Jordanetics: A Journey Into the Mind of Humanity’s Greatest Thinker
Castalia House, 2018
I have a confession: I was once a fan.
I was recommending the works and lectures of Dr. Jordan Peterson to friends, strangers, and family. There seemed to be a wave of public support rising for this man who was taking feminists and SJWs to task. He was defending tradition, religion, and the family—saving one’s father from the belly of the whale and all that. And he was defending freedom of speech in the face of government encroachment. What was there to criticize? What wasn’t there to celebrate?
But then the criticisms started coming in. And unlike criticisms of other figures, the criticisms seemed to be coming exclusively from the top of the distribution. I heard a long-time dedicated occultist friend mention that he dismissed anyone who took Dr. Peterson seriously. I heard Bishop Barron take a bit of umbrage with Peterson’s “gnosticisng tendency.”
And then, the infinitely disagreeable Vox Day discovered the man.
I watched over the course of six months as Vox Day first discovered Dr. Peterson, and seemed to grow more incredulous with each passing week that Dr. Peterson had ever risen to prominence in the first place.
It began mildly enough. Here’s a partial transcript from his first video, called “The Problem with Jordan Peterson”:
We have someone who, over the past two to three years, done some good work, been a more or less generally positive on people, and has become someone who is generally recognized by the mainstream media as a leading voice of the intellectual right […] I have to admit that I have, um, the one thing that’s impressed me most is the way that he has been able to build a tremendously successful video library […] I actually based my own Voxiversity program on them […] But—and you all knew the but was coming—the reality is that if you’re going to position yourself as a philosopher; if you’re going to talk about the importance of truth, then you have a moral responsibility to hold to that.
At this point in the relationship, the whole point of contention was Jewish IQ. Peterson had attempted to address the “so-called ‘Jewish Question’” in a blog post, arguing that Jewish overrepresentation was entirely explainable on the basis of a high mean IQ . . . a mean which Peterson claimed to be 110-115.
There are at least four problems with this. First, it isn’t true. Vox explains at length how not only does Peterson’s source account only for private school attendees at religious schools from several decades back, but the author of the study himself claims—in the study!—that the data isn’t representative of Jews as a whole. Incidentally, a similar study at the same time identified white private Catholic-school attendees as having a mean IQ of 119. Ashkenazi IQ appears to hover closer to 103-105; still high, but not nearly high enough to account for Jewish over-representation.
The second problem, of course, was that even if the bad data was accepted, the math was bad. A commenter on Peterson’s site took him to task for this, and identified that even if American Jews had an average IQ of 115, their over-representation still required nepotism to explain their positioning in society.
The third and fourth problems could not be identified in that first video, as Vox was still unfamiliar with Peterson’s teachings, but they are that, in two distinct ways, the argument goes against his own philosophy.
But this leads to a tricky question: what is Dr. Peterson’s philosophy?
With most intellectuals, it is possible to summarize their arguments in a way that conveys their essence to ordinary people who have not read their work. For example, one could summarize Nietzsche’s “slave morality” argument by saying something like: “Nietzsche believed that ancient ‘morality’ was based around the polarities of ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ He believed the good was aligned with the nobility; it is described by things like power, pride, and happiness. The slave-class were resentful of the nobility’s power and happiness, and so they used words to create a new system of values, in which up was down and down was up. They defined noble ‘bad’ (the slaves) as the new ‘good,’ and the noble ‘good’ (the aristocracy) as ‘evil.’ Nietzsche believed that because the noble ‘good’ are the most procreative and pro-life values, the reversal of values and invention of modern morality, and its institution in Christianity in particular, creates a culture that is, in its moral values, hostile to life itself.” Different people may phrase it differently, but I would wager that basically everyone who has read Nietzsche would agree that this is, in essence, his argument.
With Peterson, such a distilled summary is not possible. Ask five Peterson fans what his philosophy is, or what he means when he talks about “truth,” you will likely get three different and mutually exclusive answers. Does he subscribe to a pragmatic definition? A coherence theory? A strange variant of an identity theory? Based on his conversation with Sam Harris, it isn’t a theory that is easily understood or believed even by experts who are nominally on his side, politically.
In philosophy, adversaries are expected to respect the methodological principle of charity which requires interlocutors to interpret each other’s argument in a manner that is the most coherent and rational, if multiple interpretations are possible. If someone says, for example, that it is 11 AM and the sun isn’t up, we could easily conclude that they are delusional—of course the sun would be up at 11 AM. But it is possible that their language loosely meant that the weather was overcast; this interpretation would make more rational and coherent sense of their two statements than simply accepting them on their face.
So would it be possible to apply the principle of charity to Dr. Jordan B. Peterson? Might we be able to stitch together his seemingly disconnected and incoherent philosophy? And if so, what would it look like?
Vox Day’s book—Jordanetics: A Journey into the Mind of Humanity’s Greatest Thinker—is that charitable book. But it is only charitable in the philosophical sense of the term. The worldview that emerges is coherent, but it is not pretty.
On the surface, Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life sound relatively innocuous, even helpful, albeit a little simplistic. What’s wrong with having good posture? What’s so bad about treating yourself well and choosing good friends? Where’s the harm in cleaning your room, or telling the truth?
But the ordinary, readily-understood meanings of Chapter-titles such as “Tell the truth—or, at least, don’t lie” are dependent upon ordinary, readily-understood definitions of words such as “truth” and “lie.” Peterson’s philosophy is not just a collection of helpful psychological folk-wisdom because at its base, he redefines—among other things—truth, God, Logos, lies, falsehoods, order, chaos, and suffering. An example: although Peterson gives various and conflicting definitions of truth, his primary and most repeated definition is a Darwinian notion, of speech that leads to your survival. Furthermore, telling a lie is not knowingly saying something that is not, but saying something that makes you feel like you’re coming apart inside.
Suddenly, the ostensibly straightforward axiom “Tell the truth—or, at least, don’t tell lies” seems to permit both lies and the withholding of the truth, as the terms are more conventionally understood, so long as the speaker says things which aid in his survival and success and which do not cause him to feel like he is falling apart inside. This is something that Peterson repeatedly, and demonstrably, does—not just with Jewish intelligence, but with things like the proportion of people who don’t take their pills, and the reasons why, as well as with absurd, almost Clinton-esque unnecessary lies like “I didn’t sleep at all for 25 days.”
All of the twelve rules require translations of this kind if they are to be understood in a coherent manner. Jordanetics provides this service, and the twelve hidden rules which emerge are as follows:
- Stand up straight with your shoulders back.
- Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping. (Why won’t you just take your damn pills?)
Translation: God is the balance between Good and Evil.
- Make friends with people who want the best for you.
Translation: Leave the wounded behind to die.
- Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.
Translation: Your head is the only truly safe space.
- Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them
Translation: Do not excel, because excellence endangers the balance.
- Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.
Translation:Inaction is always preferable to action.
- Pursue what is meaningful (Not what is expedient)
Translation:To reach Heaven above, you must descend into Hell below.
- Tell the truth–or, at least, don’t lie.
Translation: You can speak a new world into existence through your lies.
- Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.
Translation: Dominate the conversation and control the narrative by keeping your mouth shut.
- Be precise in your speech.
Translation: Transcend the material world and very carefully choose the words that will alter this reality.
- Do not bother children when they are skateboarding.
Translation: Heal the world by assimilating its evil.
- Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.
Translation: To lift the world out of Hell, you must be willing to accept its pain and suffering into yourself.
The Neo-Taoist philosophy that emerges is decidedly anti-Western, anti-Christian, and anti-nationalist (anti-identitarian of any kind, really). It is almost as if he took Nietzsche’s argument against slave-morality and took it as an advocacy position. And yet, as uncharitable as these interpretations may seem, is there any translated rule which Peterson does not advocate?
The only translation I might take issue with is Vox’s rule four, as I do not believe that Peterson argues that your head actually is, or ought to be, a safe space.
Otherwise, the interpretation Vox Day offers in Jordanetics is a “charitable” (coherent) take on Peterson’s holistic worldview, a job that Peterson fans as a whole cannot do . . . because—as Vox Day points out—most Peterson fans simply have not read the books. Nor have they read the source arguments from which Peterson’s arguments are made—Nietzsche, Jung, Solzhenitsyn, Piaget, Dostoyevsky, etc. I suspect most of them have probably read Orwell, but only 1984 and Animal Farm, not Road to Wigan Pier.
In short, Peterson appears to be an enemy of social justice warriors, feminists, and the progressive left in general. But this appearance does not make him a friend of nationalism or of the Right. To the contrary, it makes him a more insidious and more effective enemy of the nationalist Right, with his apparently more rational and attractive, less “extreme” middle-path. The enemy of my enemy is not my friend.
But what of Vox Day himself?
Vox’s criticism of Peterson delves deep into the occult and esoteric, linking Peterson not merely with anti-Western globalism, but with Thelema, Scientology, and Satanism. He points out the similarities between Peterson’s philosophy and that of Crowley and dark magic of the past. “As above, so below” appears to be a parallel theme to Peterson’s path of balance, particularly his fondness of Jung’s claim that in order for a tree to reach up into the heavens, its roots must descend into hell, and for his propensity to decry both the bottom and the top of the dominance hierarchy, representing suffering and tyranny (more suffering), respectively. In short, Vox Day’s standard for condemning Peterson is largely Christian in nature.
I am not a Thelemite, but neither am I a Christian, and I have a number of friends and acquaintances who are pagans or Thelemites. One in particular—a kind of Gnostic and disciple of Crowley—was actually the first person I saw condemn Peterson in public, even before JF’s famous seven-hour criticism. And if he who is not a Christian is against Christianity, then it may represent a failure to properly learn the moral of this story to take Vox Day as an ally for nationalism and for Whites. After all, he has expressed open contempt for America itself, based in part upon the government’s treatment of his father, and he has repeatedly said that he is a Christian first. One cannot serve two masters—at least, if one is a Christian.
I understand that Vox’s criticism of Peterson has less to do with the fact that he is not a Christian, and more to do with the fact that he is, in many ways, falsely representing himself as a Christian. But the exclusivity of Christian identity still makes the point that if you are an identitarian—or even if you desire to put your family first—Vox Day may be an enemy of your enemy, but that does not necessarily make him an ally.
I used to love—and in many ways, still do love—Christopher Hitchens. I like Hitchens despite disagreeing with him on nearly every subject, from religion and reason to foreign policy and French ideas on American soil (Thomas Paine in particular). Hitchens was an inspiration, but he was not an ally; to the contrary, he was an opponent, despite being a particularly enjoyable opponent to have. One gets the sense that Vox Day himself holds an attitude similar to this towards his own favorite writer, Umberto Eco—incidentally, an inspiration and mentor of sorts for Hitchens.
The more that Vox Day writes about politics and religion, the clearer it is that as brilliant and entertaining as the man is, he is not an ally of nationalists who care about their race. He is very sharp and often makes excellent and useful arguments, but it would be a failure to learn the moral of Vox’s own book to believe that because he is attacking a shared enemy, he must therefore be a friend.
Overall, Jordanetics is very worthwhile reading, because like Hitchens, Day is a good writer. Currently, the book is full of grammatical errors, and spelling omissions—the sorts one would expect from a second draft, rather than a polished manuscript—but the substance is not only powerful, but seriously amusing in places, particularly in the first half. It is as informative as it is instructive, on the subjects of philosophy, religion, logic, and the habits of charlatans and con-men.
Just don’t mistake the enemy of your enemy for a friend.
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