnished its credibility?

    If communism is not defined by the Gulag system, then what is it? What is this communism that Peterson despises?

    The Real News editor-in-chief Paul Jay spoke with Alexander Buzgalin, a professor of political economy and the director of the Center for Modern Marxist Studies at Moscow State University. Buzgalin has lived under communism in the Soviet Union and in post-communist Russia. Thus, he is uniquely positioned to comment on what communism is and was.

    PAUL JAY: So, for an American or Western audience, that word, “communism,” has- less and less now, the further we get away from the cold war- but still, the idea of communism, socialism, particularly communism, it means “police state.” It means “tyranny.” For most American ears, they can’t understand how someone would actually hope for communism. What did that mean for your family?

    ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: For us, it was absolutely another meaning because of literature, because of movies, because of some practical communal-associated activity. So, what was communism for us? First of all, labor is pleasure. I am glad, I am happy to have my work. I am going for the work because I like it, not because I must make as small as possible and receive as much money as possible. Another motivation, another logic. Second, at the workplace we have comrades, not competitors, and together we will do something interesting. This is communism. Communism is space where you have beautiful things; useful, beautiful, cheap things around you. Dress, furniture, everything. And these things are just, I don’t know, basis for your life, for interesting life, for communications, creativity. That was the image of communism. And if you read books of Strugatsky, Arkady Strugatsky or Boris Strugatsky, two very famous writers, you will find a very beautiful description of such a world, and some elements of this world, we had sometimes.

    PAUL JAY: Like when?

    ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Like when we were together as schoolboys and schoolgirls, we were making something good for Vietnamese kids. We were spending our free time, not to play games with computers, it was no computer or football- we were playing football, but not all the time. But it was interesting to work and to buy bicycles for Vietnamese kids together. Just one example. To help to the elder people together. To create museum with memory about victims of World War II in school, from the fortress of our parents and grandparents, and so on.

    So, one example. And an example in university, we have a union of young students and young scientists, scholars. And we made ourselves with state finance, three, four conferences every year for free in different cities of Russia. We were travelling, we were inviting students from other cities and state paid for their trips, for airplanes, for hotels, for us to go to other places. And it was self-organization. We organized these conferences by ourselves. We had a scientific supervisor, but he or she was controlling the program, nothing else.

    PAUL JAY: But this vision, I mean, communism, the Marxist vision, a classless society with very little government, if any, as the ideal. But the reality of life was quite the opposite.

    ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yes, but not one hundred percent opposite.6

    *****
    Peterson continues his criticism of communism: “No educated person dared defend that ideology again after [Aleksandr] Solzhenitsyn published The Gulag Archipelago. No one could ever say again, ‘What Stalin did, that was not true communism.’” (loc 3845)7

    Peterson attempts to support his contention by ad hominem against those who disagree. Peterson limits the parameters of debate: one must agree that Stalin’s governance was true communism. Moreover, according to Peterson, one must not defend communism or he will be counted among the uneducated. Once again, Peterson relies strongly on Solzhenitsyn to shoot down the entirety of communism:

    Solzhenitsyn documented the Soviet Union’s extensive mistreatment of political prisoners, its corrupt legal system, and its mass murders, and showed in painstaking detail how these were not aberrations but direct expressions of the underlying communist philosophy. No one could stand up for communism after The Gulag Archipelago–not even the communists themselves. (loc 5314)

    This comes across as pure bluster. Peterson seems to think that by citing a book he can draw a definitive conclusion. Moreover, even given that the events as described by Solzhenitsyn are unerringly accurate, this does not inextricably bind communism to the Gulag because the Gulag happened under nominal or experimental communism. Now whether that communism was as propounded by Marx is debatable. Marx’s communism was about the liberation of workers. The communism of Marx differs from that put into practice by Lenin and Stalin.8 Moreover, communism was not envisioned as a perfect theory, free from need for revision, to be applied to all societies in all situations. Unless Marx considered himself to embody perfection, then he would not construe his thought as free from error. Indeed, self-criticism is a key component of Marxism. As Marxists are aware: “The use of criticism-self-criticism is widely recognized in the Marxist-Leninist movement as a tool that is vital to improving our work.”9 Thus, just as different countries practice a particular form of capitalism construed to meet the needs of their societies (or, more accurately, to meet the needs of the elitists in society), communism has been adapted to the exigencies of time and location.

    Peterson points to the Gulag system as the distinguishing feature of communism. The gulags existed, and as horrific and wicked such places were for so many people, they were an outcome of people in power with out-sized egos and blackened souls.

    If the Gulag is not the distinguishing feature of communism, then what is? Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto stated: “The distinguishing feature of Communism is … the abolition of bourgeois property.”

    Peterson commits the logical fallacy of cum hoc ergo propter hoc scenario. Because of communism, there are gulags. What is wrong with such a postulation? Did prisons and torture not exist under the Czarist regimes? Do gulags not exist under capitalism? To institute an analogy, did it occur to Peterson that United States gave torture a meaning worse than that used in the former USSR? Could Peterson educate us about “the Gulag Abu Ghraib,” “the Gulag Guantanamo Bay” or “the Gulag Bagram”?

    Also, Peterson should realize that a state does not become a full-fledged communist state overnight, and in the Soviet case, not without fierce resistance. Capitalist powers were not inclined to permit a challenge to their preferred economic order.

    Michael Sayers and Albert Kahn wrote that by the summer of 1919, 14 western nations and their client states had invaded Bolshevik Russia.10 US Senator William Edgar Borah admitted at that time that the US was at “war with Russia, while Congress has not declared war.… It is a violation of the plain principles of free government.”11

    For the next two and a half decades “the anti-democratic and anti-Soviet conspiracy.… kept the world in an incessant turmoil of secret diplomacy, counterrevolutionary intrigue, terror, fear and hatred, and which culminated inevitably in the Axis war to enslave humanity.”12

    Peterson writes,

    Communism, in particular, was attractive not so much to oppressed workers, its hypothetical beneficiaries, but to intellectuals—to those whose arrogant pride in intellect assured them they were always right. But the promised utopia never emerged. (loc 3909)

    This passage by Peterson is not only the epitome of intellectual manipulation because of how it was phrased, but it is also a demonstration that Peterson has no clues regarding the core tenets of Marxism — specifically Marx’s concept of communism.

    On the side of manipulation, Peterson clearly implies that communism is no more than an intellectual product that oppressed workers could not possibly relate to or understand. In addition, he seems to be annoyed — better yet, intimidated — by certain intellectuals whom he debits to the arrogance for feeling “always right.” In psychological terms, clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson appears to acknowledge that he is short on deploying the necessary intellectual tools to counter the arguments of well-informed intellectuals. This impression is enforced by noting that he resorted to name-calling in the attempt to downgrade the competence of intellectuals on the subject while upgrading his own, which is obviously ridden with serious shortcomings.

    On the side of Marxian tenets, the scope of communism is not as he erroneously painted it. Marx never thought of communism as a platform solely directed to workers. What he envisioned was for the working class and intellectual pioneers to lead the struggle to abolish the class system thus creating egalitarian societies without classes, exploitation, and discrimination.

    Now let’s turn to the debate on the issue of “credibility.” Obviously Peterson must be referring to intellectuals without credibility, but some might argue that such a premise is a contradiction. This forces one to wonder how well Peterson understands the communism of Karl Marx. Peterson does not define the “promised utopia.” Marx and Engels wrote of an end to the struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie. At which time the “purely Utopian character” would be revealed by “such as the abolition of the distinction between town and country, of the family, of the carrying on of industries for the account of private individuals, and of the wage system, the proclamation of social harmony, the conversion of the function of the state into a more superintendence of production.”13

    Peterson’s second contradiction is acknowledging that workers are oppressed while also arguing that oppressed workers are not attracted to a system to end their exploitation. In other words, one surmises from Peterson that workers would prefer to be exploited by a capitalist class. Or Peterson considers that workers are not exploited under capitalism? But no one could be that deluded.

    Marx and Engels shot down the notion of worker acquiescence to the capitalist structure: “But does wage-labour create any property for the labourer? Not a bot. It creates capital, i.e., that kind of property which exploits wage-labour, and which cannot increase except upon condition of begetting a new supply of wage-labour for fresh exploitation.”14

    Moreover, utopia, if ever promised, was never promised overnight. As long as communist countries were surrounded by opposing capitalist countries, the class struggle remained ongoing.

    Communism, in name, was brought about through revolution. Hated regimes like Batista in Cuba, the Czars in Russia, and the Guomindang in China were capitalist or feudalistic in orientation.

    Peterson seems eager to criticize and excoriate communist states, yet in his book his home country, Canada, emerges relatively unscathed. Peterson rightly denounces Nazi atrocities committed against Jews, although he does not condemn Nazi atrocities against communists, Roma, homosexuals. Now let’s consider Canada. It is a capitalist state established through genocide against the Original Peoples. Why no criticism by Peterson?15

    One shouldn’t just read Chomsky, Solzhenitsyn, Marx, and Adam Smith to get a handle on capitalism versus communism and socialism. In particular, one should not solely rely on the clinical psychologist Peterson to get an understanding in political-economics and associated ideologies. However, one should be open to learning from other political-economic systems, especially adding anarchism to one’s reading list. Become well informed. Devour information with open-minded skepticism and form your own conclusions. Above all, don’t unquestioningly accept ex cathedra statements from professors, politicians, intellectuals, or non-intellectuals.

    1. Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
    2. In Part 5: understanding the Soviet Union and the fallibility of capitalism
    1. Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules for Life, (Penguin Random House UK, 2018): loc 2879.
    2. Konstantin Zhiltsov, “Do Gulags still exist in Russia?” Quora, 26 December 2017.
    3. Konstantin Zhiltsov, “Do Gulags still exist in Russia?” Quora, 26 December 2017.
    4. Radha Rajan, “Russian nationalism through the eyes of an Indian nationalist – 1,” Vijayvaani.com, 28 November 2018.
    5. Chomsky’s focus is not the intellectual credibility of capitalism but the morality of an economic system that leaves behind so many in society. See, e.g., Noam Chomsky, Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order (Seven Stories Press, 1999).
    6. Growing Up in the USSR – RAI with A. Buzgalin (1/12),” The Real News, 11 July 2018.
    7. Later Peterson’s repeats “The Gulag Archipelago … utterly demolished communism’s moral credibility…” (loc 5307).
    8. See Thomas G. West, “Marx and Lenin,” in Marx and the Gulag (Claremont Paper No. 8, 1987).
    9. Workers Congress (Marxist-Leninist) and Friends from the East Coast, “Open Letter on Criticism-Self-Criticism,” in The Communist, Vol. IV, No. 12, 11 September 1978. Available online at marxists.org.
    10. Michael Sayers and Albert Kahn, The Great Conspiracy: The Secret War Against Soviet Russia Proletarian Publishers (Little, Brown and Company, 1946): 79.
    11. Michael Sayers and Albert Kahn, 85.
    12. Michael Sayers and Albert Kahn, 392.
    13. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Chapter III. Socialist and Communist Literature” in Karl Marx: Selected Writings.
    14. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Communist Manifesto in Karl Marx: Selected Writings (London: Essential Thinkers, 2004): 39.
    15. The professor Noam Chomsky proffered a moralistic guideline that people should focus on the actions of their own states: “My own concern is primarily the terror and violence carried out by my own state, for two reasons. For one thing, because it happens to be the larger component of international violence. But also for a much more important reason than that; namely, I can do something about it. So even if the U.S. was responsible for 2 percent of the violence in the world instead of the majority of it, it would be that 2 percent I would be primarily responsible for. And that is a simple ethical judgment. That is, the ethical value of one’s actions depends on their anticipated and predictable consequences.” See Noam Chomsky, On Power and Ideology: The Managua Lectures (South End Press, 1987).

    Jordan Peterson on Religion, Science, and Revolution

    When one reads Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life,1 the rules in isolation come across as eminently sensible; however, many of the digressions in Peterson’s book strike one as bombastic. It does not require special consideration to recognize the bombast.

    Religion vs Science

    Take, for instance, what Peterson states about religion and science: “Religion concerns itself with domain of value, ultimate value. That is not the scientific domain.” (loc 2046)

    What is meant by value? There are many definitions, of which two seem particularly apropos to what Peterson writes:

    10. values, Sociology. the ideals, customs, institutions, etc., of a society toward which the people of the group have an affective regard. These values may be positive, as cleanliness, freedom, or education, or negative, as cruelty, crime, or blasphemy.

    11. Ethics. any object or quality desirable as a means or as an end in itself.

    Sociology is a social science, and sociologists investigate using the scientific method. Ergo, science is not logically or lexicographically excluded from the values expressed in definition 10. Definition 11 is quite nebulous for a dictionary entry, but the investigation into what best explains human’s understanding of natural phenomenon would seem to be captured by science as well. Karl Popper wrote, “The fact that science cannot make any pronouncement about ethical principles has been misinterpreted as indicating that there are no such principles; while in fact the search for truth presupposes ethics.”2

    So how does Peterson arrive at the determination that values are not in the scientific domain? A dictionary definition of “science” reads,

    1. a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws: the mathematical sciences.

    2. systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.

    Therefore, insofar as values are subject to facts, truths, observation, and experimentation, then values fall, by definition, within the purview of science. Furthermore, although science depends on exact data, the fact is value is a crucial tool in the hands of scientists to ascertain validity of an event. Value, therefore, while latent in the declaration of a scientific fact, is a motor that moves the scientist to understand her objective. Consequently, value while perhaps not in the forefront is a palpable vector in a given analysis.

    The philosopher of science, Karl Popper, proposed a system, a modus tolens, of what constitutes scientific theorizing. Popper considered the debate over “simplicity and its value for science.”3 Popper saw simplicity as best conceived in relation to the testability of a theory.4 For Popper, a theory must produce testable hypotheses whose results can not verify a theory; a theory can only be rejected.

    Religions, on the other hand, are by and large, faith-based, so facts and truths need not be based on observations, experimentation, and evidence. All that is required is to believe that the words attributed to prophets, scribes, god(s), angels, demons, spirits, or extraterrestrial entities are of unquestionable verisimilitude. This brings up the question as to which values position doctrine beyond testable hypotheses and evidence and beyond epistemological skepticism?

    Peterson writes, “Religion is instead about proper behavior.” (loc 2049)

    Peterson treats religion, in some sense, as a monolithic entity; hence, he refers to it in the singular. Here Peterson seemingly refines “value” as being about “proper behavior.” However, was the destruction of the Buddha statues in Bamiyan by the Taliban “proper behavior”? Was the destruction of Babri Masjid by Hindu fanatics in Ayodhya, India “proper behavior”? Are the outrages against Rohingya by the predominantly Buddhist Myanmarese “proper behavior”? How about the Catholic Church’s sympathy to “fascism as an idea”? “Not only did the church regard communism as a lethal foe, but it also saw its old Jewish enemy in the most senior ranks of Lenin’s party.”5 The Inquisition? The church-run Indian Residential Schools on Turtle Island? The Jewish State’s sniping of unarmed Palestinians on their side of the border?

    One could construct a enormous list of evils under the influence, or in the name of, religion.

    Confining oneself just to literal interpretations of the Bible (a book filled with rules), behavioral stipulations from Yahweh call for death by stoning for blaspheming god, cursing one’s parents, committing adultery, or being a non-virgin bride on one’s wedding day. Slavery, genocide, misogyny, and racism are condoned, but the seven deadly sins, masturbation, and homosexuality are condemned. What is particularly remarkable is that many of these so-called sins can be confined to oneself and not impinge upon another human. Hence even though the Golden Rule would be unviolated, in the realm of the Old Testament that person would be harshly judged.

    Therefor, given the foregoing discussion, one wonders what proper behavior in the scope of religion actually is. Love your neighbor, love your enemy are fine bromides — great actually. But such appealing biblical rules for self-conduct are undermined by the heinous acts also carried out in the name of a religion.

    Wikipedia as Accepted Wisdom?

    Peterson writes, “I cite Wikipedia because it is collectively written and edited and, therefore, the perfect place to find accepted wisdom.” (loc 2224)

    ON CONTACT: Wikipedia – A Tool Of The Ruling Elite

    Perfect? Accepted wisdom? Since when does something collectively written become accepted wisdom? What would happen if 10 Zionists worked on a piece on Palestine?

    I demur greatly from Peterson regarding Wikipedia. While Wikipedia may be fine for general knowledge, on subjects where various narratives compete, it can be highly problematic, and it should be regarded with skepticism. Current events, history, and geo-politics require utmost skepticism and scrutiny. The editing at Wikipedia is susceptible to great bias.6 The complaints against Wikipedia and its editing are many.7

    If one is interested in information, it is widely accepted that one tries to get as close to the source of information as possible. Thus primary and secondary sources are prioritized over tertiary sources. Wikipedia is not a primary source. It bills itself as an online encyclopedia, but its partiality is deeply in question.

    Revolutions as Causes of Suffering

    Peterson warns of “altering our ways of social being carelessly in the name of some ideological shibboleth (diversity springs to mind) is likely to produce far more trouble than good, given the suffering that even small revolutions generally produce.” (loc 2229)

    First, one notes that Peterson is hedging his admonition by using the word “carelessly.” Carelessness is, after all, something best avoided in all circumstances. Second, the term “ideological shibboleth” strikes this reader as a pleonasm. Third, religion is a specific form of ideology. Fourth, diversity is not a shibboleth. How is it that the state of being different is considered a shibboleth? Fifth, Peterson is patronizing in how resolutions should be conceived. He lives in a place and time (Canada, 21st century) where revolutions in the classical sense are unlikely to happen because the conditions for them (excepting First Nations) are currently held in check by socialism: employment insurance, welfare, schooling for all, universal health insurance. But had Peterson lived in Egypt, Jordan, or Saudi Arabia, he might change his mind. Regarding his comments, Peterson seems ready to condemn the French Revolution (yes it was messy, but it ended a system that was corrupt from its roots).

    Peterson seems to have a problem with diversity. Diversity is an expression of entropy, which, even in a social sense, signals a natural drift toward increasing randomness. It is hypothesized that evolution which has shaped our current cerebral wiring favoring entropy also gave rise to our consciousness as an after effect.8 Physicsworld explains, “Perez Velazquez and colleagues argue that consciousness could simply be an ’emergent property’ of a system – the brain – that seeks to maximize information exchange and therefore entropy, since doing so aids the survival of the brain’s bearer by allowing them to better model their environment.”

    Peterson’s reasoning seemingly points to a static state. This militates against evolution and social thermodynamics. This is emphasized by his argument against “the suffering that even small revolutions generally produce.” Peterson hedges by using the word “generally,” and such hedging is reasonable given that absolutes are rare.

    Mark Twain — who Peterson quotes once in 12 Rules (loc 649) but without adequate sourcing — stated that he was “a revolutionist in my sympathies, by birth, by breeding and by principle. I am always on the side of the revolutionists, because there never was a revolution unless there were some oppressive and intolerable conditions against which to revolute…”9 In other words, revolutions arise from a natural resistance to oppression – and the suffering caused by oppression. Peterson has it backwards, as he points to the revolutions as the source of suffering.

    Revoluting against the injustices of a power structure requires courage because centers-of-power are usually loath to relinquish power and the privileges that accompany power, and those people in centers-of-power will use lethal violence to deter any challenges to their grip on power. Centers-of-power control the mechanisms for protecting and projecting their power, thus challenges to power, however justified and morally based, will be defied with violence by the power structure. Those who revolute will have suffering inflicted on them. Revolutionaries understand this. They do not expect to be gifted — what most morally centered people would consider to be a human right — an equitable input into society, its decision-making, and its wealth. Revolutionaries expect the power structure, represented by the State, to try and crush them. Witness the Canadian authorities’ recent heavy-handed police actions against the Wet’suwet’en on their unceded territory and the French state’s draconian measures against the Gilets Jaunes movements in France. The scenario, that seems to elude Peterson, is that revolutionaries make a decision to resist the current state of suffering and indignities to overthrow those who oppress them and establish a fair(er) society knowing fully well that violence against will follow.

    • Read Part 1 and Part 2.
    • Part 4 looks at Peterson’s shallow rejection of communism.
    1. Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: The Antidote for Chaos (Penguin Random House UK, 2018).
    2. Karl Popper, “Natural Selection and the Emergence of Mind,” Delivered at Darwin College, Cambridge, November 8, 1977. Popper’s Darwin Lecture is cited by Peterson in his 12 Rules for Life.
    3. Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (New York: Routledge Classics, 2005): 131.
    4. Karl Popper, 132.
    5. Christopher Hitchens, god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (Boston: Twelve, 2007): 235.
    6. See, e.g., “Caught in the Cross Hairs: Media Lens and the Mystery of the Wikipedia Editor
    7. For example, “Wikipedia Is Shockingly Biased: 5 Lessons From An Admin,” “The Covert World of People Trying to Edit Wikipedia—for Pay,” “Wikipedia’s dark side: Censorship, revenge editing & bribes a significant issue,” “What Wikipedia’s Daily Mail ‘Ban’ Tells Us About The Future Of Online Censorship,” and “Revenge, ego and the corruption of Wikipedia.”
    8. R. Guevara Erra, D. M. Mateos, R. Wennberg, and J.L. Perez Velazquez, “Towards a statistical mechanics of consciousness: maximization of number of connections is associated with conscious awareness.”
    9. Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 3 (2015) Edited by Benjamin Griffin and Harriet Elinor Smith: 451.

    Human Hierarchies, Competition, and Anarchism

    New Yorker

    If dominance hierarchies are an outcome of natural selection, and if early Homo sapiens were naturally selected (they were), and if humans are genetically inclined to procreate thereby ensuring their genes continue in future generations, then, to the extent that status confers reproductive advantage, humans should be genetically predisposed to challenge for the highest placement within a hierarchy. Yet, modern humans have made substantive inroads in understanding and manipulating genetics, controlling the environment, and eliminating and curing disease. While there is evidence still pointing to natural selection having influence in shaping human evolution, human advances have curbed natural selection and artificial selection has become more prominent. Moreover, if dominance hierarchies genetically prevailed over humans, then anarchists must represent some kind of evolutionary dead end. Nonetheless, anarchists have made great contributions to societal and political-economic thought.1 Probably the greatest anarchist contribution has been to work toward a classless, anti-authoritarian, co-cooperatively based society in which there are no permanent hierarchies.

    In particular, Petr Kropotkin’s well-researched landmark work, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, posits other than biological determinism; the ideal society is anti-hierarchical, anti-dominance, and anti-authoritarian.

    I obviously do not deny the struggle for existence, but I maintain that the progressive development of the animal kingdom, and especially mankind, is favored much more by mutual support than by mutual struggle…2

    Karl Polanyi’s seminal book, The Great Transformation, describes how early forms of human society were based on cooperation rather than competition. That the social order was transformed to a capitalist market economy was criticized by Polanyi: “[T]o separate labor from other activities of life and subject it to the laws of the market was to annihilate all organic forms of existence and to replace them by a different type of organization, an atomistic and individualistic one.”3

    Polanyi’s thought is a logical reflection of Marx’s core theory of Value and the role of capitalism in eroding the value of labor.

    Based on the historical and anthropological record, Polanyi held that the economy is bound up in the social relationships of humans.

    The maintenance of social ties … is crucial. First, because by disregarding the accepted code of honor, or generosity, the individual cuts himself off from the community and becomes an outcast; second, because, in the long run, all social obligations are reciprocal, and their fulfillment serves also the individual’s give-and-take interests best. Such a situation must exert a continuous pressure on the individual to eliminate economic self-interest from his consciousness to the point of making him unable … even to comprehend the implications of his own actions in terms of such an interest.4

    It is arguable that in disregarding immediate, long-term, or status-enhancing selfish gratifications, the individual is safeguarding her own future economic self-interest. In a society where individuals care for the needs of all members, that individual also belongs to the protective web of such a society. Since no one can be certain of avoiding future ill health or disaster, such a society acts as a safety net for all its members. Even some capitalist societies recognize this fact but all too often fail to adequately provide coverage and care to vulnerable sectors of society. And such welfare programs can fall victim to self-serving capitalistic procedures and tendencies based on immediate cost reductions because of a short-term focus on profit accumulation. While the provision of employment and health insurance is integral to those marginalized within capitalist society, such programs can be diverted to the profit-making interests of capitalists.

    For Polanyi, the very fact that production was organized around buying and selling adduced the “extreme artificiality” of the market economy.5 Polanyi saw abandoning the natural way for the market system to be dangerous:

    Robbed of the protective covering of cultural institutions, human beings would perish from the effects of social exposure; they would die as victims of acute social dislocation through vice, perversion, crime, and starvation. The natural world would be reduced to its elements, neighborhoods and landscapes defiled, rivers polluted, military safety jeopardized, the power to produce food and raw materials destroyed.5

    In his meta-analysis of the literature on competition versus cooperation, educator Alfie Kohn, echoing Petr Kropotkin,6 contended that “competition is an inherently undesirable arrangement.”7 Moreover, performance based on cooperation was found to be superior across fields of endeavor.8 Given the preponderance of the evidence, one would more reasonably conclude that at the societal level, cooperatively based groupings would be selected over competitive arrangements.

    A Consensual Economic Model: Parecon

    What kind of world is it that most people want? Dog-eat-dog capitalism or everybody looking out for each other? One economic model called participatory economics (parecon for short) was developed based on the core values of equity, solidarity, diversity,9 efficiency, and self-management. Parecon features balanced job complexes, remuneration based on effort and sacrifice, and decision-making empowered in all the workers. Grassroots planning that converges on a consensus outcome will replace the highly inefficient capitalist markets.10

    Cooperatism also offers an interesting economic model wherein job complexes are run by workers for workers and not workers being dictated to by a board of directors for the profit of shareholders.11

    Peterson argues that dominance hierarchies are based on competence, ability, and skill — not power. “This is obvious both anecdotally and factually,” writes Peterson.12 He gives the example of people wanting the best surgeon when stricken with brain cancer.

    Yes, of course, patients want a good surgeon. However, how many patients would ask for a ranking of their surgeon? Wouldn’t most patients assume that a person by virtue of being a surgeon had successfully completed the training to become a surgeon and would, therefore, be competent in her vocation? Others might refer to this as specialization rather than a hierarchy. Most people tend to excel in certain areas and not as much in others. This is obvious both anecdotally and factually. If you are scuba diving for the first time in a challenging tidal channel with extreme current flows, do you want to dive with the experienced dive guide, a rookie dive guide, or with the brain surgeon? The brain surgeon does what she does well within her bailiwick, and the dive guide does what he does well within his field of expertise. And within the field of surgery some surgeons will have more expertise and competence in performing certain surgeries and less skill to perform different surgeries. This is normal in situations calling for specialization. The same goes for scuba diving. Some dive professionals will have greater knowledge of the dive sites and be better able to navigate and explore sites familiar to them. However, the competence and skills demanded do not necessitate the formation of a dominance hierarchy.

    • Read Part 1.
    • Part 3: analysis of Peterson’s views on religion versus science, Wikipedia as a trusted source, and his antithesis to revolution
    1. See, for example, the works of Leonid Tolstoy, Mikhail Bakunin, Noam Chomsky, Petr Kropotkin, Pierre Joseph Proudhon, Emma Goldman, Murray Bookchin, Robin Hahnel, Michael Albert, and many, many others. It should be noted in the anarchist context that the contributions arise from the masses.
    2. Petr Kropotkin, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, A Public Domain Book, 1902: loc 221.
    3. Karl Polyani, The Great Transformation, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1957): 163.
    4. Polanyi, 46.
    5. Polanyi, 73.
    6. Kropotkin, “Better conditions are created by the elimination of competition by means of mutual aid and mutual Support.” loc 962.
    7. Alfie Kohn, No Contest: The Case Against Competition, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1986): 9.
    8. Alfie Kohn, “Is Competition More Productive?: The Rewards of Working Together” in No Contest: 45-78.
    9. Since Jordan Peterson seems at odds with diversity, a definition is in order. Diversity is merely the state of being different, and such difference must not face discrimination. Diversity does not mean forcing others to like or agree with the differences. It means live and let live.
    10. See Michael Albert, Parecon: Life After Capitalism (Verso, 2003).
    11. See Chris Wright, Worker Cooperatives and Revolution: History and Possibilities in the United States (BookLooker.com, 2014).
    12. Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, (Penguin Random House UK, 2018): loc 5370.

    The Utility of Rules and Hierarchy

    The overzealous politically correct-speech crowd has triggered a backlash. One person who took exception is Jordan Peterson, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto who rocketed into the spotlight for his courageous dissent against compelled speech. I support that stance taken by Peterson. Peterson also has a youtube presence, and this year his book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Crisis (Penguin Random House UK) was published.

    Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life contains plenty of wisdom, but also plenty of bias, often ill-supported by facts or reason. Yet an anarchist physics professor finds, “Peterson is having an impact because his important words are true and because oppressive false words have gone too far.” Peterson, says the anarchist, is “fighting for reason and objectivity and against ideological madness.”

    Indeed, rational people will agree that discovering what best captures or approximates truth is important, as is exposing false narratives. Who cannot help but support “fighting for reason and objectivity and against ideological madness.” Yet Peterson can also be accused of ideological bias. Since 12 Rules for Life is a best seller and since Peterson’s views are garnering widespread attention, Peterson’s viewpoints on truth, falsity, anti-communism, ideology, and so on, as expressed in his book, call for a critical analysis.

    The Need for Rules

    Peterson claims that “without rules we quickly become slaves to our passions—and there’s nothing freeing about that.” (location 50)

    This is an assertion, and it seems that Peterson is imprecise, or taking liberty, with language since what he calls slavery is more correctly termed addiction. An addiction usually starts as a choice, a choice that turns out to be bad as the addict has lost self-control.

    There are several other points when considering rules and whether to adhere to them. First, it has been compellingly argued that rules lead to a dreaded, bloated bureaucracy.1 Second, there are good rules, and there are bad rules. Third, who is it that decides what the rules are or should be and which rules are good or bad? Does the common man decide or the uncommon woman? Does the colonizer decide or the dispossessed Indigenous person? Cree lawyer Sharon Venne made the legal and moral argument that “colonial laws are ‘rules and regulations,’ but not laws in the true sense of the word. Colonial laws are made to be broken.”2

    When rules are devised and imposed on the masses with little or no input from the masses, and without genuine acquiescence from the masses what does this signal about the validity and legitimacy of said rules?

    Regarding rules, in general, I propose: don’t become a slavish follower to a bad rule, instead seek its abolition. Likewise, in cases where rules are a necessity and are legitimately enacted by moral actors among the masses and having garnered the acceptance of the masses (without unduly impinging on the rights of a minority), then apply common sense: don’t be selfish and break laws that are scripted for the good of the wider society. Bad rules, however, can, and probably should, stir up a passionate resistance.

    The other side of the argument is specificity. For instance, suppose a rule is valid. Is it universal though? For instance, if an Israeli accepts a rule, would a Palestinian accept the same rule knowing that his condition does not allow him to be generous in accepting such a rule? In the Canadian context, should First Nations accept that their culture and laws are subject to and inferior to rule imposed by a colonial-settler structure?

    Decency and social cohesion points to the preeminent rule being some form of the Golden Rule: treat others as you would wish to be treated.

    Regarding Peterson’s 12 rules, they are very reasonable and something all persons interested in their betterment should consider embracing. Importantly, they are rules one should set for oneself and are not meant to be imposed from outside; hence individual autonomy is sanctified. Individuals are empowered and are challenged with responsibility for their actions. In this vein, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote,

    The proud knowledge of the extraordinary privilege of responsibility, the consciousness of this rare freedom, of this power over himself and over fate, has sunk right down to his innermost depths, and has become an instinct—what name will we give to it, this dominating instinct, if he needs to have a word for it? But there is no doubt about it—the sovereign man calls it conscience.3

    Dominance Hierarchies and Determinism

    Petersen writes of the dominance hierarchy,

    It’s permanent. It’s real. The dominance hierarchy is not capitalism. It’s not communism, either, for that matter. It’s not the military-industrial complex. It’s not the patriarchy—that disposable, malleable, arbitrary cultural artefact. It’s not even a human creation; not in the most profound sense. It is instead a near-eternal aspect of the environment, and much of what is blamed on these more ephemeral manifestations is a consequence of its unchanging existence. (loc 688)

    Peterson writes that the dominance hierarchy is ancient, as is the part of brain that tracks position.

    Nonetheless, many people take umbrage at the idea that one could seemingly extrapolate from lobster behavior “up” to humans and also that dominance hierarchies among humans are fuelled predominantly by biochemistry. Such a view points to biological determinism. It hearkens to sociobiological theory which, in a nutshell, is that humans are genetically driven to pass their genes into future generations. The entomologist Edward O. Wilson, author of Sociobiology, came to this theory based on observations of ant colony behavior which he compared to animal behavior along the branches of the evolutionary tree. Yet sociobiology has problems adequately explaining evidence contrary to theory, for example, couples who choose not to have children, homosexuality, or engaging in behaviors that would diminish chances at passing genes to the next generation — such as alcoholism.

    Peterson’s view of an “unchanging existence” runs contrary to the several qualities/changes that distance humans from animals, for example, the human conception of morality.4 The moral principle popularized by Star Trek that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one would argue against sociobiology, and also indirectly against a dominance hierarchy.5

    Peterson’s amoral view (he does not state that dominance hierarchies are good or bad, just that they are), however, appears more nuanced; he does not appear to adhere strictly to a deterministic outcome. Ideally based on intrinsic human values, people must (or should) have by inalienable right free choice. If this happens, then clinical psychologists can help distressed people through therapy to bring about changes in their life.

    As for the animal kingdom, there are salient studies that call into question the pervasiveness of a dominance hierarchy. The great apes called bonobos are known for positive emotional attributes, a lack of aggression, and a relatively deemphasized hierarchy.6

    Another study suggests the importance of the environment, pointing to the lack of a dominance hierarchy among chimpanzees in captivity.7

    Besides, sometimes being an alpha is not all it’s cracked up to be, as the underlings will knock off their despised alphas.8 Humans, by and large, also do not appreciate bullies (a type of personality who covets a top-dog position obtained through violence or threat of violence).

    Quite revelatory was a longitudinal study of a baboon troop by Robert Sapolsky and Lisa Share. They chanced upon a surprising result following the die-off of alpha males after eating tuberculosis-tainted food at a garbage dump. Subsequently, the stress levels of the remaining troop diminished, and the troop behaved much more amicably toward one another.9

    The neuroscientist Sapolsky also appears in a documentary where he speaks to the recultured baboon troop and what it implies for human society:

    Another one of the things that baboons teach us is if they are able to, in one generation, transform what are supposed to be textbook social systems, sort of engraved in stone, we don’t have an excuse when we say there are certain inevitabilities about human social systems.10

    In conclusion, the documentary’s narrator pointedly asks: “And so, the haunting question that endures from Robert [Sapolsky]’s life work: Are we brave enough to learn from a baboon?”10

    Plenty of evidence exists for the non-expression of a dominance hierarchy in the animal kingdom. This does not, however, preclude the manifestation of dominance hierarchies among humans. And, indeed, dominance hierarchies do exist in human societies. But are they wrought by evolution? Or are they shaped by features of the environment? Or perhaps a combination? Are they pervasive across the spectrum of behaviors and networks? Are they an inevitability?

    The chicken-and-egg conundrum speaks to determinism. Does physiology precede topping a hierarchy or does top ranking bring about changes in physiology? What about environmental factors? What about socioeconomic factors?11 Sapolsky writes, “When humans invented material inequality, they came up with a way of subjugating the low ranking like nothing ever before seen in the primate world.”12

    Sapolsky notes there are similarities in human and animal hierarchies,13 but humans are “totally different.”14

    Dominance hierarchies do exist, and there are multiple hierarchical scenarios that humans can take part/compete in. Therefore, most people are likely to rank higher and lower across myriad fields of endeavor. Many humans can also choose their pond; being a big fish in a small pond or a little fish in a big pond.

    Moreover, there are the drawbacks of clawing one’s way to an hierarchical apex. What is the actual utility of hierarchical supremacy if reaching the pinnacle requires one to become a despised asshole? If one has to spend inordinate hours working (being a slave to one’s job or addicted to work?) instead of spending leisure time with family and friends? And what if one cannot determine whether those who surround you are sycophants or genuinely care about you as a person?

    Sapolosky wrote, with easily perceived sarcasm: “Hurrah for clawing your way to the top, for zero-sum, muscular capitalism.”13

    It seems eminently preferable to be an anarchist, work and play with others at one’s leisure, and refrain from undue concern about chasing rankings because in your mind all are equally human beings.

    • Part 2 examines further the nature of hierarchies among humans and whether competition is preferable.
    1. See David Graeber, The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy (Brooklyn: Melville House, 2015): loc 2166.
    2. Sharon Venne, Our Elders Understand Our Rights: Evolving International Law Regarding Indigenous Rights (Theytus Books, 1998) cited in Tamara Starblanket, Suffer the Little Children: Genocide, Indigenous Nations and the Canadian State (Clarity Press, 2018): 24.
    3. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals: A Polemic (Edinburgh: T.N. Foulis, 1913): location 661.
    4. There is evidence for behavior guided by morality among animals. However, the reasoning behind such moral behaviors is qualitatively different from among humans. See Robert M. Sapolsky, “Morality and Doing the Right Thing, Once You’ve Figured out What That Is” in Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst (New York: Penguin Books, 2016): 478-520.
    5. Individual differences and situational cues influence how human subjects indicate they would respond in such scenarios. See Robert M. Sapolsky, “Morality and Doing the Right Thing, Once You’ve Figured out What That Is” in Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst (New York: Penguin Books, 2016): 478-520.
    6. See Paoli, T, Palagi, E, and Tarli, SB (2006), “Reevaluation of dominance hierarchy in bonobos (Pan paniscus),” American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 130: 116-122. doi:10.1002/ajpa.20345
    7. Funkhouser, JA, Mayhew, JA, and Mulcahy JB (2018) “Social network and dominance hierarchy analyses at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest,” PLoS ONE, 13(2): e0191898.
    8. See Rowan Hooper, “Gang of chimpanzees kills their alpha male,” New Scientist, 6 March 2013.
    9. Robert M. Sapolsky and Lisa Share (2004) “A Pacific Culture among Wild Baboons: Its Emergence and Transmission,” PLoS Biol, 2(4): e106.
    10. Stress, Portrait of a Killer,” National Geographic, 24 September 2008.
    11. Sapolsky: 443.
    12. Sapolsky: 442.
    13. Sapolsky: 429.
    14. Sapolsky: 429. Sapolsky expounds on factors affecting hierarchies: choice of leaders, political orientation, intelligence, affect, conformity, and obedience: 442-470.