The Incongruence of Jordan Peterson

Over the past few weeks, information on the acclaimed Jordan Peterson has come to light, and most of that information is pretty damning stuff.  He’s no darling of the right wing, his philosophical approach is more like that of a cult leader, and he seems to be in bed with some extremely questionable globalist characters and has been for some time.  As of this post, the jury is out as to the extent of his controlled opposition—whether he’s legitimately backed by the same globalists who, say, backed Hillary Clinton’s campaign, or if he’s just an unwitting professor whose strings are easily pulled into barking up all the wrong trees.  But the substance of what he’s saying in his books isn’t up for debate.  He put it all out there for the world to see and, hopefully, laugh at.

A few weeks ago I purchased his most recent book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, with the intention of reviewing it for this blog.  Unfortunately, it’s one of the most bafflingly awful books I’ve tried to read in recent memory, and as a result, I ended up shelving it by the time I reached the fifth chapter.  At this point I’ve completed reading it, but I can’t recommend anyone else do the same unless they’re looking for comedy and have a high tolerance for the self-important, delusional, painfully unaware ramblings of man whose IQ is too high for his own good.

This isn’t going to be a review of 12 Rules for Life for a couple reasons.  Namely, it’s hard to remember exactly what Peterson’s point was in writing the book.  Ostensibly, it’s a self-help book for those young people (predominantly men) whom contemporary society has left behind—one of those saddle up, bucko, clean your room type of reads that requires neither a PhD nor a lesson in Jungian analytic psychology to explain.  But the book has more Jungian word salad and more secularized interpretations of Biblical passages than a forum on Neon Genesis: Evangelion.

This is how Peterson tends to make his point: first, he introduces a main idea, or at least he tries to.  Second, he rambles a little bit about his backstory by drawing some event from his past.  Third, he starts talking about psychological mechanisms or archetypal patterns in the unconscious, but usually this happens without him explaining what he’s getting at.  Then he shotguns out some references to the bible, writes and that’s why you should clean your room, and pretends like somehow, everything he’s written is a clear and coherent argument.  There are some variations, of course; maybe instead of his own past, he’ll reference an anonymous patient.  Maybe instead of talking about personal matters, he’ll kick off rambling about lobsters for five or six pages.  Or maybe he’ll give you an oversimplified and pointless rundown on Christianity and its alleged failures for half a chapter[1].

I mean, just read this:

“To stand up straight with your shoulders back is to accept the terrible responsibility of life, with eyes open.  It means deciding to voluntarily transform the chaos of potential into the realities of habitable order.  It means adopting the burden of self-conscious vulnerability, and accepting the end of the unconscious paradise of childhood, where finitude and mortality are only dimly comprehended.  It means willingly undertaking the sacrifices necessary to generate a productive and meaningful reality (it means acting to please God, in the ancient language).

To stand up straight with your shoulders back means building the ark that protects the world from the flood, guiding your people through the desert after they have escaped tyranny, making your way awy from comfortable home and country, and speaking the prophetic word to those who ignore the widows and children.  It means shouldering the cross that marks the X, the place where you and Being intersect so terribly.  It means casting dead, rigid and too tyrannical order back into the chaos from which it was generated; it means withstanding the ensuing uncertainty, and establishing, in consequence, a better, more meaningful and more productive order.” (27)

If this makes sense, and if this sounds like a reasonable train of thought, then you might just be intelligent enough to appreciate Rick and Morty.  And this is by no means some hyperbolic example I managed to dig up: you’ll find passages like this on every other page.

The reality is that there’s just too much retardation to adequately cover for a decent review.  It would take too long.  Instead, I’ll try to focus specifically on why Peterson’s remarks on the world are so wrongheaded, even when it sounds he’s offering decent advice.  And it almost always comes back, of course, to metaphysics.

For the Love of Christ

Jordan Peterson has, or seems to have, quite a love for Christianity.  He references the Bible constantly, often regardless of the appropriateness of his citation.  He recognizes the fruits Christianity bore Western civilization, the advancements in science it fostered, and the humanitarian improvements it brought to issues like slavery.  But like most secularists, he doesn’t seem to know what Christianity is—and like most pseudo-intellectuals confronted with something mysterious, he’s done an absurdly long-winded lecture series on the Bible.

I steadfastly avoided that lecture series for two reasons.  First, it’s almost always a bad idea to take seriously the assumptions that secularist liberal has on any religious works, but this holds doubly true for the Christian tradition.  Quite simply, the texts of the Old and especially New Testaments, when divorced from their theology, are incomprehensible to the mind of an unbeliever—something Jordan Peterson is by his own admission[2].  The Christian theology is, in fact, unique among religious systems; while in their most complex forms, all religious systems imply and point toward logos as the fundamental driver of the universe.  None, however, assert what Christianity does; that this logos incarnated, lived, died, and lived again, and that it is only literally though this logos—not mere contemplation of it, not mere acknowledgement of the credos it hands out—that meaning is unlocked and personal salvation is possible.  Rene Girard’s work on the scapegoat among mythologies and religious belief noticed this uniqueness, and allegedly, it led to his conversion to Catholicism.

This leads into the second reason why I avoided his lectures on the Bible: Peterson’s work in depth psychology and Jungian archetypes necessitates at least a cursory background in comparative religions.  The truths of religious practice and belief are not, for Peterson, something that preexist the human condition.  Paradise wasn’t real, in a physical sense—Eve didn’t actually eat from the Tree of Knowledge; Tiamat didn’t actually mate with Abzu to create life; Osiris didn’t actually get carved up into little pieces and thrown in a coffin on the Nile.  These things are all just metaphors for the human condition.  Man pre-existed religion, you see; it’s all just a form of science used to describe the unconscious will that propels us forward through history.  Stories about God or gods do not point to truths of reality—ontological truths—rather, they point toward truths that manifest in unconscious development.  They are components of Man’s shared unconscious heritage that traces far back into prehistory.  This is the ‘lower-case t for truth’ that Peterson seems so fond of calling upon.

How quaint.  And yet Peterson is no doubt knowledgeable enough to be familiar with even the most basic proofs of God’s existence.  From St. Augustine to St. Thomas, the logical proofs are about as airtight as philosophical proofs can be.  And granted, taken by themselves, most of these proofs do not prove the existence of the triune Christian God (for that you just need to prove the reasonableness of the incarnation, the resurrection, and then dig around in theology with the patristic writers), but you have to start somewhere.

So we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and simply assume that he isn’t a full-blown atheist.  Maybe he really does believe in that abstract, metaphysical notion of God as surmised by the Greeks.  It’s clear he’s, shall we say, not convinced of the miracles of the incarnation and resurrection, so that precludes any label to Christianity, but, as I said, you have to start somewhere.  This is about as far into Christianity as he can go, though.

It’s not that Peterson misinterprets or fails to grasp some aspect of Christianity, it’s that he fails to grasp what Christianity is in its essence and thus treats it as a cultural artifact appropriate to use as a landscape of words and metaphors.  It is not the pathway to virtue, according to his train of thought; it’s just one of the myriad ways to help improve your life.  It’s spiritually empty, because in the place of spirit, all Peterson seems capable of talking about is psychology.  He really tips his hand when it comes down to the purpose of Christianity and the whole notion of salvation.

Christian salvation transcends the limp-wristed liberal tenants that have flowed from the Golden Rule; certainly, the Golden Rule is present in Christianity, but it is not the linchpin toward your salvation.  Peterson, to his credit, seems to assume true salvation, if it’s possible at all, is rooted in the reconciliation of a man’s ego with his unconscious—appropriately Jungian of him.  But while that may follow Buddhist or Taoist eschatology, it says nothing of salvation as outlined by both apostolic Christian doctrine and by the words of Christ himself.  If anything, the genuine reconciliation of ego and unconsciousness is only possible through prayer, meditation, confession, and the partaking of the sacraments, and it only serves as a means toward an end—receiving God’s grace.  What has Peterson to say of the grace of God?  Well, nothing, so far as I can tell.  In fact, what has Peterson to say about God at all?

Well, there’s the rub.

Ordo ab Chao

A common theme in the various creation myths across cultures is the dominance of chaos—the awful, unknowable randomness and uncertainty—in the world.  It was from randomness and chaos that the world was made, be it from the flesh and bones of a dead giant or from the sudden and unexplainable division of yin and yang from the primordial stillness.  Order, that which is knowable, comprehensibility itself, is fashioned out of some sort of pre-existing state.  This would mean, then, that orderliness is not something naturally present in the structure of the world; it relies upon something beyond the scope of the world to exist—gods or God, presumably, or at the very least, divine-like sources of opposing energies.  Such cosmologies presume the stuff of the world is chaotic in nature and is only made comprehensible by the intercession of a divine source.  But the chaotic stuff remains chaotic.  Rearrangement into something resembling order has not altered its nature, and the world is still prone to the randomness of that nature.

This resembles the arguments of nihilists and those who favor the absurd.  The only difference, albeit an important one, is the presence of a divine source for reason rather than a purely materialist one.  But the problem remains: the world is knowable only as a fluke.  Facts about reality are relative, and all truths that can be derived from the world are probabilistic in nature, because reality is ultimately neither certain nor comprehensible.  The one who searches for truth, if he believes any of this, retreats into an inner world of the mind in order to find it.  And so we meet Peterson.

Chaos, however, is by its nature unknowable.  Chaos can be defined only by citing what it isn’t; we can attribute the term chaotic to things as degrees removed from orderliness.  Order is definable, knowable, comprehensible; the closest definition we can formulate for chaos is “that which is incomprehensible,” or “that which is against order.”  Reason can never penetrate chaos, and no explanation will ever suit chaos, because it is by reason that the world is recognized to be knowable.  If the world turned according to chaos, not only would it not be knowable to begin with, it in fact would not be.

What the aforementioned cosmologies lack is the all-powerful creator.  God did not create the world out of a pre-existing state of chaos; he created it out of nothing.  There was nothing prior to the world in that even had the possibility of being random.  There was nothing before it that could be still.  There was nothing at all.  As St. John begins his gospel: In the beginning was logos.  In the beginning was intelligibility, that which is intended, reason.  Order.  The world is built from this.

This explains the indefinability of chaos.  It is a consequence of the foundation of the world; the degree to which natural events disrupt the intelligible nature of existence does not imply a chaotic universe.  On the contrary, the seemingly chaotic elements of nature point instead to a greater sense of order.  This does not write away chaos as a convenient semantic term that corresponds simply to an epistemological uncertainty, as that would imply that evil—frequently characterized as the foremost agent of chaos, or maybe it’s vice-versa—is simply a semantic term as well.  The reality of evil is beyond dispute; it is the miscategorization of chaos as anything other than anti-logos that is of importance.  Chaos describes a lack of order; it does not describe anything in positive.

But okay, maybe when Peterson says “chaos” he means “uncertainty.”  Maybe when he talks about how chaos is ever-present and destructive, he means “evil.”  Maybe when he attributes suffering to chaos he means to say that suffering is bad.  Maybe all of his talk about chaos is an attempt to rationalize the absurd into a Christian-sounding framework, as though the New Testament was never written and the Bible ended with Job.

Jordan Peterson is the kind of guy who looks at the problem of evil and deduces that the world is founded on chaos—something more or less equal to evil in his own worldview.  There are several responses to the problem of evil, some of which are better than others.  Either evil exists because God isn’t benevolent (the sixth-grader’s response upon reading Dawkins for the first time), or evil exists because the world is fundamentally evil and we have to find a way back to God, or evil exists as a consequence of the Fall and is defeatable but only by the grace of God, or evil doesn’t really exist and it’s merely a trial designed to bring about God’s ultimate plan.

We know where Jordan Peterson falls on this issue.  The guy isn’t a Christian at all—he’s a gnostic.  Or at least, he would be, if he was as precise in his words as he makes himself out to be.  This is the problem with his attempt at dabbling in metaphysics: by misconstruing chaos as though it is and only is uncertainty, but how it’s also evil, randomness, and in fact a fundamental state of nature, Peterson gives himself ample wiggle-room to avoid direct criticism or attack.  It’s easy to slide his world worldview under the prevue of Gnosticism when you look at what he says and simply assume that when he’s talking about chaos, well, you know, he really means evil.  Or he’s an absurdist when, actually, he means uncertainty, not genuine chaos.  And while the case could be made that any wrongheaded attempt to resolve the problem of evil is some form of Gnosticism, the reality is that there’s only one that’s actually Christian.  And Peterson’s certainly isn’t it.

If this sounds like something out of a Freemason’s lodge, it’s because it is.

Closing

It should go without saying, but Jordan Peterson is not the kind of guy to go to for advice.  His ultimate solutions—clean your room, make your bed, stand up straight, whatever—are the sort of intuitively correct things most of us learn from our dads when we’re six years old.  That isn’t advice.

Maybe there’s a place for the repetition of that sort of talk.  After all, single motherhood has been climbing at horrifying rates for decades, and the present attitude pushed by the media toward broken families is one of unashamed embrace rather than condemnation.  Maybe what all these millennial guys who are wasting their time on Xbox Live while they consume Soylent and complain about Veronica leaving them again need is to be told, hey man, you’re fucking thirty years old; go do something with yourself.  At least it’s a start.

But the sort of start Peterson promises is one that only leads you down the self-deceiving labyrinth of confused semantics and uncertain, tepid appreciation for incomprehensible worldviews.  Peterson’s alleged love for Christianity is secularism at its finest—a complete and utter rejection of the core Christian messages without even the faintest realization of it.  Following this man doesn’t lead to personal wellbeing or happiness, much less salvation.  It leads to madness.


[1] Imagine making such a claim and then staking it entirely on the writings of Nietzsche, that nineteenth century shitposter (very ahead of his time) whose only importance is the fact he keeps getting memed back into relevancy by more contemporary shitposters posing as academics like Peterson.

[2] His positive response to “Are you a Christian?” comes with so many asterisks and caveats as to be rendered meaningless—for one thing he starts his bizarre rant with the statement, “It depends what you mean by Jesus.”  This is the sort of academic word salad that it sounds like a comedy skit.

2 thoughts on “The Incongruence of Jordan Peterson

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  1. I personally like Peterson and sort of see him as a kind of secular prophet who is providentially being used to distribute, in the words of Justin Martyr. some ‘seeds of truth’. Nevertheless, as a Christian, I’d emphasise ‘some’, and see his main value in reeling in dejected folk into a place of consideration of ‘higher things’. I’ve watched a fair bit of his stuff and have developed some understandings by extrapolating from him and remodeling some of his views.

    I could never be bothered reading his ’12 Rules’ book, as I guess, besides reasons akin to your own, I’m not a fan of any motivational, self-help style DIY spirituality substitutes. Despite its advantages to non-Christians who might pick up nothing better, I do think it can be damaging for poorly grounded Christians, who might adopt a kind of Pelaganism. Likewise, I’ve intentionally not bothered watching his lectures on the Bible, since nothing can really substitute for reason illumined by faith when it comes to the Big Book.

    I’ve a more positive stance on Peterson than yourself (far more perhaps), but I enjoyed the read, and from a hard-core critical POV, I pretty much agree.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers, man

      I was somewhat skeptical of Peterson almost from the beginning, but like most I didn’t find what he was lecturing on to be egregious at all. Part of my initial skepticism involved how he was raising and using money. Others have mentioned this before, but within a year of his breakout in alt-media, he had absurd income from his Patreon account, which was in addition to his income as a tenured professor. Ostensibly this internet revenue was put toward some projects he’d been planning for a while, but those turned out to both be jokes: a glorified Rate Your Professor alternative and a personality test that he charged $20 for (at least at the time, I haven’t checked back on that since it went up). I don’t know if he’s done anything more public with that money. Combine that with the sketchy Reddit-style cult that’s developed around his videos and you get a big pit of something that simply doesn’t smell right.

      That said, I didn’t really feel a need to criticize the bulk of his intellectual output until I tried reading this book of his. Between the autobiographical content, the way in which he rambles, and the rather revealing introduction written by a friend of his, the book ended up casting an extremely unfavorable light onto everything he’s touched. The crypto-Gnostic strain that he labels “Christianity” muddles his presumptions about the nature of man, God, and the world to a degree that confuses his program of self help. So rather than wielding the Christian message as something which speaks through him, he ends up reconfiguring aspects of Christianity to suit his personal program.

      What bothers me about this approach is that he’s encouraging others to do the same. While he doesn’t come right out and say it, his interpretation of scripture and use of Christian language resembles an attempt to hijack the message and steer it in his own misguided direction. At best, he seems to believe that Christianity is a convenient lie cloaked in an ancient archetypal reality (apparently clueless as to the origin of that archetype), but at worst, his method remains that of a charlatan or a subversive who would prefer to draw the disenchanted nonbelievers toward himself rather than toward the faith. I’m of the opinion he’s more the former than the latter, but in practice these bring about the same results.

      I have noticed a tendency of people who are sort of on the fence about him, though. You mention how, in general, most of what he says is fine enough and makes a bit of sense with some ‘remodeling’. That’s the key. He sounds like what he’s saying is good enough, you know? While his imprecision with concepts and unwillingness to commit to metaphysical truths gives off the impression of humility, and while it invites his audience to draw their own conclusions from his work, it also reveals a disbelief in what he’s supposed to be defending. This means either he doesn’t really know what he’s saying, in which case there’s little reason to take him seriously (why take seriously someone who doesn’t take himself seriously?), or it means he knows he’s being misinterpreted and that he knows this misinterpretation works to his benefit–a conscious, rhetorical tactic that academics in particular are prone to doing. Like I said, I bought into it a bit too, thinking he wasn’t really that bad. But now? Yikes.

      Like

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