Canadian psychologist, author and YouTube superstar Jordan B. Peterson has burst into popular culture like a lanced anal cyst, posting videos and lecturing to rabid fans about Pinocchio as a Jungian hero archetype, proper posture and household hygiene and, perhaps most controversially, man’s neural relationship to lobsters and both man and lobsters’ proclivity to socialize within hierarchical structures.
Now the idea of social hierarchies is nothing new, going back as far, at least, to Alexis de Toqueville, the first to use the phrase “social structure”. However, the parallel between man and lobster in order of social hierarchy has been a novel introduction to popular culture by Peterson (with some credit given to Darwin and psychologist Jeffrey Gray).
I wish to present, however, that the idea of human-lobster social hierarchies is not primarily a Petersonian introduction to the lexicon of social analysis. I argue that Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who Peterson explicitly admires, was an even earlier progenitor of the idea of human-lobster hierarchies, as illustrated in his groundbreaking novelette Notes from the Underground, published in 1864. It is unfortunate that, to date, Peterson has yet to credit his philosophic mentor for bringing such an astute observation to light over 150 years ago.
Background to Notes From the Underground:
Dostoevsky fails to name his main character so we’ll refer to him, as is common, as the Underground Man or UM for short. The Underground Man is a petty, bitter, spiteful man of middle age who, due to his “acute consciousness” has perpetually undermined his upward social mobility. He has the consciousness or intelligence to view and analyze any situation from multiple angles, making it difficult if not impossible to make firm decisions regarding what to do. His thoughts and ideas and over-analysis make him a prisoner to the inertia of perpetual indecision. He has not risen in his career. He lives slovenly and borrows money. He is embarrassed by the yellow stain on the knee of his trousers and shamed at owning a coat with a raccoon rather than beaver skin collar. He is a man of intelligence but low social rank and, as a consequence, he is petty and envious and bitter.
In Part II, Chapter IV the Underground Man meets with a group of his contemporaries at the Hotel de Paris in St. Petersburg. The UM’s lack of social grace makes the encounter awkward. One of the group queries him about his job, asking why it’s of such a low order.
Asked directly about his salary, the UM replies defensively:
‘Why are you cross-examining me?’ However, I told him at once what my salary was. I turned horribly red.
Note how a forced admission of his low status in the social hierarchy causes the protagonist to turn “horribly red” – lobster red, one might say.
The UM then denies any shame in his social status by saying, “allow me to tell you I am not blushing” – a denial of his lobsterhood akin to Joseph (John) Merrick’s declaration, “I am not an animal. I am a human being.” The UM goes on to defend his value by saying he’s well able to pay for his own meal by his own means, barking all this at his nemesis Ferfitchkin, a man of higher social rank and a man of direct action.
The Underground Man goes on to describe the scene, ” Ferfitchkin flew out at me, turning as red as a lobster, and looking me in the face with fury.”
“….Ferfitchkin flew at me, turning red as a lobster…”
Ferfitchkin, provoked by and annoyed at the Underground Man, asserts his dominance in the lobster hierarchy by threat of physical force, in line with Dr. Peterson’s claims that, “when a lobster wins (a conflict), he flexes and gets bigger”. In this instance, Ferfitchkin’s flexion is his rage and fury, which the Underground Man submits to by saying, “I imagine it would be better to talk of something more intelligent.”
I present these excerpts, not in an attempt to smear Dr. Peterson, only to assert that the idea of human-lobster dominance hierarchies far preceded his own explications. We are not always conscious of how the influence of others affects the formation of our own ideas. It is my hope that bringing this to light may persuade Dr. Peterson to give his mentor and master some of his just due in pioneering the idea of human/lobster social orders.
-mrobins71: presenting the interweb’s best in fake news, fake investigative journalism and pseudo-intellectual jibberish