A discussion between Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro, just posted but presumably recorded several months ago – as Peterson refers to his (as of then) upcoming discussion with Slavoj Žižek “on April 19th.” This post will not be in the form of a narrative; just some observations about some of the points raised. Where I offer quotations, these really are approximate as I have no text from which to draw.
Let’s get some of the easy targets out of the way, although some of these will recur throughout the discussion. Immediately in the discussion, they laughingly dismiss the idea that “Jews” might work on hidden agendas that are beneficial to Jews. I need not elaborate here.
There are several comments and refences by Peterson to Christian tradition, Mary and Jesus, etc.; Shapiro often states agreement. “The bringing down of the divine to earth,” as Peterson describes the Christian art of the Virgin and Infant. This, I merely found interesting – Shapiro apparently does not find such references as anti-Semitic.
There is, of course a significant criticizing of tribalism…well except for one type of tribalism. Shapiro suggests that “the greatest tribalism I am seeing in today’s world has nothing to do with religion but is anti-religion, whether on the radical intersectional left or the alt-right.”
OK then…. So much for the “shooting fish in a barrel” part of this post. There was some very good discussion – reflective of the dialogue at this blog. They discuss the idea and meaning of reason, and how reason absent some foundation can lead to any action and any conclusion – even leading to the worst atrocities known to man.
It is noted that those like Steven Pinker over-value the Enlightenment and devalue the historical epochs that produced the axioms upon which and from which the Enlightenment emerged. Shapiro offers: Pinker writes 450 pages about the Enlightenment without mentioning the French Revolution even once. “I don’t even know how that is possible.”
I know how it’s possible. It is possible if one has an agenda of removing pre-Enlightenment Christianity from the discussion…that’s how it is possible.
Further, they offer that reason cannot generate its own comprehensive axioms that can be justified on rational grounds. Reason has implicit moral biases that you cannot reason your way to. Faith undergirds reason; you have to take this on faith. You have to have a starting point.
On this, I am reminded of C. S. Lewis:
It is no use trying to ‘see through’ first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.
Peterson and Shapiro agree with Rothbard: there is such a thing as objective truth. We cannot get to objective truth through evolutionary biology; evolutionary biology can get us to the objectively useful, but this doesn’t make the objectively useful also objectively true in any meaningfully useful sense.
Shapiro makes an argument that comes very close to Hoppe’s argumentation ethics, within the framework that Judeo-Christian assumptions undergird the concept of reason: we use a willful process predicated on the assumption that the other person’s opinion is valuable – otherwise why not just club them over the head and take their stuff.
Shapiro encapsulates something that I have been thinking about recently: If you collapse reason you end up with theocracy; if you collapse religion, you end up with nihilism. My thought is that this shouldn’t be considered in the way of a “balance”; like we must balance reason and religion. Both must be maximized – given what I see as the road to liberty.
Peterson offers as the most important concept he has found in his study of the Bible: God used truth and courage to create order out of chaos. Shapiro offers his, which is second for Peterson: Man is created in God’s image – in other cultures, it was only the king who was made in God’s image.
I have often noted that many cultures and religions have some version of the Golden Rule. Yet Shapiro points out that the idea of man (all men and all women) made in God’s image exists only in the Judeo-Christian tradition. I think that it is this idea that puts some teeth in the Golden Rule. Why do unto others as you would have them do unto you (in love), absent this belief?
Peterson relays the story of Abraham arguing with God regarding the potential destruction of Sodom, in order to entice God to be not more destructive than necessary if there is any goodness to be found. Abraham is quite successful in his argument. The whole time, Shapiro is saying “right…right.” This is an example where reason and revelation can perfectly co-exist. “This is exactly right,” replies Shapiro. This is quite consistent with the idea of man made in God’s image and that guilt should be individualized.
Further, Shapiro criticizes the idea of using cruelty in favor of a higher human good: “that was the case for communism; you had to break a few eggs…”
I know…it is easy to call out Shapiro’s hypocrisy on this: he was lambasted – rightly – for his call to bomb Iran (his video on this is currently running almost ten-to-one dislikes over likes – with about 12,000 dislikes). But we can understand when tribalism gets in the way of using reason when applying the idea that man is made in God’s image.
Shapiro notes that “Israel” means “struggles with God.” Peterson relays the story of Jacob, wrestling with God and therefore given the name Israel. He offers: “I don’t know how to reconcile this to the idea that Israel is the chosen people, when anyone who wrestles with God is chosen.” Shapiro: “It’s a beautiful idea.”
Wow! I give Shapiro some real credit here. He has said that all who wrestle with God are God’s chosen. It is a very New Testament idea – that’s how Peterson can reconcile it. I know the ways one can explain why we shouldn’t believe that Shapiro truly believes that this is a beautiful idea, but there you go.
Shapiro offers that it is the social fabric that will decide the character of the country. Absent some unifying social fabric, the vast majority of people will disagree on the meaning and contents of the term “human flourishing.”
They are both very positive about ethnic and spiritual diversity within a population with a common purpose. But they make no connection to the idea that a “common purpose” devoid of a common ethnic or spiritual bond (a “social fabric”) is a dead end; the idea of a propositional nation has been tried and has failed each time.
Shapiro comments on natural law to be found even in Aristotle and Plato. Unfortunately, without Christ, man is left to grasp at putting a meaningful foundation under natural law – we have Plato without Aristotle. In other words, the Judeo-Christian foundation that undergirds the natural law and liberty that we desire is pretty useless without the “Christian” part.