Jordan Peterson: Collectivism Is Tyranny Under the Guise of Benevolence
Collectivist regimes under communism, fascism, and socialism make the individual’s rights secondary to the goals of a political system—the opposite of free societies, where the system acts to guard the rights of the individual. Collectivism holds that the individual should serve the interests of the state, and that any who oppose the interest of the collective should be ostracized or eliminated.
Despite the tyrannical nature of collectivism, people are fooled into following this system through its feigned benevolence, and through the system’s identification of “enemies” that its followers can struggle against.
The ideology of collectivism is built on a dysfunctional understanding of caring for others and on a narrow reinterpretation of history, according to Jordan Peterson, Canadian clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto.
The Complexity of Caring
“Caring for someone or for a group of people is a very complicated thing,” Peterson said, noting that simply feeling sorry for a group because they’re downtrodden is “not good enough.”
Short-term solutions aim to comfort people in their current conditions, while long-term solutions aim to pull them out of suffering. The long-term process means that rather than give a man a fish, you teach him to fish—a process that takes effort on both sides.
“A lot of the structures we’ve put into place to help people over the long run are rather harsh in their operations in the short term,” Peterson said.
It’s because of this, he said, that values of personal responsibility, often associated with conservative views, “aren’t warm, fuzzy virtues. They’re cold, hard, judgmental virtues. They’re the demands for performance, for example, that go along in the workplace.”
It’s the idea that people should be responsible for their own choices and actions, and that respect needs to be earned.
Of course, it’s not absolute. Peterson said, “If you want to take care of an infant who’s crying, you want warm, instantaneous, impulsive compassion because there is a problem and it needs to be solved right now, and you have the solution, right? The baby’s too hot, the baby’s too cold, the baby needs to be fed. You can fix that right now.”
With most issues in the broader society, however, things aren’t nearly as simple.
With most social issues, Peterson said, whether it’s poverty or efforts to create opportunities to leverage the abilities of each individual, it takes a lot more than just kindness to make things work.
“So to think of community in the positive sense as being driven by nothing but empathy, which is really one of the central arguments of the postmodern types—at least that’s what’s driving some of their argumentation—is an absurd proposition,” he said. “It’s not so much that they confuse the two things. It’s that they fail to differentiate the concepts to begin with.”
“It’s very, very difficult to build functional structures that help people thrive individually and socially over long periods of time. And merely being empathetic, that’s just going to get you nowhere,” he said. “A 3-year-old is empathetic. And I’m not dismissing that. Empathy is important. But as a problem-solving mechanism, it has very, very limited utility.”
To see the effects of collectivism, we need only look at the histories of those who decided the direction of the collective, and what happened to those who refused to follow the collective interest. Under most regimes—from Vladimir Lenin, to Adolf Hitler, to Josef Stalin, to Mao Zedong—it led to dictatorship and crimes against humanity.
The strain of collectivist ideology found in the United States and many of today’s Western societies is fundamentally opposed to the societies they claim to represent.
This ideological trait was heavily influenced by French philosopher Jacques Derrida, who carried the torch of postmodernism and who helped formulate the anti-Western philosophy at the heart of today’s radical left.
Using the same modes of criticism that we find under communist regimes, Derrida redefined the view of history by criticizing the religious traditions of Western society and by reinterpreting history through a narrow lens of oppressor against oppressed.
Derrida coined the term “phallogocentrism,” which alleges that men held absolute dominance, and which Derrida “regarded as the central, axiomatic position of the West,” said Peterson. Derrida argued this dominance applied not only under the Enlightenment, but also under the Christian or the Judeo-Christian systems prior to the Enlightenment.
Derrida’s philosophy led to the concept that culture is male-dominated, which Peterson said is a “radical oversimplification of the historical story,” noting that “it was only dominated by a very small number of males. Most males were serfs, or soldiers, or cannon fodder for that matter, or coal miners, dreadfully toiling away for their work. [They were] certainly as oppressed as women were in general by the absolute poverty of the conditions.”
Derrida’s claim, Peterson said, is “not differentiated enough or sophisticated enough.”
“You know, up till 1895, the average person in the Western world lived on a dollar a day—in today’s money,” Peterson said.
Throughout history, kingdoms waxed and waned, and along with these shifts, the moral and civic societies also went through periods of both freedom and tyranny, tolerance and persecution. The stages of empires likewise went through periods of integrity and corruption, benevolence and moral decline.
Thus, anyone looking to frame a narrative can very easily do so by cherry-picking examples from select stages of empires. Our view of issues also changes according to our social lenses—conditions that may seem culturally foreign to us, or difficult by our standards, were simple realities in their times.
But using Derrida’s frame of analysis, Peterson said, “you don’t have to go back very far in time before you find everyone oppressed, but not by the sociocultural system—merely by the absolute, insane difficulty of life itself.”
Peterson noted that “Derrida was a smart man, make no mistake about it, and lots of the things he said were correct.”
The problem is that his viewpoints are too often regarded as absolute—a trait commonly found under radical leftist ideologies that believe in an evolutionary “progress” of societies and so hold that their ideas are “Utopian” and that all other ideas are old and should be destroyed.
A theory that is correct in part becomes incorrect when taken to be absolute.
We could theorize, for example, that the leaves of a tree are green—which is a true statement—but if it were taken as absolute, it would become false, given that colors change based on species and seasons. The same concept applies to many radical leftist ideologies that attempt to lay down absolute interpretations of issues, to the extent that they’ll lash out at any who say otherwise.
In the case of Derrida, Peterson said, “one of the propositions he laid forth was that there is a near infinite [number of] ways of interpreting any situation or any text,” and this theory has been shown to be partially true, Peterson said, including in the field of artificial intelligence.
“But he took it much further. He took that idea in directions that I don’t think it should have gone in at all,” Peterson said.
In particular, Derrida took apart and criticized a core belief in Western society “that the individual as a speaking force, as a communicative force, is the appropriate, highest-value upon which a culture should be built.”
“He took that apart and criticized it. And so that’s a deeper criticism, I would say, than even Marxist criticism, which was mostly about power relationships. Derrida went deeper than that,” he said.
“The postmodernists that occupy the universities are anti-individual, right down to the bedrock. And so that’s partly why they push collectivism to such a degree.” Peterson notes that in following this ideology, postmodernists don’t care about individual people. “They care what your group identity is. And that’s that.”
"Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times."