In an interview for British GQ’s December issue, conservatives’ favorite clinical psychologist, Jordan Peterson, duels with Helen Lewis over the feminist argument that Western civilization is a tyrannical “patriarchy.”
Peterson, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, has become world famous for his refusal to accept the premises of left-wing academia, particularly regarding gender, identity politics, and political correctness. Peterson’s interview with Lewis, the video of which was posted at the end of October, has garnered over 5 million views.
As Lewis explains in a response to the interview published the same day the video was released (see below), one of her primary goals for the hour-and-a-half interview was to challenge Peterson on his rejection of orthodox modern feminist views. The result is moments like the one highlighted by Red State’s Alex Parker, in which Peterson takes on Lewis’ claim that western civilization is still a “male-dominated society.”
“Our culture confuses men’s desire for achievement and competence with the patriarchal desire for tyrannical power. And that’s a big mistake,” says Peterson (comments start around the 4:00 mark). Lewis uses this comment as a jumping off point for the discussion of Peterson’s arguments against the modern feminist concept of the patriarchy as a “male-dominated society.” When she asks him to define what he means by patriarchy, Peterson responds with a question: “Well, in what sense is our society male-dominated?”
“The fact that the vast majority of wealth is owned by men, the vast majority of capital is owned by men, women do more unpaid labor…” Lewis replies.
“That’s a very tiny of proportion of men,” Peterson interjects. “A huge proportion of people who are seriously disaffected are men; most people in prison are men; most people who are on the street are men; most victims of violent crime are men; most people who commit suicide are men; most people who die in wars are men; people who do worse in school are men. Where’s the dominance here, precisely? What you are doing is taking a tiny substrata of hyper-successful men and using that to represent the entire structure of Western society. There’s nothing about that that’s vaguely appropriate.”
Lewis counters by saying that she could give examples of women suffering more in some circumstances, for example most rape victims are women and most rapists are men. Peterson says she can certainly argue that but “that doesn’t provide any evidence of a male-dominated patriarchy.”
The Left’s attempt to define western civilization as “purely” a “tyrannical patriarchy,” Peterson goes on to argue, is irrational and unjust. Acknowledging that the West has its corruptions and imperfections, some of which are “patriarchal,” is far different than trying to cast the entire civilization as fundamentally flawed, which Peterson contends feminists like Lewis are consistently attempting to do. When Lewis says she doesn’t describe it as that, he asks her then why she insists on reductively labeling the West as “a patriarchy.”
During the interview, Peterson also takes aim at the concept of identity politics, which he argues is simply a new name for an age-old phenomemon: “tribalism.”
Lewis begins the interview by asking Peterson what he’s “selling.” He responded by saying he’s “not selling anything.” So she rephrases her question, asking what people are so “hungry for” that they’re willing to pay a lot of money for the chance to see him speak. Peterson responds: “They’re hungry for a discussion of the relationship between responsibility and meaning, and we haven’t had that discussion in our culture for 50 years. We’ve concentrated on rights and privileges, freedom and impulsive pleasure. Those are all useful in their place, but they’re shallow, and that’s not good because if people are moored shallowly, then storms wreck them…”
Along with the video of the interview, posted on YouTube on October 30, Lewis published a summary of her experience interviewing the famously anti-PC intellectual. “[W]hen GQ called and asked if I wanted to fly to America and interview Peterson, I hesitated for at least three seconds before saying yes,” she writes. “The pause was to allow two thoughts to percolate through my brain: first, will his supporters destroy my Twitter mentions and email inbox for days after the piece is published? Second, will he win?”
Lewis explains why she agreed to conduct the interview, despite her initial hesitations:
A century after the first women got the vote in Britain, feminism is praised everywhere from T-shirts to glossy business summits. But Peterson is a heretic. He believes that there is no such thing as the patriarchy. But, at the same time, he’s not some standard issue boorish Alpha Male. (He cries more than I do, and dresses better, too.) Nor is he a lazy, unthinking bar-room sexist. (He doesn’t use crude or demeaning language.) As he sees it, his arguments about innate differences between men and women’s interests and aptitudes are supported by science.
After noting that his demeanor in person is in many ways the opposite of what many expect from celebrity personalities, — being largely reserved, polite and humble, and giving “zero fuss or complaint” to the GQ staff about their requests — she says that once the camera turned on, the discussion became rather tense.
“Once the camera was on, we spent 90 minutes in what felt like hand-to-hand combat, pausing only to allow the photographer to change the memory card in his video camera,” she writes. “Peterson stumped me a few times, and I did the same back to him. He (or his team) seemed not to have Googled me before we started, which led him onto a landmine or two. At times, I felt as though I had annoyed him (he didn’t appreciate me telling him that his theories about lobster neuroscience were “bollocks”). Occasionally we agreed (for instance, that Twitter is bad for online debates).”
Lewis concludes by acknowledging that there is no way they’d ever really settle their disagreements, and suggesting that she knows some viewers will see him as the winner. “Who won? I can’t say,” she concludes. “I hope that, whichever of us the audience finds most persuasive, they will appreciate that GQ has given a platform to such a long, in-depth discussion.”
In case you missed it, Peterson sat down with Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro in May. Here’s the interview: