Maps of Meaning with Jordan Peterson
Part 25, The Gulag Archipelago
Having described the Satan archetype, Peterson turns in Maps of Meaning to reflect upon a case study of "the adversary in action." For Peterson, the prime twentieth-century example of the satanic at work in human affairs is the concentration camp. Peterson writes:
The invention, establishment and perfection of the concentration camp, the efficient genocidal machine, might be regarded as the crowning achievement of human technological and cultural endeavor, motivated by resentment and loathing for life...[The concentration camp is] the perfection of the factory whose sole product is death...Such enterprise constitutes, perhaps, the prime accomplishment of the cooperative bureaucratization of hatred, cowardice, and deceit. Tens of millions of innocent people have been dehumanized, enslaved and sacrificed in these efficient disassembly lines, in the course of the last century, to help their oppressors maintain pathological stability and consistency of moral presumption, enforced through terror, motivated by adherence to the lie.
Peterson's reflections upon the evil of concentration camps in Maps of Meaning is extensive. And those who follow Peterson know how important Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and The Gulag Archipelago are to his thinking. Peterson quotes Solzhenitsyn extensively in Maps of Meaning.
The centrality of the concentration camp to Peterson's thinking is distinctive. Not many public intellectuals focus so relentlessly upon this depravity. Some might take this to be a morbid fascination in Peterson's thought. I happen to think it is a virtue, and it explains a lot about Peterson's distinctive location in the intellectual ecosystem.
Simply, Peterson is no liberal humanist. Any optimism we might have entertained about humanity should have died, according to Jordan Peterson, in the ovens of Auschwitz and the snows of the Gulag. I agree with him. When you listen to Peterson talk about The Gulag Archipelago your are hearing sermons on Original Sin and Total Depravity. This pessimistic view of humanity is another reason why Peterson is a conservative thinker, and why many Christians find him a sympathetic conversation partner.
Additionally, the concentration camps are a modern evil. These are atrocities committed in the wake of the Enlightenment, and in the case of the Gulag justified by a materialistic metaphysics. The Gulag Archipelago is a key reason why Peterson won't let atheists wag a moral figure at Christianity.
Finally, at the start of this series I shared that one of the reasons Peterson is such a compelling thinker is that he's playing a high stakes game. Jordan Peterson isn't giving you a TED Talk, sharing a life hack or business tip. Jordan Peterson likes to talk about torture and the gas chambers. Human evil is central to this thinking. And that preoccupation with evil is what makes Peterson a religious thinker.