Categories
Notes Psychology

Personality 1

To know yourself and to know others is useful because you will be better able to conduct yourself in the world. 

Without error, you don’t learn. But to learn, you have to undergo the painful experience of destroying previous conceptualizations of the world. Error is unpleasant but necessary. If you don’t err, and you get what you want, then your conceptual model of the world is working, and this is a psychologically satisfying experience. You are constantly trying to adapt your schema, so that reality meets your expectations. This process of testing your model for accuracy is how you learn, and it is how you act in the world. (A Piagetean idea). 

The course will contain the philosophical underpinnings of psychology and will touch on mythology and shamanism, before tackling the hard sciences. Peterson admits that his style is unorganized and chaotic, but this allows him to better engage with his students. When you read a book, it is better to close the book and recall what you remembered rather than go through the material again. The former activity improves recall, while the latter may merely improve recognition. Recall is much more useful. 

The world is made out of values. If you didn’t have any values, that is, if different potential behaviors didn’t carry with them different values for you, then there would be no reason to do anything. The prerequisite got any activity is a value system. 

Your personality is very complex. There is conflict between psychological thinkers when it comes to personality, but there is also agreement. It is important to note that this knowledge primarily consists of the work of western thinkers who’s primary presupposition is that the individual is someone who ought to know how to act independently in the world. 

Categories
Notes Psychology

The 7 Lessons of Jordan Peterson

Lesson 1: Deadwood

Lesson 2: Order and Chaos

Lesson 3: Don’t be Naive

Lesson 4: Intelligence is not Necessarily Wisdom

Lesson 5: You Don’t Lose Fear, You Become more Courageous

Lesson 6: You Must be Willing to be a Fool to be a Master

Lesson 7: Learn How to Negotiate with Yourself

Categories
Opinion philosophy psychology

Don’t Try (Week 37 of Wisdom)

Charles Bukowski, today known as a celebrated author, found success in his fifties. In his twenties, he wrote hundreds of short stories. Two of these were published, both of which barely sold any copies. This was during a time when Bukowski traveled across the U.S, and worked several blue-collar jobs. Years later, he nearly died from a bleeding ulcer. But Bukowski worked hard and while he nearly gave up writing, he was persistent until he finally found an audience that appreciated his work. .

A quote that he is known for is “don’t try.” and yet these words do not seem to be congruent with someone who never stopped trying, even though he was met with failure, repeatedly.

“Too many writers write for the wrong reasons,” declared Bukowski. “They want to get famous or they want to get rich or they want to get laid by the girls with the bluebells in their hair… When everything goes best, it’s not because you chose writing, but because writing chose you.” Bukowski didn’t decide to be a writer; nobody actually dedicated to a pursuit ever had to decide which pursuit it would be.

“We work too hard. We try too hard,” Bukowski writes, “Don’t try. Don’t work. It’s there. Looking right at us, aching to kick out of the closed womb.” He may have meant, as the video’s narrator puts it, that “if you have to try to try, if you have to try to care about something or have to try to want something, perhaps you don’t care about it, and perhaps you don’t want it.” And “if the thought of not doing the thing hurts more than the thought of potentially suffering through the process, if the thought of a life without it or never having tried it at all terrifies you, if it comes to you, through you, out of you, almost as if you’re not trying, perhaps Bukowski might say here, try, and ‘if you’re going to try, go all the way.’”

Through this correspondence, we learn that for “don’t try” to be intelligible, we must slightly alter our understanding of what it means to try.

Bukowski never tried, according to his own definition (that is implied in his letter), he just followed his impulse. To try, means to make an attempt to change the state of nature (either the nature of the world, or your own nature). The person, who is by temperament, artistic and creative, and yet devotes his life to number-crunching is someone who is trying to change themselves. The person who wishes to appear on Forbes is trying. But Bukowski eventually realized that it is useless to try. It is much better to simply be who you are and expect nothing from it, to maintain a stoic attitude till the end.

It is hard, to take heart from this story, because while it is great that someone who had such a difficult life finally got recognition, it is clear that as practical advise, one who follows their instinct or passion may never achieve such success. Indeed, a great talent like Bukowski, almost didn’t. One must imagine the countless other writers and artists and entrepreneurs who live their lives trying to be successful in their craft and failing, and in the end, with very little to show for it.

And herein lies, I think, the deeper message. And it is one that will only be accepted reluctantly. It is not your choice. If you have a proclivity for writing, there is nothing you can do to stop yourself from writing, regardless of whether you are successful or not at it. And if you do not have a natural proclivity for it, then no matter how much you try, it will not stick. At some point, you will grow weary and stop writing altogether.

So “don’t try”, means “don’t worry”, because at some point, the answer you are seeking will reveal itself to you. That is, don’t worry about any choice you would have to make, because the choice will be made for you. That is what he means when he says, “writing chooses you” and not the other way around.

Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.
Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity

The Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu

In the Tao Te Ching, there is a similar message, and it is “don’t care” which is similar to “don’t try.” To not care, means to not be attached to a particular outcome, and to not try, means to not force things. Both messages are essentially the same, in that they favor the passive over the active. They seem counter-intuitive and that is why such a message is great at grabbing your attention. It is because you are so used to the opposite message, you are used to “don’t just sit there, do something” while these messages are saying, “don’t just do something, sit there.”

This echoes the distinction between Western and Eastern civilization, and the metaphorical lateralization of the brain, which is covered in The Master and His Emissary.

But more importantly, this is an idea that clearly, many people are starving for, and are drawn towards. Being programmed, from infancy, to idolize hard work, and overachievement, of attaining goals that are considered socially valuable, the modern adolescent and young adult is inevitably disappointed by the world that they live in, because they discover two painful facts. One, that the promised goods of society are not that good or satisfying. And two, that they, as professionals or individuals, cannot be anything they want to be. It feels as if, just as Alan Watts has written, some kind of delicate ruse was played on everyone, a double-blind game – and it is only discovered many years later, and in some cases, never.

Two books, that have appealed to the masses of young people around the world (the modern capitalistic world is no longer limited to the West), and have spoken to these problems in a direct way are 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson and The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson. The first book is about finding meaning in life through the voluntary adoption of responsibility, and the vehement rejection of nihilism. The latter book is about accepting the fact of one’s limitations, and only working towards things that really matter. On the surface, both books seem to be different in that Peterson promotes activity, while Manson calls for passivity. But, both books are similar, in a fundamental way, in that they contradict the conditioning of modern society.

In 12 Rules for Life, Peterson doesn’t call on his readers to merely adopt responsibility, but to do so by finding out what is meaningful. Carl Jung, the psychologist and mystic, who was deeply influenced by Eastern thought, is probably the thinker Peterson refers to the most. To find out what is meaningful, according to Peterson, is not go through an active search, or even a process of trial and error. It is not a series of steps that one follows, and it is not scientific. It is a highly intuitive, right-brained process (metaphorically), where one tries to decipher the messages of the unconscious, it is a venture inwards rather than outwards.

In Peterson’s words, the answer you are looking for will be revealed to you, almost mysteriously. To understand why this is important, we must understand what he is not saying. He is not adopting the rationalistic Freudian position, by saying that man is characterized by such and such urges, and must therefore plan his future in a way that compliments his basic nature that is already known to him. That would be the Western, scientific approach, which calls on the individual to outline an external goal that is important and socially necessary, and to figure out how to navigate towards that goal. But the goal itself, is something that one simply decides. There is no conversation that is happening between the conscious self and the unconscious self. In other words, “Don’t Try”, because the answer you are looking for will be revealed to you in time. This also is expressed in Peterson’s “watch what people do, not what they say.”

In Mason’s book, the message is to let go of your presuppositions about the world. Most likely, you will fail at most things you do, and the only guarantee that you will be miserable is if you expect too much from society, or from yourself. This addresses the two problems I discussed previously. Peterson does so in a different way, by inverting the question. Instead of expecting something from society, you should work towards finding a meaningful way of adding something valuable to society. And as for yourself, you should, instead of acting like a tyrant to yourself, seek to understand what you deeply desire and make sure that you incorporate this into your conscious self. Manson’s approach is straightforward and blunt. Peterson’s approach is more clever and subtle (ironically). Peterson subverts the problem of individual inadequacy, by reframing the question.

“Is it that you are not getting what you want, or is it that you do not yet know what you want?”

Peterson’s neat trick, is thus, to change the nature of the existential questions that the young adult faces in the modern world. Instead of thinking that the world owes you anything, think about your own shortcomings and how you can give something back. And instead of being distressed by your personal failure to fulfill your potential, know that you are extremely limited in your abilities, and that you are probably desiring the wrong things.

Manson’s solution to the first problem is that the world is mostly bad, so why expect anything good from it? And to the second question, his answer is to focus on fewer desires, and to not be so attached to them.

Both ideas contain undertones of Eastern thought, and I believe that is why they radiated with a Western audience. Both authors were able to provide something that was missing. In previous decades and centuries, the existential question, at least in the Western world, was taken care of, to a large part, by Christianity. There was an overarching framework that imbued each individual life with value, despite whatever hardship that might be endured. In modern Western society, the Christian framework is nowhere near as ubiquitous or dominant as it once was. Yet, the answer to these existential questions have been tackled by other traditions, and perhaps, it is the exotic nature of these answers that come from the East, their unfamiliarity, that grants them social legitimacy. And the fact, that on a practical level, they work.

To not try, and to not care, or rather, to try less and to care less, is a way of mitigating for the neurotic impulse to constantly do more than what is doing – a tiring urge that will inevitably break down the psyches of most people. To look inwards rather than outwards, to take responsibility for others rather than to expect others to take responsibility of you, is a useful idea, for the health of the psyche. Many psychoanalysts, as discussed in The Discovery of the Unconscious, have recommended work as the remedy to neurosis, for example.

But more importantly, it is the bringing back of the the locus of control to the individual that is the key to healing an injured psyche. There is nothing more empowering than the ability to have control, and nothing more destructive than fatalism. But a crucial distinction must be made. There are two kinds of fatalism, there is personal fatalism (I have no free will), and external fatalism (I cannot change anything in the world).

One of the main reasons for the anxiety of the modern individual, is equating the two kinds of fatalism – because the world cannot be influenced by me, I am powerless. What Peterson and Manson try to do is to resign the individual to only one kind of fatalism, and that is external fatalism. “While it is true that you cannot change the world, you at least can change yourself.”

Bukowski’s message, “don’t try”, is similar. To try, again, means to expect that one can make make something conform to one’s expectations, “I can try to be become a writer.” But this means, on a practical level, that one must get published to become a writer. To not try, means to resign the illusion of control, and to simply follow one’s own nature. “You are free to write, but don’t expect to become rich or famous from it.”

Categories
Opinion psychology

Lesson 5: You Don’t Lose Fear, You Become more Courageous

Image result for hunt art

A Dialogue

Unless you are terribly honest with yourself, you will not question the real reasons why you are avoiding something.

But assuming you are someone who is honest, and there is something that you want to do, for example, starting a business or ending a relationship or making a lifestyle change but don’t, then there are only two possibilities: you are either succumbing to your own fear (willful blindness) or you are listening to your conscience.

How do you know which one it is? It’s by having a conversation with yourself. You need to, as accurately as you can, represent your ideas to yourself and you need to consult your conscience by having an honest dialogue with it.

After enough back and forth, you will get to a point of greater clarity, where your intentions have been made clearer to you.

But there is a caveat. This doesn’t always work. In fact, depending on the decisions you have made in the past, this dialogue may not work at all. It is one of the more interesting insights I have gotten from Peterson.

True Speech

You have many systems that guide you (intuition, senses, unconscious etc…) and these operate implicitly. But still, you feed them content. and a lot of that content pertains to your voluntary thought and actions. So, if you pathologize them, if you are dishonest and act reprehensibly, then you program a bad AI system inside yourself. The output won’t guide you properly.

Your negative conscious behaviors can affect your unconscious influences.

That’s why speaking the truth clearly is so important.

If you have been dishonest with yourself for long enough, then consulting your conscience may not be as effective, because it is essentially not programmed for truth.

Your conscience is like Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio, it is dogmatic and inexperienced. Only time and honest dialogue can give it experience.

The way to have a dialogue, is to do so without any dogmatism. This applies whether that conversation is with your own conscience or with your partner.

The Danger of Willful Blindness

This is related to the first lesson: To be able to burn your deadwood, you need to develop courage through honesty.

If someone is naïve and overprotected and something traumatic happens such as a mugging or sexual abuse, then they are thrown into chaos and may never recover.

They were protected by their contextual knowledge before, and then a foreign invader shocks their sense of belonging, they don’t know where they are anymore. What happens? Suddenly, everything in their environment becomes relevant, and they can no longer trust anything or anyone.

You can be within your group of friends, all in agreement about most things, and blocking out the rest of the world. This may be comfortable for a while, but when chaos hits, you have no idea what to do or who to turn to.

That is why part of growing up is facing the things in your imagination that scare and upset you.

The Shadow

For Jung, the hero’s journey took place inside the unconscious. The first part of individuation is to identify your shadow , and it is terrifying, because you realize that you are inextricably tied to evil.

And we have knowledge of good and evil because are self-conscious – we know what hurts us. If you know what hurts you, then you know what can hurt others.

This confrontation with the shadow is terrifying, and most people want to avoid It, but it’s necessary for the development of your conscience.

In the same way, you don’t want to only protect what you know. You already know what you know. You want to talk people who disagree with you so that they can show you what you are ignorant about, and that would be good for you. If you only talk to people who agree with you, then you will remain stupid and vulnerable.

If you are not wise, the world will trample on you. And that will make you resentful.

You must voluntarily confront the chaos – whether this means speaking the truth to others who are subjugating you, or to yourself.

Confront Chaos Voluntarily

Anxiety is natural, and there are plenty of reasons to use alcohol and drugs. It is a mystery is that people can be normal at all, despite knowing about uncertainty and their vulnerability.

To be naive and to move into the unknown is not impressive because you are ignorant of what you are getting yourself into, but to know that the world is dangerous and to voluntarily confront it is impressive and worthy of respect.

An easy way to avoid the dangers of the world is to avoid all confrontation, to shield yourself away from it, but humans are not just prey animals, we are also predators. It is part of our nature to hunt, and to go out into the unknown, to confront the dragons of our imagination.

There was a movie in the late 90’s called The Blair Witch Project that Peterson recalls in lecture. In this movie, nothing happens. The whole movie is just the anticipation of danger, the camera follows a group of people who are scared, running around in a forest, but nothing gory or shocking unfolds on the screen. The fear these people feel, and then you as the audience member feels as a consequence, is from the anticipation of the dangerous threat.

What people are usually afraid of is what is in their imagination, it may relate to something that happened in the past, or something they fear will happen in the future. The point of psychoanalysis is to help the patient discover the source of their fear, and to confront it voluntarily. And the way you should live, is by confronting chaos out of your own will, and not to allow it to manifest itself first. Of course, it is a fool’s errand to try to get rid of all chaos – that is neither beneficial or even desirable. But it is true that the more chaos you face voluntarily, the better.

When chaos hits you involuntarily, it triggers defensive aggression, but when you confront it, the system within you is associated with challenge and adventure is activated, and that is very different physiologically. In the first case, you will deplete your resources and act badly. In the second case, you are using up your current resources so that you can better deal with threats in the future, but while doing so, you will feel enlivened and excited by the adventure . And you should think about life as an adventure, if you don’t, if you are unwilling to contend with the dangers of life, then you might as well not live.

A practical way to think about it, is that if you avoid doing this, you will stay stuck where you are, you won’t develop. You already know what you know, the only way to make progress, is by tackling what you don’t know. In fact, if you are anxious about doing something that will help you reach your goal, that is a great indicator that you should be doing it.

Let’s say that you are trying to graduate from college, and you have a final exam coming up in two weeks. If you don’t make an effort to discover what you don’t know, to study what you have not yet understood, then you will likely fail the exam. But after you fail, you will not have avoided the initial chaos, you will now be faced with more chaos, in the form of repeating the course, failing to graduate on time, changing your plans about the future, etc…

The same lesson can apply to entrepreneurs, where the prerogative of confronting chaos is crucial, or to politicians, who can avert future mass social unrest by taking the time to address social issues preemptively.

You should keep taking smart risks, it earns you self-esteem, This is different from saying that you can just give yourself self-esteem whenever you choose – it is saying that you need to earn it through the voluntary confrontation of chaos.

You can only earn it when you view yourself as a being who is capable of confronting what is dangerous, despite knowing about the risks. And that does not come through a slight of hand, but by tangible effort.

The fear of the unknown never goes away, and nor should it, but what you can do, is become more courageous. And if you succeed in conquering chaos, you will have a way of justifying your existence to yourself, you will be proud for having unlocked your genetic potential.

Categories
Opinion psychology

Lesson 4: Intelligence is Not Necessarily Wisdom

Image result for comic book guy

To know that there is a clear difference between intelligence and wisdom, one must simply ask themselves if one can exist without the other. Can you be intelligent without being wise? Can you be wise without being intelligent?

The answer to both these questions is yes.

Intelligence without wisdom is less clear to see. But it is obvious that there is wisdom without intelligence. There are people, who are not very intelligent, but are wise in their behavior. They care for others, and for their own well-being.

What about intelligence without wisdom? In 2020, the issue of intelligence without wisdom is becoming more obvious. We have access to all human knowledge online, and yet, a significant number of people choose not to benefit. We have technology that saves us time, yet many people spend their spare time harming themselves. We have tools that can help us make better decisions, yet many people prefer chaos.

There are many AI dystopian thinkers such as Bostrom today, and Jacques Ellul in the past, who have warned about the dangers of an increasingly technological society, how things are and can go wrong.

These are two book that can give you a glimpse into these ideas:

To be intelligent means to solve problems quickly, but these can be the wrong problems.

A highly intelligent gambler might spend their entire lives trying to solve the statistical gaming problems inside the casino. A third-rate philosopher may spend their whole lives thinking about problems that don’t matter to anyone else and have no benefit to his well-being. A sports geek can spend all their time trying to perfect their fantasy teams and give little attention to more pressing and vital areas of their lives.

The wise person is the one who knows what matters most, who knows what to not think about, and what to eliminate from their lives.

The how is a question to answer with intelligence the why is a question to answer with wisdom.

Be Careful who you Idolize

The insight from Peterson, was to be wary of idolizing those who have sacrificed everything for the attainment of one kind of success at the expense of all others. The typical example is of the billionaire who has managed to conquer the world of business, but remains unsatisfied with everything else, perhaps including his own businesses (there is always more money to be made). This is, the same insight one gets from Buddhism, and it happens that another psychologist, Mark Epstein, has made the link between psychotherapy and Buddhism in Thoughts Without a Thinker.

There are some people, who due to their temperament, that if you put in a forest and give them an axe, they’ll do nothing but chop down trees all day. There are those who are wired to do nothing but work, but it isn’t obvious that as a man or a woman, this is something you should aspire towards.

The Importance of Being Balanced

The people who peddle self-help advice have the same selling point, and the same strategy – it is very simple. They figure out what you want, whether it’s money or women or happiness, and then they claim to have found the “secret” to obtaining one of these things. Here is the insidious part – it is insidious only because it is never disclosed – the advice they give you could work. And that is the problem.

It is like the overused saying, “be careful what you wish for…” You may think that by getting exactly what you want, you will be happy, but it is never the case. What the financial guru forgot to tell you, is that by sacrificing all that time, you will have many regrets about the past, and if for some reason, things don’t work out, you will have made all of those sacrifices for nothing.

This is the second insight from Peterson. You want to have a balance, not for the sake of having a balance. You want it, because if one area of your life takes a hit, you are not devastated, and have nothing else to fall back on.

Categories
Opinion psychology

Lesson 3: Don’t be Naive

Image result for harry potter scar

The Courage to Trust Others

Don’t trust others because you’re naïve, trust them because you’re courageous. You should expect them to have the capacity to hurt you, but you should be willing to take a chance anyway. That is the foundation of society.

Some people are too disagreeable, they refuse to be naïve about anything. They may be reading a great philosopher like Nietzsche, and if they find a sentence they don’t agree with, then they’ll throw out the book. But Nietzsche is one in a billion, so you can’t just throw him out, you need to learn to separate the wheat from chaff when you read. That is how you read well.

Some people, who have been burned, become cynical. They blame their problems on the structure of society, the oppressive patriarchy, but Peterson’s message is, while you may not be able to change things in a large way at first, you can do so in a small way. And incrementally, over time, you will be able to make a difference. That is the whole point of democracy.

 “it’s not gonna be easy. But if you hide from your truth, then you hide from yourself. Then what are you? You’re a puppet. You’re the puppet of some coward, some dictator, or some second rate philosopher, or some idiotic idea. But it’s not you living your life, and then you lose your life, and you lose your soul too. So, that’s what I’m afraid of.”

Jordan Peterson

Don’t Just Follow Rules

To be good, you can’t just follow rules. You must understand malevolence so that you can withstand it, you must understand that part of you that is malevolent. Part of personality development is your shadow, those parts about you that you don’t admit to. You can learn about it by reading history, ex: Auschwitz, imagine yourself as a guard. When you do, then you understand something about yourself. Something Jung taught is that you cannot respect yourself unless you know you are a monster.

If you regard yourself as nice and harmless, then you have no reason to be careful. But that is not what human beings are like. This is part of the motif in Harry Potter.

To women, the man who is attractive is the one who has the capacity to be aggressive, to confront chaos and wreak havoc. In movies, the beta male, who is usually the friend she confides in, is never attractive to women – it’s the man who has an edge who is.

People who haven’t integrated their shadow are naïve, and you can tell that just by looking at them. And because they’re naïve, they’re also resentful because they’re taken advantage of. Someone who has integrated their shadow is dangerous, but they don’t have to use their strength in the same way a martial artist doesn’t. And this gives them self-respect.

Recognizing yourself as the locus of evil gives you self-respect.

Encountering Malevolence

If you encounter someone who is psychopathic and you are naïve, they will take you apart, and you won’t believe that something like that could happen. What traumatizes people is malevolence, far more than tragedy. Some people are okay with hurting someone even if it means hurting themselves. This is what we see with school shootings. If you encounter this in others or yourself, it will be a deeply unsettling experience.

If you ask a disagreeable people what they want, they will instantly tell you, and will tell you how they plan on getting it. But if you ask an agreeable person, they won’t have a clue, because they’re so accustomed to living for other people.

Agreeable people need to be careful not to be exploited. In psychoanalysis, agreeable people get assertiveness training, they are taught how to negotiate. They are taught to speak honestly. Agreeable people don’t like conflict, and that is probably because they are wired to maintain the peace around infants.

A well socialized disagreeable person does not let things get in their way. And they can be very useful to others. But if they are not socialized, then they become criminals. That’s why as a parent, you should discipline your children. If their aggression is not tamed successfully, they will be rejected by their peers. Therefore, as a parent, your job is to socialize your child before the age of four, before their personalities take full shape.

Categories
Opinion philosophy

Lesson 2: Order and Chaos

Image result for yin yang taoism

The Ying-Yang symbol has its roots in Taoism. If you look at the symbol, you will notice that the white half has a black circle inside of it, and the black half has a white circle inside of it. The philosophical connotation, according to Peterson, is that the world is divided into chaos and order, but within chaos, there is the potential for order, and within order, there is the potential for chaos.

Each person, no matter how chaotic their lifestyle, how lazy and misguided and shortsighted they are, there is always hope that they can put their life together. And each person, no matter how organized and put together they are, how clear thinking and focused they are, they can lose a hold of everything at any given moment.

Such is the delicate nature of life. It is both inspiring and frightening.But essentially, everything in life can be characterized as falling into order or chaos.

For most people, order is good, and chaos is bad. Others prefer chaos.

But what happens when you get too much order? A degeneration into tyranny. And too much chaos? A degeneration into nihilism. So the optimal place to occupy is somewhere in between, and this is as true for politics as it is for the individual.

We have had many dictators and modern pseudo-dictators that tilt towards too much order, and thus tyranny, and that is not a stable situation. And on a personal level, if your life is too ordered, and lacks any novelty, then it is boring, and you are not learning anything.

On the other hand, a leader who is too chaotic, will tilt towards nihilism, and this will result in an unstable system that is prone to failure. On a personal level, if you live too much in chaos, then you are constantly bewildered and lost, you have no anchor, and no sense of progress or stability.

This idea can be applied to relationships too. When your relationship with your partner is going well, then you are embodying order, but if you find out that your partner has been cheating on you, then you fall into chaos.

Falling into chaos means that all of your presumptions are now open to scrutiny. What was considered impossible in the past has now become possible. This includes questions about your personal identity, what type of women you attract, what kind of partner you are, how well you can read other people, and whether you can trust others or even yourself.

In your profession, you know that you embody the optimal point between order and chaos when you are deeply engaged in something, and self-consciousness disappears. This is a signal from deep within you that you are ordered enough to be secured but you are tapping into enough chaos so that you are learning and being renewed. This concept is also known as flow. And if you are autotelic, this will come more easily to you.

Categories
Opinion psychology

Lesson 1: Deadwood – Let it burn

Image result for forest fire

To be proud of your insufficiencies is arrogant and foolish. Peterson recalls a conversation he had with a student who was a bad writer, in which the student asserts that she is not actually a bad writer, but that she has a unique style that is difficult to understand. Instead of graciously taking advice to improve her writing, she insisted that it was her teachers that were the problem, not her.

Many people find it difficult to accept their insufficiencies, because of defensiveness or insecurity, and this stunts their potential. A better way of living would be to pick an ideal for yourself, that is determined by your own values, and not the values of others. Once you have your ideal, you have chosen your master. And by doing this, you have created a judge. If manage to overcome your anxiety and insecurity of having a judge, then you can become more competent.

The alternative is to do what Cain did, and that was to kill Abel, to destroy the ideal. That is what many people choose to do. But if the ideal is too high, you should simply lower the ideal. Aim at something that is manageable, and then you can gradually higher your aim as you become more competent across time. As you continue to do this, you will have built in yourself the ability to withstand the tragedy of the world, and even, to become a beacon of light to others.

Insufficiencies come in many forms. They can be your addictions, undeveloped abilities, dreams, or relationships. Another problem is that getting rid of deadwood is getting rid of your emotional connections to the past. This includes your identity, how you justify your existence to yourself and to others.

In 12 Rules for Life, Peterson has a chapter on making friends with people who want what’s best for you, he is following this heuristic. The idea of deadwood is not limited to your personal habits, addictions, compulsions, and follies – it includes your relationships with other people, physical objects, and even your past iterations of yourself.

There is no limit to the number of things that can be holding you down. An idea or dream about the future may give you the impression as something that is fresh, but in fact, like anything else in your psyche, it has a production date, and has aged. It has either contributed to your well-being, or it has made your life worse.

Your addictions and compulsions are part of your identity. They not only imbue your life with pleasure, but also give it meaning, because often, these addictions are intimately connected to your relationships with friends or partners. If you are addicted to drinking, it is not simply the drink itself, but to the experience of joy you have experienced through this drink in the past, with people that you have cared about, or still do care about.

These addictions also define your self-identity. It is not only that the alcoholic enjoys the habit or associates it with beautiful memories in the past, but it is also how he defines his own values. Perhaps, gambling or smoking or drinking is a sign of one’s own personal rebellion, one’s own defiance, and triumph against the forces that have tried to subjugate him.

And relationships too, can be classified as deadwood. The friends you have had in the past may not be the people you need to spend your time with today, if you are interested in improving your life. Or perhaps, it is not the people themselves that should be cut off, but the types of relationships you have with them. Going back to the example of the alcoholic, it may not be the best idea for him to cut off ties with his friends since they can’t easily be replaced. But perhaps he can choose to see them less or to find different activities to do with them.

If you don’t let forest fires burn, they collect a lot of dry branches. The amount of flammable material keeps increasing. But if it burns, then the forest can be wiped off into a desert. A little bit of fire at the right time can stop everything from burning to the ground.

Burning deadwood is about sacrifice. A weak part of you needs to disappear. It is easy to get rid of it willingly than have it taken away from you. What people are proud of, in terms of their own personalities, are useless idiosyncrasies that distinguish them from others. Always be willing to discard the past for something better.

Categories
Opinion philosophy

Understanding The Jordan Peterson vs Sam Harris Debates

Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson have engaged in a series of debates that included Bret Weinstein and Douglas Murray as moderators, in addition to two podcasts. One in which they famously debated the nature of truth for over two hours.

London , Vancouver, Dublin

The Steelman

Jordan Peterson

There is beauty, art and poetry that goes along with religion. It is true that religion can be dogmatic but so can secularism, and this suggests that the atrocities of the 20th century should not be attributed to religion or atheism, but to dogmatism. There is only one way to fight dogmatism, and it is through logos (truthful speech). And often, what is truthful is not what is factually accurate, but what is functional.

What is Logos?

A myth may not be factually true, but it is true in a deeper sense, it motivates people to act in ways that are beneficial to themselves and the general community – it is a “metaphorical truth.” If people acted as if “the gun was loaded”, that the myths were real, the outcome would likely be more peaceful than if people thought that anything goes, and you make up your truths as you go along.

The development of logos in the West can be attributed to the interplay between the Enlightenment and the Christian ethic. It cannot only be attributed to Christianity since Orthodox Christianity did not lead to the same kinds of cultural developments that were seen in Western Europe.

But the story of Christ provides a mythological foundation for the primacy of true speech, and the combination of art, literature, and architecture that is contained within the Christian tradition, has compelled people to take logos very seriously for hundreds of years. And this was a prerequisite for the development of the scientific method.

As Nietzsche remarked, Christianity was responsible for its own downfall precisely because of importance it placed on truth-seeking. But the problem is that by getting rid of the mythological substructure that informs our pursuit of truth (Christianity), we risk getting rid of the entire edifice altogether, since the hole that is left behind will not be filled by a relentless pursuit of reason, as Harris imagines, but something far more pernicious, which was evidenced in the 20th century, and can still be seen today, in journalism, science, and politics.

We are not beyond self-destruction, as a species, and we should seek to put aside our arrogance, and hold on to the wisdom of our ancestors, if we are going to properly navigate the dangers of the new world.  

Sam Harris

The problem with religion is that people take it too seriously. If people were not fundamentalist about their belief, we would not see the rise of radical Islam, and we would not see world leaders go to war for irrational reasons in the name of religious truths.

But today, the world is filled with bad ideas, and we have an obligation to rid ourselves of these bad ideas, if we want to witness the flourishing of humankind, and if we want to prevent unnecessary suffering.

The authors of scripture may have been talented, but they are no more profound than Marcus Aurelius or Shakespeare. There is no reason why the Biblical texts should be taken more seriously than any philosophical text that was written by a mere mortal. And by failing to acknowledge this, we hinder our own pursuit of truth. We need free speech and love, but we don’t need to ascribe religious connotations to these ideas.

The Similarities

Both believe in the primacy of free speech. Both are opposed to dogmatism, in all its forms, and both think that tolerance is secondary to truth in the hierarchy of values.

The Arguments

The main points of contention are around what should be taken seriously. The first concerns ancient myths, the second concerns human rationality.

The Importance of the Christian Myth

Jordan Peterson thinks that myths, particularly the Christian myth, that has laid the foundation of a truth seeking culture, is not easily replaceable, and we should do whatever we can to preserve the wisdom contained in these texts.

Sam Harris thinks that the profundity of Christianity can be replaced with any other religion, particularly those of the East, and that it can even be replaced with astrology, if one tries hard enough. In other words, there is nothing implicit within Christianity that is special, or that should be preserved, over any other philosophical text that has been written in the past. And there is certainly no reason why we should think that there is anything divine about the Bible.

Peterson thinks that Harris is wrong because it is not an arbitrary coincidence that these texts have endured the test of the time, and have been so influential. He thinks that the stories themselves reveal a truth about the human condition that should be taken seriously, and the fact that it can relate these truths in one paragraph parables or stories such as the Story of Cain and Abel, should make us revere them, and not assume that they are mediocre and misguided intellectual products, as Harris would claim.

And here the backgrounds of the two men is particularly important. Harris’ ideas are the products the Enlightenment, in that he thinks that rationality and science is all we have, if we want to make progress, while Peterson is more influenced by Romanticism, in that he thinks that art, architecture, and the role of the individual, cannot be understated. But this leads to responses that are often confusing.

In one of the first debates, Harris asked Peterson a simple question, “Do you think Jesus was resurrected?” after commenting that Peterson had previously claimed that it would take him over 40 hours to answer that question. Peterson agreed that the issue is complex, that it would take him a lot of time to answer, and the biblical accounts don’t clearly say that Jesus was literally resurrected.

Harris then asked Peterson to give a probabilistic guess, since he too acknowledged that anything was possible. Harris at this point had lost his patience, and after reaching the maximal point of frustration, asks Peterson, “How about this for an answer? Almost certainly not!”

Peterson’s unwillingness to grant that some interpretations were more valid than, his refusal to have clear answers (even probabilistic ones) to simple questions, identifies the hypocrisy of his philosophy.

He often attacks the post-modernists, particularly for their refusal to acknowledge that literary interpretations fall within a hierarchical structure, that some interpretations are better than others, but when it comes to the Bible, he becomes a post-modernist himself (by his definition). That is, he refuses to say which Christian interpretations are most likely, and even whether the central claim of Christianity (the resurrection of Jesus) is true.

The Importance of Rationality

Peterson thinks that myths are superior to rational arguments, and this is because of the emotional power they have, and their ability to relate to a much larger segment of the population, thus indicating that they pertain to deep truths. Whereas rationality and science are great for technological and economic progress, they don’t address the human need for meaning, and they don’t have the ability to appeal to the masses.

The true mark of genius of any story is in its generalizability. If you can write something that everyone can relate to, and contains a deep truth, that Peterson talks about, is something that he considers divine. 

What he means by divine is other worldly, or something we cannot understand, but he does not restrict his definition of the divine to any strictly Biblical ideas. And this is a point that Harris finds confusing, since he does not see exactly what foundations Peterson is resting on. But Peterson’s idea of the divine seems to be contained in the structure of the myth itself, as a kind of hyper reality, that is more than real. If something is hyper-real, then it applies to various contexts, and is not just contained in a literal example (think of mathematics).

Harris thinks that it is easy to recreate these stories by using other arbitrary imagistic representations in their place, but Peterson contends that if that were true, anyone would be able to write a great novel. It is for this reason that Dostoevsky was superior to Nietzsche in Peterson’s opinion, because the former was able to represent his logical arguments in story form, and could therefore deliver his ideas to a greater number of people.

The story of Christ is an example of a perfect archetypal story, if the goal is to motivate people to speak the truth, and to confront evil forthrightly.

Harris also says that if a religious text is interpreted a sufficient number of times, then one can find an infinite number of meanings in it, and there is nothing implicit in that text that should be preserved. Again, to him, these are arbitrary stories that one can read into any way they please.

Peterson not only thinks that novels are superior to rational arguments, but that there is a clear difference in quality between novels. Shakespeare’s work contains a certain amount of truth that is much deeper than what you can find by reading the work of an amateur novelist. And in the same way, religious texts vary in quality. It is worth noting that Harris does not think all religious texts are equally bad, he thinks that some religions have more dangerous ideas than others, but in terms of quality, they are all the same, they are the products of human minds.

When asked about whether he thought these ideas were the product of human minds as well, Peterson agreed, but he contends that they are also indicative of a deeper truth, that the creative process is a mystery, and that it is too simplistic to say that these texts can be compared to any other product of the human mind.

But Peterson does does not explicitly say that scripture was a result of supernatural intervention, only that we ought to treat revelation with a kind of reverence – something Harris could not agree with, since to him, revelation is simply a collection of ideas, that is no different to his, Peterson’s, or those of Marcus Aurelius.

And this is worth thinking about because it highlights another important difference in the ways these two people think.

Peterson is open to new ideas; he sees ideas as a conduit to which we can experience the world. There is nothing fixed about ideas and they are very mysterious. Even logic is mysterious, and we don’t really know how to use it, in an unadulterated way.

In fact, he does not think that it is within our abilities to truly be logical, because we must make value judgments before we process facts. In simple language, Peterson is saying that we don’t process reality as if we are robots, taking facts in and then interpreting them. Instead, we are choosing which facts we want to take in, and which picture of reality we want to focus on, and this informs our ideas about the world much more strongly than does pure rationality.

And for that reason, it would be futile to believe that pure rationalism can fill the void left behind by the eradication of religion, because rationality does not point towards one answer that everyone can agree on.

There was a comical point in one of the debates when Sam asked Jordan what he believed in because he still couldn’t figure it out after several hours of debates, and the crowd cheered loudly, as if Sam had read their minds and vented their collective frustration at Peterson’s blatant ambiguity.

To which Jordan cleverly evaded the question once again by alluding to the point that no one can really articulate what they believe in, if they are honest with themselves. That the human mind is complicated, especially when you consider that the surface level thoughts that you have are barely representative of what you truly believe in, since you are acting in ways that oppose these thoughts all the time, indeed, you are a collection of opposing impulses. Not to mention that language itself is limited, and is incapable of properly articulating what one really thinks about an abstract and complicated idea like God.

That said, Peterson has attempted to define God in the past.

When Harris pushed Peterson on a point he made earlier, that religion is necessary for stupid people, but not so necessary for smart people, Peterson held on to his guns, proverbially “sticking his foot in his mouth” for a second time, but like the previous point, it is important to understand what Peterson is saying. That is, it isn’t that some people need religion because they are stupid, it is because rationality is deeply flawed, and if they are not sufficiently rational (most people aren’t), then they can make very bad choices without religion.

If reality is very confusing, and you aren’t good at navigating it yourself, you are better off doing what everyone else is doing, and erring on the side of conservatism.

There may be a few people who devote their entire lives to reading Kant and Hegel, but they are a tiny minority, and even they may not get very far. As for most people, they can only use rationality in a very limited sense, because of time constraints and mental ability.

This, combined with the fact that rationality itself is insufficient, as stated above, suggests that Sam Harris’ antidote, which is to act rationally, is a weak, almost naïve proposition.

Harris has a straightforward perspective, one that Jordan rightfully said can be summed up in two lines. Do the maximum good, avoid unnecessary suffering.

At one point, Peterson coyly asked Harris if he really thought that a watered-down version of Buddhism can really be a serious contender with the Christian ethos that has stood the test of time.

Harris’ contention was that there hasn’t been the opportunity to fill the religious void because of religious dogmatism, that for the longest time, has claimed a monopoly on meaning.

Note 1: The reason why Peterson used the term “watered-down version of Buddhism” is because what Sam Harris continuously promotes is in line with basic Buddhist teachings such as avoiding unnecessary pain, meditating, being awareness of one’s own thoughts and programming. But Sam doesn’t promote Buddhism entirely, with its myths and rituals.

Note 2: I found that to be a strange criticism, coming from Peterson, since what he is essentially promoting is a watered-down version of Christianity himself. It is basically a call to accept the wisdom contained in some of the Biblical stories, but not all, and without accepting the stringent demands that some people like Dostoevsky (who Peterson considers a hero, judging by how often he refers to him) called for, which is the imitation of Christ in one’s own life.

The Conclusion

It is not just logic that guides us or animates us or gives meaning to our lives. There is so much more. But the danger to Sam, is that by allowing ourselves to be swept away with the art and the literature of religion, we risk being swept away by its dogma. And to make sure this never happens; we must get rid of any dogmas that don’t stand the test of science and logic.

The two big dangers are dogmatism and nihilism. Peterson more afraid of nihilism, Harris more afraid of dogmatism. The former is a conservative position, the latter is a liberal position. And as Peterson rightfully said, this was temperamentally determined, which indirectly supports his point about the limitations of reason alone.

And this is where we come to the end of an enjoyable and stimulating series of debates.

What will fill the void of religion Is Harris right when he said that we just need common sense and meditation? Or is Peterson right when he says we need perfectly written and highly generalizable stories that reveal to us truths about human nature? 

Clearly, the answer isn’t straightforward. But the important takeaway here is to stand in awe of our own ignorance.

I think that the problem with Sam’s argument, is that he thinks these problems have a very simple solution, when they clearly don’t. It’s as if he doesn’t recognize that these exact conversations have been taking place for a very long time. To brush away the valid objections against a rationality-based morality that have been made in the past, makes Harris seem arrogant, and more interested in selling a world view that can be digested with ease, than following the argument where it leads, even if it comes at the expense of coherence.

I think that Peterson’s problem is that he does not sufficiently address the need for new ways of thinking in a world is changing very quickly, and that is different from Sam’s need to address the arguments made in the past with regards to a purely rational based ethos. Peterson’s over-reliance on mythology becomes worrisome when confronted with modern issues that require different ways of thinking.

It is one thing to think of yourself as the hero of your own story, or to try to rescue your proverbial father from the belly of the beast, but it is a different thing to think about political and socioeconomic problems by taking myths too seriously. Sometimes, the sound answer from a mythological perspective can have terrible consequences, and this is not a philosophical thought experiment – we have seen how over reliance on myth for guidance and direction has resulted in religious extremism and violence, both in the past and the present.

The myths of the past undoubtedly are valuable and must be preserved, but Sam is right when he says that slipping into dogmatism is too easy and too dangerous, and in a world that is increasingly reactionary, clear thinking, even if it comes at the expense of old ideas, is our only hope.  

A final point about both authors, is that both are pop philosophers, but I don’t say this dismissively. They may lack the profundity of ancient philosophers, but they have managed to make philosophy accessible to a general audience, and inspire a deeper interest in truth-seeking, using rationality, and reading great books. This cannot but lead to higher quality conversations, and more critical thinking, which is lacking, and well worth fighting for.

Categories
Opinion philosophy

Peterson’s Logos Argument, or why Atheists aren’t Atheists

Many months ago, “logos” was re-popularized by Jordan Peterson, who has used it as a weapon against atheists. To Peterson, “logos” proves that atheists only think they are atheists – they are just fooling themselves. In a debate he had with Susan Blackmore, Peterson said that “secularsocieties are built on top of Christian foundations like true speech and the sovereignty of the individual.

Peterson argued that most people who think they are atheists don’t act out their atheism. Writing a book is acting out the logos (Susan is an author). Writing is an attempt to illuminate the world, and that is based on the Judeo-Christian tradition – it is based on the culture of the word, the revelation of the true mode of being through written form.

Susan Blackmore is contributing to the Christian mission despite what she says. Indeed, what one says and what one acts out are often entirely different, and the latter is much more telling of a person’s true beliefs according to Peterson.

Is this another instance where Peterson is playing language games with people the same way he did with Sam Harris when they got stuck on the notion of truth for two hours?

I decided to find out more about “logos.” Where did it come from? And why does Peterson claim that Christianity has a monopoly over the written word? Wasn’t there a democracy in ancient Greece? What about Plato? Surely, Plato was not a Christian, and yet he tried to illuminate the world, and he did so through the written word. Was he unknowingly a Christian?

The Origin of Logos

 ‘Logos’ translates to ‘reason’ in Greek. The term originated in ancient Greece in the sixth century B.C with Heraclitus, who linked the logic of the cosmos with human reason. The Stoics defined the logos as an “active rational and spiritual principle that permeated all of reality.” To them, the logos was providence, god, nature, and the soul of the universe. But this term has permeated many traditions, with ideas about it found in Indian, Egyptian, and Persian philosophical systems.

In the Biblical Gospel of John, Jesus Christ is identified as “the Word” (logos) incarnated or made flesh. This idea has its origins in the Old Testament. The frequently used phrase “the Word of the Lord” symbolizes God’s activity and power, and the Jewish idea that wisdom is the “divine agent that draws man to God and is identified with the word of God… In the same way that the Jews saw the Torah (the Law) as preexistent with God, so also the author of John viewed Jesus, but Jesus came to be regarded as the personified source of life and illumination of mankind.”

Early Christian theologians and apologists tried to express the Christian faith in terms that were familiar to the Hellenistic world and to convince them that Christianity was superior to the best of pagan philosophy.

“Thus, in their apologies and polemical works, the early Christian Fathers stated that Christ as the pre-existent logos (1) reveals the Father to mankind and is the subject of the Old Testament manifestations of God; (2) is the divine reason in which the whole human race, so that the 6th-century-BC philosopher and others who lived with reason were Christians before Christ; and (3) is the divine will and word by which the worlds were framed.”

Reference: https://www.britannica.com/topic/logos

That is the basis for Peterson’s argument – the presupposition that anyone who has ever engaged in logic was a Christian, because there is no difference between reason and the incarnation of Christ since Christ was the logos.

But Harris, Blackmore, and other atheists probably don’t believe that Christ is the eternal logos, and yet they probably see themselves as logical.

John Gray, author of Straw Dogs would agree with Peterson. He has even accused Nietzsche and Heidegger for being post-theists, atheists who could not shake off their hidden Christian beliefs.

Atheism is a late bloom of a Christian passion for truth. – John Gray

It is clear to Gray that Christianity initiated mankind’s obsession with truth. A pagan does not sacrifice the pleasure of life for the sake of mere truth, for it was not unadorned reality, but artful illusion that they are after.

And among the Greeks, the goal of philosophy was happiness, not truth. The worship of truth is a Christian cult.

Christianity lashed out against the pagan tolerance of illusion, by claiming that there is only one true faith. They gave truth a supreme value it did not have before. And it made disbelief in the divine possible.

The long-delayed consequence of Christian faith was an idolatry of truth that found its most complete expression in atheism. If we live in a world without gods, we have Christianity to thank for it – John Gray

It would seem that Peterson’s argument would work only if you had Christian presuppositions. That is, if you did believe that Christ was one with the logos. This would lead many to suspect that Peterson wasn’t trying to convince Harris or Blackmore that they were wrong but was trying to appeal to Christian listeners.

But could Peterson be accused of such a dishonest tactic? And even if he did, could he be blamed? In the words of comedian Ricky Gervais, when asked about his controversial behavior as a host during the Oscar ceremonies “Why would I pander to audience of 200 wealthy celebrities in a room when there are 200 million people at home watching?”

If Peterson himself was not pursuing truth, such a tactic would be ingenious.

But this accusation is an unfair one – it is wrong to assume that these arguments have been constructed to pander only to Christians. John Gray, as he makes quite clear in Straw Dogs, is an atheist himself, and he agrees with Peterson.

The idea of Logos is old, and no particular belief system or ideology has a monopoly on the natural capacity human beings have for reason and language. But it may be true that Christianity deserves credit for the spread of literacy, because of its obsession with the truth.

When Thomas Paine released “Common Sense” in 1776, much of the reading culture comprised of Protestants – a time that Neil Postman has called the “Age of Exposition.”

And a frequently cited idea of Nietzsche is that Christianity was responsible for the disciplining of the Western mind.

To make the leap and say that Christ is the incarnation of the Logos, and to say that atheists or other religious groups are secretly Christians because they read and write is a radical argument, but not a completely unfounded one.

There is no compelling reason for rational people to pursue truth as the highest value, at the expense of their well being. For most people today, it still makes no practical sense.

But Peterson’s mistake is in the way he spins the idea. There may be truth to the idea that atheism is historically contingent on Christianity, but that does not mean that atheists are not atheists.