Tuesday, November 9, 2021

The Jordan Peterson Principle

Now that Nellie Bowles has resigned from the New York Times, following the example of her “wife” Bari Weiss, John Sexton has used the occasion to example the moral aspect of the question. Should he continue to despise Bowles for having written what he calls a “hit piece” about Jordan Peterson, or should he forgive and forget?

So, allow Sexton his judgment.

Okay, that stopped me in my tracks because suddenly I remembered Nellie Bowles. She’s the author of a truly awful profile of Jordan Peterson for the NY Times. Every progressive on social media loved it and thought it was brilliant, but it genuinely was not brilliant. It made zero effort to understand or explain anything Peterson was saying and instead treated him as an ignorant buffoon, someone too dim-witted to realize how clueless he was. To say I didn’t care for it would be putting it mildly.

Naturally, I was curious to read the hit piece. So I read it. It does not read like a hit piece. Sad to say, but most of the lines that make Peterson look bad were in fact uttered by Peterson himself. Besides, if you invite a New York Times reporter into your home, allow her to share your life as part of an interview, even to the point of showing her your bedroom-- well then, my friends, you deserve what you get.

Besides, if you want to know what a real hit piece about Peterson looks like, check out Nathan Robinson’s essay, “The Intellectual We Deserve.” Of course, Robinson offers more of a critique than a hit piece, but seriously it was devastating. Not so much because of what Robinson said, but because of what Peterson was quoted as having said.

I will expound more at length about this anon. For the time being, I share Sexton’s reflections about whether or not he should forgive Bowles for a piece he did not like. He decides that he should, because wokeism and its refusal ever to forgive and forget should remain the property of the left.

Wokeism has been described (by John McWhorter and others) as a religion without forgiveness. The mob finds the 3 worst things you’ve ever said (in their view) and holds those against you for good. They don’t allow for people to change their minds or make mistakes and they definitely don’t offer any kind of forgiveness. They are the heretic hunters and everyone they disagree with are the heretics, only fit for kindling in a never-ending public bonfire.

Those people suck. They are bad humans. They are zealots. They are fractal parts of a mob whose whole existence is built around punishing others for sins whose definitions and contours change on a weekly basis.

All that to say, I’m inclined to give Bowles a chance just because I know if the roles were reversed…well, let’s not kid ourselves, the roles would never be reversed because the woke wouldn’t allow it.

And, hey, if you’d asked me 3 1/2 years ago if I’d ever make a habit of reading Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, Andrew Sullivan or Matt Yglesias, much less quoting them approvingly on the regular, I would have laughed. And yet, here we are. In an increasingly insane world, things change unexpectedly. People change for the worse and the better. Unlike the woke, we’re the people willing to have a conversation, negotiate a truce, come to an agreement, find a reasonable middle ground and all that stuff that the far left abhors.

Of course, he’s right. Not only because we all do better if we do not live in echo chambers, where we only admit thoughts that reflect our own, but because forgiveness is a fundamental moral value in Western civilization. It is positively Biblical.

Whether through atonement or confession or absolution or redemption, Judeo-Christian civilization is based on the idea of forgiveness. More precisely, it does not practice the law of the talion-- an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth-- but recommends that we do unto others as we would have others do unto us. It is not the same as doing unto others as others have done unto us. 

Better yet, this from Ezekiel 18-21-22.

But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness.

So far, so good. Failing to forgive is pagan practice. It is a direct repudiation of Western monotheism.

Why bring up this point? Glad you asked. One reason strikes those of us who have some understanding of the history of psychoanalysis. It is, quite simply, that Jordan Peterson is a sworn follower of a Swiss psychoanalyst named Carl Jung. I will admit to a personal bias here. Anyone who cannot think beyond Carl Jung is, to my mind, disqualified from being taken  as a serious thinker.

If you don’t know anything about Carl Jung, you should not be opining about Jordan Peterson. So, let’s go. Carl Jung was a Nazi sympathizer and a grotesque anti-Semite. He was selling pagan idolatry, in direct repudiation of the civilization that was founded in Scripture. Fair enough, he and Peterson hedge a bit by saying that monotheism is merely another form of idolatry-- Freud himself flirted with this idea-- but truth be told, Jung was purveying witchcraft and sorcery, alchemy and astrology, Tarot cards and mantras. His beliefs in idolatry correlated well with those propounded by the Third Reich. That he would have found such souls congenial is not a surprise. Of course, he eventually disassociated himself from Nazism, but clearly his was more than a flirtation. 

One might say, fairly, that Peterson offers up a smorgasbord of pseudo-profundities and bromides, words to live by. Some are perfectly banal; some are very obvious. He has preached the gospel of  personal responsibility, one we agree with wholeheartedly.

And yet, sad to have to say it, when his wife fell ill with kidney cancer and suffered complications from surgery, Peterson gallantly accompanied her to treatment, but, not so gallantly allowed himself to become addicted to a prescription medication. We applaud his expression of love and responsibility, but we are somewhat dismayed to see that the good doctor’s theorizing did not prevent him from becoming a medical case himself. One thing a wife does not need, when she is recovering from cancer surgery, is a husband who loses control. As you probably know, Peterson underwent several bouts of rehab to wean himself of his addiction, eventually ending up in a medically induced coma in Moscow.

The Biblical injunction, “Physician, heal thyself” comes to mind here. You do not take responsibility for a suffering spouse by making yourself into a case.

Anyway, Peterson must follow Jung in rejecting Western civilization and its Biblical foundations. By his lights, the world is structured as a dialectic between order and chaos, with men being the principle of order while women are the principle of chaos. Men impose order on chaotic women by telling stories, by inventing myths and legends.

The idea that women represent chaos is so daffy as to defy explanation.

Allow him his word:

Chaos is] what extends, eternally and without limit, beyond the boundaries of all states, all ideas, and all disciplines… It’s the foreigner, the stranger, the member of another gang, the rustle in the bushes… the hidden anger of your mother… Chaos is symbolically associated with the feminine… Order, by contrast, is explored territory. That’s the hundreds-of-millions-of-years-old hierarchy of place, position, and authority. That’s the structure of society. It’s the structure provided by biology, too…It’s the flag of the nation… It’s the greatness of tradition, the rows of desks in the school classroom, the trains that leave on time… In the domain of order, things behave as God intended.

Of course, if you like pseudo-profundities, you will love this slop. It is not serious thinking. It is a mish-mosh, a pile of gibberish that appeals to people who do not know how to think.

As for whether women represent chaos, who is he thinking of? We might say that Eve transgressed in the Garden of Eden, but that is quite a distance away from chaos. As for the wives of the patriarchs, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel-- none of them have anything to do with chaos. The Virgin Mother in the New Testament certainly does not represent chaos. If you want to extend the thought, Greek goddesses like Athena, the goddess of wisdom, and Demeter, the goddess of nature, have nothing to do with chaos.

For the record, what physicists call chaos theory does not declare that the universe is chaotic. It shows that the actions that produce, say, hurricanes, are often unknown to us. 

Surely it is true, as Peterson never fails to notice, that men are seriously stronger than women, but then he allows people to opine about the fact that he can hit men but cannot hit women. Naturally, more than a few of his followers have concluded that it is not such a bad thing to hit women. 

And he is persuaded that witches exist. Here is a passage from the Bowles "hit piece:"

Mr. Peterson illustrates his arguments with copious references to ancient myths — bringing up stories of witches, biblical allegories and ancient traditions. I ask why these old stories should guide us today.

“It makes sense that a witch lives in a swamp. Yeah,” he says. “Why?”

It’s a hard one.

“Right. That’s right. You don’t know. It’s because those things hang together at a very deep level. Right. Yeah. And it makes sense that an old king lives in a desiccated tower.”

But witches don’t exist, and they don’t live in swamps, I say.

“Yeah, they do. They do exist. They just don’t exist the way you think they exist. They certainly exist. You may say well dragons don’t exist. It’s, like, yes they do — the category predator and the category dragon are the same category. It absolutely exists. It’s a superordinate category. It exists absolutely more than anything else. In fact, it really exists. What exists is not obvious. You say, ‘Well, there’s no such thing as witches.’ Yeah, I know what you mean, but that isn’t what you think when you go see a movie about them. You can’t help but fall into these categories. There’s no escape from them.”

If you will, fictional characters do exist as fictional characters. And yet, deciding that witches are roaming the landscape, casting spells and doing all manner of nefarious deeds, is an idea that should have long since been retired. We know by now where it leads.

As for the term “superordinate” it means, to normal English speakers, having a superior status. In short, Peterson is misusing the word and mangling the concept. 

He is describing what happens when we go to the movies and see a bunch of witches mumbling incantations over a boiling pot of God-knows-what. But, dare I mention that at one time people did really believe in witches, and that the consequences were decidedly and civilizationally destructive.

Why play with a concept you do not understand when you are giving the wrong ideas and basically toying with the minds of the gullible.

So, Peterson rejects monotheism, all the while paying lip service to it, and sees men imposing their will on worldly chaos by telling stories. Obviously, this is absurd. Most people, and certainly those who have any sense, believe that the natural world is ordered. We learn the laws that govern the natural world through scientific study and exploration. We do not impose our will on nature; we negotiate with it. 

Only the most inveterate pagan would suggest otherwise. And, to say that men should impose themselves on chaotic females is nutty. And yes, I do know that Peterson will declare that he refuses to take any responsibility for the implications of his daffy ideas.

The opening line of the book of Genesis says that God created both the heavens and the earth. That means, if I may, that we did not. Even Jordan Peterson cannot create the heavens or the earth. How did God add form to his creation. He did it by naming things-- beginning with Light. 

Not to get too philosophical, but the act of naming is not the same as the act of telling stories. Naturally, the therapy world, and not just the therapy world, has told us that we are living out stories and that we should become better storytellers. It is another daffy idea, one that we should expunge from polite conversation.

The moral of the story is that Jordan Peterson has successfully sold a bunch of nonsense as profundities. The term snake oil salesman pops into mind, but not in the derogatory sense of the term.


Webutante said...

Stuart, I've never much cared for Peterson but now I better know why. Thanks for putting words to my dis-ease.

markedup2 said...

It is positively Biblical.
Nice double meaning!

I haven't read Peterson, so I don't have a first-hand opinion, but thanks for a reasoned, critical view. His fans seem a bit, well, fanatic.

Anonymous said...

You must have twisted your brain into a knot with these mischaracterizations, starting with his relationship with Jung as a totality.

Karen Myers said...

A human is a story-telling animal. All of our perceptions are based upon narratives that are shortcuts to understanding reality, in order to better survive it.

How could it be otherwise? We are the descendants of people who, when they saw something move in the bush ahead of them, ran away because they feared the possible tiger, not the people who paused to construct a rational analysis of the scene (and were sometimes mistaken). Speed and pre-judgments matter to us. Rational analysis is an afterthought for when we are safe, not when we are in danger.

Our first reaction to any sort of social scene is to immediately assign acquaintances to internal representations of what we know about them, and strangers to various archetypes as placeholders. It is those stand-ins for real people that we are constantly manipulating in our heads as we navigate social situations.

The point of Jungian archetypes is not that they are immutable moral principles subject to rational analysis and debate, but that they are common, perhaps universal, shortcuts to the sorts of narratives embedded in our toolset. Objecting to the concept or particular flavor of archetypes from a rational perspective is like objecting to the fragility of our foot and ankle bones from the perspective of an engineer working from designed structures, rather than from the perspective of a "good enough design evolved from pre-existing materials".

Jung's usage of an insight he devoted himself to is no doubt fraught with human behavior perils on an ad hominem basis, but the insight itself is a fruitful way of looking at the way humans think using their evolutionarily-descended toolkit. After all, we can perhaps improve on morality and rationality through intent, but we can only bring to it the tools we already have. It's a good thing for Peterson to bring those tools to light so that his students can better understand why they have the psychological filters/failings they have, and to suggest functional ways of dealing with them.

Peterson himself is a man like any other and has a man's personal failings, but ad hominem arguments about him are no more relevant than they are about Jung. Certainly Peterson is incontrovertibly effective for his intended audience. Like many applied remedies, it might be more fruitful to analyze why he is effective, than to deny that he could be, in principle.

If you think humans can embrace rationality and ignore the older and more fundamental toolset, then you probably believe that humans can change their behavior at will. We can all be thin, and fit, and attentive, etc., just by knowing what the rational behaviors should be (for historically contingent values of "should"). Since that demonstrably doesn't work any better for adults than children, what makes you think this is how humans can actually function?

David Spence said...

Agree on Peterson. You should read Vox Day's book, "Jordanetics." He exposes Peterson regularly on his site: https://voxday.net/?s=jordan+peterson

Sam L. said...

#1: I trust nothing, NOTHING, from the NYT.

"Only the most inveterate pagan would suggest otherwise. And, to say that men should impose themselves on chaotic females is nutty. And yes, I do know that Peterson will declare that he refuses to take any responsibility for the implications of his daffy ideas." So, he's an admitted "bomb-thrower"...

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Anonymous said...

This says so much more about you than it does about Peterson. Why attack the man? Simple, to destroy him so he won't say what you don't want heard. Why not attack, dispute, argue, what he has said in a way that changes minds? Well, typically the reason is that you cannot because if you could clearly that would be far more effective than an ad hominem attack.

Christopher B said...

A small disagreement. Identifying the Feminine with Chaos is not such a stretch. The conventional myth that women bring civilization into being by taming men is likely wrong. Men bring civilization into being in order to organize the chaos that results from untamed hypergamy, as we have experienced in the last half century since the introduction of feminism and the Pill.

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