For an outside observer, the most significant characteristic of the ongoing controversy and fallout from the Kavanaugh nomination to the Supreme Court is how fundamentally divorced the twin narratives have become, and how little communication seems possible or even attempted across the divide.
Into this maelstrom stepped Jordan Peterson and other members of the ‘Intellectual Dark Web’, with Peterson receiving the most sustained and intense criticism he has received from his own supporters for a tweet in which he suggested that Kavanaugh should step down if he was confirmed.
Many of his supporters seemed horrified that he was arguing for, in their mind, Kavanaugh to submit to the same outrage mob that he had successfully fought off after he was attacked in Canada in 2016.
Other members of the Intellectual Dark Web, including Bret and Eric Weinstein and Heather Heying also weighed in, mainly with calls for ‘nuance’ and arguing that all possible outcomes were unacceptable.
Four Quadrants Model
To understand Peterson in particular, one concept that may come in useful here is the integral philosopher Ken Wilber’s concept of the ‘pre-trans fallacy’, in short, that two similar conclusions can be arrived at for different reasons and from very different levels of awareness.
Eric Weinstein makes a similar argument in his ‘four quadrants’ model of media distortion, showing how original ‘first principle’ thinkers can come to counter-intuitive conclusions to a consensus because of a deeper and fully worked-through understanding of the issues involved.
As an example take Jordan Peterson’s refusal to use certain pronouns and his opposition to Canadian bill C-16. One possible explanation for people’s refusal to use these pronouns is transphobia (pre). Another is a principled rejection of the right of any authority to compel speech, but saying he would make up his own mind (trans). The behaviour in both outcomes superficially look the same, but they are arrived at for very different reasons and processes. This is the ‘pre-trans’ fallacy.
In this case, Peterson’s take on the Kavanaugh appointment is largely being seen by his supporters through the ‘pre’ lens of partisanship — which side are you on — rather than the ‘trans’ perspective of — what is the best outcome for the health of the overall system, and how close are we to disaster?
The IDW as a phenomenon is more of a space for conversations to take place rather than a set of defined views or opinions, but a perspective that is shared by many is that the tribal thinking and reactivity of the current culture is an existential threat.
As Bret and Eric said on the Dave Rubin show, the evolutionary game that got us this far, with its built-in tribalism and zero-sum thinking, is almost certain to end in a self-extinguishing event if we don’t evolve beyond our evolutionary drivers.
Jordan Peterson uses mythopoetic language to make similar points, explaining that the hardest thing to see is one’s own blind spots,the “shadow” of righteousness, certainty and hidden resentments that can drive us below the surface. Usually this diagnosis is applied to the social justice left, but in this case it’s hard not to see it as being a feature of many of his former supporters.
Bret Weinstein tweeted something along these lines: “There is no clear way out of the tailspin we are clearly in. That means, that if there is an answer, it will be counter-intuitive. Inherently. That also means that when one encounters an answer that sounds wrong, coming from someone who should know better, it might be important.”
From the larger perspective, there was no outcome of the Kavanaugh nomination that was acceptable, once he deliberately increased the partisanship during his senate appearance and framed the opposition as part of a political conspiracy.
Denying him on the basis of uncorroborated allegations was unacceptable, but putting a man onto the supreme court who had nailed his colours so decisively to one side of a hugely polarised political situation was also unacceptable, and almost certainly adds huge existential risk into an already precarious system if and when it has to make judgements on charged topics.
The concept of the IDW, if it means anything, is to imagine what a ‘space to think’ looks like without the immediate polarisation into black and white, where we are forced to choose one side or the other.
There is an important distinction to be made between holding a nuanced perspective, and blind relativism. The difference with a conversation like the one being attempted by the IDW is that there is an ackknowledgement that such a thing as truth does exist — and having conversations with an open mind that allow for nuance are the way to get to truth.
This is the perspective that Peterson’s tweet should be seen in, as he admitted himself, he didn’t know if it was right. He has since said that Twitter was not the right forum for discussions of this nature and promised to write a blog post on the subject.
There were no obvious answers to the Kavanaugh dilemma, but a clear lesson from it, which is the level of reactivity and polarisation is increasing, that the system is providing situations where there are no good outcomes.
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Rubin Report: JB Peterson/Ben Shapiro, Frontline of Free Speech.
Rubin Report: Eric and Bret Weinstein.
The Rubin Report (clip): What is The Intellectual Dark Web?
Meghan Daum — “A new movement to speak truth to identity politics is our best hope against regressive thinking” (LA Times)