The Line Meets Dr. Jordan B. Peterson

Created: 01 March, 2018
Updated: 21 November, 2022
5 min read

The line is a very strange thing, and you're probably familiar with it even if you don't really care for political discussions.

It goes from left to right, and the further to the left you are the more "leftist" you are, and the further to the right you are the more "right-wing" you are, and if you're in the center, then you're somewhere between these two poles.

But what do they really represent?

It's a uni-dimensional analysis so it couldn't possibly represent anything very complex, right? Yet a lot of people use it to represent the entirety of all political thought.

The line is such a strange thing because almost everyone who likes to discuss politics, especially people who do politics for a living, accepts it as the defining map of all political thought.

You can tell by the way some of them talk– those that are most deeply possessed by the spirit of partisan rancor– that they almost see the entire universe in these terms.

Like they think they have you figured out as a person by placing you somewhere on this line. And that they think they can place you on it from one thing you've said about one issue that they feel strongly about. And then they don't talk to you like a normal person at all because you're on the side of the line they hate.

It's all very strange.

And it's even more strange than that. Think about how complex politics is. Consider what an absolutely massive, complicated, and multi-variously oriented thing the U.S. government is.

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That's why I like to call the U.S. government an: LPTTIRC&DC –a Large, Powerful Thing That Is Ruthlessly Capable & Dangerously Complicated. It's something that you may want to have any idea what you're doing before you go fooling around with it.

Think of it like an evil genie that might grant your wish, but in a way you don't expect and that you don't actually want.

And politics is only a layer of society, and it's not even as complicated as the rest of society as a whole, and perhaps not even as complicated as the minds and destinies of so many individual human beings. Yet people who discuss politics think they have this really powerful map for understanding all of political thought, and all it is– is a single axis of "leftness" to "rightness."

As far as any serious thinker is concerned, that's just a non-starter for any kind of meaningful or useful conversation.

We don't even represent street maps on a uni-dimensional line. We need two dimensions to represent the layout of roads or subway lines in a city. Think all of society and all its problems and all its aspirations might be more complicated than that? Who the hell thought it would be possible to cram the complexity of political discussion into a damn one dimensional line? And why the hell are we all going along with this utter lack of intellectual sophistication?

Well when the line bumps up against anything too complex for it, including the systems and reality that it ridiculously purports to map, it breaks down. That's how a big government, liberal, socialist, ex-Democrat from New York City became president with an (R) next to his name and the old Moral Majority types from the 80s cheering him every step of the way.

You'd think as brutish and unsophisticated as the line is, it would be at least enough to keep that straightened out, but of course the line is for people who are so simple minded when they think about politics, that the very fact of the newspapers printing an (R) next to a candidate's name is enough for them to to assume he's on the "right" side of the line, even if he's not.

Well the line has recently bumped up against something else too complex for it, a practicing clinical psychologist from Canada who also teaches very popular psychology and philosophy classes at the University of Toronto. He's become an Internet sensation after a series of protests against him went viral on YouTube when he publicly denounced bill C-16 in the Canadian Parliament as a dangerous attack on free speech.

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Today his new book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, has soared to the top of best seller lists around the world, including Amazon. Peterson is popular for his very practical, nearly apolitical advice that the best thing people can do to improve the world is start by sorting out their own lives and fixing their own character flaws– whatever it is that stands between you and whatever it is that you want most out of life– and the cool thing is, Dr. Peterson doesn't tell you what that has to be.

He says even if you just decide for yourself what you want out of life and don't let him tell you what it should be, and if you decide from your own knowledge of yourself and the world what you probably need to start doing to move toward it faster, and what you probably need to give up in order to achieve it, that you can add such a vast amount of meaning to your life that it makes whatever suffering you have to endure as a finite, mortal, vulnerable human being worth it!

And that in the process, you bring all of the rest of us up with you and make the world a better place, and that there's no telling how good life can get on this planet if we all just try our best just to have a personal revolution in each of our own lives.

A lot of people have come out swinging at Jordan Peterson, because they think he's their enemy, because they don't think very deeply.

So they've put him on one side of a map of the world that's so narrow it's literally a line, and they've put him on the side where all their enemies are. They try to cram his intellectual project– which has a horizon of at least centuries all the way around and attempts to reckon with Darwin, Nietzsche, and the Bible– into the petty, fake partisan squabble between more B.S. (R) and more B.S. (D).

Well all their attacks on the good doctor seem to have just added more fuel for the fire, in which case, I tip my hat to Jordan Peterson for finding a way to transform partisan screaming into a movement of people who are quietly and humbly cleaning up their own rooms to see if they're any good at that before leaving their houses to stumble into history while thinking they're making it.

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