Answer to Jordan (Reasons to Watch Jordan Peterson Closely), # 2: JBP encourages active dialogue with the environment

A Hierarchy of Values

This is another of Peterson’s key points and one that he receives a lot of criticism for, namely, that hierarchies of one sort or another are unavoidable within existence, human or otherwise. Specifically, he has insisted that every decision we make—or at least the major ones—refers to, is “nested within,” a hierarchy of values.

Maps of Meaning describes how we create internal maps of meaning via a sequence that begins with a very general, “low-resolution” model that is meant to encompass the whole environment—rather like an establishing longshot at the start of a movie.

After this, we can start to zero in and add layers of complexity and specificity, regarding what is in our environment. As in a movie, we cut to medium shot and close-up, as our attention is directed according to our interest. This way, we gradually become cognizant of some (though never all) of the moving parts that make up the whole—as in the case of rats sniffing their way through a maze.

This “sequential learning in structures” depends on “outputs, sequentially, from the hippocampus.” It consists of “a chain of integrators, where each one starts to respond only after reaction develops at the previous link.” Translation: as we assemble a multilevel map of internal meaning, all the parts are nested within one another, like Russian dolls, forming a hierarchy in which more general meanings (and values) contain more specific ones.

Why We Need Predictability & Routine

October 27 2016: A second free speech rally is held outside of Simcoe Hall, just before the University of Toronto Students’ Union Annual General Meeting. It is mostly peaceful.

In 12 Rules for Life and elsewhere, Peterson describes how, as human beings, we are continuously transmitting and receiving to and from one another regarding our behavior. The way I behave with you, down to the smallest things—a nod, a smile, a movement of the eyes—communicates how I feel about your behavior in any given moment.

This can be especially crucial in the case of strangers: since strangers have no prior experience of us, no “emotional baggage,” they are responding only to what we are transmitting in that very moment. Hence, “first impressions are often correct”: because they set the template for how we perceive that person thereafter. (This may relate to Peterson’s emphasis on Bible stories about the importance of hospitality towards strangers.)

What Peterson is describing is a never-ending process of community life and social interactions. It is as if human society (as well as Nature) is a self-regulating system that’s constantly exchanging information about itself in order to adjust itself towards ever more optimal behaviors. Needless to say, this can lead to a negative reinforcement loop in which the self-regulatory process reverses itself and things grow steadily worse (leading to an End-Times scenario in which iniquity abounds).

We see this in intimate relationships all the time: the more we signal (often unintentionally) our distrust, resentment, or hostility, the more the other person mirrors the same signals back at us. The less open and agreeable we are (in Peterson’s dichotomy of openness vs. conscientiousness), the more disagreeable and oppressive things get, while, on the other end of the spectrum, the less conscientious we are, the weaker our boundaries become, the more indulgent and chaotic things get.

I think this observation on Peterson’s part is genuinely useful, and that it becomes all the more so when we allow (as he does) for the element of the transcendent, namely, that not only our bodies are transmitting information, but also our souls—that is, our deepest essence.

Why Do We Get Triggered? (Personal Interlude)

For a (timely) example of nested maps of meaning, let’s suppose I write a blogpost and receive a poor response, either negative or minimal feedback, and a low number of shares. My reaction is one of disappointment and irritation but I press on and continue to write. I “don’t take it personally.” Fine and dandy: but what’s happening under the surface that caused my reaction to begin with?

If I am feeling particularly sensitive or unstable, or if I am simply paying close attention to the undercurrents in my psyche, I may observe, beneath the irritation and disappointment, something more primal and irrational. I may feel a wellspring of rage and resentment at being “ignored” and a desire to punish my (silent, invisible, possibly non-existent) readers by never writing another blogpost again![1]

Where does this literally infantile reaction come from? I would say it is due to childhood patterns being “triggered” that relate to being ignored by my father or mother at a time when my life may have literally depended on getting their attention. Peterson’s model doesn’t preclude this understanding, but it does add new context for it.  

We could apply it as so: my father was a successful businessman who, as a young man (when he met my mother), dreamed of being a successful writer. When I was growing up, he expressed admiration for intellectuals and literary figures (his favorite was Dostoyevsky), and yet his own life path took him into the family dairy business. He was mostly absent as a father, and to make up for it he gave his kids lots of money when we came of age.

I started to write seriously in my pre-adolescence (about 11 or 12), and it quickly became central to my sense of identity in the world. Through my father’s influence, I unconsciously mapped a meaning of the world as a place in which financial success was both “a given” and central to my value within it. It was also a world in which literary achievement was the foremost measure of my social functionality or value.

My low resolution or foundational map of meaning—by which I attempted to find a safe place and function within the world—became centered around being successful as a writer (entirely independent from a need to survive). As a result, all subsequent maps became nested in that larger one.

Now, when I write a blogpost and receive few responses (or, possibly but not necessarily worse, hostile ones), there is an almost instant but wholly unconscious chain of associations by which the immediate information (poor response at blog) gets fed into a more ancient meaning map, and extracts from it a conclusion: I am a worthless individual trapped inside a hostile environment.

Cue panic response: fight or flight.[2]

Never Trust a Stranger

Nov 5 2016. Jordan Peterson posts “2016/11/16: An update” (confusion of dates unexplained) in which he includes a clip of Kermit the Frog in response to comparisons made by students to Peterson’s vocal range. Peterson quotes his letter to U of T Dean Faculty of Arts and Science David Cameron. At the end of the video he dons a Native American head-carving of a frog and states: “As spokesfrog for the nation, let’s say, I’m stating quite bluntly that we better clean up our act or there’s going to be hell to pay.”

As previously mentioned, Maps of Meaning is Peterson’s attempt to understand atrocity and the motivation for unreasonable aggression and hostility (evil). It asks the question of why what is unfamiliar and novel to us (not part of our internal mapping system) is so often perceived as a threat.

“No one knows where [anomalies] fit, what they think, or what they are likely to do. Thus, they threaten the integrity of the social and psychological structures that inhibit fear. . . An unfamiliar conspecific [i.e. human being] is unpredictable in his actions and something that presents a potential threat to the integrity of the entire dominance hierarchy structure. . . . These data might include actual human beings whose appearance and behavior speaks of the strange, or just the ideas of those human beings (which can certainly be more dangerous than the physical incarnations themselves).”

Whenever we encounter a person, idea, or situation we don’t understand or haven’t mastered, “the brain starts to make a model of the unknown event by assuming that it is like other unknown or threatening events” (emphasis added). Since it creates the new model “under the influence of associative emotional systems . . . the unknown occurrences are ‘contaminated,’ a priori, with everything else that is dangerous or unpredictable.”

In other words, to the extent we are threatened by something unfamiliar to us, we automatically lump it with all our prior experiences of being actually threatened, and interpret it in similar terms. False impressions are often correct, even when they are incorrect.

John Rambo was just looking for a place to eat; but treat a threat as a threat, it may just start acting like one.

Why Humans “Overreact”

Why do people fight over trivialities? Because they only seem to be trivialities to our conscious minds. At a deeper level, there is nothing trivial that is not nested in ever deeper/higher layers of meaning and significance.

If our spouse forgets to let us know s/he is going to be late for dinner, the part of us that can’t separate out the layers of meaning experiences it as a total rejection of our value as a human being, and as a drastic reduction in the safety of our environment. This is so at least until we can calm down enough to separate out the layers.

In Peterson-speak: “the more fundamental the presumption threatened and the higher and more abstract the level in the sequential learning chain that presumption is instantiated, the more negative emotion will be disinhibited.”

It’s easy to see from this how the human being is “a truly social animal whose physical existence and whose psychological stability is dependent on maintenance of a predictable social environment.”

Predictability inhibits anxiety. In more proactive (and problematic) terms: the more control we have over not only our actions but our environment, the safer we feel, and the less negative emotions we have to deal with.

There is a dark side to this proclivity.

State of Uncertainty = State of Emergency

November 19 2016: The debate on Bill C-16 and free speech is held. Peterson faces off against Law Professor Brenda Cossman and UBC Education Professor Mary Bryson, with Trinity College Provost Mayo Moran moderating. Non-binary activists boycott the debate using the hashtag #NotUpForDebate and hold a breakfast event at the same time.

There is a spectrum of procedures, or reactions, ranging from open dialogue with and exploration of the anomaly so as to incorporate it into our view of the world (the low anxiety response), to the high anxiety reaction which automatically conflates strange with evil and seeks to destroy it (rather than entering into any kind of relationship with it). Shoot first and ask questions later, we don’t want guys like you in our town, the US does not negotiate with terrorists, #NotUpForDebate, etc., etc.

Such a reaction ensures there is no need to adjust our internal meaning map, to linger uncomfortably in a state of uncertainty, or to suffer prolonged anxiety over an anomalous encounter. This relates directly to Peterson’s desire to understand totalitarianism and avoid future implementations of it, as he fears happening via Leftist channels of political correctness, etc.

Avoiding the unknown—either by staying within a social environment in which it can’t enter, by ignoring it, or by refusing to think about it when it does—is a means to prevent anxiety from becoming destabilizing.

This is a short-term solution but it has long-term consequences. It exacerbates the problem by refusing to address it. The more liminal the times, the more anomalies surface; without adapting to them, the less and less representative of the territory our map becomes.

Our worldview thus gets narrower rather than widening.

Listening to the Other

 “The desire to deny or to refuse to confront evidence of systemic error [is] central to our notions of individual psychopathology. . . . Perhaps we could extend such notions to the social realm and begin to speak of ‘social psychopathology’—that is, the tendency to demonize evidence of conceptual insufficiency, or the bearers of that evidence, and to ‘morally’ attempt to eliminate it or them from existence. This seems something close to the essence of totalitarianism and the brutality with which it is always associated.”

This is an element of Peterson’s message that, though central, tends to gets lost in the archetypal shuffle, perhaps because it is both very obvious and at the same time, quite radical. Optimistically speaking, it may be that this is not so much one of the destination points on Peterson’s map as the paper on which it is printed.

This is why Peterson stresses, referring to his experience as a clinical psychologist/psychotherapist, the value of listening to others. He isn’t so much stressing the value this can have for the other, in being heard, as the value it has for the listener.

Seeing the Transcendent

Nov 28 2016. Jordan Peterson appears on Joe Rogan live for a two hour and fifty-minute interview. According to Joe Rogan, he was getting an average of 3 million downloads per podcast in 2016.

Nor is this so simple as Peterson’s rule no. 5 suggests: “Assume the person you are speaking to knows something you don’t.” This is certainly part of it. On the hero’s journey, as well as in video games, everyone we encounter potentially holds some secret, some clue, or some piece of the puzzle by which we will eventually achieve our goal.

But, as Peterson has also said, the value of transforming chaos into order is not so much that it establishes order but that it allows us to develop our capacity for transformation. In the same way, recognizing the possibility of finding meaning in our every exchange with others is less to do with gaining those particular meanings along the way, than with learning to see the transcendent in all things, and so becoming an agent of it.

This is also expressed, in different language, when Peterson advises showing trust for others even when we know they are unlikely to prove worthy of it, not out of naiveté or lack of discernment, but out of courage and a willingness to risk betrayal and disappointment. Only by meeting other people with openness and respect—with the anticipation of benevolence—do we provide sufficient space for what is best within that person to express.

No Noah’s Ark

If anything gives me hope that Peterson’s “ministry” might have a benevolent purpose that transcends his limitations and errors, it is the possibility that he is genuinely open to dialogue.

Because, if this is so, there remains a chance he is presenting his model of meaning to the world, not in the hope it will be accepted, adopted, and applied, but in the hope of discovering all the ways in which it does not hold water.

I do not believe that Peterson is capable of offering rules for life or that his Maps of Meaning thesis provides an ethical, philosophical, or practical basis for building a Noah’s Ark of meaning by which to navigate the inevitable catastrophe. But it has at least the potential to make people curious about the possibility of such a project for themselves. If this is the case, then Peterson’s true project is simply creating a strong enough platform and launch pad for a deeper and higher level of discourse. And why on earth would we not want that?

Enter the Totalitarian Father?

Dec 2 2016. The National Post runs a piece called “Jordan Peterson speaks for those of us that refuse to follow the ‘great liberal death wish” in support of Peterson’s stance. The author, Conrad Black, is a British former newspaper publisher and convicted felon (initially for fraud, though it was overturned and reduced to obstruction of justice).Prior to his conviction Black controlled Hollinger International, for a time the world’s third-largest English-language newspaper empire, which published The Daily Telegraph (UK), Chicago Sun-Times (U.S.), The Jerusalem Post (Israel), National Post (Canada), most of the leading newspapers in Australia and Canada and hundreds of community newspapers in North America. Jordan Peterson posts a video in response to the article: “Thank you, Lord Black—really—but you’re wrong.”

As a compelling side point, the rise of the internet and social media have taken our experience of the environment as a system of endless signal-exchange as a means to observe, judge, and alter our own behavior in reference to others to a whole new level, in terms of quantity if not quality.

The sheer speed and number of signals we are sending out and receiving, every Tweet or Facebook post that is liked or shared, so to speak, make it impossible for us to keep up with the data, while at the same time making it all-too-easy to feed an addiction to more and more positive stimuli, or pseudo-validation.

This gives us the power to control our own “transmission” and shape it towards positive validation (agreement) in endless new ways, but always, I think, towards the shallow end of the noosphere.

When a person becomes a media celebrity, like Peterson, the balance shifts still further away from direct, “high-resolution,” soul-to-soul communication (much less communion), towards ever more diffuse and scattered forms of “networking.”

This may be the central error in Peterson’s effort, and where his theory begins to fall down in practice, namely, by ignoring this essential question: does a soul’s signal lose “resolution” (quality) the more widely distributed it becomes?

A dialogue, after all, implies two voices equally represented. What happens to the reception-transmission when it expands outward from a 1:1 ratio to a single voice interacting with a multitude? How does this effect the signal to noise ratio?

What if the result of such amplification is the very thing Peterson most fears?


[1] Ironically, I know I risk undermining my position as a writer by using this example, because some people fail to understand that being conscious enough to articulate a neurotic emotional pattern does not make me more but less neurotic. The pattern I describe above was present in me decades ago, when I first began to write. The fact I was wholly unconscious of it at that time hardly implies it wasn’t driving my actions, on the contrary. By the same token, those who are unconscious of having similar patterns (faulty maps of meaning), while they are the first to judge or condemn me if I own up to my own neuroses, are not acting less neurotically but more so. As Peterson says: “If you don’t think you’re the kind of person who could do that, then you ARE the kind of person who could do that.”

[2] Since we are not so simple creatures, however, we rarely have only one internal map-complex at play. In my case, I also have a low-resolution map of the world in which a corrupt and oppressive social system (the Matrix) only rewards those who are useful to it. Based on this internal map, failure is actually the safer option. This means I may find (someday) that I enter into full-blown identity crisis as a result of receiving too much positive validation from the world. The first complex I described is shared collectively, even by those who also adhere to the second one (that the world is inherently corrupt). This first model is the one Peterson is expounding and, I would say, embodying. It is the map that says the Western world is a meritocracy made up of a multitude of competence hierarchies; that our society is inherently safe, provided we all understand and keep to the social contract; and that, what’s more, we can rise within the hierarchies which we develop competency in (though best of all is to be able to move freely between hierarchies). This then leads to the common idea, or ideal, that, since the system fundamentally works, our success within it is a measure of our competency, and hence our value, as human beings. This can even extend to the point of arguing that ascending the social hierarchies equals receiving favor in God’s sight, and is proof we are doing God’s will. I consider this to be a profound and mostly uncontested flaw, both in Peterson’s model and in Western thought overall, including Western Christianity (see for example the Theology of Prosperity). I have already touched on this in previous essays, and will develop it further as the series proceeds.

Accompanying Podcasts (with Norman Young): 

Jordan Peterson’s Elusive Metaphysic 

Jordan Peterson’s Scientistic Salvation Project

25 thoughts on “Answer to Jordan (Reasons to Watch Jordan Peterson Closely), # 2: JBP encourages active dialogue with the environment”

  1. Thanks.
    It is your honesty and self awareness (among other things) that makes you very interesting to read – I could never see such as neurosis.
    The two experiences – tiny/no audience or huge audience – provide their own different challenges. I only know one end of the spectrum, but i find it metaphysically useful to speak into the void. In any event, to have any hope of good aim, we have to ”shoot for buttons”, regardless. (Chuang Tzu – shooting for nothing…)
    The ”amplification” and loss of soul signal resolution you speak of here, may be the very problem he faces.

  2. I’ve been following your recent work on JBP with great interest, having followed Peterson closely for over a year now–first for his role in the C16 controversy, then as a YouTube celebrity intellectual, and now as a cultural phenomenon the likes of which would have been unimaginable just 10 years ago.
    Like you, I’m trying to figure out why I find this guy–his ideas, his persona–so magnetic and so repellant at the same time. Having now read about halfway through 12 Rules, I agree with you and Norman Young that Peterson is infinitely more compelling as a speaker/lecturer/debater than as a writer. In the pre-YouTube universe (one that some of us can still recall), Peterson would likely remain a minor figure. When he first came to prominence, I thought immediately of Camille Paglia, who occupied a similar niche in the culture wars at the time. But Peterson and his “message” have gone viral in a way that Paglia could only dream of.
    For me, your musings in footnote #2 capture some of the key problems I’ve been having with Peterson, especially his “hierarchies of
    Do they exist? Of course. But not in a form anywhere near as simple as Peterson presents them. No one that’s aware of (or has experienced at firsthand) the corruption, criminality, and racketeering at the highest levels of nearly every high-prestige profession (including psychology!) could believe, as you say, that “our success within [these hierarchies, this system] is a measure of our competency, and hence our value, as human beings.”
    Peterson sometimes seems to read the Hebrew Bible and the “new” testament as timeless archetypal stories that tell us everything we need to know about the forces governing our lives now.
    When “God said to Abraham, kill me a son,” Abe submitted faithfully to Yahweh–the ultimate authority, ruler of the universe–gaining wisdom, insight, and grace.
    If that God is now dead (and is he, for Peterson?), who or what is the legitimate authority we are supposed to submit to in order to gain wisdom and take our rightful place in the current order of things?
    I’m having trouble understanding Peterson’s response to this question. A lot of what he says seems to dance around the question.
    A quick side note: Peterson completed his PhD at McGill University and writes in chapter 8 of 12 Rules (“Tell the Truth”) about his early clinical training at the university-affiliated Douglas Hospital in Montreal. As readers of your blog surely know, the Allan Memorial Institute, another McGill-affiliated mental hospital, was the site of numerous MKUltra mind-control experiments in the 1950s. A quick search revealed nothing connecting the Douglas Hospital to MKUltra. But it’s interesting that a cultural icon of Peterson’s status–a near-shamanic figure telling us that the traditional hierarchies are not merely legitimate but in some sense eternal–is a psychotherapist who received his training at McGill.

    • Yes, it is. Also to be considered is the question of what correlation there really is, if any, between competence and benevolence. Or simply put: competent at what?
      JBP’s avocation of western hierarchies may be based on circular logic.

      • Another problem with Peterson from my perspective: he implicitly conflates contemporary Western neoliberalism–a regime under which most people’s lives are getting demonstrably worse–with (let’s call it) the highest ideals and achievements of Western Civilization. So if you criticize the former, you’re undermining the latter, flirting with chaos, and helping to usher in the Gulag.
        What kind of figure is Peterson, really? Jasun, I hope this is something you’ll be teasing out in more detail as your Peterson series continues.
        Has there ever been anyone in the Anglophone world (I’m mostly familiar with the US) quite like him?
        He’s a celebrity intellectual (almost an oxymoron in the US) famous first and foremost not as a writer but as a YouTube star, a seductive talker selling what looks like (and may well be) a well-thought-out worldview.
        Who can you even compare him to? Oprah? Deepak Chopra? What happens when he achieves total cultural penetration?

        • Who people compare JBP to seems to depend on what aspect of him they focus on and whether they want to denigrate him or idealize him. A bi part of this seems to be about reducing the threat he presents to them personally, whether by exaggerating the threat he presents to “society,” dismissing him as a flash-in-the-pan fad, or by taking a more submissive position and turning him into a benevolent father figure.
          He has been compared to Marshall McLuhan, Joseph Campbell, Tony Robbins, Ayn Rand, Terence McKenna, Zizek, Leary (by JBP himself) – who else?
          What would total cultural penetration look like?

  3. meanwhile.. Yoshihiro Fukuyama wonders how he too can become a household name..
    also, how did Peterson get into Ben Horne’s office ? 😉

  4. A recurring viewpoint here, which I find to be is a common misconception, is that Peterson is trying to fit metaphysical issues into a “Darwinian” or materialist ‘box’, or alternatively trying to create a mythical framework from “Darwinian” foundations.
    There is some truth to this as the scientific tends to be his go-to position when trying to make sense of complexity (it is my own) in order to communicate it, but I think he is using it as a tool and not as an ultimate framework, which would be the basis of scientism. This is why I say the misconception is a common one because scientism is a common outlook nowadays.
    I think he is using the tool of science in the way it was used centuries ago, and that is to pare away the known and the quantifiable in order to more clearly appreciate what remains (scientism would claim that nothing remains). People who are unfamiliar with the scientific process have trouble seeing that it is a merely a tool and assume that it also provides meaning for humans.

  5. The above comment was intended to be to the most recent Norman Young interview, so might look out of place here.

  6. I’ll give that a listen, he’s got so many hours of absorbing material that deserve listening to a few times over that I haven’t got around to many of his debates yet. The nearest I’ve got to a Harris type scenario is the recent Dillahunty one.
    That actually sounds more like Harris’ approach and I would hazard that Peterson was taking a swing into Harris’ camp to make a point, as you’ve probably gathered by now, it’s not unusual for him to make such manouvres for effect, it’s one of the things that keeps him interesting when the material can be a bit dry.
    I’ve noticed that he is more careful about doing this in his lectures or monologues, he usually hedges it with his “broadly speaking” meme” or something similar. He lets folks know (the ones who are paying attention anyway) when he’s going off of the reservation.

  7. I’m pleased to report that my instinct about Peterson’s claim about ‘Darwinian’ truth being a twinkly-eyed stunt is correct. He indicates this with the phrase “One of the things I might do is pursue the tack that you’re not enough of a Darwinian, which I thought would be quite comical…”.
    Even though this is pretty early on in the discussion, it is already very nuanced, showing that Harris and Peterson are familiar enough with each other’s thought processes that they can dispense with the usual footwork and shots over the bows that characterise a lot of debates and make them over-polarised. Here it seems that they are negotiating over the same patch of ground and trying to characterise where they might differ. The main polarisation of this patch of ground is not between Harris and Peterson, but with them and the previously discussed issue of ‘postmodern biology’, they are looking for places where they are not on the same side so that a discussion may ensue, the larger polarising influence tends to disguise this nuance and I think they are trying to rediscover it.
    This part of the discussion really starts at 25:00 on (I think this is the debate you meant). I’m going to get around to the contents next as it deserves a serious listen, this has just been a response to your post about general claims. Admittedly I had a head-start as what you said didn’t sound much like Peterson to me.

    • I find JBP’s position consistent with his overall output and with the larger context of heavily politicized Scientism (as prop for capitalist revivification/apologia) which his work fits quite neatly into. This makes me highly skeptical that his two-hour argument with SH about truth being best measured by Darwinian standard was nothing but a “twinkly-eyed stunt.”

  8. I was at first puzzled by Peterson’s use of the terms “Darwinian Truth” and “Newtonian Truth”. These seem to be used readily by both Peterson and Harris as if they are commonly understood, or at least that they have been outlined prior to this segment of the discussion. I’m a bit lost on the distinction at present.
    Without delving into this just yet I sense that it is “Newtonian Truth” that is consistent with scientism in Peterson’s usage. This leaves me still wondering what exactly he means by Darwinian Truth now that we have excluded this latter.
    I’m wondering how you square Peterson’s heavy concentration on myth and religion with the claim that his work fits into “heavily politicized scientism”. He could be said to be using a pseudoscientific veil which is often a successful technique in this day and age, but it doesn’t seem this way to me due to my familiarity with psychology and a more recent focus on religion. This is supported, in my view, by the endorsement of intelligent religious types such a Paul Vanderklay who I follow as an alternative way of approaching Peterson – Vanderklay is an orthodox Christian so one can exclude a shallow new-age type spiritual attraction to Peterson’s stuff.

    • I think the contradiction is only apparent, witness Changing Images of Man, one of the co-authors of which was Joseph Campbell, and indeed the whole Star Wars industry. (I covered this in a recent video, here.) Isn’t that consistent with Scientistic agenda? Not to mention transhumanism, which is at least as much myth/religion/alchemy/mysticism -based as scientifically. And the science of transhumanism, like Peterson’s, is mostly hard-science (reductionist, tho he constantly denies it); I don’t find JBP’s psychology entirely convincing either; as with his Christian interests, and his sociocultural analyses, he seems to take it so far and no further. I think he regards psychology and religion as tools to overcome societal obstacles, which IMO is an inherently anti-religious and even anti-psychological approach, two fields which have as their central “value” or strategy that of surrender to (apparent) chaos, not the imposition of intellectual order onto it.
      Of course I could be wrong, and JBP could be only apparently pursuing ideological ends as a means to a greater transcendence. But since I tend to subscribe to the medium-is-the-message principal of judging any given cultural carrier, my gut says that JBP embodies something other than that which he preaches, hence the inherent contradictions in his opus. I think he is only really potent-ized when opposed, and generally by an obviously inferior polarity, as in the recent Munk debate. Maybe this is why he took such a firm Darwinian stance against Harris, i.e., because he lacks the religious or psychological ground to oppose Harris’s scientism with anything that genuinely challenges (transcends) it?

  9. Scientism and aggressive secularism are generally difficult to oppose head-on, and I wouldn’t expect Peterson to win if he took this stance (his recent talk with Dillahunty was barely civil). The only approach is to attempt a softer style discussion and try to show where scientism is lacking, but this is only really effective when there is an accompanying societal shift and I think Peterson’s popularity is a sign of this.. it’s not that he is saying anything particularly new, he’s more of a canary in the coalmine. Go back a decade and the four Atheist horsemen were representative of the how people were thinking (or choosing to think) but now Dillahunty seems to be the only one banging that drum with any gusto.
    The Dillahunty debate wasn’t available for a while but seems to have popped up again:

    • yeah that was the debate in which JBP made the comment about how “rule-based systems don’t work.” Dilahunty was pretty annoying; I didnt find JBP very persuasive but then I generally don’t in these debates (as compared to his classroom). I think I know what you mean about the possibility of JBP approaching the debate strategically but I don’t think he is defending western hierarchies strategically. I think it’s central to his mission.
      What is it that you find compelling or inspiring about JBP – any particular points he hits?
      Have you been following the thread at RI?

  10. I think what I like about Jordan Peterson is that he usually says concisely the self-evident factors of life which influence human thought and action the most (in other words, what people sorely need to hear a bit about at this time). But I don’t actually like Peterson. He seems genuine and sweet and invested, and that is what concerns me. I’d prefer someone who understands good morals and boundaries and adheres to them in conceit and vanity before a person who too innocently explores such things in the eye of the public.
    He’s simply too enamoured with the West, in my opinion. A true product of his time; I don’t believe he would have come to the same (and correct) conclusions that he has come to if he had been born in any non-western part of the world. Which I suppose is a long winded way of saying I am suspicious of his personal apprehensions of the fundamental reasons as to WHY his theories are right. Not right in practice, as factual statistics prove that, but right in their existence.
    I, of course, do agree with the hierarchical model of society which he believes in (it’s obviously true). But I cannot say I am particularly charmed by it’s manifestations. I’m also a bit wary of his appreciation of technological progress, as I haven’t heard him say anything negative about the effects of the tech itself biologically/psychosomatically, only that is is a testament to human ingenuity (and desperation, I think).
    I think the Peterson craze will probably die off for the same reason you imply in your closing statements. Once EVERYONE knows about him, has said their two cents, all of his opinions will just be lip-service out in the social media ether that no one cares about anymore. His quotes will become like Confucius or Lao tzu quotes on tumblr and instagram. Little peppy one liners that the majority of people never really cared to understand.

  11. Jasun
    You’re right, Dillahunty was annoying and JBP didn’t do too well either. This is because debates with atheists (especially ‘professional atheists’ as Peterson quipped) are nearly always on the verge of an angry impasse, not much common ground can be found. Paul Vanderklay has had a look at this debate and talked of this impasse.
    It’s hard for me to describe any particular points that Peterson hits for me (I do like him though) because his attempted subject matter is very broad. This is always going to be the case with psychology and especially with Jungian psychology, and his forays into religion increase this dramatically.
    I think this is the way to approach him though (ie not too analytically) and he is more attempting an open ended discussion than something that can be encapsulated with a few bullet points. I think his adopting of a self help style for the 12 points is an attempt to contain this tendency for more general consumption. Because his subject matter is so broad, I break him down into three Petersons:
    1) The more secular psychologist who has quite a long history and can be understood by watching his Maps of Meaning and ‘Personality’ lectures without causing too much consternation to materialist types.
    2) The one who is quite boldly going into Biblical territory and seems to be unsettling to the materialist types.
    3) The recent ‘political Peterson. Unfortunately this is the one that gets the most attention but is actually the least interesting in my view, being a product of his interaction with the regressive Left and nothing to do with his consideration of more timeless matters.
    I like the first two Petersons, especially the second as I have been paying much closer attention to religion over the last couple of years.
    Regarding RI, nothing of much depth can be attempted there if the subject matter (and one’s relation to it) lies outside of some very narrow limits, and the reactions there are depressingly predictable. The only positive motivation I could muster when posting there was to imagine that I was addressing lurkers (of which there seem to be many) rather than the regulars.

  12. I’ve been digging down a bit further into what Peterson means by ‘Darwinian Truth’ and, even though I haven’t quite got to the source of the phrase, I’ll give some interim impressions.
    There’s an interview with him from 2014/2015 (significantly before the pronoun event that launched him into his present trajectory) where he discusses this, even then though he uses the phrase casually, indicating that it has a pedigree that stretches back further. This seems to be the relevant section:
    As far as I can tell he makes the distinction in order to show two different directions one can take using the rationalist approach (most people would see just the) one. The first is labeled “Newtonian Truth” which seems to address the cold hard Universe of atoms and forces and not much else, this insists that there is an objective Universe beyond our ken and that we must take this into account in order to properly appreciate things. This is something that can lead to the fundamentalist madness of scientism.
    “Darwinian Truth” on the other hand uses the same tools and methods, but is less absolutist, and therefore can conclude that something is “true enough” or that that there is “sufficient truth” (Peterson’s phrases), to put it in my own words I would say that it is ‘sufficient’ truth that pertains to life’s interests and is ok with its limitations. This is something that can ideally run counter to the excesses of scientism.
    It’s unfortunate that the word ‘Darwinian’ is chosen as it tends to have certain dark associations nowadays. I’m not sure if Peterson coined it, but the way he and Harris use it suggests to me that it goes back further.


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