Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Ethics

9 Rules For Living in Sad Times

In reading Nathan Robinson’s piece on Jordan Peterson, I was struck by something Robinson said:

But here the left and academia actually bear a decent share of blame. Why is Jordan Peterson’s combination of drivel and cliché attracting millions of followers?…Who else has a serious alternative? Where are the other professors with accessible and compelling YouTube channels, with books of helpful advice and long Q&A sessions with the public? No wonder Peterson is so popular: he comes along and offers rules and guidance in a world of, well, chaos. Just leave it to Dad, everything will be alright.

I’m a left wing academic! This is in part my fault. I’ve been writing all these pieces about politics, but I haven’t tried to help people figure out how to live. Why haven’t I? Robinson himself threw together a bulleted list of “principles of living“, but it’s mostly for laughs. Robinson self-identifies as a libertarian socialist–he doesn’t want to tell people what to do. Most lefties feel queasy about paternalism. We’re reluctant to lead people because we want people to lead themselves. Well, no more. Today I’m going to take a stab at life-coaching. After all, I live one of those carefree academic lives at a fancy university–I must have done something right.

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Jordan Peterson is a Garden Variety Christian Existentialist

A few people have asked me lately–what do I think of Jordan Peterson? Peterson is a Canadian psychologist who has written a book called 12 Rules for Life. He’s become very popular on YouTube and generated something of a following. I can see why–the particular kind of philosophy he’s advocating is unfamiliar to many people and feels transgressive in a modern context. But it’s an old kind of philosophy which dates back to the 19th century and takes its inspiration from Soren Kierkegaard. It’s called “Christian Existentialism”. Here’s how it works.

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#MeToo Needs to be about Principles, Not Celebrity Shaming

One of the inherent difficulties the #MeToo movement faces is the strong incentives the media has to ruin the whole thing. The initial incidents–the abuses of power by people like Trump, Weinstein, and C.K.–are useful insofar as they start a conversation about policy and principles. But the risk is that #MeToo will be reduced to the little more than the quest for more high-profile allegations, because nothing sells ads like celebrity gossip. And in that quest for more exciting allegations principles are lost in a sea of particularities–we forget about the forest and gaze longingly into the trees. And so we’ve come to the Aziz Ansari moment, a moment which was inevitable–some media outlet publishes some allegations which seem to some people to be much less serious than the allegations that have gone before, and yet seem to another group of people to warrant the same response those previously accused received. We’re reduced to a debate over whether our response to the specific Ansari allegation is reasonable, and then that debate is projected onto everything else. If Ansari is the victim of a witch hunt, is the whole thing a witch hunt? The appropriate response is to refuse to play this game in the first place–#MeToo isn’t really about exposing guilty people and publicly shaming them. It has, to this point, often been conducted in that way. But it’s really about getting people to treat each other better. To do that, we have to know what “better” involves. We have to talk about principles, not people.

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How Postmodernism Undermines the Left and Facilitates Fascism

Lately when I’ve discussed the implications of political violence with some people on the left, they’ve responded by appealing to postmodernism. These people undoubtedly have good intentions, but I fear many of them are not recognizing the corrosive  and counterproductive effects that postmodernism has on politics.

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Don’t Hate Trump Voters–Hate the System that Creates Them

I’ve been disappointed in my side over the last 48 hours. On social media aggressive posts are circulating personally blaming and shaming Trump supporters for Trump’s victory and for criminal acts motivated by hate. Columnists are lashing out, reductively attributing Trump’s victory to racism and sexism alone on the basis of exit polls which show the same kinds of gaps in support among the races and the sexes that we’ve long seen in previous races dating all the way back to the 70s and beyond. The last time women were more likely to vote for a Republican was 1960 (when they skewed slightly toward Nixon) and black voters haven’t gone for a Republican since before the New Deal. Too many people are doubling down on the same failed strategy that brought us to this pass. But just as importantly, by blaming the voters as individual agents, these people are contradicting fundamental left wing principles.

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