Friday, June 22, 2018

At Jordan Peterson's Road Show

Last night, June 21, 2018, I was to Jordan B. Peterson's road show, publicizing his 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos. Every seat at Seattle's Moore Theater was taken.

Of course, it's ridiculous to suppose that you will learn anything from such an event. Read the book, kid.

On the other hand, in the format of a 70 minute monologue, an author is bound to try and reduce his ideas to their foundation. And Peterson was clearly focused on that, the fundamental point he is trying to make, since he was scheduled to debate on the morrow with atheist Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith.

Peterson's fundamental point is that we see facts through a lens or a matrix of value. In other words, if you are a Thomas Gradgrind from Dickens' Hard Times and you say you believe in "facts, facts, facts," you are deceiving yourself. Whatever you think, you start out in the morning with a Theory of Everything, a story about what the world means, what your life means, and you look at facts in the light of the meaning you make of the world.

An example of this would be the media frenzy about The Children in last week. From the point of view of facts, facts, facts, what does it matter that children of illegal aliens are being separated from their parents at the border of the United States? What do we care?

But we do care. The fact is that we humans do not look upon children as facts. We see them through the filter of our beliefs about children. In other words: first comes the value, the story about children, then comes the fact.

It is Jordan Peterson's contention that religion issues from this "fact" about human life. If we humans all view life through the lens of our values then the values we hold and express are the most important thing in the world. You may say that religion is the story about value by humans, the social animals.

If you think about it, it must be so. It is true that we moderns have accumulated an astonishing trove of facts about the world. Only they are not facts; they are theories that have an astonishing ability to predict sense impressions. And what exactly are theories? I would say they are the way we make a connection between Kant's unobservable things-in-themselves and our sense impressions of those things-in-themselves.

But humans lived long before we had developed sophisticated theories about a solar-centric universe and curved space and quantum mechanics.

Whatever our human fund of knowledge at any point in time, we must live our lives with what we have. So the ancients had spirits in trees, the Elizabethans had nine circles of Heaven and nine circles of Hell. And we have... Yes, what do we have?

Enter my reductive Three Peoples theory. If you are a Person of the Subordinate Self your religion is the religion of Homer's Iliad. The gods decide everything, just like your local lord decides everything. There is really no occasion for agency, because you are not an agent; you do not have the right or the power to decide anything about yourself. Agency belongs to your lord.

Enter the People of the Responsible Self and the Axial Age religions from Zoroastrianism to Hinduism, to Judaism to Christianity to Islam. The whole point of these religions was expressed by a minister during the Great Awakening in the 18th century.
“When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of ages—they seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.”
Notice how, for our lefty friends, it is a damning sin to expect agency from their catalog of victims.

Here's another quote, from Robert Bellah:
[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
In my Three Peoples lingo, these Axial Age religions address the existential issues that people experience when they are moving from being People of the Subordinate Self to becoming People of the Responsible Self. They construct a story, a matrix of values, to make sense of life as you leave behind your subordinate life and put on the armor of responsibility.

But what we are interested in is the transition, the existential issues, that people face when they are moving from being People of the Responsible Self to People of the Creative Self. Because if the Axial Age religions arose to respond to the existential issues of people at the Subordinate-Responsible boundary then it stands to reason that there must be religions that respond to people at the Responsible-Creative boundary.

It is my contention that everything from Romanticism to the Young Hegelians, to Marx, to the Fabian Society to feminism to art for art's sake to the activism culture to the startup culture in business to the recent explosion in getting creative about sex are all attempts to navigate the Responsible-Creative transition, to ask the question: What does it mean to live a creative life?  Through what filter of values, with what story should I experience and understand the world?

And I believe that Jordan Peterson's books are another attempt to do that, to illuminate a path for navigation from the world of Responsibility to the world of Creativity.

Up to now, I would say, the most militant of these new religions has been the religion of leftism. It sees the facts of the case through a value filter of bending the arc of history towards justice through politics. If you want to make sense of your lefty friends that is it.

However, I believe that the left's sacralizing of politics is a monstrous error. You are never going to bend the arc of history towards justice using politics. That is because politics and government are not saving truths showing the way to the Promised Land, but necessary evils to keep the peace in this Fallen World. I symbolize this truth with my maxim "there is no such thing as justice, only injustice."

Peterson is proposing a different road to the Promised Land, through the agency of the sacrificial hero, an archetype that appears again and again in the history of humans and our religions. The sacrificial hero creatively explores on the boundary between order, the realm of the known, and chaos, the lawless world without the law. Yes, and the sacrificial hero usually sacrifices himself so that we might live.

In my view Jordan Peterson fully understands that he is a sacrificial hero. At his road show in Seattle on June 21 he said that the last two years have been terrifying, for he knows that a single wrong word could immolate him in some Twitter inferno and end his public life.

So what is Jordan Peterson saying? He is setting forth the parameters for a religion, a filter of value through which to view the world, that appropriates all the astonishing increase in understanding about the world in the last centuries and that provides meaning for a person trying to live a creative life, a creative life that does not bow to the false god of politics.

And so it is unsurprising that the audience at the sold-out Moore Theater on June 21 were... Well, the only thing for sure is that the were not liberals, or anything else from lefty world. They were not white working class, but many of them could be Trump voters. And I would say they were overwhelmingly 30-40ish.

I believe that Peterson is bringing to the Anglo-Saxon world the results of the German turn. I mean everything from Kant's dictum that we cannot know things-in-themselves and therefore no objective knowledge, Hegel's philosophy of contrast and opposites, naughty Nietzsche's they-are-all-liars effusions, to Jung's reconnection with ancient myth and the notion that our faith and our pride in our conscious mind is negated by the truth that we have almost no idea what is going on in our unconscious mind, that tumbling river of instincts and lost world of archetypes.

It's not a bad idea: construct a religion of lordly tolerance, allowing to the ancestors the dignity of knowing the truth by their own lights rather than stigmatizing their faith as superstition, while maintaining a radical openness to the future as a creative project, an exploration of the border between order and chaos.

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