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An Open Letter to Vox Day, Regarding Dr. Jordan Peterson

An Open Letter to Vox Day, Regarding Dr. Jordan Peterson

Dear Vox,

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:

  1. Jordan Peterson is an Existential Relativist
  2. Jordan Peterson is controlled opposition
  3. Jordan Peterson’s philosophy will hurt people
  4. 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.

Existential relativist:

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).

Controlled opposition:

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.

Harmful:

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.”

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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.

Nuts:

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.

Sincerely,

C.B. Robertson

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Well put. It’s been darkly humorous to me to watch Vox treat JBP in the manner Vox so often complains about others treating himself.

  2. Nice commentary.

    I personally find JBP’s extemporaneous ‘style’ of thinking very engaging and his ability to extract fresh insights from literature and cultural myths nothing short of amazing. It’s almost like watching a brilliant jazz musician improvise on a old melody yet somehow make it seem new.

    Would I prefer JBP address racial HBD, immigration, and the JQ with as much courage as he has Political Correctness, Gender Pronouns, Post-Modernism and Cultural Marxism?

    Absolutely.

    But it’s never wise to look a gift horse in the mouth.

    And make no mistake, JBP’s voice is a timely gift …one that is resonating with millions of young western men to take responsibility and toughen up.

    Though deserving of criticism on a variety of topics, JBP nevertheless remains a viable gateway for many to begin their journey towards destinations he may never choose himself.

  3. I agree with both of the previous posts. Vox is treating JP, in a sense, as a rigid postmodernist,which is not true. As Ken Wilber would surmise, JP is looking at the broken Green, pointing out where it has gone astray, from a dimensionally aware space. I really like Vox Day… a lot… but I feel he is too exclusionary in regard to the high and necessary points of differentiation that JP presents.

    1. I’ve actually changed my mind on this subject (my currently most-read post is “I Was Wrong about Jordan Peterson (And Vox Was Right).”

      Vox doesn’t really care how he comes across, and so he can come across as mean, dismissive, even petty at times. This, in turn, makes his opinions sometimes easy to dismiss. But beneath his impatience for explaining himself, there’s almost always a very serious point at work.

      I don’t agree with Vox on everything (Christianity and Evolution are two major points of divergence), but I do find virtually all of his arguments stimulating and engaging. If his argument regarding Jordan Peterson seems exaggerated, it may be because you haven’t grasped the implications Vox is seeing. It took me almost two years (after my first exposure to Peterson’s work) before I realized that Peterson’s unique definitions of “truth” and “lies” almost completely undermines the trustworthiness of everything else he says. And there’s no shame in taking some time. IMO, humility is a far greater tool for learning than cognitive speed.

  4. I guess when it comes down to it…. the final choice between the two of them… in the trenches I would choose Vox Day over JP… Why? Well, because, when all is said and done, I would trust Vox to stand by his word; he would not be a Benedict Arnold ..he would not betray, obfuscate or lie in order to win favor or victory. This is what I observe to be a pattern, a predictable pattern in his behavior and character. I cannot say this at all for JP, though there is much about his various subset of stances that I feel have been valuable offerings. In the grist of the mill, JP could leave in a lurch; he could slip and slide and wiggle out of an uncomfortable lack of favor in order to maintain a position of public favor. This is what I have observed him to do, and that is an unfortunate lapse or deficiency and form of cowardice. So yes, Vox would be my choice.

  5. “JP could leave in a lurch; he could slip and slide and wiggle out of an uncomfortable lack of favor in order to maintain a position of public favor. This is what I have observed him to do…” Will you point where have you seen this happen? what part of his work, videos or material makes you feel this way. Thank you.

    1. Sure. The first and most obvious example, I think, is when it comes to talking about male violence. When talking with Camille Paglia, he was quite direct and spoke (in my opinion) truthfully about its importance to the male psyche, specifically in the context of the challenge that men have in dealing with crazy women, where violence is off the table. But when it comes to politics or spiritual matters, he denounces it.

      That was the contextual wiggling that bothered me the most, although in retrospect, it’s probably not the most obvious one. That honor goes to him nodding along to a journalist’s claim that Milo was a white supremacist, a year after praising him. Peterson actually wrote a half-hearted apology for that recently, but only because people were noticing his flip on Milo, and its contradiction with some of what Peterson has advocated.

  6. What first caught my from Dr Peterson was youtube suggesting one of his videos from his talks on the psychological significance of the early books in the Old Testament. So I watched a couple but let them pass in frustration as he wouldn’t get to the point of the specific video, seemingly rehashing his coverage of the previous one. They were an odd production too. Nevertheless some of his taped lectures had interesting material in them. Where he was at his best was when he had a script to follow as in his two classroom discussion of The Lion King. However even in those videos he would avoid any elephant in the room, approaching an issue but then pussy-footing around it.

    When he started commenting on issues outside of his academic work and especially on the statistical issues he was vulnerable to someone like Vox Day probing the weakness like a dentist probing decay and hitting a nerve. His doubling down on the question of the disproportionate success of Jewish people based on the urban myth of their average IQ was unfortunate for him. For this showed people that Vox Day was onto something.

    Some people who had rushed in with approval of Dr Peterson after the Cathy Newman interview but not having seen his earlier work suddenly had to re-evaluate their public endorsement of him as a champion of masculinity and one in particular went for the jugular.

    Instead of addressing Dr Peterson’s weak arguments one in particular attacked his lack of masculinity and tweeted his mockery of Dr Peterson’s devotion towards his wife and justified this on the fact Dr Peterson had talked about her in a video, thus she was in the public domain and was fair game.

    That stung Dr Peterson who reinforced this reading of his low status masculinity by teeeting a response. His critic instead of playing the ball had played the weak man and he responded by displaying his emotional wound. This had said critic cock-a-hoop with how he had “driven a stake in Peterson’s heart” and in a subsequent voice podcast crowed about how Mrs Peterson would know in her heart that he was right about Dr Peterson being a low status male (unlike himself).

    I thought and still think that such an attitude and attack was appalling, tsking delight in hurting someone and his relationships, somthing quite disturbing in my view. He had mentioned Vox’s posting about Dr Peterson’s statistical reasoning was what triggered the attack for a long time I could not bear to look at what Vox was saying about Dr Peterson’s material.

    I have since looked at it on the grounds that just because someone had used Vox’s posting as catalyst for a personal attack on Dr Peterson’s manhood that not invalidate Vox’s examination of Dr Peteron’s material.

    However having backed away from my initial interest early on for the reasons mentioned I did not delve too deeply into Vox’s specific points as did not see it as being worth getting down to specifics.

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