• J.S. Mullen

Subverting and Inverting the Dominant Hierarchy of Values: Peterson and Derrida


Having read both his books and listened to several of his talks, as well as having tuned in to several debates in which he has featured prominently, it occurred to me that among Dr. Peterson’s already large and seemingly ever-growing audience there may be those not directly familiar enough with the work of Jacques Derrida to fully appreciate the nuance and extent behind why the French philosopher is so often the target of Dr. Peterson’s ire. Because while Peterson makes clear arguments for why it is that Derrida makes it difficult (even impossible) to talk about the Truth, he never, at least to my knowledge, fully explains how Derrida’s most singularly famous brainchild, Deconstruction, is primarily focused on subverting and inverting Dr. Peterson’s beloved dominance hierarchies.


Deconstruction seeks to destabilize the binary relationship between dominant/in concepts and identities from those that are repressed/subordinated/out. I have found that in explaining the concept of Deconstruction an illustration is handy:




The way the binary relationships are subverted and broken down is by focusing on two things: first, apparent exceptions and contradictions to the existing dominant hierarchy of values, concepts, and identities; and second, to illustrate how it doesn’t matter whether we look at the dominant or suppressed term, at whatever level of our pyramid exampled above, we find that who or what a concept or identity is is defined in large part by its inextricable social, linguistic, economic, philosophical, political, and historical relationships to the opposing term. Lightness and darkness, men and women: one concept cannot be defined without the other. They each carry within them a trace of the other. And, the argument goes, as it is only a matter of historical happenstance that power structures have come to be the way that they are these structures are arbitrary, and further illegitimate in many cases because of perceived violence and exploitation by the dominant group, victimizing the marginalized out groups.


Thus we see the subsequent inversion of the hierarchy, as it is argued that social justice demands that the hitherto dominant exploitive group yield its hegemonic social position atop the hierarchy in favor of the formerly exploited and marginalized.


Based on the above, it should be easy to see why Derrida’s work is anathema to Dr. Peterson. For Derrida, all roles, categories, structures, and concepts are arbitrary, contextually dependent entities. And, further, making a claim to the preeminence of your own particular view of the way the world is on any basis other than that it is your own and your preferred choice is not to make a valid proposition.


Basically, this runs to the core of everything Dr. Peterson argues against.


By no means an exhaustive treatment, I still hope this proves helpful.


J.S. Mullen

2020

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