Jordan Peterson on Ukraine
The Personal Weblog of Edward W. Farrell   
Jordan Peterson on Ukraine Friday, August 19, 2022
There's been a lot of hubbub over one of Jordan Peterson's latest podcasts regarding Russia and the Ukraine. Many of these comments (from MSM and the UK Daily Mail, at least) are just the usual distortions and smears that have credibility only among people for whom Jordan Peterson is a public enemy. But I recently ran down the podcast and listened to it (and read the article on which it is based). Here are a few impressions.

I don't see Peterson arriving at conclusions so much as trying to construct a larger context in which the Ukrainian conflict forms a small though strategic part. This larger context is his so-called "civil war in the West." I understand this to be the struggle between two opposing cultural blocs: One is the emerging new order in the west that favors a Marxist notion of equality and views traditional western and American values (particularly American exceptionalism, free enterprise, and the competitive spirit that goes along with them) as things that must be eliminated or very tightly controlled. In the US these are the political progressives, especially the "woke" crowd who are the most vocal about their radical social aims. In Europe these are a similar crowd that includes many of the bureaucrats that administer the European Union and a large portion of the educated class that supports them. On the other side are the "left behinds" who, in their minds, still live in a western world as it was in before the 1960s and have only recently realized how far it has actually gone in a completely different direction. These are the populists that support Trump, Brexit, Orban, Duda and similar figures.

I think this picture is perfectly true as far as it goes. But it's a very high-level view and there's much murkiness beneath it. Peterson deliberates, for instance, on which side of this culture war Putin may stand with respect to Ukraine, and tentatively opines that Putin may in fact be the cultural conservative resisting the new progressive Marxism in the west, which, since the Orange Revolution, includes Ukraine. This may be true. But for those caught in the midst of the territorial struggle that has ensued, what's the difference? It would seem academic for the common man in Russia or Ukraine to worry about whether Putin is woke or anti-woke when the immediate, most salient fact is that he is an autocrat who has no compunction about invading a sovereign nation in peacetime and brutally squelching dissent in his own country. And from a strictly moral (which is to say non-political) point of view, it doesn't matter which side of the culture war Ukraine is on either. They are people, they've been brutally invaded, and the neighborly thing to do is to help them.

Unfortunately, I think Peterson is right that very few in the west really give a damn about Ukraine: it's mostly an excuse for political posturing, maneuvering, and virtue signaling. Witness all the little Ukrainian flags on FB... When George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway opposed the fascist takeover in Spain back in the 1930s, they didn't parade around wearing little flags. They went to Spain, took up arms, and started shooting fascists who were shooting back at them.      

Nevertheless, it remains that Jordan Peterson is looking at the current situation in Ukraine in real terms that few have the insight to think of and no one has the guts to discuss publicly. He's right that there's a civil war in the west that is well underway and spans many countries. In the Ukrainian conflict, he's said that the west runs a risk of nuclear war by helping to push Putin too far into a corner. This is probably true as well. These observations may assist in developing political strategies, but such high level thinking, especially in the tentative phases, paints with a broad brush and thus is always in danger of lending itself to the sort of stereotyping that characterizes our current crop of progressive ideologues. People are reduced to pawns in a world in which there are no neighbors, only enemies and potential enemies. And even if such stereotyping is avoided, the imponderables revealed by such thinking can easily lead to a sort of "analysis paralysis" that renders you equally incapable of the fundamental moral behavior of helping a neighbor in need. In this respect, those eastern European countries the west considers backwards and socially primitive (Moldova, Hungary, Poland, Romania) have been the ones that have shown that their basic humanity is still intact by taking in 2-3 million refugees into their cities and homes with no questions asked. For them and the Ukrainians they've helped their moral world is very personal, not abstract. Whatever the larger issues of the culture war in the west may involve, it's at this very personal level that any real action will occur. Unfortunately, this action can run the gamut from helping to butchering, and in the fog of war what seperates the two may get fuzzy. I would argue that the pervasive stereotyping and propagandizing that has become the norm in the western media has a pronounced dehumanizing effect that will ultimately lead to butchering. More on this later.

All site contents copyright 2022 Edward W. Farrell This page last updated on 2022-08-19