[6 minute read]
This article is NOT a political commentary nor any sort of opinion piece concerned with controversy around “Jordan Peterson, the phenomenon.” He accuses academia of scheming to repress the Individual with conformist collectivism. “On Claiming Belief In God” (YouTube) merely fell into place with other musings in this series, so some references to its content are woven in.
The host (Dennis Prager) makes me uncomfortable like Oprah does when they try to over-identify with guests: “We are kindred spirits… I am like you, you are like me…” His verbose intro: He knows a “good man” when he sees one, and Peterson is a good man. So it’s particularly amusing that, in response, Peterson deftly denies his own goodness!
The irony continues because Peterson’s message in the interview is about the power of the individual–i.e., you are not like me, and I am not like you. No one is like anyone else. That is where each person’s individual, inimitable value lies.
That principle reminds me of John Paul II’s theology of the human person, emphatic about the mystery of individuals, departing from more objective (disembodied) philosophies about humanity collectively. Similarly, Peterson, in other places, describes the totality of the Bible as a story about a shift from transforming a collective people’s government to a focus on transformation of individual persons. Biblically, “Repent!” was not an exhortation to lash yourself woefully because of your pathetic sinfulness. That’s a corruption of Christianity we owe to dangerous atonement theories; a more enlightened translation is, “Transform your consciousness,” which is a far cry from, “Accept Jesus as savior from damnation deserved by your pathetic sinfulness.”
Prager and Oprah stroke guests’ egos uncomfortably, with excessive adulation that seems to point to their own insecurity. Awkward to endure. That is a recognition of my Shadow projected (a la Jung). “I spot it, I got it.” My own ￼insecure conceit is something I do not like about myself, so I repress it into my Shadow. Peterson is a useful guide for me in this regard. More on that later in the series.
Peterson’s opponents point to his haughtiness. If you can endure privileged white males pontificating, Peterson has a genuine respect for other persons as beings unto themselves—situating egos in a high-value, healthy framework for relating to one another.
I’ve come to believe that ego is not, in and of itself, a bad thing at all (I fancy Richard Rohr on that topic). Many institutions today are obsessed with anti-egoism. Peterson sharply faults universities for transmitting their obsessive carefulness about offensiveness to larger western society. But there’s plenty of culpability to spread around.
Chief among blame-worthy￼ institutions are major currents in established religions, which oversimplify humility and reduce self-focus and egoism (“What’s in it for me?”) to selfishness and egotism (“Look at my greatness”). This shallow-izing Christianity means the soul must find its fuller expression elsewise – like in socialistic movements – because, as Peterson, often points out, modern society has killed God, and as Nietzsche warned, something must fill that large void in expressing our collective soul.
Psychology is rightly obsessed with ego as a fragile dimension of self concept. Peterson is a psychologist, so credibly and authoritatively criticizes anti-ego collectivism. Losing the value and sense of ego-self is a slippery slope toward losing individual and collective souls. After all, relationship and personality challenges have largely to do with being conscious of how egos interact–particularly the vulnerability of the less aware who act as if reality begins and ends at the boundaries of the ego, and so defend the ego’s fragility at the expense of freer communication across the boundaries, replacing authentic ideation with ideals.
Even people more conscious of the wider boundaries of the psyche/soul can be insensitive when their egos are carried away by the inner freedom of the larger Self. I wonder how much the anti-Peterson impulse toward collective conformity is a reaction of vulnerability by more fragile Selves to whom the expanse of the soul is less familiar or more daunting.
Notions about the psyche have been historically intertwined with notions of soul. I don’t know well the history of psychology, but there seems to have been a shift from an original concern with the inner soul, toward instead studying external, observable behavior predominantly–a shift at the soul’s expense (James Hillman’s archetypal psychology bemoans psychology’s obsession with behavior: “Psychopathology = psyche-pathos-logos = the ‘speech of the suffering soul'”).
Reductionist science is obsessed with data (like observable behavior), so perhaps psychologists chase research funding by aligning with the objectivity that the harder sciences extol. Behavior is observable, so measurable; the machinations of the soul are not. Taxpayer funding of academic philosophers masquerading as scientists (psyche-ologists) isn’t as easily fundable politically.
The obsessive scientization of psychology favors behavior more than probing the soul, happily left to philosophers and their meager funding. It feels to me like 9 out of 10 bloggers on Psychology Today have a deep need to cite behavioral research, and often begin with something like, “A recent study by…” When not that, they often cite their own experience as therapists. I think both are fine. Behavior is a window to the soul, since the soul is linked to both thought and behavior. Peterson practices the same integration of data, clinical experience, and soul-searching.
But I think another consequence of the scientization is that treatments in psychology and psychiatry are obsessed with diagnostics. Labels. To be fair, psychotherapists are aware of the weaknesses in this paradigm. I sense that tension as hypocrisy about externality…
Many of the shallow mantras in pop psychology discourage worrying about how others see you, and encourage outcome-independence (Peterson extols “equality of opportunity,” while decrying social-engineering quotas as “equality of outcome”). That’s not bad to me either. That encourages Jungian Individuation and the development of Self, which serve the soul. So what is my trouble with contemporary mainstream psychotherapy? Soul Therapy, Part 2