Hi Anthony,

Thank you for your thoughtful response. I’ll start with Stephen Hicks. I think we generally agree that there is more Peterson can do in his criticisms of postmodernism. I brought in Hicks because I think he is more of an authority when it comes to critiquing postmodernism. Peterson is familiar with both Derrida and Foucault (he mentioned to Camille Paglia that he read Madness and Civilization).

On Foucault: Foucault is harder to simply pin down as a ‘postmodernist’ because his views evolved quite significantly, especially in his late career. I should mention that my understanding of Foucault’s ideas is based on reading Discipline and Punish, History of Sexuality, and his views on various topics related to history (his influence on historiography is quite strong in history graduate programs, such as that of Rutgers University). This is, in part, why I found Paglia’s critique of Foucault so relevant. She mentions his ideas as being quite derivative (and his surveillance ideas as heavily reliant on similar themes developed by Erving Goffman). I also found that Paglia’s statements about Foucault’s philosophy being used as a ‘tool kit’ to approach a wide variety of subjects from social science perspectives to be quite accurate as well. Indeed, it is alarming how present he is in historical analyses nowadays. Foucault’s knowledge of societies before the Enlightenment is limited at best.

On Classical Humanism: Classical humanism is a position heavily influenced by Renaissance humanism as a philosophical movement and based in the humanities (not social sciences). I would dispute associating philosophical schools/labels with those created in the social sciences. I do this, in part, because one can be a student of the Classics while strongly disagreeing with many of the key arguments being put forward. Furthermore, great authors like Plato and Dostoyevsky often steel man (rather than straw man) opposing views. One can come away from a great work of literature, such as Plato’s Republic, agreeing with Thrasymachus rather than Socrates, for example. I do not see the same in fields such as ‘women’s studies.’ Roger Scruton, among others has made this point — that is would be very difficult for students to necessarily do well if they disagreed with core beliefs in the field. I am careful when I say this because I took a course (which was both a history course and a gender studies course) as a grad student. The required texts for the course included some which were quite radical (such as one article written by Catharine McKinnon) and others which were more readable (such as Foucault’s History of Sexuality). The professor has her views but was more on the open-minded side (she had no problem with me using Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae to make important points about psychopathology in my final paper). The idea that gender studies professors are intolerant radical ideologues is, in my opinion, overplayed to a considerable extent. However, this does not mean that the pseudo-disciplines are of any great value. Nor does it prove that left-leaning students who rate high in compassion are prevented from becoming radicalized (quite the contrary).

You are right in pointing out the limits of every particular perspective. However, one has to be grounded in something. I am a Classical humanist and Pagan. This provides a philosophical and metaphysical substructure which can act as both a solid foundation for knowledge-building and a clear lens of analysis. Mythological perspectives are necessary foundations because they are based on the idea that the world is both a forum for action in addition to being a place of things (this point is addressed at the beginning of Jordan Peterson’s Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief). The exact quote is below:

“The world can be validly construed as a forum of action, as well as a place of things. We describe the world as a place of things, using the formal methods of science. The techniques of narrative, however — myth, literature and drama — portray the world as a forum for action. The two forms of representation have been unnecessarily set at odds, because we have not yet formed a clear picture of their respective domains. The domain of the former is the object world-what is, from the perspective of intersubjective perception. The domain of the latter is the world of value-what is and what should be, from the perspective of emotion and action.”

Back to your point about limits. Constraints are necessary in shaping particular perspectives and, ultimately cultures. This is a point addressed by Peterson (and earlier by Carl Jung and Eric Neumann, among others). The individual is shaped by society in ways that both benefit and restrict him (hence the archetypal images of the ‘wise king’ and ‘tyrannical father’ as the good and bad representation of the masculine in society). One can and should study other perspectives. For example, I read quite a bit about Japanese history. Jordan Peterson, while defending the West from an existential Christian perspective, has shown great interest in, and appreciation for, the Kwakwaka’wakw of British Columbia. He was made an honorary member of Kwakwaka’wakw artist Charles Joseph’s extended family. My point here is that one does not need to abandon one’s core cultural and metaphysical positions to understand and appreciate those of other societies. Even the Vatican felt it necessary to establish a museum for Pagan antiquities (now called the Profane Museum) in 1761.

On the Twentieth-century Phenomenological movement: I admittedly know quite little about this. I have read a little bit of Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer. I have also read Martin Buber’s I and Thou but spend far less time on twentieth-century philosophy than, say, ancient, Renaissance, or Enlightenment philosophies. I also tend to subscribe to what Nassim Taleb called the ‘Lindy Effect’ –“ a concept that the future life expectancy of some non-perishable things like a technology or an idea is proportional to their current age, so that every additional period of survival implies a longer remaining life expectancy.”[1] Whereas one can point to significant changes in the history of science and technology which makes the most recent the most relevant, the humanities do not work that way. Human nature has not changed much in recorded history. One of the most striking things about reading the ancients is how relevant they are to contemporary society. That these recent social justice identities have very few antecedents and are themselves only a few decades old at most, I have my doubts about how relevant related terminology and concepts will be in the distant future.

We can agree that the leftist angle is, at best, very limiting. I am reminded her of Jordan Peterson’s psychological analysis of ‘liberals’ and ‘conservative’ and how the big five personality traits map. He found that, on average, liberals ranked higher in trait openness and lower in trait conscientiousness while conservatives were the opposite. The problem with ranking low on trait openness, as Peterson points out, is lack of appreciation for art and even abstract concepts not directly linked with productivity among those on the extreme end. I would argue that the opposite problem exists on the far liberal end — those who rank extraordinarily high in trait openness are more likely to see artistic patterns and concepts to an excessive degree. The prime example for this is ‘Artist’s Shit’ (1961) by Piero Manzoni.[2] I bring all this up because I think there is a lack of ‘balance.’ I put balance in quotes because the humanities and social sciences have always tilted left but they still had moderate, libertarians, and conservatives as well. The intellectual diversity of these earlier environment, I would argue, contributed to higher-quality academic scholarship. I think that these postmodern subjects are increasingly becoming echo chambers as many of the ‘serious’ debates in these areas are little more than doctrinal feuds.

My views of Derrida are admittedly limited. I read an article by him in a course called “20th century philosophy: dialogue and the other.” I have also read several ‘Cliff Notes’ versions of his philosophical outlook and heard Peterson critique his views. I think Derrida was also mentioned in Fashionable Nonsense. With even that much exposure, I do not feel I really know Derrida in anything more than a brief glance.

On ideologically-driven postmodernists: I can certainly relate to the point you make here. The ideologically-driven and irrational elements of postmodernism are certainly ruining any credibility that it might have otherwise had. Here are a couple examples of responses to postmodern arguments (the first one from a response to a Twitter comment and the second a Gad Saad video):

“I spent 5 years on my doctorate at Oxford swimming in this pool and can say that it’s just twirly bollocks — after getting into a debate with Steve Woolgar about whether the moon existed I gave up and went back to computer science.” — @stevealbury 13 October 2018 2:15 PM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BBgQFrcB8zw

On the texts being unnecessarily difficult: I think that it is imperative people engage with complex ideas. I would argue that the language should not be more complex than absolutely necessary. There is reason to read complex language (like that employed by Immanuel Kant) but he was trying to be clear about the incredibly complex ideas he was delineating in his critiques. I read Silver, Trade, and War by Stanley and Barbara Stein (a history book written in a style influenced by a Lacanian outlook). The book was quite interesting in terms of the ideas being analyzed by off-putting because of the language being used to express those ideas.

On translation: you bring up good points here. Having read over a century of attempts by English translators to render Japanese poems from the Tale of Genji into English, I have a great appreciation for the translator’s struggles in trying to render complex linguistic mechanisms and concepts into an entirely different language. This, of course, often means long footnotes.

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[1] Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. Antifragile.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artist's_Shit

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Artist | Content Creator | Pantheist | Bohemian | Philosopher | Juggler | Anti-Authoritarian, Pro-Decentralization/Localism| http://www.instagram.com/kevinshau/

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