[Taken from the responses to this post.]
While I don’t agree with lots of Jordan Peterson, I think Scott fundamentally missed the boat in some of his criticisms because he systematically views things from a different perspective than Peterson, which was missed.
From what I can tell, Peterson is intensely interested in the idea, “Everyone has the capacity to become a Nazi war criminal. What causes that phenomenon?” His answer, and the central driving idea of his philosophy, seems to be, “Anarchy/chaos is worse for society/humanity than horrific, unimaginable cruelty. So evolution pushed society to develop in a way that will always choose cruelty over chaos. Thus, if you were in Stalin’s Russia, you’d run the gulags to stave off anarchy, and you’d kill hundreds of people if you had to. You may hate it, but it was required for humanity to soldier on, so it’s what evolutionary forces produced.” Peterson cares because he wants to understand how to steer societies away from the gulags and the killing fields.
This appears to be the foundation of his philosophy, and you can understand a lot of what he talks about as an outgrowth of this idea. For example his answers to, Why do good things happen to bad people? He accepts that good things happen to bad people as a given. However, when good things happen to bad people, those people have a choice to make: should I give in to chaos and ascribe meaninglessness, or should I accept some order of some kind? And Peterson would say that societies that would have chosen the chaos angle didn’t survive. Evolution now has the choice as a built-in function, where you will always accept order of some kind. And that order could manifest in a number of different ways, such as the killing fields of Cambodia, but what matters is that if your choice is killing fields or chaos you’ll choose killing fields every time. So Peterson wants to ensure we don’t get to the point where that’s the only choice left; he advises his acolytes not to destroy society (which leads to the chaos/authoritarian dilemma), but to recognize that they’re going to choose to follow some order of some kind, and that they should therefore intentionally follow even a flawed societal order, because it’s better than gas chambers and ethnic cleansing. The reality that “bad things happen to good people” shouldn’t persuade them to tear down society and try starting all over again, because that leads to the chaos/tyrant choice, and we can’t go there. So when bad things happen, you have to do your part to keep flawed society going, or else we get concentration camps. Go back and read the quotes above in that context and they all make sense. He’s not trying to answer “why do bad things happen”, he’s trying to direct what he sees as an appropriate response to when they do.
This also directs his motivations when talking to people about his theory. Fundamentally, he has hypothesized a reason so many people in the 20th century became horrible, and he sees the current non-awful state of civilization as unstable. He sees trends he believes could tear down society, and cause people to spiral back to the point where they will be willing to do anything to stave off the chaos. In some of his videos he gets passionate, and in most cases he reserves his passion for this basic idea in some form or another: everyone has the capacity to become a Hutu killing Tutsis; you would do it, even if you think you’re better than that; if you don’t follow certain ideas, you (and society in general) will devolve into that awful state.
I don’t know if any of that is true, or if it’s a different kind of psychobabble, but the fundamental observation that Scott is missing is that Peterson is thinking on a society-wide and philosophically-projected evolutionary development axis. Peterson’s pronouncements flow from this angle. He’s not thinking as a utilitarian or deontologist or consequentialist. He’s thinking, “What do populations do in these situations, and how can we nudge populations away from mass torture/murder?” That’s not utilitarian maximization, or negative utilitarianism. It’s sort of like Nassim Taleb’s concern about fat-tail events breaking fragile systems, and how to avoid that.
Have not read Peterson, have seen videos of his lectures where he seems unremarkable and uninteresting. Maybe it’s just that I’m not in the market for a belief system, I don’t know.
I agree; I’ve also watched his videos and find them unwatchable and boring. I don’t know why the book seems so much better – maybe I just respond more to the written word, or maybe he had a really good editor. I would wonder if this is what’s behind the high variance in how people respond to him, except I think a lot of the people who absolutely love him are working off the videos. Weird. It takes all kinds, I guess.
From Dry Raven:
As someone who is deep into the Peterson hole, I have a warning. Peterson is like an alien whose words travel through several layers of perceptual distortion before they come out to a regular human being. You think you understand what he means when he says something, but he means something entirely different. His words come out like static to people, and they make the mistake of thinking they understand his intent because the sentence still parses in English. But he’s changed the meaning of all the words. Reading 12 rules for life is like watching him attempt to simulate a normal human being with hilariously punchy sentences, but maps of meaning and his absurd recursive diagrams is where you should go if you want to get an idea of what’s really floating around in Peterson’s head.
Also an interesting data point in the “why do people have such different responses to his different works?” question.
From Macruise on the subreddit:
I think one could stress more the distinction between morality and meaning, because it seems central to the specific point Peterson is making. Alexander writes, for instance:
“I think he’s saying – suffering is bad. This is so obvious as to require no justification. If you want to be the sort of person who doesn’t cause suffering, you need to be strong. If you want to be the sort of person who can fight back against it, you need to be even stronger. To strengthen yourself, you’ll need to deploy useful concepts like “God”, “faith”, and “Heaven”. Then you can dive into the whole Western tradition of self-cultivation which will help you take it from there.”
No, he’s not merely saying ‘suffering is bad’. He is saying that it matters. Think about hell. One thinks, from one’s armchair and slippers, that there’s something conceptually fishy about hell, about the very idea of infinite suffering. One wants to say ‘Well, that would just be the new normal, and you’d adapt. It too will become devoid of meaning’. Habituation is such a common experience that you tend to think ‘That too shall pass’ about everything. Even sex, which you’d think would always mean something given its centrality to our animal existence, gets quotidian, just another 17 bus. But pain never gets old. It’s always meaningful. You cannot write The Myth of Sisyphus whilst getting waterboarded, and it’s not merely because the keyboard would get wet.
So it’s not ‘negative utility’ that Peterson is shooting for; it’s ‘negative meaning’. ‘Positive meaning’ is where someone comes along and says ‘Here’s what you should try to achieve in your life because it is inherently meaningful’. ‘Negative meaning’, however, is about the avoidance of suffering, from which certain hypothetical imperatives (subject to our best psychological and medical knowledge) spring.
The good news here is that this notion of ‘negative meaning’ can be divorced from the specifics of Peterson’s injunctions insofar as they’re based in Jungian woo (which they pretty much always are, as far as I can see). The general idea – that pain matters, and you want to live your life to avoid it as much as you can – seems fairly solid as an answer to existential angst.
The bad news is that I think Peterson is wrong about life being suffering. It’s certainly true that experiencing suffering will solve the meaning crisis, and that looking to avoid suffering is a solid plan. But the problem with it as a solution to the problem of meaning is its contingency, made worse by the fact that we live in a world where suffering has no real urgency. The reality is that it is entirely possible now to live your life in a way where true suffering is very delayed. You can make it all the way to 60 without experiencing a serious loss (parent, partner sibling, child), without experiencing painful illness, and without having any existential crisis. These people actually exist, as much as you want to tell yourself otherwise in order to avoid resentment.
If you’re the sort of person who has bipolar disorder and is in a manic phase, it might seem reasonable to say something like ‘life is suffering’. Depressed people too understand that all-powerful-but-transitory truth in their bones. But even those who have had a period of suffering tend to forget how bad it was, and you tend to look back on those periods as times where you were strapped in to the rollercoaster ride, and that you knew all along that it too would pass (even though at the time you didn’t, and that’s what was really awful about it – the sheer, unadulterated despair of thinking ‘this is it’).
Thus, I don’t think negative meaning works. Life isn’t suffering. That’s only a contingent fact that’s true of certain people at certain points of their lives. In general, we have it so good that we invent problems for ourselves and tell ourselves it’s real suffering, and indulge in phoney culture-wars where we can pretend that the damn postmodern, neo-marxist superjews are taking over the world and need to be stopped and that’s that. We all know in our hearts that it’s a load of shit, and the world will carry bumbling on, and that we’ll all die of something insultingly banal, doped to the eyeballs on morphine. We won’t, as our emo selves tell us, be lonely tonight, and lonely tomorrow; we’ll be made comfortable.
Thus, I find myself stuck in the absurd. I know that I’m the sort of being that has to have a purpose, and I don’t believe that one can invent it as Sartre enjoined us to do, but the universe doesn’t owe me an answer, and doesn’t seem disposed to giving me one. I accept that this is, in some sense, bad for me, but one cannot tell oneself that the lines are equal in length and then be able to see it that way.
I appreciate the clarification, but I don’t know if I agree.
Is this the same as just saying that you don’t need a logically coherent life goal, because your biological drives will goad you forward whether you have the goal or not? I’d agree with that one – except maybe in depression, when biological drives suddenly become a lot less convincing. But one of the questions of meaning is “why should I do anything other than follow my immediate biological drives?”
I can imagine Peterson saying (though I don’t know if he would really endorse this) that living a good life is just satisfying your biological drives in an intelligent way. You want to become a good person because then you’re less likely to end up low-status in a way that frustrates your drive for belonging and sex and so on. The argument that moral behavior is really the selfishly best thing to do over the long term is popular, venerable – and way too convenient for me to ever believe.
I find the strongest argument against this to be the question of suicide. Peterson is against it, for vague cliched reasons. But it cuts through all of this “well I guess I have to follow my biological drives” stuff with great finality. You really don’t. If your reason for living doesn’t present the argument against suicide, it’s not much of a reason for living.
From Roe_ on the subreddit:
“Jordan Peterson’s superpower is saying cliches and having them sound meaningful.”
Yes – this is absolutely his super-power. How did he get it?
Because he lives the cliches. The cliches are easy to say, but they’re difficult as fuck to actually implement in your life. And, unless you’ve done so, you’re just talking shit.
As far as I can tell, Peterson has done so. Which is why he “speaks with authority”.
“Rescue your father from the underworld” means precisely this – try to live the old wisdom (ie. the cliches) – which wasn’t easy for our fathers, and sure isn’t any easier now.
This is a good explanation of the “rescue your father from the underworld” thing, and reminds me of my despair about every generation having to learn everything all over again. It’s also why I get fed up with accusations of “that’s not original” or “you’re just reinventing the wheel”.
The part about living the cliches making you able to say them more confidently sounds nice, but is it really true? What would the mechanism for this be? Also, lots of the most charismatic preachers and cult leaders are moral catastrophes. And if this is sort of like saying “he’s so authentic”, I don’t know how that idea interacts with the “actually an alien” point above.
I think of Part I of Liber ABA as being about the process by which prophets become able to speak with confidence, and I sort of wonder whether a lifetime of very successful Jungian analysis might be able to accomplish something similar.
Rocket discusses the inevitable AI angle:
A bit of an aside from Peterson, but relevant to the idea of conflicting Order-Chaos drives and uncertainty-minimization: There was a paper about a month ago about getting AI agents to learn new and interesting behaviours, which touched surprisingly close to that.
Background: Lots of people have tried “reinforcement learning”, where you plop an AI agent in some environment in which it can take actions, and doing certain things nets it a ‘reward’, then you let it do its own thing to try to learn how to maximize that reward. The problem with this is that if reward is rare, as it can be in many scenarios, the AI gets very few opportunities to learn from it. Imagine a game where such an AI only got a reward for finishing a complex level, but no reward for incremental progress: The odds of it coincidentally stumbling into that reward are extremely low, and it will take it a vast, vast amount of time and random button-mashing to join up the dots and figure out which chains of actions got it to that state, and so learn how to get that reward more efficiently in future.
The paper took a different approach: Rather than purely seeking out reward, the AI agent should give itself its own goal, namely to understand how to manipulate the environment it’s in. They achieved that goal (and here’s where the Order-Chaos part comes in) by giving it two components. The first component looks at the input it’s getting (i.e. what the agent can see in the virtual world it’s in) and the action (i.e. what “buttons” the agent is pushing). It then tries to predict what the agent will see next – in other words, to predict the consequences of that action.
The fun part comes from the second component, though, which has an adversarial relationship with the first. It’s the bit that gets to choose actions, and it chooses actions so as to maximally challenge the first component. It’s the Chaos, in this analogy, but it’s also the driver of learning, because if the first component was in control, and the only goal was to minimize uncertainty, it would just sit still and stare at a blank wall. With the two components, though, the AI effectively “learns through play”, starting by moving itself around until the predictor component has mastered that before focusing on objects in the scene, and specifically how to toss them around in maximally confusing ways. (Insert your own analogy to toddlers here)
As well as being an interesting piece of computer-psychology (this is sort of becoming a field lately), the longer-term hope is that such agents will build a model of their environment even in the absence of external reward signals, and so when reward arrives, they’ll have some higher-level abstractions ready to go (“Maybe I need to move the blocks onto the button”) rather than having to painstakingly bootstrap their world-model from raw pixels and rare rewards. In other words, such agents may be far more effective at getting reward than ones that are solely motivated by getting reward.
From Jacek Lach:
“But that’s exactly the problem. I worry Peterson wakes up in the morning and thinks “How can I help add meaning to people’s lives?” and then he says really meaningful-sounding stuff, and then people think their lives are meaningful. But at some point, things actually have to mean a specific other thing. They can’t just mean meaning. “Mean” is a transitive verb. It needs some direct object.”
I would contest that! Yes, for a perfectly rational agent that is the case; you can just look at the effects of your life, see that it is on net positive, and call that ‘meaning’.
But what we really care about when talking about the people, is the *impression of meaning*. It is not important for your wellbeing whether your life is actually rational-meaningful. It is important if your system 1 is satisfied with your life in the certain ways, that it signals this satisfaction in certain ways that we call ‘meaningful’.
As such, it’s not strictly necessary to tie your meaning to some objective measures. If your life feels meaningful, and you have reasonable expectation that this feeling will persist (so presumably – if you accept the assumption that this feeling of meaning evolved, culturally or genetically, for ‘a reason’, i.e. meaning is adaptive – just cheating system1 with drugs is not the right long term answer), and not causing too many negative externalities… Then you’re good?
Obviously meaningfullness is not the only thing one should optimise their life for. But it’s definitely one of the things you should be looking at.
This helps bring into focus one of the things I wasn’t able to discuss in the original review.
When we say we want our lives to be meaningful, are we saying we want our lives to actually have meaning? Or that we want to feel and act as if our lives have meaning?
Before virtuous people like ourselves slam our fists on the table and insist on actual meaning, keep in mind – don’t we have actual meaning already? Most of us would endorse something like helping others as being inherently meaningful – we might add things like creating great art, discovering new scientific truths, and the like. If we could reprogram ourselves like robots, a lot of us would just program ourselves to do whatever helps others or achieves some conception of human values most efficiently, then say “problem solved”. If there’s something left after realizing we can do that, it’s not wondering what the meaning of life is, it’s having some kind of vague emotional will to go on.
This is one reason I respect Jordan Peterson’s pragmatism on a pragmatic level, even as I think it’s a crappy theory of truth. I can imagine a version of him saying (I don’t know if the real one does) “Look, I’m giving you all of these inspirational slogans. You can pick my science and philosophy and mythography apart if you really want, but are you sure you want to do that? You’ll just ruin my attempt to inspire you, and go back to lying on the couch all day wishing you had a reason to get up in the morning.”
Maybe aliens would view it as a tragic quirk of the human psyche that we have to conflate inspiration and truth. Maybe to them, inspiration is just another genre, closer to art or poetry than to an attempt to describe the world as it is. Maybe to them, if there’s an intuitively satisfying explanation of the meaning of life, asking “Is that really the meaning?” or “Is that really true?” would be just as stupid and annoying as nitpicking the lyrics of Ode To Joy. “Ode to Joy says ‘all creatures drink of joy’, but some creatures are unhappy, and joy is not a liquid! Politifact rates your symphony FALSE.”
It’s disappointing that nobody frames it this way: “Inspiring things should be taken as a work of art and not judged on their truth value”. Instead, it’s always some formulation like “Inspiring things are true in a way different from the way factual claims are true”, at which point I have to interject that truth is a useful word and insist on defending its “factually correct” meaning.
Karl Smith on Twitter:
Scott quibbles with Peterson’s tendency to waffle between pragmatism and platitudes. But, this waffling is actually the correct answer.
Maybe I’m misunderstanding this, but I interpret it as sort of related to the above. If we can waffle between factual truth and inspirational things in a way that lets us blur the distinction, so that we feel suitably inspired without necessarily believing false stuff in a way that could ever be pinned down, is this good or bad? Should we interpret this as an intellectual failure, or a cool skill that lets you do more than rationality alone? What about the claim that “rationalists should win”?
My own position is to question whether anyone is really good enough at this not to let their inspirational beliefs bleed over into the factual world. I discuss this a little bit here.
And my position on the larger problem of meaning is to notice that my life always seems really meaningful and great when I have coffee. If I’m going to try to figure out what the actual meaning of life is, in some sort of deep principled way, I’m going to do it with as much attention to Truth as possible. And if I’m going to give myself some emotional hack that lets myself go on and continue finding life worth living, I think caffeine probably has fewer side effects than falsehood, and is just as effective.
And if you don’t respond to caffeine as well as I do, then I think the overall lesson is that the emotional problem of meaning is a basically biological one, that doesn’t connect with the philosophical problem of meaning nearly as much as you think. Get a good psychiatrist and you’ll solve the emotional problem. The philosophical problem might not be solvable, but “helping others” or “creating a positive singularity” or “[your ingroup’s political goals here]” are, though not Perfectly Objectively Grounded, grounded enough that most people don’t really want to question them once the emotional problem is solved.
I find some of Peterson’s non-truth-value-having writing effective in the same sense as caffeine; it makes me more emotionally willing to follow the truths I know I should be following. Since, jokes aside, I can’t literally be drugged 100% of the time, I appreciate that. And maybe the drug would be stronger if I were to swallow his truth-value-having claims too. But that’s not a risk-benefit profile I’m okay with right now.
My problem with Jordan Peterson’s world view is that he completely ignores the structural problems in the way of self improvement. It’s all well and good to do everything in your power to make yourself stronger and improve your lot in life but it risks turning all of his devotees into fervent believers in the Horatio Alger myth. There will always be a segment of society that can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps; but it is an absolute certainty that it will not work for everyone. Then the problems arise when all those Horatio Alger’s go ‘I did it my self, your moral failings must be why you didn’t so you deserve what you get.’
It just feeds into the individualistic narrative that everything about your life is 100% the result of things you have control over. Just ignore why your wages aren’t going up, just work harder to get paid more. Just ignore that you are making less than your parents when they were your age, just keep working harder to get paid more.
It completely ignores workers banding together to demand better treatment. I’m not even against some of the self improvement stuff but I cringe when it is offered as the sole solution.
Peterson turns Marx on his head and claims that political activism is the opiate of the masses. That is, it’s something people use to make themselves feel sort of vaguely good and self-satisfied, but which prevents them from engaging in the actually important work of spiritual struggle.
My interpretation of him (can’t be sure it’s right) says that he is worried that there are problems with society, and all else being equal he would like people to solve them. But he has the psychoanalyst’s usual worry that anything which is not the Work will be a defense mechanism that people use to avoid the Work. Here again I find a comparison with Lewis helpful (this is from his demon character Screwtape’s advice on how to tempt humans):
“I had not forgotten my promise to consider whether we should make the patient an extreme patriot or an extreme pacifist. All extremes, except extreme devotion to the Enemy [God], are to be encouraged. Not always, of course, but at this period. Some ages are lukewarm and complacent, and then it is our business to soothe them yet faster asleep. Other ages, of which the present is one, are unbalanced and prone to faction, and it is our business to inflame them. Any small coterie, bound together by some interest which other men dislike or ignore, tends to develop inside itself a hothouse mutual admiration, and towards the outer world, a great deal of pride and hatred which is entertained without shame because the “Cause” is its sponsor and it is thought to be impersonal.”
I think Peterson assumes that a psychologically undeveloped person starting to dabble in politics will be eaten alive by various virulent memes, chewed up, and spit out as a Hofferian True Believer in about five minutes. At best they will end up as an never-shutting-up slacktivist who calls people out for not changing their profile picture on Facebook quickly enough, and at worst as some kind of totalitarian. I think he would argue there’s a vicious cycle here – the less psychologically developed you are, the more political activism will destroy you, and the more political activism destroys you, the less likely you are to ever psychologically develop further.
One of his twelve rules, “Set Your House In Perfect Order Before Criticizing The World”, is about this, and doesn’t preclude the possibility of getting involved in politics after you’ve sorted out your own life. I don’t know what this is supposed to mean, since presumably this is an eternal project that is never completed. Clearly Peterson himself thinks he’s at the point where he can participate in politics, so I don’t know.
Do I agree with him here? From a consequentialist point of view, what would it mean to get the least psychologically developed 50% of people out of political activism? If you’re a mistake theorist, it might be great – it takes an equal number of people away from both sides, but raises the quality of discourse. If you’re a conflict theorist, it might be awful – it decreases the number of troops available to the People in their struggle to overcome inertia and fight the Elites.
Rather than try to resolve that, I would just note that “Jordan Peterson saying psychologically underdeveloped people shouldn’t get involved in politics” does not remove the least psychologically developed people from politics. It removes from politics some group of people weighted towards reading Jordan Peterson, being psychologically underdeveloped, and having enough humility to realize that they might be psychologically underdeveloped (which is itself possibly a sign of not being underdeveloped). Whether or not you think this is worth it depends on your opinion of the average Peterson reader.
Philipp questions my use of Lewis:
Scott, I’m surprised no one on this thread (I’ve not looked at the sub-reddit) has taken you up on the C.S. Lewis angle, so I guess, as something of a Lewis fan, that I’ll bite. I’ll state at the outset that I’ve not read Jordan Peterson, though I have watched a few clips of him and read quite a bit about him.
I realize that your talk of C.S. Lewis ‘hating’ Jordan Peterson is hyperbole, but it’s well worth realizing that he was actually a man of broad friendships and, much though he later rejected his youthful flirtations with non- or anti-Christian ideas, a broad personal experience. I mean, the man had variously been a dabbler in the occult (something he rejected with particular ferocity, after one of his spiritualist friends went insane), an idealist, and an atheist materialist, before he became a Christian, in part through the long intellectual influence of George MacDonald and G.K. Chesterton (two very different figures) and in part because of a late-night conversation with Hugo Dyson and the very Catholic J.R.R. Tolkien. Of his friends throughout his life, one of the closest was the anthroposophist Owen Barfield, and another, Charles Williams, was, well, it’s rather hard to figure out, but at least eccentric.
In fact, Peterson sounds, whenever I hear him described, as a kind of prophet of what Lewis called ‘the Tao’ in The Abolition of Man. Lewis is not, so far as I can see it, using the word in the technical sense–this is not Tao as ancient Chinese doctrine–but instead borrowing a word to refer to the basic sense of right and wrong, truth and goodness, and, at least to some degree, beauty and order as reflections thereof. It is, in other words, the natural law, understood not as an arcane system for judging morality in the abstract (the unfortunate impression some less-talented writers leave), but as it is really is: the basic moral order imprinted in the universe itself and in the hearts of mankind.
The central problem of The Abolition of Man (and a central problem also of the novel That Hideous Strength, which was likewise published in 1943 and is very close to it in thought) is the failure of modern education to teach that sense of right and wrong: its tendency to produce ‘men without chests’, or people whose actions are not grounded in the law of nature, in what is true and good, but ultimately only in their own preferences. From this perspective (or so I infer–I don’t have the book in front of me and I don’t remember whether he treats any kind of sophisticated utilitarian thought), utilitarianism, though it purports to judge what is moral, must fail, as it is not ultimately beholden to what is actually right in and of itself. At best, the utilitarian, despite his doctrine, still acts on the basis of his ingrained sense of rightness, and that sense of rightness needs to be shaped to the Tao, or it is nothing.
So, where does this leave Jordan Peterson? Not, I think, straightforwardly on the outside. I doubt Lewis would see in him a proto-Christian, since Peterson knows scripture and rejects Christian orthodoxy, but he is at least–or so it seems–a man with a strong apprehension of right and wrong, who is trying to grow the chests of people, especially young men, whose morality has been stunted. He is, as it were, on the side of the Tao.
To any Christian, and Lewis was one, there is a danger here, of course, and that is that Peterson is nevertheless still not on the side of God. Morality simply is not, because it cannot be, a matter of self-help and self-improvement. There, I think, your own characterization of Lewis goes wrong. He is not part of a “vast humanistic self-cultivation tradition”; though he does draw on ancient philosophy, he is a Christian lay theologian, and therefore believes in human frailty and the need for divine grace. ‘We have not got to try to climb up into spiritual life by our own efforts’, he wrote in Mere Christianity. ‘It has already come down into the human race. If we will only lay ourselves open to the one Man in whom it was fully present, and who, in spite of being God, is also a real man, He will do it in us and for us.’
One cannot speak for a dead man, and others know Lewis’s works better than I do. Nonetheless, I suspect that he would see in Jordan Peterson a man who sees clearly some of the worst errors of his own age, but who can only be a kind of stop on the way to the full truth, who is (of course) Christ himself. Like the world’s moral traditions which, Lewis believed, reflected the truth of the Tao, he might prepare for the Gospel; but making of his teaching a Gospel–treating it, that is, as if it really could make people good enough–would simply be to pave yet another path that leads away from God and real health of the soul.
I acknowledge his greater expertise on Lewis scholarship. I base my concerns on two points. First, although Lewis seems broadly friendly to non-Christians who approximate Christian morality, he is broadly hostile to people who do that and say “And this, not that boring literal Jesus stuff, is the true essence of Christianity”.
Again quoting Screwtape Letters:
“When the humans disbelieve in our [demons’] existence we lose all the pleasing results of direct terrorism and we make no magicians. On the other hand, when they believe in us, we cannot make them materialists and sceptics. at least, not yet. I have great hopes that we shall learn in due time how to emotionalise and mythologise their science to such an extent that what is, in effect, a belief in us, (though not under that name) will creep in while the human mind remains closed to belief in [God]. The “life force”, the worship of sex, and some aspects of Psychoanalysis, may here prove useful. If once we can produce our perfect work — the Materialist Magician, the man, not using, but veritably worshipping, what he vaguely calls “forces” while denying the existence of “spirits” — then the end of the war will be in sight.”
I don’t think Peterson exactly fits this description, but the idea of the pseudo-religious person who uses psychoanalysis but doesn’t quite believe in God is suggestive enough to make me think Lewis would at least be a little uncomfortable.
From St. Rev on Twitter:
I sort of see Peterson as the Meaningness of the normies.
One could do much worse.