Why Reasoning with Jordan Peterson Fans Can’t Work, Or: Privilege is a Feeling State
So Nellie Bowles wrote this piece of magic.
My post here will avoid the content weeds to zero in on a single syntax transition that Shapiro made, and that somehow made it through editing. The indented graf is Bowles. The second sentence is a direct quote from Peterson. The second graf is Shapiro.
Read how the highlight connects them.
Slow down if you have to.
Bowles: “[Peterson direct quote]” he said.
Shapiro: This is not what Peterson is saying.
This freaked me out. I talked it through with my partner Alix to get clearer on it. Here’s what we explored together:
It never matters what Peterson said.
It matters what he’s saying.
The critic of Peterson is pointing to a data point. The facts of Bill C16. The meaninglessness of the lobster analogy. That postmodernism doesn’t mean what he says it means. That “Cultural Marxism” isn’t a thing. That the subaltern is.
The supporter, by contrast, is asking you to participate in an emotion.
So why is Peterson so polarizing? Because the emotion he is asking you to participate in is proprietary to one particular group.
Privilege — white, male, educated — is an embodied feeling-state for those who have it. It doesn’t need to be justified by facts, it’s simply how things are. It is so pervasive it does not rise to conscious awareness, except as a vague expansive sense of entitlement over space.
It’s unconsciously natural for privilege to rubberneck. It’s unconsciously natural to manspread, interrupt, order drinks with a raised finger, hold court about things beyond your training or your responsibility to your peers.
Expansive is the key word here. The feeling is one of boundarylessness. Perhaps it’s the somatic drive behind capitalism.
These somatics of privilege only become more sharply sensible (and then, constitute territory to be defended) when the facts of structural power are spoken aloud by a previously silenced voice. It can be bell hooks on patriarchy, Judith Butler on gender, or Ta’Nehisi Coates on the case for reparations. It can be anything that is too true to have been heard before.
When jagged facts slam into entitled feelings, the ability of privilege to breathe so freely, to speak without interruption, to pace on the stage for hours in self-absorption are all challenged. Privilege is offered limits and marked with shame.
Somebody, suddenly, is asking the feeler of privilege whether it really is so natural, whether it is merited, whether it might constitute stolen goods. Somebody is asking you to be accountable for the space you have taken on that stage, in that university, over all those pages. Somebody is showing you what your words mean to those beyond the sphere of your comfort and order.
For the first time in you can’t remember how long, you feel doubt. So what do you do? You say, as loudly as you can, that your freedom of speech is being taken away. You say it, unopposed, over and over again.
What does this all suggest? It means that all you noble friends suffering through hours of PetersonTube to prove he’s intellectually corrupt with think pieces (like this one) as long as his supporters produce won’t get anywhere.
The argumentation of his supporters does not aspire to clarity. It exists to exercise and enhance a feeling-state. You think you’re arguing with someone, but really they’re doing masturbatory cardio. It feels so good for them.
Somehow that feeling-state must be met, accounted for, and exchanged for one that does not depend, like capitalism, on endless expansion in order for the person who feels it to believe they exist.
I’ve got to follow up at some point with an exploration of how the privilege feeling-state intersects with sensations of shame and inadequacy. Here it is in meme form:
I’ll just stick this in here, in response to a number of the comments below.