Jordan Peterson: It’s ideology vs. science in psychology’s war on boys and men

By Special to National Post

The American Psychological Association (APA) recently released its Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men. It manages to be simultaneously predictable, reprehensible, infuriating and disheartening — no mean feat for a single document. Make no mistake about it: this document constitutes an all-out assault on masculinity — or, to put it even more bluntly, on men.

The coup of the APA undertaken by the ideologues is now complete. The field has been compromised, perhaps fatally. And the damnable guidelines provide sufficient, but by no means exhaustive, evidence of that.

Why should we care? For that, I defer to Robert W. Levenson, when he was president of the Association for Psychological Science, an organization formed in an attempt to retain integrity in the field: “We all will come into close contact with mental illness during our lives. The diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illness must reflect the very best science possible. Good intentions are not enough. History is replete with well-intentioned practitioners offering treatments of no proven scientific value, that were enthusiastically embraced by patients and their families but ultimately did absolutely no good and kept people from seeking truly effective treatments.”

We cannot allow ideology and political correctness to prevail over science. The Boys and Men document is propagandistic to a degree that is almost incomprehensible.

There is no consensus among psychologists, for example, about the definition, let alone the existence, of, for example, 'masculinity ideology'

The document opens with some definitions of terminology. These serve perfectly to indicate the nature of the ideological substructure that constitutes the true motivation of the writers. Only a few words or phrases were chosen for definition, which means that these words are given prime import. The intent is that the guideline’s readers will understand, assimilate and come to regard as self-evident the conceptual structure that both selected the words and defined them — and these, by the way, could not possibly be clearer indicators of the post-modern/victimhood ideology.

Here are the words and phrases: Gender, Cisgender, Gender Bias, Gender Role Strain, Masculinity Ideology, Gender Role Conflict, Oppression, Privilege, Psychological Practice, and Gender Sensitive. These are all presented, along with their interpretations and definitions (available here for your detailed perusal). Here’s two, just for the flavor:

OPPRESSION: Oppression includes discrimination against and/or systematic denial of resources to members of groups who are identified as inferior or less deserving than others. Oppression is most frequently experienced by individuals with marginalized social identities; is manifested in both blatant and subtle discrimination in areas such as racism, ageism, sexism, classism, and heterosexism; and results in limited access to social power (Robinson, 2012; Worell & Remer, 2003).

PRIVILEGE: Privilege refers to unearned sources of social status, power, and institutionalized advantage experienced by individuals by virtue of their culturally valued and dominant social identities (e.g., White, Christian, male, and middle/upper class; McIntosh, 2008).

There’s absolutely no indication in the guidelines that these concepts, or their definitions, constitute the axioms of a primarily political viewpoint. Instead, they are presented as if they are foundational, scientifically credible and beyond question.

Yet there is no consensus among psychologists, for example, about the definition, let alone the existence, of, for example, “masculinity ideology.” There is also no agreement that gender exists solely in the form of “roles” that are learned (as opposed to innate) — although all reasonable scientists agree that much of human behaviour, including that related to sex, is learned.

And there is nothing intellectually credible and certainly nothing “scientific” — and therefore worthy of definition in a document purporting to discuss psychology — about American feminist and activist Dr. Peggy McIntosh’s polarizing concept of “white privilege.”

All McIntosh did, when formulating her famous doctrine in the late-1980s, was write a series of questions, rhetorically aimed at herself, about everything that she enjoyed growing up in a rich, white family, that she arguably did little to earn. This is no way of going about formulating a scientific proposition. There are rules for constructing questionnaires, methods for determining if a new concept is valid, reliable and unique —and she followed none of them. Had McIntosh submitted her “white privilege” questionnaire as an honors’ thesis at a psychology department in a credible research university, she would have received a failing grade.

The authors are claiming that men who socialize their boys in a traditional manner destroy their mental health

Unfortunately, although entirely predictably, the absolute absence of scientific methodology mattered not at all to the pseudo-academics who granted her musings the status of undeniable fact, including those who wrote the guidelines. And that’s an excellent indication of the perniciousness of the document.

The document opens with the claim that “socialization for conforming to traditional masculinity ideology has been shown to limit males’ psychological development, constrain their behavior, result in gender role strain and gender role conflict, and negatively influence mental health” – a claim derived in no small part from the “research” published by the very people who wrote the guidelines, and one presented, like the definitions, with no indication whatsoever that this claim by no means constitutes anything resemblng established scientific fact.

Let me translate this opening salvo into something approximating clear and blunt English. The authors are claiming that men who socialize their boys in a traditional manner destroy their mental health. To this needs to be added a second claim, which is distributed more subtly throughout the remainder of the document. We’ll begin with this quote: “Research suggests that socialization practices that teach boys from an early age to be self-reliant, strong, and to minimize and manage their problems on their own yield adult men who are less willing to seek mental health treatment,” in combination with this one: “Men are overrepresented in prisons, are more likely than women to commit violent crimes, and are at greatest risk of being a victim of violent crime (e.g., homicide, aggravated assault; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2015).” So, it’s not only that men who encourage their boys to be “self-reliant, strong and manage their problems on their own” destroy the mental health of their children; they also produce adults who are a primary menace to their families and society.

This is all bad enough conceptually, rhetorically and politically. But it’s also a lie, scientifically. To indicate, as the writers have, that it is the socialization of boys and men by men that is producing both a decrement in the personal mental health of males and females and a threat to the social fabric is not only to get the facts wrong, but to get them wrong in a manner that is directly antithetical to the truth.

What kind of families produce violent young men? Fatherless families

First, there is no scientific evidence that aggression, per se, is learned. Like fear, pain, hunger and thirst, rage is instinctual. The biological evidence for this is crystal clear and unshakeable (I would guide interested readers to Jaak Panksepp’s masterful Affective Neuroscience and to Jeffrey Gray’s Neuropsychology of Anxiety, which are the two best books ever written on the biology of motivation and emotion). Aggression in infants is noticeable and measurable in the early months of life, not least as a consequence of the analysis of facial emotion, a science which is well-developed, and which sheds substantive light on the putative inner life of as-of-yet speechless young children. There is substantive individual variation in aggression, but some general truths can be extracted: boys are more aggressive when young than girls, on average; some young boys are more aggressive than others; aggression peaks among young children around the age of two; most aggressive two-year olds have been properly socialized, so that their rage is under control, by the age of four. (Here are a couple of peer-reviewed papers I published with my colleagues. The first is heavily biological; the second concentrates more on developmental psychology). So the idea that aggression is learned is not only wrong, it’s backward. Aggression is easy. Civilized behaviour is difficult. It is the integration of aggression that is learned. And it is primarily men who teach it, particularly to aggressive boys. How do we know this?

It’s simple – and it is this simple fact that is absolutely damning to the claims in the APA document. What kind of families produce violent young men? Fatherless families. The pernicious effect of fatherlessness is exceptionally well-documented. No serious researchers question it. Even the generally damnable sociologists admit it (see, for example, here). Fatherless girls tend toward early sexual experimentation (something in itself linked to antisocial behavior) and, unsurprisingly, higher rates of teenage pregnancy. What might be more surprising, however, is that there is even evidence for earlier puberty among girls whose fathers are absent. Fatherless boys are over-represented as alcoholics, addicts, gang-members, prisoners, rapists and murderers.

If it is fatherless boys who are violent, how can it be that masculine socialization produces harm both to mental health and society? The data should indicate precisely the opposite: that boys who are only raised by women are much less violent than boys who have men in their lives and, similarly, that boys who do have fathers are more violent than those who do not.

This is not the case. Period.

The primary axiom of the ideologues who generate this kind of propagandistic discourse is that Western culture is to be regarded as an oppressive patriarchy

The APA document writers — who were also, by the way, very likely to disproportionately cite their own research — are inexcusably unaware of the basic biological facts as well as either ignorant or willfully blind to the data pertaining to the absence of fathers and, therefore, to the lack of a guiding masculine hand.

The primary axiom of the ideologues who generate this kind of propagandistic discourse is that Western culture is to be regarded as an oppressive patriarchy: unfairly male-dominated, violent, racist, sexist, homo-, Islamo- and trans-phobic — and as uniquely reprehensible in all those regards. There is no doubt, to give the devil his due, that human history as such is a blood-drenched nightmare — and that is also true of Western civilization. However, to view humanity in general or the West in particular as solely characterized by its pathology is indication of a profound and fatal failure to discriminate good from bad.

How in the world did this happen? To answer this question, we need to delve a bit more deeply into the history of the American Psychological Association itself. The APA is the pre-eminent professional and scientific organization of psychologists in the U.S., with 54 divisions covering the sub-specialties of psychology, and a membership of almost 120,000. It runs many of the major journals in which psychological research is published. Furthermore, it is actively involved in the accreditation of the training programs that produce, in particular, clinical psychologists. For decades, APA approval of a university-based clinical psychological program was an indication of entrance into the intellectual big-leagues, and for good reason. A clinical Ph.D. from a good research school has, historically, been almost unmatchable in its utility and in the integrity and knowledge of its holders.

APA-approved clinical programs were once organized on principles formulated at the 1949 Conference on Graduate Education in Clinical Psychology held in Boulder, Colorado, and known for that reason as the “Boulder Model.” Graduates from Boulder Model programs are expected to be scientist/practitioners: to both understand and have contributed to the relevant scientific literature pertaining to psychological issues, as well as to be well-trained in scientifically validated diagnostic procedures and treatment. For decades, that meant, primarily, exceptional familiarity with behavioral psychology, a very practical approach to treatment, based on an understanding of behavior derived from the careful and eminently scientific work of lab-based psychologists.

It was all working very well until cracks started to appear in the profession in the late 1980’s, uncoincidentally, during the last rise of the political correctness and ideological purity. Simply put: the scientists became wary of the increasingly ill-informed and dogmatic approach that came to characterize the APA, as it became dominated by political types, who substituted for their lack of genuine knowledge the idiot ideology of the post-modernist and hard-left-leaning activists. The Association for Psychological Science (APS) was formed in an attempt to retain the field’s integrity. It produced its own journals, held its own conferences, and attracted some 30,000 members. It also worked on revising the APA’s clinical program accreditation process, which was criticized by then-APS president Levenson in 2009 in the following manner: “The vast majority of clinical psychologists are now trained in programs in which science plays only a minor role. In the epistemology embraced by many of these programs, the primacy of scientific evidence is rejected, and students are trained to use methods of diagnosis, treatment, and prevention that have little or no scientific support.”

There is simply no excuse for what the APA has done

Why should anyone care, apart from the evidence that yet another element of the culture closely associated with universities has become corrupt and unreliable?

First, let’s return to Levenson’s prescient words about the prevalence, and associated costs, of mental illness in society and the necessity of delivering the very best science to the field. Second, the APA plays a determining role in accrediting clinical psychology programs. Because of that, these programs will be pushed in a corrupt direction, in direct proportion to the blindness of the accreditors. Now that the APA has established these guidelines any practising professional psychologist or researcher who disagrees with them or challenges them will be laid open to allegations of ethical misconduct. Third, the net effect of these guidelines will be to radically decrease the probability that any man or boy with any sense will go anywhere near an APA-approved psychologist, or dare as an ambitious and interested undergraduate to enrol in an APA-approved clinical psychology program (which are already, by the way, overwhelming dominated at the graduate school level by women). Fourth, the APA is promulgating under the guise of science absolute mistruths about the nature of aggression, violence and socialization, and this will culminate in the miseducation of individuals and the warping of social policy.

And, finally, it should be noted that there is almost nothing in the document on how to treat people. I don’t believe that a newly practising and interested young psychologist could derive a single technique from the guidelines worthy of using in a clinical setting. They are not guidelines for psychological practice. They are guidelines for how psychologists must think and what they must believe — or else.

There is simply no excuse for what the APA has done. If the people who ran the prestigious and once rigorous clinical programs across North America were thinking clearly, acting courageously and looking forthrightly into the future, they would take warning from the content of the new guidelines, denounce them loudly, and announce their intent to refuse all guidance, supervision and, most importantly, accreditation by and from the American Psychological Association.

The document produced by the APA purporting to provide guidelines for the psychological treatment of boys and men is disingenuous, scientifically fraudulent and ethically reprehensible. I believe that the people who wrote it are ill-informed, ideologically possessed, morally weak, and malevolent in their unacknowledged and overweening resentment. I am embarrassed and ashamed to have them speak on behalf of my profession, and would like to apologize to the public for not having been sufficiently awake and outraged earlier to have done more to stop something like this from happening.

Jordan B. 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