Thursday, February 15, 2018

David Brooks versus Jordan Peterson (2)

I'm pretty certain Jordan Peterson is a liberal. That doesn't mean much. What is liberal is pretty fluid and yesterday's mainstream liberal stance often turns out to be today's hate speech. Which is pretty much what happened when Peterson took a stance against legally enforced speech.

It is not for that reason alone that Peterson is liked on the right. He also advocates what David Brooks, discussed in a previous post, calls "strength of will, the bootstrap, the calls to toughness and self-respect" [NB: New York Times link] and that is a conservative attitude today. It wasn't always. It used to be liberals who advocated that approach with conservatives taking more of a noblesse oblige attitude. Sir Winston Churchill's father Randolph and Winston himself, especially in his younger days, took such a stand.

Liberalism had begun to shift to a more paternalistic rather than individualistic tone by 1870 but the larger shift didn't happen until the 1930s when the Democrats in the USA and the Labour Party in Britain began actively seeking the votes of poorer people. Before that the Republicans and the Liberal Party in Britain had been the parties representing the oppressed but they had done so from the perspective of those looking down.

It's important to stop and consider the irony. Politics became more paternalistic in form as it became less paternalistic in attitude. You could not find a movement more paternalistic that modern progressivism.

The truth is that people don't always want what is best for them. Just out of university I was deeply in debt. What I wanted was for my debts to be forgiven. No one was willing to do that so I paid them off instead. And thank God I did. The self-discipline I learned in those days has turned out to be worth many times more than what the dollar value of forgiving the loans would have been.

I doubt I would have seen this at the time. No one offered to forgive my debts but if someone had shown up and said, "Let me help you out, here's a cheque for the full amount," I would have jumped at it. It was only when I realized I had no choice but to work hard to get out of the situation I was in and, more importantly, started to actually work hard, that I realized the advantages of bootstrapping. Which brings me back to David Brooks. He describes the call to "strength of will, the bootstrap, the calls to toughness and self-respect" as a need that young men have. As a "need". That's a telling word choice.

David Brooks is more of an old-fashioned conservative, driven by a paternalistic noblesse oblige. He does identify with or much like the people he'd like to help out. You can feel the disdain when he describes what he imagines to be the their situation: "constantly outperformed and humiliated by women, haunted by pain and self-contempt." It never occurs to Brooks that these men might be motivated by what Petsreon says because they have already begun to grasp that hard work and sacrifice works whereas what people like Brooks say, that " he lives of young men can be improved more through loving attachment than through Peterson’s joyless and graceless calls to self-sacrifice," is foolish paternalistic nonsense.

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