And the current political divide in permaculture continues, as Richard Perkin’s shares his appreciation of Jordan Peterson on Instagram. It looks like some folks are using this moment as an opportunity to divide Permaculture along culture war lines. Curtis Stone has long promoted Peterson as a justification of a me-first Ayn Randian approach to life. Now Perkins has joined, saying that anyone who’s read Peterson cannot disagree with him.
I have read Peterson, and there are a great many things I agree with. In fact, it’s probably impossible to watch Peterson and NOT find many things of great value to agree with whole-heartedly. But there are also many I quite strongly disagree with. I can’t not weigh in if Permaculturists are endorsing Peterson.
The most important thing to understand about Jordan Peterson is that he has positioned himself as the philosophical leader of anti-permaculture. Jordan Peterson’s whole philosophy is to oppose permaculture, period. That’s not a personal attack, I think that’s just an accurate reading of his work. There’s a very good reason why a lot of self-proclaimed chauvinist and supremacist communities use Peterson’s work to justify their hateful worldviews.
Peterson’s no idiot. In fact, he’s a fairly competent communicator, and there’s one thing we can learn from Jordan Peterson, you change minds by connecting with people and building on shared values and social capital. For example, Peterson often calls himself a “liberal,” then uses liberal values to explain philosophies that ultimately justify bigotry and violence.
Peterson’s book “12 Rules for Life” is an excellent model of persuasion. It is a Trojan horse that starts with 12 rules no one can disagree with, like “pet kittens.” That’s literally one of the rules. Then he uses these universal statements to build his central premise, which is an attack on the movement to replace destructive centralized corporate systems to create a just and sustainable world. And it is a defense of the expansionist Western global corporate system which has dominated the world by force and is destroying the planet. Again, this isn’t a personal attack, Peterson is quite open that this is indeed his central premise.
If one follows his “rules for life” one becomes opposed to permaculture. Everything we are for–a “permanent culture” of contentment, care, sustainability, blance, and living within limits–is exactly what he is against.
While we look to the world’s just and sustainable societies for models, Peterson argues that Western Values are inherently superior, and this is the reason why Western Civ has come to dominate the planet. The current system is the result of meritocracy. Peterson is even on record supporting the revolution of fossil fueled tilling, plastics, and poisons as a great good to humanity. The story of the destruction of nature and ecosystems is “progress” for Peterson.
His main criticism is aimed at the “relativism” and “post modernism” that questions the inherent supremacy of western values, culture, and institutions. And the most important value he defends is the one of Individualist pursuit of dominance, especially for men. He says questioning these values is unnatural and leads to chaos. Western society is superior to more just and sustainable indigenous lifeways, and its dominance is simply “meritocracy.”
For Peterson, male leadership models of patriarchy and hierarchical dominance are not only “natural,” but they are necessary for civilization. Suppressing them leads to “chaos,” mediocrity and stagnation. Peterson advises young men to pursue “meaning,” (great!) then says the only thing that defines “meaning” is the Western concepts of chasing dominance, money, power, and fame. Peterson goes so far as to tell young men to embrace being aggressive and even “toxic” in their pursuit of traditional ideas of “success,” in other words dominance.
Not only is this a recipe for chaos and destruction in our personal lives, it is a recipe for self-destruction on a global scale. Peterson quite concludes the same, avoiding critiquing climate change, but saying that it is just another “problem” for great men to solve through their profitable intellectual accomplishment. The way to solve our problems, for Peterson, is unhinged ego struggle and unfettered capitalism that will create technological solutions to our problems. At LEAST Peterson stops short of other authors like Kurtzweil who claim this will lead to a technoutopia. For Peterson, these techno solutions will just allow us to keep muddling through an unjust world of struggle and conflict.
As with Ayn Rand, money becomes an objective measure of good, and accumulating lots of it must mean lots of goodness. So businessmen can justify ripping off customers or lying to their social media followings for profit in the name of “meritocracy” and “generating societal value” and being naturally “manly” and so on.
So its no wonder self-proclaimed communities of supremacists, nationalists, and hypercapitalists use Peterson to justify their ideologies. Meritocracy justifies inequality, and “western chauvinism” replaces white supremacy. Men are the natural leaders and women like it that way. Inequality creates incentive so don’t complain about it, struggle for dominance. Don’t worry about the sustainability, it’s human nature to dominate and destroy and only unfettered quest for individual gain will unlock the scientific knowledge to save the planet.
Ultimately, if you read and agree just 30% with Peterson, you would be stupid to become a Permaculturist. While there are a few internet celebrities, most of us will be aiming to live lives of contentment and intrinsic meaning instead of “accomplishment” in the eyes of society. We’ll aim to live more beautifully while consuming less, instead of living with greater struggle so we can consume more. We’ll aim to connect to our communities as equals, rather than to climb the ladder of dominance and power, because we understand that delusion creates a barrier to real connection with the world.
Of course, there are very many good things in Peterson’s book, too! That’s the point. Petting kittens, cleaning your room, and standing up straight are wonderful things.
The reason Peterson is so dangerous is that if you question Peterson’s philosophy, people can (and do) say “you don’t like petting kittens!” But one doesn’t need to become a hypermasculine capitalist sociopath to pet kittens.
So, we can take the good farming and growing advice that permaculture celebs offer without their politics. (That of course goes for me, too.) And take the good advice Peterson offers—stand up with dignity, pet kittens, and clean your room—but toss the Western Supremacy in the garbage can.