Anti-feminist ‘guru’ Jordan Peterson shattered his own ‘academic’ credentials in one Twitter post on 19 August. The Toronto University psychology professor tweeted:
— Jordan B Peterson (@jordanbpeterson) August 19, 2018
Peterson has risen to global fame and fortune through using his academic standing to fuel right-leaning conspiracy theories. He calls white privilege a “Marxist lie”, Islamophobia “a word created by fascists… to manipulate morons”, and the history of the oppression of women an “appalling theory”.
The bestselling author uses many fields in an attempt to justify his views, including biological observations. But on Twitter, one user swiftly took apart Peterson’s latest notion on ants and Western capitalism:
Appeal to nature is a fallacy. how ants or lobsters conduct themselves is irrelevant to how we conduct our society. You can use nature to justify any worldview since nature is so diverse. Bonobos solve their conflicts with orgies and they have far closer relation to us than ants
— Catiline (@Catilineconspir) August 19, 2018
‘Catiline’ points out that you can find anything in nature to prop up your ideology; whether that’s free-market capitalism or orgy-based stress relief.
Wrong on his own terms
Peterson messed up the job, though. Because his reading of the ant experiment itself was apparently wrong:
did you read that study? or even the summary? lol
— Shaun (@shaun_jen) August 19, 2018
Co-author of the Georgia Institute of Technology study Dr Daria Monaenkova told BBC News:
The most active excavators were identified and then removed from the group. Surprisingly, several other group members took the place of the removed diggers. For us, this was a hint that unequal workload distribution may be beneficial for the excavating collectives.
In other words, the way ant colonies work is not about hierarchies. Studies suggest that ‘unemployed’ ants are the reserve labour force. As soon as researchers took the most active ants out, others who were not working took their place with the same skill and vigour.
The study Peterson cites also suggests that the number of ants working depends on the environment, rather than simply nature. Only the optimum level of ants will dig tunnels because if more joined in there would be blockages.
Humans, meanwhile, live in a world where 42 people own the same amount of wealth as half the planet. And systemic poverty, death, and preventable illness show that’s not beneficial for our ‘colony’.
So Peterson’s argument doesn’t even stand up on its own terms. And even if it did: why would we base our society on what a bunch of ants are doing?
On Twitter, the clinical psychologist faced a backlash:
This study that Jordan Peterson is using to promote capitalism and mistreatment of workers is about how having too many ants in a tunnel being made by ants tends to clog up the tunnels as they're made by ants, because Jordan Peterson is not a serious person. https://t.co/VzgeSxGwn8
— Cody Johnston (@drmistercody) August 20, 2018
“The stupid man’s smart person”
Many people already seem to have Peterson sussed. Canadian columnist Tabatha Southey, for example, has branded Peterson “the stupid man’s smart person”, saying:
Peterson’s secret sauce is to provide an academic veneer to a lot of old-school rightwing cant, including the notion that most academia is corrupt and evil, and banal self-help patter… He’s very much a cult thing, in every regard. I think he’s a goof, which does not mean he’s not dangerous.
Peterson could well be dangerous: hundreds of thousands of people are buying his ‘academic’ repackaging of classic right-wing conspiracy theories and pseudo-scientific appeasement of racists. So we cannot simply laugh at his platform; even if Peterson can’t manage to weaponise the ‘appeal to nature’ fallacy without messing up the job.
Well, we can laugh and take action at the same time.
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