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Heather R Higgins on Jordan Peterson, from The Hill

[ posted by Charles Cameron — a direct share of Higgins‘ piece, How philosopher Jordan Peterson will change the world ]

How philosopher Jordan Peterson will change the world

© YouTube

Your first sign that something different is afoot: the event is immediately sold out. The second clue: scalpers want over $500 for rear orchestra seats, and over $1,000 for prime. Yes it’s New York. But this isn’t “Hamilton”. It’s a bloody lecture.

And when you get there, there isn’t just one line around the block — there are two, one running in either direction. The audience to this beyond-sold-out event is disproportionately male, many young. And in line you overhear references to Jung, identity politics, biology, responsibility, faith, Nietzsche, the importance of not lying, and Solzhenitsyn. Whoa.

Why is Dr. Jordan Peterson, clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto, who recently gained meteoric attention in taking on the thought police and their language criminalizing legislation in Canada, attracting such a huge following of devotees, and eliciting both hatred and real fear among ideologues?
If you’re a young man, there’s a good chance you’ve experienced socially-approved condescension, because, well, it’s all patriarchy and social injustice and men are privileged (unless they are also part of an approved minority or sexual/gender orientation).

Young men hear falsehoods peddled as “truths”: That the sexes are not only equal, they are the same in everything but reproductive organs, and that any differences between males and females are socially constructed. That their opinion on any issue of gender is inherently inferior due to their Y chromosomes. That they are implicitly biased, and must have this bias “trained” out of them.

Additionally, they have observed a movement, where emotions matter and facts don’t, that shuts down critical thought as unsafe, and silences debate through vilification.

They know these things are wrong. But they don’t know why. They are parched for understanding, hope, and purpose to their lives. And into that desert comes the clear water of Dr. Peterson.

The first reason Peterson has had such impact is that this is no ordinary psychologist or professor, staying in his narrow lane. Peterson not only is extraordinarily intelligent, but also widely learned. Listening to him is like wrapping your mind with a Paul Johnson history, an interdisciplinary, intercultural, time-traveling tapestry of transcendent themes and truths — where evolutionary biology, history, literature, philosophy, psychology, music, art, religions, culture and myth are all interwoven.

People find him because of viral YouTube clips, where he dismembers sanctimonious ideologues with a mike-dropping command of fact and logic; they stay for two hour lectures on psychology, mythology, and religious texts — there are more than 400 hours online — on their new-found quest for understanding and meaning.

Peterson’s focus for decades has been what drives human beings to do evil, particularly the great evils of the 20th century, from Auschwitz to Soviet gulags, as well as helping people have agency over their own lives and the ability to endure and transcend the inescapable suffering of life.

That empathy makes him singularly effective and compelling: unlike most intellectuals’ arrogant pieties that are driven more by resentment than concern, Peterson is obsessed with actual human suffering. He cares deeply about real people, and particularly the unnecessary suffering caused by others, about which he becomes passionately angry. The high purpose of doing what he can to prevent the evil that human beings do — whether out of malice because they believe there is no meaning to life, or through lofty intentions because that is the price of their putative utopia — permeates his work.

His third atypical quality is exceptional humility. For Peterson, growth comes from constantly questioning himself, and being open to seeing another person’s point of view, even where the disagreements are profound.

In consequence, for all the attempts to pigeonhole his beliefs, he can’t be neatly put on left or right, Christian or not. To him routine questions are complicated, and modesty is called for.

If he does have defining principles, they would seem to be recognizing complexity and nuance, applying deeper wisdom than simplistic materialist explanations, being absolutely truthful, refusing to lie, and speaking out — whatever the cost — against those pernicious ideas and efforts that will hurt others. And because he has been teaching for a long time, he is skilled at taking grand concepts and challenging ideas and accessibly transposing them into everyday lives.

People may not like what Jordan Peterson says, but he is hard to disagree with. He serves as a role model for many, teaching them that facts do matter, to not assume conventional wisdom is right, to not be simplistic, and that it is not intentions that matter, but consequences.

Even more importantly, for many individuals, he reconnects them with responsibility for their lives, giving them agency and purpose — and not just for themselves, but in the effect they will then have on the world around them. Peterson is very insistent that each individual decision moves the entire world closer to either heaven or a bottomless hell. Because those aren’t just theoretical places we may go to after we die, but apt descriptions of the worlds we create around us.

Peterson is in part a font of self-help wisdom, a modern Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, drawing not on faith but on Jung, Nietzsche, Solzhenitsyn, biology, evolution, psychology, and learned wisdom, perceived through myth, religions, and history, all to provide better ways of being.

But he is also a cultural force. He is the scourge of simplistic, pernicious pieties, including: bias and social oppression as the presumed causes of inequality of outcome, equality of outcome as an unquestioningly desirable and enforced goal, identity as a subjective choice and the sexes as the same, patriarchy, white privilege, implicit bias, safe spaces, affirmative rights, postmodernism, nihilism, neo-Marxism, and identity politics.

As Peterson gets better known, he seems to find fewer and fewer on the left who will debate him. That’s no surprise — watch the debates that do exist, and be reminded of the attempted mugging of “Crocodile Dundee”, when he smiles pityingly and says “That’s not a knife. THIS is a knife,” before reducing his assailant to a quivering blob.

But those who like orthodoxies that would limit the speech, ideas, and freedoms of others in order to enforce a social construction of their own should be afraid. Like the boy who had the courage to tell the emperor he had no clothes, or like Alexander Solzhenitsyn, whose lone voice of truth helped topple a totalitarian empire, when this too crumbles, Jordan Peterson will be seen as the courageous catalyst that exposed the lies and made us a wiser people.

Heather R. Higgins is CEO of Independent Women’s Voice, an organization promoting conservative free market solutions that advance prosperity, freedom, and greater choices. Follow her on Twitter @TheHRH.


Shave off a dozen percentage points for over-the-top, and you have what I’d consider the single simplest and best account of Jordan Peterson and the reasons for his astounding popularity — which inckude a refusal to concede anything much to nuance and an a considered and measured indifference to applausee or dismisal alike. Having found a pair of great teachers in Jung and in his clinical patients keeps him deep and humble respectively. And he saves me a whole lot of work I thought was my obligation, while stretching me intellectually — not always an easy feat, although the comments section here certainly keeps me on my toes.

I am almost as grateful to Heather Higgins for this introduction as to Dr Peterson himself, the introductee. Brava,bravo, bravo!

17 Responses to “Heather R Higgins on Jordan Peterson, from The Hill”

  1. zen Says:

    Hi Charles,
    Of our friends of ZP, Lexington Green and T. Greer are fans of Dr. Peterson. I approve of his standing up to the authoritarian campus bullies and their social media counterparts but don’t find what he’s saying to be remarkable or worthy of the organized hysteria of his critics (and it does seem to be organized and coordinated – they are clearly threatened by his refusal to bow and getting away with it)

  2. Cheryl Rofer Says:

    Actual scientists and students of mythology say that what Jordan Peterson says is a bunch of garbage. And that’s all I’m gonna say here.

  3. Karlie McWilliams Says:

    Peterson is either a very deep thinker or a complete fraud. I’ve seen cogent arguments on both sides. I have his book and at some point I’ll be reading it.

  4. Charles Cameron Says:

    Which book? I have Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief, but am only about 25 pages into it, and it’s a thick book.
    Oh Cheryl, I could draw tou a nice digram illustrating why some people would come away with that impression, and others would “see” quite the opposite. A skillful critic would make allowances for his approach, and note areas in which he’s likely to be insightful, provocative, or flat our wrong. He’s got a broad enough scope to have plenty of each, which makes him something of a Rorschach test for his readers..
    I hope Lex and Tanner G will chime in.

  5. Charles Cameron Says:

    Here’s John Robb’s comment:

    This is quantum morality: “Peterson is very insistent that each individual decision moves the entire world closer to either heaven or a bottomless hell.” Every decision creates a multiverse. Which universe do you want to live in? Nietzsche’s Eternal Recurrence is similar. It’s an attempt to answer: why be good if God is dead?

  6. Karlie McWilliams Says:

    12 Rules for Living. It’s basically the popular reading version of Maps of Meaning. In opposition, here’s ab interesting article from the man who brought him to Toronto:

  7. Charles Cameron Says:

    I don’t feel adequate *(ha! see below!)* to comment on Peterson’s potential grand sweep political impact, and I’ve certainly had my share of “savior” heroes, from Blake and Christ via a guru and a shaman to membership in the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston U, so I’d better watch out for any symptoms of getting “swept up” — but there’s one passage in that piece which illustrates why I don’t feel at ease with this particular critique.
    The writer says:

    If we have a “collective unconscious” there is a good chance that it would include our primitive assumptions about gender and biology. Transgender people violate those assumptions.

    In my relatively brief stint as an adjunct anthro prof, I spent time with the said Lakota shaman, and also did some related reading, and one of the conclusions I came to between the two of them was a sense that the shamans who had experienced the highest levels of vision were either gifted or obliged to transcend gender roles. So I think the writer is projecting current assumptions “back” to a visionary reality that he is not “adequate” in medieval terms to comprehend.
    Okay, okay, for this use of adequacy (“adaequatio”), see Maria Popova, or her source, EF Schumacher’s A Guide for the Perplexed.
    But I’m treading on uncertain ground, very much as Peterson sometimes does, and I’d best stop here.

  8. Karlie McWilliams Says:

    LOL As you might guess, gender roles and violating them is something I might know a little about. But, like you, I find myself treading in uncertain territory.

  9. Charles Cameron Says:

    I’m getting a crash course from the someone I love — love in a poetry, teacher-student, spiritual sort of way..
    Let’s just go with muse.

  10. Buzz Says:

    Cheryl, care to expand on what your actual scientists and students of mythology said or are you just attacking Peterson because you “might” get famous?

  11. Charles Cameron Says:

    I’d be interested too, Cheryl, though I appreciate it may feel like opening a whole can of worms that would require considerable research and formatting to present a satisfactory response from your side. I feel much the same way myself. More reading than I’ve managed in a month, then half a hundred points to ascertain or refresh myself on, then a ten to twenty page first draft, and careful culling down to a dozen pages plus footnotes. And I have other tasks, as I’m sure you do too..

  12. Cheryl Rofer Says:

    In terms of a point-by-point comparison, I’ll just say that lobster behavior is a poor model for humans. The two species’ ancestry diverged a very, very long time ago. And there is a lot in Jung that is easy to cherrypick.
    Instead, I’ll give a counter-history.
    Back in the sixties, we knew that for women to have more opportunities, men would have to change too. Those changes could take some of the societal pressure off them and probably offer a better life in many ways. Women decided to change. Changing the legal system was demanding enough that we couldn’t do it all at once, and the participation from men in changing the world was minimal. So women have changed and men haven’t.
    On top of that, for the past thirty years or so a type of thinking has taken root that measures everything in monetary terms. Even if not by value in dollars, by methodologies that make everything look like a market.
    Taking one’s place in the world as one matures into an adult has always had its rough spots. I’ve long felt that we need more ceremonies to mark life’s milestones, which would include now-absent growing-up ceremonies that say “Now you have certain responsibilities and privileges.” That would be for women and men.
    We have a certain group of young men and a few older sympathizers who are very unhappy with today’s world. The world has moved from automatic white cis-het male privilege to a more equal treatment of people in other categories. That can feel like loss of privilege to those accustomed to having it all. So they are looking for ways to restore a world in which they have all the privilege.
    They have grown up with that market orientation, so they see women as commodities to be traded rather than humans as deserving of respect as themselves. Jordan Peterson tells them that they are correct and adds in some doubtful evolutionary psychology (the adjectives are redundant, but emphasis) and cherry-picked mythology for support.
    I’ve never seen numbers about those dissatified young men. I would like to see polls, if they exist. My own guess is that they are few in number and have always been around. I am working (slowly) on a post that shows that in America, anyway, their attitudes have been around for some time.
    Charles asks about the historical significance of Jordan Peterson. I think the most he can expect in fifty years is to be considered a hiccup on the cultural scene.

  13. Karlie Murphy Says:

    I agree with Cheryl, to a point – I would definitely like to see those numbers as well. I will note that a large number of unengaged men, who have no hope, and little chance of finding a mate, usually has a bad outcome – one can find numerous historical examples of this. Unlike Jordan, I totally don’t agree with Peterson that “giving” them mates is the right answer, but for sure it’s a problem that needs addressed. Because sooner or later, no matter how small their numbers, they are going to find an outlet for their anger.

  14. Charles Cameron Says:

    Ah, Cheryl —

    On top of that, for the past thirty years or so a type of thinking has taken root that measures everything in monetary terms. Even if not by value in dollars, by methodologies that make everything look like a market.

    That’s the trend that my upbringing has left me implacably opposed to. And I’m beginning to suspect Jordan P may present a particular variant on this position. But I frankly don’t have the energy at present to dig deep enough to hold a valid position by my own internal standards.

  15. Cheryl Rofer Says:

    Charles –
    I have rejected that approach since it started its climb in the 1970s-1980s. But many others didn’t. Some are starting to see how pernicious it is, but it now has a strong foothold.

  16. Karlie McWilliams Says:

    Yes, the “Free Market uber alles” philosophy has a lot to answer for, it’s true.

  17. Grurray Says:

    “So women have changed and men haven’t”
    Some women haven’t changed either if Ali Watkins is any indication. She followed the age-old playbook for fast-tracking her career. I doubt that playbook has a good historical outcome either.
    I don’t know a whole lot about Peterson aside from the few videos of his lectures that I have watched.
    What I think is this. Archetypes and traditions exist for a reason. Maybe the reasons are bad, maybe they are good, but most likely we don’t understand the full reason for why they are there. We know much less about the world than we have led ourselves to believe. Like that bisociation diagram Charles used to post. We live on one plane, and we can’t see the other plane(s) that intersects it to give life meaning.
    So we should proceed with caution and hesitation about ignoring the archetypes and dissolving those traditions.

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