I enjoyed my two weeks off. I would have liked my indefinite hiatus to have continued, but then a Canadian psychologist named Jordan Peterson became famous and I couldn’t remain silent any longer.
In the video above, Peterson takes a lot of shots at postmodernism and how it created, I suppose, a tyranny of uncertainty…where anything can mean anything. That’s fine, I mean go ahead and join the long list of those who have trashed it over the last half century. Nothing new was said in his criticism. As a general theory of practice, postmodernism is probably not the most helpful. Simultaneously, I challenge Peterson’s understanding of the subject he criticizes.
If there’s one thing that people HATE, it’s uncertainty…it’s contradiction…a lack of continuity. Want to piss someone off quickly? Just give them contradictory answers and watch them flip shit. The mind, I suppose any mind, seeks order. And when that order is broken, many want to believe that chaos ensues, but that’s not true every time. Usually order is quickly restored because, well….that’s the natural “order” of the universe. It takes a conscious act, usually, to “break” this order, and when one challenges the natural organization of phenomena…I suppose we could state that this is an act of “free will.” But that maybe neither here nor there. The important thing to understand is what causes this order to form in the first place.
If we are to listen to Peterson and (because I’m being nice today) GENTLEMAN sitting in front of him, Ben Shapiro, we might be led to believe that the source of this order is found in some divine or metaphysical force that binds the universe. If we listen and, I suppose, seek the answers of this objective metaphysical power outside of us, then that is where we might find happiness and political unity despite the fact that both Peterson and Shapiro are sometimes assholes when delivering this message.
Peterson and Shapiro both believe in the empirical and logical facts to support such an anti-postmodern disposition. Shapiro infamously states these things every chance he gets. While I haven’t watched or read EVERYTHING that Shapiro has done, he seemingly engages unwittingly in a form “inductivist illusion” which is essentially a fallacy which seeks to understand organizations, movements, and politics by looking at the facts alone. Unaware that the “facts” are essentially irrelevant, it’s the interpretation and application of them that matter, Shapiro’s rapid-fire debate tactics often leave opponents speechless and flustered. Meanwhile Peterson (in the video above), a man of science, seemed to be astonished by a study done on rats which seemed to indicate that they engage in a form of altruistic behavior like humans (he also mentions something about chimpanzees). To these two gentlemen, clearly there is an absolute form of truth out there and denying this “truth” is what will lead to political decay in the West.
To what extent these gentlemen believe that the source of this truth is found in an Abrahamic-like God (although in Shapiro, I suspect quite strongly), I’ll take these guys at their word when they say it’s not necessary to be Christian or a believer to find accordance with this absolute truth. However, although I am unsure to what extent this discussion is found in the video above, I suspect that they do want to support and objective, mind-independent basis for morality and ethics. That was why Peterson cited the study on rats (or maybe it was mice. Doesn’t matter). But here we find another fallacy: Just because humans and animals share certain mental functions, doesn’t mean that there’s some divine or metaphysical power at work. The only “metaphysics” at work would be evolution which would understandably support intraspecies cooperation for survival. It’s why so many animals exhibit altruistic behavior. It’s not a sign that morality is mind-independent and objective, it’s a sign that evolution fucking works. While we should all be thankful that human beings benefited from intraspecies cooperation, and found our code of ethics as a result, what’s so special about the mechanism that caused it? It was simply an unguided force that shaped our minds. We are the way we are because of luck….not because some heavenly force shaped it to be that way.
So what sort of “foundational” ethics are we seeking here? Abide by the laws of evolution? If that’s the case, then we’ve arrived at a dead end because I’m not going to call these guys “Nazis”…and that’s clearly not what they’re aiming at. ALTHOUGH, I would argue, they are advocating for a form of cultural eurocentrism which has quickly found itself under attack in the 21st Century. AND THAT’S what the whole conversation above is about although they are disguising it a very self-absorbed and pseudo-philosophical way.
What the extreme empiricists and positivists (of which I’ll characterize Peterson and Shapiro) have avoided or misunderstood is that the mind guards all. Peterson is a psychologist, and unfortunately I’m not familiar with his entire body of work, but I’ll take a leap of faith and say that he is likely aware of this. But we literally can’t do anything without a mind. I’m not going to go so far as to say that we can’t know ANYTHING, but the perceptions that occur within the mind itself are not genuine perceptions of what Kant calls “things-in-themselves”. The brain isn’t some passive material that the real world imprints itself on…it is very active in organizing and shaping what we perceive to be “reality”. This is introductory philosophy, and something that I’ve said MANY times before, however many thinkers choose to not start here…instead choosing to start deciphering mind-independent reality. Many are uncomfortable with the idea that we are “cut-off” or have partial access to “things-in-themselves”, just read Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy, that they choose to dispense with it altogether because they crave certainty as demanded by the mind.
Again, go tell somebody inconsistent or contradictory statements and watch them get pissed in a hurry. Or better yet, go try to disrupt order and see how far that’ll get you.
And, to me, that’s sort of been at the heart of postmodern criticism: we have to have a certain degree of “somethingness” (I suppose) in order to have a conversation. Otherwise, what’s the point in doing anything? They’re uncomfortable with that degree of uncertainty. They’re too terrified to face the “reality” that lies beyond the veil: nothing. So they believe, with absolute CERTAINTY, the shadows that the mind creates and they grow an infactuation for this “veil” (Zizek’s terminology) because that’s what allows them to do anything.
But there’s nothing there. Yet more importantly, there doesn’t NEED to be anything there in order to anything.
But to people like Peterson, and especially Shapiro, who presumably grew up with this Western, monotheistic veil that says a divine order governs all, they literally can’t fathom a possibility where that veil might be removed. The phantoms of the mind have become their reality. In their minds, they are chasing a truth that exists “out there” because that’s the source of their happiness. Meanwhile, all of their opponents are chasing some form of subjective meaning within themselves.
That’s the source of unhappiness, and because the Left has embraced this form of postmodern chaos, people are flocking to the likes of Peterson and Shapiro. They believe that that’s what validates their opinions, but if true…that their popularity is in part due to Left’s incoherentness…then it only proves that the masses value order and a sense of “objective” meaning over any sort of uncertainty.
No big shock there. If we look at any sort of charismatic movement, that’s exactly what their leaders offer: a sense of meaning and order. And this sense of “meaning and order” can literally be anything…anything that the people need to hear in order to form their sense of self and happiness. But that sense of “meaning and order” doesn’t need to be connected to anything “out there”, it’s totally something that validated within the mind of the individual. You put enough people in a room with the same anxieties, suddenly there’s a “collective anxiety” and this anxiety can be manipulated, both positively and negatively (but usually negatively), by anyone that can claim with enough force that they have the answer. That’s how tyrannies usually start: by forceful claims of objective truth and order.
And, in my opinion, that’s at the heart of postmodernism. It’s detractors, notably Peterson, never seem to understand that.
In Peterson and Shapiro’s hardcore empiricism, we do perceive absolute truth of things-in-themselves…there IS such a thing as MALE and FEMALE….AND there is a metaphysical power that validates our perceptions of reality. Any denial of the things that they perceive as “truth” should be put down or discouraged. But that is the tyranny that postmodernism is essentially warning against. From an empirical perspective, yes there are biological traits that we associate within our minds as “male” and “female”, but there is no “metaphysical” power that suggests it should stay that way forever. Only our minds suggests that they should remain that way. When Peterson and Shapiro argue that we should abide by the laws of “science and biology”, they essentially sound like Star Trek nerds that get upset when the writers break from canon. Again, it’s the violation of order that they can’t stand: because we NEED this order to do ANYTHING. While their language and philosophical talk sounds convincing, it essentially shields the listener from that fact they’re just being inflexible dicks. (and again, they basically just want to defend Eurocentrism)
But they might be proposing a genuine philosophical outlook, albeit one I completely disagree with: the road to happiness means coming to terms with truth. Meanwhile, I say shove your “truth”: embrace uncertainty.