Jordan Peterson is a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. He recently rose to fame for refusing to use gender neutral pronouns in his classroom. As an expert in the psychology of totalitarian belief systems, Peterson saw the forced adoption of gender neutral pronouns as a precursor of something much more troubling.
Recently, Professor Peterson appeared on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast. In this video, Peterson goes into a very good explanation of the current philosophical climate on university campuses. Specifically, he identifies Postmodernism [starts at 30:20] as the philosophical background of the regressive left. He also explains how Postmodernism relates to Marxism, and why it is an extremely destructive ideology.
Jordan Peterson and Joe Rogan on Postmodernism
It’s a long interview, but incredibly fascinating. I expect that Peterson can be a bit hard to follow for people who aren’t deeply familiar with politics, postmodernism and psychology, so I’ll summarize what I think his core arguments are here:
Jordan Peterson’s Core Arguments From the Joe Rogan Podcast
- The Social Justice Movement, including the push for gender neutral pronouns is a product of postmodern philosophy.
- Postmodern philosophy has its roots in Marxism. The most important common feature is that they believe that “Truth” and “The Good” are relative (i.e. there is no objective truth or objective good). To the postmodernist, all truths and value systems are actually power games, meant to benefit the powerful.
- Since all truths and value systems are relative, the only REAL good is the destruction of power hierarchies that create inequality. And the only truth worth believing in is the truth that leads to the destruction of these power hierarchies.
- These beliefs about truth and dialogue explain some common features of the Social Justice Movement.
- For example the concept of “Mansplaining” is a direct consequence of the idea that truth is relative. If a man explains something to a woman, it’s not an attempt to find truth, rather it is just a power game. If we are all just talking to further our interests (and not find truth or further a common interest) then disagreement is not about facts, it’s just about power.
- This philosophy explains why the Social Justice Movement and Postmodernists in general refuse to debate or engage in discourse.
- A person does not need to fully and consciously believe in Postmodernist philosophy to act it out, especially when they are in a group. If someone buys into half of the beliefs, and are indifferent on the rest of the beliefs, your impact on the world or on your group will likely be indistinguishable from a fully realized postmodernist ideologue.
- For example, if you believe that “good is entirely relative” but you don’t believe in “flatting all power structures”, it doesn’t matter that you only buy into half of the ideology. If you are working in concert with people who act out the other half of the ideology, the full ideology will be in practice between you. You are a cog in a postmodernist machine.
What Postmodernism Looks Like in Practice and in Culture (With David Foster Wallace)
Postmodernism isn’t just a political and social philosophy, it actually started as an approach to art. And art gives us a good illustration of what postmodernism looks like when it is put into practice.
In this video, the author David Foster Wallace explains his objection to Postmodernism, and how it has had a negative impact on art and media.
David Foster Wallace on Postmodernism and Irony
To tie these two videos together:
- David Foster Wallace argues that postmodernism in art produces cynical, narcissistic art.
- Jordan B. Peterson argues that postmodernism in society produces cynical, narcissistic people and structures.
Just as the characters of postmodern art never learn, achieve anything or improve themselves, postmodernists in real life are also inhibited from learning, achievement or self-improvement. The ideology closes them off to that possibility.
Here’s an exercise that might illustrate the impact of Postmodernism on society. Imagine you were trapped on a desert island. And to accompany you, you could pick the characters of either a postmodernist TV show (Seinfeld, Arrested Development) or a non-postmodernist TV show (Community, Parks and Rec.).
How would your society unfold with each group? What would it be like being on a desert island with the characters of Seinfeld, vs the characters of Community? Which group would starve, and which group would get by? Which group would find solutions to their problems, cooperate and build a better society, and which group would endlessly make the same mistakes over and over and never get any work done?
This is not an entirely hypothetical exercise. Universities are making these people by the thousands, and you will have to share a society with them.
Extra – Jordan Peterson on the Evils of Postmodernism
Jordan Peterson on Postmodernism from the Toronto Action Forum
If you want to learn more about how to argue against Social Justice Warriors and the Postmodern Left, and how to confront their ideas and philosophies, check out my Truth and Culture Warrior series.
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Also: Join the Jordan Peterson Meetup Group in Toronto