Jordan B. Peterson vs. Nietzsche. Three Rounds.

Presenting: Jordan B. Peterson vs Nietzsche.

The gentlemen’s spirits will be matched against one another in three rounds representing the three stages of Nietzsche’s “metamorphosis of the spirit”.


If you know the basics of Nietzsche and Jordan B. Peterson you can skip the intro.

Nietzsche in a few words

Life: Lived from 1844–1900, Professor of Philology at the age of 24. Didn’t marry?—?never had a girlfriend. A small and frail guy with an astounding intellect.

Role models, whom he saw as pairs: Epicurus and Montaigne, Spinoza and Goethe, Plato and Rousseau and Pascal and Schopenhauer.—?On these eight I fix my eyes, and see their their eyes fixed on me.?—?Nietzsche

Key skills: Like his role models he bedazzles his readers laying out unnerving universes of thought. The true horror though is not that he confronts you as the monster jumping at you from yellowed pages. We are ourselves the monsters and great potentials mirrored in his words. Painting life as a tremendous landscape with deep and treacherous gorges.

Psychology: Calling psychological problems a something that arises from a lack of expression of life, he was a major influence on psychoanalysis and Freud. Throw in his huge influence on Jung and Adler and you can get away with calling him one of the most important psychologists as we know it. He would agree.

A key point of his: Bereft of religion we must according to Nietzsche overcome our innate vices and learn to shine on our own principles. Thus redeeming the guilt ridden body as a sovereign self and body to cherish in all its nuances under a sun so generous that it also lights up the “netherworld”?—?all the shadowy sides of our being.

Knocking people out with poetic punches since the 1860’ies: Arguably nothing wrestles your psyche to submission like Nietzsche’s writings. Even if you don’t understand most of it, you will still sense the vigour and will to live bursting at you from the pages. Actually you don’t read Nietzsche. You fear him and you study him. Each page a hotchpotch of unsettling ideas.

Critique: Anybody who has truly stepped into the ring with Nietzsche has experienced some of this drama. Revealing that an otherwise renowned literature critique whose name escapes me calling “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” a mistake, never actually had the guts to step into the ring with him.

Nietzsche the overcompensator: In order to understand and appreciate Nietzsche?—?you have to understand him as a human being first. Nietzsche’s quest was I believe a real and honest attempt to uncover and reveal: What happens in us, what are we, why and how can we live in the best way? This purpose of wanting to understand our psychology combined with the light tower like virtue ethics of his role models shows, that he was at least partly a classical renaissance humanist.

His military mustachios and bravour regarding the superman and the will to power made a super-strong meme by Michel Foucault, should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt. Being frail, sans employment, money and someone to love and tormented by headaches he was obviously want to overcompensate. His so called male chauvinism is but veneer, shiny and superficial, betrayed as it is by his deep and unfulfilled need for a woman to love. Freud would have called his male chauvinism a “reaction formation”. Jung interpreted his overcompensation as stemming from “enantiodromia”, a counter reaction to the puritan Apollonian zeitgeist of his times.

Nietzsche really, really wanted to tell us something, and his books will still be some of the scariest and most profound in centuries to come. A little guy but a heavy weight in spirit and a great contender in the following battle.

Jordan B. Peterson in a few words

Professor of Psychology, 55 years old, very productive and with a talent for seeing the drama of life inspiring millions of people to pull up their socks and live more meaningfully.

Peterson is easier to get a grasp on than Nietzsche. Not because he is a simple man, primarily because he is alive and Nietzsche is not. You can readily follow Petersons train of thought on Youtube and Twitter?—?especially if you are open minded.

Role models? Tough guys working in the freezing cold of Canada and Jung, Alexandr Solchenitzyn, Howard Bloom, his daughter, Piaget, George Orwell, Jesus and funnily enough Joe Rogan.

Style: Combining among other things history, mythology, art, evolutionary biology, social science, psychotherapy, psychometrics, philosophy and religion to shed light on existence, he is academia’s answer to a mixed martial artist, or rather an artist needing a large palette to serve justice to his landscape painting. He is into what one might call “wisdom” and stringent thinking, having written a how-to guide to writing essays which is unparalleled in academia.

In a sense he mirrors Montaigne and Nietzsche who lamented the lack of wisdom in a world, where people were learning to read and write but not to think.

For this Herculean effort he is chastised by a mainstream media that seems more intent on being politically correct and abiding to the rule of the “one bite size media friendly causality discussions”, leaving intelligent people heaving for fresh air.

The fact that Peterson’s “renaissance” thinking stands out, may also be due to us living in a world splintered into specialized branches of science. From these places the virtue of contemplating the meaning of it all is seen as a bit silly. Researchers, scientists and intellectuals seem caught in the pit of their respective silos, calling their speck of light the “truth”. Biologists can’t see “free will” under a microscope and ex cathedra scientificus conclude that it doesn’t exist. Consciousness gets labeled “the hard problem” and is stowed away for new age people and Youtubers to play with. To top it off, many get caught in group think dynamics on social media. Making clear thinking a tertiary priority to group membership or rather; making clear thinking the greatest threat to the tribal identities of our age.

Postmodernism-gate: Peterson suggests that people curious to understand these state of affairs of “non-thinking” to read “Postmodernism Explained”, but why try to take responsibility for understanding something like postmodernism which is unclear and boring. Surely such intricacies should be unravelled by the thinker, and not the reader? At least people like Nietzsche and Jung remain entertaining through their philosophical musings and Montaigne even has the courtesy of being funny, teaching us that philosophy is meant to serve life, not the other way around. Peterson deals primarily with postmodernism’s effects on society rather than unravelling their textual excursions and for that he is chastised, when he rightly should be applauded.

Character: The battles in the media and at court regarding funny made up pronouns (long story) have given Peterson something truly heavy to lift up off the ground. Giving him the opportunity of developing his character in an era of an unbearable lightness of being. That was good for him and inspiring for the rest of us.

Stability: He is “driven” as Nietzsche was before him. Perhaps he is also a little bit disturbed his gloom and dystopian perspectives taken into consideration:

Should we subtract some doom and gloom from Peterson’s ideas as one subtracts “overcompensation” when reading Nietzsche?

It is hard for people, myself included, to fathom all the mayhem that transpired in twentieth century and possible pending doom in a world where the only truly psychopathic despots left are relegated to disgusting caves in the mountains of the jagged Himalayas in Afghanistan and eerily weird North Korea.

Being cushioned by late modernity perhaps we lose sight of the truly important things?—?like avoiding doom? Many even seem to think that Donald Trump is as bad as the “leader” (read: dictator) of North Korea signifying a total lack of insight into the what dictators actually do to people.

Whatever one may think of that, Peterson is a contender to be reckoned with.

The Audience

Peterson has a score of intelligent, relatively normal people rooting for him. Nietzsche’s fans on the other hand tend to be a bit weird. Most seem to root for both Nietzsche and Peterson at the same time, them being friends despite their differences especially when it comes to religion. Peterson wanting to remain religious by revising “God“ into a mythopoetic version of the best life to be lived and Nietzsche realising you can’t believe in the word of the Bible in an age of the enlightenment. I am not sure that there is a big disagreement. (The main difference would be that Peterson thinks that Nietzsche thinks that we can coin our own values, Peterson thinking that we can’t because the powers within us are somehow to great to be molded by our free agency.)

The Peterson fans have a few beers, the Nietzscheans split into two groups; some being dangerously drunk, the others just drinking water texting their therapist while sat in the crowd.

The three rounds have as mentioned different backdrops or themes based on Nietzsche’s three step theory of the development of the “spirit”.

Thus, my brethren, will the differences between Nietzsche and Peterson be exemplified.

Fun fact: As Peterson I believe in rambling my way to clarity. The “art of logos” perfected by Michel de Montaigne in the sixteenth century who inspired Nietzsche to do the same.

Fun fact II: This is a painful pilgrim path leading up to a local holy place above Rapallo, a small coastal town in Genova, Italy. This is where Nietzsche lived and trekked for hours every day while penning down the idea of the “metamorphosis of the spirit” in the winter 1882–1883. We can be certain that he walked here.

Rapallo, Genova, Italy, photo: Me.


The spirit starts out as 1) camel, becomes a 2) lion that fights a dragon and dies to rise again as 3) an innocent child.

ROUND ONE: Camel Nietzsche vs. Camel Peterson

photo: Kawtar

The first phase of the spirit could be called “the heavy self-sacrificing phase”.

Strong people feel inclined to lift heavy things to test their strength, and so they load themselves up?—with pleasure.

In this way they kneel down like camels so that stuff can be heaved up onto their backs.

At this stage the soul is also want to humiliate its own pride and mock its own wisdom.

In this phase the spirit willingly subdues itself. It lets itself be beset by masters, schools, schools of thought, theories, habits, rules, traditions, religions and routines.

“All these heaviest things the load bearing spirit taketh upon itself ….”?—?nietzsche

The importance of “Camelness”: Many discussions on social media, in politics and the news seem brought on by the uniformed being uninformed together brought on by a combination of laziness and helpfulness, which as a cocktail is a peculiar vice. Modern preachers (anybody with a laptop) rarely possess anything resembling expertise regarding the topic they are concluding stuff about but that does not keep them from chipping in.

The same phenomenon can be observed at university. I have helped countless students give up their pride and kneel down like camels to the textbooks and the access-giving courses and discourses ruling the joint, letting themselves be colonized for a while.

You need to let yourself be enslaved and “carry” a load of things you don’t necessarily readily appreciate nor understand in order to become civilized: Get your head down, participate, be a generous participant, forget yourself and your pride for a while. The fact is: Nothing comes from nothing, you need to submerge yourself in traditions and systems of thought to produce better systems and better thoughts.

Here we also see the potential danger of the Camel phase, individual freedom and independent thinking being equally as important as the willing colonisation of the spirit. As a Camel the spirit loses the personal or embodied sense of direction, hence Nietzsche sees the camel existence leading into a wilderness for the spirit.

“… and like the camel, which, when laden, hasteneth into the wilderness, so hasteneth the spirit into the wilderness”?—?Nietzsche.

So although many good things can be said about being a Camel, Nietzsche lets the Camel venture into the wilderness, a place deserted of personal meaning carrying burdens not freely chosen.

Points for Round One

Peterson doesn’t act much like a Camel himself, his burden primarily his own patchwork of ideas, but he sure does promote being a Camel. When talking to full theatres he admonishes people to be good Camels. Bow down. Lift up something heavy. Do what is important in the long run (read: Golgotha, self sacrificing bleeding feet walk). Peterson simultaneously “detests” what he sees as ideologically possessed Camels on the extremes of the political spectrum. He doesn’t like the herding kind of Camel unless it is the Christian or Buddhist sort.

Nietzsche had been a heavy Camel from he was a child, reading and re-reading the Bible for all to hear. As such he carried the heaviest book on the tiniest of shoulders. He also bore its remnants; the corrupt, child-beating, soul wrenching not very Christian Christianity of his times. He thus came to hate the Camel spirit. He went on to lose all Camelness when entertaining the “blasphemous” meta-perspective; that the Camel phase is but a phase bordering on vanity, self-deception and slavery. In this meta perspective, if you want, the primary reason for picking something up, is to find somewhere better to put it. Or as he puts it, acknowledging the Camel phase as a necessary precursor for freedom: You need to be a slave first to become free.

Fun fact: When Nietzsche so rarely owned up to the people he was inspired by, rarely quoting people, it could have been because he refused to be a Camel carrying “heavy names”?

Fun fact: To make sense of these transformations of the spirit it is helpful to see Nietzsche’s understanding of the shifts and developments in personality as influenced by the tradition of “alchemy”. Alchemy is the process by which things can change completely as an effect of two things being brought together. In that respect, as we shall see, a camel can easily become a lion if you mix “camel” with “meaninglessness in the wilderness”, and in the same way a “lion” and a “dragon” can easily become an “innocent child” if you mix them up. In other words: The “you” that emerges when you mature and change and develop is something that you can’t fathom before you are there. The soul “transforms” on your path to ever growing self realization (if you don’t check out Youtube/Alan Watts/Terence McKenna/Jung/alchemy).

ROUND TWO: Lion Peterson vs. Lion Nietzsche?—?Fighting a Dragon

”But in the loneliest wilderness happeneth the second metamorphosis: here the spirit becometh a lion; freedom will it capture, and lordship in its own wilderness.”?—?Nietzsche

At some point you will discover that you are carrying a burden not freely chosen. You are carrying ideas contrived by others. You start yearning for your freedom. You start sensing a need for autonomy.

You also discover that you are shaped by a thing called society, or as Nietzsche puts it; a “dragon”.

“‘Thou-shalt,’ is the great dragon called. But the spirit of the lion saith, “I will.”?—?Nietzsche

”The values of a thousand years glitter on those scales, and thus speaketh the mightiest of all dragons: “All the values of things?—?glitter on me.”?—?Nietzsche

All values have already been created, and all created values?—?do I represent. Verily, there shall be no ‘I will’ any more. Thus speaketh the dragon.”?—?Nietzsche

The Lion stage is a classical “existentialist moment”, the spirit discovering its deep yearning for self determination.

In Nietzsche’s dramatic take on things the Lion has to fight to the death in the battle with the dragon.

The lion has to die presumably because you can’t beat society. Also the Lion dying is symbolic of the fact that the anarchy thus represented has nothing to offer but riot. It must be short lived:

”To create new values?—?that, even the lion cannot yet accomplish: but to create itself freedom for new creating?—?that can the might of the lion do.”?—?Nietzsche

Anarchy that lasts is a form of insanity. Nietzsche even warns that you can become a dragon yourself if you fight one (kind of):

“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster..”?—?Nietzsche

Fun fact: Nietzsche most likely found inspiration to the rebellion against society’s hold on the self or spirit in Montaigne’s essays, in which he thought of the self as a kind of hotel where you shouldn’t let the visitors decide things.

Fun fact: The fight or “lion-stage” is more of an impulse than a viable perspective on life, which makes it fun to see how post structuralists and postmodernists essentially are creating their paradigms on top of it. They might as well be building a house on a landslide.

Points for Round Two

Calling the Camel spirit supremely important Peterson’s actions on the public stage has also been Lion-like. So farin 2018, the Lion spirit of Peterson hasn’t died, as it perhaps should, but perhaps the Peterson Lion is losing its roar? Which might be a good thing. Funnily enough his combatants see him as the dragon and themselves as lions. Whatever the case Peterson’s courage under fire in the trials and tribulations has given him many points in “Lion spirit”.

Nietzsche may sound like a lion, or rather a bunch of crazy hungry lions in much of his writings, but in reality he actually torments his “inner Lion” by calling it a fool (my reading of Zarathustra’s fool). Nietzsche wins the Lion stage however as he can’t help being in riot. So while Peterson won as Camel and scores highly in the lion phase, Nietzsche has got to be the winner in round two even if he would have preferred not to win.

Fun fact: Postmodernists called themselves heavily inspired by Nietzsche. I think however that Nietzsche would have disagreed with Foucault and Derrida’s “there is nothing under the word”, he would roll his eyes in contempt at the hubris connected with discounting our inner devils and in as much as Nietzsche coined himself a psychologist and they were by all accounts anti psychologist there is no real connection.

ROUND THREE: Innocent Child Peterson vs. Innocent Child Nietzsche

The little prince, arguably the most innocent of innocent children in literature

“Innocence is the child, and forgetfulness, a new beginning, a game, a self-rolling wheel, a first movement, a holy Yea.”?—?Nietzsche

Thus Nietzsche expands on the last stage of the soul characterised by an absolute openness to experience, mirroring ancient wisdom like that of Tao te Ching:

The simple child again, free from all stains.”?—?Lao tze

Nietzsche apparently argues for finding your will to life and experience (not power!) inside yourself and letting it have the way with you as it were. He talks about a phase of loving being itself.

“Aye, for the game of creating, my brethren, there is needed a holy Yea unto life: its own will, willeth now the spirit; his own world winneth the world’s outcast.”?—?Nietzsche

The emptiness of the wilderness now becomes the very prerequisite for the free creation of meaning by the sovereign individual. A sentiment echoed repeatedly by Albert Camus and symbolized by Exupéry in the existentialist story about a little boy with blond hair, who has come down to earth from a small asteroid.

“What makes the desert beautiful, said the little prince, is that it somewhere hides a well”?—?Exupéry, The Little Prince

The Camel bows down to the forces of history and society, the lion fights and the Child wonders:

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”?—?Exupéry

The child allows himself to let his purpose come from his own body. The child’s knowledge is “embodied” and marked by an urge to participate innocently in a world of wonders.

“It is such a mysterious place, the land of tears.”?—?Exupéry

When you begin to master the Child phase of your spirit your relationships improve on account of the honesty, openness and niceness belonging to this phase. You also get that funny feeling of having seen it all before. It’s a bit like coming home. It feels like a spiritual awakening for some. In the New Testament it is a seen as a the very road to salvation:

… Truly, I say to you, If you do not have a change of heart and become like little children, you will not go into the kingdom of heaven.?—?Matthew 18:3

— –

“Three metamorphoses of the spirit have I designated to you: how the spirit became a camel, the camel a lion, and the lion at last a child.”

… thus spake Zarathustra….

– Nietzsche (1844–1900)

— –

Fun fact: as I see it the Child spirit represents a paradox: The completely open mind is a disaster waiting to happen for the unskilled person and a hallmark of honour of the skilled person. (A continuum which can also be seen as a circle where the extreme ends meet, along the idea of the ancient Greek observation of “enantiodromia”.)

Fun fact: The little prince has two animal friends a fox and a snake, where Zarathustra has an eagle and a snake. The Little Prince and Zarathustra both visit different kinds of locations wondering what all the diverse traditions and beliefs are all about while they try to make sense of it all, as strangers to the planet as it were. It seems that Exupèry has taken the holy child and let him examine the world. So where Nietzsche tells the story of the little vulnerable child on a few lines and pretty much stops that particular analogy there, the story of Little Prince is all about that particular phase of the spirit and how to integrate the Child spirit into your being.

Fun fact: Exupéry introduces unwittingly (?) a “fourth Spirit”, that of the grown up, the Pilot in the story, who integrates the Child spirit, the little prince, resulting in what one could call the actualised or self realized individual that Nietzsche himself tried to define.

In the Story of The Little Prince, we see the Prince letting himself be bit by a snake (snake = symbol of wisdom). While dying the little guy tries to comfort the distraught pilot who crashed in the desert and befriended him, with these words:

“You?—?you alone will have the stars as no one else has them…In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night…You?—?only you?—?will have stars that can laugh.”?—?Exupéry

And thus the Child spirit vanishes as it becomes your inner compass, an abstract value guiding modern man through it all, like stars shimmering above the desert giving faith and meaning, leaving the individuated person with transcendent values and a (manageable) sorrow over our irretrievable innocence.

Points for Round Three

Nietzsche is the author of this three stage model of personal development so he, of all people, should be the most of what he apparently somehow aspired to. Alas. Nietzsche scores very unevenly as a Child spirit. His Zarathustra is childlike in places but very unstably so. It takes a “fully lived life” to become like an innocent child and Nietzsche just doesn’t really manage that. I think that Nietzsche in this way mirrors Kierkegaard who was also relegated to observing the world somewhat neurotically rather than living fully in a happy unworried and innocent way. Many great thinkers haven’t been able to become what they knew they had to become. Yup?—?pretty sad.

Peterson doesn’t seem to be a particularly good Child either. He seems so heavy and Camel-like that the wild foxes may hesitate to befriend him (see “The Little Prince”). That Peterson wins this phase hands down is due to the fact that when he rambles a bit, and agrees to let himself be interviewed by people who are set on “doing him in” and when he breaks the authoritarians speech codes, he does it with an openness and courage signifying not the Lion, nor the Camel but the embodied sense of the Child that knows that something is important and it is important to try to understand it.

Fun fact: Nietzsche attacked the church for its inhumanity. Having torn down the church he lets the sun break through the ruins, letting nature grow from its ground. Here (as I read it) in the resulting wilderness he leaves a innocent child for us to ponder. Can this be seen as a redemption of the Jesus myth? Yes. Not because Nietzsche was religious but because it’s the greatest story ever.

Published by thomasmarkersen

Praktiserende psykolog og konsulent i erhvervslivet

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