Peterson vs. Zizek, What Really Happened

After reading some of the poorly written articles regarding the Peterson/ Zizek debate, some of which were written before the event, I decided to add my own impression of the event. The topic was Happiness: Capitalism versus Marxism, a topic people might consider paying attention to with the upcoming United States presidential election likely facing off between a far-right capitalist and some form of socialist. This notion flew over the heads of many who pretended to cover the debate and I will come back to them later.
On April 19th, 2019 I watched the Peterson vs Zizek debate from a live feed and while I had some issues with losing the feed during the event, I was able to watch it again earlier today. The debate started out with Peterson making his argument for the first half hour discussing the ideas he found wrong in the Communist Manifesto, of which there were many. He narrowed it down to six and was able to finish his argument when his time was up. Having not read the Manifesto since college he read the document again to become familiar with it and make some precise arguments against Zizek’s defense, this turned out to be a futile gesture since Zizek did not defend Marx or Communism during his half hour that followed. Zizek took a different approach and attacked capitalism for its faults, political correctness, and never talked about Marx.
Peterson was caught off guard realizing that his opening argument was almost a waste of time with how Zizek came in never discussing what was supposed to be the topic at hand. The back and forth between the two became more fluid, more so with Zizek who is prone to droning on with his constant barrage of unfiltered thought. Zizek’s opening remarks ran over the time limit and his solution wasn’t to narrow down his final statement but instead asked for two more minutes to finish reading a page of material. Neither party became flustered or defensive and Peterson worked around Zizek allowing him to talk over him and ask questions when the roles were supposed to be reversed.
Some of the statements that came as a surprise involved Peterson and Zizek agreeing on many topics including the flaws in capitalism and how Marx wasn’t a great thinker or philosopher. At one-point Zizek even pointed out that he didn’t care for Marx and preferred Hegel for his ideas over Marx saying, “Hegel is what our world needs at this time.”
Zizek did go on the attack, showing that he had read 12 Rules for Life, asking about the rule to “clean your room.” But what if the room is dirty and your life is disorganized because of the rules put on you by society? This was a question that Peterson was able to work out by explaining that we can still make the world a better place by how we act and the things that we do, that which we are ultimately responsible for. Peterson had already argued this point in his book by describing how the people you live with might be confrontational with the idea of you cleaning your room, the idea that you might think you are better than everyone else of trying to discourage you through the question of why? Whether or not it’s the people you live with or the society you engage with the same problem is there, you navigate through the mess and try to claim some order for yourself.
There was a discussion about the social justice warriors and why they were considered Marxist? Peterson replied with a short history of leftist ideology on college campuses during the 1960s to today and Zizek agreed with his statement. But when the argument came to the topic of today, Zizek was insistent on hearing the name of someone who was a Marxist that was pushing the social justice agenda. Peterson couldn’t come up with a name but stated studies and numbers that had been done over the years. Zizek named off some professors he was familiar with that Peterson did not know and Peterson stated the studies Zizek didn’t know, in the end the question led to a stalemate.
Zizek on multiple occasions expressed his concern with the rise of China and how they were going to affect the world. The effectiveness of a communist government running a capitalist society must be admitted and while the benefits of a system like that can be seen, the horrors can not be ignored. The Muslims in work camps, the censorship of the internet and the crackdown of free speech only prove that with all the growth over the past two decades the flaws of communism are still abundant. This is the extreme end of what Peterson and Zizek both agreed what is needed in the future, Capitalism with regulation.
While some wanted this debate to turn into a fight, a battle of ideologies, their discussion came to some truths that others needed to hear or discover for themselves at these two men did. The old ideas of the twentieth century need to be left to that time. Both communism and capitalism, to their extremes, are horrible ideas that only hurt people in the end, and maybe that is the true answer to happiness. There is a balance that needs to be found and yet we have a right-wing agenda to deregulate everything and a left agenda to control all aspects of life. If democracy really worked well there would be a balance and that doesn’t exist. As Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is a horrible way to govern, except for all the others.” This last quote was used by Jordan Peterson in a rebuttal to Zizek pointing out the current dysfunctional United States government.
There is much more to cover, and I would encourage anyone to watch the debate for themselves when it becomes available on YouTube. While other articles consider the debate a “waste of time” trying to make the entire event seem like a farce, others decided to push their anti-Peterson agenda and poorly executed it. I don’t know if it’s a sense of jealously or if they are trying to get those “clicks” onto their 300 word toiletreadings but the opinion of a so-called journalist is not helping our society and I doubt it does much good for their paychecks.
The Guardian published an article today titled, the ‘debate of the century’: what happened when Jordan Peterson debated Slavoj Zizek. I read this article while putting my daughter to bed tonight and found a handful of misquotes and disinformation that made my head spin. Zizek made a reference to the apocalypse during his opening comment and, according to The Guardian, Peterson agreed with him. This isn’t true in the least bit and there will be video to prove it to people who have not seen it. Peterson said the apocalypse was a bit much and that in his research things aren’t as bad as some would say they are. He mentioned a bet that was made between two scientists, one arguing that due to overpopulation the world would start feeling the stresses on resources by 2000 with the rise in the price of commodities. Peterson did not agree with Zizek. In the little research that was done for this article Stephen Marche found a video on YouTube of Zizek eating two hotdogs while walking down the street saying that he was “more or less a Gen X nostalgia act.” Unlike the Guardian, Zizek remains relevant with his current critics of social events such as pointing out that Trump, for all his flaws, is not a fascist and that trying to label him as such is not helping the left in their fight against him. I wish that Stephen Marche was paying attention to that piece of wisdom.
As for other articles that didn’t bother to take this debate seriously there was The Stranger, a Seattle based online magazine. For a debate that was a waste of time Charles Mudede spent a lot of time writing about the event before it even happened. With such pieces as “Nothing is a greater waste of time than the planned debate between Jordan Peterson and Slavoj Zizek” and “what Jordan Peterson’s followers don’t know about Zizek or postmodernism” one can point out that it was important enough to write about on multiple occasions before it even happened. The first article turns into an angry manifesto on why Peterson is not worthy to debate Zizek and how he will be exposed as a fraud. The second article was a self-masturbatory mental stroking to make the author feel smarter than he really is. I’m sure that he of all people ended up watching the debate that in his words was a ‘waste of time’ and I hope that he cringed and remembered his words as he argued what kind of Marxist Zizek really is. In the middle of the debate Zizek admits to not caring for Marx and preferring Hegel’s perspective on things, oops.
I should not be surprised that the media didn’t take this debate seriously even though it sold out and had an online audience that paid $14.99 to watch it. It is difficult to take the media seriously when they don’t take intellectual debates seriously. There doesn’t appear to be a discussion happening in our world anymore, just yelling on all sides to be heard and forcing ideas on people who do not want them. For god’s sake convince me, make an argument, say something with meaning? That is why these men are talking, you aren’t. It is difficult to read anything of any substance these days because everything is the opinion of some no name, wannabe reporter with too much student loan debt and hoping to have that one toilet tweet go viral to make rent. Thankfully we have people like Peterson and Zizek to have these talks and we don’t need the media to fill us in on it, we can watch it for ourselves.