Maps of Meaning
The key to understand this book is the phrase, a recurrent phase throughout, “the unbearable present”. This is a book about a flight from the now, a flight from what is—and, as such, it is a work that, per Heidegger, conceals Being; in short, it rejects astonishment at existence and substitutes in its place technological development, progress, and moralism—and, in particular, the individual’s personal interest as defined by their position in an extant dominance hierarchy; although their role may be to modify that hierarchy somewhat. By “Being”, what Heidegger referred to is the way in which, in Buddhist meditation, a person becomes disidentified with their thoughts and feelings and instead becomes “the watcher”—thoughts and feelings flow under the watcher as water flows under a bridge. Heidegger sought to attain a similar state through language, in particular through poetic expressions that used archaic German in novel ways so as to reawaken astonishment at Being—the opposite to this process is calculative, goal-directed, and instrumental thought; such techniques conceal Being; and Being is the present—the eternal present.
The reason why Peterson flees from the “unbearable present” can be found in the book’s first pages: Peterson describes his extreme fears about nuclear war—and the dreams that plagued him as regards it. His anxiety and incomprehension in regards to this risk led him to conceptualise himself as peacemaker—and in doing so he hoped to remove his fear in the face of death with a schema, mediated through myth undergirded by psychological science, that would allow him to control his anxiety. He hoped to control death through science and technology—and above all moralism; for Peterson is not a man who is beyond good and evil, rather he is obsessed with both. This is why he often tells people to “watch out” as regards their political pronouncements: Peterson fears another holocaust of the Jews, Soviet Gulag, or, eventually, nuclear war because he has fled from death itself—he thinks that if he wags his finger at it, moralises and warns, death will go away and can be controlled; and yet it cannot. And, furthermore, he knows that moralised manipulation grants him power over others—for he is dominated by the mask that manipulates; he does not speak from the spiritual centre.
For Heidegger, we should orientate ourselves towards the finitude of our own existence—our being-towards-death; it is only when we understand our boundedness when we contemplate the event we will never experience, our own death, that we come to understand Being. In religious terms, this is why Christians speak about memento mori and Buddhists contemplate a corpse in decay. Peterson was confronted by death, but his reaction was to find a schema—underpinned by reason—by which this anxiety could be managed, concealed; and in this process he concealed Being. As with many moderns, Peterson hopes he can use reason and moralism to control death; although, in his heart, he knows he cannot—and though he admits this intellectually in Maps of Meaning, he has not felt it.
Hence, for Peterson, myths are conceptualised as stories about how we move ourselves from an “unbearable present” into a future improved state; in other words, he thinks myths describe the typical Enlightenment story where reason, hard work, and novelty will eventually move us to a future material utopia—in a sense, Peterson thinks myths tell the Marxist story: we are in capitalist Hell, but we will work our way through struggle to a future material Heaven. At bottom, Peterson has the hope that this constant “progress towards a better future” will abolish death—and yet it will not, death will still be there; and, in fact, the myths he talks about are the ways to awaken us to our finitude before death and return us to the present. The present is not an “unbearable” place from which to flee: the kingdom of Heaven is at hand, said Jesus; the kingdom of God is now, not, as Peterson thinks, in the future—in utopia; nor, as he also suggests, in moralism and perfectionism.
Peterson’s intention in Maps of Meaning is to undergird the ideas found in CG Jung—the importance of mythology as a means by which man makes sense of his life and place in the world—with a basis in the sciences; particularly in his own science, psychology. In this task he succeeds, however he does so at a price; and the price is that he radically misunderstands what men like Jung, Eliade, and Nietzsche speak about. The reason for this is that myths are poetic whereas the scientific method is not; if you apply the scientific method to myth to “justify” it then you will misunderstand myth and conceal myth’s intention.
Hence for Peterson myths become about cause-and-effect relations, intentionality, goals, and objectives—a way to describe a person’s ascent up a dominance hierarchy or to achieve a desired future state or to be “moral”; everything is directed to the mundane world, not the eternal. The myth helps you because you have some material privation now and provides a story to move you to material plenty—or, alternatively, to comfort you in your “unbearable present” with the thought that you are a “good” person. In reality, men like Jesus, Buddha, Jung, and Nietzsche came to liberate us from good and evil; they came to tell us that, as Nietzsche observed, “What is done from love is beyond good and evil.” Indeed, the word “love” features hardly at all in Peterson’s book—perhaps another reason why he is trapped in the unbearable moralised present, a present without love.
Peterson’s ends-directed mode of thought is precisely what Heidegger said conceals Being; everything around us is instrumentalised and turned into a means to achieve an objective, a potential energy store to be utilised—everything must have a purpose, in this case organised according to hierarchy as determined by techno-industrial civilisation; for Peterson myth is a way to extract information from reality, as in a mining operation. In actuality, the myth is peregrination—it circles Being, as Muslims circle the Kaaba in Mecca; it is our precession around the centre, represented by the circularity inherent to myth, that constitutes genuine thought—thinking is thanking.
Although Peterson mentions peregrination, he conceptualises it as a means to experience novelty in the world—to acquire more information, more ore for the greasy dwarves in the mine. Yet the peregrination is not about “novel information”; it is more like a poetic round that is sung out in a tavern and folds back upon itself—when the poem eats its own tail, you will wake up. A myth is not a guide to get from A to B; it is a peregrination that awakens you to the now—to be initiated by myth is to realise that death is before you at every moment, you only have the now; the present is blesséd, not unbearable—and this is not to do with material conditions or morality; it is so for paupers, kings, and the terminally ill alike; anyone, from a criminal to a virgin, can have this experience; and this is why religion is for all, even for the condemned man there is salvation—the priest will offer it to him; for Peterson, there are simply the rigid categories “good” and “evil”.
When you live as if the next moment could be your death you become radically aware as regards what is—you become astonished that there is existence at all. There is nowhere to “go”, there is only now—only awareness, consciousness. If you focus on A to B then you will constrain consciousness—put the blinders on it—to achieve objectives; probably you will begin to hope that the progress from A to B will push death away. Now you are lost: you are lost because you are determined that you need a map to “get somewhere”—then when you arrive you are disappointed because you always had what you needed right now, inside. Jung said, “Those who look outward, dream; those who look inward, awaken,” and, unfortunately, Peterson wants us to look outward—to what people think of us, to morality—and not inward to what is eternal: consciousness, Being, isness.
Peterson’s instrumental approach leads to dubious conclusions; at one point, he describes how he terrorised a client in his psychological practice and how he thinks terror is an under-utilised technique. This makes sense if you are grounded in Soviet psychology—Peterson speaks warmly as regards Soviet psychologists—whose scientists liked to attach electrodes to dogs to measure stimulus-response times. Yet, for humans—and for dogs—does terror work? I suggest that a man who leads though terror is an ineffective leader—a true leader leads through trust, not terror. And I suggest an owner who terrorises his dog is an unfit owner. Yet if all you have is a stimulus-response model then terror seems like a viable option to get from A to B.
You can still see Peterson’s admiration for terror in outline in his contemporary lectures where he cautions people to “watch out”—watch out, do what I say, or there will be another holocaust; an attempt to manipulate people because Peterson is so terrified as regards death. In Jungian terms, it is precisely the over-anxious desire to control and manipulate the situation that leads the opposite to occur. Tell someone, “Watch out, sonny,” and he will react with, “Fuck you, Dad.” The other option is not to manipulate—it is to watch and be aware; yet to do so is not to moralise.
Peterson cannot watch because he identifies with the mask, with the persona we use to manipulate and negotiate reality—with the rational mask we use to extract information from reality or get from A to B. For him, myths are ways to extract information from reality and negotiate it—to use and exploit it. He is identified with the mask and this is partly why his symbol is the lobster; he is identified with the lobster shell and the lobster claws that snip at people—he identifies with the mask, the shell; and he particularly worries about social respectability, a sign he is unindividuated. Jungian individuation is meant to allow people to disidentify with their masks and instead identify with the vital centre; they no longer try to manipulate other people with their mask—they speak from the centre to the centre, heart to heart. However, Peterson’s approach obscures this process, a process mediated by myth; and it partly does so because Peterson is a moralist—throughout this work he is obsessed with what is “good” and “evil”; and yet myths are about creation—love is creation—and myths too are beyond good and evil. The individuated person is a creator; he is not good or evil—he is whole.
Thus Peterson imagines the Yin-Yang interchange and the vesica pisces formed where two circles overlap as information extraction processes—the vesica pisces is, in fact, consciousness; it is unmediated awareness, not the point where information is drawn in and processed—that is ratiocination, goal-directed thought. Similarly, Peterson thinks alchemy is about information acquisition; ironically, he contrasts it to the Church that “knows”—alchemy is a way to know not information but the soul; to know what is within, not without. Peterson also misdescribes the Tao as “good”, in line with his endless moralisation; actually, the Tao is good and evil—both and neither, it is a paradox; not a moralised “good” to adopt.
Myths and individuation are meant to allow you to speak from the centre, not the mask—Peterson identifies the intellectual mask with the centre; and this is why he thinks he can stop “extremism” through warnings and manipulation. He sees “the centre” as a place where chaos and order overlap to produce novelty constrained by inherited order—and this inherited order is then updated by new information; and yet “the centre” is really consciousness, the heart—it is experiential, not intellectual. Peterson thinks “the centre” is an intellectual position, hence—especially in politics—he tries to take “a little from side A and a little from side B””, a little from the left and the right. This is a false balance; the true balance is to speak from the centre, from the heart, and not to try to intellectually “balance out” different positions like an equation—that is false balance and identification with the mask, the mask of intellect.
This is why Peterson is frequently exploited and mocked by people who hate him; the person who knows the centre would perceive the threat and say, “You’re mocking me, you’re not my friend.” For example, Peterson, in his interchange with the Islamist Mohammed Hijab, maintained a “nice” diplomatic mask throughout, held together by intellectual effort—even though Hijab openly mocked him throughout, facetiously calling him “Dr. Jordan Peterson”. Peterson perceived this, but his rigid intellectual mask cut off the experience and managed his response so as to be diplomatic and “nice”. A person who knew the centre would not stand for this open impudence and disrespect, but if you have a mask to maintain, as the “nice peacemaker”, you will sit there and endure the abuse and secretly feel smug that you are superior to the person who mocks you—and this is arrogance and false humility.
A distinction that is lost on many people is that Peterson is a clinical psychologist, not a psychotherapist or psychoanalyst. For most people it all amounts to “headshrinker”, but the distinction is important. Peterson is trained in techniques derived from, broadly speaking, the Soviet psychologists—electrodes on the puppies, Pavlovian—to produce results; i.e. to move you through manipulative scientific techniques from one psychological state to another, ready to face another day in the Gulag—another day towards “progress”, the future utopia. By contrast, psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, as practiced by Jung, are about exploration of the soul—experiential, not intellectual. Peterson has awkwardly tried to combine two contradictory areas, although he is associated with Jung he is not Jungian—actually he distorts Jung’s ideas; he is much more a Pavlovian with dogs trained to salivate on command than he is a man who knows his soul.
Peterson is a tortured soul; and you can tell this is so, not only because he often breaks down in tears and routinely looks to be in pain but from his logo—the logo that appears on the front page of Maps of Meaning and still adorns his other products. This logo is, in fact, his mandala—it is the soul’s visual representation. Jung drew many mandalas in his lifetime but Peterson seems to have drawn only one, around his mid-twenties; unlike Jung’s beautiful mandalas, Peterson’s mandala is ugly and discordant—it is out of harmony and balance, and this is because Peterson’s soul is out of harmony. Really, Peterson is stuck where he was in his twenties, when he drew that mandala; he is stuck there and proud that he is stuck there—the mandala should be drawn and redrawn to let the soul grow; Peterson will not let his soul grow, not let himself move beyond where he was where he was twenty something—he is proud of it too, so he displays his wounded soul for everyone to see. Further, Peterson famously hung Communist art in his home as an “ironic joke”; yet art reflects your soul—if you surround yourself with Communist art you have a Communist soul. Peterson obsesses about the Gulag because unconsciously he wants to run a Gulag, and because he has not individuated—not become whole—he is driven by his unconscious drives, he remains a moraliser and rhetorician. He believes in “human progress”; he is a progressive, a communist.
If you consult Peterson’s biography, you will find that he initially went to university to become a lawyer—he did not complete a law degree but he definitely became a lawyer; he wanted to become a politician. He is not a healer, wounded or otherwise, he is a negotiator and a manipulator—a politician. He will not speak his truth regardless of consequence because to do so would ruin his careful negotiations and public position; hence he “speaks to anyone”—as a good politician does. He speaks to anyone; except to the radical right, whom he regards as “evil”—although he reaches out to people who obviously despise him on the left. By contrast, Jung spoke to Jews, SOE agents, neo-Nazis and more—a religious person, a whole person, will speak to anyone because they speak to the centre and are not driven by public opinion and propriety; they speak to the heart, not the mask. A politician, however, always watches his back; he is very careful, and people who are careful are careful because they have to lie a lot—be careful to keep track of their lies. Peterson always says “I’m very careful” because if he were to be accidentally honest he might pierce his politician’s mask and become “evil” (socially unacceptable).
The reason Peterson loathes postmodernism and postmodernists is because they are more honest than him, they are closer to God. Men like Derrida might conceal Being, but at least they do so poetically—and Foucault understood the raw violence and power that underpins human life, the joy in sadism and masochism. These insights—poetic, experiential, artistic—are closer to the real, closer to the divine, than Peterson’s “safe” moralised mask pinned down by dead experimental reason and conformism to social propriety; a propriety that is itself perverted and Satanic.
Peterson tells people to “watch out” because this position reflects Peterson’s own fear as regards death; he sublimates his fear that he will die into fantasies about Auschwitz, the Gulag, and nuclear war—he will not let his mask die, so he fears death at the existential level. At a more masochistic level, in his identification with Christ, he wants to be persecuted. A problem for Peterson is that he has embraced the Christian story without embracing Christianity; he models himself on Christ—and so must, logically, be abused and crucified; and so he has various medical problems and is hated by large numbers of people, just as Christ was mocked by the mob and tortured bodily. Yet, as Christians know, Christ was crucified on your behalf—there is no need to crucify yourself, that is the “good news”. However, if Christ’s life is just a “useful model” to navigate existence and you follow it then, of course, you will have to crucify yourself like Christ—and so Peterson adopts punishing work schedules until he himself breaks down, until the cross defeats him.
Further, there is a certain impiety here—Peterson thinks he is Christ himself, the Prince of Peace, who will save the world from war; and this perhaps explains why, though not a Christian, he confidently notes that Christians were wrong to disdain Muslims and stand against the Jews—quite arrogant statements for a man who has not himself submitted to a Christian Church, though he is happy enough to proceed to confidently attack central theological claims in the faith. Indeed, although he is keen to speak about hierarchies elsewhere, with regard to religion Peterson is keen to note that one religion is not better than another—Christianity, he explicitly says, did not “improve on” Judaism.
In religion, Peterson is a strict egalitarian and this is because he is a communist, with a small “c”, he really thinks all people are the same everywhere; they do not require different faiths, which he really thinks are all superstitions, they only need scientific progress—religions and myths might be usefully “used” by science to keep societies on track, just as the Communists “used” Orthodoxy when it suited them; however, in themselves there are no differences. Similarly, Peterson recently blithely dismissed the disputes between Protestants and Catholics as not being supported by the Bible; however, I would like to suggest that the ructions between the Catholics and Protestants—and between the Eastern and Western Churches—existed because people took certain issues in the Bible very seriously indeed, much more seriously than Peterson.
The reason why Peterson makes these claims is because he fears conflict and war, he fears death—he thinks that if we would all just be nice to each other all would be well, and yet this is because he does not think myth and spirituality are real; he thinks all that exists is science and extractive technologies—and that it might be worthwhile to garnish these with mythology, when it can be demonstrated that it helps you manipulate nature more efficiently or provides a moralised framework to live. Yet the best way to prevent war is to be strong: our nuclear weapons stopped world wars—stopped individual nations from using nuclear weapons unilaterally; and this is supported, if you will, by game theory; even the hardest material science agrees here. Peterson ignores this because he does have a religious sensibility, a hidden one, progressivism—and progressivism is a feminine faith that lauds surrender and disloyalty; and only cares for science when it betrays traditional religions, not when it confirms the old saying: if you want peace, prepare for war.
Similarly, Peterson says the virtuous man is the man who can be dangerous but keeps his sword sheathed; in other words, he has no intention to stop the woke—he will keep his sword sheathed and be crucified, like a good boy; and in this way he can keep his “hands clean” and never do anything “dirty”, although the whole man—the man who accepts the good and evil in himself—perceives what must be done and acts.
For René Guénon, Peterson’s outlook would be genuinely Satanic; he has inverted the rites of initiation and effectively teaches a profane counter-initiation that cuts people off from access to higher consciousness—essentially, he thinks the sacred should serve the profane. We can tell this is so because Peterson claims the West’s core belief is that the individual is sacred; in all spiritual traditions, man is fallen—to say the individual is sacred is to say man in his fallen state is sacred, it is a Satanic statement. From a purely non-theistic Nietzschean view, it is to celebrate the endlessly duplicitous beast that is man and give up on a higher ideal—on the overman. Aside from these points, Peterson is flat wrong to say that the West rests on the ideal that the individual is sacred. When the West was Christian, Christ was sacred—along with God and the Holy Spirit. Before Christianity, the gods were sacred and so was excellence (areté) and virtue—divinely inspired beauty and effective action. Never has “the individual” been sacred, except perhaps in the last forty years when we entered extreme decadence—when we entered our atomised and individualistic state.
If the individual is sacred, Peterson really has no leg to stand on when it comes to his objections to pronouns and transgenderism; for surely, if each individual is sacred, then they may define themselves and do as they please. Who is he to oppose the transsexual who wants to explore new territory to generate new information? And if the state says you must use their pronouns, does not the state simply protect “the sacred individual”? Indeed, the reason Peterson exploded over the pronoun issue is because he is already confused about sexual dimorphism himself. In Maps of Meaning, he relates a story about his daughter where she plays a childhood game as the hero who slays the dragon—the primordial story, for Peterson; and he then goes on to talk about a female hero who slays the dragon. In other words, Peterson already mixed up the story at the most elementary level: the boy slays the dragon and rescues the maiden, the girl is rescued. For Peterson it is the reverse; he has inverted and perverted the primordial story. The reason he exploded over the pronoun issue is because this issue lurked, unresolved and unaddressed, in his unconscious; he already said girls can be boys and boys can be girls, yet he did not consider where this Satanic inversion would lead—presented with the evidence in the form of pronouns this was “a step too far”.
Peterson is sometimes pitched as a rabid anti-feminist; far from it, no masculine men or genuine anti-feminists are allowed the airtime Peterson enjoys. Peterson is a slightly dissentient feminist; and, as with Mao’s Cultural Revolution, nobody is hated more than a comrade who almost comforms with the latest Party edicts but not quite—outright reactionaries and religious obscurantists can be safely ignored, but a true believer who has deviated is a threat to Party unity; and this is why Peterson is so hated—he is not Solzhenitsyn, he is Trotsky. For be clear, as is common in many superficial readings of Gnosticism which identified the feminine spirit with literal women—including, ironically, in Peterson’s much-feared National Socialism—he thinks that we have suffered for too long under the bad old masculine which he identifies, be aware Christians, with Christianity; and he thinks, as a good feminist, that it is time for women to take centre stage. This is why, although he is associated with young men, Peterson mostly appears with his daughter; his son is completely in the background, almost invisible—and this is in accord with his views in Maps of Meaning: time to tidy away the old patriarchal religions, such as Christianity, and put women centre stage. So Peterson is an orthodox feminist, as you would expect from someone who was allowed to teach at Harvard.
This is why Peterson struggles with Christianity; although a relatively feminine religion, Christianity, in the current environment, is ultra-masculine—it is the male cleric in the dog collar, even if priests like that hardly exist anymore. Peterson rejects the masculine, and although he cautions against the all-devouring feminine he also suggests that the feminine monster could be appeased with offerings—as for the masculine, although he acknowledges the positive side to it, he is actually far more critical; he thinks we need to step over patriarchal authority, and this includes Christianity—so Christians who think this man is your friend, be aware that he is not. Now, in fairness, this book was written twenty years ago and Peterson may have changed his views somewhat, moved further away from progressivism—yet, substantially, from what I have seen in his videos there is quite a solid continuity between Peterson’s thought then and what he says now. He is an inflexible man who will not learn from experience, he shuts experience out.
Indeed, he reminds me of those Party loyalists Solzhenitsyn writes about, ironically quoted in Peterson’s own book, who continued to make excuses for the Party even when they were in the Gulag. Peterson is now a “bad comrade”; he makes overtures for the Party to like him, talks about “human progress”, but is still in outer dark—he cannot break with the Party, with Harvard and its false religion.
Thus Peterson wants to overturn the father, he associates masculinity primarily with tyranny—albeit with a concession that it creates order and safety. Hence he struggles to become Christian because he cannot bend his knee to what is greater than him: the big daddy in the sky—Peterson has to be God, Peterson has to be Jesus. To join a faith you have to admit you are nothing and bend a knee to what is greater than you, but Peterson is pretty sure he is something; he will not serve a king—he will appease the feminine; the feminine democratic mob.
This is all in keeping with how he conceptualises the hero: for Peterson, the hero is someone who is loyal to their personal interest and uncovers novel information; in doing so, they become—classical liberals and libertarians take note—“the best friend of the state”, in the sense that they aid the state’s innovation. Peterson is, mark well, a statist—it is the state and its religion he really worships. When Elon Musk reported that he paid $11bn in taxes Peterson tweeted, “Thank you”. Now, all that money will be wasted; it is extorted—and yet Peterson thanked Musk for his “donation” (an involuntarily donation, aka to be robbed). Peterson is the “best friend of the state”; he makes apologies for it and then thanks you on its behalf—not, by the way, his responsibility. I am sure the IRS sends Musk a little “with compliments” card after his accountants have delivered the pound of flesh.
To identify “personal interest” with “the hero” is an odd way to think about heroism; from the Iliad to the Bible the hero has been seen as a person with loyalty to his friends above all: “We happy few, we band of brothers,” as Henry V says. Of course, if you reject the masculine—think it is time for the “forgotten” feminine, instantiated by your daughter, to take centre stage—then you will not think heroism is about loyalty to your friends (“Bros before hoes”): it is not about Achilles and Patroclus, Samwise Gamgee and Frodo, Han and Luke—nor is the antipode, Judas, who betrayed his friends, a villain. Indeed, from Peterson’s perspective Judas is a hero: he was loyal to his personal interest above all and was “the best friend of the state”—and, note well, that Peterson ends Maps of Meaning with a quote from a Judas derived from the Gnostic Gospel of St. Thomas. I do not suggest this was deliberate, the quote itself is not sinister; rather it was his unconscious that showed which figure he truly admires in the Bible.
Oddly, this undercuts Peterson’s contention that myths provide useful information aggregated through historical experience; for if the old myths—and even modern tales—about masculine friendship, about bands of brothers, are not heroism then we have a very limited stock to draw on; even Dante’s Inferno is out—for in Hell’s lowest circle we find those who betray other men, often from personal interest. Should we be loyal to the inner observer? Certainly; and we should be loyal to the inner observer in others too—Peterson almost get this, the idea that people should speak from heart to heart; except it is muddled because he conflates this state with goal-orientated processes and moralism—so he tells people to speak from the mask to the mask. We should be loyal to the inner observer, but the hero is loyal to his friends—to the brotherhood; and yet if you think it is time to “update our information processing system” and admire women—women who are inherently deceitful and disloyal—then the hero cannot be loyal to a band of brothers; he can only be loyal to his own personal interests, to his social position—to the mask that gets him what he wants.
Peterson is dominated by the feminine; hence he is overly concerned with social appearances and perfectionism. One reason why he is so miserable—often appears so—is that he is tremendously angry; however, he thinks that, since he emulates Jesus, he cannot be angry or express what he genuinely feels—he ruthlessly polices his emotions with a hyper-critical intellectual mask. This is why he often breaks down in tears in public—not a healthy situation, you cannot imagine Jung doing so; although Jung was a man deeply in touch with his emotions. Peterson breaks down because the emotions he rigorously polices sometimes force their way through at unexpected times and overwhelm him. His notion is that if he emulates Christ and shows perfect forbearance—never does anything “evil”—he can save the world; of course, nobody is perfect—he has just identified with the mask, the mask that he is “perfect”. When Peterson’s mask is overwhelmed with his repressed emotions he collapses in public, much to general dismay—psychologically healthy people do not cry during public appearances, not because it is “wrong” but because a balanced psyche does not repress its emotions to such an extent that they burst out during public engagements. Perfectionists are angry people—women have difficulty expressing anger, that is why they are perfectionists.
Hence Peterson self-defeats; he set out to provide a lesson to today’s youth about how to be perfectly ordered and responsible and then suffered complete psychic collapse and spiralled into drug addiction when the pressure became too great. He naïvely trusted his doctor to give him dangerous drugs because he is a conformist; an individuated person would listen to their body and emotions, not a high-status doctor with his drugs: “I feel grief that my wife will die. I watch the emotion.” Instead, Peterson, in keeping with his anti-spiritual line, sought “exit” from his emotions with drugs—with Enlightenment science (those puppies squealing in pharmaceutical labs again). The result was a complete break down—physical and mental—that negated all the work he had done up to that point; his opponents could then say, “Well, look at the people who oppose pronouns. Drug addicts who break down at the first sign of trouble. So much for order.”
This is what happens to people who moralise—refuse to listen to their bodies and emotions and force an intellectual mask on themselves to keep everything in check. “But if I say what I really feel nobody will like me! I’ll be evil!” So, better to be yourself than wear a false mask—yet time and again Peterson chooses the mask, the intellectual mask of “good” and “evil”; the internal self-critical voice that says, “You’re bad. You’re nothing.” Peterson is obsessed with “the truth”, he puts forward “carefully established truths” but individuation is about honesty—tell me what you really feel, not this “truth” nonsense; the truth is what you have confidence in, it is faith—it is a security blanket to conceal with. Yet no, to speak from the heart is too much like “postmodern nonsense”—no practically perfect lab results to hide behind, just your own soul. Peterson’s “Christlike” mask and obsession with perfectionism is just unexpressed anger and what Peterson is really angry about is probably not politics, it is the concessions he makes to the women around him who trample over him.
He would rather negotiate, like a lawyer, than be honest—to be honest is to brook no compromise, it is to be whole; and religion’s purpose is to make you whole again. People who advocate negotiation, compromise, and diplomacy are liars—angry people who start wars, diplomats and politicians. Peterson advocates compromise; if you compromise you will never be whole—to have integrity is to make no compromise. This is what it really means to be “Christlike”, not to literally copy Christ and be broken on a cross but to have integrity. We return to Judas, he who negotiated the price for which he would betray his friends—what a good man Judas was, not a dangerous extremist but a reasonable fellow who worked out what his loyalty was worth and negotiated the best price for it.
Peterson disdains “the fool” in Maps of Meaning, this is because the fool or joker is honest. The fool is the one person who can be honest in a court without his head being cut off—in Lear only the fool is honest with the king, and it is Lear who is the true “fool” and destroys his kingdom (just as Peterson, in his efforts to be good and respectable, has destroyed his kingdom). Peterson disdains the fool because he does not want to allow honesty to remove the mask and show what he really is. The fool is divine; yet in Maps of Meaning Peterson dismisses the fool, fears to be a fool—and this shows that Peterson is not an honest man. Similarly, in his lectures he has a great interest in Pinocchio—a boy who told a great many lies and was caught out, and this is what Peterson secretly fears. He lies—carefully—because he does not want to be a fool. Yet “a fool who persists in his folly shall become wise”; the fool is honest, has real experiences, and so has wisdom—Peterson keeps experience at bay with a mask, he has carefully cultivated truth but not wisdom.
In Jungian terms, Peterson is run by his unconscious; he brought about government-mandated transgender pronouns by advocating feminism for years and years—confronted with the consequences he tried to stop it, and then sabotaged himself. He was, after all, engaged in an “evil” act—he stood against progressivism, the movement to the “better future”; he had to be punished—and he administered the punishment to himself, like a good Party cadre.
If you follow the path Peterson outlines in this book you will set yourself up for years upon years of inauthenticity and misery. “Meaning” is a misunderstood concept; in English, it is true, it means something like “to have a purpose or direction”. Yet when people feel existentially lost or in despair it is not “meaning” in this sense that they need—if they just needed a direction science, technology, and climbing social hierarchies would be the most meaningful things in the world; except they are not. Would you not prefer to walk in the park instead? A fine, aimless wander—for, as JRR Tolkien observed, “Not all who wander are lost.” No, what people seek is what the old Greeks called telos—now, this term is sometimes translated as “purpose” or “direction” but if you look into the etymology you will find it really means “the axis” or “the centre”; it means awareness—the vital centre. The telos people seek when they say “life is meaningless” is just this awareness—it has no purpose or direction, it has no “meaning”; the “meaning” you seek is meaningless.
As the Buddha said when his disciples asked him why people suffer: “No reason.” Peterson would say: “People suffer but we can make sense of it by being good people, by being perfect.” No. We suffer and die and there is no reason to it, we do not even really know what “good” or “evil” are—we only know what is effective, and this is virtue; so just live and be joyful—understand that and you will welcome the suffering and not try to negotiate with it, as Peterson does: “If I am very good then it all makes sense and perhaps the future will be better.” It will never be so. If you refrain from an attempt to intellectualise and moralise events, certain coincidences will become apparent to you—you have to drop the defences, drop the mask, and trust reality to rearrange you. Let the outside in.
Telos is accessed experientially, not intellectually—through meditation, through painting mandalas, through prayer, through song and poetry. It has no purpose; it is already here, the eternal now—the eternal now is the answer to the “unbearable present”; through the dragon that eats its own tail lies eternity, not just material innovation. All this has been explicated in less fancy and more common sense terms by Alan Watts, and in scholarly terms by Jung and Guénon. It is not morality or science or a technology—concepts like “good” and “evil” are coracles to reach the far bank of telos, not, as Peterson thinks, the be all and end all. As the poet Rumi says, “Beyond good and evil there is a field, I will meet you there,” and this field is the eternal present. If you follow Peterson you will live in the “unbearable now” and hope that if you are “good” then the promised utopia will arrive—and you will never feel satisfaction, only pain and recrimination that you cannot “meet expectations” and are not a “good person”. Eternity is now, Heaven is now: wake up.