Ideology and Polarity

Jordan Peterson says,

In a sophisticated religious system, there is a positive and negative polarity. Ideologies simplify that polarity and, in doing so, demonize and oversimplify.

That sentence really bolsters my approach in the Three Axes Model. The whole interview is interesting.

In fact, I have been binge-watching his lectures. Reviews of his book suggested that it might be inaccessible, but his lectures are very accessible, albeit with a big investment of time. If you don’t have the patience for his style, you might want to jump to lecture 5, part 1. But my view is that you should have patience for his style.

Peterson, like Jung, believes that ancient myths tell us a lot about how we are wired. In my eBook, I say that the Progressive oppressor-oppressed axis can be found in the Exodus story. I think that Peterson would locate what I call the civilization-barbarism axis in a lot of ancient myths in which the death of a king or the emergence of a terrible king leads to chaos until a hero fights the chaos and is crowned the new king.

The libertarian liberty-coercion axis may be more modern. In Peterson’s terms, government (and our cultural inheritance in general) always enbodies both the good father who provides order and the tyrant who chains people. The liberty-coercion axis sees the tyrant and not the good father. Peterson probably would find libertarian utopianism to be akin to other utopianisms. In that sense, he would view a really dogmatic libertarian as dangerous, the way that Whitaker Chambers famously remarked that reading Ayn Rand made him feel as though there was lurking a “To a gas chamber–go!” mindset.

I think that embedded in his course is a philosophy of science that is profound. I think it can be applied usefully as a perspective on economic models. I will say more about that when I finish the course.

This entry was posted in Economic education and methods, Three-Axes Model and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Ideology and Polarity

  1. Handle says:

    In that vein, I would also recommend Campbell’s “Hero with a Thousand Faces”, the formulas of which still work in our most popular stories.

  2. Robert says:

    Beowulf would be an ancient myth exhibiting the civilisation/barbarism axis.

    For modern myths, how about:
    Oppressor/Oppressed – The Hunger Games
    Civilisation/Barbarisim – The Lord of the Rings
    Liberty/Coercion – Star Wars

    • Adrian Ratnapala says:

      Souron and Saruman were tyrants, not barbarians. The Shire is almost an anarchy. LoTR doesn’t quite fit on any of Klings axes, but liberty-coercion is closest.

  3. djf says:

    “In my eBook, I say that the Progressive oppressor-oppressed axis can be found in the Exodus story.”

    You’re reading modern progressivism, which goes back no farther than the 18th century, into Exodus. You forget that Exodus was by written by Jews, for Jews – it simply reflects Jews taking their own side against their adversaries, much like internal Islamist propaganda in the Islamic world today. The Islamists aren’t generally interested in freeing the “oppressed,” they’re interested in beating their enemies. For external consumption, they’re happy to exploit progressives’ Manichean bifurcation of the world into “oppressors” and “the oppressed” and to put themselves in the latter category. But the Musim Brotherhood, Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, etc., are not themselves progressives and do not care about “oppression” as a universal category.

    Overall, the outlook of the Hebrew Bible most closely corresponds to what you call the “civilization/barbarism” axis, with “civilization” corresponding to “following God’s law.”

    • drycreekboy says:

      “You forget that Exodus was by written by Jews, for Jews – it simply reflects Jews taking their own side against their adversaries,”

      Yes, but it does this through a story not where the enemy invaded them and despoiled their land/deposed their king, but rather enslaved them – and refused to let them go after multiple chances.The Hebrews of Exodus conspicuously start off with nothing, and go on to gain something (the Promised Land). Civilization-barbarism stories, as AK defines them are about having something precious which some corroding force or actor(s) tear down.

      So insofar as the three axes apply to the OT/Torah I think Arnold’s right , at least where Exodus is concerned.

      • djf says:

        The Israelites in Egypt did not start out with nothing. They came at the invitation of the Pharaoh’s chief minister (Joseph, the Allen Greenspan of his day), prospered, and were later subjected oppression by a later Pharaoh “who knew not Joseph.”

        The whole sweep of the Hebrew Bible is about how the Israelites, pursuant to God’s promise to their ancestors, were freed from bondage in Egypt, made a new covenant with God at Sinai to live by His laws in the land He had promised their ancestors, conquered that land from the idol-worshipping tribes that were occupying it, established a monarchy and built a Temple as the exclusive site of their sacrificial cult, and then – in spite of warning by the prophets – failed to abide consistently by the terms of the Covenant, were conquered and exiled from the land as divine punishment, and finally returned to the land under Ezra and Nehemiah by God’s mercy (and under Persian sponsorship).

        The Hebrew Bible does not concern itself with the interests of the “oppressed” generally. Its central concern is with the survival of Israel to serve God in its land by living according to His law (ritual, civil and criminal). There are admonitions, in law and prophecy, to assist the Israelite poor, and to treat the resident “stranger” fairly, but nothing, or very little, about concern for the oppressed outside of Israel, or to end slavery in general. And of course, modern notions of equality are wholly absent.

        As I understand it, Arnold’s oppressed/oppressor axis calls on its adherents to side with the designated “oppressed,” whoever they may be, against the interests of one’s own country and people. I don’t see that in Exodus, and I can’t think of anything like it anywhere in the Hebrew Bible.

        Take a look at some of the exhortations in the Torah to wipe out the Amalekites and the Canaanites. Not much progressive concern for “the Other” there.

        • drycreekboy says:

          ” ‘The Israelites in Egypt did not start out with nothing. They came at the invitation of the Pharaoh’s chief minister (Joseph, the Allen Greenspan of his day), prospered, and were later subjected oppression by a later Pharaoh “who knew not Joseph.”

          I’m very aware of Genesis 37-50. I confined my comments to the Book of Exodus. If falling into enslavement for roughly four hundred years isn’t “oppression,” what is?

          “The Hebrew Bible does not concern itself with the interests of the “oppressed” generally. Its central concern is with the survival of Israel to serve God in its land by living according to His law (ritual, civil and criminal).”

          You’re underselling just how much of the OT/Tanakh is taken up with how the poor are to be treated. The prophetic literature is pullulated with declarations that mistreatment of the poor is a primary reason Yahweh has sent Israel into exile. As for the uncircumcised, those same prophets, Isaiah (Deutero-Isaiah for those who accept the Higher Criticism) in particular open up considerable room for “the other” in the worship of Israel’s God, and among his people. You can argue this is incipient in the Genesis declaration to Abraham that, through his descendants, he will be a blessing to many peoples; the healing of Naaman, and so forth.

          “…modern notions of equality are wholly absent.” Does the Oppressed-Oppressor axis require modern notions of “equality,” or simply a strong ethical orientation towards those who suffer injustice? If there is anything truly useful to the Three Axes model then surely each axis has precursors antedating our modern statement of them.

          “As I understand it, Arnold’s oppressed/oppressor axis calls on its adherents to side with the designated “oppressed,” whoever they may be, against the interests of one’s own country and people. I don’t see that in Exodus, and I can’t think of anything like it anywhere in the Hebrew Bible.”

          Arnold can speak for himself, but as the originator of the three axes idea he’s the one applied the oppressed/oppressor lens to Exodus. That may or may not be an exegetical and historical mistake – anachronistic eisegesis of a tribal, henotheistic text. But all you’ve done here is assert such with no acknowledgement of other interpretive and scholarly traditions. I don’t think the Biblical authors need to have been purebred Rawlsians, or even that either Testament expresses solely one “axis” over another for Arnold’s points (and mine) to hold.

          • Arnold Kling says:

            In my view, what matters is the “folk” version of the Exodus that has been handed down, in the form of the Haggadah that is read on Passover. To the extent that Jews pass along culture to their children, the Haggadah is arguably the most important source. And all the versions of the Haggadah with which I am familiar, dating from the Maxwell House Coffee one that many families used 50 years ago, are very much oppressor-oppressed oriented.

          • djf says:

            Arnold, could you point to something in the traditional text of the Haggadah (not something written in English by some 20th century American rabbi) that prefigures your universalist oppressor/oppressed axis, rather than just reflecting Jews taking their own side in a fight?

            I’ll grant you, the Bible and the Haggadah contain expressions of concern for the poor, the oppressed, the widow and orphan, sometimes even when such people are not Israelites or Jews. (Although I can’t think of any expressions of concern for poor/oppressed non-Jews in the traditional haggadah – the announcement “All who are hungry come to eat” (kol dichfin yatay v’yachool), in context, clearly referes to Jews, since it also invites hearers to partake of the Pesach sacrifice, which was only for Jews.) My point is, concern for the interests of the oppressed as a universal class is, not in the Bible or traditional (perhaps pre-Maxwell House) Judaism, an overriding supreme value, to which other all values are subordinate. It is just one value in the mix that makes up the “civilization” sought to be upheld.

            Certainly, Exodus and the Passover story lend themselves to exploitation by those seeking to promote modern progressive values (and perhaps libertarian values as well), but that is a modern reinterpretation that goes back, at most, to the early 19th century, when Reform Judaism began the project of reinterpreting Judaism as a precursor of Enlightenment values.

          • djf says:

            I should note that, as far as I know, the Maxwell House Haggadah has always contained the traditional Haggadah text in Hebrew with a faithful English translation. So I think any modern value system you saw there as a kid, Arnold, you were reading into it. I myself, as a kid, read midcentury American liberal democratic principles into Judaism – something that was encouraged by the liberal branches of American Judaism, in one of which I was brought up. They still encourage that kind of “reading into” Jewish texts today, although now the favored value system is significantly different (and IMHO worse).

  4. BenK says:

    Narrative complexity involves multivalent roles. The helper is also a hindrance in another way, the antagonist can be helpful, the protagonist can be his own worst enemy (hubris).

Comments are closed.