Jordan Peterson: What he believes - and why it enables right-wing conservatives (part 2 of 3)
Updated: Jan 9
If you haven't yet looked at my first post on Jordan Peterson (JBP), it is worth starting there (here's a blog version: https://www.graemecodrington.com/post/jordan-peterson-who-he-is-what-he-believes-how-he-teaches-why-you-should-think-twice-about-him). In this post, I will be looking at some of the reasons why I believe JBP is not just a benign self-help guru, but is rather a dangerous and damaging mouthpiece of the alt-right who's teachings will lead to a worse world and more toxic masculinity.
As in Part 1, I will point you to a number of resources made available by people with more time and resources than I have, and hope you take the time to work through these resources and make up your own mind. I say again that the comments section is for you to post any follow up questions you might have about these resources, and NOT to attempt to change other people's minds about their views on JBP. Here's a thought: if you disagree with any of these resources, you can just move on with your life and not comment here at all...
Right, on with the show...
If we get the very core of JBP's worldview, the best short overview is ContraPoints video from 2019: https://youtu.be/4LqZdkkBDas (Note: ContraPoints likes to tell a story along with her philosophical insights, so there's some amateur dramatics interspersed with the explanations). The simplest summary is this (these are direct quotes from multiple JBP videos and books):
* Life is tough - in fact, the essence of human existence is suffering
* Happiness is not enough to sustain you through this suffering
* You need a higher purpose in life
* That higher purpose comes from understanding that all of nature, and all of humanity, exists in hierarchies of values and power dynamics (he uses Jungian archetypes in particular)
* The best explanation of human hierarchies is what the Judeo-Christian God has taught, including specifically that the world is mired in evil and only Jesus can save you
* Your goal should be to protect conservative and traditional values and social orders, and to learn from those higher up the hierarchy
* White, western, christian heterosexual men are on top of the human hierarchy - and this is correct, traditional and inevitable
* Anyone who tries to overturn this hierarchy, or devalue the dominance of (white, western, christian, heterosexual) men is a trying to bring chaos to the world, and is a postmodern neomarxist who must be resisted
* Diversity is bad, political correctness is bad, support for minorities is bad
* "The Left" is trying to destroy the world, because they are trying to change these ancient mythic hierarchies.
I'd be happy for people to help me add to or adjust this list above - I'll edit it as required, but I think this is at the heart of it. (I am leaving out all the fiddly bits and stories, like lobsters and Disney princesses... just for clarity; even though clarity is something JBP clearly is not a fan of.)
We will get to his rhetorical approach and style in Part 3, which brings a whole set of problems all on its own (especially the issue of how he takes a point of view, states it as fact but within a mythic or archetypal framework and thus presents it as objective reality rather than subjective opinion - more on that in a few days time). It's difficult, however, to separate the content from the style of JBP, but I will try - for the sake of clarity.
I hope it is clear to see why his worldview is damaging, especially to anyone who is not a white, wester... ok, I am just going to say "man" from now on - but I mean a very specific type of man, of which JBP is an (ahem) archetype (sorry, I mean epitome, but couldn't help myself).
The very best analysis of JBP and his teaching has been done by Cody Johnson of Some More News: https://youtu.be/hSNWkRw53Jo or https://omny.fm/shows/some-more-news/smn-a-brief-look-at-jordan-peterson. It's 3 hours long (with a few adverts you can skip over, and lots and lots of extended JBP clips). It really is the most well researched and laid out critique of JBP. If it's helpful, here's some time codes for key parts of the 3 hours (you will see, if you know what they are, that Cody uses Jungian archetypes as a framing device):
8:53 - Jordan Peterson Is Not A Climate Expert
19:24 - Jordan Peterson Demands That You Respect His Bigotry
26:28 - Who, What, Why, and How is Jordan Peterson?
34:56 - The Persona
1:28:44 - The Shadow
2:00:47 - The Anima And Animus
2:34:13 - The Self
Note again, the extended source list provided by Cody.
You will discover a few themes through this analysis:
# 1. JBP is wrong about almost everything he says, outside his specific field of psychological expertise (treatment of anxiety disorders). This sounds like an insane claim to make, but I will be happy to stick by it (and more links below will prove this). His style relies on him taking a snippet of something he's read somewhere, take it out of context, phrase it as a categorical imperative and objective fact, and then proceed from there.
Here's one example of him talking about climate change on Joe Rogan's podcast, analysed by David Doel of The Rational National: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_ADtoO-f0Q
Another example: Jordan Peterson has a real issue with women. In an interview with Vice, he said that men and women shouldn't work together in the workplace. He threw in an issue he has repeated many, many times about women and makeup, saying that women wear makeup to be sexually aggressive. You can watch a clip of the interview, and look at some commentary here: https://twitter.com/steinkobbe/status/961461529555210240
But notice that JBP says: "Why do you make your lips red? Because they turn red during sexual arousal, that's why." Notice his style: ask a question, but don't pause - give the answer yourself. This is called “delivered truths” and is frowned upon in academics, and a rhetorical technique we'll look at in more detail in the next part of this analysis. But for now, just ask: when else might someone's lips and cheeks become flushed? After exercise, when they're feeling healthy and maybe tired. When they're embarrased and blushing. When they're hot. When they're cold. When they're drunk. Women might wear makeup for multiple reasons, and it might be related to being seen as attractive - but this is the same as a man choosing a well cut suit, or combing his hair. It doesn't invite sexual advances, nor indicate a need for sexual aggression. And it's not part of some archetypal dominance display that will upend the natural order of the workplace. And yet, on the basis of this trite - and incorrect - observation, JBP suggests that (maybe) women shouldn't be allowed in the workplace.
For more analysis of some of JBP's latest work, specificially his new paywalled "TV series" for The Daily Wire, "Dragons, Monsters and Men", listen to Cody Johnson again, being hosted by Robert Evans on Behind the Bastards podcast (they're going point by point through each episode with plenty of analysis, but also - fair warning - just unbelieving, jaw dropped snark):
By the way... he's completely wrong about almost everything he's ever said about lobsters.
# 2. JBP's complaints about "the woke left" and "cancel culture" are disingenguous (by which I mean that people are cancelled all the time, by both the left and right, for many different reasons, but JBP whines only about "the left" and doesn't engage with the reasons why "the left" might get someone cancelled). JBP's actual issue is not cancel culture and principles of freedom of speech, but rather not being allowed to continue to say whatever they want to (no matter how bigoted and hurtful to others) without being called out. This is, I believe, what attracts many of his right-wing fans to him - he gives them permission to keep saying and doing things against minorities in their societies.
Here's an example of what I mean by him being disingenuous, from The Rational National: JBP on white privilege, in the context of the Munk debate about polticial correctness and freedom of speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPSKvdJ9uMk - David Doel unpacks the real disingenuousness of Peterson's stance against "the woke left" who engage in "cancel culture", and shows how he and others on the right do exactly the same when its about them and their existence (mainly as white men). To see this highlighted, skip to 26:00.
# 3. JBP is anti-women and anti-LGBTQI, especially anti-trans. The first time he chose to leave Twitter (only for a few hours, as it happens, but he still made a big deal of it), was when he received massive pushback against his comments about the model, Yumi Nu's cover shoot for Sports Illustrated Swimwear edition. Here's the Rational National again (I am using these as they are short and on one point only - these issues are covered in other podacsts as well): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vj_lNRIlctY
And then JBP was suspended from Twitter because he dead-named Elliot Page, and responded with a 14 minute long rant video that's so toxic it's poisonous (look it up - if that's not enough to turn you off the man, I don't know what is). Here's how David Doel of The Rational National unpacked it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tlPdDAD7pJk
# 4. JBP is ultra-conservative. He wants to maintain the current status quo (at least in western democracies), where men are on top of the hierarchy. Here is David Doel of Rational National again talking about JBP on hierarchies and maintaining the current system, and pushing back against JBP's characterisations of his adversaries as "postmodern marxists" and identity politics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oY1JWInbr6k
# 5. He is filled with rage. Here's some homework for extra credit: try and find a photo of JBP smiling. Or even just looking kindly. He's chosen style is stern, hard and harsh. Yes, "don't judge a book by its cover", but in this case... Here's Gabor Maté back in 2019 on JBP: https://youtu.be/qOJ0lUSBI14 (I wonder what Gabor would say about 2020-2022 JBP, who is even more enraged). I'll be honest, reading this book, 12 Rules, felt like I was being shouted at by an angry uncle; but maybe that's just me.
# 6. JBP claims to be a Christian, and uses lots of Biblical references and even does Bible teachings - all in aid of proving that his traditional, right wing conservative views are ancient and archetypal. If it matters to you at all that JBP has desires to be a Christian pastor, and definitely sees himself as defending conservative Christian ideals, then you might be interested in this excellent analysis by CosmicSkeptic, which shows that there is no difference between JBP's views of God and Jesus and that of an atheist (he views God and Jesus as myths and stories): https://youtu.be/5-yQVlHo4JA (this is also a good unpacking of JBP’s rhetorical style). If you're a Christian, this should be a problem for you.
And yet, as Cody Johnson and Robert Evans show in their unpacking of the Dragons, Monsters and Men videos, JBP continues to go back to the Bible and claim special status for the dominance hierarchies he thinks he sees there. If you're an atheist, this should be a problem for you.
For much more on JBP's religious views, listen to Decoding the Gurus unpacking a conversation between JBP, Douglas Murray and Jonathan Pageau, in which they attempt to find the solution to the meta-meaning crisis, and find it only in traditional (conservative) Christianity: https://decoding-the-gurus.captivate.fm/episode/peterson-murray-pageau-transcendent-tableware
# 7. Ask yourself what he wants you to do. The answer, by the way is: nothing. As JBP has it: the world is very complicated and hard (we'll come back to these assertions tomorrow), and it's too difficult to really understand it, and even if you could there'd be nothing you could do about it. So what must you do? Just accept traditional, conservative values, keep your head down and look after yourself. He never calls for systems change. Seriously - he sounds like he does, but he doesn't actually. Listen carefully. Don't be sucked in by his rhetorical questions, which he then answers himself with a (non-truthful) received truth and then... leaves you hanging to choose your own thing to do. His approach requires no drastic changes to anything, and invites you to maintain status quo at all costs.
So what will be the result? I'll talk about that after I've done these three analysis posts. But I think the result will be that young men initially feel that they're "taking control" of their lives, and this will feel empowering. But then they'll feel that the problems they perceive in the world will not go away. And they'll then start to feel angry, and believe that the only way to create certainty for themselves is to destroy the parts of the system that are opposed to the traditional hierarchies they believe will bring certainty. And they use violence to do this - microaggressions at first, and then societal violence. Is JBP a fascist? Maybe. Will JBP's teachings lead to fascism? Definitely.
# 8. I could go on. You'll notice his support of all the right-wing talking points, from libertarianism and neoliberal politics and economics, to racism, elitism and many other isms... I will suggest again that you take the 3 hours needed to listen to Cody Johnson's in depth analysis: https://youtu.be/hSNWkRw53Jo or https://omny.fm/shows/some-more-news/smn-a-brief-look-at-jordan-peterson
One more reminder: the comments section below is for corrections to what is written above, and questions for clarity and comprehension. This is not your place to try and change the mind of other people.
Part 3 will come later this week, when we will look at JBP's style.