Dr Jordan Peterson is an interesting character in that he appears reasonable but as he speaks you can feel the undermining of others. Psychologically he knows how to use the mind to influence other minds unaware of the power of words. I felt him to be mind identified and likes the conquest of winning the argument. I saw that as the ego. I felt the tower of Bolingen (Jung’s Tower) where the ego is protected by language, yet always the ego is the vulnerability that projects an image. The outcome of discourse is where to watch. Those supporting his rise is another area to focus on and the forums he appears at. He is typically the poster boy of the right wing. Yet if we move to Byron katie – is it true? When we really probe for truth we find out that no-one knows the truth but comes at life out of perspectives, those who agree join that perspective and change can result. So winning the hearts and MINDS of people is the key. This is how you change what people learn. Mind control is about the intellect. Heart based intelligence allows all perspectives, doesn’t fight for truth, but speaks from inner feeling acknowledging ‘I could be wrong’? This is the highest intelligence, as it is closest to the truth. Words are abstractions but when believed as truth is where they become dangerous. The question is do people think that Dr. Peterson is speaking from the gospel of wisdom or just another perspective? Do they follow him like a leader? Do they worship him as a seer? All get to choose the world they co-create.
My only modus operandi is around intent – is the intent coming from love or fear? The latter divides our world, the former unites. Uniting can be allowing for diverse views not agreement. It is to make peace with diversity. That is the unity I refer to. I am interested in the unification of humanity as a lived experience.
So to the Guardian’s article about Dr. Peterson.
The Canadian psychology professor and culture warrior Jordan B Peterson could not have hoped for better publicity than his recent encounter with Cathy Newman on Channel 4 News. The more Newman inaccurately paraphrased his beliefs and betrayed her irritation, the better Peterson came across. The whole performance, which has since been viewed more than 6m times on YouTube and was described by excitable Fox News host Tucker Carlson as “one of the great interviews of all time”, bolstered Peterson’s preferred image as the coolly rational man of science facing down the hysteria of political correctness. As he told Newman in his distinctive, constricted voice, which he has compared to that of Kermit the Frog: “I choose my words very, very carefully.”
The confrontation has worked wonders for Peterson. His new book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos has become a runaway bestseller in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, Germany and France, making him the public intellectual du jour. Peterson is not just another troll, narcissist or blowhard whose arguments are fatally compromised by bad faith, petulance, intellectual laziness and blatant bigotry. It is harder to argue with someone who believes what he says and knows what he is talking about – or at least conveys that impression. No wonder every scourge of political correctness, from the Spectator to InfoWars, is aflutter over the 55-year-old professor who appears to bring heavyweight intellectual armature to standard complaints about “social-justice warriors” and “snowflakes”. They think he could be the culture war’s Weapon X.
Despite his appetite for self-promotion, Peterson claims to be a reluctant star. “In a sensible world, I would have got my 15 minutes of fame,” he told the Ottawa Citizen last year. “I feel like I’m surfing a giant wave … and it could come crashing down and wipe me out, or I could ride it and continue. All of those options are equally possible.”
Two years ago, he was a popular professor at the University of Toronto and a practising clinical psychologist who offered self-improvement exercises on YouTube. He published his first book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief, in 1999 and appeared in Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller David and Goliath, talking about the character traits of successful entrepreneurs. The tough-love, stern-dad strand of his work is represented in 12 Rules for Life, which fetes strength, discipline and honour.
His ballooning celebrity and wealth, however, began elsewhere, with a three-part YouTube series in September 2016 called Professor Against Political Correctness. Peterson was troubled by two developments: a federal amendment to add gender identity and expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act; and his university’s plans for mandatory anti-bias training. Starting from there, he railed against Marxism, human rights organisations, HR departments and “an underground apparatus of radical left political motivations” forcing gender-neutral pronouns on him.
This more verbose, distinctly Canadian version of Howard Beale’s “mad as hell” monologue in Network had an explosive effect. A few days later, a video of student protesters disrupting one of Peterson’s lectures enhanced his reputation as a doughty truth-teller. “I hit a hornets’ nest at the most propitious time,” he later reflected.
Indeed he did. Camille Paglia anointed him “the most important and influential Canadian thinker since Marshall McLuhan”. Economist Tyler Cowen said Peterson is currently the most influential public intellectual in the western world. For rightwing commentator Melanie Phillips, he is “a kind of secular prophet … in an era of lobotomised conformism”. He is also adored by figures on the so-called alt-light (basically the “alt-right” without the sieg heils and the white ethnostate), including Mike Cernovich, Gavin McInnes and Paul Joseph Watson. His earnings from crowdfunding drives on Patreon and YouTube hits (his lectures and debates have been viewed almost 40m times), now dwarf his academic salary.
Not everybody is persuaded that Peterson is a thinker of substance, however. Last November, fellow University of Toronto professor Ira Wells called him “the professor of piffle” – a YouTube star rather than a credible intellectual. Tabatha Southey, a columnist for the Canadian magazine Macleans, designated him “the stupid man’s smart person”.
“Peterson’s secret sauce is to provide an academic veneer to a lot of old-school rightwing cant, including the notion that most academia is corrupt and evil, and banal self-help patter,” says Southey. “He’s very much a cult thing, in every regard. I think he’s a goof, which does not mean he’s not dangerous.”
So, what does Peterson actually believe? He bills himself as “a classic British liberal” whose focus is the psychology of belief. Much of what he says is familiar: marginalised groups are infantilised by a culture of victimhood and offence-taking; political correctness threatens freedom of thought and speech; ideological orthodoxy undermines individual responsibility. You can read this stuff any day of the week and perhaps agree with some of it. However, Peterson goes further, into its most paranoid territory. His bete noire is what he calls “postmodern neo-Marxism” or “cultural Marxism”. In a nutshell: having failed to win the economic argument, Marxists decided to infiltrate the education system and undermine western values with “vicious, untenable and anti-human ideas”, such as identity politics, that will pave the road to totalitarianism.
Peterson studied political science and psychology, but he weaves several more disciplines – evolutionary biology, anthropology, sociology, history, literature, religious studies – into his grand theory. Rather than promoting blatant bigotry, like the far right, he claims that concepts fundamental to social-justice movements, such as the existence of patriarchy and other forms of structural oppression, are treacherous illusions, and that he can prove this with science. Hence: “The idea that women were oppressed throughout history is an appalling theory.” Islamophobia is “a word created by fascists and used by cowards to manipulate morons”. White privilege is “a Marxist lie”. Believing that gender identity is subjective is “as bad as claiming that the world is flat”. Unsurprisingly, he was an early supporter of James Damore, the engineer fired by Google for his memo Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.
Cathy Newman was wrong to call Peterson a “provocateur”, as if he were just Milo Yiannopoulos with a PhD. He is a true believer. Peterson is old enough to remember the political correctness wars of the early 90s, when conservatives such as Allan Bloom and Roger Kimball warned that campus speech codes and demands to diversify the canon were putting the US on the slippery slope to Maoism, and mainstream journalists found the counterintuitive twist – what if progressives are the real fascists? – too juicy to resist. Their alarmist rhetoric now seems ridiculous. Those campus battles did not lead to the Gulag. But Peterson’s theories hark back to that episode.
Peterson was also shaped by the cold war; he was obsessed as a young man with the power of rigid ideology to make ordinary people do terrible things. He collects Soviet realist paintings, in a know-your-enemy way, and named his first child Mikhaila, after Mikhail Gorbachev. In Professor Against Political Correctness, he says: “I know something about the way authoritarian and totalitarian states develop and I can’t help but think that I am seeing a fair bit of that right now.”
In many ways, Peterson is an old-fashioned conservative who mourns the decline of religious faith and the traditional family, but he uses of-the-moment tactics. His YouTube gospel resonates with young white men who feel alienated by the jargon of social-justice discourse and crave an empowering theory of the world in which they are not the designated oppressors. Many are intellectually curious. On Amazon, Peterson’s readers seek out his favourite thinkers: Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Solzhenitsyn, Jung. His long, dense video lectures require commitment. He combines the roles of erudite professor, self-help guru and street-fighting scourge of the social-justice warrior: the missing link between Steven Pinker, Dale Carnegie and Gamergate. On Reddit, fans testify that Peterson changed, or even saved, their lives. His recent sold-out lectures in London had the atmosphere of revival meetings.
Such intense adoration can turn nasty. His more extreme supporters have abused, harassed and doxxed (maliciously published the personal information of) several of his critics. One person who has crossed swords with Peterson politely declined my request for an interview, having experienced floods of hatemail, including physical threats. Newman received so much abuse that Peterson asked his fans to “back off”, albeit while suggesting the scale had been exaggerated. “His fans are relentless,” says Southey. “They have contacted me, repeatedly, on just about every platform possible.”
While Peterson does not endorse such attacks, his intellectual machismo does not exactly deter them. He calls ideas he disagrees with silly, ridiculous, absurd, insane. He describes debate as “combat” on the “battleground” of ideas and hints at physical violence, too. “If you’re talking to a man who wouldn’t fight with you under any circumstances whatsoever, then you’re talking to someone for whom you have absolutely no respect,” he told Paglia last year, adding that it is harder to deal with “crazy women” because he cannot hit them. His fans post videos with titles such as “Jordan Peterson DESTROY [sic] Transgender Professor” and “Those 7 Times Jordan Peterson Went Beast Mode”. In debate, as in life, Peterson believes in winners and losers.
“How does one effectively debate a man who seems obsessed with telling his adoring followers that there is a secret cabal of postmodern neo-Marxists hellbent on destroying western civilisation and that their campus LGBTQ group is part of it?” says Southey. “There’s never going to be a point where he says: ‘You know what? You’re right, I was talking out of my ass back there.’ It’s very much about him attempting to dominate the conversation.”
Peterson’s constellation of beliefs attracts a heterogeneous audience that includes Christian conservatives, atheist libertarians, centrist pundits and neo-Nazis. This staunch anti-authoritarian also has a striking habit of demonising the left while downplaying dangers from the right. After the 2016 US election, Peterson described Trump as a “liberal” and a “moderate”, no more of a demagogue than Reagan. In as much as Trump voters are intolerant, Peterson claims, it is the left’s fault for sacrificing the working class on the altar of identity politics. Because his contempt for identity politics includes what he calls “the pathology of racial pride”, he does not fully endorse the far right, but he flirts with their memes and overlaps with them on many issues.
“It’s true that he’s not a white nationalist,” says David Neiwert, the Pacific Northwest correspondent for the Southern Poverty Law Center and the author of Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump. “But he’s buttressing his narrative with pseudo-facts, many of them created for the explicit purpose of promoting white nationalism, especially the whole notion of ‘cultural Marxism’. The arc of radicalisation often passes through these more ‘moderate’ ideologues.”
“The difference is that this individual has a title and profession that lend a certain illusory credibility,” says Cara Tierney, an artist and part-time professor who protested against Peterson’s appearance at Ottawa’s National Gallery last year. “It’s very theatrical and shrewdly exploits platforms that thrive on spectacle, controversy, fear and prejudice. The threat is not so much what [Peterson’s] beliefs are, but how they detract from more critical, informed and, frankly, interesting conversations.”
Consider the media firestorm last November over Lindsay Shepherd, a teaching assistant at Ontario’s Wilfrid Laurier University, who was reprimanded for showing students a clip of Peterson debating gender pronouns. Her supervising professor compared it to “neutrally playing a speech by Hitler”, before backing down and apologising publicly. The widely reported controversy sent 12 Rules for Life racing back up the Amazon charts, leading Peterson to tweet: “Apparently being compared to Hitler now constitutes publicity.”
Yet Peterson’s commitment to unfettered free speech is questionable. Once you believe in a powerful and malign conspiracy, you start to justify extreme measures. Last July, he announced plans to launch a website that would help students and parents identify and avoid “corrupt” courses with “postmodern content”. Within five years, he hoped, this would starve “postmodern neo-Marxist cult classes” into oblivion. Peterson shelved the plan after a backlash, acknowledging that it “might add excessively to current polarisation”. Who could have predicted that blacklisting fellow professors might exacerbate polarisation? Apparently not “the most influential public intellectual in the western world”.
The key to Peterson’s appeal is also his greatest weakness. He wants to be the man who knows everything and can explain everything, without qualification or error. On Channel 4 News, he posed as an impregnable rock of hard evidence and common sense. But his arguments are riddled with conspiracy theories and crude distortions of subjects, including postmodernism, gender identity and Canadian law, that lie outside his field of expertise. Therefore, there is no need to caricature his ideas in order to challenge them. Even so, his critics will have their work cut out: Peterson’s wave is unlikely to come crashing down any time soon.