Tag Archives: Jordan Peterson

The Gynocentrism of Jordan Peterson

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 is 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, the sheer air time he gives to discussing good mothers, bad mothers, the Great Mother, Oedipal mother, devouring mother, nurturing mother and on and on far exceeds the airtime he gives to other themes. Mentioning career women occasionally here and there doesn’t make the emphasis and less obsessive.

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 classical Jungians and also Peterson are still trapped there. This is the Achilles heel of Peterson’s pitch 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 is single-minded about the possible life options for young men and women. According to Jung the archetypal possibilities for a human life are multiple and varied, therefore living out the Mother and Hero archetypes – 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 – great 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 the Madonna Church skirt to allow all the many archetypal forms – the congregation – 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 is 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 alternatively 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 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 – Athens was named after her); Aphrodite the Goddess of beauty, sexual pleasure and love; Hestia the virgin Goddess of the hearth; or Hera the Goddess of social power and status just to mention a few. Many of these archetypal figures 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 rails against is a biologically-based archetypal pattern.

To summarize, the great danger in Peterson’s advice is that it narrows the possibilities far too much, and too forcefully in favor of Mother and her Hero son.2 Moreover, many men are tired of the onerous demands placed on them by traditional gender roles, and who can blame them. Traditional gender roles were sometimes 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 dangerous places of potential exploitation.

Wanting to return to better models of the past doesn’t guarantee we’ll get them, as so many find out. What we get instead are onerous 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, all 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 their roles 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.

 

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

The following thoughts on Jordan Peterson’s use of Jungian material was made at AVfM in response to a comment from Bora Bosna 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

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“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 incredibly gynocentric thesis The Great Mother in which he posits that mothers and women are an overarching archetype subsuming all the other archetypes, and in that book he takes every scrap of mythological material he finds and interprets it as mother – the Great Mother.

Then there’s the one Peterson refers to The Origins and History of Consciousness – in which Neumann states bald faced that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, an outrageous put-on that was nicely debunked by Archetypal Psychologist Wolfgang Giegerich’s essay entitled Ontogeny = Phylogeny? A Fundamental Critique of Erich Neumann’s Analytical Psychology.

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