My first meeting with outspoken Canadian superstar psychologist Jordan Peterson was in the domestic terminal at Mumbai Airport a few years ago, where his books were stacked. I opened the bestseller 12 rules for life – including the sequel Beyond order: 12 more rules for life was announced last week – and read a few pages.
I was not impressed. It seemed conservative and obvious at the same time, and I couldn’t stand the comparison of human sex-based mating rituals with those of lobsters.
But since then, I have come to regard Peterson as an interesting figure – as several unlikely friends have privately agreed.
He’s not a top-notch thinker, but you can’t deny his powerful appeal that unites a huge audience – largely men and boys – across the political and emotional spectrum, in a way that deserves respect. and interest.
Peterson has sparked controversy for his views on identity politics, but he fills a chronic ideological void, providing intellectual refuge and a place of growth and discovery for many who otherwise have nowhere to turn. Young liberal American men trying to fit into super-awake college campuses flock (privately) to him and other so-called right-wing thinkers, as they offer the only proper refutation of identity politics these boys have. never met. Here too I know a number of highly educated and perfectly decent young men who are grateful to Peterson for encouraging them to hold their “white” “patriarchal” head high.
In criticizing two shibboleths of our time – the sanctity of trans pronouns and the idea of ”white privilege” – Peterson has become one of the most maligned figures on the left. And when the new left doesn’t like something, it gets scary and often violent. Last year, a documentary, The Rise of Jordan Peterson, gave rise to death threats. A pastor who agreed to screen him at his church outside Portland was threatened by local left-wing thugs: “Even though we joke about it, we really don’t want to have to pull out the guillotine to fix society.” . Brooklyn and Toronto cinemas have canceled screenings out of fear.
When Peterson was offered a two-month scholarship to Cambridge Divinity School last year, the university immediately gave in to complaints from staff and students who took umbrage with his clear discourse on left-wing orthodoxies and the ‘have uninvited. His crime? Critical debate.
As the left-dominated cultural and institutional sphere has become more intimidating and oppressive, Peterson’s sequel to 12 rules will surely be a bestseller. Never have the champions of freedom of expression and identity politics been more needed in bookstores.
But even the promise of millions of hard-to-find dollar signs in the days of the pandemic is not enough to silence the cries of the righteous. The book’s announcement at Penguin Random House in Canada prompted staff to confront management, demanding that it not be published. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.
At a company meeting, some employees reportedly cried “about how Jordan Peterson has affected their lives.” I can well imagine that for these guys any dose of reality on the noxious bunk peddled by the waking generation is extremely painful.
Peterson was admirably clear and courageous in his condemnation of the ridiculous and intriguing idea of white privilege. “The idea of collective guilt at the individual level is dangerous… precisely the kind of danger that people looking for trouble might push,” he said on a YouTube video.
He is right. This obsession with collective guilt, regardless of individual action or beliefs, has a ruinous effect on society. An almost comically grotesque example emerged recently when the British Library placed Ted Hughes on a slavery watch list. The library, despite being one of the main custodians of our history, has become totally obsessed with “decolonization”. Chief Librarian Liz Jolly made this stupid – and dangerous – comment: “Racism is the creation of white people.”
Last week, the library was forced to apologize to Hughes’ widow after linking him to the slave trade through a distant colonialist ancestor called Nicholas Ferrar who died in 1637, a link that even the library admitted was “tenuous.”
If only she, and all the many, many alike institutions, workplaces, and brands that think alike, would realize that this pathological obsession with removing all signs of historic moral tarnish and dragging out the “culprits” with shame public is an entirely meaningless exercise – unless you consider the unbridled restriction of freedom of speech and sense of thought.
But they won’t. At least not yet. That is why, love him or hate him, Jordan Peterson does a vital service and, to use the jargon of the righteous, is a truly important “voice”. Attempts to muzzle him only prove the point – as does the fact that his book, assuming it gets published, will be captured by the millions.