Jordan Peterson has exploded in popularity over the last 2 years. As with any fame, a great deal of his nuance is lost in the vast echo chambers of trending culture. He manages just fine without it, but I think it’s a real shame, because his best work lies within the extremely subtle and fine points of his arguments. Admittedly, he takes an unapologetic slant towards the far-right wing — if you had spent that much time in academia, you would too. But the point of this post is not to defend or attack Jordan Peterson, but to focus on a specific argument that seems to be thoroughly underappreciated by many.
For example, the author of this Vox article, (which is riddled with jealousy) writes:
[Jordan Peterson] argues that because we evolved from lower creatures like lobsters, we inherited dominance structures from them. Inequalities of various kinds aren’t wrong; they’re natural.
The relationship between human and lobster brains is outside Peterson’s area of academic expertise. Experts in the field who have evaluated his claims have found them lacking, as lobsters’ and humans’ neurological systems are radically different.
Well Vox author, the relationship between human and lobster brains is well within my area of academic expertise. And let me tell you, Jordan Peterson’s argument not only holds up, but can be extended far beyond what he is willing to say. The differences in lobster and human neurobiology is EXACTLY the point. They are drastically dissimilar, as the next line in the article clearly shows:
One important distinction is that humans have brains and lobsters (technically speaking) do not.
This only drives Peterson’s point home more strongly. He’s not saying that we are lobsters. Okay, well maybe some of his less nuanced followers are, but he has millions of them. Some are bound to be on the lower end of the bell curve. His point is that dominance hierarchies are MUCH older than human society (and specifically Capitalism). It is irrelevant if lobsters don’t technically have brains, or even if their dominance hierarchies operate in exactly the opposite way that ours do (which, they do). The point is that they have a hierarchy, and it has a shared neurobiological basis with ours (it is evolutionarily conserved).
Amazingly, the specifics of this argument seem to sail right past many academics. Even neuroscientists fail to appreciate his reasoning, which is the basis of all neuroscientific study (that neurobiology is conserved across diverse and varied species). In this article, the author writes:
What’s more, the animal kingdom is full of examples of hierarchies, with the highest level of organisation observed in insects. These are as closely related to us as lobsters are – they also have serotonin and nervous systems.
Exactly!! Now you’re getting it (they aren’t actually getting it). This article is not the first place I’ve heard this argument used. Something along the lines of, “If you think a comparison between human and lobsters is valid, you might as well say that humans were meant to be collectivists because bees (another arthropod that uses serotonin in their nervous system) live in collectivist hives.”
But people can and do use bees as models for human social structure.