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Art is the stored honey of the human soul,
gathered on wings of misery and travail.
- Dreiser
 Art hath an enemy called ignorance. - Ben Jonson

Analysis of Maps of Meaning

These days, Jordan Peterson is getting a fair amount of attention by the fluff intelligentsia, and he has written a book titled Maps of Meaning.

FOA, let’s understand that the focus of Peterson’s attention and thinking is on limited or mundane issues whereas the focus of this site is on ultimate issues. He is an “evolutionist” and seemingly an existentialist, which precludes even asking or dealing with many of the ultimate issues.

However, when I began to read “Maps of Meaning”, I first read the Preface. In so doing, I was impressed and favorably inclined to listen to this author. I identified with much of his intellectual/spiritual journey, and found his elucidation of personal experience to be cogent, inspirational, insightful and eloquent. All well and good, UNTIL he begins to wax philosophical, and then I started to have problems. And the problems continued to mount, because his cultural enterprise, his fame, is of a philosophical nature.

In reading the whole of the Preface, I came to realize that Peterson had never been exposed to nor encountered something profound, which I am going to use his term to describe, the Real. The man is simply missing something that MAKES THE DIFFERENCE in how you think, believe, and how you are! This is not to be confused with his also very stark lack of understanding of the underpinnings or myth and archetypes.

Peterson’s fascination with Jung and his works and ideas is telling, in that Jung never did understand the underpinnings or myth and archetypes as being literal, instead considered them to be a cultural/social construction convention, an original part of a “collective unconsciousness”. This would be a tillable ground for the expression of the psychological/spiritual product of humans. In stark contradistinction is what has been called the “collective consciousness”, the healing and unity of which I posit will deliver the effective empowerment that we lost, an empowerment that knows no limit save that of the desire of the constituents. To elaborate here would be to get too far afield, and so I will stay on the ground of more secular philosophy and issues.

Anyhow, the classic way to sell a load of Super High Intensity Trivia is to first set up a generally new, plausible sounding but false premise, and then build on it. Peterson does this masterfully when he says in his first sentence of  chapter 1,

“The world can be validly construed as forum for action, or as place of things.”

When you set up this premise in the very first sentence, you are relying on the force of momentum to carry the reader along, because they have made some investment to get the book and find the time to sit down and read it. The reader has almost never bought the book because he thinks that it is a load of crap, but rather because it somehow caught his attention as interesting or it was recommended to him by someone that he respects. As a member of a somewhat elite contingent of society to even read a serious book, much less one of clearly intellectual, philosophical content, out of common decency and respect, you want to give the author a chance to support and/or explain his premise. AND if the following text isn’t clear, you keep reading in the expectation that it will BECOME clear.

At the end of chapter 1, Peterson pushes his proton pseudos even further and posits:

“The world as forum for action is “composed,” essentially, of three constituent elements, which tend to manifest themselves in typical patterns of metaphoric representation. First is unexplored territory – the Great Mother, nature, creative and destructive, source and final resting place of all determinate things. Second is explored territory – the Great Father, culture, protective and tyrannical, cumulative ancestral wisdom. Third is the process that mediates between unexplored and explored territory – the Divine Son, the archetypal individual, creative exploratory “Word” and vengeful adversary. We are adapted to this “world of divine characters,” much as the “objective world.” The fact of this adaptation implies that the environment is in “reality” a forum for action, as well as a place of things....Mythological representations of the world – which are representations of reality as a forum for action – portray the dynamic interrelationship between all three constituent elements of human experience. The eternal unknown – nature, metaphorically speaking, creative and destructive, source and destination of all determinant things – is generally ascribed an affectively ambivalent feminine character (as the “mother” and eventual “devourer” of everyone and everything). The eternal known, in contrast – culture, defined territory, tyrannical and protective, predictable, disciplined and restrictive, cumulative consequence of heroic or exploratory behavior – is typically considered masculine (in contradistinction to “mother” nature). The eternal knower, finally – the process that mediates between the known and the unknown – is the knight who slays the dragon of chaos, the hero who replaces disorder and confusion with clarity and certainty, the sun-god who eternally slays the forces of darkness, and the “word” that engenders creation of the cosmos.”

Questions: Is this trinity of Mother-Father-Son really a useful or valid characterization and/or foundation to build upon? If so, in what fundamental way? Is this any more than just a fabrication of myth-meaning that is a bridge too far?

Clearly, the world can be construed in several OTHER ways, and for insight on major issues or facets, Schopenhauer construed it as Will and Idea.

I set out to read this chapter after I received it, but could NOT get past the first few paragraphs because in my mind I kept returning to and stumbling over the primary premise. The world is too full of material to read much further after the foundational or primary premise is found to be faulty or lacking.

And so, the world of truth can be construed as a mix of noise and signal, and reading down the Table of Contents list, the chapter and section titles do not sound like they are going to deal with prominent philosophical issues, but are full of new and unfamiliar terms. They read more like titles for sections of a novel. Jordan Peterson seems to think that “narrative” is truer than a world of things. Consequently this smacks of philosophical noise unless it really IS a novel that is going to creatively, artistically illustrate a point or more. But for all its articulateness, this is NOT an entertaining or engrossing novel, but rather a slogging, grind-it-out ordeal for the critical thinker who must understand every new lexical term and challenge every new idea to which he is exposed.

For me, to finish this exhaustive undertaking would be a nightmare! And to what end? What is the promised payoff, and what is the evidence for its delivery? This was far from being clear, and thus not really motivating or inspiring.

A further note: Some people have committed what I call Intellectual/spiritual suicide in that, because of past trauma over their religious background and excruciating struggle to come free of it. they are now unwilling to rebuild, unwilling to know or believe ANYTHING with certainty. Usually, it is the most intelligent and sensitive among us that do this, whereas the rest generally, somewhat uncritically just plug into something else, some other ideology or religion. We probably all know someone—I know we do—that is like this, but that kind of wounded retreat from the spiritual battlefield never appealed to me. Consequently, I still embrace exposure to something new, but it has to measure up to some very foundational criteria. Maps of Meaning does not!

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