Sunday, July 22, 2018

In defence of identity

It's not easy to categorise Jordan Peterson. He calls himself a "classic British liberal" but he's not entirely like the "free market, individual liberty and limited government" right-liberals who have dominated the establishment centre-right parties.

For one thing, he is not a materialist in his philosophy and nor does he believe that self-interest or the pursuit of happiness are adequate ideals in life. He accepts the reality of differences between the sexes. He takes the idea of life as a moral project very seriously.

Even so, he has kept the strongly individualistic outlook that is typical of classical liberalism. He frequently criticises the idea that we might take pride in the achievements of the group we belong to; he believes that we may only have pride in individual accomplishments. As an example:

And he also approved of this graphic in which individualism is pitted against all forms of collectivism, including nationalism:

He even claims that the very "rightness" of the West is its commitment to individualism rather than to group identity:
Your group identity is not your cardinal feature. That’s the great discovery of the west. That’s why the west is right. And I mean that unconditionally. The west is the only place in the world that has ever figured out that the individual is sovereign. And that’s an impossible thing to figure out. It’s amazing that we managed it. And it’s the key to everything that we’ve ever done right.

This, I believe, is the tragic error made by Western thinkers. It is false to believe that you either support the individual or the group. The individual thrives within certain natural forms of community, such as family, ethny and nation. So if you support the individual, you should then also be committed to upholding the integrity of natural community as well.

In other words, we consummate our individual lives within natural forms of community. When we are forced to attempt a solo development, we truncate who we are as individuals.

Group identity

For Jordan Peterson, group identity stands in opposition to the individual. I'd like to respond with a brief defence of the importance of group identity to the individual and to society.

The question really is this: why should I not simply identify with myself and my own accomplishments? Why should I identify as well with my own particular tradition, whether of family, ethny, nation, race or civilisation, and take pride in its achievements?

The answer to this is interwoven, but we can draw out some of the threads as follows.

First, a group identity connects the individual deeply to a particular people, culture and place. Instead of existing in life as a kind of tourist, watching from the outside, uninvested in any particular tradition, my identity grants me a sense of connectedness, so that I feel rooted to where I live and to the community I live in.

As a by-product of this, I will feel a sense of belonging, a condition that we as humans naturally seek, to be part of something meaningful, that has a significant common purpose attached to it, and that helps to enrich, and give a particular flavour to, the sense of who we are.

My identity will then strengthen my commitment to the community I am part of. I will be more likely to commit to building a family and to raising children to successful adulthood. I will be concerned to uphold a healthy culture of relationships and family life. I will want to pass on my heritage to my children, and will therefore retell the folk culture and give patronage to the fine arts. I will have a stronger motivation to conserve the places of natural beauty, and the significant landscapes, that I am not merely visiting, but am a custodian of.

A group identity encourages me to build on the best of my own tradition, preserving it for future generations. It connects me across time, to generations past, present and future. It helps to hold a community to a moral standard, so that one generation is not thought to fail their forebears, or to lower the regard in which a community holds itself.

A group identity is the only way to guarantee, in the longer term, cultural diversity. There is not only a significant benefit in feeling connected to your own culture, but also in experiencing other living, breathing national or ethnic cultures. If we may only have an individual identity, and therefore if we logically become interchangeable within a global network, then over time there will emerge a single global, commercial culture, in which one modern city will closely resemble another, no matter where it is.

Nor is it realistic to imagine that our achievements are ours alone. Everyone is influenced either positively or negatively by the culture they inhabit, and this culture is the product of the choices of countless people over time. We rely on others to grow our food, or to police crime, or to sweep the streets. Even our mental capacities are the product of choices made by countless generations before us. As positive as it may be to take personal responsibility for our life outcomes, we have to integrate this with the truth that we stand on the shoulders of others, and that what a community achieves together, or fails to achieve, will have an impact on individuals into the future.

The idea that we may only take pride in individual achievement undermines a community by rendering as less purposeful the necessary, but unheralded, work that most people perform as part of their daily routine. Not everyone can be a professor, or a composer, or an actor and stand out for their individual achievements. This isn't laziness - it is simply inevitable that most people's labours will not attract public attention. It makes more sense to think that there is "a community at work, striving to do each role well" and then for that community to celebrate together, and have pride in, those individuals who emerge publicly for their achievements in pursuits such as sport, or science or the arts.

(This arguments goes a step further. When there is a close sense of community, there is a pride in communal achievements, such as the beauty of the towns, or the prosperity of industries, or the elegance of the women or the toughness of the men. There is a pride in what the community has achieved together.)

Group identity has another advantage in that it creates bonds of loyalty and support within a community, which then provides for individual security. If you know that you live among people with a shared identity, then you are more likely to have a freedom of movement, secure property rights, freedom of speech and access to employment. To take a clear example, white South Africans are currently facing land expropriation, are subject to high rates of crime, are discriminated against in employment, and cannot move freely at night but must barricade their homes. They are less well off as individuals than, say, Japanese who enjoy security among their own group within their own homeland.

Finally, group identity helps to hold together distinct communities, which then become unique expressions of the human spirit, to the point that there is an inherent good to their existence, a good that draws out a particular kind of love (love of country) that helps to complete and to nourish the human soul. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said something along these lines in his famous Harvard University address:
The disappearance of nations would impoverish us no less than if all peoples were made alike, with one character, one face. Nations are the wealth of mankind, they are its generalized personalities: the smallest of them has its own particular colors, and embodies a particular facet of God's design.

A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website.


  1. Obvious hypocrisy from a bullshit artist. He is tribal and proud of his tribe, otherwise he wouldn't act that way.

    His behaviour shows every sign of prideful tribalism despite his pretentious claim that he magically transcends society as an individual. That claim is itself a proud, virtue-signalling motif of the liberal/libertarian tribe. He calls himself a liberal because he is proud to associated with liberals (at least the classical ones).

    Contrary to his claim to be an individual:
    - he identifies and promotes himself in social groups of intellectuals / academics
    - he has an in-group preference for his family over others, and to his extended family. That itself is micro form of tribalism/racism
    - he thinks, looks, speaks and acts in ways consistent with the broader European tribe

  2. A good understanding of Peterson's limits, and a fairly tame one if you've ever viewed what the Marxists have to say about him.

    The deluded right-liberal impulse is again on display in this link. The establishment will preserve mass immigration seemingly before anything else.

    1. Amazing article, thanks. Joe Hildebrand admits that mass immigration is having such a negative effect on the cities that even the ABC inner city types are turning against it, and yet he casts opposition to it from either the right or the left as "extremism". He would rather live as a bugman than bring levels down.

    2. I respect Leith VanOnselen for opposing mass immigration on environmental and economic leftist grounds. He doesn't care about ethno-cultural identity, but he's honest about the limits of egalitarianism. Very few leftists in the US or Canada will take this position, perhaps no one is stressed about geography here.

      The right-liberals mystify me. No immigrant population has ever voted more right-wing than the natives. Most immigrants desire to live in large cities, which demands a higher level of public services, typically a left-wing value. The right-liberals point to Hong-Kong or Singapore as examples of low-tax high-immigration, but neither place has any sense of representative government and limited amounts of cultural freedom by Western standards.

      And Joe is mad simply about reducing levels, let alone shutting it down entirely and offering paid repatriation to those who don't want to assimilate.

    3. The right-liberals mystify me.

      To a right-liberal money is the measure of all things. They waffle on about liberty and individual dignity and the pursuit of happiness but in fact they reduce everything to a monetary value. The success of a society is measured by money. The success of an individual is measured by money. Immigration means economic growth and that means more money so it's a good thing.

      It's an extreme materialist position so if this clown Peterson claims not to be a materialist but he's still a right-liberal he's either stupid or dishonest. But then he is a psychologist isn't he? Which means he almost certainly is both stupid and dishonest.

    4. dfordoom, reading some of Peterson's recent tweets he seems to see the free market as the engine of human progress. According to Peterson " things are way better than they once were in almost every manner conceivable".

    5. There is no such thing as a "free market", the latter being engineered through the interventions of the state on behalf of vested interests. The "free market" is therefore a euphemism for state backed corporatism.

    6. Anonymous, I agree totally. "Free market" as is "free trade", is a myth. You and I enjoy the "free and unfettered" exchange of vegetables over the fence (regulated in height, material and location) between our backyard gardens isn't free trade. We don't own the land deeded in our names, mortgage or not, the state does. Deed or not, stop paying the taxes and see who actually possesses that property. Everything is touched by the state, and state turns every so-called free trade into regulated commerce.

    7. According to Peterson " things are way better than they once were in almost every manner conceivable".

      He seems to be an extreme materialist and an extreme individualist. There's no other way anyone could seriously claim everything is better now than it was.

      It further confirms my view that there is no such thing as moderate liberalism. Once you go down the liberalism rabbit-hole there's no way back. You have to keep accepting crazier and crazier ideas.

      Peterson is clearly deluded and useless, but he also sounds quite dangerous. I fear right-liberal demagogues and gurus.

    8. I fear right-liberal demagogues and gurus.

      Yes, even though they are pulling some people out of a complacent leftism, they are probably our greatest danger right now in the sense that they might possibly corral another wave of dissent safely within liberal boundaries. We have to do what we can to try to match it with them.

  3. I respected Peterson when he came out against speech codes, but he is outright lying now.

    He is opposed to White ethnic interests and won't address it or let it be debated, and shuts down talk as quickly as possible when challenged. Its both cringe worthy and shocking: here be dragons Jordan.

    He is quite fine with non-White ethnic interests including Jewish and Chinese. He doesn't hesitate to laud such 'collectivism'. But not for whitey.

    His censoring of Faith Goldy was very underhanded, as was his studious avoidance of debate with leading alt right figures like Jared Taylor, Kevin Macdonald or Millennial Woes.

    Anyone who could put up a real debate. You can see his studious avoidance and resentment when the topic arises. Very disappointing to say the least.

  4. When Peterson says individualism is the great accomplishment of the West who is he ascribing that accomplishment to? This seems deceptively simple I guess, but it reinforces the idea that human beings are both individuals and yet deeply rooted in a groups

  5. "When we are forced to attempt a solo development, we truncate who we are as individuals."

    Yes, and under those circumstances we are likely truncating the identity and accomplishments of others around us because the group effort is frowned upon.

    I think Peterson is afraid of the (sometimes very real) dangers of people arranged in a united front, in competition with similar groups. As you stated here very effectively, the benefits and risks of both individual and group expression are necessary and inherent in the development of the West. I don't believe our forebears, excluding nihilist philosophers, ever sat around envisioning ways to abolish group identity completely. They saw the dangers as inescapably part of human nature.

  6. All major cultures recognise the individual and his dignity. Where the West differs from other cultures in its concept of individualism is the aggrandisement and idolatry of the individual to the extent that individual rights and interests are elevated above the rights and interest of the groups of family, tribe, nation and race. This contrasts with the norm in which the individual is subservient and his rights secondary to the group. In other words the interests of society and family take precedence over those of the individual.

    Individualism serves as a tool, like socialism and communism to weaken and impoverish the family, tribe and nation and empower elites. In all of these systems, control of family business and wealth disappears and passes to the corporation. The end result of an individualist society is serfdom for the masses which is the reason why no other civilisation will be foolish enough to follow it.

  7. I only know of Peterson's thinking as I hear of it here.

    Whether or not Peterson believes that self-interest is an ideal ideal, he acts in self-interest. He can't do otherwise. If he's mistaken or wrong then he simply acts in error. Even self-destructive behavior is self-interested, unless you're possessed by evil, which means it isn't actually you.

    Peterson's tweet sounds somewhat like the opposite of U.S. president Obama's "you didn't build that" slam against accomplishment.

    If your world is a remote jungle village deep in the Amazon, do you thank the the tribe and your ancestors as you contemplate what you've done? Do Bill Gates and Michael Jordan contemplate a need to be proud, or a feeling of pride in their respective races? Who should Michael Jordan be proud of? White Canadian Dr. James Naismith, the YMCA or the NBA established in 1946, all by white men? Or his African genes? How about baseball's Frank Aaron? Thank the Confederate States of America for causing the spread of the new game of baseball that replaced cricket and became the national pass-time because of the American Civil War? Or thank his African genes?

    The idea that individual accomplishments don't or shouldn't take place without a conscious or acknowledged nod to one's race - something not chosen or consented to, and not done specifically in support of or out of pride for - and has to be seen as a forced attempt at solo development, is lost on me.

    The history of the West is that of all sorts of clashes between opposing individuals, nations, tribes and visions between and among various Europeans who colonized, cleansed, and enslaved others and their own, along with the other who did the same. Western civilization accomplished all sorts of material innovations and established a variety schemes and institutions. Was racial pride the cardinal driver of the history of white European civilization? Is Peterson saying something as simple as "no, there is much more to it than that."?

    Peterson seems, by what you've quoted, to be saying, as he said, that "Your group identity is not your cardinal feature." That isn't wrong. My whiteness isn't my cardinal feature. I have no doubt that I'm different in a host of more important ways from other white men. My pride in being 99.9% British/Irish and in knowing that my father's mother was the niece of Jefferson Davis, does not supersede my manhood, fatherhood, and personal integrity. Men of every race and civilization honestly feel the same. My being white isn't my cardinal feature, though I am nothing but proud to be white. Is my pride stronger or better than that of any man of any other race or ethnicity?

    I do take an honest pride in the civilizational standard set by white Europeans in the West. That's not a question and I also don't take it for granted. But, in living my life it's like the air that I breath. Until it's missing, I don't think about unless I'm choking.

  8. White men seem to be choking on their words. They're choking in both metaphorical senses, the physical and the sport's. The question seems to be growing; are we choking on our own words because we are white? Have whites run out their string and lost their mojo? With some exceptions, whites are hopelessly conflicted and confused about what to do.

    Modern liberalism infects and debilitates white Western men more so than less Western white men, and certainly less than non-whites, it seems. Is it a bad mix of hubris and guilt and complacency? The Peter Principle? Or is it in our genes? Is that all one and the same?

    It seems that it is only individual white men, not any particular nation or group of family of men that are doing what they say needs to be done. They are mostly destroyed for it.

    Maybe it's just the natural order of things, that whites are meant to wither on the civilizational vine, since it's (now) said that whites don't actually have white roots. We do seem to have an aversion to collecting and to tribes, since they are seen as groups of haters and radicals and nationalists.

    I don't know what Peterson really thinks about his own whiteness. Maybe he's trying to spin his way out or slow a situation that he believes is already out of hand. Maybe he's cryptically offering a way to get to the same place with showing your colors.

    Whites are not going to do what they know needs doing, as whites. That underlays Mark's point. Maybe Peterson thinks the same.

    Pockets of resistance and random holding patterns are not pointless, but they're not going to slow or stop the inevitable demographic tsunami slowly swamping the white race. It's going to take a while. We won't see it. But, I've heard not a single idea that holds out the slightest promise of anything like a resurgent white re-population that even comes close to maintaining the current balance, much less recouping recent historically losses in the West. Whites are near only 10% of the Earth's population, and that percentage is shrinking in real numbers while the 90% is growing in real numbers. Do the math and make a casual forecast.

    Otherwise though, if Peterson is all in on individual sovereignty - men not focused primarily on their race - does that mean that he's all for the radical individual autonomy that modern liberals claim in their attempt to escape the natural order of being?

    Marks defense of group identity is superb, as usual.

    1. I would say that is in our genes.

      Whites are simply more empathic as a group than other races. Taking that into account anything that could be associated to "harm" to our group would be berated by our own empathic instinc. So now take outsider groups and categorize them as "part of the group" and take the self interest of the original group and categorize it as "harmfull to the group" and there you go.

      The empathy of the west being hijacked and taken advantage of.

  9. Maybe he's cryptically offering a way to get to the same place *without* showing your colors.