The Idolatry of Jordan B. Peterson
The age of the internet and the rise of common intellectuals will certainly be a hallmark of this generation. It is unclear what history will say about Professor Jordan B. Peterson. If I were to venture a guess, it would be: "Clean up your room." How does a professor of psychology from the University of Toronto reach Rockstar-status? amassing millions of hits on YouTube and selling out live-performances all over the world. It is quite clear he is filling some need for a father figure in our culture, and quite frankly we should all prefer him over Trump.
Now, I do have a few issues with this travelling motivational speaker/cultural commentator (which I am about to present), but overall I do think he has inspired countless people to adopt personal responsibility over their own lives, and revealed some of the many flaws our progressive culture, lead by media and educational institutions, as well as social and familial structures, have not been willing to discuss in an open and honest fashion.
I have tried to have conversations about who this man is and what he is doing, but it seems to be useless! Either you're on his team, or you're against him. No one wants to discuss the details of his ideas themselves. His name certainly has created divides - as far as I can tell. Whatever the reasons, no one should let a name divide them like tribes. Let us speak of him as he deserves to be spoken of, a man, like us all, with flaws and failures, but willing to discuss contentious issues, and offer his own unique perspective. In a culture marred by political correctness, I believe it is this act itself that has become the target of both veneration and despise.
My first impression of him came from watching his fifteen-part lecture series on the psychological significance of the stories of Genesis. I found them to be very insightful and engaging, sparking my curiosity with this new figure of intellect as he began hitting the stage and making noise.
Being a drummer and metal-head at heart, you should know I have been to innumerable concerts. I particularly enjoy crowd surfing; especially when I go with a friend who has not seen this dying art before. To me, it is an active engagement with both the crowd and the band – an attempt at connecting physically yet innocently to an emotional energy that is the crowd engaging spiritually as one with the music. Often our veneration for these intense feelings become personified – the musician bringing forth the miracle becomes that which is worshiped.
This past summer I had the privilege of seeing a live debate between Jordan Peterson and another infamous thinker, Sam Harris. Although I didn't get the opportunity to crowd surf (the Orpheum being a seated amphitheatre), all the elements of a rock concert were there. The lights, the tech-crew, the merch, and of course, the fans! A packed audience. Cheers, laughter, fervent chatter… But why were we all here?
Although this was the first time I had seen either men live, I knew of Petersons opponent Sam Harris long ago. When I first began exploring my faith in 2011, I frequently found myself on YouTube listening to debates on religion - Sam Harris often speaking for the atheists. I always considered him a formidable opponent, but I would have preferred to see the strongest of the atheist apologetics face Peterson that night, the late Cristopher Hitchens.
That night I don't recall having seen any others taking notes, but then again, my nose was down a lot…
Although I felt Peterson won the debate, I have a specific contention I feel I must call Peterson on from another debate he had:
Part of what I like about Peterson is his love for Russian literature. Having read Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky myself, he certainly captured my interest early-on by quoting them often. But in a specific discussion he had with an atheist apologetic, Susan Blackmore, he uses a scene from Crime and Punishment, and the character Raskolnikov, to make a point about how she wasn’t actually an atheist, because she lives in a religious psychological sub-structure. He claims, and I quote, that Raskolnikov "committed the perfect murder", in that he kills a woman who deserved to die, and gets away with it. Even though Raskolnikov had justified the murder, rationalizing it out before-hand, and deciding it was for the benefit of all, he is consumed by guilt and ends up turning himself in after some serious physiological breakdowns.
That's an incomplete recount of his argument, but it doesn’t matter; it isn’t the argument itself that bothers me… What bothers me is that he left out a very important detail from the story. Raskolnikov actually committed a double homicide. Part of the reason he justified killing his original victim is that she was abusive to her sister, Lizaveta. While Raskolnikov executed his murder, he accidentally left the apartment door open, and in a panic, he kills Lizaveta as she walks in the room to see the horrific crime.
This changes Dr. Peterson's argument, rendering his example useless. He either forgot the story of his favorite writer, making for a foolish argument, or he deliberately lied about the details, making him a cheater. Either way its a demerit to his name. But if it was a deliberate lie, and as a man who has claims often that the most important of his 12 rules for life is to tell the truth, it would give me no pleasure in calling him a hypocrite.
But we can't let a flaw, or even a hypothetical lie from another stop us from listening to each other. It seems we have and always will have disagreements. We are each unique and complex. We are often and consistently wrong. All of us have lied. And all of us have been lied to. We are human! And so is Dr. Peterson.
History has shown us that religions bring with them hope, unity, and an aim toward a higher ideal, if not the highest of ideals! But it also brings with it an institution: a hierarchy of individuals constituting the system necessary to maintain its function over time. These systems are not impervious to corruption; in fact, I believe Dr. Peterson would say they lean toward corruption. Corruption is the act of embodied lying (or at least, not acting truthfully).
I really did find his fifteen part lecture series on the psychological significance of Genesis to be fascinating. In the first lecture of his biblical series, he attempts to explain the Idea of God, and very nicely I must say. I highly recommend listening to this lecture as I can only quickly make a summary: God becomes the personified abstraction of our highest value(s). Even ideas need a body.
I have never been someone to dispel with another’s ideas after uncovering a flaw. Part of the problem is that we as humans tend to pick someone to admire, often famous, and place them as a personified pinnacle on our hierarchy of values: our own personal god. Jordan Peterson has taken this spot for many people who don't fit in with the modern progressive movement.
It is interesting how political correctness, at its foundations, creates such a stir. Most of us prefer to pretend than to be displeasing. It seems these days we are all holding our tongues, as if being watched! A mild version of 1984. Jordan Peterson capitalized on a market hungry for someone with the brains to stand up to such injustice. Is he, in fact, a social justice warrior?
My last criticism of Peterson: He makes a strong argument for the progression of western society, and how much better we have it then our ancestors. But what if continuous and propagated comfort is not something to strive for… Our society seems to be increasingly frustrated, divided, and hostile. What if instead of statistics, we gauged life on content instead of life expectancy? What if achievements were found in relationships, rather than technologies? What if we put aside numbers and graphs for a moment, and measure something we can’t reduce to lines on paper, or a simple sound bite? What if we sought the highest value, a true target worthy of our aim, and what seems is obviously lacking - Where is the love these days?
“For if love is the measure, the only measure of love is love without measure.”