On the Zizek-Peterson ‘debate’

John Ohno
5 min readMay 3, 2019

Some folks have been complaining that the debate was disappointing — because it wasn’t a debate, or because the debaters don’t have sufficient intellectual integrity, or because they’re doomed to talk at cross purposes (or doomed to agree too much). To be honest, this debate seems to be interesting because it hews so closely to what Peterson and Zizek normally do — which is to say, Peterson uses vague and confused allusions to books he never read (and books he’s read part of but didn’t understand) to try to justify a conventional center-right conservative position in a way that sounds vaguely intellectual, while Zizek rambles about whatever happens to be on his mind and makes intellectually interesting & clever points of dubious truth & dubious utility.

What didn’t seem to happen is actual communication between these guys. (Not substantially, anyway.) Really, we ought to have expected the lack of communication to begin with.

Nobody familiar with Peterson’s body of work (who is even passingly familiar with the subjects he talks about outside his own discussion of it) should be surprised that hehadn’t already read the Communist Manifesto, or that he didn’t understand it having read it this time. (I say this as someone who watched his entire lecture series on the psychological function of biblical myth.) He doesn’t appear to have heard of Zizek prior to somebody recommending he debate the guy. Even as he’s got a grasp of the subject of his doctoral work that would seem weak in a precocious college freshman, his political schtick Moderately depends upon staying in a bubble where the ideas of real leftists are completely absent & instead he is only exposed to the right-wing strawman versions — no exposure to what ‘capitalism’ and ‘communism’ actually mean in a marxist model (hint: a command economy is capitalist under marx’s model of economics), no awareness of the traditions of left-libertarianism, etc. So, of course, not only would he be unaware of Zizek, but his paycheck depends on him not understanding the prerequisites for understanding some of Zizek’s ideas about how political economy works (even though Zizek is in some ways even less in line with Marx than the various sometimes-anti-marxist folks Peterson likes to categorize as “postmodern neo-marxist”). In other words, JPB should not be expected to understand Zizek even were he exposed to Zizek’s most entry-level works.

On the other hand, Zizek would learn nothing from Peterson because, when it comes to politics, Peterson doesn’t say…

John Ohno

Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software. http://www.lord-enki.net