My Peterson Rant

As you might have noticed, I’ve had a bit of a rant the last few days against Jordan Peterson and his stand against Trans people, refusing to use their pronoun of choice. All his arguments about these being “made up words” and such rather leave me cold; I find them a bit childish. He should know that language is fundamentally malleable and fluid, and that (quite literally) every word in the English language was “made up” by someone… including more recent ones like “hangry” and “face-palm”, and even “gaydar” or “jackass professor”. Just because Peterson didn’t do the “making up” does not mean they’re any less valid. English has fewer pronouns than many languages; I realize it takes extra energy to be considerate toward people who aren’t like him, but I’d give Mr. Peterson the same advice he likes to give young men.

Buck up and deal with it.

Clean your proverbial room.

Giving respect to people you don’t like is one of the qualities that makes our society “civilized”.

But even I was a bit surprised by how strongly I felt about the subject. I rarely go on this kind of “rant”, but this time I almost couldn’t avoid it. I really do want to get back on the idea of how fear impacted my sexuality from an early age, but this got in the way. A little thought and I realized why. As I said yesterday, Peterson is a reflection of the anti-queer perspectives of 35 years ago. He likes to speak about archetypes; Peterson likes to think of himself as the fount of wisdom, the archetypal oracle. Trouble is, he speaks for the majority, the dominant, the straight and the cis. Classically my impression is that oracles spoke with a bit of a surprise, from a perspective that was accurate and wise, but just not what the leaders of the day (mostly men) expected. In this respect, Peterson is the anti-oracle. He speaks to the popular, to the powerful. He speaks to young, straight men. There is nothing surprising in his words.

I listened to men like Peterson when I was young. It was because of men like him that I could not accept myself as gay, that I was insecure in my affections. It was, and is, because of men like Peterson that I am doubtful about my friends who are male even today, and some of them are amazing. He is, for me, the archetype of the dry oracle, the “wise” man who cannot see beyond himself. I take complete responsibility for my actions (and in fact am precisely who I am because of them) but it was because of men like Peterson that I went through counselling to try to change my orientation. Men like Peterson stained the perception of who I am for years.

Words and communities have changed, but bigotry has not.

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Peterson & Gender Identity

Yes, I’ve listened to Jordan B. Peterson. And much though he tries to disassociate himself with conservatives, he sounds very much like the kinds of men I’ve heard disparaging queer perspectives for decades. Thirty five years ago, the discussion was whether or not different sexual orientations actually existed, or whether they were just a warping and distortion of “regular” heterosexuality. Even in “civilized” spaces, queer people were jailed and hospitalized. It was popular back then because it reflected the average person, it encouraged the majority and standardization. It was quite successful at making people like me feel like misfits, even if we never pursued our desires.

Mr. Peterson is on the same bandwagon, taking advantage of “the old ways of doing things”. Today we’ve accepted the reality of different sexualities, based on the testimony of men and women like me; now the “question” is whether gender identities really vary differently from one’s chromosomes. Mr. Peterson denies the testimony of thousands of trans men and women, relegating them back to darkness and closets.

I just wanted to comment on one of the short blurbs of him speaking, as recorded on the National Post. I think I’m quoting him accurately.

“[Bill C-16] risks criminalizing discussion about aspects of human sexuality that we need to discuss.” I think Mr. Peterson is here putting words in people’s mouths, exactly as he accuses them of deliberately misunderstanding what he is saying. I think what he actually meant are discussions of gender identity rather than “human sexuality”; but I won’t harp on that. The two should not be seen as equivalent (but I don’t what to put words in his mouth). More importantly, I don’t think anyone wants to criminalize the discussion of gender or sexuality; at least I certainly don’t. What Bill C-16 does do is to extend protections to people of varying gender identities against “discrimination” and “hate propaganda”. Which has nothing to do with civil “discussion”.

“Now that doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions… in 98% of cases, if you’re biologically male then your gender identity is male… so that’s a pretty tight linkage.” Ummm… yeah? “Tight” maybe, but it’s not perfect. 2% is still… well, 2%. Those “exceptions” are exactly what we’re talking about. In a city the size of Toronto, that means over 50,000 people whose gender identity does not align with their biological makeup (all of whom Peterson has managed to piss off). So in spite of his argument (I think) that gender identity and biology don’t vary independently, here he admits that it does happen in 2% of cases. Isn’t that what even the most ardent activist is saying? I don’t argue it’s any more. Those 2% might be small in number, but they are still people with different experiences who have known discrimination. The Family Research Council claimed in 2002 (and maintain today) that only 2-3% of people are gay or bisexual (Gallup), yet gay people are still protected by the same legislation Mr. Peterson is up in arms against.

I would say here that he seems to be arguing that if a discriminated portion of the community is small enough (<= 2%) then they don’t need to be protected. They’re not really people; they’re “exceptions”.

But I don’t want to put words in his mouth.

I find much of his speaking to be the same. He’s a straight, cis, powerful male who reflects the limitations of his upbringing and encourages those like him at the expense of those who are different. That’s why his books sell. That’s why people support him… and those with more progressive perspectives don’t. Because he’s dragging us back to the world of the 1950s.

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Peterson’s Truth

So I thought I’d look in a little more depth to what Jordan Peterson goes on to say about “the truth”. At least I understand better what makes him popular. Consider these comments about “truth” from The Odyssey Online:

Peterson: “When you speak truth, you speak paradise into being, and when you speak falsely, you speak hell into being, and that’s the truth. What that means is that with every decision that you make, you decide for yourself and for the world whether you’re going to tilt the world a little more towards hell or a little more towards heaven, and that’s the burden you bear for your existence.”

Okay. Sort of. Maybe. I don’t like his imagery, but I suppose I can see it, a bit… I try to speak the truth in all things, every way, but it’s not because it brings “paradise” into being. Believe me, it doesn’t. It brought decades of fear for me. Try being gay and telling straight men that you enjoy their friendship… mostly that’s not a step into paradise, it’s a step in the other direction. Oh, it can be: and this summer I took that step a couple of times and it was wonderful. But with others it was hell. True as it is, deep as it is, it is not a truth that resonates with many straight men. They can barely handle being friends with women, never mind guy who might be attracted to them.. Only the most mature, the most accepting, can really understand.

Peterson: “Everything begins to come together… when you’re around someone who tells the truth everything comes together and that’s the potential destiny of the world… you can bring forth something again to paradise by speaking the truth and you can start in your own life, and in the lives of your own family… It’s not a rule… It’s the proper way of wending your way through the terrible world without making it worse than it already is and with the possibility perhaps of making it better.”

Sorry, no.

Wrong.

In Christian terms, this is the prosperity gospel. We do not tell the Truth because it has a good effect (“everything comes together”); we speak the Truth because it’s the right thing to do. Many times, in fact, the Truth makes things harder. Donald Trump is speaking “truth” for his followers, and they love him for it. But the “paradise” he speaks into being is only superficial and quickly reverts. The economic “heaven” he creates for Americans will mean a true environmental hell for our grandchildren. All of them. Judging “truth” in this way is terribly dangerous, because “truth” loses its objectivity. Truth is no longer true in itself, but is truth to the degree that it helps things to “come together”.

Sounds like the words of a straight, cis dominant man who’s never had any real suffering in his life (see “The Meaning of Life” from last week)… for whom things have “come together” according to whatever “truth” he’s chosen to speak into being. It’s what people want to believe, but it’s shallow. Things “come together” for Mr. Peterson, and it means more suffering for others.

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Why Peterson’s Archetypes Scare Me

Over the weekend I went to see presentation on “The Meaning of Life”, and was singularly unimpressed by the speakers. Jordan Peterson in particular. I’ve heard a bit about him, and figured I’d do more research today. Turns out that it fit quite well into my current discussion of what is most fearful in the world around me.

Mr. Peterson never impressed me; I don’t really care about YouTube views or followers on twitter; if anything I find they’re indicative of one who is more interested in surface popularity and worldly “points” than anything real or true. I’m sure Peterson would argue with that; my impression is that he would argue with anything (and/or everything), so I’m not really too worried about it. I’ve tried to listen to him;I find him obtuse and wandering. I’ve tried to read his stuff; I find his assumptions insulting (see below). His claims to find archetypes that are Jungian and fundamental (at least I think hose are his claims) don’t do a lot for me. Consider a quote that he wrote in a blog by Sam Harris:

(Apparently they were speaking of being “true” or acting in “truth”…) “The individual who acts in this manner is the mythological hero, who confronts the unknown with attention and intent to communicate, who obtains the gold from the eternal dragon of chaos… and who distributes that gold to the community. He rescues the youthful virgin from the predatory reptile. That’s St. George. It’s the oldest story we know of…That’s the archetypal hero. That’s first, a way of behaving; second, a representation of acting; third, a way of organizing society around that action and representation; fourth, a society that then selects, through masculine competition, for the best contender to that representation; fifth, what is selected for by women, who peel off the top of the masculine competition. They outsource the impossible cognitive task of mate selection to the male dominance hierarchy. A hero emerges at the top of the competition. He gets all the girls. Human females are mother nature…”

The sections in bold are where I have problems: problems that strike to my very core. Mr. Peterson’s “archetypes”, his “St. George” representations, are solely straight images, they are formed in and around a universe that is decades of of date, that ignores social minorities, the diverse and the different. His “gold” is nothing but pyrite. His images are popular, but they are not true at any depth. They do nothing for me, precisely because I have a newer, brighter, deeper perspective. Being the “best contender” and “getting all the girls” is nothing but a shadow for me. Peterson stimulates people to listen to him by touching their competitive, sexual nature… just like Rob Ford and Donald Trump in the political realm. But his “archetypes” miss me completely.

What Peterson describes are the straight, dominant “archetypes” I grew up with, that I tried to fit in with, that I tried to emulate and sought desperately within myself. They were archetypes I was counselled to try to reach. But the more I looked, the more I found them to be lies. They are the archetypes of the powerful and the popular. They are not real. They are precisely the archetypes that caused me so much fear until only a few years ago. They are the archetypes that the majority wants to be true; but in reality are nothing more than hollow echoes because they are NOT universal and do NOT work for everyone. Peterson and his archetypes are the “Seinfeld” of the 21st century. Lots of likes and followers, but in reality a show about nothing.

And this totally explains why the male youth of today are his followers. They are used to being the archetypes of our society; like Peterson they are used to being at its apex. They don’t like the current world where “male-mess” is no longer central, where “masculine competition” is no longer king and “youthful virgins” are not clamouring for their attention. Peterson’s “archtypes” are nothing more than an attempt to turn the clock back to the 1950s, where “Father” really did know best and his archetypes were everywhere. Peterson is one of the guides who will happily take you back there (if you support him on his Patreon page); but it is a step backward, not forward.

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The Meaning of Life

Friday night in Toronto… here I thought I was among the more boring people on the planet, but I chose to spend Friday night listening to a series of presentations (lectures if you want to call them that) about the “Meaning of Life”. Now the event was sold out, so I’m obviously not the only one. I managed to see it on the cheap at a live-stream at my church. Which also meant that I got to spend the hours watching an interesting subject with people I liked.

I won’t do the full job of introducing the subject nor the speakers: that is available on the Wycliffe College website. Instead I want to jump into my reactions, which I was a bit surprised at. I like to approach these things with as few presuppositions as I can. Which means that sometimes my responses aren’t what I expect.

The event started with twenty minutes by William Lane Craig. As a Christian, I hoped to agree mostly with what he had to say. Unfortunately, he spent a good eighteen of those minutes not describing not why the traditional faith-based perspective produces a life worthy of living… but explaining why an atheistic life does not. I found it a bit supercilious, as he spent most of his time explaining why atheism, a philosophy to which he does not subscribe, does not produce meaning for one’s life, then quickly wrapping up with the assumption that theism does. I know several atheists, and they all have meaning in their lives. I may not understand their perspective, but they still find meaning. Like many Christian speakers today, I found that Craig was speaking about a question that no-one was really asking… and assuming a perspective that he had no right to claim.

Then Rebecca Goldstein gave the naturalist perspective. I half expected her to stand up and simply say, “wrong” to Craig, but she was better than that. She started her presentation with the comment that she hoped to build a common understanding across deep “metaphysical divides” regarding the meaning of life. If have to say: even though I would disagree with her statement that there is no supernatural force in the world, she would be the speaker whom I understood the best. So she achieved her aim. At least in my eyes, she managed to build more of a common understanding than either of the others. She gave me a glimmer of what “meaning” might mean to “us”, rather than what it might mean to “them”.

And lastly Jordan Peterson spoke, giving… well, the Peterson perspective. I couldn’t really figure out which group, if any, he wanted to align with, other than himself. I guess he wants to be out on his own, which he’s really good at. Besides saying the question was simply “stupid”, he wandered around verbally without making a point in the same way that he wandered around the stage. I even listened to his presentation twice to try to fully understand… another half hour that I won’t get back… and all I’m really sure of is that he doesn’t like to answer specific questions. Sure, Mr. Peterson, we know there are many answers that don’t live up to your expectations (they’re “absurd”), but at least they’re answers. You didn’t even really answer the question.

I suppose that’s why people like him. Especially the alt-right. Everyone else is wrong… people like that kind of thing. It’s the way of the 21st century. He doesn’t give enough of an answer that anyone can say he’s either right or wrong himself. He talked a lot about pain, and suffering, and hate, and evil (all of which he seemed to equate)… but I’m not sure he gave me much more about “meaning”. Oh, except that we all suffer. “That’s the meaning of life”. We need to each bear our suffering with “nobility”. That’s what he seemed to think. And I’ll admit I chuckled at that, both times I heard it. A white, male, cis, straight baby-boomer with a good job and family and thousands of followers… the meaning of life is suffering. Yeah, right. Like you even know what suffering is. You’ve studied it, I suppose.

Overall, I enjoyed the evening and the presentations. Though they confirmed some things in my mind that were disturbing. Christians today are answering questions from fifty years ago, not what is being asked today. We need to listen to what people are asking before we try to answer. Or, like Peterson, before we try to redefine their question. Sure, if we’re popular, we’ll have lots of likes and lots of followers, but that doesn’t mean we’re actually helping people with their questions. We’re just “entertaining”.

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My Stories

I’ve been a speaker for a long time… I am currently in charge of the “Speakers’ Bureau” for one of the LGBT groups that I’m involved with in Toronto. But my speaking experience started a long time ago, when I was in Chicago at Moody. (Ah, the irony… my preaching at a conservative Bible College prepared me for my role as a leader with the queer community. Welcome to my world.) I remember my first preaching class at MBI (“homiletics”), and it absolutely terrified me. But even back then, I wanted to deal with my various fears by confronting them directly. It was even part of my motivation for becoming a pastor. Initially I was rather clumsy at my sermons, and it took me a while to get comfortable, but I soon discovered one key aspect of speaking that has moved me from being “decent” to being “good”.

That key is not just about looks or presentation or a good sound system. I can control some of that, but I’m often limited in how I can change those things. Even the standard Moody formula of the “3 point sermon” didn’t quite do it for me. The thing that helped most was personal stories. Personal examples. It’s easy for me (and many speakers) to stay in the world of the theoretical and the abstract; personal examples move my points into the realm of the concrete. It was hard at first… because I simply didn’t have many… but the more I spoke the more I realized that we all have them. The stories that will follow over the next few days are intended to illustrate some of the fear that I knew about being gay, as I’ve mentioned before. (I just realized that this one fits as the first…) They are certainly the stories of a young gay man in a world where homosexuality was disapproved of, and he didn’t even know enough about his feelings to hope they might be accepted. But it’s important to tell them. It’s important that we never get back there, and if we’re honest we can all relate to some degree.

I’ve mentioned that I’m also writing a book. That book explores these ideas in more depth and more fully. All the stories I tell here are “extras”. They compliment the stories in the book, which flow a little more easily and directly than what I can achieve through the blog.

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Religious Fear

I was on my way home on the subway when my friend Brad sent me this story (Globe and Mail, 2018). It was ironic because Brad lives in Arkansas; he sends me a variety of interesting posts from around the world, but not usually from Canada. And the Globe, yet; one of my favourite true-news sources! I was writing yesterday’s post about fear when it came through. It reminded me of a fear I’ve not felt for a long time. The story is written about a community in British Columbia, but it might just as well be Pennsylvania or Chicago or Arkansas… all of which I’ve lived in, and all of which have communities that are equally tinged with fear. Brad and I have been able to move beyond some of the limitations of that fear, and we both have a certain fascination with those who are trapped by it.

We note this in particular because the core of many faiths, such as Christianity, is love. And love is the antithesis of fear. Yesterday I quoted 1 John 4:18 in my post, but didn’t say anything about it. I just left it hanging; mostly because I just didn’t have time in a blog posting to develop the thought. Yet it is massively important. The whole point of Christianity and the Bible can be expressed as overcoming fear. Through love. God’s love, our love. “Perfect love casts out fear.”

There was a time when I was afraid to be gay. Long before I became a Christian, I was petrified of loving other guys. From a very young age I knew it was different… but it seemed it was bad different, not cool different. At a time when all the kids around me were trying to define themselves as somehow unique, it was one way that I wanted to fit in. And I couldn’t. No matter how much I tried, I just couldn’t generate the feelings I wanted, nor erase the feelings that were there. So when I did discover God and faith, it just got worse,

I think a lot of us can relate to some degree; even if you’re not gay. Many of us have some aspect of ourselves that we don’t like, that is a base part of ourselves and we’re afraid others will see. I’ll start with a couple of stories that illustrate just how simple, yet dramatic, this self-loathing can be. Then I’ll explore a little of how I moved to get over it. It was more than just a shift in understanding how I related to the spiritual universe. It was a shift in how I related to myself.

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