Good afternoon, human unit
A few thoughts provoked by Jordan Peterson and current events
After being distracted by many other books in the interim, I am finally back to almost finish Jordan Peterson’s “12 Rules”. I’m reading through the “Do Not Bother Children When They are Skateboarding” chapter right now and… there are some valuable words for a safetyism culture in there. Speaking about the design of playgrounds:
Kids need playgrounds dangerous enough to remain challenging. People, including children (who are people too, after all) don’t seek to minimize risk. They seek to optimize it. They drive and walk and love and play so that they achieve what they desire, but they push themselves a bit at the same time, too, so they continue to develop. Thus, if things are made too safe, people (including children) start to figure out ways to make them dangerous again.
Hence the joke, I suppose, “why do men lean back in their chairs?” “Because we must create danger where none exists.” (And Peterson does imply that, although the need for some danger and risk goes for all humans, that need may be elevated for boys and men.)
But as someone who, having recently adopted a daughter, has been spending more time at playgrounds recently, I appreciated that comment. Indeed it’s pretty obvious that if we really made a playground risk-free, it would also be no fun, and no one would use it (except they would find new ways to use it that brought back risk). And I’ve been impressed, actually, that the progressive city in which I live has nonetheless preserved playgrounds in which a kid could have a fall that gives them a bruise or knocks the wind out of them.
(So, to say it explicitly since many people say things like this today, the correct answer to the question, “should we make our playgrounds as safe as possible?”, is “NO”.)
Speaking elsewhere about some skateboarding boys near his university:
Danger was the point. They wanted to triumph over danger. They would have been safer in protective equipment, but that would have ruined it. They weren’t trying to be safe. They were trying to become competent - and it’s competence that makes people as safe as they can truly be.
There we go.
The anti-human spirit
But… you know how you can have these weird moments when a phrase has been running through your head because of current events, and then you read a book that has nothing to do with currents events and voila, there is the same thought?
Something that has been in my head a lot lately is, if it seems like the only remaining logical explanation for a policy is that it is intended to cause harm, maybe that is because it is intended to cause harm. Why is New York City still masking very young children and only very young children, given everything that is now indisputably known about the harms that result and the near-zero benefit, an “exercise in senseless cruelty” as Karol Markowicz says there? Well, maybe we have to be careful about that word “senseless”. It is senseless if your goal is to make human life better, yes. But if the only remaining logical explanation is that the aim is to cause harm, then maybe…
“But nobody would behave in that way,” some might say. Well here is where Jordan Peterson the experienced psychologist can jump in and say, “sure they would.” So part of the chapter is about an “anti-human spirit”. Some people truly grow to hate humanity, hate functioning relationships, hare good families, and act to destroy those things not because they are bad but because they are good.
And so, back to the skateboarders, the authorities near his university placed ugly metal guards around the plant-boxes to prevent skateboarders from using them. You could quibble with this paragraph I’m sure, but Peterson comments:
If the consequences of placing skatestoppers on plant-boxes and sculpture bases, for example, is unhappy adolescent males and brutalist aesthetic disregard of beauty then, perhaps, that was the aim. When someone claims to be acting from the highest principles, for the good of others, there is no reason to assume that the person’s motives are genuine. People motivated to make things better aren’t usually concerned with changing other people - or, if they are, they take responsibility for making the same changes to themselves (and first). Beneath the production of rules stopping the skateboarders from doing highly skilled, courageous and dangerous things I see the operation of an insidious and profoundly anti-human spirit.
Peterson goes on to say that this anti-human spirit can take many forms. Peterson spends a lot of time talking about his friend Chris who began by internalizing the guilt from a society that told him “you are a white man, so all of the world’s problems are your fault” (although one senses his personality also pre-wired him to wallow in guilt in this way). In childhood, when Native kids (in northern Canada) would beat Chris up, he wouldn’t fight back.
“We took their land,” he later wrote. “That was wrong. No wonder they’re angry.” Over time, step by step, Chris withdrew from the world. It was partly his guilt. He developed a deep hatred for masculinity and masculine activity. He saw going to school or working or finding a girlfriend as part of the same process that had led to the colonization of North America, the horrible nuclear stalemate of the cold war, and the despoiling of the planet.
Peterson then related an incident where, after a trip to a bar, they were walking home and Chris began to snap the side-view mirrors off all of the parked cars. Why? How could that possibly be making the world a better place? But the cars belonged to normal humans living normal human lives, and they were part of the problem, and they deserved whatever they got. He had now an anti-human spirit.
I won’t tell it all, but Peterson goes on to say that, sadly, Chris continued down this path in life and got worse, and more withdrawn, to the point of contemplating the murder of happy, functioning people because they were happy, functioning people. He eventually ended his own life in suicide, a (to put it coldly, but accurately) logical ending for someone with an anti-human spirit.
Hello, human unit
And then, there is a polished intellectual form of the anti-human spirit that might, for example, adopt a sort of environmentalist viewpoint that humans are a virus on the planet. After sitting through a talk from another professor, Peterson summarizes:
He stood in front of a screen displaying an endless slow pan of a blocks-long Chinese high tech factory. Hundreds of white-suited workers stood like sterile, inhuman robots behind their assembly lines, soundlessly inserting piece A into slot B. He told the audience - filled with bright young people - of the decision he and his wife had made to limit their number of children to one. He told them it was something they should all consider, if they wanted to regard themselves as ethical people.
That picture of the “sterile, inhuman robots”… this is how the models preferred by our technocracy see you. Hello, human unit. And, and I don’t think this is a coincidence, this is what masking helped to make you. To end with a current event, I think Matt Walsh is correct here:
Ian Miles Cheong @stillgrayJetBlue flight attendants celebrate the removal of the mask mandate. https://t.co/e4ZEU91kUm
And just to make it easy for you to see the video, I will also embed the original:
There are many things you could say about reactions like this (and if you’re on Twitter, you’ve seen a lot of them over the last couple of days). If, as we are endlessly told by a certain crowd, there are no real downsides to masking, then why in the world are people so happy to remove them?
But we know. Matt Walsh is correct, there is something profound here, we turned people into faceless automatons, human units. And that was an evil thing to do. Perhaps in very limited circumstances and for a very limited period of time it could have been justified, but we met neither of the required conditions. And to say something that will cause a few people to roll their eyes at me, I think a fair number of people semi-consciously understood the dehumanization (in the same way that Chris semi-consciously understood why he was snapping car mirrors), and that was part of the point. It was part of the anti-human spirit of the people making the rules (and you may here add in what spiritual considerations and forces you wish).
Let us be cheered, though, by the jubilant moment, and make sure this never happens again.