The recent Channel 4 News interview of Jordan Peterson, professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, by journalist Cathy Newman is currently trending high on YouTube and various Social Media platforms. The 30 minute interview rapidly covers a lot of ground; the difference between the sexes, the imposition of transgender pronouns, and freedom of speech in academia. Peterson offers a striking contrast to Newman throughout the exchange, both through his calm performance, but also through the use of rational, objective arguments, in contrast to the sour outpouring of cultural slogans and mantras that Newman offers to her interlocutor.
The interview offers an interesting portrayal of much of what constitutes so-called ‘intellectual discourse’ in our country, for at least one of the parties seemed to be operating in a ‘post-truth’ world. Perhaps the most refreshing thing about this interview was that - for a change - one of the participants was decisively interested in truth, the nature of objective reality and the importance of the use of reason in search for the truth.
Peterson has emerged as a divisive figure in both academia and pop-culture, and whilst he certainly has many antagonists, the popularity of the interview video seems to show that he also has a large number of supporters, many of whom are uncomfortable with the relativist media and grateful to find someone who is at least challenging this poisonous aspect of our culture.
At the same time, Peterson does not offer a substantive answer to our great cultural confusion over truth, reality and what constitutes ‘the good’. His stable is also one of liberalism, broadly speaking, and in that respect he too is a reflection of the “agnostic society” which Fr Holloway describes so strikingly in his first chapter of Catholicism: A New Synthesis. The ‘agnostic society’ is a society in which every man is his own arbiter of what is ‘reason’ or ‘nature’, and in which the only certainties to draw from in this unending debate are scientific, positivist, facts. Whether that science is biology, chemistry, or in Peterson’s case, psychology, science fails to offer a morality or an ethical meaning behind the clashing of molecules, nor can it, on its own, ever offer a vision of “the good”, or provide the control and direction to lead man, body and soul, to his full flourishing.
God’s natural order can still be grasped at by the common sense of men of good will, but the full truth and meaning of creation, the separation of the sexes and of human nature, will only ever be in part and obscurely viewed when the determined and determining purpose of the mind of God is recognised in creation, holding all things relative to Himself – and to His plan to enter creation as its Lord and King.
March/ April 2020
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