I Watched a Jordan Peterson Video so You Don’t Have To
Jordan Peterson loves to talk about lobsters. I assume they are one of his favorite animals. In the 90 minute presentation I agreed to watch (after losing a bet), the best-selling author and former clinical psychologist recounted a cute little factoid about these crimson crustaceans.
“I was reading these articles on lobsters, and I came across this finding that lobsters govern their postural flexion with serotonin,” said the gaunt middle-aged man in a crackling and nervous tone.
The anecdote was meant as an extension of Peterson’s first “rule for life”: Stand up straight.
“Fair enough,” I thought, “That is interesting.”
But shortly thereafter, mere minutes into his monologue, the “self-help” facade began to crumble. Peterson promptly advanced his discourse by using lobster “dominance hierarchies” as a vague metaphorical justification for hierarchies in human society.
This enigmatic notion got me thinking. First of all, if any behavior in nature should either be mimicked by humans or is “natural” when conducted by humans, then what about eating your babies? Does Peterson advocate cannibalism? Secondly, if he’s saying that human hierarchies are inherently justifiable simply because hierarchies exist in nature, then, in order to be logically consistent, he would have to say slavery, Jim Crow, apartheid, and other racial hierarchies were justifiable, as well as all other iterations of human dominance and coercion throughout history.
At this point I had more questions than answers. But I could surmise that Peterson was simply using the naturalistic fallacy in order to rationalize his pre-existing ideology. If I wanted to be really creative, I could defend one of my own beliefs in a similar fashion. For instance, abortions happen all the time in nature; they’re called “miscarriages.” Therefore, abortion is morally justifiable.
To be clear, I do think abortion is morally justifiable, but for other reasons (such as bodily integrity). I’m not arrogant enough to claim that my specific moral views are warranted by some pseudo-pantheistic “order.” I readily condede that my entire moral outlook hinges on my ostensibly functional amygdala and subsequent experience of empathy. I am therefore entirely biased in my opposition to the systems and institutions that perpetuate unnecessary death and suffering worldwide. But apparently Jordan Peterson can just breeze through conservative moral platitudes as though they are simple math problems with but one empirical answer.
Continuing with anti-Marxist remarks and statements like, “smart, hardworking people are the most likely to succeed,” Peterson asserted that individuals climb up social hierarchies based on their own competence (calling it a “competence hierarchy”). His related commentary made his support for the current class system (and economic hierarchies in general) crystal-clear. These sentiments seem perfectly delightful in a vacuum, but a glance at the reality on the ground (in the U.S., for instance) makes this meritocratic dogma look wildly delusional:
I continued watching and taking notes. But the rest of Peterson’s performance followed suit; self-evident advice like “compare yourself to who you were yesterday” or “treat yourself like you’re someone you care about” peppered with neo-McCarthyist rhetoric and social Darwinism. Toward the end, the man was ranting about the superiority of Western culture like some washed up white nationalist. The entire presentation could be summarized by the following quote from journalist Nora Loreto:
“Peterson cloaks his anti-progressive opinions in folksy, common-sense advice. He is a master at inventing an enemy and offering young men a solution to various straw men. Peterson has perfectly tailored his self-help style to the individual, no doubt a holdover from his days as a clinical psychologist, which he mentions a lot when he talks.”
To further clarify his reactionary worldview, Peterson has accused the Left of “weaponizing compassion.” Of course this is a doltish oxymoron straight out of The Onion, but it is also a bit hypocritical, since Peterson’s androcentric language and influence could readily be used to weaponize male supremacy.
The general public became quickly aware of the term “incel” after Alek Minassian killed ten people in a terrorist attack in Toronto last April. The label is a portmanteau of “involuntary” and “celibate,” and members of this movement have been described as “male supremacist[s][…]who believe women should be treated as sexual objects with few rights.”
In a scathing New York Times exposé, Nellie Bowles interviewed Peterson in his Toronto home. When asked about the aforementioned atrocity, this highly credentialed academic said, “He was angry at God because women were rejecting him. The cure for that is enforced monogamy. That’s actually why monogamy emerges.”
In addition, during the same interview, Peterson stated, “The people who hold that our culture is an oppressive patriarchy, they don’t want to admit that the current hierarchy might be predicated on competence,” and, in a Vice interview, waxed profound when asking, “Can men and women work together in the workplace?” He later added, “How about no makeup in the workplace?”
Upon discovering these statements I realized that, in addition to class hierarchies, Peterson espouses another hierarchical concept: patriarchy. He even seems to inadvertently side with the incels. I still wondered about his views regarding racial hierarchies, but this (along with other observations) was sufficient evidence that lobsters would be utterly ashamed of the psychologist in question.
Toxic masculinity is already an entrenched aspect of the Western culture this man holds in such high regard. For those who espouse this destructive outlook as a latent and unquestioned tendency, Peterson is preaching to the choir. He is simply telling them what they want to hear, dressing his message in the garb of academic jargon, redundant axioms (e.g. “Endless failure is not good.”), and recycled reactionary anti-communism.
As a public figure, Peterson’s style, rhetoric, and avid fan base are comparable to a combination of Dr. Atkins, L. Ron Hubbard, and Joseph McCarthy. Despite his name-dropping of psychoanalysts of yore, these are his true predecessors. Jordan Peterson is simply a bitter and paranoid huckster, attempting to protect and maintain his position of privilege while selling as many books as possible. But, due to the particular ultra-traditionalist framing of his subject matter, this pursuit of fame and fortune might not be harmless.