Socialism Versus Jordan Peterson: The Case of Complexity Science

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The debate of nature versus nurture has undergone a new political dimension. Although that  discourse was always political, it seems that a combination of mediatic dynamics and academic fortress building has divided the nature-nurture debate into  two ontological camps. In other words, each camp’s language is unintelligible to the other.  On one hand, you have the sociological Left  that posits  that socio-economic discrepancies between races and the sexes are  due to socio-cultural phenomena. For example, centuries of policing gender boundaries (some of which continues today) through both soft suggestion (e.g. gendered roles), and direct institutional violence (adultery laws, banning of women in certain professions etc.) have solidified a disadvantaged position of women in this society. On the other hand, you have the naturalistic “center” or right wing  (e.g. Jordan Peterson) that argues that the lower socio-economic position of women is not a function of structural obstacles, but personality differences that are more or less biologically hard-wired that make women choose less paying professions, or be less confrontational and assertive in corporate settings.

This piece-meal approach, on one hand of the Left’s sociology, and on the other hand, of  the Right’s naturalism, is counter to  a scientific ontology,  which would posit that humans are both social beings and evolved animals.  Even if the Left is correct in that  biological variables are not necessarily relevant to many of the social sciences, the Right’s naturalistic prescription of social problems as functions of biological darwinism makes more intuitive sense to an anglo-saxon audience. This is because  anglo-saxon education is steeped in scientism (e.g.  anglo public intellectuals, such as Dawkins, Degrasse Tyson, etc. are scientists),  and their culture is ill equipped to deal with more sociological  and philosophical arguments (e.g. Weber’s argument about the West’s instrumental reason). So given the scientism of western culture, it is important for leftists to develop a synthesis that outlines when do sociological feedback loop completely overwhelm biological loops, rather than simply eliminating biology from their conceptual framework. I believe this synthesis is possible using the conceptual constellation of complexity science (something I’ve written about before).  To make my case,  I will first outline why the Left is against naturalistic prescriptions. Secondly, I will explore how these sociological arguments were recuperated by liberal bureaucrats and opinion makers (hereby referred as coordinators), and thus made  naturalistic arguments more popular given the backlash to authority. Finally I will sketch a  “complexity science” synthesis  on why is it that social dynamics tend to be more important than biological ones when dealing with human society.

Humans are  animals, the end-product of billions of years of biological evolution that transformed a primal bacteria into a big-brained, bipedal primate that can talk and make abstract, mathematical computations. However  the human being is also a social being, shaped and programmed by various complicated feedback loops that are enforced not only by the most rudimentary kinship unit such as the nuclear family, but by large-scale socio economic structures that extend through centuries and thousands of kilometres (e.g. states).   However,  one of the most ancient and predictable tricks done by the elite is to justify their privileged positions through naturalistic arguments.  For example, in the 19th century social darwinism and racial pseudo-science was used to biologically  justify the privileged position of the white man and the capitalist. Given the reactionary nature of these pseudo-scientific arguments,  revolutionaries and militants began  taking a sociological approach to dismantle the naturalistic myths of power (e.g. Marx) – it’s not biology that has given the capitalist or the white man the head-start, but complicated historical contingencies that gave rise to feedback loops that privileged some castes at the expense of others.  Existing power differentials were not biological telos, but a historical accident.  These sociological arguments formed the theoretical backbones of working class militancy, feminist activism, and anti-racist movements.

However, recently  these initially emancipatory sociological explanations  have been recuperated by a professional caste in a diluted, tragic form. This form does not have the objective of liberating humanity by addressing  material structures that sustain the nightmare of class society.  Instead, these ideas have become defanged into  talking points used by the bosses to discipline how their employees talk, or strings used by human resource cyborgs  to maintain appearances in the atomic wasteland of social media. These new deplorable, liberal coordinators, only concerned with maintaining optics and flaunting  cultural capital,  are unable to defend these sociological ideas, because nothing is at stake for them except television ratings or curriculum vitaes.  Jordan Peterson,  the idiot’s smart man,  by realizing how vulnerable are these clueless coordinators, has made a killing for a living, netting him about sixty grand monthly in his Patreon.  For example, he recently crushed Cathy Newman in a televised debate, which was a cathartic event for his fans. By  uttering the most simplistic and naturalistic  anti-feminist talking points, he made Newman short-circuit, making her repeat stereotypical liberal mantras over and over. Like Quilette recently published, it seemed like Newman hadn’t heard  these really basic arguments  that are routinely used by wikipedia-reading  misogynists   and crackpot “evo-psych” amateurs, and was just caught in some liberal, human resources bubble where the barbarian hordes of angry  dads  are gated away.

Given the inability of the contemptible coordinator caste to  actually defend these sociological arguments from the naturalistic attack in the first place, socialists must  come up with a synthesis on how to address this naturalistic attack and  defend the socio-historical tradition of the left.   As I have written before, complexity science may offer a good outline on how to address these naturalistic arguments.   Complexity science roughly argues that complicated systems cannot actually be reduced to the behaviour of their individual units. Instead, the system  itself creates emergent feedback loops and laws that cannot be simply be derived from the microphysics of the individual unit.  For example, psychology cannot be reduced to the behaviour of the individual neuron, or  how the temperature of a gas cannot be derived from the trajectory of one molecule. Instead these systems must be sometimes treated on their own terms. For example, the Newtonian physics that describe the air flow around an airplane’s wing  is not concerned  with the quantum chromodynamics of quarks.  The science that deals with mental illness operates without a  picture of how neural synapses works. In other words, systems operate on their own level of abstraction that overwhelms the particularities of the unit.  This is the case with socio-economic issues – although it’s true that society is made of evolved animals subject to biological forces,  these naturalistic particularities are overwhelmed by  socio-economic feedback loops.

Let’s use complexity science against Peterson as an example. In his recent debate against Cathy Newman he was arguing that one of the reasons the gender gap persists is because of women’s agreeableness.  According to him, women tend to be more agreeable, and therefore that  affects negatively their  earning potential in highly competitive workplaces. I also found out in an interview he had with Stefan Molyneux  that Peterson associates agreeableness with maternal instinct, ergo it is somehow biologically  hardwired into the female psyche.    The controversial point is not so much whether women are more agreeable or not, but if that agreeableness is a function of biology.  How on Earth would you even begin to prove agreeableness is hardwired biologically in a scientific way? At most, you can make a study  that shows gender and agreeableness are empirically correlated. Although, in the context of scientism, attributing agreeableness to some darwinistic  child rearing instinct “makes sense” in a shallow, common-sense sort of way, that does not mean such a theory can be proven scientifically.  In contrast, a sociologist or anthropologist may document various gender-policing mechanisms, which act as social feedback loops,  where woman are castigated for being combative (e.g. being called a bitch, caricatured as an evil manager etc.) therefore reinforcing female agreeableness as a social strategy, leading to a plausible narrative for the sociological explanation. The point is this – similar how to how the properties of the individual neurons are buried within the emergent laws  that constitute psychology, it could be that the the individual biological wirings of the female psyche are overshadowed  by the socio-economic feedback loops of by class society.

Peterson also claimed that hierarchy is biologically coded into much of the animal kingdom, including humans. Therefore he argued that the sociological explanation for the historical contingency of hierarchies is incorrect, given that our evolutionary ancestors already enforced hierarchies (e.g. lobsters).    However, the sociological explanation of modern power differentials is actually vindicated by the behaviour of early hunter gatherer societies, who some could argue are devoid of the more complicated feedback loops that appear in complex, sedentary societies. Even if these hunter gather societies may operate with  “soft” hierarchies (e.g. the existence of chieftains, leaders etc), it would be ridiculous to put these dynamics in the same order of magnitude as the extreme power differentials existing  in modern class society between a worker versus a president or a CEO. Therefore,  even if  a “soft” hierarchy may be encoded in our biological wiring,  it is completely  overshadowed by extreme  power differentials arising out of socio-economic structures.

I hope that my humble effort at a synthesis may generate some interesting thoughts. I am a firm believer that socialists should justify their positions with concrete arguments rooted in existing scientific consensus, and  therefore the argument against  “naturalism” must not only be philosophical, but based on our empirical understanding of reality as well.

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4 thoughts on “Socialism Versus Jordan Peterson: The Case of Complexity Science

  1. I’m rather curious if you’ve looked at the study he keeps citing, about how comparative egalitarianism between sexes increases difference in personality traits between them. I’m neither a social scientist nor a scientist, just some goof. thought I’d ask someone who knows better.

    also, he himself points to he need to do a multi-variate analysis in the interview here

    http://quillette.com/2018/01/27/walking-tightrope-chaos-order-interview-jordan-b-peterson/

    the fact that he points to “which variables do you choose?” means MAYBE he’s willing to admit the variables chosen has a political character.

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    1. Hi, sorry for the late reply. I actually been thinking about this point because I want to start a little podcast and I think that article is a great point to start. Basically, the flaw of their argument is not so much the emprical results of the study itself (that sexual personality dimorphism is correlated with first world countries) but their hypothesis (that the divergence is due to innate, biological differences). The cause of the divergence could be a million things, and the hypothesis itself in that paper is only just a small paragraph in the conclusion. There is absolutely no possible way to “prove” that personality divergence in first world countries is due to hard biological variables, nothing in the data spells that. This is the most cited article with that hypothesis, if you are curious:

      http://psycnet.apa.org/record/2007-19165-013

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  2. Hi, thanks for the reply, and going more in depth in your latest post. Your argument was the general gist of my thoughts on the matter, but I was curious as to what a scientist’s take would be.

    good luck with the podcast!

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  3. Hey, I appreciate your blog and the work and thinking that you’re putting into the world. This article did indeed spark a lot of thoughts for me. I don’t have any large coherent response to it (yet) but more smaller responses to bits and pieces of it. So this may be a bit scattered…
    That interview with Cathy Newman is embarrassing for Newman, and an infuriating opportunity for Peterson. She so baldly and incessantly misrepresents his arguments IN THAT INTERVIEW (I know he has some shitty arguments in other places, but what he was saying in that interview was much more measured and reasonable) without reference or citation, that he fucking tap danced around her (lack of) logic, and rightly so.

    I don’t think that “naturalism” is the best word for the right-wing framework of science here. I propose biological determinism or genetic fundamentalism as being much more descriptive. I’m also not convinced that it breaks down so neatly along left-right political spectrum, especially with the anti-intellectualism that exists in the US, especially on the right, but in parts of the left too.

    Two more interesting thoughts I have about this are
    1.) I think Peterson in particular is much more successfully refuted in terms of a materialist/idealist framework (as my very rudimentary understanding of Marxism). Watching his solo speeches/rants, Peterson clearly leans on myths and other socio-political “ideas” than on much biological reality.

    2.) I want to see someone write an update of Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid, with all the advances of modern science that we have. Not to say that competition and hierarchies don’t exist, but that all these other relationships can and do exist, and that there are evolutionary bases for these just as much as competition, and that context and environment are at least as instrumental in shaping social relationships as genetics. I feel like so much information and research is out there, we just need a rebellious Russian prince with a lot of time on his hands to pull it together. I would, but I’ve got a job and two kids and two bands and other projects that are taking up my time.

    Oh, and two other quick things, in one of the paragraphs, you describe humans as the end-product of evolution. While it is the *current* end product of an evolutionary line, natural selection and evolution are still occuring, and there are multiple other species that display high intelligence, high social organization, and other adaptive traits. Reducing anthrocentricity would aid your argument. You also referred to the nuclear family as the smallest kinship relationship, but this is another bias not borne out by anthropology. A parent-child relationship is prob the smallest, but beyond that, tribal and family relationships are diverse and just as socially-influenced as any other aspect of humanity, per your argument. Cool, keep up the good work!

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