To begin with, Jordan Peterson’s initiative of standing up to the over-sensitive culture of invented pronouns, safe spaces & Co seemed benign, coupled with a less acidic attitude than that of typical conservatives.
There are indeed reasons for rejecting this trend. Today alone it has emerged that a US teen has been targeted online by thousands for the crime of wearing a traditional Chinese dress to her prom (the last time I checked the Twitter discussion alone counted over 10.000 people). In other words, for the crime of cultural appropriation. The fact that a crowd of internet warriors finds it appropriate to bully an 18-year-old over fashion choices, resulting in her sudden exposure in international publications, is rather alarming.
However, the direction Jordan Peterson is taking his followers in is not of a healthy reactionary stand in limited circumstances (such as opposing the above-mentioned).
His message often appears verbose and convoluted, leading to a lack of clarity, unless one is attentive enough to pick up on his main ideas. And those ideas, when reduced to their core, are far from deep – instead, they are an appeal to reintroducing archaic principles derived from the Bible.
Admitting the excesses of the far left today should not need to involve romanticising times of mindless dogmatism, not to mention dry judgement of anyone who didn’t conform to rigid societal expectations.
Christian traditionalism is constrictive, not to mention in contradiction with how we have come to understand the individual, developing human rights to an unprecedented level. Rejecting the excesses of feminism should not involve pining for times when women were restricted and undervalued in so many ways. Rejecting the coldness and alienation often caused by the promotion of promiscuity need not involve a return to puritanism, which is religious in nature and toxic.
Peterson’s ideas do not provide a balance – the alternative he envisions is regressive, and as many have noticed, “nothing new under the sun”.
His followers are mostly male, and many, according to statistics, are involved in either the MRM, conservative movements or both. In a predominantly left-leaning academic milieu, they have suddenly found a guru.
Below are some aspects which render his following less than healthy.
- Articles rebutting his points of view are swarmed by devotees;
- There seem to be many who agree with Peterson on everything, which is worrying in and of itself (they have stopped questioning him and now take his directives as rules for their existence);
- He portrays himself as a life coach, if not guru, without using the terms; he seeks to influence people well beyond elaborating on certain ideologies (he recently wrote a book of 12 rules for anyone’s existence, which as a concept is dogmatic);
- Followers are know to use jargon derived from his teachings in dialogues (they reply to contrarians with a simple “clean your room” or “don’t you have a room to clean?”, based on one of his 12 rules, which is unnatural and oddly cult-like.
The reductionist and regressive nature of some of his ideas stands out and cannot be ignored.
Among these is the fact that presumably, a woman doesn’t respect a male partner who “wouldn’t physically fight her under any circumstance”. This caters to the mass of angry men who enjoy watching the “men fight back” videos on YouTube (a perverse genre dedicated to getting off on men striking women). It caters to the MRM in general – and although violence against men by women is under-reported, it is not legal nor encouraged.
The mere fact of linking respect to physical dominance is repugnant nowadays, and coupled with his Christian faith, echoes olden days of sad remembrance, as well as the tenets of Islam, which include a man’s divine right to physically discipline his wife. Although Peterson does not argue for matters to go that far, he does argue that a man’s propensity for violence makes him more lovable to the woman who would be at the receiving end of it. Volatility and superior physical strength are realities, of course – however, basing respect between partners on them as prerequisites is disturbing.
Another disturbing issue is basing the way men relate to women on a puritanical view, which is no different than the one found in the Bible or the Qur’an – women entice men automatically and not only should men treat them as such – they should consider themselves the object of the male gaze, perpetually, irrespective of the environment they are in.
In a brief interview, he linked sexual harassment to the way women dress and even to make-up, suggesting perhaps it should not be allowed in a work environment. That stops short of asking for a dress code so that women wouldn’t be allowed to “keep enticing” men through their mere existence in their proximity. He also suggests men and women might not be suitable for working together.
Magdalene Laundries come to mind.
These are issues the west is thought to have overcome decades ago. It has long been a consensus that the role a person can play in society should not be restricted by inherent traits, such as sex or race or sexual orientation. It has also become a consensus that “othering” people based on these traits (treating them differently) should belong in history books.
Apparently, that is still not clear to some people, among them Jordan Peterson.
To reiterate, rejecting the exaggerations of modern feminists should not involve reversing time to embrace puritanical, paranoid views, as well as the need for men to “keep women in check”.
I needn’t mention that the main reason Christianity is rebutted so often is not the belief in an imaginary God, when isolated from other aspects – but the desire to regulate people’s lives down to minute choices. Jordan Peterson seems to share that desire for micromanagement, down to debating what women should not be allowed to wear around men.
Reflecting on human nature is one thing – seeking to instil the need for a certain way of life into every individual is another. For an adept of free thought and free expression, he seems to cling to authoritarian Bible precepts far too often.
Of course, one can be considered a guru and worshipped as superior outside of their own will, as blind following is a subjective experience based on mental fragility.
The problem with Peterson is that he truly embraces the role of a know-it-all who has the answers to every common dilemma one might have. And that is impossible – we are all limited, shaped by a plethora of factors which result in a unique understanding of the world, through what we internalise throughout our lives.
What he does can be described as overreaching.
Thinking he’s got valuable advice and observations – fair enough. Anyone develops a set of principles based on their life experience, whit the caveat of admitting they are, at the end of the day, subjective and limited.
An exercise in social engineering, however, especially when preached to others as the ultimate truth, involves a delusion of grandeur, as nasty as that sounds. Authoritarian types aim for that – developing a platform on one issue and subsequently preaching on many others, however unrelated, with enough confidence of having figured out a fail-proof, one-size fits all way to solve the world’s problems or help others navigate though life, regardless of individual circumstances.
It’s fair enough, when one specialises in a certain area and has got a reasonable claim of expertise, to have that much influence.
People like Peterson, however, quickly expand and are suddenly “entitled” to issue prescriptions on a variety of complex matters, to have said prescriptions internalised by followers as truths.