Friday, January 26, 2018
January 26, 2018
Prof. Jordan Peterson - Toronto Star File Photo
Who is this man, this Jordan Peterson, academic clinical psychologist, tenured at the University of Toronto with hundreds of thousands of YouTube followers, who has made a splash recently as a voice of reason, battling the political correctness elites and upsetting the academic grandees?
Less than a week ago, we got a stormy weather alert in an article that appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education titled "What's So Dangerous about Jordan Peterson?" by Tom Bartlett, with the tease "Not long ago, he was an obscure psychology professor. Now he leads a flock of die-hard disciples." One might suppose, considering Mr. Bartlett's choice of words, that Peterson is a Jim Jones-style cult-leader, but instinctively, I knew I would like to find out about anybody described as dangerous by the trade paper of American higher education.
Mr. Bartlett considers Dr. Peterson a threat because Peterson deviates from the leftist academic canon – a conservative, traditionalist, moralist anti-political correctness psychologist academic. He objects to the speech police and the tyranny of the left. He that a totalitarian-speech police state is developing in Canada, and, by instinct and conviction, he objects strongly to the "good speech" laws demanding the use of concocted or inapposite pronouns and labels preferred by the little darlin's of the newly concocted gender-identity claxon, cowbell, and tin drum army.
Peterson objects to speech police tactics, and he does it eloquently. That's a threat to and dangerous for the academic poobahs who live and breathe censorship and intellectual tyranny. Bartlett's essay is an alert: watch out for this conservative who has a bad attitude on lots of things and opposes our new pronoun gender identity group project and our promotion of the grievance status of the newly formed sex-gender-dysmorphist deviant group.
After I wrote to others about my discovery of Peterson, I was directed by one reader to a recent Peterson media splash, a YouTube interview cum debate by a feminist firebrand interviewer Cathy Newman at Britain's Channel 4. Ms. Newman, a veteran U.K. TV personality, engaged Dr. Peterson on her claim that unequal female pay and power in business and other organizations are an example of gender persecution and oppression by patriarchal Western societies. Ms. Newman came, all armed up, shouting her flinty-edged argument that gender job inequalities are due to bias and abuse by men. Then came a well deserved Peterson social sciences buzzsaw refutation of her arguments, delivered with a smile to the visibly frustrated and increasingly desperate Newman, who seemed relieved when the 30 minute "interview" ended.
Peterson, to the delight of millions of people who watched the video (it is nearing 4 million views, 150 thousand likes to 3-some thousand dislikes) was the well prepared and skilled matador with Newman, gently, politely reminding her that sex is not the only thing to consider when there are male-female differences. Peterson took Newman's arguments in mid-flight and decimated her attack, didn't miss opportunities to point out her interrogatory misconduct. It was a rout, highlighting his rhetorical skills, command of the social sciences research literature, good sense, and overarching good humor. There was a particularly good segment where Peterson reminded Newman that her accusations and assertions were based on an incorrect and nonscientific univariate (one cause) analysis blaming sex, when good social science research requires a multivariate (multiple causes) analysis. He followed up with examples of many alternative causes for inequalities – simple things like choice, preferences, conflicts of personal and social responsibilities, female fertility time frames, emotional constitution, physical energy realities, required time commitments, and domestic and family priorities – and he pointed out that the variates list was incomplete. Game, set, match, Peterson.
Peterson's expertise as a debater and interviewee is not the place to stop this discussion. His great accomplishment is teaching, counseling, and coaching people to urge them to live the good life, the virtuous life. He has an impressive social media following consistent with his success as a revered and respected classroom teacher everywhere he taught, combined with a successful general clinical practice that has a special effort devoted to career and life coaching.
Peterson teaches people to be better, stronger, faster, and more competent and respected, including women looking for tips and coaching on how to succeed. Coaching is his deal, his nature, his forte, and you can see his intensity when he does intimate videos with just him up close to the camera, with a look that reminded me of Vince Lombardi.
Peterson is as compelling filling up a camera as he is wandering the classroom, appearing to be improvising on a theme, but doing it as musicians do a cadenza, jazz artists an improvisation. The trick to jazz improvisation is playing music on a theme that repeats with a disciplined creativity that furthers the theme. Peterson has his game in order: no lulls or empty places, a stay-awake lecturer, well aware of the theme, effective because he is insightful and eloquent, but committed to teach and modest in his attitude.
Peterson's got it and ain't gonna lose it. The only way he might be ambushed is being targeting by the destroyers of the left with their name-calling and politics of personal destruction. I never underestimate the people-shredder political correctness crowd, which has vile and vicious tactics down to an art form. I am reminded of the old saying that faculty politics is so bloody because the stakes are so small – and Peterson has a lot of natural and dedicated academic enemies.
Take a look at Peterson's website and his various lists of rules for good living, and you get the picture: he is a classical stoic, and he advises people on how to grow up and be adults with a mature and virtuous approach to life. He says honesty is the key to civil behavior, and courage and fortitude are essential. People on our side of the cultural divide would have to agree with damn near everything he says.
Peterson objects to identity politics as the product of socialist cant and ideology that wants to put people in groups based on grievance or the socialist theory of deterministic societal struggle. He considers socialism misanthropic at its core, dead to the importance of the individual. He opposes the socialist mindset that is nihilistic about the value and importance of the human spirit and human action and conduct that subscribe to a moral code. That is a mouthful, but necessary to be fully indicative of his superior intellect and good instincts about what is good, what is right.
Peterson is a traditionalist, committed to teaching people to live a virtuous life – and he thinks happiness is living the virtuous life. Pursuit of happiness is his theme, how to be your best friend in achieving real happiness, and he adheres to the Aristotelian-Stoic-Buddhist-American philosophy that being a virtuous, honest, courageous, engaged adult, a credit to society and to your friends and family, is the way to achieve happiness. Peterson has staked out his position and is at war with totalitarians and ideologues of the left in academia and society in general as an old-fashioned stoic. A fearsome sight for a leftist.
Peterson has written and lectured about rules for a good life – ten rules, twelve rules, and a longer set of forty rules for life that are discussed in his YouTube videos and other media, including books. Some rules are mother wit, commonsense reminders for the needy. Most are just wisdom, essential to a good and happy life.
The label "Alt Right" is used as a weapon against Peterson because it is an all-encompassing epithet, a flexible way to condemn anyone with a conservative lean. It is being used now by critics of Peterson to describe him, since he teaches from a conservative point of view – and his enemies would be happy to label him misogynist, racist, homophobe, dysmorphophobic, transgenderophobic, a moralistic, intolerant bigot who must be destroyed.
Stoics know these things. Marcus Aurelius said:
When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can't tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own – not of the same blood and birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me.
I took a few days to absorb Peterson, a bright and fascinating phenomenon, an articulate, smart, eloquent man doing some public counseling as a lecturer in a classroom on a video, taking on politically correct tyrants on the side. I have read his rules for a good life, listened to his commentaries on the rules. It became evident that Peterson, who grew up in a remote, very cold Fairview, Alberta, north and west of Edmonton, and went on to great success in academia and as a psychologist in practice and then a public psychologist and teacher, exemplifies an old but important story. His life course appears to be the story of the human search for meaning, wisdom, and purpose – the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path, Taoist and Confucian philosophy, Christian concepts of wisdom and virtue, the Roman and Greek Stoic meditations of Marcus Aurelius, and the teachings of the Greek slave Stoic doyen Epictetus.
One thing Peterson has done is awakened a young audience, predominately male, to the value of the virtuous life, the life of a responsible, engaged, and effective adult male, or female, who is a credit and an asset, a benefit for friends and family. That's the good news. The bad news is that the academy and chattering class are opposed to such teachings as promoting values of the evil and oppressive Western tradition.
John Dale Dunn, M.D., J.D. is a physician and inactive attorney living in Brownwood, Texas.
January 24, 2018
Jordan Peterson and Cathy Newman
The principle of free speech, as the expression goes, is not for speech you agree with. It’s for speech you disagree with.
This distinction is lost on The Citadel Theatre in Edmonton. Like so many overheated artists on the left (but I repeat myself) , they’ve been led to believe that giving offence— particularly to a gender or racial minority— is a threat to the world order. They’ve taken the well-meaning “hate speech” laws aimed at Nazis and used them to silence opinions they don’t like.
For this reason they cancelled a planned appearance by noted Canadian author and clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson (who BTW grew up just north of Edmonton). Peterson, whose new book is called 12 Rules For Life, has become a target of the trendies, because he refuses to indulge them in their notion that critical speech is hate speech.
In particular, Peterson believes that a devolution of society into an array of ever-smaller identity groups is misguided and can, taken to its logical extremes, lead to the totalitarian control of thought seen in societies such as the USSR, Mao’s Chinese cultural revolution and Pol Pot’s atrocities in Cambodia.
Needless to say, this analysis is not welcomed by the Canadian arts community which continually shows itself to be intolerant of any restrictions on its extreme gender/ racial agenda
(https://notthepublicbroadcaster.squarespace.com/config/pages/5924f3ef8419c267b134dcb9). So publicly funded organizations such as the Citadel use the cover of “hurtful” speech to deny debate on their latest hot take.
Citadel's executive director Chantell Ghosh told CBC News that Peterson's views conflict with the “theatre's values as an organization” and "that complex issues deserve exploration and conversation, not polarization.” (They’ve since apologized for their inept PR campaign when Peterson was dumped, but not for the underlying censorship.)
This is the same game plan employed on academic campuses across the country to stifle conservative, religious or libertarian thought. In this project they have largely been indulged by the governments that keep them well funded. So afraid are the politicians to defy a gender/ racial extremist that they allow themselves to be muted. The lapdog media then follow along in kind.
This is why Peterson has become a sensation. The University of Toronto professor has been fearless in presenting his research and opinions on the relationships between the sexes, his criticism of male and female role models and his unapologetic scorn for the slogan-throwing imbeciles of the Left. He uses sources as diverse as the Bible, Faust, Nietzsche and the humble lobster to construct his arguments.
From years of navigating increasingly doctrinaire academic circles, Peterson has developed a thick skin and convincing rebuttals in debating the SJWs who populate universities and the media. Nowhere was his sang froid in defenestrating the loony left better displayed than a UK Channel 4 interview that has gone viral. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMcjxSThD54)
He’s being interviewed by Cathy Newman, a cut-out liberal of the type who populate networks these days, eager to whip contrary opinions into line. In challenging Peterson she’s bitten of more than she can intellectually chew. She launches one tired feminist trope after another trying to ensnare the U of T author. And winds up spluttering.
Here’s her attack on what she calls offensive speech.“Why should your freedom of speech trump a trans person’s right not to be offended?” Newman asks. Peterson supresses a yawn. “Because in order to be able to think, you have to risk being offensive. I mean, look at the conversation we’re having right now. You’re certainly willing to risk offending me in the pursuit of truth. Why should you have the right to do that? It’s been rather uncomfortable.”
“Well, I’m very glad I’ve put you on the spot,” says a self-satisfied Newman.
Peterson replies: “Well, you get my point. You’re doing what you should do, which is digging a bit to see what the hell is going on. And that is what you should do. But you’re exercising your freedom of speech to certainly risk offending me, and that’s fine. More power to you, as far as I’m concerned.”
A gobsmacked Newman is, for once mute. In another gambit, Newman tries to imply that the evil white man atop the power structure set the rules to suit themselves. Peterson quietly reminds her that the market sets the norms, and the 80 percent of all buying decisions are made by women.
So it went for the entire chat, Newman attempting to imply accusatory motives (“Do you agree that [pay Inequity] is unfair?”) that Peterson swats away like so many gnats. If there had been a mercy rule, the chat would have ended halfway through the interview.
This is the sort of rational response that Comrade Ghosh and her Citadel comrades are afraid of. Already, as video of the BBC rout has surfaced, the arts crowd has begun its predictable memes about racism and transphobia. Their rejection of the cultural and religious norms of the 20th century will not allow them to accept Peterson or any other “hierarchical” figure.
Institutions that once were truth tellers now preach censorship. They ban Peterson rather than suffer Newman’s fate matching wits with the professor. Make ludicrous claims about the harm to someone whenever a learned person doesn’t fold as did the feckless funders of the arts councils or pusillanimous politicians.
The logical thing to do would be to boycott the Citadel and its regressive management. And for government to cease funding the radical censors who populate the arts world in Canada. It would be a very popular election issue for Conservatives if they had the gumption.
But the very novelty of Peterson’s success in debate is the reason that none of the parties above will do jack squat about it.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy.is the host of the podcast The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin on anticanetwork.com. He’s also a regular contributor three-times-a-week to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. His website is Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com)
Thursday, January 25, 2018
Wednesday, January 24, 2018
A Canadian professor questions a key tenet of current Leftist thinking.
January 24, 2018
Jordan Peterson and Cathy Newman
Earlier this week, Professor Jordan Peterson of the University of Toronto burst into the international headlines again, this time thanks to a shockingly polite interview with British interviewer Cathy Newman. The entire interview was an insipid exercise in Newman attempting to cram her own words into Peterson’s mouth; as Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic points out, Newman’s technique was to “restate what [Peterson] said so as to make it seem as if [his] view is offensive, hostile, or absurd.” Peterson, with the patience and mildness of a saint, doggedly refused to be boxed in that way.
But the segment of the interview that grabbed the public’s imagination wasn’t Peterson’s discussion of the wage gap or the biology of hierarchical relationships. It was a very simple exchange over the value of truth. Newman questioned Peterson on why he refused to go along with the trendy Leftist cause du jour: using pronouns chosen by individuals rather than pronouns that describe their biology. “Why should your freedom of speech trump a trans person’s right not to be offended?” Newman asked. Peterson, ever the gentleman, answered the question without guffawing: “Because in order to be able to think, you have to risk being offensive. I mean, look at the conversation we’re having right now. You’re certainly willing to risk offending me in the pursuit of truth. Why should you have the right to do that? It’s been rather uncomfortable.”
Newman misdirected: “Well, I’m very glad I’ve put you on the spot.” But Peterson pursued: “Well, you get my point. You’re doing what you should do, which is digging a bit to see what the hell is going on. And that is what you should do. But you’re exercising your freedom of speech to certainly risk offending me, and that’s fine. More power to you, as far as I’m concerned.”
Newman had no answer. Point to Peterson.
But despite Peterson’s obvious logic, the Left refuses to concede this particular point. Any statement — any statement — must be gauged not only on the basis of its truth-value, according to the Left, but on the basis of whether such truth is likely to offend — or, at last, whether such truth is likely to offend groups the Left perceives as victimized. According to the Left, any and all truth must take a back seat to “your truth,” so long as you claim minority status in any way.
There’s heavy irony to the fact that Victorian prudishness of manners suddenly abounds on the same Left that champions wearing pussyhats and shouting its abortions. But it’s that Victorian prudishness that tends to win the day — or at least has, for the past several decades. Perhaps that’s because many on the right tend to value manners; good religious men and women studiously avoid causing offense if they have the capacity to do so. It’s worked, too. The Left has wielded the Right’s preference for manners as a club against the Right, claiming offense in order to cow them into silence.
Of late, however, the Left has simply gone too far. No longer do they ask whether objectively offensive statements ought to be made; they now take each statement and ask whether it is subjectively offensive to anyone. First person to claim offense wins. Which is precisely why Peterson’s logic trips up Newman: He plays her own card against her. By demonstrating that anyone can be offended by anything, he returns the conversation from the vague recesses of subjective reaction to the hard and fast ground of objective truth.
This is the ground on which conservatives should fight, of course: acknowledgement that while manners matter, truth matters more. Unfortunately, too many conservatives have responded to Leftist censorship not with truth-above-manners politeness, but with theatrical displays of unconcern with manners themselves. Rudeness is now seen as a substitute for facts. If the Left uses manners as a weapon, the logic goes, let’s just discard manners altogether.
But there’s no reason to do that. We all ought to behave with decency and truth. Those are the twin pillars of conservatism, after all: virtue and reason. Discarding reason undermines virtue by replacing virtue with emotion-based reactivity; discarding virtue undermines the social fabric necessary to undergird the effectiveness of reason. Yes, let’s behave with manners. But let’s recognize that only a society that values truth can afford manners.
Words are not Violence
Defend the Right to Offend
Outrage Over Ben Shapiro’s Berkeley Speech
Words are not Violence
Defend the Right to Offend
Outrage Over Ben Shapiro’s Berkeley Speech
— Ben Shapiro is the editor in chief of the Daily Wire.
Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Monday, January 22, 2018
21 January 2018
It is uncomfortable to be told to get in touch with your inner psychopath, that life is a catastrophe and that the aim of living is not to be happy. This is hardly the staple of most self-help books. And yet, superficially at least, a self-help book containing these messages is what the Canadian psychologist Jordan B Peterson has written.
His book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos is an ambitious, some would say hubristic, attempt to explain how an individual should live their life, ethically rather than in the service of self. It is informed by the Bible, Nietzsche, Freud, Jung and Dostoevsky – again, uncommon sources for the genre.
I doubt it has the commercial appeal of The Secret (wish for something and it will come true) and it certainly strays markedly from the territory of How to Win Friends and Influence People. But then Peterson is in a different intellectual league from the authors of most such books. Camille Paglia estimates him to be “the most important Canadian thinker since Marshall McLuhan”.
Peterson, 55, is a psychology professor at the University of Toronto who shot into the headlines in 2016 after refusing to use gender-neutral pronouns at the university which new legislation, Bill C-16, compelled him legally to. Following this he was either hailed as a free-speech martyr or castigated as a transphobe. Demonstrations broke out on campus, and he has been the subject of a campaign of protest by trans activists. More controversy followed when he publicly defended James Damore, the sacked Google employee who suggested there were innate gender differences, as being no more than the scientific consensus.
He certainly doesn’t sit well with the usually left-leaning academic establishment. Apart from anything else, he believes most university humanities courses should be defunded because they have been “corrupted by neo-Marxist postmodernists” – particularly women’s studies and black studies. This has led him to be branded a member of the alt-right – although his support for socialised healthcare, redistribution of wealth towards the poorest and the decriminalisation of drugs suggests this is far from the whole story. He defines himself as a “classic British liberal”. But he also says – when challenged for being a reactionary – that “being reactionary is the new radicalism”.
Peterson has largely been in the news for his blazing, outspoken opposition to much of the far-left political agenda, which he characterises as totalitarian, intolerant and a growing threat to the primacy of the individual – which is his core value and, he asserts, the foundation of western culture.
I first came across Peterson not in any political context but as a teacher of story. His online videos contain extensive deconstructions of narratives and myths, both ancient and modern. I watched his videos on the psychological significance of biblical stories. Although I am a lifelong atheist, for the first time the Bible started to make symbolic sense to me. Peterson can take the most difficult ideas and make them entertaining. This may be why his YouTube videos have had 35m views. Even his biblical lectures have been watched 5m times – quite a figure for a theological analysis of the Old Testament. He is fast becoming the closest that academia has to a rock star.
Peterson’s worldview is complex, although 12 Rules makes a heroic attempt to simplify it into digestible material. It might be encapsulated thus: “Life is tragic. You are tiny and flawed and ignorant and weak and everything else is huge, complex and overwhelming. Once, we had Christianity as a bulwark against that terrifying reality. But God died. Since then the defence has either been ideology – most notably Marxism or fascism – or nihilism. These lead, and have led in the 20th century, to catastrophe.
“‘Happiness’ is a pointless goal. Don’t compare yourself with other people, compare yourself with who you were yesterday. No one gets away with anything, ever, so take responsibility for your own life. You conjure your own world, not only metaphorically but also literally and neurologically. These lessons are what the great stories and myths have been telling us since civilisation began.”
Peterson studied political science before shifting to psychology and became obsessed with understanding, at a time when the cold war was ongoing, how two sets of beliefs could be so deeply held it brought the whole of humanity to the brink of destruction. It has driven him ever since to reflect on human nature and the often irrational way in which we generate belief systems.
His first book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief (1999), is a profound but often impenetrable tome that, to quote his biographer, describes the “structure of systems of beliefs and myths, their role in the regulation of emotion, creation of meaning, and motivation for genocide”. It all feels a long way from his latest book, which has chapter titles such as, “Rule 1: Stand up straight with your shoulders back” and “Rule 11: Do not bother children when whey are skateboarding.” But the philosophy at the heart of it is the same.
I Skyped Peterson in Toronto before his visit to London to lecture and promote the book. In the (vain) hope of knocking him off balance, I led with: “Who the hell do you think you are? Moses?”
He simply laughed. “No, I think I’m someone who is properly terrified. I’ve thought a lot about very terrible things. And I read history as the potential perpetrator – not the victim. That takes you to some very dark places. Also, this book isn’t only written for other people. It’s a warning to me. I’m also saying: ‘Look the hell out because the chickens come home to roost.’ If I’ve learned one thing in 20 years of clinical practice, it’s that. I swear I’ve never seen anyone get away with anything in my whole life.
“Nietzsche pointed out that most morality is cowardice. There’s absolutely no doubt that that is the case. The problem with ‘nice people’ is that they’ve never been in any situation that would turn them into the monsters they’re capable of being.”
So if “nice people” get the chance to disguise their dark impulses from themselves, are they likely to indulge those impulses? “Yes. And a bit of soul-searching would allow them to determine in what manner they are currently indulging them.”
The fact of our essential darkness may, perhaps, be seen transparently in the flood of hatred, abuse and rage that is now clearly visible on anonymous Twitter feeds. It was “so-called normal people”, not sociopaths, who were responsible for the atrocities of nazism, Stalinism and Maoism. We must not forget, says Peterson, that we are corrupt and pathetic , and capable of great malevolence.
So if we are all monsters, how are we to be saved? The first thing is to understand how our worldview evolves. Crucial to this is a 20-year-old experiment on inattention – the famous Invisible Gorilla experiment. This involved recording two teams of basketball players and playing back the game to observers, who were asked to count the number of passes their team made. During the game, a man in a gorilla suit walks on to the court, pounds his chest and then walks off. More than 50% of the observers, astonishingly, did not notice the gorilla at all.
Why is this so important? Because, as Peterson notes, you only see what you aim at – not only metaphorically but also literally and physiologically. Your perception is adjusted to your aims. So if your aims are dark and corrupted, you will see the dark and corrupt things that facilitate your aims. And if your aims are high, you will see different things. Belief colours perception. This fits in with his claim that you must pursue proper meaning rather than happiness.
“It’s all very well to think the meaning of life is happiness, but what happens when you’re unhappy? Happiness is a great side effect. When it comes, accept it gratefully. But it’s fleeting and unpredictable. It’s not something to aim at – because it’s not an aim. And if happiness is the purpose of life, what happens when you’re unhappy? Then you’re a failure. And perhaps a suicidal failure. Happiness is like cotton candy. It’s just not going to do the job.”
But how do we build meaning? By putting it before expediency. Which is quite close to simply “acting right”. Peterson believes that everyone is born with an instinct for ethics and meaning. It is also a matter of responsibility – you need to have the courage to voluntarily shoulder the great burden of being in order to move towards that meaning. This is what the biblical stories tell us. The great world stories have a moral purpose – they teach us how to pursue meaning over narrow self-interest. Whether it’s Pinocchio, The Lion King, Harry Potter or the Bible, they are all saying the same thing – take the highest path, pick up the heaviest rock and you will have the hope of being psychologically reborn despite the inevitable suffering that life brings.
Peterson’s biggest analysis of story has been the Bible. He lays out how the Adam and Eve myth shows the coming of self-consciousness – and therefore an awareness of mortality, vulnerability, the future, and good and evil. Everyone in the story immediately starts to lie and dodge the blame – Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the serpent. Then they give birth to Cain and Abel, and the first act of human history is for Cain to murder his own brother out of resentment against him and God alike, and then lie about it: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Peterson talks a lot about the power of resentment in his writings. We hate those who are better than us (God, Abel) and want to destroy them, then lie to hide from the consequences. “Consult your resentment,” he says. “It is revelatory. Don’t underestimate malevolence and don’t underestimate the utility of your capacity for malevolence. If you’re weak, you should turn yourself into a monster. It’s a funny thing, that ‘monster’ is better than ‘nice’. But it’s not as good as ‘not monstrous’. And that’s the next thing to achieve. But cowering in your basement resenting everyone is the real pathway to darkness.
“You have to notice when you’re feeling homicidal. Let’s say you go to work and someone bullies you. If you notice, you’re fantasising some pretty nasty stuff. That tells you two things. The first is that you’re not as nice as you think. And the corollary of that is, you’re not as useless as you think.”
“God”, in Peterson’s formulation, stands in for “reality” or “the future” or “the logos” or “being” or “everything that isn’t you and that you don’t know”. And the principal discovery of early mankind is that “God” can be bargained with, through sacrifice – which is no more than saying if you sacrifice the pleasures of the present, reality is likely to reward you in the future. It’s not guaranteed, but it’s the best option you’ve got.
Having said that, and noting that his lectures are purely about the psychological rather than the theological value of the Bible, Peterson is a devout Christian. “Yes. Which is a form of insanity. The ethical burden is ridiculous. God might swipe you down even though you’re doing the right thing. But it’s your best bet. There is a great level of reality out there which we don’t know and don’t understand. We can bargain with it, but it doesn’t guarantee you anything and God can turn on you. That is the thing about life. There’s no guarantee of success.”
Does he believe in life after death? “I don’t know that I even believe in death! I’m not sure we understand anything about the role of consciousness in space and time. I don’t think the world is the way we think it is. I’m not a materialist. Whatever is going on down there at the subatomic level of matter is so weird that the people who understand it don’t understand it.”
The last chapter of Peterson’s book, misleadingly titled “Rule 12: Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street”, goes into the personal struggles he went through when it was discovered that his daughter, Mikhaila, had a rare bone disease. For many years, Peterson, his wife and daughter fought the illness, which clearly caused Mikhaila terrible suffering. It is also on record that Peterson and his daughter have suffered clinical depression. It is impossible to be sure, but it seems clear that the agony of these experiences has had a major impact on him and how he comes to focus on the underlying darkness of life.
There is much more to be said about Jordan B Peterson. He is a strange mixture of theologian, psychologist, conservative, liberal, wit and lay preacher. He’s a powerful advocate of the scientific method who is not a materialist. He can go from cuddly to razor sharp in a beat. His primary concern, however, which underpins nearly everything about him, is the defence of the individual against groupthink, whether on the right or the left.
“Your group identity is not your cardinal feature. That’s the great discovery of the west. That’s why the west is right. And I mean that unconditionally. The west is the only place in the world that has ever figured out that the individual is sovereign. And that’s an impossible thing to figure out. It’s amazing that we managed it. And it’s the key to everything that we’ve ever done right.”
Peterson’s 12 rules
Rule 1 Stand up straight with your shoulders back
Rule 2 Treat yourself like you would someone you are responsible for helping
Rule 3 Make friends with people who want the best for you
Rule 4 Compare yourself with who you were yesterday, not with who someone else is today
Rule 5 Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them
Rule 6 Set your house in perfect order before you criticise the world
Rule 7 Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)
Rule 8 Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie
Rule 9 Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t
Rule 10 Be precise in your speech
Rule 11 Do not bother children when they are skate-boarding
Rule 12 Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street
12 Rules For Life by Jordan B Peterson is published by Allen Lane (£20). Buy it for £17 from bookshop.theguardian.com