"Posterity, you will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in heaven that ever I took half the pains to preserve it." -John Adams

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Friday, May 11, 2018

Jordan Peterson's Biblical Sacrifice and Hans Hoppe's Time Preference: Part 3 - God's Blessing

A big part of the Cain and Abel story is God's blessing on Abel's sacrifice ... and God's lack of blessing on Cain's sacrifice. In the story, God tells Cain that:

"For whether you offer well, or whether you do not, at the tent flap sin crouches and for you is its longing, but you will rule over it."

Peterson takes this to mean that Cain's heart is not in his sacrifice. He is sacrificing for gain only. He is sacrificing with sin in his heart (ill intent, not good intent). He is trying to buy into the next ponzi scheme and be in early enough to win, and he's pissed that his brother who is doing the hard work is being rewarded.

God's blessing is only granted when the heart is in the right place. Intent matters. It matters more than material actions themselves. The world is made of meaning, not of stuff. This is Peterson's main takeaway from this part of the story.

Hoppe also highlights this truth, but in his own value-free way. He notes that societies that are free of oppressive state oversight will have a healthy culture of saving, capital accumulation, and overall honesty in trade. However, if the society is one of parasitism and authoritarianism (profit through exploitation and deception), time preference becomes very high and civilization begins to crumble. The sacrifice isn't from a pure heart and it will not receive God's blessing.

Again, it's the intent that determines the structure of the society. It's not the amount of accumulated wealth, it's the way in which people interact with each other. Is it through good will, or through deception? The world is made of meaning.

The value-free axioms of classical economics and the meaning rich landscape of the Biblical stories reflect each other. Or, perhaps more accurately, we could say that our observations of economic behavior reflect the deeper realities of humanity as found archetypical Biblical stories.

Remembering that economic activity is an outgrowth of human nature, and not the other way around, keeps our thinking grounded and provides humility. It keeps the rational thinker from saying how things "should" be. It reminds us that for society to be better in the future, for it to be lower time preference, we must in our lives as individuals:

- Act with good intention (God's blessing is only for the pure in heart)
- Make honest bargains with our future selves (Make an honest bargain with the future)
- Sacrifice our immediate desires in each moment (That which you value most)

When we each live our lives in this way, the society improves as a natural consequence of our actions. No political action is necessary. All that's required to build a low time preference society that becomes ever more peaceful and prosperous is to clean up our rooms, a little bit more, every day.

-David Giessel


  1. To be clear, Dr. Peterson often uses biblical and Greco-Roman mythology narratives as parables. He has said he does not personally believe that these allegories are factual. Dr. Peterson has said, "Cain and Abel are types...You might think about them as foreshadowing the emergence of the idea of Christ and Satan. Cain and Abel are actually the first two human beings because Adam and Eve are made by God, so somehow they're not exactly human. Go along with me for a minute. I know this isn't literally true. I'm not trying to claim that it is."
    It is helpful to disclose what Jordan Peterson believes instead of merely cherry-picking his words.

    1. jeffersonianideal,

      Really appreciate your comments on this.

      Have you had the opportunity to listen to the discussion between Peterson and Harris on the definition of "Truth"?

      My favorite takeaway from that discussion/debate was that Peterson believes that Truth is revealed through experience, not through facts or information (Harris' position).

      Truth is an experiential/metaphysical concept that encompasses fact, but isn't fact.

      In the discussion, he notes that biologists working on anthrax/smallpox hybrids aren't doing work in support of "Truth". Harris counters by saying that if the biologists get the hybrid to work and kill effectively, then yes they are, because they achieved their goal.

      This is a subtle but significant difference in the definition of Truth. One is rich and fluid in meaning (as in, it can flow around all concepts). The other is static in meaning (it is fact based and only applicable to rigid categories).

      This difference is elaborated on in Ian McGilchrist's book "The Master and His Emissary". Peterson did an interview with McGilchrist that is illuminating for this richer definition of "Truth". I've been picking away at this book for a few months on the recommendation of a friend, and it has been expanding my understanding of truth beyond simple categories of True-False, Fact-Myth, categories.

      Perhaps you will find the interview and book as interesting as I have.

      If you have your own discussion of these ideas, and of Peterson's lectures and writings, please link them here so that I can better understand your thoughts and feelings.

  2. In this essay, David Giessel completely misrepresents Peterson's words and the actual text of Genesis. First, Peterson has repeatedly pointed out that we do not know why Cain's sacrifice was rejected. As in Genesis, there is no reason given, and Peterson notes this and incorporates it into his interpretation -- saying that the rejection is a mystery and simply shows the indifference of the universe to us. Second, both in Peterson's interpretation and in Genesis, there is no indication whatsoever that Cain's sacrifice was not his best or was in any way inferior to that of Abel. The entire pretext of this essay is incorrect, and I even wonder if it is not a dishonest attempt. Very disappointing, this spreading of untruth about both Peterson and Genesis.

    1. Anonymous,

      Thank you for sharing your comments and input. I am grateful that you have taken the time to read this post and offer your comments and suggestions.

      One of the things that Peterson notes whenever he goes through the many embedded meanings within the Cain and Abel story, is that Cain has invited sin into his house. This is taken from the Biblical text. While the precise meaning of this isn't clear, it implies that Cain's heart is not in the right place. It is not in the same place as Abel's heart.

      Here we have the idea that even if Cain's sacrifice is materially equal to Abel's, there is a difference in his intent and in the way he is choosing to live his life. This is where we see that the sacrifice is not about the stuff, but about the meaning and the intent.

      I would love to read your thoughts and interpretations of Peterson's lectures and writings on these stories. I've found that every time he tells these stories either in a lecture or in writing, he is able to shine light on them and reveal ever richer meaning in them. I agree with you that a literal reading of the Bible leaves a lot of meaning on the table, and the same is true of Peterson's writing. I very much enjoy his lectures in addition to his writing, as his emphasis and inflection helps nudge the mind further into the idea than a literal reading of his words.

      Please link me to your writings on this! I would love to understand your thinking on this in context and have the opportunity to expand my understanding.

  3. Cain's sacrifice represents the works of his hands, while Abel's was a blood sacrifice that required no work on his part.

    This is a picture of the Gospel of Grace. God will not accept our works as a sacrifice for sins, but only our faith in the blood sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ.

    Cain was angry because he had worked very hard to get his garden to grow, and God didn't care. But the self-righteous attitude that came with his hard work became a murderous rage against his brother, who just followed sheep around.

    So much you could preach on there!

  4. Dear Republican Mother: Clearly you did not read my response. I detest lying, and I detest people lying about what Jordan Peterson said. Your interpretation may indeed be valid, but it is an interpretation. And more to the point, Jordan Peterson repeatedly stated what I pointed out -- that he did not know why the sacrifice was rejected. You should not ignore the fact of the lie in the essay. It cheapens your response.

  5. The story of Cain and Able is one of Peterson's favorite. He uses it constantly, and for good reason. At different times he goes into different levels of detail into it. Since he walks around ideas and examines them from all angles it is an easy trap to fall into to latch onto the one you like as the one he ascribes to. However, he is careful to specify that he is speaking in what might be called an authoritative way about a limited aspect of the story -- the psychological aspect.

    I haven't read where Peterson says that the universe is indifferent to us. It is possible he's used those words. However, given his fundamental belief that facing being forthrightly and truthfully (at least not lying) gives the best of all possible futures I think that "indifference of the universe" is probably not his major point. He does say that (his words) there is arbitrariness.

    If you look around 1:20:00 you can see his commentary on the artwork.
    The story specifically says, "If you do well, will you not be accepted." 1:27:00.

    Given this I think it is an unwarranted stretch to make an accusation of dishonesty up front like this.

  6. Jim, first of all, you avoid the point. He never said what the author of the essay ascribed to him. Second, if you actually read his book and listen to his concept of chaos and evil, he constantly points to his view that the universe cares nothing about us. You have not only avoided the point, but you have introduced your own ignorance about Peterson. I suggest you read his book before further egaging in further nonsense.

  7. To end this nonsensical discussion and put an end to the desire of those defending this essay to make it fit their preconceptions, here are some facts, and I’ll say no more because you can lead a horse to water but cannot make it tapdance:

    P. 167, on the rejection of Cain’s sacrifice:
    “Abel is rewarded, many times over, but Cain is not. It’s no precisely clear why (although the text strongly hints that Cain’s hart is just not in it). Maybe the quality of what Cain put forward was low. Maybe his spirit was begrudging. Or maybe God was vexed, for some secret reasons of His own. And all of this is realistic, including the text’s vagueness of explanation. Not all sacrifices are of equal quality. FURTHERMORE, IT OFTEN APPEARS THAT SACRIFICES OF APPARENTLY HIGH QUALITY ARE NOT REWARDED WITH A BETTER FUTURE—AND IT’S NOT CLEAR WHY. “

    P. 175, Peterson goes even further:
    “…Cain’s, however, are rejected. He becomes jealous and bitter—and it’s no wonder. If someone fails and is rejected because he refused tomake any sacrifices at all—well, that’s at least understandable. He may still feel resentful and vengeful, but knows in his hear that he is personally to blame. That knowledge generally places a limit on his outrage. IT’S MUCH WORSE, HOWEVER, IF HE HAD ACTUALLY FOREGONE THE PLEASURES OF THEMOMENT—IF HE HAD STRIVED AND TOILED AND THINGS STILL DIDN’T WORK OUT—IF HE WAS REJECTED, DESPITE HIS EFFORTS. Then he’s lost both the present and the future. Then his work—his sacrifice—has been pointless. Under such conditions, the world darkens, and the soul rebels. Cain is outraged by his rejection. He confronts God, accuses Him, and curses His creation…”

    You can follow the remaining Peterson text (on p. 167), which points to the idea of sacrifice as a type of deferred gratification—a bargain with the future (a bargain with God). The point is, we don’t have to invent things and stuff them into the mouth of Peterson. That doesn’t help.

    I do agree with the author of the essay, however, that time preference (ability to defer gratification) is the point of sacrifice, as does Peterson, but let’s not twist things out of shape to make them say what we wish they said. I think with some introduction, Peterson would agree with Ludwig von Mises and Hoppe as well, but let’s not twist the remaining text.

    Finally, Jim, if you read what Peterson has to say about suffering, he says it comes from two sources: 1. From chaos, which he often compares to the indifference of the universe. 2. evil – the malevolent intent-driven actions of people who actually do harm. These are central to his idea.

    I am sad that people who presume they favor liberty are so quick to defend falsehood. It makes me wonder if our biggest enemy is us.

  8. I avoid the point because you're ascribing dishonesty right off the bat. That is the highest priority. After that we can talk about the particulars.

  9. I started to go through the video and mark the actual points, but I see that there isn't any point.

  10. Anonymous -- where is your blog so I can find some place I think you're mistaken and then call you a liar?

  11. Bring your points. It would be a valuable discussion.
    Leading off with poisoning the well is sorta weak.

  12. http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2018/06/21861/?utm_source=The+Witherspoon+Institute&utm_campaign=951b45049a-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_15ce6af37b-951b45049a-84177741