1/4 RIGHT, 3/4 WRONG
by John Spritzler
June 8, 2023
The URL for sharing this is https://www.pdrboston.org/jordan-peterson-1-4-right-3-4-wrong
Jordan Peterson defends capitalism with an intellectual sleight of hand in numerous videos; I'm going to focus on the one at https://youtu.be/7h7oqlG_FxE in this article.
Peterson says, essentially:
Look, it's true that capitalism entails a social hierarchy, but it's not based on coercion (domination) but rather on competence, and so it's good. The proof that capitalist hierarchy is not based on coercion is that if one looks at non-human animal society hierarchies one sees that they are based mainly on competence rather than coercion (dominance.) Therefore capitalist hierarchies also are based mainly on competence rather than coercion (dominance.)
Peterson says that the Marxists fail to understand this about hierarchy, and therefore their criticism of capitalism is wrongheaded.
Thus Peterson defends capitalism against its Marxist critics. He does this by showing how Marxists are wrong, and indeed they ARE wrong, as I discuss here.
Moreover, Peterson correctly criticizes the current "woke" absurdities about sex and gender by showing how they derive from, or at least share in, the same wrongheadedness as Marxism, as I also show here. But of course the fact that Marxist criticism of capitalism is wrongheaded does not provide any evidence that capitalism is good--something Peterson seems not to grasp.
Peterson is, or at least seems to be, totally ignorant of the egalitarian alternative to and criticism of capitalism. The closest he ever comes, to my knowledge, to criticizing egalitarianism (as opposed to criticizing Marxism) is when he said that the egalitarian principle (I'm not sure if he called it that, however) of "From each according to ability, to each according to need" was fine for a nuclear family but not for a larger society. Peterson is, or seems to be, entirely unaware of the fact that this principle was implemented in about half of Spain from 1936-9 by people who called themselves anarchists (as discussed in the articles linked to from here.
In Peterson's video that I focus on here, he makes the point that social hierarchy is often based on competence rather than coercion (i.e., domination.) There are, obviously, many examples of this in our capitalist society, such as the hierarchy of the passenger airplane pilot over the flight attendants, or the hierarchy in the hospital operating room of the surgeon over the nurses. And no doubt there are some factory situations in which a skilled foreman is in a hierarchy over an unskilled worker he/she supervises. Fine.
But what Peterson chooses to overlook is that capitalism is fundamentally a hierarchy of the people who own lots of wealth over the people who own little or no wealth (many people's net wealth is less than zero because their debts are greater than their assets.) Many people who own billions of dollars simply inherited it, and did not acquire it because of any particular competence. Even the ones who went "from rags to riches" typically really went not from "rags" but rather from great family wealth to even greater wealth, and in many cases because of a combination of unsavory means (read here how the big owners of Apple Corporation make their Big $ oppressing Chinese workers) and luck (read about Bill Gates's lucky road to being a billionaire here), not by "building a better mouse trap" (No, Elon Musk did not found Tesla, Inc. and it was not his brainchild and yes, despite his later denial, Musk's father did own shares in an emerald mine and owned a private plane, as Musk clearly says here in a Forbes interview.)
What Peterson overlooks is that in a society based on money, money is power--power that can be concentrated enormously in the hands of a single person such as a billionaire, and that people who have lots of this power use it to treat the have-nots like dirt, many examples of which I provide here along with discussion of the reason why they MUST treat the have-nots like dirt if they wish to hold onto their great wealth and power. Nothing like this happens in non-human animal societies.
What Peterson overlooks is that none of the non-human animal societies he loves to talk about are based on money (and hence on extremely concentrated power), which is why they are all fundamentally NOT like our capitalist society, and why the fact that their hierarchies are based on competence more than coercion (domination) does NOT imply that our capitalist society is ALSO based on competence more than coercion.
What Peterson overlooks is that human workers work for capitalists because the capitalists' great wealth takes the form of exclusive ownership and control of the means of production, which means that workers, who don't own the means of production, cannot use them to produce what they need to live and must work for the capitalist in exchange for a wage to buy what they need to live, and that the wage is as low as the capitalist can make it be by using coercion against the workers such as lock-outs or strike-breaking (which in turn rely on police violence or its credible threat) or threats to move production overseas, etc.
What Peterson overlooks is that the egalitarian (but not the Marxist!) alternative to capitalism entails abolishing the use of money (discussed here), and that this makes the egalitarian society more like the non-human societies with respect to hierarchies being based on competence, as I discuss here.