Remember When Jordan Peterson Was a Thing?
If there's any doubt, there is no doubt.
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1. The UnPopulist
One of our recurring questions here is the nature of crazy: Do people go crazy? Or were they always crazy, but just passing as normal?
Over at the UnPopulist, Tom Palmer catches up with alt-right conservative / brave intellectual dark web truth teller Jordan Peterson, who has made the journey from side-show curiosity to Putin apologist. Here’s Palmer:
It turns out that there are people who believe that Putin was forced to invade Ukraine because Russia is a part of the West and therefore has a stake in its culture war whose Ground Zero is somehow Ukraine. That is the view that University of Toronto psychology professor and popular lecturer Jordan Peterson expressed in a recent 51-minute video monologue. In fact, he believes that Russia’s invasion has something to do with the controversies about gender and gender identity in the West.
Tell me more!
Peterson rose to fame because of his unsparing slams on wokeness and its crusade over gender identity, pronouns and so on. But in this monologue, he focuses his ire on the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Kentanji Brown Jackson. Peterson was particularly miffed that Brown dodged Tennessee Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn’s “gotcha question”—as Peterson himself puts it—in which Brown was asked to “provide a definition for the word ‘woman.’” Jackson declined, noting that she was “not a biologist.” As far as Peterson is concerned, Jackson’s refusal to answer Sen. Blackburn’s simple question is proof of a “deranged,” “degenerate” and “insane” West. . . .
Russia is a part of the West, he asserts, and “Russians believe that they have the highest moral duty to oppose the degenerate ideas, philosophy, theology of the West.” More strikingly, that belief, Peterson insists, is “not wrong”: “And there’s something about that, that is not wrong. And that is why the incursion of Russia into Ukraine is, more truly, a civil war in the West.”
Now it’s all making sense. The nationalist-conservatives (a) love Putin and (b) are horny for civil war. Peterson has found a way to combine the two: The invasion of Ukraine is the new civil war. And the Russians are protecting their “heritage” and sovereignty?
I mean, in a way that all kind of scans, doesn’t it? Especially when you understand that in this view, the Russians the Confederates—and that’s why Peterson and some other conservatives are rooting for them.
In Peterson’s case, I think the answer to our initial question has always been pretty obvious: The guy was crazy as a bag of cats from the get-go. Here’s Palmer on the Peterson origin story:
Peterson has gained a huge internet following by sometimes saying—in very profound sounding tones—things that seem pretty sensible, such as, “If you want to change the world, you start with yourself and work outward because you build your competence that way. I don’t know how you can go out and protest the structure of the entire economic system if you can’t keep your room organized.” That seems to me like reasonable advice to a young person. His books and his talks offer a lot more advice like that, such as “pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.” I’m fond of cats so that’s fine with me—but he lost me in his “12 Rules for Life” book at “step forward to take your place in the dominance hierarchy.”
LPT: If you see a person in the public square who says some things that line up with your priors, but also seems maybe kind of crazy . . . they’re crazy. Or, as Neil McCauley (maybe) said, “If there’s any doubt, there is no doubt.”
2. Unpopular Front
John Ganz has some thoughts about the origins of what he calls the American Völkisch.
The chapter of my book I’m currently writing deals with the Ruby Ridge incident, where Randy Weaver, a survivalist, and his family, faced off against the federal government in a siege of his Idaho cabin. As you may remember, the result was tragedy: the Weaver clan killed a Federal marshal, and the feds killed Weaver’s wife and son. The stand off at Ruby Ridge was perhaps the key moment in the creation of the modern militia movement. But what interests me at the moment is what the Weavers believed and how they came to believe it. The Weavers were followers of a Christian Identity, which stipulates that White Anglo-Saxons are the true Israelites of the Bible and that those known as Jews today were actually Satan’s spawn. They thought the U.S. government was dominated by a Satanic conspiracy and were prepared to kill and die for their beliefs.
Ganz asks how the Weavers, a normal, Midwestern couple, got radicalized. His answer is that their story,
involves their getting deeper and deeper into apocalyptic and conspiratorial thought, but very roughly speaking Christian Identity, which was actually developed by American Nazis in the 1930s, easily plugged into the religious traditions the Weavers grew up in. It contained millennialism, the idea of an elect, Biblical prophecy, and it organized people into local congregations: it was not a far cry from evangelical, Reformed, and fundamentalist Protestantism they grew up with, so it did not appear all that alien. But it twisted one tenet of Calvinism: instead of believers thinking of themselves as metaphorical Israelites, a community of believers in covenant with God, it taught that they were the literal bloodline descendants of the tribes, which also were actually the Aryans of Europe, not the Semites of the Middle East. In short, it replaced the concept of community with that of race.
Mastriano also has an increasingly familiar religious profile. He has described the Gulf War, in which he served in 1991, as a “holy” war—a belief reflected in his bizarre 2002 graduate thesis, “Nebuchadnezzar’s Sphinx.” He has attended events of the Charismatic Christian dominionist movement known as the New Apostolic Reformation. He shares anti-Muslim memes, hangs out with militia members to guard Confederate statues at Gettysburg, and constantly hits all the main themes of Christian nationalist discourse in his speeches and other activities. In one particularly tasteless moment, he announced his gubernatorial candidacy while wearing a tallit and blowing a shofar—symbols that Christian nationalists have appropriated from the Jewish tradition and use to declare apocalyptic spiritual war.
You don’t have to be the world’s greatest detective to see what’s going on here. Anyway . . .
Back to Ganz:
Many of the doctrines cooked up by the extreme right do similar variations on fundamental American myths. There’s a consistent effort to appropriate Americana. For instance, Posse Comitatus, which I wrote about recently, is related to Christian Identity teaching and plays on Old West themes of sheriffs and vigilantes; The Militia Movement tries to appropriate the language of the Constitution . . .
It occurred to me one thing that might help us to understand this phenomenon was George L. Mosse’s work, namely his book The Crisis of German Ideology: The Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich. Mosse’s argument is basically that Nazism didn’t come out of nowhere, but that there was a fertile cultural context that dated back to the 19th century: the völkisch movement. “Völkisch” is a bit difficult to translate, on the one hand it can be as anodyne as “popular” and “populist,” but in this context it is redolent of blood-and-soil nationalism and mysticism. Völkisch ideology had its roots in a romantic revolt against modernity: its adherents took a deep interest in the natural, “going back to the land,” in old Germanic folklore, mythology, and traditions. It often had a racial and anti-semitic component, opposing the earthy, practical German people to the abstract, alien Jew. The Nazis both sprang out of this subculture and took advantage of its penetration into the national imagination. In Mosse’s telling, Nazism was an ingenious combination of völkisch anti-modernism and modern mass political techniques. . . .
One way to conceive of this far right Americana as a kind of American völkism: an ideological imaginary that is a reaction to the modern situation but presents itself as rooted in the soil, in the country’s oldest traditions and lore.
Look, it’s not a straight line from the Völkisch movement to “traditionalists” like Jordan Peterson and the Nat Cons. But you can see from one point to the other.
3. Regular Car Reviews
It’s a YouTube channel and not a newsletter, but Regular Car Reviews is one of life’s pleasures.
In the middle of this week’s review of the Hyundai Ioniq 5, Mr. Regular has a little digression in which he comes up with some taglines for Motel 6 ads.
Motel 6: Look, we’re not happy about this either.
Motel 6: If they were going to leave, they would have left by now.
Motel 6: Drink 10 Miller Genuine Drafts and wait for this to blow over.
Motel 6: Did anybody really see you do it?
Everything about this channel is great. Enjoy.
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ICYMI this week:
The Next Level - Tim Miller, Sarah Longwell and I tackle Herschel Walker and Dr. Oz.
Beg to Differ - Mona Charen leads a discussion with guests Prof. Steve Vladeck and Bill Kristol on how far the Supreme Court will go this term on matters of race and elections.
Across the Movie Aisle - Sonny Bunch, Alyssa Rosenberg, and Peter Suderman ask if it’s a controversy or a nontroversy that Billy Eichner blamed the straights for Bros bombing at the box office before reviewing Blonde.
The Focus Group - Sarah Longwell and Politico’s Holly Otterbein listen to swing voters in the Pennsylvania governor’s race.
The Bulwark Podcast - Kara Swisher joins Charlie Sykes to talk about those billionaires like Elon Musk and Peter Thiel who don’t care what they break.
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