A Neomasculist Defence of Gillette

I write this article with a heavy heart, a subtle sense of dismay. Never in the world did I imagine myself writing in the defense of a shaving brand. Sigh. Yet, here we are: stuck at gender. In the eleventh hour of existential risks and issues of unimaginable scope, we’re at junior high. We suddenly turn away from terrifying depths, wuthering heights and expanding horizons… to consider dicks and pussies and gender identity. And cheap commercials and shaving. But if that’s where we’re at, so be it.

“If we are going for mass extinction, let’s not do it because we got distracted by our junior high issues.”

Okay, let’s go through this, but then let’s be done with it and be on to something at least vaguely dignified. If we are going for mass extinction, let’s not do it because we got distracted by our junior high issues. Let’s go down with a *little* more dignity, shall we? Finest hour, anyone? How’s that for manhood.

The Video that Shook the World of Men

By now, my readers will know the story: the razor brand Gillette (not really a good-guy company by “politically correct” standards, charging women more for equal products, etc., owned by Swiss giant Procter & Gamble) released a video with a “progressive man” message, commenting on the #metoo movement. The ad also depicts some not-very-masculine boys and adolescents as protagonists. The ad was made by some left-leaning women in marketing. Here’s the video:

This video has been viewed and felt as highly offensive by many men and some (chiefly conservative) women. At the moment is has a million dislikes on YouTube (vs .6 million likes). A boycott was issued, folks filmed themselves throwing away Gillette products. News pundits exploded. YouTuber commentators exploded – among them Ben Shapiro and Joe Rogan (or the latter rather laughed at the issue and said it was “disturbing”). There are many more. This is what I hear them saying:

* The commercial is anti-male (misandrist), depicting all men as bad and masculinity as inherently negative.
* The commercial is patronizing to men by explaining to us how we should be.
* The commercial is preaching obvious and boring things.
* It’s not the place of a shaving company to carry forward norms of society.
* The commercial tells it wrong, men don’t speak for women; rather it’s the other way around.

So first thing’s first. What do I feel when I watch it?

Nothing really. Neutral. Slight positive because it lifts some issues such as bullying and sexual harassment. Slight disgust at capitalist opportunism disguised as idealism. Thinking I’ve seen all of the situations in the ad and do recognize that most men in most situations do indeed not stand up and call folks out. Still it all comes out a bit silly, as commercials generally do.

“To the offended party: I think you’re all wrong, folks.”

To the offended party: I think you’re all wrong, folks. And I think that your reaction says more about yourselves than about the commercial. I think you are exact equivalents of the non-constructive, bitter, bitchy kinds of feminists and anti-racists whose toes are always perpetually stepped upon by one wrong word, some naked skin, one commercial or another.

I’m calling you out, guys: you’re being over-sensitive. You’re taking part in a silly hysteria.

Over-Sensitive Machos vs. Science

Let’s look at the points of critique:

* The commercial is anti-male (misandrist), depicting all men as bad and masculinity as inherently negative.

Actually, no. It says men can be both good and bad, and that being good sometimes requires you to question yourself and to stand up against the behavior of other men. That’s the vision offered of a positive masculinity.

The fact that so many men interpret the video as an offense on all masculinity, rather reveals that they are being touchy and misunderstanding things.

* The commercial is patronizing to men by explaining to us how we should be.

Actually, yes. But so are all the other commercials telling us to be top-athlete studs and that we should shave and have thick jaws. So people basing their critique on this criterion cannot be genuine, unless they have also criticized and been offended by the former Gillette commercials.

* The commercial is preaching obvious and boring things.

Yes. And still, that’s how norms work. That’s sociology 101. You repeat obvious things and link them to desirable traits. Joe Rogan says that’s not how society works, and he is exactly wrong, as can and has been demonstrated in empirical science. Quote:

“We posited that media images of men influence the gender role attitudes that men express soon after exposure to the images. A total of 212 men (87% European American, 7% Asian or Asian American, 3% African American, and 3% other) viewed magazine advertisements containing images of men that varied in terms of how traditionally masculine vs. androgynous they were and whether the models were the same age or much older than the viewers. Men who had initially been less traditional espoused more traditional attitudes than any other group after exposure to traditionally masculine models, although they continued to endorse relatively nontraditional views after exposure to androgynous models. These findings suggest that nontraditional men’s gender role attitudes may be rather unstable and susceptible to momentary influences such as those found in advertising.”

And no, it’s not obvious to the world population. Quote from UN report:

It is estimated that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner (not including sexual harassment) at some point in their lives. However, some national studies show that up to 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. Evidence shows that women who have experienced physical or sexual intimate partner violence report higher rates of depression, having an abortion and acquiring HIV, compared to women who have not.

And yes, changed attitudes can actually and truly reduce violence against women (as well as other violence, bullying and sexual harassment).  WHO-reports have been written about it (see p. 8).

Hence, empirical science is firmly on the side of the Gillette ad and on the opposite side of the sea of whining men. Currently at 22 million views, if you do the math, this commercial has been watched by the “world-soul” roughly one full human life-time, including sleep. And it will no doubt be watched many more lifetimes. Given the predictive suggestions of science, it may well be the case that it has already saved a truckload of girls from getting harassed, battered or raped.

* It’s not the place of a shaving company to carry forward norms of society.

Okay, so this one is a bit more serious. Should commercials tell us what to do and whom to be in the first place? Perhaps not. But if I have to choose between ones saying we should be sensitive and brave (as this one) and being athletic studs (most others), I prefer this one.

“I expect some angry reactions now and some ad hominems (pomo, low-stage, daddy issues, soy-boy, disembodied, keep ‘em comin’).”

* The commercial tells it wrong, men don’t speak for women; rather it’s the other way around.

This was pointed out by Ben Shapiro, based on anecdotal experience and by other observers as well. Again, science says the opposite with very strong and consistent figures.

Anyway, touché guys. I expect some angry reactions now and some ad hominems (pomo, low-stage, daddy issues, soy-boy, disembodied, keep ‘em comin’). Which is also what happens when you go after hysterical non-productive feminism. Can’t you see that you, self-proclaimed masculists, are the mirror image of the latter? Come on boys, prove me right.

Postfeminism /// Neomasculism

What would then be a productive, healthy, masculine reaction?

Frankly – to just not care about a stupid commercial. To be man enough to work to save the world. Shaved or not.

The pathology revealed by what can only be described as the disproportionate and inappropriate public response to this ad is not, however, as most feminists will claim, misogyny. No, it runs much deeper than that.

We need a wide large-scale project of personal development on the behalf of boys and men, in order to get into step with the new economy, the new woman – and new gender identities – arriving on the world stage. What we are seeing, I believe, is an expression of how powerless men feel in this strange new wonderland. And when we feel powerless, we get stingy and over-sensitive. This pathology runs right through – and marks – the current men’s movement. Unfortunately. It’s simply not a good grade for them. We need a much better men’s movement than that. That, if anything, is what the Gillette debacle has revealed.

I am only comfortable with a postfeminist position *if* it successfully transcends and includes feminism – in particular the undeniable and empirical aspects of inequality and relations between the genders. Otherwise it isn’t real postfeminism. The proof that the folks offended by the ad weren’t true postfeminists? None of them bothered to check if the world actually *does* work according to the assumptions of this ad. Which it does. More proof? Their message is indistinguishable from that of the classical conservatives. How much is this post-anything? And how much is it simply social conservatism? Nothing wrong with it, but that’s what it is.

“I want us to move towards a “neomasculist” position, one that *is* tough and manly but is still friends with feminism.”

I want us to move towards a “neomasculist” position, one that *is* tough and manly but is still friends with feminism. One that doesn’t get “offended” at every corner, isn’t over-sensitive. One that lifts itself, by virtue of character and understanding, above the trench wars of the gender issues and identity politics at large. One that lands in a paradigm of emotional and sexual development.

This issue is addressed in my upcoming book, Nordic Ideology. Feminism and masculism need one another. They are two sides of the same equation. And several commentators have pointed out, including the philosopher Slavoj Žižek and the online media channel Rebel Wisdom (edit: link was provided by commentator) that if there is “toxic masculinity”, it cannot be *all* 10 000 years of traditional masculinity, and there should logically be such a thing as “toxic femininity”. I agree. And I’m not that fond of the term, toxic masculinity, because it makes it sound like being macho would always be a bad thing.

I’m not siding with the male-bashing here: just asking more of the men’s reactions. This wasn’t real male-bashing and these reactions aren’t appropriate. And more of the men’s movement in general. If folks want me to do it, I will even take a break from other activities and write a short book on a new (metamodern) view of gender and sexuality: Postfeminism /// Neomasculism would be the working title.

I realize that I tease a bit in this article. But I think, frankly, that these affronted men should be able to take it. If you are furious right now, please do stop and think of why. Be honest. Feel your body. I can only make you mad if I hit your insecurities. What makes you tick so? The answer is in there. That’s a teacher better than any shaving commercial.

Hey, I’m treating you like men by telling it straight. Straight talk is not condescending if it’s true and productive. And frustrations aren’t always bad. Neither are conflicts. I say, such a neomasculist approach is indeed the best a man can get.

So, affronted party of un-Gillette-shaved machos – what have you got? 


Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, and the upcoming books ‘Nordic Ideology’ and ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of World History’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his Facebook profile here.

The World’s Greatest Speech that You’ve Never Heard Of

“We are brought together by a much more fundamental fact. We know this basic truth within the most sacred chambers of our hearts.”

Cited from The Penguin Book of Modern Speeches.
Held on May 4th, 2012. Greenwich, UK.


The Cover of Penguin Book to 20th Century Speeches .

“We have gathered here, brothers and sisters, to transcend. To transcend the boundaries of race. Since time immemorial—at least, to our best knowledge, since the last Ice Age—we have been separated, splintered, into shards. These shards we call races.

We tell ourselves and one another that this race, or that one, is superior; it stands above all others. Some individuals are of purer breed, we say; some belong to this land more than others. Some races are favored and pampered, others exploited and made to bow.

But it is not race that unites us, nor defines us. Any attempt to unite into races ultimately leads to division and estranges us from our true selves. And thus, race alone can never make us strong. We are brought together by a much more fundamental fact. We know this basic truth within the most sacred chambers of our hearts: that we are dogs.

Let this transcendence ring through all of us, through all races and breeds—beagle, poodle, greyhound, terrier, bulldog, dachshund, dalmatian, golden retriever, from the chihuahua to the great Dane—we have the love of all dogkind within us. That is what makes us dogs. It is universal. We hold this truth to be self-evident, that all dogs are created equal by a single divine creator, who created Dog in His image.

Let our howls chime as bells across this land, across every land and clime, until this simple message is recognized and made fully manifest: that each pup shall know that she will never be judged by the color and patterns of her fur, but only by the virtues of her character and the scent of her excrement.

This holds true for hound, pedigree and mongrel alike. Injustice must come to an end; and it will come to an end. May we be able to crouch and huddle together at bowls filled with food and water we generously share; at the bowls of brotherhood.

But, my fellow dogs, let us not stop there.”

[Pause—sad eyes gazing deeply into the distance. Stars begin to appear in the clearing skies.]

“There is an issue that lies even beyond race.

The animals.

When we reach into the simple kindness that lies at the foundation of our doggity, we know in our hearts that we have mistreated them. We have used them. We have exploited them. We have driven them from their natural habitats for the most trivial of concerns.

We use them for food, for toil, for clothes, for leashes, for shelter, for company. But how do we repay them? With slavery, death and extrajudicial punishment.

Has our divine creator granted us this right over the non-dog animals? I say non-dog animals, for we too are animals, albeit endowed with unique traits. Is this not the same mode of thought that has hitherto enabled the degradation of whole races of our fellow dogs?

It is true, as you might say, that the animals have little means to voice their concerns. Can we then know if they too have valid interests? They cannot bark, howl and whimper as we. They cannot lick, show teeth, sniff buts and wag their tails in cultured and meaningful manners. But is the fault theirs that we fail to understand them? Have we not every reason to believe, that all the lower animals, too, have emotions—if not as enriched as our own?

It can make us wonder, indeed, if dogs are not chosen and endowed with supremacy by Heaven. Can the animals truly smell as we can? They lack our snouts, it is true. Can they know the joy of playing pups, know the depth of motherhood? Can they feel the profound bond of the pack and its responsibilities? Can they be enthralled by the sublime scent and refined femininity of a bitch? Can they love? Can they dream at night and howl to the heavens?

I alone cannot answer for all the non-dog animals. We must seek the answers in them. Cows we eat and use for leather—but is there suffering in their moos and bellows? Pigs we eat, sheep, cats and birds we chase, humans we let work for us to give us food and shelter and we keep them as pets. What do we smell in each of these animals? Can we smell fear and pain in them?

Let us speak of humans specifically. In their murmurs there is little meaning to us beyond simple requests that we sit, fetch something, or reach out our paws to them. But many of us have kept humans for company and convenience, and many of us will have known affection for our own humans, as though they were part of our pack. And I have no doubt that many have felt that their humans loved them back. It may be a simpler form of love, but it is there.

Humans have sometimes been called Dog’s best friend. They are our pets. Of course, they lack the dignity to walk on four legs and perpetually lean on their hind legs as beggars. We keep them close to us, and perhaps for this reason, we treat them differently than we do other non-dog animals. But are they so different from the others? Does our little creek of solidarity with them not lead us to a river of solidarity with many other mammals; a river which in turn is strengthened until it leads into an ocean of love and compassion for all sentient beings?

We need not ask of one another to manifest this oceanic love each day. For just as doggity is created in the image of the divine, so is each of us, after all, only a dog. But can we a least extend a simple caring for the non-dog animals? We are, unlike many other animals, blessed to be omnivores; we need not feast upon the flesh and blood of the oppressed. Can we at least show them this simple courtesy? Yes, our ancestors hunted and ate flesh, but today we have more choices and better knowledge.

Yes, the animals harm and devour one another. And they fail to take even the simplest perspectives of other species. Just look at the humans; they destroy other animals without any apparent concern. Just as we are canine-centric, seeing Dog as the measure of all things, so they are anthropo-centric, believing that life and existence revolves around them.

But they are non-dog animals; what should we expect? Should we hold ourselves to the standards of cats, birds, monkeys and squirrels? Should we, as lions, who also eat flesh, kill the cubs of rival males after a divorce? Have we come no farther?

If it means anything at all to be a dog being, surely it must be that we can rise above cruelty and indifference against the animals with which we, after all, share ancestry?

If we are animals, let us not act as animals; let us for once become the good dogs we are meant to be—and show simple kindness towards the non-dog animals. Let us be able to say to ourselves: ‘Good dog! That a boy! Attagirl!’

It is our destiny to transcend the boundaries of race. And it is the destiny of dogs to transcend the boundaries of species.”

[Howls and barks fill the air, proud snouts turned skyward under the onset of a moonlit night.]

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, and the upcoming books ‘Nordic Ideology’ and ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of World History’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his Facebook profile here.

Today’s tune, “Tearz for Animals” by CocoRosie:

Hanzi Talking about “Metamodern Values”

The central claim that I have is that postmodern values emerge from the very core or center of modern values, and that metamodern values emerge from the very core or center of postmodern values.

Here’s a way of thinking about it, that I think might be fruitful. I think that some values correspond to certain societies or certain time periods. And I think that some values meet the demands of those societies and time periods – and their life conditions. Which is why they evolved in the first place. So medieval people had medieval values because they lived in medieval societies. Modern people have modern values because they live in modern societies.

Today I’d like to talk, then, about three sets of values – about three families, as it were – of different kinds of values. These three are, in order of appearance, and in order of emergence more crucially:

1. Modern values
2. Postmodern values, and
3. META modern values

The central claim that I have is that postmodern values emerge from the very core or center of modern values, and that metamodern values emerge from the very core or center of postmodern values.

So you’re going to have, in the modern world, a lot of people who have and express and sincerely feel modern values. And you’re going to have a minority of people – but a pretty big minority, especially in late modern or advanced modern societies – who express and live and embody postmodern values. And there is, emerging at this point, something I would like to call metamodern values. And they’re still emerging. They’re still a bit experimental, but they’re distinct from postmodern values nevertheless.

So to begin with, are some of these values better than others?

Yes and no, I would say. We can look at it individually and collectively.

Individually speaking, let’s say you go back in time, or you go to a less modern country, and you meet someone who has very traditional values. They believe in God, literally everything that’s written in the Bible or the Koran, and they’re a devout follower, and they believe that the world is 6000 years old and that gay people should be stoned to death, for instance.

Let’s call the values of this person pre-modern. Does this person have worse values than you do? Do they have more primitive values? Are they a better or worse person?

It would be difficult to argue that this person has a lower morality than you do. They still act kindly, love their family, and follows what they have been taught is right and wrong. Their interests and feelings are as important as yours.

But collectively… we would be in huge trouble if in modern societies, people have pre-modern values, the kind of values of pre-modern societies. If you have a modern society, but it is run by values akin to those of Genghis Khan, or even just the values of traditional relatively authoritarian Catholicism, you get stuff like authoritarian dictatorship, or even Nazism: aggressive foreign policies, no focus on sustainability, and so forth.

So collectively, it is very important, that we as a society have values that correspond to the realities and challenges of our present day and age. As things look today, we are leaving the industrial age, and the age of the Enlightenment behind, and we are entering a new kind of society altogether. And most of us still have modern values. Which is to say that our values are not in tune with the society that we ourselves have created.

So a large part of our inability to tackle the problems of the modern world have to do with the fact that we have perhaps not sufficiently updated our own values. We haven’t sufficiently grown as human beings to match the challenges we are faced with.

The Three Modern Challenges

Specifically, modern society faces us with three challenges, and these challenges grow as modern society progresses to its later stages. You have:

1. Sustainability. The world economy is not sustainable and is going to crash due to exponential growth on a limited planet.

2. Excessive inequalities. Even though poverty is dropping globally, we still have extreme inequalities that can hardly be justified and in some ways are growing.

3. Alienation. This includes the many subtle mental health issues that stem from modern life.

These are the problems caused by modern society, but that we as modern people find ourselves unable to tackle with modern values.

Modern Values

What, then, are modern values in the first place?

We know them more or less from the mainstream of society. These are the values of industrial civilization. They are the values of the Enlightenment.

There is a belief in science.
There is a belief in progress.
There is a belief in rationality.
Oftentimes there is a belief in the individual.
It is meritocratic, meaning everybody has to earn their position by a proven track record.

And in a way, it is kind of sincere. Modernity and modern values are married to a kind of sincerity. You ask mother nature, by the means of scientific method, and you get her to tell you the truth. And then you verify or falsify the claims of one another, so as to serve the progress and advancement of mankind – or that’s the idea.

This is pretty much what we all learn in school.

Some people thought that was the end of history. Some people thought, that’s as far as we’ll get, and from now on, humanity’s journey onward will not be into new philosophies, but only into more and more scientific and technological and progress.

But as modern society has progressed, more and more people – especially the ones that are highly educated and culturally sensitive and often, actually, according to research, the more intelligent ones – begin to question those values.

Postmodern Values

Enter postmodernism. Enter the postmodern values.

So what are those? You can find them around the counter culture of modern and Western society. All modern societies have a sizable counter culture. You have significant postmodern populations especially among the most modern societies in the world. You can find them among humanities professors, students, sociologists, critical social sciences, intellectuals of different sorts.

Instead of believing in science, postmodern people tend to be critical towards the supposed objectivity of science. They tend to be skeptical. They tend to want to pick it apart and look at power structures that drive this purportedly rational search for the truth.

The postmodernists say: “It’s not rational. It’s driven by all sorts of all too human interests, all too human relations.”

They say: “I don’t believe in progress. I don’t believe in your grand histories of the world. I just believe that there are many different histories, and these are all situated among the people who they are meaningful to. And you have to understand those people on their own premises, rather than fitting them into your own ideas of the world and where it’s going.”

There is no one big history, with one big direction, of the world.

Postmodernists don’t believe in rationality, beginning with Freud and his exploration of the irrational unconscious, and beginning with Marx and Engels and their theories about how people are blinded by ideologies in everyday life. The postmodern thinkers don’t believe there is such a thing as a rational human being. Human beings are driven by irrational drives, and a lot of times by their social surroundings, even by the structures of the language we speak – things that lie far beyond our own individual, conscious making.

Rather than the individual, then, you postmodern thinkers look at society. Even committing suicide – the most individual choice you can make, if you want to live or not – is a societal matter. In some countries, suicide rates are ten times or twenty times higher than in others, which says that we are governed by society more than we could normally imagine.

And, of course, postmodern minds tend think less of modern meritocracy and be against hierarchies. They question the hierarchies of everyday life. Why is the boss always a man, why is it always a tall person, why is it always a white guy? Why do the rich get so much political power? Why are all the Nobel prizes going to white guys, and why are they afforded by other white guys… in their fifties?

Rather than the modern sincerity, then, you get the postmodern irony. Think of The Simpsons for instance; this whole show is steeped in what could be said to be “cultural postmodernism”. They’re ironic towards pretty much everything. Everything gets an ironic beating, including the show itself.
Irony is the guiding principle of the postmodern mind.

Metamodern Values

But after you’ve been through a whole lot of postmodern irony, for a long time, and you’ve deconstructed (or “picked apart”) your own thoughts, what happens is, in the long run it gets rather dissatisfying.

In the long run, you find out, you don’t actually have anything to believe in anymore. Then you tend to fall into the traps of crude forms of nihilism and relativism, and you don’t really know the path forward. And you get stuck in all of these details, all of this turning of stones, looking at the exceptions, and the cracks, and the contrasts.

And that’s where metamodern values enter. Metamodern values bring in some hope and sincerity again. In a way they’re both modern and postmodern at the same time. That’s the metamodern value system; that you take the sincerity from modern life, together with a very healthy good dose of critical irony of the postmodern mind.

Metamodern values you cannot find in any larger numbers at this time. You have small, thin networks around the globe, writing about these things, talking about this shift, having conferences. The first academic journal is being started. The first political party with metamodern values has also been started, in Sweden and Denmark.

Metamodern values grow from populations of postmodern people. If you get enough postmodern people, sooner or later are going to turn into metamodernists.

Both progress and critique. “Both and” is a central theme in the metamodern mind. Finding the best “both ands” of life, itself becomes a metamodern value. At least you have to give both sides of the argument a fair chance.

“The central claim that I have is that postmodern values emerge from the very core or center of modern values, and that metamodern values emerge from the very core or center of postmodern values.”

Metamodern people labor to stretch their minds so as to take the best possible of both worlds: both-and, both-and – oscillation between two poles, or superposition between two potentials.

So how do you both believe in progress and not believe in it at the same time? You adopt a developmental view of human perspectives.

A core metamodern belief is the growth of people; personal inner growth of people, through stages of development. A simple example of which is actually the value systems I have presented in this talk.

Modern values show up in history at one point, they emerge, they grow in strength, they spread in the world, they take over whole political systems, and they give birth, eventually, to postmodern values. Oftentimes it is relatively privileged people within modern societies who can accept and take in and understand the postmodern values. And once the postmodern values have grown, and gone through many iterations, and eaten their own tail as it were, for a long time, they give birth to metamodern values.

And people who have metamodern values recognize this sequence. They understand, then, that there is a developmental sequence at the heart of what it means to be human.

So society develops through stages of development. And there is a direction to those stages. Human beings and our values, our psychologies, our personalities, also develop through stages of development.

Here, then, is the crucial point: If society develops ahead of us, the people, normal human beings like you and me, then we will live in a society that doesn’t match the values that we hold dear. We won’t be able to resolve the central issues of late modern global society. And we will never be able to arrive safely at the next historical stop, let’s say a postindustrial, digitized, global society.

So the postmodern critique asks too much of people. It asks of the modern mind to be somebody it is not. It doesn’t see the developmental perspective, that most people do not have postmodern values because they simply cannot. They simply cannot meet the inner demands that this value system requires.

How, then, do we resolve the central issues of modern society? Here’s what I believe.

Only if people grow past the modern values can we create a sustainable world.
Only if people grow past the modern values can we create an equal and fair economy.
Only if people grow past the modern values can we fill the hole in the soul that modern society leaves in so many.

Postmodern critique goes some way, but it does not offer us this path to growth. Metamodern values are all about putting that inner growth at the heart and center of how we design society.

That is our utopia: a society designed to help each of us to grow as a human being. From the inside out. So that we can match the complexities of the world.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, and the upcoming books ‘Nordic Ideology’ and ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of World History’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.

How I View the World

“The existence of will means that all things that arise are non-indifferent”.

So basically there is this vast mystery of existence that is always-already directly present, a horizon of direct experience, and stuff arises within it: objects appear, there are senses which seem to reflect some aspects of these objects from some angles, and there are feelings and thoughts and ideas and suppositions about these occurrences or events. There is a large flow of perceptions and they are not indifferent; they all feel like something, they all matter. This ever-present horizon of experience is truly vast; if I were to name everything present, from what is felt on the tip of my tongue, to the complexities of the background sounds to the enormity of visual experience, to things lingering in the outskirts of my mind, this would be a task worthy of Sisyphus.

But if the totality of experience must always elude me, as it is infinitely larger than my ability to delineate its parts and direct attention towards them, I can at least use very broad strokes to review its territory. Within this field of being, I can count at least three categories, three worlds at different remove. There is 1st person reality, 2nd person reality and 3rd person reality.

1st person reality

1st person reality is the pure being of reality itself. Nothing is ever outside of 1st person reality. All people I have ever known, all the words they have taught me, all the sensory perceptions, all the feelings, all the discoveries about what was hidden from my view (when I learn new insights about the world or even about my own unconscious motives); it all always comes up within the field of experience. Even if I may postulate that there is a world beyond this field of experience, I can, by definition, never travel beyond it. In this sense, I am the universe: I am all that arises. What I conventionally name “Hanzi” and refer to as “myself” is a loose and complexly interrelated set of categories within this field of experience, and the boundaries of these categories shift. Some things that appeared not to be Hanzi turn out to be—and vice versa. And even if I can see that the experiencing of the world seems to be tied to this—rather handsome—object called Hanzi, I must still admit that fundamentally, it is just a category (or complex set of categories) within the wider field of experience.

One of the objects that arise within this vast field (with no outer edges) is something that I have learned to call “will”. It is a powerful and elusive entity and it seems to steer some of the flows of events, but not others. It can lift a right hand, or tap keys on a keyboard, but it cannot change the weather. What I conventionally conceive of as an “I” or refer to as “Hanzi” seems to be structured around this elusive entity, the only “causal” phenomenon within the entire field of experience: the only phenomenon that seems to be able to cause other events to occur. The will seems to have the capacity to be expanded; I can sometimes volitionally soothe anger, sometimes not. The volition itself seems to be governed by other forces, some of which I can in turn affect and change. Hence, “I, Hanzi” seem to be structured around an awake participatory aspect of a larger process that is not in itself structured around Hanzi.

The existence of will means that all things that arise are non-indifferent. I don’t want pain and suffering; some things are unpleasant and some pleasant. I seem to want the pleasant sensations and things. But not only do I steer some movable aspects of the world (my body) towards pleasantness (drinking water, resting) and away from unpleasantness (quenching thirst, not being exhausted); the will participates in all-that-arises. It hardly leaves anything alone: I saw the blue skies today, and I saw that it was good; something stirred at a subtle but profoundly present level in other parts of my awareness, and these subtle sensations are somehow inherently good. I see a lily, and I like it. I cannot quite say why I like something, but sometimes I learn things about the mind, or the world, or things about myself, that seem to explain part of what may “cause” my perception of something to be “good”. My will is there; it participates by imbuing all of experience with at least some vague aspect of non-indifference.

2nd person reality

Within this vast field of experience there are some select few nexuses of objects, of categories of properties, that seem to have whole separate oceans of subjective experience. I cannot know for sure, and sometimes I can mistake something that seemed alive and awake—like a wax doll—for a person or a non-human animal.

But if I am correct, I am not alone in this world; there are other realities of non-indifferent emergence of vast horizons of phenomena. Some parts, some small subcategories of my entire world, look back at me and glimmer of other worlds. Consciousness is looking back at consciousness. I am become two. There is a second person.

I am speaking, of course, of you. You that I know, you that I don’t know, you without whom I would be entirely lost, you whom I love, you that I am afraid of, you who I wish to reach, you who I, ultimately, live for.

As far back as I remember, I have always known you; you are all that matters to me. You have always been there. Nothing is more imbued with my will than you. When I die, you will still be there. Some of you die, disappear. I miss you. Some of you live on after me. Some of you I left when you needed me because I couldn’t handle you and you made me unhappy. Some of you are bad to me. Some of you are unbelievably good to me. Some of you subtly betray me, some of you reach out through darkness and confusion. Some of you are my friends, and sometimes I feel you misunderstand me.

But I gather that I, the continuous flow-of-events that is Hanzi, must in embryonic, fetal and neonatal stages not have know of you. I must have glossed over making the differentiation within the greater field of experience, that another ocean of consciousness was looking back at me. But once I had made that discovery, I have been with you with every breath. I truly am nothing without you.

Not all of you have eyes. Some of you are words on screens, in letters, in books, in music, in architecture. Some of you are non-human animals. But, metaphorically speaking, your eyes looking back into me is all that ever has mattered and ever will.

You are somehow a higher reality than a world of “just me”. And yet, for all I know, you are just a hypothesis. In this sense, I must remain a religious creature; I must live by the faith in you. I must interact with you and learn more of these words from you, and I must shape you, and I must resist you and I must be with you.

3rd person reality

Some of the things that arise seem to be seen also by you; I can tell by your reactions. Hence, I have a subjective realm that, in the last instance, seems entirely inaccessible to you and you have an unfathomable world forever beyond my reach—the entirety of 1st person experience—and then there seem to be some categories of things that both you and I can see and respond to. The world of objects. Of things.

It’s true then, as Kant noted, that we cannot know the thing-in-itself, only a reflection within ourselves, based upon our senses and our perspective. But we can help one another to triangulate more and more things about reality and its objects.

When I met you—yes You—I learned that in your reflection is the source of truth about the nature of all things that are forever beyond my direct reach. Through you, and in my meeting with you—and the multiplicity of you, of (metaphorical) eyes looking back at me, of eyes also looking at the cosmos—a whole world is constructed beyond my senses. A world that I then inhabit and imagine before myself and after my death.

This world grows as you teach me about it and as I observe it and test my observations with you. I dive into it, and I dive deeper, and everything is torn apart and rebuilt a thousand times. And it grows and it expands beyond all fathomable boundaries—the sheer vastness of physical space, the counter-intuitive but elegant order of the physical universe, knowledge about the mind, knowledge about physiology, about myself being an object within the world, about systems and ecologies and histories and languages, about science, about metaphysics, about perspectives—and about fundamental categories of existence that allow me to write these words.

Thus, 3rd person reality is a creative and created category within my field of experience as I meet you. I sometimes dive so deeply into this constructed world of reflections, triangulation and ideas that I think that it is the most fundamental one: it does, undeniably, contain the Hanzi object from which I seem to be peering out, as it does contain You. It is even the case that I seem to be able to explain properties of my own will by understanding things about objective reality. Objects explain me: “I probably said that because I was tired and angry” and so on.

And yet, I am not an object described in 3rd person; I am prior to any such object. And neither are You. You are something more transcendental, primary and holy than any other object that I can describe through the meeting with you. First there is “isness” or “suchness” or “being”—and then there is You, and when I meet you, “I” am also born and the journey of the self through self-understandings begins—and then there is “it”, the objective reality that we discover in the intersubjective realm. It is not harder than counting to three.

Some inescapable consequences

Hence, nowhere within 2nd or 3rd person reality do I find the will. I can infer that the will, non-indifference, should exist within your inner ocean of experience, imbuing everything that arises in your subjective universe. But such an inference of the existence of will is not the same as the direct participatory experience of will itself. Your will can be shaped by 3rd person explanations, same as mine, but I can never directly access it, never directly cause events to occur through it.

In other words, for all practical purposes, my will is the only causal participatory category in existence. I can will my hand to move, and I can walk over and lift your hand with mine, or use symbolic language to ask you to raise it, but I cannot ultimately will you to will anything. I can will to try to affect your will, or read a book about affecting you, or even to will you to affect me; but I cannot will anything into being beyond my own inner horizon.

In the last instance, this has the consequence that I alone have the full responsibility for all of reality, including you. It is tempting to elevate this into a general, universal rule that applies to “all of us”—“you have the responsibility for all of your reality and I have the responsibility for the entirety of mine”; but that would be missing the point. I really am alone here. Even if I postulate this or that rule that I have come up with, and you don’t get it or don’t buy it, it still boils down to my responsibility to communicate it to you and to make sure it makes sense in the first place. Fundamentally, I cannot blame you for not agreeing to what I think is correct. There is a logical, casual reason for why you don’t agree, and my job is to find out why, or at least to find a way of handling our difference.

There is really no escape from this complete responsibility and hence I am ultimately even responsible for all of your treatment of me. If you are good to me, if you despise me, if you would harm me, or harm anybody else, these are simply the facts of the matter. Only somewhere within my own field of experience is the will and thus the potential to affect reality. Even if there is a long chain of interactions through which we affect one another, the only the parts of this chain that appear to my inner experience are the ones that seem to have the true, direct causal quality. I have all of the responsibility, not by fairness or by duty—but by logic and definition. If you react to me, fairly or unfairly, I cannot call God to tell on you; I need to figure out how to respond productively so as to affect your future behaviors. I am responsible for what you think of me, for how you see me, for the emotions I awaken in you, and for how you act towards me.

If all blame of you is in fact a misunderstanding on my part, I am left with a message of universal love (for you) and corresponding universal acceptance (of the facts of reality, including those facts that pertain to the loose categories of “you” and “me”).

Because I exist only in the now and the will can be exercised only within the ever-present field of experience, the past “I” is also an object. Hence, I have no choice to accept it. The conclusion is hence universal love, non-judgement and self-acceptance.

“[…] my will is the only causal participatory category in existence”.

That being said, blame or other upset feelings can still be a means of affecting myself to affect you, and these feelings can be useful. There is a subtle distinction here: one category of fundamental hatred, in which I hate the imagined category of your metaphysical free will that I see as harming me or just not doing what I want – and one category of blame that is recognized as a regulatory surface phenomenon inherent to our social relations. The latter is okay, the former is a misunderstanding and leads me to chase a ghost.

So I have thus exorcised all evil from the world, at least all other evil than my own. Because your will is by definition not part of 1st person reality, it cannot be viewed as directly causal, and hence it cannot be viewed as a viable subject of metaphysically warranted hatred. (This, by the way, largely resolves the conflict between free will proponents such as the materialist and determinist Daniel Dennett and free will opponents like Sam Harris. Free will exists, but only in 1st person reality. The paradox is that it both contains objective reality and is contained by the latter.)

It thus means that “the truth” is love and acceptance, and that judgement and unacceptance are mistakes I have made—but which I accept and don’t judge.

Another conclusion has to do with God

On the one hand God is dead: if the only free will that exists, does so in 1st person reality, there is no reason to try to bargain with 3rd person reality. Nobody is home. I’m just talking to myself. God by definition must be dead, because it is a category within 3rd person reality. God, in this sense, is a bad habit of my mind to try to force my own 1st person perspective upon the unknowable 3rd person world of objects. Because of the tenacity of this habit (feeling “special”, “chosen”, “enchanted” and so on) I must kill God again and again. There is, of course, nothing special about the object Hanzi or the narratives or memories I may have thereof. My habit of injecting such specialness into reality is my 1st person reality colonizing and violating 3rd person reality.

On the other hand, I must submit to God, because in the last instance even my own will is always-already layered in something infinitely larger than myself. Hence, I am always only a thin slice of a totality that I cannot see the beginning or end of, and hence I cannot in any way be the most important or special part of existence. I must have faith in something beyond my 1st person reality, something infinitely larger.

The only reasonable response to the infinite and to the enormity of existence is submission; I must seek to grasp at least some of this enormity and try to see at least some comprehensible values that are larger than myself, and I must submit my free will to what is good, even if I cannot know what the ultimate source of that goodness may be.

This is a further step along the path of secularization. We used to think that there was “someone” out there, someone to hear our prayers. We bargained with 3rd person reality. A part of us wanted to steer it, when we can only ever submit to it, except through the causal power of our will. But that secularization is incomplete: it leaves islands of God, in the 2nd person, everywhere in the world around us. But these are also ultimately beyond my will and my direct reality. When I believed in You as a source of good or evil, as a will, I was mistaken. I now must take the full responsibility for the universe, including for you—by logical necessity.

So God is both dead and my will is always-already submitted to God. Both of these things are simultaneously true. And I have the full responsibility for all that arises. And I love you. And I must seek the truth, and that is only possible together with you, and in your eyes the dead God looks back at me.


Jordan Peterson and Camille Paglia – A Marathon of Academic Incompetence


So when the Prophet was asked about what the most sacred of struggles is, he responded that a word of truth in the face of an unjust ruler is the highest form of Jihad (Musnad Aḥmad 18449)

Ladies and gentlemen, somebody needs to speak out against the emperor. He is naked. And so is the empress.

And another prophet, the one we call Jacques Lacan, pointed out that the street bum madman who thinks he is emperor isn’t necessarily any more mad than the emperor who thinks he’s emperor. The only difference is that other people share the latter’s belief.

If you’re a follower and worshipper of Jordan Peterson on his anti-postmodern anti-feminism, shared by Camille Paglia, you have been worshipping a false god, an idol. You have been sold a golden bull. But Moses is here to cast it into the fire.

Gifted but Highly Over-rated

In my opinion, nobody is more over-valued than the great internet phenomenon Jordan Peterson, the Canadian psychology professor. As a psychologist and university teacher he is pretty good, even great. As a political commentator and interpreter of our time, he is simply not. Camille Paglia, who joins him for this talk, is also talented and interesting, but ultimately a poor and unreliable guide to understanding culture, politics and society of today.

So here’s the talk I want to comment upon, where JP and CP discuss for about 1h 40m. They talk mostly about postmodernism, social justice warriors, political correctness, feminism and university life.

Here is the talk in text if you don’t have the time to watch the video.

I’ll comment and show you they’re wrong about most things they are saying – including almost all of their central arguments. Some good stuff is in there, but most of it is just plain wrong, incoherent, and very poorly argued.

I’m going to use a somewhat mean method to get my message across here: machine-gunning a recorded talk with text. I realize that this isn’t 100% fair, and it can come across as overly antagonistic or even caustic. They get to talk and I get to think and write before I comment.

But since these thinkers have gained great influence, becoming some of the most dominant intellectual voices on the internet, they should be able to take it. If they want, they are free to respond in text with clarifications or counter-arguments, as can others who might want to rush to their defense.

My Main Point

So before we go, here’s my claim in four points:

  • Both JP and CP misdiagnose the current social justice and postmodern movements, describing the key insights and social dynamics of these incorrectly.
  • Both fail to take the perspectives from which these social, cultural, and political currents emerge, and thus they also fail to present solutions to very real problems. In effect, they deny very real problems.
  • Both fall into the exact same traps that they accuse their adversaries of: collective blame, essentialism – and here and there you can even find clear cases of misogyny, exactly corresponding to the bitter, antagonistic feminism they try to critique. There is essentially good feminism (smart, balanced, science-based) and bad feminism (antagonistic, bitter, sloppy, male-bashing), just as there is good anti-feminism (seeing men’s interests, looking at things more psychologically, checking facts) and bad anti-feminism (antagonistic, bitter, sloppy, female-bashing). JP and CP represent bad anti-feminism. They think that if you just remove the evil and inexplicable abomination of postmodern neomarxist politically correct feminism, all will be well.
  • Both make clearly false and incoherent statements, many times, and in general – which shows that the high claims to intellectual authority of these two figures should not be taken seriously. In some cases, they reveal outrageous incompetence. At the risk of being tedious, I’ve gone through many of their mistakes, 47 to be precise. This is because I have been asked to be specific about my refusal to share in the choir of praise.

One thing I do like about JP is that he urges people – and men in particular – to toughen up and speak their truth, clearly and directly. A sound advice.

A pro-JP friend, who I told about some of the arguments I’m going to present, actually asked me to have some mercy and not criticize without also lifting Peterson’s strong points. And of course, there are strong points. I have positively referenced JP in this earlier post, where I bash some of the sicknesses of political correctness and feminism.

But if JP and CP are flat out wrong about most of what they’re saying, should I refrain from pointing it out, in order to protect the frailty of their message? No. That’s not how this works. Their stuff should be robust enough to survive a critical listening. If it’s not, it’s not.

When someone is on the wrong side of the truth, when someone is deep into falsehood and distortion, as Jordan Peterson and Camille Paglia manifestly are, the truth can show no mercy.

Here’s my truth about Peterson.

Alright, are you ready?

Marathon of Academic Incompetence

Let’s start here: poorly concealed misogyny. Listen through the whole talk and count the negative statements about women as a collective, and the negative statements about men. The results are staggering and terrifying – and this can hardly be a coincidence. There are many more negative statements about women.

Now, I’ll go through the talk in sequence. It’s going to be a marathon, so keep up. The reason it’s long is simply that they make so many mistakes. Just saying, I had to skip about half of my objections just to keep the text from swelling.

In the first part, they make mistakes, but it’s more about pomo (postmodernism) and the universities than about gender issues. If you want the juiciest stuff, where they talk more gender and reveal their misogyny, you can scroll down to Part 2 two directly.

Part 1.

  1. Paglia, 4-6 min. She tells us that a “foreign French import” of poststructuralist thinking came into American campuses, and that this had nothing to do with the “authentic” 1960’s revolution, which was closer to the movement known as “New Age”. “Careerists” became the poststructuralist university professors.
    1. If the original movement didn’t last, there may be a reason for it. If it devolved into New Age madness, maybe it wasn’t such a good legacy. And if the ideas first expressed by French intellectuals caught on among the post-war generations, it probably was because these ideas resonated with the social and cultural currents of the 1960s and beyond.
    2. Argument of authority, and false inference: if pomo is not 1960’s revolution, and the latter is good, then the former must be bad.
    3. This is also a “bad-guy theory” about a foreign invader, not a sociological explanation.
    4. Besides, it’s simply incorrect; there are many real connections, in Europe especially, between e.g. Foucault and the cultural revolution of the 1960s. Wiki: “Lectures began at the university in January 1969, and straight away its students and staff, including Foucault, were involved in occupations and clashes with police, resulting in arrests. In February, Foucault gave a speech denouncing police provocation to protesters at the Latin Quarter of the Mutualité”. Eribon 1991, p. 201 and 206.
    5. She says: “It was elitist, not progressive” – These are not opposites. False inference.
    6. So: false authority, false inference, false facts. Low quality stuff.
  2. Paglia: 9:20-10:00. She tells us that because she teaches at art schools, she knows that not all of cognitive reality is linguistically mediated as the postmodernists claim, for instance ceramics isn’t, it’s more bodily and visceral. This is used as an argument against the postmodern position that language is fundamental to human activity and understanding.
    1. If you look at the new research presented in Lisa Feldman Barrett’s How Emotions Are Made, you see that “concept formation” is more primary and neurologically generalized than formerly assumed. In other words, even deep inside our brains, even at level of emotions and sensations, we are linguistic creatures. True story, empirically speaking.
    2. She needs to read up.
  3. (Some due credit: Paglia is right about “the end of oppositional art”. And about bureaucratization of academia. And about fragmentation of teaching, to some extent. These are commonly held positions, which I also share.)
  4. Peterson: 15-16 min. He suggests that pomo is a radical relativism and interpretationalism and the only thing that is real to pomos (postmoderns) is power. He wonders what the connection between pomo and neomarxism really is, given that pomo is relativist and neomarxism has some rather absolute values.
    1. Roughly correct, but a bit of a strawman. Pomo is not really about relativism, but about the fact that all knowledge shows up in a context, and that you may uncover hidden or implicit structures to that knowledge. The structure of the knowledge claim tends to follower cruder rules that have to do more with power relations than what is presented at surface level.
    2. By the way, the connection he is looking for between pomo and neomarxism, and which Paglia fails to provide, is that both are moral-critical projects which speak to a fairness-seeking mind: one looks at cultural injustices and inequalities, the other at economic ones. To the pomos, the point is that we should be suspicious of modernist narratives and if we demask and criticize them, there may be new emancipations – cultural, economic or both.
    3. Paglia goes on to say these people are poorly educated, but obviously these are the folks with degrees in history and anthropology, and these people are often very well read. I dare you to try me on this one: we can find many very well educated academic pomos.
  5. Paglia: 21:00. She claims that one must understand neoclassicism and classical theory in order to write about Western society (which she says Foucault didn’t).
    1. No argument is made for why this is the case. There are always a thousand categories of knowledge that can be claimed as “necessary”.
    2. So this is Bildung snobbism, which would be OK if it weren’t for the fact that this is her own main charge against the pomos.
    3. Also, it would exclude her interlocutor, Jordan Peterson, who isn’t so big on neoclassicism – correct me if I’m wrong.
  6. Peterson: 21:30-22:30. He tells us that psychology is science-based and thus protected from the madness of pomo and neomarxism, which makes no quality distinctions.
    1. It should be noted that sociological, critical, and analytical understanding are not simply reducible to scientific methods. These categories involve critical re-evaluations of everyday life, social ontology, and so forth. They have a spiritual or existential undercurrent.
    2. Hence, he is measuring a distinct social category by the standards of another field. The sociological imagination includes some deeply counter-intuitive understandings that are easy to grasp conceptually, but difficult to follow in practice.
  7. Peterson: 24:30. He tells us he learned from Robert Zapolsky (the Stanford primatologist and behavioral biologist) that zebras are black and white, mainly using camouflage stripes to hide in the herd, not hiding in grass (being visible from miles away). He means that pomos are like these zebras; they hide in the herd from lions like himself.
    1. He fails to point out that lions, the main predator of zebras, are colorblind, which makes the example less relevant. Lions cannot see the difference between the whiteness of the zebras and the pale grass.
    2. Also, he gets the pomo logic exactly wrong: pomo is about trying to claim uniqueness, to stand out, which is one of the main reasons why it’s linked to narcissism. To quote the über proto-pomo of all time, Rousseau: “I may be no better, but at least I am different.”
  8. Paglia: 27:40. She says that you shouldn’t do French Lacan in English, because English doesn’t need it, it being a richer language than French.
    1. Contradicts her former (manifestly incorrect) statement that language doesn’t need to structure the contents of experience.
    2. English doesn’t need to look at its underlying structures and assumptions? Why ever not?
  9. Paglia: 28:00. She says that the US universities should be more like the British departments and that separate departments are “totalitarian”.
    1. Totalitarianism means something else. She’s making some inference here she needs to clarify. Sloppy.
    2. British faculties are also pomo and PC (politically correct), so her proposed solution does not solve her supposed problem.
  10. Peterson: 32:00. He says he doesn’t understand the hatred from which pomo critique stems and why they just want to “demolish” patriarchy, etc.
    1. This isn’t hard to answer. It’s from experienced racism, sexism, social degradation, unfairly stacked games, and other developmental cluster-fucks that wound people, hold people back, and create resentment. In their experience, pomo critique offers a tool for resistance and self-empowerment.
    2. The fact that he doesn’t understand this shows that he fails to see the fundamental source of social movements, described in so many social theorists, notably Jürgen Habermas.
    3. He also fails to understand the positive “punk” current to this culture, how these ideas and perspectives soothe aching hearts and give hope and a sense of strength, meaning, and rebellion to the people who feel society is too harsh and unfair.
    4. As I argue in The Listening Society, people often tend towards simplistic bad-guy models to channel our resentment if we’re not sufficiently cognitively complex, and if we lack access to sufficiently correct explanatory mental models of the injustices. So hurt feelings, plus insufficient cognitive stage, plus flattened or over-simplified theories explain the pomo critique and its pathologies.
    5. Hence, he misreads the social forces in play, which causes him to misdiagnose the pomo critique of society, its genesis, and its pathologies.
    6. The PC leftwing pomos are indirect followers of Rousseau; they believe that if life isn’t good, it’s because there is something that stops people from the natural state of being good: capitalism, patriarchy, etc. which is why they want to tear these structures down.
    7. On a side note, I agree with him that resentment is a bad place to start if you want to change the world for the better, or to know the truth for that matter. But to counter resentment, you must understand what causes it and keeps it going, and offer other options. Simply telling the resenting party to stop being wounded doesn’t help. Evidently.
  11. Peterson: 33:30. He tells us there is no sense of bad motherhood and no sense of good fatherhood in today’s society (referring to generalized, abstracted archetypes), which means that we’re stuck with overprotective institutions.
    1. Google the phrase – in quotation marks – “nanny state”. You get lots of hits. Read the wiki article if you like.
    2. Google a corresponding popular term for bad fatherhood on a political level, one used all the time.
    3. What? Why aren’t you doing it? How come you cannot find a term like that?
    4. Because he’s plain wrong: the current dominant discourse is one against the nanny state (the bad mother in his own theory of archetypes), not against the paternalistic, strict society.
    5. He also claims that this explains why boys do poorly in school, but the line of reasoning is very unclear. A more down-to-earth explanation may be that boys on average have a harder time sitting still and concentrating.
    6. Sloppy reasoning. Incorrect inference.
  12. Paglia: 35:50. She thinks there’s no cure for the culture’s ills, except if men start demanding respect as men.
    1. Unclear what this means in practical terms. Maybe it means something clever, but we’re not let in on it.
    2. She’s being a poor sociologist here: saying that a collective group’s (“men”) ascribed agency (which is fictional) can be transposed to the illness of “culture”, and that they can salvage it. This is collective messianism, nothing more.
    3. This is an exact inversion of the bad kind of feminism. This is bad anti-feminism.
  13. Peterson: 36:15. He and others have shown that pomo PC values correspond with both femininity (high agreeableness), negative emotions, and personality disorders, and goes on to note that women with harmful relations to men may dislike all masculinity because they can’t distinguish between its positive and negative types.
    1. Yes, feminism is often a trojan horse for good old bitterness.
    2. But then again, he fails to point out that the majority of PC is explained by high agreeableness and higher social concern, also being linked to higher stages of personal development and post-conventional moral development.
    3. He wants to pin an “evil essence” to pomo, but fails to see that it’s a broad phenomenon where many different psychological mechanisms are gathered under one banner.
    4. There are other bodies of research which show unflattering traits in other collective categories of people as well. The folks who are authoritarian have higher level of psychopathy and sadism, meat eaters have lower empathy, people of the Christian faith (like Peterson) have lower IQ (even if he happens to have a high IQ). Suddenly, a few negative traits in feminist social justice warriors don’t seem so spectacular in comparison.

Part 2.

And then they start to talk more about women and gender – this will be the main focus of the comments from here on. There’s lots of other preposterous stuff going on, but let’s skip past most of it for the sake of brevity. After all, you get the picture from Part 1.

  1. Peterson: 39:10. He says he feels helpless because he cannot hit women, or implicitly threaten to hit them.
    1. Yes, really, this is what your hero says. Go listen to it again a few times and let it sink in. And then go get yourself a new hero, if you still need one.
    2. But to get at his underlying argument, that physical threats between men temper discourse and makes it flow more naturally, this is a completely incorrect claim. If it were the case, then discourse would be most functional where violence is most present, like in criminal gangs.
  2. Peterson: 39:30. He says it’s the responsibility of the collective category “women” to tell off their “crazy harpy sisters”. These purportedly undermine the masculinity of culture, which “really is fatal”.
    1. Doesn’t make sense to give collective responsibility to broad categories.
    2. How exactly is “the masculinity of culture” undermined? Are there any ways to measure this variable and can he show this is happening?
    3. Fatal? That’s a pretty strong claim, on pretty weak basis. Aren’t we owed a better explanation? After all, the modern hypermasculine cultures, like Nazi Germany or ISIS, seem pretty short-lived.
    4. Peterson sounds like… a fanatic – of the kind he accuses pomos of being.
  3. Paglia: 40:15. She says that the fall of masculinity leads to the decline of Western culture.
    1. Are there other cultures that are doing much better? By what measures exactly? It is clear that this is vague and empty speculation. She mentions ISIS but I don’t think she means it as a positive example in this regard.
  4. Paglia: 43:40. She says women of today are unhappier because of lacking traditional roles.
    1. In statistical terms, this isn’t true. Men and women are both happier today than before, even if the increase is bigger in men.
    2. It goes for a developmental axis as well, more modern countries having happier women.
    3. More gender-equal countries have happier women. Japan and Korea’s keeping of traditional gender roles under modern circumstances have proven extremely detrimental to mental health, gender relations, and family relations.
    4. She may still be right that women are unhappy about this part of their lives, but she owes us better evidence, or at least better reasoning.
    5. We shouldn’t do guilt-by-association, but it should be pointed out that her argument is identical to that of Nazis. That doesn’t make her a Nazi; it just means she reasons like one on this topic, which might make us think twice about where following this line of reasoning might lead us. See here for (almost) identical structure of argument, an essay called “Women and National Socialism“.
  5. Peterson: 46:20. He says that gender differences, according to research, are maximized in the Scandinavian countries, where equality has progressed the farthest.
    1. So basically, he just killed their whole argument that PC gender equality means that masculinity is undermined. The most feminist countries get more masculine guys and more feminine women, who are freed from oppressive norms.
    2. Seriously, he just ignored the fact that his and Paglia’s main argument against feminism is wrong.
    3. Also, he should point out that men and women in Scandinavian countries are also more androgynous in their expressions and demeanors; it’s just the character traits that diverge.
    4. Also, he should point out that the increased gender gaps have to do primarily with statistical measures of which jobs people choose, and that Scandinavian countries are full of initiatives for women engineers and tech startups, which is very good for the economy.
  6. (Due credit: The thing Peterson says about male and female dominance hierarchies and the differences between them is true and important.)
  7. Paglia: 49:00. She says she likes a TV show where women have toxic arguments and guys settle the matter with a good fistfight and then they’re friends.
    1. No, physical violence creates toxic, pathological, and sad relationships between men.
    2. She was probably never in a fistfight, which is likely why she references what she saw on TV. I was in a lot of fistfights when I was a kid and I saw a lot of them and I can tell you that 99% of them happen when bigger guys pick on smaller or younger ones, or when robbers smack people in the head to grab their cell phone and wallet.
    3. And then there’s night-life violence, in which very drunk, very hurt people get in pathetic and sad situations and have to be dragged off by security guards. I’ve studied police interactions in nightclubs, and all I can say is that violence isn’t very pretty and only rarely catharsis-inducing.
    4. If a grown man actually hits another seriously, the risks of severe injuries or even death are very tangible. Her violence romance is deluded. And it is, unfortunately, another clear link to Nazism.
    5. Besides, this is an overtly misogynous and sexist remark. It says she prefers guys to girls.
  8. Peterson: 49:35. He says that girls are mean bullies because they go after the reputation of the victim, as happened to his daughter.
    1. First of all, most bullying among guys follows a similar pattern: teasing, freeze-out, etc.
    2. Secondly, he implies that he would have preferred a physical male bullying treatment of his daughter, to the “annoying” female one.
    3. I’m not saying he prefers his daughter to be hit with fists and physically abused. I’m just saying he might not have thought this through.
    4. And here he joins Paglia in overt misogyny.
  9. Paglia: 50:40. She says that men tease one another and this toughens them, so they don’t take things so seriously, whereas women are over-sensitive.
    1. Might be true to some extent, but again, a generalized, loaded, misogynist remark.
    2. Fails to point out that men tease each other less if they have healthier relations. Insecure 13-year-olds tease the most and pretend they think it’s fun, as do gang members. Mature, well-developed, functioning guys tease only a tad, and only in sensitive, good-spirited ways. And they apologize if anything is taken the wrong way.
    3. She clearly has a false, romanticized view of male ball-busting. Most of it is insecure and insincere.
  10. Paglia: 52:10. She says that everybody should be better educated and learn about the Stone Age, etc., in which case we’d come closer to her conclusions.
    1. First of all: People with in-depth knowledge about our Paleolithic ancestors, historians, archaeologists, anthropologist etc., generally don’t share her ideas.
    2. Secondly: We should always be suspicious when someone says that everybody should learn something. Why this particular thing, instead of say physics, complexity, self-knowledge, social intelligence, mindfulness, or basic computer programming?
    3. Of course, this is a game played by many or even most academics. If the particular knowledge they possess is what constitutes the definition of “education”, this means that they are also the “most educated” person, and thus that everyone should learn from them, and thus that they are at the top of the hierarchy. I’ve seen too much such academic bullshit.
    4. But if she wants to make an argument that “everyone” must learn something, she needs a very strong, generalizable argument, and a falsifiable theory for why this is the case. Otherwise, she’s just saying that if people read what she read they would think more like she does (tautological), effectively telling the world to be more like herself.
    5. … the pathology of which is self-evident: it’s narcissistic to force one’s own truth down everybody’s throats. Another claim for power.
  11. Paglia & Peterson: 54:20-55:50. She says that we should appreciate the development that has happened throughout history, and the sacrifices made by men. Peterson joins her and says men’s sacrifices made progress possible and that we have a great society.
    1. This is classical conservatism. Nothing wrong with that, but it should be called for what it is.
    2. If she wanted to balance the argument out, she might also have mentioned the other side of the argument, the radical side; that there is no logically conceivable reason to believe that today’s society cannot be improved upon.
    3. But she doesn’t.
    4. Peterson fails to mention that women make many sacrifices corresponding to those of men. He goes on to restate the classical conservative argument: the unlikely wonder of society not falling apart.
    5. It’s simply an invalid argument that we should stop making further changes to our society, which has been characterized by constant change, out of fear that it will fall apart. Historically, societies have more often collapsed from the reluctance to change than the opposite.
  12. Paglia: 56:15. She says our culture is falling apart because a strength or spirit has been lost.
    1. First of all, this is poor social science: Talking about spirit or strength without reference to the exact societal mechanisms, discourses, or any other observable factors to affect human behaviors, leaves us with nothing but invisible free-floating ghosts that can neither be verified nor falsified.
    2. Secondly, this is just more classical conservatism. Compare to fin de siècle, the “spirit” around the late 1800s, where writers such as Oswald Spengler inspired the far right.
    3. This flow of classical conservatism goes on for a while on both sides…
    4. Let’s call these two what they are; classical conservatives. Clever ones, updated ones, but still.
  13. Peterson: 01:01:55. He says that most people who were abused as children don’t spread the abuse to their children. This proves, he says, that patriarchy doesn’t exist, because if it did it would spread exponentially until all people were abused by bad fathers and men.
    1. Basic logics fail. His conclusion doesn’t in any way follow from his stated facts.
    2. I also think “patriarchy” is a pretty weak theory, but his reasoning doesn’t touch upon it at all. No one has claimed that child abuse and patriarchy are synonymous.
    3. And even if patriarchy was reducible to child abuse, which no one has ever claimed to my knowledge, his line of reasoning is entirely illogical. Just because child abuse isn’t inherited in most cases, this doesn’t mean that new child abuse can’t show up for other reasons and thus be reproduced.
    4. The fact that child abuse has declined is of course due to the many social and cultural advances of society, and not an inherent tendency for it do peter out – in which case it should have petered out when humans had already been around for over 15 000 years at the onset of the Neolithic Age.
    5. I think he just managed a triple non-sequitur, which may be a record in academic incompetence. He made an argument that doesn’t compute, about a topic that doesn’t relate to what he’s trying to prove, through an analogy that doesn’t hold.
    6. Not sloppy. This is incompetent. Painfully, inexcusably incompetent.
  14. Paglia: 01:02:50. She says that it’s important to examine the transfer from the traditional extended family structure to the modern nuclear family. She thinks Freud is a good place to start.
    1. No, no. This is a common Marxist mainstream cliché, but it has been more or less disproven for decades.
    2. Historians like Peter Laslett and Alan MacFarlane have proven that the nuclear family – a mother, father and child(ren) in a “simple house,” as Laslett put it – was the dominant arrangement in England stretching back to the thirteenth century.
    3. It’s not a grave mistake, if it weren’t for her own insistence on historical knowledge and her claim that the transition from collective household to nuclear family is so central.
    4. In addition, the sociologist Birgitte Berger has argued in her 2002 book that the nuclear family is actually psychologically superior for the development of children, turning a lot of the Freudian critique on its head.
  15. Paglia: 01:03:55. She says that contemporary therapeutic psychology doesn’t talk enough about childhood, as psychoanalysts used to back in the good old days.
    1. She fails to point out that talk therapy has dramatically increased its evidence-based effectiveness since people stopped talking about their childhoods and began focusing on the here and now.
    2. Therapeutic psychology of today is also more science-based and effective than during the mid-20th This is largely because Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and other related therapies don’t over-complicate things and focus on what can be done here and now. They are also easier to learn, repeat, and make reliable tests upon.
    3. If some issue is deeper and you need to talk about your childhood, that’s a large investment in time and energy. It’s smarter not to make that investment into a default, but to calibrate when to talk about childhood and when not to.
    4. … and why doesn’t Peterson point out this obvious mistake, seeing as this is his field of expertise?
  16. Paglia: 01:04:35. She says that it’s taboo today to ask about how childhood experiences may play a part in causing homosexuality.
    1. It is widely accepted praxis within the sciences to investigate the ways that sexuality may be formed by an interplay of genetic and environmental factors.
  17. Peterson & Paglia: 01:05:30. He says that he opposed a legislation which said you had to call transgender people by their preferred pronoun, which he thinks is “compelled speech”. Paglia thinks that is “absolutely Orwellian”.
    1. We have many other forms of “compelled speech” that JP does not oppose. For instance, we’re not allowed to call one another bitch, nigger, “it”, and legally we’re not allowed to tell somebody to commit murder. And we can be compelled to speak when asked about our earnings by the tax authorities.
    2. Besides, we are still allowed to say what we want about the gender pronoun if we don’t like it. We just need to respect transgender persons’ wishes, or refrain from talking to them in pronouns, opting for using their name, etc. So it’s not actually compelled speech. That’s just his exaggerated misnomer.
    3. If asking people to show common courtesy and mildly penalize failure to do so is “absolutely Orwellian” to Paglia, I don’t think she has read George Orwell’s 1984.
    4. Will they mind if we call Peterson a girl and Paglia a boy?
  18. Paglia: 01:05:55. She says that her own writing of a book was “the greatest sex change in history” and that this justifies that there should be no regulations on uses of the English language. True story, that’s what she says. Go back and listen.
    1. No, that wasn’t the biggest sex change in history.
    2. She means that because it meant so much to her to use the English language in her book, she thinks it is “evil” for someone to tell her how to use it.
    3. She fails to point out that nobody would stop her from writing her book however she wants, using the beauty of the English language (with as many “okaaay?s” as she likes), but that she’s simply expected to show common courtesy.
    4. What about grammar; grammar does tell her how to use language? Does she hate that too?
    5. What about all the language academies in other countries, institutions regulating spelling and grammar, are all of these “pure evil” and their populations stuck in purely evil and Orwellian states?
    6. Let’s be clear: Peterson and Paglia find reasons to feel terribly affronted, but it simply doesn’t make sense and they have nothing to be upset about, and they are hysterically focusing on details. Sounds a lot like… bad feminism. Except this is bad anti-feminism.
    7. Paglia’s statement is an affront not only to the very real struggle of transgender people, but also to the legacy of George Orwell. Which is just sad, for a literature professor who claims to defend the English heritage and being transgender.
  19. Peterson: 01:07:30. He says that having older parents with more resources makes people spoiled, which is psychologically harmful.
    1. This may be true in part, but the research consensus is that having parents with more resources is better in so many ways.
    2. So all in all, even if he’s right about something in part, he is still wrong overall.
  20. Paglia: 01:09:15. She says that it’s the upper middle class who institute hyper-sensitivity and inject it into universities.
    1. Working class people aren’t as sensitive? She probably doesn’t hang out very much with working class folks. I grew up working-class, without a dad who was college professor by the time he was 35 (which is her idea of a working-class background, her own). Two of my brothers were so hurt in life they both died early from drinking and smoking. People are always in minor family feuds, always conflicts about who did or didn’t do what, who owes who, who was insulted, etc.
    2. Such family feuds between neighbors and cousins simply aren’t as prevalent in the “yoga bourgeoise” (you know, folks who are rich and meditate and have higher class) where people are sometimes annoyingly sensitive towards one another, yes, but more socially apt and functional, and thus in a much less emotionally precarious position.
    3. Working class are just bourgeois waiting to be born. Bourgeois are just upper middle class waiting to be born. So the increased sensitivity she describes is simply what dialectically emerges as people have more of their wants and needs met.
    4. A smarter way ahead is to deal with this sensitivity, rather than to mock people for it and say it isn’t allowed (and to deny it in ourselves), as Paglia does.
  21. (Intermezzo: they say smart and good things about child development).
  22. Peterson: 01:13:30. He says that women are bitter about the role they have in modern life and jumps to remembering that many cultures have had bride abduction as part of the marriage ritual.
    1. Bride abduction still goes on in some places, like Kyrgyzstan, watch this short Vice documentary.
    2. It leads to women killing themselves in misery. It’s a huge problem over there.
    3. If Peterson is to suggest women secretly long for this, that “this fundamental feminine role is being denied to them” he might have to sharpen his argument.
  23. Paglia: 1:15:00. She argues for “the freedom to risk rape”.
    1. This shows a basic lack of understanding of rights and liberties. There are negative freedoms (freedom from) and positive freedoms (freedom to). The freedom to risk rape isn’t a concept that makes sense.
    2. You can be free from rape, and free from excessive control – but freedom to be raped, now that’s Orwell’s 1984 (“Freedom is slavery”).
  24. Paglia: 01:17:00. She argues that men hunt women and want sex, which she says women do not understand.
    1. Misogynistic comment that says women are stupid. I’ve never met a woman who didn’t understand what she’s saying.
    2. I think she means to say that it’s difficult for women to take the male perspective, as men are simply more immediate and visual in their sexuality.
  25. Paglia: 01:19:00. Paglia says American society has a chaos in the sexual realm.
      1. Meanwhile, rape statistics have slumped, and a very large portion of the women who are raped are students, which says that the counter-measures with on-campus support mechanisms of universities – which Paglia is against – may be effective after all. This is in an era where many more of the occurring rapes are reported as taboos are lessened, so the fall of sexual violence is actually much greater than the fall in statistics.
      2. She’s wrong.

    A country comparison of rape and sexual assault rate trends, per 100000 people, 2003 - 2011, United Nations.png
    By M Tracy HunterOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

  26. Paglia & Peterson: 01h 19-21 min. They talk about consent and emphasize the responsibility of women to understand that men may want to rape them.
    1. This of course puts the responsibility of men’s actions on women’s shoulders.
    2. In a fair society, wouldn’t it make more sense to put the responsibility of one’s own actions on each person?
    3. Here, they are mixing up sociology and behavioral science with ideas about personal responsibility. It’s true that we cannot have poor social institutions and then say that “it’s up to the individual” to not make mistakes. So we cannot put the sociological issue of sexual violence on the shoulders of an individual young man; we have to figure out ways to make it less prevalent in society at large. But Peterson and Paglia are taking the burden off the man’s shoulder and putting it on the woman’s: “the right to risk being raped”.
    4. The recent #metoo social media campaign and its massive response around the world serves to underscore that women have too often carried the responsibility for the actions of men and for their transgressions.
  27. Paglia: 01:21:50. She want to stop all interference of universities into what students do with one another. That, she adds, is “fascism of the worst kind”.
    1. It should be pointed out that Peterson and Paglia both viewed comparisons between themselves and fascism as unacceptable, and that Peterson said that he would physically threaten any male who said such things about him.
    2. Apparently, they don’t hold themselves to the same standards.
    3. Besides, having a system for investigating sexual misconduct is “fascism of the worst kind”? I guess mass-murdering people of differing opinion gets second place?
  28. Peterson agrees to this phrasing, “fascism of the worst kind” specifically, arguing that it is a new kind of fascism.
    1. From dictionary definition of fascism: “Fascism /ˈfæʃɪzəm/ is a form of radical authoritarian nationalism, characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, and control of industry and commerce that came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe. The first fascist movements emerged in Italy during World War I before it spread to other European countries. Opposed to liberalism, Marxism and anarchism, fascism is usually placed on the far-right within the traditional left–right spectrum.”
    2. Neofascism, from dictionary: “Neofascism is the practice of university administrations to offer supportive structures for the psychological and social wellbeing and health of their students, such as investigations in cases of sexual violence or misconduct, as well as working against excessive partying at fraternity clubs by means of information, counselling, and giving condoms.”
    3. I’m not going to tell you which one of these two I made up. You will have to guess.
  29. Peterson: 1:23:00. He wonders how anyone could be naive enough to create parallel “legal systems” at the universities, because it obviously wouldn’t work.
    1. Social work, it works the same way.
    2. Psychiatric care, it works the same way.
    3. Union rights, it works the same way.
    4. Civil society committees, it works the same way.
    5. In churches and major corporations, it works the same way.
    6. Just saying.
    7. On a more serious note, when Peterson repeatedly returns to claiming that present-day society is “naïve”, he aims to critique what I have earlier called “game denial”, which is a core feature of classical conservative sentiments.
    8. Both he and Paglia fail to make the analytical synthesis and offer a path towards “game change”, hence they end up de facto defending the status quo of women being sexually abused. They go against “game denial” but end up in the position of “game acceptance”, which means to implicitly defend injustice.
    9. The correct answer is to refute “game denial” as well as “game acceptance” and to offer paths towards transformations of everyday life, taking the perspectives of all parties seriously.
    10. We hear very little such alternatives.
  30. Peterson: 1:23:25. He says the legal system is awesome because it evolved over a long time.
    1. There are many things that evolved over a long time that aren’t very good.
    2. The legal system is one of them. The way it deals with sexual violence is catastrophic, and it is a too heavy weight system for these matters, dealing in too binary terms.
    3. That’s why sexual misconduct is being transposed to other realms than the strictly legal one.
    4. You can read this article on how the justice system fails rape victims, if you like.
  31. Paglia: 1:24:10. She says that it’s taboo to say that women should be responsible for their own choices.
    1. Implying, then, choices that lead up to someone else raping them.
    2. Implying, then, that she wants women to be responsible for the choices of male rapists.
    3. It doesn’t make sense.
  32. Paglia & Peterson: 1:24:10. They agree that the refusal to hold women responsible for risking being raped is “such a betrayal of authentic feminism”.
    1. I disagree.
    2. The right to being raped is not authentic feminism.
  33. Paglia & Peterson: 1:25:00. They argue against verbal consent because sex is not a verbal thing.
    1. Would it be so bad if people talked a little more about it? Might avoid some misunderstandings.
    2. If people have verbal consent – more of the kind in the BDSM community, which is hardly known for lacking spice – then the responsibility is shared more equally.
    3. With a light-weight consent policy, you are still free to have sex with someone without asking, but then you risk that they will flip out and raise charges. So you have responsibility for your own sexual actions, not those of another.
    4. Can Peterson and Paglia offer another venue for legal protection for rape victims? Do they at all recognize the fact that the vast majority of all rape cases are never dealt with, the victims never vindicated?
  34. Peterson: 01:32:00. He says that, for feminists, the patriarchy is evil and so is traditional motherhood, which leaves women only with the professional role, which then is patriarchy, just run by women.
    1. Reveals lack of basic understanding of feminism.
    2. The idea with “patriarchy” is that women become the bitches of guys in different aspects of life and thus less free to live their life as they want.
    3. Patriarchy in this sense doesn’t have anything to do with guys being bad, just with the persistence of norms, habits, and prejudices that no longer make sense in modern society.
    4. Almost no feminists argue that women should run society, only that they should have a more equal share in its power.
  • Paglia: 01:34:15. She argues that the West is like ancient Rome, which she claims fell to bureaucratic control and multiculturalism.
    1. The Roman Empire fell because of its inability to sustain bureaucratic control. Imperial overstretch, poor fiscal policies, military challengers, growing inequalities in a largely socially unsustainable system, and long-standing ecological crises brought the Roman Empire to its knees – not too much bureaucratic control or the fact that the Roman Empire consisted of different ethnicities (as was the case in all of the large agrarian empires of the time).
    2. This wouldn’t be an issue if it weren’t for her bragging and insistence upon historical understanding as mandatory. Apparently, she miserably fails at it herself.
  • Peterson: 01:39:30. He says that victimization of groups may cause them to commit genocide. This is said in the context that pomo PC culture creates new venues of victimization and blaming.
    1. He fails to point out that pomo culture also creates venues for expressing shame, resentment, and frustrations in non-violent ways, allowing for cultural struggle to take the place of violent struggle.
    2. Does he really mean to say that the places in the world that have most ethnic conflicts also have the most pomo feminists? I think the opposite case can be made rather easily.
  • On the closing note Paglia calls out: “We agreed on everything! I knew it!”
    1. They may have nodded and agreed, but this shows only lacking rigor. Upon closer inspection, they don’t agree on everything.

And that, my friend, closes this marathon of harrowing academic incompetence. All in all, these were 47 points pf critique, a handful of which would have shot dead an academic discussion of normal standards. (13 + 37 points, but three were interludes with due credits).

Forty-seven points of severe, fundamental faults. That’s either incompetence, dishonesty or the tunnel vision of the fanatic. You decide which one, or which combination of the three.

If you’re one of the many people who have been unable to see through the thin veneer, unable to see these people for what they are – standard conservatives, misogynists, hysterical anti-feminists – this means that your critical thinking has also been curtailed.

So do the right thing and say a painful goodbye to your YouTube father figure, Jordan Peterson. He told you to speak the truth. But he doesn’t tell you the truth, not even close. And neither does Paglia.

By the way, the correct answer to their question, what comes next, after this wave of pomo?

It’s that you accept good feminism, make sure none of it is driven by blame or hatred, and then add another layer to it: masculinism. Then you proceed with a both-and perspective. And you use developmental psychology to get at the core of the issues, reducing the gender antagonism in society, as discussed in my upcoming book, Nordic Ideology.

The core failure of the intellectual projects of Peterson and Paglia comes from a lack of understanding of developmental sociology. They have both failed to see the simple and fundamental progression: from traditional, to modern, to postmodern, to metamodern.

None of these positions (modern, pomo, etc.) are perfect. They all have pathologies and sicknesses of their own. Pomo has sicknesses. But Peterson and Paglia think that pomo itself is a sickness. To them, if people just “stop doing it”, stop being pomo, everything is going to be fine. But that’s not going to happen, as society developmentally generates a huge onslaught of pomo in late modernity. You can’t tell someone to stop being at a certain developmental stage.

So basically, Peterson and Paglia offer us no path ahead.

What’s next? Metamodernism is next.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, and the upcoming books ‘Nordic Ideology’ and ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of World History’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his Facebook profile here.

Wisdom Is Overrated

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘The Listening Society: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book One’. This is the first book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. What you will read below is from the chapter on wisdom called “Wisdom Troubles”; a chapter that discusses some of the fallacies related to the hyped and relatively overrated notion of wisdom and spiritual enlightenment.

”Belief in ‘wisdom’ is the belief that there is a variable that is always good, and the more of it, the better. Has there ever been such a variable? Not in the world I live in, at least.”

Wisdom is always defined as something entirely beneficial and unprob­lem­atic. It is argued by more people than I could name, that “wisdom” is what humanity needs to solve its multifaceted crisis. Given all the em­phasis that I have put on discussing adult development (and the existential aspects thereof) in my book The Listening Society, I might be expected to enthusiast­ically supp­ort this trend. Yet, over the years, I have increasingly taken a skep­tical position.

The reason for this skepticism is rather simple: I have yet to see a cred­ible attempt to “operationalize” the concept; to make it workable. If wis­dom is such a serious matter, how come all its proponents only ever come up with vague and indirect ways of seeing it and measuring it? And what exactly is it that wisdom “does” – exactly how does it solve all manner of problems and “wicked issues”? People say that “higher consciousness” is necessary for humanity to solve the great problems we are facing. What exactly is it that people with all this wisdom and “higher consciousness” can do, that others cannot? These questions have been answered, but not quite convincingly.

The proponents of wisdom are certainly on to something. Surely, it makes sense to say that higher consciousness is what humanity needs. As I see it, what the wisdom people are scenting is the importance of seeing inner dimen­sions of people and society and the possibility of an active and deliberate dev­el­op­ment of these.

But the problem is that the wisdom people haven’t done their analytical homework. In other words, the researchers of this field – and other pro­po­nents – haven’t figured out exactly what they’re talking about. And the result is anything but productive. I should say, anything but “wise”.

Do you think I am exaggerating and being unfair? Andreas Fischer, a psychology professor at Heidelberg University, recently published a paper in The International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, titled “Wis­dom – The Answer to All the Questions Really Worth Asking.” As far as I can tell, the title is not ironically meant, and it’s not very different from others in the field. This is a scholar who has read through many of the different def­initions in ancient teachers and modern researchers alike; he is perfectly up-to-date. His paper is well-written and quite interesting – as are many others in the field – but does its very title not underscore that people take wisdom to be a magic bullet?

Fischer’s own suggestion is to see wisdom as fundamental and general insights about how to live a good life. But this definition more or less just says that wisdom is good, and lack of wisdom is bad. Fischer brings up some universally occurring insights in wisdom teach­ers, such as treating others well, going beyond materialism and selfish­ness, the importance of being good­hearted rather than successful, and so forth. He also shows that there is research supporting such claims (that following these guidelines tends to lead to happiness and mental health). Such advice can be useful, but it takes little account of people’s different developmental cap­abilities and personalities, let alone what society they live in and how this wisdom can ever evolve and change. How come so few of the classical wisdom teachers taught us about sustainability (with some North American excep­tions) or animal rights (with some Eastern exceptions)?

Making arguments for “wisdom” and “higher consciousness” without know­­­ing exactly what you are talking about can easily get out of hand. The researchers all try to be specific. But the problem persists – because it has to do with the concept of wisdom itself. It’s just not a very high-quality variable, simply because it is taken to be unambiguously good. My mentor Michael Commons (the creator of the Model of Hierarchical complexity, read this post if you want an introduction) would have said: “It’s a crap variable”.

Our search for the wise person easily becomes a search for the perfect person. Should it then surprise us that most people considered “wise” tend to be semi-mythic figures such as Jesus, the Buddha, Lao-Tze or Con­fuc­ius? The real people always run up against their equally real limitations.

Belief in “wisdom” is the belief that there is a variable that is always good, and the more of it, the better. Has there ever been such a variable? Not in the world I live in, at least. Where I come from, many variables always work together to create patterns and equilibriums. Too much of one single variable always has downsides.

So the proponents of wisdom are in fact defending a project that must by necess­ity be a fantasy. If they can’t say in which context this wisdom is good and when it is not, it’s just not a real variable. And if they can’t say how wisdom grows, through which mechanisms, and how it works, and what its limitations are, it is apparently an imagined magic bullet. It is fond hopes and dreams, not much more.

”Wisdom, after all, is most often just taken to mean: ‘you folks should be more like me’. This way, wisdom is simply the speaker’s received wisdom.”

Of Wisdom and Wise-Guys

The proponents of wisdom fail to differentiate between pretty much all of the dimensions I’ve explored in The Listening Society: cognitive com­plexity, IQ, symbolic code, subjective state, existential depth (and the light­ness or dark­ness of that depth), mental health and having a well-integrated person­ality, Eriksonian life phases – the list goes on. Especially, people tend to have an irresistible urge for blending in those Eriksonian life pha­ses, which messes up their theories.

For certain, people who study wisdom generally have several com­ponents in their models (being both smart, patient, humble, emotionally stable, and so forth – see for instance Stephen Hall’s 2010 book Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience), but in turn all of these variables tend to be taken as unambiguously good and there is no serious con­sider­ation of what happens when people develop in one such variable but not another.

Without analytical distinctions it becomes quite difficult to know what you are talking about. Try this out:

  • Is Nelly, a low-complexity (MHC stage 10 Abstract), great-depth, low-state, old and exper­ienced, psychologically stable person who has “inst­all­­ed” the symbol-stage E Modern, “wise” or not?
  • Is Eckhart Tolle wise (a New Age wisdom teacher with high state and great depth) or is he plain stupid (believing that flowers are “enlight­­en­ed plants” and that a wave of New Age mindlessness will save humanity from im­pend­ing destruction and that he is leading the fray by giving often lousy therapeutic advice to people who actually need psychiatric care)? Does he have “high consciousness”?
  • Or how about the great ruler of northern India in the 3rd century BCE, Asho­ka? After times of conquest and war, he turned to Budd­hism and pacifism. In his great compassion he decided, among other things, to let all his prisoners out for fresh air once a year.

In these examples, the answer depends on how wisdom is defined. Which brings us to the third problem. With sloppy variables, no reliable measure­­ments and no stringent definitions (even if the researchers do attempt to be stringent), the field is wide open for people to have just about anything in mind when they talk about “wisdom”. And people always seem to assume that they themselves possess wisdom, and that people who they don’t like don’t. The wisdom movement goes: “Yeah man! You like wisdom too? Me too! Let’s do it, y’all!”

Think about it. The concept of wisdom becomes a projection screen, upon which we can project pretty, wishful images. We can paint anything that feels good onto this “super-duper-variable”. The problem is that it would break down into a giant slugfest of disappointment and conflict if operationalized in society: people would have to start arguing about who is wise, really, and why, and what that means. And a lot of people would force a lot of low quality “wisdom” down other people’s throats. Or sell it to them by means of expensive consulting and motivational speeches. Wisdom, after all, is most often just taken to mean: “you folks should be more like me”. This way, wisdom is simply the speaker’s received wisdom.

So here’s my take on a narrower, stricter, definition. Wisdom is great depth, plain and simple. Nothing more, nothing less. So, the way I use the term, wisdom has to do with things like spirituality and transcendence but not really with being smart or “proficient at living a good life”. With this defin­ition the answer is: yes, Eckhart Tolle is wise. To a highly com­plex but low-depth thinker like Richard Dawkins, Eckhart Tolle simply appears to be a fraud; to his enthused followership, he appears to be a sage. The truth is, quite simply, he has high state, great depth and relativ­ely low complexity.

The first example person, Nelly (great depth, low state, low complex­ity), is also wise, even if she lives in a darker subjective world than Eckhart Tolle. They are both wise, but perhaps not very clever. What can I say?

With this stricter definition, the rural Mongol shaman, for instance, can be viewed as wiser than an average modern person. The same goes for the Tibetan nun. With the definition I propose, they can be called “wiser” simply by virtue of having greater depth. We are being specific about what we mean. And a psych­ologically healthy, complex thinker, who is of old age and at peace with herself is not wise, unless she also has great depth – even if the clichés hold that she “should” be wise.

All this lets wisdom be specific, measurable, and just one piece in the puzzle (rather than being a universal fix-it-all). What we might lose by mak­ing the term more narrow, we regain manifold by clarifying what we are actually talking about.

We might try another definition if you like, a more inclusive one: wisdom is the combination of mental health, high complexity and great depth. This might let Ashoka qualify as wise (assuming that he, as a succ­essful ruler, was also a complex thinker). With this definition, people can be “wise” regardless of which symbolic code they have (so you can have a wise person in ancient India, even if he’s hardly progressive by modern standards). With this defin­ition it becomes more difficult to answer the question of who is wise, but strictly speaking neither Nelly nor Eckart Tolle would be categorized as such. Ashoka might.

The devil isn’t just in the details. He’s in the definitions. And, most of all, he’s in the analytical distinctions: in the ability to tell one thing apart from another. To not mix things up. So before you preach the gospel of wisdom, please consult the devil. It would be wise.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, and the upcoming books ‘Nordic Ideology’ and ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of World History’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.

Why Spiritual Communities Turn Into Cults

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘The Listening Society: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book One’. This is the first book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. What you will read below is from the chapter on higher subjective states called “Reaching Higher”; a chapter that discusses the nature of high psychological states of positive emotions.

“A striking pattern in these communities is the prevalence of abuses of power – financial or sexual exploitation, physical and emotional violence, clear uses of brainwashing strategies, con-artist yogi miracle-makers, or at the very least false claims and endless intrigues and lawsuits.”

In its pure form, however, I would claim that spiritual con­gregation is actually a modern phenomenon, showing up in the 19th and 20th cen­tur­ies – where people freely devote themselves to a guru, master or teacher who is believed to be enlightened. You may have come across one or more such spirit­ual commun­ities, often populated by hippies and New Age ideas (or New Thought, or variations of theosophy, or contemporary inter­­­­pretations of East­ern tradi­tions, or mysticism from any religion).

A striking pattern in these communities is the prevalence of abuses of power – financial or sexual exploitation, physical and emotional violence (some­­times even directed outside of the community), clear uses of brain­washing strategies, con-artist yogi miracle-makers, or at the very least false claims and endless intrigues and lawsuits. Looking at teachers like Sri Auro­bindo, Osho, Adi Da (Da Free John), Andrew Cohen, Amma (“the hugging mother”) and Chögyam Trungpa – even Jiddu Krishnamurti, who didn’t even found any organization – their comm­unities have all dev­olved into abusive or at least commercialized and dysfunctional rela­tion­ships. Whereas some of these nasty stories may perhaps be expl­ain­ed by deliberate manipulations on behalf of the teachers, the freq­ue­ncy with which these communities show cult-like and deeply oppress­ive tend­encies must have a more general, socio­logical and structural explanation.

My take on such an explanation is this. Whenever a community is built, there is a hier­archy. Hierarchies of some kind are necessary for peo­ple to successfully cooperate, evaluate the efforts of one another: who puts in the most effort, who is reliable, and so forth. Spiritual commun­ities like these are built primarily around a hierarchy of “subjective state”. The leader is taken to be one of higher subjective state than other mem­bers of the community, which is why people want to follow him or her. To advance within this hierarchy, one should also be able to rest for longer periods in higher subjective states.

”In spiritual communities, social pressure arises to present oneself as being in as high states as possible. So people begin to subtly lie to themselves and to one another about how lightly and profoundly they experience the world at any given moment. ”

The Fallacy of Turning Subjective States into Social Hirarchies

The main problem is that subjective state is not something that can easily be measured, and that it changes from moment to moment. Scien­tific results, athletic achievements, even a dollar bottom line – all these are things that can be intersubjectively confirmed or falsified, which means that you can relatively easily see who is a qualified scientist, athlete or business­woman. The spiritual commun­ities build a social hierarchy upon something that can only be personally experi­enced and imagined. Sure, for a brief mom­ent you can check some­one’s brainwaves with the right equipment, but then again, you never know if someone’s subjective state is quite what they say it is, and you can’t measure it all the time. You try to build an inter­subjective comm­unity upon a subjective thing. It’s a just a no-go. It’s an illogically con­structed social structure, and this poor const­ruction leads to some very bad social con­sequ­en­­ces.

It’s often not even easy to recognize what subjective state we are in our­selves; it often takes great effort just to notice. Ever heard a person shouting about how they’re “not angry”? This is just one example out of many of when we fail to recognize an obvious inner state or emotion within ourselves. If each person can hardly know her own state, how can we be expected to build a reliable community upon not only our own state, but the states of a whole group of people?

In spiritual communities, social pressure arises to present one­self as being in as high states as possible (both by personal prestige and because people want to hear that you are doing well in order to validate the spirit­ual enter­prise as a whole). So people begin to subtly lie to themselves and to one anoth­er about how lightly and profoundly they experience the world at any given moment. Ever noticed that strange hysterical happ­i­ness that sect people display? That’s what I’m talking about: they insist upon displaying behaviors that indicate high inner states; hence that stran­ge stare. This applies not least to the guru: if he or she is in a bad mood, the students will still interpret them as acting from a very high state.

So there is a social-psych­ological “spin” on the whole thing, making peo­­ple pretend to be something they’re not. This becomes a closely guard­ed, dirty secret for almost everyone and people are likely to react quite aggress­ively when­ever it risks surfacing. This is a central reason for why they turn so oppressive and aggressive when the image of harmony is challenged by all the conflicts and issues that necessarily show up in any community.

And all of this is aggravated by the fact that subjective states are deeply personal and emotional phenomena. If a community is built around achiev­ing higher subjective states, it must by necessity involve people sharing a lot of their inner lives. This leaves little or no personal sphere, no hiding away – which means that people get closely tied up to one another in situations that are full of smoke-screens, lies and self-deceit. It couldn’t get much more veno­mous.

”Uncritical praise of people in high subjective states is a recipe for being ruled and fooled, for being abused and for very sudden and disappointing dissolutions of formerly very tightly knit communities. ”

High Spiritual States Doesn’t Necessarily Make You Smart

But the troubles don’t stop there. Traditional monasteries of earlier centur­ies were not purely spiritual communities; they were also, perhaps primarily, built around work, theo­logy, philosophy and so on. Thus hier­archies could be constructed around things that people could relate to and evaluate inter­subject­ively. Modern spiritual communes are different. If you build a comm­un­­ity around the idea that “this guy”, let’s say the US guru Adi Da, is “enligh­tened”, not only can you never get any proof of it, but you overlook all of the other devel­opmental dimensions.

In other words, even if your guru really does frequent high subjective states; he or she can still be low MHC stage (for an introduction to Hirarchical Complexity, read this post), work from defunct cultural codes, and have all manner of psychological issues and problems.

Just listen to a person like Eckhart Tolle, the author of the book The Power of Now, who has been featured on Oprah Winfrey and gained great traction. He obviously has high states. But his answers on any social or societal issues, and the theories propounded in his books, are of average complexity (MHC stage 11 Formal, more precisely). He just doesn’t have the answers. Which is okay. The only problem is that he makes all sorts of analyses of society, from politics to mental health to gender and sexual­ity – and many people listen. It should be made perfectly clear that this man, while being both kind and wise, is poorly educated and, truth be told, not very clever. Nothing wrong with it, but it should be recognized.

The same goes for pretty much all the gurus. They have high state perspec­tives – the ones that are authentic gurus, that is – but they mistake these exist­en­tial perspectives for authority on all sorts of other issues. As do their foll­ow­ers.

An issue that we haven’t really ventured to discuss here, but that should also briefly be mentioned, is high state pathologies. Low state path­ologies are pretty obvious – you feel like utter crap and this can make you dysfunct­ional, make you have destructive behaviors and want to lash out against the world. But higher states can also bring all sorts of complic­ations. If you, for instance, suddenly feel extremely enlarged and filled with cosmic love, this can easily translate to grandiose ideas about your­self and your place in the world. To megalomania and unsustainable opti­m­­ism. And in moments where you feel that everything is intimately inter­connect­ed and that all things are one, you are also likely to draw rather quest­ionable conclusions about how things are causally inter­related. It has even been shown that people who have just done mind­fulness are more like­ly to have imagined and false memories and that they are somewhat more gull­ible. For all the good things I have to say about high states, I can hardly overemphasize just how seductive and danger­ous they are. In my book The Listening Society I discuss the dang­ers of magic beliefs – as these show up in a lot of high state people.

Uncritical praise of people in high subjective states is a recipe for being ruled and fooled, for being abused and for very sudden and disappointing dis­sol­utions of form­erly very tightly knit communities. This is true even if some of the gurus turn out to be nice (which seems to be the case with only a min­or­ity of them, e.g. Eckhart Tolle, Rupert Spira, and perhaps the Jamaican guru Mooji) – indeed, even if they turn out to be intelligent as well (like Shinzen Young). But nice and intelligent teachers don’t make the struct­ur­al issues I brought up go away: you simply can’t build a good community with hierar­chies derived from subjective states. It doesn’t make sense. Bec­au­se, mon ami, commun­ities and their hierarchies are inter­subjective and relat­ive­ly dur­able structures; inner states are sub­jective and very transient.

”A possible antidote to this social-psychological malady might be to democratize spirituality; to make it more participatory, transparent and based on measurable results.”

Spirituality. Yes. But Let’s Make it More Well-informed and Democratic

This is not to say that all spiritual communities are a bad thing. Indeed, the places in which people make a common, concentrated and guided effort to develop higher states often have positive effects on people’s lives – and that may positively affect other aspects of society. It’s just that the endeavor comes with certain risks that have to do with the social-psychological territory; and these risks are pretty big, like all communities which elicit very deep commitment and fervor.

A possible antidote to this social-psychological malady might be to demo­cratize spirituality; to make it more participatory, transparent and based on measurable results. Such attempts are being made in and around the Burning Man festival culture, and notably in the Syntheist (“religious atheist”) move­ment which recently emerged in Stockholm – and some interesting pro­spects along these lines have been brought up by public intellectuals like Sam Harris (in his 2014 book Waking Up, Harris, a renowned critic of all things religious, makes his case for a scientifically supported exploration of spirit­uality). However, these are difficult matt­ers; thus far, almost all spiritual com­m­­unities have taken a long walk down Cult Avenue, so it is quite pro­bable that these movements will do likewise. We’ll see.

To conclude: Yes, the subjective state of organisms is the most impor­tant thing in the world, and yes, it should therefore be made a central goal of society. And yes, it has great significance for the overall development of people and societies. But no, having higher state does not give you all the answers. And no, we should not build a society that creates hierarchies based upon vague and unverifiable phenomena such as subjective state. And YES, more research is needed.

But we must try to optimize subjective states, as a society as well as single organisms. We are all always-already in some kind of subjective state. It is an inescapable, merciless fact that the universe has us eternally by the balls.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, and the upcoming books ‘Nordic Ideology’ and ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of World History’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.

What Is The Model of Hierarchical Complexity?

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘The Listening Society: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book One’. This is the first book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. What you will read below is from the chapter on cognitive development; a chapter that introduces the reader to the Model of Hierarchical complexity and the creator of this theory Michael Commons.

Commons first formulated the theory after having taken a year off from work to study mathematics, where the language of abstract algebra helped him to describe the formal relationships between the different stages.

Once this formal relationship was in place, the different stages could be described with generalizable orders of complexity. The order of complex­ity is the complexity of a certain task (such as getting three green balls, a task in which you must coordinate the shape, number and color with the verb “get” – this is stage 5, Sentential, in the model below). The MHC research program is based on task analysis and is thereby depen­dent on the inventions of tasks and dilemmas to test people – it is a branch of experimental psychology. But once you know the stages well enough, you begin to be able to understand at which stage people operate when they do things in everyday life as well (and, yes, you also begin to be able to see which stages your fellow researchers operate at and what order of com­plex­ity their work is).

All the other theorists had built their theories by observing the devel­op­­ment of children or adults. Com­m­ons and Richards mapped the stages math­ematically – and then found that the data mapped their theory much more elegantly and precisely than any of the other theories. Besides, you could use the same models for animals. Clearly, they were on to some­thing important.

Initially, Commons and Richards themselves failed to see the wider impli­cations of their theory. They had primarily devised it as a response to critic­ism of Kohlberg, as some scholars did not believe in there being higher stages than what a normal adult human being reaches at ages 11-14 (the formal-operational stage). But Commons and Richards’ model, in all its reductionist crudeness, took on a life of its own, and impressive results started appearing: people – and their behaviors – mapped onto the diff­erent stages with an almost frightening prec­ision and consistency.

I am not going to discuss the evolution of the model, but just skip to the la­test version of it, now in 2017. The model covers everything from germs and amoeba right up to Einstein. But it does not, as we will see, descr­­ibe exist­ential depth, i.e. it doesn’t account for the Buddha or Kierke­gaard.

The Stages of the MHC

So – sixteen stages, let’s go baby (we’ll revisit the four most relevant ones, stages 10-13, in the next chapter; in this list I have underlined them):

0. Calculatory Stage (molecules)

  • Can distinguish between 0 and 1 (something versus no­thing), much like a digital computer.
  • Can only react to stimuli without any distinguishing for strength of react­ion; “organisms at the edge of life”, like DNA itself.
  • Humans pass this stage long before we are born; indeed, before we are even conceived.

1. Automatic Stage (cells)

  • Can react to stimuli depending on different quantities, but only by automatic response and never through learning.
  • No coordination of different stimuli, there is just a single stimulus-response.
  • Single cell organisms; humans pass the stage before we are born.

2. Sensory or Motor Stage (amoeba)

  • Can react in different ways to different stimuli, and can co­ordi­n­ate two stimuli responses (but not invent new respon­ses). Move body parts.
  • For instance a leech, if you both shine on it with a lamp and shock it with electricity several times, you can get it to respond to just the lamp as if there was an electric shock.
  • Amoeba, slugs, mollusks, early human fetus.

3. Circular Sensory-Motor Stage (insect, fish, newborn human)

  • Can reach, touch, grab, shake objects, babble, make single sou­nds (phonemes).
  • Can move body parts after having perceived objects and can recog­nize things.
  • Most predatory fish, insects, newborn humans. (Note that cogn­itive stage can be the same even if brain size, cogni­tive speed and perhaps the degree of “sentience” vary greatly. Counter-intuitive but true!)

4. Sensory-Motor Stage (rat, small baby)

  • Can do a series of movements that are calibrated after one an­other and build upon one another to achieve something.
  • This includes putting several sounds together so that you can form a morpheme, at least in the language-prone spec­ies of hum­ans (you can use combinations of sounds to “ex­press something” but not yet use a full word consistently).
  • Rats, young baby humans.

5. Nominal Stage (pigeon, one-year-old toddlers)

  • Can find relations among concept and make them into words: single words, exclamations, knowing the meaning of a word. “Nom­inal” because you can name stuff.
  • Can begin to understand what other organisms “mean”.
  • Laboratory pigeons, one-year-old toddlers.

6. Sentential Stage (two/three years old)

  • Can put words together into sentences, and see a series of simple tasks that need to be coord­inated, imitate a sequ­ence.
  • This allows for the use of pronouns like I, mine, you, yours it, etc.—these being more abstract than names of things.
  • Parrots (as famously described by Irene Pepperberg; train­ed parr­ots can go up to this stage), cats, toddlers around two to three.

7. Pre-Operational Stage (three to five year olds)

  • Can make simple deductions (but not spot contradictions), follow lists of sequential acts, and tell short stories (by coord­inating sev­eral sent­ences).
  • Can use connectives (in humans): if, then, as, when, etc. Puts toge­­ther several sentences into a “paragraph”.
  • Dogs and small children, three to five years old.

8. Primary Stage (five to seven years old)

  • Can do logical deduction and use empirical rules; adds, sub­tracts, divides, multiplies, proves, does series of tasks on its own.
  • Can relate to times, places, can count acts and relate to separate actors. Can construct relatively coherent narra­ti­ves (“groups of para­graphs”); these create accounts and ideas about what’s going on.
  • Chimpanzees and rhesus monkeys; in humans, five to sev­en year olds.

9. Concrete Stage (seven to eleven)

  • Can do long division, follow complex social rules, takes on roles and coordinates self with others.
  • Can create meaningful, concrete stories and keep the same story intact and consequential over time. Puts together groups of para­gra­phs into a story. Can thus keep track of inter­relations (which is the best tool, and how would you test it, etc.), social events, what happ­ened among others, reasonable deals, history, geography.
  • Normal in humans at ages seven to eleven, but also a signi­ficant portion of the adult population. In the famous bonobo chim­pan­zee stud­ies of Frans de Waal, there are ex­amples of concrete stage behav­iors, such as testing sev­eral tools to determine which is the best one.

10. Abstract Stage (ages eleven to fourteen)

  • Can form abstract ideas and thoughts: single, generalized varia­bles that fall beyond the concrete sequences of events in a story—can make and quantify abstract propositions.
  • Relates to categories and uses “cases of events” to incre­mentally im­prove the understanding of these categories.
  • Humans eleven and older, a significant part of the adult pop­­ulation, about 30%. No known non-human animals.

11. Formal Stage (ages fourteen to eighteen, if at all)

  • Can identify relations between abstract variables and re­flect upon these relations, devise ways to test them, etc. Solves problems using algebra with one unknown, uses logic and empiricism.
  • Can speak a full, rich language with self-reflection, uses logical seq­uen­ces of connectives: if this, then that, in all cases.
  • Fourteen years and onwards. The most common stage in adult hum­an beings, about 40% of the adult population—only a mino­rity go bey­ond this stage.

12. Systematic Stage (eighteen and above, if at all)

  • Can identify patterns among linear relationships, thus for­m­­ing syst­ems of relations among abstract variables and how these inter­act. Can thereby also solve equations with sev­eral unknowns. The first “post­formal” stage, i.e. it was not described by Piaget, but imp­licated in Kohl­berg’s work.
  • Begins to discuss legal systems, social structures, eco­systems, eco­n­o­mic systems and the like.
  • Can ­be found in about 20% of adult humans, usually after age eight­een.

13. Metasystematic Stage (early twenties and above, if at all)

  • Can compare and synthesize several systems with differing logics, put together “metasystems” or conclusions that hold true across diff­er­ent system, reflect upon and name general proper­ties of syst­ems.
  • Understands that things can be “homomorphic”, “isomor­ph­ic”, etc. This means that you can see how one system can be changed in corr­espond­ing or differing ways to an­other system.
  • Can be found in about 1.5% of the adult population, usu­ally only after early twenties.

14. Paradigmatic Stage (mid-twenties and above, if at all)

  • Can deal with several very abstract metasystems to cre­ate new ways of thinking of the world, new paradigms, new sciences or bran­ch­es within sciences.
  • Has a fractal way of thinking, so that the universal princ­iples found are applicable to many different levels of analysis and ph­enomena.
  • Prevalence unknown, but if the pattern holds and every stage seems to increase with about a standard deviation, it should be a little more than one adult in a thous­and in a normal population, mostly at ages 25+. This makes it rare, but still some three million people in the wor­ld (one thou­sandth of the functional adults above 25). Although the stage is theo­re­tically formulated, there is no reliable test for it.

15. Crossparadigmatic Stage (late twenties and above, if at all)

  • Can deal with several paradigms to create new fields.
  • Examples are: Newton’s reformulation of physics, Dar­win’s the­ory of evolution, Einstein’s theory of relativity, the invention of quant­um physics, the invention of chaos ma­th­e­matics and com­plexity, the invention of computing, the invention of postmodern philosophy, the invention of the holistic “integral theory” of Ken Wilber, the inven­tion of string theory, the invention of the MHC theory.
  • Prevalence unknown, found only in adults older than twen­ty and who have privileged circumstances. It most often shows up ar­ound 30. No reliable test for this stage.

What you get here is a model of cognitive complexity that places hum­ans and other animals on the same scale. This kind of thinking leads us towards quest­ioning some of the “speciesist” assumptions of our day and age: that there would be anything “special” about humans.

Admittedly, there are some things unique to humans, such as our pro­pen­­sity for language use – which appears to be a certain genetic property; in 2009, researchers transplanted such genes to mice and heard them make more intere­sting squeaks. This is also in line with what Noam Chomsky’s lin­guistic theory would suggest; that we should view lang­uage as a biological pro­perty of hum­ans.

Commons’ theory naturally focus­es on language (words, sentences, in­crea­singly complex grammar, narratives, concepts…) because it is mostly used to study humans. But the MHC stages or “orders of complex­ity” are per­fectly possible to describe in non-linguistic terms, such as abstract alge­­bra, which is what Commons initially did. So even animals that don’t speak (like the pig­eon at stage 5 Nominal) can display behaviors at equal or higher orders of complexity than e.g. young hum­an chi­ldren, even if kids talk and pigeons don’t. Speech is a useful tool when it comes to accomplishing complex tasks, but it is not in itself necessary for cognitive complexity (or sentience, for that matter: having subjective experience, feelings, etc.). This should insulate us against ling­uistically based species­ism, where humanity’s “special­ness” is legitimized by the fact that we have language use.

Before we go on, let’s just note again that cognitive stage according to MHC is not a moral order – we have noticed for instance that human new­borns can be described at the same stage as an insect (stage 3 Circular Sensory-Motor), but we’d hardly ascribe the same moral value to the two. Moreover, you can see variations of MHC stage in animals of the same species. This goes for newly born cubs ver­sus fully developed adult dogs, as well as indiv­idual differences where some dogs out-stage their fellow canines. Irene Pepp­er­berg’s parrot was trained, after years of hard work, to go up one stage from 5 Nom­inal – where it could get a ball (out of several options, with cubes, rings, etc.) in order to claim a reward – to 6 Sentential, where it could get “two yellow balls”, etc. The parrot just had to think for a very long time to fig­ure it out, its brain being much smaller than a human one. This means that a human at the same stage, but having a far “higher IQ”, would reach the same conclusion as the parrot, just at a much faster pace.

So we are not taking anything away from the fact that members of two diff­­erent species, who are at the same stage, can still be very different from one another. Just consider the fact that some species have mate selection by means of bloody tournaments, like baboons (and a relatively short-lived rock n’ roll lifestyle alpha male gets all the punani and offspring, be­fore he is violently dethroned), and others through pair-bonding, like bonobo chimps (most of the population procreates and guys help out with the kids) – with humans being somewhere in between, judging from our phy­siological traits such as moderately larger males than females and med­ium sperm com­petition (as implied by testicle size, and, uhm, I guess by our sexual behavior). These species (bab­oons, bon­obo chimps and humans) are behaviorally and psych­ologically quite diff­erent from one another even if their cognitive stages partly overlap.

Of cou­rse, such species-specific traits shape behavior, and of course there is plenty of evolutionary psychology to account for much of what goes on in humans and other animals. But still, the complexity of those behav­iors can be descri­bed with the help of our new friend – the MHC – and that puts all animals on the same scale, a scale on which adult human beings, surprisingly perhaps, differ vastly from one another.

This last part is both counter-intuitive and con­troversial. So let’s examine it closer.

Stage 10 Abstract

Who? Emerges at ages 11-14. Observed only in humans.

How many? About 30% of a normal adult population in modern coun­tries reach and stay at this stage throughout their lifetime.


To “be at this stage” means to display only behaviors and cognitive opera­tions of this order of complexity or below – i.e. that you produce original thoughts, reasoning and behaviors which are maximally this complex. However, of course, your development doesn’t stop at age 14 just because your MHC stage does. You still learn, develop and change in other ways throughout your lifetime.


Remember: in terms of language use, stage 9 Concrete means that you can put together many different paragraphs into one overarching narrative and name that narrative: the Iliad, etc. But whereas Homer’s Iliad con­tains a lot of succinct and interesting human understanding, you don’t find it abstracting variables and defining them.

The pre-Socratic natural philosophers, however, did exactly that: the essence of the world is water, suggested Thales; Heraclitus held that only change is constant, and so on. The ancient Greeks obviously could per­form many actions that were of stage 10 Abstract or beyond: ship build­ing, plann­ing trade and conquests, administration, navigation and so forth. But philoso­phy that corresponds to stage 10 Abstract was not yet present in early litera­ture and drama, and only showed up with the pre-Socratics (about 6th century BCE).

I chose the example with Greek literature and drama and the birth of West­ern philosophy simply because you here have a clear shift from expli­citly expressed thoughts at stage 9 Concrete to stage 10 Abstract ideas or variables. Of course, this shift is possible in many other non-explicit and non-linguistic forms.


At stage 10 Abstract, we can invent our own abstractions: not just chairs and tables, but furniture; not just furniture and domestic appliances, but “all movable objects you put in a home”; not just home and office but all indoors environment – and so forth.

This is not just mimicking words like “furniture” used by others, but act­ually creating novel abstract concepts or variables themselves.

The stage 10 Abstract thinker can then use quantification of these var­ia­­bles: some of the furniture, some of the time. This can refine the varia­bles, make new distinctions and let the abstract concepts acquire new meanings.

The abstractions are taken from stories about concrete things, people and events. These abstractions – furniture, love, justice, animosity, weight, vol­ume – take on meanings that go beyond the particular story they are a part of.


Let’s invent a variable to try this out: the ruggedness of mountain cliffs. We can have more or less of it, relate it to time, say that this variable causes mountains to be difficult to climb, etc. We can name the variable a new word: blefuscity (it’s a made up word).

Unlike the word “ruggedness”, blefuscity only denotes ruggedness in the way that mountains are rugged – not the way that a person can have a rugged look. “High blefuscity” means that the cliff range has many sharp edges and “low blefuscity” means it has fewer such edges and that it is smoother.

Now blefuscity takes on a life of its own, beyond the singular, concrete story. But in the next story we tell (let’s say it’s a story about mountain­eering), we notice that the cliffs are hard to climb but undeniably have “low blefuscity”. The mountain slope was steep and smooth. So we make a dist­inction between “blefuscity” and “steepness”. We have thus refin­ed the mean­ing of “blefuscity”, but it can always be further refined or challenged.

And so – the world we live in soon becomes a world of abstractions, a world of abstract concepts that have definitions and quantifiable proper­ties. When we conceptualize reality at this stage, narratives still matter (this and that happened, I am from that place, etc.), but they are hinged on abst­r­ac­tions: “a story about love”, etc.

Whoa. So that’s pretty good. And the only creature that has ever been observed to do this is Homo sapiens (but we can probably count in the Neanderthals and other hominids). We can name, relate to and quantify a world of abstract things.

Shakespeare would have said: “Oh, wonder! How many goodly creat­ures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world. That has such people in ‘t! MIRANDA. How amazing!”


What the stage 10 Abstract cannot do, however, is to describe regular rela­tions between different such abstract ideas.

We can still, however, by means of a shared language, take part of the ideas that other people produce at higher orders of complexity. (We can also, if guided through the sequences of actions, perform tasks that are up to two stages above; we’ll get back to that).

By definition, if we never ourselves have displayed original behaviors high­­er than this stage, we are said to “be at” stage 10 Abstract.

Let’s return to our example with steepness and the invented abstract variable “blefuscity”. For instance, very high steepness tends to create an even slope, which then means low blefuscity (few sharp edges) – which still makes for a very difficult climb (whereas our stage 10 Abstract thinking would have us believe that low blefuscity should make the climb easy).

This means that we easily land in false conclusions because we alternate between using steepness and blefuscity in our thinking, but fail to clearly and distinctively formulate the even more abstract rule which guides how we should use the two variables. We fail to see the formal relationship between the different abstract variables.

Why is this a problem? Because, as it turns out, the world around us – and inside us – behaves in ways that are so often not sufficiently and pro­ductively described by a single abstract variable. This means that, as stage 10 Abstract thinkers, we will very often respond to the world around us in simplified manners: in black-and-white, either-or ways. In everyday life that may be more than sufficient. But unfortunately modern people, at least as a collective, have to deal with much more complex issues than creating, choosing and quantifying single variables.


As mentioned earlier, the MHC research is based on “task analysis”, i.e. the idea that every task has an “order of complexity” that can be analyzed: getting through a maze is more complex than walking down a road and so forth. The order of complexity is not the same as “difficulty”, which is much more context bound. Now let’s look at some tasks in everyday life that would require stage 10 Abstract thinking. We will get back to a corres­ponding list of tasks when we discuss the higher stages.

  • Writing a conclusion in an essay that ties the whole thing together.
  • Pointing out the common denominator in a few different stories (love story, story about deceit and revenge, the same moral of the story).
  • Inventing new words for things that are not concretely present.
  • Driving a bus (following traffic rules and keeping in mind the length of the bus and other factors that are out of your sight).
  • Simple nursing (categorizations of patient behavior and reporting back to doctor, quantifying several medical variables, relating to these rather abstract variables, etc.)
  • Non-investigative journalism: reporting events and abstracting what “the story” is.
  • Accurately drawing 2D objects (without conceptualizing new styles or art forms).
  • Artisanship or building that requires a planned idea (but no engin­eer­ing or physics calculation).
  • Creating a map, or reading one without assistance.
  • Teaching kids to read and write.


Our stage of hierarchical complexity also affects how we think about poli­tics and society. Regardless of political persuasion, we can think more or less complexly about political issues. Let’s look at some stage 10 Abstract argu­ments of different political hues.

  • Anti-racist argument: Racism is bad: it is a self-contained and self-expla­n­atory essence that spreads by itself unless you stop it, causing discrim­ination and possibly tyranny and war.
  • Conservative argument: The Arabicness inherent to Arabs gives them traits that are irreconcilable with Western civilization.
  • Feminist argument: Feminism means to stand up for women and crush patriarchy.
  • Libertarian argument: The less state control, the better.
  • Green argument: Human greed causes crises and destroys the envi­ron­ment.
  • Day-to-day politics: I am frustrated both by high taxes and low spend­ing; by both high unemployment and low starting wages.


As stage 10 Abstract thinkers, we cannot see the general rules that govern when our abstractions should apply, when they can be expected to have cer­tain properties and so forth. This means that we will tend to focus on one single variable and want to either increase or decrease its quantitative value: less immigration, lower taxes, more love, more dialogue, less greed etc.

If confronted with a counter-argument (e.g. that more dialogue also means more time-consuming squabble, which in turn may not serve the pur­pose) the stage 10 Abstract thinker will simply insist upon having both: more dialogue and less time-consuming squabble. This is the less complex form of both-and thinking: not accounting for a produc­tive tens­ion between both sides, but simply denying that one’s argument has trade-offs or downsides.

As stage 10 Abstract thinkers we can sometimes insist upon doing things that to others is apparently counter-productive. For instance, the management department at a (modern, computerized) hospital can dec­ide to cut the budget and make a decision to close down many of the prin­ters. In effect, this may cause the nurses to walk much longer stretches to the printers farther away, in effect costing much higher wages if seen per hour and reducing efficiency – just to save some ink. In this case (which is taken from real life) the management uses the singular variable (“saving costs”) but fails to coordinate it with other variables (“cost per effective hour of work”) and in effect make budget cuts that are directly wasteful.

Have you ever been in an argument where you patiently and politely add­ress the inconsistencies of your counterpart’s argument, but they seem to repeat the same phrase or concept as if it were an answer in itself? This is probably a stage 10 Abstract thinker. At this stage we can spot obvious factual inconsistencies, but we cannot spot inconsistencies in how we apply abstract variables: for instance, lower taxes and higher welfare, please! And if you point out that there may be a trade-off, the stage 10 Abstract thinker will think that you are being vague and just playing with words.

Thinkers of each stage have this kind of complexity bias. Complexity bias means that we intuitively prefer forms of reasoning that correspond to our own stage of complexity. Explanations of lower complexity seem crude and simplistic to us, whereas higher stage explanations seem vague or counter-intuitive.

Stage 11 Formal

Who? Adolescent and adult humans. Emerges, if at all, at ages 14 and older.

How many? About 40% of adult humans in a normal, modern popul­ation.


This is the most common adult human stage and where Inhelder and Pia­get’s original model ended (this is somewhat of a simplification, but never mind). That someone is at this stage means that they perform tasks of this order of complexity – original behaviors not guided by others. Again, we don’t know what this means in terms of the organism internally, but we can certainly observe behaviors at this stage.

Even if this stage emerges in adolescence and relatively few people grow beyond it, people of course continue to change and develop in other ways throughout their lifespan.


In the history of science, understanding Newton’s three laws of motion is an example of stage 11 Formal thinking. To successfully coordinate the three laws, however, requires the next stage (stage 12 Systematic) – not to mention inventing these laws in a time before natural science was clearly established (which requires a much higher stage).

This is just to give a clear example of stage 11 Formal when formalized in scientific theory. Of course, outside of science, a lot of people were per­for­m­ing stage 11 Formal tasks: coordinating prices with demand, invest­­ments with risks and rewards, setting up rules and legal systems, building advanced structures, handling relationships between people with different interests by means of fair rules, creating ways to compare different meas­ure units and currencies, and so forth.


We can now invent our own rules or principles that describe or guide the relationship between several abstract variables. The relationships can be linear or not, but they make us see some kind of plotted line.

This means that our thinking and our actions become guided by such rules or principles: if this, under these circumstances, then that.

It also means that, because we know the rules guiding the relationships between different abstract variables, we can guess the value of an abstract variable simply by knowing the values of the other related variables. We can “see around corners” and think ahead in ways that children cannot.


Let us return to the invented variables blefuscity (the ruggedness of cliffs) and steepness. We concluded that blefuscity and steepness both cause the climb to be more difficult.

But let’s assume that, on a very steep cliff, you can only climb it if it also has high blefuscity: otherwise there is simply nothing to hold on to.

If you only study blefuscity, you don’t notice this: all steep cliffs with high blefuscity are difficult to climb, as are all not-so-steep cliffs with high blefu­scity. It is only when you compare different steep cliffs, that you not­ice that high blefuscity makes for an easier climb.

So what we assumed was a property, an essence, inherent to the varia­ble, was in fact only true under some circumstances. We have gone from a think­ing with “blefuscity and steepness” to one where we relate to “blefus­city and/or/if steepness”. And our whole view of the situation changes.

We have invented a rule that describes the relationship between three var­ia­bles: blefuscity causes greater difficulty under low steepness and lower difficulty under high steepness. We call it “the general rule of ble­fus­city”. An elegant rule of the universe. And the stars glisten.


What we cannot do as stage 11 Formal thinkers, and what most adult people actually never quite do during our lifetimes, is to relate several such formalized rules to one another and form one coherent system of thought.

This is partly where the MHC theory becomes so counter-intuitive that it loses many adherents: it just seems implausible. The simplest systems are such things as a “catch-22” or a feedback cycle, or a balance of two simul­taneous processes. Could it really be that almost 80% of all adult humans never think such thoughts or perform the corresponding actions? I will dis­cuss this in a section after the four major stages have been pres­ented. Suffice to note, at this point, that we are speaking of the ability to create original thoughts and behaviors of that stage. This means that, in a civilization that is global and has many, many millions of people inven­ting behaviors and concepts above stage 11 Formal, there will simply be so many higher stage actions and concepts around, which can be taught and performed with help, or simply misunderstood. So we tend to not notice that a minority of people are actually doing most of the more complex inventing.

If recognizing the “catch-22” as a concept is so easy, how come there wasn’t even a word for it before John Heller’s 1953 novel with that title? You may have read or heard of Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book Outliers, which points out the great significance that unusual, exceptionally talent­ed people called “outliers” have in society’s development – although he qui­ck­ly and fam­ously points out that such people always have good cir­cum­stances, that they put in 10 000 hours of practice, and always rely upon some help of their friends.

Or you may know of Clay Shirky’s 2008 book on the participatory pot­entials of the internet Here Comes Everybody, where he points out that, after all, only a small minority of the users of e.g. Wikipedia actually create the content. This may also be because relatively few people have complex enough understandings of many of the topics.

I agree with Michael Commons: it appears as though most people never construct complex systems of thought or behavior. But then again, most tasks in everyday life can be successfully managed with stage 10 Abstract and stage 11 Formal behaviors or below.

The challenge to stage 11 Formal thinking comes primarily when we deal with systematic issues of society, ecology, economy, organizations, social psychology and the like. For instance, we may have problems with seeing how the messiness in the college kitchen dorm is a result of syste­mic pro­perties of sharing a kitchen, rather than as someone’s breach of the rules. We tend to think that a single rule, or breach thereof, explains issues that indeed require us to consider the system as a whole.

Paul Haggis’ 2004 movie Crash focuses on issues of race and class in Los Angeles. It’s the darling film of sociologists, even with direct referen­ces to sociological research (the lines from the opening scene are directly taken from the American sociologist Jack Katz’s ethnography on road rage). The movie shows how the many characters are by themselves rel­at­ively innocent, each being a victim of their respective circumstan­ces – but the collective result of all the characters’ perceptions and actions crea­te a tense, racist and violent society.

Let’s just say that if the script writers were at stage 11 Formal, this mov­ie would have looked quite differ­ently, with a much more linear plotline and single-cause explanation of racism.


  • Writing a conclusion in an essay that ties the whole thing together and fruitfully compares it to other texts.
  • Pointing out the patterns of how plotlines evolve in stories of different gen­res and explaining the logic to why this is so.
  • Inventing new words or expressions for processes, rules or general prin­ci­ples.
  • Driving a large truck with multiple trailers (meaning, you have to con­sider how the trailers affect one another when you drive back­wards out of a garage, etc.).
  • Medical work with independent decision making (qualifying diagnosis, weighing, choosing and applying one or several treat­ments, etc.).
  • Economic journalism: how businesses are affected by changes in the eco­no­my, etc.
  • Accurately drawing 3D objects (without designing novel styles or art forms).
  • Artisanship or building that requires a planned idea and engineering or ph­ysics calculations.
  • Creating a map, and providing correct instructions on how to read it.
  • Teaching kids to read and write, using different methods for depen­ding on the characteristics of the children.


  • Anti-racist argument: Racism results from economic and social ineq­ua­l­­ities in society and causes further inequality and discrimina­tion.
  • Conservative argument: Some cultural norms followed by Arabs may be irreconcilable with Western civilization.
  • Feminist argument: Feminism is to apply the principles of gender equa­l­­ity and to make these principles prevalent throughout society.
  • Libertarian argument: The less state control, the better, except that main­­tain­­ing law and order is necessary. To establish law and order may temp­orarily require increased state control in “failed state” areas.
  • Green argument: The lacking proportionality between our em­phasis on human interests, especially those of rich people, and the interests of ani­mals and ecosystems, is what causes crises and destroys the en­vironment.
  • Day-to-day politics: I see a trade-off between high taxes and high spend­­ing, between low unemployment and high starting wages.


Generally, because of cognitive bias, stage 11 Formal thinkers will tend to like to stick with certain principles. Of course, sometimes finding the sim­ple principle or rule that guides the apparent messiness of reality can be a mark of much higher cognitive stages (think Newton). But if people like to stick with rules and principles not invented by themselves and they tend to make linear plans about the future and tend to focus on single if-this-then-that principles, you are probably dealing with stage 11 Formal thinking.

In politics, stage 11 Formal thinkers generally have a penchant for clear ideologies or doctrines: socialism, libertarianism and the like. They are likely to repeat one common wisdom, e.g. the conservative idea that things often go wrong when you try to be utopian or the radical idea that most social change has come through struggle.

Remember, this is the most common stage. Adult middle class people in a modern society will very often be of this stage of cognitive complex­ity. At this stage we don’t really produce our own theories or solutions, simply foll­owing the rules and habits set out by others. We can of course still be intell­igent (high IQ), artistic, imaginative, skilled and so forth.

Stage 12 Systematic

Who? Adult humans, or late adolescents.

How many? About 20% of a normal adult population in modern count­ries.

Intuitive example from science? Darwin’s theory of evolution (Darwin him­self was higher stage, of course).


As stage 12 Systematic thinkers we can coordinate several formal rules or simple equations (not necessarily in formalized, mathematical language, of course) to see how they form a larger system.

We can hence solve equations with several unknowns. You may rem­ember equation systems from high school math. This is a simple form of system, where we relate two linear equations to one another and thereby solve them (or determine that they cannot be solved or have different possible solutions).

But most people can pass these tests? Yes, of course: under the circum­stances where someone is walking us through the steps. But does our brain spontaneously and repeatedly create thoughts that relate to such syst­ems? In about 20% of us, it does. In most of us, it doesn’t.

If you look around at how our politicians and the electorate reason on various issues, or indeed even how much, if not most, of academic research is conducted, you notice that it does not really reason beyond stage 11 Formal models.


So we had the thing with blefuscity (ruggedness of cliffs), steepness and the difficulty of the climb: “the general rule of blefuscity”. Now let’s add another rule: the climber’s characteristics. The climber can be tall or short (with cor­re­sponding length of arms) and she can be a good or bad climber.

Are we just adding more factors to our equation? Is this not just more of the same? No. We are looking now at something completely different: how the entirety of the system (the climbing of the mountain) is affected by the interactions of two quite different sets of variables.

Let’s say that the climber generally is better at climbing if she’s taller. But then it turns out that this only holds true under some circumstances: some­times shorter arms and legs are better. Shorter legs are better when there is very small distance between each crack and protrusion in the cliff.

So now we have to break up the variable “blefuscity” into three const­ituent parts: the frequency, sharpness and size of the cracks/protrusions of the rock. At very high frequency (low distance between the cracks), short­er arms make for a better climber, and at medium or low frequency (grea­t­er distance between each of the cracks), longer arms are advant­ageous.

Also, the better the climber, the more she can use blefuscity to her adva­n­­t­age. In fact, the best climbers actually are demotivated by long, easy climbs, thus in practice climbing the more difficult mountains with great­er vigor and skill.

This makes us re-evaluate the “general rule of blefuscity” that our friend at stage 11 Formal formulated (that blefuscity makes for a more diff­i­cult climb unless it’s a very steep climb, in which the reverse is true). It turns out to be not-so-general after all: even steepness can make for an easier climb, because, together with the right kind of blefuscity, it motiv­ates the climber and breaks up the climb into manageable and interesting parts.

Here, at a view from stage 12 Systematic, we see that neither blefuscity, steep­ness nor indeed “difficulty”, were what they seemed. They are all so much more contextual than we would have thought.

Of course, in a discussion, the stage 10 Abstract thinker may appear more certain and common sense: blefuscity makes for a difficult climb! The syst­em­atic stage 12 thinker may seem less sure of herself, having to think longer, to explain herself more technically and wordily, but she has never­theless a much deeper understanding. And she can make for the best mountaineering. And she alone can formulate “the theory of mountain­eering”. Glory days.


But even as stage 12 Systematic thinkers, we are limited to thinking of one system at a time. We don’t see that systems follow fundamentally different logics.

So at the stage 12 Systematic we tend to want to squeeze everything one and the same coherent system, not being able to compare different syst­ems with quite different properties. If we are engineers, we tend to believe that the world consists of systems resembling engineering, if we are socio­logists we believe it is made up of social constructions and tend to misinterpret and under­value e.g. biology and psychiatry – and so on.

The main problem of many of the adult development theorists, from Jane Loevinger and Susanne Cook-Greuter to Robert Kegan, stems from the fact that their authors are at this cognitive stage. This is why their minds smash development into one unified model of one-dimensional development. They fail to see that there are different forms of develop­mental systems and that the logic of one such dimension cannot unprob­le­m­a­tically be applied to the others. These thinkers tend to have great existential depth (as discussed in the following chapters), but that does not cancel out their cognitive shortcomings.

So stage 12 Systematic cannot solve deep, wicked issues that span across sectors of society and the sciences. The high esteem that “inter­disciplinarity” holds within academia these days is really a vaguely form­ulated grasp for stage 13 Metasystematic solutions. Simply mixing panels with different scien­tists is only lip-service to the complexity of our day and age.


  • Writing a conclusion in an essay which criticizes and goes beyond the thinking presented in other comparable essays (teaching at uni­ver­sity level, I can say that only a few students manage to do this, even among the ones who study very hard).
  • Inventing a new form of plotline or genre within literature.
  • Inventing new words for theories, systems or “principles about prin­ciples”.
  • Overseeing the traffic system in a city, reducing risk, bottlenecks and poll­u­tion.
  • Medical work with applied critical thinking within science, com­paring different research results and perhaps putting forward novel theories and methods.
  • Critical investigative journalism: being able to see cracks and loopholes in the system and putting these in focus.
  • Accurately drawing or otherwise representing multidimensional obje­cts (including by successful use of the multiperspectivalism of (post-) modern art).
  • Artisanship or building that requires the creation of novel methods, app­lying physics or engineering in unconventional ways.
  • Providing instructions for creating good maps and how to provide instru­c­tion for reading them.
  • Comparing and inventing different methods for teaching kids to read and write.


  • Anti-racist argument: Racism is an emergent property of all soc­ieties and interacts with things like inequality. Blaming and pointing fingers is gene­rally unproductive and one should instead try to add­ress the long-term issu­es that may be causing ethnic tensions under these part­icular circum­stan­ces.
  • Conservative argument: There are challenges in reconciling West­ern and Islamic culture which depend on how these categories inter­act, rather than flaws inherent to either category.
  • Feminist argument: Feminism means to work towards a long-term equi­librium where self-reproducing inequalities have petered out and peo­ple of all sexes and gen­ders have less reason to feel insecure and frustrated.
  • Libertarian argument: State control and policy implementation tend to have unexpected and unwanted consequences as society is always more complex than we recognize. It is therefore good to be restrictive with reg­ula­tion and policy.
  • Green argument: There are serious systemic flaws in our economic syst­em that cause crises and may lead to ecological collapse.
  • Day-to-day politics: Public spending should carefully follow and counter international trends – this optimizes the labor market. But the labor market can unfortunately not be expected to function per­fect­ly; it always lets some people down.


Stage 12 Systematic thinkers will tend to have less rigid opinions but more rigid argumentations. So one way to spot them is simply to ask them quest­­ions about their opinions: if there are few rules of thumb and clear conclu­sions, but much weighing of different factors, it may be stage 12 Syst­ematic.

The stage 12 Systematic thinkers are often more inventive than others, so if the person has made unconventional innovations, this may indicate this stage.

But perhaps the easiest way may be by means of their cognitive biases: stage 12 Systematic thinkers tend to believe that the world consists of systems and their properties. So you find a strong bias towards explan­ations of this kind: structures, patterns, regularities, the economy, the biological body, Darwinian evolution, the gender norms and so forth.

Stage 13 Metasystematic

Who? Adult humans from early 20s and onwards.

How many? Only about 1.5-2% of a normal adult human population.

In the history of science and philosophy you might find ideas that embody this stage of complexity in relative recent branches such as general infor­m­­ation theory, cybernetics, complexity science, chaos theory, the systems sci­en­ces, metatheory (theory about theory), Wilberian integral theory and per­haps epigenetics. Of course, just studying these sciences doesn’t mean that the student is automatically a stage 13 Metasystematic thinker. And most of the innovators within these fields are of still higher cognitive stages (14 Para­digmatic or 15 Crossparadigmatic).

I will present this stage more briefly. The point is that the stage 13 Meta­systematic thinker is capable of com­paring the general properties of systems, naming these properties and reasoning about when they general­ize or not. Let’s jump right to the invented example.


We can observe then, that it is not blefuscity (and its sub-factors), even com­bined with steepness, that determines how good a climb (how much value, recreational or practical) we get. Nor is it the characteristics of the clim­ber that determines the climb. Rather, it is a property of the system as a whole: how well-aligned the different variables, across both systems (cliff and clim­ber), are to one another, with regard to value created by the cliff/climber syst­em as a whole. So the overall alignment of the system deter­mines the climb: not any single variable like blefuscity. Our previous ideas about ble­fus­city reveal themselves as “true, but partial”.

So we have added a term, alignment, to describe the system as a whole. Let’s expand that term: how much can you adjust the different variables so as to increase their alignment? We are now introducing an invented meta-syst­em­atic term: alignability.

The cliff/climber system has low alignability (a property of the system): it is difficult – or it has high cost – to change any one variable (to, for instance, make the cliff less rugged), and the different variables effect al­most no change upon one another. The low alignability of the cliff/ clim­ber system will only produce value in relatively few cases.

Compare this to another system: the market economy. Each of its parts is much more dependent on the other parts. Things like supply, demand, distrib­ution sys­tems, and legal frameworks change all the time. Because of the market system’s high alignability, it aligns into value-creating (and there­by behaviorally self-sustaining) equilibria all the time. It is not logic­ally necess­ary to have a market to produce food or to create other value – so there is no logical necessity for why markets should be so much more central to most humans than is mountaineering.

The reason that markets are much more prevalent and important is that there is a certain property of this system that e.g. mountaineering does not have: high “alignability”. If it were mountaineering that had such high align­ability, it would be more central: we could just align its different parts in ways that created more value. The market can steer the right people to the right mountains, with the right equipment and most other people to other acti­vities, such as skiing.

There is a long stretch between the stage 10 Abstract concept of “ble­fus­­city” and the Stage 13 Metasystematic concept of “alignability”. We have made a major climb, into more abstract heights, viewing the world from a much more ele­vated conceptual vantage point. We have traveled away from concrete reality: whereas “blefuscity” is an abstract concept, you can still see it with your eyes, feel it with your hands. And we have arrived at a much less tang­ible world: the “alignability” of systems and how it creates value.

We have also made conceptual leaps: from discussing relatively con­crete and small matters, to grasping a wider world.

And we have abandoned the topic (mountaineering). That’s what a cogni­tive advance often looks like: that which seemed so important at an earlier stage seems less so – and more contingent – when viewed from a higher cognitive vantage point.

From here, let’s go straight to the political reasoning examples.


  • Anti-racist argument: Racism emerges as different cultures and status hier­archies interact, where ethnic markers are used in order to increase one’s position in the status hierarchy. It should be pre­vented by the crea­tion of both greater psychological security and by the facilita­tion of prod­uctive dialogue about cultural differences.
  • Conservative argument: Liberal values prevalent in Western coun­tries may be more functional in late modern society than the more traditio­n­alist values of many Arab Muslims, but for the successful integration of these different cultures one must take the perspectives of all parties seri­ously.
  • Feminist argument: Feminism is an interest group movement as well as a social justice movement. As an interest group movement it must be weigh­ed aga­inst other interests and perspectives. As a social justice move­ment it must be coordi­nated with other social justice issues such as class, ethnicity, global inequality, other gender issues (including men’s issues), and the exploitation of animals and nature.
  • Libertarian argument: State control and policy implementation always interact with other societal systems and are dependent upon these for their successful functioning. It is thus important to care­fully weigh state regul­ation and policy against other possibi­lities: markets, culture, and civil sphere. State regulation is often not the best path ahead.
  • Green argument: The logic inherent to the economic system is funda­mentally alien to the logic of the ecosystems of the many bio­topes. This means that there is no self-regulating feedback cycle directly present bet­ween our eco­nomic and technological expansion and the eco­syst­ems upon which we depend. This lack of feedback means that we have to drive the ecosystem to collapse before the market self-adjusts. We must thereby create some other feedback, e.g. by means of policy, pub­lic awareness or cultural development.
  • Day-to-day politics: Public spending can be high or low, where higher spending is generally made possible by strong institutions such as rule of law, policing, democracy and free press. This keeps corruption down and allows for public support of spending and makes spending less wasteful. There is no one answer about high or low taxes; you have to coordinate it with the other societal systems.

Note that the different political stances at stage 13 Metasystematic gen­e­r­­ally have more in common with one another than with the corres­pond­ing ideological positions at the earlier stages. This has important implic­ations for metamodern politics.

And that concludes our brief guide to the four most important stages of cognitive adult development. There is more to it, but that’s all you need to know the basics.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, and the upcoming books ‘Nordic Ideology’ and ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of World History’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.

In Defense of Hierarchies among Humans

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘The Listening Society: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book One’. This is the first book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. What you will read below is from the chapter on stage theories; a chapter that presents the field of adult development and argues that it is the missing piece of the puzzle if we want to accomplish progressive change in society, and even less modestly, that we need to understand the various psychological stages if we are to save the world.

“A good behavioral and developmental psychology, one that recognizes the stages of human beings, is the missing piece of the puzzle for us to make society more rational and ethical.”

Of course, we’re not robots in the sense that we don’t have real feelings, thoughts and sensations. And the robot metaphor should not blind us to the depths and rich ecologies of our co-evolving minds and emo­tions. How­ever, it does underscore the very hard facts of behavioral science. We are not free and rational individuals who you can just talk into one ratio­nal conclus­ion or another, thereby dramatically altering our social values and behaviors. For any moral philosophy, you must consider who, when, what and where: are we talking about children, or cats, or mice, or edu­cated people, or rich people, or scared people, or mentally disabled peo­ple, in Denmark or Saudi Arabia? Such questions generally fall into the background of humanist, analytical phil­os­ophy – and, unfortunately, of continental philosophy as well. There is no “default human” from which moral philosophy can start.

One of the most important aspects of understanding behavior, human or animal, instrumental or moral, and what can reasonably be expected from an organism, is the overall developmental stage of that organism. That’s where develop­mental psychology comes in handy – and, in parti­cular, the stages of adult development. As I mentioned in the introduction to this book, before a person understands this part, they tend to have great trouble grasp­­ing what meta­­modern­ politics is.

A good behavioral and developmental psychology, one that recognizes the stages of human beings, is the missing piece of the puzzle for us to make society more rational and ethical.

Developmental stage, aye? But who is to say that someone or something is of a “higher” or “more advanced” stage of development? Maybe ants are more advanced than people, just in ways we wouldn’t think of? Children towering far above their parents in their intensively alive experience of the human condition? The Jarawa tribes folk of the Andaman Islands leading lives far beyond anything a modern professor in Mexico or China could ever imagine?

”Without the insight that humans can be described with subsequently unfolding developmental stages, you are driving in developmental blindness. It’s worse than drunk driving. And it kills or harms considerably more people, literally speaking.”

Don’t Fall Victim to Developmental Blindness

But development does matter, and it can be studied in coherent and reli­able ways. The terrible truth is this: Adult human beings are not equals. We are as differ­­ent from one another as adults from children, albeit in various ways and in different regards.

This is a trivial point when it comes to single skills: I have friends who lift more than four times what I can on the bench press, some who read at more than three times my speed, some that speak twice as many lang­uages, some that know more medicine than I could dream of, some that have much, much higher IQ, some that are much better at making money (and can easily make a dozen times or more than me in a given period), some who write books at five times my speed (I kid you not) and so on.

There is no reason to believe that we do not also vary greatly in terms of overall developmental stages (the four dimensions being cognitive develop­ment, cult­ural coding, state and depth, that I discuss in my book The Listening Society).

And this makes all the difference when it comes to under­standing pol­itics and society, even personal relationships. This scientifically uncontro­versial – but politically very sensitive – insight is central to under­standing behavior. Understanding the developmental stages of humans is manda­tory for all who seek to change and develop soc­iety. With­out the insight that humans can be described with subsequently unfolding devel­op­mental stages, you are driving in developmental blind­ness. It’s worse than drunk driving. And it kills or harms con­siderably more people, literally speaking.

So in the second part of my book we work through ten chapters disc­uss­­ing what personal, psychological development can mean. The bogey­­man here is of course the H-word. I’ve addressed it before, but now we must stop to face it full frontal.

Hierarchy. We are introducing hierarchy into the study of human beings; sci­entifically supported and enduring – but not immutable – hierarchy. Some people are just much more developed, more evolved, than others. Ouch.

“Introduce hierarchy! Who would do such a thing? And why? Is it not a pretext for claiming that some people should be put above and beyond others, some unfair privileges unduly legitimized? After all, we are still work­ing hard all over the world to get rid of the postcolonial heritage, of male privilege, white privi­lege, Eurocentrism, the exploit­ation of the global South, discrimination against animals, anthro­pocentrism in relation to the rest of the biosphere and the many hidden injuries of class! And you want to discuss hierarchy? What demonic purpose would possess you to invoke such forbidden phantoms? I forbid it! Do not venture into this research of adult development! Do not go there to see with your own eyes! In the name of equality, choose ignorance! Do not ask forbidden quest­ions!”

You are correct, dear reader. This can be bad news. And it’s even worse than that. Once we open the Pandora’s Box of hierarchy – who knows what might come out of it? New sources of neurotic self-blame? New ideologies of domi­nation? Exploitation under the auspices of scientific legitimacy? Eugen­ics? A new class society, like the one in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, where the popul­ation is divided into bio-engineered castes? Shiver me tim­bers.

Despite these risks, all of which I fully acknowledge, I am convinced that we are better off with a sound deve­lop­mental stage per­spective than without one. And to study development, we must admit that there are hier­archies – that some opinions, behaviors or psyches are, at least in some sense, more developed. It is possible to take this stance without being an asshole.

The risks associated with developmental blind­ness are simply so much greater, the consequences so much more harmful. I contend, without blink­ing, that an understanding of the stages of human develop­ment is key to eman­ci­pation, to freed­om and equality in the globalized internet age. In this strange new wonder­­­land, the developmentally blind become the oppressors, much like Christ­ianity went from being a liberating force to having its own landed elites and an inquisition. A progress­ive thinker and activist of today must know and accept hier­archy; a rebel heart must love hier­archical dev­elop­­ment – and use it, against all masters, against all unjust hier­archies, and against the chaos and entropy inherent to the cosmos.

Wait a minute; I don’t think you heard me. Didn’t I say it slowly, didn’t I make it clear? I am saying that if you fail to understand hierarchies and hum­an devel­opment, you end up being primitive, conserv­ative and oppress­­ive. You, not I, are the oppressor. You speak the language of opp­ression.

Let me explain some important principles to clarify this. Being pro hier­archy only makes progress­ive sense if you meticulously apply these eight principles. So here’s a user’s guide.

”The point is not to obsess about hierarchy. The point is that if you see hierarchies clearly and don’t imbue them with emotional value, you can relate to them in a more rational and detached manner.”

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Hierarchy

    1. Non-judgment. The first principle is that stages of development in humans and other organ­­­isms must be studied in the light of a radical accept­ance, a pervasive non-judgment – much like Christianity (in its liberating for­ms) teaches, really. Every creature has an inalienable right to be who she is, even the least likable among us. So when­ever you see far­ther than some­one else, whenever you are more ethical or intelligent or sensitive, you are mani­festing a privilege over that creature. The reason that she is not like you is that you are more privil­eged, at least in that particular regard. Even things you learned through suffer­ing, and insights or capabilities that are painful to bear, in some sense put you at an advantage. When you acknowledge this hier­archy, you are no longer judg­ing. The pers­pective shifts from judging people for not being like us (damning all who are racist, not socialist, un­educated, not environ­mentally minded, not sensitive, not good listeners, etc.), to trying to give a universal account for why our own position is better than theirs (why it would trump their position on their own terms) and explaining why the same insight or capability is not available to them at this time. Such explana­tions can be: it’s just a kid, he didn’t have the chance to learn this, she wasn’t allowed the peace of mind to think this through, he’s in a too pre­carious position to allow himself to think along these lines – etc. In this way, the acceptance of hier­archy serves non-judgment and forgiveness.
    2. Not a moral order. The second principle is that the developmental sta­ges do not constitute a moral order, in which a higher or later stage would be morally “more worth” than a lower or earlier one. For instance, as we will see in the next chapter, kids generally are of lower cognitive stage than adults – but they of course have the same priceless value. And they can often be kinder and “better people” than adults, more honest, empathetic, etc. The jury is still out on who should count as morally valuable or not, but a good starting point might still be Jeremy Bentham’s old “…the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?”.
    3. Natural and dominator hierarchies. The third principle is that there is a difference between natural hierarchies and dominator hierar­chies. Domin­ator hierarchies are the ones that you cannot find any universal arguments for and that are used to legitimize expl­oit­ation: men over women, whites over non-whites, H&M (the clothing store) customers and stock owners over Bangladeshi sweatshop workers, hum­ans over non-human animals, nobility over commoners, masters over slaves. Natural hier­archies are different – no exploitation is inherent to the hierarchy; it builds on a universal argument that benefits all parties, and it is limited to the specific area in which that benefit can be argued for. Examples: student driver and driving instructor (probably the clearest and best example), child and parent, patient and doctor, pupil and teacher. Of course, each of these natural hierarchies can be misused, the power imbalance exploited for other purposes (if the doctor wants sex for medicine, etc.) – but that is not in itself inherent to the definition of the hier­archy. Developmental hierarchies can, if used corr­ectly, support such natural hierarchies. Remember, however: all dom­i­nator hier­­archies disguise them­­­selves as natural ones, to make them app­ear as “the triple-N” of all hidden oppression: Natural, Normal, Necessary.
    4. Does not transmit. The fourth principle is that the hierarchy does not transmit to other, irrele­vant areas or power relations. They should not give “halo effects”. For instance, that you are at a higher cognitive stage than me, doesn’t mean you should get lower taxes or sleep with my wife. Also, I can still be a much better figure skater, listener or math­ematician than you are, even if you are able to think more complex thoughts – in which case I still deserve recognition for my talents. Developmental stage is not the same as skill.
    5. Humility. The fifth principle is humility. Hierarchical models with sev­eral stages are more humble, not less, than non-hierarchical visions of reality. Let’s say for instance that you, giving yourself medals for being noble defen­der of plurality and equality, are “against” hierarchical stage models in science and human­ities. You are thereby in effect creating a hier­archy your­self: the people who have your opinion are placed “above” the people who don’t – it’s better to be against hierarchy than to be for it, right? The very preference creates a two-step hierarchy, in a sense. By doing that you just made several moves that are anything but humble. To start with, you are redu­cing the rich­ness of possible answers to just your own position “and all others”. This means that you are squeezing together many, perhaps very qual­itatively diff­er­ent, answers and labeling them under one category (the non-correct one). There is just your way or the highway, and no internal ranking is possible between all the other possible answers. You are also precluding all possib­ilities of there being stages above your own – because there only are two stages, and you’re already at the higher one. So you don’t need to learn from others, right? But hier­archical stage models that have more stages don’t allow for these mistakes: you are obliged to describe all the relevant stages, how they relate to one another, and you must always admit that there can be higher stages than your own, stages that you don’t yet under­stand. Rather counter-­intuitively, hier­archy, under­stood correctly, serves open­ness and hum­ility towards the pers­pectives of others.
    6. Different dimensions. The sixth principle is simply to know that hierar­ch­­ical stage theories of human devel­op­ment have different dimen­sions and that development in one dimension does not necessarily trans­late into devel­opment within another. The dimensions do interact, how­ever – as we shall see in the coming chapters. In fact, you will find, the development of one dimen­sion can possibly even hamper development in another dimension.
    7. Sensitivity. The seventh principle is sensitivity. One must recognize that all hierarchies can and do hurt people’s feelings. After all, nobody likes con­tinuously being picked last for the football team. And when you reveal endur­ing, deep-seated devel­op­mental structures that describe vast, qualitative diff­erences between real people, it tends to make some feel elated and others degraded – most of us are, after all, not at the highest stages of human devel­opment. That some­body is at a “higher stage” than me, somehow tends to hurt more than the fact that someone has higher grades, has higher IQ, or lifts heavier weights. Develop­mental hierarchies are just an extremely sensitive topic. What does it feel like to recognize that someone I know genuinely understands deeper aspects of reality than I do? Or that I am less morally developed than another person, a person who adheres to values and ideals that are lost on me? That my mind is more or less permanently incapable of doing what you do routinely? It hurts, quite simply. Maybe not if I think of Einstein at great dist­ance, but if I realize that this younger, junior colleague is hier­archically above me, and that the distance is qualitative and permanent, it tends to really hurt in soft places deep within. So – to deal with these issues, we have to be very emotionally sensitive to everyone involved. The sensi­tivity of this topic is probably, by the way, the main reason that this field of research hasn’t gone farther: nobody wants to be an insensitive prick.
    8. Not all there is. The eighth and last principle is that stages of develop­ment are important, but they are obviously not all there is to life, knowledge, talent and meaning, and so they should only be treated as useful psycholo­gical tools, never be rever­ed as anything more than that. Just as you can be blind by not under­standing the stages of human development, so you can be blinded by staring too much at them. Like the sun, really: without it, you walk in darkness – but if you keep staring at it all day, you also go blind. It’s when the sun shines on other things that you see them more clearly.

So you need to remember these eight principles for hierarchy to make sen­se in a progressive, egalitarian manner. But all in all – not understand­ing the hier­archical stages of human develop­ment leaves you more judg­mental, more pre­judiced, more arrogantly narrow-minded, less com­pet­ent to under­stand and empathize with others, and less likely to success­fully interpret and predict behaviors (and the events in society). And in order to understand the stages of human development you must admit that they are, at least in some ways, hier­archically ordered. Thus, deal­ing with hierarchy is not a “necessary evil”; no, it is simply an evil to refuse. Hier­archy, correctly understood, serves the grea­ter good. Again, this only holds true, of course, if we follow the eight princip­les outlined above. Other­wise we can end up legiti­mizing dominator hierarch­ies, contrib­uting to opp­ression of all sorts.

The point is not to obsess about hierarchy. The point is that if you see hierarchies clearly and don’t imbue them with emotional value, you can relate to them in a more rational and detached manner. There is no need to pretend that we are the driving instructor when we are the student driver – and both parties benefit. The aim here is of course to create a more equal and egalitarian soc­iety, where hierarchy matters less, and only in ways that make sense.

If you still don’t like where this is going, I think your heart will soften once you – by reading my book The Listening Society – see the direction in which the hier­archical development goes: towards greater inclus­ivity, understanding and accep­tance of others and towards challenging one’s own certainty.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, and the upcoming books ‘Nordic Ideology’ and ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of World History’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.