Real Issues Behind Regressive Identity Politics

Here is a quickie. Jordan Peterson likes to oversimplify things with easy answers, as that is what his audience wants. He mixes genuine information with misinformation and misinterpretation. Then too often exaggerates something into a caricature of moral absolutism, such as about social roles in terms of his defense of patriarchy, class hierarchy, and race realism. It’s all about the lobsters or some such thing.

He does this with gender all the time, in treating it as a clear demarcation. The reality, as always, is much more complicated, even on the biological level: “It’s far from uncommon for people to carry genetics of both sexes, even multiple DNA” (Is the Tide Starting to Turn on Genetics and Culture?). Mixed genitalia is far from uncommon as well, although in the past doctors would have done gender assignment to babies to ensure they conformed to perceived biological norms. Here is a typical example of a strong view from Peterson:

“And the biggest sex differences that we know of that aren’t morphological are in interest. So women are more interested in people, by and large, and men are more interested in things, by and large. And the difference is actually large, it’s one standard deviation. And so that means if you’re a man, you would have to be more interested in people than 85% of men to be as interested as 50% of women. And if you’re a woman, you’d have to be more interested in things than 85% of women to be as interested as the 50th percentile male. So the difference is actually quite substantial, and it’s certainly large enough to drive occupational choice differences, which it does” (Jordan Peterson, Christina Hoff Sommers, and Danielle Crittenden (The Femsplainers)Full Transcript).

Peterson will use this as a rationalization for gender disparity in careers, such as low level of women in STEM fields. Yet many convincingly argue that some of this is cultural. Consider that in India and Latin America, women are the majority in the tech industry, the career that we think of as being the most male-centric in the United States. By the way, many other countries also see greater number of women in leadership positions, such as presidents and prime ministers.

He will sometimes vary his emphasis by saying that men prefer ideas while women people and relationships (Jordan Peterson, On the Differences Between Men and Women). Yet women are much higher achievers in education. Most college students are women and they outnumber men in grad school. Then they come out with 57% of the bachelor’s degrees, 60% of the master’s degrees, and 52% of the doctorates. Women dominate 7 out of 11 areas of study, including tough fields like biological science and medical science. That doesn’t indicate a gender difference crippling women’s interest in ideas and the ability to work with ideas.

Consider one of Peterson’s favorite topics, the thought of Carl Jung. He talks a lot about archetypes, if in such simplistic ways that Jung is rolling in his grave. One way he’ll talk about gender differences is in terms of personality. So, let’s go with Jungian typology, as seen in the data collected through the Myers-Briggs test.

There is only one area that shows a minor gender divide. Most dominant Thinking types are men and most dominant Feeling types are women. It’s a difference between how one makes decisions, whether through objective reasoning or by subjective values. It’s a bit complicated, though, since Jung held that for introverts the opposing function would be more apparent outwardly. So, the introverted Feeling type would tend to deal with the world through extraverted Thinking, the latter being what is sometimes referred to as the aspirational function.

Complexities aside, the data shows that this gender divide does not apply to 30-40% of the population, at least in this country. Yet Peterson is ready to build entire gender stereotypes that should be used to socially construct the moral order that upholds gender roles, based on an assumption of genetic determinism and essentialism. It’s amazingly naïve. It’s not to dismiss the importance of biology, but we have no idea how much of this difference is shaped by genetics vs environment and epigenetics. He is simply assuming that humans are mere puppets of their genetic fate, that culture and history have no great relevance in shaping our shared conditions. Even if that were true, what about the 30-40% who are by nature contrary to conventional expectations and norms of conservative ideology?

As a male Feeling type, according to the official Myers-Briggs, nothing Peterson says resonates with me about how men are supposed to be. I’m not even sure most male Thinking types would be all that persuaded either. His audience is a very narrow selection of males who identify with or aspire to his ideologically-driven masculine ideal. As a minority group even within the WEIRDest of WEIRD populations found primarily in North America, these Peterson true believers aren’t likely representative of most men in the world. That isn’t to say this group is insignificant in their sense of alienation, frustration and outrage, as I’d suggest they are canaries in the coal mine.

For certain, I don’t entirely disregard conservative concerns about gender, specifically problems with boys (The Boy Crisis). There is an argument to be made that some neurocognitive conditions, such as autism and ADHD, are extreme expressions of otherwise normal masculine attributes that no longer are deemed socially desirable in our society, specifically in schools. Others have noted boys are physically and cognitively maturing later than prior generations, as girls are maturing earlier. This stunting and growing gap might be caused by hormones and hormone mimics in the industrial diet and packaging. Whatever the cause, it sheds light on why women have suddenly come to dominate higher education.

It’s intriguing, actually, the changes that have happened. As a sign of something gone wrong, there has been a continuous decline of sperm counts, testosterone levels, and musculoskeletal strength over the generations, specifically in the United States and Western world. Some data indicates this goes back to the early 20th century when measurements were first taken, but the trend likely began in the prior century. This change is dramatic. And it’s being felt on a personal level. Young men admit to feeling conflicted with the social expectations of being masculine, as it simply doesn’t match their own experience. The average man is just not feeling all that manly these days. And those who feel (or rather are made to feel) like inferior ‘beta males’ can be drawn to self-help gurus like Peterson who promise to make real men out of them.

All of this is fair debate to be had, but let’s quit with the stereotypes already and allow for nuance. And it’s far from a new debate (The Crisis of Identity, Moral Panic and Physical Degeneration, Old Debates Forgotten, & Rate of Moral Panic). Going back to the late 1800s, there was a rising concern of boys becoming effeminate and men being emasculated. That was around the time the industrial diet began taking over American society. At first, it was an increase of starchy carbs and added sugar, but soon after seed oils replaced animal fats like butter and lard. And who knows what chemicals were being used in early canning and such. Actually, the concern about shifting gender roles goes further back to before the American Civil War. Besides diet, there were many other things going on. Industrialization, of course, went hand in hand with urbanization that in a short period of time became mass urbanization with most Americans urbanized by the dawn of the 20th century.

Reactionaries arose to try to re-enforce what they thought were divine-ordained gender roles based on nostalgia about rural life and they did so in ways that were clumsy and oppressive. But that isn’t to deny something odd was and still is going on. That is why reactionaries continue to hold sway. For all their foolishness, they are pointing to real issues and occasionally they do bring up genuine information to be taken seriously. Peterson wouldn’t be so popular if he was entirely full of shit. He is speaking to what many others are feeling, even as he distorts what it all means with regressive white male identity politics. If we ignore or dismiss the reactionaries now without responding to what made them turn reactionary in the first place, the persuasive pull of the reactionary mind will only become more powerful.

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They select different degree programmes: Are women and men born with different interests?
by Rasmus Friis

A disappointing response

According to Christian Gerlach, professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Southern Denmark, the answer is a bit disappointing. As it is actually impossible to say with certainty whether it is biological or social conditions that get men to apply for, say, IT and engineering subjects, and women to choose, say, subjects in the healthcare sector.

This is mostly due to the fact that it is hard to carry out experiments that clearly delineate cause and effect. You can’t just change the gender of your subjects, turn men into women and so on, and then find out what effect it has.

»We can’t control all the variables, which means that it is extremely difficult to find causality. It turns into guesswork when you have to say whether one factor or another is decisive. This is the fundamental problem.«

Gerlach is sceptical about the robust interpretations made by Jordan Peterson and the authors of the article.

He is particularly sceptical of the explanations that point to biology as a decisive factor behind the genders’ different interests.

»It has been incredibly difficult to associate complex patterns of thinking and acting to biological things like hormones,« says Christian Gerlach.

»I myself have a background in the biological part of psychology, so I should be open to the fact that you can explain a lot of these differences biologically. But I don’t personally think so. I think it has more to do with socialisation.«

Difference between Jude and Judith

He says that we affect each other in subtle ways and he mentions an experiment:

A baby sits on a carpet in a laboratory with several different toys in front of it. The researcher invites a test subject into the laboratory and asks the person to keep an eye on the baby while the researcher goes outside the door.

The researcher indicates each time whether it is a boy or a girl, and this is precisely what turns out to be decisive for the experiment.

If the experimental subjects think they are taking care of a girl, they tend to give the baby a doll or another toy that we consider feminine. If the subjects think that they are taking care of a boy, they will more often give the baby a toy car or something they consider masculine. A variation of the experiment can be seen in this BBC video.

Conclusion: There’s a difference between being named Jude and Judith.

»When you ask the subjects afterwards, it is clear that they have not done it consciously. It is an example of how this works slightly outside our field of attention,« says Christian Gerlach.

You can also find studies that support the opposite hypothesis, however. Researchers have, in a couple of experiments, showed that monkeys also prefer the toys that many humans would connect with their gender. Male apes, for example, choose to play with cars rather than dolls.

One of the researchers behind the first experiment, Gerianne Alexander, said to New Scientist that you should be careful about over-interpreting the results. But she added:

»It is probable that there is a biological tendency, that is then amplified by society.«

You’re Not The Man Your Father Was
by Neil Howe

Studies show that men’s testosterone levels have been declining for decades. The most prominent, a 2007 study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, revealed a “substantial” drop in U.S. men’s testosterone levels since the 1980s, with average levels declining by about 1% per year. This means, for example, that a 60-year-old man in 2004 had testosterone levels 17% lower than those of a 60-year-old in 1987. Another study of Danish men produced similar findings, with double-digit declines among men born in the 1960s compared to those born in the 1920s.

The challenges to men’s health don’t end there. Rates of certain reproductive disorders (like testicular cancer) have risen over time, while multiple European studies have found that sperm counts are sinking. These trends coincide with a decline in musculoskeletal strength among young men: In a 2016 study, the average 20- to 34-year-old man could apply 98 pounds of force with a right-handed grip, down from 117 pounds by a man of the same age in 1985. Though grip strength isn’t necessarily a proxy for overall fitness, it’s a strong predictor of future mortality. […]

What’s happening to men physically dovetails with a broader story of social transformation. The economy is shifting away from jobs that favor men, like manufacturing, and toward sectors dominated by women. Young men have fallen behind women in educational attainment. They’re increasingly dropping out of the workforce and expressing less work centrality. The anxiety over the state of men mirrors a bigger debate over America’s national identity. Americans have traditionally seen themselves as a “pro-testosterone” nation: restless, striving, and rowdy. Yet in his new book The Complacent Class, Tyler Cowen argues that America is losing the dynamism, mobility, and enterprise that made it special. This anxiety may have even led the old-fashioned, overtly macho President Trump to victory.

The confusion over what masculinity means today is reflected in the conflicted feelings of males now coming of age. Most American Millennial men report feeling pressured to project a traditional image of manhood characterized by traits like toughness, self-reliance, and hypersexuality—but when asked if they wish to emulate these characteristics themselves, the majority don’t. A separate survey asked men to rate themselves on a scale of “completely masculine” to “completely feminine.” Only 30% of 18- to 29-year-olds chose “completely masculine.” That’s compared to 65% of men over 65.