And don’t miss tonight’s Interpreter Radio Show. It may be our last.
After being repeatedly urged by multiple people whose opinions I value that I needed to read him, I’ve finally picked up a copy of Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Toronto: Random House Canada, 2018). The New York Times has apparently labeled Dr. Peterson, a clinical psychologist, a professor at the University of Toronto, and sadly no relation to me, as “the most influential public intellectual in the Western world right now.”
Here’s a passage that I marked and that seems particularly significant in an era of collapsing fraternal organizations, fraying family ties, low marriage rates, widening political and social polarization, and increasing religious disaffiliation:
I came to realize that shared belief systems made people intelligible to one another — and that the systems weren’t just about belief.
People who live by the same code are rendered mutually predictable to one another. They act in keeping with each other’s expectations and desires. They can cooperate. They can even compete peacefully, because everyone knows what to expect from everyone else. A shared belief system, partly psychological, partly acted out, simplifies everyone — in their own eyes, and in the eyes of others. Shared beliefs simplify the world, as well, because people who know what to expect from one another can act together to tame the world. There is perhaps nothing more important than the maintenance of this organization — this simplification. It it’s threatened, the great ship of state rocks. . . . (xxx)
So: no value, no meaning. Between value systems, however, there is the possibility of conflict. We are thus eternally caught between the most diamantine rock and the hardest of places: loss of group-centered belief renders life chaotic, miserable, intolerable; presence of group-centered belief makes conflict with other groups inevitable. In the West, we have been withdrawing from our tradition-, religion-, and even nation-centered cultures, partly to decrease the danger of group conflict. But we are increasingly falling prey to the desperation of meaninglessness, and that is no improvement at all. (xxxi-xxxii)