“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. 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…
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. 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.
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, 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 words ) 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.
Furthermore, the Cultural Revolution as some westerners allege did not impact negatively China’s economic growth.
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.
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.” Under Xi’s chairmanship a widespread crackdown on corruption has been ongoing.
In stark contradistinction with neoliberalism, Xi emphasizes public ownership dominance. The success of socialism with Chinese characteristics will be determined by measuring the benefits accrued to the Chinese people — such as rights to education, employment, health care and care for senior citizens. Moreover, the benefits are envisioned as for all the world’s people.
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.
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.” 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. 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, and communism is to be attained farther down the road. 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.
- Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.