Titanism: chaos against order

The Gigantomachy (Gods clash with agents of chaos) – Museo Nacional del Prado.

Throughout history we witness the continuing fight between powers of order and those of chaos, a battle that takes place simultaneously within our psyche and in the cultural scene. The optimal position between these two forces is the establishment of a ‘lightweight’ cultural order, a structural edifice that stops short of becoming a stifling tyranny, while simultaneously allowing for a flourishing of human spontaneity that keeps chaos and destructiveness at bay.

Understood via the language of mythology, both monotheism (singular order) and polytheism (ordered multiplicity) provide protections against chaos, although the monotheistic mindset might argue that polytheism is itself a form of chaos – a charge that falls flat on further investigation. Polytheistic culture, with its participatory democracy among the gods, provides a helpful restraint against chaos via the following routes:

  1. Individual gods & their cults apply restraint against over-reach by other gods and their cults.
  2. The Olympian pantheon is governed by the principle of inclusive democracy.
  3. Tragedy in myth serves as a warning against disintegrative practices of hubris, narcissism and lawlessness.
  4. Representation of Titans as forces of unstructured (and deconstructing) excesses are actively suppressed by ordered Olympian society.

Polytheism can thus be understood as a framework embracing a plurality of value systems, social customs, and political structures. In his excellent book The New Polytheism (1974), David Miller contrasts polytheism’s ‘many centres of order’ with the alternative of chaos:

Polytheism is the name given to a specific religious situation. The situation is characterized by plurality, a plurality that manifests itself in many forms. Socially, polytheism is a situation in which there are various values, patterns of social organization, and principles by which man governs his political life. These values, patterns and principles sometimes mesh harmoniously, but more often they war with one another to be elevated as the single center of normal social order. Such a situation would be sheer anarchy and chaos were it not possible to identify the many orders as each containing a coherence of its own. [Miller, 1974]1

To Miller’s observation about intra-warring tendencies within polytheism I would also add that the monotheistic mindset engages in a comparable extra-warring tendency toward individuals and societies possessing contrary religious values, thus rendering moot any distinction between monotheism and polytheism when it comes to a war reflex. The benefit of polytheistic theology, however, is an inbuilt assumption that a variety of gods and their imperatives belong within the overall pantheon – whereas monotheism is more often “jealous” about the right to hold exclusive power.

The chaos that both monotheism and polytheism negate was personified in Greek mythology by the Titans, and I will use the rest of this article to explore the nature of these mysterious and destructive figures.

The Titans were never well defined, certainly not with the sharp borders and contours typical of the Olympians with their respective domains of interest, so on that basis the Titans fall short of the clear structuralism we reserve for archetypes. We could perhaps stretch the notion of archetypes into a rubbery shape, as did one author who proposed that it’s possible to view Titanism as the “archetype of excess,” but this clear definition belies their shapeshifting, amorphous and ultimately form-destroying natures.

Much confusion has arisen within Jungian circles as to what constitutes an archetype. While excessiveness or destructiveness are certainly part of our human repertoire, they fall short of what we might call complex personality structures, acting instead as singular impulses, functions, or instincts. The question Jungians often ask is should we refer to singular functions as ‘archetypal’ in nature? The Greeks for example personified complex figures such as Aphrodite and Apollo which are reasonably referred to as archetypal patterns, but the Greeks also personified instinctual functions such as Phobos (fear), Phthonos (envy), Nemesis (revenge), Oizys (misery), Limos (hunger) etc. which lacked the complexity of the Olympian archetypes. For this article then, we will stick with the practice of naming simple impulses or instincts such as titanic destructiveness as functions, and reserve the word archetypal for the more elaborate configurations.

The very first observation associating Titans with Chaos comes from Hesiod’s Theogony (700 BC) where he tells that upon being defeated by the Olympian order, the Titans dwelt beyond the threshold of Chaos:

“There lies the sources and the limits
of black earth and of mist-wrapped Tartaros,
of the barren sea, too, and of the starry sky,
and they are grim and dank and loathed even by the gods.

There stand the gates of marble and the threshold of bronze,
unshakable and self-grown from the roots that reach
deep into the ground. In front of these gates, away from all the gods
dwell the Titans, on the other side of murky Chaos.”2

So, as Hesiod tells, the Titans have their dwelling in murky chaos far away from the Olympian gods, suggesting that these two forces cannot mix to form a harmonious synthesis.

Jungian author Rafael Lopez-Pedraza provides the first analysis from an archetypalist point of view, detailing specific features of Titanism in the following survey:

“Kerenyi gives us a general picture of the psychology of the Titans: no laws, no order, no limits. For didactic purposes, we can say that, just as the Greeks thought of the Titanic times as the reign in earlier times of more savage celestial Gods, in the ontogenesis of man, there have also been Titanic times. Our adolescence probably contains a large element of Titanism — excess, unboundedness, lawlessness, chaos, barbarism and so on…

Let us push this Titanic element even further. Kerenyi’s view of the Titans, that they represent a particular function, is perhaps what I am trying to get at concerning this Titanic ingredient which exists in us all. However, we are faced here with a difficulty; a function suggests something specific, whereas Titanism seems so disparate and wild…

I have already mentioned the well-defined Gods and Goddesses with their consistent images; in other words, the archetypes. Nilsson again: “Anthropomorphism has, therefore, a characteristic limitation.” If that is so, it is difficult to see the Titans (whose main characteristic is excess) as archetypes with their own inherent limitation, and even more difficult to see them as the images of an archetype. Furthermore, Nilsson states: “The Titans are abstractions or empty names of whose significance we cannot judge.” So to call the Titans archetypes, or even representatives of a particular function, is a bit risky. If we were to follow Kerenyi on this point and agree that the Titans represent a particular function, then the Titans, with their excessiveness, could be called the archetype of excess.

Nevertheless, in poetry and iconography the Titans are personified, represented as forms, enabling us, perhaps, to broaden our view of anthropomorphism and imagine the forms of the Titans as a sort of borderline anthropomorphism. Personally, I prefer to view them as mythological figures representing mimicry and excess, for they are not archetypal configurations. In order to gain insight into this mimetism, jargon and excess, we need a strong archetypal training and point of view; it is only by having those well-defined forms as a background that we can have insight into what is, by definition, formless in human nature…

We have the literature running from Camus’ The Outsider, published during the war (in 1942), to Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, to confirm this impression. I connect what Camus and Burgess expressed in their novels, in terms of mythology and Archetypal Psychology, with the Titanic level in man which we have been tracking: no laws, no order, no limits — in short, excess. Once again, it is literature which has opened the door to an exploration (which we in psychology are just beginning) of those levels in man where the Titan lurks. But, following Kerenyi again, we have to accept that, in the history of human life, the Titanic expresses itself where we are excessive. In this sense, the Titanic could be, if not an archetype, then a particular function.”

Note his use of several descriptors of the Titans – such as no laws, no order, no limits, formless, excess, savage, unboundedness, lawlessness, chaos, barbarism, disparate and wild, etc. – which we can use, along with other descriptions, to construct a final picture of titanism below.

The next excerpt is from James Hillman’s article titled And Huge Is Ugly: Zeus and the Titans,4 in which he singles out the presence of destructive excess:

“A sign of the absence of the gods is hugeness, not merely the reign of quantity, but enormity as a quality, a horrendous or fascinating description, like Black Hole, Conglomerate, Megapolis, Trillions, Gigabytes, Star Wars. Whether presented in the images of multinational corporations, polluted oceans, or vast climatic changes, hugeness is the signature of the absent god. Or, let us say that the divine attributes of Omnipotence, Omniscience, and Omnipresence alone remain. Without the benevolent governance of qualifying divinities, Omnipotence, Omniscience, and Omnipresence become gods. In other words, without the gods, the Titans return.

Are we re-enacting the beginnings of things as recounted by the Theology of Hesiod? The first great task of the gods was to defeat the Titans and to thrust them in Tartarus where they were to be kept away from the human earth forever. Zeus then married Metis (intelligence or measure); lay with Themis (who bore him Hours, Order, Justice, Peace, and the Fates); lay with Eurynome, through whom came the Graces; with Mnemosyne, mother of the Muses, and with Leto, mother of Apollo and Artemis. These archetypal principles and powers come into the world only when titanism is safely kept at bay. The cultured imagination and the imagination of civic order begins only when excess is encompassed.

Titans were imagined as Giants; in fact, the popular imagination, says Roscher, never distinguished between Giants and Titans. The root of the word titan means: to stretch, to extend, to spread forth, and to strive or hasten. Hesiod’s own etymology (Theogony 209) of titenes is “to strain.” This straining, striving effort suggests that the major contemporary complaint of stress is the feeling in the Promethean ego of its titanism. (Prometheus is perhaps the most well-known of the Titans, the figure whom Kerényi has called “the archetype of human existence,” thereby pointing to the titanic propensity in each of us.) Stress is a titanic symptom. It refers to the limits of the body and soul attempting to contain titanic limitlessness. A true relief of stress begins only when we can recognize its true background: our titanic propensity.

We may note a difference between titanism and hubris. Hubris is a human failure to remember the gods. When we forget or neglect the gods, we extend beyond the limits set by the gods on mortals, limits given mainly by Zeus through his union with Metis, Themis, and Mnemosyne.

Titanism, however, takes place at the level of the gods themselves. We are not Titans nor can we become titanic – only when the gods are absent can titanism return to the earth. Do you see why we must keep the gods alive and well? Small is beautiful requires a prior step: the return of the gods.

***

“Despite evidence of flagrant titanism all around us, the Titans themselves are invisible, like the black night sky of Uranos, their terrible father, and hidden by their mother, Gaia, in her deepest womb. They are sometimes imagined as ghosts. They work invisibly in darkness and in the impulses and fantasies arising from the depths. López-Pedraza points out, referring to the mythologists Nilsson and Kerényi, that the Titans – because they are invisible or unimaged – therefore do not have limits. Without image they become pure expansion. Hence, their punishment requires severe limitations: the chains that bind Prometheus; incarceration in Tartarus.

Limitation in our society tends to mean repression. We imagine the defeat of excess by means of tougher laws, harder education, severer systems of management control. However, the cure of enormity through more discipline is but an allopathic measure, a cure through the opposite which often leads to a righteous puritanical totalitarianism. The correction of one titanism can easily convert into another sort, e.g., totalitarian moralism, unless we understand what Zeus is truly about: the ordering power of the differentiated imagination: polytheism.

***

“Though the Titans may be invisible, an unimaged limitless greed locked inside human nature, titanism is all around. It strikes the ears, the membranes and eyeballs and fingers. Our senses touch and recoil. Repulsed by the huge and the ugly, we close off the world. We grab a bite on the run, drive thru our days. The common world is lost to sense, and too, the words of sense, the common descriptive language of adjectives and adverbs that give texture and shading. Instead, a titanism of acronyms and the justification for the ugly and the huge with abstract imageless reasons named economy, practicality, time-saving, comfort, accessibility, convenience, and national security.4

In this excerpt Hillman provides a further list of signifiers for the titanic impulse, each associated with his core focus on the sequalae of formless excess; specifically an expansive, striving, spreading, straining and stretching toward outcomes of hugeness and enormity, ultimately to demonstrate an existence without boundaries or limits.

Lastly I will give five of the most popular dictionary definitions of titanism, which are as follows:

  • OXFORD: 1. An attitude of resistance to, or defiance of, the established order of things; especially one which is grandiose or romantic but ultimately futile. Compare note at “Titan”. 2. The quality or fact of being titanic; very great size or power.
  • MIRRIAM-WEBSTER: Defiance of and revolt against social or artistic conventions
  • COLLINS: A spirit of defiance of and rebellion against authority, social convention, etc.
  • DICTIONARY.COM: Revolt against tradition, convention, and established order.
  • THEFREEDICTIONARY.COM: Revolt against tradition, convention, and established order.

Based on the descriptions above we can now distil a summary of the traits associated with Titans and titanism, with its driving impetus toward chaos: Titanism is the drive towards destruction of established structures in both self and society in preference for a state of anarchy, chaos and excessiveness.

That, then, is the definition of titanism based on the above sources. While the overall picture is one of destructiveness, it should also be noted that the Titans of mythology created the very first environment, a kind of tabula rasa, on which the Olympians could build their social order. They can be further understood to preside over the process of entropy that works to break down established structures after they become encrusted and repressive – an impetus we have formalised in the philosophical obsession with deconstructionism and post-structuralism. These however are phases of the civilizational cycle, preferably short lived to minimise the suffering associated with violence and breakdown.

We’ve seen the titanic drive emerge at numerous points throughout history, especially in the closing phases of empires, and we are witnessing it again in Western social trends today, destructive trends that are overtly violent or often disguised behind a kind of postmodern deconstructionism which serves as camouflage for what in essence is that same impulse for destruction and chaos. We are witnessing the end of architectural uniformity, responsible individualism, free speech, self-restraint, modesty, manners, social hierarchy, familiar understandings of gender, family cohesiveness, national pride, and many other structures previously enjoyed as norms.

As social unrest increases and our streets continue to burn, we can hope that a well prepared Olympian family awaits in the wings to address the chaos, preferably sooner rather than later.



Sources:

[1] David L. Miller, The New Polytheism: Rebirth of the Gods and Goddesses, (1974)
[2] Hesiod: Theogony, Works and Days, Translated by A. Athanassakis, (1983)
[3] Rafael Lopez Pedraza, Cultural Anxiety, (1990)
[4] James Hillman, And Huge Is Ugly: Zeus and the Titans, in Mythic Figures, (2007)

Jordan Peterson on psychological differences/similarities between the sexes

jordan_peterson2nIn a recent interview Jordan Peterson took the opportunity to clarify his position on the vexed question ‘are the sexes different or the same,’  which he definitively answers in favour of males and females being more alike than they are different. – PW

______________

JORDAN PETERSON: “I am a psychometrician, that’s technically my job and we study measurement, and it’s a truism of psychomentrics that men and women are more the same than they are different. Y’now it’s funny because I’ve been sort of positioned as someone who is constantly on about the differences between men and women, but men and women are more the same than they are different, And what that means is the development of masculinity in women is perhaps not as important as the development of masculinity in men, but its damned important. It’s like a close second.”

And from an earlier interview:

Are men and women more similar or more different? Well it depends on how you define the terms.

They are more similar. Why? Well they’re the same species, so we could start with that. But the question is what are the differences and how do they manifest themselves and are those manifestations important?

Here’s an example, if you took a random woman out of the population and a random man, and you had to bet on who was more temperamentally aggressive, if you bet on the man you’d be right 60 percent of the time. But you’d be wrong 40 percent of the time and that’s not a walloping difference right 60 ~ 40. Its not like 90 ~ 10, so there’s a lot of overlap between men and women in terms of their levels of aggression. And you think well they’re more the same, yes.

So then let’s play a slightly different game: lets pick the 1 in 100 most aggressive persons from the general population; and they are all men, and that’s why all the people in prison are men. So even though on average most men and women, 90 – 95 percent of them [are similar], and often if the women are in prison its because they got tangled up with the really bad guy.

So one of the problems is that differences at the extreme are where the differences really start to manifest themselves. So you can have a small difference at the level of the average, but out at the extremes it starts to make a massive difference.


Further study materials:

Robert Sapolsky, Humans: tournament or pair-bonding species?
Janet Hyde, The Gender Similarities Hypothesis (2005), and Gender Similarities and Differences (2014)

Peterson differences

______________

More articles about Jordan Peterson:
– A brief critique of Jordan Peterson’s use of “Jungian” sources
– The Gynocentrism of Jordan Peterson

The Gynocentrism of Jordan Peterson

Mother-Earth

Most by now will have heard the name Jordan Peterson, who has become quite the internet sensation as he tackles the excesses of postmodern philosophy and it’s negative impact on society. His fight against the deconstruction of traditional cultural forms, along with the existential vertigo and nihilism that inevitably follow it are commendable. However there’s a question mark over what Peterson deems to replace that postmodernism with, which I’ll get to in a moment.

Peterson works largely, though not exclusively, with Jungian terminology – especially with what Jungians term the ‘archetypal patters’ of human behaviour. Carl Jung was among the first to document universal patterns of behavior among humans which he called archetypal patterns, which he later gave discreet titles such as the child archetype, father archetype, mother archetype, and so on. Jung identified literally hundreds of such archetypes and discovered that classical mythologies also tended to record these archetypal themes in story form.

Jung believed that all people perceive the world through archetypal filters of one kind or another, and are often unconscious of the fact they are perceiving the world through a limited archetypal lens.

With that brief description of archetypes I come back to the question of what Jordan Peterson wants to replace postmodernism with. Does he want to replace it with what was there before it, a wide variety of archetypal forms? The answer to that appears to be no, he has a much more simplistic prescription to fill the void: that men become heroes and women become mothers.

After all the good of cautioning against the excesses of postmodernism, Peterson would unwind it by advocating an equally excessive cult of motherhood as the necessary alternative. He is caught by the spell of what Jungians refer to as the Great Mother Archetype, and doesn’t realize he’s caught.

The overwhelming amount of emphasis and air time he gives to discussing good mothers, bad mothers, the Great Mother, Oedipal mother, devouring mother, nurturing mother and so on far exceeds the airtime he gives to other themes. Mentioning career women occasionally (often in the negative) doesn’t make the emphasis any less obsessive.

Mother

In the early pioneering days of Freud and Jung there was a huge fad of interest in parental figures, especially the mother. Theory has since moved on from mothers and the mother archetype, but Peterson appears trapped there compliments of his fascination with Jungian literature. This is the Achilles heel of his pitch for improved gender relations and it deserves unpacking.

The first thing we need to know about the Mother Archetype is that it is linked to her archetypal son – The Hero.2 In myths and stories around the world we read of Mamma’s hero-son moving through the world slaying dragons, a theme Peterson specializes in discussing.

The possession of Peterson’s mind by the theme of the Great Mother and her son The Hero compels him to ask young men to lift heavy weights, and ask young women to be mothers – great mothers. Anyone with a strong understanding of archetypal psychology will see immediate problems in this proposal.

Here’s an excerpt from post-Jungian James Hillman which I think captures the issue well:

James Hillman on the Great Mother Archetype medium wide

With his monotheism of the Mother, Peterson narrows the prescription for young men and women, this in contrast to Jung for whom the archetypal possibilities for a human life are ‘polytheistic‘ (ie. multi-optional and varied); thus living out the Mother and Hero archetypes alone – Peterson’s preferred template – reduces that variety to singular options.

Asking all young men to be worldly heroes, to lift heavy weights to compliment the maternal principle, and asking young women to be mothers when they may not be suited to motherhood at all, limits the possibilities dramatically and may fly in the face of a person’s calling to be something else entirely.

In order to get past this mother-monotheism we need to lift Madonna’s skirt to allow all the many archetypal forms to walk out and stand independently on their own two feet. By relativizing the Mother Archetype, by removing that word “Great” that appears before it, we allow it to be just one archetype among many, no more or less important than the rest.

Many men want to be heroes, and women mothers. However there’s a problem resulting from what’s left out of that picture. The omission of other archetypal styles and perspectives likely leads people away from things they might be better suited to. For example some men are not called to be worldly heroes and don’t want to be – they might be spontaneous Peter Pan’s, introverts, gay men, Zeta males, bachelors or intellectual explorers. Likewise women might not be first and foremost identified with their wombs and kitchens – they might have a strong desire to be childless and perhaps to pursue some other life calling; to study, to have a career, help the homeless, or whatever.

It’s insufficient to argue that “mothering has its basis in biology” and thus the Mother Archetype is the most important archetype to push. All archetypes have their basis in biology, that’s Jungianism 101 and therein lies the problem: Peterson talks only about mothering as biologically based but does not grant the same basis in biology for the other archetypal patterns women might enact.

The mother Goddess Demeter is not the only Goddess…. there are others like Artemis (a freewheeling virgin huntress); Athena (a virgin Goddess focused on civic responsibility); Aphrodite (Goddess of beauty, sexual pleasure and love); Hestia (a virgin Goddess of the hearth); or Hera (Goddess of social power and status) just to mention a few. Psychiatrist Dr. Jean Shinoda-Bolen elaborates some of the many feminine archetypes that Peterson neglects in her book Goddesses in Everywoman: Powerful Archetypes in Women’s Lives.

Many of these archetypal figures in myth were not primarily mothers, but nonetheless the biological impulses that give rise to their patternings are equally as valid as those underpinning mothering.

To underline the point more starkly we can say that even the destructive spectacle of feminism that Peterson rightly resists is a biologically-based archetypal pattern.

To summarize, the danger in Peterson’s advice is that it narrows the possibilities too much, and too forcefully in favor of Mother and her Hero son.2 Moreover, many men have become tired of the onerous demands placed on them by traditional gender roles, and who can really blame them?

Traditional gender roles were workable when held in balance, with careful reciprocity guiding the arrangement. However in modern society the contractual emphasis on reciprocity has gone by the wayside in favor of extracting all you can from the other person and from the relationship. That makes traditional relationships potential places of exploitation and likely failure.

Yearning to return to better models of the past doesn’t guarantee we’ll get them, as so many people discover. What we get instead are onerous gendered-expectations and demands with little payoff – or worse asset loss, parental alienation, false accusations and public shaming, not to mention the psychological sequelae that comes with it.

For men, such mother-serving heroics serve to further an already lopsided gynocentric culture, one asking men to put themselves into the service of marriage and womankind in an environment that is unlikely to provide much if any reciprocal payoff — for women long ago cast off society’s demand that they play the role of mother and dutiful wife, and men are now seeing fit to do the same.

Men’s Rights Activists have long known that postmodernism, feminism, and marxist SJW’s are bankrupt. That’s what we fight. Likewise we know that traditional gynocentrism is bankrupt. This article attempts to show that Peterson too understands the bankruptcy of postmodernism, feminism, and marxist SJW culture, which he describes articulately and with passion….. but then proceeds to fumble for a working model to replace it. For him the replacement is a return to traditional stereotypes of mothers, marriage and women-serving heroes. Traditional gynocentrism. The problem today is that neither women nor men are willing to define themselves solely by relation to the opposite sex, which they view as an exercise in exploitation and control…. so Peterson’s solution simply doesn’t work for many people of today.

MRAs have elaborated one solution in the Zeta / MGTOW life orientation that doesn’t view male identity primarily on the basis of how it benefits the opposite sex. And as part of that adjustment many men who want relationships with women – the red pill kind – are beginning to approach them as relationships between peers (Marc Rudov), as intimate friendships, or as forms of non-gynocentric traditionalism…. or they may frame them as something else entirely. What they are doing is weaving a middle path between Scylla and Charybdis, and refusing to swap one poison for another.

Sources:

Videos by Jordan Peterson.
Analysis of Sleeping Beauty
Is it right to bring a baby into this terrible world?
The Oedipal Mother in a South Park Episode
The Positive Mother Gives Birth to the Hero
The Failed Hero Story vs The Successful (Freud vs Jung)
The overprotective mother or ‘how not to raise a child’

Reference:

[1] Hillman, J. Abandoning the Child, in Mythic Figures, Vol 6. Uniform Edition

Notes:

[2] There are a number of variations on the hero theme, as detailed by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Campbell wasn’t a Jungian, and he was suspicious of many Jungian dogmas.

When referring to the hero archetype in the article above I’m referring exclusively to the classical Jungian understanding of that term, and Peterson’s reliance on same. The hero archetype in Jung’s writings is intimately bound up with the mother archetype (being a hero for mother / or fighting against the dragon mother, etc), as contrasted with Campbell’s focus which held that a hero’s journey need not imply mother. Jung’s mother-tied definition of the hero – Mother’s Hero – is laid out in his Symbols of Transformation.

One poster on the Peterson facebook page recently wrote, “The hero’s journey as described by Joseph Campbell begins by ‘Separation,’ the departure from the status quo. To me this personally I associate this to stepping out of and leaving the gynocentric view of the status quo.” That is a true stepping off into the unknown, a more gutsy hero’s journey, as compared with stepping out into the world as mother’s hero to do her bidding. As Campbell characterized it, the true hero journey entails leaving the mother-world behind and seeking atonement with the father.

See also: A brief critique of Jordan Peterson’s use of “Jungian” sources

 

A brief critique of Jordan Peterson’s use of “Jungian” sources

The following thoughts on Jordan Peterson’s use of Jungian material were made in response to a comment from Bora Bosna at AVfM saying, “The cult of Peterson continues to grow.” While I generally appreciate Peterson’s thinking, and wish him well with his work and growing audience, I take issue with some of the intellectual source material he uses to build his arguments. – PW

____________________

Bora Bosna: “The cult of Peterson continues to grow.”

Surprising seeings he approaches his material via Classical Jungianism which is basically Jung and his immediate followers’ theories, much of which is formulaic, theoretically lame and debunked – though some of it good too. Unfortunately Peterson champions some of the lame stuff – eg. the writings of Erich Neumann, whose theories and writings (The Great Mother, and Origins and History of Consciousness,) have been thoroughly demolished by later, more rigorous Jungian thinkers.

There are two other schools of Jungianism that arose out of the classical school – the ‘Developmental School’ which blends psychoanalysis with Jungianism, and the ‘Archetypal School’ started by James Hillman who was the first Director of the first Jung Institute in Zurich. Hillman dreamed the movement forward, applying Occam’s razor to all the crap of the classical school and taking the really good stuff to another philosophical level.

Following the classical school is Peterson’s Achillies heel…. some of his presentations will not be taken seriously by the most brilliant in the Jungian field, even if students are starry-eyed. For example Peterson buys Neumann’s extremely gynocentric thesis The Great Mother in which he posits that mothers and women are symbols of an overarching feminine archetype that subsumes all the other archetypes, and in that book Neumann takes every scrap of symbolic material he can lay his eyes on and interprets it as mother – the Great Mother. Peterson follows this template exactingly.

Then there’s The Origins and History of Consciousness in which Neumann states bald faced that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, an outrageous put-on that was nicely debunked (or rather demolished) by Archetypal Psychologist Wolfgang Giegerich’s essay entitled Ontogeny = Phylogeny? A Fundamental Critique of Erich Neumann’s Analytical Psychology. Despite that powerful critique, Peterson continues to promote Neumann’s thesis, and also advertises Origins and History of Consciousness in his recommended reading list.

There are other conceptual issues in classical Jungianism, such as the restatement of traditional gender-roles that accumulated under Jung’s descriptions of Animus and Amima which divides an enormous amount of psychological phenomena into strictly masculine and feminine boxes, and applies those boxes to real men and women. Add to that what classical Jungian’s call “the Feminine” – a big basket of bloated gynocentric concepts (eg. that Eros and all the other treasured psychological phenomena are feminine, and all the oppressive, violent and cold intellectual stuff is ‘the Masculine’) – all of which leaves us with a bunch of false stereotypes instead of what we might call phenomenological archetypes.

Then we have the classical concept of archetype, which utterly falls the test of logic with its reference to a noumenal archetype per se vs. the phenomenally presented archetype. The fact is we can only refer to the phenomenal archetype, that which manifests itself in images. The “noumenal” archetype per se cannot by definition be presented so that nothing whatsoever can be posited of it. In fact whatever one does say about the archetype per se is a conjecture already governed by an archetypal image. This means that the archetypal image precedes and determines the metaphysical hypothesis of a noumenal archetype. So, let us apply Occam’s razor to Kant’s noumenon. By stripping away this unnecessary theoretical encumbrance to Jung’s notion of archetype we restore full value to the archetypal image.’ (Hillman 1971).

Listen to Peterson try and define what an archetype is here, and note his nervous leg and difficulty in describing what it is – eventually conceding it is a “fuzzy word”: https://youtu.be/NOzjfqO6-K8?t=1h49m27s

One of the things that makes the notion of archetype fuzzy is the classical Jungian claim that some things are archetypal whilst other things are not archetypal – which is a cause of great confusion. A better way to conceptualize archetype is that any and all images can be considered archetypal, which does away with the artificial dividing of those images which are, and those which are not archetypal. The following from James Hillman captures this approach:

Any image can be considered archetypal. The word “archetypal” … rather than pointing at something archetypal, points to something, and that is value. By archetypal psychology we mean a psychology of value… Archetypal here refers to a move one makes rather than a thing that is.

Emphasizing the valuative function of the adjective “archetypal” restores to images their primordial place as that which gives psychic value to the world. Any image termed “archetypal” is immediately valued as universal, transhistorical, basically profound, generative, highly intentional, and necessary. [Archetypal Psychology]

If we use the more precise definition of archetype as a valuative approach toward all images then it is not fuzzy at all.

All of that said, I still highly value Jung (I have his collected works and read many times) and post-jungian writers, but Occam’s razor is needed so as not to lead people with flawed conceptual maps – especially by Peterson who uses classical Jungian frameworks to reach a big audience. He would do well to brush up on more rigorous Jungian thinkers like those from the so-called Archetypal Psychology school.

I could go on critiquing classical Jungian concepts – which informs Peterson’s views of history, psychology, gender relations and religion – but I’ll leave it there. I actually like a lot of what Peterson is saying and doing, including his hypomanic style of presentation which is really engaging, so I’m a fan…. but not a fan in the style of his younger students who seem to be worshiping him as a modern day Jung…… which is not far off the mark. I guess people need someone to look up to, and they could do a lot worse than Jordan Peterson.

Peterson is doing some valuable work in reviving the importance of imagination, religious frameworks, and unpacking postmodernism and the huge problems it has unleashed on human cultures. For that we can be thankful.

See also: The Gynocentrism of Jordan Peterson