Tag Archives: culture

White Men Spiritually Bypassing “Identity Politics” & the Allure of Jordan Peterson

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”

-Audrey Lorde, Our Dead Behind Us: Poems

There is a troubling belief gaining traction within the various spiritual communities I am apart of. In various ways, people are claiming that so-called “identity politics” further separate us into our individual differences, that somehow they widen the divide of “us and them.” I have seen teachings of Ram Dass, MLK, and Neem Karoli Baba used to support this view. This has been almost entirely expressed by white men. Not only is this spiritual bypassing of “identity politics” problematic for the world, but we can’t actually be whole until we consider their implications.

Jordan Peterson, a psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto, has gained a following among mostly-white-and-male spiritual seekers. Due to his incorporation of Jungian Psychology, mythology, and transcendence into academic psychological thought, he is often used as a “spiritual authority” as to why “identity politics” often oversteps its boundaries. In the video “Jordan Peterson Debunks White Privilege,” he states, “I can’t quite figure out why the postmodernists have made the canonical distinctions they’ve made. Race, ethnicity, sexual proclivity, gender identity, those are four dimensions along which people vary, but there is a very large number of dimensions along which people vary… There is an infinite number of dimensions along which people vary. So the postmodern question is, why would you privilege some of those distinctions over others?”

Here he is not making any real arguments of merit. He is simply using pseudo-intellectual lines of logic to obfuscate what should be plainly clear: these “distinctions” are four of the primary ways that we discriminate and oppress in our culture. This is not a philosophical abstraction. For people of color, women, and members of the LGBTQIA community, this is a daily reality. So what he calls “identity politics” is a needed remedy to a system that unfairly privileges whiteness, maleness, middle-and-upperclassness, etc.

So-called “identity politics” don’t further ensnare us in our separate selves, they actually help free us by shining a light on our deeply embedded identities. For white, heterosexual, cisgender men, our identities are so thoroughly supported and reflected by the dominant culture that they are made invisible to us. The acknowledgment of these identities is often painful because it shows our complicity in an oppressive system. Actually taking the time to understand how white supremacy or patriarchy functions in our culture shows us the ways that they function in our own mind. This does not reify the ego, it only clearly names its underlying structure.

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Mistaking Individualism for Freedom

Click here to read this on the Be Here Now Network

In today’s rapidly changing society, many of us no longer want to work for others. We want to use our talents, our creativity, and our passions to develop our own business or to work freelance. We no longer are willing to tolerate repetitive tasks, 40-hour work weeks or corporate bosses.

But it would be a mistake to think that this is breaking free of society, that we can remove ourselves from it, that we are somehow above it, or that we are trying to do something different. In truth we are only swapping forced conformity for a self-imposed one, and we mistake this individualism for freedom without acknowledging its paramount importance in the hierarchical value system of our society. We now turn the cog of culture at our own pace and rhythm, but we still don’t question where the machine is taking us.

It is only privilege that creates the illusion of separation. Unless we acknowledge this, we are stuck in a mire of arrogance and indifference. We too are complicit in a system of exploitation that is ruining our planet and destroying entire cultures. Even with our artisan candles and organic coffee. Even with our job as a yoga teacher or a freelance artist.

The more I sit with this, the more I am convinced that analyzing the value systems of our culture and the ways it has infiltrated our most intimate desires, beliefs and values is one of the most radical and deeply spiritual acts of our time. It is crucial for any real development, not because we can break free of culture, but because it is necessary if we are truly going to do our part to help change its direction. Continue reading


The Co-opting of Spiritual Practice by our Capitalist Culture

Yoga and meditation have gone mainstream, and it seems psychedelics are on their way too. Now all we need is an authentic spirituality.

Yoga and meditation, once considered to be relics of the 60s, are now practiced throughout the country. Google offers classes for its employees. Nike, Yahoo and HBO offer classes. It’s being offered in prisons and schools. It’s everywhere. And its no secret why. There are obvious benefits of yoga and meditation. They can help us to de-stress, relax, focus, raise productivity and increase creativity. There is a growing body of evidence that it can help develop emotional intelligence, strengthen empathy, and offers endless therapeutic benefits.

Even psychedelics are finding a wider audience. Besides the many notable therapeutic uses, micro-dosing is now all the rage in silicon valley, where it is seen as way of improving memory, cognitive function, mood, and creativity.

How could anyone see a problem with any of it? I think it is great that these practices, once relegated to the fringe counterculture or some caricature of the mystical “East,” are finding relevance for mainstream society.  It’s for everyone, and no one should be left out. If anyone told me they wanted to take LSD so they could be more creative at their tech job, I might even gift them the great book by James Fadiman, The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide.

But I am seeing a troubling trend. Not only are these practices benefiting society, but they are being changed by it as well. Some of this is reasonable and expected. We are westerners engaging in practices from the East, and thus we are going to adapt them to fit our needs. This is not the first time this has happened. As Buddhism spread throughout the East, it assimilated with various cultures to produce the wide spectrum of Buddhism we see today. Tibetan Buddhism is very different in form than Zen, and western Buddhism is developing in its own unique way.

Change is natural. And yet, I can’t fathom in any way that the values of our dominant, neoliberal, materialistic culture can actually coincide with the values of compassion for all sentient life, with our inherent interconnectedness, or the sacredness of everyone.

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