Jordan Peterson and Social-Darwinism

I do not normally respond to people I have respect for, and consider, on most counts, a genuine activist, but I have to take issue with Mr. Rancourt’s recent article about the validity of Jordan Peterson’s notion of dominance hierarchy.

The reason is because there is a myopic, narrow-minded bias to Jordan Peterson’s theory of dominance hierarchies, a bias which supports the bourgeois status quo and attacks all things, or theories, which might lead to positive, radical, social change.

First and foremost, Mr. Rancourt’s experiments in critical pedagogy, at the University of Ottawa, were revolutionary and showed us, on the radical left, what a post-bourgeois education-system would look like if bourgeois-capitalism collapsed. And, more importantly, Mr. Rancourt’s experiment in critical pedagogy showed us on the radical left that such an anarchist education-system can work, and work quite well, given the absence of the bourgeois-academic-system and its tyrannical bureaucracy. For this, Mr. Rancourt deserves genuine praise.

However, Mr. Rancourt’s  experiment in critical pedagogy broke the fundamental rule of the bourgeois-university; i.e., “intelligence is obedience and obedience is intelligence”, and for his radical transgression, Mr. Rancourt faced the full blunt of bourgeois-fascism, both from his former employer and the bourgeois-justice-system. If Marx’s famous statement, “philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various way, the point, however, is to change it”1, applies anywhere, it applies to Mr. Rancourt’s courage in persisting with his experiment to its conclusion, regardless of consequences.

Notwithstanding, I have always found that those in the hard sciences, if they happen to make the jump into radical political philosophy and social activism, tend, after their initial radical left-wing splash, to drift towards the far-right of the political-spectrum, depending on the individual. An extreme, but poignant, example of this tendency is Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, whose radical politics for social luddite revolution, in a characteristic black and white dichotomy, a dichotomy stringently engineered and honed for success in the hard sciences, eventually led to Mr. Kaczynski’s calcification into radical cynicism and a type of authoritarian, right-wing, program of action. All of which happened after he encountered the plurality, flexibility and nihilism found in the humanities and certain strands of political philosophy. In effect, departing from the seemingly secure grounds of the hard sciences, and discovering, according to Paul Feyerabend, that “anything goes”.2 Mr. Kaczynski hardened himself, over time, into a political killing machine. One just needs to read Mr. Kaczynski’s literature, most recently his book, Anti-Tech. Revolution, to get a sense of his rigid, despotic, authoritarianism.

Of course, I am not saying Mr. Rancourt is anywhere close to being this out of touch, but Mr. Rancourt, has slowly drifted to the right of the political-spectrum, as of late, whether, this is his gentle support of Iran, Vladimir Putin, or most recently, Jordan Peterson. The basic point of radical left politics is to do away with authoritarianism in all its shapes and forms, from an Iranian dictatorship to the bourgeois-capitalism of the United-States.

Subsequently, contrary to Mr. Rancourt’s recent article, with Jordan Peterson, we are fundamentally dealing with a proponent of Social-Darwinism. That is, a form of Social-Darwinian-Ideology, which is, in my estimation, only designed to serve and buttress the bourgeois status quo and the bourgeois-aristocracy, as rightfully legitimate and worthy of their positions, academic and/or otherwise; specifically, that their most esteemed bourgeois-aristocratic members are worthy of their elevated positions in and across the dominance hierarchy.

Contrary to Mr. Peterson, the fact is that any honest intellectual, looking at our society today, can factually see that the best and brightest do not always, or if ever, occupy the upper-echelons of any contemporary dominance hierarchy, academia, politics, business, sex, etcetera. In actuality, today. the reverse is the case in the sense that we see constantly that the best and brightest are being left behind, or are forced to remain on the lower rungs of bourgeois-society, scrounging for their existence while the system favors and promotes an obedient herd-mediocrity at every level. That is, those individuals who best subserviently, ideologically, and obediently buttress and propagate the bourgeois status quo, towing, with certain docile obedience, the dominant ideological tenets of bourgeois-capitalism, bourgeois-academia, bourgeois-elites, and the overall, bourgeois status quo.

I would argue that Mr. Peterson is one of these obedient bourgeois-ideologues, who cunningly, playing the outsider for the cameras, has cultivated for himself a disenfranchised herd of followers whom he is now trying to appease and put back into bourgeois-subservience via his brand of pop-psychology. Indeed, this herd of followers was susceptible to Mr. Peterson’s Social-Darwinism because most people have never encountered “real” radical left-wing politics in the classroom, other than the lame centrist-liberalism, which is now peddled as hip and edgy on University campuses. Subsequently, one of the reasons for Mr. Peterson’s recent popularity is that the bourgeois-university has persistently, for 35 years or so, been purging radical academics from the sanctified halls of its universities in favor of obedient, docile, neoliberal, bourgeois-cogs, which readily defend and peddle bourgeois-academic-mediocrity and the bourgeois status quo ad nauseam. How easily we forget that Einstein did most of his ground-breaking physics as an outcast, an outcast of bourgeois-academia, which essentially forced Einstein to moonlight as a physicist by night and a patent-clerk by day. And not much has changed today in and across bourgeois-universities.

Clearly, Jordan Peterson is one of the proponents and ideologues of the conventional bourgeois status quo in the sense that the man was at the center of Canadian bourgeois-academia for some 20 years or more. He resided in the comfortable womb-like center of conservative bourgeois-academia, wallowing in its profitable-mediocrity. He was a tenured professor, a protector of the bourgeois scientific tradition, an upper-class Torontonian, a right-wing, anti-communist crusader etc., bent to prevent the liberalization of Canadian universities and its student body. This is a man who has endlessly championed the fundamental rule of bourgeois-academia: “obedience is intelligence and intelligence is obedience”. What a shocker! Now, Peterson is taking this bourgeois-academic-principle to the masses, evangelizing the uneducated and the narrow-minded educated, alike, about the transformative powers of obedience, the legitimacy of bourgeois-authority, all of which is being filtered into the minutia of our everyday lives. Clean your room, stand up straight, trust your western bourgeois-governments and myopic scientific results, and please, salute all bourgeois-aristocrats higher-up on the dominance ladder, for they are your social better and your emblems to socially emulate etc.!

Mr. Peterson is the equivalent of a bourgeois-conservative’s wet-dream, a throw-back to 1930s social engineering. The man is against all forms of radical social change and social mobility which might threaten the current rank and file of our bourgeois dominance hierarchies. Everything new and different is bad, everything tradition, bourgeois, and homogenized, is good. He, in fact, alleviates bourgeois-aristocratic anxieties by vindicating their pathological greed, their lust for power, and their down-right selfishness. He argues that whatever one’s station in life, or in society, be it upper, or lower, in a dominance hierarchy etc., is fundamentally based on Darwinian natural selection. So straighten-up and fly-right, bucko! Because you and your neighbor, whatever your positions are, in and across the dominance hierarchy, are rightfully warranted by Darwinian natural selection. Therefore, inequality of all types and kinds is valid, legitimate, and more importantly, biologically necessary for our species’ survival. This type of logic is pure, ideological, nonsense, which reeks of 19th century crackpot, Social-Darwinism.

Indeed, surrounded by hapless ignorant sycophants, Mr. Peterson is fond of quoting Nietzsche, as if Nietzsche’s work reflects Social-Darwinian-Ideology. However, Nietzsche is not a proponent of Social-Darwinism. He is against Social-Darwinism and stated as much on more than one occasion. Nietzsche would shriek in horror at Peterson’s proposition that a dominance hierarchy is legitimated on the Darwinian grounds of natural selection.

In fact, to the contrary, Nietzsche argued that across western civilizations and western cultures, it is the most mediocre of our species which are the most apt to succeed in reaching the top of bourgeois dominance hierarchies because these herd-animals embody and represent the most enduring, conservative, and brutish characteristics of our species; i.e., the inhuman and the average. Their propensity for the inhuman and averageness gives them an advantage over more evolved humans.  As Nietzsche states, “mediocrity always goes against everything new and exceptional [since] the new is always against the herd. The [herd] grinds the unique into uniformity and turns it into herd”.3 However, it is the job, according to Nietzsche, of the herdsman “to retain…the herd, flatter it, work with [it, in order to] consolidate its mediocrity”4 and direct it against any exceptional uber-mensch.

Jordan Peterson is certainly Nietzsche’s herdsman and has always been so. He is not an uber-mensch. Since, according to Nietzsche, an uber-mensch is an individual deserving of our admiration because this individual extends and expends, him or herself, over the abyss, living creatively, solitarily, and differently against the parameters set by herd-mediocrity. Ironically, the uber-mensch is both without followers and constantly subjected to the cruelty of the herd and the herdsman. For Nietzsche, “it is the object of herd education [via the herdsman] to create in the herd member…a definite faith concerning the nature of man”5, wherefore, “inertia…[and] the middle is considered the highest and the most valuable”.5 In a nutshell, this is Mr. Peterson’s whole academic project: (1) to solidify the bourgeois status quo while championing herd-mediocrity as the highest and most valuable attributes, when climbing any bourgeois dominance hierarchy; and, (2) Peterson’s academic project consists in marshaling the vindictiveness embodied in herd-mediocrity against all that is different, plural, and exceptional, namely, all that is not generic, average, and a part of the bourgeois status quo, namely, all that reflects post-modernism.

Let’s have a little fun:

If, for argument sake, we accept Mr. Peterson’s theory and ludicrous claims concerning the fact that only the most powerful; i.e., the best and the brightest of the human species get to the top of a dominance hierarchy, sexual or otherwise, then, why is Mr. Peterson bemoaning, according to his own deluded conspiratorial perceptions, the rise of the radical left in academia (which is, in fact, totally the opposite). That is, why is Mr. Peterson bemoaning the rise of another red-specter haunting the nooks and crannies of western bourgeois-civilization, when, by his own theoretical admissions, this red-specter would constitute the product of natural selection; i.e., the scientific fact that the cream always rises to the top. And, if Marxism and communism is the cream, then natural selection shall give onto Caesar what rightfully belongs onto Caesar. In effect, his own Social-Darwinian-Ideology can be utilized to vindicate the rise of communism, Marxism and/or the rise of radical liberalism in academia, including the rise of political correctness. The fact is you cannot apply, in any deterministic fashion, biology to socio-economic conditions, hence, the fact Jordan Peterson’s theory of dominance hierarchy is bourgeois-ideology in disguise, and a fallacy. Because, if natural selection is the fundamental arbiter of any dominance hierarchy, then, whatever rules during any historical period; i.e., slavery, paternalism, homophobia, racism, sexism, even Nazism etc., by Jordan Peterson’s own theoretical musings is deserving of our praise as that which is most legitimate, most worthy, and most apt for the continuance of our evolution at that particular time in history.

Jordan Peterson’s popularity as some sort of socio-cultural phenomenon is strictly a matter of the fact that he flatters the upper-echelons of the bourgeois-aristocracy, namely, his musings on natural selection flatter, and vindicate the exploitations, the religious illusions, and the ideological bourgeois-fetishisms of a conservative-aristocratic demographic, including their low-brow acolytes. Peterson tells these bourgeois-aristocrats, with confidence and boldness, that they are worthy of their elevated positions and social status because natural selection has made it so. This is their cross to bear as superior beings. After-all, it is the bourgeois-aristocracy which gives Jordan Peterson air-time in the mainstream-media. Few socialist theoreticians are given mainstream air-time like Peterson, despite the fact there are many socialist theoreticians who run circles around Mr. Peterson, possessing far more deserving research and theoretical outputs. In fact, these socialist theoreticians, for the most part, have been relegated to obscurity and marginality by the bourgeois status quo and bourgeois-academia. The fact is Jordan Peterson is first and foremost a conservative bourgeois-ideologue, the lightning rod for a low-brow right-wing fad, propagated by elitist bourgeois-aristocrats to piss-off the left, make a little money, and reassert their conservative, regressive mind-sets. The tragedy in all of this is those segments of the workforce/population, which have swallowed the cool-aid and who, in the end, will be left footing the bill for such a spectacle.

The fundamental message, in the end, which Jordan Peterson peddles like another Doctor Phil, is that what happens to you in life is your own doing. Granted, Peterson states life is brutish and a war of all against all, but ultimately, where you end up in the grand scheme of things, according to Peterson, is the result of your own choices and individual actions; i.e., free-will. And free-will, for any philosopher, is contestable. For Peterson, there are no bias bourgeois-institutions, no global economic reasons, no cultural reasons, or for that matter, no other scientific biological reasons, for the things that happen to a person. In the final analysis, according to Peterson, what happens is your own fault, for better or for worse. The world only cherishes and remembers the winners, the higher species, not the losers. Is Bill Cosby a higher species? Is Harvey Weinstein a higher species? Is Donald Trump a more evolved species?

These depraved sub-humans occupy, or have occupied, the upper-echelons of the bourgeois-aristocracy for decades, comporting themselves as the brutish savage Mr. Peterson so eloquently champions. Yet, are these the creatures young men should emulate! Is this natural selection at work, sifting and separating, the strong from the weak? Dominance hierarchies may be strictly based on deterministic biology in the animal kingdom, namely, hierarchy may be founded solely on natural selection in nature, as Darwin stipulates, as animals are at the mercy of their natural instincts, but humans are not, despite being a type of mammal.

Also, Peter Kropotkin observed the principle of mutual-aid at work in nature and in direct contrast to Darwinian natural selection, wherefore, animals among themselves and among each other, according to Kropotkin, would collaborate for their mutual advancement, survival, benefit, and support. That is, these species, supposedly at war, could be seen helping each other in an altruistic manner climb the dominance ladder, together. Such examples are endless; thus, maybe Darwin got it wrong, and animals as well can overcome the brutality of natural selection.

The fact is humans construct all sorts of hierarchies based on all sorts of premises and principles, not just some mechanistic law of Darwinian natural selection. Moreover, not all humans construct hierarchies. Some live communally, sharing in relative equal measure. There are no biological imperatives which determine a dominance hierarchy. Socially speaking, sometimes there are hierarchies, sometimes there are not, and sometimes we, as humans, alternate between various hierarchies simultaneously. In a hair-dresser’s domain, he/she rules, but in the classroom, you rule if you are the educator etc.

Even anarchist horizontal hierarchies are possible for the human species given the right socio-economic conditions like the overthrow of bourgeois-capitalism. Consequently, not being deterministically governed by dominance, or natural selection, a society can rid itself of any form of dominance hierarchy and has done so throughout history. There is no deterministic biological imperative by which we, today, must live under the thumb of a bourgeois-aristocracy, academic, political, economic etc., if we so choose.  And, more importantly, the overthrow of bourgeois-state-capitalism, contrary to Jordan Peterson, may very well be more progressive, more in tune with natural selection, and an overall better emblem of justice given the current myopic, narrow-minded, bias, bourgeois-justice we are currently forced to live with. In sum, decision-making-authority can be equally shared, in relative equal measure, among all citizens. Money and capital can be distributed equally among any citizenry etc., dominance can be defined in a multiplicity of manners. We do not have to subscribe to Mr. Peterson’s authoritarian definition of dominance.

Jordan Peterson argues for a singular dominance hierarchy solely based on some sort of might equals right biological imperative, wherefore, the most powerful get all the sex they could ever want, and the weak are relegated to obscurity and the dust-bin of history. Subsequently, maybe its high-time we jettison Jordan Peterson’s ad hoc Social-Darwinian-Ideology to the dust-bin of history, and let the chips fall where they may, and while we are at it, why not do the same with bourgeois-academia, bourgeois-aristocracy and bourgeois-capitalism, and, once again, let the chips fall where they may.

  1. Karl Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach”, The Marx-Engels Reader. ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York, New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 1978) p. 145. []
  2. Paul Feyerabend, Against Method. (London: Verso, 1975) p. 163. []
  3. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will To Power, Ed. Walter Kaufmann (New York, New York: Vintage Books, 1967) pp. 461-462. []
  4. Ibid, pp. 461-462. []
  5. Ibid, p. 159. [] []
Michel Luc Bellemare is the author of The Structural-Anarchism Manifesto: (The Logic of Structural-Anarchism Versus The Logic of Capitalism) Read other articles by Michel Luc.