Maps of Meaning with Jordan Peterson
Part 22, Our Satanic Pride
Having introduced the archetype of Satan in Maps of Meaning, Jordan Peterson goes on to unpack the symbol.
Peterson describes Satan as symbolizing an excessive rationalism curdled by pride. Peterson writes, "Reason, the most exceptional of spirits, suffers from the greatest of temptations: reason's own capacity for self-recognition and self-admiration means an endless capacity for pride, which is the act of presuming omniscience."
Peterson then goes on to argue that reason's "belief in it own omniscience" is the force that "underlies totalitarianism in its many destructive guises."
When reason becomes convinced of its own omniscience we stand as masters of the cosmos and our fate. We know everything and have nothing to learn. When that happens, Peterson observes, the "unknown no longer exists," which means that "further exploration has therefore been rendered superfluous (even treacherous)."
The opposite of this satanic posture is humility, "constant admission of error and capacity for error." This willingness signals an openness to learn and be corrected, which facilitates creative exploration. Humility admits and "allows for recognition of the unknown, and then for update of knowledge and adaptation in behavior."
The temptation toward evil, in this scheme, means standing in the face of the unknown presuming that you have all the answers, that the unknown actually doesn't exist. This forecloses on growth and exploration. Worse, in times of crisis, our pride tempts us into inaction and stasis when we are being called to heroic action. This choice creates the archetypal "brothers" at the heart of this chapter. In the face of the unknown, the hero and Christ-figure, the archetypal savior, "is the everlasting spirit of creation and transformation, characterized by the capacity to admit the unknown and, therefore, to progress toward 'the kingdom of heaven.'" The "hostile brother" to the savior-hero, the "eternal adversary," is the "incarnation in practice, imagination and philosophy of the spirit of denial, eternal rejection of the 'redeeming unknown,' and the adoption of rigid self-identification."
Let's pause here.
I don't know if I understand everything Peterson is saying here. And I have some questions if his analysis of the Satan archetype is accurate and comprehensive. But there is a lot here that rings true. We see lots of evidence about how our "belief in our omniscience" takes us to some pretty dark places, culturally and personally. It's the Faustian bargain played out over and over again. Politically, I think of how Marxists trusted reason and how that experiment turned out in the USSR. Economically, I think of the neoliberal faith in free markets. Scientifically, I think of Jeff Goldblum's quote from Jurassic Park, "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should." And religiously, I think of Inquisitions and burning heretics. This is what I take to be Peterson's reference to a "totalitarian" impulse, how a prideful, rationalistic hubris leads us into darkness and dysfunction. Human life becomes subservient to the Idea or System or Dogma. Our prideful attempts to control the cosmos always come back to bite us.
I think Peterson is obviously right, a dose of humility puts us in a more adaptive, healthy posture. Our pride and hubris has a satanic edge. It puts me in mind of Job's confrontation with God in the whirlwind. I know a lot of modern Christians really hate how the book of Job ends. I wonder, though, if our chaffing at that ending reveals the satanic curdling of our minds, a turn toward pride, toward a "belief in our own omniscience." But let me ask you, where were you when God laid the foundations of the world? What, exactly, is it that you think you know? About anything?
Like Job, we don't know a damn thing. And the quicker we realize that, the better off we'll be.