Peterson: time or times?

Jordan Peterson cannot make up his mind if time is singular or plural. Or, perhaps better put, he cannot make up his mind about which of two singular times is more basic than the other. True to his sometimes commitment to Gutenbergian perspective,1 truth and reality must conflate at some point. So in this mode, Peterson’s usual but not exclusive one, his consideration of anything must come down to the question of — which singularity? Which one?

The passages below are from a single paper, but the views it expresses on time are plainly at odds with each other. Moreover, the same ambiguity about time appears in all his work. 

Over and over again he references our need for a “broader evolutionary/historical perspective”:

  • The most cherished presumptions of the West remain castles in the air, historically and philosophically speaking. This perceived weakness of foundation makes societies grounded on conceptions of natural right vulnerable to criticism and attack in the most dangerous of manners. The adoption of a much broader evolutionary/historical perspective with regards to the development of human individuality and society allows for the generation of a deep solution to this problem.2
  • What we have in our culture is much more profound and solid and deep than any mere rational construction. We have a form of [association]3, an equilibrated state, which is an emergent consequence of an ancient process. The process undergirding the development of this [associational]4 form stems much farther back even than the Egyptians, even than the Mesopotamians — stems back to behavioral ritual and oral tradition. (…) Our political presuppositions — our notion of “natural rights” — rest on a cultural foundation that is unbelievably archaic. That foundation, in turn, rests on something even more fundamental. Chimpanzees, ever so closely related to human beings, live in dominance hierarchies, like their human cousins.5
  • These unbelievably archaic ideas (…) first acted out, first embodied in ritual, first dramatized, then told as stories, developing more and more coherence over stretches of time of thousands of years — they serve to ground our self-evident notions in something that is much more than mere opinion, [and than] mere arbitrary supposition.5

But just as frequently he reverts to an ‘eternal’ drama underlying human experience involving three figures/principles/orders/archetypes/gods:

  • The old king never dies, the villain never dies, and the hero never dies. This is because there is always “the old king” (…) there is always “the villain,” and [and there is always] “the hero.” These entities are transcendent, transpersonal, because they represent aspects of experience that never change.5
  • Imagine that the human environment might be better considered “what is and has always been common to all domains of human experience, regardless of spatial locale or temporal frame.” The environment, construed in such a manner, consists not of objects, but of phenomenological constants (although it still contains objects).8

At its base, the problem at stake in this ambiguity is Peterson’s inability to let go of his heroic persona. Absent this persona and its typical demand for foundational singularity, he might be exposed to the possibility that time is plural and that its central riddle is not, ‘which of historical time and eternity and history is more real?’, but instead, ‘how are equally real time and eternity knotted together?’.9   

The hero comes to experience with a predetermined10 notion of the form of reality and truth — including his own reality and truth. In order to consider the full range of possibilities that such predetermination might take, the hero must of course jettison the one already in effect, the one shaping his experience and identity, and therefore abdicate that identity — for identity must be allowed to result from the range of such predetermination, cannot be allowed to dictate to it. 

All the misfortunes of humans (and of all the creatures so unhappily subject to us) are the consequence of the insistence to judge reality and truth rather than being judged by them. Now Peterson would heroically address our misfortunes and attempt to heal them. This is a great thing. But his heroism only reinforces our misfortune and certainly cannot administer to it.

  1. That Peterson has multiple takes on time and many other matters, like a cubist, is already a deviation from Gutenbergian perspective. He seems to be fighting against himself as if to say, I know that time is plural, but I just can’t bring myself to consider its plurality as fundamental. To do that I would also have to recognize the abysmal gap between plural times as fundamental as well. But rather that pursue the labyrinthine path his own work indicates in this way, Peterson silently accepts what he explicitly seems to reject: “The most cherished presumptions of the West remain castles in the air, historically and philosophically speaking.” With this resigned acceptance he stands in for the contemporary consternation of the world which is lost in the cul-de-sac of fake news — and fake everything else per Nietzsche’s “History of an Error”.
  2. ‘Religion, sovereignty, natural rights, and the constituent elements of experience’, Archive for the Psychology of Religion, v28, 2006.
  3. Peterson: “of government”. Peterson is correct, of course, that the term ‘government’ can be used to cover many different types of association and these are not limited to political forms. Ideas or delusions or DNA can ‘govern’. But ‘association’ is a less committed term and has been substituted here as better conveying Peterson’s notion of “an equilibrated state”.
  4. Peterson: “governmental”
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid. The quotation marks in this passage are Peterson’s. Are they are meant to signify an unidentified reference? Or perhaps some special status for the suggestion?
  9. This question is at least 2500 years old and is doubtless much much older than that. Dynamics were Aristotle’s attempt to explicate the forms of his great teacher and friend, Plato. According to this notion, eternal forms dynamically express themselves in time. Chemistry was born when it at last became clear that elements express themselves in just this way. To the great misfortune of the world, the humanities and social sciences have been unable to submit themselves to such wondrous predetermination — for in this case the gapped range of possibilities or elements does not predetermine material things, it predetermines us. Now McLuhan never stopped questioning how and why this fixation against explication and investigation of ourselves arises. He thought it was the key to our survival. But he never figured it out, so deep is this “numb”. (Fpr ‘wondrous’, see the next note.)
  10. It must be wondered (in Aristotle’s sense of wonder as giving birth to philosophy) just when and where and how this ‘pre-determination’ occurs.