Tuesday, July 23, 2019

An Interesting Conversation

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.


  1. "... 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."

    Really? Sure it is not about rescuing Lot and relatives?

    Which God did Israel wrestle with and about what? It makes all the difference.

  2. "If you collapse reason you end up with theocracy...."

    Wrong! You end up with an unbiblical theocracy.

    There are no vacuums when it comes to legislated morality or, more often than not, immorality. And a government's moral standard dictates the god it serves.

    Thus, there are likewise no vacuums when it comes to religious-influenced government, be it even Secular Humanism in it's multifarious forms, and it usually is (including Judaism, aka Talmudism, not to be confused with Old Testament Hebrewism). In other words, the separation of religion and state is myth, created by those who want only their religion to influence government and society.

    When one understands that idolatry is not so much about statues as it is statutes, it becomes clear that all governments are theocratic, serving either the true God or some false god, demonstrated by what laws they keep and consider the supreme law of the land.

    Question: Were the governments in the Old Testament under the god Baal (or any other false god named in the Old Testament) theocracies?
    Answer: Of course, they were.

    Question: Was Baal (or any other god named in the Bible) real or were they merely ancient forms of We the People?
    Answer: Merely ancient forms of We the People. See 1 Corinthians 8:4-6.


    "...There is no escaping theocracy. A government’s laws reflect its morality, and the source of that morality (or, more often than not, immorality) is its god. It is never a question of theocracy or no theocracy, but whose theocracy. The American people, by way of their elected officials, are the source of the Constitutional Republic’s laws. Therefore, the Constitutional Republic’s god is WE THE PEOPLE.

    "People recoil at the idea of a theocracy’s morality being forced upon them, but because all governments are theocracies, someone’s morality is always being enforced. This is an inevitability of government. The question is which god, theocracy, laws, and morality will we choose to live under?..."

    For more, Google online Chapter 3 "The Preamble: WE THE PEOPLE vs. YAHWEH" of "Bible Law vs. the United States Constitution: The Christian Perspective."

  3. "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."

    Since you quote C.S Lewis in this post, it might be worth mentioning that he was greatly concerned about the role of "imagination" as providing "reason" with the feedstock with which to work upon. It was the interplay between THOSE spheres that led him to religion (as compared to the interplay between reason and religion that you posit). The loss of our faculty of imagination in modern society was of great concern to Lewis. There is a great podcast series on Lewis available for free by Hillsdale College (university?) that explores these various spheres quite well.

    1. I posited that reason and religion lead to liberty, I did not posit that these lead to religion.

    2. Understood. I should have been more clear. I was referring only to the personal path taken by C.S. Lewis in exploring and eventually embracing his own Christian faith. For him, reasoning alone was not a sufficient foundation to justify religious belief, and the element of imagination was critical in allowing him to explore the ideas inherent in Christianity. Lewis felt that imagination was foundational for the operation of reason, both of which were needed by philosophers in the pursuit of truth. If Liberty depends on reason and religion, then getting people to embrace religion depended (for Lewis personally), in large part, on both reason and imagination.

      I am just beginning to explore this topic myself, so I will disclaim any authoritative view. But this topic dovetails very nicely with your next posting about the Screwtape Letters, and the interplay between reasoning based solely on the material world vs reasoning that takes into account philosophical (metaphysical) realms.

      Again, I would commend the Hillsdale podcast series which is basically a very short Masters level study of C.S. Lewis in 9 lectures by some highly knowledgeable PhD's in disciplines other than scientism. Here is a link to that series. https://online.hillsdale.edu/courses/cslewis/home/schedule

      Thank you for your own work in broadening the discussion of libertarian concepts to include these larger ideas.

  4. “If you collapse reason you end up with theocracy; if you collapse religion, you end up with nihilism.”--Bionic Mosquito

    Why is this true? My thought on this is that everyone has a religion, from theocrats all the way to nihilists. If you collapse reason, you are far more likely to end up with nihilism than you are with theocracy.

    For example, nihilism is a belief that nothing works, that traditional values, ethics, and morals are flawed and cannot be corrected. It is a belief that destruction solely for the sake of destruction is a valid exercise. What believers in this doctrine seek to accomplish out of their destruction is beyond me, since, as soon as they start to build something new and good, nihilism would dictate that it be destroyed. As a religion, nihilism, consistently adhered to, is completely hopeless. There is no reason in nihilism.

    Theocracy, on the other hand, offers hope. God rules! I am a theocrat. I believe that I am subject to His Law and Rule and that everything which I say, do, and think, consistent or inconsistent with that rule has consequences in my life in one way or another—sooner or later. I have arrived at this position through decades of searching for spiritual truth and applying reason.

    However, I am also a libertarian and, as such, realize that I do not have the religious authority to impose my theocracy on anyone else nor does anyone else have the authority to impose their religion on me. I am here because of decades of thinking for myself, arguing with other people, deciding what is good and discarding what is bad. As a libertarian, reason is what enables me to decide what is consistent with my beliefs (theocracy) and what is not. The search for truth compels me to keep what is consistent and to discard what is not.

    My reason and my faith do not have to be at odds. In fact, they complement each other and work together. The problem is that most people, on hearing the term “theocracy” immediately imagine a person or group of persons, speaking for God, who want to impose a certain religion on everyone else through a political system, either established or revolutionary. There are examples.

    1. Modern Islamic countries in which it is mandated by law that you will worship Allah and only Allah.
    2. The Puritan experiment in early New England America in which religious practice was ordered and enforced.
    3. The “divine right of kings” in England. Cross this boundary and you might find yourself in the Tower of London passing time until your head was lifted from your shoulders.
    4. The Catholic Inquisition of Portugal.
    5. Pat Robertson. “God told me to run for President.”

    Today, it’s more inclined to be political rather than overtly religious, but the concept is the same. Liberalism, conservatism, communism, fascism, environmentalism, progressiveism, even libertarianism can be considered religions, with the highest values of each doctrine elevated to the heights of “And God said...” If you have found what gets any individual worked up into a lather of emotion, over and over again, then you have probably found their religion and god. However, any of these persons would probably be able to explain their religion by way of reason. Perhaps unreasonable reason, but reason nonetheless.

    1. Roger, my point was about this concept of "balance." I don't see, like, or value the idea of balance when considering reason and religion. Both must be maximized, and in doing so, both very much complement each other - and can lead to and sustain liberty.

  5. Well, I can see now what you were driving at. Thanks for the explanation. I had a sense of disconnect between your statement above and the next post, Argumentation, in which it seemed to me that you were arguing for the opposite. Maybe I should have paid more attention to my gut.

    In this, I will admit to guilt and pay the fine, without confessing any wrongdoing. My apologies.

    1. Roger, no need to apologize. I can see how what I wrote could easily be understood as you did; I was not very clear about that which I had been recently thinking about.

  6. Bionic (quoting Shapiro) said: "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."

    I would disagree with Shapiro and agree with Bionic. Did not God give Man his reason? If so, would He not expect us to use it? Bionic quotes Shapiro approaching this point when he says: "... This is an example where reason and revelation can perfectly co-exist ..."

    Bionic said: "Shapiro notes that 'Israel' means 'struggles with God'."

    Maybe another way this can be interpreted is the idea making an effort ~towards~ God. I myself am often not as diligent as I should be in my prayers, that is, I don't always pray enough to receive a definitive answer. Perhaps God requires a certain amount of effort on our part to in order to bless us. Perhaps we need to show Him whether or not we are serious before He answers us. After all, when God speaks, we become responsible for the information we receive.