But any man who argues for individual responsibility and that there’s a right and a wrong way to manage one’s life, and who says to the young people of the world–particularly the young men of the world, among whom he has a huge following–things like “stand up straight and show some self-respect,” “clean your room,” “surround yourself with people who want you to succeed,” “stop lying,” and “life is tough; take time to indulge in bits of happiness,” can’t be all bad.**
I suspect those who dismiss him outright usually do so because Jordan Peterson, like the Bible (no; I am not comparing Peterson’s output with the Holy Writ in any way) is ripe for what I call “Opportunistic Excerpt Syndrome.” He’s remarkably good at the bon mot, the pithy saying, the incisive remark, and the eminently quotable comment. And people on both sides of the political, social, and cultural spectrum mine his words and form their opinions free from context and based only on the last 15-second blip they saw or heard, or which their friends–either in high and outraged dudgeon, or accompanied by sycophantic mewling–retweeted, or posted on Facebook. They hear something they like, or something they hate, and they latch onto it and won’t let go.
It’s not really that simple, though. Case in point: A particular favorite fifteen-second outtake from a Peterson podcast or interview (I really can’t remember which) in which he says something to the effect that women are crazy bullies and that men are helpless to defend themselves because–in Western Culture–men aren’t allowed to hit women:
This statement (an approximation of which he did make somewhere) makes him a hero to both the Men’s Right’s Movement (“Jordan Peterson says men are helpless against female bullies!!”), and the most extreme anti-feminists (“Jordan Peterson says all feminists are crazy bullies!! And I agree!!”). And, it makes him anathema to the Left and to both the Feminists (Jordan Peterson dismisses women’s concerns!!”) and FemiNazis–I’m willing to concede that there might be some space between the two–(“Jordan Peterson celebrates toxic masculinity!!” ). You’re free to invent any sort of hysterical headlines or ledes you like; doubt you can outdo the ones that have actually made it into play over the past three or four years.
Oh, Brave New World! What a glorious time to be alive. One in which–if you’re on the right–everything is binary. And one in which–if you’re on the left–everything is binary except a recently-invented concept called human gender. Setting that aside, though, in both cases, there’s no nuance, no grace, no room for discussion, and–certainly–no possibility of redemption for those who might have differing opinion or who might want to have an actual debate. It’s almost as if we on the right have somehow managed to mix up the “goal” from “what it takes to get to the goal.” And as if many of us have said, “I don’t care if you want to get to the same goal as I do, if you’re not willing to adopt the same tactics as I am, you are the enemy.”
As a person who’s read all of Peterson’s books, and who’s followed him closely for years, I find his actual position–if you can be bothered, which I strenuously suggest you should be–much more nuanced and interesting. That’s one of the reasons I wrote the post Jordan and Camille’s Excellent Adventure several years ago on Ricochet and why I reposted it here in 2020. What a grand old broad she is. And how interesting the conversation between the two of them was, in its entirety.
Here’s another–more recent–conversation. A charming and provocative interview with Jordan Peterson, by Peter Robinson, an original founder of the website ricochet.com.
If you haven’t already done so, please tune in.
**From 12 Rules for Life.