Jordan Peterson is The Professor Who Teaches You How to Save Your Father from the Belly of the Beast

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Picture by Lorpo314

Sometimes you get to the end of watching a Canadian Senate hearing about a gender identity bill and you sit there, finish your box of Wheat Thins, and wonder how you got where you are.

This is what happened to everyone who for the last year had been following the internet maelstrom surrounding Prof. Jordan Peterson.

Haven’t heard of Jordan Peterson?

Take one part Carl Jung, one part Solzhenitsyn, one part Kermit the Frog, and one part St. Augustine. Put all this in a conceptual blender.

That’s something like Jordan Peterson.

If you do a search online you will most likely stumble upon articles from both left and right media, which attempt to outline his meteoric rise (he is now the 25th highest earning producer on Patreon), but each inevitably fails in their own way telling the whole story. Right media cast him as the savior of free speech in a University campus culture of trigger warnings and student infantilization. Left media cast him as a fussy provocateur who is reading too much into a piece of legislation designed to categorize transgender people as a protected class against discrimination.

But these are both limited perspectives and they are limited in an important way.

In short, Jordan Peterson’s popularity came from a video he made critiquing Bill C-16, a piece of Canadian legislation that added gender identity or expression to a list of protected categories under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Peterson’s critique was a small spark that ignited the fumes building around the issue of political correctness on college campuses. A year before Peterson’s video, the September 2015 edition of Atlantic Monthly published an article entitled “The Coddling of the American Mind,” arguing that the academy’s continuing tendency towards more authoritarian means of policing both student and faculty behavior was causing more harm than good. Safe spaces, trigger warnings, censorship, etc. These are self-defeating and preemptively ideological means that are unproven to produce any positive social change. The article received much attention which was mostly supportive from all points on the political spectrum. It also sparked a heightened media awareness around issues of ideologically motivated campus protest. And we are still debating these issues today.

So the stage was more or less set for Jordan Peterson and boy, did he hit it out of the park.

Rather than tackle these issues in the abstract Peterson critiqued a specific bill (C-16) he found troubling. The bill itself was pretty innocuous but there were some troubling implications when interpreted in light of Canadian legal precedent. For example the Ontario Human Rights Commission published ambiguous and contradictory guidelines on transgender pronoun use, making it unclear as to whether using the wrong pronoun in reference to a transgender person was grounds for harassment and therefore technical discrimination. In one place it says, “The Code does not specify the use of any particular pronoun or other terminology,” and in another: “Refusing to refer to a trans person by their chosen name and a personal pronoun that matches their gender identity, or purposely misgendering, will likely be discrimination when it takes place in a social area covered by the Code, including employment, housing and services like education. The law is otherwise unsettled as to whether someone can insist on any one gender-neutral pronoun in particular.”

Peterson’s video highlighted the dangers of a bill that wouldn’t regulate hate speech against protected groups, but go further to compel and mandate the use of certain words.

After the video Peterson’s YouTube subscriber count went from a few thousand to 40,000. A few viral videos went around of him debating students on the issue, and his account grew larger. A public debate at the University of Toronto was held in which Peterson debated three activist professors in support of the bill, and still his account grew larger.

What made Peterson’s case against C-16 so compelling, and different from the general case laid out against the overreach of political correctness in the “Coddling of the American Mind,” was the depth of his critique and the narrowness of his focus. Love him or hate him, you cannot say that Jordan Peterson’s arguments are shallow. His knowledge of human psychology, biology, philosophy, religion, and literature is such that no simple dogma can honestly stand up to his case against politically compelled benevolence. This is why most of the time his opposition resorts to chanting slogans or blowing air horns or calling him names. You may disagree with him, but to really meet his arguments on his level, you’re going to have to go deep.

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But of all the videos on Jordan Peterson’s channel, Bill C-16 plays a small role. Although because of the publicity surrounding the issue it has been something like a lightning rod which has given an audience to the rest of his material.

Peterson’s entire philosophy of western culture, for instance.

Maps of Meaning,” is both a book and a lecture series which attempts to synthesize modern neuropsychology with religion and story-telling. In short he attempts to trace the development of religion and political theory from a biological necessity to its more current manifestations. Rather than dismiss religion as mere superstition, Peterson handles the great religious traditions as an important evolutionary step towards developing meaning and significance. I have found his case to be incredibly compelling both personally and scientifically. In my humble estimation he has done even more than Joseph Campbell to bring ancient philosophies into focus for the modern person to seriously think about.

I don’t want to ruin anything for you but if you are interested in what I’ve laid out so far and are planning to watch any Jordan Peterson videos, keep these mantras in mind:

“Sort yourself out.”

“Slay the dragon of chaos so you can save your father from the belly of the beast.”

“Clean your damn room.”

A study of the YouTube comments shows the impact Peterson is having on hundreds of thousands of people. Below are some touching ones I cherry-picked:

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If you want a condensed version of Jordan Peterson to dip your toes into before committing to a longer lecture, here are some good appetizers:

What do you think about Jordan Peterson? Do you think he has a point and his analysis of human nature is correct? Or do you think he is reacting too strongly against progressive ideology?

Let us know in the comment section.


Interested in Jordan Peterson’s philosophy?

Check out Maps of Meaning on Amazon:

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21 thoughts on “Jordan Peterson is The Professor Who Teaches You How to Save Your Father from the Belly of the Beast

    1. I honestly don’t know if the ‘narrowness’ comes from his focus on this one issue–which paints the rest of his experience with more general topics–causing it to seem one-sided. It could also just be that he willfully simplifies otherwise complex issues into more digestible form. Or he could be right. My take is that he is doing the best job (of anyone I can think of) in telling the truth in a powerful way on a divisive issue. But I don’t know, there always exists the possibility that we are both wrong.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m suspicious of that narrow style of framing. It reminds me of the religious right’s historical anti-gay stance. Their religious freedom to deny service to a gay person.
        Would a Canadian judge really sentence someone for using the wrong pronoun, but in good faith? Or, like hate crimes, would judges have leeway?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It’s interesting that it reminds you of the religious right’s anti-gay stance. Other than the argument’s narrowness, is there any other element that leads you to that conclusion? I think I understand where you’re coming from if we are talking about conceptualizing the last 10-20 years. But I think if we take a broader historical swath, he’s actually saying the opposite of what the religious right has historically said. For instance, when the ‘religious right’ was literally all there was in America about 150-200 years ago, and had unchallenged political power, there were many authoritarian laws on the books that squelched freedom of expression, thought, etc. I think his argument is that ‘progressiveness,’ in a general sense, and laws like C-16 in particular, are simply new manifestations of authoritarianism which punishes any heresy it sees outside itself as anathema. The hypothesis is: progressivism is like a new religion that is gaining a bit of steam and has showed that it will not shy from grabbing the power to punish those who disagree with it, which sounds a lot like the old religious right.

        Sorry this is so long.

        To the second part of your question, I don’t think, and I don’t think Peterson thinks, a judge in good faith would unjustifiably sentence someone. I think his concern is that if you have to rely on the good faith of a judge, maybe the legislation is not written as well as it could be. If we say in one breath, here’s a law our society needs. And then in another breath we’re like, yeah, but don’t take it that seriously. Does that not show something inherently flawed about the moral argument of a piece of legislation? I don’t know.

        Thanks by the way for substantively engaging with this post. This is exactly what I think moves the ball forward.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Long is good.
        I completely agree with your “To the second part of your question” paragraph. Perhaps the writing isn’t up to standard. But of course, that will depend on the starting point.
        France has strict laws which limit the right to insult someone in a manner that defames them. That also applies to groups. Thus far there seem to be no serious complaints of that affecting freedom of speech.

        Interestingly enough what I find Christian-Right-ish in the professor’s argument is precisely the right to impose 🙂 He proposes people do not have a right to self-definition. In other words one can’t label one’s self, but an outsider has the right to label them. To me that doesn’t square with classic liberal (Enlightenment) principles.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I basically agree with you. Perhaps there’s only a slight difference in opinion. Peterson’s argument is not an either/or, like you state: “In other words one can’t label one’s self, but an outsider has the right to label them.” Peterson’s case is both/and. You can of course label yourself whatever you want, but via meaningful personal transactions, other people (“outsiders” or, I would add “insiders”) will inevitably label you as well. It happens all the time. Every value system/society has labels. I’m not sure where I’m at with regard to Peterson’s argument on this specific issue. I think each side shows some favoritism to its own ideologically minded.

        I agree with you that classical liberal principles (hurrah) give freedom to the individual to define their life.

        The real question (I think) that divides us is this: would you propose legal action against someone who disagreed with us on these points? If not, what is the point of the law?

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I wouldn’t propose legal consequences for speech unless it constituted harassment. In the case of transgender people, I imagine intentional, persistent and repeated mis-gendering could qualify as harassment. Could it not?
        That’s why I mentioned French law. There are ways of framing things that preserve an individual’s right to simply exist without being derided, while not curtailing speech in any substantive manner.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. I’m half way through- and I just had to stop to ask, are you proposing the theory that there’s no such thing as patriarchy or discrimination against women? That seems to be the implication of the video.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. No, that is not what I’m proposing. He just makes some jokes at the beginning.

        I thought I sent you the original:

        My point is that ‘harassment’ does not always follow along ideological lines. Who is the harasser and the harassed in this situation, as you interpret it?

        Like

  1. I am going to look at the videos, but I looked at the wording of the law. It is wrong to “refuse” to use pronouns fitting the gender identity, not to fail to- guessing wrong is OK. If I explain my gender identity is non-binary, you may then use the singular “they”, and do not need to use other recent pronouns- zie, hir, whatever- because the rule says “a personal pronoun that matches their gender identity” not the pronoun they choose.

    Then, I want to define my gender identity. I am female, and mostly I am accepted as such, using women’s loos and changing rooms. I hope I would not need a rape crisis centre but a woman who worked in one told me she would want me welcome there. I am a mostly harmless anomaly- we can debate what sex I am “really” but socially I am female.

    Out drinking with friends, I have had someone attempt to steal my wig, and another hold me tightly, refusing to let me go until I “admitted” I was a man. I found these experiences unpleasant, and I hope you would sympathise. Jordan Peterson asserting a right to define my gender encourages people like the several who have assaulted me to do likewise. I don’t think he would assault me, but if he calls me a man, they are emboldened to call me a man, and then perhaps emboldened to violent assault or humiliating action towards me.

    That is, from my point of view the balance of the law appears about right. It does not prevent a philosophy don from writing papers about how gender and sex are different or the same, but it does prevent people from being needlessly insulting to me.

    I wish Jordan Peterson had picked a different controversy in his bid for notoriety. Some of what I have read from him seems sensible.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. On the Hugh Mungous video, there was a drug initiative in a city council. The man and woman involved were giving public testimony, and were on opposing sides. After, she videos him on her phone. He approaches her, and asks,

    -Do you want my name?
    -Yeah, sure.
    -It’s Hugh Mungus.
    -OK. Humungous what?

    Then it kicks off.

    I feel a man should not make a sex joke like that to a woman he does not know. What do you think?

    Like

    1. Yes, I wouldn’t engage with this person. She is obviously a wacko. He had his reasons to do that and, honestly, it turned out hilarious. This really needs to be viewed in context. But even out of context, it’s a great illustration that you can prohibit people to insult, but you can’t prohibit people to get insulted.

      Like

  3. Thanks for the post. Came here through Pink’s reblog. It was very interesting to discover Peterson for myself. Some of his ideas I agree with. In particular, I like his view of religion as an evolutional necessity. It makes a lot more sense to me than the total rejection of religion by the “New Atheists” like Harris and Dawkins who try replacing it with blind faith in their own dogmas. His “maps of meaning” lecture seems to logically explain how culture and social roles keep the society functional, how religion plays a key role in maintaining these social roles and why disruption of the expected behaviors cause negative reactions in society.

    But some of these views are based on misconstrued concepts. The Bill C-16 does not mention pronouns at all. Yet, pronouns have become the focus of the debate for the bill’s opponents which is a classical example of a “straw man” argument. His views on feminism presume that family and children are the highest value in any human’s life. It sounds to me that he is trying to dictate his own values to other people. It seems arrogant of a man with a successful career in an interesting field to tell women that they’d better focus on family and kids.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I agree with him on many points. I think he says what a lot of people are thinking but are too intimidated to voice. He many ways, he is a voice of sanity in this increasingly insane world. Thanks for sharing! : )

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Daniel,
    I’m coming to your blog just as a reader since you liked a post of mine I wanted to come by and read through some of your work too.
    This is a pretty good post on Jordan Peterson – I was familiar with some of his work before but still found your prose engaging and enjoyed your take on him as a psychologist / philosopher. Especially in the context of what you accurately describe as a reception of name-calling and trash-talking it’s refreshing to see a more balanced and critical appraisal neither too vigorously positive nor too witheringly derogatory.
    To address your points on Peterson’s work:-
    Initially, I think he’s too biologically reductive, but that’s a trivial point. I don’t think there’s a resolution to that argument at present; as a clinical psychologist it makes sense for him to put a lot of trust in the biological evidence at his disposal. For me, a reliance on biology (as with all sciences) leads to a reliance on the empirical and observation. This has its uses and is the eminent mode of thought in producing repeatable results, but is not, in my opinion, a good model for proposals about essence (whether that be the essence of man, mind, or anything else for that matter). This is why (I think) Peterson receives critique from the left for his model of human essence as your commentor agrudzinsky notes: his model is based on past data and thus his proposals for how humans can live a good life and be happy predictably wind up resembling how most people in the past have been happy according to that data (nuclear family). This is, of course, of little interest to leftists who are more radical since their whole project is to find models of society which do not resemble any that have existed in the past. Peterson’s ontology lacks this kind of speculative ambition and, as such, doesn’t actually offer much for those who are looking to push social or political change in any meaningful or lasting way (this also explains why the right generally prefer him to the left).
    My more pressing criticism of Peterson lies in his rejection of deconstructionist and poststructuralist thought. To me, this is his big mistake. In case you’re unfamiliar, I’d characterise deconstructionist and poststructuralist thinking as a commitment to the impermanence and immanence of human modes of existence. This usually splits into two forms; 1) Linguistic, and 2) Historical. Linguistic deconstruction tries to show that all kinds of meaning that humans generate is arbitrarily based on their languages and as such can never get close to a ‘true’ or absolute meaning which might correspond to an absolute reality. A common example of this is the system of honorifics in Japanese which correspond to the way in which social role and society as a whole overdetermines the individual – a concept not found in remotely as formalised a system in English or American English, which prioritises the individual. Historical poststructuralism tries to show that human meaning is generated arbitrarily based on historical context. An example of this might be that in Ancient Greek societies it’s completely okay to say that slaves are the property of full citizens, though to say something like that might be unthinkable now. A true Historicist perspective would say that neither of these are absolute, but that the truth of such statements is only generated by the knowledge produced in each historical epoch.
    Peterson, at least as far as I have seen, openly rejects both forms of deconstructive and poststructural thought and I think he is wrong to do so. Insofar as I understand him, I believe he holds that A) there is a human nature or human essence and hence deconstructive and poststructural thought are wrong, and that B) even if they were right it is not useful or good for people to feel that their beliefs, systems of thought and meaning, and their conceptions of reality are immanent and open to deconstruction. I’ve already said why I have problems with his model of human essence so so much for that point. As for the second point, I think that Peterson is mistaken to argue that it is not good or useful for people to understand the historical or linguistic immanence of their beliefs and their conceptions of reality. It may weaken or make fragile peoples’ sense of identity, but I think that is a much more valuable step in teaching people the value of being resolute, committed, and dealing with anxiety than the alternative of arguing that human social identity is rigid and unchanging and cutting out social mobility and other kinds of fluidity. I think in relying so heavily on the binarism between Chaos and Order, Peterson ends up cleaving to full Order as the ideal state and trying to purge all disorder out of thought. I think it’s a mistaken project and that it’s better to accept that reality and identity are both unknowable and changeable and then build meaning out of that, rather than, as he puts it, slaying the dragon of Chaos.
    Those are my main problems with Peterson, but otherwise, it is rare to find a commentator so public who is also so lucid and well-read. I think he is at his best when looking at Phenomenology and Existentialism, but that’s a personal bias: I’m much more interested in literature and philosophy than psychology so naturally I gravitate towards those areas of his work.
    For public provocateurs, however, I think Slavoj Zizek is better. He’s an acquired taste and has his own problematic views, but as a philosopher, he is the real deal and, in my opinion, is more well read, more insightful, and more politically mobilizable and engaged than Peterson.
    I wonder if I can ask why you feel drawn to Peterson’s work? I take it from your post that you have quite a positive sense of him, but I guess I’m curious how his thought ties in with your own, or rather what you think more generally about the concepts he discusses.
    Forgive me for a long comment – I felt your post warranted a full address!

    Like

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