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.