Uniting Under The Banner of The Divine Individual

A thoughtful discourse from Prof. Jordan Peterson on the role of the Divine Individual within the collective, the importance and indeed necessity of self-responsibility of the Divine Individual  especially with regards to addressing the challenges we are faced with as collective communities within the global community. Food for thought as we move into this pivotal new year. Although Prof. Peterson initially indicates that 'tribalism' and 'cooperation' are central 'problems' we face, he also acknowledges that we of course are social beings. Finding our tribe and cooperating within such as divine individuals IS the central tenant here.

Dear World:

On January 16, I am going to talk with Sam Harris, on his podcast, Waking Up with Sam Harris. Dr. Harris is one of the so-called New Atheists, of which there are four. Like the other three Christopher Hitchens, Dan Dennett and Richard Dawkins - who, by the way, I have always particularly wanted to debate — Dr. Harris is a smart guy, and I'm certainly not complaining that I will encounter him, instead of Dawkins. So I am preparing my arguments, carefully (although I have been doing so for years). The specific ideas I am going to share with you today were obsessing me the moment I woke up, somewhat fitfully, this morning, so I dictated them to my son, and then edited them.

The central problem of human beings isn't religion, as the New Atheists insist. It's tribalism. We know this in part because chimps, our closest biological kin, go to war, and they are not religious, although they are tribal. Tribalism also has a central problem — and it's not competition, despite the tendency of competition to produce, at least temporarily, winners and losers. It's cooperation, because cooperation is what allows us to exist as bounded groups. A group, by definition is a collective cooperatively aiming at something. It can't be aimed at nothing, because nothing cannot unite. It only divides. Thus, attacks on collective purpose, because of its tendency to produce tribalism, merely divides. The politics of identity, which emerge when the central purpose is criticized too destructively, inevitably produce the situation described in the story of the Tower of Babel: Everyone fragments into primitive tribes and speaks their own language.

One alternative to fragmentation is union under a banner - a collective ideal, cause, or purpose. The problem with uniting under a banner, as the postmodernists who push identity politics rightly point out, is that to value something means simultaneously to devalue other things. Thus to value is an exclusionary process. But the alternative is valuelessness, which is equivalent to nihilism - and nihilism does not produce freedom from exclusion. It just makes everyone excluded, and that is an intolerable state, directionless, uncertain, chaotic, and angst-ridden. When such uncertainty reaches a critical level, the counter-response appears: first the unconscious and then the collectively expressed demand for a leader, possessed by the spirit of totalitarian certainty, who promises above all, to restore Order. Thus, a society without a unifying principle, oscillates, unmoored, between nihilism and totalitarianism.

Human beings have been wrestling with this problem since the beginning of civilization, when our capacity to form large groups, for all its advantages, also started to pose a new threat: that of the hyper-domination of the state, collective or purpose. But without the state, there is just fragmentation into smaller groups. The group itself cannot be done away with because for better or worse, human beings are social animals, not loners, like sharks or tigers. We're team players, but being on one team means not being on others. This means that any given team sidelines, marginalizes, and alienates those who cannot play their game, as well as conflicting with other teams.

In the west, starting in the Middle East, thousands of years ago, a new idea began to emerge (evolve is not too strong a word) in the collective imagination. You might, following Dawkins, consider it a meme, although this is far too weak a word. This idea, whose development can be traced back through Egypt to Mesopotamia, before disappearing into unwritten history, is that of the Divine Individual. This eons-old work of the imagination is a dramatic presentation of an emergent idea, which is the solution to how to organize social being without falling prey to nihilistic divisiveness or deceitful totalitarian certainty: The group must unite under the banner of the individual. The individual is the source of the new wisdom that updates the antiquated, nihilistic or totalitarian detritus and glory of the past.

For better for worse, that idea reaches its apogee in Christianity. The divine individual is masculine because the feminine is not individual: The divine feminine is, instead, mother and child. However, it a hallmark of Christian supposition that the redemption of both men and women comes through the masculine, and that is because the masculine is the individual. The central realization - expressed dramatically; symbolically - is that the subordination of the group to the ideal of the Divine Individual is the answer to the paradox of nihilism and totalitarianism.

The Divine Individual is the man that every man admires, and the man whom all women want their men to be. The Divine Individual is the ideal from which deviations are punished by the group with contempt and disgrace and fidelity to which is rewarded with attention and honor. The Divine Individual is not the winner of any individual game but the player who plays fair and is therefore continually invited to play. The Divine Individual is the builder, maintainer and expander of the state, he who boldly goes where no man has gone before, and someone who eternally watches over the widows and the children. His power of direct and honest communication is that which identifies, discusses and resolves the continually emergent problems of human existence. He is the Savior of the World.

The primary image for women is not the Divine Individual, because of the heavy burden they bear for reproduction. It is, instead, the Divine Mother and Child. This is not to say that man is the Divine Individual, and woman is not, although such confusion is understandable, given the complexity of the problem. Men, like women, have the Divine Mother and Child as an element of their personality. In men, however, it's in the background, so to speak, as the Divine Individual is in the background of the psyche for women. Men, by necessity, play a less primary role in the care of children. This frees them to act as individuals in a manner that up to now has been nearly impossible for women. Identification with these images is belief in them. Belief is not the statement of agreement with a set of facts, but the willingness to act something out, to become something, to stake your life on something. For men and women alike, this means voluntary adoption of responsibility - responsibility for oneself, family and state. In that responsibility, and not in rights, resides Meaning itself - the meaning that makes life bearable.

You can listen to Prof. Jordan's letter in full in the above video or continue reading it here. Since he obviously is not feeling his best in the video, I preferred the written letter in this instance since I felt a stronger sense of the power of his message.

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