Writing in the Toronto Star, Bernard Schiff claims “I was Jordan Peterson’s strongest supporter. Now I think he’s dangerous.” I’m going to see what claims he makes, separating the wheat from the chaff of his bloated essay. For the full hit piece, follow the link above.
Several years ago, Jordan Peterson told me he wanted to buy a church. It was before he was fancied to be a truth-telling sage… He was just my colleague and friend. He wanted to establish a church, he said, in which he would deliver sermons every Sunday.
This is a subtle smear: that Peterson is telling the truth or is knowledgeable is somehow “fanciful”. Some friend. Why start with an anecdote about Peterson dreaming (or daydreaming?) of preaching in a church?
“(He) spread his influence across the country and around the world through a combination of religious conviction, commanding stage presence and shrewd use of radio, television and advanced communication technologies.” This could have been written about Jordan Peterson. But that quote is taken from Billy Graham’s obituary that appeared in the Times after the American pastor died in February.
This smear compares Peterson to an evangelical Christian. If you’ve listened to Peterson, you’ll know that he’s closer to Jung than he is to Graham.
I was once his strongest supporter. That all changed with his rise to celebrity. I am alarmed by his now-questionable relationship to truth, intellectual integrity and common decency, which I had not seen before. His output is voluminous and filled with oversimplifications which obscure or misrepresent complex matters in the service of a message which is difficult to pin down. He can be very persuasive, and toys with facts and with people’s emotions.
Will these statements be backed up with facts?
He was, however, more eccentric than I had expected. He was a maverick. Even though there was nothing contentious about his research, he objected in principle to having it reviewed by the university research ethics committee, whose purpose is to protect the safety and well-being of experiment subjects. He requested a meeting with the committee. I was not present but was told that he had questioned the authority and expertise of the committee members, had insisted that he alone was in a position to judge whether his research was ethical and that, in any case, he was fully capable of making such decisions himself. He was impervious to the fact that subjects in psychological research had been, on occasion, subjected to bad experiences, and also to the fact that both the Canadian and United States governments had made these reviews mandatory. What was he doing! I managed to make light of this to myself by attributing it to his unbridled energy and fierce independence, which were, in many other ways, virtues. That was a mistake.
What was the reason for Peterson’s objection?
I attended many of Jordan’s lectures to see for myself. Remarkably, the 50 students always showed up at 9 a.m. and were held in rapt attention for an hour. Jordan was a captivating lecturer — electric and eclectic — cherry-picking from neuroscience, mythology, psychology, philosophy, the Bible and popular culture. The class loved him. But, as reported by that one astute student, Jordan presented conjecture as statement of fact. I expressed my concern to him about this a number of times, and each time Jordan agreed. He acknowledged the danger of such practices, but then continued to do it again and again, as if he could not control himself. He was a preacher more than a teacher.
When Peterson acknowledged the danger of presenting conjecture as fact, was he acknowledging that he himself was doing this, or only that it would be bad if he was? What conjectures did he present as facts?
Always intense, it seemed that, over time, Jordan was becoming even more so. He had periods of incredible energy when, in addition to his academic work, he ran a business selling the personality assessment tools that he had developed. He actively collected Soviet, and then Mexican art, on eBay. He maintained a clinical practice. He was preoccupied with alternative health treatments including fighting off the signs of aging as they appear on the skin, and, one time, even shamanic healing practices, where, to my great surprise and distress, he chose to be the shaman himself.
Why did Peterson’s becoming a shaman distress you? Wouldn’t it allow him to talk about Shamanism from direct experience, rather than conjecture?
Jordan’s first high-profile public battle, and for many people their introduction to the man, followed his declaration that he would not comply with Bill C-16, an amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act extending its protections to include gender identity and expression. He would refuse to refer to students using gender neutral pronouns. He then upped the stakes by claiming that, for this transgression, he could be sent to jail.
And Peterson’s reasoning is this: that people’s speech should not be compelled by the government. This is the essence of free speech, which is encoded as a universal human right by the UN.
I have a trans daughter, but that was hardly an issue compared to what I felt was a betrayal of my trust and confidence in him. It was an abuse of the trust that comes with his professorial position, which I had fought for, to have misrepresented gender science by dismissing the evidence that the relationship of gender to biology is not absolute and to have made the claim that he could be jailed when, at worst, he could be fined.
As I recall, Peterson merely said that he would be willing to go to jail rather than submit to the will of the government, not that he could be jailed. You are misrepresenting him.
In his defence, Jordan told me if he refused to pay the fine he could go to jail. That is not the same as being jailed for what you say, but it did ennoble him as a would-be martyr in the defence of free speech. He was a true free speech “warrior” who was willing to sacrifice and run roughshod over his students to make a point. He could have spared his students and chosen to sidestep the issue and refer to them by their names. And if this was truly a matter of free speech he could have challenged the Human Rights Act, off-campus and much earlier, by openly using language offensive to any of the already-protected groups on that list.
Peterson has said that if someone asked him to refer to them in a different way, he would, but he refuses to be compelled to by the university, or to take training on the issue. He did indeed challenge C-16 by testifying to the Senate. Why would you want him to use offensive language? That wasn’t his stated goal; it was to resist the government’s attempt to control what language he could use.
Not long afterwards the following message was sent from his wife’s email address exhorting recipients to sign a petition opposing Ontario’s Bill 28. That bill proposed changing the language in legislation about families from “mother” and “father” to the gender-neutral “parents.”
“A new bill, introduced in Ontario on September 29th, subjugates the natural family to the transgender agenda. The bill — misleadingly called the ‘All Families Are Equal Act’ — is moving extremely fast. We must ACT NOW to stop this bill from passing into law.”
This is not a free-speech issue so Jordan is wearing a different political hat. And what does a “transgender agenda” have to do with a bill protecting same-sex parents? What is this all about?
It seems clear to me that Peterson is espousing a traditionally conservative viewpoint here. Equating same-sex parenting with the transgender agenda makes sense. These are both part of the agenda of the progressive left. As a libertarian, I’m not against same-sex marriage, but I don’t begrudge Peterson his opinion.
If we have a “collective unconscious” there is a good chance that it would include our primitive assumptions about gender and biology. Transgender people violate those assumptions.
We do have instinctual understandings of gender and biology, based on millions of years of evolution that allowed the species to survive. Since transgender people violate these subconscious intuitions, one must exercise conscious awareness and control over one’s instinctive reactions when dealing with them. This is called being an adult.
I have no way of knowing whether Jordan is aware that he is playing out of the same authoritarian demagogue handbook that he himself has described. If he is unaware, then his ironic failure, unwillingness, or inability to see in himself what he attributes to them is very disconcerting.
I would guess that he is aware.
Following his opposition to Bill C-16, Jordan again sought to establish himself as a “warrior” and attacked identity politics and political correctness as threats to free speech. He characterized them as left-wing conspiracies rooted in a “murderous” ideology — Marxism. Calling Marxism, a respectable political and philosophical tradition, “murderous” conflates it with the perversion of those ideas in Stalinist Russia and elsewhere where they were. That is like calling Christianity a murderous ideology because of the blood that was shed in its name during the Inquisition, the Crusades and the great wars of Europe. That is ridiculous.
Marxism is not a respectable philosophical tradition. Marx himself called for violent revolution. In every case where his philosophy has been applied, millions have died. The fact that you respect Marxism reveals your agenda. You are the one being ridiculous. Apologizing for the evils of communism, which killed tens of millions in the last century, makes you an immoral person, in my opinion.
In Jordan’s hands, a claim which is merely ridiculous became dangerous. Jordan, our “free speech warrior,” decided to launch a website that listed “postmodern neo-Marxist” professors and “corrupt” academic disciplines, warning students and their parents to avoid them. Those disciplines, postmodern or not, included women’s, ethnic and racial studies. Those “left-wing” professors were trying to “indoctrinate their students into a cult” and, worse, create “anarchical social revolutionaries.” I do think Jordan believes what he says, but it’s not clear from the language he uses whether he is being manipulative and trying to induce fear, or whether he is walking a fine line between concern and paranoia.
I agree with Peterson that identity politics are divisive and can be dangerous. Whether it’s white nationalists on the right or the anarcho-communist Antifa on the left, these violent identity based groups threaten our individual rights and freedoms. If you’ve watched footage of Antifa rioting, or of the ‘unite the right’ event in Charlottesville, it’s hard to see how you can consider this mere paranoia.
His strategy is eerily familiar. In the 1950s a vicious attack on freedom of speech and thought occurred in the United States at the hands of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee. People suspected of having left-wing, “Communist” leanings were blacklisted and silenced. It was a frightening period of lost jobs, broken lives and betrayal. Ironically, around this time the Stasi were doing the same to people in East Berlin who were disloyal to that very same “murderous” ideology.
McCarthy was using the power of the state to attack people. How is this in any way similar to Peterson speaking in public forums? Whether it’s the US senate, the East German Stasi, or the Canadian parliament, using the power of the state to attack individual rights is wrong. On the other hand, speaking out against state power is noble.
Jordan has a complex relationship to freedom of speech. He wants to effectively silence those left-wing professors by keeping students away from their courses because the students may one day become “anarchical social revolutionaries” who may bring upon us disruption and violence.
Peterson proposed only to provide information about these professors, to allow students to make up their own minds about their courses. This is far different from using the power of the state to silence them. I happen to agree that avoiding training people to be disruptive and violent is a worthy goal.
At the same time he was advocating cutting funds to universities that did not protect free speech on their campuses.
And he should. Taxpayers money should not be used by the state to suppress free speech. Universities that don’t uphold freedom of speech, which is enshrined in the Canadian charter of rights, should not be funded by the state.
He defended the rights of “alt right” voices to speak at universities even though their presence has given rise to disruption and violence. For Jordan, it appears, not all speech is equal, and not all disruption and violence are equal, either.
This is a lie. Peterson is against the alt-right, and often talks about how he provides an alternative to it. Conservatives, whose rights he has defended, are not the “alt right”.
If Jordan is not a true free speech warrior, then what is he? The email sent through his wife’s account described Bill 28, the parenting bill, as part of the “transgender agenda” and claimed it was “misleadingly” called “All Families are Equal.” Misleading?
The claim that all families are equal is misleading. We know that outcomes for children of single parent families are far worse on average than those of children of traditional two parent families. I personally haven’t seen any similar findings for same sex families.
What same-sex families and transgender people have in common is their upset of the social order.
Transgenderism seems much less stable than homosexuality. The suicide rate for transgender people is very high. I’m not sure that it can explained by social causes.
In Maps of Meaning, Jordan’s first book, he is exercised by the breakdown of the social order and the chaos that he believes would result. Jordan is fighting to maintain the status quo to keep chaos at bay, or so he believes. He is not a free speech warrior. He is a social order warrior.
Free speech is the status quo. I agree that Peterson is a champion of traditional values, but he is also a champion of free speech.
In the end, Jordan postponed his plan to blacklist courses after many of his colleagues signed a petition objecting to it. He said it was too polarizing. Curiously, that had never stopped him before. He appears to thrive on polarization. I have no idea why he did that.
So you can’t believe that he would reasonably reconsider doing something? Does that say more about him, or you?
He has done disservice to the professoriate. He cheapens the intellectual life with self-serving misrepresentations of important ideas and scientific findings. He has also done disservice to the institutions which have supported him. He plays to “victimhood” but also plays the victim.
How about some facts to back this up?
When he caused a stir objecting to gender neutral pronouns, he thanked his YouTube followers who had supported his work financially, claiming he might need that money because he could lose his job. That resulted in a significant increase in monthly donations. There was no reason to think he would lose his job. He was on a sabbatical, and had not even been in the classroom.
I can see why he would be concerned about his livelihood. Why wouldn’t he thank people who offered him financial support?
The university sent him a letter asking him to stop what he was doing because he was creating an environment which would make teaching difficult, but there was no intimation that he would be fired. I saw that letter. Jordan may have, however, welcomed being fired, which would have made him a martyr in the battle for free speech. He certainly presented himself as prepared to do that. A true warrior, of whatever.
When your employer sends you a letter telling you to stop what you’re doing, it carries an implicit threat.
Later, when his research grant was turned down by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Jordan told the world he was being punished for his political activities. There was no such evidence. The review system is flawed and this has happened to other academically renowned and respected scholars. (For instance, Prof. Anthony Doob, the former director of the Centre of Criminology at U of T, a member of the Royal Society of Canada and a recipient of the Order of Canada, was funded continuously from the late 1960s until 2006, when he was turned down by the SSHRC. The next year, essentially the same proposal was funded.) These things happen. Jordan, however, took this as an opportunity to rail, once again, against the suppression of free speech by oppressive institutions and into a public relations triumph in the eyes of his followers.
Being a government institution, the SSHRC should be apolitical, but I can well believe it is biased against conservatives, especially when the current party in power is led by an openly feminist prime minister.
The Rebel, Ezra Levant’s far-right online publication, raised the funds to replace that grant.
Good for them.
This past March, Pankaj Mishra wrote in The New York Review of Books an informed and thoughtful critique of 12 Rules for Life, provocatively titled “Jordan Peterson and Fascist Mysticism.” Jordan’s immediate response was a flurry of angry, abusive, self-righteous tweets, some in response to Mishra’s questioning Jordan’s induction into an Indigenous tribe by referring to it as a “claim.”
Having read Peterson’s book, I can say that calling it “facist mysticism” is more than provocation; it’s slander. I can see why Peterson fought back.
Jordan called Mishra a “sanctimonious prick,” “an arrogant, racist son of a bitch,” “a peddler of nasty, underhanded innuendo,” said “fuck you” and expressed a desire to slap him.
Well, if you don’t want to be called a sanctimonious prick, maybe you shouldn’t call people facist.
Jordan is seen here to be emotionally explosive when faced with legitimate criticism, in contrast to his being so self-possessed at other times. He is erratic.
Calling “12 Rules For Life” facist mysticism is not legitimate criticism. It’s slander.
One of his colleagues at the University of Toronto, Prof. Will Cunningham, said in a recent Esquire article: “There’s my friend Jordan Peterson, who is this amazingly compassionate person who genuinely wants to help people. And then there’s Twitter Peterson, getting placards demanding he be fired immediately. Even I want to get a placard.”
Why would you expect Peterson to be compassionate and helpful to assholes on Twitter who are trying to get him fired?
Jordan exhibits a great range of emotional states, from anger and abusive speech to evangelical fierceness, ministerial solemnity and avuncular charm. It is misleading to come to quick conclusions about who he is, and potentially dangerous if you have seen only the good and thoughtful Jordan, and not seen the bad.
Like everyone, Peterson is right about some things and wrong about others. His statements on MGTOW and socially enforced monogamy come to mind as ones that I vehemently disagree with. Unlike ideologues on the left, I can disagree with someone on some issues and still appreciate their thoughts on others.
Shortly after Jordan’s rise to notoriety back in 2016, I … was reiterating my disappointment and upset when he interrupted me, saying more or less the following: “You don’t understand. I am willing to lose everything, my home, my job etc., because I believe in this.”
And this is admirable, in my opinion.
That was our last conversation. He was playing out the ideas that appeared in his first book. The social order is coming apart. We are on the edge of chaos. He is the prophet, and he would be the martyr. Jordan would be our saviour. I think he believes that. He may be driven by a great and genuine fear of our impending doom, and a passionate conviction that he can save us from it.
And again, this is admirable.
He may believe that his ends justify his questionable means, and he may not be aware that he mimics those figures from whom he wants to protect us. But his conviction makes him no less problematic. On the contrary.
You claim that Peterson’s means are ‘questionable’. How? How does Peterson mimic the authoritarian left who use the state to suppress the opinions of those they disagree with?
“What they do have in common is … that they have the answers and that their instincts are good, that they are smarter than everybody else and can do things by themselves.” This was Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state in an recent interview with the New York Times referring to the authoritarian leaders discussed in her new book, Fascism: A Warning. It sounds familiar.
Madeleine Albright also said there was a special place in hell for conservative women who didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton. The things she says authoritarian leaders have in common certainly apply to most politicians. The problem is that people who believe these things about themselves and have no humility are sometimes wrong. For example, the ‘respectable’ Karl Marx, whose ideology led to millions of deaths. At least Peterson has some humility.
Currently, Jordan is the darling of the alt-right. He says he is not one of them, but has accepted their affection with relish. Andrew Scheer, the leader of the federal Conservative party, has declined any further appearances on The Rebel, but Jordan continues to appear.
He says he is not because he isn’t. The alt-right are white nationalists. Peterson is a traditional conservative. He is against all identity politics, including the politics of the alt-right. Andrew Scheer is a neoconservative in the mold of Steven Harper. If he were more of a populist, he might stand a better chance of winning the next election.
Jordan is not part of the alt-right. He fits no mould. But he should be concerned about what the “dark desires” of the alt-right might be. He could be, perhaps unwittingly, activating “the dark desires” of that mob.
He is concerned about the alt-right. Some of the truths that he is speaking have led people to the alt-right. Instead, Peterson is trying to steer them in the direction of what he calls “classical liberalism” and I’d characterize as traditional conservatism. Peterson is not responsible for the actions of his audience, only for what he himself does and says.
I was warned by a number of writers, editors and friends that this article would invite backlash, primarily from his young male acolytes, and I was asked to consider whether publishing it was worth it. More than anything, that convinced me it should be published.
And yet you have so far failed to make any real criticism of his ideas.
I discovered while writing this essay a shocking climate of fear among women writers and academics who would not attach their names to opinions or data which were critical of Jordan. All of Jordan’s critics receive nasty feedback from some of his followers, but women writers have felt personally threatened.
Peterson is not responsible for the actions of his audience, only for what he himself does and says. Nasty feedback in the form of words can and should be ignored.
Jordan presents a confusing picture, and it’s often hard to know what he is up to. In one of his YouTube videos, Jordan said that if you are not sure of what or why someone is doing what they are doing, look at the consequences. They could be revealing. That keeps me up at night.
Why would that keep you up at night? Peterson is exactly right. Actions speak louder than words. What actions has he taken that worry you?
Given Jordan’s tendency toward grandiosity, it should not be surprising to learn that he is politically ambitious. He would have run for the leadership of the federal Conservative party but was dissuaded by influential friends. He has not, however, lost interest in the political life.
That makes some sense. Right now, he is engaging in the culture war at a deeper level than politicians can.
Andrew Scheer, the current leader of that party, echoed this proposal which appeared with Jordan’s photo on the front page of the Toronto Sun: “Free speech Prof says cut University funding by 25 per cent until politically correct cult at schools reined in.”
And if the universities engage in partisan suppression of free speech, I agree. There is a simple solution: stop deplatforming speakers. Instead, engage them in debate if you disagree with their ideas.
On March 19, Jordan was in the Toronto Sun saying that Premier Kathleen Wynne “is the most dangerous woman in Canada.” There was nothing new in the article, but those words are signature Jordan, the language of fear.
Wynne’s liberals have nearly doubled the provincial debt in the last ten years. Maybe he’s right.
On May 8, the day before the campaign began, Ford announced that he would scrap Ontario’s sex-ed curriculum and tie funding of post-secondary schools to free speech. This echoed, once more, Jordan’s call to make protection of free speech a condition in the funding of universities. Is Jordan involved with Ford’s political campaign? I have no idea, but it’s not impossible.
So what? They are both conservatives. Peterson has a right to support the candidate he prefers.
Jordan is a powerful orator. He is smart, compelling and convincing. His messages can be strong and clear, oversimplified as they often are, to be very accessible. He has played havoc with the truth. He has studied demagogues and authoritarians and understands the power of their methods. Fear and danger were their fertile soil. He frightens by invoking murderous bogeymen on the left and warning they are out to destroy the social order, which will bring chaos and destruction.
How is he playing havoc with the truth?
He is a biological and Darwinian determinist. Gender, gender roles, dominance hierarchies, parenthood, all firmly entrenched in our biological heritage and not to be toyed with. Years ago when he was living in my house, he said children are little monkeys trying to clamber up the dominance hierarchy and need to be kept in their place. I thought he was being ironic. Apparently, not.
Peterson does not say that these things should not be modified by society. What he says is that it must be done with great care, and that social conditioning will not erase the instinctual behaviors that we have evolved over millions of years. The survival instinct is powerful.
He is also very much like the classic Social Darwinists who believe that “attempts to reform society through state intervention or other means would … interfere with natural processes; unrestricted competition and defence of the status quo were in accord with biological selection.” (Encylopedia Britannica, 2018.) From the same source: “Social Darwinism declined during the 20th century as an expanded knowledge of biological, social and cultural phenomena undermined, rather than supported, its basic tenets.” Jordan remains stuck in and enthralled by The Call of the Wild.
Attempts to reform society through state intervention led to millions of deaths in the last century. Competition is in accord with biological selection. Peterson understands the need for both conservatives and liberal thinkers.
We should be concerned about his interest in politics. It is clear what kind of country he would want to have or, if he could, lead.
I would rather have Peterson than Trudeau. I don’t know Scheer that well, but, despite disagreeing vehemently with many of his socially conservative policies, I preferred Preston Manning to Brian Mulroney. We’ll see whether Peterson does indeed leap into politics. It would certainly be interesting. I wouldn’t want to be the liberal or socialist who had to debate him.
What I am seeing now is a darker, angrier Jordan than the man I knew. In Karen Heller’s recent profile in the Washington Post he is candid about his long history of depression. Depression is an awful illness. It is a cognitive disorder that casts a dark shadow over everything. His view of life, as nasty and brutish, may very well not be an idea, but a description of his experience, which became for him the truth.
He is in good company with Buddha, who came to the conclusion that life was suffering.
But this next statement, from Heller’s article, is heartbreaking: “You have an evil heart — like the person next to you,” she quotes him as telling a sold-out crowd. “Kids are not innately good — and neither are you.” This from the loving and attentive father I knew? That makes no sense at all.
How is this heartbreaking? People are not innately good. Recognizing that we all have the capacity to do evil makes perfect sense.
It could be his dark view of life, wherever it comes from, that the aggressive group of young men among his followers identify with. They may feel recognized, affirmed, justified and enabled. By validating them he does indeed save them, and little wonder they then fall into line enthusiastically, marching lockstep behind him. That is unnerving.
Why is it unnerving? Young men have been lacking anyone to care about them, to show them that their lives can have meaning. If anything, saying that affirming young men is unnerving is unnerving.
The misogynistic attacks on the British broadcaster Cathy Newman, after she was humiliated and left speechless by Jordan in the infamous “gotcha moment” of their TV interview, were so numerous and vicious that Jordan asked his followers to back off. These devoted followers are notorious for attacking Jordan’s critics, but this was different. It was more persistent and more intense. That was not outrage in defence of their leader who needed none; she was the fallen victim and it was as if they had come in for the final kill.
Peterson did the right thing. For the third time, he is not responsible for what his followers do. After Newman spent an hour trying to twist his words for her own “gotcha moment”, its not surprising that some found her villainous.
Jordan’s inflammatory understanding of male violence for which “the cure … is enforced monogamy” as reported by Nellie Bowles in the New York Times is shocking. This is upsetting and sad if you are, or were, Jordan’s friend. But it is also frightening.
Peterson was talking about socially enforced monogamy, as we had under Christianity. He is not wrong in saying that enforced monogamy means that there are fewer men left unable to find a mate. It’s not clear to me whether he was merely pointing this out. I agree that if he were proposing a state enforced return to monogamy, that would be terrible, but I don’t think he was.
I believe that Jordan has not lived up to at least four of his rules.
Rule 7: Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)
Well, since he is doing what he believes in meaningful, risking his career rather than toeing the line at U of T, I’d have to disagree.
Rule 8: Tell the truth — or, at least, don’t lie
Really? You can’t call someone a liar without pointing out what they’ve said that is false and showing that they new it to be false when they said it was true.
Rule 9: Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t
I haven’t seen Peterson fail to acknowledge fair criticism. Do you have an example of when he didn’t?
Rule 10: Be precise in your speech
Peterson is very careful with his speech. Where hasn’t he been?
Heller observed that when Jordan slumped, violating Rule 1 (Stand up straight with your shoulders back), his wife cajoled him to correct that. It may be absurd to take that seriously, but the stakes are real, given Jordan’s stated obligation to have changed himself first. He has done a poor job of that.
Peterson has done an excellent job of standing up straight and confronting the world.
This essay is a smear job. The most telling thing is that Schiff holds up Marxism as “a respectable political and philosophical tradition”. That he can apologize for a doctrine that led to the murder of millions of people and then go on to criticize Peterson with virtually no factual claims as to why is pathetic. Peterson’s positions are not unassailable, but painting him as a boogeyman when you claim to have been his friend is reprehensible.