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Why Jordan Peterson Is the Last Gentleman

Dr. Jordan Peterson, a Canadian professor of clinical psychology at the University of Toronto and Great Books autodidact, has captured public imagination and outrage in equal measure. He has garnered wide-ranging interest—with his lectures on YouTube being viewed upwards of 300 million times—in a way that other intellectual heavyweights from the Great White North, such as Charles Taylor and George Grant before him, have not.

His supporters acclaim him as an ardent defender of free speech and a voice for common sense. His opponents condemn him as an obtuse bigot. But love him or hate him, there can be no doubt that Peterson has started an important conversation about the limits of free speech, the downsides of coercive “group-think,” and how the principles of a free society can help us live together amidst deep difference.

While Peterson’s arguments against political correctness are what he is most well-known for, the real substance of his ideas is surprisingly difficult to pin down. This is partly because obtaining a thorough understanding of his views requires sifting through hundreds of hours of YouTube videos and also partly because Peterson’s political philosophy is unusually multifaceted. Not to mention that he spends most of his time thinking and teaching about people and ideas that the average person hasn’t necessarily heard of (let alone have strong thoughts on), and that do not have obvious political implications.

While simplistic, Manichean characterizations rarely do anyone justice, Peterson in particular, because his interests are expansive and his breadth of reading vast, requires a more meticulous examination. Without seeing the questions that he is trying to answer it is impossible to fully understand where he is coming from and what he is trying to say. Indeed, many attempts to capture his thought neglect to thoroughly examine the way that his most salient intellectual influences inform his thinking. “I’m not making a case for conservatism. I’m not here to make a political case,” he claims in his “12 Principles for a 21st Century Conservatism,” a YouTube video with nearly half a million views. “I’m here to make a philosophical and psychological case. That’s what I’ve been doing all along.” So, to understand Peterson let us to turn to the literature, ideas, and individuals with which Peterson has spent his life grappling.

“While my brother [Frasier] is a Freudian, I am a Jungian—so there’ll be no blaming Mother today.”  — Niles Crane (Frasier)

Unlike other thinkers characterized as conservatives, Peterson’s chief influence is not Augustine or Aquinas or Locke or Burke or Strauss or Hayek—it is the Swiss psychologist, and (part-time) friend of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung. Jung’s influence on Peterson is explicit—for Peterson to mention Jung only once in a lecture is anomalous—and Jungian psychology is also manifest in Peterson’s political philosophy.

Central to Jung’s psychology is “individuation,” or the process by which a person becomes fully himself as an individual by developing personality traits, cultivating interests, discovering fears, uncovering foibles, and establishing beliefs. Jung dedicated his life to studying the process of become fully human, or “personal quest for wholeness.” Among many (many) other things, Peterson takes from Jung is this emphasis on the individual: for Peterson, respect for the individual’s ability to form and hold opinions of their own, is fundamental.

For example, Peterson has come under fire for standing in firm opposition to “left-wing activists” who he claims use the plight of transgendered individuals to force their ideological orthodoxy on others. For Peterson, individual expression and the zealous pursuit of truth is paramount, even at the expense of someone’s feelings. In the now-notorious interview with Cathy Newman on Britain’s Channel 4 News, Peterson asserts that the philosophy that drives trans activists is, at bottom, the same as the leftist tyrannical regimes of Maoist China and Soviet Russia: these philosophies, according to Peterson, assume that group identity is paramount and exalt group identity over identity of the individual. For Peterson, who attests to spending tens of thousands hours studying totalitarian regimes of the 20th century, the politics of group identity and political correctness are antithetical to respecting an individual’s ability to be and to think for oneself.

Existence precedes essence

In addition to being a thoroughgoing Jungian, Peterson, who has called himself “an existentialist at heart,” draws deeply on existentialism throughout his lectures. In particular, Peterson finds in existentialism support for his belief in the importance of individual identity and for his posture of intellectual humility.

If there is a “creed” of existentialism it is, perhaps, the words of French existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre—existence precedes essence—which upended the traditional view that a thing’s fundamental nature (essence) is more foundational than the mere fact of something’s being (existence). From this, existentialists maintain that there are intrinsic and insurmountable limitations on our ability to reason our way to the truths of the fundamental nature of the world. Rather than being a systematic and comprehensive system of thought, existentialists are united in their rejection the “iron-cage” of reason, claiming that there remain important parts of our existence that reason cannot help us understand.

In his Pensées, French scientist and proto-existentialist Blaise Pascal anticipates and elaborates Sartre’s formula exquisitely:

Man is only a reed, the weakest in nature, but he is a thinking reed. There is no need for the whole universe to take up arms to crush him: a vapor, a drop of water is enough to kill him. But even if the universe were to crush him, man would still be nobler than his slayer, because he knows that he is dying and the advantage the universe has over him. The universe knows none of this. Thus, our dignity consists in thought.

Hence, for the existentialists, our rational thought, a fundamental attribute of our existence, is one means by which we determine our character, the direction of our life, our personality — our essence.

This sense of agency is fundamental to Peterson’s worldview. Peterson emphasizes personal responsibility and efficacy in what he decries as a rights-obsessed culture. He opines that modern society has emphasized rights at the expense of duties, promoting instead a culture of victimhood. This helps explain why the world is watching a heretofore unknown Canadian academic: his message reminds people that they can control their life, and that their life matters. Indeed, in some respects Peterson is a sort of intellectual Tony Robbins.

But his point is not just appealing. It is important. Peterson, who believes that life has genuine meaning, says that attaching correlative responsibilities to rights is an important part of how humans find meaning. To focus on rights without duties results in solipsism and unhappiness. Without the “voluntary adoption of responsibility” to family, friends, community, or country, our lives lack direction and purpose.

Peterson also borrows from existentialism a skepticism of reason’s pretensions. Responding to the rationalism of the philosophers of his day, notoriously inscrutable Danish existentialist Søren Kierkegaard wrote, “People understand me so poorly that they don’t even understand my complaint about them not understanding me.” Kierkegaard thought that contemporary society worshiped the idol of knowledge which led to a culture of hubris and bourgeois vanity. His solution, as any student of Kierkegaard knows, was to make his writing as impenetrable as possible. By making his ideas incredibly difficult to access, he aimed at dismantling the Enlightenment notion of confidence in science and knowledge of the world around them doing so.

Similarly, Peterson recognizes the limitations of science and rationality. For Peterson, rights and science only tell us what we can do. We need responsibility guided by morality to tells us what we ought to do. It requires intellectual humility to recognize the limits of science to answer life’s important questions. As Pascal so beautifully wrote, “The heart has reasons that reason cannot understand.”

Peterson’s commitment to the idea that there are things that science cannot answer or explain—but that are nevertheless an important part of the human experience—is integral to his thinking. As he stated in his Biblical Series on Chaos & Order, “The evidence of religious experience is incontrovertible. It is also inexplicable.” Peterson reminds us that there is much to life that is miraculous and misunderstood, and that leaving room for life’s incomprehensibilities may allow us to be less likely to cut off, demonize, and condemn those with whom they disagree.

“Nihilists!… I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.” — Walter Sobchak (The Big Lebowski)

In his Parable of the Madman (from The Joyful Wisdom), Fredrich Nietzsche famously wrote, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.” By this, Nietzsche proclaimed that the Enlightenment’s confidence in scientism and human knowledge had finally and forever displaced the previously central role of sacred truth and Christianity. Unmoored from the God-ordained morality and values of Christianity, life is defined by cosmic purposelessness and suffering. The world has no objective order or reality. It is up to us to define our own truth, purpose and reality for ourselves.

Much of Peterson’s philosophy is responding to Nietzsche, and it does so in two ways: He agrees with Nietzsche that life is hard and will inevitably involve enduring misery. To survive, one must be prepared for this. But for Peterson, preparation does not involve defining one’s own truth and reality, as Nietzsche said. Instead of assuming the world will conform to one’s own will, Peterson advocates the importance of taking responsibility for oneself and living in accordance with the objective reality of the world around us.

For Peterson, there is objective truth and reality, and we cannot simply transcend all moral frameworks and create truth for ourselves. As Peterson frequently reiterates: “Pain is the fundamental reality. It’s the only thing that people will not deny.” We are not beings who can create a moral framework out of nothing; we are instead destined to live within the constraints of life in order to survive and succeed.

To deny these constraints leads to chaos—internallyinterpersonally, societally. This is the main point of Peterson’s recently released Twelve Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, wherein he lays out a moral framework that he believes will help people live life to the fullest—however unavoidably tragic life may be. Rule Eight: “Tell the Truth—or, at least, don’t lie,” addresses the Nietzschean, post-modern axiom of the subjectivity of truth head on. Peterson contends that we intuitively know what truth is, and that “lies make you weak and you can feel it . . . you cannot get away with warping the structure of being.” Thinking that you can lie and get away with it is arrogance, and to act in disharmony with the rules of the universe invariably has negative, long-term consequences.

Similarly, Rule Seven — Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient — also defies Nietzschean nihilism and corresponds with Peterson’s understanding of an objective reality. “Meaning is what we do to buttress our self against the tragedy of life … our pursuit of meaning is an instinct. Perhaps our deepest instinct… meaning is the antidote to the malevolence of life.” To deny meaning exists, to pursue happiness instead of meaning, or to seek meaning in the wrong things will lead to chaos.

But Peterson borrows from, in addition to criticizing, Nietzsche. Both men rail against the “last man,” the human type that seeks to shirk risk and responsibility in favor of comfort and safety. Like Nietzsche, Peterson’s view offers an “ideal human type” that lives by a superior code. For Nietzsche it was Übermensch that lived by a code of his own creation— a “master morality” of “might makes right,” also popularized by Thrasymachus in Book I of Plato’s Republic. For Peterson, the ideal is a mode of existence wherein one lives within the preordained structure of the universe and nobly grits the challenges that life throws their way.

The Last Gentleman

The above illustrates the diversity of Peterson’s intellectual interests. But while these examples can be a helpful starting point to understanding themes Peterson enjoys returning to, they are by no means exhaustive. Other of Peterson’s recurring intellectual influences that were not discussed above and not have obvious political implications, but are worth examining in their own right, are: Peterson’s view on the importance of dreams (they are, after all, the subconscious mind communicating to us); prehistoric myth, particularly the creation narrative of the Sumerian deity, Marduk (which is a metaphor of how to use language to confront that which frightens and upsets us most deeply); dominance hierarchy (which the close study of lobsters, our ancestors from billions of years past, can greatly inform); and the centrality of Hebrew Scripture to understanding wisdom so as to become fully human (which teaches us lessons about discipline, sacrifice, and faith that science and rationality cannot).

The above also illustrate the emphasis Peterson places on how the inner life informs our outer conduct. In this way, Peterson stays true to the literal meaning of psychology, Greek for the “study of the soul.” We can be grateful to Peterson’s reinvigorated discussion of the inner life, as today, far too little attention is paid to the care of the inner life, our deepest self, our essence — perhaps because it is infinitely complex and it is far easier to pursue the simple and certain.

Reader Discussion

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on February 20, 2018 at 09:12:40 am

Jordan Peterson is a You Tube phenomenon. Describing the Peterson Phenomenon, determining its causes and defining its intellectual content would each constitute a formidable academic project. The three tasks combined are book-length and intellectually-worthy of an outstanding cultural historian or, better yet, of Jordan Peterson, himself.

Alexandra Hudson's bijou of commentary is a good start on the third task, that of defining the content of Peterson's thought, with all of its precious psychological insight, its existentially valuable advice, its surprisingly amorphous foundation and its frustratingly erratic articulation.

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timothy
on February 20, 2018 at 09:42:35 am

Personally, I see much more of EO Wilson, John Calvin and Epictetus in Jordan Peterson than than I see of Sartre, Kierkegaard or Nietzsche.

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EK
on February 20, 2018 at 10:36:34 am

Sorry libs. When everybody is an obtuse bigot, sexist homophobe. Nobody is.

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Zathras
on February 20, 2018 at 11:02:40 am

The title of contains a homage to a similarly wide-ranging and difficult if not useless to pigeon hole writer, Walker Percy. His diagnosis of and antidote for what he called " the malaise" is certainly in the spirit of Peterson's work and is present in all of Percy's essays and novels, not least, " The Last Gentleman."

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David Doely
on February 20, 2018 at 12:06:06 pm

After reading this excellent introduction, I (and I suspect many others) will begin to further acquaint myself with the thought of Jordan Peterson.

In a post at www.catholicworldreport.com/2017/11/25/on-the-creases-of-being/ , Fr. James V. Schall discusses a worthy companion study: "Moral Action" by Robert Sokolowski. In this work the questions posed (and answered) by Prof. Peterson are addressed from the perspective of a distinguished Catholic philosopher.

In this review of "Moral Action", Fr. Schall writes: "When it comes to the subject matter of this book, what we want to know is this: What are moral or ethical actions? ... The title of the book is "moral action", not "moral philosophy" because Sokolowski, as a philosopher, wants to know, as a philosopher, what goes on when we will and choose something. What good do we seek? Are we to be praised or blamed for our actions? If so, why so? This book is about the "why so?".

And from the final paragraph of Fr. Schall's review: Sokolowski called my attention to the text's final sentence: "Philosophy is to remind us of the necessity in things: not just to the necessities to which we have to resign ourselves, but those we can find splendid". And what are these things that we can find 'splendid'? Surely in the case of moral action, it is the discovery that we are happier when we do what we ought to do rather than just what we want to do."

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Latecomer
on February 20, 2018 at 12:14:47 pm

WHILE I UNDERSTAND ALL THE WORDS, BUT AT TIMES NOT THE SENTENCES, IT COMES DOWN TO WORDS, BUT WORDS , WORDS WITH NEW MEANINGS OF THE HOUR THAT FAIL TO EXTEND LIFE BY ONE DAY.

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MARTIN KESSLER
on February 20, 2018 at 14:21:50 pm

Did anyone take EST/Landmark Education training? This seems somewhat reminiscent....

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nobody.really
on February 20, 2018 at 15:41:12 pm

No - it all seems rather Nietzschean to me - there is no meaning, invent new 'opportunities" and other psychobabble.

That being said, I would far prefer to share a bottle of wine with Nietzsche than with Kierkegaard as I fear his trembling would cause too much wine to be spilled. Freddy would be the life of the party with lines like this:

"But what if Truth were a Woman...." She needs to be conquered (paraphrase, of course)

Anyone else ever get the sense that Freddy was having a grand laugh at not just at the politically correct of his day but also his own pretensions?

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gabe
on February 20, 2018 at 16:04:06 pm

I have not read or viewed anything at all by Jordan Peterson. I am not an admirer of Jung. But I have read enough of Robert Sokolowski to be impressed. This post by Alexandra Hudson provided a few threads that seemed connected to Sokolowski's ideas.

The article by Fr. Schall really is worth reading, at least in my opinion.

One more passage from the review of "Moral Action":

"In this sense the book is a polemic against the subjectivizing of moral action as if the word or act we put into the world itself had no significance. In Sokolowski's view, it makes all the difference. In short, again, our acts 'crease' the world. We do many voluntary things simply because they are good. They do not involve elaborate choices. But some things do involve choice. After deliberation on what we should do or should not do, we decide or will put an act into the world whose very being contains a goodness or badness that directly is placed into the world by our act. Sokolowski's chapter on the moral significance of speech, over which we have much control, is quite remarkably good."

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Latecomer
on February 20, 2018 at 20:41:12 pm

Thanks - Fr. Schalls piece was interesting.

In a nutshell: Walter Mitty's "intentions" (aka - failure to act) alone could not in-"crease" the moral good in the world.

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gabe
on February 20, 2018 at 21:41:10 pm

"Jordan Peterson is a You Tube phenomenon."

Just as no one became influential from talking on the radio or tv, I don't think Peterson will ever have much of a cultural impact talking on youtube. Books are where its at. Ask someone under 18 who's most influenced their thinking and they'll mention writers, not radio shows like FDR's fireside chats or tv shows like Jon Stewart.

I bet most people under 18 have never even heard of Pewdiepie, Markiplier, or Good Mythical Morning.

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Chesterton
on February 21, 2018 at 10:53:05 am

I agree that You tube is not the medium on which to found a credible reputation for profundity in matters of the mind. That is due to its inherent intellectual limitations (such as the transience and fleeting mental impression of the spoken word) which adhere to all uses of language in audio/visual form ( such as political debate, classroom and online lectures, audio/video classrooms, and public speeches and film) rather than in the written form of the book. Even the oral traditions that underlay ancient stories and epic poetry had to be written down in order to exert their profound cultural impact. Had we no written copies of Homer's poetry, Pericles' orations or Lincoln's speeches their intellectual impact would be minimal.

Religious evangelism is one partial exception. The ministry of Christ was spread by Jesus and then by the early Church through the spoken word and set the world on fire. Billy Graham used a podium to proclaim the Gospel to hundreds of millions of people. Yet their universally profound effect, ultimately, rests solely on the power of the written word, the Bible.

Political demagoguery may be the only mass communication whose power rests largely on mass psychology and appears to be unconstrained by its limited use of the written word. But its appeal is to emotion not intellect and, thankfully, is fleeting not lasting.

Jordan Peterson has used You Tube recordings the way FDR used live radio and Donald Trump used live television, to vastly popularize his message. His reliance on that socially powerful but intellectually limited audio/visual medium contributes to what I have characterized as the unsystematic and amorphous intellectual grounds of Peterson's thought and the frustratingly erratic nature of its articulation.

The popular impact of his thought will be ephemeral, his intellectual effect superficial and limited, unless Professor Peterson turns to writing books, which I implore him to do.

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timothy
on February 21, 2018 at 11:32:17 am

One last comment: This aspect of Sokolowski's thought: - that we "encounter" reality; we do not invent it; also, as you mention, that our acts have good and bad effects ("creases"), a fact we ignore at our great peril, is what so interests me.

Also, he insists that we must carefully distinguish "that this thing is or is not that thing". The purpose of philosophy is that we might know, really know, what it is to know the truth of things. We act in the context of what is real. There are unavoidable realities - another fact we ignore at our very great peril.

Dr. Soklowski's project and that of Jordan Peterson seem to intersect at this point. Although the question is phrased in two different ways, it has the same goal, i.e.

"For Peterson ... the zealous pursuit of truth is paramount, even at the expense of someone's feelings" [even one's own feelings!].

For Sokolowski ..." We reduce something to its proper category and find its causes."

So much more could be said. But here it does seem we encounter the great question of our time and, at some level, of all times. Are we material "floating in the wind" or persons possessing agency, free will to choose and to determine our character.

I have the impression, from the too little I know of Jordan Peterson, that his philosophy is unfinished, the work of an intelligent, knowledgeable, educated "Great Books autodidact". His is a work in progress.

Robert Sokolowski's work has an almost finished quality. He writes from an impressive encounter, a life's work of study, on his subject - from within what Fr. Schall describes as his "philosophical laboratory ... ourselves: what do we know .,.". ... But, enough.

Re: your comment at the John O McGinnis post on religion in the "public square". I will read (if I can obtain a copy) "The Industrial Revolution of the Middle Ages" by Jean Gimpel. The content of your informative comment has therefore "creased" my thinking and will continue to do so as I read the book.
Thank you!

.

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Latecomer
on February 21, 2018 at 17:45:48 pm

On Jung:

Jung was Freud’s favorite student hand-picked successor. This put a lot of stress on their relationship—a relationship that would then be stressed to the breaking point when Freud learned that Jung was sleeping with his daughter, Anna.

Freud regarded this as a terrible act of betrayal, and chastised his daughter mercilessly even years later.

But the daughter refused to feel any shame or to apologize. “Papa, papa—you must understand,” she said in her thick Austrian accent, “Our love was natural! It was beautiful! And after all, ve vere Jung—and Anna Freud!

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nobody.really
on February 23, 2018 at 07:18:34 am

YEAH, THAT'S OUR SENTENCE...WHICH WE CANNOT BUT TRY TO SET ASIDE WITH OTHER WORDS.

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Louis Muller
on February 23, 2018 at 10:59:59 am

[…] Reprinted from Law and Liberty. […]

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Jordan B. Peterson is a Man Who Simply Cannot Be Pigeonholed
on February 23, 2018 at 12:32:50 pm

It's a good thing then that his latest book at the very top of Amazon and Forbes right now.

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Mark McKay
on February 23, 2018 at 15:20:11 pm

No. Youtube is perfect for young people who have a short attention span. And a lot of young people, I’m thinking under 30, do have a short attention span. Facebook, Twitter, video games.......all short interactions with others. All my grandkids.........under 30.........watch Youtube for information and are amazingly informed. As well as conservative.

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Cat
on February 23, 2018 at 22:44:09 pm

excellent connection - thanks

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ML
on February 23, 2018 at 22:53:38 pm

look at his YouTube numbers and the young people who pay to participate in his on line live talks etc.. and rethink your diminishment of this medium and recognize its influence - Peterson talks about complex phenomena in language that conveys meaning to young people understand and agree with and find useful

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ML
on February 24, 2018 at 10:20:13 am

EK, I agree with your statement: "I see much more of EO Wilson, John Calvin and Epictetus in Jordan Peterson than than I see of Sartre, Kierkegaard or Nietzsche." I believe that Dr. Peterson mischaracterizes nearly every subject he touches outside of his only field of expertise, Psychology. Dr. Peterson's teachings of Nietzsche, Heidegger, Kiekegaard, etc, are all just Amateur Hour.

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Bartolomé de las Casas
on February 24, 2018 at 12:29:41 pm

JORDAN PETERSON IS NOT A GENTLEMEN

Gentlemen don't routinely make outlandish, unprovable, defamatory claims, but Jordan Peterson does. I'll give just one example, from a recent interview on Channel 4 News in the U.K.:

CATHY NEWMAN: Isn't it grossly insensitive to compare them to Chairman Mao? You know, Augusto Pinochet, I mean this is grossly insensitive and...

PETERSON: I didn't compare them to Pinochet. I did compare them to...

CATHY NEWMAN: Authoritarians...

PETERSON: He's a right-winger, though. I was comparing them to the left-wing totalitarians. And I do believe they are left-wing totalitarians.

CATHY NEWMAN: Under Mao millions of people die.

PETERSON: Right.

CATHY NEWMAN: I mean, right there, there's no comparison between Mao and a trans activist, is there?

PETERSON: Why not?

CATHY NEWMAN: Because trans activist aren't killing millions of people.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMcjxSThD54 (starting at time point 24:18)

Jordan Peterson, in this interview, then goes to assert that trans activists have the same philosophy as Joseph Stalin, and so will end up murdering of people just like Stalin. As red meat for the zealots, that may pass muster. But for any gentleman or scholar, or anyone who thinks that reason and intellectual honesty matter, that simply won't do.

There is an ancient tradition of a certain kind of politician -- the demagogue--who's stock-in-trade consists of routinely make outlandish, unprovable, defamatory claims, and speaking in cliches ("identity politics") and pejoratives ("SJWs). A demagogue is what Jordan Peterson has become, a very successful one.

Jordan Peterson was once a modestly respectable professor of Psychology. But he's left that behind for pop stardom in the Conservative Movement, right along the likes of Ben Shapiro, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Steve Bannon.

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Bartolomé de las Casas
on February 26, 2018 at 06:52:02 am

He specifically stated that the ideology is the same. Those pushing identity politics who place the individual subordinate to the group. He has made it his life's work to study the identity politics, both on the right and the left, that drove the atrocities of the 20th century. At least have the good form to know the background of the man, and to quote him in context.

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Jack J
on February 26, 2018 at 09:39:45 am

I STILL SAY PETERSON IS NOT A GENTLEMAN OR A SCHOLAR

Jordan Peterson makes the CLAIM that trans activists have the same ideology as Stalin and Mao had. But does he PROVE this? No. It is just an assertion, the mirror image of the assertion that some of the Left make that Jordan Peterson and all Conservatives have the same ideology that Adolf Hitler had. That is an extremist claim, just like Peterson's claim that all trans activists are the equivalent of Stalin and Mao. All these wild claims are juvenile in nature.

When you examine the history of trans people and LGBT people, you see that they are much, much more often the victims of violence rather than the perpetrators of violence. They have been and still are targeted for violence because of their group identity as trans or LGBT. These are just facts. Jews are facing the same sort of group identity targeting in Europe today.

Political radicals like Jordan Peterson on the Right and Black Lives Matter activists on the Left both make claims that don't stand to reason and don't conform to facts. Yet, they both have some enthusiastic followers, and always will.

Jordan Peterson has not dedicated his life to the study of "identity politics." His magnum opus book of 1999, "Maps of Meaning," doesn't mention identity politics even one time.

Peterson got the phrase "identity politics" from watching the Fox New Channel, apparently, or perhaps listening to some of his fellow professional right-wing provocateurs like Ann Coulter, Milo Yiannopoulos, Ben Shapiro, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and all the rest.

Jordan Peterson was once a modestly respectable professor of Psychology, who published articles on Psychology in peer-reviewed academic journals.

But he's left that all behind. He's said he's been a leave of absence from his university for over a year and he doesn't think he'll ever go back to that. Why should he? He can make so much more money and get so much more fame and attention as a right-wing provocateur?

As a professor, Jordan Peterson was just an average lobster. Now he is one of the top lobsters. And he's gotten himself to the top of the lobster pile by teaching the way for other social climbing lobsters to get to the top of the "dominance hierarchy." (Hey, that does sound a little like the Social Darwinist philosophy to me, and that, in turn, was one of the foundations of National Socialist philosophy)

I do recognize that Jordan Peterson teaches Libertarian Individualism, which is logically incompatible with the ideologies of National Socialism, Fascism, and Communism.

But there's the problem: Peterson's most basic teaching is Darwinism. He's constantly discussing biological evolution and natural selection as being the most basic "structure of life." Peterson is constantly condemning Leftists because they fail to respect the boundaries of what's possible as established by biology.

The problem is that ideology of Libertarian Individualism is itself incompatible with biology. Professor Bret Weinstein has pointed this out in some of his discussions with Jordan Peterson.

Peterson spends so much time showing the Marxism and Postmodernism are ideologies that are incompatible with the biological "structure of life." But he seems blind to the fact that Libertarian Individualism is also a manmade ideology that is also incompatible with the biological "structure of life."

Maybe he's not blind. Maybe he sees this, but just doesn't care, since the ideology of Libertarian Individualism sells so well among a certain group of people. You can get rich and powerful by selling the ideology of Libertarian Individualism.

If you go to the primary sources for Evolutionary Biology, Evolutionary Psychology, and Sociobiology, you can readily see that the manmade ideology of Libertarian Individualism is a fantasy, just as Marxism is a fantasy.

I am sorry to be the bearer of such Bad News. I know that Jordan Peterson has brought such great Hope to many people. I just think Jordan Peterson's Good News is ultimately Fake News. Getting swept up in hopeful ideologies taught by mesmerizing, singular leaders is fun. But in the long run, we are just left with a hangover and regrets. I think it is much better to face reality, as early as possible.

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Bartolomé de las Casas
on February 26, 2018 at 10:07:46 am

Certainly, if you have to wait for the body count it's too late. The assimilated Jews in Germany made that mistake in after 1933.

The maoist Red Guard's purge of the Four Olds of the existing culture and the notion of permanent revolution are clearly reflected in Antifa and its allies in the media, NGOs, business and government. The Maoists learned their tactics from the earlier Stalinists and Nazis.

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EK
on February 26, 2018 at 10:57:04 am

WHY BOTH LIBERTARIAN INDIVIDUALISM & MARXIST COLLECTIVISM ARE FAILED IDEOLOGIES

Human beings rarely do anything significant as individuals, despite what fiction by Homer or Ayn Rand may depict. Even John Galt did not stand alone against society, but formed his own group.

The academic literature on the inherently biological "tribal" nature of human beings is extensive and well-supported by facts and reason.

Amy Chua, a conservative professor of law at Yale University, and bestselling author, just published a book titled "Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations." She amasses facts, history, and science to show that "tribal" group identity has not been and cannot be washed away by modern economic systems and modern political ideologies.

The ancient philosopher Aristotle was not a scientist, but he was an astute observer, and he famously wrote:

"Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god."

We can ignore this "tribal" reality of human nature. Some on the Right insist on flat-out rejecting Darwin's discoveries entirely. But ignoring reality doesn't change reality.

I propose in an earlier comment on this article that we all need to accept reality. So, what is the "reality" that I think is real?

First, reality involves gaining an ability to identify ideologies as ideologies, and that includes ideologies that scream and claim that they aren't ideologies, such as the Libertarian Individualism taught by Jordan Peterson, Sen. Rand Paul, Ayn Rand, and many others. Once you see that a system of thought is a manmade ideology, you will no longer be its slave, or a slave to those controlling the ideology. (But you and I will always be slaves to biology, something that Jordan Peterson does rightly point out.)

Second, reality involves humbling accepting that most people will never be able to identify ideologies as ideologies. Most people will always be under the control of one or more ideology, and thus under the control of the men who control the ideologies. So, to some extent, you will always have to work with ideologies, and pretend to respect them as truth and reality, because you will have to work, socialize with, made deals with, perhaps co-govern with, people who believe in manmade ideologies. Being like Nietzsche, constantly working to expose the falseness of all ideologies, is a path of misery, failure, and insanity.

Third, reality involves accepting that the scientific method produces the only real knowledge, the only real truth. Myth is an effective tool for inculcating the majority of the people into certain value systems (Left or Right or Moderate), but myths don't prove or verify anything. Myth is just a tool. Jordan Peterson's indefensible "mystical" leap of faith is his contention that certain ancient myth actually (somehow) contain the highest truths. Sam Harris criticized Jordan Harris for this when they had a discussion about "truth."

Fourth, reality involves accepting that our nature, as biological beings produced by natural selection evolution and still undergoing such evolution, establishes real and hard limits on what is possible for us as individuals and as a society. Manmade ideologies (e.g., Marxist Collectivism; Libertarian Individualism) that conflict with our nature as biological beings will never get the broad, positive results that are hoped for. Yet, we must accept the limits of our knowledge, and admit that we don't always know ahead of time what is possible, biologically speaking. In the late 1800s, many of America's best scientists and university professors (all men) were writing that, as a matter of science, allowing women to vote in elections would be a disaster. But nearly everyone now concludes that these men were wrong and their science was wrong (incomplete).

Some authors I would recommend:
Max Weber
Leo Strauss
Plato
Aristotle
E.O. Wilson
Theodosius Dobzhansky
Ernst Mayr
Shakespeare
Miguel de Unamuno
Miguel de Cervantes

Best wishes to all.

(The above contains its own errors. Everything has its limits. But I think the above may contain some valuable corrective truths, too.)

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Bartolomé de las Casas
on February 26, 2018 at 12:28:34 pm

Extremists of both the Left and the Right justify their extreme rhetoric and extreme actions on the basis of an assessment the other side is plotting mass murder and sheer tyranny.

The extreme Left sees no possibility of peacefulness or respect for life, liberty, or the rule of law on the part of any Conservatives.

The extreme Right (including Jordan Peterson) likewise see no possibility of peacefulness or respect for life, liberty, or property or the rule of law on the part of any Progressives.

And so, with these extremes of characterization, and the extremes of mistrust and paranoia that this produces, bloody war and revolution become inevitable, unless decent men and woman can guide us back to facts, reason, and sanity.

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Bartolomé de las Casas
on February 26, 2018 at 17:34:30 pm

JORDAN PETERSON'S DARWINIAN WORLDVIEW CONFLICTS WITH HIS LIBERTARIANISM

This same article was titled "A Professor Not to Be Pigeonholed" over on the Foundation for Economic Education website.

I wonder why Alexandra Huston did not consider the possibility that the reason Jordan Peterson cannot be pigeonholed is that his ideology is an incoherent hodgepodge of contradictory, incompatible doctrines.

The basic irreconcilable contradiction that I see in Peterson's ideology is this: His attempt to integrate and harmonize Libertarian Individualism with Biological Darwinism.

This article made no mention of the teacher who I believe has had the most influence on Jordan Peterson: Charles Darwin.

Listen to Dr. Peterson acknowledge the centrality of Darwinism in his thinking:

--"What I think about religion is very Darwinian. I think religion is an evolved--it's evolved knowledge."
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07Ys4tQPRis&t=1815s

--"You can reduce religion to sort of Darwinian principles and sort of destroy it that way. Or, you can expand your notion of Darwinism, so that it actually encompasses the genuine phenomena of religion."
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07Ys4tQPRis&t=1631s

--BRENT McKAY (interviewer): "As you were talking, it sounds like these narratives or these metanarratives or these archetypes, there’s sort of A DARWINIAN THING GOING ON. You talk a lot about SURVIVAL AND FAILURE and the stories that are useful for people to thrive in this world. Those are THE ONES THAT SURVIVED, and we still have them today because they are transcripts."

JORDAN PETERSON: Yeah, well, I would say that that’s part of what I’ve added to the Jungian corpus of thinking, is I’ve tried to place the idea of the functional myth IN A DARWINIAN CONTEXT and take seriously the idea that our FUNDAMENTAL RELIGIOUS NARRATIVES which are associated with these great myths ARE ACTUALLY EVOLVED STRUCTURES, and they’ve evolved at multiple levels. First of all, they’re expressions of our physiological being, because we act in certain ways in the world as a consequence of the manner in which we’re constituted physiologically.
Our physiological constitution is OBVIOUSLY A PRODUCT OF DARWINIAN PROCESSES, insofar as you buy the evolutional theory as a generative, as an account of the mechanism that generated us. Our physiology evolved, our behaviors evolved, and our accounts of those behaviors, both successful and unsuccessful, evolved. As those accounts evolved and we shared them, we also changed the landscape in which we were being selected. All of these things tangled together, but they tangled together in a way that embeds these great stories deeply within us, I would say BOTH PHYSIOLOGICALLY and PSYCHOLOGICALLY.
Yeah, I THINK about it as a DEEPLY DARWINIAN PROCESS."

https://www.artofmanliness.com/2017/08/31/podcast-335-using-power-myths-live-flourishing-life/

There are many more such quotes from Peterson.

Most Libertarian thinkers don't seem to study Sociobiology or Evolutionary Psychology, but Jordan Peterson has drunk deeply from the well of knowledge of these disciplines.

Why Dr. Peterson included no discussion of Darwinism in his new book, "12 Rules for Life," is a mystery. Maybe his publisher advised him to leave that out to avoid alienating religious conservatives. Or maybe he's saving all that for his next book.

His 1999 book "Maps of Meaning," and his videos are full of discussions of the importance and centrality of the discoveries of Darwin. When Jordan Peterson is talking about the limits set by the "structure of life," he is referring to the limits set by biology.

Yet, Professor Bret Weinstein has pointed out to Dr. Peterson, in two videos that I've seen, that Darwinian biology and Libertarian Individualism are not compatible.

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Bartolomé de las Casas
on February 28, 2018 at 17:00:37 pm

It's good to read an article that works at understanding Dr. Peterson's thoughts in relation to the thinkers who have influenced him. So many articles I've read merely try to simplify and discredit his views. Thank-you!

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Caroline
on March 01, 2018 at 03:57:14 am

I admire Jordan Peterson for many reasons. Yet, as a Christian, we part ways in regard to his virtually complete silence on the reality of the transcendent...so while he persuasively argues that our brains have acutely evolved to anticipate the Christ as an archetypal alpha male, it does not address the question as to who He is. Is His kingdom only of this world, or is it true as the scriptures maintain, the He insisted that His kingdom is NOT of this world.

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Louis Muller
on March 01, 2018 at 04:06:48 am

You say: The extreme Right (including Jordan Peterson) likewise see no possibility of peacefulness or respect for life, liberty, or property or the rule of law on the part of any Progressives.

No, surely you must realize that you misrepresent Peterson as the opponent of anything " progressive". His "mental strife" is directed against Marx and the barely disguised neo-Marxism of the media and Academia nowadays. He pertinently disassociated himself from what you would call the extreme right precisely because it is part of the identity politics which he eschews. He has repeatedly typified himself as a Liberalist in the original, Burkean sense of the word, with individual liberty as its core value.

Try again, this time with due regard for the facts.

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Louis Muller
on March 01, 2018 at 09:30:24 am

IF IT WALKS LIKE A DUCK, QUACKS LIKE A DUCK, MAYBE IT IS A DUCK

While it is a fact that Jordan Peterson has denied being a part of the "far right" or "alt right," no one is obligated to believe everything said by any political activist.

Donald Trump says all news reports critical of him is "fake news." While it is fact that Trump has said this, is anyone obligated to accept as true the content of these "fake news" assertions by Trump?

So, I do not believe anyone is obligated to accept Peterson's denials of being "far right" as settling the case.

We are free to draw our own conclusions from the totality of what Peterson says and doesn't say.

Prior to becoming a political activist in 2016, Peterson was a professor at a university, and much of his work consisted of publishing peer-reviewed articles in scholarly journals.

But while Peterson still benefits from that reputation, he has admitted that he no longer teachers or works at a university. He says he's been on a sabbatical for over a year and says he doesn't know if he'll ever go back.

Peterson has taken up a new profession, that of political theorist, activist, agitator, and provocateur. As such, we are wise to understand that most anyone with a political agenda will often or sometimes say things that are slanted, one-sided, tendentious, incoherent, extreme, baseless, and misleading.

In labeling Peterson as "far right" against his will, I am simply following the standard that Peterson himself exhibits when he labels his political enemies as "Marxist" against their will. Many of the people he labels "Marxist" or "Neo-Marxist" or "Cultural Marxist," are people who strenuously denying being any of those things, or having any similarity to the Straw Men that Peterson always brings up: the murderous dictators Stalin and Mao.

But Peterson claims that he's read and heard these Progressives speak and write, and so he's reached the conclusion that these Progressives are indeed secret Marxists and Stalinists and Maoists.

So, if it is legitimate for Peterson to do that, why isn't it legitimate to analyze Peterson's statements and conclude that he is "far right," or perhaps even a Nazi philosopher? Why is it perfectly fine for Peterson to casually accuse his opponents of being like the murderous fantatic Stalin, but it is forbidden and outrageous to accuse Peterson is being like the murderous fanatic Hitler? (In truth, no one should be likened to Stalin or Hitler unless they've very explicitly proclaimed their approval of mass murder.)

I know that many men have fallen in love with Peterson and his ideas through his YouTube videos. But can you really know the character of a man from YouTube videos? What do we REALLY know about past and present life of Jordan Peterson? Among all these men who've fallen in love with Peterson, have any of them known him and closely associated or worked with him for ten years, twenty years, thirty years? I submit that we don't know Peterson, and that we can't assume that he's a good guy just because he's become a beloved YouTube rock star, and is being interviewed by mainstream media.

I have spent hours and hours with Jordan Peterson through his videos and writings, and I have drawn what I think reasonable inferences from what he's said. Literature teachers teach kids to draw inferences from what is said or written, due to the fact that authors don't always put their entire message on the surface of a text. There is often an important "subtext." As I've already noted, Peterson himself draws inferences from what his opponents say and write, and accuses them of holding beliefs and intentions that they have never explicitly stated.

I believe that there are plenty cases in history of many men becoming very excited by a certain charismatic, mesmerizing author or political thinker, activist, or leader, but, in the end, these men end up feeling very disappointed in the man who was once their hero, ideal, and inspiration. I predict that the Jordan Peterson Phenomenon will end up being one of these cases in which his followers will be left with nothing but regrets. The signs are there, I believe.

I believe it is only a matter of time before "the other shoes drops," and the most people will see Peterson for what he really is.

Be careful. As Ronald Reagan said, "Trust, but verify."

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Bartolomé de las Casas
on March 01, 2018 at 10:10:12 am

I also admire Profesor Peterson but have reservations about whether he emphasizes psychology, socio-biology, and the study of Biblical and Jungian archetypes to the point of missing the centrality of Judeo-Christian faith and revealed truth. I will maintain a "wait and watch" attitude, hoping that his search for truth will guide him in that direction.

Peterson's insights are of enormous value, especially for Millennials and Gen X'ers who are searching for self-knowledge and existential meaning and who see psychology as an invaluable guide. But the answer to the individual's search for cosmic significance is spiritual; it lies deeper and is more mysterious than the answers that psychology, anthropology and the study of archetypes can hope to offer.

I became an adult, lived through and witnessed first-hand the recent phase in western history when self-exploration was seen as the path to happiness, psychology became our new religion and therapists became our personal saviors. It was a false, destructive step toward excessive narcissism and the self-obsessed pursuit of easy answers, and it accelerated the demise of religious faith. These sicknesses now plague our culture and our politics.

I hope that Peterson soon comes to realize not just the existential insight and value but also the spiritual limitations of psychology, Carl Jung and Biblical archetypes. I hope that Peterson goes "Beyond Psychology" (psychoanalyst Otto Rank) and, with his special genius, enters a phase of intense religious study and meditation which lead him onto the firmer, broader path of faith toward truth and the meaning of existence.

I bet he will.

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timothy
on March 01, 2018 at 10:21:00 am

Wow! What a rant. What a distorted perception of reality.
Get a grip, man.

Peterson's psychology might help with reality perception and anger management.

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timothy
on March 01, 2018 at 11:35:47 am

I still don't see why you think Peterson is approximately as far right as Antifa is far left. Antifa's roots go back to the overtly Stalinist Antifaschischte Aktion and Roter Frontkämferbund in Berlin and Hamburg in the 1920-30s. They were the Red street fighters who fought with the SA and various Freikorps. Libertarians have little in common with either the SA or Die Rotfront.

Further, I don't think labeling Peterson as a libertarian is correct. To my eye, Peterson's religious root are in the English expression of covenant theology. Particularly in the passages in Hebrews, Jeremiah and Paul that speak of God's law being written in the hearts and on minds of men. By 1600, calvinist notions of predestination and salvation included the related idea that God calls to us individually and we respond as individuals. From these ideas, the Independents envisioned a true church as being a voluntary, self-governing congregation that reflects the particular "light" seen by the congregants. The vast majority of the English settlers of the American colonies in the 17th C. were English Independents while the gentlemen of trade and the professions who ran the colonial government tended to be Presbyterians. Peterson seem to be an Independent rather than a Presbyterian calvinist.

I also see much of Epictetus's brand of stoicism in his presentations and, like many Independents who are attracted to stoicism, his Christianity seems to be non-trinitarian and non-Nicene.

He is clearly a political agitator in the sense that John Lilburne, Hugh Peter and and the soldier's representatives to Army Council of the New Model Army were agitators and he is clearly an evangelist but that hardly makes him a libertarian or far right. It does suggest he is a nationalist constitutional democratic-republican whose ideas about civil liberty can be easily derived from Coke's Institutes and moral liberty from the ordered liberty of the puritans. The ordered liberty of the puritans is constrained by the nature of the congregation's covenant and the particular "light" the congregant has received from God. This is quite different from the libertarian notion maximizing personal liberty in all circumstances.

It is obvious that Peterson is strongly influenced by EO Wilson's "Sociobiology" (1975) so that his references trace back to Darwin rather than Wilson is really not anything of consequence; Wilson is also a darwinist.

I don't see any jarring inconsistencies in Peterson's positions.

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EK
on March 01, 2018 at 11:53:23 am

And what is this so-called ideology of "Libertarian Individualism" of which Peterson is guilty?

I think it's just a rhetorical device, an abuse of language, aimed at denigrating Peterson's thought, which is not ideological, by dubbing it "ideology," which nowadays is a word with bad connotations of totalitarianism, group-think and PC.

Peterson's thinking is not a body of foundational doctrine referencing a political and social plan for putting it into operation. That's an ideology. Fascism is an ideology; Socialism and Communism are ideologies; Progressivism is an ideology. Espousing psychological insights (largely conservative) that are based on studying anthropology, the works of Jung and the archetypes of myth and the Bible does not constitute an ideology.

Nor is 'Libertarian Individualism," however you might care to define it, an ideology or a body of thought of which Peterson is "guilty."

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timothy
on March 01, 2018 at 12:07:06 pm

I like EK's Biblical and Stoical political philosophy. I wish Jordan Peterson taught that, or that it was EK in all those YouTube videos instead of Peterson.

But, I admit that I haven't done as thorough a study or analysis of Peterson's teachings as needs to be done. I don't have time, and I'm not qualified. I'm not a scholar.

Nor have I seen anyone else do a really complete and deep analysis and categorization and classification of Peterson teachings.

And based on what I've seen of Peterson, I really do think that we can't trust Peterson to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the sources, nature, character, and implications of what he's teaching.

Peterson is madly, wildly, and passionately in love with his ideas (and, I think, with himself).

I think he isn't isn't capable of being a good judge in his own case.

I eagerly await some really competent scholars to review and evaluate the sources, nature, character, and implications of what this new Conservative rock star is teaching.

Peterson isn't going to be the end of the world, or the savior of the world. He's just a guy from Canada whose head is full of Big Ideas from German and Russian thinkers from a hundred years ago or so. If Peterson retired tomorrow, some new "Peterson" would take his place, and life would go on.

I enjoy discussing things with thoughtful people with good insights. Thank you.

Best wishes to all.

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Bartolomé de las Casas
on March 01, 2018 at 12:21:05 pm

Well, that's more like it.
Not anger nor a distorted vision of reality.
Thoughtful comment.

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timothy
on March 01, 2018 at 13:42:44 pm

I don't know that I have captured any of what Peterson actually thinks. I've only listened to a few of his lectures but it is familiar and welcome stuff to my ear. My area of interest is Anglo-American 17th C. history, religion and sociology and those are the connections I make. Others with different interests will make different connections.

If Peterson, himself, is not aware of any of this beyond EO Wilson, then he would be classified as a puritan Seeker. Along these lines, two of the songs Tom Springfield wrote for the '60s Aussie folk-rock group the Seekers, "World of Own" and "I'll Never Find Another You," would have resonated strongly in any Independent congregation in 1640 and, I suspect, amongst Peterson's followers. Puritan Independents strongly believed that the core social and religious unit was the family and that once formed, the marriage covenant could be broken only by death.

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EK
on March 01, 2018 at 21:37:41 pm

In a previous comment about Jordan Peterson's thought I said the following:

"I hope that Peterson soon comes to realize not just the existential insight and value but also the spiritual limitations of psychology, Carl Jung and Biblical archetypes. I hope that Peterson goes “Beyond Psychology” (psychoanalyst Otto Rank) and, with his special genius, enters a phase of intense religious study and meditation which lead him onto the firmer, broader path of faith toward truth and the meaning of existence.
I bet he will."

Here is an article by a doctorate in theology that addresses Peterson's thinking from the catholic standpoint of natural law:
https://www.crisismagazine.com/2018/peterson-craig-encounter-missed-opportunity

And here part of an intelligent comment on that article:

"Jordan Peterson is out there doing the hard work that Christians should have done years ago. We can assume that he will eventually come around to appreciate the basic underlying ideas that make his positions possible in the first place, and he may end up a Christian."

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timothy
on March 05, 2018 at 03:58:05 am

I really do not get your point..Every man is fallible, so Jordan Peterson is fallible..wow. Stating the axiomatic seems very much like a defense mechanism on your part. if this is indeed ALL you can come up with against Peterson, it surely is to his credit? Wait and see if he has feet of clay is NO way to address the arguments he presents.

So if he says that any curb to freedom of speech raises the spectre of Marxism, historically he is right. Further, Marx has exercised a grip on western intelligentsia which has withstood the collapse of communism. All that has changed is the terminology, and the more unpalatable examples of "the ends justify the means" approach that even forced a die-hard like Chomsky to let his beloved Pol Pot slip under the surface.

But it still exhibits all the trademark characteristics of a crypto-religion that promises utopia- , through the destruction of the structures and systems that suppress the inherent goodness of man, and which produce inequality. Freedom is at stake, inter alia the freedom of speech. Roger Scruton has drawn the same conclusions as Peterson, and it is hard to see how their arguments could be assailed. Cerainly not with the ad hominem approach which seems to be the only response to men of your ilk.

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Louis Muller
on March 05, 2018 at 10:40:55 am

To Louis Mueller:

Excellent reply.

My view is that Peterson may be too Jungian (Jung was too Jungian) and that, while mythology is psychologically and existentially valuable and Biblical archetypes are surely so, Jung is unreliable if not unworthy as a source of truth. Jung leaps from the literary universality of conscious mythology to psycho-biological theories: that mankind has a collective unconscious and that man is hard-wired with archetypes. For Jung that was a leap of pretension and hubris pretending to science, a leap too far based on contradictory, confusing and erratically-expressed notions that are far-fetched, unfounded and unverifiable.

If Peterson's thought has a salient weakness Jung may be it.

But Peterson's strength is his pronounced anti-Marxism and his compelling story-telling about Communism and its underlying psyche as the most demonstrably true, empirically-verified lesson of modern history in how not to live.

It is impossible for one to be too anti-Marxian.

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timothy

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