This discussion is the first time I have seen Jordan put up against someone who can hold their own with him. Some of the first paragraphs were posted on the youtube page but soon I got tired of adding to those and just put my comments here instead.
Perhaps a measure of just how excellent this discussion is that as a theist I can often find myself more in agreement with Susan Blackmore than Jordan Petersen even though I have been very much impressed with him before this. For example, I quite disagree with Petersen’s claim that memes are the same as archetypes, especially since he conceives them as something associated with our biological neurological functions. They have different conceptual origins and roles and the similarity is rather superficial. Memes are all about human communication and how information is transmitted in a way that has similarities with the genetic transmission of information. As someone who rather likes the meme concept I would tend to claim that the meme is the broader concept and that the archetype is the more specialized one – an archetype is (at least in some part) a meme but a meme need not be an archetype. Though to be sure I don’t buy into the incredible atheist bias that leaps from meme to virus as if viruses were the only organism using genes.
Another of my agreements with Susan rather than Peterson is that my answer to the titular question is a emphatic no! We do not need God to make sense of life. I think that is demonstrable, individually at least. The most that Peterson can really say with some validity is that atheists are well advised to learn from the example of our religious past, and a poignant response can be that atheists may actual do so better than the religious have done… since the stubborn hidebound tradition-petrified tendency of religion is rather obvious. Though I guess the differences tend to be aligned with whether we learn from the good things or bad things in religion. On this particular issue I don’t think Susan is making a good case for her objection. The possible reasons for correlation between dysfunctional regions and religion are too numerous – are people more dysfunctional because they are religious or more religious because they are dysfunctional?
Perhaps the tact that Petersen should be taking is not whether we CAN make sense of life uprooted from our historical mythologies but whether we should do so, for the simple reason of the basic stupidity of reinventing the wheel. If it is already there then why throw it away. Instead use some discernment and separate the wheat from the chaff in religion. But in the meanwhile, the theists can lay off the atheists (and visa versa and lay off those of other religions too while they are at it) because however we find meaning and responsibility in our lives, that is a good thing!
I am not buying Jordan’s argument that gratitude must be gratitude to someone or to some equivalent of God. I quite agree with Susan that one can simply be grateful. Jordan is imposing his ideological framework on another and I would have thought that someone with his education would be able to step outside of that. In fact, I find this very suspicious behavior for a clinician, who should be used to working within the ideological framework of his client. I cannot believe it helps his clients to impose his own way of thinking on them. Force them to think things through, yes. But you do that by asking them questions so they find their own answers to them.
BUT, I quite agree with Jordan Peterson that Susan’s response to tragedy by telling herself that it is all meaningless is fundamentally inconsistent. In my book, it is practically on the level of a mantra of gibberish and just makes herself feel better like a stiff drink and thus ignoring the tragedy. And by the way, I don’t see this as a signature atheist response. There are plenty of atheists who would react much more in line with Peterson by finding meaning from taking responsibility to do something about these tragedies. Frankly, I would classify this as more of a yuppie attitude which turns to pharmaceuticals or distractions to push them out of her consciousness. And I can admit that I might do something similar to some degree but what I will not do is pretend that this is a terrific answer. But I suppose it can be classified as a coping mechanism to keep our attention on the tragedies we can understand how to do something about.
So the discussion degenerates to some degree at this point because Peterson is equating atheism with the idea that life is meaningless and that isn’t at all what atheism means. Susan thus finds Peterson’s declarations that she is acting like a theist offensive, even though she is just as unable to separate this out because of the way has translated atheism into her thinking about meaning.
I have to say, however, that whatever the validity of Peterson’s opposing arguments, Susan’s way of thinking about memes acting through her is down right goofy by comparison to his.