by John Holbo on May 13, 2018

Lots of folks shaking heads at this Dark Web Intellectuals business. Henry makes the obvious red pill connection. Think about it. You get to wake up and believe whatever you want. So everyone is going to want to believe they took the red pill. The blue pill, man. It’s the One.

Damn kids, get off my how far down the rabbit hole goes. (I’m looking at you, Jordan Peterson.)



Bob Zannelli 05.13.18 at 4:18 pm

Leftist need to listen to what Jordan Peterson has to say. It’s not only the right that lives in an bubble insulated from reality


John Holbo 05.13.18 at 4:30 pm

“Leftist need to listen to what Jordan Peterson has to say.”

I was just listening to him. Dude talks about Tiamat. I think someone should make, like a parody series about Abzu as a YouTuber, complaining about Tiamat.


John Quiggin 05.13.18 at 8:40 pm

So, what does he say that wasn’t said by Camille Paglia decades ago (and repeated ever since, less and less interestingly)? Peterson just seems to be the lad mag version of Paglia.

In fact, a quick check finds Christina Hoff Sommers running the free speech martyr line about Paglia back in 1995, which shows about how novel all this IDW stuff really is.


bianca steele 05.13.18 at 9:03 pm

Guy sounds like Robert Bly for dudes who think therapists are much more macho than poets.


Helen 05.13.18 at 11:57 pm

Bob Zanelli, where you see “the left” inhabiting “a bubble insulated from reality”, presumably wrt Jordan Peterson and all the rest of the intellectual dark web celebs, I see a “left” which can’t stop discussing them – there have been discussions of Peterson on this very blog but there’s plenty of “left” commentary on him if you care to look.
I think what you really mean is that we must bow to his superior manly wisdom, stop mocking him and take his ideas seriously.
The idea that “the left” espouses some ideas and mocks or criticises others is due to an educated belief that one thing really is better than another, and that the red-pillers’ prescriptions for the social good really are inferior to those of feminist and social democrats, doesn’t seem to get much of a run these days. No, no, it must just be blind tribalism, is the go-to explanation these days.


Barry 05.14.18 at 12:46 am

I went and read one paragraph from the man, and it’s clear that he’s just a babbler.


Barry 05.14.18 at 12:48 am

It is nice to see that Beinart is capable of learning. I remember ‘Can there be a Decent Left?’


John Quiggin 05.14.18 at 1:10 am

@5 It’s really striking how explicitly the right espouses cultural relativism for their own ideas “You can’t tell 60 million Americans that they are ignorant racists, and that their alleged intellectuals are charlatans” when that is exactly what they demand in relation to every other culture.


bad Jim 05.14.18 at 6:06 am

After Goldwater lost in a landslide in 1964, there were bumper stickers proclaiming “26 million people can’t be wrong”, implicitly claiming that 43 million must be.


bianca steele 05.14.18 at 12:01 pm

Peterson isn’t even popular, is he? He’s not like the Mars/Venus guy, who’s a best-seller and gets AFAIK reasonably respectful treatment as a result. He seems to have come to people’s attention as a result of annoying tweets from random people, and got a corresponding reaction.


Cian 05.14.18 at 3:34 pm

Peterson is pretty popular unfortunately.

On John Gray – I remember once bringing up John Gray in a discussion and realizing five minutes in that the other person thought I meant the Men are from Mars guy.


Harry 05.14.18 at 4:02 pm

Yeah. That’s actually happened to me too. Its the basis for a rather magnificent Two Ronnies sketch, which would be accessible to about 5000 people….


engels 05.14.18 at 4:05 pm

I remember once bringing up John Gray in a discussion and realizing five minutes in that the other person thought I meant the Men are from Mars guy.

It’s not the same guy then?


bianca steele 05.14.18 at 4:13 pm

I did a search. The Guardian had the novelist Hari Kunru review it in January. In February there are Reddit threads about it (including the perennial troll, “I don’t read much but from what people are saying this Peterson guy sounds like a real hoopy frood, can someone else shed some light?”), in March it explodes. Sounds like he’s popular among a subgroup of people.

Poking farther, I see David Brooks cited a “top five intellectuals” from Tyler Cowen and Conor Friedersdorf bashed a BBC interview with Peterson as unfair, and another Guardian writer prefixed a “the interview was relatively fair actually” with an introductory “the interviewer is everything wrong with society today,” and after that’s when it exploded.

But my point is that Peterson would presumably be the first to say that the way you present yourself determines how your words are received. And his fans didn’t present themselves well, it would seem.

Moreover, I’d expect them to care a lot about book sales as a measure of value, and Peterson seems to be a niche taste who actually doesn’t sell a lot of books. They seem to be arguing that “liberals” shouldn’t disparage the tastes of a huge proportion of the population, but actually he’s not that.


politicalfootball 05.14.18 at 6:30 pm

You get to wake up and believe whatever you want. So everyone is going to want to believe they took the red pill. The blue pill, man. It’s the One.

I don’t have anything substantive to say about this, but I wanted to express my admiration. A lot of sophisticated folks think Trumpian/rightwing politics is an obvious fraud, and they don’t understand the appeal of it — particularly to smart, educated people. This is the explanation.


Lobsterman 05.14.18 at 7:06 pm

Every time someone claims that Jordan Peterson has “ideas” instead of “vague grievances dressed up in the appearance of academic rigor,” an beautiful lily-white angel gets its extremely white wings. But only the male ones. Wouldn’t want to introduce too much “chaos”.


bad Jim 05.15.18 at 5:45 am

WHICH BLUE PILL? I seem to recall that both a popular benzodiazepine and a remedy for erectile dysfunction came in that color. Red is associated in my mind with pseudephedrine and cinnamon candy.


Cian 05.15.18 at 12:32 pm

It’s not the same guy then?

While it would be wonderful if the author of Straw Dogs was also responsible for Men are from Mars, they are in fact different people.


Cian 05.15.18 at 1:02 pm

Bianca – he has a very popular Youtube channel. Prior to the book’s publication his Patreon got $17,000 a month (for Patreon that’s a huge amount of money). He was invited onto numerous very popular podcasts for interviews. Sam Harris interviewed him because his listeners kept asking him to do the interview. He promoted his book by going on a profitable world tour. A publishing company clearly thought he was a good enough bet that they invested quite a bit of money into marketing (hence the newspaper reviews, TV interviews, etc). I could go on. The man was already successful – the controversy (and decent book sales) have turned him into a minor media star.

Criticize his bullshit by all means, but pretending that he doesn’t have a sizable audience seems silly.


bianca steele 05.15.18 at 2:28 pm


The Internet is not the world. Thousands of writers are successful at the level Peterson is. At that level, way more people haven’t heard of him than have bought and read his book. Even people (of my acquaintance) who not infrequently read Brooks’s columns have forgotten the name Jordan Peterson already.

He doesn’t “deserve” criticism in detail, and I’m not obliged to “engage” with him. What he says is no different from what the men’s movement has been saying for thirty-five years on the one hand, and bog-standard conservatives have been saying longer than that. What he writes is popular self-help pap. That his first appearance, on the screens of those not already his cult followers, was his cultists’ demanding he get more and more positive press, doesn’t mean he has a “mass” following. It means he has cult followers among people who are aggressive, well-placed and organized. At any rate, there may be somebody somewhere who gets a salary to “engage” people who claim to be representatives of the “mass” or “majority,” but it’s not me.


bianca steele 05.15.18 at 2:46 pm

With respect to the OP, I don’t think it gets at the appeal of the “red pill.” It’s not that you get to believe whatever you want. It’s not that what you believe now is probably reasonably well-justified and a good-enough starting point. It’s that everything is false and someone else’s fault, but from this point on, nothing you think can be false.

You can put a “Don’t believe everything you think” bumper sticker on your car and tell yourself it’s aimed at other people who haven’t taken the red pill yet, and keep on believing everything you think, because of course.


GrueBleen 05.15.18 at 3:57 pm

Cian @19

50 years ago, 1,000,000 was a large number. Not so now. How “sizeable” does an audience have to be to actually be significant ?


Cian 05.16.18 at 1:35 pm

Bianca and Grue: Let me make this super simple. Jordan Peterson had, prior to the publication of his book, a following roughly commensurate with other people who get similar coverage. His book was published with a marketing budget which meant there were resources to get him reviews/coverage. His subsequent ‘fame’ is simply due to him successfully riding the media/internet hype/outrage machine (and stuff written about him generating page hits – which is all the online media really care about these days).

None of this is an argument about his ideas, which I think are frankly facile. But just because I think his writing is stupid, I’m not going to pretend that he doesn’t have a (growing) following.


John Quiggin 05.17.18 at 7:30 pm

Biance @21 Certitude in belief is a personal characteristic that remains stable, even when the beliefs change (I think!).

I’m reminded of Heinz Arndt, an economist prominent in Australia, who shifted a fair way to the political right over his life*. He observed, with an insight relatively rare among converts, that while his rejection of beliefs that once seemed well-founded ought to have made him more sceptical about his new beliefs, he found that in fact he was just as confident as ever.

* In mischievous moods, I would sometimes cite his early work approvingly, without mentioning his subsequent change of view.


JanieM 05.17.18 at 10:05 pm

As theatrical as conversions are, they remain oblivious to the degree to which choice is involved in the passage from one world to another. Radical conversions, especially, veil themselves against their own arbitrariness. Augustine, the most famous convert of antiquity, was puzzled that he could have held so firmly to so many different falsehoods; he was not astounded that there are so many different truths.

from Finite and Infinite Games, by James Carse

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