Tuesday, January 17, 2023

In Memoriam: the Popeyes Chicken Po'Boy Sandwich

Before Popeyes introduced their iconic (and notorious) Classic Chicken Sandwich, there was another iteration on the menu, known as the Chicken Po'Boy Sandwich. 

The Popeyes Chicken Po'Boy was itself iconic. It was a french bread roll with shredded lettuce, mayonnaise, and pickles, with two Popeyes Handcrafted Chicken Tenders. The bread melted in your mouth, and the chicken was completely complemented by the wrappings and fillings of the roll. 

Unfortunately, before the Classic Chicken Sandwich was introduced, the Chicken Po'Boy was removed from the menu. This was a terrible development. Popeyes kept the Shrimp Po'Boy, which was similar but made with Popeyes Popcorn Shrimp, and was a really sad example of a Shrimp Po'Boy, relatively. The Chicken Po'Boy was so much better!

 The Classic Chicken Sandwich is really good, and has re-established Popeyes as the premier source for fast-food chicken in the country (even surpassing Chic-fil-a's offering). It's distinctive and tasty, putting the fried chicken to the forfront. 

The Chicken Po'Boy didn't forward the chicken. Rather, it absorbed the chicken into a whole that was easily eaten without actually realizing that it was centered around fried chicken

I loved the Chicken Po'Boy. (I wasn't the only person who did.)

As a side-note to my investigation into whether I could find a better Chicken Tender than Popeyes, I prepared a somewhat similar replica of the Chicken Po'Boy. This wasn't completely successful.

To start, I fired up the toaster oven, and put two tenders on a piece of aluminum foil and cooked them at 425F for 20 minutes. For this experiment, I used Publix Premium Whole Wheat Breaded Chicken Tenders.

Then, I put some garlic butter on a Publix Hoagie Roll. (The roll was more bstantial--chewy--than the French Bread that had been used by Popeyes. It added more taste than the roll that Popeyes had used.) I briefly toasted the roll, and then applied some pickles, some mayonnaise, and some shredded romaine lettuce. 


When the tenders were done, I put them on the bed of lettuce and then sprinkled on some French's Louisiana Hot Sauce. I used a knife to press the contents and folded the roll around it, then cut the whole in half.


The thing that became immediately clear upon biting into this concoction was that the Publix Premium Tenders are much more flavorful (in terms of overbearing taste) than what Popeyes tenders are, or do. The taste of the tenders on my attempted duplication was way too much, relative to the taste of the roll of the taste of the other contents. (I mentioned in a previous post how the Public Premium tenders had a bit of a "patina" of taste similar to an Angel Food Cake. Plus, there's quite a bit of taste in the breading, which seems more dominant in the sandwich than Popeyes tenders are.)

This was a really good sandwich, one that I would make and eat again. But it wasn't duplicative of Popeyes Chicken Po'Boy. To achieve a better duplication, I probably have to follow some of the online recipes I found, including:

Basically, there's too much extra flavor from the breading and presentation in the Publix Premium Tender. I need to find a tender with less flavor if I wish to recreate the Popeyes Chicken Po'Boy. 


In Search of a Better Chicken Tender

"I Love That Chicken." 

Every once in a while, I get a craving for some chicken from Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen. I prefer the Handcrafted Tenders, because they are less messy than actual chicken pieces (lending themselves to perhaps be eaten in the car), and because they are very easily dip-able in one of Popeyes sauces. (I particularly like the Bayou Buffalo sauce, although some of the other sauce flavors are pretty good, too.)

(Some of my readers will not be surprised to hear that my favorite Popeyes chicken a few years ago wasn't the tenders, but the Chicken Po'Boy Sandwich. It was easy to eat with one hand, and the combination of french roll, mayonnaise, pickles, and lettuce was to die for. I've written an appendage blog about trying to recreate that.)

The closest Popeyes to me, here in Fort Myers, is just about a mile away. But I've had some terrible experiences there, including messed up orders, extremely long waits, and even one time where they had "misplaced" my online order, causing me to hold up a line trying to help them to recreate it (since I had already paid). and causing some of the people in that line to get downright nasty. (I posted one of the only 1-star reviews I've ever written after that miserable event.) That was the last time I went to the relatively close Popeyes. 

Fortunately, there is another Popeyes across the Caloosahatchee River, in Cape Coral. It's about four and a half miles away, and my experience there has been better (although it's clear that fast food restaurants are having a hard time hiring and keeping good workers). It's also close to the Lowe's that I often go to, and there's the added bonus of a great view of the river and the Fort Myers waterfront (such as it is) coming and going across the bridge.

A five-piece Handcrafted Chicken Tenders Combo at the Cape Coral Popeyes is currently $11.29 plus tax. It includes five tenders, a biscuit, a side (the Cajun fries are a winner!), and a medium drink (It doesn't appear possible from the online menu to order the tenders themselves without the combo.) It's more than enough food for a meal, and I often save two tenders for later, along with the side and the biscuit. (Why DOES Popeyes include a biscuit with their meal, anyway? The only time I really like having the biscuit is when I order the mashed potatoes side, since it's great for sopping up gravy. It's also pretty good as a snack heated up with a little honey.) A three-piece tenders combo is certainly a sufficient amount of food, but when I'm anticipating the amazing taste and mouth feel of a crunchy, moist, tasty piece of the best chicken on the planet, it's hard to keep myself to ordering just three. (Plus, a three-piece combo is $10.19; and who wouldn't want two additional chicken tenders for only $1.10 more?!)

(As an aside, it's not REALLY the best chicken on the planet, although it's pretty close, and here in Florida I haven't found a good source of really good fried chicken, the best of which comes from Harold's The Fried Chicken King in Chicago. 

 Without access to Harold's, Popeyes is about the best there is. [This article rates a bunch of available fast food chicken tenders and concludes that Popeyes is far and away the best. This somewhat older article rates Popeyes second best behind Raising Cane's, also from Louisiana, although I haven't had the pleasure of trying them.)

(You don't like fried chicken?! Don't @ me.)

$11.29 for a five-piece tender combo is not really all that expensive, although it has certainly gone up in the last couple of years. But when I paid for my most recent combo, I thought to myself: "I bet I could make a pretty decent chicken tender at home for a lot less money!" Certainly there is the option of cooking from scratch, with chicken tenderloins, a nice batter, and some good oil. But who really wants used frying oil to have to deal with? (I do plan to check out a couple of recipes, and will let you know how that turns out.) I know that in the supermarket, there are many different types of prepared chicken tenders available--most frozen, although some fresh ones are available. Much easier to take a few out of the freezer and heat them up in the toaster oven to satisfy a craving, right? 

A Taste Test Comparison

So I decided to do a little comparison: Popeyes tenders vs. a few of the available options at my local Publix supermarket. I didn't really expect the supermarket tenders to be better than Popeyes, or even close to equivalent. But maybe something is "good enough." (Given that the tenders are typically dipped in a flavorful sauce, maybe the quality of the tenders themselves isn't all that important?)

As I mentioned, there are a lot of options available. Many of them seem marketed at parents of hungry kids. (Dinosaur shapes? I know at least a few youngsters who won't eat anything BUT chicken strips!) Also, some of the brands seem to have multiple "flavors" available. Not surprisingly, Tyson has many different kinds of frozen chicken pieces (including their Any'tizer brand). I found an online article that suggested that the Tyson's Southern Style Breast Tenderloins was the best, so that was the first candidate I chose.

There were a number of Perdue branded options, but the one that caught my eye was the Chicken Breast Strips, which come fresh ("never frozen"). These aren't exactly tenderloins, and in fact really weren't comparable to the others, as you'll see below.

The other option that was the closest to what I was looking for ("tenderloins") was Publix's own Premium Whole Grain Breaded Chicken Tenderloins. To round out the comparison, of course I had to include Popeyes, which is what I was craving in any case.

So we had our contenders (for what might just be the first round of comparison):

  • Popeyes Handcrafted Tenders, $11.29 for five pieces (purchased cooked, then refrigerated overnight and reheated in the oven)
  • Tyson's Southern Style Breast Tenderloins, $12.89 for 25 oz, frozen, then cooked in the oven
  • Publix Whole Grain Breaded, $12.49 for 24 oz, frozen, then cooked in the oven
  • Perdue Chicken Breast Strips, $4.99 for 12 oz, fresh, then frozen overnight, then cooked in the oven

The Popeyes tenders were left over from a five-piece that I had purchased the day before. As always, the tenders just home from the store were incredibly good while fresh and hot. Refrigerating a couple overnight certainly hurt their overall appeal a bit (see below). 

The reason I froze the Perdue Strips is because I wanted a fair comparison with the other frozen options, and also because I know I wasn't going to eat all of them in the next few days. This might have been much better if I had cooked it from fresh (and for that reason I might have to include them in a future comparison).

One question that arose was how to account for the slightly different cooking directions. Both the Tyson's and the Publix called for a 425F oven for 18-20 minutes. Perdue wanted a 400F oven for 10-12 minutes (or two more minutes if frozen). Popeyes, of course, didn't come with directions for how to reheat.I decided to use a 425F oven for 20 minutes, and to slightly compensate for the temperature by withholding the Perdue strips until 9 minutes had passed, and then putting in the Popeyes with five minutes left. This way they'd all be done at the same time.


The contenders differed from each other in a number of respects, and I was curious whether their lists of ingredients might account for some of those differences. 

 The photos aren't perfect, but you can see the following significant differences:

  • Tyson's lists "buttermilk powder" while the other two don't.
  • All three have sugar, although Tyson's lists "dextrose."
  • Both Perdue and Publix include "yeast," while Tyson's does not.
  • Perdue and Tyson have some corn meal or corn flour, while Publix does not.
  • Publix lists "whole wheat flour" (not surprising given its name) while Tyson's only lists "wheat flour," and Perdue lists both regular and whole wheat flour.
  • Publix and Tyson say their breading is "set in vegetable oil" (which I guess means they've been fried?) while Perdue doesn't say that.
  • Publix doesn't have water as an ingredient, but it does list "chicken broth" (which I assume has water in it).
  • Both Perdue and Tyson list garlic, black pepper, and paprika explicitly, while Publix only lists "natural flavors."
  • All have salt. Perdue (oddly) adds vinegar. 
  • Popeyes, of course, doesn't list ingredients on their packaging at all. A brief search of Google finds a lot of guesses as to what they put into their tenders. Some people say they are marinated in buttermilk before being breaded and fried. Most assessments include garlic, some cayenne pepper, . Everyone assumes there's some hot sauce (maybe even in the "mild" version), and most suggest some corn flour or cornstarch.. Many think there's probably some egg (used to "set" the breading?). (If you search for ingredients online, you can download a PDF purportedly from Popeyes that lists the very long list of ingredients. Also, this article recounts one person's attempt to recreate the recipe as close as possible, with some interesting details!) What's pretty clear is that the tenders arrive at each Popeye's location having been already prepared, and already fried once.


At around 17 minutes or so, I could smell the tenders cooking, and by 20 minutes when I took them out of the oven, they were all pretty hot. 


(The Biscuit was leftover Popeyes.)

The first thing I did was cut each in half for a photo. 

First was the Tyson's, which definitely looked most yummy out of the oven:

Next, the Publix, which had a slightly darker shade that suggested its "whole wheat" designation (or perhaps reflected the presence of chicken broth?):

Third, the Perdue, which, as you can see, just didn't compare in terms of how substantial the breading is, and which presented a less appealing piece of chicken:

And finally, the Popeyes, which of course looked awesome (although not quite as good as the previous day):

The second thing I did was cut off a big piece of each to eat without any sauce. The third thing was to dip each in some leftover Buffalo Bayou sauce. Finally, I finished them all, using repeated tastings to refine my judgment.


My Findings

Let me start with the bottom line. Popeyes, even though the tenders were slightly less delicious and a little more dry than when they were freshly cooked the day before, were certainly the best. Popeyes is especially good at "holding" the Buffalo Bayou sauce in the folds of its coating.

Both the Tyson's and the Publix tenders were quite good: crunchy coating, with moist and flavorful chicken. They differed very slightly in their taste: the Tyson's had a very slight and pleasant tang to it, while the Publix had a somewhat odd accompaniment to the primary taste: a bit of sweet dough taste that was reminiscent of angel food cake(?)! This extra Publix patina wasn't really objectionable, and was certainly too subtle to taste when doused in sauce. Plus, while the Publix Premium tender was slightly moister than the Tyson's, I'd definitely choose the Tyson's Southern Style for its slightly better taste.

The Perdue strip just couldn't compete with this crowd. While it was purchased fresh, I froze it so it was like the others, possibly removing its one advantage. Perdue makes no claim to actually be a "tender," from a chicken tenderloin. It very much was just a chicken strip. Its breading was not crunchy, just a little chewy, and the chicken had no where near the flavor that the true tenders did. Plus, there was a slight institutional taste, reminding me of the chicken patties that we used to be served in the cafeteria a school. I simply don't see a situation in which I would choose Perdue Chicken Breast Strips as my option: better to buy my own strips and slice them and bread them.

This comparison certainly room to include some additional options next time: perhaps the house brand of another supermarket such as Whole Foods?, and some of the alternative options available, including organic tenders and "tenders" made from cauliflower. It's quite possible that one of those other options would be good enough to surpass the Tyson tenders. (We'll see.)

The real question that I'm left with after concluding my tasting here is whether the Popeyes tenders are sufficiently better than the other options to choose them every time. There is the issue of convenience: if I don't have anything in my freezer and find myself craving tenders, do I drive 15 minutes to Popeyes and be almost immediately gratified, or do I go and get some frozen ones in the supermarket and head home to cook them in the oven? The prospect of immediate gratification with a better option than the others means that Popeyes will continue to win out in these circumstances. 

However, I now have about 25 tenders in my freezer, including some that aren't very good but some that certainly are passable. If I keep my freezer well stocked, maybe I'll never drive over the Caloosahatchee to Popeyes again. Or maybe not.

Saturday, September 04, 2021

The Last Days of Barbara Jane Gamble

This is the last photo I have of my mother Barbara looking relatively healthy. It's from August 8.

Here she is with her sister Joyce.😘 We had a very nice lunch along with my visiting daughter, Rowan. (Mom was much more...distractable...that day.)

On August 14, Mom fell (probably her eighth serious fall since early 2019) and badly hurt her elbow and the side of her head. When I took her back to the memory care from the emergency room, I had to practically carry her from the car. 😓

She never really recovered. She started sleeping all day and being up all night.

A week later, at the recommendation of Michelle, the memory care nursing director, and Laura, her nurse practitioner, Mom went on hospice.

Hope Hospice is a wonderful organization, and they swarmed my mom (and me) with love and attention. 💖

On the 23rd, I removed Mom's bed so a hospital bed could go in her room. She was barely conscious of being put into a wheelchair while we waited for the delivery of her bed. The hospice doctor, Matt, was there. He promised to keep Mom comfortable.

On the 28th, Heather, the hospice nurse, called to say my mom wasn't doing well but was stable.

On the 30th, a different Michelle, the nurse on duty. called to update me again. She said I should definitely come see Mom. (This Michelle has a beautiful Jamaican accent. 🇯🇲)

That day was hard. I spent about 90 minutes with Mom. I brought her my teddy bear, Merriweather (given to me when I was in the hospital for two weeks when I was 15), to hold. (I have a photo of her clutching the Bear, but she doesn't look too good in that photo.)

Mom was unresponsive, with shallow breathing and an irregular heartbeat.

Heather came by and confirmed that Mom was transitioning, and we decided to order some morphine and some Ativan. She also said I should tell my Mom it was okay if she wanted to let go. The hospice chaplain, David, also came by, and, at my request, he said a prayer for Mom. 🙏

When I left, I gave Mom a kiss 😚 and told her I'd be back tomorrow.

I never had the chance.

At 1 a.m. on the 31st, Jackie from the hospice called and said that my mom had passed, peacefully, at 11:50 p.m. on the 30th. I waited until the morning to tell Joyce, my brothers, my Dad, Ed, my cousins, and some of my closest friends.

Today, my cousin Tim and his wife Courtney helped me empty out my Mom's room. We took the furniture and the clothes to Goodwill and the rest, including an Afghan crocheted by Mom's mother, Myrtle, and Merriweather the Bear, I brought home.


So ended my Mom's time here on earth. I believe she chose to check out when her quality of life was no longer worth the effort.

While I was able to prepare for this day, especially during the 34 months since Frank Gilbert died and my Mom became my primary responsibility, I'm feeling an incredible heaviness right now.

Barbara was the *best* Mom a man could want. 💝 She had a very good, rich, adventurous life. I'll write more about that later.

Among my more self-centered thoughts: Now that she's gone, what do I do?

Big up to the staff at Cypress Point Memory Care. They loved my Mom dearly (one aide called her "My Barbie Doll") and greatly appreciated her spunk and humor. Also thanks to the first responders and everyone at Gulf Coast Medical Center.

Special shout-out to Joyce ❤ for being there for my Mom and me throughout. She's the best Aunt and sister in the whole world.

And I'm sending another check to the Alzheimer's Association. We need to defeat this scourge ASAP.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

I don't hate Trump; I hate Trumpism

I have been having an extended one-on-one conversation with a Trump supporter about what's at stake in this election. Our discussions are sometimes rich and enlightening. However, my interlocutor is a reluctant participant: he often grabs onto excuses to stop discussing substance, sometimes trying to de-legitimize my "facts" because of their source.

(You know: "fake news" and all that.)

But the other day it wasn't about my sources. Rather, it was about me as an impartial or even rational observer.

We were discussing Jordan Peterson's distinction between "collectivist" thinking and focusing on the "sovereign individual." Peterson seems to favor "sovereign individual" perspective. I get the impression that Peterson (and my interlocutor) believe that conservatives (the GOP?) are more attuned to the sovereign individual than are "leftist liberals" who tend toward "collectivist" thinking. (However, Peterson does admit in at least one context that both ways of thinking belong in the conservative mindset and in a well-functioning society.)

(In my view, Peterson here is trying to distance himself from explicitly racist white nationalism, in part by painting his point of view in moderate terms to make it more palatable to a wider audience. Actually, this is not a bad strategy for a scholar to take!)

I wrote to my interlocutor that I have problems with Peterson's implication that Republicans today are superior to "left-liberals" because of their explicit devotion to individualism:

The GOP today, or should I say the “Trump party” today, isn’t as devoted to the individualistic principle as people in the GOP seem to think. I despise the present-day GOP in the ways that it deviates so violently from longstanding conservative principles. The GOP today is a tribal party, which seeks to exclude (to "other", to distance itself from) people who don’t adhere to certain dogmas, not least of which is the dogma that Trump is a “true conservative.” The tribal GOP especially excoriates left-liberal people who identify themselves with a particular identity, such as “feminist,” or “queer,” or “BLM,” claiming that they are, by their allegiance to a "political identity," declaring themselves as “collectivist” in their thinking. (Trump even labels some of these identity groups as "haters, in a classic example of his tendency to project his own beliefs on to others.)  

A less fraught way to describe liberals' identification with certain political identity groups might be "intersectional social justice"

I continued:

A lot of Trump’s rhetoric is truly hateful: for example, his reference in a September 2020 speach to the “good genes” of his supporters in Minnesota, especially when juxtaposed to his disdain for refugees of color (South Asian and African), has echoes of eugenics

Here, as elsewhere, Trump is *using* the (often racist) hatred of his supporters towards others as a political lever to increase or at least shore-up support for him. This, to me, is truly anti-American.

I see additional “collectivist/tribal” thinking in the “America First” rhetoric of today’s Trump party. If the US is, as it has long tried to be, a “beacon of light” in a world of darkness, or a “shining city upon a hill,” then the USA has a duty to work for the betterment of all of humanity. (Forgive me for actually believing in humanity as a collective. I admit this is speciesism, but if I were to focus on all of life or The Earth as a whole, this discussion would become a discussion of environmentalism rather than of Trumpism.) US humanitarianism should apply to a wide variety of world issues and problems, ranging from climate change to supporting democracy, to providing financial and food assistance, and to offering a “refuge” for “refugees” who are fleeing political and economic persecution. These used to be US ideals, not limited to a particular party.

Trump's admitted "nationalism" is tribal in that it sees "Americans" as a special group requiring special protection from the "barbarians" (my word) at the gate. Some say that Trump's nationalism is "white nationalism," but even if it's not exactly that, it does target black and brown people--especially those who are poor--for special "othering."

At first, my interlocutor was more interested in disagreeing with me about my characterizations of Jordan Peterson than my characterizations of the GOP and of Trump. After some prompting, my interlocutor responded to what I wrote:

The first “problem” I see in what you said about the GOP is that it’s become the “Trump party.” Trump did not run on the GOP platform. He ran against their platform. He ran against the establishment with include the GOP and the Democrats. He ran against the Washington thought process and he won against the GOP before winning the Presidency.

Okay...then let's just dispense with the label "GOP" and call it the "Trump Party," i.e. those politicians--in fact, almost entirely from the GOP--who support Trump again and again and again.

My interlocutor continued:

As to your digression into tribalism, I can’t really comment on that because it is itself so divisive. You seem to be demonizing conservatives because you hate Trump so much and I just can’t equate the two that way because of the reasons I already stated.

Now I'm not sure where I "demonized" conservatives. Those who adhere consistently to conservative principles deserve praise. Many of them are principled Never-Trumpers. But so-called "conservatives" who support Trump are, in my mind, abandoning their conservative principles. Trump is no conservative. (On this, apparently, my interlocutor agrees.)

(An aside: if a conservative is very clear that they are ONLY supporting Trump to fill the court with conservative judges, we might cut them a little slack for choosing Trump as the "lesser of two evils" to attain something that they could absolutely never get with a Democratic administration. But if they are using Trump to get judges and also ignoring the many problems facing Americans today (Hello, GOP-controlled Senate and especially Mitch McConnell!), they're just venal opportunists and should be condemned as such.}

Now, what about my interlocutor's claim that I "hate Trump so much" that it causes me to "demonize" conservatives, among other alleged failures of seeing and knowing? The argument here seems to be (and is supported passim elsewhere in the conversation) that I am "blinded" by hate to the point that I can't see that good of conservatism, or the GOP, or Trump.

This accusation is different from the "Fake News" claim. It is no longer about my sources, my values, or my political positions. It makes the argument about hiding behind my negative emotions to hurl unfounded accusations at Trump while refusing to look critically as Democrats and Never-Trumpers.

I find "hate" a dirty word and an ugly reality. Yes, I used it in the conversation. I said that Trump uses the word "haters" to describe members of certain identity groups, including BLM. (This is a fact, not a personal emotion on my part.) I also decried "a lot of Trump's rhetoric" as "truly hateful." I also said that Trump is using the hatred towards others of some of his supporters (and intended supporters) as a political ploy. In speaking their negative emotions out loud, he has become an almost God-like hero. He "tells it like it is," according to some who admire him.

But I NEVER said "I hate Trump," at least not in the conversation that I've been describing. I can't say I've never EVER said "I hate Trump," because I know I have, in fits of anger and agitation.

But I don't hate Trump. That is, I don't hate Trump personally. I don't KNOW him personally, for one thing. I only know the persona that he exhibits on TV and the analysis of that persona by journalists and critics. I also have no need to hate Trump as a person. I can hate the way Trump attempts to fulfill his role as President without hating him.

I do "hate" a good number of the things Trump has done, especially his apparent willingness to lie repeatedly, but also the crass (seemingly disingenuous) ways that he conforms to the expectations of his (potential) supporters, including white evangelical Christians. I hate the ways that Trump has alienated America's traditional allies. I hate the ways that he has cozied up to dictators. I hate his tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations. I hate his efforts to undermine the public schools, the ways he demonizes "democrat" governors and mayors and even cities and states, and his administration's intention to void the Affordable Care Act. I hate his efforts to cut environmental regulations. I hate his withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord. I hate his failure to consistently ask Americans to wear masks and to socially distance. I hate his treatment of experts like Anthony Fauci and Robert Redfield. 

In short, I hate Trumpism with as much political passion as I've ever had regarding anything.

There may be some Trump supporters who say that a lot of what I hate in Trump's words is, well, just an words. Instead, look at what he does, they say. They say that Trump isn't really anti-science; that he actually does understand climate change and forest management; that we shouldn't take his anti-refugee rhetoric literally (or even seriously) because he's actually pro-immigrant; that he actually values women and people of color; that he brings financial resources to veterans, non-profits, and poor people. Trump supporters find all sorts of examples of Trump doing honorable things.

I think a lot of this is cherry picking and ignoring the forest for a tree or two. In general, I think the effects of Trump's policies have been terrible for a lot of people. And, like I said, I don't know Trump "behind the scenes." I don't know how he acts when the cameras aren't on him. I don't know what he truly believes. (After all, he was a Republican before he was a Democrat before he was a Republican--or whatever he was when he ran for President.)

Perhaps the writers who claim to know The Donald well and who have been exposing him in recent publications are themselves ignoring the good things he's doing or misstating their experiences for political expediency. Perhaps he's actually kind and generous, humorous, charming, a lover of children and dogs, devoted to the Constitution and democracy, committed to the proposition that all people are created equal, caring about the needs of the poor and of disabled people, and working for wanting quality public education (through choice and vouchers) for all.

Perhaps everything I think I know about Trump and Trumpism is wrong; perhaps I truly am blinded by hatred, and just don't know it. Perhaps I would support Trump if only I could see him as he really is.

How would I know that I'm biased to my core, not seeing the reality of this President? How can I remove the scales from my eyes to see him clearly? What should I watch or read or contemplate to repair my heart and mind?

What do you think?


Sunday, September 27, 2020

Leftist liberals seek to destroy society and your way of life; conservatives seek to preserve them. Or so says right-wing-darling Jordan Peterson.

I've been having a discussion on the distinction between "tribal" collectivism and the "sovereignty of the individual," as raised in a video featuring Jordan Peterson.

Peterson claims to be a "right wing psychologist." What this means exactly is unclear, but it is crystal clear that Peterson credits conservatives (especially British so-called "Liberal" philosophers) who formally articulated the theory of the "sovereign individual" in the 18th and 19th centuries. Peterson seems to suggest that "leftist liberals" are more "tribal" in their orientation while conservatives are more devoted to the sovereign individual. 

In the discussion with my interlocutor, I pressed back on Peterson a bit. I wrote: 

Another interesting tidbit in the talk is the difference between what [Peterson] calls “collectivist” vs. “individualistic” thumbnail views of social relationships. I agree with the idea that the “individualistic” view was articulated relatively late in history (e.g. John Stuart Mill), and I also agree with the notion that a collectivistic view is similar to what we see among chimpanzees: it’s both ancient and tribal. 

But I think this is muddled in [Peterson's] view, because he holds that the “individualistic” view is morally superior to the collectivist view AND in his mind, more associated with a conservative mindset.

I know that conservatives claim to be devoted to the sovereign individual, but in today's GOP, that devotion is less clear:

Because the GOP defines its “true” members by who they are not (i.e. they are *not* supporters of a “politics of identity”), the GOP has become more collectivist than the Democratic Party. (Just look at the differences in racial makeup of the two parties and their representatives.) So for conservatives (especially those affiliated with the GOP) to declare that they are somehow superior (morally; intellectually) to "leftist liberals" (especially those affiliated with the Democratic Party) because of the GOP's alleged allegiance to “individualistic” principles is, in my view, a joke.

I also see the “collectivistic” thinking of today’s Trump party in the “America First” rhetoric. If the US is, as it has pretended to be, a “beacon of light” in a world of darkness, or a “shining city upon a hill,” then the USA has a duty to work for the betterment of all of humanity. (Forgive me for actually believing in humanity as a whole.) This should apply to a variety of world issues and problems, ranging from climate change to supporting democracy, to providing humanitarian assistance to offering a “refuge” for “refugees” who are fleeing political and economic persecution. These used to be US ideals, not limited to a particular party.

"America First" is a tribal as it gets.

My interlocutor responded that he didn't think Peterson was saying that an emphasis on the "sovereign individual" over the collective was superior. He said that Peterson talks about collectivist values and individual values as being in a "conversation" that has vitality in a democracy. I think that's right to some extent, as in this passage:

Who's right? It depends on the situation. That's why liberals and conservatives have to talk to each other, because one of them isn't right and the other is wrong. Sometimes the liberals are right, because the environment is unpredictable and constantly changing, so that's why you have to communicate. That's what a democracy does. It allows people of different temperamental types to communicate and to calibrate their societies. 

But in other situations, Peterson's discussion of individualism suggest he thinks its a superior view. Here's Peterson in another context:

The notion that every single human being – regardless of their peculiarities and their strangenesses and sins and crimes and all of that – has something divine in them that needs to be regarded with respect, plays an integral role, at least an analogous role, in the creation of habitable order out of chaos. It's a magnificent, remarkable and crazy idea. Yet we developed it.

And I do firmly believe that it sits at the base of our legal system. I think it is the cornerstone of our legal system. That's the notion that everyone is equal before God. That's such a strange idea...But if you look way that the idea of individual sovereignty developed, it is clear that it unfolded over thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of years, where it became something that was fixed in the imagination that each individual had something of transcendent value about them. And, man, I can tell you – we dispense with that idea at our serious peril. And if you're going to take that idea seriously – and you do because you act it out, because otherwise you wouldn't be law-abiding citizens. It's shared by anyone who acts in a civilized manner.

This response was typical for Peterson. In the video, when he describes the "collectivist" view, his example is chimpanzees, which Jane Goodall described as "tribal" in that they patrol the borders of their territory and "tear apart" any chimpanzees who aren't from their tribe. He also claims that liberalism tends toward an "atomized society." This seems to be a contradiction between his association of liberalism with collectivism and conservatism with individualism. According to many critiques, an "atomized society" comes more directly from the concept of "atomic individualism" than leftist liberalism.

Again, as he criticizes liberalism but never speaks negatively of conservatism, it doesn't seem like Peterson is trying to balance collective and individualistic views. 

Peterson does denounce the "extreme right," but doesn't see that as conservatism. In his efforts to "balance," he never offers any actual critique of individualism/conservatism (or of capitalism for that matter). Here he is on the relationship between identity politics and individualism:

Here he is again, discussing the "liberal type" of personality:

The liberal types, especially the Social Justice types, are way higher in Compassion. It's actually their fundamental characteristic. You might think, 'well, compassion is a virtue.' Yes, it's a virtue, but any uni-dimensional virtue immediately becomes a vice, because real virtue is the intermingling of a number of virtues and their integration into a functional identity that can be expressed socially. Compassion can be great if you happen to be the entity towards which it is directed. But compassion tends to divide the world into crying children and predatory snakes. So if you're a crying child, hey great. But if you happen to be identified as one of the predatory snakes, you better look the hell out. Compassion is what the mother grizzly bear feels for her cubs while she eats you because you got in the way.  

As far as I can tell, you need conscientiousness, which is a much colder virtue. It's also a virtue that is much more concerned with larger structures over the longer period of time. And you can think about conscientiousness as a form of compassion too. It's like: 'straighten the hell out, and work hard and your life will go well. I don't care how you feel about that right now.' Someone who's cold, that is, low in agreeableness and high in conscientiousness, will tell you every time. 'Don't come whining to me. I don't care about your hurt feelings. Do your goddamn job or you're going to be out on the street.' One might think, 'Oh that person is being really hard on me.' Not necessarily. They might have your long term best interest in mind. You're fortunate if you come across someone who is disagreeable. Not tyrannically disagreeable, but moderately disagreeable and high in conscientiousness because they will whip you into shape. And that's really helpful. You'll admire people like that. You won't be able to help it.

Just to re-emphasize Peterson's preference for the individualistic (or "conservative") personality, he accuses certain liberals of a kind of totalitarianism.

That's the compassion issue. You can't just transform that into a political stance. 

I think part of what we're seeing is actually the rise of a form of female totalitarianism, because we have no idea what totalitarianism would be like if women ran it, because that's never happened before in the history of the planet. 

(See also his video encounter with a feminist.)

So perhaps what Peterson is actually doing in his emphasis on "balance" is arguing with liberals who don't adequately value conservative values.

This is like Fox News claiming it is "Fair and Balanced."


But because Peterson styles himself as an objective intellectual, he is sometimes hard to pin down. Some have tried.

As in The Guardian writes: [Peterson's] "arguments are riddled with ‘pseudo-facts’ and conspiracy theories." Again, despite his claims to want "balance," he has become a darling of conservatives. 

No wonder every scourge of political correctness, from the Spectator to InfoWars, is aflutter over the 55-year-old professor who appears to bring heavyweight intellectual armature to standard complaints about 'social-justice warriors' and 'snowflakes.' They think he could be the culture war’s Weapon X.

Peterson continually decries "post-modernism" and the "radical left" but always describes them in quite general and vague terms. His interview with Helen Lewis shows a kind of aggressive and bullying affect that appeals to many conservative men. Indeed, an argument could be made that men are his primary audience. For example, he claims that these trends have meant that our culture hasn't "discussed responsibility in over 50 years." This phrase "our culture" is also used bluntly to make his case: "Our culture confuses men's desire for achievement and competence with the patriarchal desire for tyrannical power. That's a big mistake." He also talks about "the modern idea of patriarchy" and "this whole patriarchy thing" as if that idea is both unitary and also dominated by a radical leftist critique of men. He derides the "modern" emphasis on "power" rather than "competence." He critiques "modern universities" (especially the social sciences) as allegedly dens of radical leftism that are being abandoned by men. He also makes very strong claims about the ways that "institutionally powerful radicals" in universities seek to replace "natural" hierarchies of competence with a "totalitarian" goal of "equality of outcome" in an effort to "remake society in their multi-gendered image."

At the core of his position, though, seems to be the view that any claim of "oppression"--whether systemic or individual--are illegitimate and (according to him) a form of "neo-Marxism."

Despite his stringent derogation of "neo-Marxism" and also "cultural Marxism," Peterson is also strongly and slyly Marxist (certainly a believer in historical materialism) in his orientation, with his commonly expressed view that "technological change" is more important to history than political action by certain identity groups. "In doing so Peterson loses track of the absolutely critical roles that both ideology and, ironically, individual human psychology play in turning some people against their fellow human beings." [source] In other contexts, Peterson seems quite confused about the relationship between Marxist communism and Nazi fascism.

[As an aside, Peterson's claim that "one of the things [he's] strived to do is not to become resentful" is belied by his affect when he says that and (as mentioned by Helen Lewis) the obvious resentment he seems to express on his Twitter feed when responding to critiques of his positions. Peterson's recent struggle to overcome physical dependence on anti-anxiety drugs could be additional evidence of deep resentment, or at least of his admitted anger at the world. Peterson's own resentment is also strongly implied by his use of German "resentment" as an excuse for Nazi atrocities. This attempt to explain Nazism psychologically is an example why Peterson has become a darling of the alt-right (or at least the alt-light, which doesn't necessarily advocate explicitly for fascism.]

In an article in Maclean's, attempts to understand Peterson's "darling" status among certain groups. 

There is no polite way to put this, but since Peterson claims that “If you worry about hurting people’s feelings and disturbing the social structure, you’re not going to put your ideas forward,” I’m just going to say it: Spend half an hour on his website, sit through a few of his interminable videos, and you realize that what he has going for him, the niche he has found—he never seems to say “know” where he could instead say “cognizant of”—is that Jordan Peterson is the stupid man’s smart person.

While one could counter that only an academic would critique Peterson for appealing to "stupid men," his fame among certain resentful men is obvious. Southey continues:

It’s easy to assume Peterson is deserving of respect. A lot of what he says sounds, on the surface, like serious thought. It’s easy to laugh at him: after all, most of what he says is, after fifteen seconds’ consideration, completely inane. But in between his long rambling pseudo-academic takes on common self-help advice and his weird fixation on Disney movies, is a dreadfully serious message.

What he’s telling you is that certain people—most of them women and minorities—are trying to destroy not only our freedom to spite nonbinary university students for kicks, but all of Western civilization and the idea of objective truth itself. He’s telling you that when someone tells you racism is still a problem and that something should be done about it, they are, at best, a dupe and, at worst, part of a Marxist conspiracy to destroy your way of life.

Unless you yourself are a "leftist liberal," in which case Peterson just seems like an apologist for those who want to go back to a time when anyone who claims to be oppressed is just "waaaa."

Next topic: Donald Trump hates democracy.