Don’t show me your cross and I won’t show you mine

I have been listening to dr. Jordan Peterson a lot lately. I first found out about him from Stefan Molyneux’ show on Freedomain Radio where Stefan interviewed dr. Peterson. They mentioned a self authoring program which I immediately bought and completed entirely within a couple of months. Then I read his book “12 rules for life” and then I listened to his Bible lectures. I’m currently listening to his Maps of Meaning lectures, as well as following his YouTube channel.

I have always thought of myself as non-religious in that I do not ascribe to any of the world’s religions. I have never thought the term “religious” meant anything more than that. Yet, there have been instances where I have wondered what on Earth do people mean when they use the term “religious”.

The first time when I wondered that was when I was reading “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand. (NOTE: Spoilers forthcoming!) In one scene a man sent by Ellsworth Toohey to Howard’s office tells Howard that he thought Howard was very religious. Howard is taken aback by this and realizes that it is true. (!) Of course, the man is but a mouthpiece of Toohey in this, but still it made me wonder what on Earth Ayn Rand meant by this scene. I never figured it out because I’ve never gotten an answer to what “religious” meant beyond belonging or considering oneself as part of one (or more?) of the religions.

Listening to Jordan Peterson, he often claims that a person who waits in line for the next installment of [insert book/movie title, e.g. Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings…] is religious and doesn’t even know it. So does that make getting excited about archetypal stories the same as being religious? Even as I researched the term, the definitions and articles I read spoke of devotion and being faithful to – ultimately – a set of beliefs. While this didn’t explain how waiting in line for the next Harry Potter is an act of religiosity, it did somewhat shed light on the scene in The Fountainhead. The way I understand it, it would seem that every single person – no matter which of the religions they said they ascribed to – has their own personal religion.

While I’m having trouble finding my own “religion” and therefore principles that I would be ready to devote myself to completely, I do find that much of what I (like to) do is driven by curiosity. I am an extremely curious creature. In fact, I have devised and successfully implemented very interesting ways to extract information from situations where normally nobody would be willing to offer that information. And I did it completely subconsciously.

For example: if you wish to know the most important things about something – whether it is a field of scientific research, an author, a religious text, or anything else – one of the ways you might think of doing it is to just ask. You could find a forum dealing with the topic, or a Facebook group, or wherever the topic is discussed. And that would be fine. People would willingly divulge information about what resources to read, which areas to study, etc. But if you want to get straight to the point immediately, there’s a better way. Well, better for the satiation of your curiosity, at least – and it works best if done on-line in written form, which is something I’ve had access to for a very long time. As far as your reputation goes, don’t expect to get anything good from it because you’ll probably anger quite a few people, even if you might not know them. Anyway, without further ado, here’s how it works.

As you would when you just meant to ask, join a forum, or wherever the topic of your interest is discussed. It’s best if you had some knowledge about the topic for the next step. From the knowledge of the topic you have available, make a claim that makes the whole topic look silly, or misguided, or unworthy of study, or even dangerous.

You will get ridiculed.

You will get laughed at.

You might even get booted from the group.

But amidst all the comments telling you how stupid and wrong you are, there will be information. If not direct information and explicit statements of the most important points of the topic at hand, then pointers to where those principles might be laid out explicitly. If you can see past the ridicule and insults thrown at you, you will find exactly what you want. And those pointers will be much more specific than if you came and asked a non-provoking question, especially if your initial statement was about something you genuinely did not understand about the topic.

Now, you could have come and simply asked for information about this particular thing that you didn’t understand. But here’s the difference between what you get that way and what you can get my way: if you ask politely, you will get an explanation of that one thing you didn’t understand; if you provoke by uttering a preposterous statement you will either find that your preposterous statement is true, or you will find the principles that will help you comprehend the whole topic as you descend into learning all its minutiae.

It’s really a difference between getting an answer like “Read this book and/or that study to find what you’re looking for” (ideally) and an answer like “THE WHOLE POINT OF THIS IS X, YOU IMBECILE! NOW GTFO OF HERE.”

Of course, I’ve never used this method intentionally. I merely recognized it as a method after I’ve employed it several times after studying a topic and failing to “get it” in an intuitive way in which I usually understand things. I’d get frustrated and say something completely stupid about some point of contention I arrived to because of my not understanding, or misunderstanding of the basic principles of the field. And that would provoke others into responding in a very unfriendly manner, but among their nasty comments there would invariably be things that would almost immediately, or shortly, help me understand the field on a more general level.

Once I understood those general principles, I could – to an extent – defend the field against ignorant imbeciles who might be much like myself before I figured them out. This is genuinely curious people who are failing to understand the general principles of the field and so make preposterous conclusions based on incorrect assumptions. I can give such people a sort of revelation once I understand the basic principles.

There are, however, different kinds of imbeciles. Some may be attacking the field from a position of malevolence. If they hold an opposing viewpoint, they might be completely deaf to any revelation you may offer them. In fact, they’ll keep insisting on interpreting the topic according their initial assumptions – or whatever assumptions someone brainwashed them with – and will refuse to let go of those no matter what. These people can only be convinced by someone who understands their assumptions, if they can be convinced at all.

I was and still am a big fan of Ayn Rand. Stefan Molyneux understood Ayn Rand and as I listened to him I realized there is more to philosophy than what she said. While I retained my respect for Objectivism, I learned more about the importance of self knowledge. And I loved to explore myself in the way that Stefan explained in this video as well as some others. It was one more way to satisfy my curious nature. Moreover, had Stefan not shown to have deep understanding of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, I would never have cared much about anything he said. I remember seeing his review of Frozen before I watched his videos on Ayn Rand and self knowledge and I thought “Man, this guy is analyzing the soul out of everything!” I really thought he completely missed the point – which, incidentally, I myself have missed as I watched the movie through a lens of individualism which for me completely obscured the ideology around which the plot was built. Now I see that what he analyzed wasn’t the point that the writers wanted to convey, but rather a deeper meaning of the movie which kind of oozed out of the artificially constructed plot, maybe (by a stretch) intentionally, but most likely subconsciously.

My journey continued as I found out about Jordan Peterson. As I studied both him and Stefan Molyneux, I was continually looking for a way to reconcile my previous knowledge with the new things I was learning. This means I was always interested about what they had to say about some things I believed, or cherished. While I already understood Ayn Rand’s philosophy, Stefan helped me expand my understanding in the direction of self knowledge; Jordan Peterson further expanded my understanding in the direction of religion, particularly Christianity. While as a result I have more respect for religion and religious beliefs in general than I used to, I personally remain an atheist. That is, I do not personify what is commonly called “God”, or “karma” in other religions and more secular/atheist circles. I think of it as the invisible hand as conceived by Adam Smith, but on a scale much larger than the free market.

As far as Ayn Rand is concerned, I have no contention regarding Stefan Molyneux, but I do have some in respect to Jordan Peterson’s views. Dr. Peterson says that reason on its own gets too proud of its own achievement, giving communist regimes as an example of a society that was designed by reason and turned out to be too far in the orderly realm for people to be satisfied with. But my problem with that claim is that it is not reasonable to get attached to an idea or a set of ideas (i.e. ideology) to such an extent that that set of ideologies is exempt from rational scrutiny. It is not reasonable because it is whimsical and based on a purely emotional attachment to a set of ideas, principles, mores, etc. This is a rather huge point of contention because it brings into question the whole point of sacrifice which, in my opinion, translates simply into willingness to perform rational scrutiny of one’s own deeply held beliefs – if and when they become explicit.

Another point of contention is regarding nudity. Dr. Peterson claims we wear clothes because we want to “simplify” ourselves to people we are dealing with. As a nudist I already knew that being naked had two meanings. One is literal, which means to wear no clothes. On a more symbolic level, it means to make clear your whole being and all its complexities, your strengths, but more importantly your weaknesses. Wearing of clothes, to Jordan Peterson – at least the way I understand him – symbolically means hiding the weaknesses and simplifying yourself to people you are dealing with to a degree that they will believe you are what you say you are (or that you can and will do what you say you will do).

Even if I grant this in professional settings (I do not believe it is necessary), there is something mind-numbing in always being around people who “simplify” themselves to such a point. Sometimes I find myself yearning to meet someone utterly and ridiculously complicated and willing to share all the details of their complicated selves, their troubles, their wishes, their problems, their plans, their worries, things they are grateful for … their strengths and their weaknesses. I often yearn for some kind of safe haven where it’s possible – even desirable – to be naked, both literally and symbolically.

Instead we “simplify” ourselves; we pretend we have no crosses to bear, so to speak, so that others will trust, or like us even as we are on the verge of falling apart. We find ourselves not wanting to hear of other people’s problems because we are too invested in our own which we in turn share with nobody else until we are crushed under them. We find ourselves not wishing to hear of other people’s crosses, for fear of having to expose our own.

We avoid exposing our weaknesses – not simply because we don’t want them exploited, but because we don’t want to deal with them. We don’t want to scrutinize them rationally. We hide them from others, but more terribly, we hide them from ourselves. We simplify ourselves to the point where we become so simple we are unable to function and then we suffer, pretending that we are simple.

And when Dr. Peterson gets all exalted as he proclaims that life is suffering, I think that I may have found the biggest point of contention so far. Life is suffering, but only to an extent that you are unwilling to put your problems and your solutions under a magnifying glass. Life is suffering, but only to an extent you think yourself too inept – too simple – to deal with “complicated” issues that are causing your suffering. Life is suffering, but you have a say in it. And even if your problems are too great to handle, you still have a choice to perish with your dignity intact, or else to whine pitifully.

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