Saturday, March 3, 2018

Ordering Chaos

I'm on the last chapter of the new book by Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (currently the number one selling in non-fiction at Amazon) and I wanted to reflect on it a bit as I think that his ideas are of value not only to creative personalities like musicians, but to pretty well everyone. I am rather surprised to hear myself saying that because not only have I been disdainful of anything smacking of a self-help book for a few decades now, but about twenty-five years ago I categorically rejected modern psychology (meaning, since Freud) as a whole.

I see now that these rejections were actually part of a long-term psychological process in which I was integrating my personality. Peterson's work is based on decades of research in clinical psychology and on an intellectual quadrivium consisting of Nietzsche, Freud, Jung and Solzhenitsyn, all of whom I read decades ago. There was a time when I would have characterized myself as a Jungian. I think that I rejected psychology sometime in the 90s because it seemed more and more feminized to me (though I didn't understand this at the time) and what I needed was not more influence from the feminine side, but rather to integrate my masculine side. I guess my masculine side was a bit repressed because of my odd biography. I came out of a near-pioneer society, northern Canada in the 50s, but due to my nature being oriented towards aesthetics and intellectual pursuits, I had to pretty much reject my native culture. This process accelerated in the 70s as I became a university student enrolled in music. It was only much later, in the 90s, as I said, that I realized that I was rather out of balance. As part of integrating my masculine side, I took up weightlifting and kick-boxing (no, really!).

Ironically, it is only quite recently, as I have been reading Peterson and watching his numerous YouTube videos that I have realized what my psychological project has been over a few decades. I say ironically because he is a psychologist and psychology is pretty much the last place I would think of to look for wisdom of any kind. But Peterson, like myself a native of northern Alberta and, also like myself, an alumnus of McGill University in Montreal, has an astonishing amount of wisdom to convey. So I heartily recommend his book as a unique source of practical wisdom. Don't be put off by his seemingly whimsical chapter headings. The penultimate chapter, for example, is titled "Do Not Bother Children When They Are Skateboarding." The chapter starts with a little tribute to skateboarders using the concrete steps and tubular handrails outside Sydney Smith Hall at the University of Toronto to execute daring stunts. This leads to observations about anti-skateboarding devices installed nearby that are both aesthetically and socially ugly and further to observations about the hidden nature of socialism and how it is based on hatred and resentment. This leads to an analysis of the anti-humanist foundations of such self-appointed judges of the human race as radical environmentalists. This leads back to a discussion of how horribly mistreated boys are in our educational systems which have become profoundly feminized. By the way, neither myself nor Peterson have anything against women, quite the contrary, but trying to make boys into girls is very wrong-headed indeed.

Peterson's arguments are buttressed in three ways, typically. He takes ideas from people like Nietzsche and Jung, supports them with clinical psychological research and brings them home with personal anecdotes from his own life and professional practice. That is a pretty strong approach, especially when you consider how most of the ideas he criticizes are based on little more than simple assertion with no real evidence for (and a great deal against). Makes you wonder how the received wisdom of our intellectual betters got so very badly screwed up.

Let me give an extended quote to give you a sense of his arguments:
I have seen university students, particularly those in the humanities, suffer genuine declines in their mental health from being philosophically berated by such defenders of the planet for their existence as members of the human species. It’s worse, I think, for young men. As privileged beneficiaries of the patriarchy, their accomplishments are considered unearned. As possible adherents of rape culture, they’re sexually suspect. Their ambitions make them plunderers of the planet. They’re not welcome. At the junior high, high school and university level, they’re falling behind educationally. When my son was fourteen, we discussed his grades. He was doing very well, he said, matter-of-factly, for a boy. I inquired further. Everyone knew, he said, that girls do better in school than boys. His intonation indicated surprise at my ignorance of something so self-evident. While writing this, I received the latest edition of The Economist. The cover story? “The Weaker Sex”— meaning males. In modern universities women now make up more than 50 percent of the students in more than two-thirds of all disciplines. Boys are suffering, in the modern world. They are more disobedient— negatively— or more independent— positively— than girls, and they suffer for this, throughout their pre-university educational career. They are less agreeable (agreeableness being a personality trait associated with compassion, empathy and avoidance of conflict) and less susceptible to anxiety and depression, 172 at least after both sexes hit puberty. 173 Boys’ interests tilt towards things; girls’ interests tilt towards people. 174 Strikingly, these differences, strongly influenced by biological factors, are most pronounced in the Scandinavian societies where gender-equality has been pushed hardest: this is the opposite of what would be expected by those who insist, ever more loudly, that gender is a social construct. It isn’t. This isn’t a debate. The data are in. 175 [The numbers are footnotes to scholarly research and yes, he is correct, the data are in.]
Peterson, Jordan B.. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Kindle Locations 5450-5467). Random House of Canada. Kindle Edition.
This is just part of the chapter; he goes on to give a plausible analysis of how hierarchies are always inherent in all cultures and can only be eliminated if you eliminate the concept of value itself. This is what neo-Marxists like Derrida in fact did and the result is a view of society in which all relationships are based on nothing but power. Peterson details just how destructive this is. He even draws in Jungian analyses of myths and fairy tales to critique some of the myths of feminism. This one chapter probably has more careful and well-founded analysis of the dysfunctions of our culture than whole university humanities departments based instead on neo-Marxist ideology.

Bringing this back to music, in part, my own evolution as a composer has been helped a great deal by my exposure to Peterson's work because what I needed was to allow myself to voyage into the ocean of chaos that surrounds all of our human culture. Peterson believes that artists are people who take on these explorations and piecemeal integrate bits of chaos into order. Music is organized sound, after all. But where do new musical ideas come from? Nowhere else but the vast depths of infinity that surround all of our little camps of humanity.

As a little envoi to this odd post, let me put up a clip I have had here before. This is a piece I wrote around 1980. The recording dates from 1990 with myself conducting an orchestra of ten guitars. The piece is in a kind of moment form with the performers having a choice of various moments as they move through the levels of the piece. The conductor structures the piece on the fly by choosing when to move to a different level and also by indicating particular levels to particular performers. The opening gesture, a kind of "snare-drum" effect created by crossing two bass strings over one another, recurs throughout the piece, always threatening to return to the original chaos. But in the end a bit of heterophonous melody persists. This and two other pieces for guitar orchestra were published by Guitarissimo of Stockholm, Sweden.

No comments: