In his book Maps of Meaning, Jordan Peterson talks about how he discovered most of what he said, thought, and believed was not honest, not real, or reflected thoughts that were not his.
He goes about encountering this realization by first rejecting his Christian upbringing as a teenager, finding the story of Genesis could not be supported by science and logic, nor could any story about resurrection or virgin births.
Then, in college, he became an ideological socialist, only to discover that most of the people who supported socialism did little more than offer up complaints, talk about a better world, and did little to take action besides this discussion, a painting of words and enemies in the right wing, conservatives who hoarded their money and rights.
Peterson’s choice to abandon the socialist political party with which he had become aligned was set in stone after he read George Orwell’s Road to Wigan Pier in which Orwell states:
This is the section of the book Peterson sums up as saying, “Socialists don’t love the poor, they just hate the rich.”
Peterson’s ideas eventually are such that he rejects all ideologies to the best of his ability, finding the most honest account of something inherently true and collective in (terms of morality) within dreams, much the same way Carl Jung did, and in stories, much the same way Joseph Campbell did.
Peterson draws from his conclusions a method of separating action from ideology in order to identify the contradictions of ideology from the individual framework of nuance in the here and now by rejecting the frameworks which “forged” him, which leads him to discover, arguably, the same Christian and socialist principles he rejected in a more experiential sense by walking away from them in the sentimental sense.
Maps of Meaning is fraught with moral lessons from the Judeo Christian perspective and Peterson is well aware of this. He also is considered a liberal in the classical sense, while many modern far left liberals can be considered Nazis in the vernacular sense. Conservatives too. The theme of this book seems to be finding balance between the paradoxical nature of sentimentality vs experience and where our sublimated unconscious desires play a role in shaping our instincts and individuality.
Orwell also stated in this book that, “This is the inevitable fate of the sentimentalist. All of his opinions turn into their opposites at the first brush of reality.”
Duality is the curse and necessity of sanity and consciousness—a curse because one finds that in avoiding what we don’t want we walk straight into it and in aiming for what we do want we walk straight away from it only to find the seed of our efforts blooming in the darkness of all lost hopes.
In The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Carl Jung writes:
“There is no consciousness without discrimination of opposites. This is the paternal principle, the Logos, which eternally struggles to extricate itself from the primal warmth and primal darkness of the maternal womb; in a word, from unconsciousness. Divine curiosity yearns to be born and does not shrink from conflict, suffering or sin. Unconsciousness is the primary sin, evil itself, for the Logos. Therefore its first creative act of liberation is matricide, and the spirit that dared all heights and all depths must, as Synesius says, suffer the divine punishment of enchainment on the rocks of Caucasus. Nothing can exist without its opposite; the two were one in the beginning and will be one again in the end. Consciousness can only exist through continual recognition of the unconscious, just as everything that lives must pass through many deaths,” —Jung 178.
In chapter 2 of Maps of Meaning, Peterson talks about this idea of the divine unconscious—the devourer, as feminine and as symbolically represented by nature.
Logos, order, and consciousness are represented by the eternal male.
Both, if gone unattended for too long, become their shadow forms. Nature becomes chaos to the conscious male archetype of knowledge, logic, science. Knowledge becomes limited, stagnant, irrelevant with the passage of time unless reinvigorated by chaos and/or creativity.
What I find interesting is that in the ancient concept of Yin and Yang, creativity is attributed to males. While in modern concepts of yin and yang, including in my dream book (again, based in Jungian symbolism which draws on ancient eastern philosophies) creativity is attributed to the female.
It seems to me that creativity may be one of the AND factors that may allow one to transcend the narrative of duality.
The creative chaos we may bring to this world may necessarily require rejecting some of its mandates for sanity in order to display the merit of those mandates against the stark contrast of what they buffer us against in the natural and subconscious realm.
To do this as an individual appears to mean withdrawal, from shopping, restaurants, technology, business…what presence does this pandemic place us in and what embodiments of your persona have arisen during this time?
I am practicing present moment awareness and discovering how very far away my mind is from my body at any given time…that is, I’m often in the Orwellian realm of the sentimentalist when I’d really prefer to be in the Jungian realm of the discerning, non-binary individual.
Being totally present in one’s individual life, for me anyways, requires negating the general rules by which we collectively operate, at least insofar as they dictate the actions one subconsciously takes.
Say the general rule is to avoid the dark alleyway, but this particular dark alleyway is one down which my teacher has told me there is a magic lamp that will unlock a wonderful future if I can face the darkness.
In general, I wouldn’t go down this alley, but in this circumstance, what looks scary promises something. Nuance is important and relative to the scale of reference or interpretive lens. This is why literacy aids in developing higher cognitive intelligence which we call critical thinking…perhaps what Jesus meant when he spoke of discernment: reading people, reading situations, reading and assessing using emotional and intellectual intelligence necessarily overcomes the dictates of black-and-white, binary thinking.
Collective dictates do not allow for the nuance of individual experience. They are too broad, the individual and her experience too tied to the moment which undoes the all-encompassing nets of sentimental collective categories. If we follow the collective constantly, we never find the lamp in the darkness. If we go into every dark alley looking for a lamp, we become one of the darkness’ inhabitants.
In order to know the meaning of one’s individual experience from the lens of the individual, we must disconnect from the collective to see what “individual” means in contrast to it, otherwise the experience is not an experience at all…it’s a sentiment.
When I was younger, this underdeveloped sentiment arose as an eating disorder. I didn’t know that overcoming duality was what I was trying to do by testing all the limits I took for granted. Testing your limits will show you what a binary thinker you indeed are.
This time, I was a little less hard on myself.
So I quit social media. That has been nothing short of a great breath of fresh air. That echo chamber of grossness is no reasonable reflection of a person or people. What I found was that the people I encounter every day had been infected with my encounters with social media. I perceived these people as those voices in that inter web platform and thought…how strange. I see all these things online, but the people in front of me are normal enough. They have their ulterior motives and goals and dreams, sure, but most people , in practice, are not the assholes we see on social media.
Beneath us, in the under dark of what we want the world to see is the asshole we’ve all tethered down to adhere to the general expectations of being able to tether that asshole down.
Sometimes I confuse the unleashed asshole for a discerning and rebellious individual and later discover they are both the same person. That’s the hard part…owning one’s shadow. just because you don’t always let her out doesn’t mean she doesn’t exist. Respecting our shadowy demons, our alcoholic rangers, our drug-induced euphoric epiphanies and boredom is the key to coexisting with them. Only by knowing, understanding, and respecting the nature of my hated self can I give her room to exist in appropriate ways so she does not become the divine chaotic mother demanding to be unleashed. She need not be repressed…just channeled.
What presence in the now brings the individual is discernment, receptivity, and action in balance with logic and emotion, hopefully. But broad generalizations about what should be based on the opinions generalized by the public take precedence in our individual judgements sometimes, acting as buffers to individual nuance.
Imagine we did not have any cultural stories, but instead encountered all of this life as something new, as children. Can you imagine encountering a giraffe if you were born in the Midwest from this lens of ignorance? No former knowledge of its existence? Is there anywhere in your life you have have been able to proceed into such unknown waters recently?
Today, the world’s books and crannies have been explored, but what of your mind? Your own internal universe? What of consciousness? Unknowns exist within by which we can unearth the power to consciously manifest the courses of our lives, but first there are walls to tear down. Public and collective opinion are the first obstacles.
For instance, Peterson relates a story about encountering a man in a prison who seemed to be the most unassuming of the prisoners, only to find out later the small, unassuming man had made two policeman beg for their lives while digging their own graves before taking it upon himself to shoot them.
The man appeared unassuming to Peterson and to others. He was quite dangerous.
I know someone who says racial slurs all the time but would take a bullet for someone of any color faster than any of my academic cohorts. He’s not an academic. He just likes to get a rise out of people. It’s funny to him. He also is calibrated to the kinds of instincts that demand he do things rightly…by that I mean he takes responsibility for himself, his actions, and his lot in the world, if not always in word, always in action and deed.
In some ways, that’s privilege for him. In other ways, it’s privilege to be able to get offended by words.
In other ways, that debate has nothing to do with me.
Take responsibility for yourself…all the fragmented parts. Learn them, know them.
The horrible part is I always learn about the fragments in hindsight…like oops, there’s that white trash drunk bitch I turned into because 25 isn’t the same as 29 and the lens of my goals has changed my perspective. What’s more, it’s allowed me to see a larger perspective around how poor my choices might have been. What’s more, dwelling on shame will lead to worse outcomes, so we must admit, reconcile, recover, and move on.
Don’t let the shame drown you out. Be brave. Be responsible for all of your goods and bads.
All of us have within ourselves contradictory experiences and beliefs and it’s easy to get caught up in the established contradictions of larger arguments that hold sway in order to feel powerful.
Most of the time, at least nowadays, those arguments alongside which we align ourselves in action, faith, and word have nothing to do with many of us except to bolster our opinion of ourselves and our usefulness to our social groups. This is inherently selfish, self-serving, and also selfless if you are acting in the interest of others. To act in the interest of others is one of my favorite examples of a dualistic paradox. It’s both selfless and self-serving, like love.
The most important question, perhaps then, is how do we align ourselves in thought and in action with who we’d like to become? Only then does joining a cause even mean something beyond wanting to join a cause, beyond the paradox of selfishness and self-serving ness, in that becoming the idea of a person is a fight against ones own baser instincts and closeted skeletons. Although self-serving, facing these also protects the people you love from them.
Similarly, if we are driven by subconscious instincts that have been sublimated by cultural ideals that mean very little to us personally but stand for who we’d like to become socially, what does that mean for the pursuit of love? Are you pursuing what you actually love or what you think you’re supposed to love? I bet at any given time the two are confused and conflated. Life is not black-and-white though we like to think in those terms, oddly enough.
I started having these outbursts at midnight. They occurred when DJ worked overtime. I didn’t realize until he later pointed out that they happen at midnight on the days he works long days that they were left over emotions from old abandonment trauma. Something as simple as being left at day care for too long made me freak out in my thirties. The brain is a a weird place my friends.
From a psychological framework, this looks like, “How do I become actualized or achieve individuation?”
From the lay men’s perspective: “Who am I?”
For the half-assed academic: “How do I take responsibility for my actions when I’m influenced by so many subconscious fears and instincts that I’m not even aware, half the time, of what’s really motivating me? Is that even true? Am I more powerful than I think I am? Can I be better?”
As someone who wrote a stream of consciousness journal online for six months and watched those beliefs change, I wondered about the weirdness of engaging with social media.
A person appears in their picture next to a thing they said by which others identify them and group them into another, larger group that stands for larger ideas.
That’s all great, except if you’re talking about it, it’s probably because you’re not doing shit about it. That’s also great because that person who wrote that thing that’s posted there doesn’t exist anymore. That person has grown and changed and moved on and yet you are engaging with a past version of their ideas. So whatever you see there is you.
Nietsche, for instance, was a person who lived a life and did normal human things, but we don’t know what those actions were which he took to create the philosophies he created. We don’t know what he ate for breakfast or if he jerked off to children crying or anything. We just know his ideas.
And people venerate these ideas despite the fact he was a miserable bipolar poor person who never achieved material satisfaction from his writing.
This is startling to me—both collectively and on an individual level. That we would give credence to someone’s ideas just because they remain known in academic or political or scientific spheres despite the actual quality of their lives or coherence. What’s more, the most outlandish are the ones who bring us the unknown about which we can talk and surmise but into which few dare to travel.
What have we left out in the unknown by grouping ideas and people together in little boxes to avoid the chaos from which our societies have sprung? What castle of sand is built upon knowledge swept beneath the rug for fear of having to expand the mind, to grow, to incorporate that which we don’t know into that which we do?
What I love is how what we know becomes something totally wrong at the drop of a hat, the switching of a lens.
When I decided I wanted to have kids, so many of my actions looked wrong in retrospect, both in how I treated those I love who do have kids (out of my own subconscious fear of becoming a mother) and how I so recklessly treated my body expecting, naively, that I would never change this idea.
Peterson says in chapter 2 that the perspective changes as the goal does. We become different people as we adapt to new goals.
Sometimes, those actions we’ve taken in the past appear reprehensible with new perspective.
The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed how close we are to involuntary change, how easy it would be for this castle made of sand to collapse into the waters of the natural chaos from which we sprung. There is a natural order which we have ignored in many respects. Does it demand respect now? Is this our wake up call to face our shadows?
It makes me wonder about fame and how we let people represent things they may not at all stand for and why we do this.
Why do we negate the passage of time and change?
It was similarly startling to Peterson when he discovered that most of the ideas, thoughts, and words he said were words he’d learned from ideologies and not words he actually believed in.
This is the same realization Peterson came to when he rejected ideology and turned, instead, to the nature of dreams.
This is the same concept Orwell was getting at, I believe when he wrote in The Road to Wigan Pier, “This is the inevitable fate of the sentimentalist. All his opinions change into their opposites at the first brush of reality.”
I think we’re all looking for a taste of that AND factor, the place at which the one thing turns into its opposite is the center point, the balance, the blade’s edge, the red road.
I think, too, that many religions and ideologies seek to communicate this AND factor, only to find its insufferably incommunicable, not only because achieving and maintaining alignment in a balanced state of being in heart mind and body requires navigation of the self through time and space which lends itself to all kinds of tricky situations in which context is key (that is, no generalization really works) but also because the words we use to describe the experiences become placeholders for having to take the actions by which we can become what those words and promises stand for, meaning if we use the words we no longer believe in them.
The act of creating a symbol out of an experience separates us from the reality of the experience.
Me trying to communicate with you via word or picture or video falls terribly short of the actual experience no matter how well I manage to document it.
The truest experience is here now and the consequences of that are so great on a large scale that the best thing I can do in my small world to influence the large scale in my limited capacities to affect change is to be the best I can be to myself and others…like really be that.
Actually DO that.
So where do my words stand as placeholders for my actions?
Six months ago, I was in a similar place that Jordan Peterson claimed to be in his early college days after renouncing ideology altogether.
I was paralyzed…what’s right? What’s wrong? What matters? Why does anything? If everything leads into its opposite why try? Why do we all continue to abide by the rules of a society that venerated greed, selfishness, and environmental destruction? Except that, if everything leads into its opposite, we’re all going to be good as gold here in the damn near future because this is some weird shit.
Probably we’ll be all rich in spirit and really dig being there for each other as the world collapses in flames around us. Won’t it be beautiful?
Or the world will be all gorgeous and awesome and it will damn near (if not totally) wipe us out. Maybe one and then the other. Maybe we’ll rise from our own ashes to find we’re on a weird time loop in which we are visiting our past selves from space as future selves trying to influence the passing of time on such a way as to not end in our own inevitable self-destruction as a species.
Like how the Avengers go back in time to rewrite the history they didn’t like.
Really…who the hell knows?
Know I don’t give a damn.
When it really comes down to it, when faced with insanity, with where is my next meal coming from, with am I going to survive this? When faced with the fight or flight instinct in which the consequence is very much one’s life, people are not their words or their ideologies. They are lucky to be alive.
Some people are living with things I can’t begin to understand. I only know that because of how people do not understand my own thing. It’s super frustrating and can be a thorn around which resentment festers, or it can be the reminder that kindness matters.
Is it really that or is that all I’m focusing on? I’m as guilty of thinking in black-and-white, here-or-there, them-or-me as any racist.
Maybe the AND factor is choice, but then we must be free to choose, and no one is freely choosing to act upon their subconscious inclinations. That is…what you fear is what you act upon whether it be to condemn it or to avoid it.
Will power and intelligence can work to influence the right actions to correct an indirect course, but that’s the best we can do.
Sometimes fate intervenes. Sometimes dreams are realized in a twisted, backwards sense.
We are not in control, but we do have responsibility to control ourselves on a social scale.
These questions of the larger political and economic impact of the sphere in which I exist, while valuable in some ways perhaps in that they manage to keep me in line and out of jail, were doing the same thing that the questions of ideology did for Peterson in his early college days:
They were creating a wall between my knowledge and my experience which hid me from having to embrace self-knowledge.
I didn’t know myself, my impact on the world as I knew it and encountered it, and I certainly didn’t want to see myself, know myself, or love myself, let alone live her.
But taken out of the larger sociopolitical context, when I started to pay attention to the people around me, their thoughts and desires, their actions and wishes, I started to realize that this is the larger world—these people—and “they” are people just like me.
They are people who aren’t all educated by a system that tells them to use specific language, so they wouldn’t know any better. They are people who are as separated from themselves as I was/am.
I don’t know how many people actually say what they mean, act on what they believe, or act rationally on what they believe. I think I, and many others, offer too much credit to the human’s delusion of control over him/her/theirselves.
Our subconscious…the dream world…constitutes the reasoning for most of our actions and we sublimate most of what we don’t want to become or believe in to the subconscious in order to behave appropriately in the collective.
We also live in an environment that is fast paced and has a lot of people operating in fight-or-flight mode most of the time—especially our world leaders. The higher up the economic rungs one climbs, the more responsibility for others.
I wonder, are we collectively meeting our subconscious?
Is this pandemic allowing us to meet what we have ignored in ourselves? In our lives? In human nature?
The access to language with which we dictate the consequences of action is a privileged one.
The access to knowledge containing any respectable nuance requires this access to language.
What’s hilarious to me about Jordan Peterson’s work (I respect the man very much) is that he is an academic. The people his work might serve most, if the idea is to become rich and successful as our Judeo-Christian culture displays through action all the time, are those who don’t have access to the language with which he communicates his ideas.
Peterson was vilified by some, at the start of his famous career (he had a career before fame), as one who supported the alt-right because he was against being told what language he should be allowed to use in addressing trans students and was fired from an academic post for it.
He was against the restriction of language, which is a restriction on individuality and creates room for the government that is supposed to care for us to work against us by inflicting punishment for using the wrong words.
1 in 5 Americans are illiterate. Our prison system is as much a corrupt business (like schools and processes food if you do any research into it at all) as any. Punishment from prison does not mend the behavior…bit it does line pockets. And it keeps dangerous people locked up.
There’s an AND factor we are missing. At least, I was missing it.
Both are valid stories…the corrupt businessman’s and the noble politician, the academic and the racist, the bourgeoise and the socialist.
They are usually one in the same person.
There’s an AND.
Restricting language from a socialist perspective to better the use of language actually undermines the people socialism is trying to protect, which is why Orwell wrote what he wrote and why Peterson condensed that into, “they don’t love the poor; they just hate the rich.” In which case the socialist is the bourgeoise he is against.
We’re all hypocrites though.
The restriction on language itself is one that assumes the man in the kitchen has the same access to your bourgeoisie knowledge as the teacher in the classroom or the educated SJW nazi who thinks that standing for something in word means they also stand for it in deed.
Takes one to know one goes the saying.
“Educate Yourself,” is a saying I hear often and think, yeah! Do that!
Think of the people you know who are uneducated. Ask yourself why they are uneducated. Ask yourself why you do not take it upon yourself to educate them. Maybe we discover not everyone is going to go to college and come to the same conclusions you do.
In which case, maybe your conclusion is wrong. It doesn’t encompass the whole of human experience. It negates. It condemns.
Deed and word are not the same thing.
I knew that when I was told the word of God by people who made me fear the deeds of satan.
Understanding the nature of a person, on the other hand, requires a little more digging, a little more honesty, and a lot more discomfort and accountability on the part of the self.
This primal desires require acknowledgement at one point or another. We either drowned it out with substances, acknowledge and acted upon constructively, or act upon without acknowledgement, often destructively.
Concern with the larger machinations of the world’s political and economic structures when I have no say in them was a waste of time, words, and effort.
I needed to see my deeds and their impact on the scale on which my deeds made impact. And, well, I stood for plenty of things I don’t practice. That’s the hard part of recovery.
I like it, humility. It feels good.
Facing myself and my flaws did not.
As far as I can tell, the AND factor is the idea that most of us aren’t driven by conscious, rational, controlled action at all. We are driven by human nature, much of which we have sublimated into the unconscious for the sake of perpetuating the ideals of a culture that we have outgrown.
The AND factor, I think, is that we don’t even know what motivates our actions most of the time, but we think we do.
Write down your actions every day.
Write down the reason you took that action.
Do this every day and it’s unlikely, still, that you’ll get to the unconscious cause of that action.
Peterson got to the unconscious heart of his desires by rejecting the frameworks that nurtured him: religion, society, ideology.
We discover what drives us by rejecting what drives us.
Try, instead, rejecting everything, only to find you became everything you didn’t want to be.
What’s infuriating is that this is the way, it seems. We are doomed to circle around and around the truth of the chaos that birthed us until returning back to it.
Perhaps the and factor is to forgive, to live, to be kind. We’re all flawed. So what? Let’s be kind to one another, understanding that human nature is not made to bend to the moral machinations of man. Mother Nature calls. We can find a way to tame what’s within or let it destroy us. Either way there will be pain and suffering. I like the idea of being there for one another