As the Canadian psychologist turned bestselling author prepares to appear at Richmond's Dominion Energy Center next week, we must remain vigilant for the dire underside of his self-help mantra.
Marilyn Drew Necci | June 1, 2018
You’ve probably heard Jordan Peterson’s name a fair bit lately. His self-help manual, 12 Rules For Life, became a massive bestseller immediately upon its January 2018 release. He’s also been the center of multiple controversies in the media, most recently as a result of a New York Times story that hailed him as a leading member of the so-called “intellectual dark web” (a group that also includes atheist philosopher Sam Harris, conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, and others).
And all of his recent gains stem from the most enduring source of his popularity — his YouTube channel, where his nearly 2 million subscribers, many of which seem to be disenfranchised young white men, regularly immerse themselves in multi-hour lectures with titles like “Identity politics and the Marxist lie of White Privilege,” “Message to the school shooters: past, present, and future,” and “The equity authoritarians MUST BE STOPPED, NOW!”
Getting nervous yet? You should be. Because what, from the outside, appears to be a fatherly middle-aged professor trying to pass his insights along to the admittedly-numerous post-collegiate young people seeking direction and opportunity in our stagnant economic environment, is actually a far more sinister gateway into the internet-based underworld of hate that has only continued to gain strength in the wake of Unite The Right.
It doesn’t take too much digging into Peterson’s background to figure this out, either. While the most casually aware among you might mainly think of him as “the ‘clean your room’ guy” due to some of his more innocuous recent pronouncements, the incident that originally brought the man to fame is one that should hit particularly close to home for GayRVA’s readers.
Peterson, who in his day job is a professor of psychology at the University Of Toronto, began stirring up a lot of trouble in late 2016 and early 2017 as Canada’s Parliament prepared to pass “An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code,” known as Canada Bill C-16. This bill added “gender identity or expression” to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination within Canada, and oh boy Jordan Peterson did NOT like that.
Specifically, Peterson didn’t like the idea that, based on his (likely correct) interpretation of the bill, he could face legal ramifications if he referred to students in his classes by the pronouns he deemed appropriate to them — which is to say, exclusively based on their birth assignment. Peterson issued a video series, before C-16 was passed, in which he declared that he would refuse to comply with the law.
In the wake of this declaration, though he retained his position at the University Of Toronto, he had some trouble with getting turned down for grants, something that had never happened to him before. His appearances at other colleges became subject to protests by activists. That said, he was also the beneficiary of an Indiegogo campaign that raised him nearly $200,000 Canadian — way more than the total of grants he’d lost. And he was invited to speak to Canada’s Parliament about C-16 before they voted on it. Thankfully, the bill passed in June 2017 anyway.
Since then, Peterson’s opposition to transgender civil rights has become a core tenet of his personal brand, with “There are only two genders” evolving into a rallying cry for his fans. And while he has been on sabbatical since the release of 12 Rules For Life, he does still retain a full professorship at the University Of Toronto. The question of his pronoun use towards students has therefore not been applied to real life as yet, but speaking to Vice in 2016, he responded to a question about whether he’d be willing to use pronouns a student asked him to use by saying, “It would depend on how they asked me. If I could detect that there was a chip on their shoulder, or that they were [asking me] with political motives, then I would probably say no.”
The deference Peterson seems to expect from people who are requesting the respect of civil rights that they are both legally and morally justified in asking for points to a depressingly common, obliviously entitled mindset that has clearly been formed by a lifetime spent at the top of every oppressive structural food chain that exists in our society. And Peterson is like many of his demographic background in that he obviously wants to stay there.
This brings us to a bigger question. Is Jordan Peterson a Trojan horse for the alt-right? Does the academic, intellectual gloss he’s able to provide for his overall brand with things like his “Psychological Significance of Biblical Stories” video series give him the cover he needs to disseminate oppressive views, and organize for the forces of racist, patriarchal, anti-LGBTQ hate who have rallied around him in recent years?
While the love Peterson receives within the internet underground of the alt-right is undeniable — former alt-right inductee @MrHappyDieHappy has written of the ways alt-right insiders lure “lonely, disenfranchised young men” into the fold with carefully selected Jordan Peterson videos — determining whether Peterson is truly “one of them” is, unfortunately, complicated. Trans YouTuber and former academic Contrapoints (whose work I’ve previously praised) has an excellent half-hour video explaining the exact basis for Peterson’s thinking, which is incredibly enlightening if you actually care about what makes the guy tick — it definitely informed my thinking on the subject. However, it’s way too in-depth for our purposes, so let’s just do a crash course.
Peterson’s chief bugaboo, according to his more politically-focused rhetoric, is “postmodernist neo-Marxism,” which he sometimes extends to include “identity politics” tacked onto the end. Peterson’s a dyed-in-the-wool modernist — as a philosopher, he believes in universal human truths that can be understood, pinned down, and agreed upon by everyone involved.
But then, Marx was a modernist too. He outlined a framework for society as organized around a class struggle between workers and bosses and saw the inevitable result of our history as a worker uprising leading to Communism. And “identity politics,” which defines oppressed classes by seemingly fixed characteristics like race, gender, and sexual orientation, also has a very modernist foundation.
So what’s Peterson really mad about? Let’s let him explain. “We’ve been publicly funding extremely radical, postmodern leftist thinkers who are hellbent on demolishing the fundamental substructure of Western civilization,” he said in a 2017 video lecture for The Epoch Times. “Instead of pitting the proletariat, the working class, against the bourgeois, they started to pit the oppressed against the oppressor. That opened up the avenue to identifying any number of groups as oppressed and oppressor and to continue the same narrative under a different name… They use all this compassion[ate] language, and ‘I’m on the side of the oppressed,’ all of that posturing, it does nothing but mask the underlying drive to power.”
This idea that oppressed people standing up to oppressors and demanding equal treatment under law — the basic civil rights battle that has played out for a variety of oppressed groups within and outside of the United States over the past century, and continues to play out in important ways for the LGBTQ community today — is somehow an immoral power grab, an attempt to overturn the rightful order of our society that has been established for centuries, always with straight cis white men at the top, is the heart of Peterson’s philosophy. But you don’t have to believe me — you can look at his 12 Rules For Life and see it for yourself.
Get beyond the simple ones — the self-help stuff, like Rule 1: “Stand up straight with your shoulders back;” or Rule 3: “Make friends with people who want the best for you.” Good advice, to be sure, but nothing you couldn’t have found at another time, in another form, through previous self-help megasellers like Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends And Influence People or Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People.
Instead, let’s look at the more sinister rules, like Rule 5: “Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.” At this point, it’s hard to ignore the fact that a big portion of Peterson’s fan base probably don’t have children anyway. Indeed, many identify with the misogynist “incel” community — for whom Peterson expressed sympathy in a recent New York Times article, then went on to offer “enforced monogamy” as the cure for their woes (because “otherwise women will all only go for the most high-status men,” and we just can’t have that).
However, instead of focusing on how potentially irrelevant discussion of one’s children is for most of his audience, let’s instead talk about some of Peterson’s explanation for Rule 5, which revolves around the notion that one must take a firmer disciplinary hand towards children than is currently socially approved. This is a potentially controversial proposition in and of itself, but what ends up sneaking into the chapter is a far more sinister justification for misogyny. Consider this excerpt, about the aftermath of a young boy striking his sister.
“His mother picked him up immediately afterward (but not her frightened daughter), and told him in hushed tones not to do such things, while she patted him comfortingly in a manner clearly indicative of approval. She was out to produce a little God-Emperor of the Universe. That’s the unstated goal of many a mother, including many who consider themselves advocates for full gender equality. Such women will object vociferously to any command uttered by an adult male, but will trot off in seconds to make their progeny a peanut-butter sandwich if he demands it while immersed self-importantly in a video game. The future mates of such boys have every reason to hate their mothers-in-law.”
Are modern young men — many of whom probably subscribe to Peterson’s YouTube channel — this exact sort of hateful troll? If so, it seems Peterson considers that the fault of their mothers. Those young men deserve enforced monogamy, according to Peterson; their mothers deserve to be hated both by them and their captive wives.
This sort of strictly defined, traditional hierarchy is at the heart of Peterson’s message, and you don’t have to look very hard for it. Make no mistake — when Jordan Peterson comes to the Dominion Energy Center next Saturday night, he won’t just be here to sell copies of a book about how young men should stand up straight and clean their rooms. He’ll be delivering a message calculated to win more foot soldiers over to the conservative cause of advancing white supremacy, patriarchy, and heteronormativity, and suppressing those of us who don’t fit his vision of Western civilization’s most prominent attributes. Don’t be taken in.
Top Photo: Jordan Peterson debates students at University of Toronto/via YouTube