Jordan Peterson has attracted a lot of media attention. I have no interest in discussing his views on gender pronouns. And I’m not going to write a hit piece on him. But I was curious to understand where he is coming from. I looked at a bunch of articles and videos about him along with some of his talks and interviews. A few things stood out to me. Here is how he identifies himself:
“Politically, I am a classic British liberal. Temperamentally, I am high in openness, which tilts me to the left, although I am also conscientious, which tilts me to the right. Philosophically I am an individualist, not a collectivist, of the right or the left. Metaphisically, I am an American pragmatist, who has been strongly influenced by the psychoanalytic and clinical thinking of Freud, Jung and the psychotherapists who have followed in their wake.”
This makes me think of a classical liberal like Edmund Burke but not classical liberal like Thomas Paine. In the American tradition, Peterson might be more in line with Russel Kirk, what some would now call paleoconservative, expressing a dislike of libertarians (“chirping sectaries“) and mistrust of laissez faire capitalism — having written the most famous book on American conservatism, Kirk once voted for a socialist candidate for president rather than voting for the imperialists in either of the two main parties (this relates to Kirk’s ‘conservativsm’ having prioritized moral character over political ideology). Burke has been claimed by both the right and the left for he offers much to choose from: politician of the liberal party, anti-corporatist, progressive reformer, willing to challenge established authority, and critic of imperialism; yet also traditionalist of sorts by way of moral imagination, British nationalist, anti-radical, reactionary tendencies, fear of revolution (although initially supported American Revolution), and suspicion toward abstract ideology.
Peterson likewise has much that appeals to people across the political spectrum. But maybe like Burke, he dislikes what he perceives as the extremists at both ends of the spectrum. At the moment, it’s his more conservative-sounding positions that are getting all the media attention. Here is an example from his popular book, 12 Rules for Life (p. 156):
“Don’t blame capitalism, the radical left, or the iniquity of your enemies. Don’t reorganize the state until you have ordered your own experience. Have some humility. If you cannot bring peace to your household, how dare you try to rule a city?”
This is the whole focus on individualism and meritocracy, a major strain within classical liberalism that is presently advocated most loudly by conservatives and right-wingers, although much of it still fits within the contemporary liberal worldview (this post began as a comment responding to a Canadian friend who, as a progressive liberal, recommended Peterson to me). He seems to be of the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps school of thought, which is a mainstay of American ideology — and even though a Canadian, Peterson admits to being influenced by American thought. Those on the political right eat up that rhetoric of hyper-individualism, as it fits into the ideological worldview of social Darwinism and capitalist realism.
Having recently watched an interview with Johann Hari about his new book on depression, I would note that what Peterson says is the complete opposite message. Hari’s view is based on the idea that there is no way for us to reorder our experience without also reordering our lives, our relationships, our communities, and our society, not to mention maybe also our economy and government. And this might be where Peterson diverges from paleoconservatism which heavily emphasizes the social aspect of social conservatism. Russell Kirk, in this area of thought, would more likely agree with Hari than Peterson. When Peterson calls himself a classical liberal or British liberal, this expresses a turning away from the traditional aspects of social conservatism that put the social before the individual.
I would argue that, as individuals in this society, the worst problems and greatest challenges we are facing are systemic and not individual. There has been worsening inequality, decreasing mobility, and and increasing mental illness (at least in the US) for generations (e.g., higher rates of urbanization has been strongly correlated to higher rates of schizophrenia). I could go on and on about all of that, as I’ve done many times before. The younger generation are experiencing pressure like no generation ever has before and so Peterson’s traditional(-sounding) advice designed from a simpler era is probably not all that helpful in these complex times — for, even if we were to agree that he points to enduring truths, the context of changing conditions would change the significance and applicability of those truths.
Many have noted that Peterson isn’t saying anything new, the comforting familiarity of his message being part of the attraction, but many of the struggles right now are new or else are taking different form and greater severity. Yet if Peterson offers nothing original, then how is he genuinely challenging anyone, either in how we act as individuals or in how we relate as a society. Harkening back to supposed traditional wisdom maybe misses the point, especially when it ends up offering further support for the anti-traditional social order defended by the modern reactionary mind. All that this does is feed into pseudo-nostalgic fantasies, as preached by a professor playing the role of a stern father figure. That is assuming my assessment of his message is correct.
Ignoring that, Peterson is quite liberal in other ways. He supposedly is fine with abortion, supports public healthcare, etc (then again, even American right-libertarians like Charles Murray, infamous for the racist book he co-authored, will support some liberal positions such as basic income). And it seems many on the political left have been drawn to his more academic views on psychology, religion, and such. I kept coming across people, often students and colleagues, who said they agreed with and appreciated much that he has taught and so respected and supported him but thought he went off the rails on issues of gender realism, racialism, genetic determinism, and evolutionary psychology — topics outside of his main area of expertise, clinical psychology.
Those latter issues are why he has gained support from the reactionary alt-right that also supports Steve Bannon and Donald Trump. Peterson distances himself from his alt-right supporters and yet he has done multiple video talks with Stefan Molyneux, an alt-right cult figure (anarcho-capitalist turned white nationalist and well known Trump supporter). Out of curiosity some years back, I spent months watching Molyneux’s videos and debating his followers and so I know what kind of person he is (see here for my posts about him). James Damore who was interviewed by Peterson also did an interview with Molyneux, the initial two interviews he did after being fired by Google.
Peterson apparently has said he would talk to anyone and this includes the bigoted and wacky right (Sargon, Mark Steyn, Laura Southern, etc). That is fine and even maybe admirable, specifically if, as he claims, his goal is to reach out to different audiences. But he sends mixed messages by associating with such people on a regular basis, even moreso when he doesn’t challenge their reactionary beliefs and so could be interpreted as offering them cover. That is no reason by itself to judge him guilty by association, though. Just something to keep in mind, considering there does appear to be a clear pattern of associations, potentially implying an intention or sympathy. It makes my Spidey sense tingle, but others can judge for themselves.
I’ll end with a discussion about this issue:
“[Stefan Molyneux] is a maniac, crazy dude who thinks he has all the answers. Still don’t know why Jordan Peterson engages in long interviews with people like Stefan, Sargon, Mark Steyn, The reality call show (tara or something – a racist 22 year old with 11k subscribers) and even Laura Southern. Each and everyone of them is an absolute low life with “racist tendencies” to put it mildly and they have no problem twisting facts and lying.”
“Why does JP engages with these people?”
“Let me answer this JBP question with a JBP reference: The hero returns to resurrect his dead culture.
“It’s not in the Doc’s nature to withhold himself from anyone, particularly these kids who need rescuing from Neverland so badly.
“He’s doing them a service, and you can be sure he’s softened them up and they’ll all mature because of him.
“Would you rather these people go without a compassionate sensible voice to interrupt their radicalization?”
“I was thinking along the same lines but it seems nonsense if you look at how it plays out. JP defended Laura Southern when she was banned by patreon for giving out instructions which endangered refugees. That is absolutely horrible and despicable but JP never said anything about that. JP tweets about patreon and how they are “censoring” her. What??
“He is only empowering these people. I never heard him directly challenging the idea’s of them in their interviews. He is definitely doing them a service. A legit professor is talking to them? One of the most popular guys on the biggest podcast in the world is obviously doing a service to them by coming on their show and talking about “western civilization”. JP isn’t interrupting them, he is empowering them. They will use what they need from him and move on.”
“They never dare bring up that shit around him. Talking to them is not a service. He’ll talk to anyone and that’s part of his reputation.”
42 thoughts on “Who is Jordan Peterson?”
I’m just not big on blaming the young. I don’t get the point of telling them to get their act together and take care of their own problems. They are inheriting the problems of the older generations that never got their act together.
Someone like Peterson tells other people to remove the log from their own eye before pointing out the speck in someone else’s eye, to change themselves before changing society. But what critics like Peterson forget is others can say the same thing about him and his peers. If his generation had gotten their house in order, we wouldn’t now be seeing the problems with climate change, Western militarism, worsening mental health, continuing racism, out-of-control neoliberal corporatism, etc.
Considering the conditions, I think younger generations these days are doing amazingly well. Rather than telling the young what to do, older people would be wiser and less hypocritical to teach by example. It’s not too late for the older generations to clean up their own mess before handing it off to their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.
Even when Millennials have done everything right (low rates of premarital sex and drug use, on average saving more for retirement than have Boomers and GenXers at the same age, etc), they still face insurmountable problems: high education costs, fewer dependable jobs with good benefits, growing inequality, shrinking middle class, lessening economic mobility, and on and on. Why are they getting blamed for the world they were born into?
I’m an ornery GenXer. I grew up hearing old people constantly complain about the youth. It’s something I have little tolerance for. That isn’t to say good advice isn’t still good advice, no matter who is doling it out, but let’s get our priorities straight. If the conditions are shitty, we shouldn’t be shocked that people experience all kinds of challenges and problems. That is no excuse to scapegoat those who are bearing the brunt of costs externalized onto them.
Maybe Peterson doesn’t deserve my suspicion, but I must admit his being a privileged middle class white guy who seems to be getting all condescendingly paternalistic doesn’t lead me to feel generous toward him, although I’ll try to give him the benefit of the doubt. Yet I have too much experience of annoying opinionated older people to throw my suspicions aside. If I am being unfair, then I apologize. Still, I have good reason for being defensive of the underdogs, especially in a dysfunctional and oppressive society like the US. I can’t speak for Canada.
Anyway, I’d rather err on the side of compassion than judgment. There is already too much blaming of victims. Millennials already know they have a tough road ahead of them. If some Millennials find comfort in a fatherly figure giving them advice as the world turns to hell, then who am I to deny them that small comfort. Maybe he is saying something that is genuinely helpful. I sure hope so.
“Consider another aspect of perception, that of generations over time. Most people, especially as they age, look to the past with nostalgia. The world used to be a better place and the people were better too.
“I’ve explored this before with the rates of teen sexuality and all that goes with it. Many older people assume that a generation of sluts has emerged. It is true that kids now talk more openly about sex and no doubt sexual imagery is more easily accessible in movies and on the web.
“Even so, it turns out the kids these days are prudes compared to past generations. Abortion rates are going down not just because of improved sex education and increased use of birth control. It’s simply less of an issue because the young’uns apparently are having less sex and it sure is hard to get pregnant without sex. To emphasize this point, they also have lower rates of STDs, another hard thing to get without sex.
“On top of that, they are “partaking in less alcohol, tobacco, and drugs.” Not just prudes, but “boring prudes.”
“None of that fits public perception, though. Everyone seems to know the world is getting worse. I’m not necessarily one to argue against the claim that the world is going to shit. There is no doubt plenty going wrong. Still, I do try to not generalize too much.”
To be fair to Jordan Peterson, I wanted to read more of his psychological work. That is his area of expertise. And that seems to be the area where some on the political left find his views insightful, worthy, and useful. Plus, he is into Jungian thought which is also a longtime interest of mine.
It was fortuitous that I came across an excerpt (from Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief). I’m not sure what to think of it, as I’d need more context, but it doesn’t come across as dogmatic or reactionary. It does give hint to his mistrust of ‘collectivism’, whatever that means in his mind, especially considering he supports the public health system in Canada.
“The world can be validly construed as a forum for action, as well as a place of things. We describe the world as a place of things, using the formal methods of science. The techniques of narrative, however – myth, literature, and drama – portray the world as a forum for action. The two forms of representation have been unnecessarily set at odds, because we have not yet formed a clear picture of their respective domains. The domain of the former is the “objective world” – what is, from the perspective of intersubjective perception. The domain of the latter is “the world of value” – what is and what should be, from the perspective of emotion and action.
“The world as forum for action is “composed,” essentially, of three constituent elements, which tend to manifest themselves in typical patterns of metaphoric representation. First is unexplored territory – the Great Mother, nature, creative and destructive, source and final resting place of all determinate things. Second is explored territory – the Great Father, culture, protective and tyrannical, cumulative ancestral wisdom. Third is the process that mediates between unexplored and explored territory – the Divine Son, the archetypal individual, creative exploratory “Word” and vengeful adversary. We are adapted to this “world of divine characters,” much as the “objective world.” The fact of this adaptation implies that the environment is in “reality” a forum for action, as well as a place of things.
“Unprotected exposure to unexplored territory produces fear. The individual is protected from such fear as a consequence of “ritual imitation of the Great Father” – as a consequence of the adoption of group identity, which restricts the meaning of things, and confers predictability on social interactions. When identification with the group is made absolute, however – when everything has to be controlled, when the unknown is no longer allowed to exist – the creative exploratory process that updates the group can no longer manifest itself. This “restriction of adaptive capacity” dramatically increases the probability of social aggression and chaos.
“Rejection of the unknown is tantamount to “identification with the devil,” the mythological counterpart and eternal adversary of the world-creating exploratory hero. Such rejection and identification is a consequence of Luciferian pride, which states: all that I know is all that is necessary to know. This pride is totalitarian assumption of omniscience – is adoption of “God’s place” by “reason” – is something that inevitably generates a state of personal and social being indistinguishable from hell. This hell develops because creative exploration – impossible, without (humble) acknowledgment of the unknown – constitutes the process that constructs and maintains the protective adaptive structure that gives life much of its acceptable meaning.
““Identification with the devil” amplifies the dangers inherent in group identification, which tends of its own accord towards pathological stultification. Loyalty to personal interest – subjective meaning – can serve as an antidote to the overwhelming temptation constantly posed by the possibility of denying anomaly. Personal interest – subjective meaning – reveals itself at the juncture of explored and unexplored territory, and is indicative of participation in the process that ensures continued healthy individual and societal adaptation.
“Loyalty to personal interest is equivalent to identification with the archetypal hero – the “savior” – who upholds his association with the creative “Word” in the face of death, and in spite of group pressure to conform. Identification with the hero serves to decrease the unbearable motivational valence of the unknown; furthermore, provides the individual with a standpoint that simultaneously transcends and maintains the group.”
The problem I have with Peterson is ultimately this. It worries me how much overlap he has with the reactionary right. He promotes cultural Marxism conspiracies, genetic determinism, IQ fatalism, gender absolutism, dogmatic realism, etc. He does so by denying, dismissing, or downplaying white privilege, social construction, and environmental influences. Consider the title of a video from his Youtube channel: “Identity politics and the Marxist lie of white privilege.”
Still, he isn’t so much like the alt-right. His views are more akin to Charles Murray with the same concern with how as a society we should deal with genetically determined low IQ people. There is a compassionate attitude such as in Murray’s advocacy of a basic income and Peterson’s support of public health care, but there is a great danger when this is based on a support of right-wing ideology.
We on the political left can find some common ground. I too want policies like basic income and public health care. That doesn’t stop me from seeing the battle of ideas behind these policies being as or more important. Even authoritarian regimes, from the Soviets to the Nazis, supported aspects of the welfare state.
The point isn’t supporting the welfare state by any means and to any end. A welfare state is only useful to the degree that it is part of a healthy and well-functioning social democracy. That is precisely where Murray and Peterson go in an entirely different direction. They don’t want social democracy because, even if they want the government to take care of the inferior people, they don’t want those supposed inferior people to have real power to govern themselves.
This paternalism isn’t entirely bad, but it has a dark side. Part of the dark side is the sacrifice or dumbing down of truth itself. For anyone who has researched such things as IQ and gender, the shallowness and misleading nature of Peterson’s ideology is disturbing. For example, whatever one may think about gender pronouns, science is so far beyond the point of the old simplistic views of binary gender ideology — from the large number of people carrying genetics of both sexes to the large numbers of people born with mixed genitalia.
That isn’t to say he doesn’t still have interesting things to say. It’s not surprising that he has simplistic views on areas of knowledge outside his expertise. So, his views within his expertise should be judged separately. Besides, for all the racism and classism that Charles Murray expresses, I nonetheless found his paternalist book Coming Apart to be a good read when paired with Robert Putnam’s Our Kids. His explanations may be wrong and yet the problems he points remain real. I’m fine with views I disagree with being part of the larger dialogue, but I always want to make the facts as clear as possible for how claims of facts can be misused and abused toward undesirable ends.
With someone like Peterson, let’s be careful to sift the good from the bad. But also let’s be careful of how the bad elements can filter into what otherwise might be good. I’m sure that his psychological views form an ideological basis for his reactionary views on IQ, gender, and such. Even as I’m a fan of Jung, I also keep in mind that Jung has often attracted the interest of many reactionaries, since archetypies can easily be used to justify all kinds of dogmatic ideologies. Jung courted some dangerous territory at times (e.g., racial memory). These kinds of ideas need to be handled with care.
“In the tradition of nineteenth-and early twentieth-century pseudo-scientists, phrenologists, quacks, and scientific racists, Peterson’s commitment to IQ is simply the reflection of his commitment to an unalterable hierarchy of human beings. And this is why his dismissal of “unnatural” and “made up” gender pronouns, alongside his casual sexism—his belief that women would be better served by having babies than careers and that male feminists are “creepy”—turns out to be central to his intellectual project, which seeks to resurrect the conventional patriarchal pecking order. For Peterson, transgender people and powerful women upset the “male dominance hierarchy” that forms the centerpiece of his thought. His world view is predicated on the promise of restoring authority to those who feel disempowered by the globalism, feminism, and social-justice movements he derides.”
“Recent research has taken this even further in showing that neither sex nor gender is binary (1, 2, 3, 4, & 5), as genetics and its relationship to environment, epigenetics, and culture is more complex than was previously realized. It’s far from uncommon for people to carry genetics of both sexes, even multiple DNA.”
Here is a video someone shared with me. That person apparently like it. I had a different response (see below).
I’m sorry to be a Debbie downer, but I’m less impressed. I’ve heard these kinds of arguments many times before. It’s fairly standard conservative rhetoric. After all, he identifies as a classical liberal which is just another way of saying conservative. I cut my intellectual teeth on debates with my father, a fiscally conservative business professor. I know the style of argument and the kind of data used.
He speaks confidently and bluffs his way through by playing the role of an authority figure, specifically of the stern father variety, something conservatives are fond of doing. But when you look closely at his argument and the data it is based on, it falls apart. Maybe for personal reasons, this really hits a raw nerve for me. I’m not overly submissive to authority and arguments from authority, quite the opposite. This kind of thing brings out strong opinions from me and puts me in an argumentative mood — let me apologize for that, in advance.
He offers no evidence that people are less mature than in the past. He just assumes it as true, I guess as an article of faith or stereotypical generational bias (kids these days!). The younger generations show a higher average IQ, education, training, and self-control (the latter seen with higher rates of savings than previous generations at same age along with lower rates of illegal drug use, addiction, and premarital sex early in life). Anyway, what is a “real man” — such a description is ludicrous to those who have studied anthropology and so are familiar with the diverse expression of gender in various cultures.
He also makes false arguments such as claiming the problem of college degrees is that everyone has them. This is blatantly wrong since the vast majority of Millennials (at least in the US, between 2/3 and 3/4) lack college degrees, even as they have relatively higher rates compared to past generations. His argument is mostly directed to the privileged middle-to-upper class that does have a majority that goes to college, but it’s unclear that anything he says is even useful for them.
It remains true that between someone with a degree (even in English literature or art history) and someone with no degree at all the former are prioritized by employers. Millennials with college degrees have higher rates of employment and make more money, as compared to Millennials without college degrees. Sure, it’s bad that many Millennials graduated just as the economy tanked, but GenXers experienced the same thing with a recession that targeted only their generation as they were hitting the job market — in fact, back in the 1990s there was an even higher rate of young GenX college grads working low wage jobs.
So, this isn’t a new issue. The problem isn’t college, not to say it can’t be improved as every aspect of our society could (and should) be improved. Yeah, the job market does suck, but it’s much worse for those without degrees. If we want to discuss the failures and dysfunction of the economy, it’s not useful blaming the young as individuals for the problems they collectively inherited from the older generations, blaming them for the world they were born into and the job market that was forced upon them.
Sure, after college graduates are hired, the employer might do further training, but that was also true in the past. It used to be standard that corporations would do most of their own training of employees (my grandfather without a high school degree was trained on the job and made more money than my mother as a public school teacher). Then corporations found it cheaper to externalize the costs of training onto individuals and society. They maybe have now reached the limit of how much they can externalize costs and that might be a good thing, as it means they are being forced to re-internalize those costs.
Of course, we could do what some other countries do such as the Nordic. They simply make it a public cost (paid by high corporate tax rates) in their heavily funding education and training (when Norwegian citizens lose a job the government makes sure that, if needed, they get retraining to find new work). There is nothing stopping Canada and the US from doing the same by having publicly-funded education and training. Then the entire dilemma would be moot. It simply depends on whether we prefer public good and social democracy or capitalist realism and social Darwinism.
Maybe I’m missing something of value in what he said. I do have my biases. As someone without a college degree, it’s not as if I’d argue that everyone needs to go to college. It just seems irrelevant, since most people in all generations don’t go to college. A college education remains a privilege. Very few poor people get the opportunity, but their lack of a college education in no way helps them out in life. There are bigger problems that get ignored, such as how growing inequality of wealth correlates with growing inequality of higher education.
Another video was recommended to me. It is a long lecture and quite rambling, disorganized, and full of tangents.
The problem with that is that he has limited area of expertise and so ends up falling into the smart idiot effect as he ranges widely. As a psychology professor, he is woefully uninformed and misinformed about IQ, inequality, economics, Marxism, postmodernism, history, hard science, etc. But unless someone is well informed about these topics, they would be impressed by all the constant references to names, examples, and factoids he throws out.
When he talks about psychology, it is fairly straightforward stuff than any reasonable person that is well read could follow. He isn’t really saying anything new, an observation many make. He relies heavily on Jungian thought, although as someone already familiar he doesn’t offer any profound insights. There are dozens of Jungian thinkers who I’d recommend before this guy. But to give him the benefit of the doubt, this is an introductory lecture.
He did make some valid points. He stated that high income inequality, not poverty alone, is associated with increased aggression in low status males. If he were more informed on inequality, he would broaden the scope of this. Everyone (including women and the high status) acts more aggressively in a high inequality society, as stress and anxiety increases. People start acting weird under such extreme, unnatural conditions. That is where Peterson misses the point, in that he is prone to naturalize and normalize inequality by making a defense of capitalist realism. He never fully acknowledges the systemic and structural nature of environmental conditions and how they influence people.
So-called ‘capitalist’ societies like the US are only capitalism for the poor while socialism for the rich. They are some combination of plutocracy, cronyism, corporatism, neoliberalism, and inverted totalitarianism. Of course, he definitely never talks about that. His attacks on the left-wing economics are Cold War boilerplate.
1 year ago
Not sure about pain being at the “bedrock” – Hasn’t open heart surgery and much dentistry, been done with the patient “conscious,” but under hypnosis? Wouldn’t that negate the idea that pain and consciousness are intimately associated?
10 months ago (edited)
Incidental know-it-all remark that does NOT make Mr Peterson’s conclusions wrong:
As a Buddhist I feel the need to point out to a very common mistake as to the fundamental doctrine of the so called first Noble Truth (at 1:31:07). The Buddha never maintained that “life is suffering”, although this is stated everyhwhere, even in Buddhist teaching books. This equation of suffering and life is a quite wrong simplification of the 1st Noble Truth which is mostly due to translation problems from Pali to other languages. The Buddha observed that “there is suffering in life”, though. Of course, we enjoy a good meal, for example, or music, sex, a sunset, our families etc. These are enjoyments are way too often our “pursuits of happiness.” So life is not just suffering but there exists the potential of happiness in life, too. If it did not, the Buddhists’ aim of the Noble Eightfold Path would not be possible, i. e. supreme contentment and happiness or Nibbāna, which is the end of all suffering contained in life, could never be reached. However, that’s exactly what the Buddha achieved and all who practice the Eightfold Path can achieve that as well.
To wrap it up, it is that pain, stress and suffering IN life that propels all human beings to seek ways out of suffering, to end that suffering, whether they know it or not and with many different tools, be it training of mind or drugs etc. And that’s where Professor Peterson is very right :-)
3 months ago
Being a natural scientist myself, i’m going to deny that in a scientist worldview there is a conceptual framework in which “matter” is the most “real” thing.
(he states that at about 1:46 )
At least “energy”, maybe even entropy, would be as much “real” as “matter”.
And then, the fundamental “laws” thet reign the world are as real as the “matter” or elements inside it that are reigned by these laws, even if the Laws as we know them may be only aproximations of the real laws as they exist .
In that way of worldview, science is the seeking for the “truth” (or “reality”) by trying to find out the real laws that rule the world.
In that world, matter is just one kind of manifestation that can be observed to find out more about the “reality”.
So his statement is an oversimplification, although i get the point what he means when he concludes: “maybe we need more than one set of tools to operate the world.”
8 months ago
Hey Doc, Dolphins have a sense of the future. Kelly, a dolphin at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi, figured out how to “delay gratification” to get more fish out of the trainers. Look it up.
8 months ago
“As far as I can tell human beings are the only ones that have disovered the future”
A few years ago I was watching videos on primate cognition. I remember watching something about either a chimp or orangutan, that was hiding a tool from his supervisors (hammer? not sure) to use it later. Anyone seen it or knows what I’m talking about?
8 months ago
At 1:11:25 I’m sorry Jordan but I don’t believe that tabula rasa isn’t a “post modernist idea” unless by “post modernist” you mean a grab bag of every idea you dislike. And at any rate, taking sides in the nature vs nurture debate is just painting yourself into a corner, you should know better.
1 year ago
Jordan, did you ever answer the common student question you get at the end this class? “How do you keep this from becoming ideology?” I see a lot of people using your ideas as ideological weapons, and most can’t articulate any aspect of your views. Isn’t that just a reverse SJW?
1 month ago
I find it interesting that his criticism of Marxism is that its based on a “presupposition” of how people should behave, which required absolutist totalitaranism to implement. He also seems to argue that the benefit of christianity is that is was a universal moral code people adhered to for 1,500 years (thanks to the absolutism of feudal monarchy) and laments that with the decline of christianity people don’t have a consensus on how to behave anymore. Is the fundamental difference simply the amount of time that has lapsed? Perhaps marxists simply haven’t had a long enough time enforcing their ideas in order for them to be fully adopted and accepted as part of western culture.
1 week ago
Increasing IQ is easy. Education + time. African Americans are example. In 1850 with no education they were completely illiterate. In only 2 generations by 1950 over half we’re literate. I don’t think there was standard IQ but I would guess it increase from 60-80 in 100 years.
kangzosa Vegan MGTOW
1 year ago
I don’t have a problem with someone putting up their hand and saying I’m an idiot I can’t think for myself and I need someone to lead me and make decisions for me.
But if you’re going to talk about justification for tyranny this has to be it. Of course inequality occurs naturally it’s not the same as the kind of inequality we see in society that is set by people with a particular idea of how the world should be rather than letting society naturally unfold.
Unequal power differences occur naturally, but power is also self preserving. When there is social mobility and a guy moves up in the world if he subscribes to do this hierarchy power justification theory he is not going to leave the same opportunity that he had for others. As soon as he’s climbed to the top he’s going to kick the ladder out from him so that no one can follow. And why would you? why would you want the extra competition? you don’t. Power is self preserving and in society it does create unnatural institutions for it’s preservation. But to say or imply as peterson does that these institutions of capitalism and competition are natural because inequality is natural, is the greatest pseudo justification for tyranny and power distance I can imagine.
2 weeks ago (edited)
Pareto distribution is very common in nature and society or any other self-similar phenomenon where similar dynamics rules across a wide range of scales; several orders of magnitudel; however:
Even if something has a Pareto (powerlaw) distribution, that does not necessarily make its implementation on a finite scale inequal. It completely depends on the value of “alpha (aka “Pareto index”, “powerlaw component” or “scaling factor”, they are different names for the same thing).
For these two reasons, the case for inequality is not justfied simply because “Pareto distribution governs a lot of things”.
PS. The rich get richer effect is also called “preferential attachment”.
10 months ago (edited)
– In the west, the working force is kept at a near stable minimum, the extreme top, exploits a waster % of the rest of the globe, both in resourses and population. that way the graph for one nation is many graphs ( via lobbyism also, more and more nations, share the top that exploits the rest of the nation ), where the many graphs share the extreme top. – Regarding the 1917 revolution in russia and forward. Would it bee wrong to read into it as changing out who was where, but not the problem of lack of equality, no real fight agianst unequality and abuse by the top, now a new top. -Prison slave, cottonfield slave, slave worker/capitalist version slavery ( getting paid less than the cost of staying alive, or not getting paid at all, but surviving on aid from the state (state funded slave work, for a company where the company pay either nothing, or close to nothing ) ) There is a problem that arises both if you call the former ussr, marxistic or communistic, and if you call u.s.a. capitalistic. Wee in the west are condoning the abuse of humans outside our mirror imaged group. why? international solidarity is to fight agianst ones own norm, a part of what is human nature at its core, an attempt to evolve past what is currently the norm. Sometimes a new norm is set, but the current direction for our species is that of multi negative.
nothing at all
1 year ago (edited)
The problem is, success doesn’t equate to intelligence. And a lack of intelligence shouldn’t mean you starve and die. The only reason capitalism survived in the west was Marxist inspired worker’s movements, and linking paranoid police state and forced industrialization with communism is over-simplifying the failure of the system, not to mention the fact that Russia was forced to turn its smaller economy to military production due to competition with the US, and Russia went directly from a feudal system onto a path to communism, and from what I last read, 80% of people wanted to continue the Soviet system at the point of its ‘collapse’, and over 50% of Russians today want to go back.
Of course capitalism is more efficient. It follows natural selection. It sacrifices the weak, enslaves the weak (sometimes literally) in order to create progress. Communism was never intended to be more efficient than capitalism, it was meant to be more humane. I think communism and socialism are very flawed for plenty of reasons, but you really have to stop being so one-sided in your arguments, or you run the risk of just creating division instead of argument, because you outright deny the reasonable points of your ideological opponents. That’s what really caused the Cold War. Neither side would listen to the other.
10 months ago
I wouldn’t be so quick to glorify capitalism, Dr. Peterson. Perhaps it has served a few of us as far as creature comforts are concerned (for the time being), but unlike Marxism, unfettered capitalism has opened the gateway of corruption to all, on a massively augmented scale. Coupled with technology, this system has endowed the most competitive of our species (the psychopaths) fundamental control of our planet, which they have capitalized upon in every which-way possible as means to expand their control. Examples of this include, but are not limited to, centralized fractional reserve banking, incitement of hate and ignorance among the masses through technology, propaganda, and pharmaceuticals, polluted food, and environment.
We are lucky if we haven’t already killed 30 million in the middle east alone, Dr. Peterson. Good day.
1 month ago
my grandfather was a coal miner in the north of england (whitehaven cumbria) @ william pit……he never crawled 2 miles to the pit face they rode trains and he bought his own home with his pay had 6 kids, but sadly yes he did die from silicocis (black lung) @ 89 years of age so still not bad….remember jordan is only human,
i also doubt his human meat for sale story most likely its just a left over from the anti communist era during the cold war.
10 months ago
Why would we focus on the economic institutions of soviet Russia instead of its failed democratic institutions? Democracy was a critical component to Marx’s vision.
1 year ago
“Property is theft…” comes from Proudhon, not Marx. Marx doesn’t not equal Leninism, Stalinism, Trotskyism, Maoism either. Marx wrote a critique of the capitalist economic arrangement. Marxian analysis is just that, an analysis. Marx never put forth actual solutions to his critique. However, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Ho Chi Minh, Castro, Chavez, they tragically attempted to interpret Marx’s critique into their own solutions. Marx was inspired by the French Revolution of democracy, and it seems Marx felt that worker associations were the way forward to end the tragedy of capitalisms business cycle. I’m a conservative here in the United States, and I took the time to actually read all of Marx’s writings. Marx was a philosopher turned economist. What we conservatives should be horrified about is the solutions, both economic and cultural, that the Soviets, Chinese, Cubans, and Koreans put forth from Marx’s writings, not Marx’s economic analysis and insight to capitalism. Joseph Schumpeter, the Austrian economist, was heavily influenced by Marx, and he was extremely conservative. Peterson is right, the belief system surrounding Marx’s writings have become extremely inhumane and odd. I just don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water, or else we’re blind to valuable analysis.
3 months ago (edited)
From someone who actually grew up in a soviet union, i”d have to say he is overdramatizing the last years before the collapse. Sure it was pretty bad in many ways, but it wasn’t as bad as he pictures it, at least not in the part i lived. As for the people got fed up with the system, as far as i remember there was a referendum on the dissolution of the union and the majority of the people actually voted against, but but the political leaders went with that anyway, the agreement on dissolution was signed by the leaders of the 3 most prominent republics of the 15: Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, so there’s the question about the will of the people and the democratic process
11 months ago
For a man of your intellect who has some extraordinary deep understanding of human nature you are amazingly ignorant about USSR, Russia, Eastern Europe etc. When you mentioned fall of communism and Eastern Europe wars I had to stop watching and I love your lectures but I have to wonder if you are so brainwashed by USA and western propaganda about our recent history how brainwashed are you on other matters? And this pattern repeats from time to time. I watch a few videos and those are great and then you start spewing this kind of nonsense. My comment is a bit incoherent but this kind of BS gets my blood boiling.
8 months ago
Don’t remember what was exactly stated in this video. It has been a while. Small sample of my regular grievances with JP: he keeps changing the numbers, highest quoted so far, for deaths in USSR, is 50M. That’s actually a sinister part of the western propaganda, assigning the blame for victims of German atrocities to Stalin. The famine in Ukraine, inflated numbers and rarely mentioning the victims of famine in the rest of the USSR. No mention of what happened before or any frame of reference like famines in the same period.
Equating the flag of USSR to Nazi swastika flag, “communism” to Nazism etc.
The Eastern Europe wars, I better not get into it, he is obviously clueless about that and got his “information” by watching CNN.
The most frustrating part about JP: he has a goal of exposing the crimes of Stalin and communism which I support 100% but he keeps doing it by quoting outright lies and using the obvious western propaganda. That shows how lacking his historical knowledge is and that also brings in another question that is quite disturbing to me: If he is so clueless about this how valid are his interpretations about culture and mythology that I find so inspiring?
1 day ago
While i do enjoy these talks and admire Jordan for his contributions, it irks me when he is speaking about Russia and the Soviets. While, of course i am biased, being a russian, but he always paints russia as this horrible place made for slaves and where there was no happiness and only suffering, misery and death. And this utterly false view is just..well unfair. There ware many good things, and you can’t judge a nation by some dissident works and a few scraps of paper that could (and probably ware, considering that there was an anti-stalin propaganda campaign) be falsified. The flats ware bad? But at least almost everyone had a home. And we worked for something, not just our personal wealth. And ask anyone who is not a public speaker or some pissed of writer, and they would tell you that soviet union was the greatest and most pleasant place to live in. So what that we didn’t have coke, or some fancy foods? Working under limitations can provide great results for your development and for overall productivity.
I would say, for the past 30 years russia is much, much worse that in soviet times (at least after 1950s). Recently it got better, but not that much. At least we don’t have university professors going around selling clothes for a living, because the country doesn’t need education anymore =( Capitalism brought so much pain and suffering to my country like you wouldn’t believe it.
But losers are losers, nothing to be done about it.
1 week ago (edited)
That “The Day After” influenced Reagan for disarmament is a nice fairy tale from PR agents of his White House. Actually the US threw away only very old rockets, labeled it pragmatically as “peaceful disarmament” and made the way free for their military-industrial complex to waste even more taxpayers money for new and modern atomic rockets. And also the Iran-Contra-Affair of Reagans government made it necessary that the Republican Party and especially Reagan get a new image, cos Reagan was almost close to impeachment – only one decade after the republican Nixon resigned from office. So the disarmament was also helpful to repair the broken image of Reagan and his party: official message though: they take care of the fear of the voters . But interesting that the teacher spreads these official government fairy tales in kinda innocent way without ever requesting it. Especially conc the aspect that this is obviously a lecture also about the spreading of myths.
8 months ago
I’m not sure that Peterson’s views on Stalin really represent what actually happened at least insofar as his views on trying to destroy the world go (39:00 or so). If anything, Stalin along with Roosevelt and Churchill were trying to avoid destroying the world; it is Truman under the influence of Byrnes who violated the agreements made between Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt.
I only meant to address the first part of this post, but I ended up with a response that could be its own post; I’ve learned to edit after typing; I’ll try for brevity.
My objection to Peterson is that he wants the practical sciences to line up with spiritual wisdom or visionary art, but he ends up with EvPsych and IQ studies (which deny the creative, as opposed to absolutely free, human Will, which should be championed in the far West since we have little to no traditional teaching we could return to for guidance) and an ethos that is basically Western Confucianism, concerned with administrative duties and the work ethic (which, as you point out, is reasonably well-off in younger generations). This is the basic division between me and the modern worldview– it is solely concerned with the structures that further practical life; I want to explore what the mind can do regardless of the structures it exists in, and borrowing from Croce (who was something like a non-materialist non-Christian in a Western mold ) the mind is an enduring reality, while the material world is contingent and constantly fading.
Your view of Peterson might have something to do with where you live, since he’s responding to trends in the culturally liberal, 60’s legacy tinged West Coast and Canada, whereas the Midwest might be more traditionally Christian ( whether the “feed and clothe the poor” or social conservative type). To me, sometimes what drives the culture fight isn’t race or gender , it’s related to larger ideas going back to the Reformation and its developments, whether as Puritansim or the romantic infatuation with a “pure” natural world ( and Self) . The response to this explains some of Paglia’s more outlandish ideas, like her impatience and disdain for climate change activism; in her mind, humanity is almost completely helpless before Mother Nature, and the climate is always a capricious element that threatens civilization. I appreciate her history of ideas, and she is unique as an atheist who genuinely respects religion, although her vision of nature and the radical nature of imagination is closer to Blake than Dawkins .
I like that you mention that progressive crusades for speech codes and the #MeToo movement could reflect many things beyond their surface; I think it’s unfortunate that political interests are advanced through the media and lawsuits but maybe this is where we are as a culture and it will be this way until something changes in the faltering political system. A similar thing is happening with the drug war, where the system stalls as long as possible to avoid any congressional action. It can lead to someone looking beyond status quo realism or embracing a conspiratorial worldview.
I’ve encountered “PC tyranny” from Western Buddhists ,where something like mentioning my enjoyment of an author who held racist opinions (like Lovecraft) can lead to insinuations of racism unless prefaced with tortured disclaimers that resemble a masochist’s verbal abuse fantasy. This is insane and misguided, but its also the only tyranny in history that can be countered by simply laughing at how ridiculous it is. Degrading my own speech as a reaction is one of the dangers here; my only response is that reactions to stupid trends are likely to be stupid ( with me the intention is humorous; I regret silence more than failed comedy) .
The excesses of progressive liberalism lie in its fussy disdain for masculine heroic virtues and the cultures that birthed them ( I believe these should be appropriated by anyone who wants to live a more free life, and this would make life better ) on the one hand, and an idealized view of nature and history that dismisses the need for that discipline. In a small way, it’s reflected in the disdain for sport culture ( I understand people not loving the macho side and the extravagance, but Peterson is right to point out that the competition is more than simple brutishness, and includes its own cooperative side . I’ve known highly liberal people who loved sports until the second Bush term, which is giving political affiliation far too much importance ) .
This is closer to class snobbery than any coherent position; the upper classes tend toward an effete and prissy demeanor that they come to view as natural and right ( and since the 60’s, any challenge to this is chalked up to malevolent paternalist instincts; not that American conservatives do much good there ). It should also be noted ( somewhat in line with your previous posts on odd conservatives ) that Burke’s aristocracy included teachers as well as the trades and eminent statesmen ( that’s an idea that could be called “deeper liberalism”, since it cuts across the conservative/liberal divide in America).
I think Peterson and Paglia go off the rails when they identify gender bending as the greatest threat to our world, as opposed to bad economic decisions and institutional momentum; the Roman Empire had far more gender theatrics and perversity in its early leaders after Augustus than right before the collapse; that view is mostly from Edward Gibbon and they could do much better.
“I only meant to address the first part of this post, but I ended up with a response that could be its own post; I’ve learned to edit after typing; I’ll try for brevity.”
No worries. I’m not known for being overly concerned about brevity. If anything, I prefer people who can go into detail. Only be brief when your message is simple and straightforward or when you’re short on time. Otherwise, please feel free to take the time and effort to offer a longer response.
“This is the basic division between me and the modern worldview– it is solely concerned with the structures that further practical life; I want to explore what the mind can do regardless of the structures it exists in, and borrowing from Croce (who was something like a non-materialist non-Christian in a Western mold ) the mind is an enduring reality, while the material world is contingent and constantly fading.”
I’m not sure what my worldview is. But I sort of get where you’re coming from, I think. I’m definitely in line with you about certain criticisms of the modern worldview or one variety thereof, especially the American strain. As for what the mind can do regardless of whatever else, that is an interesting topic. I can’t say I have a strong opinion. I’m a bit of a weirdo myself and willing to entertain almost anything, but I can also be capable of hard-nosed skepticism — both inclinations originating in how I was raised, a combination of the woo of my childhood New Agey church and my conservative-minded professorial father. I’m not sure where that leaves me, although your hinting at some thoughts here does pique my curiosity. I hope you write further about Croce.
“Your view of Peterson might have something to do with where you live, since he’s responding to trends in the culturally liberal, 60’s legacy tinged West Coast and Canada, whereas the Midwest might be more traditionally Christian ( whether the “feed and clothe the poor” or social conservative type).”
Yes, it’s true that I live in the Midwest. And Iowa is a mildly conservative state, although not really in any overt way — Iowans don’t talk much about religion, as outward religiosity is not the culture of the northern Europeans that settled here. But anyway, I’ve spent most of my life specifically in Iowa City, something like the West Coast of the Midwest. It’s a rather liberal college town, one of those infamous multicultural creative hubs.
I’m surrounded by the world of the liberal class. There is all the standard university crap, from political correctness to protest marches, and there were destructive riots in the ’60s with tear gas and all that. As it is a smaller town, all of it is on a smaller scale. We don’t get the national attention that some West Coast college towns do. But it’s basically the same thing. I’ve butted heads with liberals around here, in a way that would be indistinguishable from butting heads with liberals anywhere.
Still, it’s not like the liberals overly bother me. As a local yokel, I don’t have to interact with the university population all that much, at least not in a direct and extended way. My customers include many university workers and students, but my interactions are limited and formal. But I have participated in activism in the past and did attend the UU for a time. I’m used to liberals, though. They don’t really bother me. Maybe it’s because being raised in an extremely liberal church inoculated me to it. I know liberalism from the inside out. And the fact of the matter, for much of my life I identified as a liberal.
Besides, my experience of college life is from my years of having lived in the conservative Deep South and having been raised by my conservative father who was a professor. I don’t automatically conflate higher education and liberalism. My dad’s field, business management, has been both one of the most dominated by conservatives and one of the fastest growing in terms of college majors — even university themselves are increasingly being run by those coming out of the business world. The new university president here is a businessman. Much of the political correctness comes from university leadership who, because of a conservative-minded attitude, are seeking to avoid negative publicity. Their lack of concern about total free speech doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with liberalism. There is even less respect for free speech at conservative colleges.
“To me, sometimes what drives the culture fight isn’t race or gender , it’s related to larger ideas going back to the Reformation and its developments, whether as Puritansim or the romantic infatuation with a “pure” natural world ( and Self) .”
That is what I’m always returning to. Everything has to do with the past. And often the distant past. We are creatures of the world that has been created over not just generations or centuries but millennia. If you really want to understand such things as political correctness, I’d argue you need to go back to its origins in the Axial Age when rhetoric came to the forefront. I consider the Axial Age to be the source of all of modernity, which to my mind means liberalism. You might enjoy my series on Harry Frankfurt’s “On Bullshit”:
“The response to this explains some of Paglia’s more outlandish ideas, like her impatience and disdain for climate change activism; in her mind, humanity is almost completely helpless before Mother Nature, and the climate is always a capricious element that threatens civilization. I appreciate her history of ideas, and she is unique as an atheist who genuinely respects religion, although her vision of nature and the radical nature of imagination is closer to Blake than Dawkins .”
I’ve come across her name, maybe in relation to Edmund Burke’s moral imagination. She did catch my attention and I thought of looking further into her ideas. But I never got around to it because I already have too much on my plate. Her view about humanity’s helplessness before the natural world is one I’ve seen many times before. It’s common among a certain kind of conservative.
“I like that you mention that progressive crusades for speech codes and the #MeToo movement could reflect many things beyond their surface; I think it’s unfortunate that political interests are advanced through the media and lawsuits but maybe this is where we are as a culture and it will be this way until something changes in the faltering political system. A similar thing is happening with the drug war, where the system stalls as long as possible to avoid any congressional action. It can lead to someone looking beyond status quo realism or embracing a conspiratorial worldview.”
I see all of these public debates as mostly missing the point. They are distractions. And I suspect the distractions are at least partly intentional, one more example of political spectacle. It does make me feel conspiratorial-minded at times. There is another part of me, however, that is more accepting and doesn’t want to get all wound up about it. In the end, maybe it’s simply the moment we find ourselves in and this moment will eventually past.
“I’ve encountered “PC tyranny” from Western Buddhists ,where something like mentioning my enjoyment of an author who held racist opinions (like Lovecraft) can lead to insinuations of racism unless prefaced with tortured disclaimers that resemble a masochist’s verbal abuse fantasy. This is insane and misguided, but its also the only tyranny in history that can be countered by simply laughing at how ridiculous it is. Degrading my own speech as a reaction is one of the dangers here; my only response is that reactions to stupid trends are likely to be stupid ( with me the intention is humorous; I regret silence more than failed comedy) .”
My solution to that would be to either avoid such people or tell them to fuck off. I don’t have much patience for bullshit from anywhere across the political spectrum (I blame it on my uppity poor white trash ancestry). This attitude doesn’t win me many friends, but I’m fine with that. I only need a few good friends in life. As long as they don’t imprison me for my opinions, then I’ll go my own way. And if one day they do imprison me, I guess that will give me plenty of time to relax and think about life.
“The excesses of progressive liberalism lie in its fussy disdain for masculine heroic virtues and the cultures that birthed them ( I believe these should be appropriated by anyone who wants to live a more free life, and this would make life better ) on the one hand, and an idealized view of nature and history that dismisses the need for that discipline. In a small way, it’s reflected in the disdain for sport culture ( I understand people not loving the macho side and the extravagance, but Peterson is right to point out that the competition is more than simple brutishness, and includes its own cooperative side . I’ve known highly liberal people who loved sports until the second Bush term, which is giving political affiliation far too much importance ) .”
From a historical perspective, this is more complicated. Liberalism has always been caught up in the masculine heroic virutes — imperialism and ethno-nationalism came out of liberalism, as did Manifest Destiny and White Man’s Burden. And progressivism was very much embraced by those like Theodore Roosevelt who created a macho, patriotic self-image and pushed for American strength and greatness. Or take Thomas Paine, the prototypical progressive liberal in the Anglo-American tradition, who was always a man ready for a fight by both words and weapons.
There is nothing inherent about progressive liberalism that forces it toward fussy disdain of such a worldview. Then again, as someone who is extremely liberal-minded (both psychologically and socially), I must admit that I have an indifference toward sports. I played soccer for about a decade growing up, but I never really cared about the team aspect of it. I was a good team player while not caring whether my team won or lost. Group-mindedness and submission of self to anything or anyone else has not been compelling to me. Like the famous study, if asked about slapping my father, I’d be fine with that… assuming he deserved it.
“This is closer to class snobbery than any coherent position; the upper classes tend toward an effete and prissy demeanor that they come to view as natural and right ( and since the 60’s, any challenge to this is chalked up to malevolent paternalist instincts; not that American conservatives do much good there ). It should also be noted ( somewhat in line with your previous posts on odd conservatives ) that Burke’s aristocracy included teachers as well as the trades and eminent statesmen ( that’s an idea that could be called “deeper liberalism”, since it cuts across the conservative/liberal divide in America).”
I suspect it has more to do with class. That is precisely what is meant by the liberal class. As I see it, many conservatives of the middle-to-upper class fit perfectly well within the liberal class world. That is because the middle-to-upper class, across the political spectrum, tends to hold socially liberal views in a general sense such as on gay marriage (at least, toward themselves and people like themselves, even as they can be socially conservative toward the lower classes). This does fit into Burke’s broader aristocracy and the deeper liberalism.
“I think Peterson and Paglia go off the rails when they identify gender bending as the greatest threat to our world, as opposed to bad economic decisions and institutional momentum; the Roman Empire had far more gender theatrics and perversity in its early leaders after Augustus than right before the collapse; that view is mostly from Edward Gibbon and they could do much better.”
They are cranky conservatives. They have their opinions that are strongly held. I remember my dad talking about sexual perversity and homosexuality in relation to the fall of the Roman Empire. That was probably back when I was in high school in the early ’90s. I didn’t understand such things at the time and, living in South Carolina, there was no liberal critique to balance it out. I took it in without much question.
I totally understand what it is like to be trapped in that kind of worldview where it makes sense. After so many influential years in the conservative Deep South, it required me to spend even more years in the ‘liberal’ Midwest before I was fully deprogrammed from that right-wing worldview. The seed of liberalism was in me from a young age, but it would have been much harder to have developed my liberal-mindedness further if I had remained in the Deep South. I sometimes imagine my alternative identities if my life had gone other directions. There is little doubt that I could have become a good conservative. And at the right moment of tender vulnerability, Peterson might have converted me.
I should mention that he’s probably a good resource for someone foundering in college; and no one was talking much about these things 10 years ago. The above comments about Marx being an analyst of capitalism’s problems, not a man-with-answers was well-written.
That might be true. Peterson has talked about reaching out to young men who need guidance. And I have come across comments where someone expresses that he kept them from falling into extremism or hopelessness. Maybe it’s hard for me to connect with what some young men are experiencing today and why he resonates for them.
It is true that I was once a young lost soul foundering in college, to such an extent that I dropped out. But I don’t know that listening to someone like him would have saved me. Instead, I was influenced by the likes of Henry David Thoreau who made me want to escape civilization and live in a small cabin by a lake. I did discover Ayn Rand while in college and she certainly was of no help.
I wish Peterson stuck closer to the psychological insights of a learned professor and the wise advice of a fatherly figure. He too often goes off the rail with his commentary on everything under the sun. I suspect he has something worthy to say, but I must admit that I get lost in his unfocused endless digressions. I get to the end of some of his talks and I have no clue what the central point was supposed to be. I’m sure there is an intended takeaway, if I could figure out how to filter out all of the extraneous opinionating.
He seems to think that cultural Marxism or neo-Marxist postmodernism is one of the greatest threats facing young men today. Is that supposed to be the main message? How is that helpful in any practical way? That seems plain loony to me. As for his advice about cleaning up one’s room and such, that is fine as far as it goes, not that it embodies any great wisdom. I was told to clean up my room growing up and I’m not sure it was overly helpful. My depression has deeper causes than that.
Here is a dialogue Peterson had with a thinker I’m interested in:
In that dialogue, I identify with McGilchrist. He is more liberal-minded. The difference with Peterson is, in describing the human attitude toward the unexpected, he talked of defensiveness as the first response. But the more liberal-minded would be just as likely to respond with curiosity. That was emphasized by their differing emphasis on the relationship each perceived between chaos and order.
And here is a short interview that gets right to the point:
That one is also good. It begins to turn into a heated debate but remains constructive.
This finally helped me to understand where Peterson is coming from. And it also clarified the precise limitations in his worldview, specifically the standard inability of conservatives to see their own ideology as an ideology — that is the ideological belief that only other people have ideologies.
It’s understandable that, as an anti-Marxist, Peterson could deny having an ideology. It is precisely a Marxist conception of ideology that posits we all have ideologies, what Althusser basically meant as a worldview. This might be a greater threat to Peterson than anything else, the notion that he too may be under sway of ideology.
It’s maybe along the lines of idios kosmos (private world), in being opposed koinos kosmos (shared world). But it has been noted it can be hard to differentiate them, as an private ideology that is enforced as politics or becomes the dominant paradigm becomes a shared ideology. That is what Marxists understood for an ideology can shape the world, not merely reflect it.
There is a connection. From the reactionary emotional response (as explained by Corey Robin), what I call the haunted moral imagination, fear of chaos (as anxiety of existential threat) motivates the enforcement of order, specifically social order which is the battlefield of ideology. Oddly, this is how conservatives can deny having ideology while fighting so fiercely over ideas.
Ideology is the frame that conservatives don’t want to acknowledge, having to do with the symbolic conflation they are ever trying to hide and obscure. The denial of abstractions is simply burying them deeper where they can’t be found. This is their Achille’s heel because, on some level, they recognize how mired they are in abstractions and so they project outward this sense of internal conflict.
The political left is needed, if only to be a repository and carrier of of the reactionary’s shadow. They are shadowboxing and the punches land on anyone who gets in their way or else whoever is conveniently nearby or can’t fight back. But no matter how often they sacrifice scapegoats, ideology ever returns from the dead. It can’t be escaped, even as it can be temporarily shut out from consciousness.
About half a decade ago, Jordan Peterson was a psychology professor at the University of Toronto and clinical psychologist with little international fame and even less infamy. A talented teacher and skilled speaker, he conveyed expertise within his domain and gave prestigious lectures like “The Necessity of Virtue,” which is how I first encountered him. Like any professor, he wasn’t perfect, but largely credible.
Yet after spending many, many hours watching new and old footage of him, I am forced to conclude that his recent messianic quest to “defend free speech”—which, in its purest form, is noble—has destroyed his previous credibility by amassing paranoid and shoddy “evidence” at a great distance from his home domain of psychology (where he has merits). Though he remains an engaging public speaker with certain worthy insights, his recent claims about the nature of oppression, ideological language, and social justice are often baseless, tendentious, and would never be corroborated by scholars in the appropriate field from across the political spectrum (history, sociology, linguistics, anthropology, law, etc.). His mistakes here are so egregious that even though I share and affirm certain values with him (pro-dialogue, pro-dissent, pro-viewpoint-diversity), and though I will take care to point out his wiser ideas, I cannot possibly trust him to advocate for these issues in a rigorous way. The incredibly sloppy and inflammatory arguments he now employs befit a YouTube celebrity or provocateur—but not a scholar. And now that he’s increasingly being played by the alt-right and right-wing media, and craves exposure more than rigour, this is precisely what he’s become. My purpose here is to separate the scholarly Peterson from the conspiratorial Peterson, a balance which has unfortunately shifted towards the paranoid since I first encountered him many years ago. Regardless of his moral and intellectual failings—or merits, depending on one’s view—we need to understand how he represents much larger political and philosophical forces. These, I argue, have played Peterson, while he has indeed played himself. […]
If we consider ourselves students or scholars, then ultimately we must heed and affirm part of Peterson’s recent message, which is that dissent and debate are crucial pathways to the truth, and that truth can be disturbing, uncomfortable, and even terrifying; kneejerk reactions are bad news (I’d invite his critics to watch his videos without prejudice). Yet out of this same spirit, we must also condemn the willful ignorance, reactionary invectives, and conspiratorial delusions Peterson flaunts when he leaves his area of expertise. Speaking freely is only one of the many values essential to academia; respect and intellectual integrity will be difficult for him to regain. It is disheartening to see him admired and played by right-wing opportunists who are only interested in freedom of speech to the extent that they can advance authoritarian ideas that ultimately result in the suppression of dissent and the end of diversity. If he’s eventually able to heed his own advice—taking to heart opposing viewpoints to improve our grasp on reality—he will inevitably reverse some of his more outrageous and harmful positions. But this will require the judicious and generous use of the same principle where I most agree with Peterson: the necessity of virtue.
To put it plainly, Dr. Peterson’s belief that the victory of fascism was driven by the rejection of God could not be further from the truth. Fascism and Nazism did not come about because of atheism. It is ahistorical to believe otherwise. Christian apologists cannot blame fascism on atheism, just as atheists cannot blame Stalinism on Christianity. When Dr. Peterson says fascism came as a result of secularism, he obfuscates the history of political extremism with a gauze of personal bias.
Given that his objections to C-16 resonate with many people, including transphobic individuals, it is unsurprising that some of Peterson’s fans are reactionaries. Such fans like and support Peterson for his opposition stance to the bill but also due to his views on the psychological differences between men and women (which the sexist reactionaries all love), sympathetic views towards conservative values, being hugely anti-Marxist and for defending Christianity. On more than one occasion, Peterson has retweeted fans of his who were discovered to be alt-right or neo-Nazis. Peterson has lectured extensively, often speaking to conservatives, on the need to reject both far left and far right views and in particular on the need to dismantle political tribalism, on the problems with the alt-right, and on his claim that liberals and conservatives need each other.
His popularity with the right has led Peterson to be interviewed by a whole slew of famous anti-leftist stars, including Tara McCarthy, Sargon of Akkad, Stefan Molyneux, Dave Rubin, and Theryn Meyer. Peterson has also appeared on the Joe Rogan Experience and the H3 Podcast. […]
Religion provides meaning, atheism provides totalitarianism
See the main article on this topic: Belief in belief
Peterson was a Christian in the past, but as of 2018, has admitted that he no longer believes in God. However, he has presented himself in the past as a theistic Cultural Christian – he doesn’t believe in the Bible, but believes atheism leads to meaningless societies.
In a 2011 debate with various atheists, Peterson argued that Stalin’s atheism and alleged pessimistic outlook motivated his mass-murders
Marxism is the root of all evil
OK, so the sentiment is interesting and well-intentioned, but upon rereading Peterson, we see that he goes from a standpoint of “be careful what you wish for”/”be careful that you don’t end up being what you’re fighting” to bundling any request to veer from the current social and prejudicial paradigms we have right now with Marxism/Socialism/Communism/Totalitarianism, consigning them all to the “ultimate evil” trashbin, wiping his hands and walking off into the sunset with a smug look on his face and his spurs jingling. Too often, I feel that he’s done learning. He already knows everything.
This is unfortunately a not-uncommon attitude. The world of reason divides itself into those smart people who think they can solve everything with reason, analyzing every new concept into components to which they already have answers—and those who admit their increasing unsurety with each increase in knowledge. It’s not binary, of course, but those two groups are well-represented when painting in broad strokes (which I admittedly am).
And it’s not an accusation I feel I’m making: Peterson makes it himself. Listen to his interview with Joe Rogan (YouTube) (3hrs). Several times, he draws a direct line from the misguided stridency of SJWs to the killing fields of Cambodia (Pol Pot) and Ukraine (Stalin) with no apparent awareness or admission of hyperbole. […]
The common thread I see is the love of the straw-man. He seems to love to cite the biggest idiots in opposition, as if there is literally no-one who disagrees with him who is making a worthwhile point. Sure, some of these people are professors, and it’s embarrassing that they’ve risen to where they are with clearly retrograde logical skills, but still avoid basing his arguments on opposition to these people. I think he’s shell-shocked. I also feel like he’s misrepresenting what’s legal and not—and he certainly doesn’t point out what’s legal in which countries.
I was waiting for people in the biological sciences to begin critiquing Peterson’s lobster arguments. I read that and got the impression that he’s misconstruing scientific methods ( lobsters are far different from the human animal; we can’t study human behaviors by looking at lobsters) and degrading a theological view of humans ( traditional division of people into different vocations, functions of different hierarchies like spiritual and temporal authority ). I’d also take issue with the comments about the Buddha that are thrown out there in the other video. Did he conflate “The Enlightenment” with Buddha’s “Enlightenment” ?
Paglia relies on Jung and makes some woolly claims about male and female archetypes, goes too far with psychologizing art ( is everything scary in literature about toothed vaginas? ) and provocation for outrage ichor ( defending pederasty) , but I don’t think she’d make mistakes like that. For me his main error is in collapsing the distinction between practical data and hypothesis ( psychological studies, economics and biology ), into moral knowledge and aesthetics. The “unification of science and religion” he speaks of could easily be applied to any ideology born from German Idealism, like Marxism ( Marx started as a poet ). Newton was investigating a practical science on one hand while also fervently dedicated to Biblical sacred geometry and esoteric number studies. This could relate to some of Jaynes’ theory on pre-moderns (and early moderns, apparently!) understanding of contradiction ( though perhaps Newton saw no contradiction, and thus no need for a reconciliation, or they were two domains of material science and spiritual truths).
Obviously, not all criticisms of Peterson (or Paglia) are correct, valid, and worthy. I don’t know if he actually conflated “The Enlightenment” with Buddha’s “Enlightenment”. I don’t feel overly motivated to dig through it all. What bothers me more than some of the criticisms are some of the praise, such as from alt-righters who sense implications in Peterson’s words that he himself can’t see or admit.
Some would dismiss Jung himself because of claims of mystical woo, accusations of Nazi sympathies, or whatever. Jung has long been a favorite target of certain intellectuals. But for me, Jung is the last reason in the world I would criticize Peterson or Paglia. Rather, I’d criticize their maybe heavy-handed use of Jungian ideas, as I doubt Jung himself would ultimately agree with them. Jung had a way of holding ideas lightly and an ability to change his views over time, and so I doubt Jung would appreciate the politicized use of his ideas to defend a rigid social conservatism.
I like your thought that, “The “unification of science and religion” he speaks of could easily be applied to any ideology born from German Idealism, like Marxism ( Marx started as a poet ).” Peterson and gang like to complain about secularism, SJW activism, etc as religion. The argument is laughable in one sense while maybe unintentionally being on the mark. I was writing a post about this.
Many of our modern liberal and progressive ideologies came out of the Protestant Reformation and the religious dissenter traditions. It is odd for the socially conservative to dismiss the religious origins or religious impulse behind historical progressivism that has defined the entirety of modern Western civilization. But Peterson has this weird distinction between real and false religion, not unlike those who obsess about who is a real conservative, a real Republican, and a real American — an idiotic mentality to the extreme. Yet there is an underlying point that should be carefully unpacked, a point that if taken seriously would make some leftists uncomfortable.
Sorry, that decadence idea was the one Gibbon argued against . I wouldn’t classify Paglia with Western conservatives, though her ideas on gender could be used to support a restorationist position ( returning to a patriarchal code, for example). Her views on the power and glamour of physical beauty are far more interesting than anything the conservatives can muster, and she does still insist on being called a feminist. Though perhaps “Nietzschean feminist” is a better term. I find her archaic conservatism, the pagan unruliness and uncanniness of nature, and the simultaneous celebration of it and calls for higher ideals and discipline to be true to life and genuinely inspiring. That she does this while showing an appreciation for ascetic religions like Christianity when it’d be easy to embrace some facile “Satanic” position is also persuasive. Of course, the degeneration of this ideal can become an exhortation to become “pure, and erect, and strong” as the turncoat TV engineer in Videodrome put it.
In the Burkean tradition, there is the classically liberal conservative that is capable of progressive ideas while being prone to the reactionary mind. They are hard to pin down, especially the more intellectual ones.
This type is very much into defending boundaries such as gender stereotypes. But there is also an intriguing lean toward a dark imagination haunted with and complicated by deep moral currents, which is what attracts some of them to Jung.
The troubling part to these thinkers is their tendency toward hyperbole, equal parts nostalgic romanticism and aggressive straw man caricatures, as well as some curmudgeonly and idiosyncratic thought that can go against mainstream thought including mainstream conservatism. They thrive on combative divisiveness and too often fantasies of violence, loving to draw ideological battle lines and inciting sociopolitical melodrama.
Corey Robin explains it in great detail. Peterson is a mild example of this and maybe so is Paglia. On the other hand, Burke himself seemed rather mild until the French Revolution when he experienced temporary insanity as he got carried away by his own fearful imaginings.
Didn’t the French Revolution fulfill many of them ( with De Sade being sacked for showing too much mercy as a tribunal judge) ? One thing I hope that progressives do is look into how the American Revolution, with its promises of political equality differed in its outcome from the French. Many would say it’s because that Enlightenment followed Burke , but the strong working class participation makes me question that.
You have to put it in context. I would make a few points.
(I might add that I never learned any of this in either grade school or college. I had to spend years of educating myself to overcome decades of ignorance instilled in me as an American. It wasn’t until well into my 30s that I began to more fully realize how much propaganda I had been fed earlier in my life, in spite of my always having been questioning about received wisdom. Even once I began looking for this kind of info, it wasn’t easy to find as it’s not anything you are going to come across in the mainstream media nor in most books about the revolutionary era. Nor on the internet are you likely to find it gathered all in one place. You have to be determined to learn what you weren’t taught and that requires immense effort and time.)
The American Revolution was quite violent in the percentage of the population killed and displaced, although the British colonies of course had a smaller population than the entirety of France. And the terrorism committed in many communities was extreme, as neighbors turned against each other. The bloodiness of the American Revolution has mostly been cleansed from the history books. You have to look to a few more recent scholarly books to learn about this. As for the French Revolution, it was less violent and deadly than the actions the British took in defense of their empire. Consider the British putting down various revolts of oppressed people seeking their independence and freedom. A great example of that was the Irish.
Also, keep in mind that the two worlds were different. American colonists in the 18th century had some of the most economic and political freedom of any people in the world. Their reason for revolting was that freedom being impinged upon. On the other hand, the French revolted because they never knew freedom and large numbers were starving to death. Besides that, the tactics that worked in one place wouldn’t have worked in another. American colonists had wilderness to hide in to escape oppression when necessary and this allowed them to use guerrilla tactics that they learned from Native Americans. But the French population had no where to escape to and hide. Plus, the British government was distant to the American colonists whereas the French government was an immediate and constant threat to their daily lives. One population was fighting from a position of greater freedom and the other from a dire state of desperation.
An interesting detail is the origin of the political left and right in the French Revolution. Thomas Paine is the godfather of American progressivism, both in its liberal and leftist forms. He was an extreme radical for his time and many of his views remain radical to this day, from his harsh criticisms of Christianity to his advocacy of what we would today call a basic income. Yet, during the French Revolution, Paine sat with his allies on the right side of the National Assembly. It was from the right side that he argued for democratic process toward democratic reforms, including the establishment of a democratic constitution and mercy for the accused (mercy for the king as well). For this, Burke feared or rather projected fears onto Paine’s radicalism, but what Burke really feared were the still fresh memories of the violent and regicidal English Civil War that set the precedent for the French Revolution, the source of fear being closer to home (Burke even was educated in a Quaker school and some today forget that before Quakers embraced non-violence they were violent revolutionaries during the English Civil War).
What we aren’t taught is that it was the reactionary ‘left’ in the National Assembly that fought against this liberal and progressive argument for democracy. The French reactionaries weren’t against authoritarianism for like reactionaries everywhere they wanted a new and improved authoritarianism, what Corey Robin explains so well. But today, it is the reactionary right that is against democracy. So, the left and right of the French Revolution don’t apply to American politics. The equivalent of the French reactionaries are found on the American political right. If and when there is a second American Revolution, there will be many reactionaries ready to begin sharpening the guillotine.
Here are some excerpts from previous posts:
The problem is not all comparisons are useful.
The French Revolution was an event more similar to the English Civil War, both about the local population overthrowing a king and a new social order attempting to violently establish itself against violent oppression. The American Revolution was also very violent, but it involved more isolated populations, including little infrastructure such as roads connecting the colonies. Even if someone wanted to, an authoritarian group couldn’t have forced its will on such a spread out and disconnected population.
Besides, the American Revolution really was just the second part to the English Civil War, bringing to fruition what had been started there. The American Civil War was the final bloody conclusion to what the founding fathers failed to do. If you consider these three together, the Anglo-American political transformation was as violent as the French Revolution. It’s just that both justice and violence was severely delayed in the Anglo-American example.
You also have to consider that the French in Canada were developing a more democratic society long before the British colonies ever attempted that degree of freedom. However, the French colonial experiment in Canada was oppressively destroyed by the British, the prerogative of empires. Furthermore, consider the Basque people from Southern France who helped inspire the republican thinking of the founding fathers.
The French population during the French Revolution was about 10 times larger as the American population during the American Revolution. However, the casualties during the French Revolution were only 5 times larger than the casualties of the American Revolution.
So, per capita, the French Revolution was far less deadly than the American Revolution. This is true no matter which numbers are used, whether the lowest or highest casualty counts for both revolutions. Plus, the violence of the French Revolution tended to be concentrated only in particular areas while some regions saw few deaths whereas the American Revolution was more evenly violent across all of the thirteen colonies.
Also, consider how much more the French revolutionaries had going against them.
Besides the constant threat of starvation, they had more enemies than allies. The French are the only reason American revolutionaries won their war. Thousands of French citizens fought and died in the American Revolution. There is no equal number of American citizens who returned the favor by fighting and dying in the French Revolution. Nor did the French Revolutionaries have a major empire on its side as the American revolutionaries had with France. Instead, the French were facing enemies from without as they were facing enemies from within. Many of the European Empires sought to attack France during its moment of weakness and so the French were forced to fight wars as a nation even as they were attempting to rebuild their nation.
It was a nearly impossible situation for a revolution. It is a miracle that it didn’t turn out worse.
Early Americans had it easy in comparison. If the American Revolution had been similar to the French Revolution, American revolutionaries would not only had to fight the British government on its own territory but simultaneously fight the Native Americans and the Spanish Empire while being abandoned by the French Empire. On top of that, American revolutionaries would have had to deal with a larger population that was facing starvation as well.
How well would the American Revolution have turned out under those conditions? Probably not so well.
More people died in the American Revolution than died in the French Reign of Terror. The British government killed more people in their suppression of the 1798 Irish bid for independence. The Catholic Inquisition in just one province of Spain had a death count that far exceeded the number killed in the entire French Revolution.
In criticizing revolution, such counter-revolutionaries were defending colonial empires and theocracies that were more violent and oppressive than any revolution in history. For example, the Catholic Church, that ancient bastion of traditionalism and conservative morality, ordered the death of millions over six centuries. At least, a revolution is typically a single event or short period of violence. Oppressive governments can extend such violence continuously generation after generation.
Reactionaries obviously haven’t minded violence. They are criticizing the ends, not the means. It is impossible to say the world is a worse place for most people because the revolutionary era happened with its ensuing democratic reforms. But it is far worse for the elite that once ruled without having to tolerate their power being questioned. Some reactionaries would claim that they fear the disruption of the social order. Really? Whose social order? Those who suffered under those regimes would have liked a bit of social order in their favor. No revolution ever happens in order to fight all social order. Only oppressive and violent social orders incite revolutions.
I read your comment again. Maybe you could clarify.
“One thing I hope that progressives do is look into how the American Revolution, with its promises of political equality differed in its outcome from the French.”
What specifically about equality are you talking about? One point that occurs to me is that early on the American Revolution didn’t live up to its promises. In some ways, the fight for freedom went backwards.
The growing feminist and abolitionist movements were stopped in their tracks in America, whereas democratic reforms followed in England after the revolution. American women who had gained the vote quickly lost it again. And American blacks found themselves in slavery again with the US, unlike many other countries, having been slow to end slavery. It took generations for even poor whites to get basic rights.
“Many would say it’s because that Enlightenment followed Burke , but the strong working class participation makes me question that.”
This part I was particularly unclear about. Which country’s working class are you talking about? What does the strong working class participation make you question and why?
I have read some of Burke’s writings. But initially my view of Burke was filtered through Corey Robin’s analysis. That helped me to understand why Burke mattered. Also, I’ve been reading Paine’s writings for a long time and, about his views on Burke, I’m totally in alignment. I go into detail about it one of the posts I shared above — this one (the quote by Paine nails it):
Edmund Burke wrote his famous passage about the French Queen and her demise. While untold numbers suffered in prisons and from starvation, Burke decried the end of an age of chivalry because the masses refused to chivalrously lay down and die. Thomas Paine offered an incisive response, even more famous:
“Through the whole of Mr. Burke’s book I do not observe that the Bastille is mentioned more than once, and that with a kind of implication as if he were sorry it was pulled down, and wished it were built up again. “We have rebuilt Newgate,” says he, “and tenanted the mansion; and we have prisons almost as strong as the Bastille for those who dare to libel the queens of France.” As to what a madman like the person called Lord George Gordon might say, and to whom Newgate is rather a bedlam than a prison, it is unworthy a rational consideration. It was a madman that libelled, and that is sufficient apology; and it afforded an opportunity for confining him, which was the thing that was wished for. But certain it is that Mr. Burke, who does not call himself a madman (whatever other people may do), has libelled in the most unprovoked manner, and in the grossest style of the most vulgar abuse, the whole representative authority of France, and yet Mr. Burke takes his seat in the British House of Commons! From his violence and his grief, his silence on some points and his excess on others, it is difficult not to believe that Mr. Burke is sorry, extremely sorry, that arbitrary power, the power of the Pope and the Bastille, are pulled down.
“Not one glance of compassion, not one commiserating reflection that I can find throughout his book, has he bestowed on those who lingered out the most wretched of lives, a life without hope in the most miserable of prisons. It is painful to behold a man employing his talents to corrupt himself. Nature has been kinder to Mr. Burke than he is to her. He is not affected by the reality of distress touching his heart, but by the showy resemblance of it striking his imagination. He pities the plumage, but forgets the dying bird. Accustomed to kiss the aristocratical hand that hath purloined him from himself, he degenerates into a composition of art, and the genuine soul of nature forsakes him. His hero or his heroine must be a tragedy-victim expiring in show, and not the real prisoner of misery, sliding into death in the silence of a dungeon.“
To someone like Burke, a single queen or rather what she symbolically represented is worth more than the lives of thousands of people oppressed and thousands more dead because of that same despotic power. The personal is lost within Burke’s moral imagination. He complains about the supposed abstract ideals of revolutionaries while he himself gets lost in his own abstractions. The conservative moral imagination is haunted by its own imaginings.
His concern isn’t with the mere violent force that can be wielded by military and mob alike. Instead, he wishes to hold up the symbolism of power. When that symbolism is challenged, the entire symbolic order is challenged. If Burke understood nothing else, he understood the power of imagination. For the imagination to serve established power, social order must be enforced upon imagination. The true danger of revolutionaries isn’t that they threaten to bring bring down social orders but that they imagine new ones.
I should have been more clear about left libertarian movements– no anarchist left-libertarian movement has succeeded in preserving its new vision. The left-libertarian impulse is in many, if not all expansions of freedom and the ability to realize that freedom in the last two centuries. But I’m close to being out of my depth; I’ve got to spend more time on either aesthetic things or practical affairs for making money ( I’m lucky, in that access to tech and education give me a shot at combining the two, in a small way at least). Otherwise I’d make it through all these Mark Fisher lectures I’ve got bookmarked.
“I’ve got to spend more time on either aesthetic things or practical affairs for making money”
Well, as for me, I’e chosen not to make much money. But I’ve designed my life to allow me much free time. It works for me. Life is nothing more than the time we have, until it is gone.
I meant working class participation in the American revolt; I admit I’m going a bit far to apply that term to that crime period. My point about progressives is that whether they know it or not, at their best they are fighting for an extension of the American liberties to all classes of modern society. These freedoms are passed down in an English tradition of local rights and ordered liberty, not the competing French ideas of abstract rights and rationally constructed societies. Perhaps my temperamental pessimism (not nihilist pessimism) about human nature is why I can’t agree with some of your claims.
I should also mention that when I quote Burke, I’m not doing so to defend the totality of the society that exists now. While I generally agree with Burkean conservatives on civilization arising through a natural “contract”, I also think that the contract can become a sham when the society loses its animating ideals, as has happened in the last 30 years, mostly strongly in America.
What I would object to in your analysis is that comparing the sum of casualties doesn’t reflect what Burke found abhorrent about the French revolt— he was consistent in trying to prevent the American Revolution as well, and probably became alarmed not only by the close proximity of the French, but the nature of its new ideals. You are right to mention the English Imperial atrocities on their neighbors. I’m not defending the English class system, but I am trying to understand how leadership can be wielded skillfully (at least to depict it with verisimilitude in fiction) . I’m not convinced it can ever be done away with. Didn’t Frederick Douglass accomplish more for the elevation of an enslaved people than John Brown, despite the latter’s more radical vision?
Burke did write that at the “last extremity, (he’d) take the side of the poor and wretched”, but I’m not surprised he never did, he was a statesman of the upper orders not a rabble-rouser. My point is that any radical change to society (and I’m with you in hoping for it sooner than in the distant future) will require those institutions and leaders that can persist through the storms that inevitably follow radical change. The violence across all divisions in society, then the enthronement of a reactionary authority isn’t only the fanciful imagination of classical conservatives, it is borne out in nearly every historical period involving that kind of upheaval. After Marius’ all out revolt against the nobles, Sulla made way for his new wine cellar.
I think Paine might have been a better visionary and rabble-rouser than leader; every left libertarian revolt of the 20th century that gained traction has failed to take the next step to solidify and protect the new society it built. Why is this? The part of Burke I find convincing is when he asserts the necessity of conforming policies of change to the preservation of any given society’s tradition of liberty and order.
This passage from a Borges story reminds me of Burke’s statement about civilization being a “contract between those living, those dead, and those yet to be born”. I am saying in so many words that it’s not enough to burn the contract when it’s terms are made into a sham; those sciences of statecraft, philosophy, and probably the spiritual ideals that created the contract are needed in order to renew it.
I don’t have much time at the moment. I’ll respond briefly.
I come from a different perspective. I tend to focus in on certain things. Neither America nor Britain is a singular culture nor tradition of thought. Both were influenced by Germanic/Scandinavian and French/Norman ideas, such as how the English language includes both Germanic freedom and Latin liberty.
Many of the American Revolutionaries and Founders shared the belief in such abstractions as natural law. This is because French writers were read in the colonies by elites and filtered down to others. The American Revolution was a partial break from the common law tradition by instituting a constitution built on ideals.
But there was a mix in American thought. It’s not clear what Jefferson believed as some argue he didn’t believe in natural law, as he doubted the religious implications of it, maybe related to his treatment of Christianity. Still, he made sure his language in the Declaration of Independence was vague enough that it could be interpreted multiple ways.
John Dickinson, raised as a Quaker, definitely didn’t believe in natural law and he initially was against revolution until he saw it as inevitable and necessary. He wrote the Articles of Confederation and so the traces of Quaker constitutionalism can be found it (i.e., a living constitution).
Quaker thought was rather important and it had some non-English influences. Paine’s father was a Quaker. And Burke was taught in a Quaker school. His family originally was Irish Catholic and there remained a taint on Burke’s name because of it. Many saw Burke as an outsider and much of his thinking does come across as not being English in nature.
There were lots of connections. Many early Scottish thinkers taught at French universities. The Puritans spent time on mainland Europe before returning to England and while there some spent time with French Huguenots. The founder of the Quakers was, as I recall, taught under a French Huguenot. And in the colonies, some French Huguenots were important figures in their communities.
Plus, don’t forget that large numbers of French fought on the American side in the revolution. Many Americans served under French officers. It wasn’t only that some Americans got ideas from the French. The French had also taken on many American ideas in seeking to form their own revolutionary thought.
These cultural worlds were greatly intertwined.
“Perhaps my temperamental pessimism (not nihilist pessimism) about human nature is why I can’t agree with some of your claims.”
I don’t know what is my temperament. As I grow older, I realize how mixed up I am.
I’m naturally depressive, I suppose, although that surely has many environmental influences. Anyway, my depressive realism does make me pessimistic in a sense, even if I often prefer to think I’m simply being realistic (research does show that depressives have a more accurate ability to assess present conditions).
I was raised by conservatives in extremely liberal churches. The tradition of New Thought Christianity, Science of Mind, and positive thinking joined two sides of American thought, conservative and liberal. This is an idealistic tradition and, having been raised in it, I became a bit cynical in the way only an idealist could.
In the end, I’m a short term pessimist and a long term optimist. Sort of. But the short term and long term don’t remain entirely distinct.
New Thought, that’s another strand of American thought I don’t know much about, besides Norman Vincent Peale; I’ve never found The Secret congenial to my thinking but I’ve met people who follow something along those lines and found them to be good people. David Chapman wrote somewhere in his own voluminous mental improvement work how a doctrine of total responsibility isn’t philosophically tenable but can give people positive results in some circumstances. I could follow the typical path from hard traditional Catholicism to Tibetan Buddhism but I doubt I could practice the preliminary renunciate discipline for long, and there don’t seem to be many options for non-monastics in the West but maybe I’m wrong.
I’m not informed enough and I lack the grasp of ideas to further argue on the view of history . It’s hard to argue subtle points about the Enlightenment revolutions. without falling into the reactionary position that I want to refute along with doctrinaire leftism (in America). Most of my jokes recently have focused on the evil of a person with strong inclinations to art and theatricality taking power and behaving with no restraint and wreaking evil. Politics are an obsessive thing for me, and I don’t have the mind for it. Politics involves the practical and ethical dimensions of the human spirit; I can intellectually accept that being fairly withdrawn from the political can be good for someone who’s in the main drawn to other things, expressions of spirit—it’s a difficult thing to carry out that principle by letting the obsession go in my own thought.
I’m highly critical of all things New Thought and New Agey. I do so for the same reasons I’m highly critical of liberalism. I grew up with it and so know it intimately. But the idealism of New Thought haunts me in the way original sin haunts those raised Catholic and the way fire-and-brimstone haunts the those raised Southern Baptist. I can’t shake that idealism and, for that reason, I see it as dangerous. It is one of the most powerful mind viruses in the modern world.
I despise the doctrine of total responsibility, whether in its left or right variety. I have a good friend who is always going on about bullshit like karma and soul contracts. I’m sympathetic because I know the power of such thought, but I also know that it will fuck your mind up in a way few things can. This is one way I earned my pessimism. Idealism nearly killed me and I mean that literally. That heavy weight of cosmic personal responsibility was a major factor behind my attempting suicide shortly after high school.
Whatever positive benefits it may have, they are outweighed by the severe personal costs. My parents left New Thought Christianity and have been in mainline churches in recent decades. One thing they noted is how so many people in the Unity Church (the New Thought Christianity I was raised in) were lost souls. Many people turn to religion because their everyday life sucks and the world around them has failed them. And that is understandable considering we live in a dysfunctional society. But it is precisely those least well adapted to modern Western society who are most drawn to something like New Thought.
There is also a worldly disengagement in that religious tradition with no evangelicalism, missions, volunteerism, etc. It is extremely self-focused with God as the ultimate Self. It offers no tools for how to deal with the fucked-up world, other than to essentially blame yourself. More than mere positivity, you are required to have total faith. The world is already perfect and so, if it doesn’t seem perfect, it’s your fault. New Thought is an extremely demanding ideology. And there is no escaping its god because he is everywhere and everything, like the sun in a desert.
It is a little different with positive thinking in general that attracts many business-minded people. Positive thinking is one of the central ideologies of the business world, built on the pseudo-meritocratic idealism of capitalist realism. It isn’t merely a set of beliefs but an entire worldview. That is why it is fair to call it capitalist realism because those espousing it are making absolutist claims on reality. But unlike New Thought, mainstream positive thinking is less demanding because of its material focus. Positive thinking doesn’t require a tormenting divine ideal that offers your soul no respite.
New Thought seems to take the worst of American thought and pushes it to an extreme. It’s a much greater threat than the religious right. The reason for this is that it is so pervasive and insidious. As someone familiar with it, I see how New Thought has slowly taken hold in the larger society. I remember visiting mainline churches and being surprised to find the Unity Church publication available. So, people are reading New Thought theology without realizing it. In recent years, it has morphed into an even more worldly prosperity gospel, which also bridge the divide between the left and right.
I carried this idealism with me for many years. I didn’t give up on my childhood beliefs easily. There was a vicious cycle between depression and idealism, each pushing the other to ever greater extremes. Eventually, I had to come to terms with this. I sought to understand the world instead of berating and beating up myself for falling short of the impossible.
This is why I’m so unforgiving of those who wish to blame people for their own problems, whether targeting judgment against individuals or groups such as blacks, poor whites, young generations, etc. There are no problems in the world that are limited to the personal. Individualism isn’t simply wrong for it threatens life on earth. The hyper-individualism of modernity, worsening as America came to dominance, is behind so much that is destructive in the world. Since only individuals are perceived as real, all else doesn’t exist. Society doesn’t exist. Global warming doesn’t exist. Mass extinction doesn’t exist. Lead toxicity doesn’t exist. Racism doesn’t exist. Et cetera.
My pessimism is quite extensive. Where my optimism comes in is that history shows that change happens despite all else. It is irrelevant what we believe or how we think. Reality imposes itself on us. The Bronze Age civilizations, the greatest up to that point, all collapsed like dominoes because they couldn’t adapt to changing conditions and those changing conditions were dramatic similar to what we are facing with the looming environmental catastrophes. And for whatever reason, every time civilizations collapse, something even greater is built in its place. I’m not exactly a hopeful person, but human persistence means no matter what people will continue to build ever more vast civilizations until the species goes extinct.
I’m not sure that is a good thing. I’m largely indifferent about it. My point is that I don’t doubt the human capacity to rebuild, no matter how bad it gets. That is sort of a shitty thing, if I’m to be honest. Humans are survivors, even when they have no good reason to survive. Put people in the most horrendous conditions and they will struggle. It doesn’t matter if they are maimed, crippled, beaten, tortured, starving, diseased, disfigured, and worst things. They will go on struggling and not just that but procreating as well in order to bring yet another generation into misery. We can’t help ourselves. This is where Thomas Ligotti has it right. We humans are incapable of facing reality. Even talking about it is a diversion from the horror of it all.
My ‘optimism’ about humanity is somewhat bleak.
It occurs to me that New Thought is the most individualistic ideology possible. It is the end point of modern hyper-individualism, the ultimate conclusion.
In New Thought, everything is about individualism because the individual is everything. God is the ultimate individual, everything is within God, and the core belief is that we are God. Or that God the individual is us, possesses us, claims us. This theology is the ego making the world in its own image. There is no objective reality, no other, no relationships, no society. There is only the individual. It’s not just idealistic but a specific variety. The ego becomes its own ideal, a lone monotheistic deity gazing at its own reflection for eternity.
This leads to someone like Trump. His psyche is disconnected from reality to the point of being psychotic. He simply denies what doesn’t fit into his image of himself. And it is his image that he sells to the world. Trump wants to be a god, to remake the world in his image. It is individualism on steroids. One thing that can’t be doubted about Trump is that he is a positive thinker and he brings it to a level that few would be capable of.
I know many people on the political left who ascribe to various kinds of New Agey thinking. All of them, one way or another, believe in this individualistic idealism. And many of them are found well within the mainstream. This ideology has become mainstream. It didn’t begin with Trump, even if Trump is so far the greatest expression. It’s funny that the New Agey people I know don’t realize how close is their own ideology to that of Trump’s narcissism. I could write a post about this and probably lose quite a few subscribers.
The one positive thing that hyper-individualism taught me is independence of thought. Some would perceive this as having a bad attitude. Trump’s one failure is that, as an aspiring god, he wants to be loved and worshipped. But if he were able to become a despot with total power, he wouldn’t need love and worship because he could directly enforce submission. Then he could finally be the all-encompassing individual he dreams of. My own training under individualistic ideology has sent me in the opposite direction. I’ve maintained my individuality by turning away from the crowd. But either way, it’s part of the same individualistic ideology that frames modern reality.
This is why I want to understand what else is possible. Being the best individual I can be is a rather lowly and demoralizing ideal to aspire toward. Besides, it is built on lies and delusion. Maybe the saving grace in New Thought ideology is that God is not only perfection of self. The divine impulse is one of truth, an impulse that goes back to the Protestant Reformation. It is the individual’s potential and moral duty to seek the truth with all of one’s heart and mind.
So, when this impulse is turned against the ideology that motivates it, maybe something else can be revealed. This is similar to how Enlightenment thought can lead to challenging the ego theory as it can lead to propping it up. It was Hume in following the Enlightenment self-questioning that he came to question the Enlightenment notion of self and in its place proposed the bundle theory. And that of course brings Enlightenment thought back to its origins in the Axial Age since it was the Axial Age Buddhists who originated the bundle theory (some argue that he learned of it from Westerners returning from the Asia).
It’s hard to imagine that hyper-individualism can continue much longer. There does appear to be a sudden burst of thinkers looking for alternative understandings of what it means to be human, to be in and a part of the world. It’s hard to keep up with all of the new views challenging hyper-individualism, the ego theory, and such.
“I’m not informed enough and I lack the grasp of ideas to further argue on the view of history.”
My own knowledge is inadequate in many ways. I’m typical of an obsessive autodidact. My knowledge is wide-ranging but idiosyncratic. I have lots of odd bits of info that I’ve gathered. That is the one advantage I have over even some scholars is that my lack of intellectual discipline gives me a lot to work with. In academia, scholars are generally forced to narrowly specialize. I’ve come across few academics that are broadly well informed.
The failing with my knowledge is that I lack any particular focus, other than general areas of study I return to. There is plenty I don’t know and specifically, in our discussions, you’ve mentioned much I’m unfamiliar with. Your grasp of certain ideas is greater than mine. But maybe history has been more of a focus for me. That is odd considering how much I hated history in school. It has been rare for me to intentionally study history on its own terms. It was a byproduct of my interest in other things, such as culture.
“It’s hard to argue subtle points about the Enlightenment revolutions. without falling into the reactionary position that I want to refute along with doctrinaire leftism (in America).”
All the more reason it is worth the attempt. As you know, I am quite critical of reactionaries. But I admit that they sometimes have a useful perspective.
It was, as one left-winger pointed out to me, the French reactionary and counter-revolutionary Joseph de Maistre who made Corey Robin’s basic point centuries earlier — that conservatives aren’t traditionalists for it is only after the traditional order is largely gone that conservatism arises. (Robin does cite Maistre in his book on the reactionary mind, but I don’t know if he quotes the specific passage where Maistre discusses this. It’s been a while since I’ve read Robin’s book.) That is the kind of historically self-aware honesty that is easier to express before a new paradigm fully takes hold. Later reactionaries were rarely ever that straightforward. He was a contemporary with Burke, but I doubt Burke could have stated such an insight (maybe I’m wrong about that). I’m not sure Burke had given much thought to conservatism, as it wasn’t a label he identified with.
In light of this, I’d be curious what he would have thought about Paine sitting on the right side of the French National Assembly. In the French Revolution, Paine represented a kind of moderate and moderating ‘conservatism’ that has mostly been forgotten about in modern America. I see nothing contradictory about a radical liberal and progressive during that era sometimes playing such a role, after all many conservatives in American history have identified as classical liberals and progressives (the progressive era would never have happened without conservative progressivs, from the likes Theodore Roosevelt to the Evangelicals). Also, as social science shows, the liberal-minded with their thin boundaries and high openness are more capable of shifting attitudes with ease.
“Politics are an obsessive thing for me, and I don’t have the mind for it.”
In the past, I would have thought that I didn’t have a mind for many things, politics included. I struggled in school from an early age and came to hate school. I was diagnosed with a learning disability in early elementary school because I couldn’t keep up. I learned to read late and didn’t come to appreciate books until much later. My memory has always been a weak point for me, as it has taken me decades to learn how to learn.
I rarely read non-fiction until I was an adult and even then my non-fiction reading only became serious in my 30s. There was nothing in my past that indicated I had a mind for politics, but I came to studying politics by way of studying personality and then more broadly social science. Then and only then did politics make much sense to me.
“Politics involves the practical and ethical dimensions of the human spirit; I can intellectually accept that being fairly withdrawn from the political can be good for someone who’s in the main drawn to other things, expressions of spirit—it’s a difficult thing to carry out that principle by letting the obsession go in my own thought.”
I’d love to let go of my obsession with politics. It feels unhealthy. And for sure it doesn’t contribute to my happiness. But just about everything becomes politicized in American society. Politics is the lens through which we seek to understand nearly everything. Even basic scientific facts are used as political footballs. It drives me insane. If you ever figure out how to let it go, let me know your secret. Ligotti’s method, by his own account, appears to be his steady use of psychiatric medications and, at least at one point, watching a lot of television (probably avoiding the news). Maybe I’m need to be medicated, something I’ve resisted.
“What I would object to in your analysis is that comparing the sum of casualties doesn’t reflect what Burke found abhorrent about the French revolt”
Fair enough. But that was just part of my point. It’s not the numbers alone that matter. Paine makes that clear. What Paine complains about is that Burke is so lost in abstractions that he has taken them as reality. The point is that real humans are involved and those real humans were vast in number. Burke seemed to have no comprehension of the suffering most people experienced and so he had no way of making sense of why suffering people respond in the way they do. Simply put, Burke had never personally known great suffering (violence, oppression, starvation, etc). It simply wasn’t a part of his lived experience, wasn’t part of his reality and therefore wasn’t part of his imagination. Through basic human empathy, he couldn’t even imagine what the reality of suffering meant to others.
The differences between Burke and Paine are multiple. One thing was their living in different socioeconomic classes. Burke was born into the upper middle class, not aristorcracy but his father was a judge who worked for the government. Paine was raised as a skilled laborer. This is why Burke identified with and cared about the upper classes (the French queen) and why Paine identified and cared about the lower classes (the mere numbers). Another thing is Paine was English and Burke was Irish. This is maybe the greater conflict between their thought, as they came from separate cultures. At the time, Ireland was colonized by England, no different than India. The Irish had a separate history, culture, language, religion, and tradition of thought. Burke’s response to the French Revolution had as much or more to do with his being an Irishman than his being a British politician.
“he was consistent in trying to prevent the American Revolution as well, and probably became alarmed not only by the close proximity of the French, but the nature of its new ideals.”
Actually, Burke was for the American Revolution before he was against it. He was an imperialist, although he wanted to reform some of the worst parts of imperialism. As such, he cared about the plight of American colonists because they were imperial subjects. But once the American Revolution heated up to the point of declaring independence, he withdrew his support as denying their status as imperial subjects the American Revolutionaries were no longer any concern to his imperial vision.
Many Americans felt betrayed by Burke. That is what led to all of the animosity. It was far from being limited to a conflict between Burke and Paine. The other founders shared similar responses to Burke’s seeming change of mind. What they didn’t understand was that he was being consistent with his imperialist ideology. It was the Americans, not Burke, that had turned against imperialism. But from the American perspective, they hadn’t turned against imperialism for it had turned against them. That new intrusive imperialism wasn’t part of their experience of British tradition. Americans had more of a memory of earlier British tradition that had been maintained in the colonies as England became something different.
“You are right to mention the English Imperial atrocities on their neighbors. I’m not defending the English class system, but I am trying to understand how leadership can be wielded skillfully (at least to depict it with verisimilitude in fiction) . I’m not convinced it can ever be done away with.”
On that level, we share a common view. I’m not for doing away with leadership. Neither was Paine, the other American revolutionaries, or the French revolutionaries. Rather, almost everyone was (and still are) seeking what leadership could mean in a changing world. Even Burke realized that something new was required, something tradition couldn’t provide. He wanted to keep the empire while reforming it. How things had operated up to that point couldn’t or shouldn’t have continued.
“Didn’t Frederick Douglass accomplish more for the elevation of an enslaved people than John Brown, despite the latter’s more radical vision?”
Someone like Frederick Douglass wouldn’t have been possible if there first wasn’t someone like John Brown. It is the fear of radicalism that forces government to listen to more moderate voices. It’s the reason why MLK and the Civil Rights Movement was only possible after decades of armed revolt and race wars (often literal wars fought by WWI veterans with military-style fights in the streets and snipers in buildings), not to mention communist organizing (one old civil rights activist was asked about what kept him going and, after opening a dresser drawer, he pointed to a communist organizing pamphlet and a gun). The fear was that, if the government ignored MLK, then the only option blacks would have was to radicalize even further.
“The violence across all divisions in society, then the enthronement of a reactionary authority isn’t only the fanciful imagination of classical conservatives, it is borne out in nearly every historical period involving that kind of upheaval. After Marius’ all out revolt against the nobles, Sulla made way for his new wine cellar.”
That is the thing. No one turns to violence first. The American Revolutionaries, the French Revolutionaries, and the Americans all first sought political and social reform from within the system. It was only after generations of failed attempts at reform that they turned to larger scale violence.
“I think Paine might have been a better visionary and rabble-rouser than leader; every left libertarian revolt of the 20th century that gained traction has failed to take the next step to solidify and protect the new society it built.”
No one as honest as Paine could ever become a politician. Even MLK was too honest to be anything other than a rabblerouser. And as MLK aged, he became more radical and vocal which led him to be ever more despised not just by white authorities but also by the moderate blacks of the comfortable middle class.
“The part of Burke I find convincing is when he asserts the necessity of conforming policies of change to the preservation of any given society’s tradition of liberty and order.”
The American Revolutionaries made their arguments from English tradition. So did the French Revolutionaries, although their tradition was different based in the civil law of the Normans and Romans. Civil law was built more on legal constructs (i.e., abstractions). That is why Germanic freedom is about being a free person in a free society (freedom etymologically related to friendship) whereas Latin liberty is simply about not being a slave according to the law. It’s not a matter limited to conforming policies but the tradition of thought that defines the social and political norms of conforming policies.
“This passage from a Borges story reminds me of Burke’s statement about civilization being a “contract between those living, those dead, and those yet to be born”. I am saying in so many words that it’s not enough to burn the contract when it’s terms are made into a sham; those sciences of statecraft, philosophy, and probably the spiritual ideals that created the contract are needed in order to renew it.”
For the early years of the French Revolution, moderates (including aristocrats and clergy) were in control and they were seeking reforms. They didn’t even want to eliminate the monarchy. But the king acted in an underhanded way and kept making things worse. If the king had been near at hand in the American colonies, they might have beheaded him just as the French later did. Based on English tradition, they had proper justification to behead the king.
The point is that it has to get extremely bad, as it did during the English Civil War, before such extreme violence happens. Violent oppression leads to violent backlash. It has nothing to do with contracts or rather, once violent oppression continues long enough, the social contract loses its validity in public opinion. There was nothing stopping the French king from having accepted the reforms and, if he had, France might be more like England today along with still having a monarchy. That the French monarchy was more oppressive than the British monarchy was a choice made by the rulers and no one else can be blamed.
One thing that bothers me about Burke is the continuing insistence on people of “lowly status” being “exalted beyond their station”. Its too close to what a Brit TV anchor said about a woman who won the lottery– that wealth was “wasted on the working classes”. Burke simultaneously critiqued the aristocracy for their “contempt and insolence” . He was arguing from an older patrician ethos, but it could apply to wealthy people today ( I know its rather rich to argue for aristocratic generosity today). It’s a critique of movement conservatism from the right and I find that intellectually interesting I guess .
Wealthy feminist aligned Hollywood people could sell their mansions and spas to open new studios away from the sexist Hollywood inertia instead of responding after the fact to people like Weinstein and his depredations. That’s really what I would want from a conservative movement. As for the history, I understand the idea that England was consciously founded partly on the model of the Roman Republic (ideally) and the need to avoid the contests of rival generals over state authority ( like with the Marian factions in the late Republic). But it couldn’t avoid the neglect of minority rights and the new developments in the colonies. Is this what Paine was countering as strongly as possible, the imperial paternalism ?
The more I read about the French Revolution, the more it resembles the late Republican period in history– an upper class unable to respond to material challenges and rising power from below, the inability of the people’s tribunes and the often wealthy demagogues to unite around concrete aims and restrain their generals. It did take Napoleon about 20 years to come into power, so there’s many questions I have about that period that aren’t answered by the usual narratives.
“One thing that bothers me…”
Burke was a paternalistic progressive, a variety that used to be common in the Republican party and among conservatives but today is found only on the other side. Modern American conservatism, by way of Russell Kirk, is defined according to Burke. But liberals have also made claim upon his thought, similar to how a wide variety loves to invoke Paine since he became respectable again (liberals, progressives, conservatives, neoliberals, libertarians, etc).
The problem with Burke’s progressivism, as contrary to Paine’s progressivism, is the paternalism that inevitably leads to condescension. You can hear the same kind of thing in a paternalistic libertarian like Charles Murray, a genuine paternalism that is built on condescension, the two aspects being inseparable. That said, I can take a bit of condescension if the paternalism is genuine. That is to say I’ll accept Murray’s support of basic income, if it means we get basic income.
“Burke simultaneously critiqued the aristocracy…”
That is a defining feature of Robin’s reactionary. They punch down even as they take a swing at those above them. Robin observes that many leading thinkers among reactionaries began as outsiders, such as Burke being an Irishman from a family with a Catholic background. It is the outsider status that makes them hungry for power and resentful toward those who have it. But as soon as they become more accepted within power, they are quick to pull the ladder up behind them. They don’t want to eliminate rigid hierarchy but to create a new version of it that is more dynamic and aggressive in its defense against the lower classes and the poltical left.
“It’s a critique of movement conservatism from the right and I find that intellectually interesting I guess .”
I’d say that is because movement conservatism eventually starts to genuinely conserve things. But reactionaries don’t want to conserve. They want to create something new. There is a radical edge hidden beneath the surface. Reactionaries can be extremely interesting. They come at things from unexpected angles and there is a mercurial nature about them that is hard to pin down. They aren’t defined by any principles other than defense of hierarchy and, in that defense, they will make use of almost anything at hand no matter its origins. In the process, they can be innovative and adaptable. They are challenging adversaries because, in reacting to everything, they are constantly reinventing what they are about.
“Is this what Paine was countering as strongly as possible, the imperial paternalism ?”
Maybe. One thing to keep in mind is that in the 18th century British imperialism was still a fairly young experiment. There remained a cultural memory of what came before, especially in the colonies that oddly as products of imperialism had avoided many of the overt rule of imperialism. Many people escaping the growing imperial oppression in England (and elsewhere) fled to the colonies. While there, they attempted to re-create the world they had known, but nostalgia isn’t a perfectly accurate guide.
Calling them colonies is a bit of a misnomer. The idea of colonialism developed over time. Many of the ‘colonies’ originally were privately held corporations and semi-autonomous governments, not possessions of the empire or monarchy. That was part of the argument Americans had. The king or earlier kings had given immense freedom to those who settled in the New World, but Parliament was becoming more demanding, not so much in usurping power from the king as usurping power from the colonies which is to say they were now being treated as colonies in being under direct control and rule by the imperial government that was becoming centralized.
This is part of the larger view of class war. All of the revolutions involved elements of class war. I’m most familiar with the American Revolution. The populist revolts agains the elite began decades beforehand. And even when the colonial aristocracy (Jefferson, Washington, etc) joined the American Revolution, it was largely because they were lower level aristocrats, the second sons or descendants of second sons who hadn’t inherited anything. Colonists were treated as second class citizens and sometimes not as citizens at all.
There was another reason for this. Paine, having come to Pennsylvania, observed how many colonists weren’t of English ancestry (the majority in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, etc were Germans). The elite back in England, already treating colonists as low status (for various reasons such as more convicts having been sent to America than to Australia) probably were acutely aware of this fact, implied by their denying colonists the traditional rights of Englishmen. This was a personal affront to colonists who were Englishmen, specifically in the colonies that were majority English.
Paine realized that England wasn’t going to be transposed to the American continent. Instead, he argued that America was the child of Europe, not of England. And he had a fair point, since many of the colonies weren’t even started by the English but only later on taken over by them. If colonists were going to be treated as a lowly immigrant population, then Americans might as well embrace this international and multicutural identity as a way of defining and defending their independence as a people. (The French in their revolution, of course, couldn’t make such an argument. Being in the center of power within the French empire, they had no hope of escaping the empire’s reach and so their only other option was to violently overthrow the empire or, as it turned out with Napolean, to take it over.)
There is an even larger context. Imperialism, as I said, was a young experiment at the time. The colonists understood this and that is why imperialism grated upon them. In France, there also seems to have been a memory of a social order that preceded the growing giant of imperialism. But for whatever reason, someone like Burke forgot or pretended to not know that imperialism wasn’t originally part of the English tradition. The new form of imperialism with its wide flung colonies was different from anything that came before; even great civilizations like the Roman Empire were more geographically constrained. Modern imperialism was disruptive and destabilizing like nothing ever before. This is what sent the ancien regime of feudalism into a death spiral long before capitalism and industry came along.
I learned of this in reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s Dancing in the Streets. What is easy to forget, maybe even in the 18th century, is how decentralized was the feudalist order. It was a time when local aristocracy lived, walked, attended church, and celebrated carnival among the common folk. They were local rulers and often beloved. The lord and his knights would personally put their lives on the line to defend the community from attacks. Even if Burke had lost contact with this knowledge, Paine apparently had a better sense of it. Maybe that is because of Paine’s lower status and because he grew up in a town where the local aristocracy were still part of daily life. Feudal notions such as the Commons and the rights of commoners was still alive in Paine’s moral imagination.
Painee realized that the feudal world couldn’t be brought back, but its loss was made painful by seeing firsthand how Native Americans were still living out these old English customs such as the Commons. In its place, he wanted to find a way to remedy what was lost (it having been lost partly, as he understood, because of growing population size), rather than pretend it never existed and that the suffering the loss caused didn’t matter. He was all too aware of the fact that the only thing worse than being a peasant was being a landless peasant, something he observed firsthand in London where most of the peasants ended up (homeless unemployed, impoverished, and starving) when they were kicked off the Commons when it was stolen from them.
France was dealing with similar problems. Populations were growing there as well. The economy and land ownership was changing. The French peasants were also becoming landless and crowded into the cities where they too were starving. Many of the aristocrats and clergy were feeling the pressure as their position and authority in the old order was eroding away, which is why they were the early leaders of the revolution in demanding a return to the old order, but this got mixed up with progressive reforms, radical populism, and later reactionary counter-revolution. There was no way of going back. The new imperialism had permanently broken the old order. The French king acted as if he wanted to be an emperor. Ironically, it required the king’s self-destructive behavior to help end the monarchy that only then allowed an emperor to take power.
“…there’s many questions I have about that period that aren’t answered by the usual narratives.”
That is what I found the more I read. A lot of new scholarship has come out in recent years. So, even I had been inclined when I was younger, it would have been hard to come to these kinds of understandings.
In case you’re interested, here are some of the posts where I discuss revolutionary class war and the living memory of feudalism:
We might not be disagreeing as much as it seems. Part of it is a difference in emphasis, what specifically we are focusing on.
I’m not a radical by nature. I doubt anyone is. Radicals are made, not born. What I want is progressive reform. That is also what most people want, even when they wouldn’t call it that. That was true for many in the past as well. Those who wanted progressive reform include Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, John Dickinson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, etc. All the revolutions of that era, including the French Revolution, began with demands of progressive reforms and would have ended there if even a fraction of the demands had been met or at least treated seriously.
Instead, the British Parliament fired Paine as a tax collector when he brought them a petition demanding a living wage and the British Parliament ridiculed Franklin who up to that point had been one of the most loyal of British subjects. Likewise, the French king had been dismissive during the first several years of revolution when all that was requested of him was basic reforms because the monarchy had grown out of control.
The French aristocrats and clergy who led the early French Revolution thought the king hadn’t been respecting French tradition of the ancien regime that allowed for balance of power between monarchy, aristocracy, and clergy. This is a related complaint to that of Americans who argued the Parliament had overstepped its authority by usurping the power traditionally given to the king — a view expressed by some Tories even into the 20th century: the king and the people against the landed aristocracy. Of course, the English monarchy had declining power for a long time, entirely losing with defeat in the English Civil War and only partially regaining it with the Glorious Revolution.
There was a lot of historical confusion and intentional mixing for purposes of rhetoric. Jefferson went as far back to the fight against the Norman invaders (the origins of English monarchy) in seeking justification for revolution. There were many competing claims of authority and tradition. In this battle of ideas, history was often invoked as evidence. The argument over revolution in America, England and France wasn’t initially about creating a new society. The term ‘revolution’ came from astrology and meant for a cyclical return. It was an argument over the past, not the future. Burke was the first to give a name to moral imagination, but the sense of it had been around for a long time. Basically, all sides in their own way were invoking moral imagination. In the process, all sides ended up helping to create something new, even the counter-revolutionaries (the basic point Corey Robin makes about the reactionary mind, that nostalgia shouldn’t be taken at face value; also see The Invention of Tradition by Eric Hobsbawm).
So, I’m not arguing against moral imagination, tradition, continuity, moderation, or whatever. Rather, my argument is that it is complex. It is hard to differentiate different historical figures because of overlapping influences and because modern categories don’t apply. The same often applies in the present as well. It’s sometimes hard, for example, to differentiate liberals and conservatives. I might have some other thoughts, but I’ll end there for now.
“Crime period”, what an awful pun; I meant time period. I was being satirical when I wrote poems calling for America to apologize to King George after the last election; I have no interest in imitating ol HPL that much.
Much of this is out of my depths. My knowledge lies elsewhere. I would like to see Peterson debate someone who is well informed about all the stuff he constantly throws out.
From what I do know, he doesn’t come across as all that convincing. He doesn’t seem aware of much recent social science research. And others have pointed out that his knowledge of the hard sciences is lacking.
“Peterson who is both a poster boy for and increasingly a victim of the youtube ecosystem*(2) is rushing headlong towards cliff and in Zizekian terms will come to inhabit some sort of Warner Bro cartoon meta-reality where he will go off the edge, look down and then realize that he is about to fall.
“The reasons for this are that he has consistently demonstrated not only a complete lack of understanding of basic terms in Postmodernist theory and Marxism, but has also demonstrated a slipshod grasp of any number of historical facts and worst of all has at various times made use of basic Postmodernist and Frankfurt School ideas and has done so either without realizing he’s doing it or, has used them because he’s a charlatan.”
Wow, that’s a good piece, especially when it describes how his grasp of the terms of evidence becomes “slipshod” in that “ecosystem”. I’m not a huge Adorno buff , but his much dreaded “standardization” was perhaps missapplied to 20th century pop culture and makes more sense with the spread of information in the 21st. I’m also surprised that no one has mentioned McLuhan in relation to this (maybe Paglia, who’s a huge McLuhan head, but she talks too fast so I’m not sure). I started tuning out when he was being put in front of huge concert halls to talk about archetypal Biblical themes ( his reading of Blake is probably one Blake himself would laugh at, but that often happens with psychologization and naturalistic theories applied to art). He’s a mild mannered pragmatist academic, not someone who needs to exercise a priestly office, but it looks like many people want him in that role, including the more trollish of his detractors. The medium is the message, or the message cannot be entirely separated from it’s medium, which absorbs it in electronic media.
The only video I’ve seen so far that demonstrates Peterson’s intellect in a positive light is the interview with Iain McGilchrist. McGilchrist was able to bring out Peterson’s genuine knowledge in his field of expertise and put his views on solid ground. It made me realize that Peterson is actually a serious academic. From other videos, he often comes across as a standard over-opinionated public intellectual or self-help guru.
When Jordan Peterson isn’t caught up in emotional polarization and political divisiveness, he is capable as an academic scholar of actual nuance in his intellectual positions. I wish I saw more of this side of him in his videos and less of the ideological dogmatism he expresses when he is in a more political frame of mind.
He really is a smart and well informed guy on specific topics within his field of expertise. But outside of his field of expertise, he can be as ill-informed and simple-minded as any other random ignoramus or maybe worse because of the smart idiot effect. He should stick to what he knows and leave the opinionating to the pundits and other media whores.
Views such as the following would make him less popular among the alt-right men’s movement. He would really lose his alt-right support if he suggested young men should also develop their feminine side in a healthy and balanced way, but I have a feeling he would never do that.
JORDAN PETERSON: “I am a psychometrician, that’s technically my job and we study measurement, and it’s a truism of psychomentrics that men and women are more the same than they are different. Y’now it’s funny because I’ve been sort of positioned as someone who is constantly on about the differences between men and women, but men and women are more the same than they are different, And what that means is the development of masculinity in women is perhaps not as important as the development of masculinity in men, but its damned important. It’s like a close second.”
About Edmund Burke’s moral imagination, I can come across as merely critical. But I do also have much admiration. As I said, he was taking an insight into our shared humanity and making it explicit. That is a challenging thing to do.
The moral imagination was weakening as the Enlightenment mind took hold with its abstractions. This was probably relevant to Burke because as a child of the Enlightenment this was as much a personal issue as a political one. It’s not a matter that he understood perfectly what was the problem or exactly what was being lost.
What he managed to do is point in the right direction, however misguided he might have been about some of the details of the larger events going on around him. I give credit where credit is due. Below is a post where I acknowledge the value of Burke (and it seems relevant to a discussion of Jordan Peterson):
“As I began reading Frankfurt’s “On Bullshit”, I was naturally pulled into the view presented. Pretty much everyone hates bullshit. But I considered a different possible explanation for this. Maybe bullshit isn’t more common than before. Maybe it’s even less common in some sense. It’s just that, as a society that idealizes truth, the category of bullshit represents something no longer respected or understood. We’ve lost touch with something within our own human nature. Our hyper-sensitivity in seeing bullshit everywhere, almost a paranoia, is an indication of this.
“As much as I love Paine and his vision, I have to give credit where it is due by acknowledging that Burke managed to catch hold of a different kind of truth, a very human truth. He warned us about treading cautiously on the sacred ground of the moral imagination. On this point, I think he was right. We are too careless.
“Frankfurt talks about the ‘bullshit artist’. Bullshitters are always artists. And maybe artists are always bullshitters. This is because the imagination, moral or otherwise, is the playground of the bullshitter. This is because the artist, the master of imagination, is different than a craftsmen. The artist always has a bit of the trickster about him, as he plays at the boundaries of the mind. […]
“This is logos vs mythos. In religious terms, it is the One True God who creates ex nihilo vs the demiurgic god of this world. And in Platonic terms, it is the idealistic forms vs concrete substance, where the latter is a pale imitation of the former. As such, truth is unique whereas bullshit is endless. The philosopher and the poet represent opposing forces. To the Philosopher, everything is either philosophically relevant or bullshit. But to the poet (and his kin), this misses the point and overlooks the essence of our humanity. Each side makes sense, according to the perspective of each side. And so each side is correct about what is wrong with the other side.
“If all bullshit was eliminated and all further bullshit made impossible, what would be left of our humanity? Maybe our very definition of truth is dependent on bullshit, both as a contrast and an impetus. Without bullshit, we might no longer be able to imagine new truths. But such imagination, if not serving greater understanding, is of uncertain value and potentially dangerous to society. For good or ill, the philosopher, sometimes obtuse and detached, and the artist, sometimes full of bullshit, are the twin representatives of civilization as we know it.”
I hope you don’t medicate yourself off the internet; your history and science posts are worthwhile reading, and you cover many interesting connections and byways that are rarely mentioned in other media. I’m lucky that I’ve known many incredible people who don’t see the political as a particularly important way of understanding other people and the world, and who can draw me back to a stance where I can appreciate other things, if only through memory. It can be maddening to be out of the driver’s seat, so to speak, with a deep understanding of history and politics. I try to keep the Buddhist notion of “taking refuge” in mind, even though my form of practice is more about books, film and music than contemplating the mind ( though I do meditate regularly, its mostly to sharpen concentration for appreciating those things). If I can’t retreat to a forest I look for Walden in an internal sense.
As for the moral imagination, I don’t see why we moderns can’t take the aspects of both thinkers that compliment each other and work with that. We’ve lost most of our connection to the past but we also have this vantage that they didn’t have, along with such a massive storehouse of texts and info. A lifetime could be well-spent on study and explication of the moral imagination. I think this shades into what the important part of post-modernism was getting at (though I find much of this hard to understand), not so much in the French theorists but their fictional forebears. These two quotes rhyme with your last post-
Jorge Luis Borges — ‘To speak is to fall into tautology.’
“What matters is whether we want to lie or to tell and write the truth, even though it never can be the truth and never is the truth. ” – Thomas Bernhard ( http://yolacrary.blogspot.com/2008/09/noted-thomas-bernhard.html )
My only medication is caffeine. And even that I give up on occasion. I don’t like being dependent on unnecessary substances. Meditation is a good practice. These days, my practice is exercise, both weightlifting and cardio, and it can have a meditative quality, especially jogging.
There is something about imagination. Burke didn’t only bring it out into the open. He demonstrated by showing a mind that gets caught in its grasp in an undeniable way. He got carried away with his moral imagination. But we all do the same, even if typically in more subtle ways, that is to say not by fawning over fantasies of queens being manhandled, their beauty and purity tarnished. The Enlightened intellectual mind enjoys mocking Burke for his childish imaginings of royalty whose reality was much different, but that is to pretend that we too aren’t prone to the moral imagination’s persuasive power.
I’m still not quite sure what moral imagination is all about. I sense it has to do with such things as Jaynes’ authorization, along with metaphor, metonymy, and memes. I could add linguistic relativity and of course narrative framing. Language, spoken but also written, does seem key. Burke was caught up in a vision of a queen and he did so by working himself up into a fit with his own words. There was no tangible queen present before him, but the more he wrote of the queen the more real she became and in his mind’s eye he could see the abuse she experienced at the hands of the unruly mob.
We moderns are so surrounded by language, from text to tv to music, that we barely notice it. Language is the resonance field with which our mind-brain synchronizes. And as some argue, the essence of language is preverbal, it’s musical or poetic. But I’m open to other interpretations.