The Peterson paradox, or ‘it doesn’t matter if you’re right, if people stop listening’
We have a paradox.
The world’s most prominent current public intellectual is a man who has frequently lectured about the dangers of polarisation, how each political and temperamental type is necessary and important, how we need to speak to those we disagree with and move beyond conflict.
Yet at the same time Jordan Peterson has become the most polarising figure I can remember in my lifetime. There are multiple Jordan Petersons it seems, and they are no longer reconcilable.
What’s really going on? And what are the lessons that we can draw, and also, what are the lessons he can draw from this?
It’s worth spelling out a couple of things. What is causing the divisiveness — is Peterson (unwittingly or not?) adding to it, and what does the space on the other side of it — the synthesis — look like?
And also, if he is (as I argue) going slightly off course, how can he correct it?
I’ll start by saying that his thought (and the immense viral success, the ‘Peterson Phenomena’ itself) represents something of immense value — nothing less than the reintegration of the sacred into our culture.
Immersing oneself into the Maps of Meaning, or the Bible series of lectures, what one finds is a clear path to an extraordinary intellectual achievement. He has created a map that points the way to a post-religious, post-atheist and post-Christian synthesis.
And not in the way that the new atheists like Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins would have it — where we abandon religious ‘superstition’ and embrace ‘rationality’, which implicitly (often explicitly) requires the vast majority of the world’s believers to admit their foolishness and ignorance and bow to the rationalists’ superiority.
Instead Peterson sketches out how the deep metaphorical truths of religion can be mapped onto the world revealed to us by modern science — fusing together the mystical insights (archetypes and the collective consciousness) of the likes of Carl Jung with the modern scientific worldview. A genuine synthesis that opens the possibility of a reconciliation between science and religion, healing the divide of a world(view) turn asunder 500 years ago.
For those who baulk at religious language, an alternative framework is that he points a way to a ‘spiritual atheism’, by decoding and assimilating the worlds of myth and religion into a more expansive scientific project.
It is an epic achievement. Which is why it’s so painful to me — and many others — to see the way that he is continually misunderstood and misrepresented by the media and the world at large.
For a long time I defended him strongly, I’ve made several films and written several blogposts on his importance. I still think the vast majority of the criticism says more about the critic than it does about him.
However, I no longer think that all the criticism is unfair, and I think the time has come to offer a constructive critique of his blind spots. This article is accompanied by a video blog (above) and article by Andrew Sweeny, “Five Minutes to Midnight, Jordan Peterson and the Rosy Crucifixion”.
I still believe the depth of his thought transcends opposites and offers the clearest map forward that we have — but it’s equally clear to me that the way he is delivering it is not working, and is adding to the polarisation.
Most concisely, that his opponents are successfully pulling him onto political territory, where he is spending most of his time defending himself, getting reactive, rather than engaging with the bigger picture. And that he seems no longer to be enjoying it as he was before.
Attacks hitting home
He has always provoked a shrill response in some areas of the media landscape — and generally has emerged strengthened, for example in the famous Channel 4 News interview with Cathy Newman.
But it seems to me at least that the nature and impact of the attacks has changed in the last week or so. Firstly there was the New York Times piece, “Jordan Peterson, Custodian of the Patriarchy”, which I wrote about a few days ago, as “Jordan Peterson and the New York Times — a Rorschach test for the new culture wars”
And on Friday, a hard-hitting portrait in the Toronto Star: “I used to be Jordan Peterson’s biggest supporter, and now I think he’s dangerous” from a former colleague and someone Peterson referred to on twitter as a “good friend”.
Taken together these two pieces seem to mark something of a watershed moment. It seems to me that they have registered and impacted deeply on his public reputation. Even though the two articles (the NYT in particular) have their flaws, I believe they each speak to at least a partial truth, which is why they have crystallised perceptions.
He has said before that he is “not operating at the political level, but at the theological level” — and there has always been a tension between the two different perspectives — sometimes distilled down to ‘twitter Peterson vs lecturer Peterson’.
Now he is a thinker on the world stage — certainly the most influential thinker of the moment, and arguably, given how many people are being turned onto philosophy through him, the most significant thinker we have seen in a very long time.
Making sense of the world is always to some degree a collective enterprise — there’s “too much world, and not enough us” for us to each genuinely interrogate the world and form our own opinions about everything. We outsource a lot of our judgments about the world to peer groups and trusted sources.
For a long time Peterson has been a kind of filter for freethinkers, those who have listened to others’ opinions have stayed clear, and those who have taken the leap, and found out for themselves have discovered a thinker of immense depth. But over time I’ve seen a lot of people who I would consider relatively open minded, form strongly negative opinions about him online.
I come from the liberal left. When I discovered Jordan Peterson last year, I found someone who was carrying a message of transcending opposites, of synthesis beyond right and left.
I made the first full length documentary about him — ‘Truth in the Time of Chaos’ — partly because I wanted to show that there was a depth to his thought far beyond the political lens that is often applied to him. I was already concerned at the way that many people (particularly on the liberal/left) couldn’t get past their interpretation of his political leanings, to see the deeper perspective he was bringing.
He frequently talks about his desire to learn and grow. In the spirit of open dialogue and free speech, and as someone who has spent a great deal of time engaging with his work, I’m also going to offer some constructive criticism of my own.
I couldn’t frame this in the same way that Bernard Schiff has “I was a friend, and now I think he’s dangerous” — but I would say that “I was one of his biggest fans, and now I have some serious concerns” — particularly about him burning out, and also that the criticism and attention has changed him for the worse in the way he is conveying his message. Given the level of attack against him, he would have to be superhuman not to be affected.
The hardest hitting part of the article from his former colleague, Bernard Schiff, is the following that paints Peterson as dangerously messianic:
“You don’t understand. I am willing to lose everything, my home, my job etc., because I believe in this.” And then he said, with the intensity he is now famous for, “Bernie. Tammy had a dream, and sometimes her dreams are prophetic. She dreamed that it was five minutes to midnight.”
That was our last conversation. He was playing out the ideas that appeared in his first book. The social order is coming apart. We are on the edge of chaos. He is the prophet, and he would be the martyr. Jordan would be our saviour. I think he believes that.
He may be driven by a great and genuine fear of our impending doom, and a passionate conviction that he can save us from it. He may believe that his ends justify his questionable means, and he may not be aware that he mimics those figures from whom he wants to protect us. But his conviction makes him no less problematic. On the contrary.’”
I think there is a level of truth in it, but it’s worth unpacking. If Peterson is right that we are a lot closer to the abyss than we realise (I share this view, as do many if the thinkers I follow most closely) — then what is the appropriate level of intensity for that?
Central to Peterson’s thought (as reflected through Jung) is that ‘Christ’ represents the ideal human being, and that we have to aim to live that out in our own lives.
The point I would make is this — not that he “believes himself to be the saviour” — I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s certainly true that we ALL need to believe that we are our own saviour, and to live out the archetype in our own lives. To start taking our moral decisions with the weight of whether they move us towards heaven or hell. Only that level of theological seriousness will be equivalent to the task we face as a species.
This is something of the paradox of the times, another topic Peterson returns to time and again. On one hand we have material abundance far beyond anything the world has ever seen, on the other we have created a fragile world that is becoming ever more deeply divided. Many have pointed out that the language of polarisation is already at a level only just below that of actual conflict.
Peterson is clearly ready to die for his beliefs, that’s partly why what he is saying resonates so widely, we can tell that he really, really, means what he says.
So I don’t share Bernard Schiff’s fear that Peterson has a messianic streak, but I fear that he has internalised that this will be a one-man show when actually it’s going to take a lot more than one man to get us through the next few years. The central delusion therefore, metaphorically speaking, isn’t to think that you are Christ, it’s to forget that everyone else is too.
In fact the emergence of the Intellectual Dark Web — a loose network of thinkers grappling with the sense that we face existential threats and are being held back by ideology, is an early indication of the collective intelligence required. I will return to this at the end of this essay — and try to sketch out what a deeper resolution may look like.
We seem to be approaching something like that referred to by Robert Bellah, in ‘Beyond Belief’:
“We may be seeing the beginnings of the reintegration of our culture, a new possibility of the unity of consciousness. If so, it will not be on the basis of any new orthodoxy, either religious or scientific. Such a new integration will be based on the rejection of all univocal understandings of reality, of all identifications of one conception of reality with reality itself. It will recognize the multiplicity of the human spirit, and the necessity to translate constantly between different scientific and imaginative vocabularies. It will recognize the human proclivity to fall comfortably into some single literal interpretation of the world and therefore the necessity to be continuously open to rebirth in a new heaven and a new earth. It will recognize that in both scientific and religious culture all we have finally are symbols, but that there is an enormous difference between the dead letter and the living word.”
He has a message that can and should be reaching the left/liberal as well as the right — but under attack from the left, he’s not maximising his message and impact. He’s saying things that, I believe, with a little more care with the framing, could actually reach more of the people who are currently reacting against him.
In my documentaries and articles — particularly in “Glitch in the Matrix” that Peterson kindly also uploaded to his own channel — I’ve laid out my view that a great deal of the media response to Peterson is based on him challenging some of their (naive left/liberal dogmatic) worldview.
We also published through Rebel Wisdom a wonderful essay from Andrew Sweeny arguing that part of the answer to why he provokes such strong reactions (eg: Pankaj Mishra’s “Jordan Peterson and Fascist Mysticism”) can be found in the split between the arch-scientific Sigmund Freud, and the spiritually inclined Carl Jung. Because of his interest in religion and archetypes, Freud accused Jung of opening the door to the “black tide of mysticism”.
This is exactly what Peterson is also doing — arguing for the need to reintegrate the mystical, the archetypal. My sense is that this is essential. We all sense the structures around us crumbling — that civilisation is more fragile than it has been for a long time. I believe this is because we are entering the end of the age of scientific materialism — a worldview that cuts us off from a deeper part of ourselves.
Materialism was ‘true enough’ for a long time, by treating the world as mere ‘stuff’ that we could manipulate at will — gave us technological wonders and material progress unimaginable in the past. But at the same time it cut us off from something that makes us profoundly human. Something akin to a religious/spiritual ‘ground of being’.
As soon as I discovered Peterson’s work last summer I was hooked, I devoured it. I was also convinced that he would continue his upward trajectory — I’ve been unsurprised by the ‘supernova effect’ since. In fact the very first question I asked him in our interview was “What do you make of your current success, and are you ready for it to continue?”. Because the message he represents is something that western society had forgotten and was deeply thirsting for.
Without this reintegration we are lost. Seeing ourselves as merely bags of chemicals without any deeper purpose and place in the universe is a kind of cosmic isolation from our deeper selves, resulting in epidemics of meaninglessness and depression.
As the philosopher Richard Tarnas says in ‘Passion of the Western Mind:
“Our psychological and spiritual predispositions are absurdly at variance with the world revealed by our scientific method. We seem to receive two messages from our existential situation: on the one hand, strive, give oneself to the quest for meaning and spiritual fulfillment; but on the other hand, know that the universe, of whose substance we are derived, is entirely indifferent to that quest, soulless in character, and nullifying in its effects. We are at once aroused and crushed. For inexplicably, absurdly, the cosmos is inhuman, yet we are not. The situation is profoundly unintelligible.
…it should not be surprising what kinds of response the modern psyche has made to this situation as it attempts to escape the double bind’s inherent contradictions. Either inner or outer realities tend to be distorted: inner feelings are repressed and denied, as in apathy and psychic numbing, or they are inflated in compensation, as in narcissism and egocentrism; or the outer world is slavishly submitted to as the only reality, or it is aggressively objectified and exploited. There is also the strategy of flight, through various forms of escapism: compulsive economic consumption, absorption in the mass media, faddism, cults, ideologies, nationalistic fervor, alcoholism, drug addiction. When avoidance mechanisms cannot be sustained, there is anxiety, paranoia, chronic hostility, a feeling of helpless victimization, a tendency to suspect all meanings, an impulse toward self-negation, a sense of purposelessness and absurdity, a feeling of irresolvable inner contradiction, a fragmenting of consciousness. And at the extreme, there are the full-blown psychopathological reactions of the schizophrenic: self-destructive violence, delusional states, massive amnesia, catatonia, automatism, mania, nihilism. The modern world knows each of these reactions in various combinations and compromise formations, and its social and political life is notoriously so determined.” (Epilogue to ‘Passion of the Western Mind’ here)
So in many ways I see this aspect of Peterson’s broader mission as existentially important. That’s why I’ve been a strong defender against his critics, to the point of aligning my new media project, Rebel Wisdom, with something of a ‘Petersonian’ worldview.
Also, having worked in the mainstream media, BBC, Channel 4 News and documentaries, for fifteen years, I have a sense of the media landscape also.
Some of the mischaracterisations are almost amusing, the result of a deep theological thinker being interrogated by a surface level (mainstream media) filter — giving a bizarre simplification of religious thought. One example, we regularly see outrage at Peterson’s characterisation of ‘masculine order’ vs ‘feminine chaos’.
This isn’t his invention, it’s a central tenet of (among others) Buddhism and Daoism, the perspective that the world exists in a duality of yang/yin — order/chaos — masculine/feminine. Agree with it or not, it’s hardly his creation — and it’s a deep religious point believed by a large number of people. And it also means that we each, men and women, are made up of this duality — nothing is *only* yin or yang, so to assume that it means women = chaos and men = order is to simplify and misunderstand.
In his lectures Peterson can then go on to provide the context, for example integrating the work of Iain McGilchrist, whose groundbreaking book ‘Master and Emissary’ described how the brain effectively is divided into two hemispheres, one for order (the known) and one for chaos (the unknown). But this message is essentially impossible to communicate through traditional media, with its low bandwidth and oversimplifications.
I have had many conversations with others with criticisms of Peterson, some of which I’ve come to realise have at least a grain of truth.
And these grains — under the intensity of the spotlight shone on Peterson over the last few months, have grown larger.
Take the New York Times article. He has always been attacked as a retrograde misogynist by some on the extreme left. I’ve always argued that this is unfair — the left wants to believe that we are all blank slates, that everything about masculinity and femininity is socially constructed, and Peterson is arguing from impeccable biological and psychological (temperamental) data to argue that we are not, that men and women evolved differently and that many of those differences are now part of our biological makeup.
Even within this argument he takes care to say that men and women are ‘more the same than they are different’ and that there is substantial overlap.
The tone of the New York Times article was that Peterson was a misogynist who wanted to roll back the clock to the 1950s.
He has in the past queried whether men and women can in fact work together, that it’s still a new experiment and that we “don’t know the rules”. He famously asked in an interview with Vice whether women should be allowed to wear makeup at work, as it was a sexual signal.
The issue here I think isn’t so much what Peterson is saying as much as what he is not saying. And I don’t know if that’s because of carelessness, malicious framing, or because he does actually think that the post-1960s experiments with gender equality and sexual freedom have been a mistake.
I’m going to refer here to the contrast between Peterson’s arguments, and the care taken by husband and wife evolutionary biologists and fellow members (with Peterson) of the ‘Intellectual Dark Web’, Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying.
They’ve been thinking about these matters for a long time, and also about how to frame these questions in a way that allows people to hear them. I think they — more than anyone — have been able to sketch out what the territory on the other side of this division might look like — the synthesis.
On the Joe Rogan podcast they agreed with Peterson’s controversial comments about makeup — it IS a sexual signal, effectively. But they broadened the conversation and added the extra context. The sexual signals that women respond to in men are generally status and power — so would we also have to ban corner offices and mahogany desks, and the expensive cars in the parking lot of the workplaces? Peterson’s sole focus on women in this instance seems one-sided. And spelling out the argument this way shows how ‘banning makeup’ for example, wouldn’t solve the problem — in fact there seems to be no way to solve the problem except to cope with some sexual tension in the workplace.
When it comes to looking at the ‘biological/evolutionary toolkit’ of men and women, Weinstein and Heying agree that we are ‘not blank slates’ as the radical left would like, but continue that conversation to explain that biology is NOT fate.
Because we are the blankest slates around. We have been able to adapt to so many different situations and times because we are able to move beyond our biological constraints.
The conversation between conservatives and liberals usually gets stuck at this point — conservatives take the ‘facts of life’ and say that we are fated to play out the roles of the past, and liberals ignore them in favour of a utopian future, fearing that to acknowledge these realities will mean any hope of greater equality is doomed to failure.
The synthesis is to recognise the biological/evolutionary realities — for liberals to stop ‘fighting against reality’ — and for conservatives to also recognise that these evolutionary realities are not fate.
And that, for example, we are not going to roll back the experiment that gained speed in the 1960s (though actually began with women taking on roles outside the home in WW2) and return to men and women in separate camps, so we are going to have to find a way to live and work together. But that will almost certainly mean recognising the differing natures of men and women to do so — confusing equality with equivalence (sameness) will lead us only into confusion.
Peterson appears to be falling on the conservative side of this dynamic, because he is not providing the extra context that others are. The result is to add to, rather than helping see a way beyond, the polarisation.
We can blame others for attributing motive and context that he is not bringing, but when any conversation gets stuck like this, ultimately it can only be the person holding the wider perspective who is able to navigate a way through the confusion. In other words, he has to take responsibility for how he is being misunderstood as much as he can.
In addition — I think we have to tackle head on the gender split in his audience. It’s not true that he is only speaking to men, I know many women who also find his message compelling. But his audience *is* overwhelmingly male, and I also know many women who are put off by him on some visceral level. Personally I think this is pointing to a certain lack of integration in his energy, a subtle split between head and heart.
Not enjoying it
And this seems to be reflected in the way that he seems increasingly not to be enjoying his public appearances, and what appears to be a more reactive and strung out Jordan Peterson over the last couple of months.
In our interview in October last year we talked a lot about the Jungian idea of the shadow — those parts of ourselves we repress or deny — and the necessity to integrate them. In particular — anger (the “rage circuit”) — instead of denying and pretending we don’t have it, to accept it, integrate it and make it work for us as personal power and authority in the world.
Peterson has probably done more ‘work’ on himself than just about any other public figure. He exhibits a full range of emotion, from full throated passion to sadness and grief.
He talks about, and has clearly lived, Jung’s idea of integration of the shadow. He has aligned his anger with his mission — he is a highly integrated man, it’s what gives his public performances such power and impact. Yet it seems to me there are things that he has not yet integrated and it is coming out as reactivity. Some have suggested that his experiences with the radical left last year have left him with a kind of ‘political PTSD’. He claims an equal criticism of both left and right — but many detect a reactivity against the left that overwhelms his message of equal criticism of radical left and right.
Recently I saw him at the Hammersmith Apollo in London, in front of a crowd of around 5,000. The first half an hour or so he spent mostly railing against those who had attacked him. His anger seemed scattered and unintegrated, reactive and tetchy rather than a source of power. For someone with his level of prominence and impact, to dwell on critics him came across as weakness, not strength.
It wasn’t until the QnA section that the considered, intellectual, compelling Jordan Peterson — who I interviewed last October, and who dealt with the Cathy Newman interview with such deftness and humour — returned.
To be clear, Peterson would have to be superhuman not to react to some of the most biased, unfair and negative media coverage ever given to a public figure. But this reactivity — I believe — is a barrier to people receiving his message. In fact, if we follow fellow Canadian intellectual Marshall McLuhan, the medium IS the message — so the energy with which he is putting his thoughts out, is all that many people perceive, and blocks them hearing the content.
Integrated anger can create clarity and impact, but unintegrated anger comes across as reactivity and creates division. As Rafia Morgan, veteran therapist and the finest facilitator I know, and the mentor of the Rebel Wisdom men’s work project, says: “Any reactivity says something about myself. It’s an invitation to an inquiry — what am I bringing to this? It’s an invitation to a realisation, and a deeper integration.”
And it’s having an impact — a recent debate with atheist Matt Dillahunty didn’t go well for Peterson. For the first time in my experience, the general reaction online seemed to signal a clear win to Dillahunty and was critical of Peterson. Key was the body language of the two — Dillahunty was relaxed and confident, and seemed in control of the interaction — Peterson was hunched over, and seemed tetchy and reactive.
Then in the recent Munk Free Speech debates, he was also very angry at times, while again under unfair attack from Michael Dyson, who twice referred to him as a “mean white man”.
Stephen Fry modelled a wonderful counterpoint to Peterson’s anger, defusing the situation with humour, self-deprecation and erudition. When he described Dyson in his closing speech as a “snake oil huckster”, he did it in such a way as to leave Dyson unsure what had just happened and unable to respond. It was a devastating and compelling performance.
This matters, because Peterson is carrying a lot of hopes for this deeper resolution I mentioned at the outset. He is going into two huge debates with the new atheist and “world’s calmest man” Sam Harris in Vancouver which could be a seminal moment in the clash between ‘new atheism’, science and the religious perspective.
I believe he can integrate and move beyond this reactivity, with his decades of clinical practice.
He integrates so much already into an extraordinary synthesising project. My strong sense is that he needs to continue to integrate more — to move through and beyond into new territory.
Another map he could look to is provided by the “integral” philosopher Ken Wilber. Central to this thought is the concept of “yes, and”, a continual place of integration and moving beyond. He is a developmental philosopher similar to Jean Piaget, who Peterson frequently refers to. Wilber uses a map called Spiral Dynamics, that sees each person, and society as going through stages of development.
He describes the postmodern wave, of equality coming through in the 1960s as ‘Green’ thinking. Rather than a mistake, he sees it as an essential stage of development — but one that has fallen into pathology and needs to be transcended:
“Beginning in the 1960s, green first began to emerge as a major cultural force, and it soon bypassed orange (which was the previous leading-edge stage, known in various models as “rational,” “reason,” “formal operational,” “achievement,” “conscientious,” “accomplishment,” “merit,” “profit”, “self-esteem,” “self-authoring,” “excellence,” and “progress” — in short, “modern” in contrast to green’s “postmodern”) as the dominant leading-edge. Green started with a series of by-and-large healthy and very appropriate (and evolutionarily positive) forms: the massive civil rights movement, the worldwide environmental movement and drives for sustainability in business, the rise of personal and professional feminism, anti-hate-crime legislation, a heightened sensitivity to any and all forms of social oppression of virtually any minority, and — centrally — both the understanding of the crucial role of “context” in any knowledge claims and the desire to be as “inclusive” as possible. The entire revolution of the sixties was driven primarily by this stage of development — in 1959, 3 percent of the population was at green; in 1979, close to 20 percent of the population was — and these events truly and irrevocably changed the world. The Beatles (otherwise sacrosanct in my view) summarized the whole move (and movement) with one of their songs: “All You Need Is Love.” (Total inclusion rules!)
But as the decades unfolded, green increasingly began veering into extreme, maladroit, dysfunctional, even clearly unhealthy forms. Its broad-minded pluralism slipped into a rampant and runaway relativism (collapsing into nihilism), as the notion that all truth is contextualized (or gains meaning from its cultural context) slid into the notion that there is no real universal truth at all, only shifting cultural interpretations (which eventually slid into a widespread narcissism). Central notions (which began as important “true but partial” concepts, but collapsed into extreme and deeply self-contradictory views) included the ideas that all knowledge is, in part, a social construction; all knowledge is context-bound; there are no privileged perspectives; what passes for “truth” is a cultural fashion, and is almost always advanced by one oppressive force or another.” Ken Wilber, ‘Trump and a Post-Truth World’
Wilber’s thought maps onto Peterson’s in many important ways, but the main difference is that Wilber treats ‘Green’ as an essential but partial stage of development that has gone sour, and Peterson seems to only see the pathology of ‘Green’ and because of this, seems reactive to those who are under its spell.
There is another way than his constant railing against the radical left. He would argue that the radical left is more of a threat, especially on university campuses, which is undeniably true. But given his insistence that “ideas have people, rather than people having ideas”, can we/he approach this with a level of compassion for people who have misled by the excesses of extreme identity politics, people who need to be seduced back to the right path through humour and intelligence, not as enemies that need to be defeated.
Peterson could even undercut the implicit claim that the post-structuralists and postmodernists were responsible for civil rights and equality by framing the 1960s as further unfolding of the religious/Christian idea of the innate divinity of the individual.
Look for the exponential curve!
The task that needs to happen, that Peterson identifies correctly, is to “rescue the father from the underworld”. In other words, to reanimate the deeper stories of our culture that are already encoded into our bodies and souls. Central to that is the nature of spoken truth (logos). He is right that postmodernism is attacking that task at the root, by insisting that there are no truths to recover, and that it has to be fought.
But what project looks like, and the world that will result from it — will look very different from how it has in the past.
If it’s true that the new digital economy is based on attention, then the internet is a unique tool for democratic revolution.
Peterson’s success was in many ways ‘crowdsourced’ — forcing himself into the conversation by his massive online resonance and traction.
This is also how the “Intellectual Dark Web” was formed, the immense online success of the likes of Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro and others thrusting them together onto each others’ programs and creating this network of free thinkers.
While truth is under attack and the mainstream media is dying, the right people and ideas are being selected for — in real time — while the old gatekeepers of the conversation wither away into irrelevance.
My advice to Peterson: look for the exponential curve and feed it — free up your time by saying ‘no’ to some of the old media gatekeepers, and empower the new generation that are coming up from the new media landscape. Use your immense power to demand attention to empower others.
For himself — take a step back from quick response media interview, and look for projects that give accurate context and framing to your thought —think Joseph Campbell’s seminal ‘Power of Myth’.
Think more considered explorations of how the ancient and timeless mythological themes are showing up today in our culture, in the form of the tyrannical king and devouring mother, with the benevolent father and divine mother still there if we look carefully.
The recovery of the father, the saving of our culture, will not be a one man show this time. It will be a coming together of those who have independently developed key parts of the puzzle.
The deeper synthesis
I have a sense that the crystallisation of the Intellectual Dark Web phenomena is only the start of the process of deeper integration — that, as Bret Weinstein says — “all truths must align” — in other words, that the evolutionary map must align with the psychological and mythological maps that Peterson is holding. That if they have the courage to allow their thought to evolve, the members of the IDW can reach something of a synthesis. This is an intensely exciting time to be alive and watching this develop.
I would argue that even the Intellectual synthesis that the IDW will hopefully move towards is only part of the total synthesis required, which will need to include head, heart and body. Matching the intellectual understanding, with deeper embodied awareness and transformational technologies.
To understand the deeper psycho-spiritual transformation that will have to go alongside it, I look to thinkers like Jamie Wheal, the bestselling author of ‘Stealing Fire’ and founder of the Flow Genome Project, who has spent a lifetime working through the technologies to help us transform and unlock potential.
For HOW the resolution and synthesis will happen this time round, in the digital age of the exponential curve, I would recommend to check out the work of Jordan Greenhall, the tech-savant who argues that the synthesis that needs to happen is between the “red religion” and the “blue church”, and that the separation of temperamental types into ‘armed camps’ is extinctionary.
I’ve written extensively about the new phenomena of the Intellectual Dark Web and how this is a naturally evolved (mediated by the internet) conversation that takes place beyond ideology, and is concerned with the existential questions of life and survival.
In particular it’s informed by the realisation from Bret and Eric Weinstein that “the evolutionary tools that have gotten us this far, will end in an extinctionary event if we don’t evolve beyond them”, because of our hard-wired tribalism. See this wonderful conversation Rebel Wisdom recorded between Bret and Jamie Wheal for more on this insight.
Since the Intellectual Dark Web was profiled (outed) in the New York Times last week — it is no longer dark. It has arguably flipped from being a network of thinkers whose views are excluded from the mainstream media conversation to a network of highly successful new media entrepreneurs who are in the process of replacing the mainstream media as a source of accurate and reliable sensemaking.
We half-seriously published an article from Andrew Sweeny arguing that the Intellectual Dark Web was dead.
The danger with this evolution of the Intellectual Dark Web (of which Rebel Wisdom is apparently part of [the Critical Darker Web] — according to this website) is that it can become yet another tribalism. It seems essential for it to be a genuinely evolutionary conversation then it needs to become self-critical.
Peterson is the most high profile member of the IDW. And it is in this spirit of adding to this evolutionary conversation that I offer my critique.
Return to the Archetypal
In writing this, I have realised that — to translate back into the mythological/archetypal/religious framework — what I am arguing is quite simple. It is that Peterson has been channelling the spirit of God the Father into the culture — the ancient ‘Rules for Life’, very successfully — now what is needed is the integration of the deeper emotional and embodiment that God the Son (the arrival of Jesus) represents in the Christian tradition. As Peterson has argued himself, Christ represents the inner union of masculine and feminine qualities, that Jung referred to as the integration of anima and animus.
We need to (as Richard Tarnas also argues in Passion of the Western Mind) re-integrate the feminine — the lateral, embodied, intuitive faculties as much as the masculine discriminating intellect.
To quote from recent Medium article “The Fertile Darkness of Apocalypse: Some Preliminary Notes on Epistemological Revolution”:
“Considerations such as ‘objective accuracy’ should be considered tertiary to flexibility and flow. This approach is consistent with sensemaking theory, which itself considers accuracy to be “nice but not necessary.” The more critical considerations are: what information does a given filter include and exclude? Can we layer filters in such a way that previously rejected but useful content gets through? And, ultimately, can we be intimate with all parts of the world? As identity and world construction are reciprocal in the process of sensemaking, to be intimate with all parts of the world means to be intimate with all parts of yourself, and vice versa. This sympathetic, feminine, connection-based mode of feeling and processing could potentially heal the traumatic disconnection, the mutilation of self and world, caused by the tyranny of Theoretical Man and his rationality, and — in doing so — allow us to enter into a more intimate relationship with reality.”
And returning and ending with Richard Tarnas again.
“The evolution of the Western mind has been founded on the repression of the feminine — on the repression of undifferentiated unitary consciousness, of the participation mystique with nature: a progressive denial of the anima mundi, of the soul of the world, of the community of being, of the all-pervading, of mystery and ambiguity, of imagination, emotion, instinct, body, nature, woman — of all that which the masculine has projectively identified as “other.”
But this separation necessarily calls forth a longing for a reunion with that which has been lost — especially after the masculine heroic quest has been pressed to its utmost one-sided extreme in the consciousness of the late modern mind, which in its absolute isolation has appropriated to itself all conscious intelligence in the universe (man alone is a conscious intelligent being, the cosmos is blind and mechanistic, God is dead). Then man faces the existential crisis of being a solitary and mortal conscious ego thrown into an ultimately meaningless and unknowable universe.” Passion of the Western Mind
It may be that Peterson is not the man to take on this next step, and we must do it ourselves.
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