A while back, I wrote a post defending Jordan Peterson against Vox Day’s criticisms. My claim was that while Jordan Peterson’s value is somewhat exaggerated by many of his followers, for whom his ideas seemed new and extraordinary, Vox Day’s claims seemed exaggerated. Vox argued that Peterson was an existential relativist, that he was controlled opposition, that his teachings are more harmful then helpful, and that he was simply insane. All of that seemed wrong, at least hyperbolic. To me, Peterson seemed like a modern Joseph Campbell, essentially a mythologist just teaching the moral stories of myths with the rhetorical skill of a showman. For a generation immersed in social-media and public-school propaganda, this seemed like a generally good thing, especially when coupled with his opposition to bill C-16.
To set the tone for this post, it is only now that I remember that his opposition to this bill was unsuccessful. The bill was passed on June 19, 2017. Not only was it unsuccessful, but Peterson had promised to go to jail if necessary, were the bill passed and accusations of violating said bill brought against him. At the time, it seemed rather admirable. But given the amount of fire he’s been under, it seems strange that his opponents have found no opportunity to challenge his conviction on the matter. Rather than being on hunger strike in some jail, he’s been traveling around the world on tour with his book.
I’m not saying Peterson should actively be hunting out a jail-term in order to be consistent, as that was not what he had promised. But the situation seems a bit incongruous, and most people don’t remember what it was that brought him to popularity in the first place. With the help of a little bit of recollection, however, I have come to believe that Vox Day was, in fact, right about Dr. Peterson.
Now that Peterson suggested that Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh should step down if confirmed, many people have opened up a little bit to the possibility that it may, in fact, be valid to criticize Dr. Peterson. But for many, being wrong on one issue (Kavanaugh) doesn’t necessarily undermine the whole edifice. So he got one political matter, in a foreign country no less, incorrect. What’s the big deal?
To answer that, we have to go down memory lane, and start at the beginning.
1. Jordan Peterson is Wrong
Anyone who has listened to his “Maps of Meaning” lectures from the beginning, or read Maps of Meaning, will know that the impetus for Peterson getting into politics and philosophy and psychology in the first place was the Cold War. Specifically, it was his concern about the possibility of nuclear war, and what he believed to be the insanity of the “mutually assured destruction” (M.A.D.) strategy. Finding an alternative path to nuclear weapons, M.A.D., and the horrors of war in general, has been the foundational motivation behind all of Peterson’s work, and I think it should be uncontroversial, among Peterson fans and critics alike, that it shows.
The trouble with this is that M.A.D. works. It did work. The Cold War never heated up, and although Peterson cites a number of close calls in some of his talks, mutually-assured destruction is, in principle, far older than nuclear weaponry. The entire philosophy of peace through military deterrence is essentially M.A.D. without nukes. And while nuclear weaponry is extremely powerful, it is not nearly as apocalyptic as people often imagine. Over 2,000 nuclear weapons have been detonated in tests around the world in the last century. The world continues to turn.
Taking this a bit further, one could reasonably argue that there is no viable strategy for preserving peace other than military deterrence — and in a nuclear age, that often involves the possession of nuclear weapons, as well as the willingness to use them. Put into a formula:
Ability (to fight) + Willingness (to fight) = Credible Threat = Deterrence = Peace
Curiously, Peterson seems to understand this precept when it comes to interpersonal relationships, as I have written about previously:
I know how to stand up to a man, who’s unfairly trespassed against me, and the reason I know that is because the parameters for my resistance are quite well-defined, which is, we talk, we argue, we push, and then it becomes physical. If we move beyond the boundaries of civil discourse, we know what the next step is. […] And when men are talking to each other in any serious manner, that underlying threat of physicality is always there, especially if it’s a real conversation, and it keeps the thing civilized to some degree. If you’re talking to a man who wouldn’t fight with you under any circumstances whatsoever, then you’re talking to someone to whom you have absolutely no respect.
Peterson is wrong about M.A.D./military deterrence for precisely the same reason that he is right about violence latent in male interactions. He is wrong, in other words, about the motivation and heart behind everything he has done related to Maps of Meaning. That clearly doesn’t mean that everything he says is factually incorrect, as the point about male violence in communication shows. But it should be a major check against the people who instinctively defend him, on the grounds of his purported brilliance, and the fact that he has “helped so many people.”
Speaking of which…
2. Jordan Peterson is Not Helping People
Yes, I have no doubt that there are individuals who have been helped by his advice and his lectures. While it is fun to make fun of the admonition to clean your room (variations of “didn’t your mother teach you that?” and “wipe your ass” abound), I actually still have a soft-spot for this particular tid-bit, which I explained in my previous open letter to Vox Day.
But you know who has helped far more people?
Don’t laugh. If you think I am joking, turn your eye inward a bit, and try to recognize where that reaction to Deepak Chopra is coming from. Chopra has written 80 books, translated into 43 languages, and has been in the public eye for decades. He has probably reached an order of magnitude more people than Peterson has, and you can probably find a similarly large number of people talking about how Chopra has “changed their life.”
Why do we scoff at that?
If you are like me, we scoff because we instinctively understand that Chopra telling them that “they are the universe” is not particularly profound, and is not any more true than it is profound. The fact that these words helped turn their life around, helped them stop drinking, or saved their marriage, or whatever the case may be, we may feel happy for them, but at some level, we are also likely to feel a little sorry for them.
It took that to get you out of your hole?
The fact that thousands of people are claiming that Peterson’s work has helped them personally is not evidence of the truth of his claims, or even of their more general helpfulness. It’s just evidence of his charisma and his skill in speaking, and to some extent, in reading people.
What is objectively helpful to people is information — specifically, correct information. Some of Peterson’s psychology is valuable, but unfortunately, most of what he talks about is not psychology, but a mixture of philosophy, politics, and theology. His philosophy is nothing particularly special — like a non-philosopher’s blended introduction to Heidegger, Jung, and Campbell. His politics are simply bad, if one’s goals are to retain national sovereignty and distinct national identities. They are even bad if you simply want to take pride in your nation.
His theology is also wrong.
While his words may be inspiring, or motivating, or well put-together in such a way that people are inclined to credit them with their own personal growth, these are all subjective and difficult metrics for determining whether someone’s life has actually improved. Bad information, on the other hand, objectively, demonstrably, and consistently hurts people’s lives. It reduces their ability to make correct decisions.
Vox Day only took notice of Jordan Peterson initially because Peterson was wrong about Jewish IQ (Peterson claimed that average Ashkenazi Jewish IQ was between 110-115; in reality, it is still very high, but closer to 103-105 on average).
Rather than correcting, Peterson subsequently doubled down.
But even if someone was helpful 90% of the time, and was helpful in a manner designed to lead down a path one did not want to go down, does the greater amount of help outweigh the harm of the destination? Is the pied-piper a net aid to the children because, for the vast majority of the story, he is entertaining them with pleasant music?
This, of course, sounds like a bit of an accusation…
3. Jordan Peterson is Controlled Opposition
Peterson has stated that his motivation, and the fear that lies beneath all of his work, is the danger of nuclear war. It is his own map of meaning, determining the direction he hopes to direct himself, and to direct others… because nuclear war isn’t a personal problem. It goes without saying that it isn’t the sort of thing you can fix by cleaning your room.
But no one else gave him this mission. He isn’t controlled in that way. So what do Vox — and now I — mean by “controlled opposition?”
The direction he is going is useful to globalists, because he is also a globalist. The solution that those fearful of nuclear war consistently return to is that of one global government (another prominent example was Robert Heinlein). The fact that the rest of the globalists are pursuing the very power that the likes of Heinlein and Peterson hope to limit is irrelevant to their shared mission, which is establishing a single, world government.
While some elements of the far-left go after Peterson for being broadly anti-revolutionary and insufficiently progressive, the vast majority of the corporate left has fully embraced him, along with other “renegades” of the “Intellectual Dark Web.” For them, his message is less important than its effects. I have serious doubts that the millionaires and billionaires who run the New York Times, Amazon, and Microsoft spend hundreds of hours reading or listening to Jordan Peterson. They just see him as a useful tool for promoting the kind of world in which they’ll continue to dominate, which is necessarily a global one.
All of this means that Jordan Peterson is controlled opposition. He is supported and endorsed by people who don’t particularly care about his message, except that its effects will benefit them. His work for the United Nations, which can be looked at here, certainly does not bode we’ll for ordinary citizens in Western countries who wish to retain their own national identity (read page 18 for a cursory look over what they have in mind). Peterson is put forward as a false-antithesis, a “renegade” of the “dark” web, as if his ideas and ideology is some way an alternative to the internationalist, neo-liberal end of history offered by the corporate media. It is not. It’s just more creatively and interestingly described.
And if it seems odd that they’re throwing their weight behind Peterson, allowing (possibly helping?) 12 Rules For Life to become a massive international best-seller, rather than trying to destroy it like they tried with Milo’s Dangerous and various other dissident works, it is because Peterson’s ideology is not opposed to the globalism that undermines national sovereignty and the sense of identity that really gives meaning and motivation to your life. Peterson’s maps and rules are diversions from and dilutions of the familial, local, and national orientations that truly help people, and offer a cheap alternative that is based in fear, rather than love — perhaps the only viable alternative that can work in a globalized world.
This also makes his comments on Kavanaugh more sensible. A few Peterson fans I spoke to first didn’t believe he’d said it, and then didn’t know what to make of it. The words didn’t fit into their framework.
If everything he does is motivated by a terror over the possibility of war, then they do make sense.
4. Jordan Peterson is… Unhealthy
I am not a psychiatrist, and I am not comfortable calling someone “insane” because I disagree with them on a number of political and philosophical points. However, the fact that Peterson wrote about strange, sexual dreams about his grandmother petting him with pubic hair, and hiding with and then eating his cousin — whom he described as the most beautiful woman he’d ever met — and he wrote all of this down in his book, is a little disturbing.
The fact that Peterson is fundamentally motivated by fear and views suffering as the metaphysical basis of objective reality is not so much a challenge to his sanity as it is to his philosophy. Then again, the line between sanity and philosophy has always been tenuous, and better philosophers than Peterson have been more readily accused of insanity — Nietzsche and Kierkegaard come to mind.
But by his own admission, Peterson has battled depression for a great deal of his life. He describes catastrophic symptoms if he deviates even slightly from his rather peculiar diet: meat and salt. He has said that he would regularly wake up in the morning with an overwhelming sense of doom.
History is full of positively productive people who were spurred on by personal weaknesses and problems–sometimes physical, sometimes social, sometimes psychological. Just because Peterson is psychologically and physically abnormal does not mean that his contributions are necessarily negative. However, if his contributions were positive, it would not therefore mean he was sane either. And based on what I’ve outlined above, and what Vox Day has been outlining for five months now, it’s clear that what Peterson is contributing is negative, not positive.
5. Jordan Peterson is a Relativist
I argued in my initial post that Peterson’s account of pain-as-objective-meaning acquits him of the charge of existential relativism. But this account is very limited in its scope, and provides no telos, other than “that which minimizes suffering.” It is, in fact, subjective in nature, which for a moral objectivist like Vox Day, or Christians in general, is essentially relativism.
But this existential relativism is less concerning then Peterson’s epistemological relativism. For Peterson, “truth” means a number of different things, none of which mean what most people mean when they say the word. If he is consistent enough to apply this to the rest of his ideology, then its truth is suspect; if he does not apply his stated meaning of “truth” to his professed ideology, then he is inconsistent. In either case, it is a troubling subject.
In conclusion, I was wrong to take Jordan Peterson seriously. I suspect I saw public validation of ideas I myself had enjoyed from Joseph Campbell and Matthew Crawford, ideas which I believed had merit, but which were not well-received or well-known. And here was a champion who not brought some of these ideas to the public in a way that reached millions, but did so on the back of a battle against a common enemy: the hard-left.
The moral of the story is that just because someone is right about one thing, or even many things, doesn’t mean that they are on their side. What matters isn’t where they are, but where they’re going, the best way to understand that is by understanding what motivates them, what they’re trying to accomplish, not whether or not what they’re saying happens to be useful to you in the moment.
It’s also worth remembering the people who were right, whose predictions tend to be accurate (and whose desired end-state is aligned with yours). It is how I discovered Styxhexenhammer666, and it is one of the reasons I continue to follow Vox Day. Both are libertarian nationalists, and both called the 2016 election correctly for Trump when virtually everyone believed it was in the bag for Clinton.
To bring it full circle, it’s basically just worth remembering, period. As opposed to forgetting, which a shockingly high number of people seem to find preferable.