Myth and Meaning in Jordan Peterson: Chapter 4

In chapter 4, Myth, Memoricide, and Jordan Peterson, Ron Dart gives an overview of myth as an alternative way of knowing, in contrast to reason and experience, and Peterson’s use of myth to extract ethical principles.

Half-Baked Idea: Can we stop speaking of “myth” with mumbo-jumbo vagaries or air of mystery? Myth has two senses. At the popular level it’s understood as a fictional story with some ethical (and usually religious) point and, further, that some group believes or believed to be non-fictional in terms of its packaging.

Among academics, the idea of “fiction” is usually dropped. But in dropping the idea of “fiction” all that is meant (whether they admit it or not), imo, is a story that has a moral lesson.

It’s not a way of knowing truth that is inaccessible to reason or experience. “Myth” doesn’t transcend thought, with apologies to Lewis (cf. 81–82). The point and usefulness of “myth” is the same as a parable or a work of fiction or a thought experiment — as a way to “tell it slant,” to borrow a phrase from Dickinson. Instead of commanding “Do not murder” myth tells it slant in order to carry the audience along to a chorus of assent: “Do not murder! ” The fact that it’s not a way of knowing truths inaccessible to reason or experience is in the very interpretative process that Peterson goes through, as this chapter recounts, in relation to Peter Pan or Pinnochio.

And here’s my quarter baked idea: Academics seem very fond of the term “myth” because of enchanting connotations that arise from the popular understanding of the term as it relates to fiction involving the supernatural or religious. Loading the term down with baggage of “run[ing] contrary to the kind of modern liberalism that defines the human mind as a tabula rasa…” (73) is completely unnecessary.

In other words, the term isn’t actually functioning in such a significant manner when we see someone like Peterson exegeting a myth. All he’s doing is drawing moral lessons from stories. If there is more to what Peterson means by “myth” than this, then it’s owing to his Jungian psychology of a collective human subconscious, and not to the idea per se.

Throwing half-baked ideas against the wall and seeing what sticks.