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General News    H3'ed 11/17/22

An Essay Review of "Myth and Meaning in Jordan Peterson: Christian Perspective

Message Herbert Calhoun
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An Essay Review of the book "Myth and Meaning in Jordan Peterson: A Christian Perspective," edited by Ron Dart

Whether these authors, or Jordan Peterson (JBP) himself, admit it, JBP is a complex, tormented man. We can almost feel what he is thinking by simply reading the contortions on his face. Unfortunately, like the rest of us, he too is "Freudian transparent." Observing his face on u-tube reminds one of the inside joke psychotherapists like him purportedly tell each other: "Sometimes even a bus driver needs to take a bus trip."

According to these ten Christian-friendly authors, who set as their main objective trying to understand what makes JBP tick. They discovered that what agitates and angers him most, is the paradoxical chaos of the Western world and the culturally disorienting effect it seems to have on his mostly white male patients.

This chaos did not sit well with JBP. Nor should it have.

And while, just as this book claims, he may indeed have a genuine concern for his patients, by the book's end, the answers to how, and why this chaos may have come about, still remained deeply contested territory.

The consensus among these authors, is that the chaos that angers JBP, is due almost entirely to a rather mysterious, but overpowering hypothetical force. One that appears as the connective tissue that holds the subtext of these essays together. However, by design it never rears its ugly head above the waterline as a respectable intellectual argument. That mysterious hidden force, has a multi component name: the post modern, feminized, atheistic neo-Marxist scourge.

As the story unfolds, this "all-purpose straw man" is depicted as the last remnant of the Cold War. Having anticipated their own demise, the old Communists apparaciks, disguised and reinvented themselves as post modern literary theorists. Then, under this new guise, they burrowed themselves deep inside western universities, where they proceeded to infect innocent young minds, with, among many other things, "grievance politics."

How did the authors get from the Cold War to grievance politics in one fell swoop?

These essayists tell us that post modern theory claims that there is no "politics of reason," only "politics of opinion." And that literary texts, being the source of their own destruction, as well as that of their authors, renders one text just as good as the next. It is not difficult to see why a group of Christians scholars might gag at the implications of this thought when applied to the Bible.

They conclude from this that it is post modern reasoning and theorizing that has opened the floodgates to the grand proposition that all politics and all narratives are about wielding power. And since the already rich and powerful will simply continue to do what they already do best: use politics to enhance their power. Increasingly we live in an "every man for himself" zero-sum, power-maximizing, rich vs poor, world.

They also admit that it is reasoning like this, that made the post modern neo-Marxists champions of many social causes and programs, like ending unemployment, rebuilding unions, ending inequality, ending social oppression, and teaching the poor how to mobilize and deploy identity politics as a way of maximizing their power against the rich and powerful.

That, according to this book of essays, is how we got from the Cold War to grievance politics.

The authors' counterpoint to their own straw man neo-Marxist challenge, is to have those disoriented by the chaos, rediscover and reconsider the deep well of treasures that we have inherited from the Western Judeo-Christian tradition. Somehow, the memory of these treasures has been erased from our universities and schools, and thus from our memories. We no longer teach civics or history and are left to make do with the post modern Marxist playbook of "staged grievances."

That is the gist of their counter argument. It is a strong argument as far as it goes. However it does not go far and does not answer the most urgent question: Why cede the entire Western social infrastructure to the neo-Marxist boogeyman? Does that not suggest that we don't care about the social programs the supposed neo-Marxists use against us? It is a counterfeit argument anyway you view it.

The idea that the chaos has no cause other than "the commies did it," simply does not pass the laugh test.

For instance, could the chaos possibly have grown organically out of the same Judeo-Christian Western values that holds all our treasures? Why was that not the first possibility to be considered as its cause? After all, when democracy is in action, it often looks suspiciously like chaos.

Plus, if the source of the chaos is organic to the Western way of life, then there is no need to hypothesize an external factor. For, in a fully functioning democracy, we can be sure that the pendulum will flow from left to right, and back again. In which case, all we need do is trust the system and have patience. There is no need for a neo-Marxist boogeyman.

In fact, the fatal weakness of the book is that while it makes a strong case for revisiting our Western values, it does so only by insinuating the strangest of exogenous variables: the neo-Marxist conspiracy that runs parallel in the subtext of the essays. Even if there were facts to back it up (and there are none), it is still a demeaning and insulting intellectual argument to effectively off-load all of the important social programs to neo-Marxists machinations.

That they insinuate rather than argue (thereby failing to face straight up, the fake demon they created), hints to engagement in a less than honorable intellectual endeavor. Which is gratuitous in any case, since the arguments they make for adding back what has been siphoned off from Western Civilization, can be made without introducing the neo-Marxist demon as a prop.

There is no reason to hide from the possibility that the chaos we see indeed may have been primarily home-grown. After all our Western way of life is designed to get messy at times. In the US, it was only a decade ago that foreign terrorist were our number one problem. Now the FBI tells us that it is domestic, rather than foreign terrorists. And certainly not neo-Marxists.

There are of course others hypotheses that may have been fruitfully explored about how we may have arrived at societal chaos other than one rooted in a neo-Marxist conspiracy theory, a theory so embarrassing that it had to be tucked away in the subtext of the book.

If we are to overcome the chaos, it is important for Western Civilization's sake, that we know its true causes. My readings suggest that there are many causes, and that neo-Marxism simply is not one of them.

One genre, for instance is best represented by the ideas of another Canadian, John Ralston Saul's belief that we arrived at the chaos via the stifling grip of the "corporatist" over-structure that serves the needs of technocrats as it promotes the segmentation of society into competing interest groups and ethnic blocs.

There are many theorists and pundits that share Saul's point of view that corporate greed and conscious manipulation for more profits may be responsible for the grievance politics as well as for the chaos we see. Nowhere do any of these theorists mention neo-Marxism as playing a role in the chaos.

Another in this genre is Chris Hedges' view that the chaos is due to the evangelical-military-prison-pharmaceutical industrial complex. Together with globalization, he sees these twin evils as having sucked the life out of the Western middle classes, leaving us prostrate, in despair, and alone to fend for ourselves against the rich and powerful.

Hedges, a Harvard Seminary graduate, who walks and talks his values rather than wearing them on his sleeves, also believes that we have been ripped away from the printed page and hurled out into an alien social media space as fodder for the new data-mining industry, social media moguls and hedge funds billionaires.

Torn away from the printed page, we are thus left unmoored out in a sea devoid of values or connections; reduced to empty facebook postings, and rantings on the tweetersphere. With TVs, Play stations, Tik Tok, no books, and with all social programs now being turned into for profit businesses, why indeed do we need another Communist boogeyman as an assigned scapegoat?

Saul's and Hedge's views as a minimum should have been mentioned as possible alternative explanations for the chaos.

In the chapter on free speech, JBP makes no bones about how to get around cramped free speech. His answer: get onto the "dark intellectual web" as quickly as you can. Really?

That suggestion disappointed me. For if there is a greater threat to the Western way of life, or to the exercise of free speech than the "dark intellectual web," then I do not know exactly what it could be. Is it true that JBP is seeking to establish his own site on the intellectual dark web? I refuse to believe it until I see it.

But more than this, these ten authors betrayed any true interest in getting a handle on the chaos when they turned their essays into a right vs left verbal brawl, using the neo-Marxist nonsense as foil for their arguments. Always defending the right side and condemning the left, simply is unbecoming to our democratic form of debate, and our Western intellectual values.

Surely they must know that the threat of Fascism coming from the right are much more potent and proximate to the halls of Western powers than any coming from their mostly fictionalized account of the neo-Marxist's threat from the left. The evidence can be found almost everywhere, from the US, to France, to Hungary, to Poland and Italy.

And too, how else could they have missed the chaotic effects of such interferences in the Western way of life as that of globalization, privatization, empire-building, over incarceration, fighting the war on drugs and wars of choice, as well as the global failure to deal with the climate crisis, if not by viewing them only through rightwing-tinted lenses?

I would be remiss not to mention another animating factor in JBP's concerns about the chaos descending upon Western societies. It too was sidestepped in these essays.

This, in my view is the real elephant in the room. It too harks back to JBP's u-tube demeanor. JBP sheds tears only when the pain and despair of white males are called to his attention. His tears are themselves a kind of special-pleading on behalf of the white male hero system. Observing him at a distance, there seems to be no other universe of humanity deserving of his tears and overt sympathy.

Should there be shame in making the connection between white manhood (the Alpha male white hero system to put it in Ernest Becker's terms) and the success of the Western experiment. No, there should not. I get that. And I am okay with that.

JBP played fair and worked hard for everything he has earned. He is entitled to enjoy it anxiety free. He is a genuine Alpha male white hero.

I feel the same way about myself. However, when I am completely honest. Whenever I am made conscious of trading on my black male privilege, it sadden me. I do not want my self-esteem and self-worth hooked up to such a vile and dehumanizing train. I don't want the kind of world that gives out unearned perks at birth.

My self-worth and peace of mind is worth a great deal more than whatever accrues to me passively for just being male. I want the right to refuse to ride that train. And that is what my Western values have taught me. I may not get to the top of the totem pole as JBP has done, but I want every step I have earned to count, and be anxiety-free. You can keep the unearned perks. I am better off without them.

Where I draw the line is when any model of heroism goes completely uncritiqued. One cannot take all the credit for one's heroism and none of the blame. That alone makes any system of heroism a flawed system that cannot grow.

For the better part of 700 years, the Alpha white male hero system has stood uncritiqued and unchallenged, as it has ruled supreme in the West. It is also not an exaggeration to say that it has stood the test of time. But remember that the Arabs had it for the 600 years before that. There is a lesson in how they lost it too. Plus, the test is never over. When there is stasis, entropy sets in and then takes over. In which case there is no need for a boogeyman. Maintenance of the system is always due. Just as is true as with our autos.

If JBP were an American we would say he is a "hick" from the heartland, of modest means but of exceptional intelligence. After playing around a bit, he finally got down to business. And when he did, he didn't stop until he had not just eked out a living for himself and his family, but also had become a card carrying member of the Alpha male white hero system (in the Ernest Becker sense), and in the process, became a renowned cultural icon and spokesman for that point of view.

This is no mean achievement. I have seen his lectures. They are first-rate in every respect. I rated his book "Maps of Meaning" as 100 stars. I have seen nothing like it since Ernest Becker's three books. I also recognized his "12 Rules" to be a distillation of "Maps," perhaps targeted at those readers who did not find the intellectual rigor of "Maps" all that enjoyable. The amount of work that went into "Maps," is simply unimaginable.

JBP is a model of the West's best white male values of rugged individualism, intelligence, hard work and diligence. Against great odds he successfully climbed to the top of the Western totem pole. JBP deserves to be at the top of the Alpha white male totem, anxiety free. He has earned it. This needs to be said. Amen.

And then " once he arrived at the top, it was impossible not to notice that the pole itself was being dismantled and wrapped-up, right from under his feet, brick-by-brick. If I were an Alpha male white hero this would make me want to cry too.

That, plus all the sicknesses he and his family have endured, who could be so obdurate as not to have sympathies for this hero of Western culture?

Not me.

Becker's Alpha male white hero system, as embodied perfectly in white Christian paternalism, is "the Western cultural way." There is no way to deny this. It is being toppled from its throne seemingly without rhyme or reason. It is also this senseless toppling that animates JBP's mind. And that, more than anything else, defines the chaos he and these authors see.

Thus, to JBP, it must be a curious paradox that the destroyers of the totem, the creators of the chaos, are using to topple it, the very same values they were taught by it. Should we not be asking ourselves: Why would the prodigy of the Western cultural way, ever want to destroy it? Is that not the real question that deserves an answer?

The worn out neo-Marxist trope dishonors this vital question.

Although the last part of the book is ostensibly about applying the myths and allegories of the Bible as a way to recover the ground Western Civilization has lost. And even though I am, by default an atheist since the age of seven (after an aborted baptism), I have always subscribed to JBP's religious formulation: live as if God existed, and as if the Bible is mythically true rather than literally true.

The American Christian church is its own worse enemy, and the continual turn away from it in droves is its own best internal metric of spiritual unhealthiness. No wonder they need the neo-Marxist straw man to offset the disgraceful support they showed for a man who has no values, is demonstrably vile and evil, no character, does not believe in god or anything else other than money and himself. Yet, Evangelicals supported him at the 81% level. Those Christians who supported him, by definition can only be as empty as DJT. There is a place in hell reserved for them. He was and still is their hero.

Is it irony or just fate that he too arrived at the top of the Alpha Male White totem pole at the same time as JBP? Three stars.

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Retired Foreign Service Officer and past Manager of Political and Military Affairs at the US Department of State. For a brief time an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Denver and the University of Washington at (more...)
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