The Return to Tradition

In trying to explain the enduring success or Dr. Jordan Peterson in spite of concerted efforts by his detractors, the answer, I believe, is that many young people are seeking authentic voices, advice, and stories, that modernity, social media, and popular culture are unable to provide. Videos of old people telling their stories often go viral on YouTube, with tens of millions of views and thousands of up-votes and approving comments. Dr. Peterson is immensely popular despite being decades older than his audience of mostly millennials and gen-z. His frailty, if anything, has added to his appeal and authenticity, by showing his vulnerability. Social media only shows people at their ‘best,’ but this is largely artificial or out of context, but Dr. Peterson has not shied away from sharing his personal problems over the past few years, whether it’s his wife’s cancer diagnosis or having contracted Covid during a hospital stay.

I have also observed an acute collective awareness of one’s own mortality, probably made worse by Covid. Everyone, even young people, is acting as if they are getting old faster than they otherwise should. With so many lives thrown into chaos due to the pandemic and economic hardship and uncertainty, ‘having a clean room,’ as Dr. Peterson puts it, is more important than ever.

There is also the constant tug of war between modernity and tradition. As Dr. Peterson often intones, modernity has make life better by raising standards of living and reducing poverty, such as new medical treatments or more efficient ways of producing food, but it does not answer the question of how one ought to live or what to believe in. That is the value of tradition, in that it provides a framework for society and the individual, which technology doesn’t. The ‘old ways of doing things’ worked for hundreds, even thousands of years, and should not be dispensed with because of the short-term gratification of technology.

That is why the article, I’ve had the same supper for 10 years about a 72-year-old Whales farmer who, as the title suggests, has eaten the same meal everyday for the past decade, went massively viral a few days ago. It is also an example of the ‘celebration of the mundane,’ that in a news cycle dominated by high-stakes stories, such as Biden, the economy, or Covid, etc, low-stakes human interests stories are equally valued for their didactic value. It doesn’t get any more ‘traditional’ that sticking with a routine for a decade. Politics is obsessed with the present, is always changing, and is ephemeral, but tradition teaches us what works, what has staying power.

Similar to the shared narrative concept, such themes and observations (such as how technology can be likened to paint that covers the decay wrought by modernity) appeal to smart people on either side of the aisle and is not a left-wing/right-wing ‘thing’. You don’t need to subscribe to a particular political worldview to observe that America’s education system seems to be more interested in indoctrinating than teaching, that people are addicted to their smartphones, that the post-Covid economic recovery is abnormally lopsided, the the state of discourse especially online and in politics has degraded, and that the quality of politicians has not only declined in their ability to govern, but are also increasingly indifferent and detached from the people whom they are governing and whom elected them .

This ‘new traditionalism’ should not be confused for traditionalism in a conservative or religious sense, but can be liked to a secular for of morality and a return to finding and restoring one’s roots. As discussed in The Intellectual Web, smart people, especially in tech, have a heightened appreciation and fondness for nostalgia and tradition despite working in technology, as another example of a juxtaposition between two extremes–the new and the old–which you don’t typically see with average-IQ normies. Normies live in the present and seek instant gratification, like having the latest iPhone or binge-watching the latest Netflix series. Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with having fun, especially given all the negativity in the world, but there is value, too, in slowing down and taking a step back, not as in regressing, but appreciating how technology is just a tool, not the answer.