One thing Jordan Peterson defenders have right is that he’s provoking some interesting discussions.
I’m fed up of the more heated ones, the ones where everyone’s assuming about everyone else (i.e. most of them), and the fact that it’s all feeding his fame demon. But amongst all that, there’s some important gems popping up.
I’ve not heard of John David Ebert before, but he’s now firmly on my radar. I came to this via Terence Blake’s interesting blog Agent Swarm, which I like for mixing James Hillman into Deleuzian ideas about pluralism.
Anyway, this is a smart, engaging critique of Peterson’s over-simplistic take on the Hero archetype.
We’re finite beings, and provisional points of reference are handy. Even across the vast sweep of the whole of human history, there are useful generalisations and narrative threads to help us orientate ourselves. The fault in essentialism here is the old one of mistaking the map for the territory — all the more serious if your map doesn’t even abstract the territory very well.
Uncritical essentialism, especially when fuelled by seductively emphatic rhetoric, is dubious — whether it’s from the position of an unapologetic old-school traditionalist, or that of reaction against the excesses of modern relativism. (And I suspect the former is, for the most part, the latter disguised by short-term cultural memory. Traditionalism as we know it seems to be a very modern phenomena.)
The thing that struck me most here is that despite having taken on a heavily critical view of the Hero archetype from James Hillman’s important work (see especially The Dream & the Underworld), I had never consciously conceptualised the descent of Inanna into the underworld as part of the ‘heroic descent and return’ mythic pattern. But as Ebert points out, it’s the oldest and one of the most important. Even though I’m reflexively suspicious of someone like Peterson talking about this mythic pattern being essentially a masculine archetype, I’d never clearly recognised how specifically actual myth undermines this view. Such is the power of essentialism to blind us, even when we don’t subscribe to it.
To be clear, this isn’t to counter Peterson’s overreaction to postmodern relativism with an overreactive entrenchment of relativism. It’s to properly grapple with the issues in a way that salvages real insights from Peterson’s bullish simplicity. Acknowledging the usefulness of his provocations, but not letting his blindspots off the hook. Missing either of these things fundamentally betrays his best intentions.