From the mailbag, this from a priest:
Many of the articles and comments that I’ve seen connected to your “The Unromantic Jordan Peterson,” post seem to reference things in his videos, or in his “12 Rules for Life,” book. I don’t have time to watch long JP lectures on video when I could be reading, and I haven’t read 12 rules for life. I have, however, read his other, older, longer, book: “Maps of Meaning: the Architecture of Belief.” This book was written to be something like a theoretical foundation to everything else for him. It’s a very large book, and not an easy one. But it’s not nonsense, either, and I think it has some things to contribute.
“Maps of Meaning” has the ostensible purpose of using comparative religion and Jungian psychology to attempt to formulate some kind of morality that would be not tied to any particular religion. Whether or not it succeeds in this is debatable. If you happen to have an aversion to Jung, especially considering his “red book,” I get it.
But what “Maps of Meaning” does do, in my opinion quite well, is describe some features that are universal to every human society, without which the society simply could not exist. These are:
A principle of Order: the laws, traditions, rulers, culture, religion, of a society. Basically, the things that are “known.”
A principle of Chaos: the unknown, unpredictable, not necessarily safe things that are outside the safe “known” of the society.
A principle that mediates between the two: the heroic representative of Order who adventures out into Chaos, to find out what is good in Chaos and use it to transform Order, and to fight against what is bad.
Each of these three elements can go “rotten.”
Order goes “rotten” by being tyrannical, completely closed off to change, or too weak to function.
Chaos is, by its very nature, both good and bad, and the mediator/hero’s job is to contain the bad and use the good.
The mediator can go bad by refusing to venture beyond what Order offers, or by accepting everything from Chaos and becoming decadent.
While I can understand while someone would object to Jung’s help, or the use of comparative religion, to reach these conclusions, I think they are TRUE. Every society has those things which are a part of it, and those things which are not. Some of those things that are outside the society would be good for it, and some would be bad. And someone has to do the difficult work of sorting between the two.
Anyway, that summary doesn’t do it justice, but there it is. This background discussion is relevant to “The Unromantic Jordan Peterson,” for three reasons:
First, JP sees the principle of Chaos, in both her good and evil aspects, as being somehow connected to the Feminine. This is where I think his comparative religion scholarship really shines. He makes the case that the mythological figures that represent the evil and good aspects of chaos are almost universally feminine. Whether or not you buy his quasi-biological explanation, that the female role in the process of pro-creation is a hidden, mysterious role, while the male role is an un-hidden obvious one, he would contend that one tampers with this association at your peril. By reflection, JP sees the principle of Order, in both his good and evil aspects, as being somehow connected to the Masculine. He has mythological arguments for this too. The mediator, then, is ALSO masculine, acting as the representative of Order, working both with and against chaos. Whenever I hear JP calling young men to live in certain ways, I see him as informed by, and appealing to, this schema. And their strong response serves to lend credence to his theory: this is built into them on a subconscious level.
Second, the fact that JP is working from a set of universal truths that describe every society, helps to explain some of the contrary accusations against him that fly around: “He’s a representative of the therapeutic, utilitarian, neoliberal world order,” “he would replace Freudian secularism with Jungian secularism,” “he’s not really Christian; he reduces all of the scriptures to myths.” I do not think that Jordan Peterson is a Christian in the Jesus-is-God sense of the word. But I do think that his picture of the essential elements of society, while perhaps incomplete, is nevertheless true. The therapeutic utilitarian neoliberal world order is a society. The mideval world order was also a society. The church (Catholic, Orthodox, Christian, or otherwise) is ALSO a human society, and has the same features and struggles. When a young man finds himself understanding what human society is all about because of JP, he is more suited for the neoliberal world order (whatever that is. I found all the comparisons between JP and Angela Merkel to be hilarious, myself). But he is ALSO more suited for these other societies, including the Church! This is hardly “Jungian Secularism,” or “Reducing Christianity to myths.” If anything, it is what you have to understand before you can really make the decision between the various options.
Third: While JP might not have a lot to say about the actual ideal society in Maps of Meaning, there are several things that he knows society should NOT be: He knows, and has a theoretical foundation to back it up, that the Principle of Order should never have absolute dominion over the thoughts and actions of the citizens. He knows, and has a theoretical foundation to back it up, that The Principle of Chaos should never remove all boundaries on human behavior and limits on human desires. He has a theoretical foundation to make a SECULAR case that men and women are complementary, and that their union is among the most fundamental, and most perilous, of human endeavors. Anyone who objects to thought control by the so-called PC police (whoever “they” are), anyone who thinks that abandoning certain traditional moral standards is going to have bad consequences, anyone who thinks that heterosexual marriage is both normal and requires the societal support of traditional structures, anyone who thinks that traditional gender roles aren’t solely the result of the Evil Patriarchy, should find a kindred spirit in Jordan Peterson, one who is articulate, theoretical, practical, and willing and able to talk in a secular way.
Does that answer your questions? No…but I’ve never heard anything JP say about love or romance or relations between the sexes, that wasn’t somehow informed by this schema, and to get mad about what he says without understanding it is to throw out a potential resource without understanding it.
Is Jordan Peterson SAFE? Of course not. But considering how much damage has been done throughout history from misinterpreting Jesus’ words, Jesus Himself isn’t exactly “safe” either. “You are over the edge of the wild, and you are in for all kinds of fun wherever you go.”
I hope this is helpful.