The Clare Spark Blog

August 29, 2018

Why classical liberals should resist Jordan B. Peterson

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 10:20 pm

Jordan B. Peterson [Update 10/12/18: since writing this blog, I have renewed respect for JBP’s views on gender relations, not to speak of his attitudes toward child-rearing. Moreover, he is more Freudian than Jungian (?), in his appreciation for inevitable suffering. Peterson, unlike the racist Jung (according to Erich Noll; there is also a Youtube video claiming that Jungians hate Peterson owing to his views on dominance as natural.]

Dr.Peterson’s big book, Twelve Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (2018) has garnered furious debates between conservatives and liberals, ironically because Peterson makes no secret that he is a moderate man, confessing near the end of the book, that, although he is privy to many (unspecified) left-wing views, his antagonism to political correctness (particularly feminism) remains intact, and is noticed by his trendy enemies who view him as hyper-male. And, as a moderate, he does not see either ambiguity nor ambivalence.

I recommend that you read this review by a young, Roman Catholic postmodernist who concentrates on Peterson’s misuse of philosophers with whom he is familiar. (Sam Rocha is a young Canadian professor of educational studies, a postmodernist who knows a lot about Heidegger and his misuse by Dr. Peterson).

My comments will focus rather on different aspects of Peterson’s ideology, namely his views on “truth” and “responsibility.” As a classical liberal and secular Jew I resented the focus on a single “truth” (in Dr. Peterson’s book, the veracity of Christian truth, although Peterson both praises and laments the lifelong suffering taken for granted by Buddhists). Closely related to the notion of a single truth believed by religious people, is the conception of “context,” which tends to vitiate the belief in a single truth. For example: the view that slavery was inevitable was more and more discontinued after The Declaration of Independence.

Also related to context is Peterson’s emphatic belief in “taking responsibility” for one’s actions (i.e., failures to take his “rules” seriously). (Perhaps he is talking about himself).

Dr. Peterson’s focus on family relationships (including pets) as well as his rejection of political correctness partly explains his popularity among conservatives, but I wish that they would pay more attention to the real historic oppression suffered by certain groups (women, blacks, Latino farm workers, Jews, etc.) Wishing away these historic difficulties will not alleviate unnecessary suffering, no matter how skilled we are in communication.


  1. Reblogged this on YDS: The Clare Spark Blog and commented:

    Owing to popular demand, am making this my home page again.

    Comment by clarelspark — September 2, 2018 @ 2:03 pm | Reply

  2. I”m looking forward to your comments. I recently related the postmodern critique of linear perspective. It should be rejected because the vanishing point implies a single truth. We’re being oppressed by the vanishing point! While the analysis IS accurate, give me a break. It seems a bit overheated. And to the issue of the existence of a single “Truth,” I’ve long tried to suggest that while that Truth is much too big for one person . . . or one identity group. . . to encompass it, to operate as if it doesn’t exist has the effect of creating freedom, but it also destroys the possibility of meaning. Without Truth, meaning is merely a proxy for power, and we have the war of all against all. We simply don’t live “as if” there were no Truth. I think Peterson would agree that while we can assert the philosophical necessity of Truth, figuring out what it is . . .that’s another thing entirely.

    Interesting citation of the Catholic World Report article. The thing I think Sam Rocha, the author of that article, misses is that Peterson’s book is descriptive, not prescriptive. Peterson is advancing a view we are free to adopt. He argues for his view by construction, but almost every step along the way he suggests he could be wrong. Rocha’s critique is good at tearing down, but seems to me to lack a perceptive openness. A good example. in the first paragraph, Rocha tells us Peterson is offensive because he disagrees with Aristotle (how dare he do so) on the role of happiness in the good life. Apparently disagreement with historically significant writers is a sign of ignorance. And yet Rocha later mentions how disagreement between Derrida, Marx, Freud, etc., is proof of a valuable intellectual independence. For me the article was a tiring read, animated almost entirely by a subtle academic preening and name-dropping. I’ve read Peterson’s Rules (not his Maps) and viewed it as a built environment open to revision. Throughout the book, Peterson cites the tentative nature of his claims and invites the reader to engage and evaluate from his own experience rather than commanding him to surrender.

    The popular view of Peterson as a new messiah is something Peterson himself has never asserted and neither would I. I’m sure that, like me, he’s often shaking his head with what people are doing with and to his public persona. I will admit that some of my appreciation of his expressed view comes from how it parallels and informs my own experience and view. There are many examples of this. Here’s one: I had independently concluded that the origin of much if not all religious thought is mortality and the universal human problem of suffering and death. It seems a mistake to gloss over that big issue. I like how Peterson confronts it with a kind of Northern Alberta heroic existentialism or “Being deism” which conforms well to my own youth growing up in rural north central Wisconsin. The winter is coming.

    Much of his book seems to me to be a tour of the history of his own mistaken ideas and how he got to where he is now. . .with the implication that the journey may not yet be complete, and this also stands as an implied invitation to everyone to join the same quest, even though we are sure to disagree. For example, though I don’t attribute a Manichean dualism to his chaos and order, he does in several spots attribute a sex to the two, masculine order and feminine chaos. (He also warns people not to interpret that statement simplistically as he immediately after states that we all carry both conditions in our psyches. It’s a psuedo-Jungian myth construction that I’ll grant him the leeway to make) I have to wonder why, in the context of his feminine chaos, the subtitle of his book is an “Antidote to Chaos.” Does that mean we need an antidote to the feminine? Oops.

    In sum, I don’t recommend joining the popular conceit of bringing burnt offerings to the altar of Jordan Peterson. That said, I also think dismissing his views as superficial, unorganized or free of value is a mistake.

    Comment by Jeffery LeMieux — August 30, 2018 @ 1:22 pm | Reply

    • I appreciate your careful reading of my blog. I don’t disagree with your conclusion.

      Comment by clarelspark — August 30, 2018 @ 2:05 pm | Reply

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