I did two things recently: joined a Discord server focused around posthumanism, and re-read Dr. Jordan Peterson’s ‘12 Rules for Life.’ I was fortunate enough to talk about some of his ideas there, and the criticisms thereof. Going from that discussion, and my recent re-engaging with the book, I would like to try to address and clarify a few things.
Firstly, I would like to address ‘the critics.’ Do not criticize a quote from a person (or book), unless you have looked at it in its broader context; in Dr. Peterson’s case, his lecture series, and his book. Having read and listened to many of his ideas, I’ve come to the conclusion that only the most weathered cynic would suspect the sincerity and intent of this man. Just read the foreword of his book, or listen to one of his greatest lectures, ‘The Necessity of Virtue.’ (Video link can be found here, and the transcript can be found here.) He is quite simply trying to help people.
Saying that, he has seemingly misinterpreted, or oversimplified, some Marxist doctrine. You’ve probably heard this classic phrase from him: ‘neo-Marxist postmodernism,’ and the danger thereof.
Let me clarify this. I find it strange that Dr. Peterson seems to have not looked at Marxism much further than it being a classification of life as an eternal class struggle. But when I think of his previous work, even if he does use the term far too much, and probably misuses it in some cases, I think he uses it as a stepping stone of sorts to criticize something else, which I will describe below. The critiques of the communist regimes, although described and attacked as Marxism, are probably more focused on the regimes itself, not so much on the deeper philosophy of Marxism, which he hasn’t looked at. So while the misinterpretation is bad, I don’t think it’s a serious flaw or undermining of his message, which is almost intended as an alternative, or maybe a more traditional lens to look at modern society through, and our role inside it. His criticism seems to be directed towards the postmodern ‘philosophy.’ The philosophy which people like Bishop Robert Barron and Stephen Blackwood have also spoken out against, albeit less directly.
It’s an idea which I like to call ‘selfism,’ or individualism. It’s the placing of something like individual and group identity at the center of life itself, and therefore society. We’ve ended up with something like ‘objective subjectivity,’ and with a dangerous focus on equality of outcome. To take an example, the hyper-focus on identity and sexuality. Not only is sexuality not an important part of a person (it affects no one else apart from said person’s partner), but if we place it at the forefront of one’s identity, we can’t actually arrive at something more substantial. Our identity is relevant to the extent that it enters ‘in dialogue’ with society, and vice versa. Subjective feeling should only play a part in identity as far as it is relevant in your interactions with other people; for example, musical taste. I think the bulk of one’s individual identity should stem from a truthful and rational inquiry to life, and the meaning thereof. Now, you may be wondering; Tomás, why this radical focus on ‘truth?’
Well, let me acknowledge the following. The environment we are raised in, and live in, affects us greatly, perhaps to greater lengths than we realize. But what we value in the most general sense of, say, possessions, or simple virtues, shapes the way we view the world. It’s part of the subjective nature of the human being. And this isn’t an inherently bad thing, just something that we have to acknowledge and pay attention to.
Saying that, if so much of what we surround ourselves shapes the way we think, whether that be consciously or unconsciously, I think that makes the pursuit of truth even a more pressing concern. And that doesn’t necessarily mean “unravel the nature of the universe,” but rather to approach ideas, people and their motives, and I suppose life in general, with a healthy dose of questioning, even skepticism. An inquisitiveness and curiosity as to the purpose of things, their trajectory, their context in our lives and society.
I think that one cannot make a good claim as to their individual identity without at the very least considering the above, if not placing it as a priority in thought/life, and therefore self-definition.