Comment on a Jordan Peterson video about the radical left

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson On The Impact Of the Radical Left – YouTube

02:16 “It is easy to understand why people are emotionally drawn to the ideals of socialism (let’s say) or the left; because it draws it’s fundamental motivational source from a kind of primary compassion, and that is always there in human beings. And so that proclivity for sensitivity to that political message will never go away, and so it is important to understand that. You have to give the devil his due. Unfortunately.”

Perhaps the most disturbing passage I have ever heard Jordan speak.

I can make sense of it only in the sense of the Devil being the extreme political expression of socialism embodied in communism.

18:52 – 20:34 Jordan says:
[The debate is whether there is such a thing as free speech. And the answer from the radicals is that there isn’t. Because for there to be free speech, there have to be sovereign individuals, (right?) and those sovereign individuals have to be defined by that sovereign individuality, and they have to have their own locus of truth, in some sense that is a consequence of that sovereignty. And then they have to be able to engage in rational discursive negotiation with people who are not like them, which means they have to stretch their hands (let’s say) across racial or ethnic divides. They have to be able to communicate. They have to be able to formulate a negotiated practical agreement.
And NONE of that is part and parcel of the post modern doctrine.
All of that is “up for grabs”.
There is no “sovereign individuals”.
Your group identity is paramount.
You have no unique voice.
You are a mouthpiece of your identity group.
You can’t speak across group lines, because you don’t understand the lived experience of the other.
And so, it’s not who gets to speak. It is whether the entire notion of (this is a very classic western notion, and a very deep one) of free and intelligible speech is even valid.
This intellectual war that is going on in the universities is way deeper than a political war.
It is way more serious than a political war. It manifests itself politically, but politics is way up the scale from where this is taking place.]

Some truth in this, and also many over simplifications.

Like Jordan, I reject the notion that there is no freedom, and the sort of freedom that seems to exist has very real limits and consequences if those limits are exceeded.

Everything hangs on the ontological and epistemological assumptions one brings to the party, and thus how one defines the idea of freedom.

And that must go back to assumptions about the nature of ontology (what is reality) and epistemology (what is knowledge); and is a very complex field of inquiry that is part personal in being an exploration of the nature of existence as an experience, and part objective in being an exploration of the best evidence sets and what seems to be the most relevant schema for interpreting and relating those evidence sets about what is the nature of ourselves and the reality within which we find ourselves.

That is not a simple inquiry.

Anyone who is serious about it has to look at history, the deep history of cosmology, the history of our solar system, our planet, of the evolution of life, of the evolution of culture, and of cultures in particular.
Any serious student also has to look at the best tools available for making models of (useful approximations to) the complexity that seems to reside in reality and in ourselves.

That means delving into logic and mathematics, not because reality necessarily is logical, but because logic and reason and mathematics give us the best modeling tools we have to approximate the sorts of complexity that seem to exist. And because reality seems to be extremely complex, beyond the ability of any cognitive entity to deal with in anything remotely approaching real time, then we are forced to use approximations, shortcuts, heuristics. We have no choice but to use them, but that does not mean that any of them are actually 100% accurate in all contexts – and we wouldn’t be using them if they weren’t at least useful in some contexts.

Understanding evolution is a deep journey into chemistry and quantum mechanics, and simultaneously a journey into highly dimensional probability spaces, to spaces of strategy that are constantly, recursively expanding, to highly dimensional complex adaptive far from equilibrium systems.
It is a deep journey into social organisation, stories, mythology, religion, politics, psychology, and every other discipline one can imagine. All are related. All have some degree of influence. It is complex beyond any possibility of detailed comprehension – for any one, or any thing, ever.

The classical notion that “Truth” might be known, that an absolute one-to-one correspondence between an idea in someone’s head and reality (whatever it is), could be established, seems, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, to have been disproven.

The mistake that seems common in many lines of “post modern” thought, is to make that mean that no probabilistic approach to usefulness and appropriateness of approximation is possible. That approach is equally, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, wrong.

We can, and all do, find useful approximations that work in context.

The more complex the context, and the more time we have, the more complex the models we find useful.
That is a more relaxed notion of “truth” than the classical one.

I have been using such a probabilistic and heuristic approach to knowledge for close to 50 years.

It seems very probable to me, that whatever reality is, it is some sort of constrained randomness – some sort of probabilistic balance between the lawful and the random. In the strictest of mathematical senses it has degrees of freedom.

Those degrees of freedom seem to carry through to all notions of freedom.

Nothing is entirely free of influence, and no influence can absolutely in all cases produce an outcome (however reliably such things may be approximated in some contexts).

In this fashion, we all certainly have influences in our being from our biological ancestries (and we don’t need to go back many generations before we all share ancestors), from our cultural ancestries (and with TV, books, the internet, we all share cultural influences and ancestries to many different degrees), and from our families, our communities, our groups. All of these influences are real and present, at least to some degree that will vary with context.

And we all have degrees of freedom that allow us to deviate from the probabilities to action that any of those influences establish in our neural networks.

We all have internal randomness, internal breaks in the chains of cause and effect, at many different levels.
These things do create freedom from necessary cause.
We do all have such degrees of freedom.

And certainly, too much of such things destroys systems.

Too much randomness destroys complexity, and complex systems like ourselves, and our social and technological systems fail in catastrophic ways.

All levels of systems require boundaries to sustain form. Without our skin, and our cell walls, our water would just be part of an undifferentiated ocean.

Our individuality at every level requires a degree of stability in boundary conditions.
Too much freedom is destructive.
Too little freedom is just as dangerous to survival.
Where those boundaries lie in any particular context defines the survivable spectrum of diversity that needs to be acknowledged and cherished.

Certainly those of more generally conservative or liberal persuasions may prefer collections towards one or other end of that spectrum, and the existence of the spectrum must be acknowledged by all.

At base it seems clear that all of our abilities to make whatever sense we each can of existence, the values we have by default, and our ability to create and choose new values, seem to come ultimately from the differential survival of things in a reality with fundamentally uncertain aspects, over deep time.

It seems clear, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that as a species and as individuals we can most accurately be characterised as fundamentally cooperative entities, however non-cooperative, competitive and exploitative we can each be if the context seems to call for it.

It seems clear, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that our continued existence is predicated on creating and maintaining conditions that promote cooperation and diversity (within survivable limits) at all levels, most particularly at the highest levels.

The utility of markets in that process seems to be reaching an end, as their utility in the distribution and coordination of functions that must be distributed and coordinated is being overtaken by advanced computational systems, and all we are left with is their fundamental flaws and dangers.

So yes – it is much deeper than politics.

Yes it is deeply about the nature of what we are, and the nature of our understandings about that and our relationship to it, and what are useful approximations in practice.

Yes our moral dimensions are an essential expression of these general principles at higher levels.

And many of the notions of antiquity that are about ideas like respect, love, tolerance, acceptance, responsibility and duty are as relevant today as they always were; as are such notions as “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance”, and it needs to be a vigilance looking in places our ancestors never even imagined the possibility of.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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