Jordan Peterson is drawing predictable backlash upon himself.
Though a clinical psychologist, he seems irrationally intent on attracting danger, while at the same time, logically, persuasively but incorrectly protesting that retreating from conflict when you shouldn’t “will cause self-annihilation.”
The qualifier is “when you shouldn’t.” Sun Tzu, reputed author of The Art of War, is keen on the importance of knowing when to make strategic retreats. There is, after all, a time and place for every purpose under heaven.
Second, what does he mean by “self-annihilation?” As righteous warriors grounded in Old Testament faith know full well, the true Self is indestructible. So also, savvy martial artists who are seeped in I Ching wisdom trust that true identity is neither enhanced nor diminished by the dance of advance and retreat.
So what’s really at stake in pressing forward against the tide, against the grain, against the laws of nature? Why vent rage, disgust and contempt at despicable, treacherous, venomous opponents? If he exposes and humiliates them, however much deserved, they will mirror his negativity back – in spades. It’s called backlash. Every action generates an opposite and equal reaction. It’s a natural law of psychological physics.
There are other, wiser ways to shift gears — address valid grievances on higher ground without attracting inevitable vengeful retaliation.
Persisting in upping the ante, provoking human snakes, smells like pride to me. Hubris, to be precise. The stuff of tragedy in the making.
I am afraid for this highly articulate but unin-formed professor.
Here’s an example of the inevitable retaliation and escalating conflict he has drawn not only into his own personal life, but also into his neighborhood — not to mention the media.
On October 26th, 2017, he posted on Twitter: Those who consider themselves my enemies have been posting these all around my home neighbourhood.
Here’s the poster:
I tweeted back, “What else would you expect?” Afterwards, I realized that without this explanation, the remark wouldn’t make sense. Hence, this blog of explanation.
Please understand. I do not write to humiliate or diminish Dr. Peterson. Quite the opposite. He has become to the current generation of young people what John F. Kennedy was to mine. A symbol of nobility. Of hope.
I remember as painfully as if it were yesterday what it felt like to me and my friends when we heard the news that his brains had been splattered by an assassin’s bullet.
I dearly want that NOT to happen again.
I’m writing to warn Dr. Peterson. To suggest ways to protect himself, not only for his own sake and for his family’s, but for those to whom he has become a hero – who would be shattered were he to come to harm.
To plead with him to rethink the limited psychology which allows him to rationalize such intensely emotional, dangerous risk-taking.
I’m writing to urge him to add to his armory of psychologies the survival wisdom of Lao Tze and the foundational attitudes prescribed in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Their teachings have guided the lives of truth seekers of thousands years. There must be something of value to recommend them, having withstood this test of time.
For example, Dr. Peterson knows not whereof he speaks when he says, “Don’t be harmless.”
Is he intentionally rejecting ancient wisdom by this word choice, or is he unaware of the significance of this virtue in ancient lore?
Lao Tze, in fact, uses harmlessness as his defense. It’s a time-honored strategy.
Here is a famous drawing of Lao Tze riding his ox. He is credited with writing The Tao Te Ching, which next to the Bible is the world’s most often translated scripture. It shows the enlightened sage as so intricately merged with the beast which carries him that they appear inseparable. This image represents the higher mind which has tamed and harnessed the energy of emotions. He uses them to carry him towards his destination.
I will give you a hint of this survival approach to dealing with snakes excerpted from Two Sides of a Coin: Lao Tze’s Common Sense Way of Change.
Passage 50 reads, in part:
Those who live by the law are protected by it.
They travel the world without being injured.
In the midst of hostilities, no one knows where to attack.
Wild beasts sense no openings to penetrate.
Enemies find no weaknesses to exploit.
Armies can’t locate a fortress to assault.
This accords with the following section about harmlessness used as defense strategy.
Taoists abhor selfish meddling and gratuitous violence as equally destructive to individuals, society and the environment.
In this, their thinking is in accord with the most fundamental tenet of the yoga. Non-violence is the virtue listed first among the commitments which constitute the fundamental basis of yoga disciplines. The attitude of harmlessness, or non-violence, is the prerequisite upon which all more advanced spiritual practices depend.
In Sutra 35 of Book II, Patanjali informs us that:
When non-violence in speech, thought and action is established, one’s aggressive nature is relinquished and others abandon hostility in one’s presence.
Similarly, in Passage 55 Lao Tze describes sages as being accomplished in the ways of the ancient yoga masters:
Sages who master the infant’s harmlessness:
don’t startle wasps or snakes, and therefore don’t get stung;
don’t threaten angry beasts, and therefore are left in peace;
don’t bother birds of prey and therefore aren’t carried off.
Lao Tze describes non-violence as the cornerstone of social stability. In Passage 68 he tells us:
The best leaders act with subtle dignity.
Successful warriors move with alert caution.
Enduring winners shun prideful vengeance.
Good employers quietly support their workers.
The way of non-violence is the supreme treasure of communities
founded in the eternal Tao.
Again, let me emphasize that I wish Dr. Peterson all the best. May he live long and prosper. Let him put on the full armor of God for protection. Give him the wisdom to tame his righteous indignation with the discipline of a seasoned sage. Let him survive as a shining inspiration to those who have come to treasure his innate nobility.
As yet, for whatever reasons, he remains unresponsive. The Catch 22 seems to be that since I’m not a well-known public figure, he assumes he has no grounds for communication. In Don’t throw pearls before swine, he says, “You cannot talk to people who will not engage in a discussion.”
So be it. He says he had no desire to engage in the legislative issue that catapulted him to fame, but felt compelled to do so. In exactly the same way, I had no desire whatsoever to write these blogs, but felt deeply compelled to do so. Unfathomable but somehow irresistible.
Whatever the outcome, at least I’ve done my best. And having done so, leave the future in trust to God’s will.
Peter Fellingham, “Speak softly, and carry a big stick”.