Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Jordan Peterson: Isn't This Just The Way Women Try To "Debate"?



theatlantic |  My first introduction to Jordan B. Peterson, a University of Toronto clinical psychologist, came by way of an interview that began trending on social media last week. Peterson was pressed by the British journalist Cathy Newman to explain several of his controversial views. 

But what struck me, far more than any position he took, was the method his interviewer employed. It was the most prominent, striking example I’ve seen yet of an unfortunate trend in modern communication.

First, a person says something. Then, another person restates what they purportedly said so as to make it seem as if their view is as offensive, hostile, or absurd.

Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and various Fox News hosts all feature and reward this rhetorical technique. And the Peterson interview has so many moments of this kind that each successive example calls attention to itself until the attentive viewer can’t help but wonder what drives the interviewer to keep inflating the nature of Peterson’s claims, instead of addressing what he actually said.


This isn’t meant as a global condemnation of this interviewer’s quality or past work. As with her subject, I haven’t seen enough of it to render any overall judgment—and it is sometimes useful to respond to an evasive subject with an unusually blunt restatement of their views to draw them out or to force them to clarify their ideas.

Perhaps she has used that tactic to good effect elsewhere. (And the online attacks to which she’s been subjected are abhorrent assaults on decency by people who are perpetrating misbehavior orders of magnitude worse than hers.)

But in the interview, Newman relies on this technique to a remarkable extent, making it a useful illustration of a much broader pernicious trend. Peterson was not evasive or unwilling to be clear about his meaning. And Newman’s exaggerated restatements of his views mostly led viewers astray, not closer to the truth.