I enjoy reading your work. But it is a different kind of amusement I experience than normal, reading your criticisms of Dr. Jordan Peterson. It’s not that your criticisms are inept, or even completely wrong, but they convey a misunderstanding that is tragically mirrored in the misunderstanding I see in my friends and family members to whom I try to explain your ideas.
I think the problem lies in communication style. You are, first and foremost, a dialectician. You may play the rhetorician, and you do it well, but anyone who has read both your debate books about the Existence of Gods and the Question of Free Trade after having read your rhetorical works like SJWs Always Lie and Cuckservative can see that your heart is in the syllogism. I know this based on your minimal to absent tolerance for non-syllogistic thinking, in commenters or in virtually anyone else. You literally have to convert ordinary debate into pseudo-syllogisms (the enthymeme) to find it tolerable. This is not a criticism. Your subsequent precision is one of the reasons I enjoy your work so much.
Unfortunately, it’s also a reason why you are often misunderstood, dismissed as an asshole, or as ridiculous. It may also be why you have a hard time with intellectuals (or humans generally) who are not dialecticians.
Jordan B Peterson is not a syllogistic thinker. This, too, is not a criticism, and I suspect it is why you have a difficult time taking him seriously (it is also probably why you have a hard time taking Nietzsche seriously). So I will attempt to take what I feel are your four biggest criticisms of JBP and answer them in a more direct fashion. Those four criticisms are:
- Jordan Peterson is an Existential Relativist
- Jordan Peterson is controlled opposition
- Jordan Peterson’s philosophy will hurt people
- Jordan Peterson is nuts
The quotes are not exact words, but summaries of your arguments in my own words, based on having read and listened to all of your criticisms of JBP in aggregate, as of today.
Jordan Peterson is an existential relativist. He is elaborately restructuring his reality in order to avoid emotional pain (gamma behavior), and instead of rejecting the claims of the post-modernists (that reality is unknowable, infinitely interpretable, and that each interpretation is equally valid), he is in fact accepting the claims of the post-modernists and synthesizing them with classical views.
Jordan Peterson does not reject the objectivity of existence and the world. He is actually a pretty ordinary existentialist. The claim is not that reality isn’t real, but that our measurements of reality aren’t as foundationally “true” as our experiences of reality. Peterson holds pain to be objectively true within this domain. The claim that pain is objectively real makes JBP an existential realist, because he believes that the rest of the world can be built on top of that solid foundation.
Source (5 min video).
Jordan Peterson is being pushed by mainstream media as a “right-wing” intellectual so that he can gate-keep the Alt-Right.
Peterson never claimed to be of the right. He has sympathies for some right-wing positions (like respect for tradition as a starting place), but he has always claimed to be a classical liberal. This makes his opposition to the Alt-Right entirely normal.
But just because someone is being pushed by the mainstream doesn’t mean that they are necessarily serving their interests. When Hillary’s campaign information came out, we learned that she had donated to Trump’s primary campaign. Obviously, she had thought she could divide the candidates and hurt Cruz, thus increasing her chances of winning the general. But it didn’t turn out that way.
The mainstream outlets that are now pushing Peterson haven’t the faintest idea what it is they’re even supporting. To them, he’s just a popular guy with some edgy ideas. But he is telling people that the school system is corrupt and that the modern left is pathological. He’s telling men to be prepared to fight (source, 2 min video). It’s possible that the short-term effects of his advice will harm the Alt-Right, but because the identitarian position is the natural one for healthy and self-confident people, his practical advice for being assertive, combative, taking responsibility, and getting your own life in order will ultimately help the Alt-Right in the long-run.
He would be the worst possible choice for moderate-right controlled opposition, exempting maybe Jocko Willink or Mike Rowe.
Jordan Peterson’s philosophy is a bandaid on a bullet wound. By turning people’s attention from existential threats like immigration, globalism, Islam, and the progressive left, and channeling it inward to petty tasks like room-cleaning, Peterson is preparing the West for an even more horrendous war. By trying to run from the problem, he’s making it worse.
Peterson is not saying “don’t fix the world.”
The reason people joke about groaning when their parents tell them to clean their room but feeling empowered when Jordan Peterson tells them is that Jordan Peterson is presenting the act of cleaning your room as a tool. His claim is that for many people, the world is full of problems, and it is easy to feel helpless before them. If you feel powerless, start small. Clean your room. By taking control of your immediate surroundings, you gain power. This power is not zero sum; if you can clean your room, then you begin to work on fixing your family. If you can fix your family, maybe you can improve your industry. If you can fix your industry, then maybe you can try to save your nation. Without the initial feeling of power, the plight of the nation itself would feel hopeless.
Jordan Peterson has insane dreams that normal people don’t have. He is chronically depressed, and probably got into psychology to figure out what’s wrong with himself. So his philosophy isn’t designed for healthy people; it’s a reconstructed reality for unhealthy people. Healthy people shouldn’t follow it, and unhealthy people who wish to get better shouldn’t follow it.
Jordan Peterson is clearly not a psychologically normal person. But you are wrong to assume that (a) mentally abnormal people cannot create art or ideas that are valuable to healthy people and (b) that most of the valuable contributions to human civilization are the result of psychologically healthy people. Napoleon Bonaparte, Julius Caeser, and Paul of Tarsus all had epilepsy. John Nash was schizophrenic. Nikola Tesla, Thomas Aquinas, and Soren Kierkegaard were all psychologically abnormal, even weird, by any meaningful metric. These challenges not only did not hinder their work, but may even have been helpful.
Peterson is what you might call a broken person. But the world is full of broken, sinful people, and someone needs to help them. To abandon them as beyond help is to reject the truth of Jesus’ claim that redemption is available to all (not given, but available). Peterson’s own brokenness gives him not only the experience, but the communication ability to speak to other broken people, and to help them heal. That’s what clinical psychiatrists do, and Peterson appears to have a track record of success within that professional domain.
My defense of Peterson here is not an absolute defense. Jordan Peterson did wade into waters that he was not ready to swim in. The Jewish IQ matter was one. Condemning the Alt-Right for committing the sin of pride is another, which I myself criticized him for.
But what you are smelling is not sulfur. It’s just a different philosophical framework — existentialism — which is neither Peterson’s own invention, nor is it incompatible with Christianity. He is following in the path of Heideggar, Kierkegaard, and Campbell, who were themselves following in the footsteps of Heraclitus, Augustine, and Plato. When examined in light of these thinkers, Peterson’s philosophy is not even particularly interesting (which is not to say that it is not valuable); only his manner of presentation is.
I would never dream of telling you to lay off Peterson, first because Peterson should be criticized, and I don’t think I’ve seen anyone do it better than you; second, because I know you won’t stop just because I ask you nicely. But perhaps you can be more precise and selective in your criticism. Rejecting the existentialism of Heidegger as not merely wrong, but as existential relativism is not a serious position.