Saturday, May 12, 2018

Jordan Peterson's Ideas Are Alive

Here's something I wrote in my personal journal about the lecturer, author, and psychologist Jordan Peterson:

I was thinking about how Jordan Peterson knows some topics very well, from the inside out, as it were, even when he's superficial about others. He knows Jung not just intellectually but deeply and passionately. He had all of Heidegger's insights without ever reading Heidegger. But he doesn't understand Derrida. This didn't make sense.

And then I remembered something I wrote in high school on Facebook: you understand the wheel a lot better if you reinvent it. And it's true: no one understands an idea like the person who had to struggle toward it. Others don't see the process; they only see the product. They see it from the outside, as something you can stand apart from, as something you can compartmentalize, catalog. They see it, but they don't inhabit it. They only see abstractions, where the reality is something lived.

Peterson *inhabits* his ideas like this. He doesn't look at them from the outside: he goes into them, tries them on like a glove, knows them from a first person perspective. He doesn't teach abstractions but lived, experiential, existential truths. Swedenborg said something along those lines: that if we are merely *taught* an idea, without having to struggle toward it, without having to doubt it or weigh it on all sides, the thought appears wooden in the spiritual world, not alive. It doesn't move; it's inanimate; it's tacked on. Only when one struggles toward the idea against doubt does it come to life, which Swedenborg suggests is the reason we have doubt at all.

Peterson's ideas are full of life, full of growth, emanating what Swedenborg would call goodness, the spontaneous order that organizes ideas from within. They have an organic quality, following one another like branches or twisting capillaries. They are like a breath of fresh air, a bright, crisp glimmer from the morning of all existence. They are like childhood. And Peterson is childlike. Norman Doidge writes that Peterson assumed "as a child would--before learning how dulled adults can become--that if he thought something was interesting, so might others." Peterson has the aura of a child, not one you don't like, but one that brings healing, brings the star.

And it is this youthfulness that is, I think, Peterson's point, what the gods sent him here for. He has been protected from understanding or even encountering certain ideas from without, because then they would be wooden, mechanical, abstract. He was left alone to recreate Heidegger, even to recreate Swedenborg's exegesis of the Bible. This is spontaneous, growing, shape-forming, animate, totally unlike the abstract ways so many misunderstand Heidegger and Swedenborg. The gods use him to grow them, to reembody them freshly and spontaneously, youthfully, so that their forces can come alive in others. Heidegger cannot come alive today, cannot lend his impulse to anyone. He's just too dense, too old. But Heidegger's ideas resurrected, reincarnated in Peterson can. And this can only happen because Peterson never read him.

Swedenborg was told by God not to read any works on theology, and I suspect this is why. And even I, who am embarrassingly underread in everything academic, have recreated the ideas of many philosophers. I knew about deconstruction's living impulse, as it were, years before I read Derrida. I have independently come up with many insights about the Book of Mormon. This is discouraging, but it's also curious. I suspect I'm being held back from reading these books so I can understand them the right way: by reinventing them. This cuts through abstraction to the living center. It revivifies. It resurrects.