Recently, Jordan Peterson — the Canadian professor whose legend is currently being written by anti-PC crusaders and cocktail-sloshing conservative pundits alike — tweeted the funniest response to a bad review that has ever been authored.
Reacting to Pankaj Mishra’s crucifixion of Peterson’s new self-help book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Jordan Peterson replied:
You arrogant, racist son of a bitch Pankaj Mishra: How dare you accuse me of ‘harmlessly romancing the noble savage.’(…)And you call me a fascist? You sanctimonious prick. If you were in my room at the moment, I’d slap you happily.
Whether it was the spectacle of Peterson putting his thin skin so fully on display, or his poncy threat to Mishra to “slap you happily” (and if Mishra did not repent, what then? Take out your handkerchief and strike him thrice across the buttocks?), It was hilarious to see the far right’s new celebrity guru break character.
In Peterson’s defense, Mishra’s claim that Peterson fetishizes aboriginal people seems to have genuinely stung him, and the fact that Peterson is a sworn-in brother of a band of Native Canadians should be taken into consideration. However, as regards Peterson’s fascism, Mishra’s arrow pretty much finds its mark.
Jordan Peterson broke into the public’s consciousness fairly recently. A clinical psychologist and professor teaching at the University of Toronto, Peterson struck YouTube gold in 2016 with a series of videos he created objecting to “Bill C-16”, an amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act which would add transgendered people to the class of people protected from discrimination under federal law (the language was ultimately adopted.) Fretting that this was leftism run amok, Peterson vowed to fight the legislation, elevating himself to the role of a free-speech Mandela in the process as he promised hunger strikes and worse if he were ever arrested for refusing to call a “him” a “her” (or vice versa). A number of obnoxious responses from campus liberals only inflated his cause, and once the full scope of Peterson’s reactionary viewpoints were made manifest, the alt-right, aching for an intellectual whose agenda did not include a white ethno-state, knew they had their man… and Jordan Peterson knew he had his customers.
Thus came Peterson’s new book, 12 Rules for Life, published in January. The book appears to only tangentially touch on Peterson’s crankish, chauvinistic politics , and is more concerned with Jordan’s perception of the plight of young Millennial men, who he sees adrift in a society that holds little regard for masculine virtues, suffers from deprecated coming-of-age rites, and offers ever-decreasing economic opportunities. It is to them that Peterson has dedicated his 12 rules, which are really only two: 1) Straighten up, and 2) Fly right. But Peterson has poured this dishwater through a coffee filter of crypto-Christianity, social Darwinism and hero journeying to create a brew that is selling like Starbucks.
To be sure, Peterson is a learned man. This does not make up for his banal, one-note intellect, however. Peterson’s lectures and conversations are rambling discourses: here a scrap of Nietzche, here a bit of Joseph Campbell, here something about lobsters… a hundered verbal Venn diagrams all delivered with the earnest panic of Jack Lemmon’s character in The China Syndrome.
And so it is with his book. Even fans of Peterson concede that 12 Rules for Life is “a verbal spew of near incomprehensible philosophical interpretations of ancient myths” that is “mostly Peterson talking to himself.” We can assume that Jordan, who seems perpetually high on the laughing gas of symbolism, lists only 12 rules so that his sagacity will rhyme with the timeless truths of Judeo-Christian numerology, but the rules themselves — “stand up straight with your shoulders back”, “make friends with people who want the best for you” — sound like the first draft of a tray of fortune cookies.
Referring to the ennui of today’s young men, Peterson has a straightforward solution: “I don’t see any alternative than the radical individualism that’s predicated on these deep stories that characterize the West. It’s the right answer”. Still, it is no wonder that Pankaj Mishra finds a fascist thread running through Peterson’s work. Peterson is adamantly opposed to “diversity” and “equity”, even going so far as to create a video imploring middle school children to cry “Indoctrination!” and march out of their classrooms when they hear these words (a complete contradiction of Peterson’s frequent insistence that even young adults are too unsophisticated to act on their political positions). Peterson’s backwards-looking gaze to some ancien régime that will be reclaimed only through manly heroism is reflected in a thousand alt-right memes featuring Crusader knights as saviors of the West. It vibrates, too, with the Neoreactionary thought of Curtis Yarvin (aka Mencius Moldbug), who calls for a gentlemanly fascism to install an anti-democratic strongman who will restore the white man’s greatness, which he feels has been in decline since at least the Enlightenment, and certainly since Emancipation.
Peterson’s audience doesn’t seem to realize that he has leveraged a hoax about post-modern Marxist sleeper agents forcing Newspeak down their throats into a cult of personality. Yet, though he is toasted as the premier conservative thinker of our day by the likes of National Review and Fox News, Peterson is not conversant on any political topic that he cannot loop back to some Jungian gobbledygook about devouring mothers and tyrant fathers. But that is his hook: a simplistic call to bootstrapping wrapped in the coils of Uroboros, the Great Dragon-Redeemer (all hail)!
What Peterson is cooking is not new at all. Castration fears and calls to restore capitalism’s glory have always featured in right wing thought, and Peterson’s summons to adventure are equally shopworn. A few years ago these same aimless men were being told to become young John Galts instead of young Siegfrieds, remember? Peterson’s mythic cure-all is made even more insensible by the fact that the desperate and lonely men he is pitching to, those whose out-cuts shoot up mosques and plow cars through crowds of protesters, clearly want more tribal identity, not less.
But Peterson’s flock isn’t merely disaffected young men looking to level-up. His fan club has also grown to include pedigreed journalists and chatterers who do not need the likes of Peterson to tell them to eat their vegetables, but who have found something in Peterson’s peyote-infused rantings that they desperately crave: the re-founding of conservatism itself!
Who has fallen under Peterson’s sway says a lot about how trivial a personality he really is. Writing about “The Jordan Peterson Moment”, David Brooks announces:
At some level Peterson is offering assertiveness training to men whom society is trying to turn into emasculated snowflakes. Peterson gives them a chance to be strong. (…) (Peterson’s) emphasis on strength of will, the bootstrap, the calls to toughness and self-respect — all of this touches some need in his audience.
That Brooks himself is thus touched comes through at the end of his piece, when he describes Peterson’s takedown of Cathy Newman, a smug, liberal British television host whom Peterson famously routed in an interview.
Peterson calmly and comprehensibly corrected and rebutted her. It is the most devastatingly one-sided media confrontation you will ever see. He reminded me of a young William F. Buckley.
Let me pump the brakes here: there is nothing at all similar between Buckley and Peterson, the former being satin-voiced, erudite and witty, the latter sounding like Henchman 24 from The Venture Bros. channeling L. Ron Hubbard. Yes, Peterson won handily against an opponent who bit off more than she could chew, but look! Here come the Buckley comparisons again, this time from Matt Lewis! In “Yes, Jordan Peterson Really Is That Smart”, Lewis (who once wrote a book in praise of Sarah Palin) says of the Mishra dust-up:
Not since William Buckley threatened Gore Vidal has intellectual pugilism been so accessible to the masses.
And then, after sucking Peterson’s dick a bit for his wisdom in taking a moment to ponder whether he would have voted for Trump over Hillary (answer: yes), we get this:
Not since Buckley has the right boasted such firepower. It’s no wonder people are so mad.
Has any legacy ever been so thoroughly shit on as Bill Buckley’s is right now? Jordan Peterson’s Lost Boys, naïve by definition, can be forgiven for not recognizing the man’s vapidity, But Brooks, Lewis…what the fuck is their excuse?
I think the answer is that conservatives really are this lost at sea. They’ve realized that the conservative movement is deader than disco. There’s no fixing Humpty Dumpty… not after Trumpty. So now they crouch at the feet of Master Peterson, sorting through his archetypes, trying to figure out what went wrong.
In the process they are trying to understand the new themes of right wing thought that brought Trump to power, since for the duration, fiscal responsibility, moral hygiene, traditional religion and the Constitution simply aren’t moving their audience, which has rejected those fetters in favor of a president who at any moment could appear in a YouTube video jizzing on Stormy Daniels tits.
But Peterson’s “woe is men” routine is absolutely killing! And his calls for less empathy and less egalitarianism are pure conservative catnip.The Establishment may have no use for Peterson’s meditations on the Logos, but if they can learn to groove on him the way the kids are doing, then maybe it’s not too late to keep the Dems from flipping Congress. The Bobos may yet reclaim paradise!
Jordan Peterson’s moment will wane faster than anyone thinks… at least, if his prickly campus liberal opponents can learn to take a joke and stop pouring gas into his tank. It is Peterson’s celebrity that his made him a celebrity, not his mind. Left to his own devices, he will either drown in his own words while his thralls in the media seek new saviors and his Internet cult seeks new distractions, or he will become addicted to the limelight and transform into just another Glenn Beck-level kook.
Or, to describe Peterson’s heroic arc as Peterson himself might, we should say he is Beowulf Baggins, coaxed from the Shire of his college campus to… no… he is Obi-Wan Morpheus, reaching to take the red pill out of Neo’s mouth and hand him instead the Golden Snitch…which has wings, making a it a “round chaos”, the symbol of Mercury…so that young men can win not so much life’s game of Quidditch but the meta-game, and draw the meaning of being from… the substrate…Tiamat…?
(Jordan, please just fuck off.)
Jason Yungbluth is having a rib removed so he can puff his own magic dragon. For a very different take on the hero’s journey, he suggests you read Deep Fried.
Previously: The Rites of Spring