Pascal Boyer at the Cognition and Culture Institute:
A few weeks ago, a TV interview of clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson by journalist Cathy Newman became a minor Internet phenomenon, thanks to the journalist’s extraordinary interviewing style. She handled the conversation so badly that the Atlantic commented on that car-crash of an interview under the title Why Can’t People Hear What Jordan Peterson Is Saying?
To provide some background: Jordan Peterson is somewhat famous for defending anti-political correctness positions, for instance arguing that respect for transgender people does justify proposals for legislation that would compel people to use particular pronouns when referring to them, of the kind considered in Canada. He also defends a broadly conservative agenda in social and cultural matters.
But that’s not the point here. The reason that interview became an Internet sensation is the bewildering behavior of the interviewer. Like a Theme and variations piece, the conversation between Peterson and Newman follows a simple pattern that is repeated multiple times:
- Jordan Peterson makes a point, tries to provide arguments and occasionally appeals to some evidence.
- Then Newman interrupts him (often in mid-sentence) with the words “So, you’re saying that…” followed by some fantastically distorted version of what Peterson just said.
The most egregious example occurs towards the end of the segment, when Peterson tries to argue that surely the fact that we have hierarchies in human societies is not surprising, given that there are such hierarchies in very distant species.