“You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.”
— Mark Twain
— The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
“The inventions of philosophy are no less fantastic than those of art: Josiah Royce, in the first volume of his work The World and the Individual (1899), has formulated the following: ‘Let us imagine that a portion of the soil of England has been levelled off perfectly and that on it a cartographer traces a map of England. The job is perfect; there is no detail of the soil of England, no matter how minute, that is not registered on the map; everything has there its correspondence. This map, in such a case, should contain a map of the map, which should contain a map of the map of the map, and so on to infinity.’ Why does it disturb us that the map be included in the map and the thousand and one nights in the book of the Thousand and One Nights? Why does it disturb us that Don Quixote be a reader of the Quixote and Hamlet a spectator of Hamlet? I believe I have found the reason: these inversions suggest that if the characters of a fictional work can be readers or spectators, we, its readers or spectators, can be fictions.”
— Jorge Luis Borges
— Partial Enchantments of the Quixote (1964)
Speaking of people who defended Nixon by pointing out all the crimes he hadn’t committed and all the genocides he hadn’t instigated, Ben Bradlee said that it was like someone saying – see that guy, he’s really handsome, except for his face.
We were reminded of this after watching several pieces of youtube brain gas featuring Jordan Peterson.
Peterson is what might charitably be called an intellectual on account of how bedraggled that word has become, and because youtube is the sort of environment where twelve year olds can become cultural avatars because they like one thing and not another.
To be fair there’s a great deal more of a complex and nuanced nature to Peterson’s rise to credibility (in certain quarters) but most of it has little or nothing to do with him, and has almost everything to do with the people he’s arguing against.
In particular we refer to the gang of malignant trolls who populate that corner of the petrified forest called the left, or what passes for the left these days, and is full of people screeching about any number of things that all start off sounding almost reasonable, and end up instead sounding suspiciously like the sort of thing Chairman Mao would order from a catalogue called: Gulag Report N0 90000017. Featuring Hot Tractor Comrades.
What’s sad about this of course is that the genuine need for saving the planet by eliminating out of date systems like capitalism, suffer when placed in the hands of morons with all the intellectual capacity of a bucket of sepsis.
Which brings us back to Peterson. It’s hard to dislike a man who refuses to be bullied by morons, and who stands up for noble causes like free speech and what we might characterize as common sense.
His defense of a young woman at a Canadian university, who was caught up in a soft Orwellian and Kafkaesque charade, involving hurt feelings, gender politics and the new fascism of the “left” is worth reviewing because it is a noble defense and he deserves credit for it.
Alas it’s once he starts to pick a fight with people who are smarter than he is that things go off the rails, and rather quickly.
We refer here to his broad-brush assault on something he calls Neo Marxist Postmodernism or Postmodern-Marxism. This apparent plague is the fault of people he identifies as ghouls, like our old friend Michel Foucault and (a man with whom we were never friendly) Jacque Derrida and is, again apparently, infecting universities across the Western world.
In the 1980s this was called The Culture War and it pretty much came and went without a lot of significance within the wider, and far more significant Reaganite counter-revolution.
It is on the one hand simply a case of Peterson pushing against an open door, as of course Marxism qua Marxism is antithetical to Postmodernism, and of course Postmodernism qua Postmodernism is antithetical to Marxism. One holds that there is a linear progression and a final destination in historical terms and the other, depending upon to whom it is one speaks, holds that reality may be sequential but it is not linear and that large scale narratives tend, upon close examination, to be about as flimsy as wet cardboard. And that of course brings us to one of the defects in Peterson’s argument – namely Postmodernism is a moving target that ranges from Cervantes’ Don Quixote (see note below) to Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (or Diderot’s remixing of Shandy in Jacques the Fatalist) to Twain’s Huck Finn, takes in Thomas Pynchon and D.F. Wallace, before doing a reverse sow cow and sticking the landing amid the French where Foucault was Postmodern until he wasn’t and Derrida was Derrida until he wasn’t.
In the case of Derrida, Peterson is on somewhat firmer ground as there is a great deal of dodgy and unpleasant moral relativism in his work (e.g. his defense of Paul de Man and in turn de Man’s indefensible attachment to fascism) and the most approximate context for his oeuvre is denial of and obfuscation of France’s complicity in the Occupation. In other words if you and most of your friends not only didn’t resist but actively didn’t resist, you may not be collaborators but you’re sure as fuck are not in the Maquis let alone the PCF. Which is not to lump Derrida in with Paul de Man though it is to an extent an attempt to present a context. That context being that in the blowback after the end of the war and the fallout from the Occupation, and sorting out the resistant from the collaborant, Derrida retreated into a patchwork of multiple rhetorical devices all essentially designed to avoid any semblance of moral responsibility. But hanging all of Postmodernism, or the left, on the petard of one, periodically irresponsible French academic is about as intellectually legitimate as denouncing christianity because of the Klan.
That a segment of the French intellectual class descended into a kind of gnostic and gnomic state of cryptic utterances full of flim flam and swamp gas, can only be denied by gnostically inclined gnomes, for whom things like concentration camps and dodgy collaborationist pasts are considered gauche, rather than abject moral calamities.
Which of course doesn’t mean that Nude Descending a Staircase or Cubism aren’t antecedents to Deconstructionism and Postmodernism and that irritating works like Barthes’ s/z*(1) shouldn’t be read. And it is worth spending a moment here on the extent to which Cubism for example, is Postmodern in its deconstruction of narrative authority, narrative boundaries, and things we generally take for granted like, identity and the moral authority of the cops or banks, or the state, or the church or history. While it’s true that Gertrude Stein was generally unpleasant and as haughty as a field marshal who lost more battles than she won, the point of, Rose is a rose is a rose, is (sort of) that we tend to enter into a contract of agreement in which meaning is determined not by volition but dull habits of conformity. After all one could read Story of O not only as intellectual porn, but as a completely Postmodern narrative in which the entire point of the story, is that authority is a question of who wears the shackles as much as it is a question of who insists that they must be worn.
And of course that opens the door to a cursory mention of the entirety of the Western Canon, which is full of plenty of non-Postmodern linear wonders that also utterly condemn liberal, capitalist society and its structures – its mendacity, misogyny, bigotry and cults of nihilism. Anna Karenina anyone? Or Madam Bovary? The Trial? If Peterson is right that the left is morally bankrupt, he has boxed himself into a tight corner and the idea that one can stand on a mountain of skulls and survey the non-left with a sanguin air of satisfaction, leaves a sensible person looking to up Peterson’s dose of mood stabilizers or to start a thorazine drip
But when it comes to Foucault lumping him in with the Marxists is a bit of a thicket in the same way that saying Picasso was a Marxist is a conundrum, because living like a pasha in the South of France disrupts the idea that there is such a thing as the uniform and monolithic left. Because Picasso was a leftist. A very wealthy leftist. This is similar to the aristocratic leftism of Hemingway who raised money for the loyalists in Spain, helped produce The Spanish Earth (which he helped to have shown at the White House for FDR) almost certainly ran guns for Castro and yet, was not in favor of paying his federal taxes – or at least all of them. Papa had two sets of books – the one he showed Uncle Sugar and the one he didn’t, but while one could toss out any number of adjectives (faux leftist, bourgeois leftist, reactionary, aristocrat, etc) the problem is they are all true and none of them are true and he remains, like a cubist painting, a different man depending upon from which angle he is viewed. And he remains a leftist.
But Peterson, like an earnest boy scout in the Thomas Friedman mode of thinking that the more stuff he references and the more context he elides, and the more sincere he sounds, the smarter he’ll appear, claims that the catastrophes of the gulag archipelago and Maoism render being a leftist morally bankrupt. And he makes the classic neo-conservative argument in doing so. Thus Marxism leads to Stalin, and Stalin leads to gulags, therefore anyone who claims to be a Marxist is a supporter of Stalin and gulags. Which is about as clever and intellectually rigorous as: All birds sing. Bruce Springsteen sings. Therefore Bruce Springsteen is a bird.*(2)
It is a clever argument as long as one is in front of a more or less captive audience of undergraduates, or the sort of people who are graduates of the University of youtube, but of course the first defect is that the same argument could be made about Peterson and neoliberalism. For example liberalism leads to imperialism, or at least excuses it, and then imperialism leads to the destruction of the indigenous peoples of North America (or the slow-motion industrial scale genocide of Vietnam or things like Operation Condor) therefore anyone who supports liberalism supports yada yada yada and The Trail of Tears. In other words, sophistry 101.
To compound Peterson’s mile wide inch deep argument it is worth noting that he actually stoops to the canard that it’s all a question of numbers, as in more people died under Stalin and Mao then under the warm ministrations of smallpox infected blankets, forced internment into reservations, slavery, lynchings and outsourcing torture to Pinochet, The Sha, Franco, and so on through the dictator’s hall of fame. The irony here being that it’s noted Zen philosopher Joe Stalin who said: One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic, which means Peterson has accidentally made use of the thinking of a mass murderer.
And keeping in mind of course that as part of Peterson’s decontextualized argument, he neglects to mention the extent to which it was the liberal democratic capitalist West that installed and supported Hitler; worked with him, had diplomatic relations with him, and were content to watch him and assist in the establishment of his tyranny. And this is essential not only for our own sense of morality but to contextualize the Marxism of people like Foucault: Had Hitler been content to exterminate the Jews of Germany and Poland and the Soviet Union, and to exterminate the Soviet Union and had he left France and England alone, he would have been well on his way to achieving the dream of a thousand year Reich, as the West Peterson is so fond of would have done nothing to stop him. After all, while it may not be the movie that gets sold by Hollywood, the truth is Winston Churchill stood next to Mussolini and proclaimed him a champion of the West against the godless Bolsheviks and in one of his lesser known books said, yes Hitler was a bit rough but history may very well judge him a great man doing what was necessary.
As to the idea that blame, moral culpability and genocide come down to a question of numbers, we are reminded of an old Robin Williams joke: Ever wonder why there are no Jewish faith healers? Your leg?!? My arm!
Comparing tragedies and counting the dead in comparison is for intellectual dilettantes and charlatans. It’s a silly argument (and Peterson is silly and amateurish for making it) right up there with if she floats she’s a witch, precisely because these things are complicated and as that noted asshole Baudelaire said, a man must be allowed to contradict himself. Even a man like Foucault. Or Jordan Peterson.
But, there’s more. Because of course Foucault didn’t just roll out of bed and his leather harness one day and say hey, Stalinism, sounds good to me. No, he was French and European, and his own brand of Marxist, and could walk around Paris and in-between scoping young men he could look at all the places that used to be run by Nazis and he could glance at any number of his fellow citoyen and say, I wonder what you were doing in 1942, and he was mindful of how it was the liberals, and the capitalists who gave Hitler what he wanted and did nothing while the Nazis butchered people. After all, from Foucault’s point of view, telling him Stalinism was evil while looking over the new Europe that had been constructed on the graveyard of the old Europe wouldn’t score many points, except perhaps for a well practiced Gallic shrug. It’s not a question of his disagreeing but is a question of wiping up the blood dripping from the hands of the people telling him Stalin was a monster.
As Huxley put it when told that an eminent critic had called him a sad example of the failure of the intellectual class – well I guess that makes my critic a hilarious example of success. Let’s put up a monument to him amid the burned out craters of Europe and Asia…and of course Foucault in looking at the camps could and probably did, think in terms of Kafka, and things like The Inquisition, and The Crusades, and the Somme or Verdun and Neville Chamberlain and Guernica, Vietnam and Algeria. In other words, again, he didn’t just throw a dart at a board and say well, someone spank me with a copy of Das Kapital. He surveyed the carnage and concluded that the West was ill. Not just in the high church, reactionary fascism of Eliot (who it should be noted as an exemplar of non-left claims to moral superiority, stated that the safety of society depended upon Jews being locked up*3) who saw Europe as a plague riddled desiccated wasteland, but as a series of calamities following from the central defect of the essential nature of history. Thus, Walter Benjamin’s theses on history, in which the angel of Paradise sees not a string of disasters, but one long train wreck stemming from the inherent morbidity of existence.
Which is neither to say yea or nay; right or wrong but to establish the paucity of Peterson’s argument in the face of context.
But of course this is more or less the point. Peterson has decided to elide the context of Foucault and Derrida, and Europe, and has decided to completely ignore the contradictory facts concerning Postmodernism – which it should be noted gets its semi-official first usage in Kierkegaard around 1820-something but why quibble. (And see the postscript below regarding David Hume and Bundle Theory which embarrassingly demolishes Peterson’s notions about Postmodernism “beginning in the 1960s” and raises a host of uncomfortable questions Peterson seems ill equipped to address).
Instead let’s revisit the fact that Cervantes*(4), upon learning that some imposter had written another version of Don Quixote decided to incorporate that faux text into his ur text in order to create a meta text upon which he spread multiple layers of alternate texts as if to say, you know that thing we call narrative and narrative authority – well, guess what? Turns out they are a bit mercurial. And that mind you, was in the 17th century.
Or, we could delve into Sterne and his layers of hijinks in Tristram Shandy, where plot, character, subjective and objective states all are compressed and rebuilt with the subtlety of someone shaking an etch-o-sketch (and take a detour into Diderot’s Jacques the Fatalist as well as Diderot’s trilogy entitled, This is not a Story). Or we could take a moment to think about just how meta and postmodern Twain is when he has Huck Finn intrude on the narrative to declare that Twain is only somewhat honest in his accounting of the story in which Huck is a character.
Hmm, sounds a bit Postmodern to us and we wonder then does that make Twain a Marxist Postmodernist scoundrel full of immoral arrogance, or does it make him a literary genius whose narrative deconstructions and Postmodern fireworks highlight the delicate connection between what we call truth and what we call the facts?
Which reminds us of that other notorious Marxist cad William Faulkner who said: The facts and the truth seldom have anything to do with each other. Of course after that much bourbon the truth is a moving target, but while plenty of people find Faulkner mystifying, no one so far as we know has doubted his commitment to the truth and the facts however divergent they might be.
But we digress.
What matters here is the extent to which Peterson is plucking low hanging fruit and being rewarded for it. And it seems, rewarding himself. The mob mentality on the intellectually low rent faux left is indeed an irritant, and in some cases cause for alarm as they have a habit of turning into a neo-fascist mob that wants to do what neo-fascist mobs always want to do – shut up everyone they don’t like and stop people from having any fun, while claiming to be knights of a round table made from repurposed free range soy based non-wood products, organically sourced in a post-feminist collective.
Okay so far as it goes but the truth is reducing Foucault to a few labels is about as effective as reducing any complex thing to a few labels, and in the case of a genius the only way such criticism works is of course if you leave out the details. Being a Marxist in Europe after 1945 has nothing to do with the cultural politics of Canada in 2017 (mostly) and everything to do with concentration camps that were set up and run by people who were against the left. And we note crucially, that the first concentration camps were in fact established to hold and then exterminate, leftists. That many of them happened to be Jews was, for the Nazis, an added bonus. But then, one does not peer into the devil’s eyes and dismiss out of hand a violent counter argument. After all, consider Giancarlo Giannini at the end of one of Wertmuller’s brutal hymns to the undead: We must have many children. Because of course the idea is that it’s a war of all against all and that is the post war context and its ideas of Marxism. Unless you’re Jordan Peterson.
The fact is they (Foucault & company) have nothing to do with Stalin per se as an individual monster however epic that monstrosity was, but rather have everything to do with Stalin in that like a morbid Russian nesting doll, he lives inside the Western liberal support for the Romanovs, and the utterly sado-masochistic support for prolonging the first world war just as much as he exists inside the rest of Russian culture, and Foucault was not an idiot and when he defended Marxism it was in the context of people who looked at Dachau and said, there but for the grace of god and George Patton go I.
And this is no small thing. Peterson is here guilty of a subtle and no doubt unintentional form of Holocaust denial. Not, to be clear, in the sense he is saying it didn’t happen, but in the sense that he is denying the impact it had because it did happen and it happened in the heart of Europe in a Western nation (and with the direct assistance of many others in the West) and that the catastrophe of it so warped the psychological landscape of Europe, that anyone who lived through it or came of age after it, was forever marked as being on one side of the abyss versus the other. Nazism is in fact one of the things at the heart of Western culture and capitalism. It is the central catastrophe at the heart of capitalism along side slavery and imperialism. Thus so much for the argument that the West has killed fewer people than Stalin and Mao. Frankly, who cares how many were killed. Any taint from supporting Hitler is enough, per a variation on Godwin’s Law, to end the argument. And so: indeed, your leg, my arm.
And while this suggests a kind of bespoke moral relativism, on the other hand moral relativism finds a nifty home in a lot of places like when Saint Augustine says in City of God do not concern yourself with whether or not your actions are good or evil for both are of the mind of god.
In other words, yet again, these things are complicated and structurally have more in common with The Uncertainty Principle then they do with basic math. We look upon Europe and we can know its velocity but not its position or we can know its position but lose track of its speed. And let us note that things like The Uncertainty Principle, Professor Sokal notwithstanding, open the door to a near endless Mobius Loop of…Postmodernism. Especially when one considers that Werner Heisenberg wasn’t exactly a good liberal but might very well have been a bad Nazi.
Surveying the abyss from which Europe had barely escaped led Foucault on a journey that was full of contradictions and somersaults in logic, but dismissing the reasons for those twists and turns is at best the highly pressurized gas passing of a sophomoric mind, and at worst the grunts of a neo-fascist who doesn’t know they sound like a neo-fascist or a reactionary goon.
Jordan Peterson of course is not a neo-fascist, but he sure as hell sounds like a numb-nuts reactionary who needs to take a time out and do some reading and stop shooting fleas with a rhetorical bazooka (or conversely, shooting at giants with a rhetorical squirt gun) and instead perhaps there might be some thought given to the idea that a few minutes on youtube don’t warrant being canonized as the second coming of Isaiah Berlin. Of course we won’t hold our breath.
Here’s a video clip (naturally on youtube) where Peterson admits to being a bit narrow and then goes on to drag Postmodernism into the gutter. Crucially he again attaches the ills of the 20th century to Marxism, and then states that despite its flaws, non-leftist culture remains superior. And of course he continues to maintain an ignorance about Postmodernism by separating it from practitioners like Cervantes, Sterne, and Twain, etc.
The staggering extent to which Peterson is embarrassing himself and is an example of just how shallow his audience is can be seen in the youtube clip below. Notice that right out of the gate he claims that Postmodernism exists inside Marxism. The idea (we use the term loosely) that Postmodernism exists inside Marxism is like saying freedom exists inside slavery or socialism exists inside capitalism. That some on the current iteration of the so-called left have hijacked Postmodern rhetoric says nothing about Postmodernism, and everything about Peterson’s ignorance and the bankruptcy of the faux leftists. As to Peterson’s insistence on detaching the European Post War reaction on the left against the right, from the facts of the catastrophe of the two world wars and the economic crash, is not only intellectually disingenuous but is textbook reactionary swamp gas. And we state again: that Postmodernism has been hijacked by thugs tells us nothing about Postmodernism and everything about the thugs.
Lastly note that Peterson claims poverty is being eliminated. We observe that the UN just completed a tour of the US and found that 40 to 60 million people are living in abject poverty. And we also note that the price of the middle class, such as it still exists, and the upper class, is environmental genocide with the latest projections stating that at the current rates the earth has about 60 years of harvests left before its capacity to produce food is reduced to zero. See the link to the report below and take note that the United States has the highest infant mortality rate among industrialized nations.
See the youtube clip below:
*1. Barthes’ s/z is in fact a perfect illustration of Peterson’s point and his overly broad critique of post war European intellectuals. The basic premise is that in reading a novel the reader engages in a series of associations that spring from their response to each word. In other words, Hume’s Bundle Theory transferred to literary studies. Thus, per Barthes, meaning is at best problematic and the authority of the author is eliminated because it is, by definition a fiction. What Barthes always ignored is that at best he is offering a distinction without a difference. While it is true that a reader may engage in a nearly endless series of word associations, it is also true that the reader can engage in a willing suspension of individuality, or can employ both their own private sense of associations as well as accepting the associations of the author. By insisting that his response is the only response, Barthes slips too easily into a simplistic tyranny of mind.
(1) In the name of freedom Barthes has conjured a kind of anarchism that seeks to passive aggressively destroy any sense of empathy. Further it is no accident that Barthes’ view exists within the context of post war amnesia and the denial of collaboration. Denial of meaning suits a culture traumatized by the Occupation because it eliminates the crucial ingredient for redemption – the acceptance of responsibility. He dresses it up in the costumes and habits of haute French intellectualism and the mystifications of post war anti-establishment street cred and yet in the end, it is just a kind of too clever by half petulance behind which lurks a terrible shame and fear. And yet, s/z should be read by anyone who wants to rise above the level of a dilettante and have access to the cornucopia of ideas about how we read, and understand ourselves.
This in no way saves Peterson from the intellectual sin of conflating Postmodernism with Marxism or his ignorance of the origins of Postmodernism, or the gross fault of accepting the terms of the debate put forward by a gang of malignant trolls who have hijacked the left for their own nefarious purposes. In the end Peterson comes across as a poor man’s Isaiah Berlin perfect for the youtube generation for whom taking the time to become erudite is akin to asking them to drink a warm cup of ebola.
*2. The if he sings he’s a bird gambit has a far more serious and sophisticated variation. As recounted by Isaac Deutscher in his biographical trilogy about Trotsky, we are treated to the first meeting of what was to become the Bolshevik glee club and Trotsky, young and full of taking the piss has annoyed Lenin. Lenin claims to have it all figured out but Trotsky says: Look, if you replace the people with the revolution, and replace the revolution with the party, the party will inevitably be replaced by a strongman on the right who, backed by the military, will destroy everything. Needless to say, Lenin disagreed.
*3. T.S. Eliot’s lecture at The University of Virginia. Collected and published in, After Strange Gods. Speaking to a football stadium full of well read fascists, Eliot said that the safety of society depended upon the Jews being locked up, thus establishing Eliot as a supporter of Hitler and the University of Virginia as being at least not against concentration camps. Perhaps Mr.Peterson might want to include this incident in his calculus regarding a lack of gratitude on the part of some towards the West.
*4. And to be clear none of those writers, Cervantes, Sterne or Twain would have thought of themselves as Postmodern but rather as some form of subversive. Which in a sense is not much of a distinction as one exists inside the other.
A further dumpster dive into the growing library of Peterson’s youtube collection reveals a strange and curious obsession with several interconnected issues. These are of course, Marxism and as it relates specifically to its late 1960s iteration in Europe and as a subset, specifically among a small group (cadre if you like) of French intellectuals. Postmodernism, as defined by the hijackers among the late 60s intellectuals and then again as it is (mis)understood by the counter assault led currently by Peterson.
What is curious about all of this, aside from everything we’ve mentioned above, is that this is a dead debate that was more or less settled in the sterile “culture wars” in the US back in the 1980s. While certain groups among the faux left act as if they’ve not only discovered Derrida but essentially have invented him, we can’t help but feel that Peterson is chewing more than he’s bitten off. While the faux left are an annoyance the idea that any of this is a serious problem is at best an odd notion, and at worst a cover for the usual right wing hysteria machine with its rants about communists hiding under your bed next to the Muslim extremists and the feminists and so on.
We note that prior to his suggesting sex between older men and young boys was not necessarily bad, the utterly toxic Milo Yiannopoulos was not condemned by Peterson for his support for and symbiosis with the right wing hatemongers, and Peterson was content to indulge the Breitbart smurf as if he were only a smurf and not a hideous shock trooper for the neo fascist bund. We also note that Peterson has apparently no qualms about appearing on a talk show with a man (Mark Steyn) who lumps climate change in with Marxism as a form of government control and an attempt to steal your freedom.
We have no idea what Peterson thinks about that but that’s the problem. If you’re too busy screaming about Marxist Postmodernists to mention that people who denounce climate change as a Chinese hoax and an assault on liberty should be in a psych ward, then you shouldn’t be surprised if people start fitting you for a tinfoil hat. Or, to put it another way: You go around with pictures of Chairman Mao you’re not going to make it with anyone anyhow.
In the video below Peterson slithers into outright reactionary fantasy and paranoid justifications for a right wing social thunderdome. He is a smart version of any number of standard reactionary cranks like Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck but just as intellectually vacant, emotionally barren and potentially dangerous.
Consider that he declares that Postmodernist/Marxists are guilty of a lack of appreciation for the West. Denouncing them for this lack he veers into the tone of an evangelical fire and brimstone preacher denouncing sinners. The result being a quasi religious fervor that demands obedience and equates appreciation with silence or vocal agreement. Or far worse it forces Peterson into the role of a demagogue. “Appreciation” being of course completely and dangerously vague. Insisting that people should be appreciative of the West turns Peterson into an Orwellian neo-Marxist firebrand spouting empty but toxic rhetoric. The irony of course speaks for itself. Since Peterson or anyone for that matter, would be incapable of defining what appreciation for the West looks or sounds like, one is left with an ever receding horizon in which thugs and Peterson yell endlessly until they are satisfied. Which of course is identical to the standard Orwellian-Stalinist-Maoist nonsense Peterson denounces. One can hear him now belching: Sucks to your asmar!
Peterson again invokes the false choice between the horrors of Stalin and Mao (genuine monsters) and his glorious Western liberalism. Minus, the fact that Hitler was a Western tyrant, that the Atlantic slave trade was an industrial scale genocidal catastrophe perpetrated by the West (with assistance from East and South) and that it took a violent cataclysmic civil war and the deaths of over half a million people to settle it and it’s still not settled, and that the West is partially responsible for the ongoing environmental genocide perpetrated by everyone including non Marxist states and state actors, participation in any number of gulag infested dictatorships in Central and South America, Africa, The Middle East and Asia, murders, economic apartheid, extortion, drug wars, assassinations, coups, counter coups, a vast Orwellian panopticon that coupled with a stagnant economic system of social and financial apartheid is destroying the social fabric of the country, the ascendency to the Presidency of an unhinged malignant troll with the emotional stability of a child molestor and mass murderer, and Peterson, in full delusional rant, declares that a lack of gratitude is proof of the moral bankruptcy of the left.
And we want to take one example in particular and address it. In claiming that a lack of gratitude by the people he labels Marxist Postmodernists Peterson stumbles into sounding like a bigot. Consider the question of Algeria and the French left. Exactly what should people who were in favor of Algerian independence be grateful for? Colonization? Mass murder? Institutionalized bigotry? A historical legacy and blowback that includes a civil war that killed over 250,000 people? The rise of a neo fascist French terror group bent on overthrowing the government through violence?
And by not being grateful the Algerians and the French who supported them are guilty of what exactly? A moral bankruptcy that casts them outside of a political arcadia and leaves them bereft of salvation? Thus, they are less than us – those of Peterson’s cadre who, despite the carnage are, for some reason, grateful to what Allen Ginsberg called Moloch in Howl, for sparing us from the fate of those ingrates who were consumed in the maw of Western triumph.
This is the rhetoric of the Volk, of Francoistas, of priests making common cause with fascists, of Buckley and the well-heeled goons at The National Review telling James Baldwin he better shut the fuck up or he and his kind will find themselves at the blunt end of some fire and brimstone salvation administered by men in brown shirts with bibles in one hand and whips in the other.
This is a pseudo-intellectual justification for right wing terror.
This is both to be pitied and watched in the same way that one keeps a wary eye on any number of fanatics.
For an in-depth look at specific reasons for Peterson’s erroneous views on Postmodernism, Foucault, Derrida, and Marxism, see the link below:
1. We note with amused irony that the reading of Barthes view as being full of self-defeating contradictions opens the door to an understanding in terms established by Foucault. Thus Barthes’ narrative is revealed as being about power. Barthes asserts the power to deny as a method of achieving freedom but denies the ability of the individual to choose to accept the word associations of the author. And of course Barthes’ denial of a narrative authority is read as a moment in history where authority was on trial, and was asserting its claim to dictate terms precisely because it wanted to deny the right of others to assert their authority including the right to accuse the government of being criminal. It is no accident that Derrida, Barthes and others happened when they did. Thus, establishing the efficacy of Foucault’s narrative.
Who said the following, Jordan Peterson or…?
“Modern leftish philosophers tend to dismiss reason, science, objective reality and to insist that everything is culturally relative.”
For a thoughtful look at Peterson’s embarrassing lack of intellectual credibility and how he clearly knows nothing about Postmodernism, see the following article which is far kinder to Derrida than we are:
A note on just how shallow Peterson’s grasp of Postmodernism is can be found by taking a cursory walk through the thicket of old Warner Brothers’ cartoons featuring those notorious neo-Marxists, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and Elmer Fudd. A common device in the cartoons were the deconstruction of the narrative, meta-commentary, meta-fictional deconstructions and meta-fictional reconstructions, and inversion of of the narrative from outside to a faux inside, etc.
With references to Dali, Picasso, and a host of other Modernist tricksters the cartoons were and remain delightfully subversive and completely Postmodern.
Postscript: For a look at the embarrassing lack of intellectual due diligence on the part of Peterson one should consider David Hume and Bundle Theory. Hume’s idea that the “self” and “identity” are strictly conditional, fluid and contextual and thus not fixed or objectively consistent is clearly not only an adjunct and precursor to Postmodernism but also clearly echoes Buddhist theories on the illusory nature of the self and a lack of permanence in what we call reality. Keeping in mind (sic!) that Hume was writing in the 18th century some 250 years before Foucault and Derrida.
Additionally it is of course worth noting that as they say, there’s nothing new under the sun and that most if not all of the questions about the nature of the self, and perception and comprehending reality, have been at the center of philosophical inquiry since day one, or at least since Plato was hanging around the bathhouses and the agora scoping young boys. Who, what, where and how, were essentially not different questions in ancient Athens then when asked a millennia later by Foucault or Derrida.
Consider Plato’s famous wall of the cave image. Who is projecting on the wall of the cave and what is seen and how is it understood, etc are essentially the same questions asked in Paris 2,000 years later.
And it is of even more of an amusement to consider that there are questions as to whether or not Socrates existed and notwithstanding those issues it is worth remembering that the crimes for which he stood accused included “worshipping the wrong gods.”
In other words, because Socrates claimed to hear his “daemon” and that said voice was not recognized by the authorities he was found guilty of blasphemy specifically for worshiping gods not sanctioned by the state.
This of course loops us back to Foucault’s point in Madness and Civilization where he points out that the ancient Greeks had no word for insanity.
And when discussing “Socrates” one must always keep in mind that one has to distinguish between “Plato’s Socrates” and the “Socrates” who may never have existed. This completely Nabokovian, or Borges-esque dilemma of whether or not the character in question exists adds yet another pleasant spin to Peterson’s pedestrian harangs about how “Postmodernism” begins in Paris in the 1960s.
As an example of this consider Socrates’ famous statement that the only thing he knows is that he knows nothing.
Except, naturally, it turns out no one is certain that he said it (or they are as certain about that as they are certain he existed) and that if he said something like that, he is also recorded (by Plato) as having contradicted it on at least two occasions.
In short, in considering “Socrates” we may be looking at the first “Postmodern” text with Plato as the first unreliable narrator. Something clearly inadmissible in the universe as defined by Jordan Peterson.
Regarding Peterson’s constant referencing of Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, we note the curious and deafening silence from Peterson regarding Solzhenitsyn’s Russian Cartoon level anti-Semitism. Nor does Peterson have anything to say about Solzhenitsyn’s support for Slobodan Milosevic or Vladimir Putin or his contempt for American pop culture which he condemned with all the certainty of an ayatollah choosing his next black robe. The logic is of course simple and irrefutable. If per Peterson, Marx leads inevitably to the gulag then Solzhenitsyn and his gnostic hymns to Mother Russia lead inevitably to the nearest Orthodox church and the burning of books, and the building of new gulags to house the new dissidents. (shades of meet the new boss, same as the old boss).
In other words, the relationships between power and language and ideas about the lack of fixed points in what we call the self are all ironically on display in Peterson’s cholorically empty and morally vacuous rhetoric. Or, to put it another way, Peterson has shot on his own goal, scored and given the victory to the Postmodernists.
For a look at the author of the Gulag Archipelago, see the following:
For a look at Peterson’s spurious logic in general and his use of outdated Social Darwinism see the following:
Regarding Miguel Cervantes and the Postmodernism of Don Quixote see the following:
Peterson is embarrassing himself in that he is strident about academic rigor and yet clearly has no understanding of the topic (Postmodernism) and of course this reveals the shallowness of his historicism in regards to the context of complex thinkers like Foucault.
In the video linked below beginning around 45 minutes and continuing until the end of the video, Peterson paraphrases and agrees with the basic tenets of Postmodern Theory, of Adorno and Horkheimer Frankfurt School views on science and sound exactly like a proper Postmodernist. This is without a doubt the most hilarious and embarrassing example of scoring on your own goal that we can imagine.