Saturday, January 20, 2018

'12 Strong' rides into movie theaters nationwide, commander calls it realistic

January 19, 2018
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Not since “The Green Berets,” John Wayne’s 1968 cinematic valentine to America’s war in Vietnam, have the Army’s Special Forces seized Hollywood’s spotlight.
But that may change today with the release of “12 Strong” on 3,002 screens nationwide. Filmed in New Mexico last year, it’s battling for weekend box office supremacy with “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” and the crime caper flick “Den of Thieves.”
Based on the the book “Horse Soldiers” by Doug Stanton and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer,“12 Strong” reprises the tale of Task Force Dagger, a mix of CIA paramilitary agents and Army Green Berets from Operational Detachment Alpha 595 who shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks united with Northern Alliance leader Abdul Rashid Dostum to battle Taliban and Al Qaeda forces for control of Afghanistan.
Never numbering more than 300 men and featuring commandos often fighting on horseback alongside Uzbek irregulars, Dagger helped to bring down the Taliban regime in less than a few months and then watched as the battle for Afghanistan descended into a counter-insurgency slog that’s dragged on for 16 years (events the film doesn’t touch).
Directed by Nicolai Fuglsig, the film stars Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Rob Riggle and William Fichtner, who plays the role of Special Forces Col. John F. Mulholland Jr., the commander of 5th Special Forces Group and Task Force Dagger.
“It’s very close to reality,” Mulholland told The San Diego Union-Tribune by telephone from his home in Maryland. “There’s some Hollywood stuff, I mean you’re going to see SF guys on horseback with their Uzbek counterparts charging tanks, and that’s not something I’d recommend that we do. It’s a dramatic effect but the thread of everything that happens in that movie is everything that happened to that team.”
To Mulholland, the most realistic scene in the film was a long, panning shot of a village that had been recently liberated by Northern Alliance forces.
“Kites were flying,” he said. “The Taliban had banned kites and toys and things of that kind. When I saw that, and later on in the movie where kids were playing, that’s all in the background but it spoke to me. That really brought me back.”
Mulholland is a central figure both in the film and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that came to define the early 21st century American military. He rose to lead Coalition-Joint Task Force-Arabian Peninsula in Iraq as well as Special Operations Command Central and U.S. Army Special Operations Command.
He stepped down as a three-star general in 2015 to become the CIA’s Associate Director for Military Affairs before retiring from service in late 2016. That highlights another facet of the murky wars overseas — the merging of intelligence operatives with armed forces commandos in secret missions often far behind ill-defined enemy lines.
While the Pentagon seized the lead in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, it ceded the primary mission to CIA.
“The challenge becomes when it’s murky,” Mulholland said. “I’ve been retired a year now and I remain close to folks from that side of the house but that recognition that we must work together is shared by both sides, the uniformed and those in CIA or the the intelligence community. Both sides realize that we must win this together and we both bring strengths to the table.”
Between the 9/11 attacks and Mulholland’s departure to CIA, the Pentagon’s special operations budget nearly quintupled, from $2.3 billion in 2001 to about $10 billion 14 years later, and grew from nearly 43,000 special operators drawn from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines to more than 70,000 today — a force nearly the size of the entire British army.
Nicknamed the “Quiet Professionals” and with their roots in the WWII Office of Strategic Services, the Army’s Special Forces have five primary missions: boosting a host nation’s military through foreign internal defense; special reconnaissance; direct action missions; counter-terrorism operations; and unconventional warfare, the covert assistance to local militias to subvert or sabotage an enemy force or gather intelligence about it.
That’s what Mulholland’s teams did in Afghanistan.
“The challenge for us is that we normally spend a great deal of time studying the culture, doing what we call ‘area studies,’ and incorporating that into our training,” Mulholland said. “But because of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, it was a pick-up game, it was go. We didn’t have the luxury of doing that preparation and that’s what made this particular operation so high risk. We were going into the unknown.”
He fretted about Northern Alliance guerrillas possibly turning on his troops but in the end trusted Special Forces doctrine, which put the burden of solving the battlefield and political problems on the indigenous militiamen and his commandos supporting them, largely by calling in air strikes against Taliban positions.
And that sort of unconventional daring and competence is better than ever today, he said.
“We never expected the United States to be at war for 16-plus years at this point, but all five of active duty Special Forces groups and our two National Guard groups have been so immersed and involved in this fight, not just in Afghanistan but Iraq and Syria, in Asia with our Philippine counterparts, and Central Europe and our Baltic friends — countering the ‘little green men’ and Russia’s unconventional efforts,” Mulholland said.
“Whether it’s doing counter-insurgency or unconventional warfare, it’s really two sides of the same coin. It’s learning how to work with the indigenous folks, empowering them and building capacity in their forces that’s resilient and meritocratic, not nepotistic.”
Mulholland said that an important debate inside the military has never been resolved — whether the battle for Afghanistan should have remained a mission for special operators instead of what it became, a large American-led counter-insurgency war involving tens of thousands of conventional forces.
After the staged withdrawals of those troops since 2011, the Taliban reasserted control over vast swaths of Afghanistan.
Government forces continue to report problems with desertion and Kabul increasingly relies on its own special forces for the bulk of combat missions against the Taliban — teams primarily built by the special forces of the United States and NATO allies.
“The problem is getting the balance right,” Mulholland said. “At what point does the burden shift too far to us as opposed to keeping (Afghans) in the lead?”

12 Strong’s Moral Clarity about the War on Terror Is Sorely Needed

We could all use a reminder that it’s okay to root for American troops.

By Kyle Smith
January 20, 2018

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January has become military-appreciation month at the multiplex. Black Hawk Down went into wide release in January 2002. It was followed in later Januarys by Zero Dark Thirty (2013), Lone Survivor (2014),American Sniper (2015), and 13 Hours (2016). This year’s offering, 12 Strong, won’t make you forget any of those movies. But it’s a competent action film that has the virtue of moral clarity, and now is as good a time as any to salute the skill and courage of our forces in Afghanistan.

The film tells the story of Army Special Forces Captain Mark Nutsch (here renamed Mitch Nelson and confidently played by Chris Hemsworth, a.k.a. Thor), the leader of a platoon of only twelve men who struck a key early blow against the Taliban just weeks after 9/11. Nutsch and his men joined with Afghan militia led by General Dostum (Navid Negahban) to take the northern stronghold of Mazar-i-Sharif, which was protected by mountainous terrain that was largely impassable except on horseback. The book upon which the movie is based tells the story in its title: Horse Soldiers. When you’re leading up to a climax that involves mortars, tanks, air power, and men wielding assault weapons on horseback in a furious melee, you’ve got yourself a movie.

12 Strong has its moments, particularly in its helter-skelter depiction of today’s chaotic battlefield and its feel for Afghan trash talk. (“Razzan, son of dog, the Americans will kill you,” Dostum tells his Taliban counterpart over the radio, not inaccurately.) Director Nicolai Fuglsig is not a great visual artist, though, and unlike Michael Bay in the underrated 13 Hours, he does a poor job differentiating one soldier from another, much less fleshing out the stories of their wives and girlfriends back home. Most of this determined dozen simply form a backdrop to Nelson’s heroics, with the exception of grizzled warrant officer Hal Spencer (Michael Shannon), impish sidekick Sam Diller (Michael Pena), and Ben Milo (Trevante Rhodes), a soldier who unexpectedly strikes up a friendship with an Afghan boy.

The movie isn’t overly concerned with military verisimilitude either, what with the way it has a captain freely interrupting a colonel and throws men into battle who not only don’t wear helmets but don’t even seem toown any. Likewise I’m not sure how you could survive a massive explosion from a suicide bomber standing right in front of you.
Those flaws aside, while I hate to cast aspersions on fellow movie critics, many of them seem offended that 12 Strong is a little too sure of who the good guys and bad guys are in the conflict with Islamist fanaticism — a bit too “rah-rah,” in the words of a Los Angeles Times headlineWhen it comes to an Afghan woman’s being stoned to death for adultery while buried up to her neck and another’s being shot in the head because she dared to educate her daughters — both shown in the film — the lines seem clear enough.

If anything, 12 Strong is most useful in its ability to remind us of that moral clarity we have lost in the years since 9/11, which already feels like a day from another, more serious and sober era. Nelson, watching the World Trade Center attack on TV, stands for all of those great Americans who altered the courses of their lives to fight, and he and his team managed to fire some of the first shots of what became known as the War on Terror. If the movie is too free with the jock-like banter among the Special Forces troops — at times their level of gravitas seems dialed closer to “rugby match” than “possibly deadly mission” — the kind of tight-knit camaraderie these guys represent is absolutely essential to the military spirit. You may go to war for abstract reasons, but you fight for your buddies, and they for you.

The Horse Soldiers’ audacious attack on Mazar-i-Sharif, which a contemporaneous New York Times editorial called “the first important military victory of the war against terrorism,” cut off a vital Taliban supply route. It didn’t deal evil a death blow, but it was still heroic. Whatever its other weaknesses, 12 Strong deserves credit for reminding us of that.

— Kyle Smith is National Review’s critic-at-large.


In his new book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Peterson draws on everything from neuroscience to the Old Testament to his well-known controversial views

Jordan Peterson burst from academic quasi-obscurity in 2016 with a video criticizing political correctness on campus and rejecting gender-neutral pronouns. It went viral, setting him up for constant protests, calls for censure, even firing, while establishing him as a darling of the anti-PC crowd. In his new book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Peterson draws on everything from neuroscience to the Old Testament to his well-known controversial views. He talks with Christie Blatchford, who has been known to court controversy herself, and who once referred to Peterson as “a warrior for common sense and plain speech.” Their conversation has been edited and adapted.
Christie Blatchford: About this book: It’s hard work, as a proper self-help book should be, and it is a self-help book isn’t it?
Jordan Peterson: It’s help for the self and everyone else at the same time.
For a lot of people like me, who only knew you through the controversy at the University of Toronto and the genderless pronoun issue, it comes as a bit of a surprise that you’re a psychologist, and there’s a lot of psychology in here.Do you define yourself chiefly as a psychologist?
That’s a good question. I’d say it’s half and half, professor and psychologist. I’ve had a very extensive clinical practice, I’ve seen 20 people a week for 20 years.
Are you still doing that?
I haven’t been doing it this year because, well, I folded up my clinical practice because my life has become so hectic that I can’t. I have a rule for my practice, which is when I’m listening to you I don’t think of anything else. And so my life has to be in pretty good order for me not to drift. And I don’t want to drift during a session, because, first of all, it’s your time and second, because you make mistakes that way. And I don’t want to make mistakes.
You mentioned a client who had severe social anxiety. Seems to me that an awful lot of children, way more than I remember as a child, have it now. Is that real?
It’s likely a consequence of being too protected. Our society has become an overprotective mother. If you protect people, you reduce their competence.
There’s a rule of thumb for dealing with elderly people in old age homes: Never do anything for anyone that they can do for themselves. It sounds cruel, but it’s not cruel.
This is one of the pathologies of our culture. A major pathology, and this is associated with a kind of immaturity and a kind of fear and this Oedipal mother problem, which is, ‘I don’t want you to suffer any distress right now.’ Fine, but what about tomorrow and next week and next month? You might have to suffer a lot of distress right now so that you’re better next week and next month.
You talk about your mother walking past you in the schoolyard. Hard for her.
Yeah, because I was about to fight with a friend of mine. And my mum was an agreeable person.
And a good mother. That’s why she walked by you.
Particularly good, because her temperament would have inclined her to intervene. But her character told her no. She was very good that way — both my parents. If anything, they erred on the side of autonomy, which is the right place to err.
I’ve never, ever had a client who came and said to me, ‘My parents made me do too many things for myself.’ That just doesn’t happen. Always the opposite.
Another psychology question then: What about all the people now who are identifying as transsexual, genderless?
We’re in a psychological epidemic. This happens all the time. Freudian hysteria was a psychological epidemic; you very seldom see Freudian hysterics now. Multiple personality disorder is a good example; you don’t see any cases of that anymore.
Have we seen the gender thing before?
Not in living memory.
I remember no people like that in my whole life. I know gay people of course, and drag queens, but they seem remarkably well adjusted.
I think that one of the things the web has done is enable people who have personality disorders to validate their particular pathology, because they find all sorts of people who are like them.
There’s an epidemic of self-diagnosis among young people, there’s a race to multiply pathology, there’s a glorification of disorders like borderline personality disorder, which is rare. When being the most oppressed victim gives you the highest status, then it’s a race to the bottom.
We’re not helping young people figure out a noble and difficult pathway forward, where they bear responsibility and march forthrightly into adulthood. Quite the contrary. We’re saying, ‘Well, the system is corrupt and there’s no point in taking part in it. You’re going to be victimized no matter what you do.’ And so the race is on for who gets to play the victim card with the highest degree of status. And it’s really bad, it’s especially bad for adolescents because they’re trying to sort their identity out, they’re already a mess.

What about little kids? There have been at least two or three stories written in the mainstream press about parents who refuse to even say what the gender of their child is.
Narcissistic parents. They’re seeking notoriety through the sacrifice of their children. You dig into a family like that and you find things that no one in their right mind would ever want to look at.
You’re now a YouTube sensation. How did that come about?
One of the things I’d been interested in doing for a long time is to understand entrepreneurial and creative behaviour. The web has made exposure for creative people easy, but monetization difficult.
I’d already put my YouTube videos online. I hit the million mark and I thought, ‘Huh, I don’t know how to evaluate this. What does it mean exactly to get a million YouTube views?’ People were watching the lectures – they’re long – and they were watching quite a bit of them.
And I thought, ‘What is this YouTube anyway?’ It’s not cute cat videos anymore. It’s like a Gutenberg revolution, because now the spoken word has the same reach as the written word, and permanence.
(With Patreon) it’s a strange model for capitalism, because you get the item free and you can pay for it if you want. The thing is, people have a pretty strong interest for reciprocity. So they feel if they’re getting something of value, they actually like to reciprocate. It’s the basis of society, right?
… So back to Patreon. I set that up. And within a month I was receiving about $500US in support, and I thought, ‘Oh well, that’s worthy of note.’ So that was all in place when this Bill C-16 emerged about five months later.
Where does the alt-right accusation start?
Oh that’s easy. It was there right from the beginning.
I released all three of those videos and then I also took some potshots, when I talked about the unconscious bias training, at Black Lives Matter. Because of that, I was called a transphobe and a racist and a bigot. Alt-right. And that there were Nazis at the bloody rally.
There’s a radical leftist playbook which is, if you stand up against us you must be the worst of all possible people and here’s the names we think the worst of all possible people deserve and so if you are not of the radical left, then you’re anywhere along the remaining spectrum. And you’re in a group with everyone in the remaining spectrum. So Nazis are also against the radical leftists.
Therefore you’re all Nazis?
Yeah, therefore it’s plausible that you might be one, even though of course it isn’t plausible because there are hardly any Nazis, especially not in Canada.
You take a very strong anti-lying position throughout this book — say you have to tell the truth all the time.
It’s the sacrifice of the future for the present, and lies by omission are far more pernicious and damaging than people think. It’s like, ‘Oh, I just won’t pay attention to that’. Anything that you don’t pay attention to turns into a dragon.
The other thing I found surprising about your book is there’s a lot of religion, a lot of the Bible, in here. And you say your founding principle is that we are going to suffer.
Suffering is built into the structure of being.
That’s your cornerstone belief?
Starting point. It’s an incontrovertible truth, and that’s a good place to start.
It’s a wonderful comfort too.
It’s also really useful to know that it’s built in, you know? Because we’re finite creatures confronting an infinite reality, so suffering is built into that. There’s a point to be made there, and the point is: Life is suffering and that can be unbearable.
So then the next issue is, what can you do about that? And one is to fold up and go home; that’s the suicidal gesture, right? Sometimes it’s the homicidal gesture. Sometimes it’s the genocidal gesture, and that’s the problem with that line of argumentation.
That’s where you end up?
That’s where you end up. That’s exactly it. You end up there, even if you don’t start there, and that’s really not good.
Are you a Christian? Do you believe in God?
I think the proper response to that is No, but I’m afraid He might exist.

You say you’re ‘a tragically minded and pessimistic person’; I say you’re a hopeless optimist.
Well, that’s right. You got the phrasing right: I’m a hopeless optimist. That’s because I actually believe that despite the fact that I believe that suffering is an ultimate reality, I do believe that there’s a mode of being that allows people to transcend it.
I’ve done a lot of studies, neuroscience studies, trying to figure out and trying to understand how the brain works functionally. We have two hemispheres. One seems to deal with the unknown, that’s the right hemisphere. And the other seems to deal with things we already understand — say unexplored territory and explored territory. You know things: Order. You don’t know things: Chaos.
So now the question is, how do you know if you’re handling the constant interplay between order and chaos properly?
I have a chapter called ‘Do What’s Meaningful Not Expedient.’ If everyone decided they were going to allow their sense of meaning to be their guide, what would they become?
One of the most radical things Christ tells His followers is that if they embody His mode of being, they will be able to do greater things than He did. What it means is that people have an infinite potential and they can manifest that infinite potential in a manner that allows them to withstand the tragic conditions of being.
I worked with a company for a while that did consulting for law firms, and their rule was you send us your most productive people and we’ll produce a five per cent improvement in productivity.
Were you able to do that?
Oh, always. The basic rule was, and this is the right rule, let’s get your life together and when that happens, you’ll be more productive.
What is it that you want? Clarify your damn aims. And then differentiate that down to the point where you have practical, implementable actions you can take on a day-to-day basis.
And start small, that’s your other rule. If you can’t manage something this big, you should start small.
Yeah, I think part of the reason my lectures are popular, and hopefully the same will be the case for this book, is that I take the highest of abstract ethical principle, the most profound principles I can contemplate, and then differentiate them into something that’s absolutely prosaic.

Friday, January 19, 2018

The curious star appeal of Jordan Peterson

Why are young Brits flocking to hear a psychology professor talk about morality?

20 January 2018

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Last Sunday night a capacity crowd of mainly young people packed into the Emmanuel Centre in London. Those who couldn’t find a seat stood at the back of the hall. When the speaker entered, the entire hall rose to its feet. It was his second lecture that day, the fourth across three days of sold-out London events. For an hour and a half the audience listened to a rambling, quirky, but fascinating tour of evolutionary biology, myth, religion, psychology, dictators and Dostoyevsky. Occasionally a line would get its own burst of applause. One of the loudest came after the speaker’s appeal for the sanctity of marriage and child-rearing.
Yet this was not a Christian revivalist meeting. At least not explicitly or intendedly so. It was a lecture by a 55-year-old, grey-haired, dark-browed Canadian academic who until 18 months ago was little known outside his professional field of psychology. Today, for at least one generation, Professor Jordan Peterson of the University of Toronto has become a mixture of philosopher, life-coach, educator and guru. He has the kind of passionate, youthful, pedagogical draw that the organised churches can only dream of. Anybody interested in our current culture wars, not to mention the ongoing place of religion, should head to YouTube, where his classes have been viewed by millions.
YouTube arguably made Peterson. That and an uncommon reluctance to genuflect before the hastily assembled dogmas of our time. In 2016 he made a stand against the Canadian government’s introduction of a law that aimed to make it a crime not to address people by their preferred gender pronouns (regardless of chromosomes). The issue of ‘gender pronouns’ may sound a strange springboard to international attention. But Peterson did something a decreasing number of people in our societies are willing to do: he stuck his head above the parapet. He politely but firmly objected to officials telling him or anyone else what words to use or to define for him what the meanings of words should be. There was an outcry. His classes were disrupted by often riotous protests. There were serious efforts to force him out of his university position. For a moment, it looked as though the social justice mounties might get their man. But for once it didn’t work. In fact it badly backfired. Not only did a lot more people discover a counter-cultural (or counter-counter-cultural) hero who was willing to say what almost everybody else thought. They also discovered someone with not only humanity and humour, but serious depth and substance.
Peterson was in London to promote his new book (his second) 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. This does what it says and then some, providing a practical life lesson in every chapter, each one explored through Peterson’s deep learning and insight. Chapters circle around rules such as ‘Stand up straight with your shoulders back’, ‘Make friends with people who want the best for you’ and ‘Be precise in your speech’.
Others are slightly more leftfield (‘Do not bother children when they are skateboarding’). But all get to truths which anyone with an eye to tradition will recognise: ‘Tell the truth — or, at least, don’t lie’; ‘Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)’. Although he roams across traditions and cultures, on subjects like this last one the foundations are clear.
And Peterson does not shy away from making them so. He sees the vacuum left not just by the withdrawal of the Christian tradition, but by the moral relativism and self-abnegation that have flooded across the West in its wake. Furthermore he recognises — from his experience as a practising psychologist and as a teacher — that people crave principles and certainties. He sees a generation being urged to waste their lives waving placards about imaginary problem, or problems far beyond their (or anyone’s control) and urges them instead to cut through the lies, recognise the tragic and uncomfortable position we are in as humans and consider afresh what we might actually achieve with our lives.
On Sunday he repeatedly referred back to biblical sources. Apologising that he had already given one structured talk that morning, he announced that he wanted to be more freewheeling. Criss-crossing the stage, holding his brow and engaging the audience like his own students, he asked why dragons appear as mythological beings in cultures across the planet and what the evolutionary reasons for that might be.
Going back to the time when we lived in trees and feared fire and snakes, he explored the psychological and mythical reasons why the snakiest of all snakes might have lodged itself in each culture as the representation of evil. And from there we went to Eden and the Gulag via the Judeo-Christian tradition’s discovery that even if we chase down every snake in the land we cannot fully destroy the one inside ourselves. Motes, beams and eyes were discussed in relation to his advice to a generation hooked on public displays of morality: ‘Set your house in perfect order before you criticise the world.’
The following night, in a talk that was live-streamed, he went back to a more structured — but still freewheeling — talk with frequent dashes of humour. He answered a young woman who complained that her friends didn’t listen when she spoke. He referred to the wisdom of the verse about ‘pearls before swine’. This was not in jest. It was a sincere recommendation that she should find friends who would value both her and her thoughts. Towards the end, this self-declared but far from didactic Christian mentioned in passing that ‘the central figure of western culture is Christ’. And in closing (after being asked which of his own rules he falls short of observing), he described how ‘until the entire world is redeemed, we all fall short’. Certainly, Peterson has found a huge audience by telling uncomfortable truths. But he also tells them what should be comfortable truths too.
Of course, on their own, such statements might be a turn-off to young people. But Peterson’s other qualities prevent that happening. The first is he is unafraid to investigate the highest realms of learning (including the latest discoveries in science and psychology) and to turn them to practical use. In doing so he recognises that people — particularly young people, and young men most of all — are badly in need of help.
From his teaching, speeches, writing and interviews, it is clear that Peterson has made one of the most unpopular but vital realisations of our time: that we are creating a generation of men who (especially if they don’t belong to any ‘minority’ group) are without hope, foundation or purpose. Everything in the culture insists that they are terrible: proto–rapists when they are not rapists; proto-racists when they are not racists; condemned for their ‘privilege’ even when they are failures and their every success dismissed as undeserved.
This is destined to produce societal resentment and disengagement on a generational scale. Female politicians, among others, scoff, and most men run scared or duck. Peterson is one of the very few to take this problem seriously and to help young people to navigate towards lives of meaning and purpose. On Sunday night, one young woman asked what advice Peterson would give to a student like her. He told her to ignore those professors who aimed to wither the souls of their students. Instead he urged her to use her student years to cultivate the greatest possible friendships. Many of these friendships would be with people who — as Peterson put it — were dead; people whose feet the deconstructionists and resentment-cultivators of modern academia were not worthy of touching.
This is another part of Peterson’s appeal. While he grounds his deep learning un-abashedly within the western tradition, he also shows vast respect towards (and frequently cites ideas from) innumerable other traditions. He has a truly cosmopolitan and omnivorous intellect, but one that recognises that things need grounding in a home if they are ever going to be meaningfully grasped.
Finally, as well as being funny, there is a burning sincerity to the man which only the most withered cynic could suspect. At several points on Sunday evening his voice wavered. At one point, overwhelmed by the response of the audience and its ecstatic reaction to him and his wife (who was in the audience) he broke into tears. It is an education in itself to see a grown man show such unaffected emotion in public. Certainly, he demonstrated to a young audience trying to order their own lives that an emotional person need not be a wreck and that a man with a heart can also have a spine.
‘What was that?’ asked an old friend I bumped into on the way out. Hundreds of young people were still queueing to get books signed. Others stood around buzzing with the thrill of what we had heard. I still don’t have an answer. But it was wonderful.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Mark Steyn Show with Jordan Peterson

What's So Dangerous About Jordan Peterson?

Not long ago, he was an obscure psychology professor. Now he leads a flock of die-hard disciples.

By Tom Bartlett
January 17, 2018

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They’re waiting in the cold for Jordan Peterson, hands shoved in jacket pockets, serious books like The Gulag Archipelago and Modern Man in Search of a Soultucked under arms. The crowd outside the University of Toronto’s Isabel Bader Theatre on a Tuesday evening in November is mostly male and mostly in their 20s. They’ve spent hours watching Peterson on YouTube, where he rails against the enervating evils of postmodernism, dissects the Bible at length, and offers fatherly advice about how to "change the world properly." They recite his dictums on personal responsibility, like "Clean your room," "Sort yourself out," and "Don’t do things that you hate." They devour the classics he deems must-reads — Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, Orwell. When asked to describe him, they reach for superlatives: brilliant, breathtaking, wise. When asked to compare him, they turn to historical figures: Plato, Diogenes, Gandhi. They insist he’s changed their lives.
Soon the man himself will arrive and deliver an often dazzling, sometimes puzzling, rarely dull two-hour lecture on the symbolic and psychological underpinnings of the book of Genesis. Afterward he will field knotty questions from the audience on whether originality is really possible, the tension between honor and happiness, and the evolutionary upside of solitude. These questions seem designed to be difficult, as if the audience were engaged in a giant game of Stump the Guru. It’s during such sessions that Peterson is at his improvisational best, sprinkling in ideas from philosophy, fiction, religion, neuroscience, and a disturbing dream his 5-year-old nephew had one time. It’s a hearty intellectual stew ladled up by an intense 55-year-old psychology professor who gives the impression that he’s on the cusp of unraveling the deep secrets of human behavior — and maybe the mystery of God, too, while he’s at it.
You’d never guess from the reverential atmosphere in the 500-seat theater just how polarizing Peterson has become over the past year. Days before, fliers were tacked up around his neighborhood warning the community about the dangerous scholar in their midst, accusing him of "campaigning against the human rights" of minorities and associating with the alt-right. There have been several calls for his ouster from the University of Toronto — where he’s tenured — including a recent open letter to the dean of the faculty of arts and science signed by hundreds, including many of his fellow professors. Friends refuse to comment on him lest they be associated with his image. Critics hesitate, too, for fear that his supporters will unleash their online wrath. A graduate student at another Canadian universitywas reprimanded for showing a short video clip of Peterson to a group of undergraduates. One of the professors taking her to task likened Peterson to Hitler.
It can be tough to parse the Peterson phenomenon. For one thing, it seems as if there are multiple Petersons, each appealing to, or in some cases alienating, separate audiences. There is the pugnacious Peterson, a clench-jawed crusader against what he sees as an authoritarian movement masquerading as social-justice activism. That Peterson appears on TV, including on Fox & Friends, President Trump’s preferred morning show, arguing that the left is primarily responsible for increased polarization. That Peterson contends that ideologically corrupt humanities and social-science programs should be starved of students and replaced by something like a Great Books curriculum.
There’s also the avuncular Peterson, the one who dispenses self-help lessons aimed at aimless young people, and to that end has written a new book of encouragement and admonition, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Random House Canada). The book isn’t political, at least not overtly, and it grew out of his hobby of answering personal questions posted by strangers on the internet. That Peterson runs a website on "self-authoring" that promises to help those with a few spare hours and $14.95 discover their true selves.
Then there’s the actual Peterson, a guy who Ping-Pongs between exuberance and exhaustion, a grandfather who is loathed and loved by a public that, until very recently, had almost entirely ignored him. Now he has more than a half-millionYouTube subscribers, nearly 300,000Twitter followers, and several thousand die-hard disciples who send him money, to the tune of $60,000 per month. Even the man with all the answers appears stunned by the outpouring, and at the sudden, surreal turn in his life. "When I wake up in the morning, it takes about half an hour for my current reality to sink in," he says. "I don’t know what to make of it."
Figuring out what to make of Jordan Peterson’s rise requires first rewinding a few decades. Peterson grew up in the tiny town of Fairview, Alberta, where the high temperature stays well below freezing in the winter months and where the closest city, Edmonton, is a five-hour drive away. It’s a place where a teenage Peterson and his buddies drank too much, built bonfires, and cruised around the endless countryside.
Peterson attended the University of Alberta, earning degrees in psychology and political science before going on to get his doctorate in clinical psychology at McGill University. A fellow graduate student, Peter Finn, now a professor of psychology at the University of Indiana at Bloomington, remembers Peterson as quick-witted and confident. "He was an enjoyable person who liked to be different and thought highly of himself," Finn says. "I thought, Who the hell is he?"
Peterson’s early research examined how alcoholism runs in families. When he wasn’t conducting studies on the genetic predisposition for addictive behavior, he was plugging away on a side project that would become his manifesto: Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. He worked on that manuscript, he says, three hours a day for 15 years, rewriting it scores of times. It was not the sort of book that a psychological researcher following the well-trod path to academic success would take on. It does not zero in on a phenomenon or stake out unclaimed ground in a subfield. Instead the book is a sweeping attempt at making sense of man’s inhumanity to man, the purpose of existence, and the significance of the divine. Peterson leaps from Wittgenstein to Northrop Frye to Grimm’s Fairy Tales, then on to Hannah Arendt, B.F. Skinner, and Dante. The book is shot through with theories of religion ("God" appears several hundred times in the text) and informed by Carl Jung’s archetypal view of the collective unconscious, an influence that’s still evident in Peterson’s work.
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Maps of Meaning offers clues to the strongly held political stances that have turned Peterson into a controversial philosopher-pundit. In college, he writes, he espoused socialism almost by default. He tried to emulate the movement’s leaders, dutifully attending meetings, absorbing their slogans and repeating their arguments. Over time, though, he found that he didn’t respect his fellow activists, who struck him as perpetually aggrieved and suspiciously underemployed. "They had no career, frequently, and no family, no completed education — nothing but ideology," he writes. He also discovered that he often didn’t believe the things he was enthusiastically spouting. "Despite my verbal facility, I was not real," he writes. "I found this painful to admit." He also became obsessed with the looming prospect of nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States. He fell into a depression, suffered "apocalyptic dreams" several nights a week, and fought against "vaguely suicidal thoughts."
Carl Jung rode to the rescue. Peterson read a passage from one of Jung’s essays about the importance of understanding "these fantastic images that rise up so strange and threatening before the mind’s eye." According to Jung, the way you understand them is by framing your personal struggles in terms of ancient stories, embracing the "power of myth," as Joseph Campbell, another Jung disciple, put it. That epiphany made the bad dreams go away, and Peterson embarked on what has become a lifelong project of grappling with the strange and threatening images in his and other people’s minds.
He continued writing Maps of Meaning after he was hired as an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard University, using the book-in-progress (at one point titled "The Gods of War") as a text for his classes. In 1995, Peterson was profiled in The Harvard Crimson, an article that reads like an award introduction. One undergraduate told the newspaper that Peterson was "teaching beyond the level of anyone else," and that even "philosophy students go to him for advice." A graduate student from back then, Shelley Carson, who now teaches at Harvard and writes about creativity, recalled that Peterson had "something akin to a cult following" in his Harvard days. "Taking a course from him was like taking psychedelic drugs without the drugs," Carson says. "I remember students crying on the last day of class because they wouldn’t get to hear him anymore."
Eventually, in 1999, Maps of Meaning was published — his magnum opus, the central preoccupation of his life to that point — and no one cared.
Or nearly no one. The chairman of the psychology department at Harvard at the time, Sheldon White, was impressed, calling it a "brilliant enlargement of our understanding of human motivation." A few others chimed in with praise, but the response was mostly crickets. It sold fewer than 500 copies in hardcover. "I don’t think people had any idea what to make of the book, and I still think they don’t," Peterson says. "No one has attempted to critique it seriously."
He had considered using Maps of Meaning as the basis for his application for tenure at Harvard. When that moment came, though, he found he wasn’t emotionally up to the task. "My mood at the time wasn’t of sufficient stability to feel that I was in the position to make the strongest case for myself, unfortunately," he says. He received an offer from the University of Toronto, and he took it. By then he was married with two small kids, and the prospect of steady academic employment was attractive. Peterson moved back to Canada.
In the years since then, he’s become a popular professor at the university. Typical comments on include "life-changing" and "he blew my mind" and "he is my spirit animal." He ran a private clinical-psychology practice, consulted for law firms, and developed his self-authoring website, which is based on ideas from psychologists like James Pennebaker and Gary Latham on the benefits of goal-setting and the therapeutic value of writing about emotion. He also offered occasional commentary on public television in Ontario, sometimes while wearing a fedora.
He continued to research topics like religion, creativity, and the effect of personality on political orientation. But he is not widely known as an expert on any of those topics, nor is he considered the pioneer of a game-changing concept. He hasn’t frequently published in top journals. That may be, in part, because he is an old-fashioned generalist, more interested in understanding the connective tissue between seemingly disparate ideas than in tilling a small patch of disciplinary soil. Still, it seemed to some who knew him then that the promising professor who wowed them at Harvard in the 1990s had fallen off the map.
In the video that made Jordan Peterson famous, he can be seen sparring with a handful of transgender students about the use of pronouns. He is nattily attired in a white dress shirt with rolled-up sleeves and dark red suspenders. Several supporters, all of them male, stand behind Peterson, amplifying his points. A transgender student accuses Peterson of being their enemy for refusing to use gender-neutral pronouns. "I don’t believe using your pronouns will do you any good in the long run," he says. "I believe it’s quite the contrary." When another student asks what gives him the authority to determine which pronouns he uses when referring to someone else, Peterson spins to face that person.
"Why do I have the authority to determine what I say?" Peterson replies, his voice brimming with outrage, his fingers pressed to his own chest. "What kind of question is that?"
The video has three-million-plus views and more than 45,000 comments. It was filmed in October 2016 after a free-speech rally on the University of Toronto campus, an event that was prompted by a series of videos Peterson posted on YouTube titled "The Politically Incorrect Professor." In the first video, he argues against a proposed law in Canada that would make so-called misgendering — that is, using pronouns other than the ones a person prefers — a potential human-rights violation, punishable with a fine (that specific statute, which later passed, does not apply to university employees like Peterson, though a similar provision, passed years earlier in Ontario, does). He also objects in those videos to mandatory bias training for staff members at the university. Peterson considers such laws anathema to free speech and makes the case, as a number of other psychologists have, that measures of implicit bias are based on shaky science.
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The university’s student newspaper noticed the videos. That tipped off the rest of the news media, which prompted a pro-Peterson rally where Peterson attempted to speak while activists tried to drown him out with chanting and white noise. There was a second rally, followed by a debate between Peterson and two professors defending the proposed law and the use of gender-neutral pronouns. Transgender students protested that event using the hashtag #NotUpForDebate. On a Canadian news show called The Agenda, Nicholas Matte, a historian who teaches in the Sexual Diversity Studies program at the University of Toronto, accused Peterson of abuse, violence, and hate speech for his refusal to use gender-neutral pronouns. Peterson insisted that he would not waver in his opposition to the law, even if it meant going to jail. "I’m not using the words that other people require me to use, especially if they’re made up by radical left-wing ideologues," he informed Matte and the television audience. "And that’s that."
Peterson started appearing on podcasts and YouTube shows like The Rubin Report and Waking Up, hosted by Sam Harris, where the two wrangled fruitlessly over the definition of truth for two hours. Perhaps most important, Peterson appeared on a podcast hosted by Joe Rogan, a comedian and Ultimate Fighting Championship commentator, whose show is often among the top 10 most-downloaded on iTunes. Rogan spoke with Peterson for nearly three hours and declared him one of his favorite guests. He’s had him back twice since, and those podcasts have each been listened to by millions.
After the Rogan endorsement, Peterson’s online following swelled. He had been posting videos on YouTube for years, often of his classroom lectures, which had gained a modest following. But that audience expanded exponentially in the wake of the pronoun controversy. Last spring he started an account on Patreon, which allows users to donate money to support a person, often a musician, cartoonist, or other artist, though it’s become a fund-raising vehicle for activists, too. The first month he received $600, which was enough to help purchase better equipment to film his lectures. But the amount kept growing and, at last count, topped $60,000 per month (Peterson now keeps the amount he’s raising private). Those who give $50 or more get to ask questions in a monthly online Q&A session. Those who give $200 per month get a one-time personal Skype chat with Peterson for 45 minutes. The income from Patreon, along with the new demands on his time, caused him to put his clinical practice on hold indefinitely.
Other YouTubers edit and repackage his clips with titles like "Those 7 Times Jordan Peterson Went Beast Mode" and "Jordan Peterson to Student: You Can’t Force Me to Respect You." There is an active forum on Reddit devoted to all things Peterson. There is another forum devoted solely to Peterson memes, of which there are many. There is Peterson-inspired fan art, including a painting of him arguing with transgender students and an old-fashioned medicine label for "Dr. Peterson’s Sort Yourself Out Syrup," which purports to cure, among other ailments, "identity politics" and "bloody postmodernism."
Some of what Peterson says isn’t discernibly different from the messages of conservative firebrands like Ben Shapiro or the liberal-baiting troublemaker Milo Yiannopoulos, both former Breitbart pundits. Like Shapiro, Peterson argues that the left is transforming the next generation into victims and whiners. Like Yiannopoulos, Peterson argues that the patriarchy is a boogeyman. But when he’s been lumped in with what’s come to be called the alt-right, as happens fairly regularly, Peterson has pushed back, calling it "seriously wrong." The erstwhile socialist considers himself a classic British liberal, and he has castigated the far right for engaging in the "pathology of racial pride."
Peterson’s route to notoriety mirrors that of other professors like Nicholas Christakis and Bret Weinstein. In the fall of 2015, Christakis, a sociologist at Yale University, was encircled by students upset about an email his wife had sent questioning the need for Halloween-costume guidelines. Last spring Weinstein, then a biologist at Evergreen State College (he has since resigned), confronted a group of students furious that he had objected to a planned Day of Absence in which white professors and students were encouraged to leave campus. In both cases, those clashes were captured on video and widely shared online. In both cases, the professors were largely lauded as voices of reason, while the students were mostly mocked as overly sensitive and out of control.
Peterson has used his unexpected notoriety to express dissatisfaction with the state of the university in Canada and the United States. He believes that the humanities and the social sciences in particular have become corrupted — a term he employs with relish — by left-wing ideology, and that they are failing to adequately educate students. He lays much of the blame at the feet of the late Jacques Derrida and his disciples for replacing, as he sees it, a search for truth and meaning with grousing about identity and power structures.
His critique is broadly consistent with that of Jonathan Haidt, the New York University psychology professor and founder of Heterodox Academy, an organization whose goal is to increase ideological diversity at universities. Peterson and Haidt met in 1994, when Haidt interviewed for a position at Harvard and Peterson was an assistant professor there. Haidt remembers Peterson as "one of the most memorable professors" he spoke with that day. They didn’t keep in touch, but they met again recently when Haidt appeared on Peterson’s podcast. "Socrates would be aghast at how few of us are willing to stand up for academic freedom if it risks arousing an angry mob," Haidt wrote via email. "Jordan Peterson is one of the few fearless professors."
He also has a booster in Camille Paglia. Paglia, a professor of humanities and media at the University of the Arts, and a prominent cultural critic whose views don’t fit neatly in political categories, identifies as transgender, though she has also been skeptical of what she calls the current "transgender wave." Like Peterson, Paglia condemns postmodernism as a malevolent movement. While she hadn’t heard of him until recently, Paglia regards Peterson as a long-lost scholarly brother and sees a link between Maps of Meaning and the provocative 1990 book that made her reputation, Sexual Personae. "It is truly stunning to me how Prof. Peterson pursued his own totally independent path of scholarship in another discipline and yet how our intellectual paths would eventually converge!" she wrote in an email. Paglia blurbed Peterson’s new book, calling him the most important Canadian intellectual since Marshall McLuhan.
After Peterson’s Biblical lectures, devotees like to meet at a bar called Hemingway’s, an appropriately named venue given his emphasis on the value of masculinity. (Peterson argues for the societal importance of the "masculine spirit" and contends that feminists unjustly stigmatize qualities like competitiveness.) My unscientific sampling of the crowd found that the men over 30 saw Peterson as standing up against a tide of anti-male bias. One mentioned that he became interested in Peterson after hearing him speak with James Damore, the former Google software engineer who wrote a memo complaining about the company’s "ideological echo chamber" and asserting that biological differences between men and women explain, at least in part, the gender gap in the tech industry. Peterson seems to be making a passionate case for what they already felt. A software engineer told me he respected Peterson because he "drew a line in the sand."
The men in their 20s more often mentioned Peterson’s call to personal responsibility and self-improvement, what Peterson has called the "metaphysical fortification" of the individual. "I watched one of his videos and I realized he wasn’t full of shit," a graduate student in early-childhood development said. A religious-studies student, who is also a practicing Sikh and wears a turban, confessed that he and his girlfriend broke up over his support for Peterson. A Bitcoin entrepreneur named Tom who was wearing a T-shirt covered with images of Donald Trump’s face (he said he liked the shirt because it "triggered SJWs" — that is, social-justice warriors) told me, "In my opinion, he’s our generation’s philosopher."
There were female fans, too, though they were clearly outnumbered. One recent Toronto journalism graduate whispered that she had a crush on Peterson. Another woman, Kristen, didn’t want her last name printed because she’s already suffered blowback from online friends over her fondness for him. "I think people misconstrue what he’s about," she says. His overall message, according to Kristen, is "pick yourself up, bucko" — quoting one of Peterson’s taglines.
His influence, though, runs deeper than cross-stitch-ready phrases. Gad Saad sees Peterson’s appeal in religious terms. Saad, a professor of marketing at Concordia University, has likewise sparked the ire of some on the left with his critiques of feminism and Islam. "Jordan has an apostolic flair," Saad says. "He represents the irreverent academic who isn’t willing to toe the line, who stands on principle. Most academics are too tepid in trying to tackle these issues." A former student of Peterson’s at Harvard, Gregg Hurwitz, now a writer of best-selling thrillers, has long drawn inspiration from him. Hurwitz slipped some of Peterson’s self-help quotes into his novel Orphan X, which is slated to become a movie starring Bradley Cooper. Hurwitz thinks Peterson’s knack for extracting life lessons from lofty concepts helps account for his appeal. "It’s this ability to take the evolutionary, archetypal narrative and apply it to cleaning up your room," he says. "And he’s actually authentic." Hurwitz remembers how, at Harvard, Peterson was quick to shut down students who used "facile ideological arguments" from either end of the political spectrum. "He would dispatch them readily and was unafraid to do so," Hurwitz says.
There are plenty of others who see Peterson as a malignant force and argue that he provides intellectual-sounding cover for bigotry and misogyny. But persuading them to state those views on the record is a challenge. One cited "personal and community safety threats" as a reason for not commenting. Another asked that even her refusal to comment be kept off the record. They worry about their names’ merely appearing alongside his — and perhaps with some reason. David Cameron, dean of the faculty of arts and science at Toronto, said he was inundated with hostile emails after he sent two letters to Peterson warning him that failure to use a student’s preferred pronoun "can constitute discrimination" under Ontario law, and also reminding him to engage in "civil, nonviolent interactions at all times." (Peterson made both letters public and called them "inexcusable.")
Even friends and former co-authors turned down requests for interviews or simply didn’t respond. A former student and admirer, who asked to speak on background, has mixed feelings about the version of Peterson now on display. "His core psychological ideas really are that good," he writes in an email. "However, I’m afraid that the more time he spends publicly revealing his ignorance of the history of race- and gender-relations, the less eager I am to be on record saying anything good about him."
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What you can’t help noticing when you walk into Jordan Peterson’s unassuming row house in central Toronto are the paintings. There is Soviet propaganda everywhere, including on the ceiling. He has more than 200 such paintings: Lenin addressing a crowd, a portrait of a Soviet agronomist, Russian soldiers during World War II. In the early 2000s, Peterson began buying these paintings on eBay because the irony of bidding for communist agitprop on the most capitalist marketplace ever devised was too delicious to resist. But he also bought them to remind himself of how glorious utopian visions often descend into unspeakable horror.
To understand Peterson’s worldview, you have to see the connection between his opposition to gender-neutral pronouns and his obsession with the Soviet Union. He believes that the insistence on the use of gender-neutral pronouns is rooted in postmodernism, which he sees as thinly disguised Marxism. The imposition of Marxism led to the state-sponsored slaughter of millions. For Peterson, then, the mandated use of gender-neutral pronouns isn’t just a case of political correctness run amok. It’s much more serious than that. When he refers to the "murderous ideology" of postmodernism, he means it literally.
In person, Peterson is wiry, hyperalert, ready to pounce. His dark hair is graying and closely cropped on the sides. He’s lost the beard he sported in years past, along with a lot of weight — 50 pounds, he says, since he changed his diet and stopped taking antidepressants. When you watch old videos of Peterson’s lectures, you’ll hear the same ideas, often the same anecdotes, but the professor delivering them is a more measured, genial figure. These days Peterson seems like a man possessed. His brow furrows, his eyes narrow. He speaks in rapid-fire, um-less sentences. He doesn’t smile much. Sometimes Peterson seizes his temples with one hand as if squeezing out an especially stubborn thought.
His lectures are largely improvised. He writes out a bare-bones outline, but he’s never sure exactly what he’ll say or how long he’ll talk (90 minutes? Two hours? More?). His audience likes the no-frills urgency, the sense that he’s digging to the heart of impossibly complex conundrums, the feeling that they’re observing a bona fide philosopher sweat out the truth under pressure. His frenetic, freewheeling approach is the antithesis of a rehearsed TED talk. He describes his method as a high-wire act. "It’s always a tossup as to whether I’m going to pull off the lecture, because I’m still wrestling with the material. Because the lecture in the theater is a performance — it’s a theater, for God’s sake," he says. "What I’m trying to do is to embody the process of thinking deeply on stage." He pauses for a moment, then amends that last statement: "It’s not that I’m trying to do that. That’s what I’m doing."
Not long ago, Peterson had his picture taken with a couple of fans who were holding a Pepe banner. One of them was also forming the "OK" sign with his fingers, probably a reference to the "It’s OK to Be White" meme created on 4Chan, one of the more offensive and irreverent corners of the internet. Pepe is a smirking cartoon frog that was originally conceived as an innocent illustration but has been appropriated as a tongue-in-cheek icon by aggressively pro-Trump types.
Peterson thinks pointing to that photo as evidence of his sympathy for white supremacy is silly. "I’ve had my picture taken with twenty-five hundred people in the last year, maybe more," he says. Peterson, who has written a lot about religious iconography, finds the mythos around Pepe fascinating, noting how Pepe is worshiped by the fictional cult of Kek in the made-up country of Kekistan. "It’s satire," he says. "A lot of these things are weird jokes." They’re poking fun, he contends, at the oversensitivity of those who would condemn images of frogs or benign statements about the OK-ness of white people. And Peterson has put his own spin on the joke: In a recent video, he held up a Kermit the Frog puppet with a Hitler mustache as a way of acknowledging the criticism, and also, perhaps, of showing his younger followers he’s down with the latest memes.
Asked whether he worries that his association with these symbols and slogans, which have been employed by a number of avowed white supremacists, could be misunderstood, Peterson waves off the concern. "I know for a fact that I’ve moved far more people into the center," he says. "People write and say, ‘Look I’ve been really attracted by these far-right ideas, and your lectures helped me figure out why that was a bad idea.’ That also happens with people on the far left."
He’s also heard the criticism, including from some longtime colleagues, that he fails to couch his language carefully and as a result na├»vely wades into fraught conversations about gender and race. "They say, ‘I kind of agree with Jordan, but he could have been a lot nicer about it,’" he says. "It’s an attitude that brought out a rather cynical reaction in me: ‘Oh, yeah, you could have done what I did, but you would have done it better?’ It’s like, go ahead, man! Have at it!"
Peterson did recently back down after proposing a website that would use an algorithm to determine which university course descriptions contained postmodern and Marxist language. His plan, which he announced on a television news show, was to create a list of those courses so that students could avoid them. He reiterated his claim that the humanities and the social sciences have become ruined by postmodernism, and he hoped that this list would help bring down those departments. He saw this as a first step toward starting his own online university founded with the mission of developing character, though the plans for such a grand enterprise remain sketchy. The reaction to his website proposal was not positive. Peterson, after talking with a number of friends who told him that it was a bad idea, decided to scrap the website, at least for now. "The question was, ‘Would it do more harm than good?’ " he says. "I thought it might add to the polarization."
On the table in his den is a copy of his new book, 12 Rules for Life. It is, in a sense, a more accessible version of Maps of Meaning. In it you won’t find flowcharts featuring dragons or the full text of a letter he wrote to his father in 1986. Instead it’s an anecdote-driven advice book that encourages readers to "treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping" and "pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)." It would be hard to ferret out anything to protest in these pages. The preorders of 12 Rules already dwarf the total sales to date of Maps of Meaning.
Peterson seems more than a little overwhelmed by what’s happened to him over the past year. He estimates that he’s received 25,000 emails in recent months from fans who want to express what he means to them. At the same time, health problems that have long plagued him, including bouts of debilitating fatigue, have resurfaced. Plus there’s the ever-present anxiety: He is speaking so often now, and what he says is so closely scrutinized by supporters and detractors alike, that he fears one inartfully phrased remark could be used to pull him down from his new perch. "Surfing is the right metaphor," he says. "It’s like I’m on a very large wave, and that’s, you know, really something, but mostly you drown."
Tom Bartlett is a senior writer at The Chronicle.