Lewis and Snark

Recently one or two people in the comments have directed me towards a Jordan Peterson interview at the hands of Helen Lewis on behalf of GQ magazine. Joe Rogan, who’s podcast I listen to, believes Lewis does a good job of it, far better than the hapless Cathy Newman managed in her interview with Peterson. This weekend I decided to watch it, and although Lewis did indeed do a lot better than Newman, it’s still a woeful performance on her part. Here is the interview:

Something Peterson says around the halfway mark sums Lewis up. He says that when she speaks, he doesn’t learn anything about her, he just hears unoriginal, utterly predictable mantra she’s been taught to say. It’s painful to watch in places, what passes for a journalist reciting feminist dogma as if it’s incontrovertible truth. You get the impression you’re watching a spoiled, middle-class brat who thinks she has the right to reshape the world in the image of the bubble she’s been raised in.

Now Lewis is undoubtedly one of the best and brightest in her contemporary field. Like Cathy Newman, she’s a graduate of Oxford University (where else?) so on some measures she’s not thick, but I think her interview with Peterson shows being brightest in the field of modern journalism isn’t saying very much. In terms of observable intellect, the interview is like watching a pub footballer turn out in an El Clasico match. This is not necessarily a problem: Joe Rogan isn’t the brightest either, but he acknowledges it and allows his far brighter guests to speak, which is partly what makes him an excellent podcast host if not a good judge of intelligence in other people. But Lewis clearly believes she’s on an equal footing with Peterson. At around the 40:50 minute mark she confidently states the rationale behind Peterson’s remarks on behaviour in lobsters is “scientifically bollocks”. This from someone who studied English at university. The clearly irritated Peterson, a clinical psychologist, explains to her it is neuroscience 101.

Lewis, being a feminist, believes modern-day societies are organised in patriarchal hierarchies of power, whereas Petersen believes they are more akin to hierarchies of competence. It’s easy to see why the two differ so wildly in their views. In Peterson’s field you need to be competent to rise to the top, whereas in Lewis’ you don’t need to be competent at all. Lewis has looked at her own career path, and those of her peers, and assumed the whole world works like that.

She’s not the only one. James D. Watson, one of the biologists who won a Nobel prize for discovering DNA, uttered wrongthink in 2007 by suggesting ethnic groups differ in IQ levels. His subsequent ostracism forced him to sell his Nobel medal to eat, and for some reason he’s been in the news again recently. This has given progressive journalists an opportunity to condemn him all over again. Steve Sailer summed up one such attempt nicely in the tweet below:


The trouble with modern journalism, as with modern politics, is the brightest people don’t go into it any more. Unfortunately, those who do think they’re the smartest people on the planet, capable of taking on clinical psychologists and offering critiques of the scientific opinions of Nobel prize winners. And they wonder why nobody wants to pay for their output any more.

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27 thoughts on “Lewis and Snark

  1. It’s also been a field that for decades had little competition. The huge investment to start a newspaper was hard to pay off as it then required years to gain an audience. From the 60s to about 2000 I think 2 new newspapers were created.

    When you have industries like this, they’re prone to things like nepotism. Look at all the kids and mates of politicians and journalists. There’s always the odd case of real talent in families, like the Charlton brothers or Nigel Clough, but it tends to be exceptional in competitive fields.

    The ever rising subscription rate at The Spectator is because Fraser Nelson doesn’t do this. He hires based on a test. Didn’t matter if you went to Oxford or not.

    Oh, and the other problem here is that many universities have changed to elevate the sort of people they want. You can’t really go messing with science much, but English? Sure. And it has been turned into little more than SJW studies.

  2. Watson’s a fool to keep blurting out his views, because they are irrelevant. Africa is fucked for many different reasons, and teasing out the contribution of one of those potential reasons isn’t going to be easy. Even the fuckedupness of non-black North Africa is increasing with time. I’d rate the kleptocratic, and incompetent-through-wilfully destructive governance and unchecked population increase as the top two causes of continued, and in some places increasing, impoverishment. Nothing can possibly get better until both of those do.

  3. I’d rate the kleptocratic, and incompetent-through-wilfully destructive governance and unchecked population increase as the top two causes of continued

    And what’s driving those, then?

  4. When you have industries like this, they’re prone to things like nepotism. Look at all the kids and mates of politicians and journalists.

    Nepotism is fine when it’s matched with competence. The problem nowadays, as you say, is it isn’t.

  5. Watson’s a fool to keep blurting out his views, because they are irrelevant.

    Actually, I think one of the greatest challenges mankind will face is what each society will do with those men who are too dim to play a role in an increasingly technologically advanced world where even simple tasks require a degree of intelligence.

  6. It’s not so much IQ difference in Africans as opposed to Europeans. It’s the mindset and psyche that’s different.

    The metropolitan elite cannot understand this and seem to think that everyone else in the world is just like they are.

  7. Tribalism. When humans co-operated in groups of thousands or tens of thousands their ‘nation state’ was the tribe. It’s very, very deeply rooted. Aggregating tribes into a nation state never overwhelms the underlying tribalism. Be it Tutsi / Xhosa, or Yoruba / Ebo, or in the middle east eg Tikriti / Baghdadi we always always see the tribe looking after its own at any cost to the other tribe or to the (artificial) nation state. Most African or middle eastern nation states are fictions held together by violence alone. The one real thing that distinguishes most mature western democracies is that we have gone beyond tribal to national identity. Scousers and Cornishmen don’t necessarily look after their own at the other’s expense.
    What we have NOT yet moved to is a supranational sense of identity. Nobody feels European above British, Italian, French etc.

  8. “When humans co-operated in groups of thousands or tens of thousands their ‘nation state’ was the tribe. It’s very, very deeply rooted. Aggregating tribes into a nation state never overwhelms the underlying tribalism. ”

    Well didn’t Caucasians operate on a tribal basis too? And manage to switch to a non-tribal basis for organising a society eventually? As presumably did all the Asian prehistoric tribes as well?

    In fact thinking about it, is it not instructive that the Chinese were perhaps the first to rise above tribalism, and that Asian IQ is said to be the highest? That they were perhaps the first people on earth to have the brains to realise co-operation on a larger scale was preferable to small scale tribalism? And Europeans, being a bit dimmer, took longer to get this concept, and Africans, being the dimmest of the lot still haven’t got it?

  9. “The trouble with modern journalism, as with modern politics, is the brightest people don’t go into it any more…”

    I actually feel sorry for journalists of this type. It’s a shit job that makes you look like a fool, and the only way you would persist in it is if you lack the self-awareness to realise that. Constantly gobbling down simplified versions of important and complicated issues so that you can be bested by the experts who actually understand the stuff – or wrote the stuff. Become an instant expert in taxation, then foreign policy, then molecular biology, then…

    It works only when the expert is lacking in confidence and can’t hold their own in face to face discussions with someone who is rude and pushy. It obviously doesn’t work with Peterson, as he cut his teeth on baying mobs of deluded oddballs who invaded his workplace.

  10. To journalists and politicians you can add academics: convinced of their superior brilliance, but utterly unaware that the brightest don’t hang around the common room preening but get out to actually achieve something and garner the rewards.

  11. He says that when she speaks, he doesn’t learn anything about her, he just hears unoriginal, utterly predictable mantra she’s been taught to say.
    To be fair to the interviewer – if I recall correctly – she replies by asking him to predict her opinions on a number of topics, and when he does so, she tells him he’s quite wrong in a particular one. So that criticism of his wasn’t completely accurate.

    @Jim
    Well didn’t Caucasians operate on a tribal basis too? And manage to switch to a non-tribal basis for organising a society eventually?

    That’s a very interesting question. I’m trying to work out the answer, but I don’t think it’s a question often addressed explicitly in history books. Some places maintained a tribal outlook until relatively recently, I think. For example, the Scottish Highland Clans were only broken up following the failure of the 1745 revolt. I think the same can be said for Ireland, but that’s an educated guess.

    For the mainland, I think it’s safe to say that the Roman Empire broke up the ancient tribal structures in the areas it dominated. The Germanic tribes which brought about its downfall in the 4th-5th centuries almost certainly had a tribal structure. Within a few hundred years, they had established Feudal, Christian kingdoms.

    So the first question I would ask is, to what extent were those Kingdoms tribal? You could argue that the Feudal structure supersedes tribalism – the population of a town is loyal to the Lord, who is not their kin in any sense. You could also argue that life was not tribal for the nobility, but under that thin layer, things went on as normal for peasants. So the peasants of village A would gather together to fight the peasants of village B on a tribal basis, irrespective of the fact that both villages would send archers to the feudal troop of their lord to fight for the King in France, say.

    Bah, it is an interesting question. One could also argue that the Tribalism of Arab culture is qualitatively different than tribalism elsewhere, in that the daughter is routinely married off to one of her cousins on the father’s side (within the close tribal unit), whereas elsewhere she would be married off to a cousin on the mother’s side (outside of the close tribal unit). The former habit is supposed to breed a much tighter degree of clannishness – in fact ,a fractal degree, because within the clan each family competes against each other, and within the family each brother competes against his brother. There’s a saying to this effect – me against my brother, my brother and I against my cousin, my brother, my cousin and I against the stranger.

    Interesting question. That said, a certain degree of localism does still exist in the West. Belgium (Flemish and Walloons) is one example, but I believe that Spain is also very much divided, in that the average Spaniard will first identify as a Catalan or something like that, rather than a Spaniard. And that’s without taking the Basques into account.

  12. To be fair to the interviewer – if I recall correctly – she replies by asking him to predict her opinions on a number of topics, and when he does so, she tells him he’s quite wrong in a particular one. So that criticism of his wasn’t completely accurate.

    Actually, my take from that exchange was she said “no, you are wrong” before saying a load of stuff which made him more right than wrong.

  13. @Sam Vara

    I actually feel sorry for journalists of this type. It’s a shit job that makes you look like a fool

    Thing is, it doesn’t. You only look like a fool to people you don’t care about, to whose opinions you are never exposed. The people you care about (the ones who share your bubble) admire you.

  14. Sam Vara,

    “I actually feel sorry for journalists of this type. It’s a shit job that makes you look like a fool, and the only way you would persist in it is if you lack the self-awareness to realise that. Constantly gobbling down simplified versions of important and complicated issues so that you can be bested by the experts who actually understand the stuff – or wrote the stuff. Become an instant expert in taxation, then foreign policy, then molecular biology, then…”

    I don’t, because they’re mostly either lazy or evil shits. The story about the female sex toy at CES is a classic of this. It got banned and every feminist was “sexism!”. They could have put in a 5 minute call to CES and had the situation explained, which is that the product was put into a section which it was invalid for. Either a) the journalist couldn’t be bothered or b) preferred to beat the toxic masculinity/metoo drum.

  15. Watson’s a fool to keep blurting out his views, because they are irrelevant. Africa is fucked for many different reasons, and teasing out the contribution of one of those potential reasons isn’t going to be easy.

    But the question isn’t just relevant to Africa anymore, since Africans are now migrating to Europe in large numbers.

    The conventional wisdom is that this is fine and Africans will behave just like Europeans, as long as the government employs enough anti-racism campaigners, social workers and diversity coordinators.

    Watson is saying that’s just not so. It is a question that has huge implications for the future of European society.

  16. “To be fair to the interviewer – if I recall correctly – she replies by asking him to predict her opinions on a number of topics, and when he does so, she tells him he’s quite wrong in a particular one.”

    That’s what she tells him. Independent proof?

  17. JP claimed on Joe Rogan and Dave Rubin that Lewis was quite cold with him before the started and that put him on edge. She claimed in that GQ article that he came across as Mr Angry, I think its more frustration than anger.

    When you listen to JP on the likes of Rubin and Peterson or even talking to Sam Harris when they’re in disagreement, he’s enthusiastic and comes across as enjoying exploring ideas. He’s never condescending and treats all questions with respect.

    He’s a completely different person when he’s with the press, especially the left wing press. They all think that there’s some great gotcha and trot out the usual tropes like the Pepe the Frog incident. In these interviews he doesn’t suffer fools and makes them justify their questions – his push-back against Lewis’s airy claims about the Patriarchy was a classic – make her define it and then point out why she’s wrong.

    I have some time for Lewis, although she can be quite infantile on the New Statesman podcast and like a lot of lefties is too fond of playing the man not the ball when it comes to political opponents. That said, whenever I’ve engaged he in email conversations I’ve found her to be polite and accurate in her responses.

  18. This is just extraordinary. It’s not at all clear who is interviewing who. She looks like a first year undergraduate, possibly even a school child, being torn to pieces in a tutorial. Cathy Newman at least had the cojones to look strident: Lewis just looks sheepish.

    In almost every question, JP identifies the flaw in the underlying assumptions made by the interviewer in asking the question, then skewers it. He’s not really answering her questions at all – just pointing out why and how all her questions are flawed.

  19. Towards the end, she lands exactly one punch: posing with Pepe the Frog.
    She asks “would you have posed, even ironically, with a hammer and sickle flag?”

    I think that is the only really interesting question in the whole 100 mins. Other than that, it was a car crash for her.

  20. Towards the end, she lands exactly one punch: posing with Pepe the Frog.
    She asks “would you have posed, even ironically, with a hammer and sickle flag?”

    I think that is the only really interesting question in the whole 100 mins. Other than that, it was a car crash for her.

  21. “She looks like a first year undergraduate, possibly even a school child, being torn to pieces in a tutorial. ”

    I noticed several times where JP made a point and she missed it entirely and carried on oblivious, and he sort of smiled as if to say ‘What can you do?’

    For example where he was trying to get her to consider whether a Patriarchy becomes a Matriarchy just because women are in the positions of authority rather than men, or whether there’s a difference between Patriarchal and Matriarchal structures greater than just the gender of those in charge, and it went straight over her head…….I guess the problem is that these interviewers are merely looking for some sort of ‘Gotcha!’, rather than engaging with the ideas and thinking for themselves, so they can’t react to any given statement and consider it, they have to try and be several steps ahead with a pre-planned argument, which gives little room for being able to go with the flow of the discussion.

  22. The issue isn’t that Helen Lewis is thick or uneducated.

    Its the opposite; she has been lavishly educated to believe utter bollocks.

    Its also not a new phenomenon.

    “The trouble with our Liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant; it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.”

    Ronald Reagan

  23. Bloke in North Dorset

    “She claimed in that GQ article that he came across as Mr Angry, I think its more frustration than anger.”

    ‘Angry’ is way of defecting the issues. By calling him angry, that devalues all the points he has made to being just the outcome of ‘anger’, rather than those of reason.

  24. Lewis, being a feminist, believes modern-day societies are organised in patriarchal hierarchies of power, whereas Petersen believes they are more akin to hierarchies of competence.

    They’re both right. “Patriarchy” – which is to say a society where men predominantly control the political and military sphere[1] – exists because men as a group are better at that.

    As for the tribalism discussion, of bloody course Caucasians are still tribal. Human beings don’t come with built-in DNA testers, so we have to use proxies to figure out who’s in our tribe – proxies like language, culture, values and consistent physical proximity. If you don’t think Caucasians are tribal, walk around New York or LA and tell people you voted for Trump in a broad Southern accent.

    [1] Or as Clausewitz might say, “same thing”

  25. “The issue isn’t that Helen Lewis is thick or uneducated.
    Its the opposite; she has been lavishly educated to believe utter bollocks.”

    If she was all that intelligent she’d have worked out what she was being taught was bollocks…….

  26. “The conventional wisdom is that this is fine and Africans will behave just like Europeans, as long as the government employs enough anti-racism campaigners, social workers and diversity coordinators.”

    That’s not my wisdom. To have even a hope of making that work there have to be as many reasons for you and I to move to Mauritainia as for people to move in the opposite direction, and we, Europeans, have to be as welcome in Mauritainia as Mauritainians are in even the most inhospitable parts of Europe.

    That certainly isn’t going to happen in my lifetime, it doesn’t have to be anyone’s goal that it ever could happen, and we don’t have to go around pretending that mass migration in one direction is somehow desirable. Africa needs to solve its problems, without being either colonised by Europeans or colonising Europe itself.

  27. “Patriarchy” – which is to say a society where men predominantly control the political and military sphere[1] – exists because men as a group are better at that.

    I think people tend to overlook a subtle aspect of “patriarchy”, or possibly I’m reading the word too closely. I don’t see it as “rule by men” so much as “rule by *fathers*”. Take away or dismiss fatherhood, and you’ll find men have little emotional investment in the futures of their own communities. That way lies savagery.

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