“Ideologies are Low-Resolution Representations”

— Jordan Peterson

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I just listened to a really wonderful podcast conversation between Joe Rogan and Jordan Peterson. I really liked Peterson’s metaphor for how ideologies are like low-resolution ideas, and this concept made an impression on me because of my background in graphic design. More importantly, it gave me a better understanding of what I’m attempting to do in this blog, which is to take a broad brush, paint some quick strokes, and then start filling in the details as best I can in order to make a high-resolution picture of an issue.

I have interests in a great many subjects, and I often get frustrated by how little time I have to come to deeper understandings on topics like poverty or racism. These are huge, complex topics that I may never completely understand, but Peterson rightly warns me of “defaulting to an ideology”.

Anyway, I wrote out his entire segment on low resolution and high resolution ideas for you to read. Enjoy.


If you’re in an ideologue you can only have one variable. For example, “Men and women measured en-masse don’t have the same income, therefore the system is corrupt.” It just pushes the ideology forward with no thought.

When people first encounter a complex topic like income differences … imagine you’re drawing a map of the territory and you don’t know the territory very well, but the first thing you do is just roughly sketch out the shapes of the continents, and maybe you’re wrong. Like the early European maps of North America. .. you kinda get one coastline right, and you’re guessing the rest. It’s blurry and grey. And then, as you investigate more and more the picture of the situation becomes higher and higher in resolution. It’s hard to go from low resolution representation to a high resolution representation. Ideologies are low-resolution representations.

The thing about a low-resolution representation is that it looks like it covers everything. …but it doesn’t. The closer you look the more details there are.

Get a three-year old to draw a helicopter, they put a little cross on the top a circle and a stick through the circle and that’s the helicopter. Well, you know that when you look at it, it’s a helicopter, but no one would expect that thing to fly. If you want to change that into a real model of a helicopter you have to increase your focus and concentration on every single element of the entity, and that takes a tremendous amount of cognitive effort.

Sometimes you don’t even know what you don’t know about something. There are 50 reasons why men and women’s incomes differ. That doesn’t mean I can say all 50 of those differences. Each of those 50 differences are fragment-able into another dozen categories each… maybe there’s 600 reasons why men and women’s salaries differ.

But you have to spend a tremendous amount of time paying attention and thinking to build your model of reality into that level of resolution. And basically what you do is default to temperamentally influenced ideologies. They give you a one-bit answer to everything. Why are men’s and women’s salaries different? Oppression! It makes you feel like you know something, and people like that. They don’t like the feeling that there’s something they don’t know. They don’t like to be in chaos.

— Jordan Peterson


If you’d like to listen to the piece yourself, it is at minute 24:00 in the YouTube video I posted below. I highly recommend listening to all three hours front-to-back. Peterson is a very insightful thinker.

Image source: Public domain image of an Early North American map that I Photoshopped just for your amusement.

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