A Postmodern Drinking Song: Jordan Peterson’s Identity Politics


A phenomenon that has been largely underrepresented in media coverage – at least until now – is the Postmodernist Drinking Song recently published by Canadian psychologist Jordan B. Peterson. In the video, Peterson plays a food delivery man – with a cap showing the inscription Taco Gulag – who arrives at his flat after work and switches on the television. An analysis of the music video indicates that the food delivery man played by Peterson is a left-wing activist – i.e. a member of the group of social movements that Peterson repeatedly subjects to vehement criticism. In the course of the music video, the food delivery man played by Peterson sings to a song on his television set, in which various intellectual theorists of postmodern thought – such as Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault or Judith Butler – appear.

The lyrics of the song make it all even more apparent that Peterson has finally left the metier of the traditional conservative characterised by decency and manners in the form of his criticism:

[Verse 1]
Michel Foucault was a genuine pervert
And it made him awful sad
He invented philosophical doctrines
Designed to drive us all quite mad
Critical racists now annoy us
They accuse and satirise
Multiplying all around us
It’s time we cut them down to size

We’ll drink, and drink, and drink
To those who won’t think, can’t think, ratfinks
Saviours of the known universe
For they invented philosophical notions
Deconstructive in every way

[Verse 2]
Jacques Derrida that old joker
Stuck a poker in our eyes
Tried to challenge anciеnt wisdom
All he did was demonise Ta-Nahisi and Kimbеrlé Crenshaw
They’re pretentious in every way
But they’re nothing compared to Butler
We all pray she’ll fade away

We’ll drink, and drink, and drink
While on the brink, the brink, the brink
Those saviours of the known universe
Who invented philosophical notions
Most conducive to disgrace

[Verse 3]
Richard Rorty (Richard Rorty)
Is truly not helpful (is truly not helpful)
With his assurance nothing’s real (with his assurance nothing’s real)
What of hunger? (what of hunger?)
Mr Skeptic (Mr Skeptic)
When a child lacks a meal (when a child lacks a meal)

[Verse 4]
And Andrea Dworkin once a hooker
Celebrated as a sage
Who proclaimed that sex was raping
She’s a model for our age
DiAngelo known as Robin
Is she a disgrace to her race?
Groups define us oh so she proclaims
It’s time we put her in her place

We’ll drink, and drink, and drink
While on the brink, the brink, the brink
Those saviours of the known universe
Whose transgressive philosophical doctrines
Leave destruction everywhere[1]

It cannot be the aim of this essay to go into these unspeakable lines. Just this much: what Peterson seems to be attempting here is an ironic appropriation of supposedly postmodern ways of argumentation from the conservative side. Peterson’s attempt can, of course, only be understood through the background assumption that today’s forms of left-wing identity politics and cancel culture are characterised by a particularly high degree of aggressiveness, in that dissenting opinions are aggressively suppressed or even cancelled. Peterson attempts to make such aggressive forms of discourse his own by – and here lies the seemingly consciously intended paradox in Peterson’s video – singing against postmodern and post-structuralist thinkers from the perspective of a progressive activist (which of course raises the question of coherence/logic: How can it be that a progressive activist sings such anti progressive content?).

It is particularly striking that the flat of the activist played by Peterson seems untidy, which is why the viewer is easily prompted at this point to make a connection to Peterson’s famous dictum “Set your house in order!”.[2] In addition, the activist’s room is characterised by an extremely childish-looking lamp – possibly a reference to Peterson’s view that most activists should be regarded as infantile rather than adults. Although the video may seem absurd, it is unsurprising when one considers Peterson’s thinking as a whole.

Jordan Peterson, who previously taught at the University of Toronto and is a member of the intellectual dark web alongside thinkers such as Ben Shapiro and Dave Rubin, basically continues the criticism in the song that has made him stand out and intervene in public debates in recent years: The video clearly expresses the contempt that Peterson and his fan community have for postmodern and post-structuralist theorising, which – according to Peterson’s argument – does not allow for a clear interpretation of the question of how the world is to be perceived.[3] Or to put it another way: There is no objective truth and, therefore, no morally impeccable ideological worldview. However, Peterson’s criticism is not directed against postmodern and post-structuralist thinking per se, but against the – allegedly existing – group that Peterson calls postmodern Marxists.[4] With regard to a possible compatibility between postmodern thinking and Marxist theorising, Peterson expresses himself as follows:

It’s not as if I personally think that postmodernism and Marxism are commensurate. It’s obvious to me that the much-vaunted “scepticism towards grand narratives” that is part and parcel of the postmodern viewpoint makes any such alliance logically impossible. Postmodernists should be as sceptical towards Marxism as towards any other canonical belief system. So the formal postmodern claim, such as it is, is radical scepticism. But that’s not at all how it has played out in theory or in practice. Derrida and Foucault were, for example, barely repentant Marxists, if repentant at all. They parleyed their 1960’s bourgeoisie vs proletariat rhetoric into the identity politics that has plagued us since the 1970’s. Foucault’s fundamental implicit (and often explicit) claim is that power relations govern society. That’s a rehashing of the Marxist claim of eternal and primary class warfare. Derrida’s hypothetical concern for the marginalised is a version of the same thing. I don’t really care if either of them made the odd statement about disagreeing with the Marxist doctrines: their fundamental claims are still soaked in those patterns of thought. [5]

If one reads between the lines, it first becomes unmistakably clear that Peterson is trying to dispel a point of criticism frequently levelled by his left-wing critics. This point of criticism is based on the quite correct thesis that the concept of postmodern Marxism is basically nothing more than an oxymoron. In this context, Luke Savage draws attention in a clear-sighted analysis to the fact that a central distinguishing feature between postmodern/poststructuralist thinking and Marxist theory formation lies precisely in the fact that Marxism is an inherently structuralist theory, while poststructuralism is associated with a fundamental scepticism towards socio-political utopias and narratives of progress.[6] Savage goes on to write that “(i)n stark contrast to Marxism, both postmodernism and poststructuralism are closely associated with scepticism toward historical master narratives and doubt about the possibility (and desirability) of deep foundations in politics, metaphysics, epistemology, and literary criticism”[7]. The scepticism implicit in poststructuralist thinking thus to a certain extent cancels out the claim, contained in Marxism, to a scientific analysis of the material structural relations of capitalist social orders. Now back to Peterson’s statement: on a theoretical level, Peterson seems to confirm the objection raised by critics such as Savage. The scepticism towards grand narratives present in postmodern thinking does not seem to be compatible with traditional Marxist thinking from Peterson’s point of view either[8].

In the further course of his argument, however, Peterson draws attention to the fact that there seems to be a glaring contradiction – and according to Peterson’s reading, the basic theoretical assumption of postmodern Marxism seems to be based on this contradiction – between postmodern (formal) theory formation and postmodern practice.[9] If postmodernists also felt committed to their basic theoretical premises in their practical actions, according to Peterson’s thesis, they should “[…] be as sceptical towards Marxism as towards any other canonical belief system”.[10]

According to Peterson, this fundamental scepticism is not adhered to in the slightest by postmodern theorists when it comes to their socio-political commitment. Referring in particular to Foucault, Peterson draws attention to the extent to which a (supposedly) Marxist basic premise characterises the practice of postmodern thought: The ubiquitous presence of power structures. Against the background of the assumption that a large part of socio-political upheavals can be explained by the omnipresence of power relations, the narrative of the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, which was still predominant in the 1960s, was transformed into the narrative of a struggle for the recognition of different identities – today commonly known as identity politics.[11]

According to Peterson, Derrida also helped shaping these fundamental theoretical considerations. Therefore, it is initially irrelevant for Peterson whether theorists such as Foucault or Derrida publicly postulate that they disagree with many of the basic premises of Marxist theorising. Ultimately, the common ground between postmodern and Marxist theorists lies precisely in the fact that social structural relations are determined by power. In Marxist theorising, this fact is reflected in the assumption that class struggles – and thus also struggles against the power of capital – are characteristic of societies and their developmental tendencies.[12] According to Peterson’s interpretation, the struggle for recognition emanating from the marginalised, as is characteristic of identity politics, is based on the same premise. This (alleged) commonality subsequently characterises the enemy image of postmodern Marxists proclaimed by Peterson and his followers.

Against the background of the above considerations, one might be inclined to ask what problem Peterson has with the postmodernists’ assumption that they feel compelled to critically analyse power relations. In the further course of his argument, Peterson draws attention to the fact that postmodern theorists have no ethics whatsoever in their practical actions (whatever Peterson means by this in concrete terms, this concept is not spelt out in more detail, at least in Peterson’s argument cited here). Furthermore, Peterson laments that the actions of postmodern theorists are not characterised by a particularly high degree of coherence – however, and this is where the most obvious paradox in Peterson’s argumentation comes to light, Peterson’s way of arguing is not characterised by a particularly high degree of coherence either:

Postmodernism leaves its practitioners without an ethic. Action in the world (even perception) is impossible without an ethic, so one has to be at least allowed in through the back door. The fact that such allowance produces a logical contradiction appears to bother the low-rent postmodernists who dominate the social sciences and humanities not at all. Then again, coherence isn’t one of their strong points (and the demand for such coherence can just be read as another patriarchal imposition typifying oppressive Western thought).[13]

What is impressive about the passage quoted here is that it is actually empty of content. And what does Peterson mean by ethics? Isn’t it a major achievement of the Enlightenment to question certain narratives and authorities?

It is by no means my intention at this point to defend postmodern theorising and modern practices of identity politics – these theoretical currents and political movements can certainly be subjected to justified points of criticism, but these must be based on an accurate analysis. Luke Savage, for example, more than aptly points out that many of today’s identity politics struggles are problematic precisely because they often lack a materialist analysis of social development trends – which then results in the fact that large corporations such as Amazon are committed to identity politics issues, but leave class and power relations largely untouched:

Plenty of mainstream social justice critiques today, after all, quite visibly lack a class or materialist dimension and, in some cases, can be embraced by powerful institutions for that very reason. Corporate behemoths like Amazon are all too keen to adopt the regalia of social justice, but they’re definitely not trying to eliminate social hierarchy or create a classless society. In much the same way, plenty of centrist and liberal politicians who might endorse the broad idea of “intersectionality” would be loath to advocate anything beyond the most incremental and market-based reforms (and, in many cases, are deeply hostile to transformative policymaking of any kind). […] (M)uch of mainstream social justice politics today is quite specifically defined by its aversion to the totalising theories and holistic explanations associated with modernism: emphasising instead the dynamics of interpersonal relations, the mechanics of language, and the recognition of particular identities. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with any of these things, of course, but they hardly belong to an all-encompassing or utopian project.[14]

Many of today’s social movements, which are often characterised by post-structuralist and postmodern forms of theorising, focus too much on the particular – in the form of sexual, ethnic or other characteristics – and not on the universal, as Savage rightly points out. In other words: Even if the intentions of many of the social movements can certainly be seen as honest, they fail to recognise a crucial point: instead of focusing on politically correct forms of expression or on unintentional and subtle forms of discrimination, it would make far more sense to look again at the socio-economic distortions. The universal would therefore be, in Savage’s words, a utopian project that would resolve these particular problems itself. But Peterson and his followers do not want to see this universalistic stance. Instead, they persist in their particularistic attitude and pursue a right-wing form of identity politics themselves.

[1] Dr. Jordan B. Peterson – The Postmodernist Drinking Song. (n.d.). Retrieved November 5, 2023, from https://genius.com/Dr-jordan-b-peterson-the-postmodernist-drinking-song-lyrics
[2] Peterson, J. B., Doidge, N., & Van Sciver, E. (2019). 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. Penguin Books, 147 ff.
[3] Postmodernism: Definition and critique (With a few comments on its relationship with marxism) – Jordan Peterson. (n.d.). Retrieved November 5, 2023, from https://www.jordanbpeterson.com/philosophy/postmodernism-definition-and-critique-with-a-few-comments-on-its-relationship-with-marxism/
[4] cf. ibid.
[5] ibid.
[6] Jordan Peterson’s “Postmodern Neomarxism” Is Pure Hokum. (n.d.). Retrieved November 5, 2023, from https://jacobin.com/2022/03/jordan-peterson-postmodernism-marxism-philosophy-zizek
[7] ibid.
[8] Postmodernism: Definition and critique (With a few comments on its relationship with marxism) – Jordan Peterson. (n.d.). Retrieved November 5, 2023, from https://www.jordanbpeterson.com/philosophy/postmodernism-definition-and-critique-with-a-few-comments-on-its-relationship-with-marxism/
[9] cf. ibid.
[10] ibid.
[11] cf. ibid.
[12] cf. ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Jordan Peterson’s “Postmodern Neomarxism” Is Pure Hokum. (n.d.). Retrieved November 5, 2023, from https://jacobin.com/2022/03/jordan-peterson-postmodernism-marxism-philosophy-zizek