Jordan Peterson and the two camps of articulators (left and right). Why it is important to take a stand against Postmodernism

Jo Pires-O’Brien

According to Jordan Peterson, a Canadian clinical psychologist, professor and author of 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos, if we want more security and less tyranny in our society we should ask ourselves the question of what is our moral duty to secure that. Unless otherwise stated, all the ideas of this posting belong to Professor Peterson, being taken from one of his YouTube lectures.

As shown by Peterson, human society has its own set of values, but each of which are valid in determined circumstances. Human society also has opposing camps of articulators arguing for predetermined subsets of values, and because of this, it is necessary that there is a dialogue between them. Society’s target is always moving because time does not stand still. This means that the target is always moving. In other words, the problems keep changing, which is also another reason why the dialogue between the opposing camps of articulators, is essential.

The two camps of articulators that exist today are usually labeled the left and the right. To Peterson, the problem that stands on the way of communication between opposing camps of articulators – or the left and the right – is that people perceive things differently due to proclivity and home and education circumstances. The left believes that in the idea that you have a moral imperative to be a radical activist. The right believes in the idea of a moral imperative to be useful.  They are two different things.

If you are a drop out, you are probably a looser. The probability is that you are useless, lazy, arrogant and resentful. There are losers who think they are saints and saints who think they are losers. If you are a looser who think you are a saint, then you will cause an awful lot of trouble to society. Many people from the 60s generation like to imagine themselves as the admirable rebel. However, lurking under the revolutionary façade is an inability to face responsibility. Baseline predictions and actuarial tables show this. The fact is that the admirable rebels of the 60s generation have been a pernicious influence on the university, especially the humanities, whose influence have been deteriorating since then.

A functional society has more security and less tyranny. Human societies have dominance hierarchies and many types of animals also have dominance hierarchies, which are behaviors selected for adding survival. Dominance hierarchies in human societies have been under attack accused of being tyrannies. However, there is a difference between the dominance hierarchies in human and other animals in the fact that the dominance hierarchies in humans are based on competence. Dominance hierarchies based on competence are not the same as hierarchies based on arbitrary power, such as the kind of power based purely on economic terms, which is actually a tyranny.  The more functional the society, the more its power hierarchy is based on competence in relation to what society deems as actually valuable. It is difficult to meet those criteria perfectly but it needs to be a process in that direction. The number one predictor of success in a society is intelligence. Shouldn’t it be right that smart people occupy more positions of complexity in a society?  Good hierarchies provide security but a degenerated hierarchy is a tyranny.  If we want more security and less tyranny, the question we all should ask is what is our moral duty?

Whether this is good or bad depends on the way the individual is. If you self-discipline yourself, aim high and achieve the high standards, then it is likely that you will feel comfortable with such high standards. If you have something that stand on the way of your progress, you will perceive a tyrannical element in high standards, and see them as unfair. People who think that way tend to have the ‘adversarial personality’.

The existence of two or more camps of articulators is not the biggest problem of society. The biggest problem of society is the radical elements that exist in them. An example is the ideologues of egalitarianism and equity on the left and the right, who are incapable of realizing that there are differences in rank between people and that this is not such a terrible thing.

Non ideologues also have a problem, when they stay away from the debates that take place in the public sphere, especially when things go well for them and there is no discomfort in their professional lives. The discomfort of Jordan Peterson started in 2017 when he took a stand against Bill C-16 in Canada, which, if passed (and it has passed) will put people under the threat of legal punishment if they refuse to use certain words, namely new pronouns created to accommodate LGBTs. Because of that, Peterson became the scourge of the radical left for two things. Peterson himself stated that he was not against using a gender-neutral pronoun if he believes that a request to do so has merit, but that he was against a law compelling people to do so, for it would trample the more important right of fee speech.

Although Peterson became the scourge of the radical left by his opposition to  Bill C-16 in Canada, he also became endeared by the students of moderate political views in Canada, United States and all the English-speaking countries. He began to be invited to give talks at various universities in Canada and elsewhere.

In many occasions, Jordan presence on campus attracted protests from students who chanted abused at him. On Friday 16 March 2018 Jordan went to McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada), invited buy a group of students, where he was going to participate in a debate of free speech and political correctness alongside with three professors from the same university. However, the three participants backed out of the arrangement due to the students’ opposition. Peterson attended  to the hall anyway and started to talk, but no one could hear him because of the noise the protesters were making, chanting, clanging cowbells and blowing air horns. Eventually, Peterson retreated outside the hall, where he continued speaking while standing on a bench, and the event gained space in the national and international media.

According to Jordan, in 2017 his own job at the University of Toronto was threatened, causing great anxiety to him and his family. Last July, he announced his plans to launch a website that would help students and parents identify and avoid ‘corrupt’ courses with ‘postmodern content’. Within five years, he hoped, this would starve ‘postmodern neo-Marxist cult classes’ into oblivion. Jordan’s lectures and debates with other people are produced without special lighting and makeup. It is estimated that over 40 million people have listened to these.

All the hatred towards Jordan have caused a growth in the respect for his intellectual prowess.  The hate and the love for him have helped to put his 2018 book 12 Rules for Life in the bestseller list.  The economist Tyler Cowen, of George Mason University, who placed Jordan among the top five public intellectuals of the Western world (Tyler Cowen January 23, 2018 at 12:45 am in Current Affairs Education Philosophy). His opinion was echoed by David Brooks, of The New York Times, who referred to Peterson as  “the most influential public intellectual in the Western world right now.” The American essayist and critic Camille Paglia anointed him “the most important and influential Canadian thinker since Marshall McLuhan”. The British journalist Melanie Phillips wrote that Jordan is “a kind of secular prophet … in an era of lobotomized conformism”.

As Peterson has articulated many times in his lectures, Postmodernism has a pernicious influence in society. In my view, Postmodernism has been allowed to encroach the universities of the West because the academics who enjoy the comfort of secure academic posts do not feel compelled to take a stand against it. I also believe that things are even worse in the fringes of the West, such as in my native Brazil. In my book of essays called O homem razoável (The Reasonable Man; 2016) one of the essays deals specifically with Postmodernism. This book is available on paper on Amazon.com (USA) and in Kindle edition in other Amazon sites.  On my next post I will publish a transcription I made of Peterson’s talk on Postmodernism


Jo Pires-O`Brien is the editor of PortVitoria, a magazine for the Iberian culture.

How to find meaning

Joaquina Pires-O’Brien

Review of the book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, by Jordan B. Peterson. Allen Lane, UK, 2018. 409 pp. ISBN 978-0-241-45163-5.

I only learned about Jordan B. Peterson, the  Canadian psychologist whose appearances in YouTube are watched by thousands around the world,  at the beginning of June this year,  when a friend mentioned a debate on political correctness in which Jordan participated with Stephen Fry, the British writer and comedian. I learned a lot from this debate on YouTube, including why Peterson is described by journalists as the kind of person that people either love or hate.  Although from the start I placed myself among the former, I was still reluctant to buy his book 12 Rules for Life simply because the title reminded me of those books with the expression ‘for dummies’ in the title. After watching a discussion about postmodernism that he had with the American author and discerning social critic, Camille Paglia published in October last year, I changed my mind.

This is Jordan’s 2nd book, the result of an epiphany he had during a brain storming meeting with a friend and business associate at the end of 2016, when he imagined that the LED-equipped pen torch his friend gave him as a ‘pen of light’ with which he would be able “to write illuminated words in the darkness”.

Considering that 12 Rules for Life, a book of 409 pages was published in the first part of 2018, this is a remarkable short time, even for a genius. The  explanation is in Jordan’s first book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief, published  in 1999, “a very dense book” in Peterson’s own words, which took him 10 years to write, and whose ideas were further expounded in 12 Rules. The 12 rules of life are:

Rule 1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back.

Rule 2. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.

Rule 3. Make friends with the people who want the best for you.

Rule 4. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.

Rule 5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.

Rule 6. Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.

Rule 7. Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient).

Rule 8. Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie.

Rule 9. Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.

Rule 10. Be precise in your speech.

Rule 11. Don’t bother children when they are skateboarding.

Rule 12. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.

In explaining Rule 1, “Stand up straight with your shoulders back”, the author shows that this is a trait that evolved, associated with status and social position not only in man but in other animals such as lobsters. The whole chapter is a biology lesson about the intraspecific hierarchies of the animal kingdom, which result from the competition for limited resources. There are specific body chemicals associated with the pecking order of chickens and the way songbirds establish dominance. Although the biological evidence points to their existence of hierarchies in humans, to admit this has become politically incorrect. Perhaps the notion of human hierarchy has become a ‘monster’ for individuals with a determined personality, which is probably why Peterson likes to repeat that monsters do exist, after all. But it makes sense that people stand straight when they are well, and became curved when they are not, but the message is that one can pick oneself up and stand straight again. “Stand up straight with your shoulders back” is a metaphor for accepting life’s many responsibilities, even the most terrible and difficult. The acceptance of responsibility is tantamount to an intent of finding meaning in life and to respect oneself.  The brutal distribution of resources in today’s word, where one percent of the population have as much as the bottom 50 percent, is what makes it difficult to accept responsibility:

The majority of scientific papers are published by a very small group of scientists. A tiny proportion of musicians produces almost all the recorded commercial music. Just a handful of authors sell all the books. A million and a half separately titled books (!) sell each year in the US, However, only five hundred of these sell more than a hundred thousand copies. Similarly, just four classical composers (Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Tchaikovsky) wrote almost all the music played by modern orchestras. Bach, for his part, composed so prolifically that it would take decades of work merely to hand-copy his scores, yet only a small fraction of this prodigious output is commonly performed. The same thing applies to the output of the other three members of this group of hyper-dominant composers: only a small fraction of their work is still widely played. Thus, a small fraction of the music composed by a small fraction of  all the classical composers who have ever composed makes up almost all the classical music that the world knows and loves.

The situation above is described by an L-shaped graph known as Price’s law, where the vertical axis depicts the number of people and the horizontal axis depicts productivity or resources. It is also known as the Matthew Principle, due to a New Testament quotation (Matthew 25:29), where Christ said “to those who have everything, more will be given; to those who have nothing; everything will be taken.”  This quotation comes from the Parable of the Talents, where Christ recognizes that people are not equal in terms of initiative and diligence. The main point that Jordan is trying to make is that hierarchies are a part of life. Hierarchies evolved over long periods of time in the animal kingdom, not just in man.  From a Darwinian perspective, what matters is permanence. Social hierarchy is not a new concept; it has been around for some half a billion years, and it is real and permanent. Nature is what ‘selects’, and the longer something has been selected the more permanent it is. Nature is not as harmonious, balanced and perfect as imagined by the romantic minds. There is a lot more to this chapter, such as that every individual has within him- or herself an idea of  his or her position in society. Low and high status are real. There is anxiety in both realities. Undoubtedly this is unpalatable to many, but is the reality. To act responsibly in the world today requires accepting reality and working with it. Finally, there are self-defeating ways and intelligent ways to live responsibly: “Look for your inspiration to the victorious lobster, with its 350 million years of practical wisdom. Stand up straight, with your shoulders back.”

I was particularly drawn to Rule 9: “Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t”. In this rule Peterson explains the science of human interactions, emphasizing attention and conversation. Many of the ideas that Peterson presents regarding this rule come from his practice as a clinical psychologist, which has given him a large sample of modern day isolation and its secondary side effects. He writes:

The people I listen to need to talk, because that’s how people think. People need to think. Otherwise, they wander blindly into pits When people think, they simulate the world, and plan how to act in it. If they do a good job of simulating, they can figure out what stupid things  they shouldn’t do. Then they can not do them. Then they don’t have to suffer the consequences. That’s the purpose of thinking. But we can’t do it alone. We simulate the world, and plan our actions in it. Only human beings do this. That’s how brilliant we are. We make little avatars of ourselves. We place those avatars in fictional worlds. Then we watch what happens. If our avatar thrives, then we act like he does, in the real world. Then we thrive (we hope). If our avatar fails, we don’t go there, if we have any sense. We let him die in the fictional world, so that we don’t have to really die in the present.

Conversation is a key thing in human life and yet we don’t know how to do it properly; it is often hindered by not listening properly or by not being completely truthful. Peterson calls ‘jockeying for position’ the situation in a conversation where people think more on the reply they want to make than in what is being said. Good conversation, of the kind people exchange views with one another, is becoming rare.  The alternative to the standard conversation involving two or more interlocutors is thinking. We can create a conversation in our minds by reflecting deeply and enacting our viewpoint and that of another person. Self-criticism often passes for this type of thinking, but is not a reflection with an internal dialogue. As Peterson shows, conversation is a great opportunity to organize thoughts effectively and to clean up our minds. Putting it in another way, conversation is the key to good mental health.

Simplicity is one characteristic of all 12 rules for life prescribed by Peterson. This simplicity comes from the vision of the tip of an iceberg of meaning. However, a lot of effort is required to grasp in full the iceberg of meaning. There is a lot of meaning behind each of these 12 rules of life. All 12 rules rest either on scientific findings or on the wisdom of ancient narratives and their archetypes, or on both things.  Meaning, according to Jordan, is the most important thing anyone could wish for in life for it allows us to find equilibrium between order and chaos. A necessary condition for meaning is truth. Many people are incapable of accepting  the world as it is, and prefer instead to hang on to their idea of how the world should be. These are the kind of people who hate Jordan and try to defame his character.

The book 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson is at the top of the league of self-help books and the reason for that is the clarity with which the author depicts life’s problems and the ways people deal with them, which, in turn, is due to the fact that Jordan is a public intellectual and a world-class research psychologist, as well as an individual who has experienced a fair share of problems in his own life. Peterson’s book offers the intelligent ways to deal with the problems of modern life, from  social isolation and alcohol or substance abuse, to nihilism and the inability to  accept the truth about the world; we can include in this list a range of mind disorders from anxiety to depression. Meaning, not happiness, is the objective of these 12 rules. Happiness is a term that derives from ‘happy’ but  ‘happy’ is  not synonymous with ‘good’. Good includes a range of things like self-respect and the Golden Rule regarding treating others; that which allow us to live our lives with integrity and with hope for further improvement is ‘good’ while the opposite of that is ‘hell’.  Only through meaning we can evade hell and have the necessary courage to face the tragedies of life.

                                                                                                                                          

Joaquina Pires-O’Brien is a Brazilian translator, essayist and former research  botanist, living in England. Her book of essays O homem razoável (The Reasonable Man) was published simultaneously in Portuguese and Spanish in 2016, and is available from Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions. In 2010, she founded PortVitoria, a digital magazine that publishes articles in English, Portuguese and Spanish. Jo is also the founder-editor of PortVitoria, a magazine for the Iberian culture.