Short Take: “So You’re Saying,” Jordan Peterson Edition

Never having been a big fan of Toronto psychology prof Jordan Peterson, his interview with British journalist Cathy Newman held little interest. But Conor Friedersdorf’s Atlantic article about the interview was an exceptional dissection. No, it wasn’t really about Peterson’s views at all, even though the subtext was that he’s hardly the misogynistic ogre he’s portrayed to be by the highly woke. If anything, he’s a old-school liberal, but that’s neither here nor there.

What Conor’s article showed was the bizarre efforts of a lame advocate to take what Peterson said and try, with all her might to twist it into the most baseless, absurd and offensive expression possible. In the process, she revealed the worst of advocacy journalism.

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.

This has become a ubiquitous problem, in media, on social media, everywhere (which is why it’s ubiquitous). You say “it’s snowing,” and someone else responds, “so you’re saying it’s the worst blizzard ever?” Obviously not, but that puts you in the position of either responding by saying the obvious, “no, that’s not what I said,” and creating the appearance of defensiveness plus contributing to your statement being hijacked and taken down some dark, orthogonal path you never intended nor desired to go or ignoring it.

Oh, so now you’re denying it’s snowing? Why won’t you just admit you were wrong, or is that because you’re too fragile?

The alternative is to ignore the mischaracterization, which would be totally satisfactory in a world where people weren’t blithering or useful (or both) idiots who seized upon the mischaracterizations rather than the statement and spread the false word. That is obviously false doesn’t make it obvious anymore.

If you leave it alone, relying on the intelligence of others to recognize that the attack of the intellectually deficient was nonsensical, your hopes may well be dashed. They not only don’t get it, but neither want to get it nor want it to come out any other way. If they want to read evil into a statement, then nothing will prevent them from doing so. And you will promptly be told that you confessed your sins by your failure to refute the idiot.

The third option is to call bullshit and disengage. This is as iffy a proposition as relying upon the intelligence of others, as it can just as easily give rise to the appearance that they “caught” you as you refuse to be subjected to attack of the killer tomatoes.

This exchange, one of many from Conor’s article, all of which are worth reading, provides a good example of the problem:

Newman: So you don’t believe in equal pay.

Peterson: No, I’m not saying that at all.

Newman: Because a lot of people listening to you will say, are we going back to the dark ages?

Peterson: That’s because you’re not listening, you’re just projecting.

Newman: I’m listening very carefully, and I’m hearing you basically saying that women need to just accept that they’re never going to make it on equal terms—equal outcomes is how you defined it.

Peterson: No, I didn’t say that.

What distinguished this exchange was Newman’s “I’m listening very carefully,” which is the equivalent of the person who doesn’t have the slightest grasp what you’re saying insisting that they do get it. Dunning-Kruger? Sure. Disingenuous? Obviously. Cringe worthy? Only if you don’t want to hate Peterson and believe that whatever he’s saying is wrong and evil, no matter how hard you have to suspend your capacity to think.

And as Conor says, it’s happening all the time, and you like it when advocacy journalists are attacking that guy you want so much to hate.

27 thoughts on “Short Take: “So You’re Saying,” Jordan Peterson Edition

  1. B. McLeod

    You have to listen very carefully to always hear what you want. It is a highly developed art form. Lots of “nuances”.

  2. John Harrisberg

    This interview has caused a huge stir in the UK, for a number of reasons, along with those that you outline.

    It was the first time that many people will have seen anyone like Jordan Peterson on mainstream television. Yes, he’s big in alternative media/online/academic circles, but these kinds of figures just don’t appear on the regular channels, which are highly controlled. The BBC, which is state owned, controls 90% of UK TV output, and Channel 4 is also partially owned by the state. Both reflect an establishment worldview, and do not accommodate voices like Peterson’s.

    The interview, which has generated a huge amount of follow-up commentary, has been interpreted as a clash between the classical liberalism that was common throughout the 18th and 19th century, and the post-modern/structuralist/identity driven thinking, which now dominates the establishment and is unaccustomed to being challenged. Peterson’s views are neither unusual or controversial in any kind of historical context, but they are simply not heard among mainstream channels in the UK.

    Cathy Newman typically interviews politicians, the modus operandi for which is simply to set a trap for them and try to expose them as a bigot. The politicians she interviews are highly scripted, terrified of straying off message and offending someone or other, so she usually “wins” these bouts. Cathy Newman has never in her life interviewed someone like Peterson who does not care if his views are the “correct” ones, and who justifies his views based on his academic and empirical studies, not whether they comport with the prevailing media consensus.

    1. SHG Post author

      I learned years ago that no amount of gertruding, explanation, even acquiescence, will appease anyone whose perspective is post-modern orthodoxy. You can never be woke enough to question any aspect of their belief system without being a heretic, and suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. So, Jordan Peterson, the liberal, is turned into a cartoon frog boy on Brit TV? He shrugs. There was no other possible outcome for him.

      As for Newman, the gotcha game only works when someone gives a shit. Peterson didn’t.

  3. Skink

    Attack of the Killer Tomatoes was a great movie to watch high. I miss that. More people should do that. That should be an interviewing rule.

          1. Skink

            Isn’t that what this is all about? Did I miss something? Isn’t the point that the only acceptable sex is with yourself? I thought it was all about increasing imaginative ability through sexual fantasy!

            I feel like such a dope.

            1. SHG Post author

              While masturbation is sex with someone you love, it has yet to serve its reproductive purposes for our species. No doubt a product of the patriarchy.

    1. SHG Post author

      The best part of that particular bit of insanity was where, having disengaged, he “persisted” in expecting me to comply with his demands that I deal with him. Narcissism is a fascinating psychosis.

      1. Ron

        Astoundingly, this nutjob thought he was brilliant. When I saw this, I just shook my head in bewilderment at how a lawyer could be so completely irrational.

        1. SHG Post author

          When he pulled the “settle down” shtick, that was when it was clear that it was time to back away. Arguing with children and irrational nutjobs is not a good use of my time.

  4. Matthew S Wideman

    I thought Peterson masterfully handled the interview. In most conversations both people are of equal intellect. In this interview Peterson was clearly the more intelligent and thoughtful person. He is hardly the Nazi people make him out to be. It’s not hard to really question the thought…”women always make less than a man always because of sexism”. We know there could be a whole host of reasons why one person could make less in any given profession.

  5. Jake

    “Obviously not, but that puts you in the position of either responding by saying the obvious, “no, that’s not what I said,” and creating the appearance of defensiveness plus contributing to your statement being hijacked and taken down some dark, orthogonal path you never intended nor desired to go.”

    Either that…Or what?

    1. SHG Post author

      There are two kinds of people in the world: those who can extrapolate from incomplete data.

      Damn. I’ll fix it.

  6. Pingback: Trial Lawyer Lesson: The Risk of “So You’re Saying” – Defending People

  7. Joseph

    In the godforsaken wastelands of online discussion, this is basically the norm, because everyone is more interested in grandstanding for the audience instead of trying to have an actual discussion.

    If you say something along the lines of “try responding to what I actually said” enough times sometimes you can fish out a coherent thought out of someone.

    1. SHG Post author

      If you say something along the lines of “try responding to what I actually said” enough times sometimes you can fish out a coherent thought out of someone.

      Is that how it works? So everybody’s been doing it all wrong all these years? Thanks for explaining it, Joseph. Without you, I would never know how it works.

      1. Joseph

        >So everybody’s been doing it all wrong all these years?

        No, I didn’t say that.

        Try responding to what I actually said.

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