The Intellectual We Deserve - and it's about time, too. A response to Nathan J. Robinson

I had not heard of Nathan J Robinson before he published his attention seeking article that he titled The Intellectual We Deserve as a political attack on Canadian author and psychologist, Professor Jordan Peterson. I quickly googled Robinson and found that he had attempted a similar smear against Ben Shapiro. I don't want to spend too much time on this, as both Peterson and Shapiro are completely capable of taking care of themselves. I would, however, like to point out a few intellectual deficiencies that Robinson should correct if he wishes to be taken seriously.  


Robinson is immature, and it shows. One of the mistakes he makes is to assume that the people on the other side are stupid. He does this in his pieces on both Peterson and Shapiro. Robinson writes:  "It’s easy to laugh, as some of us do, at the phrase 'conservative intellectual'.”  I recognise this attitude in the me of thirty years ago. It's an unfailing sign of an ignorance driven ego that wishes only to impress. The problem is, as I found out, that you end up running full speed into reality and become forced to face the fact that you don't actually know very much at all. There was a time when I was a noisy atheist and a leftist. I'm still an atheist - albeit a very quiet one. I'm no longer a leftist because, as any thinking person knows, as you mature and as you learn more, you become sure of less and less. Robinson's arrogance jumps out at me because I used to have the same affliction. His stated view of Conservatives is like my old belief of Christianity. I used to believe that there were no highly intelligent Christians and that the intelligent and morally correct people were all atheists. But then I had to acknowledge the existence of people like, say, Francis Collins. Now what? This will have to happen to Robinson with Conservatives if he is to grow into someone who can be taken seriously.


In another article he states the following: "Yet I’m also committed to spreading reason and scientific thinking..." Here I am reminded of Douglas Murray's frequent statement that people who claim to be freethinkers often aren't. Robinson is very open about his leftism and I feel that I would not be doing him any favours if I didn't point out the fact that you cannot actually be "spreading scientific thinking" while claiming that your side of the political spectrum is more intelligent than and morally superior to the other side. To take a side dogmatically, left or right, is to engage in the opposite of scientific thinking.  Robinson is a political activist and he is obviously not committed to spreading scientific thinking. He is committed to convincing people on the Left to stay on the Left. He is more like a herder of sheep than he is a scientist.


Mischaracterizing other's positions is another tactic that Robinson seems content to engage in. This tells me that he is in no way interested in scientific thinking, as he claims. It also tells me that he is not interested in understanding problems or finding solutions. Most importantly, it tells me that he is marketing himself to a particular political echo-chamber.  His piece on Peterson is designed to appeal to people who are already enemies of Peterson's perceived political positions and not to people who understand or are at all interested in Peterson's work. This is from Robinson's piece on Peterson and I offer it because it clearly shows the immature tactics that Robinson uses in an attempt to convince people who already agree with him.

Peterson even includes in the book a letter to his father in which he tries to convey the gravity of his discovery:

I don’t know, Dad, but I think I have discovered something that no one else has any idea about, and I’m not sure I can do it justice. Its scope is so broad that I can see only parts of it clearly at one time, and it is exceedingly difficult to set down comprehensibly in writing…. Anyways, I’m glad you and Mom are doing well. Thank you for doing my income tax returns.

(It’s fun to read the letter for yourself and imagine being Peterson’s dad trying to figure out what his son is doing with his life.)

Needless to say, when someone is this convinced of their own brilliance, they can be unaware of just how far afield they have drifted from the world of sense and reason. The diagrams and figures in Maps of Meaning are astonishing. They are masterpieces of unprovable gibberish:


This is a very disappointing display from Robinson.  In fact, I suggest that Robinson's rather frail and uninterested style is a direct result of the practice of pushing only against open doors. Robinson's failure to properly explore Peterson's letter to his father leaves me wondering if it might actually be possible for someone to have the gift-of-the gab and attend Yale Law School, while remaining intellectually impoverished. The letter conveys something deep. Anyone who thinks seriously about anything knows that you occasionally get glimpses of very complex theories or ideas. They are fleeting and hard to pin down. They are just outside your ability to understand or articulate. To actually tackle one of these is immense and overwhelming. Peterson is clearly having one of these moments and he is also saying that he isn't sure that he's is up to it. Robinson's failure here tells us a lot. He is either dishonest or he actually can't relate to Peterson's letter. Either explanation is depressing.


I saw Nathan Robinson's article described as "A Brutal Takedown of Jordan Peterson". I practiced judo for twenty years and trained occasionally in Brazilian jiu jitsu, wrestling and boxing during that period of my life. A takedown is when you bring your opponent to the mat under your control. Robinson's attack reminds me more of the hysterical flailing of some of the magical and pretend martial arts than it does of an actual takedown that has been perfected over centuries and tested endlessly in real combat. It might impress devoted believers who are already convinced but ends up failing miserably and embarrassingly when it's really put to the test.                       


I have no doubt that Robinson is intelligent and that he can write better than I can - he bloody well better be able to after attending Yale Law School. As for thinking, he has a lot to learn and a lot of growing up to do before he can be taken seriously. I suspect that what he is actually after is to emulate Ben Shapiro in order to become that figure for the Left. This is not a noble cause and it's somewhat cheap - I'm not saying Shapiro is cheap, but that the desire to copy and then mirror the product for the other side is. The last thing we need right now is more echo-chamber leaders. We need thinkers and problem solvers and people who can help to decrease polarization - especially the polarization that leads to violence. Nathan, I hope that you grow up and become a serious person. I think that you might actually have it in you. I recommend that you read Peterson's 12 Rules for Life - especially chapters 7, 8, 9, and 10. There might not actually be any need to hear from you again until you are wise and mature enough to be able to say "I used to think..., but I've come to think that I was wrong because of... ", or, "I used to believe..., but...  cured me of that notion".


Jordan Peterson is the intellectual we deserve. He's also the type that we want. We've endured the other types for far too long now. There is a real hunger for the honesty of the likes of Russell and Orwell. It's time to be serious again. 


Jonathon Kneeland  

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