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Open Letter To Jordan Peterson 

Open Letter To Jordan Peterson

Do Not Ignore The Generational Trauma Impact of Men and Boys Mental Health

This letter was originally published on Creative Loafing Charlotte

Dr. Peterson, 

I hope this email finds you well. My name is Roman Raies, I previously reached out to your business email in order to ask if Ralston University was hiring a social media manager. I greatly admire your devotion to advocating for social changes which would safeguard freedom and improve public mental health, particularly the mental health of men, whose mental health is stigmatized in ways that are often too discrete to notice without careful attention. I feel as if your advocacy gives a voice to millions who intuit that something is deeply wrong with our social norms, but do not know how to express it. Many of my friends have benefitted from reading your books and hearing your lectures, and I myself have listened to part of your lecture series on the psychology of the Bible. There are fewer and fewer voices in higher education brave enough to stand for classical liberal ideas of freedom of speech at a time when it is easier and safer for one’s career to tow the status quo line and follow the trend of adhering to speech codes, safe spaces, and de-platforming of speakers with conservative and anti-establishment viewpoints. I do not agree with you on every issue but have a great amount of respect for your willingness to engage in honest open debates, base your arguments on logical reasoning, research, and your clinical experience rather than politically convenient dogma. You are challenging a generation of young people to think for themselves at a time when our culture prioritizes the repetition of talking points. 

I have noticed that the people who have been able to move away the most from this mode of thinking are those who have traveled abroad, myself included. Although I ultimately decided to finish my education in the U.S. for health and personal reasons, I was fortunate enough to be able to enroll for a short time in University of Belgrano Argentina, a school which prioritizes the classical mode of learning. I learned what Plato, Cicero, and the stoics thought about human nature, and for the first time in many years, I felt that education had a mission other than simply preparing students to become employees. My understanding of history was deepened in a way that would not have been possible if I had only attended college in the U.S. For example, few of my colleagues in the U.S. know that Marx was inspired by Hegel, and was a reactionary against utopian forms of agrarian socialism. rather than Somewhere deep in my soul, I felt truly free to pursue my interests in a way that does not immediately lend itself to be weaponized for political purposes. 

My childhood has been replete with traumatic experiences, and as the safety of the country declines, trauma has revisited me multiple times recently. Just now I was threatened with violence by a man who I asked to speak less quietly in a public workspace. I have suffered from several mental disorders, including OCD, PTSD, and major depressive disorder. Your advocacy of a holistic approach to mental health has made me feel empowered to take control of my own life instead of relying solely on the social environment, and those around me. You show that although people may suffer, they should live their lives with dignity, bravery, and honesty. I practice Wim Hof method breathing daily or every other day when I am particularly busy. Your speaking has ignited within me, a deep interest in philosophy. I have read parts of Nietzche and Dostoyevsky, as well as Stoicism and some Eastern philosophy. Like you, I am curious as to how ancient wisdom can be integrated with modern psychology. 

I am writing this letter to ask you a question regarding what I believe to be an inconsistency in some of your arguments. In one of your interviews, you argued that young male students face a particularly insidious form of discrimination due to the fact that they tend to display more physical and direct verbal aggression whereas women engage in reputation destruction and indirect means of harming others which can be just as or even more destructive. Both young male and female children engage in harmful and immoral behaviors, but men are disproportionately targeted, stereotyped, and punished for minor in-school infractions. As the Head of Communications for Derek Mobley for County Commissioner, I have spoken with local activists who have told me that several schools in Guilford County are known for lacing young children with criminal records, due to physical and verbal fights and mental breakdowns. Instead of being rehabilitated in a constructive way, children across the country face counterproductive and even abusive discipline which compound the mental health problems at the root of problem behavior in the first place. For example, a ProPublica investigation found that in schools across Illinois, young children who are hard to control were routinely locked in solitary confinement, a punishment typically reserved for hardened criminals. U.S. children who miss homework assignments, talk too loudly, or defy bad teachers are often given disproportionately long detentions, suspensions and expulsions compared to children in European and Latin American countries, or placed away from others at a separate lunch table, denying them the chance to form bonding and relational skills. The importance of having a stable home family, role models, and a constructive school environment is that with the right social influences, children can begin to form habits and healthy relationship patterns which set them up to deal with the stresses of adulthood. While both genders are affected by these misinformed practices, male children are far more likely to face toxic behavior and inappropriate rapprochement from educators due to the way male children express anger in response to adversity. This is especially true of male children with chaotic home lives. In his book, The Body Keeps Score, Bessel Van Der Kolk, a pioneering researcher on trauma describes the erratic behavior of severely mentally ill children at The Children’s Clinic at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center. 

“They would run up to you and cling to you one moment and run away petrified, the next. Some masturbated compulsively; others lashed out at objects, pets, themselves. They were at once starving for affection and angry and defiant. The girls, in particular, could be painfully compliant. Whether oppositional or clingy, none of them seemed to be able to explore or play in ways typical for children their age.” 

Which group of children would be more likely to face unproductive and psychologically harmful punishments I described above? Girls who respond by becoming painfully compliant, or other children who respond by acting out? 

The answer is, of course, the latter. While it is incredibly dangerous for anyone, and especially women to become extremely passive, such a condition can harm one’s ability to resist danger, form healthy relationships, and achieve one’s goals. there is strong evidence to support the claim that male children and young men face more discrimination in the realms of education, criminal justice, and civil institutions such as family courts.

In schools, children who have had traumatic experiences at home are significantly more likely to face inappropriate punishments in school. Behavior which educators commonly see as kids acting out due to being spoiled often stems from the inability to learn proper coping and relational skills at home due to unhealthy relationships, abuse, and extreme stress caused by interparental fights. 

 A study done in collaboration between the CDC and Kaiser Permanente showed that traumatic and unhealthy experiences are far more common than acknowledged. Known as the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study, the results of this survey of 17,421 Kaiser patients who came through the Department of Preventive Medicine, show that sexual, verbal, and physical abuse is disturbingly common. More than a quarter reported that they were “often or very often” pushed, pushed, grabbed, slapped or had something thrown at them. The same amount was reported being hit so hard as to cause marks or injuries. 28% of women and 16% of men responded affirmatively to the question “Did an adult or person at least 5 years older ever attempt oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse with you. One in 8 people reported witnessing their mother being physically abused. 

The researchers assigned participants a score on the scale of 1 to ten, with each yes answer to a question being equivalent to a point. In schools, more than half of participants with an ACE score of more had behavioral issues, compared with three percent of those with a score of 0. The importance of having stable relationships with healthy parents is also demonstrated by the effects when parents are absent. Sadly social and legal forces do not prioritize children or the ability of parents to care for them. This is seen most clearly in the case of family court. 

Liberal Democrat and ardent supporter of second-wave feminism wrote in his book The Boy Crisis. 

“Once I listened, I was struck by how much the dads cared. When they vented their anger about discrimination against them in family court, they sounded legalistic, angry, and bitter. But when I asked them about their children, tears flowed down their cheeks. Their anger was but a mask for vulnerability — the powerlessness they felt as words like “visitation” and “custody” made them feel like second-class citizens, and how being able to see their children only every other weekend made them feel that anything they had to contribute would be washed away between visits.” 

The absence of fathers is linked to worse educational, physical, and life outcomes for children and boys in particular. One study showed that among third-grade boys of similar backgrounds, those with fathers present had scored better on every achievement test and received higher grades. Even when controlling for socioeconomic variables, boys whose only “father” was a sperm donor were twice as likely to run into legal problems before age 25, 2.5 times more likely to struggle with substance abuse, and more likely to experience problems with mental health and depression. Seventy percent of prisoners in California spent time in foster care as a youth. 

Interfamily fights, absentee parents, verbal and physical abuse, and inattentive parenting are symptoms of intergenerational trauma. When parents themselves do not have good mental health, they pass on their trauma stress to their children. Trauma and severe stress can occur at any age, but the brains of children and adolescents are especially vulnerable to being adversely affected by such experiences. When adolescents do not feel safe at home, they look to other communities for support, and this can often mean gangs. Conversely strong parental attachment is associated with lower rates of criminal participation. In high crime neighborhoods, 90 percent of children with healthy family bonds do not engage in criminal activity. 

Research on familial trauma has powerful implications for how we treat people in our daily lives, as well as for our conception of public health and sociological phenomena. When those impacted by familial trauma The incarceration rate of Norway is 71/100,000 per capita while the incarceration rate of the U.S. is 781/100,000. This is certainly due to the U.S. having a more punitive attitude to crime. The theory of broken windows policing argued that in order to prevent serious and violent crimes, it was necessary to crack down hard on minor crimes. However, even when only looking at violent crimes such as homicide, the discrepancy is vast. In 2018, the U.S. homicide rate was 4.96. In Norway in the same year, it was 0.47. 

Whereas conservatives have focused on cultural and social trends which create familial strife, liberals more commonly point to economic factors. Conservative philosopher and economist Thomas Sowell uses a comparative approach to study which countries have higher rates of divorce. His theory, based on first-person observation and comparisons of national statistics, is that a country’s divorce rate has little to do with its level of poverty, but rather that divorces rise due to cultural changes which occur when a country adopts a welfare state. Liberals by contrast focus on how stresses caused by economic transformations have led to the breakdown of communities at large. The truth is that economic anxiety and cultural anomie feed into each other in order to create the family crisis which we see now. Financial stress is the leading cause of divorce in the United States. According to a survey by Suntrust Bank, finances are the leading cause of stress in relationships, and much work has been done in sociology and psychology to show how financial and other unrelated stresses contribute to the breakdown of relationships when people do not respond in the right way. 

You have been a powerful advocate for mental health, but in certain areas related to intergenerational trauma, I believe your perspective falls short, particularly in the way that historical events have created current intergenerational trauma. In a recent discussion with Dennis Prager, you stated that systemic racism is not only a lie, but an anti-truth, but as I will explain in this letter, inherited privilege does continue to create discrepancies in life outcomes, although not in the way many activists portray. In many of your lectures, you argue that the left has simply replaced the Marxist class focus, with a new focus on race. Indeed, some activist scholars have deeply misrepresented, exaggerated, or outright lied about the way that race impacts a person’s life. For example, it is commonly believed in academic circles that police specifically target minorities, particularly African Americans, with the use of lethal force in encounters with police. However, a study by Ronald G. Fryer, Jr. at the National Bureau of Economic Research found using data from Houston Texas that when controlling for suspect Demographics, officer demographics, encounter characteristics, suspect weapon, and fixed year effects, African Americans were 27% less likely to be shot by the police than non-black, non-Hispanics. The same study also found that African Americans were far more likely to face nonlethal violence when accounting for other factors. Clearly, concern of police brutality is not unwarranted, but the rhetoric espoused by some celebrities and politicians that police are out to slaughter or hunt black people is dangerously lacking in nuance. 

Many of your statements on race sadly also lack nuance. While you are correct that Racial privilege has shown to be an important factor One study which analyzed 18 policy outcomes that can be said to measure the quality of life of individuals, such as high school graduation, out of wedlock births, persons below the poverty line, and reception of welfare benefits such as public healthcare, food stamps, disability, and unemployment benefits found that race and ethnicity had no significant effect on any of these outcomes when accounting for family intactness and other social factors. The authors of the study write. 

“Once family intactness, high school drop-out levels, and other demographic factors are taken into account, the fraction of blacks or Hispanics in an area rarely have a strong detrimental influence on the outcomes studied.

  • The fraction of the population that is Hispanic is normally a beneficial influence or shows no precise impact and has an adverse influence on less than one-fourth of the outcomes studied.

  • The fraction of the population that is black has an adverse influence on approximately half of the outcomes measured and is otherwise a beneficial or indeterminate influence.” 

I agree with your repudiation of the illiberal elements of the critical race theory movement, the proposal to establish more unaccountable Federal bureaucracies to police racial relations, the rejection of constitutionalism and the rule of law, the attitude of deterministic essentialism which permeates the movement’s adherents. Such attitudes will only end up hurting African Americans by reducing faith in liberal systems and giving rise to exploitative demagogues. However, this does not erase the truth that African Americans are indeed suffering as can be seen in nearly every metric used to measure the quality of life. The average male life expectancy at birth was 72.2, more than 4 years less than the average birth life expectancy for white men 76.6. A recent National Center For Health Statistics report found the gap to be even wider, with white men living on average six years more than black men. While the life expectancy of Americans fell by approximately one year, the life expectancy of African Americans has fallen by three years in the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent data shows that African Americans are incarcerated at more than three times the rate as white Americans, 465 per 100,000 for African Americans compared to 133 per 100,000 for African Americans. The percentage of African Americans who had not completed a high school degree or equivalent by age 25 in 2016 is 15%, almost double that of whites, 8%. 

The negative factors which I described in this letter, lack of stable family life, financial stress, lack of a safe community, and intergenerational trauma, are more likely to be present in African American communities. 64% of all children in single-family households are African American. Despite being only 13% of the U.S. population, 28% of single parents are African American. This is a huge part of why, racial discrepancies are most dramatically apparent when examining the educational outcomes of school-age persons, and in particular, school-age males. According to the U.S. Department of Education Office of civil rights, Black males nationally represent 29.1% of in-school suspensions, 35.6%, 50.4% of the recipients of corporal punishment, 29.7% of student arrests, and 36.2% of students who report bullying on the basis of race. The data suggest that the worst area of the United States for black male students is Washington D.C. where make up 83.6% of recipients of in-school suspensions, 90% of recipients of corporal punishment, and 83% of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions. 

The perpetuation of developmentally inappropriate punishments without rehabilitation in American public schools, is more likely to affect children from families with intergenerational strife, traumatic experiences caused by factors such as neighborhood violence, and families less able to support children by providing them with mental healthcare, and placing them in good schools. Whether or not this is deliberately caused by the personal racism of those in power, and systemic or unconscious racism in the American public are non-reputable propositions, in that it cannot be proven unless the listener accepts certain presuppositions.

Proponents of this view argue that social transformations intended to dismantle systems of oppression invariably leave a fragment of previous biases, or features of the system intact in order to preserve the interests of those in power. This implies the view that all meaningful social change is impossible without a complete revolutionary overthrow of the current system. As I have shown in this letter, this is not the case. Privilege is maintained primarily, not due to current racial systemic bias, but because past generations of minority parents were and are unable to pass on the same advantages, monetary and even emotional support that white parents could. Intergenerational trauma does not mean that parents of color are worse parents, but intergenerational trauma robs parents of both the perspective and presentness needed to adequately care for their children. Traumatized people, especially those with PTSD are more likely to lash out in bursts of anger at occurrences which do not register as worthy of such to people without a traumatic history. The intergenerational trauma effect can be seen in other populations across the world. According to the PMT Research Institute, grandchildren of children of holocaust survivors across the world were three times as likely to be referred to child psychiatry clinics the world as the general population. In recent history, whites are significantly more likely to have depression, and more likely to utilize inpatient and outpatient mental health services than almost all minority groups, however, a body of ethnographic research has shown that this is likely due to a mix of cultural factors, and mistrust or lack of resources to access mental health services, thus more of their mental health issues go unrecorded. I would venture that the numerous social and economic measurements of life quality I have cited in this letter suggest that African Americans and other minorities do not have an advantage in terms of mental health compared to whites. The historical traumatic experiences faced by African Americans and other minorities in the 20th century and before are well known. Lynchings, total exclusion from mainstream academia, employment, and housing available to whites, vagrancy laws designed specifically to keep Black labor cheap, and the day-to-day harassment, violence, and separation of families which occurred during and after slavery’s official end. It is almost inconceivable to say that none of this has contributed to intergenerational trauma among African Americans. To be sure, the African American community has been able to find wisdom, develop extraordinary resilience and create some of the best works of American literature and theatre due to the ever-pervasive difficulties they faced. Finding meaning and beauty amidst suffering is in fact a constant theme of African American art, literature, theology, and philosophical writings. 

The purpose of this letter is not to diminish the value of personal responsibility in determining one’s life in favor of highlighting intergenerational trauma and racial discrepancies. In fact, acknowledging the reality of these occurrences gives more meaning to one’s quest for self-fulfillment. Every generation of all races has the power to end the cycles of intergenerational trauma, lack of wealth inheritance, and social pathologies which have plagued the past. To be able to address these issues, however, it is first necessary to acknowledge that they exist, both on a personal and societal level. The First Step Act, which received widespread bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Trump, was recognized by politicians, activist groups, and notably the families of and the formerly incarcerated themselves, as an achievement in ending the cycles of incarceration, unemployment, and family separation which plague minority communities. Unfortunately, race is weaponized as an issue by both sides of the political spectrum, distracting from the real root problems at the heart of racial discrepancies. I have noticed that discussions of race on television have the character of simulacra, copies without an original; the same slogans keep getting repeated, but there is no source, original analysis, or reference to the most important social factors in achieving social mobility, namely the family. I intend this letter to serve as an invitation, to you, your audience, and all others who read it, to ask deep questions about the interrelated issues of race and trauma. This is not about “coming to terms with our racist past” but to find solutions that will help those affected by family instability and trauma now. As a society, we could reduce the dependence on chemical medicines with often severe side effects by placing cognitive-behavioral therapists in schools, hospital inpatient programs, and emergency rooms. We must create institutions that are more humane, not more bureaucratic. As a culture, we have to see all people as fellow human beings who experience the full range of emotions, who have suffered, felt loss, and struggled, instead of building assumptions on the basis of race. 

I want to invite you to come on as a guest to my podcast Philosophisn’t to discuss how societies can build strong, healthy individuals, and vice versa, how individuals can produce thriving societies. Needless to say, your work has touched the lives of millions, and as a busy public figure, it is possible that you will not have the time to respond to this letter or come onto my podcast to discuss your ideas and findings. However, if you do decide to join us for a discussion, it would mean an immense amount to me personally, as someone who has struggled and shared what I have learned from my struggles to better society, and an immense deal to the many of the people of Charlotte; Creative Loafing has around 100,000 viewers a month from the area and beyond, and we have been dedicated to highlighting ideas, philosophies and science which improves the lives of our readers. I will be in the area and available to meet you in person and am available any time to meet over zoom. I hope you will consider what I have to say, and if time allows, make an appearance on my podcast, either during your visit to North Carolina, or another time.

In search of the truth, 

Roman Raies


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