Dr. Jordan Peterson, Truth, and Even More Truth

This is the second of three posts on Dr. Jordan Peterson – his website is here (LINK). My first post on Dr. Peterson can be found here (LINK).  The third post can be found here (LINK).

“J-Roc raps about gangsters and guns, pimps and hos and Compton.  The guy’s not from Compton.  He’s a white kid from a trailer park.  He should rap about what he really knows which is living in his mom’s trailer eating peanut butter sandwiches.” – Trailer Park Boys

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When I think that society is too complicated, I then remember that I couldn’t even take this picture without the help of the millions of elven technicians that live in my camera.  Then I cry.

As a reminder, Dr. Peterson is a psychologist that teaches at the University of Toronto, but don’t hold that against him:  he seems to be one of the good Canadians at this point, though a bit fixated.

On what is Peterson fixated?  Dr. Peterson seems to be obsessed, and not with Pez® or Japanese tentacle pudding cups like a normal man.  No, Peterson is obsessed with the truth.  Earlier this year in response to a question on Quora, (LINK): “What are the most valuable things everyone should know?” Dr. Peterson didn’t come back with a 250 page book priced at $43.50 (I’m talkin’ about you, Dr. Tainter (LINK)) but rather a fairly simple 40 item list.  I’d suggest you go over and read it – it’s not bad.  My list would be different, but you’ll have to wait for a new post for my list – this post is all about Peterson.

I’ve often heard it said, if you want to know who someone is, just ask them.  I was reading an article on the web where these psychiatrists were attempting to figure out a test to give people to determine if they had narcissistic personality disorder.  The best test they’d yet determined was to ask them, “Are you a narcissist?”

Narcissists seem pretty proud answering, “Yes, I am!  Because I’m so awesome!”

Nice.  So, with that in mind, let’s listen to Dr. Peterson.

Dr. Peterson’s first rule is:

Tell the truth. 

Simple.  I think we all learn to lie about stuff as soon as we learn about consequences.  We all start out as horrible liars, since being three years old doesn’t exactly pop us to the top of the “able to make up good, convincing lies” chart unless your parents are very, very stupid.

After playing with lies, if we are very, very, lucky we learn that lies are really, really bad.

I’ll tell you my story, because I’m just enough of a narcissist to think you might be interested.  Because I’m that interesting.

I’ve been divorced, and can attest that divorces are very expensive because they’re worth every penny.  My first wife and I didn’t have personalities that really matched very well.  To top that, neither one of us was very good at telling the truth to each other – it was like a US-USSR arms race where, instead of stockpiles of nuclear weapons, our Cold War involved an ongoing series of falsehoods aimed at one another.  She was relieved to move out.  I was relieved when she moved out and was replaced by Boris Yeltsin (for a short time).  It took tanks and a promise of vodka to get Boris out of the house long enough to change the locks.

Regardless, I could see the impact that lies and distrust had made in my life, and I made a personal vow that, no matter what I did in the future, I would always tell anyone in a future relationship the Truth.  No lies.   And I have told the Truth, regardless of the outcome to The Mrs. since we met.  One time I called home, late, while I was still at work.  I whispered into the mouthpiece, “Can’t come home right now.  Governor of the state is in the office right next to mine, surrounded by news media, talking to my boss.”

The Mrs. only reply was, “Okay.  See you when you get here.”

By this time, we’d been married almost eight years, so, based on my constantly telling the Truth during that time, plus during every interaction before we got married, I think I could have called up and said, “Honey, been picked up by a UFO, and they have Elvis and we’re going out for ribs and beer.  Be back before 11pm.”

This may or may not be what happened to me.

She might have believed that was what was really happening, but she would certainly have believed that I thought it was the Truth.

And this has paid off during my entire relationship with The Mrs., in dividends, though certainly she knows better than to ask my opinion on anything where she doesn’t really want a True answer.  Has it caused friction?  Very rarely.  It did today, because I told her my opinion, and was told (essentially) that she didn’t want that right now.  Sometimes Truth is not what we want.

But in every case, it has led to harmony and trust.  If you have a partner who always tells you the Truth, you know you have someone who is on your team, always.

But back to Dr. Peterson.

In response to the Question on Quora, he listed 40 points.  By my count, 16 of them (40%!) dealt directly with Truth.

Here they are, quoted with permission, with my commentary:

  • Tell the truth. Discussed above.  The core of Dr. Peterson’s points.
  • Do not do things that you hate. If I were to quote Shakespeare, I’d quote Hamlet here: “To thine own self be true.”  Oh, I guess I just did.  This is Truth to self.  Your hate (if everything else is set right) will be based on the dissonance of what you’re doing and your best self.  You’re avoiding Truth by doing things you hate.
  • Act so that you can tell the truth about how you act. Directly related to the above, the idea of having to tell someone, Truthfully, what you did prevents you from doing things you would be ashamed of.  Which would include eating a whole bag of Ruffles®, unless it saved an orphan in some way.
  • Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient. Again, this is more “Truth to self.”  As my coach in high school said, “Wilder, when you cheat on those pushups, you’re just cheating yourself.”  I kid.  I never cheated on pushups in high school.  I cheated on squat-thrusts.  But, when cheat yourself from the Truth of the meaningful, you end up with the never ending squat thrusts of the expedient.
  • If you have to choose, be the one who does things, instead of the one who is seen to do things. I had a boss who was always seen doing things.  In reality, he mainly was responsible for ensuring we had a constant Internet connection, mainly by surfing for things that amused him.  But if there was a way to be seen by his boss doing the “right” thing?  He would move faster than a miniature poodle on a porkchop to get in the credit zone.  I’m pretty sure he’s never been happy, especially since his strategy is to always look good, but he has none of the skills to create great outcomes.  My corollary:  Do things, and be seen doing them.  You can have both.  But never stop doing things.
  • Imagine who you could be, and then aim single-mindedly at that. Again, the theme of being Truthful to oneself continues.  But this is aimed at being Truthful to the long term you.  If you cheat that you, you’ll always have regrets, and probably termites, too.
  • Try to make one room in your house as beautiful as possible. “Who says that fictions only and false hair become a verse?  Is there in truth no beauty?”  Okay, I stole that from the poem “Jordan (I)” by George Herbert, 1593-1633.  And that’s creepy, because I only learned the poem’s name or author tonight – to me it was just the title of a sub-par Star Trek episode (the one where Spock goes temporarily blind).  But outside of the creepy factor of researching a poem to find that it has the same name as the person you’re writing about, beauty is truth, and truth is beauty.  The elegance of pure math.  The sudden discovery of a True thing.  The Wilder corollary to this one:  ugly things around your house steal your energy.  Fix them.
  • Work as hard as you possibly can on at least one thing and see what happens. Again, Truth to self.  I have seen people with amazing skills and talents just stop on their way upward – because they are afraid to fail.  I’ve done that myself, until a very visionary leader told me, after I’d explained what he wanted was hard to do, “Wilder, just do it.”  Nine times out of ten when he told me that, I achieved it.  The tenth?  He got fired.  But he got a severance package worth about $1.4 million.
  • Do not carelessly denigrate social institutions or artistic achievement. There is truth in beauty.  There is also truth in the stable social constructs that have created wealth, peace, and Pez® for thousands of years.  Tear them down?  It’s easy.  But can you tear them down and put up something even better?  Probably not.  Can you make them better?
  • Make friends with people who want the best for you. Again, Truth is your primary commodity here.  Friends who want the best for and from you will tell you the Truth.  Others won’t.  One time I saw the head of operations for a company walk down the hall with about three feet of toilet paper trailing behind his waistband, top center behind, like a big, white, fluffy skunk tail.  Nobody else saw him.  I didn’t tell him when he walked out of his office, somewhat flushed and embarrassed.  He made small talk until he realized I wasn’t going to say, “Hey, saw your toilet paper tail and I’m going to tell everybody!”  And I didn’t tell the office.  He was a nice guy.
  • Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world. How is it possible that you have the answer to world peace, and there’s a towel on the floor in your room?  Or your son hates you?    Thought so.  Fix the things around you so you understand the Truth required to fix the world about you.  I’m still working on cleaning my room, so, my advice is suspect.
  • Be precise in your speech. Precision in speech means . . . you say exactly what you say you mean.  Which is?    The Truth.  And if you go back to Orwell, removing words, or making them mean things they don’t removes the ability to even make certain arguments through language, so at some point the Truth isn’t even possible to utter anymore.
  • Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.  By not teaching Truth to your children you cripple them to find Truth on their own. And finding Truth by yourself is harder than finding a clean spot on Johnny Depp’s sink.  As smart as your children might be, they are not wise, and need you to guide them through Truth so they might find Wisdom, and through Wisdom enough money to pay for your retirement home some future day.
  • Do not hide unwanted things in the fog. We try to hide Truth from ourselves every day.  We look in the mirror and manage to not see what anyone else in the world can plainly see.  While there is no reason that you have to tell the world your deepest regrets, you should at least be able to see them and understand that they are True.
  • Read something written by someone great. Great people write Truth, that’s why what they write is great.  The more profound the Truth, generally, the simpler.  But a great writer can, in 200 pages, take you on a journey that wraps you around and through a path where you walk to Truth.
  • Remember that what you do not yet know is more important than what you already know. As much as we search for the Truth, we learn more every day.

Here is a Peterson theme:  Truth in a Post-Modernist context is always relative and always the product of the culture that created it.  It ceases to be objective Truth, and becomes a relative truth.  From the points above, you might predict that Peterson would reject Post-Modernism because it denies the very existence of Truth.  And you would be right.

The battle lines are set: Modernism vs. Post-Modernism and the very existence of Truth.

What amazes me is that it is clearly explicable in our world that there are objective facts that are True, yet in a Post-Modernist viewpoint, nope, not so.  Therein lies the ultimate fight between Peterson and Post-Modernism – Peterson is on the side of Truth, and his opponents deny that Truth even exists.

There are too many points, too many places where Truth is not the relative product of a culture to even begin to argue that truth doesn’t exist.  (If you must have an example:  there is a force we call gravity that causes mass to clump together.  Truth.  Gravity is not a social construct.  There are cultural Truths as well, but I’m not going to open that can of worms with this post.)

So, I’ll allow that the narcissistic side of my personality is pretty sure that you’ve enjoyed this, but the Truthful side knows that you did.

As for me?  I’m with Dr. Peterson.  Go with the Truth.  It’s a winner.

Author: John

Nobel-Prize Winning, MacArthur Genius Grant Near Recipient writing to you regularly about Fitness, Wealth, and Wisdom – How to be happy and how to be healthy. Oh, and rich.

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