I don’t hate Russell Brand — even though it is rather fashionable to do so if you are an intellectual hipster; in fact, I like him a lot. I’m impressed by the way he has taken his rather noxious earlier self — the celebrity narcissist and the new-age druggy — and ‘cleaned up his room’ in Jordan Peterson lingo. Brand is an engaged, frenetic, and intelligent comedian and person. It was encouraging to see Peterson on Brand’s podcast Under the Skin, or the so-called ‘bourgeoisie leftist’ finally talking to the so-called ‘alt-right provocateur’. The interview showed Brand obviously isn’t really the bimbo he is sometimes portrayed as being, and that Peterson isn’t the fascist which some would like him to be.
Jordan Peterson has an affinity for comedians and has done many of his best interviews with them, despite—or perhaps because of—the gravity of his subject matter. Comedy creates a threshold which makes it possible to approach our shadow side, to speak the unspeakable, to gaze into the pit of our collective madness. The virtue of a comedian is to objectify our inner ‘idiot’, and, by making the idiot visible, free us from him. Furthermore, Brand has taken stand-up comedy into the political realm, where it is needed. Politics requires comedy to counter hubris; divine comedy redeems worldly politics.
Because of his frontal attacks on post-modernism and Marxism, a lot of leftists are missing out on Peterson, and Brand’s podcast will expose him to a different audience. Some misguided ‘progressives’ believe that Peterson is a sort of intellectual version of Trump, a dangerous reactionary or conservative. For these ideologues, if you don’t virtue signal you are assumed to be right wing — though this is simply not the case with Peterson. Peterson has said, ‘the proper concern of the left is to provide a political voice for the working class’ — not exactly the words of a typical fascist.
Peterson is a Heterodox thinker. He can sound like traditionalist at times and at other times a liberal; some of his proclivities are left leaning, at other times he jokingly refers to himself as an ‘evil capitalist’. Peterson may be a dangerous thinker but that is only so because he actually thinks without relying on cliché—he is mostly a danger to truism and ideological possession. Peterson’s ideas—on God for instance—show that he can’t be pinned down so easily, but he can help us transcend identity politics on the left and on the right.
These days, Peterson’s critics are grasping for straws. The trouble is, Peterson says all kinds of reasonable things backed by real empirical research: he describes, for instance, the real differences between men and women, which would be celebrated if we were really interested in ‘diversity’. Some have called Peterson a ‘misogynist’ and ‘an angry white man’—except he is an honorary member of an indigenous tribe from British Columbia. (What kind of hateful racist has a sweat lodge in his attic?) He been accused of ‘cultural appropriation’ or ‘romancing the savage’ because of his relationship with an indigenous west coast Canadian artist (what could be more racist than such attacks?). He’s a ‘pseudo-scientists’ to some (non-scientists for the most parts), even if he has been publishing in the best scientific journals for years. All of the flimsy attacks on Peterson have failed rather spectacularly. And every attack has only made him grow larger.
We all love our categories. Never mind what people actually think or say. The media peddles caricatures and box-like representations constantly; it creates fashionable little bubbles of political correctness so we can safely hate the cartoon characters of our own imagination. It seems to me that many critics don’t even know why they hate Peterson (or Brand for that matter).
A working-class hero is something to be
If we need a label for Peterson and Brand why not call them working class heroes. Peterson has worked as a dishwasher and on the railways in Northern Alberta; Brand was a street kid and sexual abuse survivor, who left home at age 16. Brand comes from a London suburb; Peterson was brought up on the edge of the Canadian arctic. Both men have hit bottom with drug, alcohol, and depression but at some point decided to be in service to humanity rather than let their demons get the better of them.
Both Peterson and Brand have been willing to take great personal risks, to dive into dark places in the service of humanity. Peterson in his clinical practice and Brand in his comedy and activism have worked tirelessly on behalf of people. For instance, Brand has done fearless documentaries about Nazi Skinheads, kissing a notorious homophobe from the Westbro Baptist Church on the lips![i] Peterson lectures have brought thousands of people back from the abyss of white identity politics—his online psychological interventions have helped people find meaning in their miserable lives.
In a way, Peterson and Brand represent opposite archetypal poles. Peterson is all about masculine clarity and verticality (or standing up strait with your shoulders back), or what Nietzsche called the Apollonian. Brand, on the other hand, promotes feminine values of cosmic consciousness and inclusivity: the fluid Dionysian blending of categories. Peterson’s insistence on Logos and heroic sacrifice make him much more prototypically masculine. Brand, like a rock star from the 1970’s, is a ‘gender fluid’: a long-haired pleasure seeker who could easily stiletto heels and make up; Peterson has a kind of old-fashioned gentleman cowboy look. Peterson is vertically oriented (he speaks about hierarchy), Brand his horizontal (he speaks about universality).
The topics both men like to discuss also illustrate this male/female dynamic. While Brand waxes on about motherly compassion for different tribes and outsiders, Peterson insists on judgment and discrimination.While Peterson tells us to grow up and grow teeth, Brand is all about empathy and universality. The two make very good dance partners, energetically speaking — they complement each other!
Does the recent talk with Russel brand show that Peterson has a strange affinity for the transgender world after all? Traditionally, the yogi or the philosopher king must unite the feminine and masculine with in himself. It is more than interesting that Peterson has become popular — in part though his intellectual dance with tricksters, comedians and gender benders. Is there an irony here to explore?
This is well worth listening to in any case:
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A series of articles that compare Jordan Peterson to different thinkers and public figures: