Jordan Peterson: When the left goes too far — the dangerous doctrine of equity

by Jordan Peterson

They don’t care that there are well-documented reasons for unequal outcomes in occupational choice and pay in addition to whatever role genuine prejudice plays

In this occasional series, Jordan Peterson writes from his international speaking tour for his book, 12 Rules for Life.

The mantra of Diversity, Inclusivity and Equity (DIE) perhaps constitutes the primary identifying factor of the tiny minority of radical collectivist ideologues that nonetheless have come to dominate the humanities and social sciences in Western universities (and, increasingly, the HR departments of corporations). Of these three, equity is the most egregious, self-righteous, historically-ignorant and dangerous. “Equity” is a term designed to signal “equality,” in some manner, and is a term designed to appeal to the natural human tendency toward fairness, but it does not mean the classic equality of the West, which is equality before the law and equality of opportunity.

Equality before the law means that each citizen will be treated fairly by the criminal justice and judicial systems regardless of their status — and that the state recognizes that each individual has an intrinsic value which serves as a limit to state power, and which the polity must respect. There is likely no more fundamental presumption grounding our culture.

Equality of opportunity is a doctrine of openness predicated on the fact that talent is widely distributed although comparatively rare. This should come as no surprise to anyone, given that some people are much better at doing a given task than others and, because of that, it is in everyone’s selfish interest to allow such talent to come to the fore so that we can all benefit. This means that no one should be arbitrarily denied the possibility of their contribution for reasons unrelated to the task at hand. This is also a fundamental principle of Western culture, particularly in its free-market guise.

Equity is a whole different ballgame. It is based on the idea that the only certain measure of “equality” is outcome—educational, social, and occupational. The equity-pushers axiomatically assume that if all positions at every level of hierarchy in every organization are not occupied by a proportion of the population that is precisely equivalent to that proportion in the general population that systematic prejudice (racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.) must be at play. This assumption has as its corollary the idea that there are perpetrators (the “privileged,” for current or historical reasons) who are unfair beneficiaries of the system or outright perpetrators of prejudice and who must be identified, limited and punished.

There is simply no excuse for this doctrine. First, it suffers from the oversimplification typical of ideological thinkers: that one cause (prejudice) is sufficient explanation for a very complex phenomenon (that of inequality, which is a far deeper problem than can be laid at the feet of inefficient social organization). Second, it is impossible to implement, as there are simply too many organizations, strata of positions, and identities of the identity group sort to possibly treat in the “equitable” manner demanded by the ideologues. Finally, it is being forcibly instituted by individuals for whom the hypothesis that the West is a singularly oppressive patriarchy is an unshakeable axiom, and who will fight tooth and nail any idea that threatens that absolute article of faith, no matter how absurd the arguments that constitute that fight are destined to become. It is my fervent hope, and optimistic belief, that the doctrine of equity contains within it so many intrinsic contradictions that it will fatally undermine the ideology of the radical left.

Imagine for a moment what would actually have to be done for true equity across identity groups to manifest itself. Let’s start, first, with the most egregious offenders: the most clearly sex-typed jobs. The first thing we could do to begin this process is to rank-order the offenders by degree of systemic oppression. We could use the U.S. labour statistics for that. (We could conduct the gender disequity analysis for both genders, but have all been compelled to admit on pain of mobbing and subsequent reputation destuction that the oppression has flowed one way, historically (that is, from men to women) so in the beginning we could ignore those disciplines where women have a clear advantage. We can therefore concentrate work primarily on the employment categories that favour men.)

These aren’t the prime C-Suite positions (CEOs, COOs, CFOs, etc.) that make up the bulk of the complaints of male domination. They are jobs such as (above 99%) vehicle technicians, mechanics and electricians; carpenters and joiners; electricians and electrical fitters; metal working production and maintenance fitters; plumbers; mobile machine, forklift and large goods vehicle drivers; those in the electrical and electronic trades; glaziers; construction workers; and painters ((above 95%). This is a partial list. The highest proportion of females (97.5%) — just as a single point of contrast — are to be found among nursery nurses and assistants.

Now it doesn’t seem like mere imagination on my part that all the noise about “patriarchal domination” is not directed at the fact that far more men than women occupy what are essentially trade positions. Nor does it seem unreasonable to point out that these are not particularly high-status jobs, although they may pay comparative well. It is also obvious that none of these occupations and their hierarchies, in isolation, can be thoughtfully considered the kind of oppressive patriarchy supposed to constitute the “West,” and aimed at the domination and exclusion of women. By contrast, the trade occupations are composed of cadres of working men, with difficult and admirable jobs, who keep the staggeringly complex, reliable and essentially miraculous infrastructure of our society functioning through rain and snow and heat and gloom of night and who should be credited gratefully with exactly that.

Let’s assume for a moment that we should aim at equity, nonetheless, and then actually think through what policies would inevitably have to be put in place to establish such a goal. We might begin by eliminating pay scales that differ (hypothetically) by gender. This would mean introducing legislation requiring companies to rank-order their sex representation at each level of the company hierarchy, adjust that to 50:50, and then adjust the pay differential by gender at every rank, so that the desired equity was achieved. Companies could be monitored over a five-year period for improvement. Failure to meet the appropriate targets would be necessarily met with fines for discrimination. In the extreme, it might be necessary to introduce staggered layoffs of men so that the gender equity requirements could be met.

Then there are the much broader social policy implications. We could start by addressing the hypothetical problems with college, university and trade school training. Many companies, compelled to move rapidly toward gender equilibria, will object (and validly) that there are simply not enough qualified female candidates to go around. Changing this would mean implementing radical and rapid changes in the post-secondary education system, implemented in a manner both immediate and draconian — justified by the obvious “fact” that the reason the pipeline problem exists is the absolutely pervasive sexism that characterizes all the programs that train such workers (and the catastrophic and prejudicial failure of the education system that is thereby implied).

The most likely solution — and the one most likely to be attractive to those who believe in such sexism — would be to establish strict quota systems in the relevant institutions to invite and incentivize more female participants, once again in proportion to the disequilibria in enrollment rates. If quotas are not enough, then a system of scholarship or, more radically (and perhaps more fairly) women could be simply paid to enroll in education systems where their sex is badly under-represented. Alternatively, perhaps, men could be asked to pay higher rates of tuition, in some proportion to their over-representation, and the excess used to subsidize the costs of under-represented females.

That’s not going to be good enough, however. The sex differences revealed in the workforce clearly manifest themselves early in life. Variability in toy preference by sex, for example (a reflection of the comparative male preoccupation with things, and female with people) appears very early in life. These differences reflect or shape the later broader social outcomes. Other factors matter, as well. There is some evidence that the same proportion of boys and girls excel, for example, at math in junior high school. However, the high math-skills girls also tend to be verbally gifted, and that is not equally true for the boys. This means that high math-skills girls have a wider range of occupational choice, given their broader range of abilities, and that comparatively fewer of them therefore enter the STEM fields. It is also worth noting that countries that have pushed the laudable doctrines of equality of opportunity most assiduously (that would be the Scandinavian states) have the lowest rates of STEM enrolment among females in the world, as it turns out that freed females, so to speak, given free choice, do not often voluntarily become engineers and mathematicians and physicists.

It is also clear that educational practices in the K-12 system must be radically restructured. At the kindergarten and early elementary school level, the government might fund the production of books of fiction featuring characters defined by their sex pursuing nonstandard occupations. This would mean something akin to a ban on novels representing women as nurses, secretaries, etc. and a preponderance of fictional works portraying women as front-line soldiers, heavy equipment operators, bricklayers, etc. Males should be portrayed pursuing currently-female dominated pursuits such as nursing or secretarial work. Perhaps, as well, works of history might be revised (“revised”) so that the sex-typing characteristic of the past could be downplayed and minimized, and the rare exceptions to the general trends highlighted. We already see something of this sort occurring with attempts to restructure the university curriculum so that the works of “dead white men” are replaced by whatever the ideologues regard as fair reparation.

The interest that might tempt a given boy or girl toward a particular career has been engendered, so to speak, purely as a consequence of socialization pressure (or so goes the doctrine). Thus whatever desire expressed by a given student that might run contrary to the new equity doctrines (such as claims for strong proclivity toward traditionally gendered roles) should be most firmly discouraged, first to combat the internalized misogyny which is a necessary concomitant of the oppressive patriarchy and second to disavow students, their parents, and society at the larger level from the notion than any truly individual desire exists.

If we regard differential sexual representation as proof of systemic oppression, as the theory of social construction demands, then we are failing in our social and individual responsibility to social justice to delay implementing such policies immediately, and with full force. Every year that passes with little to no movement on the front of sexual equity is indicative of a serious moral failure. And we can’t end there. Sexual inequality is only one small part of the problem. After concentrating on sexual equity, it will be high time to consider the same set of actions implemented for equity by race and ethnicity. And then we will be equally obliged, morally, to concentrate on the other places where systemic prejudice is apparently self-evident: social class, age, attractiveness, disability, temperament — even perhaps education and intelligence.

Are we really up for these large-scale interventions? Could we pause, for a moment, and imagine the magnitude of the bureaucratic structures that would have to be formulated to bring them about? Could we consider the rules and accusations and punishments that would accompany them, and envision the psychological makeup of the people who would be willing to occupy such positions? Do we really believe that they are necessary and, even more naively, that they would solve more problems than they would cause?

And what are we to make of the fact that women granted equality of opportunity appear to choose, freely (assuming such free choice exists) to work part-time more frequently, to move for career purposes less often, to work inside rather than outside, to pick safer occupations, and to choose education pathways, often dealing with people, that are associated with less lucrative careers—as the aforementioned and oh-so-troublesome data from hyper-egalitarian Norway and Sweden and their like so clearly indicate? Are we to assume that women in such places aren’t making the “right” choices, because they are fouling up the equity doctrine, and to apply the substantive force that would be necessary to correct them?

Or would it just be simpler to note the insane complexity and internal contradictions and impossibility and danger of the pursuit of this appallingly simple-minded dual insistence (1) that the West is a hotbed of patriarchal oppression and (2) that all indications of inequality of outcome are proof positive of the oppression so claimed?

The truth of the matter is that there is no excuse for the equity doctrine. Its proponents virtually never attend to or discuss the occupational areas where the largest sex differences exist. They don’t care at all that there are multiple well-documented reasons for unequal outcomes in occupational choice and pay in addition to whatever role counterproductive and genuine prejudice still plays. They don’t think through the policy implications or, if they do, are still apparently willing to grant to themselves the bureaucratic power to implement by force the changes theoretically necessary to balance the scales, despite being aware of the magnitude of such actions. They haven’t contended at all (to note this vitally important point once again) with the data indicating that free women make different occupational choices than free men, and that there are economic consequences to those choices that may be regarded as perfectly acceptable by the women, who could well be choosing time over money (a far-from-unreasonable trade-off).

Instead they use the doctrine of equity as a moral weapon, in service of their fundamental claim: men—particularly Western men—unjustly and cruelly dominate, historicaly and currently (ignoring all the biological reasons for sexual differences in outcome; ignoring the reality of fundamental cooperation that most truly characterizes healthy male-female relations now and in the past). In consequence, all inequalities of outcome must be regarded as unjust, and used as proof of the central contention — that is, the idea of patriarchal Western oppression that is the central dogma of the radical left.

We know the left can go too far. The Soviets taught us that. The Maoists and the Khmer Rouge taught us that. The North Koreans, and the Cubans, and the Venezuelans continue to teach us in the same manner. We don’t know when and where the “going too far” begins. But I’m willing to stake my claim on the equity doctrine. In a word, it’s inexcusable, both morally and practically. It should be roundly rejected (at whatever reasonable personal cost that might be incurred) by anyone who takes the idea of the excessive left seriously, who is concerned in any genuine sense with the increasingly destructive polarization of our political discourse, and who wants to stand up and be counted when the radicals come knocking—or pounding—at the door.

Jordan Peterson is a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, a clinical psychologist and the author of the multi-million copy bestseller 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. His blog and podcasts can be found at jordanbpeterson.com.

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