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Website_ Episode #021_ The Good Place and Philosophy

Welcome to this week’s episode. Everything is fine. In this episode, I am joined by my good friends Aaron Rabi and Bethany Futrell to discuss NBC’s The Good Place, a show which is a testament to the fact that sitcoms can actually be philosophically robust and make people think deeply about morality and ethics. Who knew? Created by Michael Schur, The Good Place is a fantasy-comedy that explicitly incorporates ideas and concepts from moral and ethical philosophy via the narrative vehicle of a story about a group of people who die and find themselves in an afterlife.

In our conversation, Aaron, Bethany and I discuss moral contractualism, utilitarianism, the famous trolley problem, the moral and ethical implications and consequences of existential crises, the role of moral luck in the lives and actions of the show’s characters, whether or not eternal beings are capable of human morality as we know it, whether it’s morally justifiable to kill sentient A.I in order to upgrade their capabilities, and finally, the question of moral valence and why Aaron is ready and willing to pass moral judgment on Bethany for eating a banana for lunch. We also speculate on possible future directions for the show. Will we get our wish and get to see Jason Mendoza throw a Molotov cocktail at God?

Links:

Aaron Rabi’s podcast “Embrace the Void”: https://voidpod.com/

“Embrace the Void” on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ETVPod

Aaron Rabi’s other podcast “Philosophers in Space”: https://0gphilosophy.libsyn.com/

Bethany Futrell’s “She Talks Atheism” podcast: https://www.patreon.com/SheTalksAtheism and https://twitter.com/shetalksatheism.

Thomas Scanlon 2013 lecture on morality and contractualism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXrVyVqqzJ0.

The Trolley Problem Experiment in Real Life by Vsauce: http://thenerdweb.com/trolley-problem-experiment-in-real-life-by-vsauce/

Join the official discussion group of this podcast at www.facebook.com/groups/aleapofdoubt

Consider supporting me Patreon if you enjoy the show: http://www.patreon.com/aleapofdoubt

Thanks to Jeff Prebeg, Jeanne Ikerd, Torsten Pihl, Chris Watson, and Kim Bojkovsky for being my patrons!

Follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/TheNatheist

The opening clip is an excerpt from the audiobook “God is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens, courtesy of Hachette Audio. Text Copyright 2007 by Christopher Hitchens. Audio production copyright 2007, Hachette Audio. Used with permission.

The opening and ending music is “Jade” by Esther Nicholson and is used under license. The editing was done by Rich Lyons of the “Living After Faith” podcast.

Check out our website: https://reasonrevolution.org

Give us a like on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/reasonrevolution

Website_ EPISODE 18_ UNPACKING JORDAN PETERSON

From the Show Notes:

On this episode, I am joined by Tylor Lovins to discuss the work of Jordan B. Peterson, the controversial clinical psychologist who has in the last two years become something of an academic rockstar. Our discussion mainly focuses on Peterson’s theological and philosophical claims as we try to unpack the complicated and often controversial ideas and concepts Peterson presents in his writings and online lectures and interviews. I have many criticisms of Peterson’s worldview in general, as well as many of his specific ideas and claims, but what I’m primarily interested in doing in this episode is trying to understand Peterson’s ideas and claims both on their own merits and in the context of Peterson’s wider thought so that those of us who are skeptical of his ideas can be in an informed position from which to critique his worldview without strawmanning or misrepresenting him.

My guest Tylor Lovins studied philosophy at Anderson University in Indiana and is one of the founders and contributors to ReasonRevolution.org, where he has written several articles having to do with philosophy, humanism, and the place of religion and theology within those domains. According to his bio on the website, Tylor “has been working on a theory of theological language that will express the meanings of religious statements to secular people.”

Note: If you are or become a patron, you get access to an additional 20 minutes of content for this episode that I’ve cut out of this wide release version. If you want to subject yourself to the torture of hearing me, Nathan Dickey, talk on and on for 20 minutes by myself overanalyzing some of the issues my guest and I covered, then please consider becoming a patron for as little as $1 per month. You can find me at http://www.patreon.com/aleapofdoubt.

Links:

Tylor Lovins, “Why Tell the Truth: On the Curious Notions of Jordan B. Peterson,” https://reasonrevolution.org/introduction-to-jordan-peterson/

Tylor Lovins, “My Disappointment with the Matt Dillahunty and Jordan Peterson Discussion,” https://reasonrevolution.org/my-disappointment-with-the-matt-dillahunty-and-jordan-peterson-discussion/

The opening Jordan Peterson clip is taken from this lecture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6V1eMvGGcXQ

The Sam Harris/Jordan Peterson discussion on truth: https://samharris.org/podcasts/what-is-true/

The Matt Dillahunty/Jordan Peterson discussion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FmH7JUeVQb8

Nathan’s discussion about cultural narratives with Dr. Valerie Tarico on A Leap of Doubt Ep. #014: https://aleapofdoubt.podbean.com/e/014-cultural-narratives-political-tribes-humanity%E2%80%99s-death-star-feat-dr-valerie-tarico/

 

Join the official discussion group of this podcast at www.facebook.com/groups/aleapofdoubt.

Consider supporting me Patreon if you enjoy the show: http://www.patreon.com/aleapofdoubt. Thanks to Jeff Prebeg, Jeanne Ikerd, Torsten Pihl, Chris Watson, and Kim Bojkovsky for being my patrons!

Follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/TheNatheist.

The opening clip is an excerpt from the audiobook “God is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens, courtesy of Hachette Audio. Text Copyright 2007 by Christopher Hitchens. Audio production copyright 2007, Hachette Audio. Used with permission.

The opening and ending music is “Jade” by Esther Nicholson and is used under license.  The editing was done by Rich Lyons of the “Living After Faith” podcast.

 

Transcript

I was trying to sort out the metaphysics in some sense of the Cold War. The question was, was this just a battleground between two hypothetically, equally appropriate belief systems, which could be a moral relativistic perspective, right? Belief systems are arbitrary and so combat between them is in some sense inevitable. And even more to the point, there isn’t any other way around the discontinuity in some sense other than combat or subordination because there’s no way of adjudicating a victor because there’s no such thing as victory if there’s no way of ranking value systems. It’s arbitrary. That’s a frightening prospect because it means that if you have a value system and I have a value system and they’re different, I mean, we can talk, or you can subordinate yourself or I could do the same, but there’s also no reason why we shouldn’t just engage in conflict.

Now, it’s complicated in the modern world, obviously, by the fact that conflict can become so untrammeled that it risks destroying everything and that doesn’t seem necessarily to be in anyone’s best interest, unless your interest happens to be in destroying everything and certainly, there are no shortage of people whose interests tilt in that direction.

–– Jordan Peterson

 

Nathan Dickey:           Hello and welcome to A Leap of Doubt, the podcast hosted by myself, Nathan Dickey, that celebrates questioning, curiosity and free inquiry because the only thing anyone should not doubt is one’s own capacity and ability to doubt, to change one’s mind in light of the new evidence or knowledge newly heard.

The voice you heard at the beginning of this recording belongs to Jordan B. Peterson, clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto and who is the subject of the discussion on this episode.

I’ve titled this episode “Unpacking Jordan Peterson,” and my aim is to do just that, to try to unpack the complicated and often controversial and provocative ideas and concepts Peterson presents in his writings and online lectures and interviews.

I have many criticisms of Peterson’s worldview in general, as well as several of his specific ideas and claims, but what I’m primarily interested in doing in this episode is trying to unpack the ideas of Peterson and get to understand them both on their own merits and in the context of Peterson’s wider thoughts, so that those of us who are skeptical of his ideas can be in an informed positions from which to critic his worldview or learn something from it without strawmanning or misrepresenting him.

Joining me on this unpacking endeavor is Tylor Lovins of ReasonRevolution.org, where he has written several articles having to do with philosophy, humanism and the place of religion and theology within those domains. Welcome to the show, Tylor, and it’s good to have you on.

Tylor Lovins:              Thanks, Nathan. Looking forward to it.

Nathan Dickey:           As our listeners have heard in the opening clip, Jordan Peterson, I think, is someone who has shown himself to be just as vulnerable to existential fear and angst and dread as any of us are in life. In his days as a young student of political science at the peak of the cold war in the early to mid ’80s, he was so distraught and afraid of the prospect of nuclear war to the point where he experienced vivid and frequent nightmares, to the point that he made it his mission to, basically, construct a worldview that provides for him and everyone else a non-arbitrary accounting of and validation for his and, I guess, everyone, although that might be a broad generalization, the need for meaning and purpose to life.

This was made clear in the final chapter of his 1999 textbook, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief, a chapter I found to be incredibly and surprisingly candid and personal for an academic text. What do you think about this so far?

Tylor Lovins:              I think that’s spot on. As we begin here, I just want to say I’m, of course, not a scholar of Peterson’s work. I haven’t studied his work formally in an academic setting, but I have found his work very insightful as I place it within, for instance, the study of the history of religion and existentialism and philosophy of language.

So I think it’s, obviously, definitely true that Peterson has been motivated by this angst that he had from the Cold War and this idea that we could all die any minute and it’s for no good reason. So I think that goes really deep in terms of sometimes the drivers of society are just completely irrational, that what, in some instances, constitutes group violence is just completely irrational behavior. So one way to get beyond that is to question the origins of our behavior in terms of evolution, psychology and things like that.

Nathan Dickey:           To get beyond the standard economic explanation for war and conflict, which I know Peterson, also is very concerned with getting beyond. He spent 15 years, basically, developing what to me is a rather curious and somewhat, although not fully, idiosyncratic synthesis of ideas he accumulated from young Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and, of course, ancient mythology and theology, especially the Bible.

What makes his worldview curious and different is not just the way he has thrown together a range of different ideas from different thinkers and traditions together, but the way he has married that amalgam to conservative philosophies that are rooted in tradition and stability and self-interest and hierarchy and sacred principles. He believes we criticize at our peril. So it’s a strange bringing together of this conservative tradition of order and stability with a chaotic throwing together of different veins of thought in way that at least on a surface level seemed incoherent to a lot of people. And, of course, the terms chaos and order will become very important in this discussion.

This is a manifestation of one way in which Peterson has been seeking a sense of security and stability in his world is going back to the ancient stories, the ancient traditions and mythologies that humanity has grown up with and have stuck around and also trying to get down to the level of the individual instead of merely stopping at humanity as a collective.

Tylor Lovins:              One thing I was thinking about in terms of what you just said is that I think Peterson looks back on the development of the west on religious mythology and things like that because his notion of truth is connected to both that which serves life and he gets that from Nietzsche. His notion that the true is that which endures through time, so that there are things that are true only for this moment, there are things that are true across a few minutes, a few hours, a few days, and then there are things that are true across centuries.

So part of his project is to uncover those things that haven’t heard the most throughout time because he thinks empirically, those are going to be the structures to which we’ve adapted in a Darwinian sense. So I think he’s got an interesting take there on the notion of truth. He gets just beyond mere correspondence, which, of course, that’s how we use the word truth in ordinary language, but it broadens what the correspondence is, too, I think in an interesting way, in a more Darwinian way because it’s about selection and time and reproduction.

Nathan Dickey:           Yeah. This is essentially the way in which he’s running his project of fusing or finding a unity between science and religion. He thinks the answer to finding that unity is in Darwinism, basically a scientific accounting of religion by way of Darwinism as understood by pragmatist philosophy: that which is true enough for the moment is true in some metaphysical sense.

Tylor Lovins:              Yeah, and that notion of pragmatist truth, I guess I would just say from my reading of William James’ essay on truth, he talks about pragmatism as a way to get beyond metaphysics, so that we can have different rationalist notion of truth. For instance, Descartes, we can start with the problem of our own existence and trying to ground it in some kind of metaphysical groundwork of my doubting or my thinking. We could also say, for instance, that everything that I experience is just a projection from my ego and you have solipsism.

So each of these starting points bring with them their own problems in their own conceptions of reality, and what pragmatism I think did in its moment in history was to say, “If the consequences of your beliefs aren’t different in the real world, then there’s really no metaphysical difference between them. There’s no reason that we should be making these distinctions.”

So the whole question for I think the pragmatist is, “Why are we talking about this? Our groundwork should be in empirical reality. It shouldn’t be in some weird thought experiments that can’t be verified, don’t really have meaning for the everyday person,” things like that. I think maybe part of the draw of Peterson in this vein is his pragmatic functionalist interpretation of religious language. I think a lot of people find that massively helpful, especially people who are formally religious and aren’t anymore and don’t have a vendetta against religion.

For instance, Peterson talks about the concept of God as functionally being the human community projected into the future. I think that’s a fascinating idea. A friend of mine, who’s a PhD candidate at Emory, he’s going for theology over there, told me he had received an award of something recently and when he went to accept it, he caught himself thinking to himself, “Great job. You did it.”

So that’s obviously like the superego, for instance, but there’s a sense that we really do have an internal dialog with our self, where we’re not this homogenous whole. We’re not a unified self, but we do have conversation partners. You get this notion somewhat, too, in that HBO series Westworld. In the first season, they bring in that notion where early people thought their thoughts were just God talking to them.

Nathan Dickey:           Because we evolved to be social creatures and that manifests itself in interesting ways even when we’re alone because we have internal dialogs with ourselves and we can conceptualize ourselves as two different people almost in keeping with our need to be part of a social group.

Tylor Lovins:              … and even understand our self as part of the world. It makes our world more intelligible to ourselves when we can carry on dialogs in confident ways with people we know.

Nathan Dickey:           So if I’m understanding Peterson correctly, we evolved to perceive a very narrow set of phenomena that our brains and our nervous systems can take in very little bits of reality at a time that don’t even begin to touch the complexity underneath. That’s the high-resolution direct experience of the world. Underneath that, there are increasingly lower and lower resolution realities and truths, to use his framing of it, that underlie our direct experience and that touch back to ancient roots in evolution, which he takes far back beyond even our origins on the savanna to-

Tylor Lovins:              Lobsters.

Nathan Dickey:           Lobsters, yes. These lower-resolution images that underpin our experience basically constitute the grammar of meaning and this grammar is, basically, the stories that humanity has told each other and grown up with over many thousands of years.

So his conception of God then, is that a unified humanity in the future or is it … I don’t know if he’s more concerned with individualism in the future or he’s more concerned with a united humanity in the future comes to full potential or realization or whatever.

Tylor Lovins:              He’s got a few different functional interpretations of the concept of God. So that’s not the only one he has. I think he also uses God and actually modern theology is trending in this direction, but as talk about God, as talk about the limits of discourse and how we can relate to each other beyond the limits of discourse. So God in some way points to a beyond that we never have actualized, but that is possible, so that God is pure possibility in some sense.

Peterson talks about God as this notion that we can negotiate with the future, that my present circumstances and, for instance, my current suffering isn’t necessitated. For instance, in the Old Testament, in the priestly writings, you get this notion of God as a being that punishes you if you don’t follow the laws God has given us. So that is real, is invaded, is women and children are murdered just because a select few, maybe the kings or something didn’t obey the dictates of God. So the solution is to get back to the dictates of God and follow them more closely.

In the New Testament – and I think this is where Peterson is getting his notion of God from – you get a different notion of faith. A theologian, Gerhard Ebeling, has talked about this. The Old Testament notion of faith was just trusting God. We follow God’s dictates and then the best possible society will come from that.

The New Testament notion of faith is something like a precursor to the notion of responsibility. When Jesus heals a blind man or something in the New Testament, he doesn’t say, “Your love of God has healed you, your obedience to the commandments of God has healed you,” but he uses the word “faith” in a strange way: “Your faith has healed you.” And then the blind man can see again.

It’s this notion that despite my present circumstances, I can choose my comportment for reality. I don’t have to be resentful. I can declare being as good, tell the truth and live with the consequences and say, “Despite what comes, telling the truth is the best possible way to live.” So yeah, that’s an interesting way to look at it.

Another thing you might find interesting is this comparison I’ve been thinking about for a while now. Last year, no, it’s two years ago, my wife and I went skiing in Colorado for the first time. We were both very awful. We had never been before. It took me two hours to get down the first hill because they didn’t have a bunny hill open, so I learned on the go there.

Nathan Dickey:           Well, I had the same exact experience when I was 16, only that was on a snowboard. That was probably almost worse in my case.

Tylor Lovins:              Yeah, for sure. You don’t have a definite use of your legs. One time, my wife went down the hill and she told me it was starting to get shaky and I was about to crash, but all of a sudden, I just told myself, “Just remember how to ski. Just keep your feet parallel to each other. You can slide to the side if you want to slow down. You’re okay.” She told me she thought this to herself as she was about to crash, and she didn’t crash. That worked for her.

So after that trip, her and I went back up to our hometown in northern Indiana and there was this Christmas Eve service that we attended. It was in this barn and they were singing Christmas carols and stuff. At the end of it, the pastor’s wife started talking about how three years ago she was driving home at night at 2:00 in the morning and she was just getting really tired and the road became blurry and she closed her eyes for a few seconds. When she woke up, she was on the rock side on the road and a semi was coming at her.

She said she heard God tell her, “Don’t touch the steering wheel,” and so she didn’t, and she skidded along the side of the semi and pulled over to the side of the road and she was fine. So she attributes that to God. I wonder what the … Phenomenologically, obviously, there are differences there. The pastor’s wife thinks God saved her from an imminent death or crash, but it seems like my wife had the same experience, but she didn’t attribute it to God.

One thing that’s interesting about that is I bet if I bring that story up to my wife today, she wouldn’t remember it, right? That’s just a piece of nonsense that in the moment doesn’t mean anything to her for the future, but the pastor’s wife, that changed her life.

So I think there’s this notion about the grammar of religious experience that these are orienting experiences toward reality as a whole. When I think about God, when I pray to God, et cetera, what I’m doing is orienting myself toward reality, toward life as a whole, come what may, when people talk about things going according to God’s will.

One philosopher of religion puts it that what they’re doing is saying, “Despite what happens, I need to be okay with this.” So it’s a way of dealing with suffering and tragedy and things like that. Anyway, I think that’s another perspective from which Peterson is working.

Nathan Dickey:           From my perspective, it’s the coping mechanism and the concept of God is so embedded in our psyche because it’s been around for so long. We notice it when atheists, such as myself, catch ourselves saying, “Oh, my God!” or “Oh, God!” We use that as an exclamation and we say things like, “Please, God,” fill in the blank when we’re exasperated. I think that on a more trivial level, that’s the same manifestation of whatever it is that God means to us, whether we believe in him or her or not. I’m wondering what the usefulness of the concept of God will be in the future.

Tylor Lovins:              Yeah, definitely.

Nathan Dickey:           Post-enlightenment. Peterson would call me an Enlightenment rationalist thinker who’s bounded to rationalist thought. He would call me a materialist, realist. It’s similar to what he charged Sam Harris of being in the episode where they went back and forth for two hours trying to agree on truth.

When I think about truth, I’m not sure if I would get as hung up as Harris was, because I’m on Sam Harris’ side when it comes to epistemology. I’m not sure where I stand on ontology because truth to me has a deeper philosophical significance than mere – well, not “mere” because it’s important – but it has philosophical implications that go beyond just the concept of reality or the concept of fact.

Tylor Lovins:              Yeah, definitely.

Nathan Dickey:           I know Peterson in that dialog was trying to get across that he believes truth is what serves life and truth has to be – and even reality to him has to be – embedded in a moral framework, not the moral framework within a scientific or realist framework. Is there something to this? Do you think about truth the same way that it has philosophical implications beyond just fact or reality? People who use it or have used it seriously means something that gets a little deeper.

Tylor Lovins:              Yes. This is interesting. Of course, a lot of people use truth in a lot of different ways, right? The question for me in some sense is, “What level of analysis are we coming at it?” Daniel Dennett has this hilarious line in Intuition Pumpsthat, “Nobody can define what a haircut is, but we still go and get them every day.” For some people, will look at you and say, “That’s a haircut?”

One thing I come back to in this discussion is, so if I make the claim my wife is mad at me for not doing the dishes, I’m on the level of intentionality there, right? So the question of epistemology here, “How do I know that my wife is mad at me?” Well, she gives me a certain look. Her face has this certain contortion. She uses a certain tone. Maybe she says my middle name or something. Is that true? That’s one level of analysis.

Another is let’s wait until we have a unified theory of quantum mechanics and general relativity and then I’ll tell you if that’s true. That seems absurd, right? There is a notion of truth operating there, this mechanistic, deterministic, which is great and useful, but I think what needs to happen here is just a general recognition of the complexity of the situations we find ourselves in, right? We use very different notions of truth depending on what we’re talking about.

So I think when Peterson was talking about truth in that discussion with Harris, he’s on the level of intentionality. We’re human beings. We have intentions. We use language for certain purposes. We use truth, therefore, for certain purposes. That just seems on the face of the true, but empirically.

I think what Harris was doing was saving or constraining the notion of truth to be used only within the scientific discourse, which I think is a legitimate move. That’s great, but to say Peterson’s notion of truth is just somehow idiosyncratic or nonsense, I think is just both anachronistic and dishonest in some ways. It’s unobservant, at least. Harris’ notion of truth as fact derived from Locke in the seventeenth century. Before that, teleology was always connected to truth, because the west is a product of Christendom in some senses. But Locke was really the first person to separate teleology from truth.

What Peterson is doing is reconnecting it with teleology. Teleology from Aristotle, this notion that there are aims toward which certain ideas are fulfilled or beings, things like that.

Nathan Dickey:           This is one area of strong disagreement I have with Peterson is the alignment of teleology with fact or reality or truth.

Tylor Lovins:              What do you think about that in terms of what I just said, in light of the different levels of analysis we function at?

Nathan Dickey:           At the level of analysis where we hit a wall at a certain point and can’t get beyond, so the level of the very small, the quantum, or the very large at the cosmic level where we haven’t really penetrated yet, I’m not sure that that touches on whether or not there’s purpose inherent in the universe as a whole.

Tylor Lovins:              No, no. Maybe framing it this way would be more helpful. When Daniel Dennett talks about his detractors on his philosophy of consciousness, he says one of the things is that they don’t recognize when we try to explain things, we really have three levels of explanation. So one is the cause and effect, right? We can do the chemical. We can even expound that up to the cosmic level like what you’re talking about. Then we have the intentional stance, where we confer intentions onto other people. We have beliefs about other people’s beliefs and then we act, we say things in light of those beliefs.

Then the third is design, so that we can reverse engineer what has happened and come up with a functional interpretation. For instance, evolution would be on the design level of explanation. How I think about this is Harris was doing the causal explanation or the causal function of the notion of truth, which is great. We need that, right? It brought us the modern world, modern technology. I think what Peterson is doing is talking on the level of design.

Nathan Dickey:           So reverse engineering, what exactly?

Tylor Lovins:              From what he calls a Darwinian perspective, truth would be that notion that what we have believed in the past has served us in some way as living things.

Nathan Dickey:           Because we’re still here and the stories and the narratives have survived, and we still tell those same stories unconsciously in many ways.

Tylor Lovins:              Right. So Bret Weinstein has this theory that the function of religious language is that it’s “metaphorically true, literally false.” So there is some Darwinian explanation there to be had, I think.

Nathan Dickey:           This ties into, I’ve heard Peterson say several times outside of that Harris discussion, he talks about modernists, critics and disbelief of religious narrative and mythology. He says, “No, they actually are true.” I think when he says things like that, that can potentially confuse a lot of people who come to listen or even watching his lectures for the first time.

Tylor Lovins:              Sure.

Nathan Dickey:           That looking at or trying to understand what level of analysis he’s working from can illuminate what exactly he means when he says things like that.

Tylor Lovins:              I think this is something people just aren’t doing with Peterson for some reason. I’m not sure. He’s like the book nobody has read, but everyone shits on. It’s like … the Twilightseries or something like that. So he’s a book nobody has read.

Nathan Dickey:           Is he somebody you think that people should read and should take seriously? I think he needs to be taken seriously and he needs to be read and understood. If for no other reason than that, he has made an impact-

Tylor Lovins:              Absolutely.

Nathan Dickey:           … a really strong and powerful impact in recent years in a very short time. He spent most of his career being relatively unknown. He came to light because of a relatively obscure piece of Canadian legislation. What do you think is going on in culture and society as a whole that controversy can elevate somebody to that status of an academic superhero, which rarely ever happens to any academics?

Tylor Lovins:              Well, this is really interesting, maybe too interesting to talk about that it’s going to take too long.

Nathan Dickey:           This is the aspect of his world and his belief that might be worth spending brief time on, but there are definitely more interesting things in this. This is background information.

Tylor Lovins:              Oh, yeah. Well, one thing that’s going on, so I think I’ve been getting more plugged in to the online atheist community. One thing that I’m noticing is that people who are … I hate this word, influencers. What an awful word. Or another, here’s another word that should be thrown in the fire, thought leaders. People who are thought leaders or influencers aren’t really reading that much. What they’re doing is creating these subcultures where everyone watches the same YouTube videos, and everything becomes anachronistic because we’re all just responding to the people we only watch on YouTube and nobody’s reading anything past, I don’t know, five years old or something.

So I think part of the backlash against Peterson is that people aren’t really acquainted with philosophy. If they were, they would see every philosopher, things … Well, what makes a first-time philosopher in some sense is that they think from first principles. That’s what Peterson is trying to do with Darwinism and the problem with suffering.

I think one way that Peterson has really blown up is this is a guy that’s really well-read and he’s bringing it to YouTube. He’s blowing up that culture where everything is just a response to a current event or something. Peterson is a response to a current event, but from a 400-year-old perspective.

Nathan Dickey:           It’s actually interesting that you talk about the current event angle because to Peterson, he conceives of or he views the Enlightenment as a current event almost. He views it as such a baby, such a baby or such a toddler in comparison to everything that’s done before to the point, I think, where he’s a little bit too dismissive of the Enlightenment, in my opinion, but I can see his point that the Enlightenment is a very new thing and we’re just getting accustomed to doing something we didn’t evolve to do, which is just think rationally and logically about the world.

I’m not sure if Peterson would say this, but maybe a charitable interpretation on my part of him would be that we’re so new at this that it remains to be seen where the Enlightenment will take us and what its relationship will be to religion and whether it can supersede the grammar of meaning, which he thinks religion is.

Tylor Lovins:              That’s great. Yeah, that’s a great commentary. One thing that just plugs in with this very well, in terms of the Enlightenment being relatively new, in terms of human evolution and things like that, is this book Thinking Fast and Slow. I don’t know if you’ve heard of this.

Nathan Dickey:           Is this Daniel Kahneman?

Tylor Lovins:              Yeah. He talks about we have fast thinking and slow thinking parts of our brain. We generally operate on a level of fast thinking, which is just intuition. We accomplish tasks by not thinking about them. Our slow thinking, our rational side comes into play, basically, only when our automated part of our brain can’t deal with the problem at hand.

One of the things I took away from Kahneman’s book is that we think rationally usually either only so that we don’t have to think rationally again, that we can get back to the automated processes, or to rationalize our behavior, which isn’t to say to ground our behavior in reason, but from the perspective of the present looking back to make it reasonable to ourselves, which I think that’s a fascinating insight. That’s something Peterson is playing with, I think.

Nathan Dickey:           The automated orientation we have I think can be to our detriment, which is why I think the Enlightenment is important. I don’t necessarily see the utility going forward of religious mythology and storytelling in the face of our technological power. Peterson sees it the opposite way, that we need this underlying mythological morality that we grew up with to ground ourselves in wisdom when it comes to technology that can destroy us all.

I think it gets a little bit too close to concepts that are useful in the face of technology and science. I think there’s a point where we will be able to grow up and grow beyond the stories, but that we won’t necessarily lose them, that it will still be around.

Tylor Lovins:              I’m curious why you think about this in the light of perspective. So Peterson doesn’t go to church, right? He doesn’t appear to be a Bible thumper. He’s using religious texts to not use them anymore, but to abstract a rationalist perspective that we can put at the center of our discourse. I’m not sure that he’s calling us all to be religious again.

Nathan Dickey:           Right. I wouldn’t say that either. I think he places a lot of emphasis on religion and mythology that won’t necessarily prove to be useful in the future. Maybe it’s useful now and maybe we can learn something from it, but-

Tylor Lovins:              There’s an interesting opener for B. F. Skinner’s book Beyond Freedom and Human Dignity and he says the sciences no longer refer back to Plato and Aristotle when they want to understand the world. Those are not standard texts. If somebody wanted to know what science was, you would give them a book by Carl Sagan or something, right?

If we want to think about the human situation or the human condition or what it means to be human, all three of these topics I think are about the same thing, then we go back to Aristotle or Plato. We go back to guys who have been dead for thousands of years. There’s something very interesting about that, I think. I’m just not sure … Yeah, obviously, we don’t have a theory of consciousness or anything like that.

Nathan Dickey:           I completely agree with Peterson when he says that everything we know about consciousness can fit inside a thimble.

Tylor Lovins:              We have next to no idea about what it means to be human. It seems to be something like if we take modern philosophy as a signpost, something like we aren’t determined in some ways and from the sciences something like, “Well, we actually do have cognitive biases. We have emotions. We are socially conditioned,” so there’s some interplay that we don’t have a unified theory of yet.

Nathan Dickey:           I guess what I maybe mainly objecting to is that, for example, Peterson writes in his book Maps of Meaningthat the mythic universe is a place to act, not a place to perceive. So the ancient storytellers who formulated these stories – Jung considered it this way, too – that they weren’t trying to construct a scientific cosmology of the universe. They were writing what could be called a moral cosmology. I’m not sure if that was always the case. I know the Old Testament writers for example … if you read, for example, Robert Wright’s The Evolution of God, he traces the evolution of God throughout history. And in the Jewish and Hebrew traditions specifically, not necessarily universally, God was originally conceived as a very human-like anthropomorphic being, who had a direct and physical influence on the physical world. I don’t necessarily think that it’s always applicable to say that mythology derives from something that’s intangible or beyond the capacity of humans to scrutinize and take apart and critique.

Tylor Lovins:              No, definitely not. I think what Jung and Peterson are talking about there is something Feuerbach that said, for instance: God is a projection of our human capacities writ large, so that we can think about them and deal with them in some ways without making it personal.

Nathan Dickey:           So this goes back to the very beginning of our discussion, where we talked about the conception of God as human potential.

Tylor Lovins:              Yes.

Nathan Dickey:           Where does the individual fit into that? Is the individual God or is humanity …? What is the role of the collective play? It’s something that Peterson is not very friendly towards, or at least he’s very wary of putting an emphasis on humanity as a collective group and very concerned about emphasizing the individual. Where is the transition point between individual and society and how should we build a society that can cooperate and work together while also respecting the individual?

Tylor Lovins:              Yeah. Gees! There’s a lot of directions there. Maybe one way to really start this I think is to say you can see the development or the permanence of the individual in the New Testament mainly because Paul has this conception where you’re not righteous, you’re not declared righteous by God because you follow the law, but because you have faith. Faith is something that is mine and nobody can see in some senses for Paul.

Nathan Dickey:           Peterson uses it in the Kierkegaardian sense of, “Well, we’re here, we exist, we have this existential angst in the face of this apparently uncaring universe and so we might as well try to act as if something out there cared and just play the game of ‘as if,’ if I’m understanding Kierkegaard correctly.

Tylor Lovins:              I’m not sure if I’d agree with that, but it is an interesting take. One thing I think both Peterson and Kierkegaard do is they have this return to Stoicism, where Kierkegaard talks about the knight of faith where one of the moves of faith, being a move of reservation or a separation between the self and everything around a self. He talks about in this present age, for instance, of the development of an internal life or an internal dialog.

I think that’s what Paul was trying to get out in talking about faith is being suffered from the law, but also fulfillment of the law. We have these abstract codes and rules that we grow up with, for instance, our parents give us or society or schools, that try to mold us into a competent actor in the social world when we’re older, right?

It does that because we internalize the rules and the language, and those rules and that language become part of our internal monologue, like what we were talking about earlier. I think the transition from the Old to New Testament is this recognition. Paul talks about the law being written on the heart, so that’s interesting.

Where the individual comes in, I think, especially in the New Testament, is at that moment of faith as opposed to obedience to the law. You get this marrying of stoic logos, which is this notion that the universe is ordered and has a teleology like we were talking about earlier. You get that with this notion that God has a will and God can’t be controlled and is arbitrary. That marriage makes Christianity sets the philosophical groundwork. What that does is say, “Well, if we only just have the Greeks, we would think that, ‘Well, the logos is in me, but the logos has prepared a place for me in civilization.’” For instance, Aristotle thought women and slaves weren’t endowed by the logos with reason, so they have their appropriate places in society. Very bad philosophy.

Greeks stopped that, though. That’s what the logos was. The important thing is the marrying of the logos with the arbitrary will because then when it’s internalized, we get this notion that, “Oh, I have a unique standpoint in world history, where I can bring together disparate ideas. I can make unique choices toward ends that are good for everyone, good for myself, for instance, and this wasn’t preordained by the social collective or by nature.” So you get the fundamental philosophy for individualism right there, I think.

Nathan Dickey:           The logos, as conceived of as a spoken word or a spoken word of truth that’s clarity and truth, is a projection of purpose and order onto the external universe from within the individual. That’s the sense I get when Peterson talks about logos.

Tylor Lovins:              I think that’s the Christian interpretation of logos, for sure. The logos pre-Christianity, this is something I was trying to get out, was it was identified as synonymous with nature. For instance, whereas the structuring of society and Christendom attempted to reflect the will of God, not just the cosmos or not just what we thought was natural at its best at least. The structuring of society for the Greeks was in accordance with nature. You get this in all of Hellenistic philosophy. The good is that which is in-tune with nature.

Nathan Dickey:           How does that Greek notion differ from, say, Peterson’s concept of the competence hierarchy, which he understands to be ancient and immovable and cannot be eradicated?

Tylor Lovins:              At least at this point.

Nathan Dickey:           This is something I fundamentally question Peterson on is the permanence and immovability of this notion of a competence hierarchy.

Tylor Lovins:              I think one of the places he’s coming from there is, again, that notion of truth. The things that are most true are the things that have endured the longest. So he traces those hierarchies back 300 million years with the lobsters, which he says pre-dates trees. You can see the hierarchy play out because when a lobster loses in a battle, it lacks the substance, I think serotonin maybe. When it loses a battle, its brain literally shrivels, and it grows a new one. When it wins a battle, it gets the same substance release that we do when we win games, when we achieve things in sports and things like that. So there’s an interesting at least surface level of connection there. I think his notion of competence hierarchies is just a real estate-articulation that we are socially conditioned, but it’s actually bringing the social conditioned-ness down to the Darwinian level, and that move in itself I think is interesting and needs to happen to progress, for instance, social, psychology and sociology and anthropology in general.

If we don’t make that move, then what we say is what Peterson always rails against, that actually, there are an infinite number of interpretations we can make on reality, we can make on social relations. So there’s no reason that we have any of these interpretations. Therefore, we have these interpretations so that we can have power. Truth claims are actually claims to power. So to dialog with someone who disagrees with you about the truth is actually to exceed to their game of power and their notion of truth.

Nathan Dickey:           This is the postmodern dogma.

Tylor Lovins:              As he perceives it, yeah.

Nathan Dickey:           I would agree in this antipathy towards postmodernism and the way it can potentially destroy rational discourse and scientific endeavor. I’m not so sure about the permanence aspect of dominance hierarchies because I think that one thing, for instance, that I’m really interested and fascinated by is transhumanism and its relation with cultural evolution in working side by side with that process to the point where we can … Because we’ve developed consciousness, regardless of whether we understand why or how, we are able to, in effect with our technology, take evolution into our own hands and guide it artificially.

I think that enables us to, with the help of philosophy and enlightenment values, it allows us to question and doubt the usefulness or the value of social conditioning, however old and ancient it is. Peterson might say, “We touch it and we tear down at our peril and we better watch out if we try to interfere with it.” I would call that a fundamentally flawed way of and potentially, not necessarily dangerous, but a stagnant way of looking at our own potential as species or a defeatist way of understanding our potential as species.

Tylor Lovins:              Maybe we’re understanding him differently there because I even understand that claim of permanence to go back to his notion of the individual as standing like the hero stands on the border between chaos and order and from chaos creates a new organized order, a novel order. So I don’t think he would disagree with you that we can take what has been given to us from the past and make something new with it. I don’t think he’s against that. That seems to be his notion of hero.

Nathan Dickey:           Right, because he says that the hero archetype and the optimal place to be as a human being is on the border or on the cusp between chaos and order with a foot in each realm and that too much order can lead to tyranny and totalitarianism. Too much chaos can bring you down and just degrade you as a human being and that you need a balance, an optimal balance of both to be healthy and to thrive and flourish as an individual.

Maybe this is where I still personally am confused or misunderstanding something about Peterson and his devotion to traditional conservative values of the rule of men, the role of women, the role of the nuclear family, that kind of thing. This is getting into volatile territory because this is the area of Peterson’s thought that’s most susceptible and prone to people taking him out of context and assigning views to him that he doesn’t necessarily hold. I think he does have an adherence to traditional values that I think we can grow beyond.

Tylor Lovins:              One reason he’s aligned with conservative values, I think, is because as a clinician and as a scientist, he tries to look at why these institutions are set up in the first place, what are the evolutionary truces we’ve made, so that we can in some ways establish equilibrium between reproduction and violence and things like that and his experience from doing therapy with business leaders, who work 80 hours a week. So he knows people personally, who are at these higher-level jobs, for instance, and he understands their drives in some ways.

I’m not sure I would align … I haven’t heard him talk about the nuclear family or anything. So I’m not sure I would align him with traditional conservatism as a starting point.

Nathan Dickey:           It’s just a consequence of his larger worldview.

Tylor Lovins:              Yeah, I think so.

Nathan Dickey:           It follows from the worldview he has constructed over the years rather than being the launching point.

Tylor Lovins:              Yes. I guess one more thing I’ll say about that is just because I’m not a psychologist, for instance, I haven’t read a lot of, except for Maps of Meaning, of what he’s written on psychology. I’m just more interested in his philosophical underpinnings, less of his political commitments and more so why he makes up local stances he does.

So in that recent Munk Debate, one of the ways he framed his political commitments is by saying he thinks there are two fundamentally different low-resolution views we’re taking in the west right now about politics and our future as a society. One of those views say that the individual is primary and the other says group identification is.

I think he thinks group identification doesn’t work because of the first principles he has and this notion of the individual coming out of our mythology. I think that’s why he takes it. I don’t think he’s a conservative first and then looks at things. I think he’s reasoned to that position, even though I’m not a conservative in the least.

Nathan Dickey:           Yeah, I would agree that his philosophical, historical, theological views are a lot more interesting to grapple with because like I said, his political positions are really surface level, really prone to volatile heated discussions that go nowhere on the Internet.

I was hoping to find a smooth seg into his discussion with Matt Dillahunty, but I don’t think I’ll have an opening for a smooth segue. You have written about your concern with the secular humanist community, not talking about religion in the way they could to make it better, to make the discourse better.

Tylor Lovins:              I say this as a secular humanist, by the way. I’m not religious, even though I read religious texts because I’m interested in how people understand themselves and why people do the things they do. So the Dillahunty debate for me symbolized what’s wrong with, in some sense, this online atheism and in another sense, the discourse within secular humanism of our religion. I think that discourse is actually changing and it’s moving in a healthy direction.

In particular, I was disappointed by how Dillahunty was just hung up on the question of the existence of God. One reason is because he assumes he knows what most religious people mean when they talk about the reality of God. So that I think the question of the existence of God is even distinct from the question of the reality of God.

Peterson made this point in that debate where he says you can’t really draw a bright line between what is useful and what is real, at least from a first-person perspective. Another issue I have with Dillahunty in particular, I think he was having that conversation in good faith. Of course, he seems like a genuine guy, but I think his projection of southern Baptist, fundamentalist beliefs about God onto global Christianity, in particular, is absurd. Most people are not southern Baptists and fundamentalism, in particular, is an American phenomenon.

Nathan Dickey:           I’m not sure I would go the route of saying that Dillahunty thinks that fundamentalism is a global or even a majority understanding of Christianity and religion worldwide. I think he’s interested in the question of whether or not God exists, not necessarily because he thinks that that’s the way all religious people conceive of God, but just independent of that.

To me, asking and grappling with the question, “Does God exist?” is a more useful starting point before we get to talking about particular conceptions people have, for example, the idea God is wholly other and that we can’t even address it rationally at all. I think it’s more useful if we’re having a discussion between people who have opposing viewpoints to start with a question like, “What does it mean to exist? Can we agree about that?” And then, “What is your idea of God?” And then ask, “Can we do something with that idea of God?” And then maybe then we can ask, “Does that God exist?” I think that’s actually a useful starting point, which doesn’t mean that we don’t also need to talk about religion on the level of phenomenology and what most religious people mean when they talk about God versus the mere existence of God.

Tylor Lovins:              Yeah. One philosopher of religion has said – and I wrote about this a little bit – that just because a person is religious doesn’t mean they have anything interesting to say about religion. For instance, I can play guitar on a basic level. I know F, C, D, E, G, so 80% of songs are open to me, but I don’t know anything about music theory. I couldn’t tell you why they play the songs in a certain way they do. I can’t tell you anything about the chords. I know next to nothing about music and the guitar, but I’m competent in playing the guitar to most people because I know the basic chords.

So I think in the discussion, for instance, we should also draw a distinction between people who are competent in the religious rituals and they can say their beliefs, how their community articulates them in a competent way, but I don’t think it follows that they, therefore, comprehend their religious views from other perspective, so that then they could actually have an intelligible and interesting dialog with, for instance, the scientists.

So someone who is rational, for instance, I think they should really be careful with how they look at religious language because you could just impose whatever your preconceptions are about religion onto them. For instance, I had an interchange with Dillahunty on Twitter. I brought up this notion of existence versus reality.

I had said, “If you ask religious people if you can get closer to God by climbing a mountain, they’ll say, ‘No.’ If you ask them, ‘If we can’t see God because we don’t have the strongest microscopes or telescopes,’ they’ll say, ‘No.’ If we say, ‘Why can’t we hear God? Is it because our ears just aren’t attuned to God’s voice?’ Then they’ll say, ‘No,’ because even though they see God, they hear God, they get close to God, they’re not talking in a physical sense.”

So the notion of the existence of God, and theologians have pointed this out, isn’t about physical reality. I brought this up to Dillahunty and he said, “I don’t think you’ve done any time engaging with fundamentalists and evangelicals or you would have been told that your question is absurd because God is everywhere.”

Unfortunately, that’s precisely my point. They’re using the notion of the existence of God in a way Dillahunty isn’t. God’s not a being somewhere that can be located, right? God is everywhere. So what does that mean? What does that mean that God is everywhere?

Nathan Dickey:           Even the fundamentalists will say, “God is everywhere and that he can’t be seen through mortal means.” I think this hasn’t always been the case. There was an ancient conception of God as a more or less physical being, who may not be spiritual, but at least can manifest physically, who did have a specific location in heaven, who had a throne. That conception has evolved as we’ve learned more about the natural world to where we’ve exaggerated or projected outward and maximized in our minds all the best attributes that we have.

So we know things, we see things, we have some strength. We maximized those to the greatest imaginable degree and called that God and called that omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence. The concept of God, again, has evolved, but it did start out as a very anthropomorphic conception, if I’m understanding the history of religion correctly.

Tylor Lovins:              Yes. Eliade, who writes The Sacred and the Profaneand one of the founders of religious studies had said the notion of the physical manifestation of the sacred, he called that a theophany, but it wasn’t that the physical and the sacred were always one and the same, that actually, the sacred was equivalent to the physical, but just that the sacred could appear anywhere in the physical at any time, but they were still distinct. The existence of a physical object was still separate from the sacred, but the sacred could still become incarnate or however you want to talk about it in the physical object. So I think it’s a still a little different from just a simple equivocation there.

Nathan Dickey:           I’m going to chew on that a while because these are complex topics that I was hoping to be challenged by and I’m not disappointed. In closing, is there any closing thoughts you want to leave viewers with in regard to either Peterson himself or beyond Peterson that you want to leave my viewers with, who are predominantly skeptic, rationalist-oriented?

Tylor Lovins:              One of the criticisms I see with Peterson a lot, which really just does not make sense to me, is that he uses language idiosyncratically. That, to me, just indicates that you haven’t tried to understand them. Yeah, idiosyncrasy is a trait to anyone who has an internal dialog with themselves. The point is to come at a dialog with them, right? Just because you don’t understand something on the first day doesn’t mean there isn’t something there to be understood.

Nathan Dickey:           This goes back to what you were saying about, not in a literal sense, but in a metaphor sense that people haven’t read things past five years ago or-

Tylor Lovins:              That’s concerning to me. Another thing is that most of the information I see people share about Peterson is second source information like that awful, disgusting New York Times article on him recently about enforced monogamy.

Nathan Dickey:           Was that the one with the headline that he’s a custodian of the patriarch?

Tylor Lovins:              Yeah, that was insane. He wrote a response to that, by the way. I would say to be true to the spirit of skepticism and rationalism, we have to be skeptical of our first reactions to things and people. We have to be skeptical of our own motivations for either knocking on someone we haven’t really put in the effort to understand or even knocking on them after we have understood them. What’s the point of that? What kind of dialog are you trying to have? What kind of person are you trying to be? There’s a lot of things with Peterson I don’t agree with.

Nathan Dickey:           I’m the same way. I probably disagree with Peterson more strongly than you, maybe. I’m not sure, because that’s not the point of our discussion is to disagree with him, it’s to understand him. I would also say that outrage isn’t the answer to moving forward as a society and realizing what we want to make happen.

Tylor Lovins:              It seems like social media engagement is more so about separating ourselves from others, but at the same time becoming more like other people than it is about trading with concepts and making the world more intelligible to ourselves, which is unfortunate. So the notion that we should understand what a person means before we project our own understandings onto them, we should take that to be central, I think, to any kind of first steps to understanding another person.

Nathan Dickey:           On that note, I want to recommend one of my own podcasts that has a direct bearing on this one and that’s Episode #14, where I talked with psychologist Valerie Tarico. We talked about political narratives and why some progressives are tearing each other apart, which is the name of her article. We talked about what she calls the Ancestral Story, which is the conservative tradition and its origins and history, which I would place Peterson into, the Ancestral Story as she describes in her article.

Also, there are two emerging liberal stories, the Social Liberal story, which the classical liberals would fall into for the most part, and then one that’s emerged in the past few years, the Structural Oppression story, which is more interested in tearing down everything because of the injustice they perceive instead of merely revising it and making it better as the social liberals want to do. That’s an insight into why there’s such a divisive and hostile environment online. So I want to recommend that discussion I had in relation to this. This might shed some light on why I’m talking about Peterson specifically.

So thank you, Tylor Lovins, for joining me for this discussion.

Tylor Lovins:              Yeah. Thanks.

Nathan Dickey:           I really enjoyed it. I think we got somewhere interesting. I hope we did. I hope the listeners are still here. So thank you.

 

 

Website_ EPISODE 17_ END-OF-THE-WORLD BLUES IN LARS VON TRIER'S _MELANCHOLIA_

This week’s episode is a review/analysis of Melancholia, a 2011 film written and directed by the controversial Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier. My guest for this discussion is my Danish friend and fellow Von Trier enthusiast Niels Böge Nothdurft.

We discuss Melancholia as an apocalyptic end-of-the-world movie in both a physical and a psychological sense. The movie follows the lives of two sisters, Justine and Claire, living in the final days and hours of planet Earth as it faces imminent collision with a giant rogue planet, dubbed “Melancholia,” that has emerged from behind the sun. Melancholia is also the name given in the psychological literature of a form of severe and debilitating depression, a condition suffered by the character of Justine (played by Kirsten Dunst), who unlike her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) experiences a sense of newfound liberation and peace from her depression as the end of the world approaches. Claire, on the other hand, is suddenly and for the first time in her luxurious and controlled life confronted by the extreme discomfort of existential angst. We discuss the movie’s use of symbolism, both medieval and modern, and as an allegory for depression, ennui, and existential angst. We also ask the question the movie invites all viewers to ask: How would we react to the knowledge that all life on earth, along with the planet itself, was going to end abruptly? Do we see ourselves in the reactions of the characters, and if so, why?

 

Links:

Niels Nothdurft’s blog on the Trolling with Logic website: http://www.trollingwithlogic.com/euro-skeptic/

Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia” official website: http://www.melancholiathemovie.com/

“Melancholia” on IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1527186/

Tim Matts and Aidan Tynan, “The Melancholy of Extinction: Lars von Trier’s ‘Melancholia’ as an Environmental Film,” M/C Journal 15, no. 2 (2012), http://www.journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/491.

Sigmund Freud, “Mourning and Melancholia” (1917): http://www.columbia.edu/itc/hs/medical/clerkships/psych/misc/articles/freud.pdf

 

Join the official discussion group of this podcast at www.facebook.com/groups/aleapofdoubt.

Consider supporting me Patreon if you enjoy the show: http://www.patreon.com/aleapofdoubt. Thanks to Jeff Prebeg, Jeanne Ikerd, Torsten Pihl, Chris Watson, and Kim Bojkovsky for being my patrons!

Follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/TheNatheist.

The opening clip is an excerpt from the audiobook “God is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens, courtesy of Hachette Audio. Text Copyright 2007 by Christopher Hitchens. Audio production copyright 2007, Hachette Audio. Used with permission.

The opening and ending music is “Jade” by Esther Nicholson and is used under license.  The editing was done by Rich Lyons of the “Living After Faith” podcast.

Website_ EPISODE 16_ CHRIS SHELTON, EX-SCIENTOLOGIST

This is the second part of my interview with ex-Scientologist Chris Shelton, who for 27 years was a devout believer in and staff member of the Church of Scientology. Founded by science-fiction pulp writer L. Ron Hubbard in the mid-twentieth century, this enigmatic and powerful cult belief system has consumed and destroyed the lives of countless number of gullible people who have been drawn in by Scientology’s promises of peak mental health and mastery over life.

Chris left Scientology behind him for good in 2013 and has been an outspoken critic of Scientology and an anti-cult activist ever since. In Part II, Chris and I continue discussing the inception in L Ron Hubbard’s unpublished works, especially the manuscript known as “Excalibur,” of what would eventually grow into the Church of Scientology. We also talk about why Scientologists believe they are saving the world and the cosmological beliefs Scientology espouses at the highest levels of membership, including of course the story of Xenu the Galactic Overlord. We touch on how we should go about defining a destructive cult, whether Scientology can accurately be called a religion, and finally address the question of what it will take for Scientology to finally takes it place in the graveyard of past spiritual movements.

 

Links:

Chris Shelton’s website: http://mncriticalthinking.com/

The Sensibly Speaking Podcast: http://sensiblyspeaking.com/

Chris Shelton on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sheltondesigner

Chris Shelton’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCF326xyA0QHI7Z5xAwKQDJg

Chris Shelton’s book: https://tinyurl.com/ya5zxlaj

 

Join the official discussion group of this podcast at www.facebook.com/groups/aleapofdoubt.

Consider supporting me Patreon if you enjoy the show: http://www.patreon.com/aleapofdoubt. Thanks to Jeff Prebeg, Jeanne Ikerd, Torsten Pihl, and Chris Watson for being my patrons!

Follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/TheNatheist.

The opening clip is an excerpt from the audiobook “God is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens, courtesy of Hachette Audio. Text Copyright 2007 by Christopher Hitchens. Audio production copyright 2007, Hachette Audio. Used with permission.

The opening and ending music is “Jade” by Esther Nicholson and is used under license.

Recently I wrote on how I was disappointed by the Matt Dillahunty and Jordan Peterson dialogue produced by Pangburn Philosophy. Although I still remain fundamentally disappointed by it, a few things have been clarified for me by Matt Dillahunty’s reflections on the discussion.

The thing that made the discussion so interesting was that Matt Dillahunty was not interested in debating or strawmanning Peterson. His goal, and I take him at his word, was to have a good conversation, be open and honest, seek clarification, and see where they agree and disagree. He wasn’t even the slightest bit disappointed in the dialogue, thinking he succeeded on many fronts. Maybe so. I just want to clarify a few open questions Dillahunty has concerning Peterson’s positions. Although it is quite odd Dillahunty did so little research on Peterson before the discussion, not even aware, in this recent video, of Peterson’s decades-long work as a clinician, the interchange seemed to have happened in good faith, and I have faith that this conversation can now move forward.

Language Use, the True, and the Real

One issue Dillahunty has with Peterson is he thinks people who no longer believe in God but still find religious language useful need to say they’re using religious language idiosyncratically, because they’re not talking about the God people believe in, but the human condition, and the kinds of Gods people invent to cope with that. This point on the face of it appears to be about simply being clear. In Peterson’s view, this is is actually indicative of Dillahunty’s primarily Enlightenment over Darwinian influences.[1] For Peterson, you can’t be a post-Enlightenment rationalist thinker and a Darwinian at the same time because what the latter explicitly conceptualizes the former ignores; that is, you can structure your world according to different presuppositions, and different systems of thought have different purposes. Furthermore, from his Darwinism, Peterson concludes that what is “real” subjectively and objectively, though they may be distinguished for analytical purposes, cannot be ultimately separated in reality. They have amorphous and porous borders, and this point seems lost on the post-Enlightenment thinkers.

Peterson thinks American pragmatists figured this out. The pragmatic concept of truth articulates the meaning of truth as that which works. As a result, the only kind of knowledge we can have about our environment is knowledge that is sufficient: knowledge that allows us to survive. To abstract ideas from survival value and assume that facts as they pertain to belief about morality, the world, and ourselves exist in and of themselves, separate from how they serve or diminish life, is suspect for Peterson. The assumption of post-Enlightenment thinkers is that the knowledge gained by this reduction doesn’t diminish the possibility for genuine human flourishing. Peterson says, “I think it’s dangerous to consider truth independent of its effect upon us.”[2]

This brings us to the question of the real and the true. Peterson takes what he calls a Darwinian position on the question of the real. The real is that which is consistent and endures across time. This is why Peterson is so fixated on religious myths. Dominance and competence hierarchies are some of the oldest evolutionary structures: over 300 million years old, older than trees. The patterns that constituted the competence hierarchy is the place from which ethics derives. What religious myth does is distill the grammar of competence hierarchies. Therefore to know the meaning of religious belief is to understand the millenia long solution to the problem of suffering and chaos, and this, Peterson believes, grounds our ethics.[3]

The question of what is real is actually connected to the question of the true because what is true is what is real, and what is real serves life. This is Peterson’s basic Darwinian position. Some things are only true for one thing, some things are true for ten things. Some are true for thousands of things. And that truth which is more pervasive and most enduring is the most true. Because the true and the real are connected in the notion of that which serves life, and in Peterson’s estimation, when we try to reduce the truth to just facts we have left out the thing that connects truth to reality. It’s not correspondence, and it’s not coherence. It’s life.

Are True Atheists Murderers?

One idea that got online atheist communities in an uproar is a comment Peterson made about nobody being a true atheist. Dillahunty seemed to have taken great offense at this, and perhaps rightfully so, for Dillahunty certainly doesn’t believe in a supernatural being, and he can ground morality in self-interest, of all things. Why do we need a god to be good?

The problem is Peterson isn’t actually taking the typical Christian apologist position on this issue. He’s rather concerned about the consequences of what would happen if the   of our culture is lost.[4] For Peterson, the person who lives after this event is the true atheist. People in the west who call themselves “atheists” do not in fact live after this event, for atheists of the west still live within the metaphysical substrate established by the Christian  myth. Atheists of the west today are different, for instance, from atheists in Athens. Lack of belief is where their commonalities begin and end, for atheists before the west without the Christian mythical substructure did not have a belief in the inherent dignity of individuals, the value of self-interest, natural law (which grounded the first human rights language), and the like. Although, for instance, somebody like Socrates could have argued for natural law, and so it would seem the philosophers of Athens were in effect taking a modern stance on morality, they still believed that the ordering of nature, with its natural inequality, made women and slaves naturally inferior to citizens who could participate in the polity.[5]

Another way to conceptualize Peterson’s idea is in the way Joseph Campbell did in the popular Myths To Live By. In chapter four, “The Separation of East and West,” he begins

“It is not easy for Westerners to realize that the ideas recently developed in the West of the individual, his self-hood, his rights, and his freedom, have no meaning whatsoever in the Orient. They had no meaning for primitive man. They would have meant nothing to the peoples of the early Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Chinese, or Indian civilizations. They are, in fact, repugnant to the ideals, the aims and orders of life, of most of the peoples of this earth. And yet—and here is my second point—they are the truly great ‘new thing’ that we do indeed represent to the world and that constitutes our Occidental revelation of a properly human spiritual ideal, true to the highest potentiality of our species.”[6]

He goes on to trace the history of cultures, to show that archaic civilizations operated according to a belief in a great cosmic law which left no room for the individual, and where one’s birth determined who one is, what one is to be, and what one can think. Indeed, strikingly Campbell points out that the “Sanskrit verb ‘to be’ is sati…and refers to the character of the devout Hindu wife immolating herself on her deceased husband’s funeral pyre.”

But the west (what he calls the “occident”) is different from the orient, and it is because of the myths it told. The God who judged an entire world for their sins and sent a flood to destroy them as a consequence implies that humans are not just cogs in a predestined universal machine. Especially in the Old Testament, as we see in Job,

“the focus of concern is the individual, who is born but once, lives but once, and is distinct in his willing, his thinking, and his doing from every other; in the whole great Orient of India, Tibet, China, Korea, and Japan the living entity is [rather] understood to be an immaterial transmigrant that puts on bodies and puts them off. You are not your body. You are not your ego. You are to think of these as delusory.”[7]

So what does this have to do with atheism in the west and, particularly, Dillahunty’s argument that from self interest he can establish a moral system that isn’t contingent on religion? Well, rationality is a recent invention, and Peterson thinks our concepts are abstractions from the myths we’ve told for millenia. This is why, for instance, the west is individualistic, democratic, tending to understanding justice in terms of liberty, whereas the east is susceptible to collectivism, communism, tending to understand justice in terms of social expectations. Our very sense that self interest is a viable candidate for moral belief in the first place is an outgrowth of the Christian myth.

This leads us back to the previous section: as Peterson said in the discussion, it is difficult to draw a bright line between what is real and what is useful. When you strip subjectivity from the world at the beginning of the analysis of the human condition or the world, Peterson thinks it creates two possible pathologies: totalitarianism and nihilism; neither of which fundamentally value life because they’ve separated vitality from mechanism, breath from logic.

The strange thing about Dillahunty’s reflections is that he’s actually much closer to Peterson than it appears in Pangburn’s video. As I have written, Peterson thinks religion has evolved by Darwinian mechanisms, religious myths provide for us the grammar of stories, and, because they rely on competence hierarchies, these stories set the background evolutionary setting to which we’ve adapted as a species, and the conceptual grounds from which our concepts of the individual derived. There is nothing supernaturalist about this position and, in fact, it’s a denial of special revelation, miracles, and divine inspiration altogether, at least, if these concepts are employed at all, they’re stripped of their traditional content. I would like to see Dillahunty and Peterson discuss these issues more fully, and I think for this to happen we have to get beyond, as I’ve said, the full stop question as to the existence of God. With or without God, how does religion affect our modern landscape? With or without God, what does the language of myth provide that, say, pure-hard logic can’t (if anything at all)? I’m hopeful the conversation might turn more interesting on these points, given that it appears both Dillahunty and Peterson had a good faith dialogue last time. Next time we might be in for something special.

 


 

[1] See Peterson’s discussion on this difference in “04 – Religion, Myth, Science, Truth.”

[2] Ibid.

[3] See much more in “Why Tell the Truth: On the Curious Notions of Jordan B. Peterson.”

[4] See much more in the article above. The logic of “mythical substrate” is basically that our ideas and rationalities derive from our behaviors which are abstracted into myths which are further abstracted into concepts. The loss of the mythical substrate is essentially the loss of the behaviors that give rise to it.

[5] See Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism for a much fuller picture of what the claim that the west was founded on both Jerusalem and Athens (i.e., Christianity) means. Note that this is not a normative judgment, entailing that now all our values must revert back to some Christian theology to be grounded. It’s simply a description of history, and the acceptance of value derived from Christian thought doesn’t entail the acceptance of Christianity to be intelligible today.

[6] Joseph Campbell, Myths To Live By, 61.

[7] Ibid., 69.

 

Fahrenheit 451 Review

“I don’t talk things, sir,” said Faber. “I talk the meaning of things. I sit here and know I’m alive.”

With the gusto and tenderness of a prophet, Ray Bradbury writes about the all-too-human proclivity to passively waste time: the absence of self reflection and awareness in our human fixations with flashes of images on screens, when our ears and eyes obsess over the constant ramblings of social commentators, as we become bodies in motion, moving according to the laws of security, predictability, and monotony of routine. While the famous Fahrenheit 451 was solidified in ink half a century before our pixelated age , it is written for us. He has a message for our engagement-driven, entertainment-filled, networking habits: When anything will suffice to procure attention, it’s impossible to be meaningfully related to things . Bradbury does not offer, as is vogue nowadays, a dystopian future created by the clandestine acts of a few elite, but a future painfully entrenched in the human situation, the inefficient designs of bureaucracies, and, such as it is, the banality of evil. The future is forged not by forces we cannot control, but from the very beating hearts of crying, hugging, talking, average people.

Though recent discourses surrounding the polarizing effects of social media use and the merits of speech that offends have become commonplace and polarizing, the claims and questions of this 1953 masterpiece warrant serious reflection: “We need not be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important? About something real?” Does meaningful discourse require from us a sacrifice? And, if so, are we willing to bear its weight?

Fahrenheit 451 is a book about books, the human experience, and the tension between mere knowledge that absolves conflict and truth that confronts and serves life. As we read, we follow the story of Montag, a fireman whose job it is to burn books, spraying a fire hose full of kerosene rather than water, to create fires in fireproof homes. We observe an awakening—as routines established to ease the burden of consciousness by precluding moments of silence and pensivity, activities that create conflict without pre-made societal answers, and the simple disruption of bare novelty—when Montag undergoes an existential crisis. After a series of important developments, he responds to a call about a woman who has hidden books. Her home was in the ancient part of town, still standing only by the rigidity of the fire-proof plastic sheath applied years ago. After crashing through the door, Montag and the firemen find a stationary woman in some kind of somber state who speaks the words of heretics burned alive in Oxford on October 16, 1555: “We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.” The chief fireman, Beatty, attempts to convince her to leave the hopeless books to burn, “Where’s your common sense? None of those books agree with each other. You’ve been locked up her for years with a regular damned Tower of Babel.” With saintly resolve, she remained unmoved, and in a deeply human act of martyrdom,struck the match whose flames swallowed her home, her books, and her body in a blaze of profound light.

There are at least two ways to understand the strange central problem (and how it came to be) of 451: the burning of books. One is from the existential, which we will turn to presently, and the other is the political, which we will analyze next. In a play Bradbury wrote sometime after Fahrenheit 451, Beatty, the main antagonist and chief firefighter of both, is given to a moment of serious biographical reflection. He brings Montag to his house where a massive library of books sit on sturdy, colossal shelves. He reminds Montag the crime is not to own books, but to read them. To collect these books, however, Beatty must have also once loved them in some way, and indeed he had. What made him want to burn them now? Why did he stop reading?

“Why, life happened to me.” The Fire Chief shuts his eyes to remember. “Life. The usual. The same. The love that wasn’t quite right, the dream that went sour, the sex that fell apart, the deaths that came swiftly to friends not deserving, the murder of someone or another, the insanity of someone close, the slow death of a mother, the abrupt suicide of a father—a stampede of elephants, an onslaught of disease. And nowhere, nowhere the right book for the right time to stuff in the crumbling wall of the breaking dam to hold back the deluge, give or take a metaphor, lose or find a simile. And by the far edge of thirty, and the near rim of thirty-one, I picked myself up, every bone broken, every centimeter of flesh abraded, bruised, or scarred. I looked in the mirror and found an old man lost behind the frightened face of a young man, saw a hatred there for everything and anything, you name it, I’d damn it, and opened the pages of my fine library books and found what, what, what!?”

In the midst of tragedies, failed dreams, and extinguished desires, books offered “no help, no solace, no peace, no harbor, no true love, no bed, no light.” Bradbury argues that both antipathy and apathy toward reading derive from an antipathy and apathy toward life. The “regular damned Tower of Babel” is an image of the conflicts inherent in thinking itself—as they’re piled on one another, they reach toward the heavens—and the recognition of the inevitability of these conflicts cause some to lose faith in existence. They begin to resent people who not only abide by the laws of nature and experience, but somehow, despite the inherent tragedies of existence, by the laws of freedom, and overcome suffering. The misology—which arises when cultivated reason applies itself with deliberate purpose to the enjoyment of life and happiness—that Beatty uses to rationalize his disposition towards books is, coincidentally, the very hatred of reason Kant rejects in his famous Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals. For Kant, reason has one aim: the creation of a goodwill. Yet, when cultivated reason, which is aimed at happiness and satisfaction, attempts to achieve its ends, those who live and die by it find it brings more troubles than its worth. Reason is, as a result, sworn off altogether and so is the laws of freedom that move us beyond treating ourselves, others, and time as means to ends. When we lose reason, the laws of freedom lose to the laws of nature.

Another way to understand this problem is the analogous monologue Beatty gives in Fahrenheit 451 about how books were banned as a matter of politics. It all boils down to a simple equation: Force = Mass x Velocity. As mass media steamrolled the production of everything for the average consumer, and the velocity at which this production of products increased, the force of mass culture both simplified language and amplified differences. It is a prosaic matter to discern the disparity between two simple propositions, it is another thing, perhaps a matter of the problems of life in general, to discern the fundamental differences between two complex phenomena. When the former acquires unstoppable force, the possibility of the latter is bludgeoned to oblivion, forgotten and ignored. Today to know one political position of a person, say whether they are pro-life, entails, for many, many other positions: pro-gun, anti-immigration, pro-war, pro-corporate welfare. The simplification of language amplifies our differences, for every difference appears to be a difference of essentials: antitheses. If you’re not pro-life, you’re pro-choice, for instance. The opposite of Republican is Democrat, or so we’re told. This mass production of ideologies, language, and products for mass audiences that creates and instantiates differences calls for, perhaps just by inertia, a further, yet ironic, simplification: of thought, of populations, of differences. Why are you pro-life? The Bible says so. That’s where the buck stops, for most. Our essential differences come to have no content but the affirmation of the differences, and the anathema of the other, of the really different, of that which cannot be contained within simple dichotomies, of life itself.

Bigger the population, the more minorities. Don’t step on the toes of dog lovers, the cat lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico….The Bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy, remember that!…There you have it, Montag, it didn’t come from the Government down to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God! Today, thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time….With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word ‘intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be. You always dread the unfamiliar. . . .We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. So a book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind. Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man?. . . You must understand that our civilization is so vast that we can’t have our minorities upset and stirred.

Who is easier to offend than the person who cannot hold two conflicting ideas without accepting them, who cannot understand the other side of the dichotomy, or that every either/or is too abstract to accurately represent the infinite potentiality and actuality of everything real? And, yet, as the old dictum goes, who is more blissful?

If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, topheavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag.

Indeed, this monologue provides a social view of the individual pathology outlined before, and what can happen when society is shaped and molded by people like Beatty. In 451, as people moved faster in their cars and between appointments, the time to reflect and relate intimately with others became equally fleeting, until it disappeared, along with the ability to discern between what makes one happy and what makes one fulfilled. Suffering is displaced by speed; meaning is displaced by distraction. The denizens of Bradbury’s world (and many in our own) are more interested in knowing what things are than why they are.

Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies to melancholy. Any man who can take a TV wall apart and put it back together again, and most men can, nowadays, is happier than any man who tries to slide-rule, measure, and equate the universe, which just won’t be measured or equated without making man feel bestial and lonely.

The why-question, so often now seen as improper, primitive, and religious nonsense, is a question one can only pose to another human being and to oneself, not to things, but to the meaning of things. When the why-question is lost, so 451 argues, so is history, so is personhood. For history is a story of ourselves: we read history to know who we are, why we are.

 

451 opens with an encounter between Montag and a vibrant, youthful girl who is passionate about observing and listening to people. She considers outlandish things, like the differences between viewing grass and flowers while moving and while at rest. “I sometimes think drivers don’t know what grass is, or flowers, because they never see them slowly.” Clarisse McClellan even, fantastically, notes that billboards used to be twenty feet wide instead of two hundred. In this world, where the minimum speed is 55 mph without a maximum speed anywhere, Clarisse is attuned to what can only be considered disposable to the standards of efficiency and goal completion. Her uncle, the picture of a pure heretic and outcast, was once arrested for being a pedestrian.

It is on this chance encounter with Clarisse that Montag first becomes aware of a possible world he had never considered, a world in which he might recognize the thoughts of people, the differences between himself and others, the complete alterity of history before his own present. Upon seeing himself in Clarisse’s eyes, he no longer simply conflates the past with the present, others with himself, genuine human flourishing with the recurring completion of social and ritual demands. “He saw himself in her eyes, suspended in two shining drops of bright water, himself dark and tiny, in fine detail, the lines about his mouth, everything there, as if her eyes were two miraculous bits of violet amber that might capture and hold him intact.” When they part and continue to their separate homes, Montag is confronted by the emptiness and shallowness of his life, the silent familiarity of the blank walls of his home:

He glanced back at the wall. How like a mirror, too, her face. Impossible; for how many people did you know who refracted your own light to you? People were more often—he searched for a simile, found one in his work,—torches, blazing away until they whiffed out. How rarely did other people’s faces take of you and throw back to you your own expression, your own innermost trembling thought?

In fact, Montag had no thought of himself until the questioning attentiveness of Clarisse’s careful eyes had made him see himself, in all his detail, being cared for by another person. Attachment theory tells us we become selves by imitating the reactions of our mothers to our pain and distress and internalizing them. Bradbury seems to suggest if we are not attentive to our place in the world of other persons, we have yet to understand what it means to be a person in the first place.

Throughout the novel, Bradbury’s prose grows from general descriptions of “the whole world” to the particularity of “the alley,” paralleling the development of Montag’s awareness. Many scenes, fires, and conversations after Clarisse, Montag tries to remember an important detail and can only recall an entertainment slogan that blared on a public transit vehicle he used once before.  Through such juxtapositions of things that develop, things that endure, and things that emerge, 451 is not a naïve projection of a future that the reader cannot recognize herself in, but a mirror, summoning from the silence of the reader’s solitude the hidden elements of life that seduce, control, widen, narrow, deepen, shallow, and compel. He finds these elements disclosed in the encouraging hand of another person and the stillness that a moment of time cared for provides for the development of inwardness.

Fahrenheit 451 is not a novel to encourage a pretentious bibliophilia. Indeed, when Montag finally meets outcast professors and readers in the final scenes, books are not seen as objects of beauty in and of themselves, as specialized, commodified, functional products created by a division of labor, but as spaces for acts of remembering: reflecting a theme persistent throughout the novel. “The books are to remind us what asses and fools we are.”

The language we use to think and talk about life and its inherent tragedies comes to shape and make real the kind of reality we think life is: one to be resented, one to be avoided, or one to be overcome. As social media continues to shape our discourses by selecting for epigrams over nuanced discussion, Bradbury asks us if we will become like Mildred, whose words are like those “heard once in a nursery at a friend’s house, a two-year-old child building word patterns, talking jargon, making pretty sounds in the air,” or whether we will become like the talking, depthless faces of anchors operating distraction machines like Fox News or CNN: “the gibbering pack of tree apes that said nothing, nothing, nothing and said it loud, loud, loud.” May we find the words that wrestle and struggle with the challenges of life, without strangling or flattening them, and, consequently, diminishing the possibility for genuine human flourishing.

Themes of the book capture insight about humanity in general and can therefore speak to 2018, despite its 1953 publication. One message is that reading is an act of paying attention to persons and remembering the intricacies of life in the solitude and solicitude of the written word. All words are written by persons. And so literature can be defined as a generous act of hospitality of a person from the past, inviting us to make intelligible and bearable the human experience by contending with and overcoming the tragedies and suffering inherent in the life well-lived by learning from the wisdom of those who came before us. And such an idea makes Fahrenheit 451 a book that should not just be owned. But a book that should be read.

Telling detail. Fresh detail. The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.”

 

Promise of Secular Humanism

Reason Revolution founder Justin Clark gives a lecture on secular humanism at the Heartland Unitarian Universalist Church in Carmel, Indiana.

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Music: “Constellations” by Sound Surfer

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Introduction to Jordan B. PetersonIntroduction to Jordan B. Peterson

“It has been almost twelve years since I first grasped the essence of the paradox that lies at the bottom of human motivation for evil: People need their group identification, because that identification protects them, literally, from the terrible forces of the unknown. It is for this reason that every individual who is not decadent will strive to protect his territory, actual and psychological. But the tendency to protect means hatred of the other, and the inevitability of war—and we are now too technologically powerful to engage in war. To allow victory to the other, however—or even continued existence, on his terms—means subjugation, dissolution of protective structures, and exposure to that which is most feared. For me, this meant ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’: belief systems regulate affect, but conflict between belief systems is inevitable.

Formulation and understanding of this terrible paradox devastated me. I had always been convinced that sufficient understanding of a problem—any problem—would lead to its resolution. Here I was, however, possessed of understanding that seemed not only sufficient but complete, caught nonetheless between the devil and the deep blue sea. I could not see how there could be any alternative to either having a belief system or to not having a belief system—and could see little but the disadvantage of both positions. This truly shook my faith.”
Jordan Peterson, Maps of Meaning[1]

 

“To the extent that the Academe remembers its ancient origins, it must know that it was founded by the polis’s most determined and most influential opponent.”
Hannah Arendt, “Truth and Politics”[2]

 

The consequences of Neil Postman’s 1986 prophecy-turned-truth has caused more chaos than he could have imagined: “People will come to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.”[3] Although it was television that was the target of this particular criticism—fearing the growing ubiquity of images, the constant 2-second camera angle flashes of the television screen—what would he have thought of Twitter culture which, more dangerously, makes no pretense of trading with linguistic complexity for imagistic simplicity, and has, as a result, flattened our words and our ability to make sense of ourselves and the world? As the online culture selects for bombast over nuance, transactions of epigrams over meaningful discourse, this may just be the logical extreme Postman envisioned over three decades ago: “Television is our culture’s principal mode of knowing about itself. Therefore—and this is the critical point—how television stages the world becomes the model for how the world is properly to be staged. It is not merely that on the television screen entertainment is the metaphor for all discourse. It is that off the screen the same metaphor prevails.”[4] We are amusing ourselves to death, which makes the appearance and pursuit of truth a threat to be neutralized.

Creators of our major communication tools are only now beginning to understand the pernicious consequences of these powerful platforms. Just as greed is a great instigator of the profit motive, compulsive entertainment propels social media engagement. This is true not only with the images and videos on our televisions and newsfeeds, but it has become true for the use of words. Channel 4 recently tried to capitalize on this,[5] using a gotcha-journalism tactic to confer intentions to and put words in the mouth of a thinker not bound to our age. There is an anomaly in our midst, holding a mirror to us in the form of questions. Why, indeed, tell the truth, in our age of fake news?

The famous pragmatist philosopher Donald Davidson suggested we approach interpretive dilemmas by following what has been called the principle of charity. Back in 1974 he wrote, “We make maximum sense of the words and thoughts of others when we interpret in a way that optimizes agreement (this includes room, as we said, for explicable error, i.e. differences of opinion).”[6] This in part means that we assume, at least at the outset, that every person seeks truth and not error, and this truth is concerned with good and not evil, making the world more beautiful rather than unpleasant. As a student of philosophy, this notion has been invaluable. As a member of society at large, this principle could not, at this moment, be more unavailable to everyday discourse.

Articles abound on the University of Toronto’s clinical psychologist Jordan B. Peterson. Most attempt to construct a myth of the man, a compelling simplification that deems him either a savior or a demon. Others recently are more overt reflections on the failure of traditional media to report his views coherently or accurately. It is no accident that a person like Donald Trump became president in our time: a distiller of white nationalist cliches and an expert of misdirection, he enthralled, energized, and disheartened disparate segments of the American population simply by riding the wave of unparalleled media coverage during the election season. Compare Trump, arguably the embodiment of the dangers of our time de jure, to the general outrage over Peterson, a man coming to public consciousness first by releasing a somewhat philosophical series of YouTube videos reflecting on the imminent passing of bill C-16, then exploding in popularity after a 3 hour long interview on The Joe Rogan Experience back in 2016. Many who rely on traditional media, and from it receive most of the information with which they orient themselves toward the world, are repelled by Peterson, believing he is some kind of self-help guru,[7] popular only because he is an alt-right prophet and a popularizer of dubious positive-thinking psychology. They have only heard of him because of his recent book, 12 Rules for Life, and believe they know all there is to know about his work simply because they read a few hit pieces that intentionally misquote, misinterpret, and generally misrepresent the views of a man that cannot be contained in a five-minute video clip or 500-word article.

I discovered Peterson through his initial interview with Rogan, and I was immediately captured by his application of Darwinian mechanisms of selection to religious myths and his fascinating take on everything from politics to philosophy, from psychology to religion. Now that perhaps the man has been properly situated in our cultural moment, defending him against common misconceptions, by others more interested in that narrative than myself, I would like to outline the basic concepts that ground Peterson’s thought, manifesting themselves in one way or another in any particular interview or lecture. Having more than 300 hours worth of lectures online makes Peterson’s work a mountain so large that the climb seems impossible, if not, at least, only for the fervent. Why listen to a man many have already labelled a charlatan, a self-help guru, or worse, an alt-right prophet? One reason is because most have not placed his ideas in the context of his own work. My goal is to introduce his ideas to the average person without requiring that they spend a few months of their life figuring out his basic premises. What judgment they may pass on him is no concern of mine; I simply aim to provide an introduction that allow these judgments to be informed.

Our Maps of Meaning: Myth, Science, and Hierarchy

“Man is an animal, from the objective viewpoint, worthy of no more consideration than the opinion and opportunities of the moment dictate. From the mythic viewpoint, however, every individual is unique—is a new set of experiences, a new universe; has been granted the ability to bring something new into being; is capable of participating in the act of creation itself. It is the expression of this capacity for creative action that makes the tragic conditions of life tolerable, bearable—remarkable, miraculous.”[8]

How we map meaning onto the world and ourselves is not entirely self-evident, Peterson says. He refers us, here, to a problem Daniel Dennett has written eloquently about: The Frame Problem in AI. In short, the problem is that there are an infinite number of ways to interpret everything. How do we go about perceiving any thing as a thing? What constraints constitute the structures by which perception itself becomes possible?

Peterson posits that one way we do this is our bodies: we do not primarily view the world as a field of objects, but rather as a forum for action. And what is primary in our conception of the world is not things or objects, but rather tools and obstacles. To know the meaning of a thing is to know how it relates to us and our aims: to know its functional significance. Consequently, the ways in which things affect us tend to be identified with the things themselves. Consider how nonsensical it is to feel fear about encountering a wolf in nature and not also identify the wolf as a thing to be feared. The function of the wolf, here, is predator. One reason for the framing problem is that AI (at this point) is something like a brain in a vat (though this is changing): it is disembodied. Precisely the ostensible strength of common conceptions of AI—its lack of physical limitation—is perhaps its undermining weakness at this point. Peterson wants to bring us back to the relevance of our physical circumstances as embodied persons and how our ideas and ideals evolved from this fact.

And, yet, the great feat of science is that it has stripped affect from objects.[9] Since the Enlightenment, as it dispensed with religious doctrine as necessary for understanding the world of objects, western civilization amassed commodities and propelled innovation to previously unimaginable heights. This also has had some unintended consequences. Whereas the unconscious is about the nervous system that connects everything together, the conscious deals with separation and surface qualities of the external,[10] and the scientism that pervades secular critiques of religion has resurfaced a perennial problem in a particularly intense way: when consciousness looks upon itself as an object of experience, it is susceptible to separating itself from the unconscious. When this occurs, we fall prey to lurking pathologies. Archetypes are conceived of by Jung as something like “patterns of instinctual behavior;”[11] and repressing or suppressing these drives leads to rationalizing behavior that, on a deep level, are motivated by these unknown, instinctual forces. “There is no lunacy people under the domination of an archetype will not fall prey to.”[12] This leads to one of Peterson’s central notions: “Ideas are embodied before they’re abstract, and abstracted as a drama first.”[13] We cannot be directly led by the concept of good to a good world, however good the world is conceived, because we are motivated by more than merely rational forces.

The automatic attribution of meaning to things is codified in myth and narrative, which are instantiated in religion, integrating the functional significance of things in the world with cultural hierarchies. The structures of religious myth is the grammar of this world and these hierarchies: “A religion is a set of stories that comes very close to the grammar of stories. They aren’t stories you can dispense with.”[14]

Carl Jung thought that myths did not aim to explain the world, as in how the rain falls or how the position of the stars relate to the earth, but rather operated within the affective identification of objects with the self: myths are projections of the “inner unconscious drama.”[15] This, on the face of it, draws a line between the world of myth and the world of science.

The problem of the relation between myth and science is unbelievably complex, and, as indicated by Peterson when he recognized it, seemingly inescapable. Science and religion appear to be in conflict, and as science increases its knowledge, the mythic structures of religion must be necessarily left behind. Yet, “If the religious realm and the scientific realm exist, they have to be unifiable at some point.”[16] For Peterson, this connection consists in the grounding of the archetypes of the collective unconscious in Darwinian evolution.

If it is true that the world is conceived best as primarily a forum for action, then what counts as our environment, in terms of Darwinian structures of adaptation, does not entirely, or even necessarily, associate adaptive traits to the objects of the world, but at least also to the tools that enable us to live and thrive in multiple environments among multiple groups of people. Our environment, in evolutionary terms, is not only natural, adhering to processes of cause and effect in nature, but also social, providing aims that achieve sustainable social relations with other people.

Grounding these social aims is a non-negotiable motivator of action: one very important thing that separates us from chimps is that the females of our species select for sexual reproduction and are not consistently obtained by the brute dominance of males.[17] The selective mechanisms of females qualify what counts as good aims and bad aims, and therefore the beliefs and character traits that are functionally relevant or good and increase the probability of reproduction and functionally useless or bad that decrease the probability of reproduction. These aims and traits form into hierarchies of competence,[18] which act as “a distributive computational device,”[19] allowing females to “externalize the cognitive problem [of deciding male worth for reproduction] to the structure itself.”[20] Dominance hierarchies, which are a more basic form of this, have been around for over 300 million years, dating back to at least lobsters.[21] In other words, the competence hierarchy is established by the pressures of sexual selection to sort-out whose genes are “worthy” of reproduction by valuing some character traits over others, and rewarding the attainment of the good traits over the bad. This selective mechanism creates a multilayered instability to our environment. Indeed, because we are not just reactive beings, and operant conditioners merely make certain actions more or less probable, group size is correlated to brain size. We must stand within multiple frames to act in and understand the world. What makes a man evolutionarily fit, as a result, is not merely physical strength, but, as we will see presently, moral strength.

The competence hierarchy is optimized for two functions: (1) scalability, it must be possible to make it to the top; and (2) status payoff, climbing the hierarchy improves social status and falling diminishes it. Men, adapting to the hierarchy, have become better at climbing it, thereby improving the probability of leaving behind genetic material. One way men have done this is by paying attention to men who have risen to the top and by telling stories about them. These men who scale the hierarchies are the heroes of our stories and myths. The competence hierarchy selects for heroes and breeds them: men imitate the heroes of myths, and this enables them to climb competence hierarchies.

That the hero has reached the top means he is admirable, and has noble principles, which introduces the possibility of reprehensible or disgraceful principles: those traits of men at the bottom of the competence hierarchy. Daniel Dennett has briefly articulated a similar evolutionary grounding of our notions of right or wrong, so this direction of thought is not entirely foreign to Darwinism, as novel and suggestive as it may seem, whether Peterson beat Dennett to this conclusion (and has taken it further) or not. From the traits of nobility and reprehensibility we ground the ideas of good and evil, and we can abstract from ten heroes a metahero: the saviors or enlightened ones of the major religious traditions across the world. Imitating the savior produces skills that give one the greatest probability of climbing the set of all competence hierarchies. This is why Jordan Peterson believes we cannot get rid of myth: it distills not just information about sexual selection, but has developed to such a complexity that it grounds our conceptions of what it is to be good and, consequently, how to live a meaningful life.

Peterson sets the religious symbols of myth within Darwinian evolution, thereby laying the groundwork for a unifying theory of science and religion. The main contribution of this theory is that it enables us to abstract the functional significance of religious myths, and, thereby, provides a way in which to understand how religion has given rise to the modern world. To extrapolate more specifically how this is so, we turn presently to an explication of the good and meaningful life in Peterson’s demythologization of religious symbols of myth.

The Life that Justifies Suffering

“There is something irreducible about suffering.”[22]

“That which you most need will be found where you least want to look.”[23]

The world is best conceived as a forum for action, where its basic constituents are tools or obstacles, kin or predator: when we encounter strangers, our predator circuitry processes their appearance, and when we hear familiar words or see friends and family, a completely different physiological process frames the world and our situation in it.[24] Two fundamental categories, then, delineate our basic situation in the world. The fight, flight, or freeze response, abstracted, situates us in the category of chaos, whereas the world of order and family, where our intentions cause expected consequences, brings us to the category of order. Chaos and order phenomenologically structure our worlds (this, perhaps, first discovered by Mircea Eliade in The Sacred and the Profane).

Chaos is not the place you want to be. It is where you are when all the skills you’ve learned from tradition or competence hierarchies, where everything you believed to be good and true, and where all that has worked well in the past, no longer work or make sense of where you find yourself. In chaos, your brain stops thinking about the future, initiates emergency preparation mode, shifts cortisol levels, activates left and right cortices, disinhibits limbic and motivational systems, causing you to sweat and lose sleep.[25] Chaos is the underworld of mythology: the dragon’s lair, or the belly of the whale.

Order is the place you are when everything works exactly as you expect, within the ordering of the competence hierarchy, and in turn your beliefs about what is true and good provide sufficient aims for action. You can glide in this place, as your amygdala rests and your pattern recognition takes over. People will protect their competence hierarchies, even as they don’t benefit, because it’s better to be a slave and know what is going on than it is to be thrown naked into the jungle in the middle of the night.[26]

These fundamental categories set the stage for our bodily, intuitive understanding of the world (which Peterson believes is primary to all thought); our brains are adapted to these metarealities—hierarchies and archetypes—as opposed to simple realities of objects and things. What sets our environment, at any given time, is not necessarily the objects or beings that surround us, but whether we are positioned in chaos or order.

These metarealities introduce an irresolvable tension at the center of human experience. Chaos is a terrible place to be, and order, by simplifying the complexity of the world, can also render us vulnerable to the shock of novelty. The constant back and forth between order and chaos is the bedrock of the problem of evil: is existence worth the suffering? Peterson, here, distinguishes between tragedies, like natural disasters of nature, and suffering, caused both by our disposition toward the world as a whole and the reality of malevolence (the fact that sometimes people pursue the suffering of others for no reason). Responses to tragedy are not necessitated by the tragic events themselves, despair is not compulsory, for sometimes we face tragedies heroically. The true problem of evil is the problem of suffering.

The possibility of suffering presents itself in different forms in both order and chaos. When in order, it’s archetypally represented symbolically as the tyrant father. Sometimes what is true today isn’t true enough to serve life: to allow for genuine human flourishing as the potentialities of the future are actualized, changing the present. When this is the case, the realm of order is tyrannical. Another problem with order is it tends to simplify the world into shallow categories that don’t adequately account for the reality that confronts us. This simplifying relates to the evil figure in myth as the one who is hyperrational, like Lucifer, or the snake in the garden, who falls in love with his own creations and pushes out the possibility of the transcendent. Here, Peterson places the origins of ideology. The very idea of the transcendent is operative in our everyday lives when we act in the world as if it’s full of potentials rather than final realities; and when these realities are reduced and simplified into basic, unchanging objects, the possibility of change, and therefore growth, development, and progress, is excluded at the outset. Opposed to this, a correct conception of order is more like the Garden of Eden: no matter how perfectly society is set up, there will be something you don’t want that comes in—the serpent. As an agent of chaos, the serpent essentially undermines lasting stability. Order can become chaos in an instant.

Mythology has figured out, especially Christianity, that the worst snake isn’t a real snake, but rather the internal “snake” of malevolence: the snake inside a person. And this, he thinks, partially explains the origin of our idea of evil: First the snake was external, then internal to people, then the snake inside person A and B became identical, then we had the idea of Lucifer, and finally the concept of evil. When we are confronted with chaos, there’s a way of acting that is better or worse: simply imagine the worst possible thing, then act so that will not happen, and you are acting to create a better world. Yet people who find themselves in chaos, if they have gotten there by choosing what is expedient over what is worthwhile, by lying to themselves and projecting their inadequacies onto the world and others rather than being honest with themselves and paying attention to how their beliefs might not account for reality or how their actions might be making things worse, will despair in times of suffering.[27]

We are inclined to cling to order, or close our eyes in chaos: we all know of men who never grew up, who have the emotional intelligence of a twelve-year-old but the musculature of a brute in its prime. Clinging to order makes us resentful, for who we thought we were, and the values that grounded our perception of reality, no longer provide anything to orient ourselves with. We do all the “right” things but we never reach the promised land: the land of achieved aims. It remains convenient for people to divide the world into the righteous and the damned so that whatever resentment and bitterness and hatred is in their hearts can be ignored, and so too can every way in which they participate in the problem they’re trying to overcome. Despair says: “It is better if it never existed at all.” People who act out this belief make suffering worse: despair ignites the flames of revenge, to strike back at being for the crime of existence. This disposition is an embodiment of Lucifer who says all that I know is all that is necessary to know, a counterfactual to the exploratory world-creating hero of myth.

Caught within the contradiction of believing one knows everything there is to know and a dawning chaos, we act to project this inner battle onto the world: to turn against being all around us and seek to destroy it. When we suffer, we delight in the suffering of others; the origin of suffering is the awareness of our own vulnerabilities, where malevolence is the intentional exploitation of the vulnerabilities of others. “Evil is the production of suffering for its own sake.”[28] Chaos is an ocean of darkness, and the deeper we descend, the more primal the monsters we discover.

When in chaos, Peterson calls us to pay attention, because sometimes the thing that we most value is the problem, because the world is systematized and viewed by reference to our values. Under these circumstances, to sacrifice the thing most valuable to us, as a religious principle, is the idea that a complete conversion is sometimes what it takes to live well, to be a good person. In this way, life demands the best of us, which sometimes means sacrificing who we are for who we may become.[29] Is nothing better than something: would it have been better had being never existed at all? The God of myth says no, which is another way of saying our myths have answered this question of suffering for us, and shows us the kind of life that overcomes suffering. This is the meta-hero archetype, or the notion of the savior.[30] The battle between good and evil isn’t between states or between individuals but it’s an internal and moral battle: between malevolence and benevolence.

The idea of the sacred itself is functionally, for Peterson, about the essential nature of existence. What we believe about the divine throughout the centuries has been a projection of what we take the meaning of existence to be. One of the conclusions of Christianity is that if we act towards the divine as if it’s nothing but good, then it is more likely to be true in the world. This takes both courage and faith: courage because it is not self-evident that suffering is ever overcome, and faith because it is possible that suffering may never, indeed, be overcome. But the idea of faith is that you make the case that being is good by acting that way, and to act as if being is good and play that out until the end.

This inner battle of the psyche, borne out in myth, provides the profound problem of life with a profound language. Peterson believes that we can’t create our own values because values have evolved with us, implicit in competence hierarchies, then articulated in our myths and, now, abstract concepts. He finds Plato’s idea that all knowledge is remembrance true in a deep, even Darwinian, sense. We weren’t born just thirty years ago, but we’re also the product of human language and history, and over 12 billion years of evolution. We are descendents of the great heroes of the past. So Jung’s idea is we have to go back to the myths and extract the archetypes. Peterson’s claims essentially boil down to making Jung’s ideas more rational and articulate: “I’m trying to resurrect the dormant logos.”

What is this logos? It’s one of the oldest ideas and Peterson thinks its use in Christianity is particularly significant today. Though his characterization of logos is somewhat idiosyncratic, he has good reasons for believing the logos should be articulated this way: speaking the truth, ordering the world by the manifestation of truth in speech.[31] When you enter a dark, familiar room, with no light, what do you do? You grope in the dark until you find an object by which to orient yourself. Kant thought that this notion of orientation could be abstracted to thinking in general,[32] that thinking was an orientation. Peterson thinks telling the truth is how we orient ourselves in the world when we are confronted by chaos, or “the unknown,” the domain where the consequences of our actions are not self-evident and the situation in which we find ourselves has no obvious cause. Telling the truth situates us. “Chaos is transformed into order by the word…. If you want chaos to be turned into hell, then lie. If you want chaos to be transformed into heaven, then tell the truth.”[33]

The role of truth is, in terms of value, fundamental for overcoming the problem of suffering. We have noted, already, that Peterson tells us to pay attention, because the very things we value the most might be the very things that cause us suffering (this, indeed, is the notion of idolatry in Christianity). “The truth is something that burns. It burns off deadwood, and people don’t like having their deadwood burnt off; often because they’re like 95% deadwood. Believe me, I’m not being snide about that. It’s no joke. When you start to realize how much of what you’ve constructed of yourself is based on deception and lies, that is a horrifying realization, and it can easily be 95% of you.”[34]

On another note, truth, Peterson believes, is the progenitor of the good. “The reality you bring out of potentiality with truth is good. That’s one of the most profound discoveries of humanity.[35] How can this be so? Peterson believes he derived his understanding of truth from Nietzsche: “Truth is that which serves life.”[36] The things that are most true are those which, over the years, have produced, sustained, and amplified life. This makes sense, as well, of Peterson’s position that there is nothing truer than these archetypal ideas of religion: they’re some of the oldest ideas we have. Peterson’s question of truth is not merely whether a thing or proposition corresponds to reality, but whether the thing or proposition is true enough to serve life. We speak the truth in words, and thereby actualize potentiality by the truth, and it is necessarily good, because it will serve life rather than death, good over evil.

Words are very important to Peterson, for we’ve evolved so that our ideas can die rather than ourselves or other people. We had to act out killing as will of God for millennia before we could abstractly derive this idea. “Myths of the fall and redemption portray the emergence of human dissatisfaction with present conditions—no matter how comfortable—and the tendency or desire for movement toward ‘a better future.’”[37] Rather than being merely a tyrannical father, the realm of order, and the prevalence of tradition, can also be something like a wise king. You can bargain with being (with reality) because what you encounter is partly the world and partly the abstract social system (when you make a promise, sacrifice, exchange money). This idea is a rational articulation of the deeper concept that the sacred is personal. One of the best comportments we can have toward tradition is therefore to view it as something to be negotiated with, rather than as something that predetermines the future. “Through fire all things are renewed. And one of the deepest ideas of Christianity is that you should burn everything off that’s part of you that isn’t part of that thing that can die and be reborn.”

The message of Jordan B. Peterson is no mere self-help guide: he does not think that life is simply good, nor does he think the journey to the good entails avoiding all which is evil or destroying something outside ourselves called “evil.” Rather, the path to completion is the embodiment of the monster, which means to recognize your capacity for evil and control it. “If you understand who you are, then you understand Nazis. And who wants to understand nazis?“ It’s a dreadful thing to realize that you’re human, which comes with it the tremendous potential to be good and a soul-snatching capacity to be evil.

One way out of the burden of consciousness it to return to unconsciousness (anesthetize, refuse to grow up). Another way to go is to become more conscious. Heighten your consciousness so that everything becomes integrated enough so that this integration is its own medication.[38] You have to get people to stop avoiding the terrible things, this is the goal of psychotherapy: “Voluntary confrontation with what you’re afraid of.”[39] Pay attention, and it’ll lead you to places you don’t want to go, but they will be places that make you better and wiser.[40]

Wisdom allows us to deal honorably with the tragedy of life. A good aim is to look back and see if there’s less suffering because you existed. “The purpose of life, as far as I can tell from studying mythology and from studying psychology for decades, is to find a mode of being that’s so meaningful that the fact that life is suffering is no longer relevant; or maybe that it’s even acceptable. I would say as well that people know when they’re doing that. You know when you’re doing that in part because you’re no longer resentful. You say, ‘Geez, I could do this forever.’ There’s a timelessness that’s associated with that state of being. From a mythological perspective, that’s equivalent to brief habitation of the Kingdom of God. It’s the place so meaningful that it enables you to bear the harsh preconditions of life without becoming resentful, bitter, or cruel. And there’s nothing that you can pursue in your life that will be half as useful as that.[41]

Humanity is torn between order and chaos, between the known and unknown, between the past and future. This is the basic situation to which we have adapted. And the fundamental framework for thinking about what it means to be human and for overcoming the basic problems of human existence is to look at how we have acted these meanings and solutions out and articulate them as lucidly and truthfully as we can. Peterson’s call to do so by situating religion and myth within a Darwinian framework is as novel as it is important. You can ask what perspective toward religion is the most scientific, and Peterson answers that it is the Darwinian rather than the post-Enlightenment: whereas the Darwinian views religion as another systematic means of contending with our own subjectivity (as serving life), the post-Enlightenment, Peterson thinks, merely looks to taxonomize facts about religion.[42] This exploration of the subjectivizing influences on our systems of thought has shed some new light on the meaning of religious symbols and their bearing on our day-to-day lives. In fact, the conclusions Jordan Peterson derives from the explication of myth amount to something like the ultimate balancing of subjective meaning with objective truth, selfishness and selflessness, facts and norms. “Personal interest – subjective meaning – reveals itself at the juncture of explored and unexplored territory, healthy individual and societal adaptation.”[43] “Loyalty to personal interest is equivalent to identification with the archetypal hero.”[44] The hero always has one foot in chaos and one foot in order.

“Telling the truth is a gamble on the benevolence of being. So the idea is you tell the truth, you don’t manipulate the world to make it give you what you want, you try to articulate yourself—and articulate the manner of your being, as clearly and as comprehensively as possible—and then you see what happens.

And you decide—this is the act of faith—you decide that no matter what happens, if you tell the truth, that that’s the best possible outcome.”[45]

Situating the Controversies of Peterson: Postmodernism, Marxism, and Speech Laws

“There is something else going on. If there wasn’t something else going on a relatively obscure professor’s amateurish youtube videos, on a relatively obscure piece of canadian legislation, wouldn’t have had any effect. It would have just disappeared. But it didn’t. And that’s because there’s more going on than the straightforward issue surrounding the pronoun use.”[46]

Lastly, I want to turn to Peterson’s political positions. Now that liberals (a group I have, until recent years, felt at home within) who have never read Peterson yet feel compelled to take a disparaging public stance against him, and academics who, with an air of elitism (and perhaps jealousy), ridicule and dismiss him for his success as a New York Times Bestseller, have both come out of the woodwork, it is time to place Peterson’s politics within the development of his own thought, rather than a pseudo-contextualizing purgatory that places him in company he has never considered and within a conception of history to which he stands diametrically opposed.

In his fourth podcast episode, “Religion, Myth, Science, Truth,” Peterson walks us through the development of his political perspective. His first degree was in political science because the causes of social conflict interested him. Every explanation for social conflict was grounded in some kind of economic theory, placing resources (whether resource scarcity, resource production, etc.) as the central motivator for conflict. Peterson found these theories dubious, because they didn’t take into account the relation between belief and the individual.

Around this time (the second peak of the Cold War), he was obsessed with and terrified about the possibility of nuclear destruction. It all had just seemed gratuitous: that groups of people would inch closer to the potential annihilation of the human race for no apparent reason.[47] Peterson believed the cause of this had to, as a result, be deeper than the empirical level: it had to be metaphysical. To make people as miserable as possible and to be counterproductive concerning your own ends, individually and politically, is just inconceivable without some kind of malevolent or irrational intent.

One of Peterson’s heroes, the novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, made a connection between the lies individuals tell and the pathologies of the state.[48] Psychologist Sigmund Freud, another hero, theorized that pathologies in individuals were caused by repressions, which are, for Peterson, forms of lying. It’s not just rational elements that drive people to war, as a result. There is something deeper, and perhaps irrational.

One of Peterson’s diagnosis of the social ills of society is that they derive from stripping subjectivity from the world. This erasure causes us to lie about what we’re actually doing, what we’re actually aiming at, and the repression (and absence) of truthful speech which orders our intentions is replaced with a hiding of intentions, and a grabbing-onto objective group goods that confer hierarchy status and ostensible intentionality. What follows from this, which is our present situation, is either nihilism or totalitarianism. All meaning is objective. In a “perfect” society, to acquire the social status desired and all material goods that are good to have is to live a good life. But then to suffer is to be illegitimate. Is there a suffering that goes beyond material possession and social group identity? Yes, and we repress it, lie to ourselves about it, in our pursuit of social aims and material possessions. This is the problem Peterson confronts and aims to, if not cure, provide an antidote that might help some.

Peterson’s fame came with his criticism of Bill C-16, in a series of protracted YouTube videos. His main contentions circled around (1) the idea that the law required the recognition of nonscientific positions as factual truth, effectively legislating truth by political power, and (2) compelled speech.[49][50] On the first issue, Peterson has said the bill rests on the claim that there is no biological basis for gender identity, gender expression, and sex: that they vary independently, though these three are correlated upwards of .95.[51] The second issue of compelled speech is important to Peterson for a few reasons: (1) he’s not “willing to cede linguistic territory to postmodern radicals;” (2) he doesn’t accept that those who have spoken on behalf of LGBTQI people politically represent them, since there have been no elections; and (3) he doesn’t believe legislating compelled speech is democratic. None of this means, however, that he’s unwilling to accept the reality that some people are in fact LGBTQI, or that he’d refuse to use the proper pronoun for these people.[52] Ultimately, because Peterson’s reservations and critiques follow from his understanding of postmodernity, and its connection to Marxism, it will be instructive to briefly explore this relationship presently.

Although Peterson receives a lot of flack for his use of the term “postmodernism,” what he means by it actually coheres with the definition in Encyclopedia Britannica: “a late 20th-century movement characterized by broad skepticism, subjectivism, or relativism; a general suspicion of reason; and an acute sensitivity to the role of ideology in asserting and maintaining political and economic power.” This is what he means by postmodernism, and he has said as much.[53] Many friends I have, and many commentators I see online, disparage Peterson for not adequately engaging with Postmodern thinkers in writing such as Derrida or Foucault. Whereas I agree with their basic point, and think Peterson is not as far away from these thinkers as he believes he is, the fact still remains that people he engages with, who show up to protest his speeches and events, hold the positions he calls “postmodern,” and this fact perhaps outweighs, though does not exonerate, Peterson’s lack of academic critique of serious postmodern thinkers. He doesn’t need to be a scholar of Derrida or Foucault or Deleuze to use “postmodernism” descriptively and to say something meaningful about it.

But he has not kept silent on thinkers like Foucault, although his most in-depth exposition of postmodernism comes by way of Derrida in his discussion with Joe Rogan.[54] The basic narrative Peterson tells is this: Jacques Derrida is the central villain of postmodernism. A Marxist to begin with, as Marxism fell out of favor in the 1970s, when no intellectual could deny its evil deeds, he shifted his Marxism and began playing identity politics, grounding the Marxist oppressor/oppressed conflict on identity rather than on economic grounds. The way Derrida did this was to focus his philosophical project on the framing problem: the recognition that there are an infinite number of ways to interpret a finite set of objects, which means there are an infinite number of ways to interpret a text, which means the world is subject to an infinite number of interpretations as well. What follows is the claim that there is no right or correct way to interpret the world. From this claim, Derrida (as the paragon postmodernist) derives that those who have interpreted the world do so in a way that facilitates acquisition of power. Thus, we get identity politics: All people do is play power games based on their identities.

As we can see, Peterson’s equation for marrying postmodernism with Marxism is relatively simple. On the empirical level, people who show up at protests against him carry the clean, commodified hammer and sickle flag.[55] On the theoretical level, Peterson believes people who make claims of group identity do so under the influence of a latent, ideological Marxism. He cannot be faulted for this kind of conclusion, given the role of ideology in protests against him.[56] According to Peterson, those who have fallen prey to the postmodern ethos do not believe in dialogue with those they oppose because dialogue, like all else, is grounded in power. Claims of truth are, as a result, claims to power: to control the narrative about what truth is.

Peterson thinks they’re wrong because what you extract from the world is a game you can play. From the things we encounter in the world and the values we contend with in the social sphere we extract a set of tools so that we we don’t suffer too much and people will cooperate with us in a sustainable and reciprocal way. The best functional aim is to live and thrive in multiple environments among multiple people. And Peterson thinks these are actual constraints on interpretations.

The major issue Peterson has with postmodernism, then, is that it aims to destroy what he believes we have gained from millenia of trial and error: the ethical substructure that grounds our social values that derived from myths. Whereas the ethical substructure based on myth aims at, for the most part, solving the problem of suffering by presenting a turning inward as its solution,[57] political ideologies that interpret every ethic as a power game relegate the problem of suffering, and therefore its solution, to an outward phenomenon: the state. If we lose the concept of truth to its reduction by power, or discussion to its reduction by identity, then we lose what we gained from the distillation of the Enlightenment: rationality, empiricism, science, clarity of mind, dialogue, and the individual. Why speak the truth if it might offend: why not proceed by a lie and construct the perfect state with ends that will justify the means? Why tell the truth if a lie will make the masses feel better momentarily while we work on the perfect organization of society? Hannah Arendt’s answer is very close to Peterson’s:

“The more people’s standpoints I have present in my mind while I am pondering a given issue, and the better I can imagine how I would feel and think if I were in their place, the stronger will be my capacity for representative thinking and the more valid my final conclusions, my opinion. (It is this capacity for an ‘enlarged mentality’ that enables [hu]man[s] to judge…. The very process of opinion formation is determined by those in whose places somebody thinks and uses his own mind, and the only condition for this exertion of the imagination is disinterestedness, the liberation from one’s own private interests.”[58]

The only way to obtain this “impartiality,” which means the liberation from one’s private interests alone, is to tell the truth, to be honest with oneself: “truth and truthfulness have always constituted the highest criterion of speech and endeavor.”[59] Lying, on the other hand, simplifies the world into basic images, as in political propaganda which says there is one simple solution and one simple problem and if you don’t stand on the side of the good you are evil. This inhibits us from both empathy and thinking. This is precisely Peterson’s point, and, he believes, the rejection of science and myth amounts to the victory of the lie and of the state over the truth and the individual.

If you think this is too far, Peterson has debated with a professor of Transgender Studies who claimed “it’s not correct that there is such a thing as biological sex.”[60] Many think Peterson uses hyperbole to heighten the stakes of his claims unrealistically. But for those who have followed a least a small percentage of his interactions with his critics, what’s at stake does indeed appear to be the values of the Enlightenment itself.[61]

Peterson is infamous for his love-affair with the Christian myth. One reason for this is that he thinks the story on which western civilization is founded in the Christian myth. This claim bears some explanation, as its importance is not entirely apparent today. Jacques Ellul has noted[62] that Christianity differs from religions that came before it because it did not rise with a culture, but came to fruition within well developed cultures (Roman and Jewish). Christianity was used in turn to explicitly shape and order the empires that followed it. It was a reversal of the historical marrying of culture and religion, placing the latter before the former chronologically.

So what does it mean, other than the chronological note we have made, that Christianity is the story on which western civilization is founded? This is a primary claim of Peterson’s, following in part from his conception of the origin of religion and his awareness of history. He means this quite literally. The story of the Old Testament, he thinks, which he gets from Northrop Frye, is that the solution to suffering is the construction of the perfect state. But the New Testament answers differently, placing the individual as the site of salvation: the individual that tells the truth, the incarnation of the Logos. And it is this Christian insight on which the west stands.

This is, in effect, the summation of Peterson’s politics: How are you going to change the world when you can’t even keep your room clean? Fundamentally, his challenge is to not perpetuate your pathologies socially by participating in politics as a means to overcome your suffering, but first get yourself in order. He believes with Jung that “…if the individual is not truly regenerated in spirit, society cannot be either, for society is the sum total of individuals in need of redemption.”[63] And he doesn’t think postmodernism allows for this kind of ordering and, rather, subjects the individual to the tyranny of ideology. Why tell the truth, anyway, if by the truth we offend another, or discover physical limitations to idealized harmonies we aim for in our utopian visions of the state? Why tell the truth when truthful speech can be violent?

I recommend everyone who wants a basic understanding of the thrust of Peterson’s politics to read C. G. Jung’s very accessible and very brief work The Undiscovered Self: The Dilemma of the Individual in Modern Society. There one will find the beating heart of Peterson’s political faith and the monsters he hopes to fend against:

“In order to free the fiction of the sovereign state—in other words, the whims of those who manipulate it—from every wholesome restriction, all socio-political movements tending in this direction invariably try to cut the ground from under the religions. For, in order to turn the individual into a function of the State, his dependence on anything beside the State must be taken from him. But religion means dependence on and submission to the irrational facts of experience. These do not refer directly to social and physical conditions; they concern far more the individual’s psychic attitude.”[64]

We can immediately see the parallel in this indictment with Peterson’s. Religion for Jung does not mean institutionalized rituals or holy sites, but it means the individual’s relationship to a superordinate principle that sits outside everyday contingencies and orders life and its circumstances by its compelling force. This is the same for Peterson, especially the notion of “God.” Whereas if when religion (in this technical sense) wanes, political fanaticism intensifies, it follows that a regrounding in religion protects against the onslaught of totalitarianism or nihilism which institutes the state as the superordinate principle. Many more people than Peterson have arrived at this conclusion, and it bears some serious reflection. It is not a stretch to think that when he spoke out against Bill C-16, effectively standing up for “free speech,” Peterson understood himself to be in the circumstances Jung described some half-century ago:

“The State has taken the place of God….But the religious function cannot be dislocated and falsified in this way without giving rise to secret doubts, which are immediately repressed so as to avoid conflict with the prevailing trends towards mass-mindedness. The result, as always in such cases, is overcompensation in the form of fanaticism, which in its turn is used as a weapon for stamping out the least flicker of opposition. Free opinion is stifled and moral decision ruthlessly suppressed, on the plea that the end justifies the means, even the vilest. The policy of the State is exalted to a creed, the leader or party boss becomes a demigod beyond good and evil, and his votaries are honored as heroes, martyrs, apostles, missionaries. There is only one truth and beside it no other. It is sacrosanct and above criticism. Anyone who thinks differently is a heretic, who, as we know from history, is threatened with all manner of unpleasant things. Only the party boss, who holds the political power in his hands, can interpret the State doctrine authentically, and he does so just as suits him.”

Final Remarks and an Attempt at Responding to Peterson’s Detractors

Jordan Peterson is now somewhat infamous, regarded from an elitist (and ignorant) point-of-view as “the stupid man’s smart person,” and from a political stance as an alt-right prophet. To begin with, I think to get beyond most criticisms of Peterson (which for the most part have nothing to do with the substance of his ideas but rather with a conferral of intentions onto him based on either his audience or, at times, deliberate misinterpretations of his words), one just has to simply accept this proposition: If Peterson says something true, it doesn’t follow that Peterson has said it in the best way, nor that Peterson is the only authorized person to make that point. Accepting this proposition has improved my appreciation for his ideas, despite my disagreement with the ways in which he frames things and, at times, the way he behaves.

On another level of analysis, there is a large swath of detractors who level criticisms at Peterson based on some kind of constructed history, placing him in a narrative of masculinity promulgation.[65] More specifically, these commentators don’t make a distinction between dominance and competence. In turn they interpret Peterson’s influence on men to be fundamentally pernicious as opposed to edifying.[66] They simply ignore his work, I claim, and the way in which the ideas he promotes today fit into the context of his work as a whole, especially Maps of Meaning. I hope to have answered some of these concerns in this brief essay and provide a somewhat (though bare) adequate schema to understand Peterson’s claims.

Yet another common criticism is that Peterson is some kind of self-help guru, unplaceable in any strict academic discipline. If compared to Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, Erich Fromm’s Psychoanalysis and Religion, Sigmund Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, or C. G. Jung’s Man and His Symbols, one would find in Peterson a similar line of argumentation: the diagnosis of social ills by personal pathologies and meaning-making behavior. This is where Peterson’s work fits.

And so, we end where we began. The technologies that diminish our capacities to think can be manipulated for other ends: Jordan Peterson’s popularity has skyrocketed, and his videos and interviews are noticed by more and more people. Indeed, we might call this “The Jordan Peterson Moment.” As a thinker, he sits firmly within the philosophical traditions spurred by Nietzsche, William James, and Jung. And as an influence, he’s a cultural force that we will not soon forget. Why tell the truth in our age of group-think and Twitter epigrams? Well, it’s our only hope for survival, and the only way for the hero, who speaks a freeing word that organizes chaos into novel order, to emerge. As Peterson concludes in Maps of Meaning:

“The point of our limitations is not suffering; it is existence itself. We have been granted the capacity to voluntarily bear the terrible weight of our mortality. We turn from that capacity and degrade ourselves because we are afraid of responsibility. In this manner, the necessarily tragic preconditions of existence are made intolerable.

It seems to me that it is not the earthquake, the flood or the cancer that makes life unbearable, horrible as those events appear. We seem capable of withstanding natural disaster, even of responding to that disaster in an honorable and decent manner. It is rather the pointless suffering that we inflict upon each other—our evil—that makes life appear corrupt beyond acceptability; that undermines our ability to manifest faith in our central natures. So why should the capacity for evil exist?. . . But how can we put an end to our errors? What path can we follow to eliminate our blindness and stupidity, to bring us closer to the light? Christ said, Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect. But how? We seem stymied, as always, by Pontius Pilate’s ironic query: What is truth? (John 18:38)

Well, even if we don’t know precisely what the truth is, we can certainly tell, each of us, what it isn’t. It isn’t greed, and the desire, above all else, for constant material gain; it isn’t denial of experience we know full well to be real, and the infliction of suffering for the purpose of suffering. Perhaps it is possible to stop doing those things which we know, beyond doubt, to be wrong—to become self-disciplined and honest—and to therefore become ever more able to perceive the nature of the positive good.

The truth seems painfully simple—so simple that it is a miracle, of sorts, that it can ever be forgotten. Love God, with all thy mind, and all thy acts, and all thy heart. This means, serve truth above all else, and treat your fellow man as if he were yourself—not with the pity that undermines his self-respect, and not with the justice that elevates you above him, but as a divinity, heavily burdened, who could yet see the light.

It is said that it is more difficult to rule oneself than a city, and this is no metaphor. This is the truth, as literal as it can be made. It is precisely for this reason that we keep trying to rule the city.”[67]

 


 

[1] Maps of Meaning, 460.

[2] Hannah Arendt, “Truth and Politics.”

[3] Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death.

[4] Ibid., 92.

[5] See commentary here: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/01/putting-monsterpaint-onjordan-peterson/550859/

[6] Donald Davidson, “On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme,” 19: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3129898.

[7] This is true but not in the way normally intended. See Christian Chensvold’s article for more: https://www.nationalreview.com/2017/06/jordan-p-peterson-self-help-guru-father-figure/

[8] Maps of Meaning, 467.

[9] Ibid., 4.

[10] Jung, “Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious,” 19.

[11] Jung,”The Concept of the Collective Unconscious,” 44.

[12] Ibid., 48.

[13] Joe Rogan Experience #958 – Jordan Peterson

[14] Russell Brand & Jordan Peterson – Kindness VS Power | Under The Skin #46

[15] Jung, “Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious.”

[16] Russell Brand & Jordan Peterson – Kindness VS Power | Under The Skin #46

[17] Yet even in chimps, it’s not the brute that gets sexual dominance, Peterson has said, because if the brute has an off day, then two beta males will tear him from limb to limb: it is better, at least, even in chimp communities, to be tolerant and cooperative than to merely be a brute.

[18] Recently Peterson has been using this phraseology instead of “dominance hierarchy,” which you will hear in most of his lectures and interviews. He means the same thing by these, but he no longer uses the word “dominance” (at least not consistently) because what he wants to indicate by these hierarchies is that you climb them with skill rather than with force.

[19] 04 – Religion, Science, Myth, Truth

[20] Ibid.

[21] Peterson’s fixation on lobsters is famously idiosyncratic, and this claim is everywhere in his work.

[22]   Joe Rogan Experience #958 – Jordan Peterson

[23] Russell Brand & Jordan Peterson – Kindness VS Power | Under The Skin #46

[24] Joe Rogan Experience #958 – Jordan Peterson. Peterson repeats this claim and similar ones, with different examples, in nearly every presentation I’ve heard. For an extensive, academic treatment, see Maps of Meaning.

[25] #1. Reality and the Sacred

[26] Dragons, Divine Parents, Heroes and Adversaries: A complete cosmology of being

[27] Of course, there are older conceptions of evil than what Christianity presents, however Peterson thinks Christianity has the most robust conception of evil because it combines older conceptions with the notion that the solution to evil is to confront it, as an individual, and choose against it: to not simply recognize its objective reality in events or groups or others, but its subjective reality within the self, and then to choose whatever leads us away from suffering and evil.

[28] Jordan Peterson on what matters.

[29] #13 – Maps of Meaning 10 – 13

[30] See below for further exposition.

[31] Peterson traces a genealogy of the logos in his biblical lectures.

[32] What Does It Mean To Orient Oneself In Thinking?

[33] The Productivity of War | The Forum | Stratford Festival 2014

[34] Joe Rogan Experience #958 – Jordan Peterson

[35] Russell Brand & Jordan Peterson – Kindness VS Power | Under The Skin #46

[36] Joe Rogan Experience #958 – Jordan Peterson

[37] Maps of Meaning, 465.

[38] #1. Reality and the Sacred

[39] Ibid.

[40] One difference between this heightened consciousness and, for instance, the kind of consciousness Buddhism advocates is that this kind of heightened consciousness isn’t to show how everything is illusory, but to show that everything is in fact really real: the most basic reality is suffering, and to overcome suffering isn’t to show how to become detached from everything, but to become really attached to them, and choose them, and say that no matter what happens this is good. It’s more of a Albert Camus thing than a Sam Harris thing.

[41] Jordan Peterson on the purpose of life.

[42] #4 – Religion, Myth, Science, Truth

[43] Maps of Meaning, 447.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Jordan Peterson, on what he learned from Kierkegaard

[46] Joe Rogan Experience #958 – Jordan Peterson

[47] There was a public demonstration of this phenomenon in the political science literature. It was described as “Mutually-Assured Destruction.” The concept itself developed out of classical, realist foreign policy ideas. The basic concept was that if two countries had the capacity to destroy themselves and the world, and that capacity continued to grow, that the two countries wouldn’t actually do it, for fear of destroying the human race. This is exactly what happened between the United States and the Soviet Union. While it seems irrational on the surface, there was deeply logical reasoning behind doing this, for if each country made the use of nuclear weapons impossible, the potential for peace was inevitable. Peterson’s point would, I think, be that what is questionable is not, then, a realist-stand-off about the possibility of launching the nukes, but the creation of the nukes in the first place. What kind of drive would cause humans to create a weapon that could destroy everything, if even by accident? He has, in some places, pointed to our loss of the notion of truth as that which serves life to be part of the problem.

[48] “We shall be told: what can literature possibly do against the ruthless onslaught of open violence? But let us not forget that violence does not live alone and is not capable of living alone: it is necessarily interwoven with falsehood. Between them lies the most intimate, the deepest of natural bonds. Violence finds its only refuge in falsehood, falsehood its only support in violence. Any man who has once acclaimed violence as his METHOD must inexorably choose falsehood as his PRINCIPLE. At its birth violence acts openly and even with pride. But no sooner does it become strong, firmly established, than it senses the rarefaction of the air around it and it cannot continue to exist without descending into a fog of lies, clothing them in sweet talk. It does not always, not necessarily, openly throttle the throat, more often it demands from its subjects only an oath of allegiance to falsehood, only complicity in falsehood.”

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Nobel Prize Speech 1970

[49] See Peterson’s Senate hearing regarding these issues here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KnIAAkSNtqo.

[50] See https://torontoist.com/2016/12/are-jordan-petersons-claims-about-bill-c-16-correct/ for a commentary on Peterson’s views of C-16 in particular. My aim here is to simply outline how these views are simply instantiations of his overall philosophical project about the problem of suffering and its solution.

[51] He makes this claim in Joe Rogan Experience #958 – Jordan Peterson.

[52] Although he has said this many times over, he has said it recently on the Rubin Report: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRPDGEgaATU

[53] See Joe Rogan Experience #958 – Jordan Peterson in particular.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid.

[56] See my article on this issue: https://reasonrevolution.org/rise-identity-politics-indicates-decline-religion/.

[57] See Kierkegaard, who presents the very same solution, in The Present Age: On the Death of Rebellion.

[58] Hannah Arendt, “Truth and Politics,” from The Portable Hannah Arendt, 556.

[59]Ibid., 571.

[60] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kasiov0ytEc

[61] See the case of Evergreen College for an example. Jonathan Haidt has written on this topic as well.

[62] Jacques Ellul, The New Demons.

[63] C. G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self: The Dilemma of the Individual in Modern Society, 56.

[64] Ibid.,19.

[65] For one of the best representatives of this tactic, see: http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2018/03/19/jordan-peterson-and-fascist-mysticism/

[66] This is a fairly good article drawing the distinction: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/03/05/jordan-petersons-gospel-of-masculinity

[67] Maps of Meaning, 454-455

 

Reason Revolution Episode 34 Website Thumbnail

In this third podcast in our series on free will, Justin sits down with Reason Revolution co-creator Tylor Lovins (@tylorlovins) and author J. R. Becker (@AnnabelleNAiden) to discuss the scientific, philosophical, and linguistic concepts underpinning the age-old philosophical problem.

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Website_-EPISODE-3_-BLACK-MIRROR-AND-PHILOSOPHY

You can blame me, try to shame me, and still I’ll create podcasts for you! And anyone who knows what “Black Mirror” is (which should be everyone) will understand.

This episode is devoted to a deep-dive discussion of some of the philosophical ideas and issues explored in the television series “Black Mirror,” including such meaty areas as the nature of consciousness, the problem of personal identity and its relationship with memory, existentialism, morality and ethics (especially as these relate to the question of retributive justice), and of course technology and the role it plays in our lives.

Joining me for this discussion are two friends of mine, Jeremiah Traeger and Michael Schaffer, who are big fans of the series and whose most interesting contribution to this episode is their heated debate over whether the simulated counterparts of various characters are conscious beings or not. . .

Join the official discussion group of this podcast at https://www.facebook.com/groups/alopdiscussion/

Follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/TheNatheist

Follow “The Romantic Nihilist” page on Facebook: https://facebook.com/RomanticNihilism/

 

Relevant Links:

Jeremiah Traeger on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Jerbivore

The SJW Circle Jerk podcast: https://www.spreaker.com/show/the-sjw-circle-jerk

Michael Schaffer’s “Reasonable Risk” podcast: https://twitter.com/ReasonBroker and http://www.reasonableriskpodcast.com

 

The opening clip is an excerpt from the audiobook “God is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens, courtesy of Hachette Audio. Text Copyright 2007 by Christopher Hitchens. Audio production copyright 2007, Hachette Audio. Used with permission.

The opening and ending music is “Jade” by Esther Nicholson and is used under license.

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