Monday, January 29, 2018

ANS -- New Solar Tariffs and the Expected Impact on Washington Solar

Here is the report on the new solar cell tariff by a company in the Solar business.  This company installs rather than manufactures solar panels, but there is a manufacturer of solar panels in Bellingham.  I think you will find this report more measured and moderate that all the screaming hype on FaceBook.  
from an email.  

New Solar Tariffs and the Expected Impact on Washington Solar
On January 22nd, the Trump Administration announced a four-year tariff program on imported solar cells and modules (solar panels), declaring an intention to provide relief for U.S. manufacturers against what they perceive as unfair trade practices. Based on a petition from manufacturers Suniva and SolarWorld Americas in mid-2017, the International Trade Commission (ITC) determined that increased solar cell and module imports "are a substantial cause of serious injury to the domestic industry."

We're still in the early days and waiting on the official publishing in the Federal Register, but here's what we know so far and how we expect it to affect the Washington solar market, specifically.

Solar in National Headlines: Let's Break Down the Numbers

While the start date on the tariff is still unclear, it is scheduled to be in effect from 2018 through 2022, starting at 30% and stepping down by 5% each year. As prices for solar equipment are generally spoken of in dollars or cents per watt, this roughly equates to an average $0.10/watt tariff in 2018, ending in a $0.04/watt tariff in year four (GTM Research). While these aren't the numbers we'd like to see, the impact isn't as negative as the industry as a whole initially feared, given that those most affected have already been preparing for the 50% tariff that Suniva and SolarWorld had requested.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) issued a press release stating that this decision will cause the loss of roughly 23,000 American jobs. In the podcast Trump's Solar Tariffs: We Answer Your Questions, GTM Research discusses the distinction that this is not current jobs being lost, but rather a reduction in jobs created based on the estimated solar demand models from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). According to industry experts, job growth is expected to continue, but at a lower rate than recent employment trends indicated.

Where do we expect these changes to be felt the most? The 2016 National Solar Jobs Census found that the solar industry employed over 260,000 workers by the end of 2016, accounting for 1 in 50 new jobs created in the United States. 38,000 of these jobs were in manufacturing, 137,000 in the installation sector, with the remainder in sales and distribution, project development, research and development, and finance. Proportionally, the biggest impact will be on the installation sector; however, more specifically, the impact will be weighted more toward utility-scale solar.

Of the expected 7.6 gigawatt reduction in new solar growth over the next five years, about 65% is expected from utility-scale. With projects of this scale, margins are very thin and module prices make up a larger percent of development costs. The lead-up to the ITC ruling provided an opportunity for developers to plan for increased costs and led to advanced procurement of imported modules before the tariffs go into effect. As such, GTM Research expects 2018 to be relatively insulated from the tariffs, with 2019 having the biggest impact on the utility sector.

In the residential solar sector, tariff impacts will be reduced, due to modules making up a smaller percentage of system and installation costs. The exception will likely be new and emerging state solar markets. Southern states such as Texas, Florida, and South Carolina are expected to be among the most significantly impacted, with Suniva's home state of Georgia the fourth most affected market. Oregon comes in as eighth most affected and is home to SolarWorld Americas.

The Outlook for Washington State's Solar Market

Beginning with the implementation of the production incentive program in 2006, Washington's solar market has functioned a little differently from other states. Our state incentivizes customers for installing locally-manufactured solar equipment. Because of this incentive, we have a healthy manufacturing base in Washington State that may initially benefit from this tariff decision. Thus far, Washington has not seen large development in utility-scale solar, with most solar installers in the state focusing primarily on the residential market.

"Our state benefits from a diversified and integrated solar industry that provides jobs in installation, manufacturing, distribution, engineering, marketing, sales, finance, software development, consulting, and education. Such economic diversity provides resilience from potential market disturbance from external forces." Allison Arnold, Executive Director of Solar Installers of Washington ( SIW press release)

An important detail in this tariff decision is that it provides an exemption for the first 2.5 gigawatts of solar cells imported to the United States. While this tariff does not currently have an exemption for imports from NAFTA countries (including Canada and Mexico), these negotiations are sure to continue. Industry experts have suggested that the first 2.5 GW of solar cells should carry current U.S. manufacturing facilities through to at least one year from today, further marginalizing the impact on American manufacturers. The vast majority of solar module manufacturers purchase cells on the open market, due to a limited handful of cell manufacturers worldwide.

Locally, it looks as though prices will stabilize at 2017 levels for the foreseeable future. With incentive rates stepping down in July 2018, it would be prudent to start planning your solar installation, if it has been a consideration for your home or business.

If you would like to support the long-term viability of solar in Washington State, please consider contacting your legislators in support of the  Solar Fairness Act (SB 6081). This act would increase the floor to which utilities must offer net metering for new solar customers, allocate any excess net metered credits to low income relief, and adjust the net metering true-up date to better reflect annual production capacity in Washington's market.

Recommended Reading/Listening

Sunday, January 28, 2018

ANS -- MIND Diet May Slow Cognitive Decline in Stroke Survivors

This is about a diet that protects your brain.  I just thought it was interesting.  

MIND Diet May Slow Cognitive Decline in Stroke Survivors

Summary: Rush University Medical Center researchers report the MIND diet can help substantially slow cognitive decline in stroke survivors.

Source: Rush University Medical Center.

A diet created by researchers at Rush University Medical Center may help substantially slow cognitive decline in stroke survivors, according to preliminary research presented on Jan. 25, at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference 2018 in Los Angeles. The finding are significant because stroke survivors are twice as likely to develop dementia compared to the general population.

The diet, known as the MIND diet, is short for Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. The diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. Both have been found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions such as hypertension, heart attack and stroke.

"The foods that promote brain health, including vegetables, berries, fish and olive oil, are included in the MIND diet," said Dr. Laurel J. Cherian, a vascular neurologist and assistant professor in Rush's Department of Neurological Sciences. "We found that it has the potential to help slow cognitive decline in stroke survivors."

Study assessed survivors' cognitive function and monitored their diets

Study co-author Martha Clare Morris, ScD, a Rush nutritional epidemiologist, and her colleagues developed the MIND diet based on information from years of research about what foods and nutrients have good, and bad, effects on the functioning of the brain. The diet has been associated with reduced Alzheimer's risk in seniors who adhered to its recommendations. Even people who moderately adhered had reduced risk of AD and cognitive decline.

Rush is currently seeking volunteers to participate in the study, which aims to show whether a specific diet can prevent cognitive decline and brain changes with age. Those interested in participating in the study can call (708) 660-MIND (6463) or email

The MIND diet has 15 dietary components, including 10 "brain-healthy food groups" and five unhealthy groups — red meat, butter, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food.

To adhere to and benefit from the MIND diet, a person would need to eat at least three servings of whole grains, a green leafy vegetable and one other vegetable every day — along with a glass of wine — snack most days on nuts, have beans every other day or so, eat poultry and berries at least twice a week and fish at least once a week. The diet also specifies limiting intake of the designated unhealthy foods, limiting butter to less than 1 1/2 teaspoons a day and eating less than 5 servings a week of sweets and pastries, and less than one serving per week of whole fat cheese, and fried or fast food.

"I was really intrigued by the results of a previous MIND study, which showed that the people who were most highly adherent to the MIND diet cognitively functioned as if they were 7.5 years younger than the least adherent group," Cherian said. "It made me wonder if those findings would hold true for stroke survivors, who are twice as likely to develop dementia compared to the general population."

From 2004 to 2017, Cherian and colleagues studied 106 participants of the Rush Memory and Aging Project who had a history of stroke for cognitive decline, including decline in one's ability to think, reason and remember. They assessed people in the study every year until their deaths or the study's conclusion, for an average of 5.9 years, and monitored patients' eating habits using food journals.

The researchers grouped participants into those who were highly adherent to the MIND diet, moderately adherent and least adherent. They also looked at additional factors that are known to affect cognitive performance, including age, gender, education level, participation in cognitively stimulating activities, physical activity, smoking and genetics.

Related diets were not associated with slower cognitive decline

The study participants whose diets scored highest on the MIND diet score had substantially slower rate of cognitive decline than those who scored lowest. The estimated effect of the diet remained strong even after taking into account participants' level of education and participation in cognitive and physical activities. In contrast to the results of slower decline with higher MIND diet score, stroke survivors who scored high on the Mediterranean and DASH diets, did not have significant slowing in their cognitive abilities.

"The Mediterranean and DASH diets have been shown to be protective against coronary artery disease and stroke, but it seems the nutrients emphasized in the MIND diet may be better suited to overall brain health and preserving cognition," Cherian said.

According to Cherian, studies have found that folate, vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, carotenoids and flavonoids are associated with slower rates of cognitive decline, while substances such as saturated and hydrogenated fats have been associated with dementia.

The right foods may be able to protect stroke survivors' cognition

"I like to think of the MIND diet as a way to supercharge the nutritional content of what we eat. The goal is to emphasize foods that will not only lower our risk of heart attacks and stroke, but make our brains as resilient as possible to cognitive decline," she said.

med diet

The diet, known as the MIND diet, is short for Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. The diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. Both have been found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions such as hypertension, heart attack and stroke. image is in the public domain.

"Our study suggests that if we choose the right foods, we may be able to protect stroke survivors from cognitive decline." Cherian cautions, however, that the study was observational, with a relatively small number of participants, and its findings cannot be interpreted in a cause-and-effect relationship.

"This is a preliminary study that will hopefully be confirmed by other studies, including a randomized diet intervention study instroke survivors," she says. "For now, I think there is enough information to encourage stroke patients to view food as an important tool to optimize their brain health."


Source: Nancy Difiore – Rush University Medical Center
Publisher: Organized by
Image Source: image is in the public domain.
Original Research: The study will be presented at American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference 2018 in Los Angeles.

Rush University Medical Center "MIND Diet May Slow Cognitive Decline in Stroke Survivors." NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 26 January 2018.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

ANS -- The female price of male pleasure

This one is a bit long.  It's about sex and pain and who is concerned about who's pain. It comes out tf the "Me too" discussion and some reactions to it.   Read it.  It does take the position that we are influenced by society and our training.  (reference to previous article called "Jordan Peterson is a Garden Variety Christian Existentialist".)

The female price of male pleasure

Lili Loofbourow
Ikon Images / Alamy Stock Photo

The world is disturbingly comfortable with the fact that women sometimes leave a sexual encounter in tears.

When published a pseudonymous woman's account of a difficult encounter with Aziz Ansari that made her cry, the internet exploded with "takes" arguing that the #MeToo movement had finally gone too far. "Grace," the 23-year-old woman, was not an employee of Ansari's, meaning there were no workplace dynamics. Her repeated objections and pleas that they "slow down" were all well and good, but they did not square with the fact that she eventually gave Ansari oral sex. Finally, crucially, she was free to leave.

Why didn't she just get out of there as soon as she felt uncomfortable? many people explicitly or implicitly asked.

It's a rich question, and there are plenty of possible answers. But if you're asking in good faith, if you really want to think through why someone might have acted as she did, the most important one is this: Women are enculturated to be uncomfortable most of the time. And to ignore their discomfort.

This is so baked into our society I feel like we forget it's there. To steal from David Foster Wallace, this is the water we swim in.

The Aziz Ansari case hit a nerve because, as I've long feared, we're only comfortable with movements like #MeToo so long as the men in question are absolute monsters we can easily separate from the pack. Once we move past the "few bad apples" argument and start to suspect that this is more a trend than a blip, our instinct is to normalize. To insist that this is is just how men are, and how sex is.

This is what Andrew Sullivan basically proposed in his latest, startlingly unscientific column. #MeToo has gone too far, he argues, by refusing to confront the biological realities of maleness. Feminism, he says, has refused to give men their due and denied the role "nature" must play in these discussions. Ladies, he writes, if you keep denying biology, you'll watch men get defensive, react, and "fight back."

This is beyond vapid. Not only is Sullivan bafflingly confused about nature and its realities, as Colin Dickey notes in this instructive Twitter thread, he's being appallingly conventional. Sullivan claims he came to "understand the sheer and immense natural difference between being a man and being a woman" thanks to a testosterone injection he received. That is to say, he imagines maleness can be isolated to an injectable hormone and doesn't bother to imagine femaleness at all. If you want an encapsulation of the habits of mind that made #MeToo necessary, there it is. Sullivan, that would-be contrarian, is utterly representative.

The real problem isn't that we — as a culture — don't sufficiently consider men's biological reality. The problem is rather that theirs is literally the only biological reality we ever bother to consider.

So let's actually talk bodies. Let's take bodies and the facts of sex seriouslyfor a change. And let's allow some women back into the equation, shall we? Because if you're going to wax poetic about male pleasure, you had better be ready to talk about its secret, unpleasant, ubiquitous cousin: female pain.

Research shows that 30 percent of women report pain during vaginal sex, 72 percent report pain during anal sex, and "large proportions" don't tell their partners when sex hurts.

That matters, because nowhere is our lack of practice at thinking about non-male biological realities more evident than when we talk about "bad sex." For all the calls for nuance in this discussion of what does and doesn't constitute harassment or assault, I've been dumbstruck by the flattening work of that phrase — specifically, the assumption that "bad sex" means the same thing to men who have sex with women as it does to women who have sex with men.

The studies on this are few. A casual survey of forums where people discuss "bad sex" suggests that men tend to use the term to describe a passive partner or a boring experience. (Here's a very unscientific Twitter poll I did that found just that.) But when most women talk about "bad sex," they tend to mean coercion, or emotional discomfort or, even more commonly, physical pain. Debby Herbenick, a professor at the Indiana University School of Public Health, and one of the forces behind the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, confirmed this. "When it comes to 'good sex,'" she told me, "women often mean without pain, men often mean they had orgasms."

As for bad sex, University of Michigan Professor Sara McClelland, another one of the few scholars who has done rigorous work on this issue, discovered in the course of her research on how young men and women rate sexual satisfaction that "men and women imagined a very different low end of the sexual satisfaction scale."

While women imagined the low end to include the potential for extremely negative feelings and the potential for pain, men imagined the low end to represent the potential for less satisfying sexual outcomes, but they never imagined harmful or damaging outcomes for themselves. ["Intimate Justice: Sexual satisfaction in young adults"]

Once you've absorbed how horrifying this is, you might reasonably conclude that our "reckoning" over sexual assault and harassment has suffered because men and women have entirely different rating scales. An 8 on a man's Bad Sex scale is like a 1 on a woman's. This tendency for men and women to use the same term — bad sex — to describe experiences an objective observer would characterize as vastly different is the flip side of a known psychological phenomenon called "relative deprivation," by which disenfranchised groups, having been trained to expect little, tend paradoxically to report the same levels of satisfaction as their better-treated, more privileged peers.

This is one reason why Sullivan's attempt to naturalize the status quo is so damaging.

When a woman says "I'm uncomfortable" and leaves a sexual encounter in tears, then, maybe she's not being a fragile flower with no tolerance for discomfort. And maybe we could stand to think a little harder about the biological realities a lot of women deal with, because unfortunately, painful sex isn't the exceptional outlier we like to pretend it is. It's pretty damn common.

In considering Sullivan's proposal, we might also, provisionally, and just as a thought experiment, accept that biology — or "nature" — coexists with history and sometimes replicates the lopsided biases of its time.

This is certainly true of medicine. Back in the 17th century, the conventional wisdom was that women were the ones with the rampant, undisciplined sexual appetites. That things have changed doesn't mean they're necessarily better. These days, a man can walk out of his doctor's office with a prescription for Viagra based on little but a self-report, but it still takes a woman, on average, 9.28 years of suffering to be diagnosed with endometriosis, a condition caused by endometrial tissue growing outside the uterus. By that time, many find that not just sex but everyday existence has become a life-deforming challenge. That's a blunt biological reality if ever there was one.

Or, since sex is the subject here, what about how our society's scientific community has treated female dyspareunia — the severe physical pain some women experience during sex — vs. erectile dysfunction (which, while lamentable, is not painful)? PubMed has 393 clinical trials studying dyspareunia. Vaginismus? 10. Vulvodynia? 43.

Erectile dysfunction? 1,954.

That's right: PubMed has almost five times as many clinical trials on male sexual pleasure as it has on female sexual pain. And why? Because we live in a culture that sees female pain as normal and male pleasure as a right.

This bizarre sexual astigmatism structures so much in our culture that it's hard to gauge the extent to which our vision of things is skewed.

Take how our health system compensates doctors for male vs. female-only surgeries: As of 2015, male-specific surgeries were still reimbursed at rates 27.67 percent higher for male-specific procedures than female-specific ones. (Result: Guess who gets the fanciest doctors?) Or consider how routinely many women are condescended to and dismissed by their own physicians.

Yet here's a direct quote from a scientific article about how (contra their reputation for complaining and avoiding discomfort) women are worryingly tough: "Everyone who regularly encounters the complaint of dyspareunia knows that women are inclined to continue with coitus, if necessary, with their teeth tightly clenched."

If you asked yourself why "Grace" didn't leave Ansari's apartment as soon as she felt "uncomfortable," you should be asking the same question here. If sex hurt, why didn't she stop? Why is this happening? Why are women enduring excruciating pain to make sure men have orgasms?

The answer isn't separable from our current discussion about how women have been routinely harassed, abused, and dismissed because men wanted to have erections in the workplace. It boggles the mind that Sullivan thinks we don't sufficiently consider men's biological reality when our entire society has agreed to organize itself around the pursuit of the straight male orgasm. This quest has been granted total cultural centrality — with unfortunate consequences for our understanding of bodies, and pleasure, and pain.

Per Sullivan's request, I'm talking about biology. I'm speaking, specifically, about the physical sensations most women are socialized to ignore in their pursuit of sexual pleasure.

Women are constantly and specifically trained out of noticing or responding to their bodily discomfort, particularly if they want to be sexually "viable." Have you looked at how women are "supposed" to present themselves as sexually attractive? High heels? Trainers? Spanx? These are things designed to wrench bodies. Men can be appealing in comfy clothes. They walk in shoes that don't shorten their Achilles tendons. They don't need to get the hair ripped off their genitals or take needles to the face to be perceived as "conventionally" attractive. They can — just as women can — opt out of all this, but the baseline expectations are simply different, and it's ludicrous to pretend they aren't.

The old implied social bargain between women and men (which Andrew Sullivan calls "natural") is that one side will endure a great deal of discomfort and pain for the other's pleasure and delight. And we've all agreed to act like that's normal, and just how the world works. This is why it was radical that Frances McDormand wore no makeup at the Golden Globes. This is why it was transformative when Jane Fonda posted a picture of herself looking exhausted next to one of her looking glammed up. This isn't just an exhausting way to live; it's also a mindset that's pretty hard to shake.

To be clear, I'm not even objecting to our absurd beauty standards right now. My only objective here is to explore how the training women receive can help us understand what "Grace" did and did not do.

Women are supposed to perform comfort and pleasure they do not feel under conditions that make genuine comfort almost impossible. Next time you see a woman breezily laughing in a complicated and revealing gown that requires her not to eat or drink for hours, know a) that you are witnessing the work of a consummate illusionist acting her heart out and b) that you have been trained to see that extraordinary, Oscar-worthy performance as merely routine.

Now think about how that training might filter down to sexual contexts.

Why, men wonder, do women fake orgasms? It seems so counterproductive?This is true! It does. That means it's worth thinking very carefully about why so many people might do something that seems so completely contrary to their self-interest. Women get dressed up and go on dates in part because they have libidos and are hoping to get sexual pleasure. Why, when the moment finally arrives, would they give up and fake it?

The retrograde answer (the one that ignores that women have libidos) is that women trade sex positions they don't like for social positions they do. They don't care about pleasure.

There might be other reasons. Maybe, for example, women fake orgasms because they'd hoped for some pleasure themselves. If it looks like that's not happening, they default to their training. And they've been taught a) to tolerate discomfort and b) to somehow find pleasure in the other party's pleasure if the social conditions require it.

This is especially true where sex is concerned. Faking an orgasm achieves all kinds of things: It can encourage the man to finish, which means the pain (if you're having it) can finally stop. It makes him feel good and spares his feelings. If being a good lover means making the other person feel good, then you've excelled on that front too. Total win.

We're so blind to pain being the giant missing term in our sexual discussions that ABC News' epic 2004 "American Sex Survey," which includes an amazing 67 questions, never once mentions it. It doesn't even show up as a possible reason for orgasm-faking:

This is how bad our science and social science about sex has been. By refusing to see pain and discomfort as things women routinely endure in sexual contexts, even our studies end up narrating them as strange and arbitrary creatures who (for some reason) are "not in the mood" or stop sex because they "just wanted to."

But it's not just about sex. One of the compliments girls get most as kids is that they're pretty; they learn, accordingly, that a lot of their social value resides in how much others enjoy looking at them. They're taught to take pleasure in other people's pleasure in their looks. Indeed, this is the main way they're socially rewarded.

This is also how women are taught to be good hosts. To subordinate their desires to those of others. To avoid confrontation. At every turn, women are taught that how someone reacts to them does more to establish their goodness and worth than anything they themselves might feel.

One side effect of teaching one gender to outsource its pleasure to a third party (and endure a lot of discomfort in the process) is that they're going to be poor analysts of their own discomfort, which they have been persistently taught to ignore.

In a world where women are co-equal partners in sexual pleasure, of courseit makes sense to expect that a woman would leave the moment something was done to her that she didn't like.

That is not the world we live in.

In the real world, the very first lesson the typical woman learns about what to expect from sex is that losing her virginity is going to hurt. She's supposed to grit her teeth and get through it. Think about how that initiation into sex might thwart your ability to recognize "discomfort" as something that's not supposed to happen. When sex keeps hurting long after virginity is lost, as it did for many of my friends, many a woman assumes she's the one with the problem. And, well, if you were supposed to grit your teeth and get through it the first time, why not the second? At what point does sex magically transform from enduring someone doing something to you that you don't like — but remember: everyone agrees you're supposed to tolerate it — to the mutually pleasurable experience everyone else seems to think it is?

We don't really have a language for that amazingly complicated transition because we don't think about the biological realities of sex from the woman's side.

Women have spent decades politely ignoring their own discomfort and pain to give men maximal pleasure. They've gamely pursued love and sexual fulfillment despite tearing and bleeding and other symptoms of "bad sex." They've worked in industries where their objectification and harassment was normalized, and chased love and sexual fulfillment despite painful conditions no one, especially not their doctors, took seriously. Meanwhile, the gender for whom bad sex sometimes means being a little bored during orgasm, the gender whose sexual needs the medical community rushes to fulfill, the gender that walks around in sartorial comfort, with an entire society ordered so as to maximize his aesthetic and sexual pleasure — that gender, reeling from the revelation that women don't always feel quite as good as they've been pressured to pretend they do, and would appreciate some checking in — is telling women they'rehypersensitive and overreacting to discomfort? Men's biological realities are insufficiently appreciated?

I wish we lived in a world that encouraged women to attend to their bodies' pain signals instead of powering through like endurance champs. It would be grand if women (and men) were taught to consider a woman's pain abnormal; better still if we understood a woman's discomfort to be reason enough to cut a man's pleasure short.

But those aren't actually the lessons society teaches — no, not even to "entitled" millennials. Remember: Sex is always a step behind social progress in other areas because of its intimacy. Talking details is hard, and it's good we're finally starting to. But next time we're inclined to wonder why a woman didn't immediately register and fix her own discomfort, we might wonder why we spent the preceding decades instructing her to override the signals we now blame her for not recognizing.

Friday, January 26, 2018

ANS -- Jordan Peterson is a Garden Variety Christian Existentialist

Here's something out of left fieeld, very philosophical.  Fairly short though.  I think it informs some of the political arguments we get into with people who have a different worldview and we are talking past each other.  


Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Jordan Peterson is a Garden Variety Christian Existentialist

by Benjamin Studebaker

A few people have asked me lately–what do I think of Jordan Peterson? Peterson is a Canadian psychologist who has written a book called 12 Rules for Life. He's become very popular on YouTube and generated something of a following. I can see why–the particular kind of philosophy he's advocating is unfamiliar to many people and feels transgressive in a modern context. But it's an old kind of philosophy which dates back to the 19th century and takes its inspiration from Soren Kierkegaard. It's called "Christian Existentialism". Here's how it works.

I sometimes like to divide theories of the relationship between the individual and society into three categories:

  1. Materialism, in which the individual is produced by material conditions mediated through cultural and ideological systems.
  2. Idealism, in which the individual is produced by cultural and ideological systems mediated through material conditions.
  3. Existentialism, in which the individual self-produces and is personally responsible for what they become.

One might class both materialism and idealism as forms of "collectivism" insofar as they take individuals to be so thoroughly embedded in social systems that it's not possible to talk about them as wholly distinct from the systems of which they are part, and therefore it's not possible to wholly blame them for the way they turn out. Left wing theories tend to be either materialist (like Marx) or idealist (like the Frankfurt School) and right wing theories tend to be existentialist, but there are some idealists who claim to be right wing (like Curtis Yarvin) and some existentialists who claim to be left wing (like Jean-Paul Sartre). These people have inconsistencies deeply embedded in their theories–it's really hard to be a left existentialist or a right idealist without having made some obvious mistake.

To make these abstract categories clearer, here's how they'd answer the question of why Jordan Peterson isn't a socialist:

  1. Materialists would answer that the capitalist system has yet to exhaust itself in Canada, and because capitalism still has the capacity to develop Canadian productive power it retains the confidence of the Canadian people, including the confidence of Peterson the individual.
  2. Idealists would answer that the capitalist ideology still has a strong grip on Canadian culture (including the schools, the art scene, the media, etc.), and because of this it continues to produce Canadians who are willing to perform capitalist productive roles and may even see no viable alternative to them. Once in these roles, this socialization is reinforced by the demands of the role. Peterson is one such Canadian, subject to and produced by these cultural influences.
  3. Existentialists would answer that Peterson isn't a socialist because he chooses not to be one. End of story.

Hegel was the first modern idealist, Marx the first modern materialist, and Kierkegaard the first modern existentialist. Hegel came first, and the other two reacted against him. While Marx and Hegel argued about how society shapes individuals, Kierkegaard wanted to get the individual out of all this.

For Kierkegaard, to allow oneself to be the production of material or cultural conditions outside of one's control is to be in despair. The only escape from despair is Christianity. Through Christianity, the individual can learn to hear the will of God and to choose whether to obey it. The choice to obey or disobey, to give into sin or to hold firm, engenders a feeling of anxiety. This anxiety includes both a dread of the burden of eternity, and an exhilaration in the freedom of choice.

Embracing Christian existentialism takes one away from the worldly concerns of the collectivists. It returns to spiritualism and it reasserts a sense of agency and individual freedom.

This is all over Peterson's work. You can see it in his 12 rules, which are:

Rule 1 Stand up straight with your shoulders back

Rule 2 Treat yourself like you would someone you are responsible for helping

Rule 3 Make friends with people who want the best for you

Rule 4 Compare yourself with who you were yesterday, not with who someone else is today

Rule 5 Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them

Rule 6 Set your house in perfect order before you criticise the world

Rule 7 Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)

Rule 8 Tell the truth – or, at least, don't lie

Rule 9 Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don't

Rule 10 Be precise in your speech

Rule 11 Do not bother children when they are skate-boarding

Rule 12 Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street

All of these rules are rules for the individual and they mainly concern the individual's own conduct and interpersonal relationships. Note the 6th rule in particular–"set your house in perfect order before you criticise the world". For a materialist or an idealist, it is impossible to get your house in order without engaging with the world–one's house is part of the world, and the flaws in it are inextricably linked with the flaws in the world. Poor and marginalised people are poor and marginalised because of economic and social systems which put them in position to fail and trap them in failure. That's what the left says. But instead the existentialists demand these individuals take responsibility for their failure and focus on making themselves into better people. Look at rule 4–"compare yourself with who you were yesterday, not with who someone else is today". This rule deflects people away from examining social unfairness.  If they examined social unfairness, they might feel that their situations are the product of unfairness and that might cause them to criticise the world before setting their houses in perfect order. We can't have that!

It's clear that this is existentialist–it puts the individual at the center of everything. We know that Peterson is a Christian–in a recent interview, he said so:

Yes. Which is a form of insanity. The ethical burden is ridiculous. God might swipe you down even though you're doing the right thing. But it's your best bet. There is a great level of reality out there which we don't know and don't understand. We can bargain with it, but it doesn't guarantee you anything and God can turn on you. That is the thing about life. There's no guarantee of success.

That sounds very Kierkegaardian to me. Listen to what Kierkegaard says in Purity of Heart:

You have surely noticed among schoolboys, that the one that is regarded by all as the boldest is the one who has no fear of his father, who dares to say to the others, "Do you think I am afraid of him?" On the other hand, if they sense that one of their number is actually and literally afraid of his father, they will readily ridicule him a little. Alas, in men's fear-ridden rushing together into a crowd (for why indeed does a man rush into a crowd except because he is afraid!) there, too, it is a mark of boldness not to be afraid, not even of God. And if someone notes that there is an individual outside the crowd who is really and truly afraid – not of the crowd, but of God, he is sure to be the target of some ridicule. The ridicule is usually glossed over somewhat and it is said: a man should love God. Yes, to be sure, God knows that man's highest consolation is that God is love and that man is permitted to love Him. But let us not become too forward, and foolishly, yes, blasphemously, dismiss the tradition of our fathers, established by God Himself: that really and truly a man should fear God. This fear is known to the man who is himself conscious of being an individual, and thereby is conscious of his eternal responsibility before God.

If you buy the central premises of all this–that we have free will, that there is a God, that he wants things from us, that we are responsible to him, and that looking at our problems and ourselves as socially caused is giving into despair–Peterson might seem sensible enough. But he's certainly not original. Kierkegaard died in 1855 in Denmark. You can modernise the text and pop it in the microwave, but it's still the same old sandwich.

For my part, I can't buy the premises. They strike me as an abdication of our collective responsibility to and for each other, and as a denial of fundamental facts about the human condition. We are not self-creating beings, we are subject to material social forces, and we can only thrive when we understand those forces and use that understanding to improve the situations of ourselves and those around us. In a good society, it's easy to be good because the forces that guide our lives are aligned in ways which help us out. Demanding that people transcend their situations and be good in spite of every obstacle isn't realistic for them, and it encourages us to judge, blame, and shame them. It isn't realistic for ourselves either, and it produces a life of purposeless self-flagellation. We have to help each other put everyone in position to do well. We all need each other's help. No one succeeds alone.

Existentialism is seductive, because it tells us a story that puts us back in control. But the control is a lie. Social systems can't be transcended. They can be understood and, through understanding, improved. But to run from them is not to gain independence from them–in denying them, we only ensure they dominate us completely. Only those of us who can see the forces can try to do something about them. The rest are stuck living under them, deluding themselves that they do otherwise in a bid to make themselves believe, for a moment or two, that they really do enjoy the exhilarating freedom of true choice. That exhilarating freedom can sell many thousands of self-help books, but it can't pay your student debt or your health insurance. You have to be willing to look at your chains if you ever hope to break or bend them.