Competition and Jordan Peterson

Jordan Peterson was interviewed by Joe Rogan, where he discussed gender and competition. I am not going to address his gender issues, but I’ll say something about competition. I’ll also ignore his stance that the world is ‘functioning unbelievably well, even though it has its problems’. He gets to competition through some comments on equality.

[Focus] on winning the largest number of games across the span of a lifetime.

Jordan Peterson

Firstly, Peterson differentiates equal playing fields from equal outcomes, a favoured Conservative talking point slash whipping boy. He then sets up a strawman argument relating to people favouring the ‘best of the best’ (which is to say, their personal favourites, I suppose) in lieu of exploring the vast universe of music available on the myriad streaming services, the result being that in the aggregate, the preferred acts make more money through this competition. Of course, this is the result of preference theory, which produces different outcomes based on inputs such a time and place, fads and trends, and the ‘winner’ is the one who attains the most listens.

There’s no accounting for taste.

Having had worked in Entertainment for years, I realised early on that the correlation between talent and financial success was fairly weak. In fact, I had several conversations with artists who felt ‘guilty’ for their commercial success over people they deemed more talented. This is a fundamental problem with market systems, the value calculus is influenced by what Keynes termed ‘animal spirits‘. As the saying goes, there’s no accounting for taste.

Peterson and Rogan both agree that competition is healthy and necessary, but they don’t define the scale and scope, so they sacrifice a participation trophy red herring on the altar.

Peterson does come back to discuss scope within a timeline of a lifespan, that a single game is less important than a championship—and, apparently, there is more than one championship. What never happens is a definition of what the rules of the game are or how you know you’ve won. I suppose, that’s a relative concern. They also don’t provide any guidance on where to set the dial between competition and cooperation.

If you are trying to get a job versus even some anonymous pool of applicants, then you’ve won this match. I see this as an evolutionary game. I remember a story by Clarissa Pinkola Estes where she tells about a guy who had been climbing the corporate ladder for decades, and when he got near the top, he came to the realisation that he had it up against the wrong building. Perhaps what he thought was a worthy goal (say acquisition of money) was in conflict with some higher ethical goals or deeper friendships.

It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.

From what I can tell, Peterson is guided by a sense the virtue ethics are the way to go, and, judging from this interview, he’s more than just a bit of a Consequentialist. But it’s clear he is no Deontologist. Case in point, he claims that the adage, ‘it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game’ is a ‘sentiment confuses children’.

Play well with others.

He ends by saying that if you learn the kindergarten lesson to play well with others, you’ll temper your winning or redefine winning within the context, and somehow your goal should be ‘focusing on winning the largest number of games across the span of a lifetime’.

At the end of all of this—given Peterson’s pathological worldview—, it’s no wonder he’s so defensive, combative, and irascible: he is driven to win, and he thinks it matters. And it’s abundantly clear that he hasn’t learnt his own kindergarten lesson: Play well with others.

And now for something completely different…

I chose the cover image of this post on the merits of the upcoming competition between Peterson and Žižek on 19 April.

28 thoughts on “Competition and Jordan Peterson

    1. Hi Julian, By pathological, I am speaking more of the foundation for his ideas than the ideas themselves. He holds his ideas as a result of his experiences. I am not a behaviouralist, but ‘environment’ is a factor. In his (and Jung and Freud’s) parlance, he is operating from his unconscious mind (applying these terms idiomatically, as they are common in his field of psychology—as is the notion of pathology I am adopting). In this manner, JBP is an automaton and sort of where we can divorce free will from actions—though I won’t defend determinism either.

      Less abstractly, he holds a notion that there is a right way to do ‘society’ and to interact with it, and if only you follow the recipe, you’ll succeed. Of course, the archetypal society in his head is not unanimously adopted. Orthodoxy allows for marginal change to social systems (especially legal frameworks), but the preservation of society is a central metanarrative. We can determine this to be faulty logic by a simple thought experiment:

      Why would the people of, say, Germany resist being governed by France—or vice versa? As an independent observer—let’s introduce disinterested space aliens—, it could probably be settled by a coin flip. But a sense of identity creates resistance to changes of this type.

      The notion of identity is pathological. I am not saying that I don’t experience identity—though I feel that I’ve got a better sense of its artifice—, and I am not even saying that I don’t have similar pathologies based on my own history. I’m going down a rabbit hole here. Much as been written on the notion of identity and how it rather is formed by some crucible of society, but that’s even deeper down.

      I’m not even sure I’ve answered your question, but I’m working on some projects this weekend, so this was a welcome diversion. Now, it’s back to work.

      I’ll take a look at the vid you linked and comment separately.


      1. Or anyone really? I think I barely have two hours a week to watch even a television show.
        And I don’t think Peterson is really grasping the things he battles with. I think it’s great that he’s battling with them and he’s coming to certain positions that he’s decided upon but I think they are based in a 3/4 understanding.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Fair enough! But honestly, I Gotta say that from what I have a listen to him which is probably about two hours of maybe about five different lectures by him, I am struck by the surety in which he carries himself in a position that appears plain to me is not understanding many of the issues that he’s talking about, regardless of if he has a PhD or not.

        Anyways, I was supposed to present a paper at the conference before the Zizek/Peterson standoff. But I won’t be able to attend so I’m kind of bummed out twice.

        But I do enjoy that Peterson actually has a position, actually has or actually is developing a voice that is different than what I’m used to listening to.


      3. Oh. And the reason why I mentioned my paper was accepted is Becuase it’s the first paper I’ve ever submitted to anything! ( So I kinda gotta relish in the idea a little) 🤘🏾


      4. I guess for me, Peterson has been very helpful for opening up ways of thinking about the world that I had never considered before. His distinction between the world as a fourm for action and the world as a place of things has been so helpful for me.
        Its acctualy helped me understand/appreciate postmodernism, which might sound strange given Peterson’s antagonism to the “Postmodern neo marxists.”

        I’m mostly interested in the religious, psychological or philosophical part of Peterson, along with the fascinating discussions he’s opened up.

        As for weather he knows what he’s talking about, can you say anything specific? I know he has low resolution views of a lot of things…

        Interesting, what was the paper going to be on?

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Cool.
        Like I said. I havnt spent to much time into Peterson’s stuff, I like much what I’ve heard.
        That place for things/forum for action, I hadn’t heard before, but it sounds quite similar to Ideas of mine. I call it the Two Routes.

        I don’t really have time for videos, unfortunately. I read books. Maybe I’ll look into one of his book.

        I suppose it’s like a computer programmer: two programs might be able to solve a problem. But one is more elegant and maybe more perennial, able to work other problems as well. I suppose Pertersons appears more specific to a particular problem. But I could be wrong. I’ll have to look into one of his books.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. I’ll read your Kierkegaard essay, it looks good. It appears from just glancing over the first introductory paragraphs:

        Where Peterson May be involved in joining those two aspects, I am involved in keeping them apart.

        I too am deep in Kierkegaard .

        My position is that any joining of those two types or aspects of being human is necessary a religion proposal.

        My larger philosophical work is involved with explaining religion.

        Perhaps this is what I see of Peterson: he does not go deep enough, but stays on “the surface” of psychology.

        But the discussion is quite involved.

        If you are interested, here I plug the first installment of my book 😄:

        It’s pretty cheap Becuase I’m releasing the whole book in small sections. The first part is about $7. And im making about 40 cents from it, just FYI. If you are interested.

        No biggie. If you’d rather just have a conversation here.


      7. The conference topic is: Pessimism, negativity and religion. I will post the paper and me reading it in a couple weeks. The debate between Zizek and Peterson which ends the conference is called : Happieness. Lol


  1. Julian (and hi Landzek), Rather than Peterson, I’d recommend his referenced sources, whether Jung or Nietzsche.

    In that realm, I’ll suggest Joesph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces (or his Mask of God series). I also enjoyed several books by Robert A. Johnson (Ecstacy; He; She; We)


    1. I didn’t notice the comments coming in! I think you’re right, I do want to get into Nietzsche and Jung, but Peterson has introduced many people to their writings, and many go on to explore deeper.


      1. Jung’s work is more academic, though Peterson’s been influenced heavily by him. Regarding Nietzsche, Peterson is reacting to a caricature of him, which would lead me to believe he hasn’t read any or much of his work directly.

        Regarding Nietzsche, I recommend his Genealogy of Morals and Beyond Good and Evil, but of which are pretty short reads for the genre.


      2. Peterson claims to have read all of or most of Nietzsche.

        I started reading Beyond good and evil a few years ago, but couldn’t figure it out. I might be more ready to dig into him now. Do you think Nietzsche is a good into to Postmodernism in a way?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I do think that he is a good intro. Although I don’t feel that Nietzsche should be considered a postmodern, I do think that he’s a precursor to it. In each of Genealogy and Beyond, he peeks beneath the veneer and questions the prevailing narrative. This said, I think that many schools either accept Nietzsche as a root, or some try to shackle other schools with the misconception of his baggage.

        My advice to reading Nietzsche: read the work for a general sense of flow. These are short works. Then make a second pass to attempt to scrutinise it. I’ll even suggest listening to an audiobook version the first time through, following up with your own read.


  2. I’m listened to some Peterson:

    I am indeed trying to answer for myself what exactly is it about him that bothers me. Maybe I see it now:

    I think it is Becuase he views himself (psychologically) as a collection of fragments that he then works his mind to formulate how there must be a whole, or a manner of brining together.

    I deny a whole, but precisely because I see no (psychological) fragments of myself.

    I think someone else said it somewhere: Peterson is not deontological; and I think it shows. I tend to have a view from a deontological position. By contrast: Peterson has an ontological view which Is his position: as I say, he proposes an ontological argument that stems from his experience. I say that I am making no ontological argument Becuase nothing stems from my experience: that is, I am the totality of the experience. But This has nothing to do with values or meaning though.

    This is what the Two Routes is about. On one hand, we can indeed frame it as a sort of “science” and “value”, but I think it is more to indicate what angle one is approaching the universe in which there are these things called “science” and “value”.

    So I say: there are Two Routes upon things. Two orientations that do not reduce to either or to another wholeness, but remain essentially exclusive in their functioning. Parallel; superposed upon objects.

    Peterson is making an ontological argument about how apparently discrepant aspects might be unified without the use of religion.

    I think any more toward unification is necessarily a move into a religious theology.


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