What I Learned Writing About Jordan Peterson

Some of my Facebook friends are very upset with me for the blogposts that I have been doing these past four weeks since watching Jordan Peterson’s interview with Cathy Newman.

One has just left this post on my own Facebook page about yesterday’s blogpost:
Another shameless post of mind-reading and armchair psychoanalysis with a bit of shock language thrown in for drama and clickbait. And unless you’re suggesting that a boyhood playground tussle is similar to a crucifixion your example of Mary is histrionic to the point of absurdity. If one were to play this same game directed at you they would say this is an example of an Oedipal Mother defending her sick need for her son’s dependence. That would be wrong to do of course—just as wrong as your misguided and unfounded attack that you have cloaked in fake compassion.
This is not a friend whom I know in person; she friended me almost exactly a year ago because she liked what I had said in Milo’s defense. She is much less happy about my recent writing about Jordan.

I suspect some of you are upset, too. I hope this post helps you as much as writing about Jordan these past several weeks has helped me.

I have learned all sorts of things I could not articulate fully at first, including why I wanted so much for him to listen to me.

Rule 9: Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t

I have now watched the video of Newman’s interview with Peterson more times than I can count, and every time it is as if I am watching it for the first time. I go back to the video to transcribe out a section of the conversation on which I want to reflect and find that I am watching a completely different interaction from the one I remember.

Sometimes I see a ferocious Social Justice Warrior repeatedly slapping a mild-mannered and conscientious professor, who, like a true Christian gentleman, patiently and persistently turns the other cheek (except for that one Gotcha!).

Sometimes I see a skilled fencer deftly parrying the most ridiculous attacks over and over and over again, only to find himself apologizing the next day for what should have been his most glorious hit (Gotcha!).

Sometimes I see a monumental bitch trying the same bullying tactics with Jordan that she tried on Milo, doing her vicious best to tear him down as a man and assert her dominance over him.

Sometimes I see a fellow academic whose lectures and writings I have studied intensely for the past year, ever since I saw the video in which he so perceptively described Milo as Trickster, with whom I would very much like to have a conversation so as to share with him what I have learned in my studies of Mary about the role of the feminine in civilization.

Sometimes I see an angry woman, furious at the suggestion that many women see their highest fulfillment as women in becoming mothers.

Sometimes I see the whole cancerous lie on which feminism has been built and from which, so long as modernity persists in its caricatures of Christianity, we will never escape.

Sometimes I see a fellow academic purporting to speak from within a tradition of thinking that, like him, I have studied intensely for the past thirty years, making errors that I worry will undermine all the good that his speaking would otherwise do.

Sometimes I see a man who talks about families, fathers, mothers, and sons in very much the terms that my own family talks, and I worry about him and the glimpses he has shown in his interviews and books of the struggles that he has had.*

As Professor Peterson would put it, what is the proper level of analysis here?

Answer: All of the above—and then some.

I had no intention to spend the past month writing about Jordan Peterson. I thought with the first post on turning the other cheek that that would be it. Jordan had won the bout, everybody could see that. Cathy Newman got her comeuppance and we all breathed a sigh of relief.

And then there was the tweet that he put out, warning his followers not to harass her.

And then there was the interview in which he described her as in the grip of an animus possession.

And then there were the responses that I got on each successive post, more and more layers revealing themselves every time I thought I had said what I had to say.

It has been exhausting—and not in a good way.

In comparison, writing about Milo has been relatively straightforward. It has!

I saw what Milo was trying to do in the interview he had with Cathy Newman—the post that I wrote about it was one of the first that he shared on his Facebook page, the first in which I described him as “our hero”—and everything that he has done in the past year and a half has borne out what I saw then.

Milo wants us to be human, he wants us to be able to laugh. As the eleventh-century monk Notker III of St. Gall put it: “Homo est animal rationale, mortale, risus capax.” Man is a rational, mortal animal, capable of laughter.



What has happened to our capacity to laugh?

Watching Jordan’s conversation over and over with Cathy, I think I am starting to understand.

It is as Jordan said in his discussion a few days later with Dave Rubin and Ben Shapiro.

We are living through a crisis on the level of our most fundamental ideas.

Most particularly, our ideas about women and men, but also our ideas about what it means to be human, not to mention whether there is such a thing as the divine.

(Jordan would say, the transcendent, which he says is accessible in mystical experiences induced psychedelically as well as through art.)

You know very well that I have been struggling with my own responses to watching Jordan, just as Cathy struggled with hers in talking with him.

Is he being a jerk when he does not follow up on his suggestion that he and I might do a video together?

Or am I being a nag for wanting to talk with him?

There is no ground left on which to stand. All there is left is offense and pain.

I blame modernity. Full stop.

Of course it is complicated.

Modernity is lots of things. It is the Enlightenment, as Steven Pinker argues in his new book. But it is also, as I argued last week in my plenary address to the National Association of Scholars, a rejection of the grounds on which the Enlightenment was based and which Pinker himself refuses to acknowledge, namely, the culture of Christianity, most particularly, the introspection of reading the psalms. (I will add a link to the video as soon as it is up.)

It is also the effects of the industrial revolution on the relations between women and men, relations which even Friedrich Engels argued back in 1845 were destroying the family, although he changed his ideas somewhat about the utility of the family after that.

Of course my friends are mad at me for not behaving like the Nourishing Mother they think I should. If I say anything against Jordan, who is clearly, for them at least, playing the archetype of the Benevolent Father, I immediately become the Terrible Mother, wanting to destroy him along with my Heroic Son.

There is no way out.

Except there is, only we as a culture have made it ridiculous.

The way is Mary, the gateway to her Son and through him to God. 



This is the mystery that one of the statues that Jordan likes to show in his talks is meant to reveal: the way in which Mary frames God, making God visible to the world.

Closed, the statue shows Mary holding her Son as an infant. Open, it shows God the Father holding his Son on the cross with the Holy Spirit hovering between them.

The image encapsulates perfectly—if somewhat dangerously, precisely because it is so explicit—the medieval understanding of the proper relationship not only between the feminine and the masculine (insofar as Mary is seen as a woman; that is not her only attribute), but also that between the creature and the Creator, humanity and the divine.

Mary, through her active consent to become the Mother of Lord, was filled with the Wisdom of the whole of creation. In giving birth to the Word, she gave birth to Wisdom, and along with Wisdom, all of the arts and sciences articulated through the Word.

Mary, as ancient and medieval Christians saw her, was neither a rape victim (as so many modern feminist accounts insist) nor a goddess (ditto). She was neither humiliated by, nor dominant over, her heavenly Father and heroic Son.

She was the one who, by nursing her Son at her breast, gave him the courage to go out into the world and face down the dragon. She was the one who, standing by his cross as he died, gave witness to the world of her faith in him. She was the one who, according to the medieval tradition, stayed faithful through all the dark nights of the triduum, while her Son was in hell. She was, again, according to the medieval tradition, the first one to whom he appeared when he had risen again.

In my new book (yes, I want you to read it!), I go into detail about the sources and development of this tradition. It’s complicated. It has to do with the Hebrew tradition going back to the ancient temple, the origins of Christianity in the exegesis of the psalms, the transmission of this Eastern tradition to the West through the liturgy, and its full articulation in the “fan fiction” of the Latin West.

It is, as I hope to have shown, a story of great beauty and joy. A story in which Mary is seen not as a mere vessel for God, but as the very image and likeness of Wisdom, the one most like God because she was the one in whom his creation was most perfectly realized when she gave birth to Him. She was—and is—the fulfillment of what it means to be both enfleshed and wise, human and divine, female and male, because through her, the world comes to know and to love the Father, Spirit, and Son.

This was the tradition in which she was seen from the very origins of Christianity through the seventeenth century, at least in those regions that after the Reformation still acknowledged her as something more than just the humble mother of Jesus of Nazareth, not to mention the perfect housewife.

And then came the Enlightenment philosophes to make the whole thing ridiculous.

My witness here is the great lover Casanova, who—when in 1755 he was imprisoned in Venice “under the Leads” for his fornication (among other things)—was offered two books to read by his gaoler, one on the devotion to the Sacred Heart, the other Sor María de Jesús de Ágreda’s (d. 1665) Mystica Ciudad de Dios, posthumously published in 1670.

Casanova chose the second, declaring the first ridiculous simply on the basis of its title. In retrospect, he declared he made the wrong choice.

As I show in my book, Sor María’s Mystica Ciudad de Dios or Mystical City of God represents the pinnacle of the tradition on which the devotion to the Virgin Mary was founded, the most beautiful description ever penned of Mary as the temple in whom the Lord became present, and the most profound explanation in Christian theology for how the Mother makes visible the Word.

Casanova described it as designed to drive men mad.

In Sor María’s book Casanova read not, as Don Diego de Silva, bishop of Guardia, put it on its publication, “the treasures of divinity and eternal incarnate Wisdom [revealed] in the wonderful life of the great Mother of God,” but rather
the wild conceptions of a Spanish nun, devout to superstition, melancholy, shut in by convent walls, and swayed by the ignorance and bigotry of her confessors. All these grotesque, monstrous, and fantastic visions of hers were dignified with the name of revelations.... 
The book was published with the permission of the very holy and very horrible Inquisition [he means it passed the papal censors]. I could not recover from my astonishment! Far from its stirring up in my breast a holy and simple zeal of religion, it inclined me to treat all the mystical dogmas of the Faith as fabulous.
And then the great lover of the eighteenth-century delivered his coup-de-grace:
Such works may have dangerous results; for example, a more susceptible reader than myself, or one more inclined to believe in the marvellous, runs the risk of becoming as great a visionary as the poor nun herself.
By which he means, having hallucinations.

And thus died, in ridicule, the tradition which throughout the Middle Ages had given medieval Christians the greatest delight.


*

I have been writing for over a year and a half now about Milo because he understands. He understands the need for humor and the need for joy. He understands the need for beauty and the need for art. But, above all, he understands the need for love.

He spoke about it on Wednesday in his Valentine’s Day show, how much we need love in order to be fully human. And he spoke about the need for joy in that love, including the love between women and men.

This, ironically, is what I have been wanting to tell Jordan about all these months, how I see the Christian tradition not as the problem, as did Nietzsche, but as the source of our greatest hope. Nietzsche knew only Christianity excised of the Virgin. He knew only Christianity perverted by the loss of the Mother.

But medieval Christians knew Mary as the way to the Father through her most beloved Son. The masculine made visible in its heroism and paternity by the mother, the mother fulfilled in her relationship with her divine husband and lover.

That, as I see it, is what we are missing in modernity. Not the masculine or the feminine at the expense of the other (as both modern feminists and those fighting modern feminism’s manifest toxicity would seem to insist), but the masculine in proper relationship with the feminine, the Mother in relationship with the Father, both supporting their daughters and sons.

This is the hope that I see in the material that I study and that I am anxious now to share with the world. The hope that Mary felt that first moment when her Son leapt in her womb:
My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his Name. —Luke 1:46-49
Please, after you finish reading Jordan’s book of rules, I hope that you may take at least a glance at mine. You don’t even have to buy it. You can read chapter 2 here for free.


That’s it. I have exposed my heart to be shot at. Let it be unto me according to your word.

*

Images:

Monkey falconer: Luttrell Psalter, London, British Library, Add. MS 42130, fol. 38r.

Shrine of the Virgin, Rhine Valley, ca. 1300. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession number 17.190.185.

Photo of my books with Jordan’s posted to my Facebook page by one of my friends for my birthday this past week.

Popular posts from this blog

Would you sign a letter in my support?

Talking Points: Three Cheers for White Men

The Old Voice of Glad and Angry Faith

How to Signal You Are Not a White Supremacist

Safe Spaces vs. Sacred Spaces