Jordan Peterson’s speech at the Tobin Center in San Antonio was short on controversy, long on subtext | San Antonio News | San Antonio

  • Wikimedia Commons/Gage Skidmore
  • Jordan Peterson comes alive during a speech in 2018.

After attending clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson’s controversial lecture at the Tobin Center on Thursday night, and in keeping with the recent spirit of public mea culpas, I would like to express my regret at a thoughtless sentence in my latest Bad Takes column.

“If you’re looking for a self-help guru to motivate you to keep your room clean,” I wrote derisively, “Peterson can come in handy.”

I still believe that all the facts contained in the article are correct. Yet it involved a reference to Rule #6 in Peterson’s book 12 rules of life: an antidote to chaos – “Put your house in order before criticizing the world” – was excessively sarcastic. He was dismissive of the service motivational speakers can provide.

Say what you will of Citizen Peterson’s thoughts on climatology and global capitalism, he is in every way a genuinely caring clinician and a loving husband and father.

In fact, those expecting the petty squabbles posted on Peterson’s daily Twitter feed were deeply disappointed when he spoke Thursday in San Antonio. Instead, we were treated to a pleasant, low-key evening with the theme of marriage as a romantic adventure, interspersed with innocuous pleas for bipartisanship in Washington and a less polarized democratic culture in general.

Filling a 1,500-seat theater on a weekday armed only with a carpet, a never-seated stool and a few rambling ideas about the importance of listening and communicating, while captivating a surprisingly young audience, clinging to every silence – well, it is not to be despised.

But did all of these people really show up just to be reminded to resist the urge to take others for granted and learn to accept compliments with grace? Or to joke around with marriage advice and anecdotes about former patients’ comedic struggles to meet girls?

Peterson’s applause comments also seemed relatively unflustered. At first glance, anyway. Fresh from a trip to DC, he lamented that congressional representatives spend 25 hours a week on the phone raising funds. This elicited a single “Boo!” from an attendee – the event’s only outburst – to which Peterson immediately retorted, “No-no, no-no, you can’t say ‘boo’, because it’s your fault!”

Laughter and applause followed. Surely most Americans can agree on the caution of long overdue campaign finance reform.

“The United States works as well as, if not better than, any place that has ever worked in human history,” Peterson continued. Applause. We may rank 26th on the Democracy Index, but it’s hard to argue with 222 years of peaceful and electoral transfers of presidential power, although the last year was an atypically close call.

“I never thought I was a conservative, by the way,” Peterson said. “Apparently I am.” Laughter, then applause. A little hokey, but maybe some of us misjudged it? It’s certainly not the sentiments of a “magical super-Nazi”, which Peterson claimed he was vilified.

Trying to understand Peterson’s popularity, could the answer be as simple as why Robert Pirsig’s 1974 Philosophical Travelogue Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance or why the 1982 parenting tutorial tough love sold millions of copies?

Are people simply drawn to a 21st century update of New Age-adjacent metaphysical speculation and science-sounding apologetics for traditional family values? So why don’t Deepak Chopra, Tony Robbins and Stephen Covey let political controversies rage in their wake?

It would take a beginner at subtext to miss that the remarks in Peterson’s speech on Thursday that generated the most enthusiastic response from the crowd were thinly veiled responses to a menacing but nameless specter. See if you can discern its rough outlines.

“I certainly don’t think marriage is an oppressive, patriarchal institution, and anyone who says that, you should just stop listening.” Applause. “Men and women are different.” Unusually loud applause.

So who’s not in on the joke? Feminists. Postmodern scholars. Those who use the words “patriarchy” and “white supremacy” without irony. Those who claim to reduce all personal relationships to power dynamics. The ones that make viewers like Peterson feel bad or stupid for being a little late.

On this book tour, at least, Peterson has mastered the discipline of not saying the quiet part out loud. But isn’t it in blatant contradiction to his “listening ethic” to educate his fans not listen to less enthusiastic views on marriage and gender stereotypes?

The real hammer and sickle in the play was how Peterson managed to go two whole hours without mentioning his favorite scarecrow, Karl Marx.

One of the most egregious quotes taken out of context in the English language is Marx’s metaphor of religion as “the opiate of the masses”. Marx ruthlessly mocked the rabid atheists of his day, asserting that whatever one might think of the abstract propositions of religious dogma, this religious brotherhood – its music, its architecture, its ancient history, its moral teaching – fulfills a human need. basic meaning, a need largely unmet by a culture obsessed with trade, competition and money. Here is a loose translation of the infamous 1848 passage:

“Religious suffering is both the expression real suffering and expression against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It’s the people’s pain reliever. To call them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call them to give up the very condition that requires those illusions. The criticism of religion is therefore, in germ, the criticism of this vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

In other words, denigrating religion without helping to reconstruct a deep sense of common purpose is like denying morphine to those who are suffering horribly. Instead, we should assuage the underlying evil, namely the loss of hope for a better future here on Earth.

Just ten years ago, self-identified Christians made up 75% of adults in the United States. Today, that figure is 63% and falling rapidly. Nearly a third of us fall into the “no religious affiliation” category. This more than any other indicator can explain Peterson’s appeal.

The passing of an older order can induce a feeling of dismooring and alienation within one’s own country. Liberals and leftists should learn to sympathize with this, just as we also learn to patiently and persistently share how irredeemably cruel the reactive defenses of this older order at the expense of the vulnerable are.

Like feminists of old, Peterson tacitly accepted that the personal is political. But if so, telling kids that they can’t play sports as themselves, that their deepest sense of identity is wrong. Just like subjecting racial minorities to police brutality and polluted neighborhoods; sacrificing the immunocompromised for consumer convenience during a pandemic; ignoring the homeless, the poor, the exploited migrants, while revering billionaires as geniuses; and fiddling with free enterprise while the climate burns.

Where do these traumas figure in Peterson’s injunction not to take others for granted and to revive a conscientious American democracy? Mom was the word Thursday night.

Still, despite what critics may accuse, Peterson isn’t the type of patriot to lament white race miscegenation or the type of man who complains misogynistically about his wife when he hangs out with others. guys. He ishowever, the type to overreact when he feels “Western civilization” is being targeted for questioning and to panic when equality movements trigger historical parallels with disguised impositions of ideological conformity.

At the crossroads of these two of her reflexes is the transgender community. Yet how could a trans person designated as male at birth who now demands to be dignified as “her” or “she” or vice versa, somehow deny that “the men and women are different? »

Perhaps the harshest criticism that can be leveled at Peterson is that he can serve as a mass catalyst for intellectual laziness. I am not convinced, for example, that he is sufficiently involved in the major works of philosophers such as Michel Foucault, Jean Baudrillard, Jacques Derrida, Gayatri Spivak or Judith Butler. Had he done so, he might have noticed that Baudrillard, like himself, challenged feminists’ alleged portrayal of women throughout history as passive objects until the modern era and ridiculed the so-called Foucauldian shoehorn of all intimacy in the grid of power relations.

Peterson couldn’t help but rave about Nietzsche’s brilliance. Doesn’t he know that Frenchmen like Foucault and Baudrillard were implicitly fighting over who loved Nietzsche the most when Peterson was in high school?

Like James Lindsay, Christopher Rufo and others in the cottage industry of popular anti-intellectualism, Peterson offers his college-aged admirers a purse of liners to justify never opening a book labeled “postmodernist.” to judge for themselves whether something inside is worthwhile.

If Petersons’ call for dialogue is a bluff, it behooves us to call it. Because it’s easy to agree with him on one point: the demonization of Trump supporters, as evidenced by Hillary Clinton’s stubborn “basket of deplorables” speech, has indefinitely delayed deep soul-searching about the reasons why the left has lost contact with an important segment of the working class.

To advance the causes we care about, we will need to listen and connect with those who drop everything to hear Peterson speak, and with those who find him not only flawless but compelling.

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