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What Jordan Peterson Might Say to Intelligent Design Proponents

David Klinghoffer

If you’re one of the handful of people in North America who haven’t watched Canadian psychologist and philosopher Jordan Peterson go head to head with an obnoxious British TV interviewer, do yourself a favor and watch it ASAP. It’s a half hour long and fascinating:

Peterson’s signature issues aren’t really on the radar screen here, and behind much of his perspective on psychology is a standard evolutionary viewpoint. Note his discussion of lobsters and humans and serotonin. This is mixed with a Jungian take on myth, that is interesting and provocative. I’ve wondered what the story of his sudden rise to prominence has to say to ID proponents. Anything relevant there?

Yes. Reading Peggy Noonan’s column in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend suggested the answer. First, like us, he is a modern heretic, and consequently always on the way to the stake to be burned, or to the firing squad.

I wondered when I first read the headlines: What could a grown-up, seemingly stable professor (former associate professor of psychology at Harvard, full professor for 20 years at the University of Toronto) stand for that would make a journalist want to annihilate him on live TV — or, failing that, to diminish him or make him into a figure of fun?

He must have defied some orthodoxy. He must think the wrong things. He must be a heretic. Heretics must be burned.

More important, though, is the lesson he gives in how to comport oneself as a heretic. The British interviewer, Cathy Newman, continually badgers him and seeks to put ideas he rejects into his mouth, a familiar experience for ID proponents. Throughout, his manner is not friendly or “winsome.” Being winsome is a stance I sometimes hear recommended to advocates of ID, but that can, if you’re not very careful, shade over into getting pushed around by supercilious evolutionists, theistic evolutionists, and the like. Instead, Peterson’s way is correct. By that I mean he is unfailingly polite, unruffled, but razor sharp, deftly resisting manipulation and intimidation at every single step. He is completely unapologetic. He doesn’t smile all that much. And his performance is awesome, which is why, as Peggy Noonan says, it has “burned through the Internet.”

I haven’t yet read his new book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, but Miss Noonan has and it sounds like it offers compelling reminders for anyone operating in the context of a contentious debate. Or for anyone at all, which is of course its intent.

The only appropriate stance: “Stand up straight with your shoulders back” and “accept the terrible responsibility of life with eyes wide open.” Literally: “Quit drooping and hunching around. Speak your mind.” Competitors and predators will start to assume you’re competent and able. Moreover, it will “encourage the serotonin to flow plentifully through the neural pathways desperate for its calming influence.”

That’s where the lobsters come in. More:

“Aim up. Pay attention. Fix what you can fix.” Respect yourself, take part, keep “the machinery of the world running.”

Don’t be arrogant. “Become aware of your own insufficiency….Consider the murderousness of your own spirit before you dare accuse others, and before you attempt to repair the fabric of the world. And above all, don’t lie. Don’t lie about anything, ever. Lying leads to Hell.”

Every heretic and underdog, every proponent of a controversial or minority view, should watch this video, not for the specific content so much as for that “appropriate stance” to take in a world that continually wants to shut you up and shut you down.

Photo: Jordan Peterson and Cathy Newman, via YouTube.