Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Jordan Peterson Places His Faith in Man


Jordan Peterson had a conversation with Matt Ridley.  Ridley is an author on topics such as economic optimism, trade, the advancements since the Enlightenment, etc.  From the discussion, I gather he is fundamentally a Steven Pinker type.

There is, of course, much to agree with in such discussions.  One cannot disagree with the idea of material progress over the last centuries, especially in the developed (and ever-increasingly developed) world; much of the rest of the planet has been lifted out of poverty.  If all we are after is material goods, end of discussion.  Of course, we are made for more than this, something Peterson – at least prior to his illness – seemed to understand quite well.

Toward the end of the conversation, they begin a discussion about energy, the value of energy in lifting people out of poverty – therefore the benefit of producing energy as cheaply as possible.  This runs counter to the many green ideas of solar and wind.  A very sound discussion and observation.

But then it all goes wrong.  Ridley begins:

“You will notice, Jordan, that you and I have slipped into a slightly pessimistic mood, because we find the energy policies of our countries rather stupid.”

He continues, noting that this is on top of the identity politics stuff and anti-Enlightenment mood in society.

“I could make a case that we just might be about to kill the goose that has been laying the golden eggs.”

All of this runs contrary to the work Ridley has apparently done over the last decades.  It also is consistent with many of the concerns Peterson had prior to his medical issues and disappearance from the conversation due to these.

Certainly, Peterson was always a fan of the material progress of the Enlightenment.  Who couldn’t be?  But he also saw that there was a loss of meaning that has come with it (I cannot say if he believed the relationship was causal, just that it seemed clear he saw both things as true).  His raison d'être was addressing this meaning crisis.  Cheerleading for the material progress since the Enlightenment?  Such academicians are a dime a dozen.

In any case, Peterson doesn’t want to address the negatives of society – at least not those raised by Ridley: governmental energy policies are rather stupid and identity politics is ripping society apart.

Peterson didn’t used to have an aversion to these topics.  In fact, these – especially the issue of identity politics – are precisely where he came into popular view.  No longer.  Peterson offers:

“I truly think we should avoid going there.  I’ve thought about this a lot, watching people respond, for example, to some of the things that I’ve been talking about over the last few years.  There’s a huge population of young and not-so-young people who are literally starving…no they’re metaphorically starving, they’re psychologically starving for a positive but believable story.

Peterson used to be clear that the story could not be merely physical or material.  It is so obvious: if our material good is all that matters to us as human beings, there would be no such thing as a meaning crisis.  This used to be obvious to Peterson as well.  He continues:

“And I think that, like as you pointed out, we could decry the state of modern politics and concern ourselves with the fact that counterproductive economic and social policies might be put in place for all sorts of ideological reasons.  But I actually think a much better use of our time is in the kind of enterprise that you’ve already pursued, which is to produce a robust counter narrative that’s thoroughly grounded in – to the degree that that’s possible – thoroughly grounded in the facts.”

Peterson used to be clear that we didn’t live merely in a world of “facts.”  Facts don’t give us meaning.  We live in a story, a story that goes back to the earliest time of man.  For goodness’ sakes, Peterson lectured for something over 30 hours on just the first chapters of Genesis, and how these chapters captured our story.  He didn’t care if the stories were factually true…at least not then.

Peterson continues:

“We can say ‘look, forget about that, forget about the pessimism, forget about the policies, that that pessimism would drive.’  We could make the assumption that we can have our cake and eat it too: we can eradicate poverty, we can constrain relative inequality to the point where societies are stable, and we can produce a massive increment in environmental quality.”

All material objectives.  But when governments use force to enact destructive policies, we can have neither our cake nor anything else to eat.

“And all of that is within our grasp, if that’s what we want, within the next hundred years.”

Who is this “we”?  Is it the bulk of humanity, or is it the tiny minority enacting these policies?  These destructive policies certainly benefit the tiny minority; that’s a fact.

“We can have what everyone seems to want – on the right and the left – when they are thinking properly, which is an eradication of absolute poverty so no one is forced into starvation; we can reduce relative poverty; and we can restore – to a large degree – or maintain, a sustainable ecology around us.”

Who says those who make policy are thinking properly?  On what basis can we determine “proper”?  They might think it is proper that their net worth goes up by a couple trillion dollars while forty million Americans are thrown into unemployment, or while a couple hundred million people worldwide will face starvation due to the lockdowns of the last year.  Wait, that’s what they just did.

Ridley, despite being chastised by Peterson for falling into a bit of pessimism (and offering his mea culpa), cannot fully let it go: “We do it by development, not anti-development.”  Which goes back to Ridley’s initial observation: government policies – at least in energy – are anti-development. 

Peterson avoids this comment, offering instead: “We do it by faith in human beings, fundamentally.”


I refer back to my post from a couple of weeks ago, based on a conversation between Jordan Peterson and Douglas Murray when they came to the topic of the recent US election.  The relevant portion from that conversation is twofold: first, truth was irrelevant; second, just have faith in our institutions.

He noted in the Murray discussion that he has had a fair bit of his bravery beat out of him.  He now seems to have become just another cheerleader for material progress.  It takes no bravery to say this.  No one will beat him up for this.

I would say this puts a nail in the coffin of anyone’s idea that Peterson will continue to advocate that we must look up, look higher, for meaning. 

He offers that we must place our faith in man.  We don’t have to look up for that.  Faith in man usually results in us having to look down.  Alexander Solzhenitsyn can tell him all about that.  Wait.  Peterson used to understand that as well.


  1. I think Peterson's wrestle with God has ended in him walking away from Him. Somehow through his illness he was confronted with mortality, God, spiritual health, and physical wellness. For whatever reason it sounds like he has placed all his attention on physical wellness.

    This is not surprising to me. He from the start was a man of the Left who kicked at the goads of Political Correctness and from there seemed to be on a journey to the Right and maybe into Christianity.

    But his stance on the Bible was always existential and liberal. Like you say bionic, he wasn't interested in the truth of God only in some subjective meaning. He thought for a while it could be found in an old story. Not because the old story was true or really had answers, but just because people in the past found meaning in it. But he failed to realize that the Bible gives meaning to people only when they believe it describes God, man, and the world around them correctly.

    He was merely grasping at modern, existential meaning like other Western philosophers have. The gospel obviously failed to give him meaning during his illness, so he has moved on to pleasure like most philosophers have ended up.

    I think in his pride, in his love for Enlightenment philosophy, and in his desire to remain within the fold of secular intellectuals he has changed course. Sad.

    1. RMB, I cannot disagree with any of this. I will offer two additional thoughts:

      1) Through his earlier work, many people did find their way to a church and even to Christ. As Jesus said, those who are not against Him are with Him.

      2) He had several years of properly and effectively discussing the issues surrounding the mess in the West. I am willing to watch a few more of his videos before concluding that this history has truly been erased.

      But if I had to bet, I bet I end up exactly as you state.

    2. RMB,

      Well said. Though for those knowledgeable of Peterson's teacher, Carl Jung, it is not at all surprising. A regular commenter from a few years back named "Sagunto" pointed this out to me. I read one of Carl Jung's books and found a ton of good insights, such as ones below, but ultimately the right conclusion was never reached by the author:

      "Just as man, as a social being, cannot in the long run exist without a tie to the community, so the individual will never find the real justification for his existence, and his own spiritual and moral autonomy, anywhere except in an extramundane principle capable of relativizing the overpowering influence of external factors. The individual who is not anchored in God can offer no resistance on his own resources to the physical and moral blandishments of the world. For this he needs the evidence of inner, transcendent experience which alone can protect him from the otherwise inevitable submersion in the mass. Merely intellectual or even moral insight into the stultification and moral irresponsibility of the mass man is a negative recognition only and amounts to not much more than a wavering on the road to the atomization of the individual. It lacks the driving force of religious conviction, since it is merely rational. The dictator State has one great advantage over bourgeois reason: along with the individual it swallows up his religious forces. The State has taken the place of God; that is why, seen from this angle, the socialist dictatorships are religions and State slavery is a form of worship" - The Undiscovered Self

      "Far too little attention has been paid to the fact that our age, for all its irreligiousness, is hereditarily burdened with the specific achievement of the Christian epoch: the supremacy of the word, of the Logos, which stands for the central figure of our Christian faith. The word has literally become our god and so it has remained, even if we know of Christianity only from hearsay. Words like “society” and “State” are so concretized that they are almost personified. In the opinion of the man in the street, the “State,” far more than any king in history, is the inexhaustible giver of all good; the “State” is invoked, made responsible, grumbled at, and so on and so forth. Society is elevated to the rank of a supreme ethical principle; indeed, it is credited with positively creative capacities. No one seems to notice that the veneration of the word, which was necessary for a certain phase of historical development, has a perilous shadow side. That is to say, the moment the word, as a result of centuries of education, attains universal validity, it severs its original link with the divine person. There is then a personified Church, a personified State; belief in the word becomes credulity, and the word itself an infernal slogan capable of any deception. With credulity come propaganda and advertising to dupe the citizen with political jobbery and compromises, and the lie reaches proportions never known before in the history of the world."- The Undiscovered Self

      "As at the beginning of the Christian Era, so again today we are faced with the problem of the moral backwardness which has failed to keep pace with our scientific, technical and social developments. So much is at stake and so much depends on the psychological constitution of modern man. Is he capable of resisting the temptation to use his power for the purpose of staging a world conflagration? Is he conscious of the path he is treading, and what the conclusions are that must be drawn from the present world situation and his own psychic situation? Does he know that he is on the point of losing the life preserving myth of the inner man which Christianity has treasured up for him? Does he realize what lies in store should this catastrophe ever befall him? Is he even capable at all of realizing that this would be a catastrophe? And finally, does the individual know that he is the makeweight that tips the scales?" - The Undiscovered Self

    3. Continued...

      These three quotes above are probably much better than anything Peterson has said, and yet Jung never made his way into the Christian faith. He thought it needed another evolution, just as he saw Christianity as an evolution of Judaism. He died confused about the implications of his own work. This quote below probably sums up why he could never accept Christ, and it also may explain why Peterson has become more inline with mainstream thinking.

      "History will undoubtedly pass over those who feel it is their vocation to resist this inevitable development, however desirable and psychologically necessary it may be to cling to what is essential and good in our own tradition. Despite all the differences, the unity of mankind will assert itself irresistibly"

      Thus Peterson is now a disciple of 'unity'. He had a near death experience, realized he had no faith in an afterlife, and decided that he better enjoy this life as much as possible (by going with the flow and receiving the earthly rewards) before his consciousness is wiped out forever upon his death.

    4. "History will undoubtedly pass over those who feel it is their vocation to resist this inevitable development..."

      Hence, ATL, you and I and the regular visitors and commenters here are on the wrong side of (man's) history!

  2. Did you ever read Milo Yiannopoulos's take on Peterson from a few years back? (n.b.: a few instances of potty mouth)

    Perhaps a bit too harsh in places, but overall, Milo gets to the heart of the issues I've always had with Peterson. In particular, his statement "I’m never going to be satisfied by a writer who is constantly pointing to deeper solutions that are endlessly deferred" rings very true with me.

    1. "I’m never going to be satisfied by a writer who is constantly pointing to deeper solutions that are endlessly deferred"

      Coincidentally (or perhaps not), I just left the following comment to a PVK video:

      When Mikhaila points to happiness, she is more right than she knows and more wrong than she knows. That Jordan couldn’t pick up on this and aim it in the right direction suggests that he still doesn’t understand that “meaning” must be given some direction. As PVK has pointed out (paraphrasing), Hitler and Stalin had plenty of “meaning” in their lives.

      Happiness is taken from the Latin: beatitudo. It translates better as fulfillment, through other-regarding action. In other words, love. It is the ultimate value, and what one must aim at when one speaks of a life of meaning. It is the value at the core of Christianity and at the core of Jesus’s life on earth.

      “But now faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

      Mikhaila is more right than she knows by using the term “happiness.” She is more wrong than she knows by suggesting that this wasn’t demonstrated in Jesus’s life. She just doesn’t understand the proper meaning of the term. Not her fault: society has bastardized the meaning of the term.

      ----------End of comment---------

      Peterson has never made this leap; he offers that we must chase meaning, but he doesn't speak to what is the proper meaning for man.

      He is too intelligent not to understand this, and perhaps too concerned about the worldly reactions to say he understands it.

      As to Milo's and other's criticisms of him, to turn on others is wrong, plain and simple. And it's true that Peterson did this more than once.

      But the one thing that is clear to me: those whom Peterson has steered wrong were headed in a wrong direction already. But there are many who began with Peterson and have moved on to a better path because of what Peterson sparked in them.

    2. Peterson will die chasing meaning without ever finding it, just like his mentor Carl Jung, because he keeps avoiding where true meaning resides. He, like Jung, is too convinced of his own understanding of the world, and that of modern science, to ever believe in actual miracles, like Christ's resurrection, only metaphorical ones. A belief in Christ and the miracles associated with His life requires a humility these sorts of men rarely possess.

      "But if, for instance, the statement that Christ rose from the dead is to be understood not literally but symbolically, then it is capable of various interpretations that do not collide with knowledge and do not impair the meaning of the statement. The objection that understanding it symbolically puts an end to the Christian’s hope of immortality is invalid, because long before the coming of Christianity mankind believed in a life after death and therefore had no need of the Easter event as a guarantee of immortality. The danger that a mythology understood too literally, and as taught by the Church, will suddenly be repudiated lock, stock and barrel is today greater than ever. Is it not time that the Christian mythology, instead of being wiped out, was understood symbolically for once?" - The Undiscovered Self

      It seems Jung wanted to be the savior of Christianity and Western Civilization by convincing Christians our Savior was only a metaphor and therefore impervious to the inquisition of science. Science can't disprove Jesus' existence if we reject his existence first! Now that is some 4D chess.

      Sounds like a powerful foundation for meaning and purpose to me! I wonder why that didn't catch on? Lol

    3. "...because long before the coming of Christianity mankind believed in a life after death..."

      Jung is playing with words here. Believing in life after death and actually seeing the formally dead person up and about, walking around and eating solid food, are two very different things.

      It isn't like it took the Enlightenment for man to figure out that dead people couldn't walk out of the grave. Jesus's disciples knew this, as did the earliest Jews to whom Peter preached in Acts as did the earliest Christian Patriarchs.

  3. I am someone who, for 55 years, has not believed in supernatural entities. Yet,I am a strongly anti-totalitarian, and I have plenty of meaning in my life.

    1. "I have plenty of meaning in my life"

      I don't doubt that you do, but if you were a Christian, you'd have so much more.

      "I am a strongly anti-totalitarian"

      Rothbard and Mises were both agnostic, and Hoppe still is to my knowledge, so it is not impossible. For average folks, however, a lack of faith in Christ, a power and a Law above mankind, makes one much more susceptible to the Law of Man, Democracy, and tyrannical justifications of 'equality', 'efficiency' and 'progress'.

      If we are creatures created by a Creator, it stands to reason we have an objective nature to fulfill the purpose of our Creator. Our actions are subject to a natural law written in our hearts (the Golden Rule) by our Author. Therefore, we have purpose and a law to help guide us there. If we are Christian, we have also been given sacred revelation (detailing both duties and prohibitions) and a living example of perfection, who gave His life to save the rest of us. Reason, Revelation, and Resurrection, all point to the same truth and the same way of life.

      I think it is an incomparably strong foundation for meaning and goodness in one's life. It is much stronger than a utilitarian recognition that life is more pleasant in a world devoid of tyranny.

    2. In between the meaning found in beatitudo and the meaning found by totalitarians, one can find a wide range of ends that are believed to offer meaning - many of which are rather harmless to others.

      But there is only one highest end.

  4. I think you are correct about Jordan Peterson. I do not think he is consciously a force for good, but God can use people, even bad people, and ideas, even bad ideas, to serve His purposes.

    Jordan Peterson may have been very successful at getting a lot of young men and perhaps some women to join the faith of Christ, but I do not think this was ever his intent. He is a disciple of Carl Jung, and probably has similar thoughts on religion, i.e. the individual needs religion for meaning, but non of the existing ones will do; it needs to be new.

    1. "I do not think this was ever his intent."

      I agree.