Jordan Peterson & the Ideology of Pathological Postmodernism

A Commentary on Jordan Peterson’s Critique of Pathological Postmodernism: An addiction to ‘feminine’ ideologies of ‘equality and emancipation’.

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In this essay, I will briefly discuss the notion of ‘ideological possession’ as often used by Jordan Peterson in his public talks. I propose that what Peterson refers to as ‘ideological possession’ could also be articulated as ‘ideology addiction’. I will argue that the type of ideological possession or ideology addiction that Peterson highlights in his critique of pathological postmodernism is related to a pathological manifestation of ‘feminine ideologies’ of ‘equality and emancipation’.

It must be noted that Peterson is not entirely critical of postmodern insights. He is sympathetic towards a ‘weak’ social constructionist epistemology, but instead, he critiques extreme forms of epistemic and judgemental relativism (strong social constructionism) – which are often encountered when postmodern insights are applied in the humanities and social sciences. At the same time, he is also critical of reductionist versions of scientific materialism and would propose there are ways to maintain epistemological plurality while not holding to a strictly realistic metaphysics (see for example Bhaskar, 1997; Wilber, 2002).

Ideology Addiction

I have previously proposed that ideologies are psychoactive and potentially addictive (Du Plessis, 2018). I suggest that ‘ideology addiction’ can be understood as a type of ideological possession and zealotry, with deleterious consequences for the individual and society. An individual in the grips of an ideology addiction exhibits psychological and behavioral patterns common to all addicted populations (It must be noted that I am not proposing that all individuals that adhere to an ideological system is ‘ideologically possessed’, but instead am referring to an extreme position of ideological belief).

From a psychodynamic perspective, ideology addiction can be understood as the result of a narcissistic disturbance of self-experience and deficits in self-capabilities. Simply put, from a psychodynamic perspective ideology addiction can be understood as a pathological relationship to an ideology that provides a misguided solution to narcissistic injury and shame. Consequently, the activism of an ideology addict is fundamentally a narcissistic project. A misguided attempt at self-repair and satisfaction of archaic narcissistic needs, and seldom motivated by the ideals of the ideology.

From a self-psychology perspective, narcissistic injury can lead to porous or scant psychic structure that is in constant threat of psychic fragmentation or annihilation. The individual with narcissistic injury often seeks self-objects that provide psychic scaffolding (Kohut, 1971, 1977). Ideology can be understood as self-object that provides much needed psychic structure for such individuals and transports them in a transmogrified fantasy world. The individual who is ideologically possessed is a “narcissist in Wonderland” under the influence of “intoxicating fantasies” (Ulman & Paul, 2000).

Typology of Political Ideology

In the context of the extreme political ideologies, I will argue that there is narcissistic transference (idealized, mirroring and twinship transference) at play as a causal factor in determining an individual’s choice of political orientation. For example although extreme ‘left’ political ideologies, like Communism, and extreme ‘right’ political ideologies, like National Socialism, presents itself conceptually as two opposing ideological positions, from a psychological perspective I will argue that the logical and conceptual content of these ideological positions are superfluous, as the psychological dynamics that motivates both its adherents are similar. At the root lies a form or archaic narcissism that leads to the mode-of-being of ressentiment (in the Nietzschean sense) and a yearning for a future utopia, and what distinguishes the extreme left from the extreme right is the type of narcissistic transference individuals use to sooth their unstable inner worlds. People consumed by ressentiment are, says Nietzsche, “cellar rats full of revenge and hatred” and conceals “a whole, vibrating realm of subterranean revenge” (in Leiter, 2002, p 203).

To elucidate the above hypothesis I will apply a typological perspective. There are many typological perspectives that can be applied in the context of addiction. One example is that of feminine and masculine types. “When we speak of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ we are not necessarily speaking of biological ‘male’ or ‘female’, but rather referring to a spectrum of attitudes, behaviors, and cognitive styles (Dupuy & Morelli, 2007). I have previously proposed that psychoactive substances could be classified according to a masculine or feminine typology (Du Plessis, 2010, 2012, 2015, 2018). Depressants or downers such as tranquilizers and heroin could be classified as ‘feminine psychoactive substances’. And stimulants or uppers such as cocaine and methamphetamine can be classified as ‘masculine psychoactive substances’.

I will argue that that extreme left and right political ideologies could also be classified according to a similar typological continuum. For example, on the one side of the continuum we have extreme the extreme left-wing ideology of Communism on the one side and on the other side, we have the extreme right-wing ideology of National Socialism. Although they represent two extreme poles on the political spectrum, there are more similarities than differences. As Sir Rodger Scruton (2016) states, in his book Fools, Frauds and Firebrands, that “the public ideology of communism is one of equality and emancipation, while that of fascism [for example National Socialism] emphasizes distinction and triumph. But the two systems resemble each other in all other aspects…” (p. 201). I classify extreme left ideologies like communist as a ‘pathological feminine ideology’ of “equality and emancipation” and extreme right ideologies like fascism as a ‘pathological masculine ideology’ of “distinction and triumph”. Like Scruton (2016) I will argue that there is a “deep structural similarity between communism and fascism, both as theory and as practice” and to think otherwise “is to betray the most superficial understanding of modern history” (p. 200–201).

To articulate a typology perspective of substance use disorders and ideology addiction I will apply the bioself-psychological typology of addiction of Ulman and Paul (2006). Kohut, (as cited in Ulman and Paul, 2006) stated:

“The self should be conceptualized as a lifelong arc linking two polar sets of experiences: on one side, a pole of ambitions related to the original grandiosity [feminine] as it was affirmed by the mirroring self-object, more often the mother; on the other side, a pole of idealizations [masculine], the person’s realized goals, which, particularly in the boy though not always, are laid down from the original relationship to the self-object that is represented by the father and his greatness. (p. 30)”

In Ulman and Paul’s bioself-psychological typology, addiction is understood as a psychological end result of the developmental arrest in the bipolarity of the formation of the self. Biological psychiatrists, in their conception of bipolar spectrum disorder, devote considerable attention to depression and mania as they manifest in this disorder. These mood disorders correlate with disorders of the bipolar self as understood by Kohut. He stated,

“In general, a disturbance in the pole of grandiosity [feminine] may find expression in either an empty, depleted depression or, in contrast, in over-expansive and over-exuberant mania or hypomania; whereas a disturbance in the pole of omnipotence [masculine] may appear in either depressive disillusionment and disappointment in the idealized or, in contrast, in manic (or hypomanic) delusions of superhuman physical and/or mental powers. We maintain that an individual may be subject to specific outcomes resulting from a disturbance in either or both of these poles of the self. (in Ulman & Paul, pp. 395–396)”

Owing to the specific accompanying mood disorder of each of the possible disturbances of the poles of the self, individuals will be attracted to certain psychoactive substances and ideologies, which can be understood as an attempt at rectifying a specific deficit in self and coping style (Ulman & Paul, 2006).

Therefore, by using the masculine and feminine typology, we could propose that the psychopharmacological properties of certain classes of psychoactive substances and the psychoactive effect of ideologies correlate with masculine and feminine typologies (i.e., depressant psychoactive substances and extreme left ideologies of “equality and emancipation” with the feminine, and stimulant psychoactive substances and extreme right ideologies of “distinction and triumph” with the masculine), and how Kohut’s (1977) poles of the self can also be classified within a masculine and feminine typology (pole of grandiosity/feminine and pole of omnipotence/masculine). We can, therefore, propose that certain masculine/feminine psychoactive substances and masculine/feminine ideologies act as a structural prosthesis and a narcissistic object for transference in an attempt to rectify dysfunctional masculine and/or feminine poles of the self and coping styles. In short, extreme left ideologies of “equality and emancipation” (feminine) is a source for mirroring transference, and extreme right ideologies of “distinction and triumph” (masculine) is a source for idealized transference, and both provide a source for twinship transference.

Conclusion

According to Scruton the “[m]ost important is the way in which ideology of the kind I discuss [in Fools, Frauds, and Firebrands] insulates itself against criticism, regards non-believers as a threat, and refuses to examine evidence coming from outside the closed circle of gratifying ideas” (personal communication, 5 August 2018). I would ascribe that “burying one’s head in the sand” phenomenon (so typical of the ideologically possessed) as a protective mechanism against ‘narcissistic mortification’ and psychic fragmentation/annihilation. For this type of narcissistically disturbed individual the ideology serves the dynamic function of a ‘psychic prosthesis’ for a feeble and unstable self, and therefore a threat to the coherence of the ideology is experienced as a direct attack on the self and conjures up powerful archaic fears of psychic fragmentation and annihilation. Therefore, to maintain psychic homeostasis the ideologically possessed individual must do everything in his power to refute these “attacks of reality” and eliminate the threat (often violently), or face a profoundly disturbing and frightening emotional experience (which perhaps could help explain the bizarre and elaborate mental gymnastics performed by many radical leftist “intellectuals” in their defence of Communist dictators like Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong even after they were clearly exposed as brutal mass murderers).

References

Bhaskar, R. (1997). A Realist Theory of Science. 2nd edition London: Verso.

Collins HM (1981) Stages in the Empirical Program of Relativism – Introduction. Social Studies of Science. 11, (1).

Du Plessis, G. P. (2010). The integrated recovery model for addiction treatment and recovery. Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, 5(3), 68-87.

Du Plessis, G. P. (2012). Integrated recovery therapy: Toward an integrally informed individual psychotherapy for addicted populations. Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, 7(1), 124-148.

Du Plessis, G. P. (2015). An Integral guide to recovery: Twelve Steps and beyond. Integral Publishers: AZ, Tuscan.  

Du Plessis, G. P. (2018). An integral foundation for addiction and its treatment: Beyond the biopsychosocial model. Integral Publishers: AZ, Tuscan.

Dupuy, J. & Morelli, M. (2007). Toward an integral recovery model for drug and alcohol addiction. Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, 2(3), 26-42.

Hoffer, E. (1951). The true believer. New York: Harper & Row.

Kohut, H. (1971). The analysis of the self: A systematic approach to the psychoanalytic treatment of narcissistic personality disorders. New York, NY: International University Press.

Kohut, H. (1977). The restoration of self. New York, NY: International University Press.

Leiter, B. (2002). Nietzsche on morality. New York: Routledge.

Peterson, J. (2018). 12 rules for life: An antidote to chaos. Toronto, Canada: Random House.

Scruton, R. (2016). Fools, frauds, and firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Ulman, R. B., & Paul, H. (2006). The self psychology of addiction and its treatment: Narcissus in wonderland. New York, NY: Routledge.

Wilber, K. (2003). Excerpt A: An integral age at the leading edge. Ken Wilber Online. Retrieved from, from http://wilber.shambhala.com/html/books/kosmos/excerptA/part1.cfm/

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Guy du Plessis

Guy du Plessis holds a Masters degree in psychology from the University of South Africa, and is a faculty member in the School of Behavioural Sciences at California Southern University, research consultant for the I-System Institute for Transdisciplinary Studies at Utah State University, and a Faculty Member at the Wayne Institute for Advanced Psychotherapy at Bellarmine University. He is the author of three books and has published in the fields of addiction treatment and studies, theoretical psychology and philosophy.

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