(Originally posted on
“Unbelievably Cool” sculptures of “entwined serpents that merge as dragon of chaos that manifests itself as nature and culture”.
Rule #0 – KILL ALL SNAKES!!
Jordan Peterson does to evolution what Deepak Chopra did to quantum physics, albeit with a little more finesse. Peterson is the counter-enlightenment to Nu-Atheist Sam Harris style hyper-rational enlightenment. He wants to get all the logic worshipping autists in touch with their irrational, mythical anima and chase the dragon away to restore the individual to its rightful place at the top of all dominance hierarchies.
The meat of his online presence is the two courses he teaches every year and uploads to youtube. One is called ‘Maps of Meaning’ which is an earlier academic book, a hodge-podge of Cog-Psych and Jungian readings of myths. In the other called ‘Personality and its Transformations’ he pivots to using his reading of myths in the mode of a life-coach, sort of a midway point before his current turn as full blown self-help guru for NRx. He speaks in his guru mode as if kids brought up in the anglo positivist tradition have never come across a Nietzsche or a Dostoevsky, introducing continental thought only to reinstate liberal morality and wisdom.
The course on personality is based in the Cog-Psych re-invention of the Jungian Myers-Briggs test. An extensive self-survey questionnaire is used to assign percentile ranks to people on a five factor model of inherited characteristics – extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness. Peterson reads these statistical studies mostly in a Jungian mode but with some lip service to Husserl’s students who formed Existential and Phenomenological Psychology. He uses this latter group to insist on meaning being primary (rather than sense) in psychology and therefore essential to human life, something to be wrested with great struggle from Chaos. This explains why the greatest threat to ‘Western Civilization’ for Peterson is the student of Husserl who buried him, Derrida.
He uses Jung to give a veneer of academic credibility to a pop Campbellian framework of reading myths while dismissing Campbell as derivative of Jung. His rehabilitation of Jung repeats the move many waves of new agers made before him – to focus on Freud’s early work on dreams in order to bury his subsequent development of psychology on the basis of sexuality and neurophysiology and replace it with a sweeping trans-historical anthropology of archetypes and myths. The evo-bio stuff is window-dressing to this core of his theory. He never really sorts out his conflation of libertarian individualism with mythical heroics or what any of it has to do with evolution.
He teaches Jung before Freud because ‘… excavated so many more levels of the unconscious than Freud’. This he uses to segue into developing your ‘potential’, according to him the Jungian ‘self’. You see “our materialist view is essentially wrong. the proper way of looking at being is that being is potential and from that potential, whatever consciousness is, it straps out the reality we inhabit.” From here, he gets on his favourite theme, the hero’s journey of self-realization (the Jungian ‘individuation’). George Lucas’ regression of science fiction to pre-war space adventures is more responsible for Peterson than Jung. Peterson appeals to chuuni teens endemic in YA lit in the same way as Star Wars or Hunger Games: objects exist in Peterson’s universe but no other subjects – just representations of the hero’s unconscious, learning from his ‘experience’ to make his life meaningful and gain absolute power.
A painting from an Alchemical scroll that shows a dragon fertilizing the winged ball used for witch soccer by later generations of magicians
Of late, he has started shoehorning Christianity into the equation on the same basis as the hyper-rational skeptics use to reject it, by flattening the history of religion and making it just another hero myth. In his version of Christianity, God is the Jungian Logos and human destiny is to bring Chaos into order, therefore Christianity is part of one long snake hunt that humans have been waging since being ejected from Eden. He finds support in evolutionary theory for his reading of myths from Lynne Isbell’s book whose back cover reads,
“Predation pressure from snakes is ultimately responsible for the superior vision and large brains of primates… snakes could have influenced the development of a distinctively human behavior: our ability to point for the purpose of directing attention. A social activity (no one points when alone) dependent on fast and accurate localization, pointing would have reduced deadly snake bites among our hominin ancestors… snakes may well have given bipedal hominins, already equipped with a non-human primate communication system, the evolutionary nudge to point to communicate for social good, a critical step toward the evolution of language, and all that followed.”
Venn Diagram of the Holy Trinity and the Dragon of Chaos
This stuff is self-satirical but Peterson makes it even more ridiculous by drawing parallels to pop culture, like saying Moses is like Logan or that “the bible is the first hyperlinked text in the history of the world”, an insight that could have come from anime twitter.
His wiki entry has this related quote,
“…the ethical responsibility of a Christian is to imitate Christ, for Peterson meaning “something like you need to take responsibility for the evil in the world as if you were responsible for it … to understand that you determine the direction of the world, whether it’s toward heaven or hell”.
Again, this is protestantism for chuunis. Any serious examination of the legacy of Christianity in Enlightenment Individuality would deal with Kant rather than pushing the argument into deep time and resort to myths. Peterson follows Stephen Hicks here, a professor at a Randian-Libertarian department called ‘Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship’ at Rockford University. According to Hicks, Kant is a Counter-Enlightenment figure responsible for ‘Postmodernism’ because he took the skeptic problematic of correspondence between reason and reality, subject and object, and came down on the side of the subject, severing reason from objective claims.
This argument is the ever-fertile ground of philosophy but don’t expect any insight from Peterson’s confusion. He believes (along with other hyper-rationals) that reason corresponds to some objective reality and at the same time (unlike other hyper-rationals) defines this reality negatively as what lies outside rational order. In the name of reason, he makes an ingenuous appeal to ‘reality out there’ for a nineteenth century romantic fantasy of the enterprising adventurer setting out to tame chaotic reality and bring it under capitalist order.
In his two and a half hour paean to Lion King‘s great depiction of the hero’s journey to restore the status quo (imo Madagascar is more fun and ideologically interesting), it becomes apparent that his style is facile free association like how light represents knowledge and rationality while darkness holds chaos, that the dominant person is represented at the apex of the painting and other such revelations. He interjects these with a spattering of shitty evo speculations like
“Mufasa’s posture is because of increased serotonin of a dominant person.”
“The rational mind has a totalitarian element… that kind of rationality seems to be more left-hemisphere focused… the right hemisphere keeps track of exceptions and fantasies.”
His evolutionary howlers are numerous. He is convinced dominance hierarchies exist among humans just like chimpanzees or other animals,
“You have a counter at the bottom of your brain that keeps track of where you are in terms of status and it bloody well regulates the sensitivity of your emotions… if you’re at the top of hierarchy, than your counter tells you that and your serotonin level goes up – your less sensitive to negative emotions, less impulsive, live longer. your immune system works better.”
He thinks the aquatic ape theory is credible. He makes off-hand comments like “half of our brain is dedicated to visual processing” or that a baby can babble all phonemes but its impossible for adult westerners to pronounce asian phonemes. He makes typical obscurantist statements to emphasize the mystery of the world ready to receive the adventurer like “dream is the birth of thought like artists are the birth of culture” or that in a daydream, “half you are doing it voluntarily and the other half is manifesting itself. It’s like a gateway between you and the collective unconscious.” Talking about morality, he says
“How did we learn how to act? We’ve been trying to do that for 3.5 billion years [??]. There’s a lot of information encoded in our actions and social interactions, way more than we understand.”
Jung at least had better training in interpretation. He self-consciously distanced himself from Freud by repressing the question of sexuality but in Peterson, evolution is the pretext for a regression in sexuality never directly addressed but assumed as fact. He’s trying to be an authority figure that teaches nobility is still possible and sexual success a side effect of striving towards that.
“How about the heroic willingness to encounter the unknown and share that with people? There is no nobler vision than that… if you do that, you will be successful… you will rise up above men, you will be selected by women, you will be admirable and valued.”
He warns against MRA resentment,
“The women think, ‘why should I bother with you if you are not the embodiment of spirit that would move into the unknown and face the leviathan’, which is exactly what she should be saying, and you’re thinking ‘well I don’t want to have to do anything with that but I would like women to like me anyway’, so that doesn’t work out and instead of getting your act together, you say ‘those goddamned women’.”
But relax, you don’t have to go far to face the unknown. Who knew the local frat bash was this dramatic?
“Let’s say you are socially anxious. You go to a party, your heart is beating. Why? the party is a monster. Why? Because the party is judging you. It’s putting you low down the dominance hierarchy and that interferes with your sexual success and that means you are being harshly evaluated by nature itself. You are confronting the dragon of chaos.”
He clarifies his role,
“Educators are surrogate fathers, not mothers because it’s not their job to provide a safe space.”
But that doesn’t mean women are not important touchstones,
“Women are more self-conscious than men. Further, women taught men to be self-conscious… because there is nothing that that makes a man more self-conscious than to be rejected by a woman he desires.”
What really gets Peterson’s goat is not the dragon at the edge of his farm but the dragon that is domesticated and cute. Only he sees how dangerous it continues to be. This is his laughably salty understanding of marxism. Another quote from his wiki entry,
“I will never use words I hate, like the trendy and artificially constructed words “zhe” and “zher.” These words are at the vanguard of a post-modern, radical leftist ideology that… [is] frighteningly similar to the Marxist doctrines that killed at least 100 million people in the 20th century.
As a result of my studies, I have come to believe that Marxism is a murderous ideology. I believe its practitioners in modern universities should be ashamed of themselves for continuing to promote such vicious, untenable and anti-human ideas, and for indoctrinating their students with these beliefs.”
Peterson, much like the rest of the hyper-rational crowd, is above ideology. He has developed immunity to ideology because Jung taught him that “Ideologies are parasites. Their hosts are archetypes. Knowledge of the underlying archetypes can produce immunity against ideological possession.” Communism, according to him, is ‘inorganic’, it arose without mythology so it’s not part of the ‘Western Civilization’. Of course without a mythology to establish a transcendent morality, communism makes people murderous. This reading begs the question of how can anyone develop immunity to an ideology that is not based in myths and archetypes. He considers Nazi propaganda aesthetically admirable, yet regularly flies into a rage any time someone treats communism as less than the final boss dragon.
I think the adulation Peterson has received has nothing to do with his work since his work is in line with bog-standard positivist/ego psychology that gave rise to the american self-help industry although he would like to sell it with european credentials. If he insists on being Jungian, i would gladly classify him as another iteration of new-age mysticism that began with human potential nonsense, all waves given theoretical legitimacy by Jungian revisionism. Peterson is The Secret of alt-right, air-headed self affirmation for chuunis raised to believe in perpetual teenage narcissism.
In the ongoing psychotic derangement of anglo politics where both sides have taken recourse in paranoid conspiracies, Peterson might come across as ‘sane’ but the adulation he has received is precisely because of his voice – it doesn’t matter what he says, what matters is that the whiner’s voice is amplified. His fans identify with the scratchy quavering that signals how emotionally invested he is. Ironically, he believes idpol is a marxist conspiracy to ruin ‘western’ values when there are enough criticisms of idpol from the left. He quixotically fights marxist dragons while actually feuding with neoliberals over his idea of classical liberalism. He represents another ghetto in the idpol slum even though he thinks of himself as a critic of the game.
Here is Peterson’s statement of counter-enlightenment,
“The individual’s sovereignty is the bedrock principle of western civilization. The individual is the eye above the pyramid. The individual is the thing that dominates the set of dominance hierarchies. The individual is the thing that plays not the game but the meta-game. The individual is the thing that revivifies a dead culture. That’s why it’s is sovereign and valuable. That’s the foundation of our legal system and culture. So to think about it as the emergent property of enlightenment ideals is dangerous because that’s 400 years. Who cares about 400 years? This is forever. Forever is a lot more firm grounding than 400 years. It’s not a set of rational ideas. It’s way deeper than that.”
This cold war holdover dadcore Randian libertarianism could have been cute but he is after all a psychologist, and for a psychologist to tell fables and indulge in naive sentimentality to restore a withering ideal is a farce.