Jordan Peterson: Who he is, what he believes, how he teaches - why you should think twice about him
PART 1 of 3
Jordan B Peterson (JBP) is a Canadian psychologist and academic, who is now a full-time self-help author, speaker and content creator. A lot of people have found his folksy self-help advice to be inspirational and useful, and they're impressed with his rhetorical style. He has millions of fans around the world, most of whom follow him closely.
He probably has even more detractors, though, mainly because his path to fame has been to pick on culture war issues and use his rhetorical skills to take fairly banal right wing talking points, dial up the intensity and make them sound like life and death choices. He's done this on the use of LGBTQI people's pronouns, vaccine hesitation and more recently on climate change, amongst other issues.
I have been following him since he started to rise to fame, and I believe that the evidence of a power-hungry, ultra-conservative, right-wing misogynist and homophobe were there from the very beginning. And now that he is free of his academic position and psychology practice and making his money from being a full-time culture war provocateur, it's just getting worse and worse. I believe his worldview is damaging and dangerous, and the young men who listen to him and follow his advice (this is his preferred target market) will turn out to be amongst the most toxic men ever if they don't step back and take stock of what JBP is actually telling him. In my opinion, his worldview and teachings will entrench misogyny and racism into society at best, and at worst be the foundations for fascist uprisings and violence.
But there lies the problem. Because of his particular style of teaching, it's almost impossible to parse individual sentences or short clips. He speaks in such a roundabout way that almost poetic, and always gives him a way to claim he's been misunderstood - in fact, he uses this technique even in the middle of interviews, where he'll say something, be asked about it, and literally just say he didn't mean what the interviewer thought he meant. He's well read and smart, and very good with weaving long, winding sentences together and taking detours in his thinking, that end up not answering questions or engaging in the actual topic - but nevertheless sounding profound. Or maybe just poetic. If you try and actually understand what he is saying, it is both illusive and frustrating. (NOTE: I am talking here more about his speeches, lectures and podcasts, rather than his two books of Rules. His first book, before he was famous, is just like his talks.)
So, I have waited for some time to collate a number of response videos, podcasts and articles to JBP, put together by people who had the time and resources to take a full JBP interview or video and unpack it, rebutt it and help us understand what is really being said. When you see this, you will realise just how dangerous and damaging JBP's worldview and teachings are. But first you will realise just how banal his points are too.
You'll need quite a long time to listen to all of these (I will post them in three parts) - most of them are longer even than JBP's ramblings. I've tried to label them clearly enough for you to pick and choose not just content, but also style. Most of the people with time, resources and inclination to rebutt and decode JBP also realise that a sentence-by-sentence analysis will not be the best response, and they end up being a bit snarky (and sometimes sweary). JBP will do that to you if you actually take him seriously - so if you're a JBP fan, you shouldn't have a problem listening to the style of some of these critiques. You might find some of these responses are not the style you prefer - I hope you persevere and listen to what they're saying, and not just HOW they're saying it (you do, after all, give that precise grace to JBP if you're a fan of his).
I am not going to link to any JBP clips - I do not want to give him airtime. I think the people who rebutt him give plenty of clips and do so in context and fairly, but if you want to do this properly, you might have to listen to the JBP clips as well (good luck).
I will do this in three parts over the next few days. In this first post, I'll just provide some info related to his background. In Part 2, I'll largely look at his content, and Part 3 at his style.
The comments sections of these posts will become a mess quite quickly. That's not my intention, and I won't be responding to every comment. I am linking to well researched critiques that attempt to take JBP seriously, and go beyond personal digs at him (I have avoided all criticisms, for example, related to his mental health breakdown in late 2020). I want to give you resources to evaluate JBP, listening to his words but assisted by people who know what they're talking about - the people I am linking to include cultural anthrologists, cult survivors and recovery therapists, experts in fascism, religious studies professors, political philosophers and more - all people sounding alarms about the dangers of JBP's teachings. They should be listened to. They've done the work too - each of the links below has extensive show notes, with plenty of links to source materials and original clips.
The purpose of these posts is to provide resources for you to see what they see and then make up your mind. But you need to do the work! I am sounding an alarm about a dangerous voice, and shining a spotlight on a damaging ideology. But I am not doing is creating a playground for people to throw mud at each other and try and convince each other that your view is the correct one. And I am specifically not creating a space for the right wing toxic Peterson bruh-boys to arrive in droves and post nonsense here. I will remind you of this if you step over the boundaries of decency and honest engagement. What I invite you to do is listen to these critiques, reflect on what you discover, and make adjustments to your views as appropriate. I specifically hope that JBP fans will realise that the veneer of self-help guru covers over an ultra-conservative worldview that is antogonistic towards women, LGBTQI people and people of colour. It is a worldview that wants to amplify the voices of white men and suppress everyone else.
But now I am getting ahead of myself. Let's start with some background that might be helpful.
The Behind the Bastards, with host Robert Evans (journalist and fascism researcher and expert) and Cody Johnson (journalist and political commentator), do two episodes in Oct 2020 (right when JBP was in a medically induced coma in Russia), and they do this in two parts:
(reminder - see the show notes on these episodes)
This is a great start to seeing some of the biggest influences on JBP, and the early days of how he became famous. If you don't like Robert and Cody's style, then maybe you'll prefer Helen Lewis' series on The New Gurus from the BBC. The episode on the "Intellectual Dark Web" includes some insights into JBP: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001ghyf
One of JBP's colleagues and mentors at Toronto University wrote a viral article that is now hidden behind a paywall: https://www.thestar.com/opinion/2018/05/25/i-was-jordan-petersons-strongest-supporter-now-i-think-hes-dangerous.html. I read it when it was still open to read, and the main critiques are those echoed in the Behind the Bastards podcasts:
* He has always wanted to be a preacher - specifically a Christian preacher of a megachurch, influencing people into a conservative Christian ideology
* He has a directive style presenting "truths" as if they are self-evident
* He constantly redefines words and then hides behind these redefinitions to ensure he can't be critiqued (more on this in Part 3) -- for a good example of this, see CosmicSkeptic unpacking the simple question JBP was asked: "Do you believe in God" - https://youtu.be/5-yQVlHo4JA (just watch the first 2 minutes, we'll come back to this clip tomorrow).
* He uses the techniques of cult leaders to sell special knowledge, indoctrinate people into a special class of persecuted individuals, and he sees himself as a literal prophet (more on this in Part 2).
We will come back to JBP's content and ideas tomorrow.
You'll find more about these themes in the podcast by Conspirituality: The Resurrection of Jordan Peterson: https://www.conspirituality.net/episodes/28-resurrection-of-jordan-peterson-jeff-brown - the segment on JBP starts at 36:40 in this episode from 4 Dec 2020, after JBP came out of his coma and back into public view.
That's probably enough to get you started (hahaha... what am I saying, there's about 7 hours of listening there). In part 2, we will look at what he believes and teaches, and why it's so problematic.