Wonksplainer: Who Is Jordan Peterson And Why Is He The Worst?
The time has come, Wonkers, for a Wonksplainer on who the hell this Jordan Peterson person is that we've all been hearing so much about lately. Admit it, you really did NOT want to find out who this jerk was, but you knew he was a jerk by cultural osmosis! Thus, I have spent the past two days (with appropriate mental health breaks), listening to his two-hour lectures and reading everything I can about him. You are welcome.
In short, he's a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto who has convinced legions of men that he is their real daddy. He gets talked about constantly, often in the context of how men like him (who make like, $50,000 a month on Patreon) are being "silenced."
Why The Hell Is This Dude So Famous?
In September of 2016, Peterson -- a then relatively unknown psychology professor -- shot to fame by putting out a video saying he would not comply with the University of Toronto's policy that he refer to students and faculty using their preferred pronouns, and expressing his opposition to a bill adding gender identity and gender expression as protected categories in the Canadian Human Rights Act.
Peterson -- who is very fond of making up his own definitions for things -- said that this law meant that he could be thrown in jail for refusing to use a student's preferred pronouns -- which he claimed was "compelled speech."
Narrator: It did not mean that.
What it actually meant was that you could not legally discriminate against trans people in jobs, housing, etc., and that if you murdered someone for being trans, it would be considered a hate crime. The law also established trans people as an "identifiable group" in the Criminal Code, which makes it illegal to promote or distribute "hate propaganda" against them. Hate propaganda, in the Code, is defined not as "dislike" but as "any writing, sign or visible representation that advocates or promotes genocide or the communication of which by any person would constitute an offence under section 319."
So, basically, you can say "I don't believe that trans people exist, and am oddly invested in telling them this" and even misgender them when you are not working at a job that requires you to not do that, but you cannot make a poster saying, "Hey, let's kill all the trans people!"
The school, however, was perfectly within its rights to require Peterson to use people's preferred pronouns, because of the very basic fact that your employer can require you to say certain things or treat your co-workers and customers with respect as a condition of your employment. It's not "compelled speech" any more than requiring wait staff to list off the specials and not tell customers they are being huge assholes is "compelled speech."
Following this video, Peterson rapidly gained an extraordinarily rabid fan base of 4chan and Reddit jerks who set out to doxx and harass not only trans students at the University of Toronto, but also their families. Which brings us to our next subject...
The First Rule Of Jordan Peterson Club Is No One Is Allowed To Criticize Jordan Peterson
You know how when you were a kid at slumber parties, you'd all gather in a dark bathroom to say "Bloody Mary" three times in a mirror? And yet, somehow, Bloody Mary never showed up? Not so for Jordan Peterson supporters! If you say Jordan Peterson on Twitter even once, you will be met immediately with a barrage of angry men demanding to know if you have read and listened to every word that has ever come out of his mouth, and why you hate critical thinking and logic so much. If you quote him (instead of reciting one of his two hour lectures verbatim), you will be accused of "twisting" his words. So expect things to get real weird in the comments section today.
Because they are devoted. Like, reaaaaaalllllly devoted.
They're like, Sam Harris fans times Taylor Swift fans times 1,000.
But why? Well, as my mother says, "people will love you for the way you make them feel about themselves." Young men love Jordan Peterson, and desperately so, because he makes them feel ecstatically good about themselves. He tells them that while others may see them -- straight white cis men -- as a group, specifically a group that has benefited from the oppression of other groups, he sees them all as unique, special individuals. Oh, and that the entire narrative of oppression of other groups is not even real. He tells them that they can think critically, that they are rational, that they are logical. More or less, he blows smoke up their asses while putting on the persona of substitute dad. He tells them the things they want to hear, the things they believe in their bones to be true, and he makes it sound smart. Ish.
What certain men -- specifically men who feel left behind -- want right now is to be told that, rather than being kind of backwards, they are logical, rational, critical thinkers. These are traits they imagine they hold over women, who are, of course, emotional and irrational.
The thing is, a small amount of the things he says are totally reasonable, if not just regular, normal self-help type things -- things like "clean your room" and "stand up straight" -- and this is what people will generally accuse you of being mad at when you disagree with other things he has to say.
What Is Up With The Lobster Thing?
You may have noticed that Jordan Peterson fans call themselves "lobsters" and just talk about lobsters a lot in general. This is not just because they are delicious. Peterson begins his book, 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote To Chaos, with a diatribe all about how people should stand up straight with their shoulders back. This is fairly common advice -- which allows him (and his fans) to say "What? You're mad at him for telling people not to slouch?" However, his reasoning for this is... a little bizarre. And, yes, it involves lobsters.
According to Peterson, because humans are "descended" from lobsters, and because anti-depressants "work" on lobsters, we are just like them. Lobsters with high serotonin levels adopt aggressive postures as compared to lobsters with lower serotonin levels who adopt more submissive postures. From this, he determines that hierarchies, rather than being socially constructed, are simply a natural expression of biological reality.
However, actual biologists say that this is all total bullshit, and that humans are not, in fact, anything like lobsters.
The larger point here, however, is not to be scientifically accurate, or to get people to throw themselves into pots of boiling water, but to eliminate the stigma of social hierarchies as a negative and, ultimately, the entire concept of systemic oppression.
What Garbage Things Has He Said About Women?
Jordan Peterson: Feminists support the rights of Muslims because of their "unconscious wish for brutal male domination." pic.twitter.com/ozddRgSEl2— Saeen (@_Saeen_) January 23, 2018
SO MANY. Starting with "the idea that women were oppressed throughout history is an appalling theory," and moving on to calling women who wear makeup and heels at work and don't want to be sexually harassed "hypocrites." You know, because of course the only reason women wear makeup is "because boners" and also there is no social pressure at all to wear make-up in order to look "professional." Peterson is very mad about feminism, in general, and is a very big fan of "traditional gender roles," without ever coming right out and saying that explicitly.
In the Vice interview linked above, he also says he's not sure that men and women will ever be able to work together without sexual harassment being a problem. Which is quite strange because he's so very into empowering young men to take "responsibility" for their lives, you would think he could also convince them that maybe playing grab-ass with their co-workers is a poor idea.
He has also decided that the whole reason we are so "outraged" these days is because we actually secretly desire not equality, but babies.
"Is it possible that young women are so outraged because they are craving infant contact in a society that makes that very difficult?"
He, like many meninists, is very upset that women are upset about the gender pay gap, which he says can be explained by the career choices that women make, as well as the fact that men just work harder, which is of course a nice and empowering thing for them to hear. He says that he believes in "equality of opportunity not equality of outcome," which is all nice and good if there actually is equality of opportunity. He also appears to be confused about what equal pay laws even do and seems to think they mean paying a female dental hygienist the same as a male CEO.
He does say that part of the reason women get paid less is because they are more accommodating than men are, without acknowledging the fact that women who are not so accommodating tend to face repercussions from that in a way men do not.
According to Peterson, women never faced systemic oppression, and men have never had an advantage. The only reason, he says, women weren't well-represented in the workforce and in politics, was because birth control had not been invented yet. Simultaneously, he will sometimes admit that women maybe did face some discrimination back in the day, but insists that because things are better now for us than they ever have been, we should shut up and be happy about that and not look to improve things. We should also be just a little more grateful to the nice men who so graciously decided to let us vote. If we are going to complain, we should only do it in regards to other countries where women have it worse, as that will make North American men feel good rather than bad. For some reason, it does not occur to him that people may want to improve things for themselves, in the places where they actually live.
What Garbage Things Has He Said About People Of Color?
One of the things Peterson is most mad at is the idea of White Privilege. His entire argument against it is pretty much summed up as "Well, people also have privilege because they are attractive or athletic or because they were born in a particular country or time -- so why are the liberals hooked on these arbitrary things like race, ethnicity, sex, gender and sexual orientation, HUH?"
This makes a lot of sense if you think that not being a professional sports player is in no way different from being treated like a criminal because of the color of your skin.
He claims that white privilege is simply the privilege of the majority, and that it is unfair to expect "the majority" to not fashion a society in which they are privileged.
What it comes down to though, really, is this:
"And it isn't necessary for us who are trying, with the small part of our hearts that might be oriented towards the good, to allow people who are manipulating us with historical ignorance and philosophical sleight of hand to render us so goddamned guilty about what our ancestors may or may not have done, so that we allow our shame and our guilt to be used as tools to manipulate us into accepting a future that we do not want to have."
Yeah. "A future we do not want to have." That just about says it all, doesn't it?
CuLtUrAl MaRxiSm AnD iDeNtItY pOliTics = MURDER!!!!
A good chunk of Peterson's time is spent railing against the conservative bugaboos of "postmodern cultural Marxism and identity politics." This is all very confusing, as he has made up his own definition of both postmodernism and identity politics -- and "cultural Marxism" is not real. Identity politics, he seems to think, means replacing qualified, deserving white men with unqualified, undeserving white women and minorities. Because everything is a zero sum game. He also resents the idea that, say, a trans person can say something is good for transgender people, or a black person can say something is good for black people, when he can find individual trans people and black people who disagree with them.
His definition of postmodernism has basically nothing to do with postmodernism, which is a kind of intentionally vague non-ideology to begin with. According to Peterson the "postmodernists" realized that the whole class thing in Marxism had lost favor, so they dropped that and applied Marx's idea of the oppressed proletariat and the rich capitalist to social groups and extended the oppressed/oppressor narrative to them -- even though they never actually were oppressed. Rather than a means to improve things for all people, he believes that this is actually all about wanting to be Mao and Stalin so that we can murder people and put them in GULAGS.
Therefore, even if he doesn't necessarily object to something like same-sex marriage, it is important to him to oppose it on the grounds that it is what the cultural Marxists want, and therefore will inevitably lead to literal genocide.
The example he gives of this is the Kulaks in Soviet Russia, whom he explains were farmers who were killed (and thrown in gulags) because they were too well-off.
“They were the most productive element of the agricultural strata in Russia. And they were virtually all killed, raped, and robbed by the collectivists who insisted that because they showed signs of wealth, they were criminals and robbers.”
He also claimed that by supporting the women's march, Justin Trudeau was actually supporting MURDER.
He's not trying to stop equality, he's simply trying to stop mass murder, obviously. You know, because incredibly unlikely slippery slope arguments are the best form of "logic" and "reason" and therefore a fantastic reason to deprive people of rights.
What Other Weird Shit Does He Believe?
That people can only stop smoking via such paths as a "divine intervention" while doing mushrooms.
You know, because logic and reason.
Oh, and talking to kids about "diversity" is "indoctrination."
Parents: these words (particularly together) mean indoctrination: "diversity, inclusivity, white privilege, gender" and, above all, and absolutely unforgivably &"equity." Never, ever let teachers talk to your kids about equity. https://t.co/gjlsIajKf0— Jordan B Peterson (@jordanbpeterson) March 11, 2018
Couldn't quite figure out where to put that one, but it sure is stupid.
Peterson is telling young men the story they want to hear about themselves and the world around them. That they are "individuals," that hierarchy and inequality are not bad things, that we live and have always lived in a meritocracy. That people aren't clamoring for equality because they are good people who want people to be treated fairly and decently, but because they want to manipulate them and put them in gulags. That women are going to be just fine with jumping back into "traditional" gender roles and give them their patriarchy back. That women will not be put off by misogyny. That soon they will be living in a world where they can insult people -- and yes, refusing to use someone's preferred pronoun is insulting to them -- and there will be no social consequences for that. That, rather than having enjoyed unearned privileges and advantages, those who have risen to the top of our societal hierarchy did so because they were simply the hardest and best workers. Because they were simply lobsters with more serotonin.
It's an overly simplistic -- and often intentionally vague -- worldview that intellectualizes the basest id impulses of men, largely white men, who feel that they have been disadvantaged by the recent successes of white women and people of color and now feel left behind. He tells them they are logical, rational, critical thinkers -- heroes, in fact. Even by doing things like talking a lot about the importance of IQ, he sates their desires to feel important and special. Take a moment and think of all the men you've ever met who were not doing much with their lives but very much wanted to talk to you about how high their IQ is (even though that's ridiculous because most people probably don't even know their actual IQ, for a variety of reasons). This is a thing. He doesn't have to tell them they have a high IQ (because everyone thinks they have a high IQ), he just has to talk about how it is important, and that makes them feel good.
The thing is, he's promising these men a world they actually cannot have without the permission of other groups of people. He's not doing them any favors. If he really wanted to help these "lost men," he'd help them thrive in the actual world they live in, rather than the way they want the world to be. He'd help them learn to adjust to a world in which the old hierarchies have been dismantled and understand that they're no more entitled to be at the top of a hierarchy than anyone else is. Or help them learn how to function and love and improve themselves without needing to base that on being "better" than someone else, how to deal with the world in which women don't want traditional gender roles, and help them to understand that life isn't a zero sum game in which if someone who has been oppressed gets a right you have, you automatically lose something.
But that probably wouldn't get him $50,000 a month on Patreon.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Previously, she was a Senior Staff Writer at Death & Taxes, and Assistant Editor at The Frisky (RIP). Currently, she writes for Wonkette, Friendly Atheist, Quartz and other sites. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse