Category Archives: Jordan Peterson

Peterson and Shapiro: On the Proper Balance Between Individual and Collective Identity

Picking up the venerable tradition of the long form interview format which was the norm in decades past, Dave Rubin has claimed a prominent position in the so-called “intellectual dark web”. A term coined by Eric Weinstein which describes a collection of independent content creators, podcasters and dissident intellectuals who are actively cultivating a space for the discussion of big ideas and philosophical principles that drive culture and politics. In a recent episode of the Rubin Report, Rubin moderated a vibrant exchange between Dr. Jordan Peterson and conservative commentator, Ben Shapiro. Since there was a lot of mutual respect and a shared passion for both the expansion of public discourse and the preservation of Western ideals, Rubin was able to guide the discussion with a very light touch. Though both Peterson and Shapiro share many complementary views, the exchange was illuminating in that it provided insight into the different pathways of thought they traversed in order to arrive at their respective conclusions.

The discussion touched on familiar themes that all three men have devoted considerable mental bandwidth in recent months including free speech, identity politics, postmodernism as well as Peterson’s now legendary exchange with Cathy Newman. The latter half of the interview was the most illuminating because it contrasted the differences between the Judaic and Christian tradition and the ways each informed their respective worldview. Specifically, they discussed what they regard as the proper relationship of the individual to the collective.

Though Shapiro identifies as a conservative and Peterson claims the mantle of classical liberal, each is an ardent defender of the primacy of the individual over a collective identity. Both men, Peterson in particular, have built their reputations by being outspoken combatants on the forefront of the cultural war against identity politics. However, this doesn’t mean that either rejects a group identity. Though I’ve been following their work very closely, this is the first time of which I’m aware that they’ve discussed a contrasting view to collective identity which stands in opposition to neo-Marxist postmodernism.

All three agreed that intersectional social justice is sowing the seeds of a reactionary identitarian movement on the political Right, and all three agree that identity politics should be abandoned outright. All three subscribe to the secular liberal idea that religious belief is not required either for the acquisition of moral values or for meaning and purpose in life. Further, each concedes that you need to have an underlying bedrock of commonality on which to build a society. Given that all three men are at war against the degeneration of Western thought, it is curious that they would mount a defense of the Western tradition starting from the very propositions that formed the basis of post-Enlightenment modernity. In other words, the very consensus that has lead us to this point. This raises one profoundly important question. If ethno-nationalism is not the solution for America and the West, what set of ideas are being proffered for building a stable national identity and social order? Will these ideas be durable enough to stand up to the various ideologies competing for global dominance? How will conservatives, libertarians, and classical liberals address the issues of collective identity, social cohesion, and a sense of shared responsibility in a world dominated by a largely progressive, multicultural consensus? Can the classical liberal framework be conserved at all without devolving into neo-Marxist postmodernism?

Anyone familiar with Dr. Peterson knows that he is a model of precision when he speaks. Very few people are able to articulate the depth of knowledge that he possesses with the same level of clarity and consistency. This is why it was surprising to hear what appeared to be two competing claims around group identity. Peterson was adamant in his opposition to either multicultural neo-Marxism or white nationalist identitarianism. Shortly after making this statement, he concedes that there is “utility” in having a homogeneous society.

You could think about that psychologically as an attempt to both manage the preservation of group identity so that would be culture, a cultural identity, which has some utility and also to be able coexist with others who are doing things in a different way. – Jordan Peterson

This is a solidly conservative proposition and one that has ethno-nationalist overtones. Yet at every other juncture when ethno-nationalist identity politics are brought up, they avoid it like the plague. If ethno-nationalism is a third rail, what about religious nationalism as YouTubers like The Distributist suggest? Peterson hints at the Catholic Church’s role in the conservation of culture, but since Vatican II, the Church has taken an increasingly secular and politicized tone. Peterson himself concedes that Protestantism fares no better in that it’s rabid individualism coincided largely with the ascendancy of liberalism.

Furthermore, if neither religion or race will be the binding principles that define nationhood, then it appears as though we return merely to the prospect of the restoration of the post-Enlightenment conception of modernity. In other words, neutrality on faith, no prioritization of hereditary culture and a reliance on the conservation of a loose consensus of a nation of ideas.

This appears to be the shared consensus between both men. While Shapiro is biologically Jewish and believes in Judaism, he argues a distinction between biological Judaism versus a Judaism of ideas.

I care very little about biological Judaism. – Ben Shapiro

If Shapiro is only interested in a collective identity of ideas and biological heritage is of no consequence in the construction of culture, how does this square with the racial and ethnic composition of the state of Israel? Would Judaism be Judaism without people who were, in fact, biologically Jewish? As Shapiro himself concedes, the number of converts to the faith suggest that the bar of entry remains very high. Would Shapiro be comfortable with the idea of a minority Jewish population within the state of Israel? Call me presumptuous, but I have a hunch he’d object.

Is a national identity of ideas viable over the long term in a multicultural social order? How does this differ from the American Republic? And if that’s what he’s offering, doesn’t that suggest that a national identity of ideas in a secular, multicultural social order is an untenable proposition? Can we just hit the reset button on the classical liberal consensus and conserve it for posterity?

Given that neo-Marxist postmodernism has been so successful in mobilizing identitarian factions while plunging whites into an ever accelerating downward spiral of self-loathing, isn’t this confirmation that there is a deeply embedded psychological mechanism that has been turned in on itself? If being branded a racist is considered the height of moral depravity in our Age of #SocialJustice, can we really chalk it up to the effectiveness of progressive conditioning or is it something unique to the moral psychology of whites which makes them especially susceptible to pathological guilt tripping?

If secular multicultural civic nationalism is such a fantastic alternative to both the globalist Left and Islamic theocracy, why do Western democracies bear such a disproportionate burden for maintaining this idea?

If evolutionary psychology is true and the substrate of being is comprised of stories of your own forebears mixed with archetypal symbolism, is it unreasonable to suggest that the conservation of racial and ethnic distinction is perfectly harmonious with the conservation of national identity and cultural tradition?

If seasoned academics like Peterson are using evolutionary biology and psychology as rebukes to the claims of the postmodern Left, then why would race be excluded from the overall calculus?

Many people agree that the West is facing a deep crisis over the erosion of the cornerstones of community, faith and family and the corrosive effect wrought by its politicized substitutes. What’s less clear is how to restore a healthy balance between individual liberty, collective identity, and civic pride. The alt-right has a vision that continues to be vilified and stigmatized as the second coming of fascism. The globalist Left shows no signs of reversing their embrace of intersectional social justice thereby justifying their mutual existence. Two forces destined for a collision course. I’d like to think there is hope for the conservation of the classical liberal framework. As much as I admire Peterson and Shapiro, I just hope they aren’t whistling past the graveyard.