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09/03/2018

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I was very put off by the title of Peterson's book, and suspicious of his sudden and ubiquitous presence, and most of all, a bit nauseated by most of his publicity photos, so I had no intention of reading the book, despite the fact that someone I trust in these matters had recommended it. And then, a book club that I am in met on a night that I was out of town, and chose it as our next book.

I don't just love it, but there are some very interesting parts, and some of the things he says are very good. I had a really hard time getting through the intro and, I think, the first step, but it's been better since then.

There are probably ways in which his teaching is compatible with Catholic teaching than not, but his interpretation of the Old Testament is frequently very far off base, e.g. he thinks the Fall was a good thing because before that we were pretty much like animals, and awake.

Anyone who has seen that Newman interview or read the book and thinks he is humourless, must be pretty humourless herself. He has a kind of wicked sense of humour--subtle sometimes. I really enjoyed that interview because he just refused to play the game.

While he is not Christian, he has a great respect for Christianity, and he realizes that having grown up in the West, his presuppositions are all formed by Christianity.

AMDG

probably MORE ways

That conception of the Fall is fairly common. It makes a certain sense if you can't or don't accept the traditional understanding. I pretty much thought it up for myself a long time ago, before I had encountered it anywhere else.

I certainly didn't find him humorless. I'm trying to remember what was so funny about the lobster bit. I think it was not so much what he said but her attempt to distort it.

I enjoyed the Newman interview. I find the first ten minutes of any of his Youtube videos very good, but then after that, it gets more and more woolly and I guess Jungian, and I just cannot follow what he is saying. I was following him on Twitter until I gave up Twitter for this fast we are supposed to be doing on account of all the sin. I agreed with everything the Peterson persona said on a Twitter level.

I'm listening to Eric Clapton all the time in the car, and (Courtesy of Paul in the 52 Albums series), the Mountain Goats. I am going to make this line from 'Sunset Tree' my motto for the time being: 'I am going to get through this year if it kills me'. But every song makes me laugh.


He is funny on Twitter. Do you remember that awful song, 'I can help?'? He posted that a while back, with two words, 'toxic masculinity'

Ha. Those three words are all I remember of the song but I do remember disliking it.

The Mountain Goats are so great. The way he delivers lines like that one is half of their effect. I like Tallahassee as much as The Sunset Tree.

Yes, I love the way he delivers lines, its like a comedian.

What he says from about 6:36 in this clip chimes with something I think I might have read on the blog here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjfClL6nogo

Most of the theologically conservative grad student types that I know IRL and on social media are fervently anti Peterson because he says theologically illiterate things like ‘God is your highest value’

They're probably right but it seems odd to get indignant about it. He's not a Christian, doesn't claim to be, apparently not any kind of theist--what do they expect? I've heard a-theological stuff like that at least since I was 18 or 20. There's nothing especially unusual about it. I guess it's his popularity that makes his ideas upsetting.

I don't remember saying that kind of thing, Paul, but I may have. Anyway, I pretty much agree with it. Our higher ed system is really sort of corrupt. One thing I probably have said--if not on the blog any number of times in real life--is that government loans are propping up the whole house of cards.

Grad students are perfectionists!

I read 12 Rules a month or two ago largely because I wanted to see what the fuss was about. A blog I read occasionally had a negative piece on him, while Dreher and several other people I read had been mainly positive. Last week I posted the following on that blog, and also sent it around to some friends via email:

I got around to reading 12 Rules a month or so ago, and after doing so it strikes me that much of both the high praise for and breathless criticism of Peterson is overheated. Basically, he's presenting a selection of commonsense observations in the framework of a sort of Jungian Stoicism. For the Christian of course, this is in no sense ideal, but worries that he's the new Marx or the new Ayn Rand or something are way overblown.

Peterson comes down center-Left on some things, center-Right on others, and as a result tends to tick off ideologues from both sides. In reality, Peterson is simply a behavioral psychologist recasting certain commonsense observations in a moderately “intellectual” form, and presenting them as alternatives to various sorts of contemporary nonsense.

I disagree with him on any number of things, but he’s also saying things that need saying, so in that sense he’s a breath of fresh air. Why do you need to agree with 100%, or even 50%, of the socio-political views of the man who’s knocking on your door telling you your house is on fire?

The cultural left, of course, can't stand him because he's calling B.S. on many of their sacred cows. As a commenter on Dreher's blog put it, "the left is even crazier today than it was 40 years ago, [so] when a quiet center-left Canadian academic suggests that maybe young men should make their beds and come up with a few goals and accept the responsibility to care for people in their charge, he’s probably Hitler. Personal responsibility is so far outside of the political mainstream it’s now alternative."

I lament the fact that some Christian or other didn’t step into the void that Peterson has filled, but it may be that someone considered traditionally "religious" or sectarian probably wouldn’t have been able to get the same hearing, since Peterson simply doesn’t have that religious baggage and in that sense came out of nowhere. Secularists can’t simply dismiss him out of hand because he’s “religious,” and the people who are reading him and listening to him need not fear that he’s trying to smuggle religion into the argument.

In one sense this is a negative thing because the argument is at its heart religious, and by bracketing “religion” Peterson is at best providing incomplete answers. On the other hand, common sense is common sense, and in today’s climate of craziness anyone who's communicating it should be seen as an ally, or at least a co-belligerent.

"I'm listening to Eric Clapton all the time in the car, and (Courtesy of Paul in the 52 Albums series), the Mountain Goats."

I have spent most of the summer listening to the Pretenders all the time. Mainly their newest album, but also their entire back catalog. I now consider myself somewhat of a Chrissie Hynde expert, and was even able to catch them in concert back in July at the Ryman in Nashville.

As far as Jordan Peterson goes .... had not heard of him until I read this blog.

Stu, I will try the Pretenders. I like Chrissie Hynde. She said it was her own fault that she was raped as a teenager, which is taking the idea of personal responsibility to some kind of logical conclusion :)

Grad students types are too intellectual to get an idea like 'we agree with him about some things and disagree on others'

Stu, you need to spend more time on the internet, so you can stay in touch with the latest trends.

I'm sure you're right about grad students, Grumpy. You're certainly in a position to know.

Thanks for the Peterson commentary, Rob. That sounds fair, and it confirms my impression.

That was a good comment, Rob.

AMDG

I tend to defend Peterson to his detractors, and criticize him to his fans.

Maclin, isn't digging that channel at the peak of hurricane season kind of like washing the car with a thunderstorm moving in--only harder?

AMDG

Richard John Neuhaus used to say that "waiting for an outbreak of civic courage among academics is steady work". One of the novel things about Jordan Peterson is that he lets Fr Neauhaus have a break (if he'd still like one). He first rose to media attention in Canada when he publicly opposed a federal bill making "gender identity and gender expression" protected grounds under the Canadian Human Rights Act. This kind of thing just doesn't happen in Canada. For a while his job at the University of Toronto was up in the air, but that threat seems to have passed, and Peterson is now the most famous U of T professor in the world.

Some people have made extravagant claims for him -- that he's an epochal intellectual figure, for instance. Others -- like David Bentley Hart, if I'm not mistaken -- have called him a hack. The latter is probably closer to the truth, because his intellectual influences are a real mixed bag: Jung, Solzhenitsyn, the Bible, Darwin. But nonetheless there are things about him that I have come to admire. He seems really to care about truth, and he's willing to put his reputation on the line for it. He's also a clinical psychologist, and seems to have a big heart for those who are struggling and confused. More than once I've seen him break down into tears when talking about the troubled young men who, by their own testimony, have benefitted from what he has to say.

I am very curious to see how far this wave carries him. I'd have thought it would have spent itself by now, but apparently not.

All I can really say with confidence is that what I've seen and read inclines me to a more-favorable-than-not opinion. My impression at this point is that his enemies do him credit, unless DB Hart can be counted as an enemy.

From that same limited point of view, it seems like "hack" would be overstating it. Nothing wrong in my view with having a mixed, even contradictory, bag of influences.

Janet--"I tend to defend Peterson to his detractors, and criticize him to his fans." That would be my impulse, too.

About the channel--it's not like that. We don't by any means have a hurricane every year. It would be foolish to do it while one's actually on the way, but otherwise it's not a bad bet. I just wish I had done the first one much earlier in the summer, because it made a big difference.

Well, I see that you aren't exactly in the predicted path of Gordon, but you are right on the edge of it.

AMDG

Yes, though of course that's always subject to change until it actually hits somewhere.

Well, it's north of PR, so whatever. ;-)

AMDG

Well now this afternoon a seminarian said out of nowhere, ie in the middle of a seminar on Athanasius’ On the Incarnation of the Word, that Jordan Peterson can tell us something about biblical typology. i talked to him after class and he said That Peterson had helped someone he knew who is going through a very hard time in his life. I said it was a pattern Id seen, that people like Peterson If reading his books with a friend or relative

DBH Despises Peterson. It’s one of his pet hates at the moment

I forget where I heard or saw DBH's dismissal of Peterson. It might have been an interview somewhere.

If it came down to a death match, I'd side with DBH every time.

I would, too, but the comparison strikes me as almost pointless, as they're doing such different things.

Hart is brilliant to say the least. But he's not without normal human quirks and peeves.

I suppose one could make the argument that Peterson is more of a danger to Christians than, say, Richard Dawkins, because he's not a head-on opponent. Is that part of Hart's objection?--that he's a bad influence for Christians, in sort of the same way that some Christians buy part of Ayn Rand's stuff without recognizing its fundamental incompatibility with the faith?

Found an interesting review that compares Peterson and C.S. Lewis that says Lewis would have hated Peterson:

Lewis has his demon character Screwtape tell a fellow demon:

"Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man [for Hell], and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours — and the more 'religious' (on those terms) the more securely ours."

I’m not confident in my interpretation of either Lewis or Peterson, but I think Lewis would think Peterson does this. He makes the world an end and faith a means. His Heaven is a metaphorical Heaven. If you sort yourself out and trust in metaphorical God, you can live a wholesome self-respecting life, make your parents proud, and make the world a better place. Even though Peterson claims “nobody is really an atheist” and mentions Jesus about three times per page, I think C.S. Lewis would consider him every bit as atheist as Richard Dawkins, and the worst sort of false prophet. ...

What about the most classic case of someone seeking meaning – the person who wants meaning for their suffering? Why do bad things happen to good people? Peterson talks about this question a lot, but his answers are partial and unsatisfying. Why do bad things happen to good people? “If you work really hard on cultivating yourself, you can have fewer bad things happen to you.” Granted, but why do bad things happen to good people? “If you tried to ignore all bad things and shelter yourself from them, you would be weak and contemptible.” Sure, but why do bad things happen to good people? “Suffering makes us stronger, and then we can use that strength to help others.” But, on the broader scale, why do bad things happen to good people? “The mindset that demands no bad thing ever happen will inevitably lead to totalitarianism.” Okay, but why do bad things happen to good people? “Uh, look, a neo-Marxist transgender lobster! Quick, catch it before it gets away!”

C.S. Lewis sort of has an answer: it’s all part of a mysterious divine plan. And atheists also sort of have an answer: it’s the random sputtering of a purposeless universe. What about Peterson?

I think – and I’m really uncertain here – that he doesn’t think of meaning this way. He thinks of meaning as some function mapping goals (which you already have) to motivation (which you need). Part of you already wants to be successful and happy and virtuous, but you’re not currently doing any of those things. If you understand your role in the great cosmic drama, which is as a hero-figure transforming chaos into order, then you’ll do the things you know are right, be at one with yourself, and be happier, more productive, and less susceptible to totalitarianism.If that’s what you’re going for, then that’s what you’re going for. But a lot of the great Western intellectuals Peterson idolizes spent their lives grappling with the fact that you can’t do exactly the thing Peterson is trying to do. Peterson has no answer to them except to turn the inspiringness up to 11. A commenter writes:

"I think Nietzsche was right – you can’t just take God out of the narrative and pretend the whole moral metastructure still holds. It doesn’t. JP himself somehow manages to say Nietzsche was right, lament the collapse, then proceed to try to salvage the situation with a metaphorical fluff God."

A friend of mine (a grad student!) who's doing a PhD in Rhetoric at Duquesne, and as a result is greatly interested in JP, wrote this response to what I posted above:

"I agree that JP is filling a void that needed filling. Free speech in higher education is extremely fragile. Sometimes it feels like walking on eggshells when speaking up about a controversial issue (e.g. whether biological sex is a social construct) in the classroom or at an academic conference. I also appreciate how Peterson responds to unfair interlocutors when he does interviews, too. I'm thinking of his interview with Cathy Newman. Further, Peterson's constant reminders about totalitarianism on the Left (and not just the Right) have been extremely important. Why do we hear about violence on the right but never about violence on the left? Peterson takes risks and speaks about touchy subjects, and for this reason he is a necessary voice in the public sphere right now.

Nonetheless, I also agree that JP is saying some objectionable things. In his 12 Rules for Life, Peterson quotes from the Gospel of St. Thomas (a Gnostic text): Christ is a universal archetype, not a historical reality. Religion seems to play a vitalistic role in Peterson. As Augusto Del Noce suggests, making religion play a vitalistic role (i.e. religion helps you psychologically self-actualize, rather than actually being true) is the essence of blasphemy.

For me, the question is, 'Why couldn't a religious voice fill the void that Peterson did?' I have my suspicions that Peterson exemplifies what Philip Rieff called The Triumph of the Therapeutic. In Rieff's chapter on Jung, he talks about the 'therapeutic' as theologian. Peterson speaks in the sacred vocabulary of psychology, and by so doing, has found a large audience. There is nothing wrong with psychology, per se, but Peterson translates theology into psychology. Peterson has found a large audience not because what he says about religion is necessarily true, but because religion enables of self-actualization. Religion is a pragmatic instrument of self-actualization. Arguably, then, Peterson found an audience because he spoke in terms that the public found most acceptable: the common tongue of psychology and statistics.

I've always thought that if I could ask Peterson a question in public, after prefacing my question with some context from Rieff, it would be something along the lines of, 'What do you think are the limits of psychology and the 'therapeutic' in solving political problems'?"


"Is that part of Hart's objection?--that he's a bad influence for Christians, in sort of the same way that some Christians buy part of Ayn Rand's stuff without recognizing its fundamental incompatibility with the faith?"

Rand's primary attraction for Christian conservatives has been her radical critique of statism. Thing is, there are plenty of critiques of statism out there coming from Christians, or from sympathetic non-Christians; one doesn't need Rand.

I'd put JP more in the Allen Bloom category: at base a somewhat problematic figure who gets some vital things wrong, but one who is saying some important stuff that few others are saying, and is getting a hearing because of it. I understand why the cultural Left considers him a threat. But conservative Christians? I just don't see it. One could have said the same thing about Bloom, Rieff, Lasch, and many other non-Christian thinkers that believers manage to draw upon without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.


Yes the whole problem is Peterson's tendency to make a religion of psychology

In an interview, Patrick Coffin asked Peterson if he believed in God. Peterson said that he wasn't really sure what people were asking when they asked that question, or something like that. It sounds like he's putting Coffin off, but he wasn't. I think that is his honest answer. He said he was seriously trying to find an answer to that question and it would take about three years. That is an answer that lacks a certain understanding about how God works, but I think for Peterson, that is a good answer.

He's not an atheist, though, and not hostile to the Church.

Lewis took his own sweet time to convert, or maybe it was just the Lord's time, but I'm sure he was annoying to his Christian friends, and I'm sure he wasn't keeping his opinions to himself in the meantime.

AMDG

Bloom is a good comparison.

"That is an answer that lacks a certain understanding about how God works, but I think for Peterson, that is a good answer."

Much as DBH might hate the idea, Peterson needs to read Hart's The Experience of God.

"Lewis took his own sweet time to convert, or maybe it was just the Lord's time"

And look at Scruton -- for a very long time pretty much a Kantian on the God question, but who now seems to have taken a more serious theist turn.

I certainly agree with the critique of the whole religion-as-psychology and psychology-as-religion thing. But that's been going on for generations now, and it's very widespread. I can think offhand of several friends and acquaintances, non-academics, who more or less think that way. So I come back to the notion that it's Peterson's popularity that has some Christians so worked up about it. Well, that and, in the case of Christians with leftish political leanings, their view that he's some kind of evil right-winger.

I agree with Rob's last paragraph.

I don't get annoyed by those ideas or object to them unless they come from professed Christians. In that context they're the very essence of capital-M Modernism and I'll turn my guns on that whenever I meet it.

Cross-posted--"Rob's last paragraph" refers to his 6:52 comment.

"I don't get annoyed by those ideas or object to them unless they come from professed Christians. In that context they're the very essence of capital-M Modernism and I'll turn my guns on that whenever I meet it."

Yep.

Bloom's big book came out when I was in grad school and my theological friends worried about it in exactly the same way. I didn't read it until I was in my first year of teaching, in 1988, and then I enjoyed it a lot.

I had small children and a demanding job when that book came out. I wasn't doing much reading in those days. I still haven't read it even though I bought it a year or two ago. I read the first chapter or so and found it rather on the dry side, got distracted, and haven't gotten back to it. Maybe its moment for me is past.

Give title and full name of author please (Bloom book). Possible I missed it somewhere above...thanks.

Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind. Came out in the late (?) '80s and was a very big deal at the time, an unexpected amount of attention for a semi-academic book. Subtitled "How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students."

Saul Bellow wrote the foreward to the current edition, so that's something!

"It is as possible for a man to know something without having been at school as it is to have been at school and to know nothing." - Henry Fielding, Tom Jones (1749)

:-)

I'm pretty sure Bloom and Bellow were friends.

O Yes, Bellow wrote a very funny novella about a Chicago professor who writes a book like 'Closing' and then dies of AIDS. Its called Ravelstein. You can read it in a day, and its highly entertaining. He's got a wonderful paragraph about intelligent design, where he says the cosmos is not a cardboard box, its a 18th century French desk.

Patrick Deneen wrote a long piece on Bloom and his book; here are some bits of it:

Near the beginning of Closing, Bloom relates one telling story of a debate with a psychology professor during his time teaching at Cornell. Bloom’s adversary claimed, “it was his function to get rid of prejudices in his students.” Bloom compared that function to the activity of an older sibling who informs the kids that there is no Santa Claus—disillusionment and disappointment. Rather than inspiring students to replace “prejudice” with a curiosity for Truth, the mere shattering of illusion would simply leave students “passive, disconsolate, indifferent, and subject to authorities like himself.”

Bloom relates that “I found myself responding to the professor of psychology that I personally tried to teach my students prejudices, since nowadays—with the general success of his method—they had learned to doubt beliefs even before they believed in anything … One has to have the experience of really believing before one can have the thrill of liberation.” Bloom’s preferred original title—before being overruled by Simon and Schuster—was Souls Without Longing. He was above all concerned that students, in being deprived of the experience of living in their own version of Plato’s cave, would never know or experience the opportunity of philosophic ascent. ...

Today we live in a different age, one that so worried Bloom—an age of indifference. Institutions of higher learning have almost completely abandoned even a residual belief that there are some books and authors that an educated person should encounter. ...

Bloom was so correct about the predictable rise of a society defined by indifference that one is entitled to conclude that were Closing published today, it would barely cause a ripple. This is not because most of academia would be inclined to agree with his arguments any more than they did in 1987. Rather, it is simply the case that hardly anyone in academe any longer thinks that curricula are worth fighting over....

Today’s academic leaders don’t believe the content of those choices has any fundamental influence on the souls of our students, most likely because it would be unfashionable to believe that they have souls. As long as everyone is tolerant of everyone else’s choices, no one can get hurt. What is today called “tolerance,” Bloom rightly understood to be more deeply a form of indifference, the extreme absence of care, leading to a society composed not only of “souls without longing” but humans treated as utilitarian bodies that are increasingly incapable of love.

The one thing I loathe about Jordan Peterson is his blaspheming. Other than that, I cannot help liking the guy.

I'm not sure what blasphemies you have in mind, not having read Peterson, but I don't really consider it blasphemy when it comes from a non-believer who doesn't share the basic beliefs.

The Deneen piece sounds quite interesting, on the basis of that excerpts.

I mean that he says Jesus as a swear word. I hate that.

I see. I haven't listened to him except for the one interview. Alas, that's sort of a tick with a great many people.

The current New Criterion has an interesting, balanced piece on JP.

I subscribe but haven't gotten that issue yet. Should be along any day.

There was also a balanced piece in Commentary. Im pretty sure Ive read more about this guy than by this guy

Heh. That's certainly true for me, as I haven't actually *read* anything by him, only listened to the one 20-minute interview.

I read his tweets.

I am moving to the conclusion that Clapton is an Arian demi-urge.

Why Arian?

Its a Joke. Arianism is the idea of Jesus as a subordinate deity or 'demi-urge.' Of course Jesus is not that, because he is God! But if there are any Arian demiurges around the place, Clapton is a good contender for being one of them. You remember that people used to write graffiti, 'Clapton is God'

Did you do a 52 Guitars on Clapton?

Oh, I see.

I couldn't remember, but a search indicates that I did not. Actually...he's not my favorite, as brilliant as he is. Tune in on Monday for more on that.

The new NC arrived yesterday. Haven't read the JP piece yet (or anything for that matter).

"Tune in on Monday..." Never mind, I didn't get to that. Maybe next week. Probably next week.

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