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The Tyranny of the Persnickity Literalist. A Few (more) Minutes With Jordan Peterson.

“Everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics.”

— Charles Peguy

“Now, there is no such thing as ‘man’ in this world. In my life I have seen Frenchmen, Italians, Russians, and so on. I even know, thanks to Montesquieu, that one can be Persian. But as for man, I declare I’ve never encountered him.”

— Joseph de Maistre, Considerations on France (1797)

“Women are systematically degraded by receiving the trivial attentions which men think it manly to pay to the sex, when, in fact, men are insultingly supporting their own superiority.”

— Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)

 

 

In a stunning example of journalistic irresponsibility, Esquire devoted nearly two hours to a conversation withh the Lobster King, Jordan Peterson.*

While this train wreck of a conversation covers most of Peterson’s biggest hits and popular dance hall numbers,(i.e., & e.g., the Feminists, the Postmodernists, the Marxists, etc.) there is one riff (found at roughly the 30 minute mark) that we thought would be worth excavating.

The otherwise intelligent interviewer made the point that the American Revolution and the foundation of the United States was an example of identity politics because, the revolutionary cadre was comprised of White men, who were of a certain age and owned property, and that in both material fact, ideology and through the promulgation of laws, other groups (i.e., & e.g., women, Slaves, etc.) were by definition to be excluded from power.

Peterson, betraying a clear smoldering rage, denounced it as not only wrong but impossible as a matter of historical fact. Explaining this counter argument he said that, one can not change the definition of previous events (we paraphrase) and that the definition of “Identity Politics” is rooted in the “Postmodernist” and “Marxist” efforts of groups beginning in the 1960s, and that the true nature of the American Revolutionary program was rooted in the Judeo-Christian system, filtered through what he calls, “English democracy” and that, it holds that men and women are imbued by God, with a divine essence that took centuries to fully manifest through the development of culture qua culture.

The first problem is, rather obviously, and which sadly the journalist did not address, that if you can’t change the definition of previous narratives, than you are advocating a fairly standard version of tyrannical group-think.

When “leftists” do this, Peterson blows his stack and rolls out his hit parade of culprits in a bespoke, “round up the usual suspects” sophistry in the service of the standard demagoguery of the con artist and the tyrant.

When he does it, he zeros in on a style defined by being correct about one specific point to the exclusion of any other points that may also be correct. Thus, he is correct when he says the Judeo-Christian ideal, faith, and ideology, was a factor in the emergence of the American Revolutionary program. Peterson of course says it is the factor; the alpha and omega of the movement.

Obviously, there were a multitude of other factors at work including, but not limited to, the economics of the slave trade, bigotry, the socio-economic nature of agriculture, the technology of the Age of Sail, the mythology of America as a “new Eden,” syphilis, opium, mercury, monarchy, population density, crop failures, the weather, the printing press, trade with Asia, the Protestant Reformation, superstition, proto-feminism, and so on. Obviously, depending upon which of those elastic talking points one chooses to focus on, the narrative changes – in an annoyingly Postmodern manner.

And of course, obviously, one is free to make the case that, the American Revolution can be defined as an example of Identity Politics – that for example, Jefferson’s relationship with wine, books, and Sally Hemmings are examples of Identity Politics. Or one could talk about the bigotry of Kant, relative to his advocacy of Enlightenment Ideals about freedom, or one could focus on Rousseau’s proto-fascism in calling for the closure of theaters, and also focus on his commitment to the primacy of the individual as the bedrock of a free society, protected by enshrined laws that guarantee a universal suffrage. Or one could point out to Peterson that Mary Wollstonecraft believed Identity Politics, Feminism, property rights, universal suffrage and the systemic defects of “English democracy” were problematic. As did Madame de Stael. And George Sand. And Virginia Woolf.

Or if one wanted to be bothered by the pesky truth, and stubborn facts, one could remember that in response to the French revolutionary proclamation that the Rights of Man were universal, and which Montesquieu defined as: “…the civil code of the universe, in the sense that every people is a citizen thereof” a great many people said, drop dead you cheese eating surrender monkeys! Needless to say, the French, who as Steve Martin pointed out, have a word for everything, decided to press ahead all the same, with their radical subversive, Identity Politics.

Of course, this form of bespoke, radical, “Identity Politics” was rejected by others who gave intellectual cover to the reactionary push to restore the monarchy. Thus, in the 18th century, in response to what was perceived as, French arrogance, one finds Johann Gottfried Herder, taking a break from being a proper Prussian, writing hymns to storm and chaos, declaring that the Volk of each nation, replete with myths, and strict ideological kutlur, are distinct and not beholden to subversive, Frenchified, notions of universality. Or one might consult noted Beat poet and proto-fascist, Joseph de Maistre, who said, in response to those annoying French intellectuals: (There is) “…’no such thing as ‘man’. ‘I have seen Frenchmen, Italians and Russians’ …but ‘as for ‘man,’ I have never come across him anywhere’.”

In other words, once again, Peterson is revealed to be not only ignorant of the basic historical facts, but is also revealed to be a first rate hack, or as that Enlightenment subversive and punk agitator Keats said, in contradicting Aristotle, the mark of a sound mind, is the ability to hold two mutually exclusive ideas in your head at the same time, while continuing to function.

Peterson, in eliding all of those factors, quite obviously, is once again wrong factually, but also is engaging in a strident form of reductio ad absurdum. But as a corollary to that he insists that the past is a fixed point, about which the future cannot change its meaning. Thus, emergent schools of thought cannot recover the past and change their mind about what it means, which in turn means the present is only the dead repetition of the already defined past. This of course is bad news for everyone from Marcel Proust, William Faulkner, and Henri Bergson, or Scott Fitzgerald, to archeologists and biographers who excavate the lives of past historical figures, and of course means that once a definition has been created, no one can change the meaning.

Peterson of course would, as is his consistent style, insist that he said no such thing and that he does not believe it’s even possible to arrest memory. And then, at approximately 1:05:04, he is critical of the journalist because, he says, she advocates a one-answer system for complex multi-variant situations.

Having once again demonstrated the paucity of his intellect, his antagonism towards consistency as well as a bible-thumping smug condescension, and that he’s a hypocrite, he makes it clear that as far as he’s concerned, the definition of “Identity Politics” is locked and cannot be changed.

That this makes him a crypto-Marxist operating in a retrograde dialectical manner is both hilarious and terrifying. Hilarious of course because he’s the most spectacular example of public buffoonery that isn’t named Trump, and terrifying because, courtesy of the reverse telescope nature of YouTube, he is taken seriously – after all, GQ spent nearly 2 hours interviewing him and 48 hours after uploading the video, the interview had generating almost 2 million views – and the majority of the comments were of course not only pro lobster but were, foul-tempered, narrow, shabby, right wing, shallow diatribes extolling the sucks to your assmar cult of Peterson.

While it is obviously true that the left and the “left” (the pseudo-leftists who give the form a bad reputation), are often guilty of strict and rigid forms of faith, the suggestion that one cannot change or appropriate, or repurpose, a system, or the facts,** to change a narrative is not just idiotic, it is the standard template of the demagogue, the fraud, and the thug.

In the tyranny of arbitrary definitions the definition of power is always, who speaks last.

Jordan Peterson is not the last word (and will eventually fade and be found in remainder bins around the world) but like any number of tyrannical-minded cult leaders, it’s obvious that his goal is to be the one holding the conch shell and giving everyone else two choices – to repeat his slogans or to shut the fuck up.

 

See the bullshit here:

Watch

 

*We are aware of the irony – GQ is giving this charlatan oxygen and, so are we. Guilty as charged but, where GQ seems reluctant to call him out for being a crypto-fascist, we’re not.

Also, as a matter of Historical fact, clearly, “Identity Politics” and Feminism were issues, in the 18th century. See the following:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Vindication_of_the_Rights_of_Woman

And:

https://www.wsj.com/articles/identity-politics-began-in-the-american-revolution-1513381892

If that link does not work, try this one:

https://www.wsj.com/articles/identity-politics-began-in-the-american-revolution-1513381892

** Regarding, facts, to clarify, we don’t mean one can change the truth but one can change how a narrative is constructed. For example, Churchill’s support for Mussolini and fascism as a bulwark against Bolshevism means one could define his later opposition to fascism as opportunistic, and his sense of morality as, sketchy. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t also the indispensable man. Thus, the facts don’t change but how the narrative is constructed can.

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2 comments on “The Tyranny of the Persnickity Literalist. A Few (more) Minutes With Jordan Peterson.

  1. I used to know a guy who was obsessed with Peguy. That was the first and, until now, the last time I’d heard of the name. He is a rather obscure figure. But I must admit that I’m fascinated by how certain obscure figures become the focus of obsessive interest by certain types of people. The quote you picked out is apt for the occasion.

    The identity politics perspective was good to bring up. And his response to it is amusing for its tone deafness toward history. There is nothing new about it. Early Christianity was identity politics. All of social behavior is about identity with political implications. That is what it means to be human.

    As for the American Revolution, there was the identity politics of landed white men. But there was much else as well. There was the identity politics of the Rights of Englishmen, conspicuous in that the majority of the population in several colonies weren’t English and the majority in one wasn’t even white.

    Beyond that, there was a deeper vein of class identity politics, expressed by Thomas Paine and friends but having emerged over the prior decades. It was class war and Marx wasn’t around to be blamed. And this class war was largely an extension of the class war of the English Civil War. Surprise, surprise… the majority of people back then were lower class and didn’t always appreciate their position within class oppression.

    Let me say something about Christianity and the American Revolution. “Thus, he is correct when he says the Judeo-Christian ideal, faith, and ideology, was a factor in the emergence of the American Revolutionary program.” Sure, a factor among many. But not that big of a factor. The colonists were largely irreligious at the time. Also, several of the founders were a bit heretical, some even anti-Christian.

    Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen, and Thomas Young (three of the most important and influential of revolutionaries) were openly deist and publicly wrote about it. Franklin was largely indifferent about religion, Jefferson committed sacrelige by cutting up the Bible to remove the supernaturalism, and Washington saw the only use of organized religion was as to enforce conformity to the social order.

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2014/10/05/natures-god-and-american-radicalism/

    Right-wingers have weird notions about identity politics. I think it’s for the very reason they are obsessed with identity politics, as they are obsessed with political correctness and language policing. It’s simply that they want their own identity politics to dominate without being questioned. Rich white Christian men should rule by default. Their identity politics should be accepted as the norm. End of discussion.

    Yet for some strange reason, as whites and Christians head toward minority status, the emerging majority (and women always were the majority) are wanting to open up the discussion, not end it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. rauldukeblog says:

      Agree on all of that.

      I came to Peguy through Merleau-Ponty and a few of the other notorious “Postmodern-NeoMarxist” French writers.

      He seems to be one of these writers who gets cannibalized by both the left and the right with each camp finding a quote to justify claiming him as one of their own.

      An interesting parallel is in the change here when the “Democrats” were the pro slavery party and the “Republicans” were anti-slavery and then they switched again from one camp to another.

      Same thing in French politics or in England where Churchill crossed the aisle going from “conservative” to “liberal.”

      Peterson of course just confirms that he’s a hack but if you watch the video he’s really an enraged thug. His tone and his language are strident and tyrannical and absolutist. Ironically he echo the tone of the worst most doctrinaire “Marxist.”

      Your points on the American revolutionary class are fascinating and perfectly on point vis the reactionary response to language. I get a kick out of people yelling that “Identity Politics” starts in the 60s and then give them quotes about how Jefferson was accused of being a “Jacobin” who was going to confiscate all the bibles and burn them.

      Watching the video I sort went past his comments about it and then suddenly a synapse fired and I thought hmm, I’m gonna assume Mary Wolstonecraft has a few things to say about this. I downloaded a pdf of her, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and it’s just full of Identity Politics, and issues of class, and so on.

      And when JP throws out phrases like “English democracy” t’s again both hilarious and worrying. A scan of the comments on youtube of course reveals exactly what one would expect – the sucks to your assmar tribalism of a cult out for blood.

      I would also add that our old friend Hume is a crucial figure in this because he was essentially outcast in England for his anti-clerical views but found a home among the French intellectuals but was best friends with Adam Smith so the retrograde narrative about a pure 18th century devoid of “IP” is horseshit.

      And the interviewer makes you point that all politics is based on “Identity.”

      Hell, Plato’s gang were freaking out about “decadent Persians” undermining “Athenian virtue” etc.

      Liked by 1 person

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