Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Bosch Fawstin vs. Jordan Peterson on Happiness and Life as a "Terrible Tragedy"

“Some people tell you that the purpose of life is to be happy and those people are idiots.” -unhappy idiot Jordan Peterson, who believes happiness is just an affected feeling at odds with reality. Happiness is the hard earned state that can only come from achieving one’s values.”- Bosch Fawstin, on Twitter

In a previous post, I looked at Amy Peikoff’s take on Jordan Peterson, and her observation that he spends a lot of time occupied with the darker side of life. I also noted that, while I hoped that Amy herself has never had to deal with that darker side in any significant way, I have, and can understand where Peterson is coming from, when counseling his clients, even if I ultimately share a different worldview. I put this difference down to the dual of the "benevolent vs. malevolent universe premise" between Objectivism and Peterson, which I am going to outline in a follow-up post.
But while prepping for that, I came across two Twitter posts by Objectivist, and Islam critic/cartoonist, Bosch Fawstin, that related:

Jordan Peterson says Ayn Rand isn’t “sophisticsted” [sic] enough as a thinker, whereas Peterson calls life a “terrible tragedy”, which can come out of the mouth of any bum on the street or most professors in academia. Rand was a genius who was innocent of that kind of “sophistication”. (link)

“Some people tell you that the purpose of life is to be happy and those people are idiots.” -unhappy idiot Jordan Peterson, who believes happiness is just an affected feeling at odds with reality. Happiness is the hard earned state that can only come from achieving one’s values. (link)

To which one person replied, “I wd [sic] suggest to not dismiss ProfPeterson as an "idiot" based on a lone provocative quip. He has an overwhelmingly insightful, positive message.”

(To that, I replied “Well, if Peterson doesn't want to be called an "idiot" based on isolated quips, then maybe he shouldn't call others "idiots" in a context that can be isolated in an isolated quip, if he doesn't really mean it.” That said, I do have to add that I don't see Peterson as an idiot, even if I disagree with his metaphysics.)

Other comments followed that suggested a misunderstanding of what Peterson is trying to say.  It seems the overlap in some places between Peterson and Rand have some confused, based on surface level similarities.  Some see Peterson as positive, others, negative. Indeed, both Peterson and Fawstin are pro-individualism and capitalism...they should be allies, right? I will comment on that, at the conclusion...) But that meeting place of Objectivist and religious conservative comes from two different sources, and those dueling foundations are the cause of the friction, resulting in a very different "sense of life", which results in a strained partnership at best, one that still results in each calling the other "idiots".
I looked up the “idiot” line that Fawstin quoted, to see if a fuller context revealed Jordan's line as just a  misinterpreted "quip", as someone else claimed, with a fuller meaning in a different light. It didn't:
I’ve said that some people will tell you that the purpose of life is to be happy, and those people are idiots. Happiness is something that’s done in by the first harsh blow that reality deals you. There are many circumstances in life where the expectation of happiness as a response will put you in absolutely the wrong psychological state to be prepared for what must be done.”

That is an except of a larger speech, which is transcribed here. It goes on in that vein that reveals the difference in the sense of life between Peterson and Objectivism.

But even providing that larger context, there still seemed to be disagreement on that Twitter thread regarding Peterson’s sense of life. (I personally think that the ambiguity is a symptom of a larger problem I have, but not exclusive to Peterson; I think he gets it from Jung. Both he and Jung were ambivalent about their belief in a supernatural realm or afterlife, and that bothers me, as well. I hope to do a post on that at some point, soon.)

Still, I wasn’t quite done digging, yet. Fawstin had repeated, again, that Peterson saw life as a “terrible tragedy”:

Agree, but when Peterson says that life is a “terrible tragedy”, he loses me. It’s such a typical position for an academic to have that it’s ridiculous that he can say that, yet be considered some kind of fresh new, serious voice. That’s a hopeless position. Unlike Rand’s.

I personally agree with Fawstin's take, but, because of other’s insisting their was more to Peterson’s view than that (and a post insinuating that we were ignorant of Peterson's work), I looked for the full context.

"Weak and miserable as I am, I can still stand up to the terrible tragedy of life and prevail!" (-from Peterson's speech entitled "Strengthen the Individual: A Counterpointto Post Modern Political Correctness")

To which Fawstin replied:

“At once, better, and then the “weak and miserable” part makes it even worse, despite the defiance expressed. Alien language”

I had to bow out, at this point,  given that this could have gone on in this vein, all night, and given I had other things I needed to do. But I want to note, now, that if we zoomed out even father from the quote, it would have revealed that it wasn’t Peterson saying that HE was “weak and miserable”, but quoting how he would counsel someone else who was in that state, as encouragement to get through it. So, with a name like "Strengthen the Individual", it has to be good, right? Rand liked to strengthen individuals, right? Well, so did Nietzsche, and we know where she thought of him, eventually. AND if I am correct, the line is not original with Peterson, but a paraphrase of a Christian quote: “Weak and miserable as I am, I am no less thine, than all other creatures.”

Which would only prove Fawstin’s point, that Peterson’s language and sense of life is alien and antithetical to the Objectivist sense of life. And to go on looking for fuller context to isolated quotes would only reveal that tension in Peterson's work of survival and suffering.

A side note: the difference between Peterson and Fawstin, re: religion, is not just a result of Peterson's ambivalent gnosticism (alienating him from both Objectivists AND more orthodox Christians and Catholics, as seen here) and Fawstin's atheistic Objectivism. For those who do not know, Fawstin, who was born into an Islamic family, is now an apostate from Islam, and a very vocal critic. (As seen in his comic boos series The Infidel.) Now, Peterson has also been a vocal critic of Islam, but not of religion, as a whole. Since Peterson's sense of life is based on Jungian/Nietzschean ideas, mixed with a "gnostic" type of Christianity, it's no wonder, then, that he and Fawstin differ in spirit, even if they are both fighting the same battles, on the surface.

But do they really differ so much that both have to see each other as "idiots"? Is there no significant common ground?  Because Peterson is a gnostic, and not a traditional Christian, I think it's a mistake to oversimplify his approach as supporting a Christian kind of weakness. (Indeed, he's made the point that the "meek shall inherit the earth" is actually not about being weak, but about self-restraint.)  I'd point to this video as an example, where Peterson comes out strongly against self-sacrifice, even with family (he sounds like he could have been counseling Hank Rearden in Atlas Shrugged.) Or, this one, entitled "Stop Saying Things That Make You Weak!".)

Without knowing Peterson's personal history it's hard to say with certainty, but I suspect that what is going on is what Ayn Rand speculated about regarding the clash of ideas within her favorite novelist, Victor Hugo. Hugo, she thought, had a wonderful sense of life that was hampered by a Christian morality, and it created a tension in his work. Yet she did not call him an idiot. Of course, Hugo lived in a pre-Objectivist era, whereas Peterson is familiar with Rand's ideas, and has rejected them, even as he seems to embrace them. (And, yes, he's the one who first lobbed the "idiot" label,  but that was not directly tossed at Objectivists. I suspect his manner of speaking, while seeming to be more conventional in its morality, is being used to "wake up" some of his more conventional clients, who may not be familiar with Objectivism, and who are struggling psychologically.) And there is something true in his words about people who think that life is supposed to be about happiness as the standard of value, whereas Objectivism holds that happiness is the result, not the standard, of value, and has to be not found, but created. (Again, more on that in a follow-up.) Can one hold a contradictory idea and still get to the same place? Should one judge Peterson not by what he says, but by what he does? (Of course, O'ism would push for an integration of the two.) How do his patients fare with his counseling? Are the results compatible with the goals of Objectivism?

Anyway, I wonder if there is tension between Objectivists and Peterson not because they are so different, but because they are so similar; "the good is the enemy of the better." I will have more to say on that, in another post, but as a counter-point to that speculation, I will again say that Peterson's ambiguity and ambivalence about his religious beliefs suggest either a sloppy thinker in the wording of his arguments, or the possibility of something else being smuggled in. Objectivists, holding that "A is A", are more strict in "checking their premises", "defining their terms", and "saying what you mean, and meaning what you say." (Contrast Peterson with Rand, whose epitaph to Atlas Shrugged was "And I Mean It!". To me, that is a point in their favor. So, as a caution, and and as teaser to the followup, I will conclude with this argument from Rand on alliances with similar-yet-different philosophies, since the above is exactly what she was getting at:

 The only groups one may properly join today are ad hoc committees, i.e., groups organized to achieve a single, specific, clearly defined goal, on which men of differing views can agree. In such cases, no one may attempt to ascribe his views to the entire membership, or to use the group to serve some hidden ideological purpose (and this has to be watched very, very vigilantly).

Rand, Ayn. Philosophy: Who Needs It (pp. 202-203). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Yaron Brook vs. Ben Shapiro's View of Objectivism

Yaron Brook, in addition to discussing Jordan Peterson's take on Ayn Rand, has also addressed conservative Ben Shapiro's comments on Ayn Rand, capitalism, and altruism. (Shapiro calls Objectivism "garbage" in relation to personal relationships, and claims, similarly to Peterson, that Objectivists don't have a correct view of altruism and sacrifice. Shapiro also proclaims his own mistrust of human nature, in another example of the malevolent vs. benevolent universe premise.) Brook claims that Shapiro is too smart to "not know the absurdity of what he's saying"; that Shapiro is making a caricature of Rand because Objectivism is "a threat to his system." This is another instance on how religious conservatives may be short-term allies, politically, but still miles apart, philosophically.

"Yaron Brook Responds to Ben Shapiro's View of Objectivism"

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Amy Peikoff on Jordan Peterson's 12 RULES FOR LIFE, pt. 1

In addition to Yaron Brook, Amy Peikoff has also taken to discussing Jordan Peterson, in her podcast review of Peterson's lastest book, 12 Rules For Life. And, like Brook, Peikoff takes an even-handed tone, complimentary on his political stances (she sees him as a valuable ally, there), and open to finding value in some of his ideas, yet critical on fundamentals. And, just as Brook has saved me some time by discussing Jordan's concept of sacrifice as it compares/contrast to Objectivism, Peikoff has done the same for me, here, and I think she does a wonderful job highlighting the important differences.

The video does take some time getting there, so here are the main points of discussion:

-Peterson's claim that atheists aren't really atheists, they only think they are. Relatedly, the overlap of Peterson's individualism with Rands, and the epistemological differences in their individualism. The concept that we don't "own" ourselves, fully, that we have a duty to ourselves and others to better ourselves. (Peikoff points out that Objectivst rejection of "duty" even to one's self, in that conception...)

-She also discusses the relation of Peterson to "new right" thinkers like Ben Shapiro, and their contrasting approach (Peterson is more Aristotelian, and Shapiro, Platonic. (This is notable, of course, for anyone objectivish familiar with Leonard Peikoff's essay "The Dual Between Plato and Aristotle", and how that whole dual is essential to Objectivism.)

-The discussion of Peterson's conception of evil and his seeming over-emphasis on the "malevolent" aspects of human existence (not that he celebrates it; on the contrary, more as a reminder of the dangers that exist, i.e. Soviet Russia.) It's possibly a result of his clinical experience counseling patients, such as returning soldiers, dealing with PTSD.) On that topic, she seems a little overwhelmed by Peterson's emphasis on dark matters. (It reminds me of Rand's comments in The Romantic Manifesto about Dostoevsky.) Also, Peikoff discusses Peterson's conception of being "terrible" as a result of facing life's challenges. Most importantly, she quotes from Peterson's book (pg. 55), where he says:

"Perhaps man is something that should never have been. Perhaps the world should even be cleansed of all human presence so that being and consciousness return to the innocent brutality of the animal...I believe the person who claims to never have wished for such a thing has never consulted his memory, nor confronted his darkest fantasy."

Peikoff goes on to argue against this, and rightfully so, in my opinion. She even goes on to ask her listeners if they've ever really wished that? For the whole human race, and not just certain individuals who have done wrong? My answer would be "no."  I will say that I know where Peterson is coming from, there, based on personal trauma and witnessing of evil. (If Peikoff has herself never had such experiences to bring the question to her mind, I'm very glad for her.) Now, I don't share Peterson's conclusion about a return to an "innocent animal brutality", but I've felt, in moments of anger, sympathy for the Biblical flood, in a desire to "wash away" evil and start with a clean slate. (And I've been known, at times, to blare a certain Tool song with the same theme...) And yet, my personal answer to Peterson's question would still be "no", for the same reason that Peikoff goes on to give. Without denying the existence of evil, or the need to confront it, she counters Peterson with the existence of good in the world, and that we have a choice in where we can focus our efforts and attention. 

I was lucky enough to discover the ideas of Ayn Rand early enough in life to serve as a bright counterpoint to the darker side of life. And this gets to something essential in Objectivism, the premise of the "malevolent/benevolent universe." This is a great example of the interplay of Nietzsche and Jung between Peterson and Rand and where they ultimately depart in their worldview, despite the overlap of individualism. This topic really deserves its own post, which I will do, as I think there's another important point to be made regarding the desire to see Peterson as a political ally with Objectivists, and the nature of such alliances in general.

With that said, Peikoff has said that there will be a followup video/podcast to continue this, so I will try to look at that when it's available, time permitting.

Yaron Brook on Jordan Peterson, Objectivism, and Sacrifice

Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute has a couple of videos discussing Jordan Peterson. I'm finding Brook to be pretty even-handed, even complimentary at times, yet critical on a fundamental basis of Peterson's ideas.

I've mentioned Brook's first video below in a previous post (spoiler alert: the answer is "No"). I haven't fully listened to the second one, as of yet, but the major takeaway I have, so far, is Brook's analysis of Peterson's view of the concept of "sacrifice" as opposed to the Objectivist viewpoint. That's something I wanted to coment on, myself, but Brook has saved me the time and effort. But in a nutshell, Peterson's concept of sacrifice is of giving up something in the present to gain a greater value in the future, i.e., "delayed gratification." Brook compares and contrasts that with the Objectivist viewpoint. I'll try to summarize this when I finish the Brook video, and as time permits.

"Is Jordan Peterson an Objectivist?"

"My Thoughts on Jordan Peterson"

The Rand/Jung Essays: A Collection

For those looking into Ayn Rand and Objectivism via Jordan Peterson, or for those objectivish-minded people looking into Carl Jung via Jordan Peterson, this post will be my collection of writings from the past discussing the overlap of ideas between Rand and Jung. Again, with the qualification that I've moved away from many of my past conclusions, but with the belief that there is significant information in these writings detailing the influence of Nietzsche on both Rand and Jung that explains the overlap that is contributing to the interest (and confusion) between the ideas of Rand and Peterson, today.

I've started off with the major essays I have written, but I hope, as time permits, to add some web discussions on the topic, as well, including critical reviews and debates.

"The Trickster Archetype In Objectivism"
(originally published as "The Trickster Icon and Objectivism", Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, vol. 3, no. 2, Spring 2002)

"The Hero Cycle and Objectivism"

"Rand and Jung on Ego: Problems of Definition" (A contrast between the concept of ego between Jung and Rand)

"The Incredible (R)evolution" (Analysis of Pixar's The Incredibles via the Rand/Jung connection)

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Ayn Rand, Jordan Peterson, and Jungian Objectivism (Slight Return)

In which I revisit the the shadows of my past obsessions...
Memento of a Bizarre Love Triangle

Some people in objectivish circles already know the story; for the rest, let me just put on my hipster hat and say that I was writing about Ayn Rand and Carl Jung before it was cool...(ok, maybe it's not that cool, now...and I was never a hipster...or hip...). A longer explanation is in the comments section, but long story short: I had a "bizarre love triangle" with Jung and Rand, our tawdry entanglement playing out online and in  The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. But as New Order also sang, "love, love will tear us apart, again..." I made a decision to go objectivish with Ayn, though I still had a soft spot for Carl, and will always have feelings for him...and we went our separate ways, never looking back...

Fast forward to 2017 into 2018, where I learn of psychologist and professor Jordan Peterson, whose Jungian-tinged analysis of popular culture and social phenomenons can be currently seen at YouTube in "bite-sized" philosophy videos.  (Not to mention his rising notoriety, as he bravely takes on the pc thought police, most notably, the recent interview with Cathy Newman that launched a thousand memes... ("so, what you're saying is that I'm a lobster?") Oddly enough, though, it wasn't his notoriety that grabbed my attention. It was seeing his name appear not only in libertarian circles (via Stefan Molyneux, most likely; he's another one who I'm catching up on only now, despite having heard the name for some years) but in Objectivish circles, in relation to his Jungian ideas (more like fighting about his ideas, as is the way in these things...)

Of course, all I saw was: Jung and Objectivists? Really? I've even seen a video from the ARI's Yaron Brook called "Is Jordan Peterson an Objectivist?" (Spoiler: No, he isn't.) There is overlap, sure, but the religious/mysticism angle squarely puts him at odds with O'isn. But just the fact that it was a question? It just feels weird to me that this is even a thing, now. Especially after rejecting my own Jungian phase. I know too well that the two philosophies don't mesh, even if it may seem so, on the surface, because of the underlying metaphysics. But that's for another discussion...

"I'm too sexy for my stare..."
Anyway... Ok, so, Jordan Peterson. I'm still playing catch-up with his work, but I think I got the gist, given my own past Jung studies. But I haven't seen him talk about Ayn Rand too much, except for a brief snippet. Now, since I've moved on from Jung, and went back to a more Objectivish approach, I'm obviously going to have some differences and disagreements, primarily regarding religion and mysticism (To quote Abe Simpson "I ain't fer it;  I'm aganit.") But, as with Jung, for whom I do still have a soft spot, I do see plenty of overlap, as well. And I do admire Peterson's conviction and courage in dealing with the Canadian leftists in academia who've tried to persecute him for "thought crimes". AND, amazingly, he's got a whole new generation talking about Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago. (He even has comedian provacateur Owen Benjamin talking about god...comedians talking anti-communist literature with philosophers...My faith in America is slowly being restored...) That's something.

Anyway, here's Peterson discussing his thoughts on Ayn Rand...

In this video, Peterson says that he does admire Rand, and her pro-individualism and her stance against communism, which, he says, she had damned good reason for. He enjoyed her fiction, which he found romantic, but was less impressed by her philosophy, and not convinced that she was a literary great, based on what he saw as her "unidimensional" characters. He says that instead of the battle being inside the characters, it was between the characters. I do think there is SOME truth to that, and it's a common complaint (Galt 's too wooden, Toohey TOO evil, etc.) But I don't think that paints the whole picture, and I'm somewhat surprised that he didn't see the same Jungian archetypes in her work that I previously wrote about. (Or, maybe he has, but didn't have time to address in a short time, but I think his brief stated interpretation belies that idea.)

So, for the curious among both the Objectivish and the Peterson fans, here is my sample of my writings regarding Rand, Jung and Objectivism, in pdf form. Go clean your room, settle in, and enjoy.

"The Trickster Archetype In Objectivism"
(originally published as "The Trickster Icon and Objectivism", Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, vol. 3, no. 2, Spring 2002)

"The Hero Cycle and Objectivism"

"Rand and Jung on Ego: Problems of Definition" (A contrast between the concept of ego between Jung and Rand)

"The Incredible (R)evolution" (Analysis of Pixar's The Incredibles via the Rand/Jung connection)

Thursday, February 2, 2017

On Milo, Berkeley Riots, and Ayn Rand: "Cashing In: The Student 'Rebellion'", Redux

If you're shocked about the riots at Berkeley, home of the supposed "free speech movement" on college campuses, you shouldn't be...Rand blew the facade off of this, decades ago..."Cashing In: The Student 'Rebellion'", from The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution.

From the 60's...

To today...
Milo Yiannopoulos @ UC Berkeley – Attendee Beaten Unconscious

"All politics in this country now is simply dress rehearsal for civil war." Billy Beck, 2009