Why is Jordan Peterson popular with atheists again?


He certainly has some weird ideas we wouldn’t accept if a more conventional Christian said them.

Here Peterson recaptures ground that’s become unfashionable in modern psychology. His model is heavily influenced by Freud and Jung. “You don’t know yourself,” he says. We are not who we thought we were. We carry secret, shameful knowledge that’s scarcely accessible to conscious exploration (Freud). We also carry elements of a Collective Unconscious (Jung) that’s glimpsed via our myths and creation narratives. If you think you are an atheist you are wrong, says Peterson, because your mind has been bent and shaped and molded by a god-fearing past stretching back into the unfathomable abysm of time.

Freud still has some influence with psychologists, I presume, but it’s more like how biologists regard Haeckel: a smart guy who built theories on faulty premises and isn’t considered a credible source any more. Worse, he was someone with immense biases that he pretended were objectively valid. Jung was a flaky mystic. Why would a modern psychologist have anything but a historical interest in either of them?

The “collective unconscious” is nonsense. So is the idea of the kind of ancestral memory Peterson is proposing.

I would certainly agree that cultural influences shape our attitudes and beliefs, and that in a largely Christian country with a long Christian history, you can’t escape exposure. But to argue that we can’t escape that influence in our ideas is like saying that Protestants can’t exist because Catholics existed first, or that we’re all animists because our distant ancestors worshipped gazelles and feared lightning. Our minds were also shaped by a society that (at least among some of us) greatly values science and secularism, and that affects me far, far more than the fact that my great great grandparents were Lutherans, back in the old country.

The There is no such thing as an atheist canard is one of the oldest, tiredest, most pathetic claims by religious apologists. It’s not a mark of wisdom to blurt out a cliche, not even when you dress it up in Freudian/Jungian babble.

Comments

  1. Chet Murthy says

    How did I figure out I was an atheist? I was telling a friend at a dinner party that I was an agnostic, and my housemate sez to me “are also you agnostic about the existence of pink flying elephants?” I did a double-take for about a minute, and then said “oh, I guess I’m really an atheist”.

    Peterson confuses “collective unconscious” (or whatever) with a decade of indoctrination starting at age 4 by one’s parents, then every damn authority figure in one’s life, in this religion thing. If there aren’t any such authority figures, and no mention of religion except coming from manifest cretins, the child doesn’t grow up with a shred of propensity to accept religious mumbo-jumbo.

  2. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Peterson is a reason I am an atheist. An asshole who claims non-belief, without the “walk”. He has shown his true colors, and they are his “non-belief” are delusions in his pretend thinking. Delusional thinking, all the way down.

  3. anbheal says

    It’s slightly unfair to call the collective unconscious “nonsense”. Jung was indeed a bit mystic in his approach, but at one level he was distinguishing biological instinct from Freud’s personal unconscious. For example, modern psychology still recognizes the Oedipal Complex as being a real thing, stripped of cultural context. And clearly there are many examples in the animal kingdom of behaviors that cannot possibly be learned, but still happen across all populations — seeking that one plant on that one night of summer for that one drop of nectar.

    The mythical memory part is bullshit, to be sure, but that was only one portion of the theory. I can feel the Sidhe dancing around bonfires after racing down the slopes of Knocknarea to hunt the stag, in my blood….I believe….but it’s false, and I know it’s false, the songs singing through millennia. It’s almost certainly learned.

    But men liking tits? I’m pretty sure that’s real.

  4. nomdeplume says

    The more I hear of Peterson the less I want to hear. A classic example of someone becoming famous for talking outrageous bullshit.

  5. John Morales says

    If you think you are an atheist you are wrong, says Peterson […]

    I haven’t read what Peterson actually wrote, but pretty sure this is an interpretation by the reviewer rather than a literal claim.

    Either Peterson has actually made that very silly claim in the book, or he has not.

    (Or: I can believe the reviewer, which paints Peterson as a poor thinker, or disbelieve him, which does the same for the reviewer)

  6. hemidactylus says

    I think Peterson is trying to or just happens to tap into a need some people who are nonbelievers may have for self-transcendence, belonging to something greater than oneself or meaning. People are often lost in search of guidance, lest they remain tumbleweeds in a ghost town devoid of meaning sans the ready made tropes of religions.

    Love him or hate him, Jung wrote a book called Modern Man (sic) in Search of a Soul. That’s the post-Nietzschean nihilistic need to fill a void. Non-believers try Buddhism, Yoga, or meditation. Martine Rothblatt has taken the nerd rapture angle with her Terasem. People read Ken Wilber, Huston Smith or Paul Tillich even if non-religious. The latter’s notion of Ultimate Concern may fill the void or assuage the death anxiety atheists might feel as they ponder mortality. Sam Harris has tapped into this self-transcendent niche market with the book Waking Up. So it is no surprise Peterson might offer some similar sort of void filler for non-believers. Plus he adds some requisite pseudo-profundities.

    For some reason, HR training session shtick that it is, I hazard Covey’s 7 Habits may be of more gee-whiz superficial self-exploration use value than Peterson’s 12 Rules. Virtues over deontology? Or Covey refrained from diving into a lobster tank unprepared? There are so many self-help books. Why 12 Rules?

  7. John Morales says

    From the original:

    […]
    To understand his message, the first task is not to be distracted by the title or genre, and look for the metaphorical glue that binds it all together.
    […]
    In a sense, 12 Rules contains a number of hidden structures and hidden processes, and confusingly, these are not always made explicit in the text.
    […]
    Would I recommend 12 Rules to anyone struggling to find meaning in their lives? Yes, I already have. But not without some trepidation and a sliver of doubt. Not because it’s no good (it is fascinating) but because it isn’t straightforward. This is patronizing on my part, I accept, but it gives up its secrets slowly. The subtleties are way beyond the ken of some contemporary reviewers.
    […]

    Heh.

  8. partizan says

    @hemidactylus, 7: “Why 12 Rules?”

    12 Tribes, 12 Apostles maybe? I’m guessing a biblical allusion.

  9. leerudolph says

    anbheal:

    For example, modern psychology still recognizes the Oedipal Complex as being a real thing, stripped of cultural context.

    It does? I would be (sincerely) grateful for a pointer to some evidence for that claim. For 25 years, I commuted to my job as a mathematics professor 75 minutes each way with a psychology professor, and what with one thing and another I heard—and arguably learned—a lot about “modern psychology” (say, from the 1950s to present). For the last 12 or 13 of those years, I even participated in a weekly seminar for the faculty and graduate students in psychology at our (small) research university, and I got to know half a dozen of the faculty very well and many more of their students fairly well (only one regular participant taught in the clinical program, and he was indeed somewhat of a Freudian; he was also in his 80s, and not in most respects “modern”; other faculty members were social psychologists, developmental psychologists, cultural psychologists, and one ethologist; the graduate students were from all the programs, including clinical; there were also, always, a bunch of visitors from Europe, South America, East Asia, and Israel). I don’t remember hearing anyone (even the relatively few with an interest in “evolutionary psychology”—for the most part, specifically in the problem of how altruism might have evolved), except (possibly) the Freudian clinician, say anything about “the Oedipal Complex […] being a real thing, stripped of cultural context.” Obviously my sample is small, it’s probably unrepresentative, and (given my lack of formal training in psychology) it’s possible I missed some obvious clues. So, as I say, I would be grateful for a pointer to references.

  10. partizan says

    @hemidactylus, 7: “Why 12 Rules?”

    Sorry just realised that wasn’t a question about the number 12 (more why anyone would go for Peterson’s wordwank when there’s a plethora of other stuff to chose from).

    In my defence: I’m slightly drunk.

  11. jrkrideau says

    Freud still has some influence with psychologists, I presume

    I have never met a psychologist who even mentioned him and I have met a lot of them. I had thought any Freudian psychologists were all dead; I mean that literally though I suppose a few 90 year old dotards might be still alive. I am not even sure how many Freudian psychologists there ever were. I tend to think of Freudian psychiatrists rather than Freudian psychologists.

    The only people I know now-a-days who use Freudian theory seem to be some historians—what they do with it, I cannot imagine. Oh wait, I think some novelists do also.

    I noticed a reference in a Peterson lecture to the id and the ego and said to myself, “This boy is a fake or a flake”. Maybe both. He comes across like a pop philosopher crossed with an evolutionary psychologist. (I think I am going to have nightmares tonight.)

    Why would a modern psychologist have anything but a historical interest in either of them?

    It makes him sound like a wise pundit to the layperson who actually thinks Freud and Jung were psychologists and not nut-case mystics and/or frauds?

    @ 3 anbheal

    For example, modern psychology still recognizes the Oedipal Complex as being a real thing, stripped of cultural context.

    I must have missed than lecture. Cite?
    BTW, what is it?

  12. hemidactylus says

    @6- John
    Peterson’s argument in 12 Rules seems to be that religion is “about proper behaviour (sic)” or Plato’s Good. I may be reading this sentiment into Peterson’s words, but I get the you cannot be good without God vibe.

    ““You might object, “But I’m an atheist.” No, you’re not”… he suggests reading Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment “in which the main character, Raskolnikov, decides to take his atheism with true seriousness, commits what he has rationalized as a benevolent murder, and pays the price).” He goes on to say we must infer our true beliefs from actions: “You’re simply not an atheist in your actions, and it is your actions that most accurately reflect your deepest beliefs…”

    So true atheists are murderers?

  13. zetopan says

    “His model is heavily influenced by Freud and Jung.”
    Which clearly identifies Peterson as yet another flakey “Pop Psychologist”, which are overpriced at a dime a dozen (e.g. Jerry Pournelle, etc).

  14. emergence says

    This “atheists don’t exist” argument always comes across like gaslighting to me. Apparently, Peterson is also using Freudian concepts like a collective unconscious to claim that his ideological opponents secretly agree with him.

  15. hemidactylus says

    So while we are Jung bashing how many introverts and extroverts in the crowd this evening? Show of hands? I was glad this HR tripe has been attenuated by the concept of ambiverts. Jungian typology may underly some personality categorizations to this day. Much of the HR tripe seems to stay true to the four humours. Seriously. Though there is a reasonable dichotomization of task versus people orientation. And the facade of the Johari window overlaps with Jung’s persona. We do play roles in life and not consistently. Daniel Schacter pointed out Jung’s early work on cryptomnesia (unintentional plagiarism). Jung’s work on the complex theory used a timer, word association test and psychogalvanometer. The latter may have been handy in the era long before neuroimaging, but now it’s unfortunately become an e-meter.

    Durkheim had a far better handle on social phenomena with his socifacts and collective representations, though these cultural factors probably act outside conscious awareness so are collectively unconscious more-so than conscious. That’s how ideology and propaganda gets the hooks in and PR and marketing are so persuasive. But Jung’s mistake was in positing archetypes in the phylogenetic or primordial image sense. He began believing his own BS and became more a mystic guru than a serious behavioral scientist.

    But it took someone of Freud’s caliber to propose the batshit two Moses theory.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moses_and_Monotheism

    “Freud hypothesizes that Moses was not Hebrew, but actually born into Ancient Egyptian nobility and was probably a follower of Akhenaten, an ancient Egyptian monotheist. Freud contradicts the biblical story of Moses with his own retelling of events, claiming that Moses only led his close followers into freedom during an unstable period in Egyptian history after Akhenaten (ca. 1350 BCE) and that they subsequently killed Moses in rebellion and later combined with another monotheistic tribe in Midian based on a volcanic god, Yahweh. The god of Moses was fused with Yahweh and the deeds of Moses ascribed to a Midianite priest also called Moses.”

    Wait, what?

  16. says

    Peterson sounds reasonable next to, say…Deepak Chopra. That’s likely the source of his appeal. That, and some people just need woo-woo to feel good about themselves.

    Funny, many christians also claim there’s no such thing as an atheist; mo older brother, when I told him I was no longer with any church and was atheist, first tried four convoluted meanings of atheism, then Paul’s crapola about god revealing himself and writing on every man’s heart, blah blah blah. Out of kindness, I refused to unleash the artillery on him.

    I can’t help but think, in any exchange with Peterson, I would quote Buckley: “I won’t insult your intelligence by pretending you actually believe that.”

  17. John Morales says

    hemidactylus @6, informative.

    ““You might object, “But I’m an atheist.” No, you’re not”… he suggests reading Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment “in which the main character, Raskolnikov, decides to take his atheism with true seriousness, commits what he has rationalized as a benevolent murder, and pays the price).” He goes on to say we must infer our true beliefs from actions: “You’re simply not an atheist in your actions, and it is your actions that most accurately reflect your deepest beliefs…”

    As someone who was an atheist altar-boy back in the day, I am amused by this claim.

    It undeniably relies on the implicit premise that an atheist has no reason to be moral to then infer that a moral atheist is necessarily one who doesn’t act on their atheism.

    Something like this:
    1. atheists have no moral compass.
    2. we must infer our true beliefs from actions
    Therefore
    3. non-murderous atheists by their actions belie their atheism.

    (Presuppositionalim is the apotheosis of this claim)

    So true atheists are murderers?

    I guess so if premising that Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment is a deep truth rather than a literary conceit. :)

  18. microraptor says

    When I took Psych 101 in college, Freud and Jung were mentioned only for their historical relevance. Freud in particular seemed to be given roughly the same level of consideration that most biologists give Lamarck.

  19. John Morales says

    microraptor, the cited review has this:

    Tim Rogers is a consultant psychiatrist in Edinburgh. He’s written for Encounter magazine, and has published in both Quillette and Areo.

    Obviously, not only historically relevant.

  20. chigau (違う) says

    microraptor #19
    I took PSYC101 in 1975, in Canada.
    Freud Jung Adler were only historical.
    What were your years?

  21. hemidactylus says

    @21-chigau
    Donald Hebb of synaptic postulate and cell assembly fame was Canadian. That was holy grail. Lashley put forward engrams and mass action. Festinger championed cognitive dissonance. Janis did the same for groupthink. Skinner owned operant conditioning. Piaget developmental stages. Ellis rational emotive therapy.

    I kinda accidentally fell into Jung as a hiker trips, falls off a trail, tumbles down a hill, and cracks their skull on a boulder. I doubt psych dept faculty want that to happen. But it is an interesting journey…except for the massive head trauma thing.

  22. chrislawson says

    Mark Brewster@17–

    Actually, I’ll take Chopra’s woo over Peterson’s woo any day. At least Chopra isn’t in the malignant right-wing enabling business.

  23. lotharloo says

    Atheists like Peterson because they have been radicalized. People like Bill Maher agree on very few things with Peterson. But still he likes him because Bill Maher, like Dawkins, Coyne, etc. have all been radicalized in the culture wars.

  24. paxoll says

    Peterson repeated this no true atheist bullshit in his recent discussion with Dillahunty.

  25. monad says

    If you think you are vegetarian you are wrong, because your mind has been bent and shaped and molded by a past where people ate meat when they could catch it. If you think you are childless you are wrong, because every single one of your ancestors had children, stretching back into the unfathomable abysm of time. Never mind what you believe, eat, or do; everything is presumed hereditary.

  26. Muz says

    @ John Morales

    Part of the ‘fun’, I suppose, of Peterson’s approach is that you do have to struggle with its apparent density to figure out what he is truly saying. And that’s why when you find someone criticising Peterson or tangling with Peterson acolytes their first defense of him is to say “You don’t understand him” or “That’s not what he is saying” and then the argument goes back and forth about just what it is he is saying.
    Work through Peterson’s moral and philosophical calculus, even casually as I have, and you do find that its implications require some sort of ill described abstract absolute force. When he is teased out further it turns out he is a very conservative christian, although he is usually loathed to admit it (which seems at times part of a modest Canadian religiosity and an awareness of ‘the market’ he’s aiming at, which is irreligious young men. You hit them with Jesus too early and they’ll scatter).
    So, yes, while it is tricky ground to interpret someone’s work and accuse it of saying something it may not directly say, I would say this is exactly what Peterson wants people to do. He would dearly love to guide people on a path of self revelation (if you can call it that once it has been so guided).
    As Paxoll says, Matt Dillahunty met him recently and promised to do what few interviewers do and pin Peterson down on the implications of his many strand views. Afterwards he reported that Peterson used the familiar canard that if you’re moral you believe in god, you just don’t know it. Although we’ll have to see the video to see if that’s interpretation as well.

  27. John Morales says

    Muz,

    Part of the ‘fun’, I suppose, of Peterson’s approach is that you do have to struggle with its apparent density to figure out what he is truly saying.

    Deniability necessitates that circumlocutory strategy.

    So, yes, while it is tricky ground to interpret someone’s work and accuse it of saying something it may not directly say, I would say this is exactly what Peterson wants people to do.

    Well, that’s clearly what the cited reviewer thought” “The subtleties are way beyond the ken of some contemporary reviewers.” — in particular, “[Julian] Baggini in particular appears not to have understood a single word.”.

    (Interesting how you both agree it’s dog-whistle communication.)

  28. says

    two more gems:

    @ 36:03

    dillahunty: “what is it you fear we would lose if people stopped believing in god?”

    peterson: “we’d lose the metaphoric substrate of our ethos … and we’d be lost.”

    @ 49:28

    dillahunty: “you could start with the presup that death is preferable to life, but you wouldn’t get very far.”

    peterson: “yeah, you do, ’cause you stop suffering. you just die.”

    dillahunty: “no, ’cause when you’re dead, you’re not being, so there’s no well-being.”

  29. consciousness razor says

    First question, before we attempt an explanation of it: is Jordan Peterson popular with atheists?

    It doesn’t seem like it to me. As far as I can tell, a handful of shithead atheist “leaders” have had something positive to say about him. But we shouldn’t have any trouble recognizing that they are outliers in the group. Time and again, we’ve noticed they don’t accurately reflect the views that a large majority of us have. So even these people who are associated with Peterson (however loosely) are not exactly what I’d call “popular” with our group. Maybe being “popular with atheists” is not supposed to be about that, but then it’s not clear to me what it would be about.

    It’s even sillier than presuming many/most psychologists adhere to the theories of Freud or Jung, because Peterson is not even (historically or otherwise) an atheist himself. The association in the latter case is at best so loose and flimsy that I don’t see how there’s anything to talk about in the first place. Are the Yankees “popular with Bostonians”? I don’t believe that they are. I know practically nothing about baseball or its rivalries, but it’s apparently enough to get that particular story right (or at least not completely backwards). So it would probably be rather pointless to ask “why are they popular?”

    A better question: Why does anyone like Jordan Peterson?

  30. DanDare says

    You tube commenter who support JP are definitely theists of the worst kind.
    However I had this interchange with a friend recently:

    Me: I came across Jordan Peterson a short while ago. I read some of his stuff and watched some of his stuff. His vacuous rubbish seemed fairly transparent but lots of people seem to be avid fans.

    Friend: I never reply or post on fb, but I just have to in this case. Wow, the fact you call his content “vacuous rubbish” speaks volumes. He is not perfect, nor does he claim to be, but he is objectively very articulate, and to the best of his ability attempts to offer deep insights on the complex facets of life (through both years of professional experience and research). I pity the person who watches the following in full and deems it nothing more than rubbish: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XvI6Y5Yq8o Do not throw the baby out with the bathwater. An open mind and a mirror are important. Horus would have much to say.

    Me: Thank you for your comment. I will not respond until i have time to watch the video you suggest.
    However I would like you to withdraw the ad hominem at the end of your comment. It is insulting.

    Me again: Ok. Watched the video. This is his “finest moment”? Did he make a coherent point? I heard a bunch of cliches, generalisations and emotive gabble cobbled together to make some kind of point.
    However you present this, so I imagine you can see a valuable point in it that I have obviously missed. Can you express here the argument that you believe is being made?
    Thanks in advance.

    Crickets….

  31. DanDare says

    I’m reading through the comments. Far out. Over and over again, he is the greatest thinker of all time, this video must be seen by all students, god has sent JP to deliver us….its freeking insane. That video is nearly incoherent.

  32. hemidactylus says

    John Morales and Dan Dare:

    I actually lasted the video. Only ten minutes. Jeez the kids these days with their clicky things and the instant gratification. The marshmallow bingers (sarcasm).

    I am just waking up and would need to rewatch the video to unpack it more but it works as a wild stream of consciousness rant, especially as an entry if one hasn’t read the bizarre stuff he writes about lobsters and hierarchies. Life is suffering (thanks there Mr. Schopenhauer) and people are damaged. Oppression abounds. Deal with it. But how?

    Been rereading a book on Affluenza as it may dovetail with Adorno and Horkheimer on Dialectic of Enlightenment and Chomsky’s Necessary Illusions.

    People feel the sting of deprivation even born into privilege. They measure toward others and tv shows that convey affluent excess. Media we have is an ubiquitous ocean in which we are unwitting fish. Buy, buy, buy. Go further in debt. It benefits others until the bubble pops again. Consumption is self-medication. That’s how to ameliorate suffering. Acquisitiveness. Beat out the other in the game. Consume conspicuously. Be top lobster.

    Not sure what Peterson’s alternative to this self-inflicted morass is, but it does cry for simplicity, ascetics and maybe getting lost in self-help mind candy or spirituality. A cheaper way to tap the reward centers? Or repattern away from acquisitiveness and the mutually destructive rat race.

  33. hemidactylus says

    And at the bitter end of his trope-filled rant about the oppression olympics what’s with the obligatory slam against pomo? Is *that* a source of his appeal? Harris, Boghossian et al bogey the evil postmodern Other as *The Enemy*. I think pomo epistemic relativism is silly and self-refuting in its excess, but there are limits to knowledge. Pomo light? And I am still angry about Harris characterizing Hume’s guillotine executioners as reflexive ethical relativists unflummoxed by violations of human rights around the world in Moral Landscape. If you don’t tow the New Atheist line you are an evil relativist and regressive leftist.

    Peterson fights an enemy shared by New Atheists so the precarious alliance is justified? And sharing venues is marketable because big ideas and difficult convos. Fuck the snowflakes.

  34. mailliw says

    On the subject of the unconscious I very much enjoyed reading Nick Chater’s book “The Mind is Flat: The Illusion of Mental Depth and the Improvised Mind” which basically provides a set of well reasoned arguments for denying the existence of the unconscious mind.

    As human beings we are constantly interpreting our experience and have no access to the mental states that are deriving these interpretations.

  35. mailliw says

    Post-modernism and stoicism are very much compatible with each other.

    The stoics say there is very little that we can change about the world, but we can change our interpretation of our experiences. This is wholly in accord with post-modernist thinking.

    Stoicism, furthermore, is not a product of our biology but of our culture. Its practice in day to day life is a matter of great self discipline. Peterson’s recent reactions to criticism have shown him, if he really does claim to be a stoic, to be remarkably bad at putting the ideas into practice.

  36. hemidactylus says

    Stoicism comes across too much as fatalistic resignation then. The serenity prayer seems a happier medium: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
    Courage to change the things I can,
    And wisdom to know the difference.”

    Yes there are cases where we need to change our inner processing of stuff we lack control over. But being a social justice warrior means recognizing bad stuff that should change and trying to do something effective. Fatalistic resignation would protect Jim Crow.

  37. says

    It’s as if he was created to help discredit psychology. Every time I point out that there are people who take Freud and Jung and IQ and all that bullshit seriously, someone steps up to defend psychology by saying, “yeah, well, no real psychologists use that stuff anymore, it’s not even taught.” So, as an example of psychology fail, Peterson’s quite a success.

  38. says

    mailliw@#43:
    The stoics say there is very little that we can change about the world, but we can change our interpretation of our experiences. This is wholly in accord with post-modernist thinking.

    It is, sort of. Except that a great deal of post-modernist analysis aims at how out interpretation of our experiences is culturally driven and out of our control. We may struggle to change our interpretations but we’re going to be trapped in our culture because that’s where all our options come from. I.e.: with great effort one might be able to change from being a fascist into an SJW but their SJW agenda will still be constructed from outside influences (even to the point of self-labeling as an ‘SJW’).

    I’m not entirely cynical – I think we can make some effort to understand and analyze the cultural influences in which we life, and that’s a good/worthwhile thing. If it means fewer nazis and more SJWs, it is. But that presupposes we agree on what the labels “SJW” and “nazi” mean. And then we’re epistemologically chasing our tails.

    Peterson’s just a hack, in my opinion; a god-created example of the worst of popular psychology, that we can point at and laugh about. He’s useful in that role, like Sam Harris is in his – if you think about it, Peterson’s also using a variation of Sam Harris’ “edgy but misunderstood; I am so brilliant” maneuver. Harris is just better at it. They are both useful for breaking down the established order by fostering nihilist cynicism, though I don’t think we need them right now – there’s plenty of nihilism and cynicism being induced by the great angry apricot in Washington.

  39. Owlmirror says

    But that presupposes we agree on what the labels “SJW” and “nazi” mean.

    How about “egalitarian” and “supremacist”?

  40. mailliw says

    @Marcus Ranham#46

    It is, sort of. Except that a great deal of post-modernist analysis aims at how out interpretation of our experiences is culturally driven and out of our control.

    That’s true, over time I have found I can change my habits of thinking that I don’t become angry or agitated over things that previously annoyed me – to considerable benefit to myself, my work and my relationships, but it may just be entirely due to the fact that my cultural background prompted me to read Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius and to take their ideas to heart. I wouldn’t rule that out at all.

    Most of my understanding of post-modernism comes from the linguistic aspects, where it seems to me to make perfect sense that the connection between words and their meanings is entirely socially determined. It’s why we need the scientific method to allow us a rigourous means of verifying our sometimes very misguided intuitions and understanding of the world.

  41. says

    Owlmirror@#47:
    How about “egalitarian” and “supremacist”?

    Those are better because they embed a description of a narrower axis of concern. But one can still attempt to deconstruct them by asking “equal about what?” or “supremacist about what?” and then dig into whether they offer anything prescriptive.

    I’m not saying we shouldn’t use labels. I think I am saying something like “labels are all we’ve got, so the post-modernists are on the right track to be concerned with labels.”

  42. says

    mailliw@#49:
    Most of my understanding of post-modernism comes from the linguistic aspects, where it seems to me to make perfect sense that the connection between words and their meanings is entirely socially determined. It’s why we need the scientific method to allow us a rigourous means of verifying our sometimes very misguided intuitions and understanding of the world.

    In the sense that Peterson is so concerned with labels, and is happy to throw around labels for his political purposes, he’s pursuing a post-modernist agenda himself. Which is not unexpected at all; he’s using labels for well-poisoning, not to communicate, so he doesn’t see a need to analyze his own use of language carefully.

    I’m a bit too cynical to expect much from the scientific method as it applies to verifying our intuitions. When I look at humanity’s response to global warming, anti-vaxers, and nazis, I find a great deal of sympathy for the post-modernists. Remember: the original idea of post-modernism was challenging and refuting modernism, which was seen as the program of scientific rationalism – that we could use scientific objectivity to understand the world. The post-modernist points out “that’s not working very well, is it?”

    Peterson doesn’t understand post-modernism, which makes sense because he’s just using it as a label for “bad thing” when he should be using it as a label for “bad thing that kicks my ass.” I mean, the guy is talking about Freud and Jung – who were practically poster children illustrating the failure of scientism. What Peterson should be railing against is nihilism. But he’d have no point left at all if he tried to do that.

  43. mailliw says

    @Marcus Ranum #51

    I mean, the guy is talking about Freud and Jung – who were practically poster children illustrating the failure of scientism.

    Surely the modern objection to Freud (I don’t know much about Jung) is that is methods weren’t scientific. All his evidence is based on individual cases and is therefore entirely anecdotal. Freud, as far as I am aware, never constructed any proper experiments with proper controls.

    Remember: the original idea of post-modernism was challenging and refuting modernism, which was seen as the program of scientific rationalism – that we could use scientific objectivity to understand the world.

    The mistake is, I think, to believe that the world does follow these “objective” scientific rules precisely. Rationalism is an enormously powerful tool for understanding the world, but it is just a tool, invented by human beings. Our interpretations of the world through the scientific method are step for step becoming more sophisticated and accurate thanks to the scientific method.

  44. rietpluim says

    Freud and Jung were quacks. Okay, technically spoken, they did take the study of the human mind out of the realm of the supernatural – but not out of the realm of superstition. They did science little favor. Psychology and psychiatry as scientific disciplines still suffer from their influence.

  45. consciousness razor says

    hemidactylus:

    I think pomo epistemic relativism is silly and self-refuting in its excess, but there are limits to knowledge. Pomo light?

    No, not pomo at all. You could very well know many things (unlimited in whatever ways you like). Even so, the relativist claim may still be that you do know them, relative to this or that – not that you don’t, that you can’t, that nobody can, that it would be possible but it just so happens that there is nothing to know, that it must be the case that there is nothing to know, that you know but lack “certainty” or a “proof,” that you and/or anyone else can but not “absolutely,” etc.

    People who (in one way or another) reject epistemic relativism are not thereby claiming that there are no limits to knowledge. That may be a confused strawman you’ve run across before, but the claims are logically independent. (For that matter, if we’re going to be serious about it, there are many more than two important distinctions to make, as I alluded to above.)

    So, you’re not making a pomo sort of move, not even a little bit, when you claim “there are limits to knowledge.” That’s basically just what normal people say; and it’s what some have very clearly and unambiguously said for thousands of years, long before anything like postmodernism ever appeared on the scene. If they can claim to have contributed anything which is philosophically novel (if not interesting or important), then it’s not that.

  46. says

    mailliw@#52:
    Surely the modern objection to Freud (I don’t know much about Jung) is that is methods weren’t scientific.

    Yes, that was why I was careful to use the word “scientism” – implying the near-worship of the scientific method that was briefly popular in the mid-to-late 1800s. Jung was equally as bad as Freud: he came up with a sciency-sounding system by pulling the whole theory out of his ass on a fine day. He then announced it as a fait accompli and people jumped to start using it. That was “scientism” not “the scientific method” – I could have used the word “pseudo-science” which is equally good (and I’ve used elsewhere to describe psychology up until the 1970s)

    Our interpretations of the world through the scientific method are step for step becoming more sophisticated and accurate thanks to the scientific method.

    Slowly, but surely, with many a slip as the progress is made.

    When we are discussion post-modernism and its cultural attack on scientism and modernism, the elephant in the room is scientific racism and social darwinism – both of which were (this is aguable) preeminent pseudo-sciences in America and Britain at the beginning of the 20th century. The post-modernists were destroying that great big mountain of bullshit by pointing out the many places where things were being declared to be “verified by science” that were actually “measures of popular cultural phenomena.” That was an incredibly important critique and when I see someone like Peterson who is attacking post-modernism, I search for evidence to let me make one of three assumptions:
    – This person is an idiot who understands nothing about post-modernism
    – This person is a crypto-fascist or racist-in-denial who sees post-modernism as an attack on their belief and reflexively dislikes post-modernism even though they don’t acknowledge why
    – This person is a lying fascist asshole

  47. mailliw says

    The post-modernists were destroying that great big mountain of bullshit by pointing out the many places where things were being declared to be “verified by science” that were actually “measures of popular cultural phenomena.”

    Agreed, from a scientific perspective today, we can say that human beings are among the least genetically diverse species on the planet. There is no evidence that different groups of people in different parts of the world have significant genetic differences so the whole idea of human races is fundamentally wrong. There are no human races from a biological perspective. The proper field for the study of “race” is therefore sociology and not biology.

    So whenever one reads an article with the headline “scientists prove”, of course the scientists haven’t proved anything, if anything is considered to be, at least provisionally, true, it is the scientific method that has demonstrated that, through logically consistent hypotheses and repeatable experiments, the individual scientists are incidental (no disrespect to the many dedicated and hard working scientists meant I assure you!)

    It is also worth noting that some of the more extreme post-modernist thinking that attempted to equate every point of view as being on an equal footing with the scientific has largely been abandoned by social scientists, precisely because it allows climate change deniers to claim that their position is just as valid as that of climatologists.

  48. springa73 says

    It is also worth noting that some of the more extreme post-modernist thinking that attempted to equate every point of view as being on an equal footing with the scientific has largely been abandoned by social scientists, precisely because it allows climate change deniers to claim that their position is just as valid as that of climatologists.

    It’s a little ironic that many right-wingers like to attack post-modernism when they themselves make use of a simplified version of it to argue that we shouldn’t trust scientists and other experts on things like global climate change, evolution, and vaccination.

  49. jack16 says

    @34, 35, 36,
    Listened for a few minutes. Incoherent. (He not me) . . . (Well maybe me)

    jack16

  50. consciousness razor says

    Yes, that was why I was careful to use the word “scientism” – implying the near-worship of the scientific method that was briefly popular in the mid-to-late 1800s.

    That’s some wacky history you’ve got there. It’s as much a part of the 20th century as the space race was. If you want examples of some of the things I’m talking about, you can see it expressed quite flagrantly (even in contemporary or 21st-c. works) in a big chunk of the science fiction literature. That’s not an especially 19th-c. thing, it hardly needs to be said; and early works like Frankenstein (1818!) make if anything the opposite case.

    The enlightenment era you’re apparently thinking of started much earlier, way before 1850 by all accounts. Romantics and so forth were reacting to something they had already encountered, but I’d have no coherent place to put them in your timeline. I think you could even make a pretty convincing case that the Faust literature (e.g.) was responding to similar issues and sentiments long before all of this. It’s far from obvious how much it’s really even about “science” or “methodology,” as opposed to some entirely different set of concerns.

    But the point is that you managed to be both way too early and way too late for me to somehow make sense of this by connecting it with actual historical events. One thing I do notice is that Freud and Jung were both born not long after 1850, which makes me think that may be your motivation for telling this little story. But that seems to be the only part having anything to do with the actual history.

  51. KG says

    Atheists like Peterson because they have been radicalized. People like Bill Maher agree on very few things with Peterson. But still he likes him because Bill Maher, like Dawkins, Coyne, etc. have all been radicalized in the culture wars. -Lotharloo@25

    What do you mean by “radicalized”? All these people are Sqwallers, the very opposite of radicals.

  52. says

    consciousness razor@#59:
    That’s some wacky history you’ve got there.

    I said “near worship.” There was still plenty of scientism in the 20th century, but I think there was a bit less of people going around claiming science was going to solve all our problems not that Nietzsche had declared god to be dead, and all that. In that sense, the 20th century had absorbed it and embraced it – “popular science” was accepted as truth.

    I was more thinking of Huxley and Spencer than Freud and Jung, for what that’s worth.

    Also, I hardly offered a “timeline”; if you want to go put Huxley and Spencer and Carnegie and Popenoe and Freud and Jung and whoever, on a timeline, you’re welcome to. I don’t know how we’d be able to compare whether there was more scientism in the 20th or not; we’d have to first define “scientism” more tightly. I am using the term to mean ideology that “science will figure everything out” as we got from Spencer. By the mid 20th century I think it was pretty clear that science would just make bigger nastier bombs and industrial insecticides and whatnot. Which raises another point: post-modernism should be linked to the disaffection with modernism that resulted from WWI and WWII, which were scientific endeavors of a sort.

  53. says

    I was specifically thinking of Spencer and Popenoe, FWIW. Eugenics and racism and scientism are all tied together in a great big mass of bullshit, in my mind. It’s shameful what those jerks did to Darwin’s excellent science. I’ve been reading Goddard and Madison Grant lately and it’s hard to get the fecal reek out of my brain. That’s more early 20th century science-worship for the ignorati.

  54. says

    Owlmirror at 47.

    The US army in WWII still very much believed in white supremacy. They tried to enforce segregation of black troops in England, even when they were at war with the Nazis.

  55. consciousness razor says

    I was more thinking of Huxley and Spencer than Freud and Jung, for what that’s worth.

    Okay. I couldn’t come up with anything else, and Freud and Jung were the obvious names. But I accept that it was coincidental.

    Also, I hardly offered a “timeline”;

    If “briefly popular in the mid-to-late 1800s” is to mean anything to me, then you did. It was not popular, then for a time it briefly was, then once again it was not. I don’t load the word “timeline” with a whole lot more than that. That was the story, consisting of some events happening in a certain order and during some roughly-defined period of time. It’s just not a true story.

    I am using the term to mean ideology that “science will figure everything out” as we got from Spencer.

    But in what sense did this come from Herbert Spencer? You could surely trace some things back to him, but while we’re at it, his ideas emphatically did not come out of nowhere either. Leibniz wanted to promise something very similar, for example, although he didn’t join it with empiricism. So did Laplace and plenty of other big names. Even if you felt like crediting someone from the 1800s, people would usually cite Auguste Comte for positivism. And “logical positivism” (or some would say “neopositivism” or “scientism”), if you’d even bother to make the distinction, is the stuff of the 1900s; first Einstein and so forth make a big splash, then the philosophy gets revitalized and reformulated, as it continues on into the present day. I don’t think you’re going to find a whole lot of Spencer in that story.

    By the mid 20th century I think it was pretty clear […]

    To whom? But whatever. If this is how it goes now, then it would be odd for you to also insist on the accuracy of “briefly popular in the mid-to-late 1800s.” I think you could concede that and maintain that I’m wrong about everything else, if that’s really what you wanted to do.

    Anyway, I strongly doubt it’s become less popular among most people, although it has a bad reputation among philosophers (or anybody who’s thought about it very carefully). I think has science has made so many advances, had a much larger and more noticeable impact on people’s lives, etc., so it’s still a very common (perhaps more common) trap for many people to fall into. That should come as no surprise, and I think it would be surprising if there were an inverse relationship as you suggest. WWII (or the nastiness of bomb-making and whatnot) has presumably nothing to do with why people should reject it, nor with why they actually do whenever that may occur (brief period in the 1800s or not). So it still sounds like we’re not on the same page.

  56. says

    consciousness razor@#64:
    Freud and Jung were the obvious names

    They are certainly some of them. Binet, and Quetelet, too. You could pretty well assemble a list out of the characters in The Mismeasure of Man, if you wish.

    You’re welcome to try to fit my imprecise and hand-wavey opinion to a time-line, though I think it ought to have been obvious that I was not trying to make a carefully supported argument (I omitted citations, too!) I honestly expected that my comment would have made sense to its readers; clearly I was relying too much on my own impressions and I should not have expected people to just agree with me. If you prefer, I was agreeing with Richard Hofstadter and Steven Jay Gould more than I was offering an opinion of my own. I am not interested in getting into a lengthy deconstruction of the meaning of the word “scientism” and whether or not I need to defend what you see as a time-line based on a casual comment.

    America’s love of pseudoscience has continued to the present (of course!) but I see a lump in the popularity of pseudoscience as public policy, which started in the 1850s, expanded dramatically when Darwin published “Origin” and then morphed horrifyingly into support for scientific racism/social darwinism/eugenics. Clearly we can point out that those things were part of the intellectual landscape from way before that; it was the way that the new science of evolution was adopted as “explaining” so many social ills that I was thinking of. Perhaps that’s just a distortion in the lens I see the period through – I’ve spent a lot of time reading eugenics books, scientific racism books, etc. So I am predisposed to see that crap when I look closely in some dark corners of modernism.

    This is all squishy stuff; one could argue that the anti-vaxers are emergent from the tail-pipe of a strain of social darwinian thinking. I’m not making that argument, though, the history of bad ideas is pretty confusing.

    But in what sense did this come from Herbert Spencer? You could surely trace some things back to him, but while we’re at it, his ideas emphatically did not come out of nowhere either. Leibniz wanted to promise something very similar, for example, although he didn’t join it with empiricism. So did Laplace and plenty of other big names.

    Sure, well, the easiest answer would be to suggest you read Richard Hofstadter’s Social Darwinism In American Thoughtwc – and, actually, I suspect, as I see that title, where my “time-line” came from. Hofstadter’s argument was that the big boom in pseudoscience around social darwinism was, duh, around the time Spencer started flogging his own interpretation of the implications of Origin of Species. Clearly, I’ve internalized Hofstadter’s view so thoroughly I interpreted my agreement with his argument as holding that opinion as well. Perhaps I can step aside and tell you to go argue with Hofstadter instead of me?

    then it would be odd for you to also insist on the accuracy of “briefly popular in the mid-to-late 1800s.”

    I’m not defending that position; I am trying to explain it. I don’t understand why you are being so contentious about this. Is it so very important to you that I be wrong? Fine: I am wrong. If it’s important to you that you be right: very well, you are right. Congratulations, you’ve taken a casual comment of mine and hammered it into a very minor victory, which I freely acknowledge.

    So it still sounds like we’re not on the same page.

    It seems we’re talking at cross-purposes because I am not interested in defending my casual comments as right or wrong. I actually thought that I was contributing some pieces of ideas about post-modernism. OK, so you think I’m wrong. Cool. I don’t. But I don’t think this is a matter for right/wrong, anyway – its’ all arguable, as historical interpretation tends to be.

    You could say that Voltaire was the first post-modernist, when he went after Liebniz. I’ve heard people make that interpretation (and I’m OK with that) but not in the context of the scientism of eugenics and social darwinism, which didn’t come along at that time. Voltaire, I would say, was hardly a post-modernist since his critique was not about the influence of culture on science – he just thought Liebniz was wrong.

  57. says

    consciousness razor@#64:
    WWII (or the nastiness of bomb-making and whatnot) has presumably nothing to do with why people should reject it

    Oh, come on. You cannot simply wave off the rather obvious fact that structural post-modernism found its voice in post-WWII France, along with existentialism. Sure, there were post-modernist ideas, and existentialist ideas, going back way before then, but the culture of French philosophical thought which brought up Derrida, Foucault, and Sartre had a whole lot to do with French search for meaning after two brutal wars and tremendous cultural turmoil resulting from France’s trying to confront (while simultaneously hiding) its willingness to participate in the nazi atrocities, while simultaneously hating the occupation. There’s a lot going on there.

  58. jrkrideau says

    @ 19 microraptor

    Freud and Jung were mentioned only for their historical relevance

    It was a clever trick. A bit like Scientologists, the wily psychologists insist of many years and thousands of dollars in tithes student fees before they reveal the glorious truth of Freud. (There is a heretical group that holds that Jung is the true prophet but they are deluded.)

    As an aside, I believe Lemark was a distinguished biologist who made significant contributions to science. Freud and Jung were quacks who did real damage in some areas, and their pernicious influence is still felt at times. They made no positive contributions.

    @ rietpluim
    +1

  59. jrkrideau says

    @ 21 chigau

    Psych 010 (before the 100, 200 revolution, damn newfangled numbers)

    in 1969-1970.

    I literally never heard anything about them. Of course, half the department were rat–runners or pigeon fanciers. All hail Skinner!

    Someone in my class told me that we had had a one-hour lecture on Freud (maybe the others too?) but I had skipped class that afternoon. No one took it seriously, least of all the prof.

  60. jrkrideau says

    @ 20 John Morales

    Tim Rogers is a consultant psychiatrist

    Note psychiatrist != psychologist.

    God only knows what psychiatrists do these days other than pass out the drugs.

  61. consciousness razor says

    Sure, well, the easiest answer would be to suggest you read Richard Hofstadter’s Social Darwinism In American Thought

    Maybe I will. But for the record, social darwinism isn’t what you were ostensibly talking about, ideas that “science will figure everything out” as you put it. However, I do get a picture of Victorian England and such, as soon as Darwin is mentioned (forget Spencer). That clears some of the cobwebs for me, thank you.

    But I would say scientism is another story. I wouldn’t try to tell them both in the same breath. People see their first nuclear bomb, and some will think “How about that? Science really did go and figure out atoms, since we can evidently harness their power now. Maybe that’s everything or close to it. Someday, it will figure everything out, if it hasn’t already.” There’s no need at that point to somehow bring in social darwinism or any of the rest. That’s just not how the thought process (the one I had in mind) seems to go.

    Postmodernism, as a form of opposition to either or both or who knows what? Well, I’d prefer not to bring up postmodernism, but I think it’s fair to say that issue is a whole lot murkier.

    Is it so very important to you that I be wrong?

    I don’t think you should take it personally or be insulted/offended/etc., that I wanted to know what you actually thought. If I were happy just making a guess that you may (or may not) have said something meaningful, which I could take seriously and try to connect with what I know, but simply didn’t care at all what that was, then you should probably be a little bit offended. Trying to nail down your statements to something concrete and plausible enough that I can understand them (and maybe even agree with them) should not be terribly upsetting. If it helps, consider it a sign of respect that I even care that you were right/wrong (about the facts or how best to interpret them, your choice).

    I’ll make a claim now. I bet there was probably an uptick in scientism in the last couple of decades, coming hand in hand with the increase in atheism. (“New atheism,” to use the stupid term. It’s like the baby boomers are called “new babies” or whatever, not more of something we already had.)

    This subject is important to me for that sort of reason too: because I want to be able to tell our story coherently/accurately/etc. It’s not (only) because I have very deep interest in the burgeoning field of Marcus Ranum exegesis. I know what I personally mean by “more scientism” as opposed to less, what I’d look for if the evidence supported it or not … and it’s definitely not about social darwinism, support for eugenics, and so on. There’s something of a connection to make, but that complicates things a lot and at any rate isn’t what I had in mind. So I’d want to be clear on that, and it’d probably be convenient that other people wouldn’t think we were necessarily disagreeing about such things.

  62. consciousness razor says

    Oh, come on. You cannot simply wave off the rather obvious fact that structural post-modernism found its voice in post-WWII France, along with existentialism. Sure, there were post-modernist ideas, and existentialist ideas, going back way before then, but the culture of French philosophical thought which brought up Derrida, Foucault, and Sartre had a whole lot to do with French search for meaning after two brutal wars and tremendous cultural turmoil resulting from France’s trying to confront (while simultaneously hiding) its willingness to participate in the nazi atrocities, while simultaneously hating the occupation. There’s a lot going on there.

    I agree, that’s a lot. A little too much. Again, that’s not a rejection of “science will (or has) figure(d) everything out” or something along those lines. Those attitudes/ideologies/whatever are correlated, I suppose, but they are not the same. One does not become an existentialist, a structural postmodernist, or anything in the neighborhood of that, by denying scientism. Apples and oranges. I’m in the latter camp and have very little patience for the former, so I can report it’s an entirely hospitable and comfortable part of logical space. You don’t get to push pomo stuff on me, if I don’t want it, right? So, please don’t.

    If you wanted your group to sound more popular than it actually is, you could try to include people like me in it. But I don’t think I’m mistaken about deliberately rejecting the invitation. Thanks but no thanks. The RCC may still count me as member, inflating their numbers in the process, as I was born into a Catholic family. But I rejected them too, and for various reasons, I’d rather not pretend otherwise.

  63. karmacat says

    Actually, Freud ditched his theory about consciousness, subconscious, unconscious. He moved on to ego, superego, id which is still too simplistic. since Freud there have been many theorists in psychology that have tried to find models of how humans deal with emotions and internal conflict. People who doesn’t understand the history and the full depth of psychology tend to focus on Freud. If they want to add a mystical component then they talk about Jung.

  64. DanDare says

    In the videos he lists “oppressions” which are a mix of actual oppression and misfortunes and people claiming oppression for loss of privelege. He then seems to sneer at the idea of sorting it out and acting on the things that reauire community effort.
    Telling a person being bearen up by police to “toughen up” would be useless.

  65. cvoinescu says

    Marcus:

    Let me see if I got this right. You’re saying that, from about mid-1800s, we were very gung-ho about science and believed, without justification, that it would eventually solve most social problems (if not all). Then (1940s and 50s), as it really sunk in that science was also a source of better bigger ways to kill each other, and could also be maliciously misconstrued to overreach into justifying all sorts of evil bullshit, we became somewhat less enthusiastic about it.

    Sounds about right to me, except that both the US and the Eastern Bloc were quite gung-ho about science as a fix for social problems during the 1950s and 60s (but not Western Europe, as you point out).

  66. revmatty says

    He’s popular because he appeals to the self interest of a vocal and passionate subset of atheists: the ones who eagerly embrace the misogyny, xenophobia, anti-skepicality, racism, and homophobia of religion but aren’t comfortable with the idea that someone (God, in this instance) may judge them for their actions.

  67. KG says

    the burgeoning field of Marcus Ranum exegesis – consciousness razor@70

    It’s a minefield, I tell you, a minefield!

  68. KG says

    Then (1940s and 50s), as it really sunk in that science was also a source of better bigger ways to kill each other -cvoinescu@74

    Not quite. Marcus actually said:

    By the mid 20th century I think it was pretty clear that science would just make bigger nastier bombs and industrial insecticides and whatnot. [emphasis added]

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