The Wall Street Journal recently ran a story on Jordan Peterson, the Canadian clinical psychologist, Youtube phenom, and lightning rod for the woke-Left. In it, Peterson suggests that the attractiveness of the various movements that draw young activists (left and right) lies in “the romance and the heroism” they offer.

It’s a potent observation, and explains why rationality and logic so often take a back seat to unsupportable hyperbole. FTA:

Mr. Peterson recalls the famous line of George Orwell in his review of “Mein Kampf” in 1940: “Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people ‘I offer you a good time,’ Hitler has said to them ‘I offer you struggle, danger and death,’ and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet.”

Heroic struggle is a theme found throughout history and literature, across all cultures, rolling all the way back to the tales of Homer and beyond. It aligns with humans’ biological affinity for religious belief, and was even alluded to in the lore of the Matrix movies (fans may recall the narrative that the earlier constructs of the Matrix failed because they were too utopian).

It explains the continued allure of monstrous, racist murderers like Che Guevara, whose bereted visage has become an archetype of the rebel resisting power.

It explains to us how cynical manipulators and professional agitators manage to accrete power, even as they corrupt movements and deflect from actual progress.

It explains why end up loyal to people, rather than ideas. The hero often matters more than his goal, since he can be a hero even if the goal isn’t reached (or is changed).

It explains the anger towards others’ heroes. Peterson has offered up a life-structure to many who lacked it, and that has elevated him in the eyes of many. Since that structure runs afoul of some narratives, those who embrace those narratives declare him the villain, the monster, the Grendel to their Beowulf.

It also explains why a message that focuses solely on rejecting the irrational and the illogical, and embracing rationality, doesn’t win the day.

A common bit of advice for conquering bad habits or addictions is always to replace something with something. Nature abhors a vacuum, and it’s quite clear that the mythology of heroism is one deeply rooted in human nature. Kids to drive in the game-winning run, or drain the buzzer-beating three-pointer for the win, and adults want to be part of something that matters.

Libertarians can learn much from this reality of human nature. It’s not enough to dismantle anti-liberty ideas, no matter how well we do that. We do better when we elevate the philosophy, and we know we’re doing well when it’s attacked by people as being too idealistic, or too naive, or too whatever, because that tells us that its opponents consider it a threat to their own ideas. That ours can combine rational analysis with some degree of mythology elevates it, but we have a problem in that our mythology, being about leaving others alone rather than lording over them, isn’t as attractive. Humans aren’t really wired for “live and let live.”

This reinforces the idea that preserving liberty will always be a struggle, one demanding eternal vigilance, and one that needs to be “sold” with hero mythology. Ayn Rand caught a lot of young minds with her tales of Howard Roark, Dagny Taggart, and John Galt engaged in epic struggle against the evils of collectivist thinking. That she is mocked and reviled is, as I noted earlier, proof of success rather than evidence of failure (and as proof of the System’s antipathy, I find it telling that Google offered me the book “How Bad Writing Destroyed the World: Ayn Rand and the Literary Origins of the Financial Crisis” when I searched “hero of Atlas Shrugged” to see what others might have written on the subject. Helpful hint: if you’re doing political searches, use DuckDuckGo (it offered no mention of that book) rather than the mighty Google if you want results not tipped toward the Left).

It also reminds us that we can’t simply play the political-punditry game the way we wish. The “rules” are born of human nature, and if we don’t accept that, we’ll just end up as too many: arguing with each other over minutiae while the broader culture continues to ignore liberty.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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