A strange thing happened…

At the end of last year I eluded to “the derailment of 2019”. I was planning, at length in 2018, and possibly well into 2019, to examine three texts: Kate Manne’s Down Girl, Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules, and Karl Jung’s Man and His Symbols. I’ll still look further into Man and His Symbols and other Jungian material later, but Down Girl and 12 Rules won’t be getting the same treatment. It probably helps that Jung never got onto Twitter.

But first, a few summarized opinions regarding my reading of Manne and Peterson over the period:

  • Kate Manne’s criticism of 12 Rules (in the now hard-to-link-to Reconsider The Lobster*) seemed fair, and sufficiently accurate for the reaction of both Peterson and his fans to be regarded as hyperventilation.
  • I’m more than a little sympathetic to the treatment Manne gives to the phenomena of “himpathy” in Down Girl. More generally, this tacit deal where men are supposed to supply supererogatory sympathy to other men, not just in terms of sexual misconduct, shits me.
  • 12 Rules isn’t terrible in as far as most of its advice goes, but when I find it’s useful it just seems a rephrasing of something I’m already on-board with. The trick, it seems, is seducing you into thinking you’d not already realized these things yourself. In terms of justifications and explanations – cue lobsters, seretonin just-so stories and bowdlerized narratives about young male angst – I find the book particularly weak.
  • Peterson isn’t a fascist, he’s just a generic conservative. Some of the hyperbolic criticisms of Peterson seem devoid of historical perspective, and suffused with more than just a jot of social media tribalism.
  • I’m beginning to think that of all the Intellectual Dark Web types, Peterson may be the most sincere, and that he may harbour suspicions about the character of the other IDW members. (There are some glaring narcissists in the IDW, and Peterson is academically accomplished in the area of personality, so…)
  • Given some of the antics of Kate Manne’s fellow travelers on Twitter, and the behaviour of some of her colleagues from 2018-2019 (behaviour which she has endorsed, but which elsewhere has elicited an apology from an editor of the American Philosophical Association blog, and possibly a suspension**), I’m going to limit my interaction with her work to an as-necessary basis.

***

2018, just after beginning preparation to examine Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules: As a part of my ongoing health plan, I signed up for mental health counseling. There wasn’t a crisis involved. There was more the realization of the need for maintenance work, which is something I’m not terribly familiar with practically speaking. Self-care isn’t one of my strong point.

It’s not the worst problem to have, trying to work out how to hold on to an unprecedented level of mental health. But it is perplexing if you haven’t much experience.

Before this post gets critical, I’ll say this: I got something out of the process. I did learn a couple of tricks. The counselling also provided some useful perspective; where I sit in the bureaucratic scheme of things, what may have been going on in the past when I should have first received help.

But now: The weird. This is where my reading interests collided with my mental health care.

I was asked during counselling what my stressors were, and I stated amongst other things that the persistence of a generalized “himpathy” was one of them. I defined this “himpathy” for my counsellor with reference to Manne’s work; words to the effect of a extra serving of sympathy a community affords men that it denies others (not just in relation to sexual harassment). I gave an example recent at the time: The expectation of my sympathy in relation to the angst suffered by men witnessing a Gillette advert they didn’t like.

Weirdly it was suggested that I was somehow being too hard on myself. My stressor wasn’t the concept of “himpathy” it was the “himpathy” itself. Something like it has been bothering me for a long while, Kate Manne’s Down Girl just gave it a name. It’s not like I’ve been at myself with a cat-of-nine-tales at Kate Manne’s request.

It should probably be noted that my counsellor was male.

“Himpathy” is a stressor for me. I don’t want special sympathy on account of being male. I don’t need it. I find it repulsive. The quid pro quo in the scheme also means that I’m also expected to provide this sympathy. So I’m expected to pay a cost for something I didn’t even want in the first place.

Frankly, if I fucked up and got told off by even an intemperate feminist (gasp!), it’d be less stressful than having some bro mewling around, offering unsolicited sympathy with strings creepily attached.

Can you see the reversal my counsellor made? Who am I being too hard on? Who’s the presumed beneficiary of the extra sympathy I’m denying? The Guys.

The Guys got defended, and my stressor went ignored. In a counselling session that was explicitly supposed to be for my benefit.

At any rate, Down Girl got a bit closer to home thanks to counselling, and gave me a little too much material to know where to begin at the time.

Still, things got weirder.

***

A question was raised early on: Am I in any clinical sense dissociative? Thanks to waiting lists it’d take a while to answer rigorously, and in the interim the seriousness as the query was walked back a good way. But having made a booking with a clinical psychiatrist, why back out?

It was the nth day in a heat wave, and after four hours sleep owing to said heat, I traipsed uphill to the clinic through a humid morning. I was the first client of the day, but he was over half an hour late. To be fair, traffic into the area had been horrendous in the morning. There’d been similar delays in prior months with both my optometrist and surgeon. 

Despite the air conditioning, I had a good deal of difficulty concentrating. I’m not sure I wasn’t experiencing a degree of heat stroke. I can’t be sure the psychiatrist wasn’t effected either.

Such diversions! I didn’t have to say much at all to get this guy going off on tangents. I mentioned that I write, and that the response to the Gillette advert was a stressor, and off we went.

I got recommendations for a couple of advertising guys who obviously scripted their “conversations” with pre-determined conclusions. I got a recommendations for Dave Rubin, Joe Rogan and the like, who I pretended were new to me in the hope of speeding things along. It didn’t work.

For a few minutes, despite never being tied to anything diagnostic or therapeutic, this was all being written down for my reference; a barrage of contrarian suggestion like I was being talked at by an overzealous YouTube algorithm with a underdeveloped interest in personal information. At least I didn’t get Stefan Molyneux as a suggestion.

Then came the Jung soft-sell. Apparently arrogance – as deduced from an uncharitable reading of a short string of words on my part – may be my “Shadow”. By this point, between being baked and being blabbed at, I was wondering how someone could draw conclusions – any conclusions – given the scant amount of data I’d offered up.

Suffice to say, the question of dissociation, despite being mentioned by me, and being written on my referral, was not investigated.

When it came time for the health advice, most everything turned out to be Jordan Peterson. Barring the 600mg of magnesium a day recommendation, even the bits that weren’t Jordan Peterson were Jordan Peterson. I wasn’t going to follow the YouTube URLs that linked to his material, because at the time YouTube was being very, very aggressive with suggesting white supremacist and InCel material if you even accidentally went anywhere near anything like Peterson.

There was other stuff on the list. Stuff that didn’t scream Jordan Peterson. Stuff not entailing a YouTube URL. Stuff with embedded videos. Embedded videos that started off “Hi, I’m Jordan Peterson”. Jesus!

“When you Jordan Peterson first thing in the morning, be sure to take three Jordan Petersons with a Jordan Peterson before your first Jordan Peterson.” – I paraphrase.

Say, for a moment, neither you nor I could think of a single thing Jordan Peterson had ever said or done that we could find fault with. Wouldn’t it still be just a bit obsessive focusing on the guy, over and over like that? Even undergrads are eventually expected not to go to the same well over and over again in their sources.

I felt like I was a text in a first year Film Studies class. Eek!

After this deluge of Peterson enthusiasm, I didn’t know where to begin in terms of an extended critique. I feel dishonest when I don’t divulge context – which is a recipe for rambling to be sure – but this threatened to unleash a deluge. I put off responding to 12 Rules indefinitely.

Maybe it’s something for the distant future.

No disrespect meant to Peterson, but ultimately I think Jung is more timeless. In the long run a focus on Jung – weird as he is, as pseudoscientific as his ideas may be – I think will be more fruitful. There’s just a whole heft of history there.

***

Ultimately, I started getting diminishing returns out of the mental health process and opted out. This was after sitting in a waiting room for 45 minutes when I was supposed to be meeting a new counsellor. I was already considering making that my last meeting; a “lets close my file and say goodbye” session.

I never walked into that meeting. Instead I walked out and down to the local train station and started to wonder if I was more or less sane than the people who’d been paid to help me.  If I committed to taking care of myself, really taking care, could I say that I’ve got this?

The rational answer, I think, was and is yes. I don’t want to be the arrogant prick who thinks he knows better than the people with actual training, but my experience didn’t impress on me the absolute wisdom of the process either – not that such a thing should be possible anyway. People make errors of judgement. Mental health workers bring themselves to the process. Outsourced health care has its limitations. And again, I still got something out of it all.

If this is arrogance, then so be it. In this respect Jungians can consider my shadow accepted and embraced, if glibly***. Weirdness, on the other hand, I hope increasingly to compartmentalize and critique.

~ Bruce

* It featured in the Times Literary Supplement, but (old) links now only point to an error message (and at last glance, a Cormac McCarthy quote).
** Just trying to track down the details surrounding said apology is a real down-the-rabbit-hole experience, especially concerning the supposed suspension of Nathan Oseroff. With multiple updates, corrections, and talk of people impersonating editors, it’s off-putting to say the least.
*** How else would you expect a non-Jungian to embrace Shadow arrogance, if not glibly?

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