As of this writing, I’m going through this 3-hour epic on lobster enthusiast Jordan B. Peterson, Canada’s benzo-addled middle child. Mind you, I’m not 100% a JP hater as I like it whenever he plies his actual field of expertise. I even find his lectures and interviews insightful. However, he’s insufferable whenever he delves into subjects outside his scope. Whether we like it or not, he’s a leading thinker in today’s world due to his online influence. After years of teetering between respect, indifference, and skepticism for Dr. Peterson, here’s my blog post about him.
It’s even more insufferable whenever his (mostly fatherless) fanatics come out to fight his battles whenever he’s “taken out of context.” Much of what he is stems from being deeply influenced (and aroused) by Carl Jung, which turned him into a Jehovah’s Witness of Jungian psychology. But instead of knocking on your door at 6AM to preach the good news, he shows up in your social media feed like a Facebook ad.
As a fatherless child who feels no need to fill that void with a parasocial relationship, I would like to take a look at how bad he is at explaining something he has a massive hate boner for, yet is better explained by others. Never mind his inability to make sense of his own feelings about socialism since that’s a different can of worms, especially with him being a Canadian. Let’s investigate his intellectual grasp on a certain philosophical topic.
Postmodernism is Hard
For many people, postmodernism is like the book 1984 in that they like to claim that they’ve read it in full, yet actually only gave it a cursory glance in Wikipedia or heard about it in coffee shop discussions alongside existentialism and — God forbid — Marxist theory. But whenever you’re talking about schools of thought that predominate eras in history, you can only get a look at the bigger picture once everything is long said and done. We’re still living in the midst of postmodernism, or perhaps at the tailend of it, so it’s still developing as we speak.
Remember that episode of The Sopranos when AJ first encountered Nietzsche and Jean-Paul Sartre? That’s the same level of pretentiousness Jordan Peterson — a man who hangs Soviet propaganda art in his house as “reminders” — seems to exude whenever he talks about postmodernism. But when it’s talked about outside the frame of the human experience, it’s only gibberish. Try it now by looking at the Wikipedia article on postmodernism. Unless you’re a philosophy or literature major, most of that jargon is likely meaningless to you.
The only kind of word salad that’s worse than that is a snake oil salesperson’s pitch for his multi-level marketing company’s business model and how it’s guaranteed to make you rich.
One important thing to remember with postmodernism that should be easy enough to understand for most people is that it’s a response to modernism, which started during the rise of the Industrial Revolution. The globalized civilization as we know it now, built by technological advancement and capitalist markets, formed the modernist way of thinking that anything is possible with great effort throughout the early and mid-20th century.
We can learn to fly, reach the stars, and even land people on the Moon. We can climb every mountain, bridge every gap, and hold dominion over all life on earth. But the consequences of that progress is what paved the way for postmodernism, which is the realization that such power comes at a price; we can’t just have our cake and eat it too.
What’s Postmodernism According to Literary Theory?
Postmodernism states that there’s no canonical interpretation of the world, that all interpretations are based from subjective perspective. In turn, all interpretations are equally valid and/or invalid. Nothing is objectively “true” or “real” because everything is interpreted subjectively. Things like Truth and Logic are just constructions.
It’s like that Bill Hicks bit about a young man on acid realizing that “We are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively.”
Do you know about Andy Warhol’s paintings of Campbell Soup cans? It’s pop art, which tries to ask how ads and labels of something like cream of mushroom soup can’t be seen as art; how it can’t be less artistic compared to a Jackson Pollock painting. A comic book strip is just as equally worthy of praise as the Mona Lisa.
As mentioned, modernism is a call to greatness — with great effort, truth can be attained. From architecture to art and literature, much of that era was about celebrating human achievement and progress. Ayn Rand also added to that by stating how pursuing one’s self-interest can lead to your greatness positively affecting the community because it gains another great person whose works benefit all.
Then the atomic bombs dropped and showed the world a new reality, that there’s now something that can physically wipe out everything everyone has worked for in a flash. With the start of the Cold War, as the Red Scare dominated the imaginations of western powers, that call to greatness has come under question. What’s the use of being so great when we could just as easily lose everything and ourselves in the process?
How can truth be attained, only to be disintegrated just as easily (if not more) also by the ways of man? Why strive for greatness only to be destroyed by it?
What Jordan Peterson and his ilk really call for is to not let that flame of individual greatness die out. It’s all about effort and drive for progress that can lead us out of the darkness. Meanwhile, plenty of things that ordinary people have had to deal with in recent decades, like mental illness, side-effects of latter-stage capitalism, and lingering questions about identity and sexuality are continuing to shatter the illusion of progress being a straightforward meritocracy.
How Jordan Peterson Describes Postmodernism
Okay, we are about to open a whole can of worms with this. Watch the first few seconds of this video and remember how Slavoj Zizek flies off the handle with the way Jordan Peterson describes his take on “postmodern neo-marxists.”
That’s also my reaction to this whole thing. They remain somewhat civil, as debates should be done, but Zizek is on the verge of doing an angry Donald Duck impression here.
Jordan Peterson’s view on postmodernism is interesting because it’s quite colored and subjective. He had been a left-winger in his youth, but was then disillusioned (as a lot of former student-activists tend to become) and felt like he lost his way for a while until he found and accepted Carl Jung as his personal lord and savior.
Trying to understand his view on the subject in between his ramblings on how bad it is can be a challenge in itself. Perhaps going on and on about how I find the guy’s take on this subject hard to comprehend is in itself a disservice to what I have to say as I’m making my bias quite obvious, and I don’t mind it. After all, being perturbed with Peterson’s perturbation with postmodernism is what drove me to write this in the first place.
According to Peterson, postmodernism poses a great threat to western civilization as radical leftist doctrine that overturns any notion of objective truth with relativism that’s sympathetic to those who consider themselves oppressed. He views that as an erasure of masculine values and freedom of speech in favor of the rights of a supposedly victimized few.
He considers postmodernist thinking as dangerous and renders them incapable of thinking rationally. He then proposes that in order to fight this threat, it must be exposed for what it really is, which is an attack on western values and society.
Postmodernism Isn’t Meant to Be an Actual Thing
The problem with this is that postmodernism itself isn’t an organized school of thought. It’s neither a theory nor a philosophy that tells people how to live or think. It’s merely a response to modernism and what happened after the height of its era.
To blame postmodernism for that supposed moral decay is like blaming the open door for “letting the aircon out” (that’s a Filipino reference). Coldness isn’t really a thing, but merely the absence of heat. Postmodernism is a term created by critics of modernism who reject its ideas regarding knowledge and truth that all truth is reached through effort.
Perhaps you can say that the subjectivity it promotes as a consequence of current societal and economic conditions leads people to be cynical and even nihilistic, but it’s too quick to jump to the conclusion that it leads everyone astray as Peterson suggests. I’d say it calls for new answers, solutions, and ways of thinking as times change.
Ayn Rand named her philosophy of benevolent selfishness as Objectivism, asserting that it’s the rational viewpoint in the modern world. Jordan Peterson is a continuation of that school of thought that had paved the way for the Chicago school of economics, libertarians, and social darwinists who brought about disasters like the Enron scandal and the 2008 housing crisis and global recession.
Rand explained her objectivist philosophy with novels thick enough to be viable as bulletproof armor. At least Peterson’s “12 Rules” books are around 300 pages each. Perhaps that can be considered an improvement.
Peterson often conflates postmodernism and Marxism, almost seemingly treating them interchangeably whenever he talks about one or the other. Perhaps that mixup is understandable since postmodernism is a response to modernism and Marxism is a response to capitalism — they’re both ways to explain the signs of their times. However, where Peterson loses the plot is how he talks about them like they’re one and the same.
Again, it’s easy to see where the lines blur, but there are still lines between them nonetheless. But there’s indeed a logical explanation for this.
Neo-Marxism states that society is a class struggle between those in power and those who don’t. While traditional Marxism has the bourgeoisie and the proletariat duking it out, Neo-Marxism has the oppressors versus the oppressed. When seen through a postmodernist lens, you can then see the oppressed as those who were born in a minority, whether they’re poor, mentally-ill, intellectually-challenged, LGBT, non-white, or so on. As long as you’re not among the upper 1%, you’re oppressed in some way.
Postmodern Neo-Marxism is the belief that there are no canonical interpretations of the world except for the class struggle between the oppressors and the oppressed. There is no truth or logic, there is only the conflict between the oppressors and the oppressed. Things like truth and logic (common sense) are not real, but constructs made by oppressors to seize and maintain their power over the oppressed.
As long as the oppressors are at the top, society will always be corrupted right to the very core and ordinary people can never be free to find their truth. Therefore, the oppressors must be brought down so that the oppressed can then take over and be able to rebuild society and control their own fate.
Of course, that’s with the caveat that they would then not become oppressors themselves. This is where the postmodernism part really kicks in. As mentioned in the Regular Car Reviews video, postmodernist culture and society is like a snake eating its own tail. When the oppressed defeat the oppressors, there’s a high likelihood that they then become the oppressors, and the cycle repeats itself.
China had the same thing with the dynastic cycle, with a new dynasty toppling the old and earning the Mandate of Heaven, only to then lose it over time with their own depravity and a new dynasty would later take over and the cycle begins anew. This whole thing about cycles is also an interpretation of world history, with each era having parallels with previous ones.
Car Review Teaches Postmodernism Better Than Jordan Peterson
This may seem ridiculous to most at first. After all, what do cars have to do with philosophy and politics? The answer to that is it has a lot to do with it. The kind of cars sold to customers, the traffic situation, the regulations that motorists have to adhere to, and so on are all affected by politics. Your ability to drive and afford the fuel you put in your car to make it move are all affected by the political and financial situation of the country you live in.
Even entertainment-centric motoring programs like Top Gear and subsequently The Grand Tour have a lot of socio-political commentary thanks to how those things tend to affect cars and car owners. Regular Car Reviews sought to take that to the fullest extent with the most mundane boxes on wheels out there.
Who is Regular Car Reviews?
The Regular Car Reviews channel has been around since 2012 and is still going strong ten years later. It’s run by two guys from Pennsylvania, nicknamed Mr. Regular and the Roman. The former does most of the narration and test-driving, while the latter helps out with the writing and music. What makes them unique is that they mostly review cars that are too boring for Top Gear and dive into their history and what kind of people drive them.
Mr. Regular also likes to go goblin mode every now and then to satirize certain kinds of people. You know, the kind of people you encounter every now and then who give off creep vibes.
Their deep dives would go into subjects like anthropology, economics, philosophy, and so on. That’s exactly what they do with three of my favorite videos on their channel. There’s the 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser review where they talk about how that car is a good real-life example of what Jean Baudrillard describes in his magnum opus, Simulacra and Simulation.
Then there’s the 1995 Buick Roadmaster Sedan review that starts off talking about how boring and mediocre the car is before spotting the custom manual transmission on that car, which transitions the review to talking about how surprisingly fun it is.
It concludes by comparing the car to the American writer William S. Burroughs — best known for the novel Naked Lunch — a man dressed in tweed who looked like a kindly old gentleman at first, but actually had a history even more sordid and depraved than Hunter S. Thompson.
Finally, the Video That Does It Better Than Jordan Peterson
And finally, there’s the video that made me want to write this in the first place. Their review of the popular and infamous 2004 Chrysler PT Cruiser, a car with styling cues that could also allude to Baudrillard’s philosophy, but has a lot more to say about the recent economic situation in the western hemisphere. It’s a car that defines the Millennial generation.
It’s split into two halves — first is economics, second is literary theory. The second half is where their explanation of postmodernism comes in, and that’s where it really transcends in quality. Mr. Regular calls out Joe Rogan about “recreational outrage” and social justice warriors, explaining how it’s a clash between modernism and postmodernism.
It’s a conflict between what could be described as old school and new school thinking in regards to the supposed meritocracy of our 21st century civilization. Nurture versus nature, so to speak.
This explanation of modernism and postmodernism makes way more sense and is more in-tune with the real world and the history that spawned these two different ways of thinking and doing. The way they contextualize it via the PT Cruiser makes it more relatable, which solves the main problem when it comes to philosophy and literary theory.
What Does a Car Have Anything to Do with Postmodernism?
The PT Cruiser is something you’re likely to interact with. You may even own one, and the circumstances that led you to owning one is likely what Mr. Regular described in the video. It’s a car that represents postmodernism, latter-stage capitalism, and whatever else may come after it in this day and age. It’s a car that was made to look to the past, yet also say so much about the present. It was meant to be optimistic, but ended up in a place of pessimism.
And now, Chrysler as a company isn’t even called Chrysler anymore. It’s now known as Stellantis. It was a result of the merger between Fiat Chrysler and the parent company of French car brand Peugeot. If that name isn’t familiar and you don’t know beforehand that they own Chevrolet, Jeep, Dodge, and so on, then perhaps that’s the point. Those brands get to stand on their own by being under a company whose name change has made it somewhat invisible in plain sight.
Or maybe it’s just because “Fiat Chrysler Peugeot” is too long a name, and FCP may be made to stand for “Fucking Cat Piss”.
And much of today’s world continues to reflect that struggle between modernist ideas and the rejection of them. Even a brief glance at a Twitter feed already shows it at a painfully obvious degree. Social justice, cancel culture, and so on are reactions to injustices perpetrated by the powers that be, from company executives having their way without consequence to people who engage in abuse and so on.
I can keep going with this, but I’ll end it here because this topic can go on and on forever. Perhaps that’s why Jordan Peterson can’t seem to stop talking about it in his own convoluted and insufferable way.
Further Critique of Jordan Peterson
This is a guy who wrote “Be precise in your speech” in his best-selling book, then proceeded to be not precise in his speech for that very chapter and the rest of the book. It’s funny because the best part of his two “12 Rules” books has been the table of contents, and you don’t need to buy the books themselves to see those lists.
The rules by themselves are sensible and you can surmise their deeper meaning by thinking about how you can apply them in your life. But if you wish to go deeper down the rabbit hole and read everything he has to say about each one of them, you’re in for a ride.
This cognitive psychologist has made a YouTube career out of critiquing Jordan Peterson through proper academic approach. She’s pretty thorough, going through every paragraph of every chapter and highlighting every part that doesn’t have some form of attribution.
The simple conclusion to that exercise is that those two “12 Rules” books are opinion pieces wrapped in a self-help package. Very little of them have proper citations, so they’re specifically Jordan Peterson’s view on how life should be lived. It’s not to say that he’s entirely wrong in those two books, but just know that it’s one man’s opinion. To treat such text as a complete life bible is misguided at best and desperate at worst.
We must be able to do both — praise achievement through great effort and still have the heart to help out those who need it. Instead of making life be only about competition, let’s have it be about cooperation. I think that’s what this conflict between modernism and postmodernism should really be about. I don’t think there’s any irony or contrast at all, they’re just a reflection of the human condition in this globalized civilization.
Mind you, I’m not sure if I explained postmodernism well in this blog post. It’s one of those topics that resists explanation or at least will have people criticizing my interpretation of it. That’s just the nature of the beast in this case. Whether Mr. Peterson or I am right or wrong about it, there will always be something wrong about it.
Have something to say? Do you agree or am I off-base? Did I miss a crucial detail or get something wrong? Please leave whatever reactions, questions, or suggestions you may have in the comment section below.
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