Alter Ego’s Metamodern Intervention

An Comparative Analysis of Jordan Peterson and Russell Brand

Have you made up your mind on Jordan Peterson yet?

How Russell Brand can help you transcend the debate

Today Jordan Peterson (pop-psychologist and apologist for tradition and religious order) and Sam Harris (atheist crusader, neuro-philosopher and embattled social critic) go head to head at the O2 stadium. It’s a far bigger audience than most academics or theorists ever get, and is marketed as explosive: “Harris has mentioned that he strongly disagrees with many philosophical positions that Peterson holds and believes that some of those positions are dangerous.”

While we are likely to get a better understanding of the holes in Peterson’s philosophical positions, we will likely be left none the wiser on his positions on major global problems like climate change and inequality — where it’s most important to understand Peterson. Interestingly, however, these social positions are precisely the type of topics that Russell Brand raised in his recent meetings with Peterson. A new progressive network called Alter Ego (UK)* have explored these conversations with Brand in their latest video, demonstrating some major gaps in Peterson’s political thinking to develop a vision of progress that integrates personal and collective change. Watch here:

In their two encounters, Brand and Peterson disagree about capitalism but maintain a shared commitment to personal development. In Brand’s podcast Under the Skin, he has gone deep into the topics of Marxism and systemic conspiracy with the likes of David Harvey and Jacques Peretti, articulating a complex critique of capitalism. Meanwhile, Peterson unambiguously dictates that capitalism is not the locus of the problem. In conversation, they meet in the middle with great cordiality, but this glosses over Brand’s sources that would counter Peterson’s narrative. (Side note: the critique of capitalism and the military-industrial complex that Brand is engaged with deeply resonates with the theory of systemic-conspiracy).

Which brings us to Alter Ego’s main concern; it appears that society compels us to choose a side, to be for or against Peterson. In contrast, Alter Ego uses Peterson’s discussions with Russell Brand as a case study, through which one can get at the nuance of Peterson and help to close the gaps between problems and solutions. The argument ultimately transcends Peterson himself — a welcome relief — to point out that any thorough concept of personal development must include some concept of social conscience, just as any serious politics must include a concept of collective action.

Alter Ego represent one of a growing number of figures on the progressive left striving to find a political resolution to the Peterson phenomenon, drawing on metamodernism as a new intellectual framework that helps integrate conflicting ideas, teasing out the underlying flaws in Peterson’s assumptions without denying the importance of his contributions to psychology and personal empowerment.

Although still relatively unknown, metamodernism is a discourse that has been emerging for almost a decade, in part based on observations of the cultural and artistic shifts of the 21st century, and partly reflecting new developments in philosophy, politics, and social science. One simple way to envision it is ‘reconstruction’ after the deconstruction practices of postmodernism, which would provide a direct answer to Peterson’s tired lamentations about the evils of “postmodern neo-marxism.” Alter Ego and their network of thinkers believe that this way of thinking can help transcend and incorporate such complex debates.

This is important when addressing people like Peterson, who, alongside allies and enemies tends to be strongly allergic to others’ points of view. Debate challenges from prominent leftists like Douglas Lain and others have been met with silence and avoidance, even after initial acceptance. Peterson’s reaction to mostly sincere leftist critiques from the likes of Pankaj Mishra to Nathan J. Robinson (Peterson’s tweet, Nathan’s trumping reply) have been dismissive and bellicose, and yet Peterson maintains that ‘leftists won’t debate him’ and that he’s ‘still learning.’ On the contrary, it’s Peterson that won’t debate or respond to criticism. He has much to learn, from Russell Brand no less.

Metamodern syntheses of Peterson’s work tend to understand why he appeals — not least because he offers some real insight about personal psychological development — but also see the wider contradictions in his thinking. Perhaps the best example of a complex critique is that of Jonathan Rowson, who interviewed Peterson for the RSA (an encounter which I analyzed in my third longform constructive critique of Jordan Peterson).

After taking six months to process the experience, Rowson recently authored a formidable 10,000+ word critique of Peterson that warrants much wider attention, especially from Peterson himself, but also that minority of us suffering from what Rowson calls “Petersonitis.” Rather than ignore Peterson’s rise to global fame or simply recount the weaknesses of Peterson’s positions, Metamodernists and their network have sought to transcend our limited and politically polarised culture and understand the complexity of the issues at stake.

Peterson and the “Intellectual Dark Web” are of course eager to claim leadership in not only free speech, but critical thinking, which Dave Rubin enjoys boasting about. However, as I argue elsewhere they are not the vanguard of a new paradigm, just the most popular and successfully marketed ‘thought leaders’ in the current cultural climate. It is indicative then, that Brand is not included in the IDW, when he might very well be the most critical thinker of them all.

There are certainly problems on the left, but better criticisms are levied by the left itself. There are social issues far beyond the scope of Peterson, and he knows this, so he would do well to engage the left that he so aggressively fears. As Ronan Harrington concludes in his video: “Peterson is right that there is a shadow of authoritarianism in social justice movements, and that activists need to do inner work to recognise the victimhood and moral superiority that lurks behind their virtue. But it’s farcical to think that every attempt at collective action to solve global problems is going to result in Stalinism or Gulags.”

*For more information about metamodernism, read Hanzi Freinacht’s The Listening Society, or this “Hypertextbook” blog at The Abs-Tract Organization. You can join and support Alter Ego’s project at http://alterego.network and on Twitter and Facebook.

**For greater depth behind this post and video, see the two conversations between Russell Brand and Jordan Peterson in full:


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