If you haven’t heard of Jordan B Peterson, you’re probably left wing. However if you have heard of him, it doesn’t mean you’re necessarily right wing. But you might be on your way.
If you have no idea who I’m talking about, Jordan Peterson is a clinical psychologist by training, and up until 2016 was an obscure but popular lecturer at the University of Toronto. Since then he has found his home on the Internet, like many viral commentators of the right wing before him. The targets of his talks are nothing new. Peterson rallies against political correctness, social justice warriors, radical Marxists and feminists.
In saying this, Peterson is not your Milo Yiannopoulos or Alex Jones caricature of what a conservative hack looks like. This rock star of the modern right has been hailed as “the most influential public intellectual in the Western world right now” and the “deepest, clearest voice of conservative thought in the world today”. He’s got a PhD. He speaks calmly. He’s got ready-made arguments and responses for the most common arguments that plague the culture wars. And on the surface, it might not seem like he’s saying anything too unreasonable.
But, he’s dangerous.
Jordan Peterson is the verbal form of a slippery slope. What makes his cult status and pervasive Internet presence so terrifying is how effectively he appeals to whatever values and politics people take to him. If you’re politically apathetic, you can find serious enjoyment in his ‘common sense’ critique of political correctness. But, if you happen to think that giving women the right to vote was a bad idea, he’s probably got some content for you. He appeals to One Nation voters and centrists alike, from that mate of yours with mildly problematic views on women to that racist uncle who really shouldn’t be invited to family gatherings anymore.
A viral interview with Channel 4’s Cathy Newman sent him to the heights of Internet fame, and gives the clearest articulation of both his views and what makes them so popular. While an admittedly poor interview on Newman’s part, the response saw an incredible outpouring of rage and racked up over 10 million views on Youtube. The interview with Newman recreates every bit of frustration, real or imagined, felt by someone who has been shouted down for expressing the ‘wrong’ view. He taps into the frustrations of people who have had these conversations and felt they lacked the voice, the calm demeanour and the language to respond. If you take that as your starting point, it’s not difficult to see where your Average Joe can jump on board. The issue here is that Average Joe’s mate xXFuckFeminismXx has jumped on too, and he’s about to bring you on a journey through the Internet.
Once you’ve watched the Newman interview, here’s a quick experiment for you. Refresh your YouTube homepage. If your experience is in any way like mine, you might see a video entitled ‘Watch Jordan Peterson DESTROY Leftist Host On Her Own Show’ followed by ‘The harsh reality of Alpha Male life’ in your suggested feed. You can move incredibly quickly from a conversation about freedom of speech and political correctness to a full-throated defense of men’s rights activism and an obsession with the social structure of lobsters as a model for human society. While one recommendation leads you to an innocuous enough video about reading more, another sends you down a path of ‘Don’t Be The Nice Guy’ and ‘Should GAY COUPLES Raise Children?’
There are hundreds upon hundreds of hours of Peterson online, and the path you follow him down is easy to shape according to your own views and biases. If you just really hate feminism, you can find that in Jordan Peterson. If you think white privilege doesn’t exist, you can find that in Peterson. If you’re a bit annoyed about being called out for being politically incorrect, Peterson is there to guide you and show you that you were right all along. He’s the intellectual that all factions of the right wing can get around, and has the online presence to match.
What aids Peterson even more in the eyes of his supporters is that his critics have often failed to take him seriously. He’s been called ‘the stupid man’s smart person’ and a pseudointellectual in more think pieces than it’s possible to count. If you want a few of those, take a read here and here. He’s derided as just another right wing hack, part of a long list of racists and bigots that aren’t worth taking seriously. Yet he tempers his worst comments with ones that are both uncontroversial and, in some circumstances, quite intelligent. When spruiking his self-help book 12 Rules For Life, he brings up the truly appalling suicide rates of young men. As a clinical psychologist, he has a lot to say about his experience helping people of all stripes overcome depression and anxiety. When talking about Nazi Germany, he points out how most people like to imagine that they would have been one of the heroes that helped protect Jewish people from the horrors of the Holocaust. It’s sad to point out, but Peterson discusses how it’s extremely unlikely that would be the case and leads to a broader point about the terrifying capacity for evil that ordinary humans have. That’s reasonably intelligent stuff! People hear that and think, “wow, this guy really knows his shit!”
Then he says that trans activists are similar in ideology to Mao Zedong and we’re at square one again.
What’s terrifying about Jordan Peterson is his capacity for appeal. His calm demeanour and the sheer quantity of content he puts out online makes it easy to obfuscate the more insane views he does hold. It also means that every click is a rabbit hole of videos, where you can watch him DESTROY or TEAR APART feminists and TV hosts alike. He’s dangerously palatable and that makes him the kind of person you should know about and be wary of, because he and his best selling books are coming to that problematic mate of yours real soon.
Cormac Power | @cormac_power
Cormac still hasn’t written his thesis and isn’t stressed at all it’s so fine thanks for asking.