When I first encountered Dr. Jordan Peterson, I was put off by him almost immediately—he appeared a cold, cynical, even angry figure. I thought he misunderstood many of the concepts that, while I was critical of them myself, I was fascinated by. And I felt, in a way, like he was attacking my own stance; therefore, (in my arrogance) I reckoned his research must have missed something!
But the more I listened, the more I was convinced that he knew what he was talking about. He spoke about issues from various perspectives, and with a nuanced understanding. There remains a number of significant topics that I disagree with him on; however, his influence on today’s zeitgeist is significant enough that I believe he is worth talking about.
Peterson’s rise to fame/infamy began in September 2016, when he posted a series of YouTube videos criticising Bill C-16—a law passed which added gender expression and gender identity as protected grounds under the Canadian Human Rights Code. He claimed that the bill was an infringement of free speech, and that it would become a cause of compelled speech.
His upsurge has received mixed reviews. While he has amassed an enormous online following, and sold millions of copies of his new book, 12 Rules For Life, there remains a substantial number of people who disagree with his views on Marxist philosophies, postmodernism, religion, and (of course) who don’t share his opinions on gender. Instead of embracing the ‘progressive’ notions, which promote gender fluidity and non-binary gender, Peterson argues that gender is limited by biological truths, which Bill C-16 ignores. During a presentation on ‘The Rising Tide of Compelled Speech in Canada‘ at Queen’s University, Ontario, he criticised the bill’s use of the term ‘gender spectrum’: “I don’t know what that means, and I don’t believe the people who wrote it know what that means either.” At one point during the event, two protestors—quite perfectly summarising the opposition to Peterson’s alleged defence of free speech—came on stage holding a sign that read: “Freedom to smash bigotry.”
Peterson has attracted the acclaim of many people, as evidenced by his book sales. His audience, however, is observed as being mostly young men, and there is an accusation of Peterson that his stance encourages alt-right, Neo-Nazi thought. In a scathing article on Macleans.ca, Peterson was described as being “The Stupid Man’s Smart Person.”
Personally, though, I feel like there is a misunderstanding between Peterson and his critics. This was well demonstrated in an interview he had on Channel 4 with Cathy Newman, which now has more than 10 million views on YouTube. There was a theme in this interview where Peterson’s words were twisted to paint a picture of him that was quite inaccurate.
Moreover, the article I referenced on Macleans.ca seems to misrepresent his message, while bringing attention to factors that are out of his control (such as the people who listen to him).
Peterson’s message is a very basic, almost cliché encouragement. His 12 Rules could be summarised, in my reading, by one simple expression: “Buck up, bucko!”
It’s hardly a radical or original message. But his book does dress that message up in an impressively academic way; thereby it acts as a kind of self-help book for intellectuals. There are many other factors (less noble factors, too) that the book is celebrating success—Peterson is by no means a messiah! Criticism of him, though, has so far lacked genuine substance, or reference to his actual words. I think that is a shame.
One thing that is worth praising Peterson for is his success in attracting people with polarized views, and from different ends of the political spectrum, into the same discussion. His presence is known, one way or another, by both radical Feminists and Neo-Nazis (as well as everywhere in between). I think it’s rare that people from these two opposite poles meet, and I believe that a civilized dialogue between them (as unlikely as that seems) would be enormously beneficial to human consciousness.
In the name of progress, it is important to remember that humanity will not progress without the so-called alt-right, nor will it progress without the so-called ‘Social Justice Warriors’. Humanity can only progress in unity with itself. In such a crucial time, evolutionarily speaking, it is more important than ever that people talk openly, honestly, and reach some sort of understanding. The reluctance to accept each other’s differences—even those that are misled – and to work towards a logical compromise could have devastating results.
I would love to see Peterson debate thinkers along the lines of Peter Joseph or Roxanne Meadows, whose futuristic and technological points of view he seems not to have considered so deeply. Perhaps a meeting with leftists such as Abby Martin, or even an academic behemoth such as Noam Chomsky, would yield interesting results—maybe these debates would challenge Peterson in such a way that hasn’t really happened yet.
But what is true of Peterson, in my opinion, is that he has built a platform on which people can express their thoughts honestly and unashamedly. Whatever your view of Peterson may be, you can’t deny that there’s something impressive—even decent about what he has achieved.