Friday, December 08, 2017

Advent Calendar: Cogency of Thought & Deed - The Missing Link

If you act
As you think
The missing link
Synchronicity I, The Police
Back in the late-90s-to-early-aughts, David Frum could be counted on to rook me into purchasing the occasional National Post. The headlines assured me he was present to take on some lefty shibboleth I favoured -- gay marriage, for example. Alright then, I'd think -- persuade me.

Alas, persuasion was not his intent. He'd throw down a string of contentious ideological canards that led to a final put-down punchline mocking the opposition as moral and intellectual invalids. The ploy struck me as a youthful aping of William F. Buckley -- or Ann Coulter, talking in her sleep.

Don't waste time or intellectual energy on cogency of thought -- "defend" your ideological presumptions with a ceaseless barrage of invective against the opposition. To my dismay, this has become the default setting not just for Canada's Intellectual Left, but for aspiring advocates for the Disappearing Center as well.

Say what you will about Jordan Peterson (please), but cogency of thought is a big deal to him. When giving Peterson their consideration, however, this is precisely what our nation's last surviving prestige print platforms are having difficulties with. The less said about Tabitha Southey's "nyah-nyah-a-boo-boo" for Maclean's, the better. The Walrus parks itself left-of-centre, but should be intellectually robust enough to issue a vigorous critique. Ira Wells takes a crack at it, but good Lord, I hope he (or his TA) does a more careful job of grading his students' essays than his editor did fact-checking Wells' presumptive claims. Over at The Globe & Mail, Simona Chiose struggles mightily and spills a tonne of ink to reach a balanced POV on the controversial prof. Alas, the headline and sub-heading give away the game:
"Jordan Peterson and the trolls in the ivory tower: In the fight for 'free speech,' a university professor has found himself backed by the Internet's most ruthless denizens while students cry foul."
If you need help parsing the rhetorical structure of those two sentences, let me know.
This photo, OTOH, presents a challenge.
Full disclosure: if I had to guess I'd say I've devoted 12 hours of my life attending to Peterson's words. I am on-board with some of his claims; others I would question. Occasionally he drops some flat-out rubbish (commit yourself to that much open disclosure on the internet and lapses are bound to happen). If I could magically get three or four of those Peterson hours back for the purpose of reapplying myself to the life and times of Donald Duck, I'd cheerfully accept.

Peterson leads with his chin, he's willing to engage seriously and respectfully with the dopiest of slavering acolytes, and he will take care articulating his line of reasoning so as not to be misunderstood. Ironically enough, the person he most reminds me of is the late Christopher Hitchens. And as with Hitch, while I deeply admire Peterson's candour and rhetorical command, it is his temperament that occasionally chafes.

But I'm glad he's around. If his opponents took a proper stab at emulating his rhetorical method, the ensuing discussion could be enlightening and might actually get us somewhere.

Endnote: need help with that? Jay Heinrichs leans left and he's got a book for you (some tips contained therein (hm - "Heinrichs." There's just something about that name...).


Joel Swagman said...

I never heard of Jordan Peterson until February, when I stumbled upon some of his videos while researching "The Brothers Karamazov".
Since then, I seem to see him everywhere now.
I've wondered if this might be what psychologists call "The Frequency Illusion", where when you are introduced to something, you notice it all over the place where you never did before.
Or... Has he just suddenly just gotten really popular in the last year.

I consider myself largely of your opinion. I'm a fan, but with caveats. I think his critique of socialism and leftism is largely vacuous. (His critique of Socialism is often just that Socialists are bad people.)
And yet, he often has a lot of really interesting things to say.

I was watching him on this video, and thought it was endlessly fascinating:

Whisky Prajer said...

It's a shame Richard Rorty isn't around to riff off Peterson and nudge him toward "tax-and-spend Liberalism" (Rorty's self-admitted political leaning). My impression is Peterson is off the leash whenever he sniffs anything with Marxist influences, and Socialism would most certainly qualify. He calls himself a liberal, though, so what do I know? He'd probably school me on that call.

Whisky Prajer said...

Do you dig Rorty at all? (I'm a big fan.)

Joel Swagman said...

I've never heard of him until just now. Bu I did watch and enjoy that video. He seems like an interesting guy. It would have been nice to see him square off against Peterson.

On the other hand, although Sam Harris's interests are more epistemological than political, Sam Harris did a very good job of keeping Peterson in check. As much as I enjoy Peterson, it was also interesting to see Peterson in a position in which he couldn't just keep saying anything he wanted to.

Whisky Prajer said...

Most interviews just give him the floor, don't they? He's articulate enough to make it interesting, but the best interviewers know when (and how) to supply some push-back.

Rory A.A. Hinton said...

I dig Rorty too. :)

Darrell Reimer said...