Marxism, Artificial Intelligence, and Postmodernism

I’m going to go a little off-topic today to share something controversial but I think important. Jordan Peterson has made an interesting connection between Marxism, artificial intelligence, and postmodernism in the video interview below. I’m always interested in where we get ideas so this got my attention.

Another reason this is of interest to me is because postmodern ideology is where we get subjectivism, the doctrine that knowledge is merely subjective and that there is no external or objective truth. I’ve already talked about “Why Subjectivism Fails” a while back, noting C.S. Lewis’s classic work, The Abolition of Man.

A brief aside, I’ve been following the Jordan Peterson phenomenon for about a year now and I’m not sure what to think of him yet, but what I do find fascinating is that he seems to appeal to both left and right: conservatives, liberals, atheists, humanists, and religious folk. He’s also not particularly political, which appeals to me. He also seems to offend a lot of people, especially those on the radical left. But, as Peterson points out, one cannot say anything meaningful without offending someone.

To me personally, Peterson seems to be a voice of clarity and reason in a culture of confusion and political polarization obsessed with its first-world problems.

In the video, Peterson succinctly lays out the historical progression for how what is known as the frame problem, discovered while working on artificial intelligence, was a catalyst for postmodern ideology:

“Among the people who were working on Artificial Intelligence (AI) since the early 1960’s, it was always supposed that we’d could make machines move around in the natural environment without too much problem because the world was thought to be made of simple objects…but it turned out that the AI people ran into this problem known as the “frame problem”…that there’s almost an infinite number of ways to look at a finite set of objects….what’s at the bottom of this is that any set of phenomena can be seen a very large number of ways.”

According to Peterson, when Marxism fell out of favor in the 1970’s (because it was proven over and over again to produce evil empires), committed Marxists, like French philosophers Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, latched on to the frame problem (among other deconstructionist theories) and began to develop what we know today as postmodernism, which has had a huge influence in our universities.

From there, they concluded there was no right way to do things, which leads us to subjectivism.  “These Marxist ideologues realized that if you take a complex book, like the Bible or a Shakespeare play, there’s an endless number of potential interpretations that you derive from it, because it’s so complex and so sophisticated. So the conclusion is, there is no objective truth, just different subjective opinions.”

We also see the fruit of this Marxist ideology popping up today in the trigger issues of our culture. The bourgeoisie-proletariat class wars of Marxism have now become the race and gender wars and identity politics of today. It’s just different lyrics to the same old song—the struggle of the oppressed against the oppressor.

While some of Derrida’s and Foucault’s ideas were actually helpful to understanding and correcting some of the historical abuses of our history, Peterson warns that postmodern ideals are toxic to our culture on two fronts:

“Postmodernism is assault on two things: One, it’s an assault on the metaphysical substrate of our culture, one that looks somewhat like a religious substrate, it’s a direct assault on that. And the second thing it’s assault on everything that’s been established since the Enlightenment–rationality, empiricism, science, clarity of mind dialogue, the idea of the individual…all of that is not only up for grabs…it’s to be destroyed.”

Ironically, as Peterson has pointed out in other lectures, these radical ideologues are often intolerant and authoritarian, especially in the world of academia.

Having spent some time researching this, I agree there are some helpful things that we can gain from these ideas. For instance, simplistically embracing a rigid dogma of either objective or subjective truth without being willing to change are the equally dangerous flip sides of the same coin. There are a myriad of ways to interpret something. So, in one sense, the truth is subjective. But it’s not because there’s  no objective truth, or that it actually changes. It’s that we change in our understanding of truth.

I think truth is like a mystery: it’s not never knowing, it’s ever knowing and growing in it.

So, as believers, even our theology must grow and change with better understanding. As I’ve said in the past, I think it’s healthy to practice the art of faithfully questioning everything about what we believe (including questioning our doubts).

But it’s dangerously wrong-headed and actually anti-science and irrational to say one can never know objective truth, which is nothing more than an incoherent subjectivist fallacy (“there’s no objective truth,” is not only question-begging, it’s stated as an objective truth!)  Our society, science and technology, could not even function if we fully embraced this ideal.

Truth is important because it’s the truth that brings clarity and purpose where there’s confusion and chaos. And it doesn’t take any special powers of observation to see what a morass of confusion our relativist culture has stuck itself in today.

I believe that when we know the truth we will know real freedom (John  8:31-32), which is found in other-centered, self-giving love. But, as we grow as human beings, we should always have grace for one another and listen thoughtfully to those we disagree with as we explore and discuss these things about the world we live in that, if we’re honest, we’ll admit are things way beyond our ability to fully comprehend.

Peterson has a lot more interesting things to say about all of this but you can watch the video for that.

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About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 38 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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7 Responses to Marxism, Artificial Intelligence, and Postmodernism

  1. Well said, Mel. Ha! What fun, we do seem to be tracking the same issues with a bit of like mindedness!

    JP, even though I don’t always agree with him, has managed to put a clear voice to some of my concerns about our culture, like the importance and significance of our myths and legends to help build that cultural substrate or religious substrate. Our heroes for example, they give us something to aspire to, they map out ethics and values. Read comic books or novels today and you can see how we’re really losing that and the how the world is being wrapped in moral ambiguity and totally subjective values.

    Framing is very important too, just on an emotional level. It’s the difference between just free falling through space or having some edges and boundaries to your world, somewhere to plant your feet.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Yes, JP is a refreshing voice of clarity and sanity in the mind-numbing fog of all the nihilistic nonsense that has led a culture into levels of despair and hopelessness never seen before. The sheer naive arrogance of these people who want to destroy these societal substrates just boggles the mind. I guess they don’t understand history, especially the 20th century. As JP would say, they need to grow the hell up. 🙂

      • Well, let me also put in a good word for pastors, Mel! What are they often really good at? Framing, slaying nihilism, and leading you to the truth. Unfortunately while all this is going on culturally, many people have also been separated from faith, from the church, and so they don’t have access to that kind of clarity and framing anymore. Without that support, you just become really vulnerable, easy pickings.

        • Mel Wild says:

          “Without that support, you just become really vulnerable, easy pickings.”

          Very true. Easy pickings and cheap victories indeed. That’s why pastors need to be online. 🙂 Seriously, what you’re saying here is what’s so sad to see; ill-prepared people with no framing or mooring, a nominal or no understanding of religion or history or philosophy, being indoctrinated by universities in radical leftist Groupthink. But the good news is, you can only fool people who have access to information for so long. History keeps repeating itself on this one. The walls eventually come down. Many will eventually see these nihilistic philosophies for the vacuous caverns they are, and many already are waking up and leaving it. That’s what makes people like Jordan Peterson so dangerous. No wonder the powers that be are banning him from their university echo chambers. 🙂

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  3. You wrote… So, as believers, even our theology must grow and change with better understanding. As I’ve said in the past, I think it’s healthy to practice the art of faithfully questioning everything about what we believe (including questioning our doubts).

    It is because I am quick to question my own interpretation of theological assertions that I am constantly reevaluating whether I believe something because it was taught to me or do I believe it because it was revealed to me by the Holy Spirit or both. As I become more and more engrossed in Biblical prophecy the more I am faithfully questioning about why I believe as I believe. This not only helps me to retain the information but to be able to relay it in an understandable manner. I hope that made sense.

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