Don’t be a follower of Jordan Peterson, be a thinker for Jordan Peterson -4-
Jordan Peterson, either you love him or hate him. As an admirer of Peterson myself, I’ve hanged on every word he said. But this doesn’t prevent me of looking with a critical eye to his ideas. Because I think Jordan Peterson needs more constructive criticism.
After critiquing Jordan Peterson about neo-Marxism, his idea of God and free will, I thought I was finished. Three times is a charm, it seemed a nice number to stop. But something was still bothering me. What pulled me over was an essay by James A. Lindsay, about the guru appeal of Jordan Peterson.
Lindsay has been critical of Jordan Peterson for some while now on Twitter, and although we both disagree about Peterson. The fact we both warn for the potential of the admirers of Jordan Peterson degrading into some kind of cult is really telling. There is a real threat here. Much more hagiographies from the “unusual alliance” (dixit Dave Rubin) and vilification by the mainstream media, might tip the balance. This is a waking-up call: please pay attention!
So, I will comb through the ideas of Jordan Peterson again. I didn’t need to go far: in the first Biblical lecture, in the very first 10 minutes, Peterson talks about one of his clients and then makes this claim: some thinkers get conjured up in their intellect that their rational mind gets separated from their being. That individual psychopathology can manifest itself as a social psychopathology; Peterson then claims:
“… and the proclivity of people to get tangled up in ideologies, which I really do think of as… They’re like crippled religions, that’s the right way to think about them. A religion that is missing an arm or a leg but can still hobble along. And it provides a certain amount of security and group identity, but it’s warped and twisted and demented and bent. It’s a parasite on something that’s rich and true. That’s how it looks to me, anyways.”
In his conversation with Camille Paglia, Peterson stated:
“I thought of ideologies as fragmentary mythologies, that’s where they get there archetypal and psychological power.”
First when I heard this, it immiadately went against my deepest instincts. So this blog is about that.
What is ideology?
I’ve watched plenty of Jordan Peterson’s lectures and he actually never defines what ideology is. Maybe that’s just my fault, I may have missed it.
I searched for “ideology” in his book “Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief”. On p. 281:
“Ideology is fixed world-picture; not empirical description, although constantly confused with such; is portrait of significance, of meaning – mythically-grounded determinant of interpretation of present actuality and future ideal, in affect. Ideology is limited, static portrayal of an infinitely complex and constantly transforming actuality; is restriction of the chaos that brings hope to life to the order that stultifies and deadens; is denial of possibility, in behavior, imagination and thought. (…)
Ideology confines human potential to a narrow and defined realm. Adaptation undertaken within that realm necessarily remains insufficient, is destined to produce misery, as it is only relationship with the transcendent that allows life to retain its savour. Ideology says “it must be thus,” but human behavior constantly exceeds its realm of representation; such capacity for exception must therefore be denied, lest faith in ideology vanish, and chaos, intolerable chaos, reappear. The ideologue says: anomaly means dissolution, dissolution means terror – that which frightens is evil: anomaly is evil. It is not the existence of anomalous information that constitutes evil, however – such information refreshes, when properly consumed. Evil is the process by which the significance of the anomaly is denied; the process by which the meaning of the anomaly – by which meaning itself, truth itself – is rejected. This rejection means, necessarily, life rendered unbearable, hellish…”
The quote above is the closest thing to a definition. It’s more like a negative description, a dismal dystopian picture. The definition is all implicit in the context of his words. For a man who is a particularly accurate thinker, spending quite a lot of time carefully defining words before using them, that’s a big issue. The only impression you get is that ideology is a bad thing. It reminds me of the usage of “neoliberalism” by leftist thinkers: something obscure to talked about negatively. You do not want to be in that club.
It’s no wonder actually, because ideology is what one would call an “essentially contested concept”, meaning we can all agree on its qualitative abstract idea of it but not on its concrete realisation. It is very difficult to delineate ideology from other typologies of belief systems: (political) philosophy, religion, Weltanschauung (world view) or life stance. The differences between all of those are matter of degree rather than category.
Ideology is composed out of the ancient Greek words of eidéa (look, appearance, form, type, sort, class or style) and logos (to speak or tell, to study or to have knowledge). Antoine Destutt de Tracy at the end of the 18th century coined the term as a “science of ideas”, the study on how people sense the world and form conceptualisations of it in their mind.
However, it was quickly used by Napoleon and Marx to hurl at their opponents as doctrinaires and dogmatists (especially the latter is ironical, as Marx is definitely the most established ideologue of the past 200 years). Jordan Peterson seems to be in the same boat as them (irony meter goes into overload, Peterson dislikes Marx).
Ideology is commonly conceived as:
- The concept that describes what the current world looks like (descriptive).
- The description of what the world should look like, from this originates the values and norms (prescriptive, normative).
- Ideology as a description of how one should go from 1 to 2 (operational).
Ideologies are mostly called -isms, the main three are liberalism, socialism and conservatism (although the last one is called an anti-ideology because it lacks 2, but for the sake of simplicity I consider it to be an ideology to).
Psychology of ideology
I’m not satisfied with this definition. It is too cognition-oriented. Are ideologies mere fabrications of the mind or are they something deeper? I propose a definition more in line with de Tracy:
- You perceive the world with your senses (sensation).
- You map these sensations in your mind (representation)
- You formulate those mental representations into theory through speech or writing (articulation)
- You act out the articulated theory in reality (actualisation)
- You shape reality by your actions (realisation)
- You repeat those steps over time (replication)
This six-step model consists of two parts: steps 1 and 2 are the mental part, steps 4 and 5 are the physical part, step 3 is the bridge between the mental and the physical and step 6 is the time aspect of ideology.
As you go through the steps, there is a clear loss of information: you cannot fully represent your unconscious sensations, you cannot fully articulate your mental representations, you cannot fully act out your theories, you cannot fully shape the world and you cannot fully replicate each step over time.
Often, steps 4 and 5 fail all together, because the mental and physical reality do not match. The more rational people will claim that people will simply adjust their theory to reality. The more tragic people will claim that this is stubbornly forcing to fit their theory to reality, until the point of either one of the two breaks.
However, when there is a match, a positive-feedback loop is initiated. Interpretation and formation of reality becomes then a co-creative process. It creates the chicken-or-the-egg problem and you cannot find the point of origin. Over time, ideology can then be consolidated.
Of course, you’re not alone in this world. You also interact with other people, who share or differ in their ideology. Communication is very important in this process and exchange of ideas might act as a reinforcement or a correction of the process. The institutions of a society determine the direction and usually a liberal democracy with a free marketplace of ideas tends to balance out. Social or government censorship tends to reinforcement and can even normalise the most radical of ideas. So step 3 can influence step 1 and individuals tend to co-produce ideologies through discourse.
Evolution of ideology
Nothing so far contradicts the claims of Dr Peterson. As he explained numerous times, he agrees with the postmodernists that there are an infinite number of possible interpretations but he believes there are only a limited amount of functional interpretations. However he doesn’t take this statement seriously himself. It means there is possibly a Darwinian explanation of ideology.
Prehistoric humankind went as much through the same six steps as much as we do. However, a failure to properly function in the world could lead to death. So, natural selection already removed the most flawed of interpretations. What remained are those interpretations adapted to the environment. Environment changes a lot, so one fixed ideology would not work all the time. Evolution thus produced two component ideologies: one ideology most adaptive in a stable environment and one ideology most adaptive in a changing environment. Conservatism and progressivism are born.
However, besides the natural environment there is also a social environment. Moral thinking is for social doing, as Jonathan Haidt puts it. There are people who rely more on the group and there are people who rely more on themselves. It is the chaos-order theme Jordan Peterson talks about: the group provides security and structure to the individual but the group is at the same time corrupt and tyrannical and needs prophetic individuals to save it. So that produces a component ideology based on collective authority on one hand and a component ideology based on individual liberty on the other hand. Authoritarianism-collectivism and libertarianism-individualism are born.
It seems there are four possible combinations (conservative + authoritarian-collectivist, conservative + libertarian-individualist, progressive + authoritarian-collectivist and progressive + libertarian-individualist). In reality, it seems conservatives are not explicitly authoritarian-collectivist or libertarian-individualist. (Although that could be an artifact of a biased sample, in America conservatives are relatively libertarian-individualist while in Eastern Europe and East Asians conservatives are relatively authoritarian-collectivist.)
So three basic ideologies emerge: conservatism, liberalism (in the European sense, libertarianism in the American sense) and socialism (in the European sense, liberalism in the American sense).
Research by both moral psychologist Dr. Jonathan Haidt and Dr. Jordan Peterson himself have indicated the reality of these three basic ideologies. Conservatives, liberals and socialists differ in the distribution of sentiments (moral foundations) and temperaments (Big Five personality traits and aspects). Conservatives have a wide and equal distribution of moral foundations, incl. Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/subversion and Sanctity/degradation while Liberty/oppression is dominant in liberals/libertarians and Care/harm and Fairness/cheating in socialists/liberals. Conservatives have more Conscientiousness-Orderliness and Agreeableness-Politeness and less Openness-Intellect as personality traits, while progressives have more Agreeableness-Compassion as personality trait.
Fundamentally, I believe all ideologies can essentially be reduced to aspects of either one of the three basic ideologies, or a combination of the three basic ideologies. I don’t rule out there might be more component ideologies to be discovered that can explain other ideologies. Bottom-line is this: ideologies are both products of biological and cultural forces, and thus not mere fabrications of the intellect.
Ideology, ideologues and ideological possession
Correlation isn’t causation but it seems there is a solid basis for the natural proclivity of individuals towards certain ideologies, or that the natural proclivity produces those ideologies in the first place (this should seriously be examined properly). What exactly the relation is between the innate ideology and the intellectual ideology, is not clear. It’s not that ideology is only a pure natural product, it has been enriched with a wide rational thinking and cultural evolution that has produced the diversity of all ideologies.
From the psychological literature we know that people reason based on (but not limited to) mental models, which the late John Wright Forrester described as:
“The image of the world around us, which we carry in our head, is just a model. Nobody in his head imagines all the world, government or country. He has only selected concepts, and relationships between them, and uses those to represent the real system. (…) The mental model is fuzzy. It is incomplete. It is imprecisely stated. Furthermore, within one individual, a mental model changes with time and even during the flow of a single conversation. The human mind assembles a few relationships to fit the context of a discussion. As the subject shifts so does the model. When only a single topic is being discussed, each participant in a conversation employs a different mental model to interpret the subject. Fundamental assumptions differ but are never brought into the open. Goals are different and are left unstated. It is little wonder that compromise takes so long. And it is not surprising that consensus leads to laws and programs that fail in their objectives or produce new difficulties greater than those that have been relieved.“
It seems to be that ideologies function as a relatively stable, coherent form of mental models. Ideologies are not fixed, as Jordan Peterson wrongly states, and they are purposely incomplete, as the human mind cannot fully encompass the whole of reality but necessarily compresses it into a model representation. That is hardly an honest criticism of ideology.
It seems to me that all political philosophers looked at the world with a mental model and articulated out of it a coherent set of principles, concepts and -isms. Ideology is more than just political philosophy, it presupposes political philosophy. Ideology existed before the philosopher, but the philosopher had to use the Logos to form the potential chaos into habitable order (to say it in a Petersonian manner). Its creation might be flawed; its mental model cannot fully encompass Being in its totality, but it is a good step in the gradual process to accurately describe the world and how to operate in it. There is a proximate utility in ideologies, and in dialogue as the process that mediates and refines them.
But this doesn’t explain how the ideologically possessed gets tangled up into ideology. I do think Peterson makes a point with that criticism. I think there are two aspects of this: firstly, not all ideologies are the same and some can be more or less nuanced, and secondly, the content of ideologies determine the psychological dynamics that govern the ideological change on a personal level.
The first is quite obvious: the prevalence of ideologies seem to follow a normal distribution. The majority of people seem to have a centre-left, centre or centre-right ideology. A smaller but considerable proportion of people seems to be firmly on the left and right. A very small amount of people is on the radical or extreme left or right. The proportions can obviously shift due to the social context, but years of elections seem to point out to the validity of this claim. Centre parties normally occupy the largest vote share (if they do not, like today, it is a sign of social disorder and/or the ideological breakdown of said centre parties, but that’s beyond the scope of this blog).
Centrist ideologies seem to be more nuanced and can encompass a less biased representation of reality, so they have a practical utility and provide social stability and are thus more attractive. As one moves away of the centre, the ideology skews or better said, is more selective of, reality. Left or right ideologies do this in a more pronounced manner while radical or extreme left or right ideologies can rightly be called pathologies (kudos to Peterson). However, this is different to state that ALL ideologies are pathologies, as Peterson says. I think that is a flawed generalisation of radical or extreme ideologies.
Secondly, the use of mental models seem to have a cognitivist twang to it, it presumes that our mind works like a computer that produces a mathematical model based on inferred correlations. It is deeper than that. As Peterson explains (from 03:00), moral development (but same thing can be said of ideological development) is a sequence of consecutive unions: firstly, there is the union of the rational intellect and passionate emotions into one mind, secondly, there is the union of said mind and your body (body here to be meant to be your actions to avoid performative contradiction) into one self, and thirdly, there is the union of the self and the world. The end result is a stable equilibrium, a necessary precondition to a healthy psyche.
Now, the most radical or extreme ideologies fail in one or more of these three steps. I’m going to be speculative here, but it seems the distortion of such ideologies fail to union at all, or does it so poorly the end result is a monstrous abomination. The totalitarian aspect of said ideologies lies in that failure: as union fails, the cognitive dissonance initiated by it leads to external projection (because the ideology is unquestionable) and external control to mediate that dissonance. Peterson’s catch phrase “ideological possession” can be applied here: persons who fail to integrate become puppets of ideologues, ideologues being nefarious people which conjure up such ideologies, often because they failed to integrate themselves. The comparison to a brain parasite or virus seems fair in such cases.
Jordan Peterson would most likely object to this by saying all ideology is by nature static and inflexible and thus prone to totalitarianism. It is religion which is more holistic. Firstly, the latter is flat out wrong: religions have next to their symbolic component a strong ideological component that can be equally pathological. Secondly, as Peterson and Dr. McGilchrist (from 11:00) explain, the reaction to anomalies is to incorporate them and initiate a paradigm shift in the Kuhnian sense. It isn’t impossible for ideologies to change, they have done that very often in the past. For instant, social democracy in Europe developed as a result of the socialist anomalies not giving the desired outcome, so the proletarian revolution and class struggle of socialism had to be given up and changed into a reformist attitude towards capitalism and cooperation between the different strata of society.
In another conversation, Peterson (from 11:55) is sceptical to the idea that ideology as abstract moral principles can be united with your personal experience. Well, I talked about how ideology is more than just something abstract. In politics, ideology becomes something concrete and useful, with relatively good results (I wish Jordan Peterson good luck to explain the moral and material progress of the last 60 years without referring to the ideology governing it). But anyway, Peterson says that if you can unite ideology, it ceases to be an ideology. This would be a nice opportunity for Peterson to explain what an ideology is and what it transforms it into, but he fails to do that so his subsequent whole line of reasoning can be dismissed as incoherent.
I do think Jordan Peterson is right that any belief system should be a balance, harmonisation and integration of the juxtaposed forces. Some forms of religions can do that, but so can centre-oriented ideologies. Here, the biased representation of ideology by Peterson as nothing but tyrannical (ironically something he accuses feminists from doing that) while dispensing with its benevolent aspects (ideologies provide a mental model of the world so we can act based on its principles without drowning in the world’s complexity) really questions his capacity to objectively look at ideology without descending into gross generalisations and misrepresentations.
Religion vs. ideology
So, you cannot carelessly characterise ideology as mere social constructs who are imposed on society by the use of power employed by the hegemonic elite (the Gramscian view of ideology), nor can you simplify it as broken religions (the Petersonian view of ideology). But what is it with religion that it is supposedly superior to ideology?
That raises another question: how does ideology differ from religion? This is best explained by James Lindsay:
“There’s a lot going on here that makes a structure like this work — and in terms of what makes it religious. People often think it’s God or gods that make a belief structure religious, but that’s not quite right. Religions are more accurately a kind of community, known as a moral community, built not so much around deities as around certain kinds of symbolic cultural narratives. Particularly, religions provide meaning by offering a symbolic mythological narrative into which life, society, and the broader universe are contextualized. (The mythological aspect of religions is where God usually comes in and seems to be, in fact, the crucial divider between religious structures and mere ideological movements.) Furthermore, religions not only provide and maintain the community in which the religious subculture thrives but also utilize the underlying mythology to provide structure and order for that society. They also deliver their mythology and philosophy for life by means of psychologically elevating messages; protect their mythological structure from challenges, either from other competing mythologies or from rational inquiry that probes too deeply, by making use of nonstandard epistemologies that serve to support and protect the mythological structure at their cores; and usually have some mechanism by which conversion to the faith can be achieved and is marked. Religions tell people in an emotionally salient way what’s going on, how things are best ordered, and who and how to be, and they provide means for knowing their own.” (emphasis added)
So, what separates ideology from religion is the presence of mythology. To add a Petersonian flavour: religions are more stories than clear doctrines (that’s why there is a whole discipline of theology around it). However, the difference between the two are merely in degree. What really differs between ideology and religion is the temporal scale. All ideologies are proto-religions.
It is a bold claim, but let me explain. 250 years have passed since the French Revolution. As time passes, our recollection of the past becomes more blurry and warped. As I have explained in another blog, the image of the Enlightenment is determined by the French Revolution. In popular culture, the radical ideas of the French revolutionaries are presented as the norm of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment is perceived as one coherent block. This can’t be farther from the truth. It is as if the Enlightenment is becoming more and more mythical.
That is what Lindsay seems to be missing: ideology has an explicit cognitive component but what is transferred through time is a story. There is quite some literature on the American civil religion. America has its own creation myth (American Revolution), sanctified values (such as the pursuit of happiness), martyrs (Abraham Lincoln but also Martin Luther King Jr.) and rituals (4th of July, Thanksgiving). Forget about the facts, pop cultural representations such as The Patriot (2000) is what matters. Epic drama’s intensify the mythification of ideology. With each passing generation, the heroes of the American Revolution become more righteous and the villains more malevolent. Intellectuals become prophets and before you know it, a God comes in the picture.
Any given ideology can become quasi-religious over time. Judaism probably evolved out of an Israelian civil religion. Oral transference speeds up the process as it is more prone to error (“mutations” if you like evolutionary biological analogies). But don’t think because we have historical records that it won’t happen. Most people don’t know the historical facts. How many have read The Federalist papers? Why should they when you’ve stories?
Some ideologies have the potential to grow into religions more than others. Charismatic leaders (Hitler, Lenin) is one factor, totalitarian ideologies (Nazism, communism) is another one but those two are necessarily based on Utopian ideologies. Utopian ideologies tend to promise some kind of millennialist Utopia (the Fourth Reich, the classless society). The more wonderful the Utopia, the more likely the ideology gets sanctified. Failure is blamed on society, not the theory, and can result in cleansing atrocities.
It is wrong to think of ideology as a broken religion, it is the other way around: religion is a broken ideology. As Jordan Peterson explains, out of the symbolic representations are religious propositions derived from and out of that a religious philosophy is extracted. For all intents and purposes, the latter is de facto an ideology. It is broken because the religious ideology fails to properly articulate the mental representations. Stories are good to transfer the ideas but in the process of articulating them they lose information and are prone to multiple interpretations. The extracted ideology is always contestable. If the original ideology is not written down, the religion can go either way. Ultimately, it will lead to bitter conflict such as between the Orthodox Christians, the Roman-Catholics and the Lutheran Protestants.
Metaphysics of behaviour
It is actually very hard to have a discussion on the nature of ideology if you don’t know the level of analysis you’re talking about. Kudos to Ben Shapiro to remind me of the iceberg model of behaviour.
So what is this “iceberg model of behaviour”? It originally was a metaphor to visualise the structural relationships between id, ego and super-ego of Freud but it has exploded into beyond Freud: system thinkers, management studies, behaviour and so forth. The 90/10 figure seems to be used a lot: 10% of our behaviour is conscious, 90% of our behaviour is driven unconsciously in a similar fashion 90% of the iceberg is under water. I think it is a good conceptual model to begin with.
How would an iceberg model of politics (figure below) look like? Take for instant a certain policy proposal. Often, one invites political analysts or legal experts to discuss the popularity or legality of the proposal. More rarely, they invite an economist, sociologist or anthropologist to discuss the underlying social patterns. A psychologist is almost never invited to discuss the individual human behaviour. This is basically the dullness of popular media outlets: they stay in the conscious, above-water part of the iceberg.
What is more interesting, is to go beneath the surface to the individual unconscious. I believe philosophers are most suited for that. Humans are goal-oriented creatures with agency, so the telos or purpose of the behaviour is examined. That’s the field of teleology. Purpose is the lens through which humans interpret the world. But you do not do this randomly, but systematically. As you apply a specific kind of purpose, you do this based on certain kind of logic or method. The disciplines of logic and methodology describe what kind of protocols people use to acquire knowledge. Scientific paradigms emerge when a certain kind of method has proved its worth. The scientific method is such paradigm.
But one does not conjure up a method out of thin air. One has a pre-conceived thought what constitutes knowledge, what is truth or false and how one can support such beliefs. In other words, methods require an epistemology. The scientific method for instant has as epistemology empiricism. However, in asserting what is truth or false, one has to make a value distinction. That raises the question of right or wrong, good or evil, beauty or ugliness. The discipline of axiology (ethics and aesthetics) preoccupies itself with such questions. You can say what is right is that which has positive outcomes (consequential ethics), follows a rule (deontology) or is the golden mean between vices (virtue ethics).
Values however are not axiomatic e.g. self-evident. Underlying values are ideas and mental models about the world and that’s exactly what ideology should look into. If you’ve a progressive view of the world, you are more likely to have a consequentialist ethics and a rationalist epistemology, while a conservative view of the world leads to deontological or virtue ethics and an empiricist epistemology. Ideas however arise from stories: myths, folk-tales and religious stories. The narrative structure of stories has ideas of the world build into for the reader to find. Mythology and theology is concerned with the documentation and interpretation of such literary works.
Every story has recurrent themes and characters. Jungian symbology identifies those themes. They are called archetypes and they are often build out of real-life experiences, collected over time in our psychology. That’s what phenomenology does: the description of human experience. Hermeneutical phenomenologists like Heidegger focuses excessively to the interpretation of human experience. Experience arises out of the most fundamental reality: existence itself. The relation between existence and experience is not 1:1; experience can differ from existence and should be considered separately. Ontology attempts to define existence. Existence is the realm of Darwinism, physics and life itself. I think there is nothing more axiomatic than that, that’s why the bottom of the iceberg is reached.
|Iceberg model of politics (own making)|
I’m not saying this is the real-life model or the most accurate model but it is the best that I can come up with. It’s not that it isn’t beyond dispute, you can argue for shifting some things up and down.
The point of this iceberg model is to visualise a systematic approach of explaining something to the appropriate level of analysis. Humans experience existence over time and distil symbolic representations out of it. Symbols combine into stories, which contain implicit ideas. An ideology of life is extracted out of the stories which then gets formulated into values. Values contain truth claims and knowledge which then needs to get systematised into a paradigma. We can use paradigma to serve our purposes so we can accomplish it through behaviour. Collective behaviour materialise into patterns, institutions and politics. The reverse thing happens to: higher-order processes trickle-down till existence.
I do not believe this model can be without ideology, that we can axiomatically connect values out of stories into a coherent philosophy without having an a priori world view manifested in those stories. I cannot emphasise this enough: stories presuppose the existence of ideologies as stories require interpretation. The act of interpretation bypasses the mythology and goes straight to the phenomenology and ontology; our natural proclivity towards one of the basic ideologies makes us biased and interpretation of text a matter of viewpoint. Even if we reduce the number of interpretations from infinity to three (the Petersonian objection to postmodernism), we still cannot with certainly state which of the three is the best in all situations, nor which one is the most accurate representation of the intent of the writer of the stories (as dead or unknown). That doesn’t mean every interpretation is equally valid or functional all the time, the state of the environment determines that.
I think even Jordan Peterson cannot dispute this either, which compels us to take ideology serious.
Jordan Peterson, the a-ideological hero?
You would think, Peterson as a staunch anti-ideologue is bereft of any ideological thinking. Think again. Jordan Peterson describes himself as a “classical liberal”. In an interview with Quillette Magazine, Jordan Peterson explains the contradiction like this:
“Classical liberalism is not an ideology because it’s reflective of something that is deep and that is real.”
Sorry, no, just no. I don’t accept this quite pitiful answer. The cognitive dissonance drips from this sentence. You can’t rage against ideology as parasitical, warped, twisted, demented and bent just to say you’re an adherent of classical liberalism, which is in any textbook is considered to be an ideology. You can’t just deny it is an ideology because it’s “deep” and “real”. That’s just your confirmation bias that’s speaking, Dr. Peterson, not your rational intellect.
Classical liberalism is an ideology like the rest, and is as wrong/right as any other ideology. Although it would take an entire blog to point out the wrongs of classical liberalism, I can hint it has something to do with its economics, which without redistribution breeds poverty (which without alleviation can destroy society), its culture, which breeds nihilism and egocentrism (which without alleviation can destroy society) and the natural environment, which gets polluted and over-exploited (you get the picture).
I have no doubt that Peterson, as a classical liberal, uncovers classical liberal truths out of the Bible. That’s why he deluded himself into thinking classical liberalism contains deeper truths and thus is not considered to be an ideology by him. I equally have no doubt that some see Jesus as a socialist, or a libertarian, in the same respect. All torture the Biblical text to confirm their viewpoint. Neither one can give me 100% certainty that they got it right, I only can conclude they all exist, and all have partial validity. To state that your ideology is supported by the Bible, is a form of circular reasoning that is merely meant to reinforce previously held ideological beliefs.
Kudos to Peterson for one thing: indeed, every ideology and religion is by definition missing an arm or a leg because every ideology is only a partial interpretation of the story. As stated before, people are naturally inclined to one ideology (the three clusters seeming to be conservative, progressive and libertarian) and read stories with that in mind. A healthy society tries to give room to all ideologies, allows for the succession of ideologies and prevents one ideology of taking control all the time (it would result in catastrophe).
In Europe, we succeeded just that. The liberal democracy is a mixture of socialist, conservative, Christian-democratic, liberal, environmentalist and nationalist ideology. In the Benelux and Germany, the Christian-democratic, socialist and liberal ideologies are dominant. In the British Isles, the conservative, liberal and socialist ideologies are dominant. In Scandinavia, socialist, environmentalist and liberal ideologies are dominant. In Eastern Europe, conservative, liberal and nationalist ideologies are dominant. It is the blend that is the success-formula of Europe, not only classical liberalism.
You can argue that classical liberalism is a sort of “meta-ideology”, meaning that it’s omnipresence is necessary to support the existence of all other ideologies. The pluralistic attitude of liberalism requires every democracy to be liberal at its core in order to prevent monopolisation of one ideology. However, the other tenets of classical liberalism (radical individualism, laissez-faire capitalism) is a threat to human flourishing and requires conservatism and socialism as counter-balance.
There is another reason why it is dangerous to frame ideologies as mere rational fabrications of the intellect. As Dr. Jonathan Haidt’s eloquently states it in his book The Righteous Mind: morality binds and blinds. The same thing applies to ideologies.
I’m a firm believer there is no such thing as an a-ideological person. Everyone has an ideology because we humans are zoön politikon, as Aristotle puts it. We act out based on values, and those values are manifestations of an ideology or religion. Ideology is part of the metaphysics of a person, alongside ontology, epistemology, teleology, phenomenlogy and axiology.
I think every person has to examine its metaphysics at least once in a lifetime. This is necessary to burn off dead wood (as Jordan Peterson said) but also to resist ideological possession. Possession in my estimation is not the mere having an ideology, but having an ideology unconsciously and determining every action. It is the denial of ideological thinking that’s really dangerous. Because then the real ideologues (i.e. someone who is consciously aware of its ideology and actively pursuing it to its utmost conclusion) can step in and fill in the blanks.
Ever since Francis Fukuyama announced the end of history, it is fashionable in the West to declare all ideological wars to have ended. Discussions about ideas and values are put aside as irrational. Instead, we should rely on science for the questions of society. At the same time ethical questions are pushed out the political realm into science, science (especially the social sciences and the humanities) has been corrupted by activists and ideologues, who barely hide their nefarious agenda. As such, Gramscian Marxists were able to monopolise the available space without much resistance and start to mould society.
Gramsci believed that the bourgeoisie imposed their ideology on the proletariat by having cultural hegemony. He believed ideology were pure rational constructs that are easily exchangeable. The postmodernists and critical theorists merely expanded that and concluded that if there are an infinite number of interpretations, the only way to validate ideology is through domination. As Peterson said, that is wrong. There are a finite number of functional interpretations. As I stated, these functional interpretations lead to the development of several evolutionary strategies: status-quo vs. change and conformity vs. rebellion.
However, to expand on that: not all of those evolutionary strategies are suited for every individual. There are functional interpretations that fits like a key on a person, but not on others. The lock is the individual sentiments and temperaments. Roughly three basic functional interpretations have formed three basic ideologies: conservatism, liberalism and socialism. This means there is always a viewpoint diversity, as sexual recombination creates the genetic variation underlying the proclivity towards one ideology. Dominance of one ideology is not a simple matter of Gramscian power-play.
Jordan Peterson certainly would agree with me that these Gramscian power-plays are a threat to human existence. His alternative, to shout down all ideologies and proclaim to adopt his own (ultimately biased) kind of mythology-based mode of being as an alternative, risks validating this trend to depoliticise and a-ideologise society that is at the root of the problem.
No, even more than before we need to be awake and conscious and be able to identify ideology around us. This requires the process of soul-searching first, as you need to be fully aware of your own ideology and your own biases before you can criticise the world. Only then, ideology is lead by you instead of leading you.
It isn’t self-evident for me that ideologies are mere fabrications of the rational mind or brain parasites, as Jordan Peterson suggests. Ideologies are more profound than that and seem to be part of the human condition.
I think ideology should be more than just a general term to denote a specific kind of belief, but as a real science of ideas or discipline of philosophy (as Antoine Destutt de Tracy intended it to be) which answers important questions like: what are the ideas mankind hold? How does these ideas came into existence? How are ideas spread? How does one accept one idea as true and the other as false?
I consider myself an ideologist, as ideology seems to be the appropriate level of analysis to look at today’s confusing political times. If he likes it or not, Jordan Peterson is this to. Ideologists emerge when ideologues have a grip on society. Ideologists unmask those ideologues and their agenda, and often get insults hurled at them.
Quick denouncements of ideology out of hand and sweeping statements of the maliciousness of ideology hamper the unmasking of that agenda, and rather leaves it to the ideologues. In the long run, this hurts us more. This is a call to Jordan Peterson, and to you, reader: critically examine yourself and ask the question: what is your ideology?