29.1.18

REDISCOVERING THE TRAGIC VISION.

University of Toronto psychology professor (!) Jordan Peterson has become something of a pop-culture sensation, simply by refusing to let some British info-babe get away with Phil Donahue style motive-questioning and position-simplifying.  David Brooks, perhaps as partial atonement for his approval of the crease of a politician's trousers, discovers in Mr Peterson's work the message that substance matters.  "Parents, universities and the elders of society have utterly failed to give many young men realistic and demanding practical wisdom on how to live."  It's a Wizard of Oz moment: the lion always had courage, but he never had a Testimonial.
The implied readers of his work are men who feel fatherless, solitary, floating in a chaotic moral vacuum, constantly outperformed and humiliated by women, haunted by pain and self-contempt. At some level Peterson is offering assertiveness training to men whom society is trying to turn into emasculated snowflakes.

Peterson gives them a chance to be strong. He inspires their idealism by telling them that life is hard. His worldview begins with the belief that life is essentially a series of ruthless dominance competitions. The strong get the spoils and the weak become meek, defeated, unknown and unloved.

For much of Western history, he argues, Christianity restrained the human tendency toward barbarism. But God died in the 19th century, and Christian dogma and discipline died with him. That gave us the age of ideology, the age of fascism and communism — and with it, Auschwitz, Dachau and the gulag.Since then we’ve tried another way to pacify the race. Since most conflict is over values, we’ve decided to not have any values. We’ll celebrate relativism and tolerance. We deny the true nature of humanity and na├»vely pretend everyone is nice. The upside is we haven’t blown ourselves up; the downside is we live in a world of normlessness, meaninglessness and chaos.

All of life is perched, Peterson continues, on the point between order and chaos. Chaos is the realm without norms and rules.
Perhaps, as Mr Brooks appears to be arguing, there are opportunities to take a more nuanced view of the tragic vision. And yet Mr Brooks and Mr  Peterson appear to be suggesting, at root, that the denial or deconstruction of coherent beliefs does not lead to sunlit uplands of higher consciousness.  They produce incoherence.

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