Jordan Petersen has Never Been to War

 

Jordan Peterson has never been to war. He has never killed a person. He has never been in fear of his life at the hands of other men.

On episode 958 of the Joe Rogan Experience, Dr. Peterson railed against post-modernism, gender fluidity, and Marxists. He painted his detractors with a broad brush, calling them all nihilistic Marxists. That’s not what pissed me off about that conversation. It was his treatise on PTSD which set me off.

The cliffnotes version is that he teaches a philosophy of good and evil to people suffering with PTSD, and that is the only way to treat that disease. I don’t think he fully understands the sheer strangeness that is living in a war zone, and killing other people because that’s your job. How the hell is learning about good and evil supposed to reconcile that? I was in the Afghanistan War. I could hear children laughing outside the wall, and thirty minutes later, an RPG would be flying overhead, probably fired from those kids’ uncle. Where’s the good? Where’s the evil?

百聞不如一見/bǎi wén bùrú yị̄ jiàn. Hearing about something over and over again cannot compare to seeing it once. Humans communicate through stories, and good stories feel like they’re really happening. But they’re still just stories. Nothing changes a human’s mind like learning things the hard way. That’s why children burn their hands on a hot stove, even though they are told over and over again not to touch. Learning about good and evil through stories, no matter how compelling, cannot even begin to describe the anguish felt by humans in war.

“War is hell, and its glory is all moonshine”- William Tecumseh Sherman. Every man’s hell is different. For some, it’s fire and brimstone. For others, hell is other people. Still others, their life is a living hell. War is hell, but not just because of the brutality. It’s the uncertainty. It’s the strangeness. It’s coming home and everything being different. It’s the fact that most of the people around you have no idea what is going on in the world, and you have no way to make them understand. There is no glory in war; there is only duty to the people you love. Anyone who thinks that medals, congratulations, or hero worship of veterans are good things only make the experience worse. Me thinking I was righteous in my actions only kicked the can down the road, leaving things unresolved.

I usually don’t talk about myself as a way to make an argument, but Dr. Peterson’s assessment of PTSD feels dangerous. People extrapolate good and evil to groups, and they rationalize the evil in themselves. Using the context of good and evil to treat people suffering will only cause more suffering. I may be seeing a rope and calling it a snake, but sometimes, the rope is a snake.

Isaiah is a linguist, a student, and a musician. He likes whiskey and showtunes. Check out his music on Soundcloud or Bandcamp. His website is https://greatghouls.com, where he writes personal blogs that aren't too well thought out.

9 Comments

  1. Eat Dicks Reply

    Fuck you, you’re an asshole looking for glory by detracting from a genius trying to help people. I have PTSD and it’s a nightmare moment to moment and it’s from child abuse and I am 47. So you can take your opinion and shove it up your self glorifying ass.

  2. Adela Urs Reply

    JBP does not deal woth good and evil in absolutes, but in context. This is why he talks about good and evil in relation to PTSD. He even specifies the way in which the contrast between life at home for, as he refers to,’Iowa corn-fed boys’ and that which they experience in war can create a massive disconnect within them, which leads to PTSD.
    The horrors of war are the incarnations of evil, regardless what side you are on, whether it is your job or not, and most soldiers know it, which is why they struggle to come to terms with the fact that who they are in war may be completely discordant with what they are outside of war.
    What JBP argues, is that people are what they are and understand themselves according to the context they are in. This is why, just like Hannah Arendt, he argues that, given the context, everybody could be a Nazi, and that during the Nazi regime, not everybody was a Nazi by choice, but by context.
    Helping people with PTSD understand that outside of the context of war they are not the monsters they see themselves as being within the context of war, will help them overcome their trauma.

  3. Carl Reply

    I agree with the previous comment, sans the vehemence. You appear to have based your commentary on a single interview with Joe Rogan. I’m not sure you’re going to get the full depth of Petersons views, to the point where you can judge them with such rigour, from this medium. I’m fairly sure that, should you be sitting in front of him as a patient, his understanding, honesty and empathy, coupled with the depth of knowledge he has in this field would become much more apparent. This is the problem we are faced with today. Too many people are under-read and over-YouTubed. The other point here; by your rationale, only veteran psychotherapists, or psychologists can help veterans. And only the ones that have been in open combat. Is a psychotherapist veteran soldier, able to help a pilot, whose experience of war would be different, or does the psychotherapist for pilots need to have experience being a pilot? How deep do the sub-divisions have to go to be acceptable to you? Just a few levels of depth to meet your requirements would lead to a significant lack of psychotherapists for each walk of life. I mean, can you help a parent if you’re not a parent?

    Nothing is perfect. Nobody is perfect. Empathy is an incredibly powerful tool. I would suggest you engage it before damning Jordan Peterson for not extrapolating his views, developed over decades of trying to work out the human condition, completely perfectly to meet with your own personal requirements in a three hour interview with Joe Rogan.

  4. Stephan Reply

    I’ve quickly read through your post and I notice you only have one criticism of Peterson, kids burn their hands despite not being told to. This is a very weak argument. A lot of kids, myself included, never burnt their hands on a stove. I could easily argue that the few kids who do burn their hands on stoves do that because either they’ve​ not been told the stories or they’ve not listened to them. I say I could argue that because I think you completely misunderstand what Peterson means when he’s speaking about stories. He’s saying that stories as you and I refer to in daily life are examples of a structure that we employ to make sense other people, our metaphysical relationship to other people and the space we inhabit with these people.

    The rest of your post has nothing to do with Peterson’s statement. It seems like it’s more an effort by you to try to express what you’ve taken away from being in combat. That is a good thing but I think it’s a bit disingenuous of you to lump the two things together, and I can see why the other commenter feels that you’re trying to ride Peterson’s coattails. Now, as a combat vet myself, I completely understand where you’re coming from. I might have been out of the fray longer than you and have been able to move on, but when I first got out I was fucking pissed off all the time because I couldn’t make civvies understand what it was like. Over time that’ll get better.

    1. Isaiah Gooley Post author Reply

      Thanks for your compassionate comment, I really do appreciate it. I could see how my writing seems somewhat disingenuous and misunderstanding. There is a part three to my argument, I hope you read that as well.

      1. Hayden Bruce Reply

        I’m not sure you’re actually arguing against Jordan Peterson’s argument, as much as you are reacting to a feeling brought up when you listened to the interview. Peterson’s philosophy is complicated (even overly so). If you really think you’re arguing against his philosophy then I’d hope to see a summary of his philosophy in your posts, or at least quotes from him in regards to your points. You didn’t include that though, which is why I think this is an emotional response. I could be wrong, I just don’t think this is the place for your personal opinions about a single person. The Mixed Mental Arts website shouldn’t be a place where individuals attack against individuals, but a place where we write about, comment on, and give examples of the “founding MMA principles” in everyday life and culture. Just a thought. Wish you well brother.

        1. Isaiah Gooley Post author Reply

          This is one in a three part series on the topic. I entreat you to check the other two out. Also, I’m not attacking Jordan Peterson, I’m attacking his reasoning. And attacks are part of everyday life.

          Thanks for the comment and well wishes! I really do appreciate it.

  5. Random Surfer Reply

    If I recall correctly, Dr. Peterson’s argument on the subject was that battlefield PTSD is an extreme kind of cognitive dissonance related to the image of self, resulting from people trying to deny that there is potential for “evil” in themselves while being expected to do the brutal job of a soldier. The argument on good and evil being that everyone is capable of terrible things — a monster, even, on some level — but that doesn’t make them an inherently “bad” person.

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