In an argument if someone is ‘animus-possessed’ don’t take the bait

Jordan Peterson is a fascinating Canadian psychologist and his recent interview with Cathy Newman on England’s Channel 4 has been analysed and reanalysed because it was such an interesting example of how to handle a hostile and difficult interviewer.

[…] AB: Your interview with Cathy Newman on England’s Channel 4 has been so popular that you’ve done multiple interviews after about the interview.

JP: I know, that’s pretty strange, eh?

AB: It really hit a nerve. In one interview after the Channel 4 debacle, you said that Newman’s behavior was “animus possession”. That’s a term with precise Jungian meaning. What does it look like when someone is acting out an animus possession?

JP: The fundamental attribute is the use of arbitrary opinions, often but not necessarily with an intellectual flavor, to provoke. It’s something more akin to a characterological challenge than to an intellectual exchange. And the purpose of it in some sense is to see if you’re foolish enough to engage in the argument itself, even though it’s not a real discussion, and to assess whether you’re competent, I suppose, or capable of holding your temper. People who engage in it try to locate themselves – it’s a test. And the right way to pass a test when you’re dealing with someone who’s animus-possessed is not to take the bait, no matter what. If you engage in the argument, you lose. Whether you win or lose the argument, you lose by engaging in the argument. Because you validate the claim that the territory that’s been staked out in the manner it’s been staked out is the territory that should be subject to dispute.[…]

AB: Why use the Jungian terminology?

JP: The anima/animus possession issue is a variant of how people get possessed by ideas. Ideas have personalities. This is the thing where the psychoanalysts have it over the cognitive psychologists. The psychoanalysts figured out a hundred years ago that ideas are alive. We think of ideas as statements about the structure of reality, but they’re not. They have a viewpoint. They have a goal. […] an idea has a set of perceptions. It has an emotional nature. It has a certain type of motivation. It has arguments at hand. […]

This makes complete sense to me as when we discuss the ideology of Marxism and Socialism we discuss the end goal. The same applies to Islam. It isn’t just an ideology, it has an end game, a goal. Conservative ideas are no different. They are not ideas in isolation there is an end game, a goal that we want these ideas to achieve. The concept of ideas having a personality also rings true. It is why people with left-wing ideas are portrayed as being kind and compassionate while those with right-wing ideas are portrayed as being heartless and uncaring.

It was so self-evident with Cathy Newman that people couldn’t help but notice it. That’s why that interview attracted so much attention. That interview was almost entirely about her. She laid out her presuppositions continually, I think someone counted that she said “so you’re saying” 26 times in the interview, and only once did she really grapple with me, and that’s when she was taken aback. That was the only time that animus front fell. That was the only time we connected on a genuine level. That was the only point in the interview where communication was possible.[…]

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