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Peterson's Account of Evolutionary Psychology Is Brilliant (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) January 27, 2018: My favorite scholar is the American Jesuit polymath Walter J. Ong (1912-2003; Ph.D. in English, Harvard University, 1955). Now, in the American Catholic subculture in the United States, it is customary to address celibate priests with the honorific title "Father" -- for example, Father Ong. In certain other cultures around the world, the honorific term "Father" is also used to address specific men. Whether or not celibate priests always live up to this honorific title, they are supposed to stand as father figures to the faithful. In our Western tradition of philosophic thought, Aristotle as a real father famously wrote a treatise on ethics for his real son -- after whose name the treatise is now known as the Nicomachean Ethics (University of Chicago Press, 2011).

In his new book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Toronto: Random House Canada, 2018), the Canadian psychology professor at the University of Toronto and practicing psychotherapist Jordan B. Peterson presents himself as a father figure on a mission to instruct and enlighten perplexed young men who have grown up under the influence of the verbal ventilation of feminists against the so-called "patriarchy" (etymologically, this word refers to fathers) -- just as the men's movement of the 1990s attempted to reach out to perplexed young men. His writing style is chatty and meandering, but your guess is as good as mine as to how many perplexed young men are willing to read the 370 pages of his chatty and meandering text. But at least he is fighting the good fight against feminist zealotry -- just as Paglia has in recent decades.

But so-called second-wave feminists and later feminists have excelled in denouncing the so-called "patriarchy" (i.e., father figures) in Western culture. Nevertheless, Father Ong tried to the best of his ability to alert feminists about the male agonistic (contesting) spirit in his book Fighting for Life: Contest, Sexuality, and Consciousness (Cornell University Press, 1981), the published version of his 1979 Messenger Lectures at Cornell University -- but to little avail. Despite Father Ong's best efforts, feminists of both the female and the male varieties have verbally ventilated against the so-called "patriarchy" for decades now.

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Ong imagined his 1981 book to be a non-materialist's contribution to sociobiology as pioneered by the philosophical materialist E. O. Wilson (1975). Even though Plato and Aristotle lived centuries before Darwin and others, including Wilson, formulated evolutionary theory, Plato and Aristotle understood that we humans are basically animals, but with a significant difference -- we have human reason to direct our animal tendencies -- later known as our concupiscible and irascible tendencies. In the Phaedrus, Plato uses the famous imagery of a charioteer directing two powerful horses pulling the chariot/body. The two powerful horses represent the strong animal spirits known as our concupiscible and irascible tendencies. Both Plato and Aristotle use the Greek term transliterated as "thumos" (or "thymos") to refer to our animal spirit known as our irascible tendencies. But in Ong's 1981 book, he does not happen to advert explicitly to Plato's or Aristotle's discussion of "thumos" (or "thymos"). Nevertheless, what Ong refers to as the male agonistic (contesting) spirit is a manifestation of what Plato and Aristotle refer to as "thumos" (or "thymos").

Now, in general, Plato and Aristotle and certain other ancient Greek thinkers thought of virtue as the mean between extremes. Courage is the virtue that our animal spirit of "thumos" (or "thymos") needs to become a pro-social force for fighting the good fight. The virtue of courage represents the mean between the extremes of pusillanimity and brashness. In today's parlance, the virtue of courage represents proper assertiveness -- not the extremes of non-assertiveness (passivity) and hostile assertiveness.

For Aristotle's discussion of "thumos" (or "thymos") in the political arena, see Barbara Koziak's book Retrieving Political Emotion: Thumos , Aristotle, and Gender (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000).

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By the 1990s, certain men such as the American poet Robert Bly and the Jungian psychotherapist and theorist Robert Moore were concerned enough about the feminists' verbal ventilation against so-called "patriarchy" that they attempted to start a men's movement. With Douglas Gillette as co-author, Moore published five important books about the archetypes of the mature masculine (1990, 1992a, 1992b, 1993a, 1993b). But the efforts of the men's movement were of little avail against the verbal ventilation of the feminists against the so-called "patriarchy."

In the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, I should also give Camille Paglia credit for her spirited critique of feminist zealotry in her book Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (Yale University Press, 1990) -- but to little avail. No doubt the scholarly acumen that Paglia manifests in her book is impressive. However, her book is also sui generis. Not even Paglia herself has published a follow-up volume. But she has continued to inveigh incisively against feminist zealotry.

Because Paglia's 1990 book is the revised version of her doctoral dissertation in English at Yale University, I would point out that Ong's massively researched doctoral dissertation in English at Harvard University was published, slightly revised as the book Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue: From the Art of Discourse to the Art of Reason (Harvard University Press, 1958). Like Paglia, Ong subsequently never published such a thoroughly researched book. Incidentally, Peterson's first book Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief (Routledge, 1999) is thoroughly researched.

In Ong's 1981 book Fighting for Life: Contest, Sexuality, and Consciousness, he discusses (pages 18-19, 25, 92, 100, 111, 115, and 148) the Jungian Israeli psychoanalyst Erich Neumann's book The Origins and History of Consciousness (1954). In Paglia's 1990 book Sexual Personae, she discusses (pages 42, 43, 47, 52, 88, 93, and 380) Neumann's books The Origins and History of Consciousness (1954) and The Great Mother (1955). In Peterson's new book, he also discusses (pages 323; 374, note 37; 387, notes 203 and 204) Neumann's two most widely known books). In addition, Peterson discusses (pages 59-60, 180, 185, 188, 189, 193, 195, 198-199, 215, 288, 289-290, and 323) Jung extensively. In the endnotes, Peterson provides bibliographic references to Jung's publications only twice (page 381, notes 134 and 139). However, in Peterson's 1999 book Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief, mentioned above, he refers to 15 of Jung's specific publications (page 507).

Just as feminist zealotry is the predominant ideology of the Democratic Party in its zealotry for identity politics, so too anti-abortion zealotry is the predominant ideology of social conservatives in the Republican Party -- which also includes economic libertarians. Feminist zealotry has been reinvigorated recently by the Harvey Weinstein affair and related down-sizing of certain other male sexual predators -- but not of President Trump, the playboy sexual predator.

However, President Trump has also been criticized for being an agent of chaos, and Peterson claims that he has formulated 12 rules for life as an antidote to chaos -- Trump. So with Trump's chaos dominating news cycles, Peterson may get a hearing for his 12 rules.

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With our ego-consciousness, we strive to establish order in our lives. But chaos can overcome us. When chaos disrupts our lives, we usually experience abandonment feelings. Our efforts to resolve our abandonment feelings aim to restore our sense of order in our lives. Because Trump's chaos disturbs many Americans, those Americans need to work to restore their sense of order in their lives.

Nevertheless, the Americans who voted for Trump saw him favorably as a disrupter of the establishment order. Thus, even for Trump voters, Peterson's contrast of chaos and order can work to characterize what they saw in him that enabled them to vote for him.

Put differently, the 2016 presidential election featured an electoral contest between two competing predominant orders, and similarly, between two competing senses of chaos.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)
 

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