By now many of you will have seen the outrageous interview Channel 4 broadcaster Cathy Newman did with Canadian academic Jordan B. Peterson. In it, she twisted almost everything he said to make it fit her progressive talking points. Conor Friedersdorf writes a good summary here, in an Atlantic piece titled “Why Can’t People Here What Jordan Peterson Is Saying?”. Excerpts:
But in the interview, Newman relies on this technique to a remarkable extent, making it a useful illustration of a much broader pernicious trend. Peterson was not evasive or unwilling to be clear about his meaning. And Newman’s exaggerated restatements of his views mostly led viewers astray, not closer to the truth.
Peterson begins the interview by explaining why he tells young men to grow up and take responsibility for getting their lives together and becoming good partners. He notes he isn’t talking exclusively to men, and that he has lots of female fans.
“What’s in it for the women, though?” Newman asks.
“Well, what sort of partner do you want?” Peterson says. “Do you want an overgrown child? Or do you want someone to contend with who is going to help you?”
“So you’re saying,” Newman retorts, “that women have some sort of duty to help fix the crisis of masculinity.” But that’s not what he said. He posited a vested interest, not a duty.
“Women deeply want men who are competent and powerful,” Peterson goes on to assert. “And I don’t mean power in that they can exert tyrannical control over others. That’s not power. That’s just corruption. Power is competence. And why in the world would you not want a competent partner? Well, I know why, actually, you can’t dominate a competent partner. So if you want domination—”
The interviewer interrupts, “So you’re saying women want to dominate, is that what you’re saying?”
The whole interview is like that. Friedersdorf concludes:
For one, those who credulously accept the interviewer’s characterizations will emerge with the impression that a prominent academic holds troubling views that, in fact, he does not actually believe or advocate. Some will feel needlessly troubled. And distorted impressions of what figures like Peterson mean by the words that they speak can only exacerbate overall polarization between their followers and others, and sap their critics of credibility to push back where they are wrong.
Lots of culture-war fights are unavoidable––that is, they are rooted in earnest, strongly felt disagreements over the best values or way forward or method of prioritizing goods. The best we can do is have those fights, with rules against eye-gouging.
But there is a way to reduce needless division over the countless disagreements that are inevitable in a pluralistic democracy: get better at accurately characterizing the views of folks with differing opinions, rather than egging them on to offer more extreme statements in interviews; or even worse, distorting their words so that existing divisions seem more intractable or impossible to tolerate than they are. That sort of exaggeration or hyperbolic misrepresentation is epidemic—and addressing it for everyone’s sake is long overdue.
Which brings is to Sarah Jones of The New Republic, who appears to be a kind of larval Cathy Newman. She has a piece up calling me a racist. Whoop tee do. With the SJWs, everybody white person who disagrees with them is a racist. The word has ceased to have meaning — which is a shame, because racism is a real problem, and is a sin. She quotes a controversial part of a blog entry I wrote in which I said I was reconsidering Trump’s “shithole” remark. Here’s what I said, according to her:
“Let’s think about Section 8 housing,” he wrote, referring to public housing for low-income Americans, many of them minorities. “If word got out that the government was planning to build a housing project for the poor in your neighborhood, how would you feel about it? Be honest with yourself. Nobody would consider this good news. You wouldn’t consider it good news because you don’t want the destructive culture of the poor imported into your neighborhood. Drive over to the poor part of town, and see what a shithole it is. Do you want the people who turned their neighborhood a shithole to bring the shithole to your street?”
See what she’s doing there? I’ve highlighted it for you. Now, before we go further, you would do well to refer to my original post, in which I agree with Matthew Walther that what Trump said was offensive and idiotic and dehumanizing. But I also sympathized with Andrew Klavan, who said that we cannot let political correctness blind us to the fact that some countries really are shitholes, and that it makes sense to have an immigration system that kept people from radically dysfunctional cultures from bringing whatever made those countries poor to our shores.
In my blog, I wrote:
Both Walther’s piece and Klavan’s piece resonate within me, and I can’t reconcile that. Why?
So I thought out loud. I tried to come up with an example that took this abstraction to the local level. This is the paragraph I then wrote:
Let’s think about Section 8 housing. If word got out that the government was planning to build a housing project for the poor in your neighborhood, how would you feel about it? Be honest with yourself. Nobody would consider this good news. You wouldn’t consider it good news because you don’t want the destructive culture of the poor imported into your neighborhood. Drive over to the poor part of town, and see what a shithole it is. Do you want the people who turned their neighborhood a shithole to bring the shithole to your street?
No, you don’t. Be honest, you don’t.
I erred in not appreciating the difference between Section 8 housing and a housing project, but the point is the same. I went on to say in that post:
I realized that my first heated reaction to Trump’s words — which I still consider to be at best crude and undiplomatic — was based on the sense I had that he was dehumanizing the people who live in poor countries. I still believe there is some of that in what Trump said.
I have no trouble saying that not all cultures in the world are equally healthy, equally good. “Different” doesn’t equal “bad,” but some places really are bad because the culture there is bad. Take the people out and put them in a different culture, and you should be able to expect different results over time. But not always.
Again, I would very much like to hear from people who have spent real time in countries like this, and get their opinions, no matter what they are. Whichever side you come down on, spare us the high-pitched moralizing, please. Let’s have a real discussion.
In other words, I recognized that as crude as Trump was, and whatever his personal racial or cultural animus might be, there is still a serious policy discussion buried within it, about the kind of immigration we should have. It’s very easy for people on both sides of the issue to stand firm on their own opinions, but when you bring it down to the local level, the abstractions fade away. I recalled how frustrating it was back when I lived in Dallas in the ’00s, trying to have an honest discussion about immigration. As far as certain right-wing people were concerned, all immigrants were bad. But as far as certain left-wing (and some right-wing) people were concerned, the only bad people were those who objected to immigrants; in fact, those objectors were plainly racists.
What got lost in the discussion was the possibility that both sides were right and both sides were wrong. What especially ticked me off, though, was how a lot of people of my own social class and cultural milieu refused to take seriously the price that other Americans paid for out-of-control immigration — a price exacted in quality of life in their neighborhoods, in competition for unskilled labor, in the quality of education their kids received in public schools, in public health care, and so forth.
In other words, a lot of middle class people — on both the left and among pro-business Republicans — were insulated from the real-life challenges immigration posed. And it is also the case that a lot of people on the right refused to see the humanity of immigrants, preferring instead to see them as nothing but bad people from shithole countries.
The fact is, this really is a difficult issue to think through, especially with moralistic loudmouths on both sides shouting.
As it turns out, I got some really interesting comments from readers living out these moral questions. A reader named Alicia who lives in a poor section of North Philly wrote a moving post about how much she and her family are blessed by living in a poor part of the city. A reader named K wrote about the same kind of thing. On the other hand, this reader is stuck in one and would move if he could. And a reader posting as Gaius Gracchus talked about how the poor people moving into his neighborhood turned it from a nice place to live with a family into a crime-ridden dump.
While I was away today, a reader sent this in:
I was thinking it might be interesting for you to write a post in your “sh*thole” series thinking about the assumption that people coming from poor or violent countries will necessarily contribute to “sh*thole” culture in the States.
I’ve volunteered with refugee resettlement in the Chicagoland area, and refugees start out quite poor here (especially in the early years). Single refugees also definitely send a lot of money to their parents and siblings overseas. But the poverty I’ve seen in refugees I know is qualitatively different from ghetto poverty. I’d assume that would be true of most immigrants who come here through skill-based visas and of many immigrants who come here to reunify with family members who came here as students or workers.
In fact, a lot of African immigrants and refugees complain a lot about ghetto culture and have a very negative reaction to poorer African American culture. Many refugees place a very strong emphasis on marriage, family, and education. Many came from more “middle class” backgrounds in their home countries. Many others come from “poor” backgrounds, but not the type of poverty that’s caused by personal decisions. In most cases, the parents will likely remain relatively poor, since their English skills are weak and their qualifications don’t transfer from their home country. It’s hard to start over. But a decent number of their kids are good students. For example, I know a Burmese refugee family where the parents only have a 4th grade education, but their kids are all honors high school students and planning to go to college. The whole family is very involved in church and works very hard. I know Muslim families who have very tight family units, strict expectations of their kids, and a strong emphasis on education.
Now, I think the outcomes will depend a lot on individual families and their cultural backgrounds (a poor immigrant from Somalia will have a harder time in America than a middle class immigrant from Iran will). But I think that distinction has to be made. Poor countries are often poor for different reasons, and their cultures are no more monolithic than our own (in many cases less so).
I am very glad that so many of you with real stories of real life have written in to tell them. Please keep sending them in. These are really valuable for people like me, who want to think and do the right thing, but who aren’t sure what the right thing is, or if there is one “right thing” in this matter. We are much, much better served by your stories than by the ideological bitching.
Which brings us back to Sarah Jones, who wrote:
The blog post was classic Dreher, both in its palpable disdain for the poor and in its dubious racial politics. The Orthodox Christian writer did not specifically refer to people of color, but he didn’t need to; he just invoked their ghostly outlines and let the reader fill them in.
Ah. So I didn’t actually refer to people of color, but Sarah Jones just knows I was thinking it. Dog whistling! (Compare this to the recent Civiltà Cattolica review of The Benedict Option, in which the reviewer, a Jesuit priest, says that no, Rod Dreher does not embrace heresy, but he uses similar language to heretics, so draw your own conclusions.) About Jones’s slur, never mind the fact that I live in the Deep South, where there are poor white people with destructive lives just as there are poor black people. If you live here, you know both kinds. Hillbilly Elegy talks about these people, the good and the bad among them — and they’re all white. Never mind that in the UK, the housing projects that are violent and chaotic and drug-filled are mostly white. As I’ve said on my blog on a number of occasions (most recently here), I don’t believe these things are matters of race; I believe these things are a matter of culture.
Jones goes on to talk about how I wrote several years ago about reading The Camp of the Saints, the racially charged, dystopian Jean Raspail novel about a future Europe being overwhelmed by mass immigration, and a European ruling class (including media figures) who refuse to see what’s happening. I said forthrightly that parts of this novel are clearly racist, and ugly. But there was also a lot of truth in what Raspail said — truth that people like me preferred not to see because it was expressed crudely, and by someone who pretty clearly did hold racist views. Nevertheless, it’s there.
She goes on:
In The Benedict Option, he glowingly profiles a number of them, including a Catholic community in Hyattsville, Maryland. Dreher credits Christians for playing “a big part” in Hyattsville’s “renaissance,” but he fails to mention that the town is historically black, has always been Christian, and is gentrifying. After the publication of his book, some Catholics of color reported feeling excluded from the parish in question.
I didn’t know the town is historically black, and that has nothing at all to do with the thesis of my book. I had no idea to what extent the local Catholic parish is black, white, or Hispanic. I guarantee you that Sarah Jones did not actually read The Benedict Option, because in the very section in which I talk about that school, I write:
The new St. Jerome Academy made a priority of reaching out to parents and involving them in the life of the school and its classical vision. And the team followed a small – c ca tholic educational vision, rejecting the idea that classical education was only for highly intentional Catholics.
“This doesn’t mean you accept anybody into the school, ” says [school co-founder Chris] Currie. “ There are some kids who may not be able to profit from a classical education and will disrupt others in their classes. But that number is very small. We’re very diverse and have students from every racial and socioeconomic group. Once parents see the difference it makes in the kids, they’re sold. The way we see it, this education is for people from all walks of life. ”
In fact, in material that didn’t make it into the book, Chris Currie told me at length how the school has made a priority to reach out to non-white kids and bring them into the school. I can only expect Sarah Jones to judge on what’s actually in the book, though — but even that, it appears, was expecting too much. She has a narrative.
It’s actually funny how Jones considers my appreciation of Western civilization and culture to be somehow indicative of vice. Sorry, darling, but the only people who believe that are your fellow SJWs. She even finds evil in things I didn’t write, but could have:
Because he is such a prolific writer, there is much to learn from what Dreher chooses not to say. On race, his work is a series of silences, yet he is a font of words when it comes to very fine points of European culture.
So, because I write about Europe, and don’t address race all that often, then I’m guilty of —
wait for it — racism. You cannot win with these loons.
Jones mentions a column I wrote for the NYPost back in 2001, criticizing the lavish public funeral for the black pop star Aaliyah. It was a tasteless column, one I regret, and apologized for. I intended the column as a critique of the culture of celebrity, not race, but it’s wrong to criticize anyone’s funeral, and I owned (and do own) that mistake. What Jones leaves out is that multiple explicit death threats against me by black callers, and rabble-rousing by Al Sharpton, caused me to have to hide out in my apartment for over a week. I watched cable access TV one night in which a black man, speaking to a room full of black people, told the audience that he had spoken to Rod Dreher by phone, and Rod Dreher said that he didn’t care about black people, and so forth. The mob got furious. I turned off the program when the speaker led the crowd in a chant of “Kill Giuliani! Kill Giuliani!”
Though Dreher is loath to talk about race, his West-is-Best approach traps him in a specific racial politics. So he responds by being adamant that he is not racist, and that his critics are. Jemar Tisby, a black Christian who criticized the “shithole” post, supports “self-segregation” and is therefore the real racist. Diversity can be a form of persecution, in fact, and at universities, he warned in another post, social justice warriors rule and Christians are “dhimmis.” That word is popular with the alt-right, where it mostly functions as a conspiracy theory: Adherents believe that in a world run by Muslims, non-Muslims will be subjected to institutionalized discrimination. What a luxury it must be, to fear the far-fetched and to long for a past that is still very much with us.
Hoo boy. Yeah, I think Western civilization is deeply flawed, but the best on the planet. Does that make me a racist? Only in the eyes of zealots like Sarah Jones. But so what? In my post criticizing Jemar Tisby, I said he supports self-segregation because he wrote a column last year in which he said integrating churches could be bad for black Christians. As I said in that post, I think he has a decent point, though I certainly do not believe in segregated churches. If I had been raised in the black church’s worship and preaching traditions, why would I want to leave that behind for the relatively staid worship of a white church? I wouldn’t at all consider a black Christian racist for preferring the culture of the black church. I’m as white as they come, but as someone who worshiped for many years as a Roman Catholic, and for the last 12 years as an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I find white Protestant worship as well as black Protestant worship (which I’ve partaken of) alien to my sensibilities, even though I recognizes them as brothers and sisters in Christ, and recognize also value in their traditions.
Anyway, I called Tisby out as a hypocrite for calling me a racist when he explicitly endorses racially segregated churches. Not everybody who sees cultural distinctions that sometimes attach to race can fairly be called racist.
And one more thing about Sarah Jones: notice how she associates me with the alt-right because I’ve used the word “dhimmi.” Sarah Jones, whose background is extremely parochial, may be surprised to learn that the alt-right despises me, considering me a “Cuckstian” (cuckolded Christian), mostly because I reject their race obsession. In fact, Richard Spencer once gave an interview saying that I ruined TAC — a distinction I bear with honor. Moreover, Sarah Jones — a professional liberal activist and atheist who told The New York Times that she despises her fundamentalist childhood– is not yet 30 years old. She was not yet born when Bat Ye’or introduced the term “dhimmi” — an ancient word from Arab Islam describing “people of the Book” who have a special status under sharia law — into contemporary political discourse. I’ve been using the term since at least 9/11/2001, long before the “alt-right” was born.
In short, Sarah Jones is an ideological joke, a propagandist who has a journalist’s byline. But she is also a perfect example of what is wrong with public discourse today. Jones and those like her — and heaven knows we have them on the Right as well — don’t give a flying fig about the search for truth, about complexity, about actual human problems. They only care about power, and destroying anybody and anything that gets in the way of it. If they also destroy the possibility of people from different backgrounds and of different opinions to reason together, well hey, that’s just collateral damage.
Here’s what I mean. A reader sent in this today. It’s a six-minute set of remarks by the progressive biology professor Bret Weinstein, who, despite being a man of the Left, was driven out of Evergreen State college by Social Justice Warriors. Here’s the clip:
The reader adds:
His point here about there being two groups on the Left mixed together is absolutely correct and may not be obvious to people not on one of these campuses. It is not even obvious to those within the Left and I think that is Weinstein’s point. There are the old school liberals seeking equality and then there are what Peterson would call the neo-Marxists who are seeking domination (Weinstein calls them insurgents).
Weinstein says that often the equality-seeking liberals don’t recognize the insurgents for what they are–they assume that the insurgents are like them and are seeking equality. So at least initially, the liberals support the insurgents and conservatives like us have a hard time telling the difference between the two types of leftists. I cannot tell you how true this is. As you know, I have witnessed it firsthand. Weinstein says that there is a difference between what the insurgents claim as their goals and justifications when they publicly protest and disrupt, and the goals and justifications when they meet behind closed doors–he is right.
When you see the protests or disruptions–often in a classroom–you are witnessing a highly choreographed performance. The performance is not about showing/finding truth, it has everything to do with gaining power over the classroom and destroying the class’s activity. That is it. So the performance is aimed at taking power from one group: the professor/administrator and anyone sympathetic to the aims of the class/college. But the performance requires an audience and indeed audience participation. In many ways, the public face of these insurgent movements is crafted to appeal to the old school liberal as the audience member. The performance is meant to transform liberals from audience members to part of the chorus. When you have a chorus echoing your nonsensical claims and shaming, it becomes much more powerful and you can win the power struggle. Old school liberals are duped into becoming part of the obedient chorus.
The reader, and Weinstein, are talking about college campuses, but this is exactly what people like Sarah Jones are doing. It’s what people like Jemar Tisby do, and Jonathan Merritt do. It’s what people like Cathy Newman do. As Weinstein says in that clip:
The most important thing that they do is they isolate you. That is a means to an end. These are not logical arguments that are being deployed. This is leverage that is being wielded against individuals who are considered to be troubling from the point of view of the movement. … Once you have decided you are problematic, it’s no holds barred.
Truth and fairness do not matter to these people. You should not take them seriously, at all. They only have power over you insofar as you accept their stigmatizing slurs. As I’ve said here many times, I think Donald Trump is a bad actor, but I am grateful to him for one thing: breaking the power these inquisitors and heretic hunters have over public discourse. It simply does not matter that know-nothings like Sarah Jones promiscuously sling terms of abuse around in an attempt to silence speech, and forbid Wrong Thinking. Yes, it matters in some places, but more and more people understand exactly what they’re doing, and rejecting it. This is where old-school liberals and conservatives like me find common cause in rejecting the screaming-meemie propagandists of the Left and the Right.
My Christianity has taught me that every one of us are sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God. None of us, by virtue of our church, our skin color, our nationality, or our class, have a monopoly on truth and virtue. Twice in my life — in the Catholic Church scandal, and regarding the Iraq War — I have suffered greatly from being humbled by my own arrogant certainty. I have tried to learn from those experiences to question myself more forcefully than I did before, to listen to other people, and to interrogate myself more than I did before. In the Catholic scandal situation, I had to suffer the slings and arrows of a lot of people — some of whom I admired and looked up to — who smeared me publicly and privately because I was raising questions that they didn’t want raised. They were afraid of the truth.
The things I had to deal with were nothing compared to what victims of priest sexual abuse and their families had to deal with. But I learned a very valuable lesson about the lengths to which people will go to keep painful questions at bay. A Catholic friend of mine who is an executive at a magazine was propositioned by a representative of the local bishop to participate in the smearing of a local newspaper reporter who was uncovering damaging information about the diocese’s handling of abusive priests. This kind of thing happened a lot. To people like this bishop, and many others within the Church (laymen too), maintaining the Narrative was more important than the truth, and more important than the lives of those crushed for the sake of the Narrative.
What a powerful lesson that was for me. This is certainly not just a Catholic thing. It’s what human beings do. I’ve done it myself. The threat from chaos is so great that we will do just about anything to protect the semblance of order.
I don’t know Sarah Jones and her crowd, but I have a strong suspicion that a lot of them are lashing out so strongly at me over the “shitholes” stuff, and wildly distorting my words, because in their heart of hearts, they know that they would never live in impoverished neighborhoods marked by violence and chaos. Where in the DC area does Sarah Jones live? If she doesn’t live in a poor, violent neighborhood, why not? She could save money if she did. Where does Jonathan Merritt live in Brooklyn? Where does Jemar Tisby live in Jackson, Miss.? And so on.
If they don’t live among the poor and the violent, why don’t they? If you don’t live among the poor and the violent, reader, why don’t you?
This is the genesis of my second thoughts on Trump’s shitholes remark. It feels good to think of oneself as superior to our awful president, and all those people who support him. But seriously now, how come liberals (and some educated conservatives) get on their high horse about racist bubbas, but send their kids to fancy schools, and settle in areas where they don’t have to live among the poor, including poor immigrants. They “celebrate diversity” among whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and others who all have college degrees, stable families, and middle-class values, and think of themselves as superior. I know this because I have been around these people, and I have been that person myself. Sometimes I still am.
It’s hypocritical. It’s dishonest. It’s untruthful. And — you knew I was going to say this — it’s how we got Trump. I don’t like Trump. I think he is by and large a cancer on American politics and culture. But you know what? So are Sarah Jones and her tribe of ideological militants.
If this is your first time at this blog, I invite you to stick around, and to read the comments section. We have people from left, right, and center commenting. I try to do my best to foster meaningful discussion here, a discussion carried out in an atmosphere of civility. I do it because I believe that’s important. I try to keep my mind open, and have had it changed by what I have learned from my readers who disagree with me, but who respected me, and the truth, enough to bear with me patiently. I’m grateful for them, and for the opportunity to share this space with them, and to learn from them.
That’s how I roll. Sarah Jones and her boring, unthinking lot can bleat “four legs good, two legs ba-a-ad” until kingdom come, but this caravan rolls on. As Jordan Peterson told the uncomprehending Cathy Newman the other day, if you want to seek the truth, you have to take the risk of being offensive.