JORDAN PETERSON’S TRAGIC FOLLY
By Nirmal Dass | Researcher with a PhD in translation theory
Nirmal Dass has written a rather long srticle that is critical of Peterson. He says Peterson’s recent book — 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos — is filled with errors and misinformation. I found that a most amusing claim as I would say that Nirmal's article is "filled with errors and misinformation". It is certainly a very opinionated article. He writes with great confidence and zero sign of self-doubt. His dogmatism is extreme. He provides no links or references for any of his assertions. We are apparently supposed to sit at his feet and revere him as an infallible scholar. He appears to be of Indian origin so maybe he has adopted the role of guru.
Another thing that amused me was his prominent claim at the very beginning of his article that he has a PhD in translation theory. I have written a little on problems in translation myself but I rather wondered why he would make that claim so prominently. It appears that he may have that doctorate but it was not his first doctorate. He also has a doctorate in critical theory, which is a Marxist sect, or a series of Marxist sects. So Nirmal seems keen to deflect a search of his qualifications.
So at least when he talks about Marxism, you would think he knows what he is talking about. He probably does but it doesn't appear in his article. He makes in fact a quite hilarious claim about Marxism. He says there is such a thing as "real" Marxism. Some Marxists are not true Marxists, apparently.
I taught for some years in a university sociology department where most of the rest of the teaching staff were Marxists of one stripe or another. And a phrase that still rings in my ears from that time was "What Marx was REALLY saying ...". I heard it so many times. There was in other words no agreement about what constituted Marxism. In fact, as far as I can tell, there are as many versions of Marxism as there are Marxists. For a time in Australia there were two Communist parties: "The Communist Party of Australia" and "The Communist Party of Australia, Marxist Leninist". The first was pro-Soviet and the second was Maoist. They hated one-another but both of course would have claimed to be the true Marxists
The Communist sect which probably has the best claim to be close to the writings of Marx would be the Trotskyists. They do make strong claims to being the true followers of Marx. So I suspect that Nirmal is a Trot these days. Trotsky was a bloodthirsty beast but I like his judgement that the Soviet regime was "Bonapartist". That's a grievous insult in Marxist circles and equates roughly to being Fascist.
So that little example gives you the flavor of Nirmal's writing. Whatever he thinks and believes is an absolute. It alone is the true interpretation of anything. Nirmal is the true Marxist and others who claim inspiration from Marx are fools or impostors.
We encounter that dogmatism in Nirmal's first paragraph, where he speaks of "true concern of Chinese thought". There is a single body of thought in China and it has a "true concern"? One would have thought that there are many bodies of thought in China and that they all had their own concerns but Nirmal says it is not so. He has detected a "true concern" and that is the end of the matter.
We next find Peterson accused of incorrect interpretation of Jungian thought. But again there is no such thing as a correct interpretation of Jung. Carl Gustav Jung's ideas were highly speculative. He thought he could find deeper meaning in history and much else as well. And his followers have done likewise. Jungian thought is a speculative and critical exploration, not an infallible truth. And Jordan follows in those footsteps. Once again, however Nirmal appears to think he has found the "True" Jungianism and everybody else is wrong.
Then we go on to the Bible and we are blandly informed that Peterson "misconstrues the Logos". How, we are not told. I wonder however if it might be Nirmal who misconstrued the first verse of the Gospel of John. How for instance does he interpret the anarthrous predicate in ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος. He is an expert on ancient languages but I might still be able to give him a run on that one.
And so it goes. It is all just dubious assertions. I could pick apart his whole article as thoroughly as he tries to pick Peterson apart but I have already spent too much time on his puffed-up nonsense
Jordan Peterson’s recent book — 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos — is filled with errors and misinformation. Consider, for example:
1. The yinyang, claims Peterson, is a male-female duality. However, most Chinese philosophy denies such a claim, where only Dong Zhongshu (ca. 179–104 BC), a cranky oddball, says anything vaguely similar. Rather, the swirling pattern describes aesthetic order (the true concern of Chinese thought).
2. Peterson’s Jungian explanations of myths are fabrications, complete with mistranslations from languages he doesn’t know (Akkadian, Sanskrit, Biblical Hebrew, Greek). He calls such misinformation, “ancient wisdom.”
3. Lacking theology and history, Peterson proceeds to “explain” the Bible, by relativizing God and absolutizing opinion. Thus, he misconstrues the Logos, and blasphemes his way through the Old Testament and the Gospels. As for history, just one example suffices: No, Jesus is not a version of the Egyptian god, Osiris. This nonsense comes from Gerald Massey, a 19th-century crackpot who faked evidence to make such claims). Unbeknownst to Peterson, he has one ancient ally, the Pneumatomachi, who said the Bible was all tropes and happily fashioned harebrained interpretations.
4. “Marxism” (Peterson’s catchphrase for postmodernism, Marx, the Frankfurt School and feminism) is the great enemy, supposedly “destroying” the West. Some of Peterson’s talking points come from the fallacious book by Stephen Hicks (Explaining Postmodernism). But the West isn’t being destroyed by Marxism, The West is trying to become rootless via apostasy and acedia, which Peterson promotes. Should the West return to its root (Christianity), it will thrive. That real Marxists hate postmodernists is unknown to Peterson. He also knows nothing about Maximilien Robespierre’s Jacobin progeny (the democides Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot and the Kims).
5. Peterson cannot differentiate philosophy from critical theory and thus can only name-drop (Rousseau, Heidegger, Dostoevsky, Derrida, etc.).
6. Peterson naively believes that the labels, “ancient,” “medieval,” “Renaissance” and “Enlightenment” embody civilizational shifts. Scholars have long abandoned such designations, since the history of ideas shows no such drastic changes. Thus, Peterson’s evolutionary construct of “progress” and “change” via these labels is fiction.
7. Peterson’s “science” is smoke-and-mirrors. His example of lobsters is not true, since serotonin behaves differently in crustaceans and mammals. As an evolutionary psychologist, he’s a mythographer, interested not in truth but in the management of emotions.
8. Peterson has no formal logic and makes category mistakes (too many to list). He confuses one category with another, then draws a false, universalizing conclusion. For example, the lobsters, “ancient wisdom,” “Marxism” and so forth.
He “spreads a spirit of foolishness and of error,” in the words of Jean Racine, because he embodies that which he rails against — for he’s a postmodernist, steeped in conceptual relativism (per Hilary Putnam), where an object has a multitude of interpretations because it cannot have one universal meaning.
Thus he advises that “…each of us…bring forward the truth, as we see it” — because there’s nothing greater than the self: “…you need to place one foot in what you have mastered and understood and the other in what you are currently exploring and mastering…This is where meaning is to be found.”
As for facts, they “cannot speak for themselves…[as there are]…an endless number of interpretations.” Reality, then, is feelings, not ideas, and facts are fluid.
It gets worse. Camille Paglia calls him “the most important and influential Canadian thinker since Marshall McLuhan.” But Peterson disagrees, for he says thinking is overrated: “When existence reveals itself as existentially intolerable, thinking collapses in on itself…it’s noticing, not thinking, that does the trick.”
(It’s best to ignore the problem in logic – how can “existence” be “existentially intolerable?” This is another Petersonian trick – using “philosophicalese” to sound profound, a postmodernist sleight of hand).
So, Peterson wants you to “notice,” and not “think.” Why? Read Rule 6: “Set your house in order before you criticize the world.” This is acedia: Worry about yourself; you have nothing to offer the world. Trust only feelings (noticing) – that is your “truth” which will “justify your miserable existence.”
As a postmodernist, Peterson universalizes his feelings, imagining that his personal Hell includes the entire world. He wants to “enforce the myth of man’s material perfectibility,” in the words of Whittaker Chambers.
Henri de Lubac once observed, “…without God man can only organize the world against man.” This is the reason for all democides, from Robespierre onwards. Peterson too wants to organize the world without God by trying to replace one form of material perfectibility with another (his Jungian self-realization).
Peterson decries “Marxism,” while depending on Marxian logic, methodology and assumptions (materialism) to establish his own “broken truths” (another problem in logic – if truth is broken, then it’s not truth).
The constant theme of his book is the “enemy within…arrogant, static, unchanging existence.” He hopes to overcome this inner Hell by using delusion (errors and misinformation) as an opiate just to get through “miserable existence.” This is why he misteaches and misinforms, for he wants to fabricate a calming narrative to counter meaninglessness (suffering) that materialism always produces. Such is his strategy of worldly success (the 12 Rules).
Materialism has no faith, hope or love. Thus, Peterson has no antidote to chaos, because he himself is chaos. In his strategy of success, there is no God, no meaning, no truth, no history, which is “far preferable to waiting, endlessly, for the magical arrival of Godot.” By “Godot,” he means Christ. There’s only the self, eternally alone, trying to forestall suffering by way of distraction (noticing). As an evolutionary psychologist, he can only try to manage emotions.
The more important question is this: How can Peterson presume to offer “rules,” when he can offer no categories for their obedience? This is Consequentialism (per Elizabeth Anscombe), which dismantles Peterson’s entire book. Man obeying man is tyranny.
“Truth is the radiant manifestation of reality,” observed Simone Weil. Since Peterson does not want thinking, he cannot know truth, and can never know reality – hence his errors and misinformation. On what authority, then, does he presume to teach? Those that choose to follow him should answer this question.