In this video Jordan Peterson makes some trenchant observations about the purpose of university education.
I don’t agree that articulated speech is the most powerful human good. I think humility is the most powerful human good. But I do agree with the high premium Peterson places on articulation and the role it can play in helping to eliminate suffering. I was particularly struck by his comment, “Burden yourself with so much responsibility that you can barely stand, and then you’ll get stronger trying to lift it up.”
Historically, nations are held together by common memories, customs, symbols, myths and legends. In its most rigorous and consistent form, classical liberalism de-emphasizes or ignores these deep-seated cultural-symbolic underpinnings of civil society and attempts to secularize the public life, often migrating transcendence to the claims of the state. This creates a dangerous vacuum in which citizens find themselves without the basic building blocks of national cohesion. This inevitably results in human beings looking to their most basic and primitive bonds for cohesion, and thus reverting to a raw tribalism. A secular and materialistic society offers little scope for the type of roots that humans innately long for, with the result that the most plausible roots become race and ethnicity.
Jason and Kaitlyn would never have said their marriage was unhappy. However, throughout the fourteen years they had been together, they gradually drifted apart. They rarely had arguments and to outsiders they looked like the perfect couple. However, as the years went by, they seemed to have less and less in common.
Without giving it much thought, Jason instinctively assumed that the reason he had grown distant from Kaitlyn was because she had changed. It wasn’t simply that Kaitlyn’s had lost her youthful beauty, although it did bother Jason that he was no longer physically attracted to his wife. It was also that she was no longer as fun to be around. She used to be the type of person you wanted to share everything with, but over the years she seemed to have become different. It was hard to put his finger on it.
Kaitlyn tried not to think too much about the growing distance between Jason and herself. A few years ago she had begun to suspect that Jason was using his computer at work to access pornography, but she quickly dismissed the idea from her head. The sense of distance between them was probably just because they were so busy with their kids that they rarely had time to do things together anymore. Whenever they did have a free evening, it seemed Jason preferred to spend it watching sports with his friends from the software firm where he worked. During football season, Jason didn’t even come to church with her and the kids. Kaitlyn reflected that maybe if she and Jason could go on a vacation together, just the two of them, they might be able to rekindle what they had lost.
In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, there is a curious moment when the reader becomes aware that the animals who led the revolt against their human overlords have become the new oppressors.
Animal Farm is a uniquely human story. Even a cursory glance over the last half millennia reveals that empowerment has a strange way of enticing former liberators not merely to abandon their own principles, but to begin embodying the principles of their opponents.
We saw this happen when the “Committee of Public Safety” abandoned the principles of the French Revolution, ushering in a terror far worse than anything under the Ancien Régime. We saw it again when the Soviet State abandoned the pseudo-liberating rhetoric Marxism and turned all of Russia into a giant prison. We saw it again when the “agrarian socialism” of the Khmer Rouge found embodiment in the genocide of Pol Pot.
As Jordan Peterson’s Channel 4 interview goes viral (indeed, it reached #7 for all of YouTube), I have been delighted to see it provoking international discussion, not just about the issues he raised, but about the nature of conversation itself. This is a classic case of ideology causing a two-person dialogue to turn into a three-person dialogue: a conversation between the positions of Person A, the positions of Person B, and the positions that Person B ascribes to Person A.
One of the easiest mistakes to make in political discourse is to assume you know where the other person is “coming from” and to then “hear” what they are saying through the framework of those assumptions, just as Cathy Newman did with Jordan Peterson.
On June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin, where the Berlin Wall separated the free world from the communist empire.
In one of the most memorable speeches in living memory, Reagan offered a direct challenge to Mikhail Gorbachev, general-secretary of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party. Gorbachev had claimed that he wanted to reform the Communist party on the principles of perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness). But Reagan believed that there was one thing left for Gorbachev to do to prove his earnestness.
“General Secretary Gorbachev,” Reagan entreated, “if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev – Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Two years later, on November 9, 1989, East Germans began dismantling the Wall. As if in silent answer to Reagan’s words, Gorbachev did nothing to stop them. Earlier in the same year, Gorbachev had allowed the first open elections since 1917 to be held in the Soviet Union. Also in 1989 the USSR lost control of its satellite nations in Eastern Europe. For the next two years the free world rejoiced as it witnessed the systematic downfall of communism in Eastern Europe. Communism had failed. Reagan and the free world had won.
“People speak with incredible contempt about, depending on their views: the rich, the poor, the educated, the foreign born, the President, or the entire US government. It is a level of contempt that is usually reserved for enemies in wartime except that now it is applied to our fellow citizens. Unlike criticism, contempt is particularly toxic because it assumes a moral superiority in the speaker. Contempt is often directed at people who have been excluded from a group or declared unworthy its benefits. Contempt is often used by governments to provide rhetorical cover for torture or abuse. Contempt is one of four behaviors that, statistically, can predict divorce in married couples. People who speak with contempt for one another will probably not remain united for long.”