Mythology, Branding And Not Falling For Magic Tricks
File this under “Teachings of the Anti-Guru.”
A while back, a couple of people asked me what my opinion on Jordan Peterson was.
This was a bit of a shock, because I’ve never talked about Jordan Peterson before, nor have I read any of his books. In short, I’m no expert. I guess the guy has reached levels of trendiness that poke through into my little corner of the world though.
Anyway, before answering I decided to do a little research and see what I thought. There are some interesting lessons which we’ll pull into a somewhat cohesive blog post, and finish it all up with a “how this can help you” kind of summary.
Let’s get to it.
What Do I Think About Jordan Peterson?
From first impressions, he’s ok. He seems articulate, reasonable and generally harmless.
Of course, there are people that worship the ground he walks on and people who are willing to burn him at the stake. We’ll get to those in a while.
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But as a general rule, he’s ok.
Now… let’s talk about separating man from the myth, because that’s where it gets interested.
The Economy Of Mythology
In copywriting and alternate product circles, there are templates you’ll hear quite regularly:
- “One weird trick a wise man taught me”
- “This unknown medicine from Palau”
- “The secret trick Genghis Khan used to bed ten thousand women”
In logical terms, you’d call it an appeal to authority but life doesn’t happen in logical terms.
Peterson’s thing is taking mythology and tying it all up into his own cohesive worldview in order to prove a point. This isn’t ground-breaking if you’re academically inclined and it’s been used throughout history numerous times.
Peterson is better at it than a lot of the internet gurus you see trying to do a similar thing because it seems Peterson has actually read a book in his life as opposed to reading movie reviews before writing clickbait nonsense like “Why the new Action-Flick™ Is Going To RUIN Western Civilisation!!!”
Essentially though, this is about taking reality and using the common narrative framework to establish your point.
Let me give you an example.
There’s the story of Treasure Island. In Treasure Island, a young boy finds a treasure map and this sends him on a voyage to discover the treasure. It turns out the crew is mostly composed of the pirates who put the treasure on the island in the first place. They’ve been waiting for the opportunity to take what they consider theirs. This is pitted against the noble captain and the boy’s own morals and you have to read the book to see what happens.
It’s a notable tale because it’s the first example in English literature of an anti-hero in the form of Long John Silver, and because of that, it’s also the first example of an English novel that has a grey sense of morality.
Back to the topic at hand.
The above is the general plot. What someone who wanted to turn mythology into rhetoric would do is say, “Here’s the point I want to make. How do I make the narrative fit the point?”
So if I wanted young men to pull their socks up and get on with life as opposed to playing video games… I’d say, “In Treasure Island a young man risks everything. He has to learn who to trust and who not to, but he needs foremost to develop his own moral compass. This is the theme of Treasure Island and it’s something you need to do. But first you need to take risks” etc.
Essentially, I reframe the narrative to suit the point I’d make.
You could do the same with Long John Silver as an example of a wily devil trickster or a heroic man taking a stand against empire. I’ve seen peer-reviewed critiques that have done exactly that.
It doesn’t matter. The point is you rewrite the themes to suit your purpose.
Make A Career Over It
Guys like Robert Greene do this extensively. Everyone raves about 48 Laws of Power and Mastery and whatever other books he’s written. Very few people see the trick for what it is.
Interestingly, I first learned it from a magician.
In magic circles, they call it a gimmick.
When you are a magician, people know the minute you take out that pack of cards that you’re going to dupe them. So you tell them the story. You “got a headache one day and suddenly you can read minds” isn’t going to cut it.
So you tell them, “I learned these lessons from a mystic in India” or “I dedicated my life to understanding fringe science and found a weird thing first proposed by Nikola Tesla.”
You then frame the trick as something more powerful using that appeal to authority.
Robert Greene’s books are basically this same principle over and over again.
You take a historic figure. You tell their story in a way that makes a point. Then you relate it back to the intended audience.
It doesn’t matter that Genghis Khan’s life has absolutely nothing to do with a middle manager in your local grocery store, as long as the audience believe it, it’ll fly.
And boy does it fly.
The Search For Meaning… And Fanboys
Here’s where the tricky part of analysing Jordan Peterson et al. comes in.
The fanboys make it impossible.
I have seen people claiming Peterson is a prophet along the lines of Jesus and the Buddha. This isn’t metaphorical. This is literal on the part of the fanboys.
I have seen people say that the IQ scale is irrelevant and that they need to create a new way of measuring intelligence because Peterson would have an IQ far beyond Einstein, Hawking and the scale in general.
There are people who mention him at every possible point they can, even when they’re on an Instagram picture of a pug in a swimsuit or some stupid stuff.
You have to separate the man from the morons.
Funny story… I’ve been banned from two separate forums for discussing Robert Greene.
The first time, I had the outrageous nerve to ask, “Has anyone seen any tangible results from applying The Laws Of Power?”
The second time I said, “Well if Mastery is as good as The Art Of Seduction, then we’ll all be mastering everything and having sex with hundreds of women!”
The second wasn’t as earnest as the first.
But I rarely get vitriol online… I did after those two comments. People telling me I was a hater and a loser who’d never amount to anything in life and all that stuff.
If this is you… wake-up call time. Stop being a moron.
To be fair, there are also haters on the other side. People calling for Peterson’s work to be burned and banned because presumably telling adolescent young men to get a grip and clean their room is far-right fascism. I dunno.
If you’re up for burning books because some guy on the internet disagrees with you, you’re probably a moron too.
Human beings seek meaning and they do it through narratives. When you see a person like Peterson, that’s what they’re doing.
Now, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value. If Peterson gets people up and doing constructive stuff, then that’s great. There’s incredible value in storytelling and knowledge synthesis.
Be aware though that the trick is in the narrative, and you have full control over the narratives you can select for yourself. Arguably, you also have a responsibility to select the right narratives to share with other people, but I guess that’s a topic for another day, (or someone else entirely.)
I’d recommend to avoid the guru worship in any case.
Read many books so you can seek the themes you need in life and synthesise them yourself.
Pass on the wisdom you find to other people using the same heroic narrative for maximum effectiveness.
That’s all, folks.
Oh, and if you’re getting riled up on the internet about someone you disagree with… remember that you’re creating that narrative too.
Switch off your computer. Go outside.
Same with the fan boy thing. The hero doesn’t exist in real life… you’re projecting those heroic characteristics onto your fanboy crush.
Go outside. Be your own hero.