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Myth and Mayhem: A Leftist Critique of Jordan Peterson—Sample Chapter

(Instagram / @jordan.b.peterson)

“One can see here that Peterson, while even less convinced of the equitable distribution of competences than Hobbes, clearly shares his view that life outside the confines of society would necessarily be ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.'”

Re-printed below is a sample chapter from Myth and Mayhem: A Leftist Critique of Jordan Peterson by Ben Burgis, Conrad Bongard Hamilton, Matthew McManus, and Marion Trejo, which was published on April 24, 2020 by John Hunt Publishing’s Zero Books. The below chapter was written by Conrad Bongard Hamilton.

Chapter Seven: Exoteric and Esoteric, OR The Terrible Intensity of Peterson

“As a Swiss I am an inveterate democrat, yet I recognize that Nature is aristocratic and, what is even more, esoteric.” – Carl Jung

Janus-Faced Fascisms

Depending upon whom you ask—or read—you’ll normally find that Peterson is presented in one of two ways. On one side, as an unrepentant chauvinist (if not fascist), whose evolutionarily-tinged self-help philosophy reprises the worst prejudices of Carl Jung’s pseudoscientific mysticism. On the other side, as a benign liberal-conservative, whose calls for men and women alike to toughen up (and for a revaluation of ideas that don’t mesh well with the politically-correct consensus) represents a welcome corrective to decades of overstretching by meddlesome progressives.

As it turns out, neither of these positions does full justice to Peterson. There are, so it goes, plenty of vituperative chauvinists to go around, especially in 2019. Were this all Peterson had to offer, there’s simply no way he would’ve become a fraction as popular as he has (with three million copies sold, it’s safe to say that not everyone who bought 12 Rules for Life regularly marches around with tiki torches throwing Sieg Heils). On the other hand, portraying Peterson as a thinker devoid of any kind of higher-order ideological agenda, as one who evinces commonsense moderation, is similarly disingenuous. Were Peterson’s sole modus operandi simply to tell disaffected men to make their beds—something most women would surely be happy about!—he would never have become a crucible for activists at the University of Toronto, never have been valorized by the right-wing media, and never have attracted the rabble of the alt-right.

The truth is that Peterson’s appeal stems from his ability to be both these things at once. He is both the prosaic, classically liberal public educator reminding us of our duties to others (and ourselves), as well as the hardened reactionary whose books and lectures promise the promulgation of darker truths. This opposition was readily visible at an appearance at Lafayette College on March 29th, 2018. When posed a question about whether discrepancies in IQ between different races should be acknowledged, Peterson—noting that he’s cautious with this issue, as “you can’t say anything about it” without “immediately being killed”—launches into a long exposition about the way that, as a society, we frequently succumb to “the tail problem.” This refers to when we fail to adequately acknowledge the way that seemingly minor differences between groups can be more thoroughly manifest at extremes (while men are more aggressive than women 60% of the time, the 1% of most aggressive individuals will invariably be male). Yet, this was just scaffolding for Peterson’s main point. The main was the fact the average IQ of Ashkenazi Jews is “somewhere between 110 and 115, which is about one standard deviation above the population average.” This is a palpable difference but not one that has a great effect “in the middle of the distribution.” This means that a hugely disproportionate number of “geniuses” will derive from this population (lauding the superior biological intelligence of Jews being, one imagines, the most politically correct way to stump for racial science). This is a characteristically clever act of misdirection. For by responding to a question about discrepancies in racial intelligence by opining on decidedly dryer topic—that of the public misapprehension of statistics—Peterson is able to blunt the impact of the point of view he implicitly puts across. This point of view is that, yes, races have differing levels of competence and that, yes, this is something that policymakers (and the public at-large) should be cognizant of. Yet still he couches this in a disclaimer. He concludes by noting that “there doesn’t seem to be any relationship whatsoever between intelligence and virtue” and that one shouldn’t take the former as a benchmark of the “intrinsic value of human beings.”

Peterson’s Illiberal Liberalism

There are, of course, plenty of gaps in Peterson’s argumentation here. There are questions concerning the degree to which IQ can be taken as genuinely indicative of racial heredity, as opposed to socialization, for instance. (Peterson even admits that race is notoriously hard to pin down as a biological category.) But these questions are largely swept under the rug, on the flimsy pretext that IQ testing is “the best thing we have.” As mentioned before, this is Peterson’s fallacy of choice: essentially, the hasty generalization of statistics that gauge observable behaviors as reflective of inborn traits. What’s more interesting than surveying Peterson’s logical follies, though, is to glean from his Lafayette lecture a sense of the fault line that runs through all of his ideas. Yes, Peterson affirms that different levels of racial intelligence are apparent—and, it would seem, passed on biologically. But then there’s that disavowal—one that’s always tacked on as a postscript to his most tendentious statements: but no, you shouldn’t actually predicate society upon it.

Understanding this disarticulation can go a long way towards helping us gauge exactly what Jordan Peterson means when he self-identifies as a “classical liberal.” During his response to the question on IQ and race at Lafayette, the good doctor takes both liberals and conservatives alike to task for their shared conviction that there’s a “job for everyone.” This job can be obtained either through, as liberals advocate, retraining, or, as conservatives advocate, by said individuals getting “off their asses” and working. (Peterson is presumably not aware of the way his own status as a tenured university professor makes a strong argument for this supposition.) By contrast, Peterson assures us, trying his hand as a Platonic philosopher-king, that there are some people who are too inept and/or antisocial to do much at all. This is a claim he backs up by citing the way that the United States Armed Forces refuses to induct applicants with IQs under 83 on the grounds that they can only be counterproductive, as well as the “dismal” record of psychologists in correcting the behavior of “early onset aggressive” kids.

It’s hard to fix a definition of liberalism; the term is intrinsically amorphous, making it a convenient watchword for Peterson to file his eclectic worldview under. But if we accept the characterization of liberalism by political philosopher John Gray as being based on the values of individualism, meliorism, universalism, and egalitarianism, it’s worth noting that, for Peterson, the latter is, at best, a convenient fiction that can be occasionally wielded for useful political purposes. Indeed, nowhere in Peterson do we find the optimism of Adam Smith, who consistently sought to vindicate the judgements of ordinary people. And Smith rationalized capitalist accumulation on the grounds that most anyone, in principle, was endowed with the productive capacity to accrue wealth. Nor do we even find anything akin to the admission, made by Hobbes in Leviathan, that even if some are stronger and wiser than others at least virtually everybody has the ability to kill somebody else. As Peterson’s point about the Armed Forces suggests, many it would seem—the 10% of the population with IQs under 83, to be precise—are even too dumb for that. Instead, what we find in Peterson is a valorization of liberal capitalism as the best system at our disposal on the grounds that, while it produces inequality, it does so in a manner Peterson imagines as broadly consistent with nature. We quote here from 12 Rules for Life’s oft-parodied first chapter (or—since Peterson seems to actually expect us to take this stuff seriously—”rule”) on lobsters, “Stand up Straight with Your Shoulders Back”:

“When a defeated lobster regains its courage and dares to fight again it is more likely to lose again than you would predict, statistically, from a tally of its previous fights. Its victorious opponent, on the other hand, is more likely to win. It’s winner-take-all in the lobster world, just as it is in human societies, where the top 1 percent have as much loot as the bottom 50 percent—and where the richest eighty-five people have as much as the bottom three and a half billion…

This principle is sometimes known as Price’s law, after Derek J. de Solla Price, the researcher who discovered its application in science in 1963. It can be modelled using an approximately L-shaped graph, with number of people on the vertical axis, and productivity or resources on the horizontal.”

This standpoint goes hand-in-hand with Peterson’s view of nature as pitiless in general:

“It is also a mistake to conceptualize nature romantically. Rich, modern city-dwellers, surrounded by hot, baking concrete, imagine the environment as something pristine and angelic, like a French impressionist landscape. Eco-activists, even more idealistic in their viewpoint, envision nature as harmoniously balanced and perfect, absent the disruptions and depredations of mankind. Unfortunately, ‘the environment’ is also elephantiasis and guinea worms (don’t ask), anopheles mosquitoes and malaria, starvation-level droughts, AIDS and the Black Plague.”

One can see here that Peterson, while even less convinced of the equitable distribution of competences than Hobbes, clearly shares his view that life outside the confines of society would necessarily be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Understandable, then, that—in the above citation—he dismisses what he describes as the romantic conceptualization of nature (a conception apparently harbored by “Rich, modern city-dwellers” and, especially, “eco-activists”). Later on in the text—in the fifth “rule,” “Do Not Let Your Children Do Anything That Makes You Dislike Them,” (something Peterson should maybe heed when addressing his ideological progeny on the alt-right)—Peterson elaborates on the philosophical heritage of this conceptualization, offering a cursory critique of Jean Jacques-Rousseau’s theorization of the state of nature . Peterson also  even indulges in ad hominem—a safe move, since Rousseau isn’t here to trade rejoinders with him over Twitter:

The belief that children have an intrinsically unsullied spirit, damaged only by culture and society, is derived in no small part from the eighteenth-century Genevan French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau was a fervent believer in the corrupting influence of human society and private ownership alike. He claimed that nothing was so gentle and wonderful as man in his pre-civilized state. At precisely the same time, noting his inability as a father, he abandoned five of his children to the tender and fatal mercies of the orphanages of the time.

The noble savage Rousseau described, however, was an ideal—an abstraction, archetypal and religious—and not the flesh-and-blood reality he supposed. The mythologically perfect Divine Child permanently inhabits our imagination. He’s the potential of youth, the newborn hero, the wronged innocent, and the long-lost son of the rightful king. He’s the intimations of immortality that accompany our earliest experiences.”

Peterson’s critique of Rousseau is somewhat more rigorous than his critique of Bachofen. As proof of nature’s barbarity, he cites William Golding (Lord of the Flies is a great book!), Jane Goodall’s account of the violent inter-tribal warfare of chimpanzees, and the high recorded homicide rates of known hunter-gatherer societies. Of course, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that could also be used to support Rousseau’s idyllic account of pre-civilizational society—including Margaret Mead’s observation of the relative lack of developmental difficulties experienced by adolescents in Samoan tribal society in Coming of Age in Samoa (a text that, in spite of the best efforts of Derek Freeman, has never been successfully debunked). And besides, it’s a bit petty to weaponize Goodall’s findings against Rousseau when he was literally the first person to suggest that humans developed from apes (the term “noble savage” also never appears in Rousseau’s oeuvre—it was, rather, invented by his detractors). But the point here is not to accost Peterson for the limitations of his argumentation, particularly in what amounts to a glorified self-help book. Instead, it’s to illustrate that Peterson’s dismissal of Rousseau, like his dismissal of Bachofen, serves a clear ideological function. Bachofen must be dispensed with because, if his work contains even a grain of truth, Peterson’s effort to essentialize patriarchal myths collapses into a mess of contradictions. And Rousseau must be dispensed with because if the state of nature isn’t fundamentally inegalitarian, liberal capitalism seizes to be justifiable on account of its indirect, representative function.

The words “indirect” and “representative” are used here deliberately. For if liberal capitalism were identical in its brutality with the broadly Hobbesian state of nature propounded by Peterson, there wouldn’t be much of a reason to support it. Instead, for Peterson, it performs a kind of representative function: one that improves upon our primitive conditions, while simultaneously reflecting them. I mean, sure, capitalism is unequal, but so are lobsters, and Steven Pinker has already proven that things are getting better in the main, right? Absent this representative function, political society risks going sideways into—you guessed it—totalitarianism: embodying, in short, the desire for “everything unpredictable to vanish” that he attributes to the authoritarian personality in Maps of Meaning

This frustration with the supposed inability of progressives to reconcile themselves to facts and logic is never far from the surface, with Peterson. In his conclusion to the response to the question on racial IQs posed to him at Lafayette College, he suggests that it is “highly probable” that “nature and the fates” do not align with our “egalitarian presuppositions.” But again, this doesn’t mean that “we” should take intelligence (or IQ) as being representative of the “intrinsic value” of persons. The royal “we” employed here is, presumably, intended to refer to civil society. The pressure cooker of liberal capitalism is sufficient, Peterson imagines, to sort people by competences (no less so where competences overlap with race, as with his point about the high number of Jewish people in powerful positions). Even if we naively accept, though, this tidy distinction between competence and institutional bias, Peterson still adds a caveat. The intervention of civil society, he suggests, is warranted as long as it is benevolent, as opposed to authoritarian. This is implicit in his claim that “we” have to find a “worthwhile place in society” for people “on the lower end of the general cognitive distribution.” The average IQ of Black Americans, it’s worth mentioning (though for obvious reasons Peterson does not), is one standard deviation lower than White Americans. Thus, following Peterson, it seems to reason that—in an American context—the individuals “on the lower end of the general cognitive distribution” that “we” must find a “worthwhile place” for will be disproportionately, black.

The problems with this kind of argument are manifold. Peterson may not be, as his most virulent contractors contend, pushing for the erection of internment camps to house ostensibly less competent races. His above argument does, however, betray a gleeful lack of awareness (in so far as he is ever gleeful) of the way that, in a kind of vicious cycle, historical assumptions can play out. For instance, historical assumptions of lesser competence has often played a crucial role in prohibiting members of marginalized groups from being exposed to professional and/or social contexts that can nurture the equalization of partly socio-culturally reflective statistics, such as IQ. Amiss in Peterson’s thought, then, is the notion that society sometimes must behave in accordance with certain regulative ideas—not because they reflect the existing state of things. It is, rather, because it can be reasonably assumed that adherence to them will help lead to the achievement of a level of equality currently foreclosed by a multiplicity of cultural and institutional barriers. Such a move is, again, foreclosed by Peterson’s ideology. For to attempt too overtly to bring society in line with our “egalitarian presuppositions” risks leading us down the pathway of totalitarianism. We have, therefore, only limited justifiable means at our disposal to cushion the inegalitarian structure of nature with.

The Psychoanalytic Structure of Disavowal

We can say that there are, then, in effect, two Petersons. There is the exoteric Peterson, who defends the preservation of a liberal-capitalist order that allots a limited measure of dignity to all peoples. Then, there is the esoteric Peterson, who knows that—regardless of whatever efforts are made—nothing remotely close to real equality, economic or otherwise, will ever be successfully cultivated. This is because the tendency to create unequal dispensations is hardwired into nature itself. This opposition, which at first seems contradictory, is in fact intrinsic to the psychoanalytic structure of his work. “Order,” understood as the zeal for rationalization, must be counterpoised with “chaos” in order for social systems to function harmoniously. These two terms, “order” and “chaos,” are synonymous with the roles of the “conscious” and “unconscious,” respectively, in the works of Carl Jung. Take Jung’s effort to engage in a reevaluation of the role of the unconscious in the first chapter of his 1933 work Modern Man in Search of a Soul (a text Peterson has singled out as having been particularly important to his development):

“It is well known that the Freudian school presents the unconscious in a thoroughly depreciatory light, just as also it looks on primitive man as little better than a wild beast. Its nursery-tales about the terrible old man of the tribe and its teachings about the ‘infantile- perverse-criminal’ unconscious have led people to make a dangerous monster out of the unconscious, that really very natural thing. As if all that is good, reasonable, beautiful and worth living for had taken up its abode in consciousness! Have the horrors of the World War really not opened our eyes? Are we still unable to see that man’s conscious mind is even more devilish and perverse than the unconscious?”

Whereas for Freud, the unconscious is comprised of ideas that have been forced out of consciousness by a process of repression, for Jung the unconsciousness is populated by memories derived from our individual and ancestral pasts. This division—between the individual and the ancestral—is accounted for by Jung’s separation of the unconscious into two subcategories: that of the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. However, to describe the inherited traits (or archetypes) that Jung attributes to the collective unconsciousness as “memories” is already to take a position in a vigorous scholarly debate. Peterson, for instance, in the fifth chapter of Maps of Meaning, adopts the position that the collective unconsciousness does not consist of memories. Instead, he argues—somewhat vaguely—that it is composed of “’complexes,’ which [Jung] defined as heritable propensities for behavior or for classification.” However, Peterson admits that “his writings, which are very difficult, do not always make this clear.” This position is reiterated a few pages later, when Peterson characterizes Jung as “having believed that many complexes had an archetypal (or universal) basis, rooted in biology, and that this rooting had something specifically to do with memory”—an indication that he finds complexes provide a more suitable basis upon which to ground his neurobiological take on Jung than archetypes per se.

In the above quotation from Modern Man in Search of a Soul, one can see that Jung—in his own view, at least—has a more favorable view of the unconscious than Freud. This is connected with what Jung views as Freud’s underestimation of the importance of religion. For Freud, religion is a “collective neurosis,” one that serves no present-day role in the advancement of society. For Jung, by contrast, religion is not just productive to the everyday lives of believers; it is also a natural expression of the unconscious. It is one inextricable from the tendency of humans to be endowed with the “archetype” of God. Untempered by such symbols, consciousness—or rationality—can easily manifest as unfettered destruction, with Jung giving “the horrors of the World War” as an example. In the ninth chapter of Modern Man in Search of a Soul, “Basic Postulates of Analytical Psychology,” Jung remarks on the historical context that fostered the neglect of spirituality by the discipline of psychology:

“Under the influence of scientific materialism, everything that could not be seen with the eyes or touched with the hands was held in doubt; such things were even laughed at because of their supposed affinity with metaphysics. Nothing was considered ‘scientific’ or admitted to be true unless it could be perceived by the senses or traced back to physical causes. This radical change of view did not begin with philosophical materialism, for the way was being prepared long before. When the spiritual catastrophe of the Reformation put an end to the Gothic Age with its impetuous yearning for the heights, its geographical confinement, and its restricted view of the world, the vertical outlook of the European mind was forthwith intersected by the horizontal outlook of modern times. Consciousness ceased to grow upward, and grew instead in breadth of view, as well as in knowledge of the terrestrial globe.”

Peterson shares with Jung this appraisal of the spiritual emptiness of “modern man” (not to mention the limitations of materialist thought). But, as you might expect from someone who thinks Jung’s theory of the collective unconsciousness can be proven with the aid of neuroscience, he is more circumspect in his endorsement of religion. Instead what he offers us, with 12 Rules for Life in particular, is a thinly-veiled secularization of it. It is a work that promises an “Antidote to Chaos” in its subtitle and could sit unobtrusively beside other self-help manuals at an airport off-license. The popularity of Peterson’s work, accordingly, owes to a range of conundrums particular to our era. These include pervasive economic precarity, especially among youth; the incapacity to fill the void left by the spectacular collapse of organized religion; the scourge of modern feminism. However, this is so obvious—and has been so widely remarked in shallow online think pieces—that it barely warrants repeating here.

The All-Devouring Archetype

All of this raises a question, however. Given Peterson’s obsession with the perceived excesses of feminism, how can it be that—when he expresses his political views—they so often center upon the need for chaos. Yet he characterizes chaos—following Jung—as archetypally feminine? First of all, it’s necessary to point out here that “chaos,” according to Peterson, is not literally feminine. Rather, it is symbolically feminine (though given that he’s claimed that “the SJW sort of ‘equality above all else’ philosophy is more prevalent among women,” it’s not clear how seriously we can take this). This is due to the fact that femininity is archetypally associable with the “birthplace of things”—that is, nature. Nature, for Peterson, is intrinsically chaotic. But it is not just that. While nature exists under the sign of chaos, it also is endowed with a harmonic aspect—one that Peterson associates, in his political commentaries, with the statistical consistency of differential production (which he explains by way of “Price’s Law”). Like Jung, then, Peterson views nature as both “aristocratic” and “esoteric,” aspects that make it ultimately irreconcilable with our “egalitarian presuppositions.” 

This may seem confusing. Let’s put aside questions about the basic coherency of this worldview. However, we should state that his worldview certainly does align with a core tenant of psychoanalysis—one rooted in German Idealism—that everything belies its opposite. “Chaos” and “order,” for Peterson, can be best understood as meta-archetypes, which are isomorphic to the left and right sides of the brain, respectively. They are, further, identifiable with the archetypes of the “Great Mother” (chaos) and “Great Father” (order). There is, then, the mediating role of consciousness between the two sides of the brain: (Logos), represented by the archetype by the “Divine Son”(undergirding these, additionally, is the “precosmogonic chaos” of “pure (latent) information, before it is parsed into the world of the familiar,” represented by the archetype of “uroboros,” the “dragon of chaos”). Nature, as Peterson assures us, does, like the mother, assure certain securities. But it also manifests chaotically. Indeed, this is its principle meta-archetypal association. One expression of this chaos can be found in the archetype of the “devouring mother.” This archetype indexes to the tendency of the site of the originary—nature, or the maternal—to behave in such a suffocating fashion towards its progeny that it prevents their individuation: their achievement of synthesis between order (paternal) and chaos (maternal). On a literal, familial level, this is characteristically counteracted; Peterson asserts in the third chapter of Maps of Meaning, by the cultivation of group rituals intended to sever the “dependency [of boys] upon their mothers” that “often [take] place under purposefully frightening and violent conditions.”

It probably won’t be hard for the astute reader to guess where this is going. But anyway, here goes: the modern politically-correct state, beholden as it is to “SJW activists,” embodies, in Peterson’s view, the archetype of the devouring mother. This position is spelled out clearly in an article published in The Toronto Sun on March 29th, 2018—a paper best known in Canada for splashy covers that often indulge in left-wing scare-mongering, extensive sports coverage, and pictures of scantily-clad women. In the article, titled, in all caps, “MOST DANGEROUS WOMAN IN CANADA,” Peterson offers his opinion on then then-sitting premier, Kathleen Wynne (the politician he erroneously attributed blame to during the controversy over Bill C-16 for enforcing “compelled speech”). Like Justin Trudeau—a “‘Peter Pan’ prime minister'”—Wynne, for Peterson, represents a deviation from the archetypal order our society ought to adhere to. Wynne is certainly “not a Liberal.” Moreover: “Everyone in Ontario is not her grandchild, We’re not infants […] We don’t need that much compassion and her insistence on identity politics is unacceptable. The things that have happened under her watch at the universities are unacceptable, they’re way worse than people think.” And in case it wasn’t wholly clear for his followers which archetype he was filing Wynne under, he retweeted the same day of its publication with the attached headline: “Our devouring mother….”

The “devouring mother,” then, for Peterson—among whose ranks include Kathleen Wynne and the obese sea witch in The Little Mermaidappears as the guardian of order. But, in fact, her insistence upon infantilization of her offspring can only lead, conversely, to its diminution: to a totalitarianism that blocks the prospect of individuation. In this way, while the “devouring mother” ostensibly opposes herself to the “reality of differential production,” in practice she aggravates it by preventing the exposure of “The Divine Son” to the volatile conditions that enable his development. What we have here, then, is chaos—not to be confused with the ur-chaos of the uroboros—disguised as un-chaos: the commitment to an asinine order that can only terminate in disorder.

Lest anyone think we’ve been overly uncharitable to Peterson, they should be consoled to know that the above explanation represents a thoroughgoing effort to make sense of aspects of his work that are wholly consistent. All of this, of course, helps shed light on the esoteric/exoteric dyad that informs much of Peterson’s work—the way the “chaos” of nature must be represented in the structuration of society, so as, paradoxically, to be staved off. This duality also applies to Peterson’s views on race—views that come close in certain respects to those of Jung. Whether Jung can be genuinely regarded as a thinker of “race” remains, to this day, a significant source of debate. By his own admission, “archetypes are not determined as regards their content, but only as regards their form, and then only to a very limited degree.” As such, they manifest differently depending on the social and political context in question. One should not, then, you would think, mistake the archetype for the image; this conflation risks leading to the promulgation of pernicious stereotypes. Yet in spite of this warning, Jung often fails to take his own advice and consistently cites non-white peoples as living embodiments of the primitive state of mind (black Africans in particular). Such a view is connected with the notion, championed by Jung but discredited within modern psychology of “recapitulation.” This refers to the view that in the process of individuation, a member of a more advanced species must progress through the previous stages experienced by a less advanced one.

Peterson is not, by any conventional metric, vigorously racist. But the notion of “recapitulation” does surface rather conspicuously within his work. In the previously cited argument against the idyllic, Rousseauian state of nature for instance, Peterson invokes both the “terrible intensity of the schoolyard” and the “much more murderous” character of hunter-gatherer societies in the same breath in order to demonstrate the darkness that, we’re meant to believe, dwells within the human soul. His description of the high homicide rate in hunter-gatherer societies is followed immediately by an observation that renders the implicit comparison he’s put forth—between children and tribal communities, and Jung’s “archaic man”—explicit: 

“Because children, like other human beings, are not only good, they cannot simply be left to their own devices, untouched by society, and bloom into perfection. Even dogs must be socialized if they are to become acceptable members of the pack—and children are much more complex than dogs. This means that they are much more likely to go complexly astray if they are not trained, disciplined and properly encouraged.”

The “terrible intensity” of unsocialized children? What about the terrible intensity of Peterson? Chilling remarks such as these can be—given that Peterson often puts them forth as prosaically as, say, a science teacher explaining to his students why sugar dissolves in water—easily overlooked. Taken cumulatively, however, they suggest a serious underlying contradiction in his work. In Maps of Meaning, Peterson—in order to safeguard Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious from charges of irrationalism that can be easily leveled at it—attempts to explain, as we’ve mentioned before, archetypes by way of neurobiology. This is a view that would, you would think, force him to commit to a more deflationary view of them than Jung—that is, to live up to Jung’s injunction that they should be treated “as regards their form” rather than “as regards their content.” Peterson perhaps imagines he is doing this. But worth noting is the astonishing frequency with which his use of archetypes indexes back, in practice, to the same old ragbag of early twentieth-century prejudices (though the post-2007/08 era may wish to modestly object to its exclusion from this competition). For Peterson, this is just a matter of science. But unless you really think that the high homicide rates in hunter-gatherer societies make their members commensurable with empathically underdeveloped children, or that women are more likely to subscribe to “the SJW sort of ‘equality above all else’ philosophy” because of an evolutionary-psychological fixation on “distribution,” it’s likely you’ll find that Peterson’s appeals to the canon of science tell us more about him—and our politically sordid times—than it.

Conclusion: Peterson’s Forsworn Shadow

For Jung, “the shadow” refers to the unconscious—the way that it always trammels up what consciousness cannot, often becoming a repository of our darkest, animal instincts. It’s perhaps this way that we can best understand Peterson: as a thinker whose frequent disavowals of the alt-right betray an unsettling similarity (a projection onto others of something his ego cannot identify with). This similarity is not apparent in the exoteric side of Peterson’s work (the platitudinous endorsements of milquetoast liberal capitalism that he’s so fond of). But they are apparent in his deeply autarchic and biocentric view of the natural world, one that he often seems to dare audiences with. 

Sometimes, Peterson spells out this opposition bluntly. In a March 21st, 2018, appearance on the podcast Matt Lewis & the News—when asked whether he would’ve voted for Trump or Hilary—Peterson stammers a bit. But then he concedes: “I think… I would’ve impulsively voted for Trump at the last moment”—but not, he makes sure to add, “with a sense of delight.” What follows is several minutes of back-and-forth in which Peterson appears to concur that Trump’s use of identity politics—albeit right-wing identity politics—mirrors efforts by the Left to “retribalize” society. He then chides Clinton as being the candidate of “conniving scripting lies” contra Trump’s “unscripted impulsive lies.” (Peterson also, fascinatingly, expresses his disappointment with the Democrats for their abandonment of the working class—something he attributes partly to the fact he comes from a “somewhat working class background.”) Likewise: “what bothers me about Peterson,” a disaffected fan writes in the Facebook group “Dr. Jordan B. Peterson’s Mythopoeic PARTY BOAT”—which, as of 2019, largely functions as an online stockroom of Pepe the Frog memes and articles by racist “academics” like Ricardo Duchesne—“is that’s he [sic] always goddamn fence-sitting.” Considering Peterson’s own professed disdain for hypocrisy, can we blame his followers for taking his thought to what seems to be its apotheosis? If individuals such as these are Peterson’s shadow, this much is clear: He casts a long shadow over them, too.

13 thoughts on “Myth and Mayhem: A Leftist Critique of Jordan Peterson—Sample Chapter

  1. The four authors of this article refer to me in quotation marks as an “academic”. This is a gratuitous shot taken at me in an article that is totally about Peterson without an additional word about my academic work or anything else. I have no doubt that one of my books alone, The Uniqueness of Western Civilization, with over 900 books and articles listed in the bibliography, is more academic than the combined publications of the four authors of this article. The book received 7 full review essays, one 70 printed pages long, and three about 20 printed pages each. Some of these reviews (along with standard book reviews) came out in typically leftist journals. Here are some of them:

    1. Agreed. Whether one agrees with Ricardo Duchesne’s positions or not, putting academic in quotation marks is a cheap shot, especially when Conrad Hamilton, according to his bio, still hasn’t even finished grad school

    2. Hi Ricardo–to be clear, I delegated to your work the amount of intellectual attention I felt it warranted (and I’m not sure who you’re hoping to impress by citing e.g. a review on the personal website of a known anti-semitic conspiracy theorist).

      1. Be honest, you are a typical grad student terrified of questioning state-corporate imposed mandates about mass immigration and diversity. The review I cited (from Kevin MacDonald) was not from a personal website but the journal The Occidental Quarterly. I understand that merely mentioning MacDonald’s name terrifies the “critical” thinkers of academia, and that you would prefer to rely on the talking points of the establishment rather than examine MacDonald’s arguments.

        1. I may add, for the sake of debate, that some Jews are starting to agree (if indirectly) with one of MacDonald’s key arguments, as we can read in this article in the Jewish magazine Forward,
          published a few days ago.

          Joel Swanson writes:
          “In other words, American Jews were domestic political liberals because, as a small minority community with a long history of persecution and ethnic oppression, we had an explicit interest in promoting equality for all, in assuring that the white Christian majority did not impose its will over minority communities in the United States.”

          “The state of Israel, meanwhile, was explicitly founded as a state designed to promote the interests of the Jewish people above those of other communities.”

        2. That runt Conrad Hamilton isn’t fit to do Prof. Duchesne’s laundry. How about finishing grad school kid?

  2. Mind reading? Hermeneutics of suspicion? Reading into (as opposed to reading)? McManus, et al., possess a crystal ball that allows them to peruse the darkest pages of that darkest book that is Jordan Peterson’s soul? McManus, et al., managed to merge Orwell’s warning against calling opponents “fascist” with Sontag’s argument “against interpretation”; in a word, and a bad word it is: eisegesis.

  3. I’d like to ask for a clarification from the authors.

    Taken from “Peterson’s Illiberal Liberalism”: “As Peterson’s point about the Armed Forces suggests, many it would seem—the 10% of the population with IQs under 83, to be precise—are even too dumb for that.”

    Do the authors intend to insinuate that the armed forces operate on the belief that any person of sufficiently low IQ would be incapable of killing?

  4. In response to Peterson’s response to the question on race, Hamilton says:

    “This means that a hugely disproportionate number of “geniuses” will derive from this population (lauding the superior biological intelligence of Jews being, one imagines, the most politically correct way to stump for racial science). This is a characteristically clever act of misdirection. For by responding to a question about discrepancies in racial intelligence by opining on decidedly dryer topic—that of the public misapprehension of statistics—Peterson is able to blunt the impact of the point of view he implicitly puts across.”

    I think this assessment really fails to comprehend the point Peterson is making when addressing the relationship between race and average IQ. In making the point that it is the outliers causing these differences, he is leading to the natural conclusion that people should not be judged on their race, and instead on their individual intelligence. The correlation is clear from the data, and the point that Peterson is making is that we shouldn’t assume anything about someone based on their race, because the “average” person in each group is about the same, and some groups have outliers. Characterizing this as misdirection is just being lazy and failing to see the implications he is making, and how his comments relate to the question. This also doesn’t mention whether or not he sees this difference as inherent to the race or because of external factors. This is because he’s only talking about what he knows about, not making assertions about things that he doesn’t understand. As the article also says: “Peterson even admits that race is notoriously hard to pin down as a biological category.” so it seems disingenuous to imply Peterson is a fascist or a racist because of this statement.

    Jordan Peterson, I believe genuinely likes to be vague to make his audience think and make himself look smarter than he really is. This allows the author of this article to
    1. read what they want to read
    2. make logical leaps about Peterson.

  5. I’m continually astounded how a typical think-piece of this kind can simply vomit words with such a shallow ‘journaliistic’ understanding of Jung, Freud and Peterson, striking forth with ready abandon and opine with such ‘cleverness” – impugning the integrity of great thinkers in its wake with a cavalier insouciance that passes as ‘woke’ – sadly, never reaching beyond their individual parochialism. I guess this is what the present-day so-called intelligentsia have come to. It’s kinda sad, tbh.
    Great thinkers can be critiqued of course, but at least pay the minimum of respect by actually reading their work extensively and deeply – not simply taking pot shots at the now-anachronisms naturally festooning their work given the period of their devisement – as others of your ilk will no doubt do to this piece in 50 years.

  6. I’m continually astounded at how a typical think-piece of this kind can simply vomit words with such a shallow ‘journaliistic’ understanding of Jung, Freud and Peterson, striking forth with ready abandon and opine with such ‘cleverness” – impugning the integrity of great thinkers in its wake with a cavalier insouciance that passes as ‘woke’ – sadly, never reaching beyond their individual parochialism. I guess this is what the present-day so-called intelligentsia have come to. It’s kinda sad, tbh.
    Great thinkers can be critiqued of course, but at least pay the minimum of respect by actually reading their work extensively and deeply – not simply taking pot shots at the now-anachronisms naturally festooning their work given the period of their devisement – as others of your ilk will no doubt do to this piece in 50 years.

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