Jordan B. Peterson appeals to lonely men on the internet who feel alienated by the progress of women and minorities, and he makes plenty of money doing it.
The University of Toronto psychology professor has made a name for himself by posting lectures and self-help videos to YouTube with titles like "Identity politics and the Marxist lie of white privilege" and "Slaying the Dragon Within us." He currently boasts over one million subscribers, and he's been earning approximately $60,000 per month on Patreon for the last few months. New York Times columnist David Brooks thinks Tyler Cowen has a point when he calls Peterson "the most influential public intellectual in the Western world right now."
This summer Peterson is touring around the country with his best-selling new book—only his second in almost 20 years—called 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. In the book and in his YouTube videos, he uses 12 pretty standard, common sense pieces of advice to promote a hyper-individualist worldview full of essentialist notions about gender, which he supports with bad science and worse philosophy. But that's only the beginning of your journey, my friends. The real antidote to chaos is Peterson's "self-authoring" program, which you can purchase on his website for the low low price of $29.90.
(Each self-authoring program appears to be a personality test based on the Big Five model, followed by related guided writing exercises designed to make you to meditate on past, present, and future applications of your "faults" and "virtues." I haven't shelled out the $30 to try out the test because I've already spent billions of dollars on MFA programs, which basically force you to do the same thing, except there's more flowers involved. I kid. I don't. I mostly kid.)
Anyway! Peterson is basically a weird academic troll and a men's rights activist. And yet he sold out the Moore Theatre on May 10th right here in the "Socialist hell hole" of Seattle. In fact, he sold it out so hard that he's coming back to Seattle in June. That performance is not yet sold out.
What are you people doing? Have you seen this guy's videos? Have you heard this guy speak?
If you haven't, it's worth glossing over his major gripes so you can know what you're missing and/or so you can burn your tickets and do anything else that evening instead. If you have, you should seriously reconsidering relying on this slippery, crispy-haired guru for guidance.
Peterson really started making bank from his Patreon in the fall of 2016 when he cooked up alarmist free speech arguments against Canada’s Federal Bill C-16, which extended protections under the Canadian Human Rights Act and under the country's hate speech codes for people who face discrimination on the basis of "gender identity or expression."
Peterson argued the law wasn't really about protecting transgender people from discrimination. It was really about the government forcing citizens to use preferred gender pronouns, which amounts to the government telling people what they can and can't say, which amounts to the government telling people what they can and can't THINK, which will, if you sheeple would just wake the fuck up, lead to an Orwellian nightmare society where radical leftists go around genociding people in the god damned gulags.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission, however, does sort of do what Peterson thought C-16 did. According to the Torontoist, in 2012 the provincial commission amended its code to say that failing to use a person's preferred gender pronouns in an illegal way (i.e. in a way that amounts to harassment) could result in a fine or an order to attend anti-discrimination training. Peterson likes to conflate the OHRC code with C-16 and say that it "compels" people to use particular gender neutral pronouns, but it doesn't. It simply allows for the idea that deliberate misgendering can be a form of discrimination.
After discovering YouTube videos of Peterson saying he wouldn't call a student by their preferred pronoun on principle, The Varsity, the University of Toronto's student newspaper, reported that the dean of Arts & Science sent Peterson a letter claiming his statements ran "contrary to the rights of those persons to equal treatment without discrimination based on their ‘gender identity’ and ‘gender expression.’” This letter freaked Peterson out, and his free speech was so limited by this request that he's spent a lot of time publicly railing against the injustice of maybe being fined for misgendering a student. So now, instead of offering golf claps to Canada for trying to remedy, in part, the suffering of trans and gender nonconforming people, we get to have endless public debates with Peterson about his right to have endless public debates.
For a guy who's so worried about infringements on free speech leading to authoritarian rule, he doesn't spend much time—or any time, so far as I can tell—yelling about the Trump administration's various assaults on the First Amendment. I don't see entire videos dedicated to scolding Trump for prohibiting CDC officials from using the words “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based" in the budget. I don't see videos decrying the Department of Justice for trying to gather personal information on protesters, or warning about the dangers of the president asking the head of the FBI to throw journalists in jail, or condemning the rash of anti-protest bills that hit state legislatures following the successes of Standing Rock, the airport protests, and the demonstrations against police brutality after the shooting of Philando Castile.
To be fair, Peterson is Canadian, so he might not be up on the latest credible threats to free speech in this country. But if he were an American, guess who he would have voted for in the 2016 election? That's right, Peterson says he probably would have voted for Donald J. Trump because Hillary Clinton "beat the identity politics drum" too loudly during the course of her campaign. Never mind that Trump rose to power by practicing white identity politics in the extreme.
But even though he would have voted for Trump, and even though he's beloved by the alt-right, and even though he's a self-described "sexual conservative" with traditionalist views on gender roles, don't you dare call him a "right-winger." He says he's a "classic British liberal," which used to mean something, but which now, I think, refers to someone who likes to sit in a room and talk very seriously about IQ differences between races.
Anyway, since that very dumb C-16 episode, Peterson has come out as a particularly tedious critic of "social justice warriors" and "radical leftists."
Where did these freaks get their wild ideas about the patriarchy and white supremacy, according to Jordan B. Peterson? Where else but from the crooked minds of humanities professors.
Using the language of a conspiracy theory propagated by Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik and our old boy Andrew Breitbart, Peterson claims these professors drilled into the heads of unsuspecting students the "tenets of cultural Marxism," which were dreamed up by the Frankfurt School of philosophers after WWII. The students of these philosophies have since entered the world, and they have now begun demanding stuff like equal pay for equal work and not getting shot by the cops.
According to Vice, Peterson was so concerned about this kind of Marxist indoctrination that he thought to "build a website that would use artificial intelligence to scour course curriculums for 'post-modern neo-Marxist course content' in order to discourage students from taking those classes." (So much for free speech.) He abandoned the project after "35 percent of respondents to an online poll said the proposed website would do more harm than good." Instead of building a website, Peterson simply uses his platform to tell students to stop taking classes in women's studies, ethnic studies, social sciences, English literature, and general humanities courses, which he considers "corrupted by postmodern doctrines." The dangers of these classes, he says, cannot be overstated.
As with the anti-discrimination bill, Peterson rests his argument on a misunderstanding of the subject and builds his apocalyptic concerns on a slippery slope. Philosophically, he believes postmodernists are radical relativists who will destroy society by way of analysis-paralysis and thinly veiled nihilism. But, as English professor Ira Wells points out in his excellent piece, "The Professor of Piffle," this idea is deeply misguided. "If all of Derrida’s and Foucault’s writing can be made to support one sweeping claim," Wells writes, "It is not that interpretation is potentially infinite and therefore meaningless. It is that interpretation must be socially and historically contextualized in order to become meaningful. Much art that we now deem canonical—Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, for instance—would have struck nineteenth-century art patrons as incomprehensible garbage."
Moreover, evidence that contemporary social movements are driven by the "cultural Marxists" is...scant. In The New Republic, Jeet Heer reminds us that "Anti-racism, feminism, and the gay rights movement all have roots that well precede the Frankfurt School and owe far more to the activism of women, people of color, and LGBT individuals than to any German theorist."
Peterson's real beef with these postmodern SJW zombies ties in with the first of his 12 Rules for Life: "Stand up straight with your shoulders back." In that chapter he argues that a serotonin-based "dominance hierarchy" governs lobster behavior. (If a lobster fights and wins, he gets a squirt of serotonin and moves up the social ladder. If he loses, he doesn't get the squirt.)
Humans also produce serotonin, and so, according to Peterson, we are also doomed by natural law to operate within a dominance hierarchy. "So much for the idea that human hierarchies are a socio-cultural construct," he says during a talk in an attempt to dismiss what he thinks is the foundational philosophy of social justice movements. Knowing his crowd, he raises his voice and adopts a more aggressive tone: "It's like, 'No, that's wrong. It's not just a little bit wrong, it's unbelievably wrong. It's mind-bogglingly wrong!"
But according to Leonor Gonçalves, a neuroscientist at University College London, it turns out that Peterson's lobster theory is wrong. It's not just a little bit wrong, it's unbelievably wrong. It's mind-bogglingly wrong! Take it away, Gonçalves:
While lower levels of serotonin are associated with decreased levels of aggression in vertebrates like the lobster, the opposite is true in humans. This happens because low levels of serotonin in the brain make communication between the amygdala and the frontal lobes weaker, making it more difficult to control emotional responses to anger.
So not only does it seem unlikely that low levels of serotonin would make humans settle in at the bottom of a hierarchy, it goes to show that lobsters and humans are just not a great comparison.
Got anything else for us, Gonçalves?
What's more, the animal kingdom is full of examples of hierarchies, with the highest level of organisation observed in insects. These are as closely related to us as lobsters are – they also have serotonin and nervous systems. In the world of bees, the queen is much larger than the males and the only fertile female. She lays all the eggs in the colony after being fertilised by several males. After breeding season, the males are driven out of the colony and die. If we chose to organise society in this 'natural' way, would we be okay with that?
We might, but Jordan B. Peterson wouldn't. He bases his ideology on Jungian archetypes and a Nietzschean understanding of the self. Without wading too deep into it, because it's bad and because Pankaj Mishra already has a great criticism of it in the New York Review of Books, Peterson argues that the West has always associated women with chaos and men with order. Organizing a society where chaos ruled would contravene the natural order, and, you guessed it, lead to societal collapse. What we need to do is realize that life is suffering, face that truth head on, slay the internal dragons that prevent us from applying for jobs or cultivating meaningful relationships with people we're attracted to, and live out our own personal hero myths. As he did with his lobster theory, Peterson cherry picks studies from evolutionary biology that seem to support these views.
Because he believes so strongly in this conception of the world, Peterson rejects the idea that sexism can explain certain social inequities. He doesn't believe, for instance, that the gender pay gap is real. Instead, he argues that women tend to be "naturally" more "agreeable" than men and so gravitate toward human services fields that pay less than the risky and therefore more lucrative jobs that men "naturally" prefer. He also says women tend to be interested in "people rather than things." This phrase will be familiar to anyone who read James Damore's Google memo about how women aren't suited for STEM fields.
Writing for Recode, Rosalind C. Barnett and Caryl Rivers breakdown this essentialist idea and show it's based on junk science. Peterson's and Damore's people/things claim is based on "an outlier study" by Simon Baron-Cohen that no one has been able to replicate, "including Baron-Cohen himself."
Though Peterson spends a lot of time talking about free speech and the evils of postmodernism, he mostly does so in the service of propping up manly men and putting down feminists.
In a recent conversation with Camille Paglia, Peterson says he regrets there isn't a socially acceptable context in which he can hit a woman who is "unfairly trespassing against him," and this despite his belief that people should be more confrontational. To support his assertion, he mentions a woman in Toronto who compared him and his ilk to Nazis.
"I'm defenseless against that kind of female insanity because the techniques I would use against a man who was deploying those tactics are forbidden to me," he says. Because poor, defenseless Peterson won't let himself punch women who criticize him, he laments that "men cannot control crazy women" and calls upon "sane women" to "go after their crazy harpy sisters" whose "terrible femininity" is "invading the culture" and "undermining the masculine power of the culture" in a way that he thinks is "fatal."
And there's the heart of it. Peterson wants to control women, and he blames women for the failures of men. As he told Tucker Carlson, "If you're made out to be a potential manifestation of rape culture, if you're part of toxic masculinity, if your competitive drive is part of a tyrannical impulse, if the heritage to which you belong is regarded as an oppressive patriarchy, then how in the world are you going to step forward with confidence and shoulder that burden? Why wouldn't you just step aside and retreat? Which is exactly what's happening." It isn't, and there's a pussy-grabbing man in the White House to prove it.
But men should step aside and retreat from the "heritage" Peterson thinks men belong to. Rape culture, toxic masculinity, and patriarchy can be deadly for women, but they suck for men and everybody else, too. Trying not to participate in those systems isn't just the morally correct thing to do, it can be personally advantageous as well! If you don't run around thinking that women owe you sex, for instance, your relationships with women will improve. If you quit trying so desperately to conform to manly stereotypes, your feeling of self worth may improve. If you enforce sexual harassment policies and prosecute rapists, then crimes will be adjudicated and we won't live in a world where women must rely on whisper networks and the press in order to seek some semblance of justice. Following pretty reasonable requests to refrain from calling women "bitches" or "harpies" won't render you some prisoner of the thought police, but rather liberate you to invent less cliched insults that don't reinforce harmful stereotypes. How long do we have to play this game?
The answer to feeling alienated from contemporary conversations about the patriarchy or white privilege isn't to dismiss those ideas because some professor gave you permission to, but rather to read as much as you can about those ideas and understand them on your own terms. Read Audre Lorde. Read Kimberlé Crenshaw. Read Judith Butler (slowly). Read Virginia Woolf. Read Hannah Arendt. Read Gloria Anzaldúa. Read Baldwin, read DuBois, read Said! Read all those books that Peterson thinks are too dangerous for you to read, too corrosive for society. And read poems and challenging novels and shitty novels and essay collections! Read long things! Things that take a long time to read! Don't let some YouTube philosopher or Twitter activist completely define your thinking on an issue as important as how to comport yourself within a diverse society, or how best to organize one. Ya dummies. Damn.
And besides, blaming women and minorities for your failure to find purpose in a world that’s basically designed for you is like the cuckiest shit I ever heard.