Jordan Peterson and His Enemies

The Canadian psychologist has set off left-wing ideological Geiger counters around the world, and for good reason.

Jordan B. Peterson has sold over half a million volumes of 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos since January, a staggering number of books. His yearlong “Antidote to Chaos” speaking tour is even more remarkable. In December, he will speak to an already sold out 2,000-seat Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles. His tickets are fetching up to $900 each, prices comparable to Bruce Springsteen and Hamilton. Before that, he’ll speak to audiences in Europe from Helsinki to Stockholm.

A while back, I asked a former college president what she thought of Peterson. To my surprise she drew a blank. He was saying sensible things about hierarchy, gender, and coping with life’s limits, I explained. He was dispensing good advice, some of it aimed directly at feckless young men.

I brought up the lobsters. Lobsters have been doing status and power contests for 350 million years and are a theme in 12 Rules for Life. Their neural systems are primitive analogues of our own. Just maybe, Peterson speculates, such status and power contests apply to more advanced animal behavior, to humans, to us. “They should rename my New York neighborhood Lobster Cove,” I laughed. She didn’t. For academics, social class, hierarchy, and status are touchy subjects, like sex and death in earlier times. Her ideological Geiger counter had started ticking. She looked uncomfortable, and we moved on. 12 Rules for Life: An ... Jordan B. Peterson Best Price: $5.99 Buy New $13.45 (as of 02:05 EST - Details)

Peterson’s freewheeling mindset, challenging academic follies, intrigued me from the start. His Jungian perspective is deeply persuasive, linking the present to history and age-old human dilemmas. Through archetypes, Peterson charts a life that is not miserable, supplicating, and unfulfilled, albeit one of tragic consciousness.

Practiced with wary, distrustful paranoiacs, the 56-year-old University of Toronto psychology professor stirs confidence even among skeptics and agnostics. He has an eye for the manipulative and false. Early in his book tour, Peterson stopped an obnoxious Channel 4 News television interviewer’s feminist harangue cold, crisply and rather graciously. The exchange went viral and helped make his book a runaway bestseller. He has since drawn respectful profiles in The New YorkerThe Atlantic, and Esquire. His fans include two straight-talking social critics, Camille Paglia and Jonathan Haidt.

Caught in its own favored ideologies and idées fixes, the nation’s thought establishment was late to grasp Peterson’s phenomenal ascent. Using 21st-century media and the internet, he has built a worldwide platform that disputes progressive totems, ridiculing the invisible knapsack of white privilege, for example, and exposing postmodernism’s subtexts and tyrannies. Five years ago, Peterson started uploading old classroom lectures to YouTube. More than 300 have been posted to date and he has over 1.5 million YouTube subscribers. Amazon.com Gift Card i... Buy New $10.00 (as of 06:50 EST - Details)

People like to listen to what Peterson has to say. Audiobooks are reportedly an unusually large share of his book sales. On YouTube videos and in stage appearances, he comes off by turns as breezy, blunt, witty, and profound. He wants to help, filling in listeners on how the cold, cruel world works and the malevolent possibilities contained in human shadows. Two admirers I know are older women, one a child psychiatrist who sees kids damaged by lax parenting and indiscipline, the other a Los Angeles therapist familiar with anguished young women choosing careers over motherhood.

I am a reader, not a watcher or listener, so all the YouTube lectures, podcasts, and $900 tickets in the world won’t help me. Until Google fired James Damore ignominiously in 2017 for his gender memo, I didn’t know that Peterson’s lectures had garnered a huge following. Damore chose Peterson to make his case to in a memorable online exchange. That should suggest the caliber of his adherents.

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