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Announcing the Release of “Myth and Mayhem: A Leftist Critique of Jordan Peterson”

Peterson himself described some of its symptomatic features in Maps of Meaning when he discusses how the breakdown of traditional mythopoetic traditions generated a sense of nihilistic uncertainty…”

Introduction

We live in an increasingly chaotic world. This owes much to the precarity engendered by 21st century neoliberalism, which put forward the allure of unlimited personal freedom so long as working people and minorities abandoned their civic capacity to demand egalitarian change. In the aftermath of the 2008 Recession—when the contradictions and instabilities of the Washington consensus and neoliberal governance exposed the naked emperor in all his ideological frailty—one saw a resurgence of energy on the Left. Many once more saw the opportunity to push for a fairer world, where resources and power were distributed in a more just manner. These developments are climaxing now in the push to get genuinely Left candidates into office in both the United Kingdom and the United States, which would solidify a major sea change in the politics of developed states. 

The Decay of the Post-Modern Epoch

For all the optimism this may induce, every progressive step forward brings with it the risk of conservative reaction. We are currently inhabiting a highly reactionary period, with post-modern conservatives like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson advancing right-wing agendas designed to re-entrench traditional authority figures (and groups) atop the social hierarchy. Many are calling for the retreat of democracy or are castigating the advance of marginalized groups who agitate for their fair share, dismissing them as the resentful, ungrateful product of so called “post-modern neo Marxist” indoctrination. By far the most famous intellectual associated with this pushback is Jordan Peterson. The Canadian psychologist and University of Toronto Professor is the author of the best-selling 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos and has millions of followers on YouTube and Twitter. He is also well-known as a critic of the “radical left,” characterizing social justice activists as totalitarian and offer scathing denunciations of progressive thinkers and agitators. Peterson is also a frequent guest at various conservative media outlets to denounce the evils of political correctness and identity politics. These efforts have made him a hero to many conservatives, while also catalyzing an onslaught of progressive commentary pointing out the numerous flaws in his analysis. These shortcomings range from his questionable understanding of left-wing theory to his unfortunate tendency to associate with some unsavory figures on the far-right, which cost him a prestigious gig at Cambridge. These critiques are often well-founded, but so far there has been a lack of systematic engagement with his thinking as a whole. This includes a lack of in-depth examination of his works such as Maps of Meaning and his other academic publications. 

The book also includes a lengthy introduction by Slavoj Žižek, which both examines the place of Peterson in contemporary culture and looks back on their debate several months ago.  

Our book Myth and Mayhem: A Leftist Critique of Jordan Peterson is intended to fill this gap. It is going to be released on April 24th with Zero Books. It examines Peterson’s intellectual output and offers comprehensive criticisms of many dimensions of his thought, ranging from his support for capitalism to his denunciation of the post-modern left. It is written by four authors, Matt McManus, Ben Burgis, Conrad Hamilton, and Marion Trejo, each of whom brings their respective expertise to the table when examining Peterson’s work. The book also includes a lengthy introduction by Slavoj Žižek, which both examines the place of Peterson in contemporary culture and looks back on their debate several months ago.  

One of the major topics of analysis is the nature of post-modernity and how to deal with it. Post-modernism is typically described as a left-wing philosophical outlook, and it is often misleadingly lumped in with a number of different forms of identity politics such as radical feminism. However, these various other approaches such as radical feminism have independently complex genealogies and outlooks. While there are certainly left-wing forms of political agitation, post-modernity is better interpreted as a cultural condition characteristic of late 20th and early 21st century life. Peterson himself described some of its symptomatic features in Maps of Meaning when he discusses how the breakdown of traditional mythopoetic traditions generated a sense of nihilistic uncertainty, leading some to retreat into cynicism and others to embrace new dogmatisms.

What Peterson misses is the way in which capitalist processes contributed to the upending of traditional values and the establishment of an increasingly relativistic culture. Professor Gabriel Andrade expressed a similar point in his recent article “Listen Jordan Peterson, Marx Is Your Friend.” The characteristic feature of capitalism—as Marx and Engels expressed in The Communist Manifestois that it is a revolutionary mode of production where “all that is sacred is profaned” and, “everything that is solid melts into air.” The logic of capital is to quantify the value of everything in the world so commodities can be placed into relations of exchange with one another. Each thing that exists has its price. This is true even of human beings, which even the classical liberals like Kant insisted should not be subjected to the quantifiable appraisals of capital. For Kant, each human being possessed an inherent dignity which placed a person, “beyond price.” By contrast in the neoliberal capitalist era of the 21st century, human beings must have a price: about $10 million USDaccording to the EPA. The sacred quality of life that persisted in earlier epochs—where each individual was considered beyond price as a unique subject of God’s love—is replaced by an era where atomized individuals have a carefully calculated relative value, which can be traded off against other values. As this logic gradually permeates all areas of the lifeworld, we see even religious beliefs for which people live and died given an instrumental worth related to health and good-functioning in society. 

Conclusion: An Ongoing Project

Our ambition is for our book to be a jumping off point for a more robust discussion on Peterson and the political right generally. With that in mind the authors have also prepared a website run by our online manager Greg Talion, which is taking submissions for articles discussing and criticizing any element of Peterson’s thought from a Left perspective. Anyone interested in making a contribution is welcome to submit to us from any theoretical background. We are also very open to submissions defending Peterson provided they are written in a spirit of dialogue and debate. With that said, we are especially interested in essays criticizing Peterson from a feminist, critical race, queer-theoretical, and socialist perspective. The website should supplement Myth and Mayhem by providing an ongoing intellectual resource for activists and intellectuals eager to push against Petersonian arguments—or other positions staked out by the Right. These resources are vital in a reactionary era. This is all the more the case—when for the first time in decades—there is a serious opportunity to win the battle of ideas along with political power ala the election of a Democratic Socialist candidate to the White House.

Matt McManus is Professor of Politics and International Relations at Tec de Monterrey, and the author of Making Human Dignity Central to International Human Rights Law and The Rise of Post-Modern Conservatism. His new projects include co-authoring a critical monograph on Jordan Peterson and a book on liberal rights for Palgrave MacMillan. Matt can be reached at mattmcmanus300@gmail.com or added on twitter vie @mattpolprof

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Louis
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Louis

Firstly, the association of Peterson with the right only is tenuous at best, but let’s leave that aside.
For an article that calls for discussion over Peterson’s work I sense little respect for his work. Don’t you think there’s a reason so many people reasonated with him?
I get the feeling this article’s authors dismissed his ideas out of hand and the only thing left is “winning” the battle of ideas. Who cares about winning. Are you here to advance science or push an agenda. That is the difference between a scholar and an ideologue. I hope the book is more nuanced and useful.
Finally, websites like those you promote in this article are part of the problem and don’t encourage discussion with people of various opinions. It hilariously reminds me of those far right circlejerk cesspools some people spilled quite a bit of ink denouncing.

Diego
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Diego

If his ideas were respectful they should be considered in more academic circles but alas, his proposals only resonate with people with religious backgrounds. That alone is enough to leave it out of any serious scientific consideration.

Louis
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Louis

Are you talking about the author?

JOHN A
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JOHN A

“they should be considered in more academic circles”. Oh, you mean circles almost solely surrounded by delusional leftists like the authors of the above. Ya, right….

Jake
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Jake

That’s utterly false I’m a left leaning centrist and atheist and I’ve read maps of meaning and his 12 steps for controlling chaos. I love Jordan Peterson and you should re examine what you believe what Jordan Peterson and his followers stand for. It’s a passion of picking up responsibility and setting goals to build fundamental strength in the body and spirit.

Valerie Hayes
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Valerie Hayes

When a person receives a great deal of attention from the media – they rise to fame. Greta Thunberg dropped out of junior high school to stand outside the Swedish parliament buildings with a sign. She has a history of depression, anxiety, refusal to go to school and refusal to eat. But no one can call her mentally ill or they are vilified for doing so. Jordan Peterson advocates personal responsibility – yet he is in a drug-induced coma to treat addiction while his daughter speaks for him. Peterson clearly does not follow his own advice. In order to circumvent the addiction issue – they claim it was a “physical” addiction only. They claim it was due to his wife’s diagnosis of terminal cancer. Does this mean that personal responsibility only counts until your external circumstances change? How do people reconcile the contradictions and hypocrisy. Unlike many professionals, Peterson (and the rest of his family) choose to share their health issues publicly. I find much of it to be hard… Read more »

Henry
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Henry

I hope your not equating Greta’s rise to Jordan’s infamy. Autism is not a mental illness, which Greta has publicly acknowledged. Perhaps just an misplaced analogy? Jordan is definitely on the spectrum.

Georges Prat
Guest
Georges Prat

It always baffles me when Peterson’s fans say he isn’t right-wing. To me, and many others, it’s as obvious as the sky being blue. I won’t make the full case here, but Peterson calls himself a “fearful traditionalist”. If you understand what conservative and reactionary thought is, you’ll see why that self-label puts him squarely on the right. Also, your allegation that McManus is narrowly focused on “winning” rather than offering a good faith critique of Peterson misses that McManus wrote “We are also very open to submissions defending Peterson provided they are written in a spirit of dialogue and debate.” Finally, your attack on McManus implies that Peterson and his followers somehow aren’t pushing an agenda, or aren’t ideological. Just because Peterson likes to frame himself as someone free of ideology, it doesn’t make it so. Either way, there’s nothing wrong with an ideological critique, as long at the critic doesn’t try to hide their ideology. McManus clearly doesn’t do that (unlike Peterson…), since you can see the box… Read more »

sarina singh
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sarina singh

Society’s obsession with identity politics, grievance and victimhood culture gave rise to Dr. Jordan Peterson. Not because people who support Dr. Peterson are bigoted in any manner, but good willed people are sick and tired of identity politics being the defining issue of our society. For God’s sake, Air Canada, has removed the terms ladies and gentlemen for its passengers lest it offend the 0.03% of intersex people on the planet.

Phil Mcgroijn
Guest
Phil Mcgroijn

Seems Peterson hit a nerve. Circle the wagons, folks. We’ve got cushy jobs to protect!

Jonas Broncks
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Jonas Broncks

Well put! The tone of this article drips with jealousy and contempt for the success of J Petersons ideas while the neo-marxist ideas fail the reality test and the leftists degenerate into self-cannibalization.

Georges Prat
Guest
Georges Prat

Instead of critiquing the substance of McManus’ article, you’re attacking his motives. This is just an ad hominen argument, and about as productive as if I said “looks like a Petersonite got triggered and had to resort to his ‘you’re just jealous!’ defense mechanism!” I’m not a mind reader, and neither are you.

sarina singh
Guest
sarina singh

just yesterday I read an article about an 11 year old Australian boy who is being administered puberty blocker drugs because he identifies as ” non – binary”. There is no such thing as non – binary, no credible science supports such a category. This is why the world needs sensible people like Dr. Jordan Peterson so someone can argue for biological essentialism, which is now considered a taboo word amongst the intellectual left. Imagine a society that is allowing biological men to compete in female sports( and winning btw) going to female only prisons and using female restrooms. Where is this logic in this? Why is the left silent?

Pedro
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Pedro

But if you don’t accept the claim of no binarity and actually care for the kid, they acuse you of not having empathy.

Jonas Broncks
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Jonas Broncks

When the majority of large corporations ranging from Google to Nike support woke identity politics and neo-marxist philosophy, it will be superficial on your part to blame these cultural shifts on capitalism alone.

Peter
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Peter

The success of Peterson has been a revelation for many on how the left mean to influence the distribution of wealth. Also how ungracious they are in failure. “ New Zealand bookseller Whitcoulls has BANNED @jordanbpeterson’s book “12 Rules for Life” following the mosque massacre. Yet Hitler’s Mein Kampf is available for sale.Mar 22, 2019”

You honestly can’t make this stuff up…

Pedro
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Pedro

It is so easy to blame capitalism. And so trendy and easy to sell. Meanwhile, Dr. Peterson work is actually helping people live a more fulfilling life. He can’t be classified as right, but lefties put him in that box because they hate the fact that he found a diagnostic and a solution for modern society.

Ana Lopes
Guest
Ana Lopes

That’s so non scentific! Your “investigation” starts with the hypothesis that Peterson is wrong. Then your mission is to prove him wrong, instead of approaching his ideas with an open spirit, ready to conclude something different from the initial hypothesis. Or not. How can we take you seriously?

Michael
Guest
Michael

I’d like to make the “lobster argument” here so these people can address it in their book. The lobster argument e.g. as presented in Rule 1 of ’12 Rules’ is that the dominance hierarchy is a fundamental way animals e.g. from lobsters up to humans organize themselves. Winners win and losers lose, and “nature” “wants” it that way. Winning is associated with increased serotonin which is associated with confidence which is associated with more winning (losing has the opposite spiral). This results in one guys getting all the girls. Which is obviously true, right? Just look around. (And btw if sexual preference isn’t discrimanatory, I don’t know what is!) Now although the situation is “unfair” to the betas, gammas and deltas, the obnoxious dominance of the alphas is good for the species in two ways: the successful are even more likely to survive and perpetuate the species; and existence of the pecking order which is obvious to all provides stability, so that the inevitable competition e.g. over the best habitat… Read more »

Georges Prat
Guest
Georges Prat

And here is a textbook example of the straw man argument, i.e. tilting at windmills. You’re repeating stuff you’ve learned from Peterson, which starts with the assumption that Marxists and the left, broadly speaking, want to abolish all hierarchy. That’s not at all correct, so Peterson’s “critique” attacks an imaginary enemy. Rather, Marxists want to abolish the relationship between owner and worker that they see as fundamentally exploitative and unjustified. They also, with good reason, see it as a by-product of capitalism. Peterson himself agrees that capitalism greatly worsens the problem of hierarchy. Both him and Marxists agree that we can “smooth the edges” and “redress imbalances when they get immoral”. But just because the Marxist wants workers to own the means of production, it doesn’t mean they want to flatten all forms of hierarchy, however they might manifest.

Henry
Guest
Henry

Michael your comment is as much an insult to intelligence as evolution theory is to fundamentalists christians decrying “I’m NOT descended from NO MONKEY!” The evolution analogy is fitting here that, like JBP, you espouse that human society mimic the “Mighty” arthropod for hierarchical purposes. (Biologists who study arthropods btw have totally demolished JBP’s conclusions as attributed to lobster domination…) A greater feat in Economic Appropriation has never been made in mincing Jesus’s words as you have! I guess McManus pointing out Kant’s human value argument was totally lost to you. I’m sorry but if the first Rule on how one should organize one’s life is a lesson from bottom-feeders, you can count me out!

Diego
Guest
Diego

Could it possibly extend the scope of this critique to include some nefarious characters who pose themselves as champions of reason, like Ben Shapiro

Centrist
Guest
Centrist

At least the author is honest in the title, admitting to be a leftist. But this is the type of writing is what I like to refer to as “a pen in one hand and a thesaurus in the other” … this is so obvious when the writer becomes awkwardly verbose. It is tiring to read, so most certainly does not inspire me to read the book being promoted. Then it merely repeats tired leftist pseudo-memes like “numerous flaws in his analysis”, “his questionable understanding of left-wing theory”, “associate with some unsavory figures on the far right” … It is quite true that Maps of Meaning has not been tackled. Most critiques of JBP have been focused on 12 Rules. Those attempts almost always made claims of a lack of sophistication in his ideas. This always struck me as very odd since 12 Rules objective from the outset was to simplify his ideas for a mass audience. So to try and attack Maps of Meaning in the same manner as… Read more »

Henry
Guest
Henry

Balderdash Mr. Centrist! You had problems reading this article bc of of it’s “verbosity” yet you have done an in-depth study of “Maps of Meaning?” Could it be that your subconscious is in denial that you’ve grossly waisted a huge amount of concentration on trying to make sense of that drivel?

Tim Lieder
Guest
Tim Lieder
alan
Guest
alan

After reading the linked article, your comment seems more of a subconscious or autobiographical reflection than anything else. Yet you seem quite proud of what you wrote and even provided a link.