Why Jordan B. Peterson is a favorite of the alt-right

The manosphere and white supremacists love Jordan B. Peterson, but why?

Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Jordan B. Peterson, clinical psychologist, best-selling author, self-help guru and strong defender of his right to insult people while suing others for insulting him, is many things. One of those things is that he is a favorite of the alt-right and the so called manosphere, including incel and MGTOW groups, as well as the Intellectual Dark Web. What exactly is going on?

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First off, a brief primer for those new to these groups and why this is a relevant question. The alt-right are a loose collection of white supremacist groups and individuals, almost entirely male. The alt-right moniker is their attempt to find better branding for racism. The manosphere is a loose collection of web sites and blogs devoted to masculinity, which is to say that they are mostly obsessed with women, why women don’t just give them sex and why women are awful. Incel is the term adopted by men who claim to be involuntary celibates, although their hatred of women and hatred of themselves is actually what causes their celibacy. They’ve been in the news recently because their members have radicalized to the point of committing and celebrating mass-murders, mostly of women. MGTOW is the acronym for men going their own way, that is to say, men who refuse to enter into equal, long-lasting relationships with women for misogynistic reasons.

The self-proclaimed Intellectual Dark Web, or Intellectual Dim Web as I tend to think of it, is a loose collection of podcasts and blogs of the more intellectual and academically oriented people and is almost entirely a right-wing preoccupation. Jordan B. Peterson, Sam Harris, Ben Shapiro and a handful of others are the stars of this constellation. The Dark Web is the only subset of these groups with any claim to some ethical, logical or empirical validity in their claims and readership, but they are consumed heavily within the manosphere and among white supremacists in the USA.

So why is Peterson so beloved of this fairly ugly collection of people? A large part of it is that his relatively misogynistic message is tailor made for young conservative men. Then there’s his climate change denial and the red meat diet, which also play well with that audience.

In his Maps of Meaning book, the fundamental analogy is that men are order and women are chaos, and order is good and chaos is bad. It’s incredibly blatant. He spends a lot of time talking about how wonderful the masculine order is and how awful the feminine chaos is, including the devastating experience of being rejected by a woman. Then in his 12 Rules for Life book he agrees with his earlier work then extends it with his lobster nonsense to pretend that hierarchies always exist — order — and that they are a good thing.

White supremacists are almost entirely male, something so empirically evident from multiple studies that recently an entire research organization was set up devoted to the study of this ugly phenomenon. Racism and misogyny overlap quite substantially. And the misogyny of the manosphere is its dominant characteristic.

Peterson’s regularly repeated messages about women are heard very strongly in a specific way by this audience, and they love what he has to say. He has thrown a lot of bafflegab around defending his perception that he isn’t a misogynist and doesn’t condone it — part of the Peterson Method of making indefensible and incendiary statements then waffling a defence his apologists can accept — , but that’s just ignored by actual misogynists who read what he actually wrote and agree with it.

The manosphere and the alt-right also tend very strongly to be homophobes of various types — hatred of others of all types is rife — and Peterson’s repeated statements against gay marriage play well with the young, pasty, male and stupid. You’d think a bunch of men going their own way with one another and more recently learning to dress and groom themselves would be a bit of a hint that maybe they are a bit conflicted about their sexuality, but the self-awareness is limited in that crew. Peterson doesn’t help with their self-awareness despite his status as a self-help author and psychologist.

Then there’s the climate change denial. Peterson has repeated denialist nonsense on Twitter, on YouTube, in interviews and basically on every channel at his disposal. Right now, far-right, white males are almost certain to be climate change deniers, so they love them some Peterson for that reason as well.

Then there’s the red meat. Literal red meat. Like only eating beef and drinking Vodka. I wish I was making this up, but this is Peterson’s dietary advice to his acolytes, based it seems on his daughter’s bad ideas. It’s as lacking in empirical support as his misguided views on homosexuals, climate change and lobsters, but the far right love baiting vegetarians and what’s better for that than an all-meat diet, no matter how bad it is for you?

Peterson is tailoring his message to this crowd. Whatever pretense he once made to academic probity and psychology ethics is far behind him. Now he’s just pandering to the worst impulses of his primary audience.