Once prominent political provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos recently discussed his opinions on Professor Jordan Peterson with Stefan Molyneux. Discuss isn’t quite the most accurate word, though. What Milo did was engage in a veiled screed that was about as reasoned as the hitpieces that would nakedly misrepresent him. In what was less of a discussion and more of a monologue, Milo echoes the sentiments of many of Peterson’s left-wing who merely wave Peterson off as a useless stater of the obvious. Milo is someone who claims to have read Peterson’s book, and has come away with the impression that his words are utterly meaningless. While a fair criticism might center around Peterson’s style of writing, which is sometimes roundabout or long-winded-pretending that it is meaningless is unfair at best. When Peterson mines the Bible for deep-rooted and hard-earned truths about our nature, through the lens of evolutionary psychology, that can hardly be considered meaningless or basic. He draws upon these stories as crude, pre-scientific method means for how we managed to make sense of the world.
That statement-of-the-obvious criticism is the apex of smug hubris. When his critics mock him for reminding us to set order to our rooms, or to tell the truth, the result is the shallow interpretation that his message is to “be nice.” And if all you read is the headline, it’s easy to come away with that impression. But the 21st century is rife with lost truths, and the idea that because something seems self-evidently true we don’t need to think through them is simply wrong. Would-be cliches like “tell the truth” are only cliches because they’ve been rendered lifeless by overuse. It’s easy for something to be forgotten because of its saturation. In that example, it isn’t obvious why you shouldn’t lie the moment it becomes expedient. Not only is telling the truth morally virtuous, what’s often forgotten is that it’s entirely useful to make a strong case for why an example like this is also in your self-interest. It’s not always obvious as to how you can consciously integrate so-called “cliches” into our lives, practically. In that regard, the expertise of a clinical psychologist might come in handy.
More important than Peterson’s views themselves is how Milo’s ill-considered dismissals reflect a timeless arrogance that grips younger people in general. Constant access to the internet and the immediate exchange of information has led many a commentator to an illusion of omniscience. Although the younger among us have always been overly self-confident, temporarily frozen in the state of a smart alec until they mature, it’s a problem that’s been made worse by the gottem culture of e-ownage… of which Milo was once the posterboy.
What Milo is right about is that Peterson does talk about a single idea for long stretches of time. What he, and other mediums like Joe Rogan, are doing is filling that demand for long-form, thought-provoking and substance-rich content. The demand for Milo’s sudden pwnage clipping isn’t nearly as high as it once was. When Milo asks the question repeatedly if he’s the only one not getting Peterson’s appeal, he clearly isn’t, but he’s certainly in the minority. Milo’s sheer arrogance blinds him to why people would care about long lectures, which sometimes entail metaphors about, as he put it, “bunnies or something.” While this isn’t good for Milo’s declining public appeal, it is good for the health of the social fabric. Instead of trotting out what are now actual obviousisms like the gender pay gap, Peterson is teaching those same young people how to approach ideas seriously and with the humility of their limitations. Although on one hand the internet can induce that sort of arrogance, it has also opened the door for those like Peterson and Weinstein to publicly engage in high-level, rigorously scientific discourse. Beyond the value of those conversations themselves, they give us a much-needed lesson into what mature disagreement looks like. When they engage in these conversations, very often we’re seeing the act of thinking without an ulterior motive. While our biases are unavoidable, these conversations are about as near as we can get to seeing the process of thinking your way through ideas unfiltered, and without pretense. Where it is the norm for conversations to be weighed down by each side clinging to their pre-existing answers like a football, these conversations and lectures give us a rare and welcome escape from those pretentious displays.
The generations raised on a junk diet of Jon Stewart and his offshoots now realize that smug and snarky dismissals of ideas are nothing more than a shortcut for serious consideration. Though there’s a self satisfaction in your team’s dunks, it left these same generations oblivious as to how to think themselves and authentically explore ideas in any way. Where Stewart taught smugness as a virtue, Peterson exchanges that for humility. On the other side of the aisle, Milo offered a counter reaction to Stewart. But finally and increasingly, we’re finding that ideas can offer more than entertainment, and that they stretch deeper than the topical political disagreements of the day. For obvious reasons, this new exchange of smugness for humility is lost on Milo Yiannopoulos.