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Why Tell the Truth: An Introduction to the Basic Ideas of Jordan B. Peterson 
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Post Why Tell the Truth: An Introduction to the Basic Ideas of Jordan B. Peterson
I've been following Jordan B. Peterson for almost three years now. Unfortunately for me, I'm on the left side of the liberal scale, which means that most of my friends are progressives, and I've taken a lot of flak for discussing his ideas. Consequently, I have written a book to introduce his basic intellectual framework to the average person. This book is the thing I'll point to now when my friends say he's incoherent or just a self-help guru.

My aim with this book was to give the basic tenets of Peterson's intellectual framework, enabling someone to just drop in on any of his lectures, interviews, etc., and to understand basically where he is coming from. I follow his ideas beginning with his pragmatic notion of truth, on to his conception of ideas and beliefs being embodied before they're abstracted into articulated speech, then on to his functional definitions of the concept of God, then to order/chaos, and, finally, into how his political positions flow from the overall conceptual scheme outlined before.

This book is for someone wanting to understand how Peterson's ideas fit together into a basic, coherent framework. It’s based on an essay I wrote, shared by Peterson himself, that introduces Peterson’s thought in a briefer form. So you can bet that I offer a faithful translation of his work. I hope you might give it a look and share it with others who might benefit.


Buy the Paperback Edition:
https://www.amazon.com/dp/1718037651

Buy the eBook Edition:
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07KCPFYG8



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Mon Nov 12, 2018 11:01 pm
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Post Re: Why Tell the Truth: An Introduction to the Basic Ideas of Jordan B. Peterson
Well, I won't be buying the book anytime soon (sorry) but if you have time to stay around and engage, I think he has some interesting things to say. Maybe you want to explain your take on them.



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Post Re: Why Tell the Truth: An Introduction to the Basic Ideas of Jordan B. Peterson
I would be more than happy to have a good faith conversation about his ideas!



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Post Re: Why Tell the Truth: An Introduction to the Basic Ideas of Jordan B. Peterson
Hi Tylor, thanks for stopping by. I read some of Peterson's bestselling book and like him. I see your essay is at http://cultureandvalue.com/why-tell-the ... -peterson/ so I will read it. Noting your bio "After studying philosophy at Anderson University, Tylor has been working on a theory of theological language that will express the meanings of religious statements to secular people. He has found the works of Edmund Husserl, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Kenneth Burke, Jordan Peterson, and Hannah Arendt, among others, to be significant in this pursuit." My MA thesis was on Ethics and Heidegger, and I am particularly interested in your theological language agenda. I have not heard of Kenneth Burke, but have high regard for the others you mention.


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Post Re: Why Tell the Truth: An Introduction to the Basic Ideas of Jordan B. Peterson
Hey Robert!

Heidegger and ethics is a fascinating topic. The professor I studied under actually did his thesis on Heidegger as well (on the "call to conscience"). Kenneth Burke is probably one of the greatest and most original minds that America has produced. I highly recommend Permanence and Change. He's a Nietzschean, in the best sense, a pragmatist, and a literary critique. He focuses his writing on language, so you can see how our projects would intersect. He's for some reason mostly unknown among philosophers, but I imagine that will change soon, given the turn to language in our culture.

Please let me know what you think of the essay. My book is actually based on that (and Peterson shared the essay on his Twitter back in April).

I appreciate the comment and look forward to hearing back from you!



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Post Re: Why Tell the Truth: An Introduction to the Basic Ideas of Jordan B. Peterson
Hi Tylor,

Thanks to Robert's intrepid sleuthing, I have your essay to read. So far, so good. I'm a few pages in.

I thought I would introduce myself a bit. First, I know Anderson University very well. I met my wife there, and was briefly John Pistole's debate partner. His wife and my wife were roommates for a year, or part of a year anyway, in South America. Needless to say he would not know me by the name Harry Marks, but he would know which debater married an ex-roommate of his wife.

Was Fred Shively there when you were there? I am a great admirer of Fred.

I come at this set of ideas from a couple of fairly specific perspectives. I am a devoted follower of Kierkegaard and I think Martin Buber put his finger on the key to the whole puzzle of morality and ethics, and by extension, spirituality and religion. They are, to my mind, the indispensable touchpoints for understanding what religion is and what it should be. I am myself religious, though very progressive in theology.

The first of my somewhat unusual principles is that religion is understood by doing it, not by thinking about it. More to the point, our relationship to God is not about believing particular tenets (I have a feeling we will get along, if only because I am inevitably charmed by anyone who properly uses the term "tenets" as you did in your essay), but about engaging in particular practices and quests. So when I read about, say, Religious Studies classes in Britain in which students are taught "Hindus believe X and Muslims believe Y and Christians believe Z", I shudder, because I believe that the students are being given a sort of inoculation against faith, and a misleading introduction to each of them in turn. My perspective on this seems not altogether rare - apparently Karen Armstrong has proposed it, for example.

Second, I am a communitarian, to my bones. Fred Shively, in fact, introduced me to the idea that faith is not just about a "vertical" relation between self and God, but also about a "horizontal" relationship between self and others, and now I would go on to say that our horizontal relationship is almost all we have of a vertical relationship.

I will no doubt have questions for you as I go through the essay (once again, thanks and kudos to Robert for finding it and giving the link - even if you would for obvious reasons prefer that we buy the book. It is not unthinkable that we might make it our Group Choice to discuss in the future, though we tend to read sort of popular stuff, including a Daniel Dennett recently). If we discuss profitably, you will probably have questions for me. So I thought it would be good if I gave you a little introduction to who I am.

A few more items. I have a Ph.D. in Economics, and tend to see things through an economist's perspective. Partly as a result, I tend to be skeptical of sociobiological arguments putting down human behavior to a result of evolutionary pressures. Not that there are no powerful evolutionary forces at work, but simply that plasticity is the ultimate characteristic evolution has given us, so I tend to see cultural pressures dominating biological pressures pretty much everywhere I look.

And finally, I have been much impressed recently by the followers of Rene Girard, the anthropologist of mimetic theory who also takes Christian faith seriously as a plunge into non-violent practice, and that is a second reason (besides skepticism of evolutionary determinism) for my dubious response to what I have heard of Jordan Peterson's work. Nevertheless, as a fan of Joseph Campbell and of Carl Jung, I am rather curious about Peterson and eager to hear what he has to say. So thank you for aiming for a clear-eyed presentation.



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Post Re: Why Tell the Truth: An Introduction to the Basic Ideas of Jordan B. Peterson
Hello Harry Marks,

I really appreciate your comments! I unfortunately did not attend any courses taught by Fred Shively (though I did have many friends who benefited from his pastoral and thoughtful interactions). I rather followed Dr. Reed very closely, under whom I read and discussed much Wittgenstein, D. Z. Phillips, Heidegger, Bultmann, Tillich, and a few process thinkers. I also really appreciated Overtstreet's developmental perspective on faith and Burnett's use of Eliade and Foucault in the religious studies course.

Like you, I also love Kierkegaard and Buber (I have actually been working through Between Man and Man by Buber and Kierkegaard's To Will One Thing for the past two weeks). I also understand the divine not by reference to intellectual assent to doctrines or consciously articulated beliefs, but through faith (Bultmann: the human situation, to speak of God is to speak of humankind, though the former can't be reduced to the latter, we only know of God through our being-in-the-world). I probably think more about theology than I do anything else, and most of my theological thinking centers around the question of the meaning of the concept of God. I wouldn't say I'm religious, but, like Wittgenstein, I have a deep respect for religious belief and I want to understand it (and, I imagine, I am a Christian thinker to the extent that Christianity has set the metaphysical and ethical scene for the West, though I think the West is changing rapidly and will perhaps within a century or so move beyond its present lexicons; who knows?).

Perhaps I am not as communitarian as you. I wrote an essay on the truth conditions of theological statements last year where I deal with the question of the Other in theological discourse (I will probably edit it and publish it on Culture & Value within the next few days, if only because of this conversation). There are many who pursue practice or principles for their own sake (I moved out to the PNW, to Seattle, and have noticed how empty the notion of community has become). I am with Kierkegaard here (as he writes in On the Present Age) when he says that much of our relating to each other today is mere form without content (this is perhaps too interesting to detail presently). I'm not sure I am sympathetic with the horizontal/vertical language in theology either; I'm rather, also, with Buber here in the sense that it does not matter if you substitute the object of faith from an idol to God, from a belief to a relation, if your disposition toward God or the other is of the same nature as it was toward the idol or belief, then you still will not live by faith or encounter God (if you treat God as an It, for instance).

I appreciate your introduction. I think we will find we have much more in common than not. I'm looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts! (And I think you'll see that Peterson takes after the best of Campbell and Jung.)



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Post Re: Why Tell the Truth: An Introduction to the Basic Ideas of Jordan B. Peterson
In the section entitled "The Life that Justifies Suffering," you say

Quote:
The idea of the sacred itself is functionally, for Peterson, about the essential nature of existence. What we believe about the divine throughout the centuries has been a projection of what we take the meaning of existence to be. One of the conclusions of Christianity is that if we act towards the divine as if it’s nothing but good, then it is more likely to be true in the world. This takes both courage and faith: courage because it is not self-evident that suffering is ever overcome, and faith because it is possible that suffering may never, indeed, be overcome. But the idea of faith is that you make the case that being is good by acting that way, and to act as if being is good and play that out until the end.

I am wrestling with this, but find it insightful and worth wrestling with.

I like Peterson's distinction between "order" and "chaos" in terms of how we process situations neurologically. It may, for example, help to understand why religious conservatives find alternative sexual orientation to be threatening. The sudden shift into "fight or flight" that we have all experienced is a symbol for each of us of the threat of chaos, and we are inclined to project it on to categories of others if we are unable to feel a rational context that puts limits on our own emotionality.

Peterson says, in the quoted paragraph, that we project our sense of meaning onto the divine. I think this may be a little oversimplified. The divine as power, what we might call "pagan divinity" (although quite a bit about Yahweh in the Bible draws on this tap root), is more about a sense of order, IMO. The divine as meaning seems to have emerged in the Axial Age as a development within culture itself, as we began to be able to formulate questions about the meaning of virtue. He might argue that pagan religion saw power as the meaning of life, and certainly Nietzsche seems to argue (I have read very little Nietzsche, but his ideas keep popping up so I ended up hearing a lot second hand) that the Axial focus on virtue turned into a repudiation of the pagan ideal of power. But I think the pre-Axial pagan perspective had more in common with Peterson's arguments to the effect that some people have trouble engaging authentically (my re-wording) with suffering, and are fairly easily tipped into despair by deep or lasting suffering.

Then comes the zinger. "if we act as though the divine is nothing but good, then it is more likely to be true in the world." As a re-statement of a conclusion of Christianity, I find this to be close but unnecessarily instrumental. The goal of plunging headlong into commitment to the Kingdom is both inner shalom and transformation of the order of the world. The interplay is complex, but turning it into an instrumental pursuit, as in "be trusting so that the world will be more mutual" seems rather one-dimensional in the middle of that complexity.

It also, of course, leaves out totally the boundaries of "the divine" so that it is not clear whether we are supposed to be trusting of other people (forgiving seventy times seven times) or only of nature (which sometimes turns off the water spigot or shakes the earth).

I really like the conclusion that courage and faith are called for, and the argument that follows. Reminiscent of Reinhold Niebuhr, "nothing that is worth doing can be accomplished in one lifetime," etc.

My own take is slightly different. I tend to render the term "faith" in terms of "trust" rather than "belief" (while recognizing that they are closely related). When you (or Peterson?) say that you act as though being is good, thus making the case that being is good, this can all too easily be turned into "cheap trust" for those who have it easy, and thus more of an avoidance of suffering than a transcendence of it.

I would formulate a similar statement with the notion that we find meaning in choosing to do what is right, choosing to live for goals which are worthy, despite the reasons given by suffering to abandon such a commitment and go for the expedient instead. Again a neurological rendering (rather than an ontological rendering) is helpful - we get weary, we get discouraged, we find things feeling pointless, and suffering has a lot to do with those experiences. Faith, a choice to understand being as good, has everything to do with the "mental health" approach of focusing on the meaning and the goodness that we do find, but also with understanding our situation to have a certain amount of suffering built in so that we do not have unrealistic expectations of overcoming all that suffering by willpower and grit.

The key here is something Robert and I have worked on, with others, off and on over the last couple of years. When I used the phrase "the reasons given by suffering" we are into the territory of how meaning works. And, like consciousness, that is not easy to suss out.

My idea is that we use large interpretive structures (the kind Dennett would freely acknowledge AI is terrible at) to make sense of the flux of temporal events. We just finished going through Yuval Noah Harari's "Sapiens" and you may know that his recurring theme is that humans became what we are by being able to coordinate using abstraction. Using words, more or less. The idea that suffering can "give us reasons" to doubt whether life is good is an assertion that we have alternative interpretive structures in our head at the same time, and like some figure-ground illusion, we can see one structure come forward and thus force others to recede.

The conclusion of Job, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust him" is meant to be an assertion that, at bottom, there is no genuine alternative to seeing being as good, only fake perspectives that "take over our mind" when the suffering is too much.



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Post Re: Why Tell the Truth: An Introduction to the Basic Ideas of Jordan B. Peterson
Hey Harry,

So, I think the criticisms you point out are actually a flaw of the “basic introduction” method rather than of Peterson’s ideas themselves.

It is true that he would say he’s abstracting from “infinitely deep” stories and phenomena, and that he is in particular giving a “psychological interpretation” of them. This is the reason for the apparent underlying instrumentalism. But, with you, he would say it’s only the beginning, and that it does not encompass the entirety of what he intends to communicate but cannot (because of its infinite depth).

I would also caution that we don’t confuse the descriptive element Peterson offers and the normative element that is necessarily theological (and intrinsic to testimonies of faith). I appreciate how you say that, “The goal of plunging headlong into commitment to the Kingdom is both inner shalom and transformation of the order of the world.” Peterson would actually agree with this, and he defines the heroes in the stories of myth as those people who stand on the border between chaos and order and create a novel world out of the interplay between them. This makes his analysis, still, functional and descriptive. He does not give us theology, here or anywhere, and I think that is a good thing, because (in my opinion), to explain theology in terms that aren’t strictly theological (to, for instance, give a “meaning” to the concept of God that is entirely secular) is to make theology (and with it the grammar of faith and the normative force of doctrine and the inner life of faith) superfluous to the entire enterprise of religion. Peterson has been asked on multiple occasions whether he believes God exists, and his response is typically something like, “I act as if he does, and that’s all that matter.” Truly a pragmatist. But his refusal to confuse the descriptive (which is the answer he must give in public to make sense in our secular lexicon) with the normative here exactly right. If he gave a theological answers (such as “Jesus died and rose from the grave 3 days later and ascended to the right hand of the Father”) would only invite the opportunity for clarification, which is to say reduction, which is to say instrumentalism.

Lastly, I think you are actually right in line with Peterson when you talk about a priori frameworks for interpreting our experiences. “The idea that suffering can ‘give us reasons’ to doubt whether life is good is an assertion that we have alternative interpretive structures in our head at the same time, and like some figure-ground illusion, we can see one structure come forward and thus force others to recede.” Peterson is fixated on mythology because he thinks myths are the grammar of stories, and as such are the a priori frameworks by which we have set the terms for ethics and meaning in the West. He thinks looking back at myths to understand their structures is the antidote to the, what he perceives as, cultural and moral relativism of our time. He thinks this relativism is a consequence of nihilism (he gets from Nietzsche) and the absence of the arbiter of the meaning of life which science stripped away from our discourses when it abstracted affect from objects. He thinks that when people don’t have meaning in their lives then they take suffering to be making a case against being itself. This makes people resentful, and they want to get revenge against being. Peterson thinks this in part explains the mentality of mass murderers. Against your conclusion that, “there is no genuine alternative to seeing being as good, only fake perspectives that "take over our mind" when the suffering is too much,” Peterson would say there is, and these perspectives undermine our social, cultural, political, and existential spheres.

I appreciate your thoughts here. I think these are very significant ideas and extremely worthwhile to dwell on. There is much more to say, of course, but not enough time at the moment.

Also, I wanted to share this essay with you in case you’re interested. It’s something I wrote back in seminary when I was taking a course on the Reformation. It’s on the truth conditions of theological statements. I figured you’d find it interesting, as it fits right in with our conversation here, particularly it takes the stripping of affect from the world as a key to secular vocabulary (and as the opposite of the thrust of theological language):
http://cultureandvalue.com/might-we-sil ... tatements/


Thanks!



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Post Re: Why Tell the Truth: An Introduction to the Basic Ideas of Jordan B. Peterson
Rolling along in the essay, I find that Peterson wants to "ground the archetypes of the collective unconscious" in Darwinian (I will just say, sociobiological) principles. As a descriptive enterprise, I find that interesting. It might work, it might not. Not everything in our biology is adaptive, as Stephen Jay Gould was fond of pointing out - there are lots of "spandrels" that happen as a side effect of forces acting on other pieces of the mechanism, and lots of accidents and contingent paths.

But Peterson also explicitly rejects the idea that descriptive and prescriptive propositions should be kept separate, when he endorses the formulation that truth is whatever leads to better life ("serves life"). That approach goes all in on enmeshing the descriptive with the prescriptive, and since I am an economist, I am deeply skeptical of perspectives which endorse that enmeshing. In discourse, they usually can and usually should be separated. Like Harari, I think common discourse is the great mechanism of our humanity, and I would add that it is the most fitting goal. So while I recognize that ultimate disentangling is impossible, I think it is vital to reflect on the usefulness of making the effort and disentangling the parts that can be.

For some people, archetypes are sacred objects, to be given our worship. For me, they are social capital, created (albeit in right-brain processes of storytelling and mythmaking) and not necessarily fitted to the current situation. Suppose we deduce that former evolutionary pressures led to certain kinds of attractions ("I want a brave man, I want a cave man, Johnny show me that you care, really care for me") but that in the current environment, modified as it has been by human culture, such attractions are now counter-productive. If you are a worshiper of archetypes, the new environment is somehow false and desecrates the sacred. If you think archetypes are capital, then you set about building new structures.

This brings me to the section in which you address controversies about Peterson's positions. I must admit I do not see the reason for his fuss about C-16. (All I know about the law is what I read on Wikipedia). Laws against encouraging discrimination and against hate speech can be objected to. I see that this raises free speech issues. But since Peterson has already endorsed the idea that our limbic system is an important shaper of our thoughts and actions, in looking to myth and archetype for guidance, he's going to have trouble arguing that hate speech doesn't matter because people will process it rationally.

He has also endorsed "telling the truth." So this would seem to imply that for him, anti-LGBTQ speech is a species of truth. Given that he has endorsed Darwinian selection as a basis for interpreting what we are meant to do with ourselves, it's hard not to jump to the conclusion that he wants to judge gay people as a legitimate target for Darwinian reasons. I think it might have been good, if you were setting out to allow his ideas a full and fair hearing, if you had addressed these natural conclusions.

I presume he has something much more complex and sophisticated in mind. Some notion that "telling the truth" implies giving a full and fair hearing to even those who have jumped off the quest for overcoming suffering with meaning and chosen to avoid suffering rather than bear it. Presumably he wants proper respect for deep religious traditions, and is opposed, as I am, to silencing people who are trying to express their views about how to find human fulfillment. But I think if so he bears some responsibility to convey a reason why protecting gays from hate speech is different from banning the burning of witches. Because that is also a deeply rooted religious tradition, although one we have now given up.

Well, I don't want to jump to condemnation without even knowing what he really said. But I am having trouble drawing the lines between the high-sounding conceptual framework you explain for him and the somewhat odd position on C-16, as justifiable as it may be on straightforward free speech grounds. I see some potential when he argues that tradition is to be "negotiated with", rather than blindly respected, but there are still some missing steps to get to the point of defending hate speech.

Finally I want to squeeze in a little about post-modernism. It seems to me that his view is correct in seeing the radical relativism of post-modernism as akin to the Marxists, among whom it became routine to interpret people as "objective class enemies" for example (see Arthur Koestler) and, in many other ways, to impose a construction of reality that was really meant to serve the aims of manipulative people seeking power. However I think he is quite mistaken in seeing all those who follow identity politics, and LGBTQ defenders in particular, as radicalized fanatics who cannot be reasoned with, or as people turning to the state in a "power game" as a substitute for facing suffering.

Deconstruction, as a method, is very good at exposing the ways people misrepresent their "power games" as "truth". It is one of the fascinating aspects of humanity, one of the ways in which we are a monster, that we never seem to get excited about promoting "truth" that is opposed to our own interests. When most conservatives see Social Justice Warriors campaigning for justice, they tend to interpret this as a power game, because how else can they make sense of it when they are ruled by self-interest and have concluded that this is the right way to live? The idea that justice is actually good for all, and that the SJW's may be pursuing that goal in good faith, seems to be beyond the willingness of those conservatives to, as Arendt says, "imagine how I would feel and think if I were in their place."

That doesn't mean we need to accept extremism or intolerance or self-justification by liberals any more than we need to accept those from others. But to write off the whole perspective as denial of truth and rejection of inward reflection is laughably engaging in exactly the fault diagnosed - in other words, is projection. "People who make claims of group identity are under the latent influence of Marxism"? Really? "He cannot be faulted for this kind of conclusion given the role of ideology in protests against him"? Really? So if he is a victim, then he has the right to group all of his persecutors together and characterize them according to their "objective" status? Umm, I have a problem with that.



Sun Nov 18, 2018 6:17 pm
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Post Re: Why Tell the Truth: An Introduction to the Basic Ideas of Jordan B. Peterson
tslovins wrote:
So, I think the criticisms you point out are actually a flaw of the “basic introduction” method rather than of Peterson’s ideas themselves.
That's fair enough. I tend to use these comments as a process of thinking through what implications I find from the material commented on, as well as to communicate intentionally about what I think the "answers" are. I freely mix them, because I trust my own honesty not to give answers that are about manipulation or self-serving (I hear Derrida laughing, somewhere, at my arrogance. Let him laugh, I say.)

tslovins wrote:
I would also caution that we don’t confuse the descriptive element Peterson offers and the normative element that is necessarily theological (and intrinsic to testimonies of faith). I appreciate how you say that, “The goal of plunging headlong into commitment to the Kingdom is both inner shalom and transformation of the order of the world.” Peterson would actually agree with this, and he defines the heroes in the stories of myth as those people who stand on the border between chaos and order and create a novel world out of the interplay between them.
So this is a good launching point. Out there in the barbarian wilds of chaos are found the treasures and tools for fashioning a broader, more reliable order. Among these tools are the inner ones, the perspectives which allow us to confront and, often, to accept suffering.

In ancient times, in the Heroic Age, this re-fashioning was mostly done on behalf of a hero for the sake of a single people. In the days of Siddhartha Gautama, Elijah, Plato and Jesus, a beginning was made on seeing the process as a universalistic endeavor, but universal aspirations of empire had gotten there first. As a result, in the West at least, we mainly think of the ultimate ethical question in terms of whether might makes right: whether there is some truth to the notion of right and wrong which transcends the exigencies of power.

tslovins wrote:
This makes his analysis, still, functional and descriptive. He does not give us theology, here or anywhere, and I think that is a good thing, because (in my opinion), to explain theology in terms that aren’t strictly theological (to, for instance, give a “meaning” to the concept of God that is entirely secular) is to make theology (and with it the grammar of faith and the normative force of doctrine and the inner life of faith) superfluous to the entire enterprise of religion.


Here's how I solve the "concept of God" issue. I follow Tillich in believing that "God" the biblical character and theological construct is a symbol. Unlike Tillich (influenced by Kushner's "When Bad Things Happen to Good People") I don't take this thing symbolized as the Ground of Being, but rather think like the Process theologians (none of whom I have read, by the way) that "God" is a symbol for a spirit, in Kierkegaard's sense of a relation (interpersonal, in this case) related to itself.

Now, I know it is problematic to ever conceptualize God as a thing or an entity or even a process. But Buber's approach indicates that this particular kind of a process, in its relation to itself, resists all such definition because it resists instrumental thinking. There is no way to "make use of" God, but we can begin to understand "how God works". This understanding cannot be stripped of affect: since the interpersonal relationship that is the spirit of Caring reaches to the infinite depths of my own self as a decider (and a relation related to myself).

It's wise, for example, to recognize that we will get nowhere by setting out to walk on water by faith, or to command mountains to move, while at the same time the nature of that wisdom lies almost as much in the nature of what kind of choices should be made "on faith" as in what is possible, impossible, or potential.

tslovins wrote:
Also, I wanted to share this essay with you in case you’re interested. It’s something I wrote back in seminary when I was taking a course on the Reformation. It’s on the truth conditions of theological statements. I figured you’d find it interesting, as it fits right in with our conversation here, particularly it takes the stripping of affect from the world as a key to secular vocabulary (and as the opposite of the thrust of theological language):
http://cultureandvalue.com/might-we-sil ... tatements/
I am most of the way through, and I appreciate it very much. It untangles several knots for me that were giving me trouble, and I find myself already starting to think using the categories you present here. The linguistic issues involved in using terms like "truth" or "knowledge" about theological issues are difficult ones.

tslovins wrote:
The modern epistemology of control does not know the situation of humankind as the beings who use and receive the meaning of the world, themselves, and God by language.
And further, the church's "magisterium" of truth was fashioned on the imperial model of control. A priest is worth a thousand soldiers, as someone put it. A much better model would have been the one at work when Jesus said "Which one of these proved neighbor to the man?" (ref. the Good Samaritan) or even "Why do you call me good?"

Instead, with the church's imperial truth-claims, the language of truth as replicable and substitutable was all too easy to make use of. As you observe about the Reformation, the appropriation of power for the scriptures by the reformers fell into this same trap. Instead of seeking the authority of Socrates the questioner, they sought the power of Plato the definer.

We tend to think of truth as "objective" in the sense of being the same for everyone, but prescriptive propositions entail a different kind of discourse. (Interbane may like this part).

tslovins wrote:
A linguistic situation is any situation in which behavior is given meaning and granted freedom by the use of words.
I found this very helpful, but I am still not clear on "granted freedom." Technical discourse, in which referents are clear and control may be taken as the purpose sought, can take the meaning (the value assessments) as irrelevant to the content of the discourse. The demand that someone "define terms" doesn't include "say why we are discussing this." Such discourse "grants freedom" in the sense of giving the person addressed some ability to do things more effectively, or at least to understand the context better.

But in what sense does command, or beseeching, or indictment, "grant freedom"?

tslovins wrote:
Peterson has been asked on multiple occasions whether he believes God exists, and his response is typically something like, “I act as if he does, and that’s all that matter.” Truly a pragmatist. But his refusal to confuse the descriptive (which is the answer he must give in public to make sense in our secular lexicon) with the normative here exactly right. If he gave a theological answers (such as “Jesus died and rose from the grave 3 days later and ascended to the right hand of the Father”) would only invite the opportunity for clarification, which is to say reduction, which is to say instrumentalism.
I have been told here many times that we should limit discussion of God to the traditional conception, the Ancient of Days Creator of the Universe in whose mind (a problematic concept already) all of creation is formed and managed and contained. I can understand people not wanting to discuss the existence of just any process or purposes or entities that the interlocutor has in mind, but simplistic layman's theology is not up to the job of "freeing us" to think about life theologically with modernity's factual complexity in the context.

tslovins wrote:
Lastly, I think you are actually right in line with Peterson when you talk about a priori frameworks for interpreting our experiences. “The idea that suffering can ‘give us reasons’ to doubt whether life is good is an assertion that we have alternative interpretive structures in our head at the same time, and like some figure-ground illusion, we can see one structure come forward and thus force others to recede.” Peterson is fixated on mythology because he thinks myths are the grammar of stories, and as such are the a priori frameworks by which we have set the terms for ethics and meaning in the West.

Haidt has made a case that those a priori frameworks are nearly innate, and further that some people (born Democrats) see moral issues as limited to care/harm and reciprocity/fairness, while others (born Republicans) see the further dimensions of purity/disgust, belonging/loyalty, liberty and authority. I think this is a crock. Innate factors may heavily influence the ways people process cultural messages, but in the end the acid of reason has heavy influence on how people process moral judgements. (I am with Pinker on that, essentially).

There are limits to what the acid of reason can do, of course. The dangers of nihilism and untethered relativism are real. I worry much more about the effects on Wall Street than about serial killers. But when we have said what there is to say about the ontology of all this, I think the way forward is much more like Jesus visiting with Zacchaeus than like popes speaking ex cathedra.
tslovins wrote:
He thinks looking back at myths to understand their structures is the antidote to the, what he perceives as, cultural and moral relativism of our time. He thinks this relativism is a consequence of nihilism (he gets from Nietzsche) and the absence of the arbiter of the meaning of life which science stripped away from our discourses when it abstracted affect from objects. He thinks that when people don’t have meaning in their lives then they take suffering to be making a case against being itself. This makes people resentful, and they want to get revenge against being.
The process that destroyed "the arbiter of the meaning of life" was more like seduction (see Gordon Gecko) than like rape. The rebuilding of meaning will look more like connection (still arguably the answer to addiction, for example) than like an arbiter of the meaning of life. I think when people get that the process of seeking meaning together (not seeking in an abstract sense, but seeking in the concrete sense of finding patterns, "order" not chaos) is the actual source of meaning, then we have a chance of actually reconstructing resilient soul care.

No "referent" for meaning will ever have the imperial definitiveness that is implicitly sought by imposing a dichotomy between relativism and objectively correct meaning. The term "intersubjective" helps a lot to understand what is being referred to.

tslovins wrote:
Peterson thinks this in part explains the mentality of mass murderers. Against your conclusion that, “there is no genuine alternative to seeing being as good, only fake perspectives that "take over our mind" when the suffering is too much,” Peterson would say there is, and these perspectives undermine our social, cultural, political, and existential spheres.
Well, it sounds like the difference hinges on the semantics of "genuine" alternatives. The fact that people sometimes hallucinate that social status is genuinely meaningful, or that the meaning of taking a course is the grade you get in it, or that setting a record for the most innocent people killed by a civilian somehow makes the shooter important, does not make these claims to meaning genuinely meaningful, using "genuine" in the sense that a person who cared about me would actually propose such a meaning structure.

I think it is easy to show that Dear Leader's narcissism is shot through with self-deception, and that his relationship to family life, to fame and to achievement are all based on deception of which he is aware. Carl Bernstein's book about him was aptly titled "Fear." He keeps running into the fact that there are some things money can't buy.



Mon Nov 19, 2018 6:36 am
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Post Re: Why Tell the Truth: An Introduction to the Basic Ideas of Jordan B. Peterson
So apparently Peterson wants people, especially young men, to "accept" the "competence hierarchies" that evolution has taught women to focus on. And up to a point, I agree with him. This may seem strange, given that I pretty consistently argue that status is illusion, and we are better off if we can see through it.

Well, I'm also an economist. I understand that people are generally suspicious of strangers and only willing to give money to people who are offering something in return. That is not necessarily a bad thing: of all the reasons that might motivate someone to give money to others, many would simply be mistakes, or foolishness.

Peterson seems to be opposed to Marxism, and that is probably sensible. Marxism is a brilliant diagnosis of the economic basis of alienation, and an intelligent analysis of class relations and the subversion of thought and discourse by these class relations, but it is also a normative system masquerading as objective analysis. And the norms it recommends, in which everyone treats everyone else as cherished family members, is probably so far removed from anything we are capable of at this stage of culture, that the whole effort to promote overthrow of governmental systems as a path to it is practically guaranteed to put government in the hands of people unscrupulous enough to cover a lust for power with idealistic slogans.

Peterson's central thrust, a claim that he is "just telling the truth," strikes me as nearly as deceptive and manipulative. His argument that gender categories are "real" rather than culturally constructed is common sense while at the same time deliberately obtuse. Even while he finds fault with academics who want to wave a wand (sorry) and make "male" and "female" disappear as categories, (which he is right about, I think,) he doesn't seem to have any interest in the liberation of those who don't fit the binaries. Probably I am overgeneralizing from a very thin sliver of his work, but it's pretty clear that he wants to be seen as swimming against the tide, and is happy to claim the mantle of honesty for doing so, even as he selects the extreme and outrageous claims of those he opposes, rather than engaging the substantive points that are also represented in that crowd.

I engaged a friend of a friend on a related point recently - a relative on one side had committed suicide due to complications related to being transsexual, and now a younger relative in the family of her new husband was asking about gender expectations. I answered honestly that at the young girl's age, (10 to 12) it made more sense to tell kids what was expected of them than to set out a range of options. But obviously that can be explained as "the standard expectations" and not "what evolution demands of you" or "what you have to do to avoid being low in status." There is time, later, if the fit is not good, to deal with the complicated cases.

In addition to the apparent smuggling of authoritarian mores into the complex world of people's actual sexuality, I am worried about his claim to know what mythos and archetype "mean". Again, I am working from too small a slice of his work (way too small, actually) so I apologize if I am distorting his work significantly. Since he recognizes depths of meaning (infinitely deep, I guess) then he surely is not too oversimplified. But mythos is usually so multi-faceted that claiming to understand how evolution gave rise to it must surely rely on imposed readings.

How many different readings of the Orpheus myth might there be? How many of Joseph, whose refusal of Potiphar's wife could be the claimed upright nature (despite his later deceptive dealings with his brothers) or could mean he was gay? Whose forgiveness of his brothers seems almost in spite of himself, and raises questions about what stories of intrigue and betrayal might have given rise to the cycle. Let's not even start on King David, or Samson, or Jason and Medea, or Achilles and Patroclus.

I raised some of the same points in objection to Jung, whose reading of Job was overconfident, to say the least, and who parlayed thin links between the Gospel of John and the Revelation into an elaborate scheme of psychoanalysis. Mythos is great for creating spirit, and for self-examination, but for explaining what people are supposed to feel and think, suffers mightily.

So, what about "competence hierarchies"? Well, I am currently persuaded that these are pretty good for organizing economic activity, but not so good for reflecting on what makes choices and effort meaningful. I don't argue for ignoring the realities that are (usually) behind status, but only for transcending the notion that those status comparisons are the basis for meaningful choices.

My standard story, my moment of revelation, on this issue was the overheard report on a job interview at Salomon Brothers back in the age of Ivan Boesky. The person who had interviewed was asked if she was given the job of sitting in a room with nothing but a phone, ready to answer it, and would be paid a million dollars a year to do it, would she accept? She confessed she had played it as a trick question and insisted that she wanted to make meaningful contributions that she could tell about the next time she applied for a job, but the "correct" answer was that she would be happy to sit idly, waiting to answer a phone, for that much money. The point being made was that Salomon cared only about making money, and would hire only people who saw the logic of that. What's really ironic is that she would have said yes if she had been honest. (Maybe Peterson would approve! Why not tell the truth?)

Before that moment I had heard stories about Wall Street's obsession with the short term but had not realized how deep and thoroughgoing it was, to the point of overriding traditional priorities like giving the clients value for money. Needless to say being willing to be idle to make money is a kind of code, even if never acknowledged, for being willing to set aside ethical considerations (as Boesky and most of Wall Street did and do) to make money.

So why do I think status should not be treated as illusion? Because it is based only on comparison. First, there is the problem of changing context. In the middle ages a man of six feet in height towered over others, because people did not have enough to eat and most were short by today's standards. What "short" means (or who is "tall") was a function of the overall food supply. That means a judgment like who is "educated" or "ignorant," who is "capable" or "rigid" or "focused" or "sensible" is probably not accurate in any sense that is independent of the context.

More seriously, there is the zero-sum nature of such comparisons. You can't have three or four who are the "fastest man alive" at a given time. The comparisons may be interesting, but to declare that they are appropriate standards for judging oneself and others is to impose a zero-sum system on life when in fact life is so positive-sum that the lie involved could even be said to be evil. Considering that almost all of our psychology of deep status judgments come from days when humans were in hunter-gatherer bands or villages, and you rarely met anyone from outside the nearest 1000 people, assigning worth based on comparisons is utterly foolish. Many women have recognized this and opted out of the competition for "beauty," in the age of supermodels and the priorities of the fashion industry, but they remain under serious pressure.

But the most important consideration is that our relationship to life, and therefore to ourself, is the most important relationship of all. It should be organizing all the others, in the sense of determining how they fit into perspective with each other. To have a sound and healthy relationship to oneself, it is necessary that you take facts into account as data, but also that you make your own judgments about what is worth doing with your life. A blind person who decides they are of no value because others mainly don't want to bother with figuring out how to relate to them, and how to fit them into productive organizations, is making a big mistake. A tempting mistake to make, but a mistake nonetheless.

The soul needs to recognize its own value, in the view of eternity, independently of circumstances. The essence of the Christian doctrine of grace is that we are cherished by the community (when it is in valuation mode, as opposed to transaction or comparison) as represented by God, and this status is a function of the community's caring, not of our achievements or status. We are all children of God, as we Christians put it, and God loves all of the children best.

To hold onto that sense of my own personal value is to have trust (faith) that the community can, and sometimes does, get the valuation right. Braille is invented so the blind can participate in the great world of books. Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles are given the chance to show what they have to offer. And we are all, simultaneously, made richer by such valuation.



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Post Re: Why Tell the Truth: An Introduction to the Basic Ideas of Jordan B. Peterson
Harry Marks wrote:
I have been much impressed recently by the followers of Rene Girard, the anthropologist of mimetic theory who also takes Christian faith seriously as a plunge into non-violent practice.

Harry, I thought of you when I just saw the forthcoming New York Review of Books has an open access cover story on Girard, https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2018/1 ... phet-envy/

I have been meaning to respond to this thread, but for now, just to say I will go hear Peterson when he visits Australia in February, and I am particularly interested in his theme of an evolutionary analysis of culture, which I am using as a basis for my revised version of my essay on Jung's Answer to Job. My approach to this cultural theme is to investigate the correlations between mythology and earth's stable orbital patterns at precessional scale, aiming to present a scientific basis for the evolution of myth.


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Post Re: Why Tell the Truth: An Introduction to the Basic Ideas of Jordan B. Peterson
Robert - thanks for pointing that out. I am half way through and already learned tons about Girard and his ideas. I understood him to be an anthropologist, for example, but it turns out he was more like Freud or Nietzsche, analyzing culture based on cultural artifacts, and not trained in anthropology. Interesting review.

The part about mimetic desire and the role of the mediator of desire (thus envy) is the focus of this author, and he links it to Facebook with considerable insight. The link to violence and scapegoating seems to have gotten less attention, with no mention so far in the material I have read of it so far.



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Post Re: Why Tell the Truth: An Introduction to the Basic Ideas of Jordan B. Peterson
So of course the next paragraph took up violence and scapegoating. And presented it well, I think, basing my view on what I have read elsewhere.

It makes sense to me that violence easily escalates, and that envy feeds it. This gives some teeth to the observation, in the first material, that we repress envy in modern Western society. To repress envy is part of the repression of violence, if Girard's reading of anthropology is more or less correct.

This opens his analysis of Christianity to an option of two different readings, not necessarily excluding one another. The first is that Christianity is about self-control. Among the Hellenistic elites, Stoicism was the equivalent movement, and we all know self-control was at the heart of it. I remember being struck, reading "Pagans and Christians" by Robin Lane Fox, by what can only be described as "feats" of self-denial, heavily featuring the "Stylites" who would perch themselves at the top of pillars ("stylites") for months at a time, with followers bringing them food and water to hoist up. (One speculation even believes the Stylite movement to be the source of the Muslim minaret.) The scriptures present non-violence in the context of self-control, with both Jesus and Paul urging believers to return good and gentleness in response to violence and humiliation. "Be angry, and sin not" could be a mantra for anger management.

Thus, to the extent that Girard's understanding of envy is correct, the monastic ascetic ideal and the sharing with the poor is a "self-control" response to envy. It isn't even necessarily a repression, and might be a Hegelian transcendence, but among the ruling classes something more like repression was probably needed.

The second reading is that Christ's martyrdom is a re-enactment of the death of God (Osiris, Baldur, Persephone) in the context of a philosophy sufficiently enriched by Eastern and Hellenist elements to make it an internalization and incarnation of self-sacrifice. This is the strongest, and strangest, element of Girard's analysis - to suggest that by voluntarily accepting the role of victim, Jesus removed the poisonous element of escalation from projective violence.

Two quotes that capture the jiu-jitsu insight available from this repressed set of ideas:
Robert Pogue Harrison wrote:
Girard’s most valuable insight is that rivalry and violence arise from sameness rather than difference. Where conflicts erupt between neighbors or ethnic groups, or even among nations, more often than not it’s because of what they have in common rather than what distinguishes them. In Girard’s words: “The error is always to reason within categories of ‘difference’ when the root of all conflicts is rather ‘competition,’ mimetic rivalry between persons, countries, cultures.” Often we fight or go to war to prove our difference from an enemy who in fact resembles us in ways we are all too eager to deny.
Think of the imperialist British standing up to bigger, better organized "tyrannical" Germany, or Germany taking on Britain and France out of envy of foreign empire. Think of the U.S. standing for "freedom" while deposing elected governments in Iran, Central America and elsewhere, usually more for "interests" (e.g. investments) than for resistance to communism per se. Think of the Clintons cozying up to business and special interests while purporting to loathe the Republican sell-out and duplicity. Think of fundamentalist Christians criticizing Islam for being militant and oppressing women, and jihadist Muslims seething with resentment at the Western arrogance that might makes right.

Girard wrote:
Violence is a terrible adversary, especially since it always wins.
We live in a world which has proved, beyond the shadow of any serious doubt, that cooperation and peaceful coexistence leads to a far better quality of life than conflict and rivalry. And yet our political imagination is still trapped in imperialist and tribal imagery.

That would be a good note to end on, but I think it is worth mentioning that some of the people carrying on Girard's mimetic analysis are folding in the tendency to scapegoat the vulnerable as a potent critique of racism, sexism and homophobia. Ta-Nehisi Coates sees redlining as a straight-up practice of racism, but the Girardists see it as an effort to let the affliction of poor neighborhoods concentrate in some neighborhoods so that others (of the white working class) can escape it. The eagerness to let the poor be designated victims can be seen in the Ferguson system (practiced in many parts of the Red State belt), and even debt exploitation, including the promotion of loose credit to those who couldn't support it, envisioning fallback returns in the form of repossessed housing, that contributed so much to the 2008 disaster.



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