(The original interview can be found here)
Jordan Peterson recommends the Christian dictum from Matthew 3:16 – “Be as wise as serpents, and as innocent as doves.” That passage is the summation of Peterson’s recurring idea that true virtue is possessed only by those with the capacity to destroy others, but who out of their depth of character alone, opt not to. Critics of Peterson must face one reality: if even one angry young man has been convinced to not undertake violent and impulsive action due to the life-affirming theme of his lectures, then Peterson’s influence on the net good of the world has been undeniably more positive than the life’s work of a million well-intentioned spirits who neglected the demons rising in their own communities.
Today, there was another mass shooting, in a community I will never know. That much is true literally every day. What will change the world? Wondering why a child had a gun, or understanding that the true problem is that a child would want to obliterate his or her own community? It is clearly the latter. The desire to destroy the world is worse than the technical ability to act on that desire. The problem is at the root of the individual, and the community that raised that individual, rootless, in despair, is at fault. The ethic of the local is the only way to intervene in the life of a monster and show them to sheath their sword, and in that moment of sheathing, the monster becomes grace.
I am not on the left, nor am I on the right. I am an ape that has evolved over hundreds of millions of years to wield tools and shape my environment beyond my capacity to control. I am the descendant of small tribes who created stories, who eventually become the space-travelling digital creatures we are today. I do not understand what this means. No one understands what it means to invent fire, and wear clothes, and write down our stories and create cultures. Neither the Marxists who despise capital or the capitalists who uplift it understand what they are proposing or rejecting. It is too deep in our being. We can neither be for or against. We can only seek to understand. That is the essential foundation of the Jungian attitude – to understand the fires of hell, not to condemn them and pretend that you exist beyond them. You do not. There is no distance between you and Jung’s “red sun of the depths”. And it is as horrifying an object as it sounds.
My interview with Jordan Peterson was an opportunity to understand biology, capitalism and culture. Let’s begin.
Here is a problem with the new generation of the hyper-outraged online left: the most depressed, glib, angry and guilt-ridden people want to tell you exactly how the world should be. Those who know nothing about science are the first to condemn it, and likewise for religion. Unresolved character problems become ideological pathologies. Such is the core philosophy of Jordan Peterson.
Take the anima and the animus. Jordan Peterson says a number of controversial things on this subject. The animus is the masculine personality within every woman. The animus is hierarchical, demands order, demands victory, it is the upward-pointing aim of the skyscraper and the Apollonian spear, and the billowing infection of climate change and egotism. The animus manifests in women who furiously condemn the male spirit for all its crimes. The animus is unequivocal. The animus bends for nothing. A woman with an unintegrated animus is a wall of swords. She is unapproachable, she will not reason with you. She is chaotic nature in her most fanged persona. A good example of a woman with a properly-integrated animus is a woman punching and cursing out a man who gropes her. A woman with a properly-integrated animus can take care of herself – she is the independent woman of the feminist dream, but not in some political contrivance – she is a woman who takes responsibility and can handle the world without male saviors. Instead of seizing up and falling silent when a man tries to grab her, she smacks his hand away and makes him feel a stiff pang of guilt for what he is trying to do. The woman with a properly-integrated animus is a force to reckon with. Harvey Weinstein would be spiritually castrated in interaction with her.
A woman without a properly integrated animus, on the other hand, seeks to reject ‘male’ thinking altogether. She may see science itself as a false expression of male biases. A man without a properly cultivated anima finds himself the aggressor in that same inverted, false position: he is apologizing for his masculinity, because it is brutal, it is cruel, the anima is his sensitivity to his own hideous and bestial nature. A man aware of what it is to be a man must be terrified. Men are horrifying things. A man who cannot handle this fact becomes subservient to the anima, and seeks instead to bury his own masculinity, and portray only a mask of feminine compassion. He emphasizes empathy, kindness, and shows disgust at men like Jordan Peterson. The anima-possessed man imposes maternal protection and compassion upon women and those seen as among the disadvantaged. So ironically, he condescends deeply to women while masquerading as their advocate.
A man possessed by his anima is always trying not to step on toes, always trying to be polite, never trying to start trouble. Most young men today, or at least college-educated men, are possessed at some level by their anima.
A woman possessed by her masculine animus would annihilate a man possessed by his feminine anima. She would be the prosecutor relentless, and he the walking-apology eternal. But in the Channel 4 interview, Jordan Peterson, in embracing a calm, clinical rationality, did not indulge his anima. He did not feel the need to apologize for his views. Instead, he sought only to explain why it would be wrong for him to feel shame about what he is saying. Had he given into the anima, he would have become paranoid, unhappy, disgusted with himself, and conceded to Cathy Newman – “You’re right, what I’m saying is bad for women, I’m really sorry.” That is the confession that the whole world wants out of Jordan Peterson. But he doesn’t believe it. And so he sticks to his guns. And someone like Cathy Newman tries to challenge him by invoking guilt and shame out of him – to expose him as something he knows he is not. It failed. She used the animus against the wrong man.
The dialectic of anima and animus is extraordinarily complex, but this is the way I have fleshed it out following Peterson’s discussion of the topic in our interview. In summation, a woman possessed by her animus is putting on the mask of a conqueror. A man possessed by his anima is putting on the mask of a harmless, cuddly creature. But both are lies – unless used in the proper context.
This topic quickly becomes a discussion of Jungian archetypes. How could it not? After all, Peterson is saying that men are possessed by a feminine spirit, and women are possessed by a masculine spirit. When the world is contorted, women are conquerors over weak men, and these men are always trying to pander, always trying to apologize to the women they have placed upon a pedestal. In a proper world, it would be conqueror vs. conqueror, equals in the pursuit of more sophisticated being. But men have been conquerors for so long that now women wish to control weak men – that is the meaning of the social justice cliché: “Equality begins to feel like oppression when you’re used to privilege”. In the contorted world of modern social justice, men should be afraid, walking on eggshells, and women should possess the social power of the conqueror to demolish them at any moment. But this is clearly unhealthy. As I have said before, the goal must be demolisher versus demolisher, both sides understanding that they are faced with their equal and reckoning. Only in that spiritual space can true understanding take place. Yes, men are dangerous monsters. And yes, women are too. Our modern gender trouble is our lack of ability to find balance. But this confused stage of imbalance is necessary – I do not begrudge the 3rd wave feminist movement for creating this situation. It is necessary for the poles to reverse before they may straighten, and find a higher synthesis than the past or present alike.
Postmodernism and social justice represent a passage of individual development, an essential stage of history. It is the answer when all ideologies have collapsed. When no truth is sufficient. At the level of ideological collapse, postmodernism is absolutely true. And yet, after everything vanishes into total relativism, total doubt, what emerges from the chaos is what was true all along. There will be no more guessing, no more uncertainty following a confrontation with radical doubt that takes centuries to overcome. It has taken centuries, since Nietzsche pronounced the death of God so long ago. But out of absolute doubt emerges the single grain of faith – the Christian concept of the “dark night of the soul” makes that absolutely clear. True enlightenment is the experience of absolute relativism and the death of all belief – and then the recovery of the truth past the point of no return. We have no patience, and so we are all obsessed with the return of the truth. But it won’t come just because we want it to. We will first have to experience true darkness, and a world defined by impersonal algorithms, ruthless capitalism, the failure of liberalism and the uprising of all historically oppressed identities. That is the stage for a world that has become totally lost. The world is lost. It was always a fall into history – a golden stone hidden in the mouth of God, who concealed it beneath His tongue. The stone has vanished from sight. But it is still there – just not visible to us, as a species, right now.
That is surely how the mind works as well. I can read the most beautiful writing in the world and be convinced for several hours that God is irrevocably real. Then, the next morning, I find it impossible to motivate myself enough to get out of bed. That is the true terror of mortality. The spirit is inconsistent. Our brains are material, chemical, fair-weather allies. They will abandon us. We will often be barred from seeing what we have once seen. What we know to be true will vanish from our vision, and we will think it was thus a lie. It was not. It has simply ebbed into darkness.
That is the war of chaos and order. Neither chaos nor order are bad – they compose a motion that ripples through time toward the eye and scepter of God and Goddess as one. But first, they writhe back and forth in limitless confusion, a radio wave in the deep, a serpent’s slithering.
Most of my conversation with Jordan Peterson was about capitalism. I’ve been anti-capitalist for most of my life. But Peterson has grounded the rules of capitalism deeper in the rules of being itself than I ever hoped was true. At best, I can be a democratic socialist. But that still won’t solve the problem of rootlessness. Cities like New York, populated by wage-seeking strangers, are not communities, and they dull both my empathy and the communal sense. I have felt, in my time living in New York, the nerve cluster of capitalism, that it is a place without culture. It is the impersonal absolute. It is the chaos of capitalism run so amok that cosmopolitans become convinced that isolated, atomized, temporary jobs can keep a community of millions together – the gyre will widen, the center will fail.
As far as I understand, Peterson does not defend capitalism because he chooses to. He genuinely believes there is no alternative. I wish that I could say he is presenting a half-truth. But he really isn’t. There is the Pareto distribution. Most gains are made by those who are already at the top – as a rule of nature. I do not know what to make of this. Peterson said: “The tendency of those who have to get more applies not only to every human society that’s ever been studied but also to non-human phenomena like the height of trees in the rainforest, the size of cities, and the mass of stars.” What is the anti-capitalist left’s response to this? No, nature itself is not reactionary and immoral.
So I ask again: what is capitalism? A technology designed to amplify the will of impersonal nature? Then what is climate change? Is the intention of the Earth to flood itself? Is the Earth intentionally growing chaos within itself via the warming of the Earth caused by human activity and the industrial revolution? Did nature give us fire so that we would warm the atmosphere? We clearly didn’t invent capitalism out of nothing. Clearly, the structure of oligarchs and vast inequality long supersedes capitalism. So what are we, personal, soft, empathetic things, bound in the continual striving of capital toward the ceiling of absolute exploitation, development and consumption of the globe?
Jordan said that Amazon was like the Tower of Babel. He said that “if you try to raise your temple to the heavens, then it will fragment, and everyone will begin to speak a different language.” But isn’t the tendency of all things to grow enormous at the cost of all others, to become Towers of Babel? There is a deep contradiction here. Structures becoming too big is a problem. But the emphasis of the Pareto distribution is on concentrating all gains in a small amount of hands. The Pareto distribution makes big things bigger. Capitalism is a serpent swallowing its own tail – it produces entities too big to function, by the laws of nature. It creates Towers of Babel. It is an enclosed circle, the mystical symbol of the oroborus, the snake consuming itself. Nature produces entities that become too big, and cease to function. Are we merely trapped in this evolutionary cycle of birth, overgrowth, then death? Almost certainly.
Will we recover the soul after this great ebb of Pareto distribution whelms the world? Once nature eats itself and finally, after tasting its own flesh, becomes honest about its intentions?
Jordan is right that the association of the masculine with order and the feminine with chaos is an ancient association. Of course it is. Read Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae, if you doubt that the entire history of art and civilization does not work off this dynamic, and transgresses it, and redefines it, through eternity.
Even Ralph Waldo Emerson considered the feminine to be lunar, the masculine to be solar. Paglia likened Apollo (the solar God) to the masculine order-creating rational ego, and Dionysius (the moon God) to the dark, chthonic, natural chaos of pregnancy, childbirth, the natural mysteries of women. That is the incarnation of modern feminist art as well – armpit hair, period blood, visceral flesh – the natural, even when trying to break free of itself, defines the feminine.
This isn’t sexist at all. In fact, it’s damning for men more than women. Men are unnatural. Men are the ones without an understanding of nature, who feel the need to terraform it, to develop, to create machines. Capitalism, in this way, truly is ‘patriarchal’. That is true. But it all comes out of deepest insecurity. No achievement is enough. All nature must be consumed by machine. It is so obvious what this represents – the dream of consuming the world through capital is the same as the man who dreams of sleeping with every single woman. It is the ultimate male insecurity and need, and his hatred of women develops out of his inability to fulfill this need, the inability and impotence of man to conquer every female. No scrap of nature may remain unperturbed.
Men are the odd ones out, the ones who do not belong. They are not needed to give birth to children. They are not able to become pregnant. They do not menstruate, and even as old men, rotting from the inside, they can still bear children. They possess a freakish alchemy – the XY chromosome. A mismatch, at the core of their souls. Men are machines, women are nature. Men are artificers, diseased splicers of DNA and destroyers of the Earth, inventors of the atom bomb, and women are the silence and serenity of the stream. And both need the other.
The masculine extreme is an egomaniacal insane torturer of animals who rips apart flesh and rebuilds it to suit his insecure needs. The feminine extreme is total loss of self in nature, the submersion beneath the waves. Each needs the other. Neither can triumph alone.
If our modern age is suffering because male technology has dominated the Earth, then a return of the feminine is essential. But it has to come in the spirit of setting fire to the wheel of karma and “squaring the circle”, breaking free of cycles, not repeating them in diverse new form. There is no mercy in PC corporate culture, only a trading of shareholders from old white men to women who seek to reap and pillage the Earth just like the baby boomers. There is no evidence that women in power would be less violent and less cruel than men. The structure remains the same, only the surface changes.
If capitalism will ever end, it will only be of its own doing. In this way, Marx was right. Capitalism is too powerful for socialism to defeat it. It is both nature and artifice – Pareto and techne. It can only be slain by its own hand.
Lastly, Jordan spoke about YouTube, and this finale seemed to provide a perfect encapsulation of our entire conversation. We opened speaking about an ideologically-possessed television interview, and now we close with the professor pronouncing the death of television.
Here’s the core of our whole conversation: IQ and conscientiousness are the main personality attributes that lead to success in a capitalist society. They allow one to work both faster and smarter. Peterson said that YouTube will grow as print and television die because YouTube is simply faster. It is more content at higher speeds. It is more efficient than either reading or watching television.
The striving for efficiency, for more perfect, higher numbers, is the goal of conscientiousness and IQ, and it is aligned perfectly with the goal of capitalism, and the evolution of media into more and more fast-paced forms. Everything is accelerating. Why? Because conscientiousness and IQ have been selected for across time, to make the engine keep running faster.
So I do not know where this will go. I believe it will collapse at some point. But when? No one knows the moment or hour. And so we must simply be prepared. Jordan said that we should look to what’s local, and cultivate our character. These grand historical schemes, dreams and contradictions won’t save us. When the global level fails, we must turn to the local level. The most local level: the individual.
Jordan’s message is intensely powerful. It centers the personal, striving human being. But the problem is that if you have an IQ below 83, or aren’t very conscientious, you’ve been born several dozen rungs down from what the starting point should be. Life is not fair. We should work to make it fairer.
But who is ‘we’? What does ‘fair’ look like? In this time of intense polarization, we’ll never agree on this. So I’ll be honest about inequality. But I have to cultivate myself as a first principle, because it truly is the only thing I can control. In a cut section of the interview, Jordan mentioned that he had received 25,000 letters from people whose lives he had changed, for the better. They wrote him in thanks.
I can’t remake nature. I can’t save the underclass. I can’t undo capitalism. But I can try to become better. I can cultivate virtue as an individual and become an example of what a love of life, rather than resentment against it, can do.
My ultimate conclusion? Jordan Peterson is changing the world. It’s just a far stranger place than we ever wished it would be.
Thoughtful, precise questions result in this kind of interview and review. Thanks very much for sharing it.
This is a very thoughtful analysis of the interview! Really a good read.
You ask, “So I ask again: what is capitalism? I would encourage you to start at the very basic level, that of simple economic interaction. The free market is the ONLY form of interaction wherein all participants gain in wealth in a peaceful manner. If you want peace in society, the only system that does not involve or imply coercion, compulsion or violence is free exchange. In fact should a participant in free exchange attempt to coerce the other party, they can call upon government to protect them.
When the government declines to treat each party in an exchange the same, but instead caters to the interests of one over the other, that is no longer a free market, and no longer capitalism. Should that be the case, then government has corrupted itself for economic or political reasons. There is no such thing as crony capitalism, there is only cronyism.
These are not my private theories. I would strongly suggest that you read about the first 140 pages or so of Ludwig von Mises’ book Human Action. The Mises Institute has a free PDF version of it for downloading at mises.org.
“The Pareto distribution makes…”
The Pareto distribution does not make anything. It is a description of nature.
If you want a deeper read: small differences in ability make big differences in outcome.
When you come up with ideas like “The Pareto distribution makes…” it is a clue you are not thinking clearly. And that clue may extend to other areas.
” Peterson said that YouTube will grow as print and television die because YouTube is simply faster.”
A well written 10 words can be worth an hour of YouTube.
So YouTube is not so good when it comes to ideas. Where it is better is as a medium for conversation about ideas.
I’m at least glad you’re not pretending to be with us on the left anymore, like you were on that mealy-mouthed Quillette piece. Jordan Peterson is, at his core, a reactionary; he is opposed to equality, and has made refuting it his life’s work. He wants to defang the left, and re-direct our passions towards harmless self-improvement.
So let me get this straight – unless I’m attempting to undo the global economy from its foundations, I’m not on the left? Guess that means literally everybody from Bernie Sanders to the center is a reactionary apologist for capitalism, since any redistributionist policies are only a half-measure.
My belief is that your metaphysics are half-assed, malformed, and are doomed to fail.
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