Paying for the Podcasts of the Unexamined Life

Have you noticed Jordan Peterson’s new stridency? I listened to his angry podcast with Rex Murphy. I thought it bordered on bitterness, but then, I don’t have to live in Canada. I have seen his message to Christian churches and to Twitter. I have heard his interview with Rod Dreher, one of the ones you don’t want to miss. I’m actually behind on his podcasts because there have been so many recently, beside all the little things he’s showering into youTube. It seems to have started around the time Twitter locked his account.

I remember thinking that Twitter had gone to far. They are locking him out for something J.K. Rowling has essentially done, and she is still there. I thought there were people that were un-cancellable, and that surely Jordan Peterson was one of them. But it happened, and it looks permanent, and he has since turned-on attack mode. Three observations shoot forth from the branch of this event.

The first is that twitter seems to be in some kind of meltdown phase. It is amusing that Elon Musk told them he was going to buy them, they said no way, he wrestled with them, he decided he was not going to buy them, and they end up saying: You have to buy us! Now they’re suing him. What comes out of that? A legal record of how many bots it has, an arbitrated and scrutinized evaluation of the value of the thing, and perhaps Musk owning it at a cheaper price, or, on the other hand, the whole experience terminating it. What would we who for a decade or more have used Twitter do if it goes? I don’t think it gets replaced, I think it moves into the past and is a part of a receding moment. And I think that if it could not be reformed, it has certainly outlived its use. I will say I’ve learned a whole lot from using Twitter.

The second is that Jordan Peterson has been spooked by social media in the past. He’s had a beta version of his own platform for years and years now. When will that be up and running? He has gone to the Daily Wire, the consolidated and growing corporation of the old Intellectual Dark Web. It may be the answer to what happens to Twitter and youTube and all free services. If you want quality content, you have to pay. I think some kind of consolidation of bundled services makes sense. Why shouldn’t something as recent as the internet go through all kinds of iterations and changes? To have a paywall is the logic of the streaming service, after all. Once a service has a reputation, once it is of known quality, it makes sense to charge and deal with willing customers, not all and sundry. Free services are for the mendicant until they no longer have to beg. Will this eventually issue into a less open internet ruled by the gatekeepers who run fiefdoms within their protective paywalls?

The third thing issuing from the Twitter lockout is that maybe Peterson is working himself up to something. He goes through throes in all kinds of public and unusual ways and afterward comes out of some great pile-on stronger by orders of magnitude. That is the pattern. What is he working himself up for this time? I understand that, like his daughter, he’s relocated or relocating to Nashville. What is going on in Nashville? The Daily Wire is there, is that all? Is Nashville another Austin, a new gathering place and refuge for people with determination to accomplish what is elsewhere banned?

Returning to the subject of podcasts, I’m also behind on John Anderson podcasts. Two observations there. One is that he is so sane and sensible. The other is that he’s so low-key that I can see him having to go away if youTube censored him. So what happens to people at that level, the small, good gifts of the open internet? What happens to lower-profile fountains of enlightening conversation? These are people talking about books. But they are not people whose books you would always read. It is like Abigail Shrier or Douglas Murray. I don’t need to read these books once I’ve heard them talk about it. I tried, and they had no grip on me because I had the gist already. I think the podcast gets to the point of certain kinds of books about current events in a better way. The book is necessary to garner the research and organization necessary to make observations. We need Murray to write it, but we don’t need to read it: we have the podcasts. Of course, no book, no incentive for him to research.

So does that drive us back to the paywall for the podcast?

McGilchrist

Iain McGilchrist these days is popping up on my personal notification network (Twitter). It is happening because he is releasing a two-volume magnum opus. Many people would want to know what he says just because of the interesting title of the book, let alone the subject, let alone the author. McGuilchrist has earned his reputation; he has already written a work widely considered at least very important if not crucial. (Magna opera?) If that earlier work turn out not to be a classic, it will take a while for the world to be disabused.

His name either is one of those that always sounds familiar or had come up in some connection previously. Do you know what I mean? It is either the kind of name that makes you feel you always knew it, or you have heard it so much in ways you no longer remember that it feels that way. When Jordan Peterson interviewed him, I was glad for some information on the person. They talked about the then-forthcoming book, and that was interesting enough that I got The Master and His Emissary.

This book reminds me of two smaller books. Owen Barfield’s Saving the Appearances and D. E. Harding’s The Hierarchy of Heaven & Earth. Both of these are extraordinary. The first prepared me for the Copernican revolution that Platonism is against the Nominalist assumptions of modern perceptions. The second is another such Copernican revolution on the perspective of our sense of scale. Now what McGilchrist is doing in his book is bringing observations about the mind back around to neuroscience and trying to explain a Copernican revolution with regard to the brain. (I had no idea the brain is such a complicated organ. It is difficult to wade through the neuroscience, but now that I’m in the second half of the book, worth it.)

In his celebrated earlier tome, McGilchrist offers explanations, which are not intended to be exhaustive, but add another significant detail to the history of ideas. I offer you a tantalizing example:

“Our feelings are not ours, any more than, as Scheler said, our thoughts are ours. We locate them in our heads, in our selves, but they cross interpersonal boundaries as though such limits had no meaning for them: passing back and forth from one mind to another, across space and time, growing and breeding, but where we do not know [my emphasis]. What we feel arises out of what I feel for what you feel for what I feel about your feelings about me – and about many other things besides: it arises from the betweenness, and in this way feeling binds us together, and, more than that, actually unites us, since the feelings are shared.”

I’m at least looking forward to all the podcasts his new book will elicit.  

Between Phenomena

I have to compare, having read Out of the Ashes and having read about (note the preposition) The Benedict Option, now that the Jordan Peterson phenomenon is gaining momentum, these two phenomena. I am also watching the Yale course on late antiquity on youTube, and it prompts the comparison.

On the one hand you have Christians, Catholics, conservatives, Western civilized men who are concerned for our present condition, believe the situation is irremediable, and recommend in both instances a retreat in order to preserve what we have. If you think about it, it worked in the past. Western Civilization was born from the patient labor of monasteries, working among barbarians after the collapse of the civilization of late antiquity. The monastic reforms—endeavoring to retain the ideal which guided Benedictine monasticism—eventually reformed life, and as it flourished and became complex, it developed the institutions of Western civilization.

On the other hand you have Peterson, who is also a product of Western civilization, but not a Christian in any traditional sense. He believes the Bible to be a deep, mysterious book that speaks to the enigmas of the human condition, and puts us in touch with something transcendent which makes the difference between chaos and order. His interpretation is a modern one, because his frame of reference is entirely modern, affirming what Western civilization has before this last, catastrophic phase of it, has achieved. And even that is putting the thing as if he weren’t a man who is happy about the cutting edge of human inquiry in our present societies. And his message is very much this-wordly, and not other-wordly. He wants to deal with our present condition, with our present situation, and help us make what we can of the moment that is our earthly, temporal, and mortal life. He is advocating no retreat.

I’m sure Peterson has a point. What draws me to him is his courage, his smoldering but rationally directed fury, his possession of certainty, and the heroic combination of the whole. And I wish we were more given to fighting the monsters rather than nostalgically lamenting that we no longer live in a world without [fill in the blank]. I hear no elegies from Peterson. He stands up with the weapons that come to hand, with the resources that are available in the present hour, so to speak.

And yet, the elegiac mood is inescapable for a sense of otherworldliness. The rightness of the belief of those who have something other than this world is of course compelling. The children of this world will always correctly suspect that Christians are not invested, because our hearts are elsewhere. We have become pilgrims and sojourners in a real way, a way that Jordan Peterson would turn into a metaphor and harness for temporal ends. Our satisfaction will come when the wind is blowing over the grass growing on our graves, for then we will be absent from the body and present with the Lord. Our satisfaction will come in the resurrection, and that is an entirely different order from the present: it is the new creation, and we are still in the old.

I find at present that these two phenomena are in many ways irreconcilable, and I also find that this does not satisfy me. Is it one of the intractabilities that shapes the Christian life in overlapping ages? It is something to keep investigating.