Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Should I feel backward for not knowing about Jordan Peterson?

Jordan Peterson is a Canadian intellectual that never much registered on my consciousness before the last couple of days. Sam Seder and his team talk about Peterson just after 14:00 in the 03/19/2018 edition of The Majority Report:

Peterson is celebrated as an "anti-PC" person who offers self-help suggestions with a bit of a professorial touch. providing with pronouncements dressed up with esoteric-sounding acadamic-ese. His guest, Nathan J. Robinson, talks about Peterson in the context of the divide between the academic press and the popular press, such that academic experts are often unfamiliar with the "popular intellectuality" in their field. Seder uses Sam Harris as someone who is widely known as a neuroscientist but not actually a familiar figure among academic specialist in subject areas for which Harris is well know.

Robinson also has a long essay out about Peterson, The Intellectual We Deserve Current Affairs 03/14/2018.

Peterson is even profiled in the prestigious New York Review of Books by Pankaj Mishra, Jordan Peterson & Fascist Mysticism 03/19/2018. Nishra describes him as "a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, ... a YouTube sensation and a bestselling author in several Western countries." Mishra explains "insists that gender and class hierarchies are ordained by nature and validated by science, [and] has suddenly come to be hailed as the West’s most influential public intellectual."

Whoever is hailing him as such, should I be embarrassed that I really have not paid much attention until today to "the West’s most influential public intellectual"?

I haven't seen anything so far that makes me thinks I should be. Mishra himself places Peterson's kind of work in a line of romantics with authoritarian tendencies dating back to the 19th century. He says that Carl Jung, Mircea Eliade, and Joseph Campbell. He gives particular emphasis to Peterson's celebration of traditionalist-authoritarian notions of proper gender roles.

Mishra provides this guideline to the kind of ideology which he understands Peterson to be promoting:
Peterson himself credits his intellectual awakening to the Cold War, when he began to ponder deeply such “evils associated with belief” as Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, and became a close reader of Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. This is a common intellectual trajectory among Western right-wingers who swear by Solzhenitsyn and tend to imply that belief in egalitarianism leads straight to the guillotine or the Gulag. A recent example is the English polemicist Douglas Murray who deplores the attraction of the young to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and wishes that the idea of equality was “tainted by an ideological ordure equivalent to that heaped on the concept of borders.” Peterson confirms his membership of this far-right sect by never identifying the evils caused by belief in profit, or Mammon: slavery, genocide, and imperialism.
The question of what role a scholar's or scientist's politics should play in evaluating their ideas and intellectual conclusions of their work is a complicated one. Mishra is focusing in this short article on how a strain of thought contributed in some ways to reactionary attitudes and ideas. In the case of Jung, Eliade, and Campbell, their work is still taken seriously in itself, which doesn't mean that their approaches are mainstream now. jung's notion of the "colleective unconscious" is mostly not take seriously today in a medical or scientific sense. Yet there are still Jungian psychologists and others influenced by pats of his work.

But what Misha notes about those three here is important:
The “desperation of meaninglessness” widely felt in the late nineteenth century, seemed especially desperate in the years following two world wars and the Holocaust. Jung, Eliade, and Campbell, all credentialed by university education, met a general bewilderment by suggesting the existence of a secret, almost gnostic, knowledge of the world. Claiming to throw light into recessed places in the human unconscious, they acquired immense and fanatically loyal fan clubs. Campbell’s 1988 television interviews with Bill Moyers provoked a particularly extraordinary response. As with Peterson, this popularizer of archaic myths, who believed that “Marxist philosophy had overtaken the university in America,” was remarkably in tune with contemporary prejudices. “Follow your own bliss,” he urged an audience that, during an era of neoconservative upsurge, was ready to be reassured that some profound ancient wisdom lay behind Ayn Rand’s paeans to unfettered individualism.

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