What would it look like if G.K. Chesterton and Jordan Peterson were to have a hypothetical debate on truth? Truth is a living thing. It is a living thing that comprehends each one of us, yet one that none of us, save for Christ Himself, has ever been able to fully comprehend, even with thousands upon thousands of years of discoveries, observations, and philosophical musings at our disposal. It is a living thing that carries on living, independent of whatever opinions any one of us may hold. There are many wise men and women throughout history who have insisted that Truth longs to be fully known by each and every one of us.
We have all been bombarded since our youths with ideas of what the “truth” is, from countless influences. We are each brainwashed, to an extent. Each person in the human family is a unique combination of similar personality traits, of hopes, ambitions, fears, struggles, insecurities, assumptions, pleasures,…etc. Each person has an animal, a devil, and a saint, all struggling within themselves. We are, each and every one of us, very confused beings. Pontius Pilate, whether we are inclined to villainize him or to sympathize with him, was perfectly relatable in that moment in which Truth Incarnate stared him right in the face and all he could do was ask a rhetorical question: “What is truth?”
A philosophical debate on whether Truth is complex or simple, or on “how much” truth any given belief contains, can go on endlessly. In the meantime, most of us have difficulty even figuring out what we want in life.
The confusion that rages within each one of us pours out into our relationships with one another, that it becomes very feasible for dangerous ideas, parading themselves as the “truth,” to become commonplace. And there are indeed some very dangerous ideas in our midst. Humanity’s recent history of experiments with ideologies throughout the 20th Century is the proof that this claim is more than mere rhetoric. The Second World War and the catastrophes of Communism should have been a strong enough lesson about the pitfalls of ideology and identity politics. But there are still many among us today who cling to very similar notions in Post-Modernism.
Our common resistance to change or growth seems to be substantial. It may well be that relatively few people are willing to give up on familiar, even if erroneous, views, that the gaining of wisdom, both at the individual and at the corporate level, seems painful, something that crawls along at a snail’s pace. There are many among us would seemingly rather die than to relinquish those beliefs that feed our lower natures.
A popular aversion to faith and tradition in our day makes it that much easier for a person to become susceptible to, and unable to learn from, past mistakes, even mistakes from the fairly recent past.
So if so many of us share an aversion to history (the works of “dead white men”), and if so many of us are raised up in far-from-ideal family situations and without faith communities, how is Truth supposed to reach our ears? Fortunately, Truth is also humble. The Truth is willing to resort to YouTube.
In an age when academics peddle theories of there being dozens upon dozens of genders, perhaps so many that it is asserted that gender, in actuality, does not exist at all, a professor gains fame and notoriety by insisting that there are actually two genders (something most toddlers have figured out). That sounds like the premise of a good G.K. Chesterton story. But Mr. Chesterton himself probably would have had difficulty foretelling how some events would actually turn out, that this “premise” is actually citing a televised debate with Dr. Jordan Peterson.
In the Fall of 2016, Jordan Peterson was an obscure professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto. Today, his channel on YouTube has hundreds of thousands of followers. The catalyst for his sudden fame was when he spoke out against Bill C-16, a bill brought to the Canadian Parliament (and which has since been passed) prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender, but so sloppily written that refusing to refer to a transgender person by his or her preferred pronoun could be counted as hate speech. The professor called this bill out as an unacceptable attack on freedom of speech, and rightfully so. He has since gone on to be seen as a champion of free speech and tradition. He has, likewise, made many enemies since.
There are two sure methods to be hated by a lot of people. The first method is to do something heinous; the type of act we routinely read about in sensationalist news outlets. The second method is, to tell the truth. We have no greater example of this latter method than the Crucifixion of Our Lord.
Dr. Peterson has been labeled as “hateful” and “bigoted” by many of his opponents, most especially among the ideologically possessed on campuses throughout the United States and Canada (and also in Google). Shaming anyone who disagrees with what has become a status quo in many segments of society with the “bigot” label has become a popular tactic to silence dissent. There is much speculation among his fans of when he will be fired, even though he is a tenured professor. He may in the near future be yet another example of an ugly reality: that a personal cost often comes with telling the truth.
But being on the proverbial hot seat has not silenced this man. On the contrary: his fame keeps growing considerably.
There is a certain context that has made the ascent Dr. Peterson’s star possible, and perhaps even inevitable.
Ideas are like ships navigating their way across the ocean that is truth. An idea that has holes will begin to sink as the water seeps in. A ship with large enough holes will inevitably sink into the ocean, no matter how desperately her crew tries to patch her up. It is not a matter of whether such a ship will sink as it is a matter of when it will sink, and how many will drown along with her.
I am somewhat familiar with the sinking ship that Dr. Peterson has warned about. I myself attended the University of Michigan (where, ironically, my own conservative instincts were awakened) during the days of the landmark Supreme Court cases of Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger, and very well remember when only a fraction of my fellow students were even willing to question the logic behind Post Modernism; of identity politics, and the endless victim status and political correctness that comes with it. I wondered why it was that so many of my fellow students, though well-intentioned, were so eager to self-righteously denounce anything that could (even if it was by a stretch) be termed “racist” or “sexist,” yet could not make a simple connection: that assuming that all peoples in a “victim” category (even including those who were, in fact, raised in privilege) are lost and helpless without the charity of white people is also a very racist belief. There are, of course, real cases of bigotry, but endlessly and obsessively dividing up and defining people by group identities can become dehumanizing, and does much to diminish personal accountability; it is an attack on individuality. Throwing the “bigot” label around so loosely can, in the end, make it nearly impossible to distinguish the genuine from the superficial cases, that it loses its meaning. Dividing the world into such “victim” and “oppressor” categories is, in fact, a cultural (rather than an economic) expression of Marxist pathology, that breeds hostility.
Humanities departments in campuses across North America have, by and large, gone further down this path in the years since I attended college. Academia, the research-based institutions that value publishing anything novel, even if that anything handles empirical facts sloppily and is so arbitrary that no other academic will bother citing it in the future, has developed such a tolerance for this philosophy, and the odd ideas attached to it, that professors such as Dr. Peterson and Dr. Thomas Sowell (an economics professor who routinely shreds political correctness using empirical facts) have had the opportunity to rise up as “academic rebels” to “campus rock star” proportions. Ironically, being conservative (or even a classical liberal) now equates to being a rebel on many college campuses.
Professors such as Dr. Peterson and Dr. Sowell are playing, at least amongst academic men and women, the role of prophets: pointing out the large holes on the ship while many, including many of their peers, are still rushing to board her. All that a person needs to do to speak prophetically is to state the obvious before it becomes obvious to most. And this particular ship that they are calling out already has many passengers.
In the political arena, cases such as Canadian Bill C-16 (using the force of state to control individuals into “speaking properly”), as well as several actions taken by our own government, particularly under the Obama Administration, highlight just how prevalent such thinking has become, that it has become increasingly common for the force of government to be wielded in order to “solve our every problem” and to make an individual “speak correctly.” Some sort of reaction to this philosophy was due. Many elements within the Alt-Right Movement, likewise, highlight that a reaction to the wrong idea can be made in a wrong spirit. We currently share a political climate of little-to-no constructive dialogue being made between the political left and right, two ends of a spectrum that actually need one another.
Pointing out the shortcomings of Post-Modernism can be its own article, even or its own book!, but is still secondary to another development in the Dr. Peterson YouTube phenomenon.
Dr. Peterson’s method of reflecting on a subject while teaching about it, coupled with his own humility in his personal quest for the truth, gifts the viewer with many nuggets of wisdom, or doses of truth. I myself have gained much from watching his lectures. All of his lectures, but most especially his series on the psychological significance of the Bible, have been illuminating (Dr. Peterson himself has been largely silent on what religious convictions he does or does not hold, save for that he is no longer an atheist). He has become my own introduction to the written works of Carl Jung, a great thinker. His teachings on myths and stories have been tremendously helpful to me as an author, having helped me polish several of my own novels prior to publishing them on Kindle. But what he has done for me may pale in comparison to how he has helped, even if by remote means, countless young men and women.
It is estimated that the bulk of Dr Peterson’s YouTube followers are men, and that very often they are young men who are starving for someone, anyone really, to teach them about the value of responsibility. Liberty today is so often treated as license, and little else, having left countless individuals yearning. This is one of the tragic legacies of all the social experimenting of the past few decades. Dr. Peterson himself has stated in interviews that he has received tens of thousands of letters thanking him, that his advice has helped many people turn their lives around from the self-destructive paths that they were following. The now popular “clean your room” meme and advice such as “quit being a victim” and “don’t say things that make you weak” have amounted to desperately-needed fatherly advice for many who may not have had it otherwise.
It is no coincidence that a man who catapulted to fame for attacking widely-held self-destructive beliefs has likewise become something of a self-help guru with a fatherly tone. An honest quest to know the truth is both a learning, and also an unlearning, experience. It entails unlearning the negative and destructive beliefs which foster blame and ingratitude, first of all by calling them out. There is so much more to any given person than the group identities that Post-Modernism seeks to define and compartmentalize him or her by. Each person is an individual, capable of formulating his or her own thoughts, capable of making his or her own decisions (including hair-brained and reckless decisions), and fully allowed to speak his or her own words (even offensive words). To claim that we are forever at the mercy of outer forces is an indignity to the individual, and profoundly retrograde (not “forward thinking” at all). It is not a state, but a state-of-being, that is the place of redemption. Dr. Peterson has become, at the bottom of it, a staunch defender of the individual.
And on the positive side, the “learning” side on the quest to know Truth, Dr. Peterson has consistently insisted that Christianity has had a profound and positive impact on Western Culture, that raising a family is well worth all of the inevitable headaches that come with, and that any given person’s life carries cosmic weight. His lectures have touched on many topics, including the immeasurable value of beauty in art and architecture, and of how strong economies are built upon trust (so be trustworthy!). And by humbly dwelling on all of these, and sharing what insights passed through his head, he has helped to raise the level of consciousness of many; having inspired them to take the initiative to better their own lives. We should all be grateful for this; in a deeply interconnected world, the raising of awareness of just one person benefits us all. He has become a splendid example of what any one of us can do if we humbly seek the truth and are willing to share what insights we come across.
But why is it that so many people are having to resort to YouTube for this sort of advice?
YouTube is pretty low on a list of where people should be receiving this kind of advice. Young men and women should be getting such advice from their families. And behind that, they should be getting such advice from their faith communities, and their schools, and from the culture they are exposed to. But forty percent of children born in the United States today are born out of wedlock. Millions of children are raised without the presence of their fathers. So much of the popular entertainment that we are frequently exposed to and entrained by is far from helpful. Going to church has become “uncool” for a lot of people.
Any list of “shoulds” or “should nots” can go on endlessly, and is largely pointless. All of us do our share of “should nots,” and none of us is capable of going back in time and fixing mistakes that have already been made. We, both individually and corporately, have to deal with whatever we have before us, regardless of how much of a mess we have made, and regardless of how near or how far the real situation is from an ideal. At least people are getting their doses of truth from YouTube, which is infinitely better than not getting them at all.
I was at a bar this July, for a friend’s birthday gathering. An hour into the gathering, everyone who had arrived at that point was a young man (we were given the assurance by the birthday boy that ladies would be arriving soon). Most of these young men were black or Hispanic, and all of us were dressed very casually, that nobody ever would have confused us for high-rollers or deep thinkers.
One of the young men mentioned that he had met a lady, going so far as to express his desire to have certain carnal relations with her (his language was a bit more colorful), but that he could not stand to be in her presence, because she was a “Social Justice Warrior.” He went on to show all of us a very long text message that she had sent to him, amounting to an angry rant about how much she loathed Captain America because he represents everything racist, nationalistic, and patriarchal. It was quite a rant.
This triggered something in me, that I went on to say the words: “I just saw this lecture on YouTube by a guy named Jordan Peterson…” And before I could even finish my sentence, the eyes of several of these young men lit up at the name. They already knew who he was.
Having had no idea that I would later pen an article about Jordan Peterson, I failed to ask if any of these men had been positively impacted by watching his lectures on YouTube. Judging from some of their reactions, it could well have been the case. Perhaps it is very much the case that common folk would wise up to a harmful philosophy sooner than most professors would, that common sense will prevail. And that gives us reason to hope.
Truth longs to be known by all of us. Our very souls deeply long for Truth, although we are so often unaware of it. And though we are frequently faithless, Truth is, and has always been, faithful to us. Truth can speak to us through any person who is sincerely seeking to be truthful; and any one of us can likewise seek Truth and be His messenger. Truth is pragmatic enough to speak to us through any means, even YouTube. And for thousands, that is exactly what Truth has been doing. Truth is carrying on His patient march, as we absorb wisdom one small dose at a time, and shall continue carrying on, even if He must march for another two-thousand years, until “Thy Kingdom Come” indeed becomes our reality, that He may finally rest.
Featured Image Credit: Wikimedia