… claims are so obviously false it leaves you to wonder about the agendas of the people making them. By no means do you need to be a fan but if you find yourself obsessing over ways to discredit him instead of simply paying attention to someone else, maybe it’s because his message holds an uncomfortable truth that you’re not willing to deal with.
I think your last sentence is the best theory that I can come up with. The countless attempts to take him down are often so obviously dishonest (Nazi, white supremacist, sexist etc.) that I think those people are just struggling through their own internal demons. The irony is that they could free themselves from such a dark place by following his life advice and restructuring their view of reality. Anyone who actually hears what Peterson is saying can tell that he is speaking from a zoomed out place that is not politically motivated. He of course comments on political issues, but he is only attacked in the way he is because he has accurately articulated the flaws of identity politics on the far left(which is taking over the mainstream left more and more). Wherever his politics fall, he can’t be more clear about the fact that the left and the right both have value and balance each other. As you mentioned, proper conversation between the sides produces a “dialectic in which our task isn’t to choose one over the other but to disagree so thoroughly that we arrive at a mutually beneficial centre.” It was nice to hear that his live audience seems to be comprised of mostly these sensible people who are waiting in the middle to try and find the best ideas in an unbiased way. I am always worried about the far right people who seem to co-opt (and corrupt) his message for their own biased political goals.
I am also worried about how many people have probably been turned away from genuinely hearing him because of the criticism that he receives. As someone who frequents academic social circles, I have heard many people — without having really read or listened to him — just assume that he is an alt-right troll. And these are often people who would benefit from the wisdom and life advice that Peterson offers. I think we really are in the middle of a culture war which explains why there is such a hunger for Peterson’s message out there. For many, it is like he is articulating a truth that was deep inside of them but too foggy to understand and put into words.
After reading his book and watching many lectures, I can say that his influence has definitely helped move me from left to center (which I guess is alt-right to a far left person). But this shift was not because I simply adopted his opinions. The shift was because I learned to confront my own mind and got to know myself better. I listened to my own mind. I thought deeply about what a meaningful life could be. And I discovered that the cultural message coming from the left right now no longer fit with who I am. I believe in compassion, social safety nets, and a variety of other concepts that the left offers. Most of my political opinions are still on the left, but I don’t want to call myself that anymore. Of course people are victims, but I don’t believe that telling people they are weak and a victim leads to a meaningful life. If Peterson’s message has a zoomed out theme, I believe it would be something like this: voluntarily accept the tragedy of life and create meaning in your life by taking on responsibility. I believe that people who are turned off by his message are often not ready to admit that they have a lot to fix in their own lives and minds (to clean their rooms) — they would prefer to write off his message as sexist or racist rather than confront whatever reality that his message might lead them to.
Thanks for writing. I really enjoyed your article, and it lead me to articulate some of my own thoughts in this comment as well. Cheers!