by Chauncey Tinker – 2 Jan 2019
Image By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America – Jordan Peterson, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link
As most of our readers will have noticed by now, Dr. Jordan B. Peterson is making waves in the world today with his speaking tours, interviews, and books. It is quite surprising that so many people are being influenced by what to many sound at first like mere platitudes, but I believe there is deep wisdom in Dr. Peterson’s philosophy of life and even though I only really began to latch on to his ideas a couple of months ago, I am already finding these ideas beneficial in my own life.
Recently Dr. Oz interviewed Dr. Peterson to talk about the ideas behind his success, and specifically about Dr. Peterson’s recent book “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos”, and this post is a review of that interview. The podcast of the interview is a long and fascinating listen, nearly 3 hours long; as not all readers will have the time to listen to the whole interview I have summarized what I feel are just some of the more important points here. I have divided this review into sections to talk about particular subjects discussed in the podcast, these sections do not correspond with Dr. Peterson’s 12 rules.
One very important idea in Dr. Peterson’s thinking is that “life is suffering”. Many people have found this idea challenging at first, on first hearing it seems to be a very pessimistic or perhaps even downright depressing assessment of the human condition. However eventually it sinks in that nobody is immune from illnesses, bereavement, the effects of aging and so forth, so perhaps Dr. Peterson has a point. Problems can strike at any time in our lives, and if we keep this in mind we will be better prepared for such eventualities.
I have found this idea personally helpful to me, I think it helps to ground us more in the present and focus on making small improvements in the here and now rather than pursuing (possibly) unrealistic longer term goals that may well come to nothing due to unexpected circumstances.
Many people try to pursue happiness in life, but Dr. Peterson argues that we should pursue something more meaningful. He suggests (@3:05) instead that we should accept responsibility for ourselves, our families, and our communities, and that we will find meaning from that acceptance of responsibility.
I think that one of the great problems of the present is that people have become complacent and these days take our hard won rights for granted, and thus are slow to even acknowledge never mind to challenge growing threats to those rights, and so I also think that Dr. Peterson’s emphasis on responsibilities is of paramount importance as a corrective influence.
Another central idea in Dr. Peterson’s thinking is that pursuing incremental improvement is much more likely to lead to successful outcomes. He talks about striving to be better than the person you were yesterday rather than trying to be better than someone else is today.
He also urges us to (@2:01:34):
treat yourself as if you’re someone that you’re taking care of.
They discuss the subject of strength of character and the necessity of being mentally strong enough to stand up to bullying behaviour (@54:00):
There will be a cost if you interfere with me. It will be the minimum cost necessary but do not be thinking there will not be a cost.
It becomes clear from stories that Dr. Peterson tells about feedback he has received that many are finding their character is indeed strengthened from following his advice. He stresses that we should not accept the status quo, and this feedback suggests that indeed we don’t need to accept the status quo, there is always room for improvement in fact (@1:12:00):
It’s not OK for you to be a weak loser … it’s a crime, it’s an ethical crime …
He also talks (@1:13:20) about the “healthy sovereignty of the individual“, he describes this as “the great idea of the West”.
Incidentally something I have noticed before in Dr. Peterson’s other media appearances is that at times he gets quite emotional, almost tearful, and I did frankly find this somewhat offputting and slightly strange in those other appearances. This happens again in this podcast as he tells of this good feedback from people who are following his advice. However when Dr. Oz questions him about this (@1:08:00) he explains that it is the cumulative effect of all the positive feedback he gets from people who have benefitted from listening to his advice, and this makes sense of it for me.
For Dr. Peterson, religion seems to be more about gaining meaning from religious stories than adhering to any particular religious dogma. He isn’t afraid to challenge accepted wisdom about biblical stories either, as revealed in the podcast when the two Dr.s discuss (@28:40) the biblical statement (Matthew 5:5):
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Rather surprisingly, Dr. Peterson claims that the currently accepted translation above is a mistranslation, he says that during his study of older translations he found another interpretation:
Those who have swords and know how to use them but choose to keep them sheathed will inherit the earth.
He says he thinks this is a much better idea as well, and I agree. If he’s right though, it would be quite astonishing because the normally quoted translation of the bible has been used certainly by the Anglican church for over 400 years! You have to wonder what else they may have gotten wrong as well …
Dr. Peterson says (@6:00) that he has spent a lot of time trying to figure out what led to the rise of the Nazis/fascism and communist totalitarian regimes. He says he does not believe that these movements were primarily born out of economic hardship, but rather that they resulted from failure of individuals to take responsibility for their lives and to challenge authority. In other words, a lack of good moral guidance perhaps led to these movements emerging.
This is of course a crucially important question to ask about the present day as well, as we are seeing a steady increase in the number of threats to the freedom of speech. In his own native Canada he has taken a brave stand against this trend by opposing new legislation that enforced the use of preferred gender pronouns (a bill known as C-16). Unfortunately that bill has been passed into law now and we are likely to hear more about this if anyone is actually prosecuted under this legislation. Perhaps the moral guidance of Dr. Peterson himself, and others like him who are starting to emerge in recent times, could be exactly what we need to stop this trend nonetheless.
Although Dr. Peterson considers himself to be right wing, I find myself most in disagreement with him in the area of politics and identity politics. Since he is primarily a psychologist, perhaps it is not surprising that his ideas about politics are less well formed. However, it seems to me that there is possibly a contradiction in his ideas in this area, I will now try to explain why I think so. Dr. Oz raises the subject of tribalism (@1:30:50) and Dr. Peterson responds:
That’s why I don’t like identity politics, it’s not my tribe and your tribe, don’t be thinking that.
One of the biggest problems in the West today is the rise of divisive identity politics in our political sphere. One group that is very conspicuously absent and unrepresented in this, at least so far in the Anglosphere, are the white Europeans themselves. Dr. Peterson rails against tribalism and identity politics in the podcast, and this might be all well and good enough if all groups in our multi-cultural and multi-racial societies were signing up to these principles, but unfortunately that is not what is happening.
Concerningly, we have seen our society swing from the extreme of overt racism towards minorities to the opposite extreme of what I think can be described as racial self-hatred or “white guilt” about the past. In academia and the mainstream media, real racial self-loathing has become almost the norm, and our history is being crudely distorted and rewritten to fit the ideas of this new norm. Academics such as Professor Kehinde Andrews who advocates violent transfer of wealth from whites to blacks are not only tolerated but given publicity in our media.
Worse still, our legal system is increasingly discriminating against white Europeans, the principle of equality before the law is being abandoned in favour of pandering to the exaggerated victimhood grievances of those who represent minorities. At this point I am not sure where this trend is going to end, the only thing I feel certain of is that if it is not brought to an end soon then we are heading towards a very bad place which could even see violent conflict.
Why I say that Dr. Peterson’s ideas are in contradiction in this area is because he says we must take responsibility for ourselves, for our families, and our communities. Perhaps by abandoning our own “in-group preference” we are also abandoning our responsibility towards ourselves, our families and our communities. Only if all groups in society can be persuaded to abandon identity politics can we prevent a catastrophe, but yet I see no effort being made in this direction, at least in the mainstream of public life.
Perhaps the solution is simply to rail against the anti-white hysteria, and identity politics of minorities, but at the moment I am unsure whether this will ever be successful because I see no sign of the in-group preference among other groups diminishing, in fact I see quite the reverse occurring. At the moment all I see is that those who are complaining of discrimination against white Europeans are being denounced as “white supremacists” or “white nationalists”. Dr. Peterson’s ideal of a society without identity politics may yet turn out to be nothing more than a utopian vision.
I don’t agree with everything Dr. Peterson says by any means, but still I think there is much deep wisdom in some of his fundamental ideas and philosophy of life. In the podcast he urges us to take what is useful from the great thinkers of the past and reject what is not useful, and I suggest that we should do the same with his ideas as well. He is not the Messiah, but in my opinion he is making a very great contribution to the newly emerging public discourse that is increasingly taking place thanks in most part to the technological revolution of the internet age. I believe strongly that in time people will look back on discussions such as this podcast as the beginnings of a true revolution in human thought, unprecedented in human history in its scale and speed of transmission.
People Are Talking – Dr Jordan B Peterson
Towards A Moral Consensus
The full interview podcast reviewed above is available here for free:
57 - Dr. Oz - Jordan Peterson's Rules To Live By
From NBC news:
Canadian Lawmakers Pass Bill Extending Transgender Protections
What do you think? Please leave a comment below.