Some “encountering” enthusiasts blamed the only-partial success of the social movements of the 1960s for their turn away from politics. Many asked what the point was of critiquing a system so thoroughly corrupt. They decided to seek personal empowerment instead of political empowerment, and freeing themselves of their emotional “baggage” became their preoccupation.
Others saw turning inward as a natural extension of New Left philosophy. If the personal was political, then it made sense that in order to change the world they first had to find out who they were. Identity, as I have shown, has always been a critical part of movement rhetoric, whether it was the civil-rights movement, the women’s movement, or the antiwar movement. The me generation took the 1960s emphasis on identity one step further (or backward, depending upon one’s perspective).
— Eva Moskowitz, In Therapy We Trust: America’s Obsession with Self-Fulfillment
I’ve said before that the Great Awokening of our time can’t be understood merely as a reprise of ’60s political radicalism; the self-help/therapeutic/recovery movement ran parallel to it, and continues to do so today. As we’ve all seen, hashtag political gestures like BLM and MeToo are now seamlessly interwoven with demands for safe spaces and the abolition of “hate speech.” Many people have observed that activist politics is becoming more like a religion, and while there’s some value in that comparison, I think it’s probably more accurate to say that those parallel tracks have converged, and activists today treat politics as a form of group therapy, and vice versa. Righteous political action makes the world a better place while also healing the personal wounds suffered under oppressive conditions. If nothing else, it alleviates ennui.
In reflecting on that unholy combination, it also strikes me that perhaps the main reason why the left-wing clerisy has reacted with ambivalence at best, if not uncharitable hostility, toward Jordan Peterson, is because he challenges both aspects of this Janus-faced worldview at the same time. Not only does he insist that egalitarianism is merely a softer, slower totalitarianism, but his phenomenally-popular “self-help” book advocates a stoic, tragic ideal which encourages personal responsibility and self-confidence rather than narcissistic navel-gazing and finger-pointing. The fact that young men in particular have taken to his message with voracious enthusiasm is maddening to those academics who would prefer them to be “deconstructing masculinity” under their expert supervision instead. How many of these useless middlemen would be out of work if the general public finally stopped being receptive to their message? Hundreds of thousands? Millions? No wonder they’ve moved on to associating Peterson with Nazism; to them, it’s like he’s trying to commit intellectual genocide.