Reflections on the emergence of Jordan B Peterson

#1 – One recent Jordan B Peterson podcast is his appearance at the Aspen Ideas Festival. His interlocutor begins by asking a genuinely interesting question. How does he understand his rise through the culture not only to prominence but to a remarkable kind of phenomenon.

There are many tiresome commentaries on how Dr Peterson is the leader of the intellectual dark web, an unwitting ally of the alt-right and conservatives, and some strange response to Trump’s America (because, of course, the world’s culture really does centre on the narcissistic politics of Washington). These accounts may reassure progressive activists that the Peterson phenomenon is “nothing new“; but Peterson has a more engaging thought.

His reflection is that technological change – the emergence of youtubing, podcasting and indeed blogging – has created new possibilities in the culture.

“For the first time in history the spoken word has the same reach as the written word, and not only that, no lag to publication and no barrier to entry. That is a major technological revolution, that is a Gutenberg Revolution. This is a game-changer.”

#2 These new possibilities for participation in high level culture have been launched into the world starved of truly sustaining culture by its mediocre gatekeeper elites. The mainstream media have turned their talent – what used to be known as reporters – into the star attractions, who pimp themselves endlessly on fluffy talk and panel shows, and so offer their audience a false celebrity culture, not a culture of education and development. The universities have betrayed their purpose in games of virtue-signalling, and commercialisation of education. The culture channels of television are little more than pop music shows. Gone are the days of my youth when Sunday afternoon and evening programming regularly featured some real substantial high culture. As Peterson says in this podcast,

“The narrow bandwidth of television has made us think we are stupider than we are, and so people have a real hunger for deep intellectual dialogue and that can be met with these new technologies and that has revolutionary significance.”

#3 “The personal is political” was one of the chants of the 60s, 70s and beyond. It is an idea that created new possibilities of social policy, but that has frozen into a kind of new totalitarianism of identity politics today.  One of Peterson’s deepest insights into the errors of the left is that they like to think, at least today, that everything is political. In truth, Peterson says everything is at its most fundamental level psychological. His emergence is explained by his attention to this deeper level of experience.

#4 “The case for growing up is not made well,” says Peterson during a talk with radio 3AW host, Neil Mitchell.  Our culture has sung insistently since the 1960s, “Forever young, I want to be forever young.” Yet our societies are aged like never before. To read the 12 rules for life is to accept the call to responsibility and to maturation. It is to put order into the chaos of youth and rebellion and endless yearning for a new boundary to transgress. It is a message for everyone older than 21, and that, after all is most of us.

Image source: 3AW

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