Jordan Peterson has announced that he’s in talks to hold a public debate with Slavoj Zizek, perhaps as early as March this year. I consider myself familiar with the work of both, perhaps more than most, so I might as well provide a preview of what I think will be topics of discussion, and the positions held by both.
This is not the first such preview, not it will be funniest. It will be short, but not the shortest; for a really short preview, we can say that Peterson will take on the traditional role of British philosopher, with Zizek as the continental: and, as the joke goes, the British philosopher will accuse the continental philosopher of being excessively convoluted, and the continental philosopher will accuse the British philospher of being excessively.
I’ve read more Zizek than Peterson, but I’ve listened to a large amount of conferences and debates in which the two have been involved, separately until now. Here’s some of what I’ve learned, in mock debate format; I’ve decided to structure this stuff in three separate categories which I think may correspond with the main themes of the debate:
-Marxism, the Frankfurt School and Equality of Outcomes:
Peterson will kick off the debate by trying to pin Zizek’s positions on a variety of topics down, in what will likely become a feature for the rest of the debate. Peterson will profess astonishment as to how somebody cultivated and who doesn’t need a government job can openly declare himself a Communist at this point in human history, and will challenge Zizek to explain whether he is one, and which are the features of communism that he finds appealing.
At this point, Zizek will likely explain a version of his famous description of Communist leaders applauding themselves, as a way to applaud the unstoppable march of progress that makes them simple, temporary repositories of historical determinism and power, and compare it with Fascist leaders standing up to applause, convinced that they are men of destiny destined to twist the flow of time.
Peterson will ask Zizek whether he thinks joking about Stalin is thus fair game, while joking about Hitler isn’t, and Zizek will explain how Stalin, whatever his horrendous crimes, belongs to the “right side of history,” whatever Peterson may think — and it wasn’t Zizek’s call that this is such, and he wouldn’t vote for it, if he had a say but whatever.
In any case, Zizek will explain, he thinks it’s perfectly fine to joke about Hitler, even though such laughter really threatens to shatter a pillar of current ideology, by making Nazism a part of history rather than the Event, or turning point, that it is: and that is the mistake of La Vita e Bella, the movie, and also its greatest triumph, because trying to make drama about the Holocaust is a terrible idea: true horror cannot be depicted, or even transmitted, and it’s obscene to just try. Much better to laugh, and to pretend it was all a comedy.
At this point, Peterson will claim to have reached some sort of agreement with Zizek: that Nazism is the worst, lowest point in human history, and Communism not really much better, even though he ruling ideology insists on whitewashing the Bolshevik experience. Peterson will say that this is the fault of lefties such as “Cultural Marxists” spawned by the Frankfurt School, who have managed to smuggle Communism as a trendy sort of idea for the sons and daughters of prosperous 21st century burgeois, using the “chattering buzz of ideologically-posessed demons,” to use the words he deployed in a conference last year.
Zizek will protest at this, but Peterson will go on: people who tolerate such mendacity have created the worst-possible idea of the era: that equality of outcome, as opposed to equality of opportunities, is desirable. He will push on because he knows Zizek doesn’t have much of an objection to this — because Zizek really agrees with the notion that seeking equality of outcomes is foolish, at best.
-Jung and the Jungians:
Peterson, being a clinical psychologist, he will go on about how some people are driven to seek new experiences and end up on the Left, and how the inherent madness of just believing these people, and these people only, are right, is dangerous for society. He will remind the audience that Karl Jung proposed in 1920 the difference between introverts and extroverts, and will quote Jung’s famous dictum: “People think they have ideologies, but ideologies have people.”
Zizek will retort that Peterson gives Jung way too much credit, and the discussion will veer away from politics and towards the nitty-gritty of pyschoanalysis and non-being, where Zizek will dominate and confuse and overwhelm, inasmuch as a sharp debater like Peterson can be overwhelmed.
Zizek will summarize his view that ”Jung is a New Age obscurantist reinscription of Freud” (1) and accuse Peterson of being a hostage of his own foes, the radicals of May’68, who were in reality hysterics, poor misled people who just provoke the master with a secret call for a new, more authentic master; perverts are the ones who go to the end.
Building up on this theme, he will then expound the ideas he included in his 2016 book “Disparities,” connecting Jung with German Idealism and the struggle with how to limit subjectivity without regressing to a precritical (pre-Kantian) realism. Regarding Jung’s interest in the Unconscious, the point made by the ‘normativist’ Hegelians holds only for the nineteenth-century Lebensphilosophie and for Jung (who resubstantialized the Freudian Unconscious), but definitely not for Freud and Lacan:
“When Lacan repeatedly asserts that il n’y a pas de grand Autre, there is no big Other, he means precisely that the Unconscious is not an alienated substance determining subject: the Freudian Unconscious is a name for the inconsistency of Reason itself (Lacan even uses the shortened formula Ics which can be read as the condensation of inconscient and of inconsistance) of reason itself.”
To which Peterson will reply: Noam Chomsky had a point when he said that sometimes you don’t make any sense. Or something to that effect.
-Political correctness as sickness of the Left:
Peterson will start strong on this topic. He’s a true hero of the fight for free speech, having challenged Canada’s strict censorship regulations, and will harp on how political correctness, brought upon by (alleged) Marxists knee-deep in confusing theory, is in danger of killing off the West, and how he inspires young people with the message that they should cut through the bullshit, stand up straight and make their own beds. Yes, we better start doing like the lobsters do, dammit.
Zizek will concede the point, and insist that he too hates political correctness, which is true. He will say that Peterson is profoundly wrong on blaming Marxists for it, and that this mistake is connected to his earlier insistence that the evils of the time are the fault of the Frankfurt theories and their followers today, who are generally speaking mild socialdemocrats obsessed with LGBT rights who faint at the sight of Trump.
Zizek will then provide le coup de grace:
He will accuse Peterson of being drawn to the hysterical posturing of capitalists who think they are Marxists because they wear Che Guevara T-shirts, while Peterson will reply that Zizek is a fundamentally unsound thinker, a profesional obfuscator who can’t elaborate a proper theory of whether one should make one’s bed or not, since he’s so worried with criticizing everyone else’s shortcoming and biases.
To which Zizek will reply: yes, you got me there; half-jokingly only. They will part good friends and theoretical enemies.
- Slavoj Zizek, June 2018 interview with Jstor Daily