📆 September 10, 2023 | ⏱️ 4 minute read

Individual vs Collective Advice

In my last entry, I criticized public intellectual Jordan Peterson over the weasely way he uses language. In this entry, I’m going to criticize his muddling of individual and collective advice. First allow me to clarify what I mean by those terms.

I’ve given both individual and collective advice on this journal before. A good example where I gave both types of advice can be found in my entry “Failing Forward”, where I discuss strategies for goal pursuit. To give a sense of what the difference is between individual vs collective advice, here’s a quote from that entry where I give individual advice:

“The second strategy is to attempt your goal and risk making mistakes, failure, and embarrassment. Other people may mock you, ridicule you, and try to discourage you, but you resolve to try despite all that. Every time you fail, you learn from your mistakes. As time goes on, you grow a thicker skin. The naysayers don’t bother you as much. You stop fearing your own failure. And even if you don’t ultimately achieve all of your goal, you still develop resilience, gain confidence, and you don’t live the rest of your life wondering “What if I had tried?””

Nowhere in that entry did I explicitly say this was the best course of action, but I heavily implied it throughout the entire rest of the entry. So I consider it individual advice.

A bit later in that entry, I gave collective advice:

“…as a society, we really need to start recognizing that some amount of failure is inevitable and necessary and value it more.”

The basic difference between individual and collective advice is that an individual can follow individual advice, but only a collective can follow collective advice. I alone can attempt my goals despite the risk of embarrassment. I alone cannot make all of society recognize that some amount of failure is inevitable and value it more.

As is pointed out in The Alt-Right Playbook Video Series, alt-righters tend to respond with individual advice (among other things) when confronted with systemic problems that demand collective solutions. In this entry, I’ll be criticizing Peterson for doing this. By criticizing him, I don’t mean to say that Peterson is an alt-righter. I’m just pointing out that he seems to respond in a similar way when it comes to collective problems.

When asked how to solve major systemic issues, Peterson has responded that one should start by getting their own life in order. While I can absolutely get behind getting one’s life in order, Peterson is just flat-out wrong that getting one’s own life in order somehow results in the fixing of systemic issues. Unlike Peterson, I don’t think there’s such a strong correlation between “having one’s life in order” and being able to fix society.

There are people who have fantastic ideas that, were they to be implemented, would greatly improve society. Some of those same people use their opinions about how unfair society currently is to justify not trying to improve their own lives on an individual level and, as a result, their personal lives are a disaster. On the other hand, there are people who have their personal lives in order, yet are either apolitical or hold political opinions that would be disastrous for society if they were ever implemented.

Peterson never elaborates on the exact mechanism by which “cleaning one’s room” results in the fixing of society’s problems. He just sort of hand-waves the question away with word salad. It’s a completely baseless assumption and there are many other factors that are more related to knowing how to fix society and actually fixing it than having one’s entire life in order, such as having empathy, having strong logical reasoning, possessing historical knowledge, being motivated, being brave, etc.

In my last entry, I was weary of criticizing Peterson’s opinions because he is so hard to pin down and I didn’t want to strawman, but I feel like it’s appropriate since the noises he makes give ammunition to the alt-right and since he argues in a really dishonest way by never officially taking a solid position, then accusing his critics of strawmanning and launching into an incoherent never-ending word salad when he runs out of responses.

I agree that people should do everything they can individually to improve their situation, but you can’t just pretend individual solutions and collective solutions are the same. Peterson should clarify that the self-help advice he gives only serves as individual advice, that it isn’t a collective solution to anything, and that he honestly doesn’t know what the right collective solutions are.

Personally, I think he should stick to psychology. It’s not a personal attack. I just think his head isn’t in the game when it comes to politics.