“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:
*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:
If that link does not work, try this one:
** 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.