The Human Side of Jordan Peterson

I just came across this video from an interview that Jordan Peterson gave last year during his tour of Australia. This interview shows us something we don’t often see, for it gives a glimpse of Jordan Peterson as a very human figure, a man clearly tired out by his new responsibilities (something he tried to downplay) and overwhelmed, almost to the point of tears, by how many young men he has been able to save by just a little encouragement.


Only One Half of the Lesson

There were two very hard lessons that the twentieth-century brutally taught us: (1) fascism is bad (2) communism is bad. We’ve learn the first lesson, which is why self-proclaimed fascists get in trouble. Yet millions of deaths were not enough to teach us the second lesson. Self-proclaimed communists can still find acceptance within the mainstream. Jordan Peterson discusses this in the video below, suggesting that we have only learned one half of the lesson the twentieth-century could have taught us.

Modesty and Sexual Affirmation

In some of my recent writing about the dangers of porn, it’s easy to begin thinking about modesty in its defensive and purely negative function, in so far as modesty can act as a shield from temptation and exploitation. While this is appropriate, such an emphasis can sometime overlook the important aspect in which modesty is an affirmation of sexuality.

The role that modesty plays in affirming the goodness of sexuality is something I explored in my Salvo article ‘Holy Matrimony: The Unexpected Connection Between Religion & Sexual Fulfillment‘ and my blog post ‘Why Being Modest is More Exciting than Being Immodest.’ Here is what I observed in the former article, looking at modesty first from the female perspective and then the male perspective:

The Female Perspective. Some women have told me that modesty is important to them, not only because it helps men not to stumble, but also because it helps them place a high value on their own sexuality. They have told me that modest apparel affirms the true importance of a woman’s sexual identity, since it proclaims that her body is not a tame, benign, and commonplace thing. Modesty affirms that our bodies in general and our sexuality in particular are special, charged, even enchanted, and too exciting to be put merely to common use. As Kathleen van Schaijik suggested in a 1999 article, “If we revere something, we do not hide it. Neither do we flaunt it in public. We cherish it; we pay it homage; we approach it with dignity; we adorn it with beauty; we take care that it is not misused.”

In her book A Return to Modesty, Wendy Shalit argues that modesty is the truly erotic option, since it makes the highest valuation of a woman’s sexual identity, affirming the sacredness of sexuality and displaying a commitment to setting it apart and cherishing it. C. S. Lewis put his finger on the same principle in That Hideous Strength: “when a thing is enclosed, the mind does not willingly regard it as common.” To dress immodestly is ultimately to reduce our sexuality to something commonplace, trivial, and humdrum.

Precisely for this reason, a modest woman significantly upgrades the significance of what is happening when she undresses in front of her husband. As Havelock Ellis observed (stumbling upon the truth for one of the few times in his life), “without modesty we could not have, nor rightly value at its true worth, that bold and pure candor which is at once the final revelation of love and the seal of its sincerity.”

The Male Perspective. Modesty also upgrades sexuality from the male perspective. The evidence clearly shows that men whose environment is saturated with immodest women (either because of the company they keep or the images they view) are generally not oversexed, as one might suppose, but just the opposite. In Denmark, where pornography is unrestricted, men are often quoted as saying that sex has become boring.

Cristina Odone observed in The Times that advertisers are finding that sex just does not sell products like it once did. The reason, she suggested, is that the advertisers have made sex so banal that it doesn’t entice us any longer. As one 16-year-old was quoted as saying in 2004, “I’m so used to it, it makes me sick.”

Frequent exposure to nudity tends to trivialize the human body, emptying it of its implicit eroticism. As someone said to me last year, when a man is exposed to too much flesh, it lowers the healthy excitement he should feel when he looks upon the body of his wife because (yawn) he sees that all the time. It therefore takes a higher sexual charge, sometimes to point of extreme perversion, to match the excitement that might otherwise be available in a normal sexual encounter. Could it be that the rise of libido-enhancing drugs is meeting a need created by the libido-squashing effects of pornography?

Tiny Tim’s Toffee

I don’t normally use this blog to advertise products, but I felt the need to make an exception as we approach the coming holiday season.

For years my friend Joey has been working to perfect his family’s toffee recipe, to give people a healthy alternative to the mass-produced sweets available in shops. His product line, which takes inspiration from Tiny Tim in Dicken’s Christmas Carol, donates 10% of all profits directly to families with injured children, broken homes, or the ever increasing unemployed who have one or more children. (Read more about the inspiration behind the company here).

Tiny Tim’s Toffee has two product lines: Almond English Toffee, and Traditional English Toffee, which they also sell in stocking-stuffer sizes.

I’m not super into sweets, but when I tasted the Almond English Toffee earlier in the year, I knew I had to get behind it. I realized that I was tasting genuine English toffee–the crunchy, sweet, melt-in-your-mouth sort that your grandmother might have made–for which all other candy is but an imitation.

Here is a picture Joey took of his Almond English Toffee.

There’s a reason this toffee tastes so much better than the sweets you can buy anywhere else. One obvious reason is the natural ingredients, like real butter and real sugar, instead of vegetable oil and corn syrup. Another reason is that these sweets are not made by robots in a factory, but by Joey and his family in a small commercial kitchen. Although I can’t prove it, I believe that personal touch comes out in the flavor. (Elsewhere I have shared my belief that food made with love can become conduits of divine grace.)

With the holidays approaching, I recommend Tiny Tim’s Toffee as the perfect Christmas gift for family and loved ones. Instead of buying gifts from big conglomerates like Walmart and Amazon, this will help support a small family enterprise. According to Entrepreneur, 68 percent of Americans would rather pay more to do business with a small business than a big one. I agree with that.

Don’t wait…order your Christmas gifts from Tiny Tim’s Toffee today!

The Internet and Your Brain

I still remember the night that convinced me I finally needed to join the twenty-first century.

I had just finished a long day helping as a judge for a debate tournament. By the time I finally headed home it was dark. Or at least, I thought I was headed home. However, the further I drove, the less I recognized of my surroundings. As the road progressed further and further up into the mountains, I remembered my young children waiting at a friends’ house for me to collect them. Finally, the road abruptly ended. Literally, it just ended. I had no choice but to turn around and start over.

At about midnight I finally pulled into the drive-way of my friends’ house to collect my tired children. I determined never to let myself get lost again: I would finally invest in a GPS.

A few weeks later I went into an electronics store and asked for a device that had GPS capabilities. They sold me an Android tablet. I quickly discovered that the tablet was more than just a GPS: it was also an audio player, a camera, a gaming device, even a flashlight. Moreover, the tablet had a perpetual connection so it was always online. Continue reading

Mr. Rogers, Count Vronsky, and Classical Education

Since writing my article ‘Fred Rogers vs. Oprah Winfrey,’ I got a chance to see Tom Hanks’ new film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. I thought it was a beautiful, moving film, and I came away wanting to be a better person. Interestingly, I went with a group of friends who were divided between those who loved the movie and those who hated it.

One of the people in the group who didn’t like the movie texted me the next day, saying he thought the film was opposed to the values of classical education.

Tertullian (155-220) once famously questioned what commonality there was between Athens and Jerusalem, indicating his suspicion of attempts among his contemporaries to synthesize Christianity with Greek philosophy. My friend asked a similar question, “What hath Mr. Rogers Neighborhood to do with classical education?” His answer was just as emphatic as Tertullian: NOTHING.

Well, that got me started, and for the rest of the day my poor friend was inundated with a series of text messages explaining why I thought the Mr Rogers’ movie was congruent with the values of classical education. (For me, any type of communication is serious discourse, even text messaging.) Below I will copy and paste my side of the conversation because it gets to the heart of something that is of profound interest to many of my readers, namely the relationship between classical education and emotional wellness. To respect my friend’s privacy, I will not be sharing his side of the conversation, although my replies do make reference to his objections.

—— Continue reading

Rediscovering the Power of Resurrection for a Time of Implicit Gnosticism

This article is part of my ongoing series on Gnosticism. For a complete list of these articles, see ‘Full Links to Gnosticism Series.’

How Two Women Taught Me the Meaning of Resurrection

In a previous article, I shared my early assumption that resurrection was a short-hand way of referring to the immortality of the soul. Whatever heaven might involve, it never occurred to me that it could involve embodiment.

It wasn’t until my wife urged me to listen to a recorded lecture by Edith Schaeffer that I experienced what is often called a “paradigm shift.” In this lecture Mrs. Schaeffer showed from Scripture what might seem to be a tautology but for me was a new revelation: the resurrection of the body will be experienced bodily. Schaeffer explained that in heaven we will have physical bodies, though of course the body will be transformed through being delivered from corruption. I still remember walking among the English hedgerows as I listened to the lecture with an old-fashion Walkman and thinking “Wow!”

My experience raised a question. How was it that I had been to an evangelical Bible College and even wrote articles for Christian publications, yet I somehow missed the fundamental truth that resurrection is resurrection? The question is not unique to my own experience. In the years following my epiphany, I have had occasion to talk to many people about the resurrection of the body, and many times I find that practicing Christians have never even heard of the doctrine. Why is this?

Continue reading

Is Wikipedia an Acceptable Source for Research?

In one of the discussion boards for the Master’s in Information and Library Science that I’m taking, I was asked to comment on the following. Wikipedia is (or is not) an acceptable source to use for research because . . . . Here’s what I wrote.

Wikipedia is an acceptable source to use for research because computer simulations have proved that it has a remarkably effective infrastructure for weeding out “epistemically disruptive agents” (read: disinformers and trolls).

From the abstract to Valentin Lageard’s article, ‘Trolls, bans and reverts: simulating Wikipedia‘:

The surprisingly high reliability of Wikipedia has often been seen as a beneficial effect of the aggregation of diverse contributors, or as an instance of the wisdom of crowds phenomenon; additional factors such as elite contributors, Wikipedia’s policy or its administration have also been mentioned. We adjudicate between such explanations by modelling and simulating the evolution of a Wikipedia entry. The main threat to Wikipedia’s reliability, namely the presence of epistemically disruptive agents such as disinformers and trolls, turns out to be offset only by a combination of factors: Wikipedia’s administration and the possibility to instantly revert entries, both of which are insufficient when considered in isolation. Our results suggest that the reliability of Wikipedia should receive a pluralist explanation, involving factors of different kinds.

That said, Wikipedia is not an acceptable source for citing in academic papers, because it has not gone through the same peer review process that we expect of scholarly publications. There is a type of peer review that happens in Wikipedia, to be sure, and this is quite effective when it comes to raw facts, as Lageard showed with the computer simulations. But this is not the same type of peer review that goes into scholarly publications, which takes many things into consideration which Wikipedia, by its very nature, cannot. If one could cite Wikipedia in papers then theoretically a person without intellectual integrity could edit Wikipedia to reflect some particular bias or error, then quickly quote Wikipedia before the error has been corrected, saying something like “Wikipedia, as accessed on 10/16/19.”

Another reason that Wikipedia should not be cited in academic papers is because the standards ensuring good quality prose are very poor. The result is that some very bad prose emerges from the online encyclopedia (Nicholas Carr has collected some examples). The fact that so much work has been done to ensure or prove the factual accuracy of Wikipedia, compared to little to no work on Wikipedia as good prose, reflects the positivist and pragmatic bent of our anti-intellectual moment. 

There are also ethical reasons not to allow Wikipedia the dignity of being a respectable source for citation since it is both a symptom and a cause of what Nicholas Carr called “the self-reinforcing power of the web’s centripetal force.” From his book Utopia is Creepy and Other Provocations:

Wikipedia provides a good example of the self-reinforcing power of the web’s centripetal force. The popular online encyclopedia is less the sum of human knowledge than the black hole of human knowledge. A vast exercise in cut-and-past paraphrasing (it explicitly bans original thinking), Wikipedia first sucks in content from other sites, then it sucks in links, then it sucks in search results, then it sucks in readers. And because it prevents search engines from taking account of its outbound links to the sources of its articles, through the use of ‘no follow’ tags, it reinforces its hegemony over search results. Light comes in but doesn’t go out. One of the untold stories of Wikipedia is the way it has siphoned traffic from smaller specialized sites, like the excellent Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, even though those sites often have better information about the topics they cover. Wikipedia articles have become the default external link for many creators of web content, not because Wikipedia is the best source but because it’s the best-known source and, generally, it’s ‘good enough.’ Wikipedia is the lazy man’s link, and we’re all lazy men, except for those of us who are lazy women.

At best, Wikipedia is great as a springboard towards further research, and it is also great for fact-checking, or for settling disputes with friends (at least for disputes involving facts, such as the year of George Washington’s birth or the mating habits of dolphins). A librarian may also find Wikipedia helpful in conducting a facet analysis, or doing pre-search activities before putting a query into a databases. Consider that sometimes it can be very hard to help a library patron conduct effective research if it is a topic you know nothing about. Wikipedia is a good way to bring yourself up to scratch on something quickly. In fact, it is such a good tool at doing this, that many people stop there and don’t go any further.

To sum, it is acceptable to use Wikipedia for some of your research, but you shouldn’t quote from it when writing papers.