When fans of Jordan Peterson heard that a New York Times profile of him had just appeared, they had good reason to expect a tendentious piece written by a journalist out to score politically-correct points with peers. And that’s exactly what they got.
The lesson of the case, however, isn’t the standard one of liberal bias, whereby a reporter pre-judges a conservative flat wrong about everything. We are in a new dispensation, in which young liberals working in the media don’t even recognize the beliefs of conservatives as rational positions that happen to be mistaken. Conservative ideas are just flaky, backward notions. You don’t argue against them. You laugh at them.
The reporter in this case was Nellie Bowles, a Millennial from the Bay Area who specializes in technology news. Peterson let her follow him around for two days, allowing her into his home and answering personal and professional questions.
A responsible journalist would prepare for the assignment by checking the background. He would read the subject’s work, including Peterson’s co-authored clinical studies in academic journals such as Psychological Review and Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. He would bone up on Jung, Solzhenitsyn, and other intellectual masters whom Peterson reveres.
But that would mean taking a conservative’s formation seriously, and most young journalists have no experience with that. They passed through elite colleges that never introduced them to Edmund Burke, Tocqueville, and Hayek. They read Michel Foucault and Judith Butler, instead. They have no memory of the Cold War or the Culture Wars. The Republican Party is to them a Fifth Column, not a democratic organization. They start their careers at outlets solidly to the left, such as VICE News, the edgy, Millennial-oriented service where Bowles worked before joining the Times. Mention Robert Bork or the Contract with America in those spaces and you get blank looks.
And so, in the Peterson interview, conservative expression runs right over her head.
Here’s the first sentence:
"Jordan Peterson fills huge lecture halls and tells his audiences there’s no shame in looking backward to a model of how the world should be arranged."
Looking backward to find social and political models is, of course, an axiom of conservatism, but to Bowles it only means a return to inequality.
She states that Peterson promotes “ancient wisdom, delivered through religious allegories and fairy tales which contain truths, he says, that modern society has forgotten.” That’s another conservative belief, that in folklore and myth lie profound convictions about the cosmos, humanity, and fate. But to Bowles, it’s all a joke, silly talk about witches and dragons.
When talking about young men turning to violence, Peterson cites “enforced monogamy” as a rational fix for these figures. The term signifies merely a society that favors stable, one-to-one relationships, but Bowles hears only patriarchal tyranny and turns it into another ludicrous moment: “I laugh, because it is absurd.”
Ben Shapiro examined the Peterson profile point by point and demonstrated the “dishonesty” of the reportage. But the problem runs deeper than liberal deceit, and conservatives must realize it because it happens all the time. Bowles genuinely doesn’t understand what Peterson is saying. She doesn’t have the background knowledge of or the personal exposure to conservative thought. She can’t recognize it when she hears it; it sounds only like threats to progress.
She has been conditioned to respond this way. Millennial journalists like Bowles are everywhere, but their circle of acquaintance is narrow. They congregate in coast urban zones. They haven’t hit the pavements of middle-class America, much less spent nights in the police station waiting for stories to unfold. When they do venture forth, they go to anti-conservative places like Burning Man, Esalen, and Tinder HQ — sites covered by Bowles in the past. They don’t read many books.
When they leave the bubble and encounter a conservative, they don’t listen and ponder what he says. They can’t. They don’t have the equipment.
But they do have the certainty of youth, bolstered by the in-group knowingness of the liberal temperament. Attending schools, living in neighborhoods, frequenting social media, and working in offices where liberal outlooks go without saying, they have smug faith in the politics they have absorbed. Conservatives can’t shake it. Peterson opened up to one of them and got burned. Message received: we will never get any fairness from these people.
Mark Bauerlein is Professor of English at Emory University and Senior Editor at First Things Magazine. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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