If you haven’t already, you absolutely must watch the encounter between SJW media maven Cathy Newman of Channel 4 News and free-speech-defending Canadian academic Jordan Peterson.
“I don’t think I have ever witnessed an interview that is more catastrophic for the interviewer,” says Douglas Murray.
If you loathe the cant, self-righteousness, and stupidity of the regressive left, then you’ll love this train wreck of an interview. It’s the most satisfying piece of poetic justice since the Comet came unstuck in that tunnel in Atlas Shrugged.
Newman set out to ensnare and destroy someone whose politics she found objectionable — but ended up being hoist by her own petard.
But this interview, I believe, is much more than just a conservative “lol and share” moment. I think it marks a pivotal victory in the culture wars — an incident in which the weaknesses of the regressive left have never been more cruelly or damningly exposed. So I want to examine in more detail why.
It matters not so much because of who Cathy Newman is — after all, barely anyone watches Channel 4 News — but what she represents.
Educated at one of Britain’s leading private schools, with a first class degree in English from Oxford University, Newman is the embodiment of the woke millennial generation: white children of privilege on a mission to remake the world anew according to the principles of the thing they call “Social Justice.”
Newman was unlucky. Had she been born a generation early, she might well have gone on to do something useful with that fine mind, Oxbridge education, and undoubted tenacity. Perhaps, as she’d originally planned, she might have become a professional musician or a lawyer. Perhaps, she would have become a fearless and compelling foreign correspondent, in the manner of her role model, the BBC’s Kate Adie.
Instead, like so many of the university-educated elite of her generation, she embraced the fashionable politically correct, post-modernist view of the world. This view would have us believe that there is no such thing as objective truth — only a succession of competing “narratives,” some more “privileged” than others.
Self-evidently this is nonsense. Dozens of philosophers far cleverer than Newman and her ilk have established through logic that beyond all doubt that there is such a thing as truth.
But such post-modernist thinking has, for decades now, been the dominant mode at our university campuses — especially in courses like Gender Studies. This is why so many of the idiocies that traditionalists find so objectionable about the modern world — safe spaces, trigger warnings, no-platforming, etc — tend to originate from colleges. Often, the more intellectually rarified the colleges are — see the Ivy League in the U.S.; Oxbridge in the UK — the more virulent their brand of stupid.
This is the great ideological divide of our times: not between left and right but between those of us who believe in truth; and those who believe, Oprah style, that we’re all entitled to our own truths and that everyone’s is equally special.
Michael Aaron examines this phenomenon in more detail in the essay he wrote after the Evergreen State college incident last year when a progressive biology professor named Bret Weinstein attracted the ire of a student lynch mob for refusing to leave campus due to being white.
Aaron’s paragraph on the (#fakenews) concept of “mansplaining” captures the key distinctions:
Such contemporary terminology as ‘mansplaining’, for example, which refers to when a man overly assertively explains something to a woman, is a uniquely postmodernist concept. In this dynamic, seen through a postmodernist lens, the interaction between the man and woman represents a power struggle between historically empowered and disempowered groups, divided by gender. The man displays his privilege through his verbal assertions. The validity or usefulness of his content is irrelevant; this interaction calls for real-time equity that can only be established by calling attention to the man’s utilization of unearned privilege manifested through his forceful, perhaps even “violent” rhetoric. A woman could not possibly be guilty of something similar since she does not possess historical power. A modernist, on the other hand, would likely see this interaction on a case-by-case basis, preferring to see both individuals as possessing self-agency rather than guided by unseen power dynamics, like puppets pulled on invisible strings. If the man was indeed overly dominant in his delivery, he would receive appropriate feedback and both people would move on with their lives, rather than seeing this interaction as a revolutionary feminist moment.
If you’re not schooled in post-modern “thought” it all looks like lunacy. (Which it is). But it is, unfortunately, how an awful lot of our liberal elite — university professors, writers, politicians, corporatists, lawyers, media figures, Hollywood stars etc — think. You see a few good examples of this cropping up in Cathy Newman’s interview with Jordan Peterson.
Newman is combative and disapproving from the off. That’s because — and, for once, she’s right — she understands that Peterson is “The Enemy.” Though both of them would probably identify as being on the left or “progressive” side of the political argument, their intellectual positions could scarcely be more violently opposed.
In a nutshell, it’s Truth v Narrative.
Nowhere is this better exemplified than in their disagreement over the “Gender Pay Gap.”
Newman believes passionately that it’s real — and outrageous!
Peterson believes that it’s an artificial construct, based on a grotesque oversimplification, which consequently is of little value to real world policy-making.
Newman is clearly very upset by this heresy. Well, she would be. Peterson has just gone and rejected what she — as a fully woke, third-wave feminist — considers to be just about the most important truth in the world: that there is an oppressive male hegemony which is keeping women down; that the “Gender Pay Gap” is the ultimate proof of this; that this is an issue which must urgently be addressed.
So who is right?
Up to a point, both of them.
Newman is certainly correct that if you compare women’s average pay with men’s average pay, then women get on average less. If you want to use that as the basis for claiming that there is a “gender pay gap” then, yes, you’re on pretty solid ground.
But Peterson is not disputing this point. What he’s saying that when you factor in the range of reasons as to why this “gender pay gap” exists — everything from childbirth to feminine traits like “agreeableness” — then it ceases to be a useful measure of gender-based injustice.
For example, his response to Newman’s outrage that there aren’t more female CEOs is that maybe fewer women actually want to go through the misery of competing with lots of aggressive alpha males for a job which will require them to work long hours and have little time for family activities or leisure. There is evidence to support this. Men and women are different.
Newman has no time for these nuances because her Narrative does not allow it. The Narrative is: oppressive men are holding women back; it’s SO UNFAIR!
Time and again she presses Peterson to agree with her toddler-level Narrative:
She asks: “Do you agree that it’s unfair?”
Peterson replies: “Not necessarily.”
And he’s not being evasive or devious, merely behaving as a grown-up professor at a grown-up university should: looking at the facts; exploring an issue from all angles; drawing intelligent conclusions.
Perhaps the most damning of all the many damning things that can be said about Cathy Newman’s performance in this car crash interview is this: it’s not intelligent.
No, worse than that: it’s anti-intelligent.
And this isn’t an accident. Newman’s anti-intelligence is not a bug but a feature of the way post-modernists think. Their ideology is an explicit rejection of the entire pre-20th century canon of Western thinking — a rejection, indeed, of Western Civilization itself. Never mind the wisdom of the ancients, the moral precepts of Christianity, the skepticism and scientific inquiry of the Enlightenment: all this outmoded thinking, mostly emanating from Dead White Males, must be replaced by a new order based not on first principles, or established tradition, or logic but on “Social Justice.”
This is what was truly so important about this interview. It exposed, more clearly I think than in any adversarial TV encounter I have ever seen, the intellectual emptiness at the heart of the SJWs’ thinking.
Usually, because they’re so strident, aggressive, self-righteous and fluent — the same fluency Marxists used to have when spouting their Dialectical Materialism — high-level Social Justice Warriors like Cathy Newman are able to bully their opponents into compliance and give onlookers the impression of being cleverer and better informed than they actually are.
But it just didn’t work with Peterson: he knows his field (clinical psychology) too well, and he has debated Social Justice Warriors too many times to fall into any of their traps. Also, he’s very patient and polite and coy — so despite the numerous points he scored off Newman, he never looked like a bully.
Even though I write quite a lot about the culture wars — like Andrew Breitbart, I think they’re the defining conflict of our age — I’m always conscious how hard it is to make people care because it’s so hard to explain what they’re really about and why the matter.
This clash between the two ideologies — Jordan Peterson v Cathy Newman — illustrated it perfectly.
Do you believe in truth, facts, human nature, reason, logic, equality of opportunity, natural justice, tradition, custom, and liberty?
Or are you an SJW?