Jordan Peterson is critical of Western Culture, as he is critical of all culture. It is Dr. Peterson’s belief that an existing culture represents the known, safe world, and that such a world is inherently oppressive. Dr. Peterson also believes that chaos exists in the absence of culture, and that while all opportunity exists in chaos, it is impossible to navigate chaos without culture. Dr. Peterson’s belief is that we should always have one foot in culture, and the other in chaos.
Another way Dr. Peterson often puts the same basic theme, is to point out how many of the most iconic stories throughout history follow the same basic plot line, with a fallen hero, a new hero, a villain, and redemption. The fallen hero represents the existing culture, and is usually the new hero’s father (the new hero being born out of the existing culture). The stories start with a kingdom that has become corrupted in some way the existing hero/king is unable to fix. A villain emerges from chaos (sometimes he goes out into chaos first, and is corrupted by it), deposes the king, and builds a kingdom that is even worse. The hero (the old king’s son), then goes out into chaos himself, finds some powerful truth/weapon, and uses what he has found to defeat the villain, revitalizing the kingdom into a new golden age. Variations of this story appear through history, literally everywhere, all the time, from ancient Babylon, to Egypt, to Greece, to ancient Israel, to modern Disney, where we see it in such classics as The Lion King. Arthurian Legend follows this structure. Genesis follows it, and even the story of Christ is a variation on this theme.
Arthurian Legend is unique in that Arthur represents both the old king, and the new, being transformed from one to the other when he drinks from the Holy Grail. Also, with Arthur, the new golden age is ended as soon as it begins, with only Percival surviving the final battle. Percival is strong enough to preserve hope for a rebirth of Camelot, but he cannot usher it back in without Arthur, who is carried away by the Lady of the Lake. Arthurian Legend ends, not with a golden age, but with the hope that a brighter future can make current suffering worthwhile. Under Arthurian Legend, the hero is always out there, waiting for a time when he is needed once again.
One could write a book about the variations in Arthurian Legend around the typical archetype theme, but suffice it to say that all of the basics are there, and that if anything, Arthurian Legend is even deeper than most other archetype stories.
To Jordan Peterson, the redemption of the father-king is a critical part of the story, as it tells us that we can only protect the kingdom by learning from chaos, and changing the existing culture based on what we have learned. In other words, we must always have one foot in our existing culture, and the other foot in chaos, living in the balance that exists between the two. Whether you call it ‘order and chaos,’ ‘ying and yang,’ or whatever, the hero is the one who is balanced between the two.
We can take the analogy one step further. The ‘new king’ creates a golden age that eventually dims, as the ‘new king’ becomes entrenched in the culture he helped create, transforming into the old king. A new villain then emerges, to be vanquished by the next hero – who is in a new balance, ready to modify the old king’s culture to meet the new world. The new king then becomes the old king, and the whole thing repeats, over and over again, throughout the ages.
Arthurian Legend took the story to a third level. Arthur was transformed, rather than replaced, and by being taken away by the Lady of the Lake, Arthur sends us a newer message – we too must change. Individual rights make us all the kings of our own lives, so we must be our own heros, and must constantly transform ourselves, lest the culture of our own lives become oppressive.
Dr. Peterson goes even further, and says that these stories make no pretense about being factually true, from a scientific perspective, and yet he maintains that they remain popular only because, on a deeper level, they are true. Stories such as these do not tell us how the world was formed. These stories emerged before science even existed… What these stories provide is wisdom regarding our relationship with the world around us, and that wisdom is profound. That wisdom has also only grown deeper over time.
All societies have three basic groups of people, representing different elements of the archetype story. We have those who worship the existing culture (the old king), those who want to take the existing culture and adapt it to the emerging future (the hero), and those who want to shuck the existing culture entirely, replacing it with some magic utopia (the villain). Oppression comes from the first group, and if the third group gets power, it leads to the kinds of mass murders the world saw in the USSR, Mao’s China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Castro’s Cuba, and in other places throughout history.
Wisdom, progress, and compassionate virtue (which is very different from oppressive virtue) all come from those who have one foot in culture, and the other in chaos.
We know what happens when the culture-worship crowd gets too much power. That led to Hitler, and though I would assert that by American standards, Hitler would be on the left, there is no question that he emerged as a part of deep German cultural traditions. Anyone who disagrees with me on this needs to pick up a copy of The Psychopathic God: Adolf Hitler, by Robert Waite, which is a very detailed analysis of the German culture from which Hitler emerged, as well as the specific traits of Hitler’s psyche that led him to genocide. Hitler was a collectivist, which separates him from our right, but he was very much a part of the German right, in the 1920s and 1930s.
We also know what happens when chaos takes over. Chaos builds gulags, and kills people with industrial efficiency in the pursuit of some impossible utopia. Anyone who disagrees with this needs to read The Gulag Archipelago, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
Cultural-worship is not a very strong force in America today, and really, I can’t think of a time when it was, other than in the Antebellum South (where it preserved slavery). Generally speaking, our society has learned to see when cultural-worship goes too far, whereas it is harder to see when the left is going too far until it is too late. In much of the country, that has already happened.
Today’s politics is primarily between those who want to keep one foot in culture (and one in chaos), and those who want to throw our existing culture out the window. I can’t think of any other time in American history, with the possible exception of the Great Depression, when chaos was such a strong political force as it is today, as illustrated in today’s Detroit Free Press (my local paper).
Now – I am not going to tell you that there is nothing we can learn from chaos. All opportunity exists in the unknown… But the villain is the one who emerges corrupted by chaos, and that is today’s left. The hero is the one who learns from chaos, and uses what is learned, to improve the culture and vanquish the villain.
Why is American politics a warzone, today? We have a clear villain with a great deal of political power that needs to be vanquished. It’s as simple as that. Those of us who want to vanquish the villain of radical leftism, are at war with radical leftism, and radical leftism has become a very real force in modern American politics that will not easily be defeated. This villain has teeth.
Now that I have fully alienated the left, allow me to do the same to much of the right. Donald Trump is not the hero. Donald Trump may well be an anti-hero, but he is not a true hero. Donald Trump, rather, represents two things. First, he represents the fact that the radical left has passed it’s high water mark and begun to leave the center behind. The center did not run to the right in 2016 so much as it ran from the radical left. Donald Trump is someone who uses the tools of the left (shaming, name calling, etc.) against them, which brings up the second thing Donald Trump represents, which is the willingness of the cultural-worshippers to gain power.
Trump won the last election only because the left became radical enough to scare the hell out of the center, and though that has not changed, the center is never going to embrace Trump. What the center will embrace are many of the things Trump has done. From a policy perspective, he’s listening to very good people (people who do seem to have one foot in culture and the other in chaos), and making, for the most part, good decisions. That should carry Trump through 2020.
My prediction is that, though Democrats may make some inroads in the House this midterm, Republicans will maintain control of both houses, further infuriating the left, who will only become more vocal, and more outraged. If I am right and the radical left has already reached it’s high water mark, it’s power will begin to recede. More leftists will emerge who may want to lean more into chaos than they should, but who still want one foot in both places, and the country will be better off when these kinds of people run the Democrat Party again.
The real question is what comes after Trump. It is hard to imagine a reemergence of the radical left, unless they do better than I expect in this election (and we had better make damned sure they don’t). A well-spoken cultural-worshiper, like Mike Pence, is probably more likely to win than a radical leftist, like Elizabeth Warren. But we shall see: it is a mistake to underestimate one’s enemy, and this really is a political war.
What America really needs is a real hero to emerge. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I nominate Rand Paul.