Gregory Desilet Answers Jordan Peterson on Derrida; + Prisoner of Infinity Primer video

After my conversation with Gregory Desilet (part two up today), I sent him a passage from Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life, which I was reading for my current investigation into the JBP phenomenon (see video below). Desilet gave a considered response so I include both here with Greg’s permission. I don’t know enough about Derrida to have formed any kind of opinion about him as yet.


Peterson is a smart guy who has some interesting ideas. Some of his concerns about postmodernist thinkers may be justified but in the case of Derrida he just does not know what he is talking about. He makes mistakes with Derrida that are very common among those who have not taken the trouble to really read Derrida and understand the complexity of his thinking. Everything Peterson says, for example, about Derrida claiming “that divisiveness and oppression were built right into language” is complete nonsense. Derrida does not say anything of the sort. Peterson is misunderstanding Derrida where Derrida is speaking of the traditional metaphysics of oppositional relations, where traditional dichotomies such as essence/accident, presence/absense, mind/body, male/female, etc. are structured hierarchically such that one side is privileged over the other with regard to its inherent value. This is NOT something “built right into language” but rather a way of structuring oppositions peculiar to the traditional metaphysics Derrida is critiquing. Nothing in language causes humans to value one side more than the other in these oppositions. To illustrate this one need only think of the Taoist dichotomy yin/yang where each side is valued equally, thus manifesting a very different metaphysical orientation toward opposites. The view of opposites Derrida champions in deconstruction resembles this view of opposites, which is as much a “product” of language, if anything is, as the traditional Western view.

The purveyance of these kinds of errors with regard to Derrida’s thinking was extremely exasperating for him and he conveyed this to me when I spoke with him in 1993. Peterson’s view of “Il n’ya a pas de hors-texte” is even more troubling. He is correct to say that what this means is that “everything is interpretation.” But he is outrageously incorrect in believing this constitutes some kind of nihilistic view or that it “negates the idea that distinctions might be drawn between things for any reasons other than that of raw power.” This is so far removed from anything Derrida is saying as to be laughable. If any postmodern thinker says anything similar to this it would be Foucault, though I really don’t think he ought to be read that way either. The notion that everything is interpretation derives from the circumstance that everything in the world may be seen to present itself to humans and other life forms as a sign. This is the case because every living thing “reads” what it encounters as within an environment or broader context, including its own capacity for memory and learning relevant to its survival. The context in which what is encountered is experienced depends on many factors that may potentially be taken into consideration depending on the nature of the life form and its potential for awareness. For humans, language is a specialized addition to perception and communication enhancing awareness. Everything turns out to be interpretation because the context in which anything is experienced is not rigid, bounded, and singular for each person but rather dependent on the artificial finite construction of an infinite context. This construction of context is a generalization of context rendering it “familiar” so that life forms can attach meaning to the objects in the context. If it were otherwise, it would be impossible to “read” or make sense of anything because each and every experience would be unique and singular and any form of learning or generalizing of experience would be impossible. To generalize is to interpret.

Contrary to what Peterson claims, what Derrida says does not imply anything like “categorization is just exclusion.” What Derrida says implies instead that the problem of categorization or the application of words is one of inclusion not exclusion. Every word and every text has MORE THAN ONE viable way of being read. In other words, texts do not exclude multiple readings and cannot do so. To think otherwise is to suppose the nature of the connection between sign and meaning to be a causal relation whereby the sign, as stimulus, evokes only one possible response. Were this the case, signs could not function beyond one temporal, unique context and would have no capacity for being repeated in other contexts.

In other words, in my opinion Peterson completely misunderstands the essence of what Derrida says in his early texts on language. But this is not unusual. The same kinds of misunderstandings have occurred with countless others. If you want to see a detailed analysis of mine regarding another academic who completely misses how to understand Derrida go here:

That everything counts as a sign means that everything is interpretation.Does this mean “there are no facts”? No, it only means that what has in the past been called a “fact” is now understood to mean “the currently most compelling interpretation” according to a community of language users. This “fact” could change tomorrow depending on the possible introduction of compelling new information. For example, a UFO sighting reported by someone on a given day may be taken as a “fact” as a sighting. But it might become a sighting of an “aircraft identified as alien” instead of a UFO if sufficient evidence is provided to induce a new “most compelling interpretation.” But even this new “fact” remains open to further change depending on further possible new information. For the true scientist every “fact” and every theory for accounting for the fact (its artificial context) remain forever open to new information that might modify the fact by inducing a new interpretation. For the true scientist there are no brute facts, only interpretations.


New video on Whitley Strieber, Jeffrey Kripal, Jordan Peterson’s Maps of Meaning, MKULTRA, Psychedelics, & the New Age Cultural Revification Project


7 thoughts on “Gregory Desilet Answers Jordan Peterson on Derrida; + Prisoner of Infinity Primer video

  1. As he does with Derrida he does with Piaget… He weaves Piaget through his lectures and I think, does he really understand Piaget? Did he like most scholars read ABOUT Piaget, but not his work directly? It doesn’t sound like it to me.

  2. Jordan “psychopaths get found out pretty fast” Peterson is doing the same thing as the people that created the bible, completely rewriting and repurposing old stories for his own profit. He does it with everything he references, especially Solzhenitsyn. (

    • This lecture proves my point precisely! Jordan does not understand Piaget’s metaphysical monads (or he does and he is perpetuating Piaget’s deception purposefully). What few realize is that Piaget’s use of words had their own private meanings. Considering Piaget’s Metaphysical Absolute he has for example 31 synonyms for the word Organism, 46 synonyms for Intelligence, 33 for System. What is attributed to Piaget is not the work of Piaget!

  3. Ongoing Faceborg discussion:

    Keith Zavatski this analysis is fantastic and brilliantly exposes how JP oversimplifies things creating a strawman to serve his agenda

    Jasun Ley-Hors How familiar are you with Derrida? (I’m not) Also with JBP’s material? Have you listened to Maps of Meaning lectures? What would you say is JBP’s agenda?

    Keith Zavatski I’m no expert in Derrida but I did study him as part of my philosophy degree so familiar enough to know he is commonly misunderstood intentionally or not. I haven’t read any of JBPs books just things online and a few dozen hours of interviews and lectures but not the MOM lectures. His agenda appears to be to attack the left by conflating the excesses of the campus pc left with both postmodernism and the left in general.

    Jasun Ley-Hors JPB’s agenda is much more far-reaching than that: he is presenting a new-old framework for morality, towards cultural revivification and social stabilization, sourced in Bible stories mashed together with Nietzschean philosophy, Jungian psychology, and Darwinian science. Whatever you do with JPB, don’t underestimate him!

    Znore While JBP’s misconstrual of JD’s ideas borders on the absurd. It reeks of an “agenda” itself.

    Keith Zavatski “all we do is trade power games, because that’s another one of his claims” and Derrida is “pathological to the core” lol

    Jasun Ley-Hors & his eyes bug out when he says it

    Znore While And Derrida wants to destroy society. Wasn’t it Thatcher that denied society?

    Jasun Ley-Hors “There is no society, only the individual.” Ironic coz JBP is a) all about the individual; and b) all over how great Western society is for raising up the individual to sovereign status.

    Keith Zavatski but he also believes that the current capitalist system is the best environment to promote the individual so the individual must bend to this system.

    Jasun Ley-Hors lol; paraphrasing freely there, KZ!

    Keith Zavatski whoops, I just repeated what you said in B, lol.

    Jasun Ley-Hors Can you say more Znore? If JBP understands JD so poorly, why zero in on him so relentlessly? Most people (Rogen included) have never heard of much less read Derrida. And if, as Gregory Desilet says, Derrida dissociated himself from postmodernism, why use JD as a fall guy for postmodernism when there are much more fitting targets? Lot of questions, sorry for the barrage, but it’s perplexing how/why JBP got such a bee in his bonnet here.

    Znore While I’m also perplexed about this. JBP takes Derrida as the most dangerous threat to Western Civilization. I mean, I can remember people saying similar baseless things about Derrida when he was really hot in the early ’90s, but I have no idea why Peterson tries to recycle these discredited claims now. I can only imagine that JBP is crafting his message to Rogan and his audience and to people even less informed as a simple good v. evil narrative with a fixed evil ideology (postmodern neo-Marxism AKA cultural Marxism) and headed by a sinister and darkly nihilistic mastermind (Derrida). Mythology as cartoon.

    Jasun Ley-Hors From my own perspective, as I said to Greg, some of the most repellent ideas being pushed now in the leftist discourse (ie, biological sex is less real even than a social construct) can be sourced, to whatever degree, in postmodern sophistries (or sophistic mangling of postmodern premises); so it could be that JBP is playing into a growing feeling of outrage, exasperation, and disgust, by first giving it an ideological context (po-mo) and then naming the supposed mastermind behind that, knowing that nothing unifies so much as a well-selected scapegoat?

    Znore While I think this is exactly what he’s is doing, at least since he has become a public figure over the last couple of years. What seems to piss off people most about the current “left” is the promotion of identity politics, funded and supported by establishment “liberals” in the Democratic party and its equivalents in other countries, to the detriment of the left’s original focus on overturning the demonstrably unjust class system. JBP plays into this outrage, but grafts this onto an attack of revolutionary politics in general, which he equates with Stalinism/Maoism. Additionally, he claims that this switcheroo to identity politics was masterminded by the postmodernists (enter the dire Derrida) to slip in Marxism through the back door. But the problem is that postmodernism is an anti-essentialism — everything is contextual — yet ID politics is nothing if not essentialist. Whatever coherence exists in MofM gets lost in this intellectual morass which only functions as propaganda/publicity/book sales.

    Keith Zavatski yes, “postmodernism is an anti-essentialism”. this is critical to understand. if you have someone who claims to have been born the wrong sex, for example, this is essentialism and has nothing to do with postmodernism by definition.

    Gregory Desilet I just listened to a couple of YouTube clips of JBP and it’s clear he is quite passionate in his campaign toward something, I’m not yet sure what. His statement that Derrida is “pathological to the core” is disturbing. I could understand saying something like that in private to someone else as a joking way of exaggerating dislike for someone but I can’t understand saying such a thing about anyone in a public context. That kind of statement about Derrida is indefensible.

    I met and spoke with Derrida twice at Irvine in the early 1990s and so got to know him a little and his kindness, generosity with his time, and his hospitality were remarkable. He could become bitter and strike back in anger on occasion as he did in response to Searle in the 70s and those who prematurely sought to “hang” Paul de Man in the late 80s, but these provocations were extreme.

    Derrida’s philosophy does much for standing up for the marginalized, as JBP acknowledges, but Derrida was very careful in how he applied his deconstructive moves. For example, he told me he was not happy with the way in which his views were being used by many feminist activists. Which is not to say Derrida was a defender of patriarchy. He was very careful and meticulous in how he would approach a deconstruction of hierarchies, made no generalizations in this regard, and sought to attend to the unique elements of each situation.

    JBP’s broad characterization of him with regard to hierarchy and oppression has an element of accuracy, which is what makes it dangerous, but Derrida was no standard or even exceptional or unique kind of “Marxist.” In fact, one of the questions I put to Derrida in my first meeting with him related to the book Marxism and Deconstruction by Michael Ryan and after he read a passage or two in this book he said to me that he did not understand how Ryan could say what he was saying. Derrida was highly critical of most orthodox interpretations of Marxism and for many years refused to write about Marx because he did not want to be associated with this tradition.

    Desilet: I don’t want in the least to be perceived as backtracking on my defense of Derrida, but I would like to make clear some thoughts about postmodernism. In some measure I can sympathize with JBP’s reaction to postmodernism with respect to certain effects it has generated in higher education in the United States. Philosophy departments had little to do with these effects but instead they were manifested predominantly in English departments and departments of Comparative Literature in textual studies and critical theory. People in these arenas took to Derrida like fish to water but read his ideas in very reductive and simplified ways and consequently applied them in ways that were often shocking to Derrida.

    Derrida is given considerable blame for the PC movement and every kind of extreme textual interpretation and obfuscating form of theory jargon. But to place blame on Derrida for these developments is like placing blame on Nietzsche for Nazism. In the hands and mouths of people who have radical political agendas and who are concerned less with meanings and more with hierarchies, Derrida’s texts can be warped and used in many ways he would not and never did authorize (and often condemned).

    Many areas of Derrida’s thinking require careful reading of his texts and study of background texts to fully understand and adequately appreciate. Unfortunately for him, he is easy to misunderstand as when statements he makes such as “There is nothing outside the text” get read out of context and through misleading translation of the original French.

    Some of JBP’s criticisms of postmodernism and its effects on higher education may have merit and are worthy of discussion and debate. But Jasun is correct to suggest that he is wrong to make of Derrida the scapegoat for these ills in academia. And especially to go so far as to say “Derrida is pathological to the core.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

    Understood properly, Derrida and his approach to language in general and to texts in particular is very much what ought to be emulated in academia. Doing so would help considerably in taking away the notion of “sacred” texts and opening texts to the kind of study and exploration many of the great texts of the canon invite and deserve. Derrida has, for example, opened Plato, one of the great icons of the canon, to new and more complex understanding which further readings confirm. Plato is far richer than the theory of forms would suggest. And it would seem JBP completely overlooks this aspect of Derrida, which not only shows Derrida’s respect for the canon but also his ability to read it anew and make it come alive again for new generations. This is what education is all about and I suspect JBP would ultimately agree.

    Jasun Ley-Hors & this last point describes what JBP is attempting with his own project, using the Bible stories. Which suggests that his scapegoating of Derrida has to do with mimetic rivalry, in the Girardian sense. In other words, it is the similarities between JD & JBP that give rise to JBP’s hostility….?

    Keith Zavatski…/local-liberal-arts…/

    Local liberal arts campus closed for deconstruction – The Beaverton

    Jasun Ley-Hors I thought this was a joke till I clicked on it

    Jason Barrera Section 5.2 of Maps of Meaning is all about the psychopathology of fascism and describes Peterson to a T in his Quixotic crusade against Cultural Bolshevism. The man has succumbed to the ideological petrification that comes with age, and no amount of hair transplants will cover the worms invading his brain.

    (“The fascistic mode of adaptation is, above all, a method for the direct control of the unknown and unpredictable. Modern human beings, like the ancients, identify the stranger implicitly with the dragon of chaos. The stranger acts unpredictably, and thinks unpredictable things—things which might have dramatic and unsettling effect, if they were allowed full expression. Extreme conservatism allows for restriction of uncertainty, for evasion of the unknown. It performs this function by ensuring that each member of the group acts, imagines and thinks precisely like every other member (generally, precisely like the leader—a dark parody of the hero). In times of heightened uncertainty, periods of increased unemployment or unsettled political structure, the call for return to the “glorious past” therefore always arises. The fascist, dominated by his fear, believes that the world should only be order, because disorder is too frightening to consider. This makes the cosmos he creates—when granted the opportunity—a place of endless sterility and machinelike organization. This increased conformity allows at least for the temporary alleviation and restriction of anxiety, but damages the capacity of the group (his group, that is) to respond flexibly to inevitable change. It is as if, to use a biological metaphor, the fascist strives to force all the genetic diversity out of his “species.” No diversity means no variance in response to new challenges; means one solution (likely the wrong one) to every problem. The suppression of deviance, of the unknown, therefore merely ensures its irrepressible emergence in negative guise, at some undetermined point in the future (as problems ignored do not go away, but get worse, as they follow their own peculiar developmental path). The order the fascist imposes, therefore, bears within it the seeds of its own destruction.”—JBP)

    Znore While Ha! Perfect match — even down to his present prescription of “An Antidote to Chaos.”

    Jasun Ley-Hors That problems ignored get worse is true enough; but formulating antidotes to problems presupposes they are fully understood, & guarantees the creation of exponentially worse problems. See…/high-road-to-hell…/ This is the social engineering template in a nutshell, and JBP is openly advocating social engineering as a solution.

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