Contrasting impressions of Jordan Peterson sermon

The visit of Jordan Peterson to new Zealand has been remarkably non-controversial. There doesn’t seem to have been any great protests or attempts to shut him up. On the contrary, journalists have flocked to him, with a lot being written about him.

One of Peterson’s shows was at Christchurch. Martin van Beynen and Cecile Meier have written contrasting impressions.

Martin van Beynen:  Jordan Peterson and the meaning of life

If you hadn’t read a thing about Jordan Peterson before turning up at the Isaac Theatre Royal in Christchurch to listen to a two hour, non-stop monologue from the Toronto academic, you would have come away without an inkling of the controversy he has generated around the world.

You would have left the venue thinking the Canadian was obviously an intelligent, well-read and reflective individual whose practice as a clinical psychologist had given him some insights into how people could live more meaningful and successful lives.

Which was disappointing because I had turned up with a free ticket with my colleague and fellow columnist Cecile Meier. The idea was that we would both write about our evening at Peterson’s talk with sparks flying due to our contrasting pre-conceptions and views on life.

In fact Peterson, who at times came across as a television evangelist in the American style, said little to create any sort of headline.

Both van Beynen and Meier mention what looks like an attempt by Peterson to dish out a controversial sound bite but didn’t get it headlined.

Anyway most of his life tips were actually pretty much common sense and fell into the category of life lessons that we know but need to be constantly reminded of, especially now.

What makes him so effective, I suspect, is that unlike most of the self-help gurus, he is an erudite, deep-thinking academic whose expertise in human psychology gives him an unusual insight into how life can be improved for individuals and therefore communities.

He underpins his arguments with what he regards as the unalterable truths encapsulated by the ancient stories in texts like the Bible. And those truths are based on our hard wiring and the nature of nature.

I am, of course, aware Peterson propounds some highly debatable notions and that he is hated by some on the left and many feminists.

So what did I learn from two hours of Peterson’s rambling sermon?

I like Peterson’s theory of Chaos and Order and how we need to walk a fine line with one foot firmly in Order and yet pushing ourselves by getting a bit of Chaos as well.

It struck me that I could have used a talk like this as a mixed-up young man. Although Peterson cops a lot of flak for saying Chaos is symbolised by the feminine, he is not saying women are more chaotic than men. Young men are probably far more disordered than young women and do far more damage.

I also liked his take on routine and mundanity. He argues we should work hard on making daily tasks and routine as “right” as possible, partly because we spend so much time on them and secondly because any routine or order is important.

He talked about clients who came to him at age 40 complaining their ideas about how their lives should go had turned to dust. He reminded us that it takes much hard work to be precise and clear about aims and goals and nothing is achieved by a haphazard, unmethodical approach.

In a non-religious age, it was also useful to hear him talk about prayer. One suggestion he had was thinking each night about the stupid things you did that day and how, just by not doing just one of those stupid things the next day, the compounding effect would soon amount to a much more meaningful and productive life.

Van Beynen  sounds like a bit of a fan.

Cecile Meier:  I went to see Jordan Peterson and it was equal parts boring and terrifying

How much would I have to pay you to sit through a two-hour self-help sermon, peppered with relentless biblical references, delivered by a misogynist?

A lot of young men, some older men and a baffling number of women paid between $70 and $270 to experience such torture.

I am talking about the drab monologue burped out by celebrity pop psychologist Jordan Peterson on Wednesday at his sold-out Theatre Royal show in Christchurch.

I understand why men turned up – Peterson has said things like “the masculine spirit is under assault”; The patriarchy makes sense because men are naturally more competent; Violent attacks are what happens when men do not have partners, and monogamy is the answer for that.

But why were the women there? Peterson’s theory is that order is masculine and chaos is feminine. His latest book is subtitled An Antidote to Chaos. This hardly needs Google Translate, but let’s spell it out. The subtitle to his book is “an antidote to feminism”. What kind of woman thinks we need less female power in the world?

Spoiler alert: not me.

Considering Peterson’s wild popularity, his political ambitions and his evangelical tendencies, his beliefs are not just outlandish, but deeply worrying.

I was expecting sensational insights, or at least controversial thoughts, but most of what we are getting is self-help gibberish. Maybe Peterson is not so such a threat to humankind after all.

He says you need a majority of positive interactions and a few negative interactions for a good relationship. “It kinda looks like for every 11 smiles you have to deliver one slap,” (the crowd laughs) “now I’m sure that will be the headline in some New Zealand newspaper” (the crowd goes wild). “Dr Peterson recommends slapping your wife and husband every 11 interactions – that’s the problem with not really understanding metaphors” (more clapping).

Sure, Jordan, it’s hilarious to joke about domestic violence in a country grappling with the issue. Ironically, later on he talks about one of the rules he had for his son: “Funny is good, but don’t push it. It’s a really tight line.”

But the audience loves it. They laugh and hoot. During the show, they frequently break into applause when he dishes out cliches like “cathedrals are built brick by brick”.

They adore him.

When it’s finally over, my bum hurts and my head spins. I wonder what the show was all about. Mostly I think it was about bringing old values back, revisiting the Bible, and making sure you have kids in your twenties or you’ll be infertile and miserable.

My conclusion? Peterson is indeed dangerous because he uses common sense self-help advice and tales of ancient wisdom to subjugate crowds of insecure people. When they are suitably hypnotised, he slowly lets his Handmaid’s Tale-style ideas slip in. Or maybe my inferior female brain is just not able to grasp the brilliance of his metaphors.

So there are people who like Peterson and people who don’t.  People (apart from journalists) pay a substantial amount to go and listen to him so he is playing to a market.

I empathise more with Meier’s account. I’m not into commercial sermonisers repeating common sense laced with biblical references with the odd controversial bone thrown in.

I’ve never enjoyed sitting through an hour of church (that’s way back in my past) so paying $140 to listen to two hours without the musical interludes is not something I would be interested in. And I’m not wanting to be saved by Peterson or anyone, I am happy with myself and my own abilities to work things out.

Different strokes for different folks.

At least free speech doesn’t seem to have been compromised.

Martin van Beynen unconvincing on Bain evidence

Christchurch Press writer Martin van Beynen has responded to the new discussions about the Bain case, dismissing the thumb marks:

The latest revelation is certainly not the clinching piece of evidence the programme claims. It’s not even particularly convincing.

Van Beynen is a well known believer in David Bain’s guilt.

Press senior writer Martin van Beynen has been writing about the Bain case since 1997 and covered David Bain’s second trial in Christchurch in 2009.

He has made no secret of his view that David Bain killed his family in June 1994, and today gives his opinion on the TV3-aired evidence which Bain’s supporters say removes all doubt about Bain’s innocence. 

On the thumb marks he says:

For a start the marks don’t even look much like the sort of powder deposits seen on the collection of Bain camp experts who participated in the tests by loading bullets into the rifle’s clip.

If the marks on Robin’s thumb are from the magazine they would have been deposited close to the moment Robin shot himself. So you would expect an imprint very similar to that left on the thumbs of the Bain experts. It’s possible some of the residue was removed as Robin placed and held the rifle to shoot himself in a very odd way but, amplified, the lines on Robin’s thumb look defined and crisp.

Unlike the marks left on the Bain camp’s thumbs, the marks on Robin’s digit are not parallel or soft in outline. They are also thinner and from what I can see, not even the same colour as the test marks.

If Robin was loading a number of bullets, as he must have according to the defence scenario, how come only one set of marks was left on his thumb? Did his thumb follow the same track every time?

This point has been brought up elsewhere.

It’s certainly possible to get multiple soot lines, this has happened to me when I’ve tried it.

But – when I’ve tested loading my magazine I usually push the bullets in barely touching the magazine with my thumb. Then when I’ve finished I press down on the top bullet to ensure it is in correctly and springs freely. This levels indentations on my thumb in a similar position to the thumb marks.

And just on Firstline an English arms expert has also suggested this. He said he has seen it often. In some cases if a magazine has sharp enough edges it can cut the thumb.

And the lines being out of parallel can be due to deformation of the thumb when you press down. When the skin and flesh go back into their normal shape the lines don’t always look parallel.

Van Beynen then goes over much covered ground. I question tTwo points he makes.

The new scenario propounded by the TV3 programme would have Robin shooting his family and then waiting to just before David was due to come home from his paper-run to turn on the computer (so he could write his last message) and, before shooting himself…

That sounds like a feasible scenario (except for the magazine placement) – Robin will have known he would have so much time while David was away on his paper round. Enough time to do what some allege.

The other scenario – David killing his mother, sisters and brother, going on his paper round, then hiding waiting for his father to come into the house, seems to me to be implausible. There was no guarantee that Robin would come into the house at any time, let alone a convenient time to fit in with this plan.

…placing the spare magazine on its narrowest side on the carpet. Then when he falls to the carpeted floor after the fatal shot, he conveniently lands with his hand right next to the magazine. It seems much more likely the killer placed the magazine on its edge right next to Robin’s hand to make it look like a suicide.

Why would anyone think of placing the magazine on the unlikeliest of positions? Why would it make it look like a suicide? This just doesn’t make any sense to me.

I think there is still more to be investigated regarding the thumb marks. There will no doubt be more claims and counter claims.

But I don’t think van Beynen adds any more to the argument. He is unconvincing in his criticism of then new evidence, and he mostly just rehashes old unresolved arguments.

And it seems odd for a journalist to have so strongly taken one side of a still very contentious and disputed case.