Zizek and Peterson: A Waste of Time?

Sam Adams

Almost all the analyses I have seen of the much anticipated Peterson-Zizek debate have been from the point of view of people who were unsatisfied with it, claiming that it was either a rehashing of played out ideas or even a poor performance by bad actors. Personally I’ve found this a little bit depressing. It seems like just another example of the old problem of how two people could see the same thing and come away thinking very different things about it.

I’m not saying the criticism isn’t warranted; Peterson was ill-prepared and offered a shallow reading of Marx while Zizek’s rebuttal was a conglomeration of disparate ideas only tangentially related to the topic and not at all related to what Jordan had said. However, I still enjoyed it. Is that because I am somehow the only person on earth who didn’t expect there to be any real solution to the world’s problems at the end of the show? Somehow I doubt that.

It seems to me that a lot of the disillusionment that has been expressed comes from people who already had an axe to grind. Of course Peterson’s critics were on the lookout for anything he might say that could be construed as foolish and those detracting from the debate as a whole obviously didn’t get what they wanted out of it.

So, is it up to me to tell people what they should have wanted to get from watching Jordan Peterson debate Slavoj Zizek?

Obviously anyone displeased that there weren’t any real solutions to global issues was expecting too much. Then there are those who were eagerly hoping to witness someone get “destroyed” by their idol; I would suggest that they, too, were misled. Of course there are the critics who simply try to make themselves seem intelligent by insisting that other intelligent people are dumb – but the less said about them the better.

What I want to say to people who are displeased, disappointed or disillusioned by the debate is something that I read in a book whose title I can’t remember during a time in my life that I’m trying to forget and that is this: “Assembly of Japanese bicycle requires great peace of mind.”

This eccentric statement first appeared in the owner’s manual of bicycles sold in Japan during the 1950’s and the point of it is pure Zen; if you put your bike together and it doesn’t work, then that is your problem. The bicycle is merely a collection of atoms arranged in a certain way and a collection of atoms isn’t the sort of thing that can be right or wrong.

Now, clearly the same can’t really be said of a debate, which is a collection of statements; and statements are exactly the sort of thing that can be right or wrong. However, my point might come into focus if you view the thing in the appropriate way. I, for one, viewed the meeting of Jordan and Slavoj as an opportunity to try and learn something, to engage with public discourse and attempt to gain a more sophisticated appreciation of the world.

In that sense, no statement, series of statements or discussion of ideas is right or wrong, they are just parts making up a greater whole. Having the opportunity to watch two intellectually honest people engage in authentic dialogue should never be seen as a waste of time, and anyone who would like to consider themselves intellectually honest or authentic should relish that opportunity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s