Jordan Peterson Does Not Understand Mythology

My response to Maps of Meaning may be too light…

In case you’ve had the extraordinary good fortune of having never heard of him, Jordan B. Peterson is a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. He largely rose to fame in 2016 over his vocal opposition to an act passed by the Parliament of Canada to prohibit discrimination on the basis of “gender […]

Jordan Peterson Does Not Understand Mythology

9 thoughts on “Jordan Peterson Does Not Understand Mythology”

  1. What a gish-gallop of whining drivel.

    Yes, there is a lot of cross-over between Peterson’s psychological modeling and Jungian myths and much of it certainly debatable. Again, there’s a tendency by Peterson to mix allegory with myth. But the author of this article has an axe to grind (making him a flea) and uses cherry-picked elements of Peterson’s body of work to create a straw man of a woman-hating, progressive-bashing, pseudo-psychological anti-Marxist. This is not Peterson and this description is completely and utterly false. The very real help psychological Peterson has given to millions of people should, at the very least, raise an eyebrow to this ill-fitting costume he has shoved Peterson into.

    This author does what he accuses of Peterson of doing, of masking an agenda with anti mythological criticism, of using today’s righteous ‘progressive’ gender identity with cherry-picked descriptions from mythology as if it supports the crossing of a sex-based divide (this is not true) and ‘suggesting’ on this thin gruel of ‘evidence’ (because a myth talk about a character altering sex) that ancient mythology miraculously agrees not with Peterson’s similar sex-based divide (and the very real resulting psychic conflict it creates) but with a nod of mythological ‘acceptance’ for a mythological ‘gender-based’ divide… which misses the entire reason and benefit and interpretation of such myths by multiple parsecs. This shoddy comparison reveals the writer’s agenda. And what’s true doesn’t factor into it.

    Because this author doesn’t understand mythology, and the necessary role the symbolic language it uses to evoke an emotional connection with its human insight, this author has the hubris to assume several centuries of studying mythological motifs by the referenced people – and why the stories themselves remain globally relevant not just for centuries but millennia across cultures – leads him to conclude that mythology should be read locally. That ‘conclusion’ demonstrates better than anything anyone could say the idiocy of gigantic proportions this author offers as an alternative (literally gutting mythology by his fiat) and reveals just how poorly this author grasps the link and effectiveness and longevity between mythology and humans. All this author knows is that he knows better (when he so OBVIOUSLY does not), and uses a gish-gallop approach to cover up his inability to follow his own oh-so-critical denialist thinking to a reasonable conclusion, that he has no clue what he’s actually criticizing because he just attaches the name of Peterson to it to give cover for assassinating and smearing the character of Jordan Peterson himself who, incidentally, criticizes the very ideological ‘progressivism’ and hubris such authors, such ‘progressives’ as this author is trying to champion. Must be a coincidence.

      1. Why? Because it’s the same tactic used by fleas against Dawkins and his criticism of religion: they all argue that Dawkins isn’t theologically sophisticated enough, that his view on religious belief isn’t nuanced enough. That’s the bullshit. The common tactic is to pretend the ‘enough’ criterium is reason to dismiss the whole. That’s the factual basis of my criticism of this author. Peterson certainly DOES know enough.

        This is a particularly egregious category mistake that this author has made: intentionally mythological motifs about ‘sex-based’ issues with today’s idiotic ‘gender-based’ identity agenda and twisting mythology out of all recognition to present an ‘alternative’ view to Peterson’s use, damning not only Peterson but every major researcher on mythology… because, hey, this guy supposedly knows better than any one. Well, he doesn’t. He doesn’t doesn’t grasp just how wrong he is and then demonstrates his profound and fundamental ignorance with his claim about ‘local’ mythology.

        Mythology is intended to help teach people EMOTIONALLY about how to live life and face the many typical problems we face. This is the major area of mythology even though it can be done a million different ways. That this author mistakenly deems the local version is what is ‘true’ is complete and utter bullshit by inverting mythology to be what it isn’t. Humanity is not local. Humanity is not geographical. Mythology is NOT local: to make it so is to eliminate the very core of what constitutes mythology!

        Anyone who knows anything about mythology knows perfectly well some stories will speak to them differently and more profoundly than it may speak to others. That’s a trademark of mythology. For Peterson, with his background in psychological counseling across a spectrum of cultural boundaries, you can tell the feminine and masculine mythological motifs hold particular interest to him (ESPECIALLY indigenous where he is an honorary family member of, if I recall, the Coast Salish) not because he’s selling an ideological agenda like this author but because he knows the insights mythology offers can help others with their varied psychological angsts. It’s what Peterson does. That’s his training. That’s his practice. That’s why he addressed the driftlessness of today’s male youth: he saw a need. Is his ‘solution’ the right one? Well, it is if it helps YOU regardless if you find step 7 is arguable or step 3 is unreasonable or the story told in step 5 could be interpreted differently. That’s the point this author fails to grasp.

        Sure, he picks some motifs and uses his interpretation of particular stories as if they are the one and only ‘correct’ readings and sometimes fails to realize he is wandering off base because he then uses them as allegory – a sure sign that one’s reading of the myth is going off kilter – but this is not fatal to his intention. Yet, according to this author, he ‘doesn’t understand mythology.’ Well, that claim is far more factually ‘wrong’, factually untrue, than anything Peterson et al has said or written. The most damning criticism of Peterson’s use of mythology is that he sometimes forgets it’s mythology. Whoopty do.

        Peterson does understand the role mythology plays in helping others with their psychological angst, which is exactly why I raised this point: the hard fact that he HAS reached many people in a variety of ways to great effect demonstrates just how wrong the author is, just how far off base this author has traveled in his certainty that he is right because of this quibble or that. That Dawkins could reach so many people about the delusional aspect of religion and generate so many fleas like this author is regarding Peterson is proof that the never-ending claims that he ‘doesn’t understand religion’ because of this statement or that one is so wrong that it isn’t even wrong. Like Dawkins regarding religion, Peterson knows enough about mythology to make the link between people and their widespread psychological angst to be far, far, FAR more relevant than this author’s hubris and contempt to claim he knows better. Bullshit. And no amount of whining about the value of the quibbles he raises is going to change this brute fact.

      2. He’s a psychological counselor so his work is to help people cope and then function better. Part of that work is recognizing and using mythological motifs to help describe the common angsts many people suffer from. The tension between chaos and order is an absolutely typical psychological angst and the age where this untreated tension is most dysfunctional is usually for males in cultures that do not have ‘traditional’ coming of age events differentiating childhood from adulthood. That’s why Peterson uses a stepped approach explaining why things like ‘clean your room’ builds the psychological foundation to transition into adulthood – not by the ‘fact’ that cleaning rooms makes the room cleaner but by understanding that taking ever increasing responsibility leads to psychological maturity by imposing order over chaos.

        There’s nothing ‘factually wrong’ with this advice. And there is lots of mythology that teaches where boundaries should be drawn because we need a certain amount of this tension, need a certain amount of hierarchy that has to face certain levels of this tension, that succeed in the upper levels means one must first succeed in the lower. Hence the rule.

        There is a large body of mythology describing this tension and so Peterson has a lot to draw from. But because it’s mythology – an interactive teaching/discovery journey between person and story – there is no one ‘right’ interpretation of any particular myth other than what makes its useful and helpful. That’s why Peterson’s sales and popularity indicates he has successfully used mythology to speak to this tension specifically and effectively for a very great many people seeking this psychological help. That the author of the article doesn’t just fail to grasp this essential blueprint Peterson is using but tries to deny the reality that it really is quite helpful and useful because in his esteemed opinion all the major teachers of mythology don’t ‘understand’ mythology is hubris, arrogance, and mythological ignorance to a profound degree! Especially for a supposed ‘critic’. That the author indicates his grand conclusion that mythology should be local demonstrates a truly astounding depth of either ignorance or stupidity he is ‘drawing’ upon to justify his own esteemed interpretation. In effect, what this author demonstrates is he doesn’t understand how advise like cleaning one’s room can do anything for anyone other than clean a room and so his conclusion must be because people like Peterson, people actually knowledgeable about a lot of mythology, don’t understand mythology. Well, this is so wrong that it isn’t even wrong. What makes Peterson ‘right’ is that his mythological interpretations are useful and helpful to many.

  2. What bothers me the most about this ‘review’ is that the author misses the entire substance of what Peterson offers: the case that there is an urgent need for individuals and society to adopt traditional values – hard work, competition, constructive discipline, apprenticeship, competence, acceptance of hierarchy, respect for the past and social order and, most importantly, personal responsibility.

    All the rest of Peterson’s work is aimed at achieving this and so uses different means, methods, and kinds of subjects to bring order to why these are not only vital to living a tolerable life but the foundation to live an extraordinary one that embraces life. That he has touched a nerve – especially among young men who have bought his books by the millions and visited his YouTube videos over a billion times in total – indicates he’s both relevant and worth understanding no matter how much one might disagree with various particulars.

    Peterson’s work and its massive popularity is addressing a widespread, international need that this author completely ignores. It is aimed not at groups, not at victims, not at social justice champions, but at individuals and it seems to me that what is sorely lacking throughout our Western culture is not just an absence but a dedicated war against visionary heroes; instead, we have nothing but legions of critics like this author demanding ideological perfection and purity first or total rejection. This author is very much part of the problem missing the forest for all of the less-than-perfect trees.

    1. It doesn’t really matter what Peterson “offers”. If Peterson has to be wrong about the history of mythology and gender roles in them to make his case about hardwork, competition, discipline, apprenticeship, competence, hierarchy etc, there’s a problem. Arguing the counterposition looks like the belief bias (a type of confirmation bias, where the credibility of the result is used to validate the rest of the argument).

      As for the appeal to the number of people he has “struck a nerve” with, again, that doesn’t really matter. The counterargument is an argument ad populum.

      The author of the piece don’t need to address any problem you think Peterson is addressing. That’s not his remit. His remit is, solely, the assessment of Peterson’s use of mythology. And, that’s the field he appears to be academic in. Again, if Peterson has to be wrong to make his point, there’s a problem.

      Lastly, I don’t see that there’s any call for “ideological perfection” to be taken seriously in this piece at all.

  3. Let me put it this way. What this critic offers is to attack Peterson not for the sake of understanding what he’s saying or why he’s saying it but to elevate himself at the expense of Peterson because Peterson is ‘wrong’. That’s what fleas do.

    What is this critic offering in its stead? Social justice virtue-signaling bullshit that gets the role of mythology exactly wrong. This is an error of many, many magnitudes greater than any quibble one might have of Peterson’s specific interpretations. It’s like a critic of George Lucas claiming his interpretation of the father/son tension in the Star Wars setting is ‘wrong’ because fathers aren’t machines and that therefore the critic is offering the misguided audiences reason to diss Lucas as a filmmaker who ‘incorrectly’ uses a mythological motif! It’s beyond stupid because it misses the core reason why the motif itself draws such massive interest in any and all formats, an interest Lucas has tapped into, that ALL of us face this tension to varying degrees of effect on our maturation. We recognize this personal tension even in a fantasy setting.

  4. Re “Any utility Peterson sees in Christianity makes it ‘true’, by Peterson’s definition.” I had to look up a definition of “utility” to make sure I wasn’t wandering off. The hit I got for a definition of utility is “the state of being useful, profitable, or beneficial.” So, aspects of Christianity that show it to not be useful, not be profitable, or not be beneficial would make it untrue then? So, does Peterson make up lists of these things to see if it is more true than not? For example, the Bible endorses slavery and Jesus doesn’t oppose it, so according to that fact, Christianity is not true. The Christian Bible endorses charity to widows and orphans, so therefore it is true. The Christian Bible endorses demons as a source of disease, so . . .
    So, does Peterson do this or does it just state ex cathedra that Christianity is somewhat useful, therefore true?

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