The last time the West tried to understand the “orient” was when it ended up sending billions of “natives” on an inferiority complex trip through brute colonialism. Now in a post-colonial context, the West is doing exactly the same but this time the “natives” aren’t passive receivers. Thanks to the Internet and a very heightened sense of awareness, every single day some or the other Westerner is being called out. This time it is Jordan B Peterson’s turn.
Jordan is a best-selling author, a clinical psychologist by training and a very popular social media influencer with his own podcast. Jordan is admired by millions with many fans in Bharat as well who follow him for his sharp attacks on the menace of “political correctness” in academia. He calls out the obsession with identity politics in university campuses and the rise of postmodernism, Marxism and feminist ideologists at the cost of real education. His objection to neo-Marxists using disciplines such as sociology, women studies, anthropology, English literature, etc, to set their agenda has earned him praise from many quarters.
As someone who herself has been a witness to many brilliant peers not getting scholarships in reputed universities because of their proposals not being “postmodern” or “neo-Marxist” enough, the work of Peterson definitely strikes a chord. But all the adulation for this individual evaporates when he goes the same path that most Westerners take on Bharatiya culture and religious symbols.
It so happened that in a tweet posted by Jordan from his account on Sunday, he used the image of Maa Kali to take shots at a professor. This professor, according to Jordan, was a black woman who was using her identity to protest against a speaker. He didn’t only post the image of Maa Kali in the tweet but he also called her as “Sheer unadulterated narcissism in action” and “the devouring mother arises from the underworld”.
Here Jordan was completely at fault by taking Maa Kali out of context to imply that she stands for everything that’s wrong with the world. But this isn’t the first time that he did this. Years ago when he used to be a young academic, he could be found lecturing his students on “Kelly” and how she stands for the “unknown”. He even said that Maa Kali is giving birth to a son and also eating him at the same time while explaining the scene where Bhagwan Shiva, her husband, is trying to pacify her by laying in her path and Maa Kali unintentionally steps on him.
Someone with basic knowledge of Hindu Dharma would know how wrong Jordan is and how wrong is his understanding of Maa Kali as the “unknown”. But being wrong doesn’t stop the Westerners from interpreting Maa Kali and masquerading as an authority on the same.
After all, this isn’t the first time that a white man has got Maa Kali utterly wrong. Just last year, a film poster had Maa Kali being portrayed as a smoker and an LGBTQ activist to show her as a Western-style feminist. But this is where the Westerners are utterly prejudiced and colonial in their outlook. They either portray Maa Kali as a negative force — a case in point being Jordan’s tweet and the portrayal of Maa Kali as a monster in the Hollywood blockbuster ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’. Or they appropriate her as a Western-style feminist icon who is a rebellious feminine energy and a rule-breaker. When in reality both the depictions of Maa Kali are way off the mark.
In the Hindu scheme of things, Maa Kali doesn’t need to be a rebel or a rule-breaker to get her rights. She is after-all the giver of all rights, the creator of the universe, the rule-maker in front of whom even the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh bow. She is not a negative force either as a misinformed Jordan believes. She is in fact the eliminator of negativity — the demons, the Raktabijas and Mahishasuras. She is the one Hindus pray to when they want the forces of darkness to be defeated.
It is clearly beyond Jordan B Peterson’s intellectual range to actually understand and know Maa Kali. But what he and the other white supremacists can do is give Maa Kali a break. Don’t comment on anything that you fully don’t understand would be a wise dictum for them to follow. It is high time Westerners got off their intellectual high horses and learnt a thing or two from the “natives”. Otherwise, how different are people like Peterson from the neo-Marxists whom they thoroughly detest? Neo-Marxists have also hijacked intellectual space to create their own utopia based on a twisted understanding of reality. Peterson is also doing the same.
Despite thousands of practising Hindus pointing out the actual context to him, he hasn’t even deleted the tweet. Nor any apology has been issued from his side. This shows the kind of superior status that the Westerners enjoy. They can misunderstand, misinterpret and yet spread the same half-baked truths as “knowledge”. But clearly, times are changing. A commendable step is the way Bharatiyas are calling him out. Next step would be to displace such pseudo intellectuals with authentic voices who can speak the true stories of Hindu Dharma.
(The story was first published on firstpost.com on March 13, 2023 and has been republished in full. Minor edits have been done to conform to HinduPost style-guide.)