189. Preponderance of the great (III)
Why did Jordan Peterson end up in Russia—Russia, of all places—when he fell ill? He has a strong intellectual interest in Russia: he named his daughter Mikhaila after Mikhail Gorbachev, she married a Russian; he collects Soviet artwork; he talks about Solzhenitsyn and Dostoyevsky; he is friends with an Orthodox ikon carver. Yet he is also interested in classical liberalism, lobsters, evolutionary psychology, Jung, the Bible and so on. He is not just interested in Russia; and Russia is rarely front and centre in his works—Russia is his hinterland.
Whether or not Russian hospitals are better than North American hospitals I do not know (probably not), but what drove Peterson to Russia—in a fugue state by his own account, since he was surprised to wake up there—was his unconscious. When he was extremely ill his family—in particular his daughter, named for a Russian leader—thought, subconsciously, something like this: “Dad is very ill. Dad loves Russia. Russia will cure Dad.” Women are mirrors; they reflect what the man presents to them, she reflected Russia. This drove the decision to take him to Russia, though it would never be stated as such—there would be rationalisations about treatment regimes and so on.
Russia is the East: the East is the home of wisdom—the Three Wise Men came from the East. This is why Western teenagers go to India or Thailand to find themselves. There is no need to move geographically, but people often need the literal pilgrimage to help them. The Sun sets in the West; the Western Lands, say the ancient Egyptians, are the place of death; but we go to the East for wisdom and to be reborn; to move Peterson away from the West—particularly America, “the Wild West”—was to move him towards life. Peterson enjoyed immense success in the West; in particular, he worked with the most western point in America—Hollywood, Dave Rubin—but his Darwinian-classical liberal shell belies a desire for spirituality, and after stratospheric material success his unconscious compelled him eastwards for a different kind of sustenance.
In Russia, Peterson ended up in a coma; he died and was reborn—almost like a baby again, with no sense of time or place. The experience was shamanic; and it will probably take him two years to fully recover, in the sense of spiritual wholeness. The shaman’s body is cut up in the process of initiation—a brutal trial. His unconscious also lived out the “full Soviet dissident psychiatric hospital experience”; an experience that was similar to that of many dissidents, though not Solzhenitsyn himself. The entire episode was an uncontrolled initiation driven by unintegrated processes and enormous life stresses.
Peterson is from Alberta. This province, like Russia and Texas, is where oil comes from; the black stuff, the real stuff. It is flat, analogue to the vast expanse of the Russian steppe—it is the western province that looks towards the East. Canada and Russia actually touch, in a geographic sense—the Bering Strait is a dilapidated bridge. When Alaska was owned by Russia the two countries literally touched. “I can see Russia from my house,” said Sarah Palin, the Alaskan Valkyrie who would have been America’s Thatcher—she was mocked by the press for saying so, but it was spiritually true.
Alberta and Russia rhyme: those great expanses where people live in the white nights, the places where people dream in the daylight. The polar night is illuminated in the summer: the unconscious is illuminated, hence Peterson’s interest in Jung; and Arctic winter is the place where the night never seems to end, hence his melancholy. Peterson’s middle name is Bernt—the Norwegian version of “Bernard”—and this means “great bear”, the symbol of Russia and Arktos (the Hyperborean Apollo: the Arctic, the Ursa Major constellation). Hence Peterson’s destiny is, in part, to bridge West and East—the commercial and sacred—in an era when Russia is the light of the world.