More Peterson Shenanigans: An Autopsy

More Peterson Shenanigans: An Autopsy

I have no desire to get into the Thunderf00t game of beating dead horses, but sometimes an illustration is so illustrative that it is worth illustrating how illustrative it is. The color, the shadow, the chiaroscuro, is sometimes too striking to observe and not comment on:


My first thought, upon reading this, was that a Vox Populi reader had stumbled upon the channel, and was trying to give his best attempt at a parody Peterson-fan reaction. But the comment had none of the subtle self-undermining phrases that most parodies inevitably include by accident, and so I’m inclined to think the poor author is sincere. In any case, this Poe (if that is what it is) represent a real kind of reaction, one that MrMetokur found irritating almost a year ago, and so it is worth reverse-engineering how such a paragraph could have formulated itself in someone’s mind and inflicted itself upon the internet.

Jordan Peterson before all is a Jungian.

First of all, the beliefs which our Kalin Georgiev is ascribing to Peterson do not originate with Jung. To be honest, I have not read an extraordinary amount of Jung (I have read a little bit on dreams and on the collective subconscious), but the problems to which Mr. Georgiev is referring do not originate with Jung, but with Friedrich Nietzsche — at least the spiritual and moral crisis, the death of Christianity, the death of the church, the loss of tradition, etc. The alluded-to observations which did not originate with Nietzsche (the death of the nation state, the death of marriage) also did not originate with Carl Jung. I strongly suspect that Mr. Georgiev has not read Jung, nor is he likely to have read Nietzsche (or Piaget, or Freud, or Solzhenitsyn, or Dostoyevsky). Someone who has read the source material would not mis-source the argument so egregiously.

Unfortunately, this seems to be a pattern among many Peterson disciples. Those who are likely to say that you need to read this or that often have not read it themselves, whatever “it” happens to be. Regardless, you don’t actually need to read the original source in order to understand an argument, although the original source is often the most powerful form of the argument.

In other words, the threshold Peterson fans are erecting, when they say that you have to read and understand Nietzsche, or Jung, or whoever, is not merely hypocritical. It is also false. You can understand the Nietzschean (not Jungian) argument against Christianity just fine, even without reading Nietzsche.

The fact that I have read The Birth of TragedyBeyond Good and Evil, The Genealogy of Morals, The Gay Science, Human All Too Human, Thus Spake Zarathustra, Twilight of the Idols, and The Antichrist (about which I have written a number of times: here, here (part 1, part 2), here, and here), is irrelevant.

His motivations and goals are much much deeper and profound than what you are attributing to him. The things you are talking about are essentially small potatoes in comparison to what he is truly trying to accomplish.

Saying that Jung’s Nietzsche’s Peterson’s position is ‘deep and profound’ is simply an evasion. Curiously, it is as much an evasion of understanding the argument Mr. Georgiev is hoping to defend as it is an evasion of the criticism. “Deep” and “profound” are both what Orwell would call ‘meaningless words,’ along with such words as ‘romantic,’ ‘sentimental,’ ‘democracy,’ and so on, and the vagueness of the implied meaning is necessary to defend the position from a criticism which is more solid.

But the words themselves are even more telling than their category (meaningless). At least ‘romantic’ and ‘sentimental’ refer to feelings which are by their nature understandable. Both “deep” and “profound” convey a sense of mystery and hiddenness, as if the object of description is by nature unknowable. When used in combination (i.e., not just “deep” or “profound,” but “deep and profound”), the redundancy amplifies the feeling that the speaker simply does not understand what he is talking about.

If the speaker wants to say that nuclear war is “small potatoes,” as though that were a defense of Peterson’s worldview, then I present to the jury exhibit A, this time embedded because apparently, a hyperlink simply is not compelling enough:

While we’re at it, we may as well deal with the claim that Peterson was first interested in the spiritual and existential issues of Jung Nietzshe. First: Cold War. Then: philosophy. That was the chronological order, and therefore the order of motivations. It also happens to be the motivation Peterson cites for himself, for whatever that is worth to people who claim to listen to the man.

You have to understand Jung and you have to understand the spiritual and moral crisis that is unfolding.Christianity is dead. It died somewhere around the 16th century if not earlier. The church is dead, nation states are dead, the institution of marriage is dead and we have lost inadvertently most of our traditions that used to guide us and to provide support.

Misattributions aside, there is a lot to unpack here.

The “God is Dead” argument is, in my opinion, a fascinating one, particularly because of its formulation (not “God does not exist,” but “God is dead”). It is somewhat defensible because whether or not God can be killed depends a great deal on one’s metaphysical view of the nature of God. When Mr. Georgiev says that Christianity is dead, I will be charitable and assume he is referring to Jung Nietzsche.

The metaphysical realities of these other institutions, however, are not nearly as complex. They are actually fairly cut-and-dry. Even if God is dead, the church is still very much alive, as are nation-states. Both are facing serious threats, but to call them “dead” after attempting to allude to Nietzsche’s peculiar formulation is to commit a category error. States and institutions are not like God. If they are “dead,” it means they no longer exist, or might soon no longer exist.

As for marriage, I myself am happily married, for two years as of last weekend. When he says “marriage is dead,” there are three interpretations I can think of: (1) marriage is no longer economically advantageous for men, (2) marriage is no longer sacred, or (3) marriage is statistically unlikely to last. I have variously heard all three of these arguments, particularly in MGTOW circles. (1) is unnecessary if you believe in marriage, and is generally false anyways. (2) is as true as you make it. If your marriage does not feel “sacred,” then the fault is not with society or the culture. And (3) is statistically false. Although rates of divorce certainly have risen since the passage of no-fault divorce, a fair number of divorces are the result serial-divorcees, who pass in and out of marriages like an addict through treatment centers. The divorce rate among first marriages is actually relatively low (some estimates put it as low as 20%), and increases with number of previous partners, non-religiosity, and of course, number of previous marriages.

Marriage, in short, is not “dead.”

But suppose all of these claims were true. Of what use is Peterson’s work if you do not understand it?

Everything that supported and contained the human psyche and kept it from massive outburst of projection and aggression is dead or dying and there is no hope of getting it back.

I presume the implication is that prior to the 20th and 21st centuries, the human psyche was contained, and massive outbursts of projection and aggression were simply not a problem?

The “it” that we cannot get back appears to be “everything that supported and contained the human psyche.” The problem is that we actually know enough about the mind to understand some of what gives it form and structure. This means we we can actually make sense of the meaning of this sentence, and in doing so, it renders itself false. The psyche is the product of genetics (nature) and our environment (nurture). In the latter category, we have a sub-category called “culture,” a subset of which is “tradition.” If we are being charitable, we can say that by “everything that supported and contained the human psyche,” Mr. Georgiev refers to tradition, since there are indeed a number of traditions which are falling by the wayside.

Why does he say that there is no hope of getting them back? Because he’s read heard someone else talk about how Jung Nietzsche said that God is dead, and God isn’t coming back. If you believe that God and the culture are essentially synonymous (as Peterson does), then it is easy to conflate the death of God with the death of everything else. Unfortunately, this would render Nietzsche’s claim false outright, and the entire circle of logic would collapse on itself like a pure-gold ring, leaving the disciple with nothing deep or profound to say.

Fortunately for us, we don’t even need to deal with this tail-eating-snake of an argument, as the premise, which is that there was at one point in the gesticulated-toward past a supportive container for the human psyche which prevented mass atrocity and projection, is transparently and embarrassingly false.

Your identitarian bushtit is so shallow. It is just a regression to tribalism. That won’t fix any of the truly important problems.

You know what’s deep? Condemning tribalism, which is apparently shallow. It won’t fix the truly important problems, like the decline of the nation-state, the collapse of tradition, and the death of God, which have nothing whatsoever to do with tribalism…

…wait a second!

If you are reading this and find this condescending, realize that I too was a Peterson fan for a long time, and initially resisted the criticisms I had been hearing about Dr. Peterson. I found him to be deep and profound too. I even saw him in person in Seattle. I actually read Maps of Meaning, at least the first part of it. All of the points I am making against Kalin Georgiev’s defensiveness are points I wish I could have made against myself a year or two back. I like to imagine I would not have sounded quite as silly, but who knows.

The point is not to vivisect a stranger on the internet, but to examine the reasons for believing something (or someone) with clear lenses. The Jordan Peterson fan in me has died, but it is still worth looking at, not to see what silly things Peterson fans believe so that we can point and laugh, but to identify patterns so that we can better identify bad ideas and good ideas more quickly.

In this case, the problem is in trusting an argument which you cannot understand, without realizing that you don’t understand it. If asked to explain an idea, can you describe it without using vague adjectives like “deep” and “profound?” Can you outline the premises, the steps, and the conclusions of an argument without depending upon shifting definitions and abnormal interpretations of otherwise commonly understood terms?

Campbell’s thesis — that of the Monomyth, or “hero’s journey” — is complex, but the argument can actually be made. The same is true with Jung, at least so far as his theory of the collective unconscious is concerned. Same with Nietzsche and “slave morality,” and to some degree, the death of God.

Peterson’s worldview, so far as I can tell, cannot be made as an argument. It is a collection of name-drops, conflations, literary references, and metaphors, mixed up with some real psychological facts, and packaged in a peculiar, meandering manner of speaking. This leaves the listener with the feeling of depth and profundity.

But if you actually take the trouble and pick up a scalpel, peel back the skin and look at the insides, there’s nothing there.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. looks like someone is triggered.

    You have dissected a random friendly comment online and criticized it that it is not to your philosophical standards of argumentation. In doing so you have missed the entire meaning of the comment.

    Here is what I wrote – Jordan Peterson before all is a Jungian.
    Your answer – “To be honest, I have not read an extraordinary amount of Jung “. Here the useful part of the discussion ended.

    Everything else is just mental masturbation on your part. Taking something out of it’s place – a YouTube comment under a random video that was directed at normal random people with short attention spans and minimum understanding of philosophy and psychology.

    Why did you do that ? To bash Jordan Peterson and his fans by proxy. The entire video was clickbait, so is this post. It adds nothing new or meaningful. It is just a way to confirm your goodness and to bash your enemy – Peterson and his fans.

    1. I’m not sure any reply is needed, other than to sadly observe that yet again, you clearly did not read the literature in question. You got to “have not read an extraordinary amount of Jung,” thought “good enough,” and went and made made yourself look foolish and illiterate again.

      You cannot say someone is fundamentally Jungian by attributing to them arguments that originated half a century before Jung. No reading of Jung is necessary to point this out (and the fact that I have still probably read more Jung than you is irrelevant).

      Like most other Peterson fans, you are not reading. You are not listening, and you are not thinking, and it shows.

  2. Whatever you have written about me today has to do with you and your own problems not me. In Jungian psychology it is called projection of the shadow and it is sad to see it in a smart young man who claims to be a lover of wisdom. You are just a wounded little child, angry and scared. My comment was just a excuse for you to dump your insecurities on someone. It is one of the first things you learn in Jungian psychology. It is meaningless for me to continue this kind of discussion. Nothing good can come from it. You don’t want to have a discussion you want a punching bag.

    You stick with that fear and anger and in few years you will end up in a pretty dark place. Just a friendly warning.

  3. No one is completely indifferent before Peterson, it seems.

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