What I’ve Learned from Jordan Peterson

I’ve come to appreciate Jordan Petersona lot. It’s rare for me to find a recent scholar from whom I learn more than one or two important things. Peterson is an exception. 

Here are some of the main lessons I’ve learned from him: 

Practically Speaking

  1. A key practice for good teaching is getting students to envision their future selves and the steps necessary to get there.
  2. There is a connection between my internal state and the orderliness of my immediate environment.
  3. Try to think of five good reasons to make any decision you make. I tried to add the opposite as well, try to find several good reasons reject an idea or not do something.
  4. Remember that you’re a loaded gun, especially around children. This makes you circumspect about your words and actions. Somebody who knows that “I’m the sort of creature who might shake a baby unless I take steps to not do that” is less likely to shake a baby.
  5. Say what you really think is true, and therefore think through what you say to see if you really think it’s true…or at least say it like it’s true so that it can be corrected and challenged. In other words, conversation can strengthen you or work as a hypothesis testing process. 
  6. In conflict with a partner (romantic, co-worker, etc), agree to say what you think the other person is saying to their satisfaction before you respond. This forces everybody to be clear and ensures everybody is on roughly the same page. 

Academically/Philosophically

  1. His paper on goal setting interventionshelped me clarify the process I use to get my students to take ownership of their educations. I used to have them do a ‘diligence audit.’ I would ask them to look at their habits as though they were a third person advisor and describe where they will take them if they continue on the path they’re on. Then I would ask them to imagine who they would like to be by the end of a semester and to write the habits that would help them get there. Finally, I would have them write what they should do to gain those habits. Peterson’s paper showed me that this practice really has helped people and his self-authoring exercise helped me aim my questions more effectively. 
  2. His insistence on cleaning your room and sorting yourself out and their inextricable link has helped me see the centrality of the Cain and Abel narrative for the whole Bible. God’s instructions to Cain were to master his sin and to improve his lot. We can suppose that those were precisely the qualities that made Abel’s sacrifice preferable. Peterson regularly utilizes that story to remind people of the importance of cleaning their rooms and organizing their habits around the good instead of around their immediate desires, but even that way of saying things fits with the idea that Cain and Abel are archetype at the bottom of the whole Biblical narrative. Jewish writers like Yoram Hazony have made this point for years. 
  3. Peterson helped revive Jung for me, particularly the idea of the archetypes. This was significant because I needed to understand the relationships between the symbolic overlay that human beings use to interpret the world and the innate nature of the world itself. A combination of Jung, Husserl, and Aristotle helped me see that. But if it weren’t for a footnote where Dallas Willard mentioned Jung, I would have never listened to Peterson after I found that paper of his, because I was prejudiced against Jung. 
  4. In Eric Johnson’s Foundations for Soul Care: A Proposal for Christian Psychology there’s a throw away line about the value of evo-psych for Christian counselors because of the information they provide about mating patterns. I didn’t dispute that and even read a lot of evo-psych over the last decade, but Peterson really helped me see how the Biblical material intersects with those claims. Whether his model of concordance is ultimately accurate is a question to consider, but it is definitely pragmatically accurate. 

Jesus and Family

Many scholars suppose that Jesus had a negative view of the nuclear family that was softened by the gospel authors (or that he was inconsistent in his teaching):

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)

And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.(Luke 8:20-21)

This means something like how Matthew puts it: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
(Matthew 10:37)

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
(Matthew 10:34-35)
And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” (Luke 18:18-20)

 

Now, academics are more likely to have this view than normal people, and they do tend to resent those who do not have similar degrees, so it’s not surprising that they want Jesus to be as maladjusted and lonely as they are. But that aside, must Jesus’ view of the family be so inconsistent that the gospel authors made up sayings in which he endorsed the family? I think not. For instance, Musonius Rufus, a philosopher active around the time the gospels were being written, made similar points to Jesus, but in a lengthier and more obviously consistent fashion:

A certain young man who wished to study philosophy, but was forbidden by his father to do so, put this question to him “Tell me, Musonius, must one obey one’s parents in all things, or are there some circumstances under which one need not heed them?”[1] And Musonius replied, “That everyone should obey his mother and father seems a good thing, and I certainly recommend it…

 

…Because surely all parents have the interests of their children at heart, and because of that interest they wish them to do what is right and advantageous. Consequently one who does what is right and useful is doing what his parents wish and so is obedient to his parents in doing it, even if his parents do not order him in so many words to do these things…

 

…And so you, my young friend, do not fear that you will disobey your father, if when your father bids you do something which is not right, you refrain from doing it, or when he forbids you to do something which is right you do not refrain from doing it. Do not let your father be an excuse to you for wrong-doing whether he bids you do something which is not right or forbids you to do what is right. For there is no necessity for you to comply with evil injunctions, and you yourself seem not unaware of this…

 

…If, then, my young friend, with a view to becoming such a man, as you surely will if you truly master the lessons of philosophy, you should not be able to induce your father to permit you to do as you wish, nor succeed in persuading him, reason thus: your father forbids you to study philosophy, but the common father of all men and gods, Zeus, bids you and exhorts you to do so. His command and law is that man be just and honest, beneficent, temperate, high-minded, superior to pain, superior to pleasure, free of all envy and all malice; to put it briefly, the law of Zeus bids man be good….

Now then, it would seem that Rufus explicitly says that the young should not obey their parents, particularly when the study of philosophy is on the line. But, he also says that he recommends obeying parents. He also says that obeying God is superior to obeying men (parents) but that because God wants what is best, so also to disobey parents in the name of what God wants and what is obviously and truly good, is ultimately obedience to both God and your parents who want the best for you. The point I’m making is that people, in Jesus’ era, were able to say that values existed that were greater in comparison to family, but that family was still a good. Jesus didn’t reject family, he simply reject family as an excuse for wrong-doing. Just like Rufus thought philosophy would make you wise and ultimately a good son, and  

 

Link Soup: 11/30/2017

As it turns out, communism is objectively bad. Laura Nicolae writes, “After spending four years on a campus saturated with Marxist memes and jokes about communist revolutions, my classmates will graduate with the impression that communism represents a light-hearted critique of the status quo, rather than an empirically violent philosophy that destroyed millions of lives.”

Over at the overpriced economics blog, WSJ, we learn that moms buy trashy clothes for their daughters, apparently, because they feel less sexually attractive than they used to, “As for the girls themselves, if you ask them why they dress the way they do, they’ll say (roughly) the same things I said to my mother: “What’s the big deal?” “But it’s the style.” “Could you be any more out of it?” What teenage girl doesn’t want to be attractive, sought-after and popular? And what mom doesn’t want to help that cause? In my own case, when I see my daughter in drop-dead gorgeous mode, I experience something akin to a thrill—especially since I myself am somewhat past the age to turn heads.

Age isn’t just a number, but the more dissatisfied you are with aging, the more negatively you’re physically impacted by age. Self-Perceptions of Aging predict mortality.

The lectures of Musonius Rufus (30-100 ad) are online here. The site uses the Yale Translation of 1947 (you can find the pdf of that edition online with the Greek and English texts side by side, a real treat!). Recently, Cynthia King translated it and the kindle edition is fairly inexpensive. I highly recommend lectures 1-7. Here’s a great quote from lecture one:  “How true this is we may readily recognize if we chance to know two lads or young men, of whom one has been reared in luxury, his body effeminate, his spirit weakened by soft living, and having besides a dull and torpid disposition; the other reared somewhat in the Spartan manner, unaccustomed to luxury, practiced in self-restraint, and ready to listen to sound reasoning. If then we place these two young men in the position of pupils of a philosopher arguing that death, toil, poverty, and the like are not evils, or again that life, pleasure, wealth, and the like are not goods, do you imagine that both will give heed to the argument in the same fashion, and that one will be persuaded by it in the same degree as the other? Far from it.”

I love steak. Here are fifteen recipes for marinades.

What would happen if this article title were altered to say the same about Jews or Latinos? Can My Children Be Friends with White People

Facebook is a supercharged hedonic treadmill: “And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you … more likes and comments.

Apparently, smart phone use decreases satisfaction with face to face interaction. “Phone use leads to distraction, which undermines benefits of social interaction.” And smart phone users may, over time, begin to devalue time spent with friends.

Your placement on the five factor inventory might predict/be predicted (of course, not everybody reads) by your reading habits: Predicting Personality with book preferences. Based on my placement, some of what I read fits nicely. But I’m apparently somewhat of an outlier. 

 

 

Goals, Systems, or Virtues?

Scott Adams is of the opinion that goals are for losers and systems are for winners. The reasoning is that goals make it psychologically easy to stop doing everything it took to achieve them once you achieve them (this problem is the main point of the book The Slight Edge). But not only so, goals make it harder to do the needful thing, because every day you haven’t achieved your goal, wake up defeated. So he recommends systems, daily/weekly, monthly tasks that move you in a positive direction regardless of the final outcome. 

This seems right. But, sometimes goals are very important. You might really want to buy a home, dunk a basketball, or make straight A’s. Or you might need to lose weight or get out of debt. So making a goal and achieving it might be very valuable. There are two options. One, change what you desire. Or two, create systems that will take you in the direction of your goal, but only dwell on the systems, not on the end goal (some research literature says that visualizing goal oriented tasks is more valuable than visualizing goal achievement). If you take option 2, I think there is a valuable middle step that gives you option 1 as well. 

I think that between goals and systems is the sort of person you wish to become. In other words, between winning races and training routines is “the sort of person who is good at making training routines and running faster than I used to run.” William Irvine, in A guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, explains the concept of internalizing goals. The Stoics tried to make their sense of peace and joy depend not on outcomes or even task completion, but rather the virtue acquired. And so it’s not just that you implement a system to win races or even that you win them. It’s that you overcome yourself by attaining the virtue of self-mastery with respect to running. So the pattern is something like this:

  1. Determine what you want to do.
  2. Ask yourself if you want to become the sort of person who can do that thing. In other words, is it valuable to be that sort of person even if I do not attain the goal.
  3. Then design a system to make it happen.

Any thoughts?

Music Monday: What is this?

This is, easily, the weirdest song I’ve listened to in the last four years. Based on the comments section, it appears that the song has a fan base among the marijuana smokers, or as I call them to save syllables, ‘dopers.’

 

Anyway, if want some more standard fare, I recommend this:

 

Brief thoughts on Eden

In Genesis 1:1-2, God creates chaos and starts to bring order into the world.

In Genesis 2, the author is retelling the creation story. You can tell because Adam and Eve are made on different days, and Adam precedes the plants and animals. That’s not a contradiction any more than Jesus telling a set of parables about sheep, coins, and prodigal sons is a contradiction.

But anyway, the chaos/order motif is still present in Genesis 2. Man must tend the garden (Genesis 2:15). There is a wall (garden means ‘enclosed region’). The waters, which represented chaos in Genesis 1:1-2 are present but flow out of the garden (I suspect we’re supposed to suppose that that’s how the serpent got in).

Anyway, Eden represents a sort of ideal picture of the correct composition of chaos and order, potentiality and actuality.

It’s important to see Eden as a picture of the promise to God’s people as well, and the Bible gives us that, but in Genesis 2, Eden isn’t that yet. For instance, when Adam is put there there is something “not good” (Gen 2:18).

I think there’s a moral/spiritual application of the Eden story which we often overlook about how we manage our families, property, work space, and so-on. There will be a measure of unrealized potential in any well-ordered space. If you over-order a garden (let’s say by mowing it down) it’s not longer beautiful nor fruitful. But there’s less chaos. If you let a garden overgrow too much, perhaps there will be no safe fruit left.

So there’s a picture of something like, “in the space which God gives you, you’re responsible for ensuring that it is orderly in a fashion that does not destroy it’s potential but brings new potential out of that place.”

Of course, every choice to create order in a room or in your life is saying no to millions of other choices. But each new choice can be made in a way that makes space for new chaos/potential to be discovered. There are Proverbs about this very thing:

Proverbs 14:4 Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.

Proverbs 24:27 Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house.

Without an ox, there’s no ox cleanup (less chaos), but there is more work.

If you build yourself a house where you can relax and chill before you order your field in a fashion in which working it is convenient, you may not work.

And here are some OT laws about this:

Leviticus 25:1-7 ESV The LORD spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, (2) “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall keep a Sabbath to the LORD. (3) For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, (4) but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the LORD. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. (5) You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land. (6) The Sabbath of the land shall provide food for you, for yourself and for your male and female slaves and for your hired worker and the sojourner who lives with you, (7) and for your cattle and for the wild animals that are in your land: all its yield shall be for food.

 

Linkin Park, Chester Bennington, and Death

A few weeks ago Chester Bennington, the front-man for the genre bending group, Linkin Park died, apparently having committed suicide.

When I was in high school I really loved every song but one on their first two albums Hybrid Theory and Meteora. And in those days of music pirating software like Kazaa and Morpheus, I was able to discover older versions of hits like In The End with significantly superior lyrics that may not have been as interesting to a mass market audience.

The weird thing about Linkin Park is that they were a staple in weight rooms and gaming dens alike. But admitting you liked them in public was like admitting you liked Wrestling, Nickleback, or Dragon Ball Z. But everybody knew that millions of people liked these things, but somehow it was weird to like them in public…even if you knew that all the jacked guys in school listened to them, too.

I did watch wrestling and I know an unusual number of ex-addicts (usually alcohol) who found Dragon Ball Z’s main character Goku to be archetypally important for overcoming their problems. So, yeah, I like Dragon Ball Z, too. And frankly, Linkin Park had enough awesome songs with sci-fi themed music videos to be a legitimately awesome band. Though, you probably only liked them if you programmed computers, played video games, or lifted weights in high school.

Here’s my favorite Linkin Park and Dragon Ball Z music video:

If you want to be less of a goober and weirdo, here’s the version of that song with alternate (superior lyrics). It deals with the struggles of seeking to be an independent thinker:

Lyrics:

It starts with one
And multiplies ’til you can taste the sun
And burned by the sky you try to take it from
But if it falls, there’s no place to run
Crumbling down, it’s so unreal
They’re dealing you in to determine your end
And sending you back again, the places you’ve been
And bending your will ’til it breaks you within
And still they fill their eyes
With the twilight through the skylight
And the highlights on a frame of steel
See the brightness of your likeness
As I write this on a pad with the way I feel
Hear the screaming in my dreaming
As it’s seeming that you’ve played your part
Like you’re heartless, take apart this in the darkness
But I know that

Chorus :
I tried so hard
And got so far
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter
I had to fall
To lose it all
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter

I’ve looked down the line
And what’s there is not what ought to be
Held back by the battles they fought for me
Calling me to be part of their property
And now I see that I get no chance
I get no break, fakes and snakes
Quickly lead to mistakes
And as the tightrope within slowly starts to thin
I can only hope that they close their eyes
To the twilight through the skylight
And the highlights on a frame of steel
See the brightness of your likeness
As I write this on a pad to the way I feel
Hear the screaming in my dreaming
As it’s seeming that you’ve played your part
Like you’re heartless, take apart this in the darkness
But I know that

Chorus :
I tried so hard
And got so far
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter
I had to fall
To lose it all
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter

I’ve put my trust in you
Pushed as far as I can go
For all this
There’s only one thing you should know
I’ve put my trust in you
Pushed as far as I can go
For all this
There’s only one thing you should know
I’ve put my trust in you
Pushed as far as I can go
For all this
There’s only one thing you should know

Chorus :
I tried so hard
And got so far
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter
I had to fall
To lose it all
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter