Maps of Meaning is unfalsifiable bullshit, tendentiously researched, poorly written, weighed down by the use of endless repetition and full of dark misogynist and mystical undertones. It was published in 1999 and had Peterson not had a tantrum about LGBTQ rights he would have remained an obscure Jungian psychologist who was fun to watch in the lecture theatre.
He is not harmless. He has gone to extraordinary lengths to give misogyny, traditional values and conservatism a quasi religious, mystical, psychological and theoretical foundation. He is Ayn Rand of the YouTube age. Interestingly, like her, he also doesnt actually write much, in an academic sense (not including his papers on clinical psychology for which he has zero fame). She of course was a novelist whereas Peterson-two-books-in-20-years is a YouTube star. Both are facile philosophical thinkers and neither are taken seriously in academic philosophy. Peterson is charlatan, a conman, a bigot in fancy clothes leading an army of frustrated and moaning men terrified at the prospect of losing their patriarchal privileges.
All that’s easy to say, so i’ll try to explain how i’ve come to this conclusion.
In Maps of Meaning Peterson is making the claim that mythology, archetypal characters and stories reveal a deep hardwired truth about the human condition and through a rehash of Jung’s unfalsifiable notion of the collective unconscious, these deep realities are manifested throughout time and culture. He draws on a vast array of myth to support his claim and what emerges, most significantly, is a basic dichotomy between the hero archetype, which he depicts as male and the bringer of order and the female archetype, depicted as the bringer of chaos.
Peterson is engaged in some quite selective and, lets face it, tendentious research here – basically, he cherry picks. There are multiple mythologies where the gender of the chaos bringer is in fact male and the bringer of order female, which Peterson completely ignores. That should be a very huge red flag, right there. He also ignores the fact that myths have multiple meanings that span time and change and are reinterpreted to fit particular situations. To understand the true meaning of a particular story it would be perfectly reasonable to dip into ancient history, anthropology, maybe archeology and religious history in order to attempt to embed the story into its time and place - to understand the socio-political and religious dynamics of its birthplace. Peterson doesn’t have to worry about doing this because he knows what every myth of any importance is truly about, and that is, to support his grand theory of the collective unconscious through which the cosmic struggle between order and chaos can be accessed.
This is fucking nuts! For starters, prove it! He doesn’t even try because obviously he can’t and that would’ve been fine and cool, you know give a little twist to Jung’s use of myth, nothing wrong with that for people interested in Jungian psychology, go for your life, mate. But then he had a man-tantrum over a pronoun and became famous and that’s when many, myself included, started reading him and came to the conclusion that this psychologist is on the wrong side of the consultation desk. He actually believes this shit?
Yes, it’s possible he does or he’s just making millions off gullible males who either share his conservative views, are scared to death of deconstructing patriarchy or have never before come across mythology, political theory or philosophy and find it all…like…a totally…amazing…tapestry…
Thing is, he truly doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Lets consider his great bogeyman, ‘post-modern neo-Marxism.’ This, to Peterson, is the most potent contemporary manifestation of chaos and it’s against this that he calls on his men to fight. We all know what he means here, right? SJWs and identity politics basically and that includes feminism, LGBTI rights and any biologically articulated collective. Apparently, this is a post-modern neo-Marxist deep state conspiracy to overthrow order that can also be blamed for the holocaust and Stalin, and for the way 21st century university students behave.
So what exactly is post-modernism? According to Peterson,
‘Postmodernism is essentially the claim that (1) since there are an innumerable number of ways in which the world can be interpreted and perceived (and those are tightly associated) then (2) no canonical manner of interpretation can be reliably derived.’
Fair enough. It’s tricky to say a hell of a lot more about post modernism in philosophy because it incorporates a wide range of diverse thinkers. Basically, Peterson starts here by plagiarising Jean-francois Lyotard’s definition as ‘incredulity toward meta-narrative.’ But…Marxism is a mother load of meta narrative…so what the fuck are you talking about JP? He manages to link the two this way.
That’s the fundamental claim. An immediate secondary claim (and this is where the Marxism emerges) is something like “since no canonical manner of interpretation can be reliably derived, all interpretation variants are best interpreted as the struggle for different forms of power.”
I’ll let Marxists tear this depiction of their philosophy to pieces and simply point out that according to Peterson’s folksy ideas, all power struggles are therefore Marxist. This would make the struggle for power over policy by multinational corporations, Marxist. It would make white-supremacists seeking an ethno-state, Marxist. It would, and this is fun, make the struggle between the hero male archetype against the female bringer of chaos, Marxist!
But putting that aside, what the fuck is a post modern politics? Foucault is post modern, he’s very left and Sartre was Communist. Richard Rorty is probably the most famous contemporary American post modern philosophy and he hates identity politics, he’s a centrist liberal, if he’s anything. Nietzsche, who Peterson inexplicably likes given his foundational status in post modernity, could be used to defend any political position you care to name. There is no post modern politics! It could be anything.
But wait, the most astonishing thing about Peterson’s thinking and his distaste for post-modernity is that he himself wields post modern devices to justify his half baked fantasies. Peterson holds to a pragmatic theory of truth, for fuck sake! (I refer the reader to the transcript of his first podcast with Sam Harris). Lifted from pragmatists like William James and John Dewy, Peterson argues that truth is that which works. We judge something to be true because it is effective and useful, not because it can be tested or has any other foundation in reality. This is why he equivocates over his own Christianity. Christianity is true, not because any of it actually happened (although it may have), but because it works, the stories of the bible provide deep insight into the human condition, or so he claims. Therefore, they are ‘true.’
It follows that the collective unconscious and its ability to access the deep recesses of ancient eternal wisdom is ‘true’ because here…we still exist as a species?
It’s a muddled load of bullshit on stilts. He has the philosophical sophistication, complete with the deluded self confidence and bravado, of a first year philosophy student (in his first semester, in his first week).
But who gives a shit. The dude’s making millions from his YouTube channel alone, good on him, right? He is a showman with peculiar idiosyncrasies, reasonably handsome, and very serious to the point of austere and there is definitely something compelling about his stage presence and that works perfectly for the YouTube intellectual, and that’s what he is. I freely admit that in terms of self-promotion, in the right time and place, the man is a fucking genius and his bank account proves it, so why should i care? Because he’s peddling fucking misogyny!
It’s all there in Maps of Meaning, where it would’ve stayed if he hadnt hit the fame rocket. He is advocating for men to take back control - to stand up straight, tidy your room and take responsibility - he advises in his self help guide, which is Maps of Meaning applied. I won’t list all the cringe worthy traditionalist sexism he has spewed forth over the years, it’s all there on the net and it all fits perfectly into his nutty world view. No, he is not being misquoted, nor misrepresented, nor misunderstood. Men bring order and women chaos and men need to take charge. He has a 600 page book to fucking prove it!
As for those who just adore his stance on free speech, this is the man who put forward the idea that he would create a list of all the university courses that taught post-modernism in order to warn parents to not let their kids take the course. Free speech warrior? He changed his mind on that because two thirds of his twitter followers thought it a bad idea! What a principled genius. This is the free speech advocate who has said absolutely zero about Trump’s continual attack on the free press. Free speech my ass, Peterson just wants the right to be a bigot, like so many people who panic over their free speech rights.
What more does he need to say? He’s been saying the same fucking thing for 25 years! You’re getting bored with it? Do you require that he goes even deeper into misogyny and traditional ways? Perhaps women should be stopped from working so the men folk can take back their control? You’re bored with it? You ought to shoot him an email and let him know. He listens to men.