Conservative values? Anarchism.

The more I hear arguments for conservative values, the more I’m an anarchist. By “conservatism”, I mean the political analysis of Jordan Peterson, who takes such conservative positions as: poor people are largely poor because they lack motivation and intelligence, absolute poverty does not cause violence or unethical behaviour, (sorry, this next one is quite offensive) non western “primitive” societies tend to have high rates of male on male homicide. While each one of these points, for Peterson, are reasons for us to appreciate the genocidal and barbarous “civilization” that we live in, they can all easily be turned into critiques of that society’s sustainability and ability to transform to face new challenges and threats.

Take the idea that poverty can largely be explained on the basis of motivation and intelligence. To an anarchist this seems offensive – poverty is caused by systemic oppression, don’t blame the victim! But, the radical liberal John Rawls pointed out that while people should be allowed to benefit from their skills and aptitudes, they fact that someone was born with less skill is not a justification for them being less well off than they might have been in a society where skill and aptitudes are not rewarded. And the kicker is – for Rawls, motivation, insofar as it can be explained biochemically, is a skill. And, Peterson is obsessed with explaining motivation biochemically. So, for Rawlsians, the fact that poverty can be explained social-darwanistically is no justification for it to exist: if society could exist without poverty at the expense of the rich then we have no moral choice but to abolish it.

I’ve always believed Rawls’ motivation for an egalitarian justification for society was motivated out of a fear of the Hegelian rabble – the dirt poor who see their good over against society rather than in harmony with it. This actually is in harmony with Peterson’s next idea – that violence and ethical degeneration in society is not caused by poverty, but by relative poverty, or as he likes to call it, the slope of the dominance curve. If the dominance curve is very steep (those at the top have everything, and those at the bottom have nothing), your society will not be stable because there will be many men who can not find a mate or a job, and thus will have little to lose by becoming pathological and murderous. It’s hard to understand how Peterson maintains such a conservative stance when we actually live in a society where the dominance curve has been steadily steepening since the 70s – and even mainstream liberals are getting concerned that America will become like a 3rd world country if the existing trends continue. My anarchist response here is to say the social fabric of our lived world depends on mutual recognition, cooperation, and everyone benefitting enough from the involvements to justify their continued contributions. Sure you can motivate people will the fear of starvation and the carrot of capitalist success, but you’re playing a game which a certain number of people are destined to lose. Society should be a hard game – everyone should work to achieve their own potential and make meaningful contributions. But I see no reason that the only or primary motivations which can be used towards this end are the current capitalist ones, and the presence of very low positions on the dominance chain. Why should someone have authority over others which can’t be justified in terms of the benefit and consent of those under command? Why should we think that that kind of authority will even produce the best results from those dominated – doesn’t it simply privilege a very specific kind of obedience? Is that form of obedience actually something which serves society when those who have it rise up the corporate ladders?

The last point I mentioned above is by far the hardest to deal with, and most offensive. First – I don’t believe that it is true. That’s not to say I don’t believe there are non-western, non-technological societies which have/had high rates of male on male homicide. However, simply to point out this “fact” is deceptive – the rates of male on male homicide, in any rate, skyrockets in war, and war or genocide for the sake of conquest is the normal form of confrontation between “civilized” and “non civilized” people. Moreover, there are indigenous societies which have lived in relative harmony with their ecosystems for thousands upon thousands of years (also, there are many which didn’t, and collapsed as a result). Perhaps the kind of stability we value (peacefulness, the conditions that permit progress) are only stable and good from a short term perspective. Kind of like a dictatorship – everything appears stable, but only because you don’t consider the violence on the periphery and the long-term instability of such regimes. Like a dictatorship, western society only appears peaceful because you look at particular parts of it, and because you ignore the violence on the globalized periphery, both against people and against the ecosystem – who’s ability to sustain us is deeply threatened. What makes our society “better” than one which, not developing a “state” (in the Deleuzian sense of an institution) and not developing advanced forms of technology, manages not to make a deep enough impact on its environment as to cause the collapse of the society, culture, way of life.

Indigenous societies which are sustainable collapse as well – they collapse when they encounter genocidal Europeans who take the land and wreak havoc on the societal norms and structures they find, calling them “pagan”, and introducing all maners of chaos (mostly in ways they don’t understand) into communities, and in the larger picture into histories. The moral question to ask here is – when a culture fails due to environmental forces, unless those environmental effects were pre known and ignored, that is a tragedy. But when humans inflict chaos on one another, that is evil. This distinction, I should point out, I’ve borrowed from Jordan Peterson’s lecture on Evil – and I think it’s adequate. It emphasizes the degenerative forces in a society as the anachronisms, the unwillingness to confront the need to change, and the unwillingness to confront the reality of one’s own crimes and other shortcomings, as evil – and that must be distinguished from the merely tragic – when bad things happen, but no one is positively or negatively at fault.

We live in a society of conservative anachronisms – where the need to transform is and has been on the surface for 40 years (perhaps more – Milan is free to correct me on this), and where the hypocricy about war and genocide is rampant. It is not enough simply to “raise awareness”. We must do something else – something I don’t understand.

The closer we move towards the danger, perhaps the more we must try to strengthen the moral fiber of our local communities, so as to try to avoid murderous pathological chaos if/when the supply chains that sustain our fragile, plastic existence, begin to break down.



3 thoughts on “Conservative values? Anarchism.

  1. poor people are largely poor because they lack motivation and intelligence

    This could partly be a matter of definition. We partly define motivation and intelligence in terms of life outcomes. Someone who doesn’t achieve financial self-sufficiency might therefore be tautologically endowed with those characteristics.

    Take the idea that poverty can largely be explained on the basis of motivation and intelligence. To an anarchist this seems offensive – poverty is caused by systemic oppression, don’t blame the victim!

    Whether the claim is offensive or not seems less important than whether it is true. If it is expressed carefully in the form of a testable prediction, it may be possible to interrogate the data we have about the world to convincingly assess how plausible that claim is.

  2. “We partly define motivation and intelligence in terms of life outcomes.”

    Peterson is defining motivation as a measurable attribute of persons, i.e. something you can put a number to, and correlates it with success using quantitative social science methods. Apparently motivation is as correlated with success as intelligence is, and while conservatives and liberals on average have the same levels of success, conservatives are higher working and less intelligent, and liberals are lazier but more intelligent.

  3. “Whether the claim is offensive or not seems less important than whether it is true. ”

    I agree. Moreover, I think a decent society must provide some strong measure of resources to those who have particularly low levels of motivation. The Rawlsian justification for this is a moral one – but Peterson’s way of thinking about dominance hierarchies gives a different reason: if those who are unsuccessful for whatever reason don’t have enough to have something to lose, they are more likely to become pathological and murderous. Hegel called this the problem of the “rabble”, but Peterson’s notion includes individuals as individuals as well, and looks at relative failure in life in the face of your peers as a cause of individual cases of violence (which of course, have systemic implications).

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