Jordan Peterson & The Re-Popularization Of Longform Conversation

Of all the forms and flavors of Orwellian idiocy that Dr. Jordan B. Peterson has become widely known and appreciated for confronting, perhaps none has been as important as his reinvigoration of the long-lost (or is that long abandoned?) arts of longform thought and longform conversation by routinely trampling the notion that people these days just aren’t interested in exploring deep thoughts at length and in detail.

In an age where the vast majority of Americans are assumed to have the attention span of a retarded fruit fly (I am regularly tempted toward this assumption myself), God has chosen to use Dr. Jordan Peterson as, among other things, an open advocate for longform thought and longform conversation in such a pointed, powerful way that he seems to be proving wrong many long and deeply held assumptions where attention spans and appetites for deep, detailed truths are concerned.

Are there many who seem to still fall squarely into something like the “attention span of a retarded fruit fly” category? Sure. And often that seemingly accurate categorization is actually true. But, as God is graciously (and encouragingly) showing us through Peterson and others, many times this categorization is flatly inaccurate, and destructively so.

The appetite for deep thoughts and deep, adventurous conversations is definitely there…and growing. This much has been made plain by the Peterson phenomena (which has itself been made possible by the Internet phenomena).

This resurrection of something much more like real, adult level thought and conversation is The Thing – or at least a significant thing – about the Petersen phenomena that still seems to be missed by many who prefer to follow old approaches based on old assumptions, focusing entirely on the points (real, imagined or assumed) made or implied in any particular Peterson post, speech, book, or video. While taking these points seriously and addressing them accordingly (by vigorously testing them in light of Scripture) is important, we should be careful not to miss the forest for the trees when it comes to understanding and appreciating Peterson’s popularity.

Contrary to very popular assumptions, people want depth.

People want details.

People want – get this – the unscripted contemplation and exploration of rough draft thoughts on the fly.

Put another way: They want real, adult-level human conversations, and they want ’em live without a net.

Just the sort of thing one would hope for and maybe even expect from image-bearers of God, am I right?

But we don’t expect that often times these days, do we?

Why?

Often times because we don’t want that sort of thing ourselves.

We want bullet points.

We want a formula.

We want an opening, three points, a summary, and a close.

We want a rote pattern followed by a few points of practical application so that, among other things, we don’t have to do all (or maybe any) of the hard work of figuring out application ourselves.

And we definitely want our presentations to be brief, concise, and directly to the point because, as we all know, “people these days have very short attention spans”.

While each of these approaches have their place, they’ve become so normative in Christian attempts to engage the culture that we’ve played a major role in crafting the problematic culture that we love to critique and whine about.

By coddling and enabling various shallow, simplified, low-bar-accommodating approaches to thought and conversation, we’ve fed the Orwellian beast of a culture that is now devouring us – or trying to, anyway.

Contrary to popular Christian belief and practice, many people really do have a burning appetite for depth and intellectual exploration that simply isn’t being met by either the culture (which often wants to suppress such things for political and economic reasons) or the Christian sub-culture (which often wants to suppress such things for political and economic reasons). These people desperately want to hear (or see) a real adult honestly wrestle with a concept “live without a net”. What we need to understand is that this is a very good thing….even though such conversations require ingredients that we’ve grown quite uncomfortable with and suspicious of, including:

  1. Encouraging people to risk saying or sharing something wrong or even stupid along the way. The ability to share rough draft, unpolished thoughts is vital to the production of real, deep conversations. Adult image-bearers of God need iron-sharpening-iron conversations. They simply cannot become or remain mature adults without such confrontations. And what is needed for such confrontational things as a “live without a net” exploratory conversations on deep subjects to come together in a productive manner? Grace. The necessary component of a willingness to share sometimes weak or even downright dumb thoughts out loud has as its own necessary component the ingredient of grace. One of the reasons we have for so long slid away from open, deep, longform conversations is that we’ve come to assume that such grace either is not possible or is not warranted in many cases where it actually is both possible and warranted.
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  2. Encouraging people to not only notice but seriously interact with the views of others who do not meet our (often ridiculously narrow) criteria for legitimacy. The fact that a guy like Peterson has nice things to say about Carl Jung or Friedrich Nietzsche in a certain context is in no way good reason to diss Jordan Peterson to the point of dismissal, especially when so much of what he has to say does conform perfectly well with the Word of God and he is often making biblically sound observations in a manner and at a depth that is foreign to the public product of many of his “Christian leader” critics. The irony is often thick on this point, which shouldn’t be surprising since God is as much the Author and Owner of irony as He is the Author and Owner of Jordan Peterson (and everyone else). Common Grace is a thing. A real thing. And sometimes that Common Grace thing is, as Douglas Wilson put it, “on fire”, as seems to be the case with Jordan Peterson.

So is this where I’m supposed to plop down points of application?

Well, okay, I’ll play along this time…sorta.

I’m not going to necessarily spell out or detail a three- or five- or twelve-step program for you or anyone else to follow. What I will do instead is share a plan that I have for a new project starting later this year.

In order to promote and encourage these beautiful notions of longform thought and discussion, once the weather cools a bit I’m hoping to start a daily (weekday) videocast of…you guessed it: longform thoughts verbalized on various subjects spanning everything from law, politics and economics to sports, games, and comic books. I aim to record these videos during my long commutes to and from Nashville.

I’d start this sooner (I’m chompin’ at the bit!), but the AC died a while back in the sedan that I drive to work each day, and the videocast deal won’t work well with the windows down, so…look for an October rollout on this one.

If you have a suggested topic for this new “longform” approach, please email me.

In keeping with the Jordan Peterson theme, one thing I need to do before I get this rolling is “clean up my room” where backed up/neglected emails are concerned. I’ve recently discovered that many emails sent my way in recent months were swept into a spam folder, which I am digging through now and hope to have resolved this week. I’d love to interact with subjects that interest readers of the FBC blog, so please do fire off a quick note relaying your suggestions.

Let’s take advantage of the vastly underestimated appetite for longform thought and deep discussion that God has placed in the hearts and minds of billions of His image bearers right here and now in the age of His Internet.

Let’s stop pretending that “those people” can’t handle (or don’t want to handle) the rough, unpolished adult exploration of deep subjects.

Let’s stop pretending that iron-sharpening-iron conversations can only happen within the narrow, artificial, and extra-biblical parameters that define much of what passes itself off for Christian thought and discussion these days.

Let’s man up in the good way by actively modeling confidence, risk-taking, and grace on a regular basis…live without a net.


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1 COMMENT

  1. "so much of what he has to say does conform perfectly well with the Word of God and he is often making biblically sound observations "

    If only more pulpits had similar depth and substance.

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