Jordan Peterson’s Tragic Folly

Nirmal Dass | Researcher with a PhD in translation theory

Jordan Peterson’s recent book — 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos — is filled with errors and misinformation.

Consider, for example:

1. The yinyang, claims Peterson, is a male-female duality. However, most Chinese philosophy denies such a claim, where only Dong Zhongshu (ca. 179–104 BC), a cranky oddball, says anything vaguely similar. Rather, the swirling pattern describes aesthetic order (the true concern of Chinese thought).

2. Peterson’s Jungian explanations of myths are fabrications, complete with mistranslations from languages he doesn’t know (Akkadian, Sanskrit, Biblical Hebrew, Greek). He calls such misinformation, “ancient wisdom.”

3. Lacking theology and history, Peterson proceeds to “explain” the Bible, by relativizing God and absolutizing opinion. Thus, he misconstrues the Logos, and blasphemes his way through the Old Testament and the Gospels. As for history, just one example suffices: No, Jesus is not a version of the Egyptian god, Osiris. This nonsense comes from Gerald Massey, a 19th-century crackpot who faked evidence to make such claims). Unbeknownst to Peterson, he has one ancient ally, the Pneumatomachi, who said the Bible was all tropes and happily fashioned harebrained interpretations.

4. “Marxism” (Peterson’s catchphrase for postmodernism, Marx, the Frankfurt School and feminism) is the great enemy, supposedly “destroying” the West. Some of Peterson’s talking points come from the fallacious book by Stephen Hicks (Explaining Postmodernism). But the West isn’t being destroyed by Marxism, The West is trying to become rootless via apostasy and acedia, which Peterson promotes. Should the West return to its root (Christianity), it will thrive. That real Marxists hate postmodernists is unknown to Peterson. He also knows nothing about Maximilien Robespierre’s Jacobin progeny (the democides Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot and the Kims).

5. Peterson cannot differentiate philosophy from critical theory and thus can only name-drop (Rousseau, Heidegger, Dostoevsky, Derrida, etc.).

6. Peterson naively believes that the labels, “ancient,” “medieval,” “Renaissance” and “Enlightenment” embody civilizational shifts. Scholars have long abandoned such designations, since the history of ideas shows no such drastic changes. Thus, Peterson’s evolutionary construct of “progress” and “change” via these labels is fiction.

7. Peterson’s “science” is smoke-and-mirrors. His example of lobsters is not true, since serotonin behaves differently in crustaceans and mammals. As an evolutionary psychologist, he’s a mythographer, interested not in truth but in the management of emotions.

8. Peterson has no formal logic and makes category mistakes (too many to list). He confuses one category with another, then draws a false, universalizing conclusion. For example, the lobsters, “ancient wisdom,” “Marxism” and so forth.

He “spreads a spirit of foolishness and of error,” in the words of Jean Racine, because he embodies that which he rails against — for he’s a postmodernist, steeped in conceptual relativism (per Hilary Putnam), where an object has a multitude of interpretations because it cannot have one universal meaning.

Thus he advises that “…each of us…bring forward the truth, as we see it” — because there’s nothing greater than the self: “…you need to place one foot in what you have mastered and understood and the other in what you are currently exploring and mastering…This is where meaning is to be found.”

As for facts, they “cannot speak for themselves…[as there are]…an endless number of interpretations.” Reality, then, is feelings, not ideas, and facts are fluid.

It gets worse. Camille Paglia calls him “the most important and influential Canadian thinker since Marshall McLuhan.” But Peterson disagrees, for he says thinking is overrated: “When existence reveals itself as existentially intolerable, thinking collapses in on itself…it’s noticing, not thinking, that does the trick.”

(It’s best to ignore the problem in logic – how can “existence” be “existentially intolerable?” This is another Petersonian trick – using “philosophicalese” to sound profound, a postmodernist sleight of hand).

So, Peterson wants you to “notice,” and not “think.” Why? Read Rule 6: “Set your house in order before you criticize the world.” This is acedia: Worry about yourself; you have nothing to offer the world. Trust only feelings (noticing) – that is your “truth” which will “justify your miserable existence.”

As a postmodernist, Peterson universalizes his feelings, imagining that his personal Hell includes the entire world. He wants to “enforce the myth of man’s material perfectibility,” in the words of Whittaker Chambers.

Henri de Lubac once observed, “…without God man can only organize the world against man.” This is the reason for all democides, from Robespierre onwards. Peterson too wants to organize the world without God by trying to replace one form of material perfectibility with another (his Jungian self-realization).

Peterson decries “Marxism,” while depending on Marxian logic, methodology and assumptions (materialism) to establish his own “broken truths” (another problem in logic – if truth is broken, then it’s not truth).

The constant theme of his book is the “enemy within…arrogant, static, unchanging existence.” He hopes to overcome this inner Hell by using delusion (errors and misinformation) as an opiate just to get through “miserable existence.” This is why he misteaches and misinforms, for he wants to fabricate a calming narrative to counter meaninglessness (suffering) that materialism always produces. Such is his strategy of worldly success (the 12 Rules).

Materialism has no faith, hope or love. Thus, Peterson has no antidote to chaos, because he himself is chaos. In his strategy of success, there is no God, no meaning, no truth, no history, which is “far preferable to waiting, endlessly, for the magical arrival of Godot.” By “Godot,” he means Christ. There’s only the self, eternally alone, trying to forestall suffering by way of distraction (noticing). As an evolutionary psychologist, he can only try to manage emotions.

The more important question is this: How can Peterson presume to offer “rules,” when he can offer no categories for their obedience? This is Consequentialism (per Elizabeth Anscombe), which dismantles Peterson’s entire book. Man obeying man is tyranny.

“Truth is the radiant manifestation of reality,” observed Simone Weil. Since Peterson does not want thinking, he cannot know truth, and can never know reality – hence his errors and misinformation. On what authority, then, does he presume to teach? Those that choose to follow him should answer this question.

Nirmal Dass is a former university professor specializing in the Early and High Middle Ages. His areas of research are philosophy, history and ancient languages. He has written several books and is actively engaged in literary translation.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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