The Peterson Awakening

I find this quite interesting. Bookworm attended one of Jordan Peterson’s events promoting his book,  12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, which has become a huge bestseller here, and I suspect in the UK as well. Peterson himself has become quite the phenomenon himself, especially since he turned (UK) Channel 4’s Cathy Newman into a meme, having to do with unsuccessfully trying to put words into people’s mouth. One of the most hilarious videos I’ve ever watched. If you missed it (or simply want to see it again) you can find it here.

In any case, Book finds a parallel between Dr. Peterson’s popularity and the First Great Awakening in America of the 1730s and 40s. The Awakening was a seminal moment in Colonial history. This is where our Evangelicals got their start and gave a huge boost to Methodism. Its main thrust was individual salvation and individual responsibility. In addition, it became seminal when the Quebec Act seemed to intend the imposition of the Episcopacy on New England, one of the least talked about major causes of the Revolution.

She has a point. Like the Great Awakening (in both the US and the UK) Peterson’s sudden and amazing popularity would seem to indicate that people are looking, perhaps desperately, for something to give their life meaning and purpose. Let’s let Book talk a bit:

Peterson is a great speaker. He’s the college lecturer everyone dreamed of having: Clear, interesting, energetic, erudite, funny and, above all, honest. This is a man who speaks his truth (and, indeed, one of his rules is “Tell the truth” or, if you’re not sure what the truth is, at least don’t lie). For two hours, with passion and wit, he shared incredibly complex, important ideas with us, riffing through religion, literature, psychology, common sense, and politics. He is a polymath who used his incredibly breadth of knowledge to infuse new life into ideas about self-improvement.

What matters greatly is that Peterson is not offering the cheap and easy self-improvement, self-realization, and self-actualization that characterized the 1970s, and that still haunts the self-help aisle in any library or bookstore. Al Franken perfectly summed up that type of self-improvement with Stuart Smalley’s catch-phrase, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and, gosh darn it!, people like me.” Vapid affirmations are part of what weakened the American psyche, paving the way for safe spaces, triggering, and the politics of perpetual offense.

For Peterson, recognizing that you are an individual worthy of respect is only the beginning. That idea isn’t the end of the self-examination, but only the beginning: Every person inherently being a worthy child of God but it’s after acknowledging this reality that the real work begins. To optimize your potential, says Peterson, you have to stand up straight, organize your surroundings, treat yourself with dignity and respect, choose friends who value and cultivate the best in you not the worst, raise likable children, and have to make yourself a better person every day. These were just some of the messages Peterson gave the crowd.

I think it says much about where our society had fallen to in the last 50 years that such a message is taken so hungrily. His work does not have the religious content of the leaders of the Awakening, but it is based on exactly the same foundations, as he readily admits. Back to Bookworm…

A friend of mine who attended was struck by the crowd as well:

The audience was made up of older people, younger people, couples, gay men, etc.  I tried to find the neo-Nazis that the mainstream media seems to say is around, but didn’t see any ;-).  There was solid security out front.  One of the first positive signs was when the venue announced a no-tolerance policy for heckling.  Everyone cheered and clapped.  I was concerned about security going to the event when I had seen in-person and online how Dave Rubin (who was there, and opened the show) and Dr. Peterson have been treated by certain activist groups on campus.  I was pleased that it was a considerate and polite and enthusiastic group of about 3000 people.

Since I’m not shy, I approached a group of three people — a long-haired, swarthy man in a suit; a computer programmer type; and a gender fluid person with a buzz cut — and said to them, “Hi, I notice you’re all younger than I am and I’m wondering what attracted you to this event.” What all three had to say was that they were drawn to Peterson because he is a polymath who relies on myriad sources to help make sense of the world, because he offers genuinely useful advice for them to improve their lives, and because he speaks the truth.

The last point was really important to them. In a world of endless words and messages, they crave truth. The gender fluid person turned out to be a police detective — and I believe this detective was probably female, which is how I thought of her and the pronoun I’ll apply to her. She said that one of the greatest frustrations in her job is that she cannot speak the truth about the criminal demographic. This politically correct silence hamstrings her ability to function as a detective, prevents her from helping people protect themselves from criminals, and — significantly — makes it impossible to prevent people from becoming criminals. That Jordan Peterson demands truth from others and speaks it himself was incredibly significant to her.

Book also makes the point that truth is clarity while a web of lies leads to chaos. She completely correct, of course. That’s the slightly longer form of what we mean when we say, “The truth stands on its own”. It’s a critically important point.

I highly recommend her post; Is Jordan Peterson the avatar of a 21st century Great Awakening?

Something else struck me while I was writing this. Is this the secret of Trump as well? Telling the (or at least his) truth. And then acting on what he said. There is a clarity in his policy that has been missing in America for a long time. I think this may well be true. He talked the talk quite well, and still Tweets it. It may not be well articulated, but as we noted during the campaign, one has to take him seriously but not literally (although I’m beginning to think we can do both). He is proving to walk the path he talked about. The results are remarkable. If Peterson can help the rest of us to do the same, more power to him.

About NEO
Lineman, Electrician, Industrial Control technician, Staking Engineer, Inspector, Quality Assurance Manager, Chief Operations Officer

19 Responses to The Peterson Awakening

  1. Nicholas says:

    Great post, NEO. As you know, I’ve been enjoying Peterson for a while now. As a man, I admire him a great deal, not simply because he is courageous, but because he models how an academic / intellectual should behave: he speaks politely to people, he plots out his thoughts carefully, he acknowledges where he is uncertain and requires more data, he acknowledges other people’s feelings, and he doesn’t dumb things down – he invites people to improve themselves. This last point is consonant with traditional Christianity, which interprets Paul as saying that God invites us to use our free will by collaborating with the Spirit. This is what marks the difference between Evangelicalism and some forms of Christianity: even if it simplifies or makes some problems in the understanding of salvation, it is correct in placing emphasis on individual choice. The Israelites were not guaranteed heaven just because they were Israelites, and neither are cultural Christians: the Israelites were free to apostatize and so are Christians. Bravo Zulu, friend. Hier standen sie, sie können nicht anders.

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Yep, that is pretty much what was in my mind as I read Book’s as well. I admire him, wish I could be as cool under pressure as he is, but knowing your business does that. I am like that in electrical stuff, so that’s probably it. And yes, the Great Awakening didn’t much affect our Lutherans, but then we are the original Evangelicals, when we stick to our lasts.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Nicholas says:

        Indeed. Whatever problems Luther had, he was right to focus on individual conversion. I think one of the problems in the history of the Church has been a loss of good Old Testament scholarship, which is only recently being restored. Confusing connection with laws and symbols with loyalty to YHWH has done harm.

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          I think that is true, but don’t really know enough to have a valid opinion.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Nicholas says:

          It’s a complicated issue, and unlike Bosco, but like you and C, I prefer not to pontificate on specific individuals being “saved” or not. Adherence to a set of laws is certainly evidence of loyalty to YHWH – but note that King David broke the commandment regarding adultery and was still considered loyal because, unlike many Israelites, he worshipped YHWH alone and had no part in the worship of Baal, Asherah, etc.

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Yep, we can, and we should, advise on what we have been told, and suggest people act (and think) accordingly. But we are not the Judge, and only He can really know what each believes.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Nicholas says:

          Indeed. What I like about Peterson is that he explores these things from a psychological angle, and that is conducive to a personal relationship with / loyalty to YHWH. I don’t think his psychological exploration should be confused with exegesis, however. Some of what he says could be said to be within the (subconscious) contemplation of the authors of Scripture where it is easily derived from experience or more or less a part of the author’s culture; other things, however true, are things we derive by combining Scripture with our own analyses, Scripture acting as a springboard for exploration not as a depository for intellectual “downloads”.

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          That makes sense to me, particularly since he doesn’t self identify as Christian, but he sure is close.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Nicholas says:

          He is a tricky one – I’ve seen him seem to indicate he is a Christian, but he generally avoids it. I think he is likely to be non-denominational / Protestant if he is a Christian because of the value he places on freedom of thought and freedom of conscience. Difficult to get much data from him on the matter – and I don’t blame him valuing his privacy. I think some Christians would consider him to be a heretic, but I don’t think there’s enough data to make that pronouncement, and one should always be wary of making it anyway.

          Liked by 1 person

        • the unit says:

          Well, we know the Lord was an expert about fishing. Maybe He a shrimper too. Empty the net on the pickin’ board (judgement day) and cull the trash (throw overboard) from the catch. 🙂

          Liked by 2 people

        • NEO says:

          Not a bad analogy, to my mind. Fishers of men comes to mind, for some reason. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • the unit says:

          In this life got to be careful what you keep on board though. Man’s law says “no turtle soup allowed”. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          No leftovers, Huh?! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • the unit says:

          I guess it was Wildlife Services said no turtles.
          I said “Ok, see you later alligator.”
          They said “After while crocodile.”
          🙂

          Like

  2. the unit says:

    Being it’s Saturday and time for me to laugh on my Saturday Afternoon Live. I did and I got to share it.
    Medscape reported today BBQ’s can kill you.
    Yes, said a healthcare person. “When man began eating cooked meat his life span was 35.”
    True, said Dr. Zinni…” but not from BBQ, from trampling by Mastodon.” 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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