Author Archives: JohnSmith

Richard Sylvester on ‘Being a Person’

 

 

This is an extract from Richard’s book, ‘I Hope You Die Soon’

Being a Person

 

The sense of a being a person is so strong. It has been with me all my life and it is the strongest addiction of all. It arises in so many ways.

I have responsibilities. I am a father to two children. I have students. I am chairman of this very important committee. Perhaps I can save the planet in my spare time.

I have fears. Perhaps I have cancer. My house might have dry rot. I might end my days lonely in a single room with dribble down my chin. Maybe on my way to my holiday destination the aeroplane will come screaming out of the sky in flames.

I have hopes. Perhaps I will meet someone in the coffee bar today and fall in love. Maybe I will be promoted at work. I might win the lottery and be able to give up work and buy a Ferrari at last.

I have longings. Many of these are contradictory. I yearn for inclusion and for solitude, for independ-ence and to be looked after, to feel deeply and to be impregnable and unmoved.

I live in a state of contraction, tensed against threat and pain. There is an overwhelming sense that I am in here and everything else is out there bearing down on me. I have to protect myself against all the pressures that could destroy me. I even have to protect myself against my own dear ones, perhaps especially against those who have seen me at my most open. I may be pulled in every direction by contradictory impulses. Because of my yearning for unity I want to be close to another, to be intimate, to be held, to be comforted. Because of my fear of being invaded, I want to be separate, to be distant, to be autonomous. No state can ever bring me satisfaction for long because every state that I desire contradicts a different state that I also want. When I am included I crave separation. When I am excluded I crave belonging.

I am vulnerable, separate, fearful, easily put out, easily put down. I travel between ecstasy and despair, or I remain imprisoned in armoured non-feeling. Above all I have memories of the past and fears and fantasies about the future. I have regrets, guilt, wishes, if onlys, self-consciousness, embarrassment. I am charismatic or shy. I play my games, exercise my ego, know that I am right, justify myself, evan-gelise for my beliefs. The sense of ‘I’ is constantly being created and recreated by every phenomenon, every thought, sensation and feeling.

It is unimaginable that life can go on without the sense of me, that this can simply be seen with no one seeing it. It is impossible to imagine the seeing that there is no one, for who would be seeing it?

Since the first moment of separation the person has been ever-present. Then suddenly in a split second the sense of ‘I’ drops away completely. There is no gradual transcendental diffusion of the person but its complete disappearance. And the unimaginable has happened, the total absence of self has been seen. The void has been recognised. All concepts of space and time become meaning-less. There is only omnipresence. Here and there are seen to be the same.

After this it is very difficult to take your previous life seriously.

 

 

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Jordan Peterson on his therapeutic approach

 

Jordan Peterson on his therapeutic approach:

A listening person can reflect the crowd. He can do that without talking. He can do that merely by letting the talking person listen to himself. That is what Freud recommended. He had his patients lie on a couch, look at the ceiling, let their minds wander, and say whatever wandered in. That’s his method of free association. That’s the way the Freudian psychoanalyst avoids transferring his or her own personal biases and opinions into the internal landscape of the patient. It was for such reasons that Freud did not face his patients. He did not want their spontaneous meditations to be altered by his emotional expressions, no matter how slight. He was properly concerned that his own opinions — and, worse, his own unresolved problems — would find themselves uncontrollably reflected in his responses and reactions, conscious and unconscious alike. He was afraid that he would in such a manner detrimentally affect the development of his patients. It was for such reasons, as well, that Freud insisted that psychoanalysts be analysed themselves. He wanted those who practiced his method to uncover and eliminate some of their own worst blind spots and prejudices, so they would not practise corruptly. Freud had a point. He was, after all, a genius. You can tell that because people still hate him. But there are disadvantages to the detached and somewhat distant approach recommended by Freud. Many of those who seek therapy desire and need a closer, more personal relationship (although that also has its dangers). This is in part why I have opted in my practice for the conversation, instead of the Freudian method — as have most clinical psychologists.

It can be worthwhile for my clients to see my reactions. To protect them from the undue influence that might produce, I attempt to set my aim properly, so that my responses emerge from the appropriate motivation. I do what I can to want the best for them (whatever that might be). I do my best to want the best, period, as well (because that is part of wanting the best for my clients). I try to clear my mind, and to leave my own concerns aside. That way I am concentrating on what is best for my clients, while I am simultaneously alert to any cues that I might be misunderstanding what that best is. That’s something that has to be negotiated, not assumed on my part. It’s something that has to be managed very carefully, to mitigate the risks of close, personal interaction. My clients talk. I listen. Sometimes I respond. Often the response is subtle. It’s not even verbal. My clients and I face each other. We make eye contact. We can see each other’s expressions. They can observe the effects of their words on me, and I can observe the effects of mine on them. They can respond to my responses.

I’m a collaborator and opponent even when I’m not talking. I can’t help it. My expressions broadcast my response, even when they’re subtle. So, I’m communicating, as Freud so rightly stressed, even when silent. But I also talk in my clinical sessions. How do I know when to say something? First, as I said, I put myself in the proper frame of mind. I aim properly. I want things to be better. My mind orients itself, given this goal. It tries to produce responses to the therapeutic dialogue that furthers that aim. I watch what happens, internally. I reveal my responses. That’s the first rule. Sometimes, for example, a client will say something, and a thought will occur to me, or a fantasy flit through my mind. Frequently it’s about something that was said by the same client earlier that day, or during a previous session. Then I tell my client that thought or fantasy. Disinterestedly. I say, “You said this and I noticed that I then became aware of this.” Then we discuss it. We try to determine the relevance of meaning of my reaction. Sometimes, perhaps, it’s about me. That was Freud’s point. But sometimes it is just the reaction of a detached but positively inclined human being to a personally revealing statement by another human being. It’s meaningful — sometimes, even, corrective. Sometimes, however, it’s me that gets corrected.

You have to get along with other people. A therapist is one of those other people. A good therapist will tell you the truth about what he thinks. (That is not the same thing as telling you that what he thinks is the truth.) Then at least you have the honest opinion of at least one person. That’s not so easy to get. That’s not nothing. That’s key to the psychotherapeutic process: two people tell each other the truth — and both listen.    [12 Rules… pp. 153-4]

Jordan Peterson on thinking

 

Jordan Peterson on thinking:

The people I listen to need to talk, because that’s how people think. People need to think. Otherwise they wander blindly into pits. When people think, they simulate the world, and plan how to act in it. If they do a good job of simulating, they can figure out what stupid things they shouldn’t do. Then they cannot do them. Then they don’t have to suffer the consequences. That’s the purpose of thinking. But we can’t do it alone. We simulate the world, and plan our actions in it. Only human beings do this. That’s how brilliant we are. We make little avatars of ourselves. We place those avatars in fictional worlds. Then we watch what happens. If our avatar thrives, then we act like he does, in the real world. Then we thrive (we hope). If our avatar fails, we don’t go there, if we have any sense. We let him die in the fictional world, so that we don’t have to really die in the present.

Imagine two children talking. The younger one says, “Wouldn’t it be fun to climb up on the roof?”  He has just placed a little avatar of himself in a fictional world. But his older sister objects. She chimes in. “That’s stupid,” she says. “What if you fall off the roof? What if Dad catches you?” The younger child can then modify the original simulation, draw the appropriate conclusion, and let the whole fictional world wither on the vine. Or not. Maybe the risk is worth it. But at least now it can be factored in. The fictional world is a bit more complete, and the avatar a bit wiser.

People think they think, but it’s not true. It’s mostly self-criticism that passes for thinking. True thinking is rare — just like true listening. Thinking is listening to yourself. It’s difficult. To think, you have to be at least two people at the same time. Then you have to let those people disagree. Thinking is an internal dialogue between two or more different views of the world. Viewpoint One is an avatar in a simulated world. It has its own representations of past, present and future, and its own ideas about how to act. So do Viewpoints Two, and Three, and Four. Thinking is the process by which these internal avatars imagine and articulate their worlds to one another. You can’t set straw men against one another when you’re thinking, either, because then you’re not thinking. You’re  rationalizing, post-hoc. You’re matching what you want against a weak opponent so that you don’t have to change your mind. You’re propagandizing. You’re using double-speak. You’re using your conclusions to justify your proofs. You’re hiding from the truth.

True thinking is complex and demanding. It requires you to be articulate speaker and careful, judicious listener, at the same time. It involves conflict. So, you have to tolerate conflict. Conflict involves negotiation and compromise. So, you have to learn to give and take and to modify your premises and adjust your thoughts — even your perceptions of the world. Sometimes it results in the defeat and elimination of one or more internal avatar. They don’t like to be defeated or eliminated, either. They’re hard to build. They’re valuable. They’re alive. They like to stay alive. They’ll fight to stay alive. You’d better listen to them. If you don’t they’ll go underground and turn into devils and torture you. In consequence, thinking is emotionally painful, as well as physiologically demanding; more so than anything else — except not thinking. But you have to be very articulate and sophisticated to have all of this occur inside your own head. What are you to do, then, if you aren’t very good at thinking, at being two people at one time? That’s easy. You talk. But you need someone to listen. A listening person is your collaborator and your opponent.

A listening person tests your talking (and your thinking) without having to say anything. A listening person is a representative of common humanity. He stands for the crowd. Now the crowd is by no means always right, but it’s commonly right. It’s typically right. If you say something that takes everyone aback, therefore, you should reconsider what you said. I say that, knowing full well that controversial opinions are sometimes correct — sometimes so much so that the crowd will perish if it refuses to listen. It is for this reason, among others, that the individual is morally obliged to stand up and tell the truth of his or her own experience. But something new and radical is still almost always wrong. You need good, even great, reasons to ignore or defy general, public opinion. That’s your culture. It’s a mighty oak. You perch on one of its branches. If the branch breaks, it’s a long way down — farther, perhaps, than you think. If you’re reading this book, there’s a strong probability that you’re a privileged person. You can read. You have time to read. You’re perched high in the clouds. It took untold generations to get you where you are. A little gratitude might be in order. If you’re going to insist on bending the world to your way, you’d better have your reasons. If you’re going to stand your ground, you’d better have your reasons. You’d better have thought them through. You might otherwise be in for a very hard landing. You should do what other people do, unless you have a very good reason not to. If you’re in a rut, at least you know that other people have travelled that path. Out of the rut is too often off the road. And in the desert that awaits off the road there are highwaymen and monsters. So speaks wisdom.  [12 Rules… pp. 152-3]

Jordan Peterson on Postmodernism and Cultural Marxism

 

Jordan Peterson on Postmodernism and Cultural Marxism

Here is the text of the first five minutes of the above talk by Jordan Peterson:

I don’t think that you can understand the current situation properly without considering the role that post-modernism plays in this, because post-modernism in many ways, especially as it’s played out politically, is the new skin that the old Marxism now inhabits. So you could think that there’s a postmodern philosophy which we’ll talk about a bit. That really came into its vogue in the 1970s after classic Marxism, especially of the economic type, had been so thoroughly discredited that no one but an absolute reprobate could support it publicly anymore. Even the French intellectuals had to admit that communism was a bad deal by the end of the 1960s, and what happened was that they played a sleight-of-hand game, in some sense, and rebranded themselves under the postmodern guise, and that’s where identity politics came from. That then spread like wildfire from France – especially into the U.S. through Yale University – through the English department there, and then everywhere. What  happened was, you know, was this idea that the Marxists had put forth that the natural landscape, the economic landscape, is a battle. It’s a battle between the proletariat – the working class and the bourgeois – and that the that the economic systems were doomed to continue to enslave people and to keep them poor and downtrodden unless there was a radical economic transformation that was predicated on something more like equity policy. That was then put into place, in many places as you no doubt know, throughout the 20th century with absolute absolutely murderous results. It was the most destructive economic and political doctrine, I think, that has ever been invented by mankind, and that includes National Socialism because the absolute magnitude of the havoc wreaked by the communist systems exceeded that by Hitler, and that’s because Hitler didn’t have quite as long a time to pull his stunts off quite as effectively. But it was a catastrophic system, and one of the things that’s quite interesting is that the full breadth of that catastrophe has, is not something that students are taught in our current educational system. This has always made me very suspicious, for example, as the students I teach usually know nothing at all about what happened in the Soviet Union under Stalin and Lenin between 1919 and 1959. They have no idea that millions, tens of millions of people, were killed and far more tortured and brutalized by that particular regime, to say nothing of Mao. What happened was that by the end of the 1960s, the evidence that communism was a catastrophic failure was so overwhelming that even the French intellectuals, and we’ll return to them later, because the French have a very long lasting and powerful public intellectual tradition. The intellectuals there are very influential, even the French intellectuals like Sartre Jean-Paul Sartre, the famous philosopher had to admit by the end of the 1960s that the Stalinist/communist/Maoist experiment and all of its variants, not just those particular dictators, but all of its variants was an absolute catastrophic failure. What then happened was the post-modernists came onto the scene and they were all Marxists, but they couldn’t be Marxists anymore because you couldn’t be a Marxist and claim that you were human being by the end of the 1960s. So they started to play a sleight of hand, and instead of pitting the proletariat – the working class – against the bourgeoisie, they started to pit the oppressed against the oppressor. That opened up the avenue of identifying any number of groups as oppressed and oppressor, and to continue the same narrative under a different name. It was no longer specifically about economics, it was about power and everything to the post-modernist is about power. That’s actually why they’re so dangerous, because if you’re engaged in a discussion with someone who believes in nothing but power all they are motivated to do is to accrue all the power to them, because what else is there? There’s no logic, there’s no investigation, there’s no negotiation,  there’s no dialogue, there’s no discussion, there’s no meeting of minds and Consensus. There’s power. So since the 1970s, under the guise of post-modernism, we’ve seen the rapid expansion of identity politics throughout the universities. It’s come to dominate all of the humanities which are which are dead, as far as I can tell, and a huge proportion of the social sciences. We’ve been publicly funding extremely radical post-modern leftist thinkers who are hell-bent on demolishing the fundamental substructure of Western civilization, and that’s no paranoid delusion – that’s their self-admitted goal.

 

Jordan Peterson on ideas, thoughts, George Orwell, and crazy dogmas and ideologies…

 

Jordan Peterson on ideas, thoughts, George Orwell, and crazy dogmas and ideologies…

Three hundred years before Nietzsche, the great French philosopher René Descartes set out on an intellectual mission to take his doubt seriously, to break things apart, to get to what was essential — to see if he could establish, or discover, a single proposition impervious to his skepticism. He was searching for the foundation stone on which proper Being could be established. Descartes found it, as far as he was concerned, in the “I” who thinks—the “I” who was aware — as expressed in his famous dictum,   cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am). But that “I” had been conceptualized long before. Thousands of years ago, the aware “I” was the all-seeing eye of Horus, the great Egyptian son-and-sun-god, who renewed the state by attending to and then confronting its inevitable corruption. Before that, it was the creator-God Marduk of the Mesopotamians, whose eyes encircled his head and who spoke forth words of world engendering magic. During the Christian epoch, the “I” transformed into the Logos, the Word that speaks order into Being at the beginning of time. It might be said that Descartes merely secularized the Logos, turning it, more explicitly, into “that which is aware and thinks.” That’s the modern self, simply put. But what exactly is that self?

We can understand, to some degree, its horrors, if we wish to, but its goodness remains more difficult to define. The self is the great actor of evil who strode about the stage of Being as Nazi and Stalinist alike; who produced Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau, and the multiplicity of the Soviet gulags. And all of that must be considered with dread seriousness. But what is its opposite? What is the good that is the necessary counterpart of that evil; that is made more corporeal and comprehensible by the very existence of that evil? And here we can state with conviction and clarity that even the rational intellect — that faculty so beloved of those who hold traditional wisdom in contempt — is at minimum something closely and necessarily akin to the archetypal dying and eternally resurrected god, the eternal saviour of humanity, the Logos itself. The philosopher of science Karl Popper, certainly no mystic, regarded thinking itself as a logical extension of the Darwinian process. A creature that cannot think must solely embody its Being. It can merely act out its nature, concretely, in the here-and-now. If it cannot manifest in its behaviour what the environment demands while doing so, it will simply die. But that is not true of human beings. We can produce abstracted representations of potential modes of Being. We can produce an idea in the theatre of the imagination. We can test it out against our other ideas, the ideas of others, or the world itself. If it falls short, we can let it go. We can, in Popper’s formulation, let our ideas die in our stead. Then the essential part, the creator of those ideas, can continue onward, now untrammelled, by comparison, with error. Faith in the part of us that continues across those deaths is a prerequisite to thinking itself.

Now, an idea is not the same thing as a fact. A fact is something that is dead, in and of itself. It has no consciousness, no will to power, no motivation, no action. There are billions of dead facts. The internet is a graveyard of dead facts. But an idea that grips a person is alive. It wants to express itself, to live in the world. It is for this reason that the depth psychologists — Freud and Jung paramount among them — insisted that the human psyche was a battleground for ideas. An idea has an aim. It wants something. It posits a value structure. An idea believes that what it is aiming for is better than what it has now. It reduces the world to those things that aid or impede its realization, and it reduces everything else to irrelevance. An idea defines figure against ground. An idea is a personality, not a fact. When it manifests itself within a person, it has a strong proclivity to make of that person its avatar: to impel that person to act it out. Sometimes, that impulsion (possession is another word) can be so strong that the person will die, rather than allowing the idea to perish. This is, generally speaking, a bad decision, given that it is often the case that only the idea need die, and that the person with the idea can stop being its avatar, change his or her ways, and continue.

To use the dramatic conceptualization of our ancestors: It is the most fundamental convictions that must die — must be sacrificed — when the relationship with God has been disrupted (when the presence of undue and often intolerable suffering, for example, indicates that something has to change). This is to say nothing other than that the future can be made better if the proper sacrifices take place in the present. No other animal has ever figured this out, and it took us untold hundreds of thousands of years to do it. It took further eons of observation and hero-worship, and then millennia of study, to distill that idea into a story. It then took additional vast stretches of time to assess that story, to incorporate it, so that we now can simply say, “If you are disciplined and privilege the future over the present you can change the structure of reality in your favour.”

But how best to do that?

In 1984, I started down the same road as Descartes. I did not know it was the same road at the time, and I am not claiming kinship with Descartes, who is rightly regarded as one of the greatest philosophers of all time. But I was truly plagued with doubt. I had outgrown the shallow Christianity of my youth by the time I could understand the fundamentals of Darwinian theory. After that, I could not distinguish the basic elements of Christian belief from wishful thinking. The socialism that soon afterward became so attractive to me as an alternative proved equally insubstantial; with time, I came to understand, through the great George Orwell, that much of such thinking found its motivation in hatred of the rich and successful, instead of true regard for the poor. Besides, the socialists were more intrinsically capitalist than the capitalists. They believed just as strongly in money. They just thought that if different people had the money, the problems plaguing humanity would vanish. This is simply untrue. There are many problems that money does not solve, and others that it makes worse. Rich people still divorce each other, and alienate themselves from their children, and suffer from existential angst, and develop cancer and dementia, and die alone and unloved. Recovering addicts cursed with money blow it all in a frenzy of snorting and drunkenness. And boredom weighs heavily on people who have nothing to do.

I was simultaneously tormented by the fact of the Cold War. It obsessed me. It gave me nightmares. It drove me into the desert, into the long night of the human soul. I could not understand how it had come to pass that the world’s two great factions aimed mutual assured destruction at each other. Was one system just as arbitrary and corrupt as the other? Was it a mere matter of opinion? Were all value structures merely the clothing of power?

Was everyone crazy?

Just exactly what happened in the twentieth century, anyway? How was it that so many tens of millions had to die, sacrificed to the new dogmas and ideologies? How was it that we discovered something worse, much worse, than the aristocracy and corrupt religious beliefs that communism and fascism sought so rationally to supplant? No one had answered those questions, as far as I could tell. Like Descartes, I was plagued with doubt. I searched for one thing — anything — I could regard as indisputable. I wanted a rock upon which to build my house. It was doubt that led me to it.     [12 Rules…pp. 125-7]

Jordan Peterson says you need to know who you are and where you are, what you should be doing, and determine where you are going…

 

I’m reading JP’s book, 12 Rules…, for the second time and continue to finding it very rewarding. The quote below is from the end of chapter two.

Jordan Peterson says you need to know who you are and where you are, what you should be doing, and determine where you are going…

You need to consider the future and think, “What might my life look like if I were caring for myself properly? What career would challenge me and render me productive and helpful, so that I could shoulder my share of the load, and enjoy the consequences? What should I be doing, when I have some freedom, to improve my health, expand my knowledge, and strengthen my body?” You need to know where you are, so you can start to chart your course. You need to know who you are, so that you understand your armament and bolster yourself in respect to your limitations. You need to know where you are going, so that you can limit the extent of chaos in your life, restructure order, and bring the divine force of Hope to bear on the world.

You must determine where you are going, so that you can bargain for yourself, so that you don’t end up resentful, vengeful and cruel. You have to articulate your own principles, so that you can defend yourself against others’ taking inappropriate advantage of you, and so that you are secure and safe while you work and play. You must discipline yourself carefully. You must keep the promises you make to yourself, and reward yourself, so that you can trust and motivate yourself. You need to determine how to act toward yourself so that you are most likely to become and to stay a good person. It would be good to make the world a better place. Heaven, after all, will not arrive of its own accord. We will have to work to bring it about, and strengthen ourselves, so that we can withstand the deadly angels and flaming sword of judgment that God used to bar its entrance.

Don’t underestimate the power of vision and direction. These are irresistible forces, able to transform what might appear to be unconquerable obstacles into traversable pathways and expanding opportunities. Strengthen the individual. Start with yourself. Take care with yourself. Define who you are. Refine your personality. Choose your destination and articulate your Being. As the great nineteenth-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche so brilliantly noted, “He whose life has a why can bear almost any how.”

You could help direct the world, on its careening trajectory, a bit more toward Heaven and a bit more away from Hell. Once having understood Hell, researched it, so to speak—particularly your own individual Hell—you could decide against going there or creating that. You could aim   elsewhere. You could, in fact, devote your life to this. That would give you a Meaning, with a capital M. That would justify your miserable existence. That would atone for your sinful nature, and replace your shame and self-consciousness with the natural pride and forthright confidence of someone who has learned once again to walk with God in the Garden.   [12 Rules… pp. 53-4]

Jordan Peterson on the emasculation of the human male

 

“Do feminists avoid criticizing Islam because they unconsciously long for masculine dominance?”

[…taken from a conversation with Roger Scruton]

Jordan Peterson on the emasculation of the human male:

I have a hypothesis about the feminist end of the postmodern radical leftist movement, and this isn’t something I’ve talked about much in public but here goes. This should give me lots of trouble, and there’s a variety of things that are tangled together here. We don’t know how female biology would manifest itself politically. Male biology does, female biology is going to and that’s because female political activity on the largest possible scale is a relatively new phenomenon. It isn’t obviously the case that men and women’s views of the world are going to dovetail precisely, so here’s a hypothesis. One thing that a woman really wants to know about a man, or perhaps you might say one thing that a female wants to know about masculinity is that he’s not a predatory tyrant. What I mean first of all is there’s fragility, and feminine sexuality is so to a greater degree than there is in male sexuality because women bear a higher price for sexual misadventure. They are perhaps more prone to exploitation by force, but more than that part of being a woman is having the possibility of bringing something extraordinarily fragile and vulnerable and valuable into the world. The first concern might be if you are a predator. Fundamentally are you a  predator, and so what I see happening in the in the feminist disciplines like gender studies is the politicization of that accusation, and the accusation is to prove to me that you’re not predator-like in the fundamental element of your masculinity. Not only historically but now, because the cost of you being a predators is too high. Now I feel that that’s inappropriate, I think that’s what’s driving the demolition of the idea of presumption of innocence, for example. We’ll start with presumption of guilt and you’ll have prove to me that you’re innocent. I think the problem with that isn’t that there are no predatory men, because there are plenty of predatory men. The problem is that the courageous way to deal with the problem of the predator, is to offer a hand in courageous trust and to invite forward a partner from the monster. That’s the mythological manner in which this is supposed to be undertaken. The courageous a part of the woman’s journey, let’s say, is to face the monstrosity of a man and to invite out of that something more noble to emerge, and there’s courage in that in genuine risk. I think that that’s foregone in the accusation process, and then the other element of that seems to me to be that if you are a predator, and you’re irredeemable in your predatory nature, then the best thing to do is to render you harmless. If we’re going to obscure the relationship between competence and power, and assume that all of your striving upward is merely a manifestation of power, then what we’ll do is weaken you as much as possible, so that harmlessness can replace virtue. I see all of that driving these resentful disciplines in there, and their ideology. That’s the evil queen who’s lurking there somewhere.