Selections from “Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief” by Jordan Peterson

Denial of unique individuality turns the wise traditions of the past into the blind ruts of the present. Application of the letter of the law when the spirit of the law is necessary makes a mockery of culture. Following in the footsteps of others seems safe, and requires no thought – but it is useless to follow a well-trodden trail when the terrain itself has changed. The individual who fails to modify his habits and presumptions as a consequence of change is deluding himself – is denying the world – is trying to replace reality itself with his own feeble wish. By pretending things are other than they are, he undermines his own stability, destabilizes his future – transforms the past from shelter to prison.

The individual embodiment of collective past wisdom is turned into the personification of inflexible stupidity by means of the lie. The lie is straightforward, voluntary rejection of what is currently known to be true. Nobody knows what is finally true, by definition, but honest people make the best possible use of their experience. The moral theories of honest people – however incomplete from some hypothetical transcendent perspective – account for what they have seen and for who they are, insofar as that has been determined, in the course of diligent effort. It is not necessary, to define truth, to have seen and heard everything – that would make truth itself something impossible. It is only necessary to have represented and adapted to what has been seen and heard – to have represented and adapted to those phenomena characterizing the natural and social worlds, as encountered, and the self, as manifested. This is to say, merely, that the truth of children and adults differs, because their experience – their reality – differs. The truthful child does not think like an adult: he thinks like a child, with his eyes open. The adult, however, who still uses the morality of the child – despite his adult capacities – he is lying, and he knows it.

The lie is willful adherence to a previously functional schema of action and interpretation – a moral paradigm – in spite of new experience, which cannot be comprehended in terms of that schema; in spite of new desire, which cannot find fulfillment within that previous framework. The lie is willful rejection of information apprehended as anomalous on terms defined and valued by the individual doing the rejection. That is to say: the liar chooses his own game, sets his own rules, and then cheats. This cheating is failure to grow, to mature; is rejection of the process of consciousness itself.

The lie is therefore not so much a sin of commission, in most cases, as a sin of omission (although it may take the former condition as well). The lie is a matter of voluntary failure to explore, and to update. The appearance of an anomalous occurrence in the ongoing stream of experience only indicates that the present goal-directed schema within which behaviour is being undertaken and evaluated is characterized by the presence of a flaw. The “place” of the flaw, the reasons for its existence, the “meaning” of the flaw (its potential for altering interpretation and behaviour) – that is all something hypothetical, at the first stage of anomaly emergence and analysis. The unknown has to be “mined” for precise significance, before it can be said to have been experienced, let alone comprehended; has to be transformed, laboriously, from pure affect into revision of presumption and action (into “psyche” or “personality”). “Not doing” is therefore the simplest and most common lie: the individual can just “not act,” “not investigate,” and the pitfalls of error will remain unmanifest – at least temporarily. This rejection of the process of creative exploration means lack of effortful update of procedural and declarative memory; means adaptation to the present, as if it still were the past; means refusal to think. The rectification of error is, after all, not inevitable; it is neither effortless nor automatic. Mediation of order and chaos requires courage and work.

Adoption of identity with the heroes of the past – necessary, but with implicit pathological potential – is transformed into certain corruption, when the identified individual is a liar, who has voluntarily rendered himself incapable of personal heroism. Adoption of group identity and position means access to the power embodied in the past – means access to the collective strength and technical ability of the culture. This power is terribly dangerous, in cowardly and deceitful hands. The liar cannot see any value in weakness or deviance, in himself or others – only the potential for chaos – and he cannot see any value in chaos or uncertainty. He has no sympathy or patience for or appreciation of his own weaknesses – or his own strengths – and can therefore have none for the weakness or strength of others. The liar can only pretend to embody what is best of the past, in consequence, because he cannot support or tolerate the presence of necessary deviance in the present. This means that the liar is a tyrant, because he cannot stand being a fool.

The liar cannot tolerate anomaly, because it provokes anxiety – and the liar does not believe that he can or should withstand anxiety. This means that he is motivated to first avoid and then to actively suppress any behavioural pattern or experience of world that does not fit comfortably into his culturally-determined system of affect-regulating moral presuppositions. Avoidance means that anomalous experience is kept “unconscious,” so to speak – which means incompletely realized. The implications of the dangerous thought remain unconsidered; the presence of the threatening fantasy remains unadmitted; the existence of the unacceptable personal action remains unrecognized. Active suppression does not mean intrapsychic “repression,” in the classic sense, but aggressive action undertaken in the world, to forcibly eliminate evidence of error. This may mean treachery, spiritual cruelty, or the outright application of power: may mean application of whatever maneuver is presumed necessary, to destroy all indication of insufficiency. The bearer of bad news therefore inevitably suffers at the hand of the deceitful individual, who would rather kill the source of potential wisdom than benefit from its message.

The lie is easy, and rewarding, as it allows for the avoidance of anxiety – at least in the short term. In the long run, however, the lie has terrible consequences. The “avoidance or suppression” of novel or unexpected experience, which is the abstract equivalent of running away, transforms it perforce into determinate threat (is the categorical equivalent of labelling as threat). The domain of unprocessed novelty, defined prima facie by inaction and avoidance as “threat too intolerable to face,” expands inevitably with time, when the past is held as absolute. More and more experience is therefore rendered intolerable, inexplicable, and chaotic, as the cumulative effects of using the lie as a mode of adaptation inexorably manifest themselves. The lie transforms culture into tyranny, change into danger, while sickening and restricting the development and flexibility of adaptive ability itself. Reliance on the lie ensures – as fears grows – heightened, pathologized identification with the past (manifested as fascism, as personal and political intolerance), or decadent degeneration (manifested as nihilism, as personal and social deterioration).

Identification with the spirit of denial eventually makes life unbearable, as everything new – and, therefore, everything defining hope – comes to be axiomatically regarded as punishment and threat; makes life unbearable, as the realm of acceptable action shrinks inexorably. The attendant and unavoidable suffering experienced in consequence generates the desire for – and motivates actions predicated on the attainment of – the end of all experience, as compensation and revenge for sterility, absence of meaning, anxiety, hatred and pain…

The individual who lives by the lie continually shrinks his domain of competence – his “explored and familiar territory.” Eventually, in consequence, he has nowhere left to turn – except to himself. But his own personality has, in the meantime, become shrunken and inept, as a consequence of underdevelopment – as a consequence of repeated failure to participate in the process that turns “precosmogonic matter” into “spirit” and “world.” Nothing remains but weakness, resentment, hatred and fear. Thus the chaos that is rejected, in consequence of the desire for too much security, attains its inevitable victory. The “vicious circle” created by the liar spirals down inevitably to the “underworld”…

The individual lies to convince himself, and others, that he embodies the greatness of the past. He pretends to be upright and courageous, instead of acting morally and bravely. Truly courageous actions might turn the group against him, and it is only identity with that group that keeps his head above water. The lie means denial of self, means the abandonment of mythic identity with God, means certain involuntary “revolutionary” collapse, in time. The lie means conscious refusal to modify and reconfigure historically-predicated behaviour and belief to incorporate novelty and alleviate threat.

Endless failure to voluntarily update means the generation of a morass, around the individual, where the “water of life” once existed: means transformation of what could be life-giving water into a deadly swamp, composed of past errors, unresolved traumas, and current difficulties. This is the domain characterized by Freud as the “unconscious,” into which “repressed memories” are cast. But unprocessed information is not precisely memory. That which has not yet been explored is not yet memorable – not yet even “real.” The consequence of untaken action is more accurately “potential from which ‘spirit’ and ‘world’ could be constructed” – much of it implicit in the world as it currently exists (instead of “stored in memory”). (Implicit, that is, in the form of as-of-yet unencountered but latent “trouble” – in the form of the unanswered letter, the unpaid debt, and the unresolved dispute).

This self-generated swamp grows increasingly impenetrable, as time passes inexorably onward; becomes increasingly “uninhabitable,” as the consequences of long-term avoidance propagate (as the monsters of the bog sprout new and hungry heads). This “accumulation of precosmogonic potential” is tantamount to reanimation of the dragon of chaos (is precisely equivalent to the re-awakening of Tiamat, who eternally sleeps, under the secure and familiar world). The more restricted, fear-bound, faithless and repressive the particular mode of adaptation – that is, the more extreme the lie – the more horrendous, dangerous, intolerable, and powerful the associated dragon. It is in this manner that attitude comes to define the world. Every attempt to wish any aspect of experience out of existence transforms it into an enemy. Every facet of being hidden from the light leads a corrupt and sun-starved existence, underground. Experience – absolute reality itself, in the final analysis – cannot be denied without consequence; cannot be merely fantasized out of existence. The enforcement of a wish merely ensures that the information contained in the denied experience can neither be removed from the domain of threat, nor utilized for adaptive purposes.

It is possible that we are in fact adapted to the world – that we are adapted to the world as it actually exists, rather than to the world as we wish it might be. It is possible that our experience contains information precisely sufficient to insure our happy survival. This means that every task left undone – every emergent “territory” left unexplored – comprises “latent information” from which “competent personality” could yet be extracted. If experience is valid as “source of world and spirit” then those elements of experience that have been avoided or suppressed or devalued may yet contain within them what is absolutely essential to continued successful existence. Voluntary transformation – voluntary movement towards “the good” – would therefore mean re-integration of cast-off “material”; would mean voluntary incorporation of that which appears, at present, indigestible. The alternative to this “voluntary pursuit of the inedible” is eventual psychological catastrophe, at the social or individual level, engendered through involuntary contact with the “hostile forces” of rejected being. From the mythological perspective, this psychological catastrophe is accidental reunion with the terrible mother, on territory of her choosing. This “Oedipal incest” culminates in certain suffering, on the part of the unwilling “hero”: culminates in suicide, dismemberment, castration – ends in the final sacrifice of “masculine” consciousness, and in the victory of the underworld.

The identity of the individual with his culture protects him from the terrible unknown, and allows him to function as an acceptable member of society. This slavish function strengthens the group. But the group states that certain ways of thinking and acting are all that are acceptable, and these particular ways do not exhaust the unknown and necessary capabilities of the human being. The rigid grinning social mask is the individual’s pretence that he is “the same person” as everyone else (that is, the same dead person) – that he is not a natural disaster, not a stranger, not strange – that he is not deviant, weak, cowardly, inferior and vengeful. The true individual, however – the honest fool – stands outside the protective enclave of acceptance, unredeemed – the personification of weakness, inferiority, vengefulness, cowardice, difference. He cannot make the cut, and because he cannot make the cut, he is the target of the tyranny of the group (and of his own judgment, insofar as he is that group). But man as a fool, weak, ignorant and vulnerable, is what the group is not: a true individual, truly existing, truly experiencing, truly suffering (if it could only be admitted). Consciousness of intrinsic personal limitation, and apprehension of its consequences, brings with it clear definition of the nature of subjective experience, when allowed to surface, and fosters attempts to adapt to that experience. It is for this reason that only the unredeemed – the outcast, the sick, the blind, and the lame – can be “saved.” Apprehension of the true nature of subjective experience – of individual reality, outside the delusionary constraints of the group – is of sufficient power to demoralize, absolutely. The eternal consequence of self-consciousness is therefore the expulsion from paradise – in its maternal and patriarchal forms. But such a fall is a step on the way to the “true paradise” – is a step towards adoption of identity with the hero, who is not protected from the vagaries of existence, but who can actively transform the terrible unknown into the sustenant and productive world. Acceptance (at least recognition) of the mortal limitation characterizing human experience therefore constitutes the precondition for proper adaptation. The lie, which denies individual experience, is denial of the fool – but the fool is the truth.

Acceptance of mortal weakness is the paradoxical humility that serves as a precondition for true heroism. The heroic attitude is predicated on the belief that something new and valuable still exists, to be encountered and assimilated, regardless of the power and stability of the current position. This belief is further based upon faith in human potential – upon faith that the individual spirit will respond to challenge, and flourish. Such belief must be posited – voluntarily, freely – prior to participation in any heroic endeavour. This is the necessary leap that makes courageous and creative action possible; that makes religion something real. Humility means, therefore: I am not yet what I could be – an adage both cautious and hopeful.


Selections from “Man and His Symbols” by Carl Jung

“In spite of our proud domination of nature, we are still her victims, for we have not even learned to control our own nature. Slowly but, it appears, inevitably, we are courting disaster.

There are no longer any gods whom we can invoke to help us. The great religions of the world suffer from increasing anemia, because the helpful numina have fled from the woods, rivers, and mountains, and from animals, and the god-men have disappeared underground into the unconscious. There we fool ourselves that they lead an ignominious existence among the relics of our past. Our present lives are dominated by the goddess Reason, who is our greatest and most tragic illusion. By the aid of reason, so we assure ourselves, we have ‘conquered nature.’

But this is a mere slogan, for the so-called conquest of nature overwhelms us with the natural fact of overpopulation and adds to our troubles by our psychological incapacity to make the necessary political arrangements. It remains quite natural for men to quarrel and to struggle for superiority over one another. How then have we ‘conquered nature’?

As any change must begin somewhere, it is the single individual who will experience it and carry it through. The change must indeed begin with an individual; it might be any one of us. Nobody can afford to look around and to wait for somebody else to do what he is loath to do himself. But since nobody seems to know what to do, it might be worth while for each of us to ask himself whether by any chance his or her unconscious may know something that will help us. Certainly the conscious mind seems unable to do anything useful in this respect. Man today is painfully aware of the fact that neither his great religions nor his various philosophies seem to provide him with those powerful animating ideas that would give him the security he needs in face of the present condition of the world.”

Selections from “Psychology and Religion” by Carl Jung

“God’s death, or his disappearance, is by no means only a Christian symbol. The search which follows the death is still repeated today after the death of a Dalai Lama, and in antiquity it was celebrated in the annual search for the Kore. Such a wide distribution argues in favor of the universal occurrence of this typical psychic process: the highest value, which gives life and meaning, has got lost. This is a typical experience that has been repeated many times, and its expression therefore occupies a central place in the Christian mystery. The death or loss must always repeat itself: Christ always dies, and always he is born; for the psychic life of the archetype is timeless in comparison with our individual time-boundness. According to what laws now one and now another aspect of the archetype enters into active manifestation, I do not know. I only know—and here I am expressing what countless other people know—that the present is a time of God’s death and disappearance. The myth says he was not to be found where his body was laid. ‘Body’ means the outward, visible form, the erstwhile but ephemeral setting for the highest value. The myth further says that the value rose again in a miraculous manner, transformed. It looks like a miracle, for, when a value disappears, it always seems to be lost irretrievably. So it is quite unexpected that it should come back. The three days’ descent into hell during death describes the sinking of the vanished value into the unconscious, where, by conquering the power of darkness, it establishes a new order, and then rises up to heaven again, that is, attains supreme clarity of consciousness. The fact that only a few people see the Risen One means that no small difficulties stand in the way of finding and recognizing the transformed value.”


Selections from “Psychology and Religion” by Carl Jung

“The world is as it ever has been, but our consciousness undergoes peculiar changes. First, in remote times (which can still be observed among primitives living today), the main body of psychic life was apparently in human and in nonhuman Objects: it was projected, as we should say now. Consciousness can hardly exist in a state of complete projection. At most it would be a heap of emotions. Through the withdrawal of projections, conscious knowledge slowly developed. Science, curiously enough, began with the discovery of astronomical laws, and hence with the withdrawal, so to speak, of the most distant projections. This was the first stage in the despiritualization of the world. One step followed another: already in antiquity the gods were withdrawn from mountains and rivers, from trees and animals. Modern science has subtilized its projections to an almost unrecognizable degree, but our ordinary life still swarms with them. You can find them spread out in the newspapers, in books, rumors, and ordinary social gossip. All gaps in our actual knowledge are still filled out with projections. We are still so sure we know what other people think or what their true character is. We are convinced that certain people have all the bad qualities we do not know in ourselves or that they practice all those vices which could, of course, never be our own. We must still be exceedingly careful not to project our own shadows too shamelessly; we are still swamped with projected illusions. If you imagine someone who is brave enough to withdraw all these projections, then you get an individual who is conscious of a pretty thick shadow. Such a man has saddled himself with new problems and conflicts. He has become a serious problem to himself, as he is now unable to say that ‘they’ do this or that, ‘they’ are wrong, and ‘they’ must be fought against. He lives in the ‘House of the Gathering.’ Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow he has done something real for the world. He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved social problems of our day. These problems are mostly so difficult because they are poisoned by mutual projections. How can anyone see straight when he does not even see himself and the darkness he unconsciously carries with him into all of his dealings?”