Snake-oil, lobsters and lazy-thinking
Jordan Peterson scares me. There’s no one else in mainstream culture with such a reach (the New York Times calls him “the most influential public intellectual in the Western world”) who addresses the psychic hinterland the way he does. Who walks people to their recesses and back, like a YouTube shaman, from mythos to logos, from Jungian archetypes to cleaning your room, gun control and gender relations. He scares me because while his psychological insights are grounded, his knowledge of myth seemingly profound, his pragmatic life advice useful and his desire to help his predominantly young, male audience feels sincere and deeply held, when it comes to his pronouncements on politics, our consensus reality, he’s in shadow. The chaos, the confusion, the lack of scholarship, the ideology, the hysteria he sees in the social movements and the culture of our time: it’s all there in his own political output. It scares me that his audience, who trust him doesn’t see it. And it scares me more that he doesn’t.
A shaman’s role has been to visit other worlds and bring back insight to this one. To do so usefully requires an impeccability of vision and self-knowledge, otherwise the insights and opinions – which carry a weight and vital charge accrued by the distance borne - do not escape the petty prejudices we have as individual subjects in the material world. On this last Peterson fails.
Peterson has brought a fresh audience, in a modern culture crying out for meaning and the empowerment of self-knowledge, to the ideas of father of psychology and psychotherapy Carl Jung, notably his powerful concept of the shadow: the unexamined and disowned parts of ourselves which exert great force upon us as long as we are unconscious of them. Jung, in common with shamanistic practitioners saw the integration of our shadows as the task of our lifetimes and guarantor of psychic and emotional health. Peterson, when he ventures, all too regularly, outside his academic and vocational specialism, delivers highly subjective political opinion in deep shadow. This betrays the loyalty and trust of his audience.