Jordan Peterson is Wrong about Anonymity

Peterson has taken a rigid moral stance against internet anonymity in his tweets in the last few months. He also recently appeared on Joe Rogan Experience to explain his views.

According to him, “virtualization” (online anonymity) is:

  1. A vehicle which increases Dark Triad/Tetrad behaviours (psychopathy, narcissism, Machiavellianism, sadism).

  2. Hiding as an excuse to justify the lack of your personal responsibility (You should proudly and bravely stand behind your opinions despite the consequences. You should rearrange your life to be on better social standing in order to resist the hits you will get).

Before we begin, I will state that I believe Jordan Peterson is one of the most positively influential men of the 21st century. He has done incomparable work in articulating the social problems of our ages, made incredible progress in bridging the gap between spirituality and science, and is never a disappointment to listen to. I hope he realizes how dangerous his opinion is, because I genuinely believe it to be a mistake of ignorance, rather than a malevolent take.

Let’s start with point 1. The idea that Dark Triad/Tetrad types are more likely to be anonymous online is 100% fact. The idea that their voices, and by extension, their influence is boosted by social media is also obvious.

This is irrelevant. There is a joke as old as the concept of cyberbullying itself: “Cyberbullying is not real, just close your laptop.” This is a cold and unsympathetic statement, but it’s 100% true. Not only can you immediately terminate your entire presence without any consequences, but on most social platforms there are softer measures, such as word filters, muting, or blocking, which lots of people use! You are entirely in control of your presence online. In this manner, the internet has become a haven of highly purified free speech. Egos are completely separate from opinions and you face no physical consequences for free thought.

There is something to be said about this bizarre lens that Peterson has chosen to look through in order to come to the conclusion that “bad people are using it, so it must be bad, therefore we must do something about it”. Does that ring any bells? Is this not the same exact argument authoritarians have been using in order to control people for millennia?

The danger of hate speech —> restrict free speech. The danger of gun violence —> restrict firearms. The dangers of abuse of workers —> restrict markets. The dangers of fraud —> government regulation. The dangers of “hoarding” —> Fiat. The dangers of “wrongthink” —> Read 1984 if you haven’t already.

Anyone that is in favor of individual freedom knows that the overprotectionist narcissistic mother (as Peterson himself puts it, but I am referring to centralized power as a whole) leads to more destruction, more chaos in the long run, because the child (Man) has isolated from the true conditions of existence. Like shielding a baby from any harmful bacteria, its body becomes extremely fragile to anything bad. A setup for a premature death.

Therefore by narrowing his view of internet anonymity, Peterson is blinding himself to the good it has provided, such as protection from abusers, governments, corporations, or the shielding of one’s personal reputation while being able to freely express ideas with others, publicly, but anonymously. Damaged reputation, saved money, saved lives, saved time, etc are also much harder to track in a study because they didn’t happen, compared to negative things that did happen with someone’s anonymous troll comments. How many lives were not destroyed because the person decided to protect their identity? Evidently, it is a waste of time to try to measure this accurately.

As a side note, I think Peterson has totally miscalculated and demonized his core fanbase by naming anonymity supporters as “anonymous troll demons”. Sure, there used to be some people that were skeptical of him, believing him to be controlled opposition (I find this view too paranoid for my taste), but most people that were ignored and demonized by society (primarily men that saw themselves as husks of their great ancestors, desperately in search of meaning, sitting behind a computer), found him as a great inspiration against the tide of modern authoritarianism. Personal responsibility and individualism over collectivism! Young men almost saw him as a replacement father. Well, he has now damned those men to be anonymous troll demons, just because they’ve seen the pitchforks of cancel culture and chose to play the game smart.

This brings us into point #2. To summarize, Peterson argues that life’s meaning comes in part from standing against the mob, holding what’s true above all else, and being proud of your beliefs in truth in the face of evil. Basically, triumph over evil adversity with pride rather than shame and cowardice. By extension, this makes the act of anonymising your identity an act of shame, an admission of guilt, and a cynical act that admits your enemy has power over you.

Fair point. Some of you may already be thinking of the countless situations in which someone may face repercussions as a consequence of their publicity (such as getting fired, going to jail, losing reputation) but Peterson argues that you should work to position yourself in a manner so that you have a strong foundation. Perhaps if you work in an environment that is hostile to your political opinions, consider getting at least prepared to explore other options.

The issue is that he looks through it one dimensionally. First of all, I completely agree: Everyone should position themselves to be as strong and uncensorable as possible. And why should that be seperate from anonymity? Why can’t we have our cake and eat it too? And that assumes that while you are not positioned comfortably, you aren’t allowed to speak your opinion. Why should truth wait it’s turn?

Besides, if we follow Peterson’s logic, that means that there are clearly defined social boundaries and rules to abide by, and we are meant to follow predictable and stable rules of behaviour. Maybe keep quiet on certain topics for a few years until you’re set, then go out there and speak!

But that is not how the world actually works; something completely popular becomes wrongthink in the span of a few years, while other things go from crimes to popular opinion (think of the vaccine mandates or BLM protests and how quickly public opinion of them swayed) in a matter of months.

BLM and police support graph

Vaccine regrets graph Vaccine regrets in France, 2021

The world around us is in constant, chaotic flux, and most of us are not in a position in which we can afford to take the risk of our livelihoods for the sake of public virtue. We don’t even know what is draw attention to us because it isn’t even illegal yet, but then all of a sudden, you are sent to jail.

In short, yes, one should absolutely work to position their life to be as resistant to censorship as possible. But that doesn’t mean sacrificing your personal safety or the safety of your loved ones.

There is also something to be said about separating the art from the artist. In this metaphor, the art can be anything created by the artist, such as visual art, music or comedy, but it can also extend to anything, such as technology, code, political beliefs, or how good they can cook a steak. Anonymity allows for the art to be separated from the artist.

Artists like:

As a final note, I will clarify that Jordan Peterson is not in favor of actually removing all anonymous accounts; rather, he wants anonymous accounts and public accounts to be separated. This already happens to an extent (“verified” accounts on various platforms already have a high trust score and are more likely to show up on your feed than anonymous accounts, as the latter have a higher chance of being spam), but it seems he wants it pushed further.

To hell with that. We have had enough of the surveillance state monitoring our every action, controlling our thoughts and actions, and reshaping society behind closed doors. It is time for us to fight back and regain our personal freedoms. NORMALIZE ANONYMITY.

My privacy is not up to your opinion.

-Free Men Don’t Ask-

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