Recently my cousin posted an article on Facebook about how Jordan Peterson helped one person make something of themselves. One of the commenters responded that JP is a misogynist, and posted another article calling JP a “Custodian of the Patriarchy”.
Another cousin then brought up the case of my grandmother, June Carey, who passed away six years ago. She was a talented, driven person who achieved some great things despite her humble background (and raising 9 kids). Does the existence of women like her prove that the Patriarchy is misguided?
The Established Hierarchy
The Patriarchy is part of something I am going to call The Established Hierarchy. Every society has some way of putting people in order by rewarding people for their behavior (or personality, or just for being born a certain way) with some kind of wealth or status.
In the US, The Established Hierarchy is something like Christian capitalism. It has a moral component with Judeo-Christian roots (via Northern European Protestantism), but for the most part your status is determined by your value on the market.
The Christian part and the capitalism part contribute to the Patriarchy in different ways. As for the Christian part, the Bible describes societies where power was held by men, priesthood was held by men, great deeds were mostly done by men, etc. So people who look to the Bible for inspiration about how society ought to be often come to the conclusion that some version of Biblical Patriarchy is appropriate.
Religion is deeply connected with conservatism. At the heart of many religions is the idea that we can know what is right and good by looking into the past. For whatever reason, many ancient societies had a pretty explicit patriarchal order, so those who look to the past will for guidance will naturally be defensive of this order.
What about capitalism. Why does it favor men? My basic reasoning is thus:
- Capitalism favors people who are competitive and risk-tolerant
- Men are more likely than women to be competitive and risk-tolerant
- Therefore, capitalism favors men
Note that I inserted the phrase “more likely” in that second premise, which kind of messes with the syllogism, but it’s important. I don’t think (pure) capitalism favors all men over all women. I just think that there are real biological differences between men and women on average that tend to favor men in the marketplace.
So let’s go back to my grandmother, June. Let’s assume for a moment that she was a better business person that her husband, my grandfather, Kenneth Carey. It seems pretty likely that the fact she gave birth to and raised 9 kids severely impacted her ability to engage her entrepreneurial abilities. So if Ken had stayed home to raise the kids, June would have had more opportunity to win at capitalism (she was particularly good at real estate investment), and they would have had more money/status.
In cases like this, I think there is some tension between the two components of The Established Hierarchy. Christian Patriarchy says my grandmother should stay home and raise kids. The market says she should be out there making money. Because while capitalism might favor men on average, it’s really all about the bottom line.
For the most part, I think most people pretty much ignore this tension. Our brains are designed to filter out information that doesn’t fit our preferred patterns (which I think is a useful adaptation, by the way), and The Established Hierarchy is kind of like a package deal.
You have probably seen a chart like this before:
Here you have two political dimensions (“personal” and “economic”) that are characterized by different levels of “freedom.” This diagram is a misleading.
There is really one primary political axis: those who support The Established Hierarchy, and those who want to subvert The Established Hierarchy and bring down those at the top. That explains why the bottom left and the top right of that chart have very little support in our society. Those who have a tendency toward supporting the establishment will usually favor some version of both Christian morality and the market economy (bottom right), and those who don’t like the hierarchy gravitate to the upper left.
One of the primary reasons that people don’t like the hierarchy is that it inevitably has some people at the top and others at the bottom. Things aren’t equal, and so if you are sympathetic to those at the bottom, you might not favor the kinds of social institutions that put them there. If you do favor the hierarchy you might respond that they deserve to be there (or even that they are better off at the bottom).
I think this perspective clears up a lot of the confusion that people have about politics. For example, why do evangelicals support Trump? Because he un-apologetically supports the right of those at the top of the The Established Hierarchy to be at the top. And evangelicals are conservative.
So back to Jordan Peterson. I think JP is a pretty straightforward conservative. He supports Christian morality and the market meritocracy. He rightfully points out that those on the left are trying to bring down The Established Hierarchy, and he thinks that will have dire consequences. He really is a “Custodian of the Patriarchy.”
But what do I think?
Until very recently, I would have answered that I feel disillusioned by the way conservatives and liberals dominate the political discourse because I identify with the libertarian/upper right hand quadrant of the political space in the image above.
Now I am still ambivalent, but I interpret the situation differently. Now I view things in terms of personality and how people experience the world emotionally. One of my defining personality characteristics is curiosity (i.e., intellectual openness on the Big 5 model), and I don’t think this attribute is represented well by either side of the political divide. There are smart and curious people on both sides, but it isn’t the thing that defines the sides. The right (i.e., people who support the The Established Hierarchy) is fueled by a combination of fear and ambition, while the left is driven by anger and sympathy. I feel all of these things, but they don’t define me.
I think there is a lot of value in both Christian morality and capitalist meritocracy, and to be honest, I am quite privileged in the traditional ways. Also, I am probably a little more driven by ambition than sympathy. So on some level I am probably a little more right-leaning. I think I “get” conservatives, even if I am often disgusted by them.
However, I absolutely believe that The Established Hierarchy leaves people behind in ways that no one deserves. I also feel that modern capitalism alienates almost everyone from their work in a way that is pretty similar to how it was described by Marx. And we need to do something about it! So I maybe I am starting to “get” liberals a little more, too.