This essay contains white supremacist symbols and quotations that are sexist, homophobic, transphobic, racist, and make light of rape. Unless hyperlinked, all references are to Peterson’s book 12 Rules.
“Kindness is the excuse that Social Justice Warriors use when they want to exercise control over what people think and say.” Jordan Peterson, (6:21)
“What shall I do with my wife? Treat her as if she is the Holy Mother of God, so that she may give birth to the world-redeeming hero.” Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life
Calling all KEK Boys
Jordan Peterson really takes his time setting up his punching bag for the audience at the University of British Columbia’s ‘Free Speech Club’: “I want to talk about intersectionality and white privilege a bit.” The audience whoops and giggles, anticipating exactly what Jordan Peterson will say. It’s the third time he has spoken at the ‘Free Speech Club’ (Nov, 2017) and he’s delivered the same talk, Identity Politics and the Marxist Lie of White Privilege, to neoconservative powerbrokers at the Sovereign Nations conference (Trump Hotel, Washington, 2018).
A professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, Peterson came to prominence in 2016 when he mounted a challenge against Bill C16, an amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act and to the Criminal Code which would protect transgender people from being discriminated against by federally regulated institutions such as banks, and make it a hate crime to advocate the genocide of transgender people. At one point, Peterson wanted to make a watchlist of all “entirely corrupt” University courses in the humanities that teach social justice frameworks, what Peterson calls “post-modern Neo-Marxist cult ideology”, with the goal of knocking down enrollment in them by 75%.1Even the conservative National Post finds Peterson’s claims to be hyperbole and factually incorrect: “Universities instead fall under provincial ...continue This gives you some sense of what the ‘free speech’ angle of his talks is all about.
In what Peterson presented as a fight for freedom of speech against the Social Justice Warriors, he claimed the Bill would criminalize people who “utter the truths that we see fit.” And even though Peterson was spectacularly wrong about the legal implications of C16 – it would not criminalize using the wrong pronoun for someone – he gained a large following from donors who find his cause compelling, pulling in $50,000 per month on Patreon. And somehow the fate of free thought in Western Civilization rests on the freedom to be an asshole to some of the most marginalized people by misgendering them; not that Peterson or his fans are bigots and transphobes, but it’s the principle of the whole thing. Getting to misgender someone is what makes Western Civilization great. In his free-thinking way, Peterson asks many timely questions that penetrate to the core of 21st Century white male fragility: What shall I do with my wife? Can men and women work together? Are the universities… about to become a girls’ game? Race has become the major issue. Why race?
Occasionally, Peterson directly calls out to his white supremacist audience. In a tweet to promote an online course that Peterson offers about ‘self-authoring’ (he also has some personality tests you can pay for), he specifically called out to “KEK boys” -“ Don’t stay in the underworld. Author your future.” KEK, a white supremacist meme, refers to a fictionalized deity and country with a flag modeled on the Nazi flag, or is used as an acronym for ‘kill every k*ke’.
I first discovered Jordan Peterson several months ago while researching the most current resurgence of racist pseudoscience about genetics and IQ. In an interview with the white supremacist and eugenicist Stefan Molyneux, Peterson laments the findings of the IQ research: “there are profound and virtually irremediable differences in people’s cognitive performance.” But, rather than play ‘identity politics’ and ignore these ‘truths’ that “no one would want to be the case”, Molyneux and Peterson go beyond talking about individual differences and get right down to the real issue: there are IQ “differences in ethnicity that don’t look trivial” and there will be “less and less room for people who can’t deal with cognitive complexity” in our society. This language calls back to The Bell Curve which claimed that on average, Black people have an IQ of 85, 15 points below the white norm of 100. In a way highly typical of his arguments, Peterson claims that those on the left who ignore the ‘realities’ of race and IQ – the Social Justice Warriors – are the ones who are doing real damage to society, and especially to the people they claim to help.2See this and this on Molyneux.
Against Racist Pseudoscience about IQ
Ibram X Kendi – Why the Academic Achievement Gap is a Racist Idea
While Peterson acts like he has a good handle on the importance of race when the topic is IQ, he says that he hasn’t figured out why Social Justice Warriors, the ‘post-modernist neo-Marxists’ with all their “resentment for differences in the world”, are so focused on race: “it’s the one part of this talk that I haven’t been able to crack”. “Race has become the major issue. Why race”? (SN: 47:00-51:50)
I guess it’s one of those things we’ll just never know. Maybe one of those disciplines that Peterson wants to eradicate from the University has a good answer? (If you don’t know the history and context, I recommend reading Ijeoma Oluo So You Want to Talk About Race? which makes it clear that whiteness is always the subtext when people aren’t talking about race, and Irz Katznelson When Affirmative Action Was White and Richard Rothstein Color of Law.)
Peterson “despises” the term ‘structural racism’ and in an argument against the idea that ‘white privilege’ exists, he asks, “Why isn’t it majority privilege?” (58:15). “The majority is most comfortable in a society produced by the majority.” Fill in the blanks, replace ‘majority’ with ‘white’, and you’ve cracked the code. Richard Spencer sure had no trouble figuring it out. In this context, it’s worth considering Peterson’s own maxim: ”I believe it was Jung who developed the most surgically wicked of psychoanalytic dicta: if you cannot understand why someone did something, look at the consequences—and infer the motivation.” (Rule 11)
As “the fundamental assumptions of Western civilisation” have come under assault from a cabal of postmodern Neo-Marxists and intersectional feminists, Peterson looks to Jungian archetypes, Biblical scripture, and the science of serotonin in lobsters to re-anchor Being. No joke, he capitalizes the word ‘Being’ in the same fashion as Martin Heidegger, a philosopher often taught in those same post-modern classes that Peterson wants to ban. Not incidentally, Heidegger was a Nazi who had a lot of things to say about re-grounding culture culture, soil, and the Volk. In his delusional conspiracy theory, Peterson draws on the extreme right-wing criticisms of ‘cultural Marxism’, which the Nazi party also used. After all, Western civilization values Truth and didn’t get to be the best by accident according to Peterson: “and it’s not because we went around the world stealing everything we could get our hands on.” That’s to say, the Neo-Marxists need to stop attacking all of the amazing things that white white men built! To no one’s utter surprise, Peterson’s message has even attracted white supremacists to seek him out in person for photo ops:
In an interview on the CBC, Wendy Mesley asks Peterson about the photo with the Pepe the frog flag. Peterson downplays the racist significance of Pepe, saying, “The left sees all sorts of things as hate symbols.” In the photo, Peterson is flanked by Alex Van Hamme, who first made the picture out to be a joke to ‘trigger’ people, and then after Peterson was questioned on the CBC, Van Hamme made a video both praising and apologizing to Peterson. In the second video, Van Hamme looks like he’s shitting bricks as he reads from a script. Van Hamme claims that he is not a ‘white nationalist’, but merely a ‘white advocate’ (1:55). Devon Huxtable, the white nationalist to Peterson’s right wearing a MAGA hat making the ‘ok’ / ‘white power’ hand gesture, was caught posting “It’s okay to be white” signs around the University of Toronto campus, again as a ‘joke’ to ‘trigger’ people.
The Torontoist explains that white nationalists adopt the strategy of ‘hiding your powerlevel’. According to their source, this means “keep[ing] the long-term goals covert . . . Talking openly about a white ethnostate only leads to failure and the average public turning against you, so disavow anyone who reveals his power level. Leftists will recognize dog whistles and know we’re crypto, but normies won’t listen to them.”
In the CBC interview, Mesley presses Peterson about why he would have posed for the photo:
“You’re supposed to be anti-chaos and anti-provocation. I’m just wondering why you would choose to be in this photo.”
“Well, I’ve probably had my photo taken with five or six thousand people in the last year…”
After Mesley points out that Richard Spencer wears a Pepe pin, Peterson waffles and puts the photo down to “happenstance”. Peterson confesses that his biggest fear about his career is that he will say “something inappropriate”, which if you think about it, is an odd thing for a grown man to say. At this point Mesley asks if the photo was a mistake. “Hard to say” Person replies. “No, I don’t think I made a mistake.”
As for the tweet to the “KEK boys”, Peterson explains: “I want them to plan their futures as responsible individuals… [to] call them forth as individuals out of the chaos they are ensconced in.”
What would draw the KEK boys out of their basements to Peterson’s online course? Is the real problem with KEK boys that they lack the skills to plan their futures and clean their rooms? They seem to plan rallies just fine and are perfectly capable of authoring volumes of ‘shit posting’ on reddit, 4chan, Twitter, and Youtube. What Peterson offers them is a narrative that allows white nationalist men to be victims of Neo-Marxists and a chance to hit back at feminism with a revived misogynistic identity politics of its own. One of the deepest ironies of the white supremacist ‘alt-right’ movement is that actually helping white men has never been the aim. According to Aja Romano,
“While many of the movement’s male-centered online communities may seem to offer something of value to the men who join them, the alt-right movement has never been about helping men cope with low self-esteem, relationship problems, or their personal pain and insecurity. In fact, it’s never particularly concerned itself with building up men as individuals at all. Instead, it’s about maintaining a sense of power at all costs over an ever-expanding list of designated targets.”
What’s white privilege and how do we know it’s real?
Brando Simeo Starkey – Why do so many white people deny the existence of white privilege?
Michael Harriot – Yes, You Can Measure White Privilege
Lori Lakin Hutcherson – My white friend asked me to explain white privilege, so I decided to be honest.
“Here’s a rule: how about no makeup in the workplace.”
Misogyny and white supremacy act in tandem as gateways to the ‘alt-right’, one main theme of which is: political correctness and identity politics has taken away our right to have a free and rational discussion. “The voices shouting against oppression have become louder, it seems, in precise proportion to how equal—even now increasingly skewed against men—the schools have become. There are whole disciplines in universities forthrightly hostile towards men.” (Rule 11) No, there aren’t. There are disciplines that challenge toxic masculinity but the idea that gender studies is hostile to men simply isn’t true. In reality, many programs are hostile to women and have been for a very long time.
In an interview with Jay Caspian Kang from VICE, Peterson goes on an unsettling rant about women in the workplace. It starts when Peterson fires a question at Kang: “Can men and women work together in the work place?”
Well, obviously, yes, Kang says, since he works with lots of women. But Peterson sees something else, a ‘deteriorating’ relationship between men and women, and since “men don’t know what the rules [about sexual harassment] are”, Peterson is skeptical that sexual harassment in the workplace will stop. Peterson’s response embodies the norms of toxic masculinity: if women are harassed at work, it can’t be the fault of men, who are entitled to act the way they see fit.
Peterson explicitly lays the blame for sexual harassment on women: “Here’s a rule: how about no makeup in the workplace.” “Isn’t that [makeup and high heels] sexually provocative?” Women who wear makeup at work and complain about harassment are ‘hypocritical’ according to Peterson, and elsewhere he has stated that “The idea that women were oppressed throughout history is an appalling theory.”
Mike Wood, ‘an expert on the psychology behind conspiracy theories’, argues that misogynists who see a larger conspiracy at work – much like how Peterson believes that intersectional feminists are the next Stalin – share two psychological features: “They feel the world is divided into absolute good and absolute evil”, and rather than seeing individuals, the sees swarms, as if groups are “single organism that moves with singular purpose. I think that’s probably likely to be true for groups like the Red Pill [on Reddit], that look at women and see just a flock of harpies.” Peterson often sounds like a parody this kind of text-book misogynist, infantilizing women & calling them names. In response to questions about his VICE interview, Peterson says that we can’t have a conversation about rules for men and women in the workplace because “we live in the delusion of a 13 year old adolescent girl” , “you can’t even open the damned discussion without being jumped on by a ray of rabid harpies.”
In fact, it’s Peterson who isn’t mature enough to have the conversation about sexual harassment in the workplace. When he tries to describe how high heels affect pelvic tilt, he can’t even bring himself to say it without him and the audience bursting into laughter. That might be why women don’t want to have the conversation about sexual harassment at work with him. He also reveals that he refuses to follow the university guidelines to not have closed door discussions with students and that he has been accused three times of sexually inappropriate behavior. “The last one tangled me up for a year.”
In his treatment of gender, Peterson revives the German doctrine of Kinder, Küche, Kirche – Children, Kitchen, Church – which confines women to the domestic sphere and imposes a cultural duty on women to reproduce for the betterment of society. The doctrine reaches back into the 19th century, but the Nazis drew upon it as a “simplified and exaggerated mythology about German life.”
Peterson’s overarching program constructs such a simplified mythology through a mix of Christianity, Evolutionary Psychology, and Jungian archetypes: “What shall I do with my wife? Treat her as if she is the Holy Mother of God, so that she may give birth to the world-redeeming hero.” (Coda) But since the birth control pill gave women a measure of reproductive freedom, “We do not yet know how to balance the opportunities thus provided for expanded female individuality with the eternal necessity for a woman to serve as the Mother of the Divine Individual.” Now, the Divine Individual is obviously a man, “because the feminine is not individual: The divine feminine is, instead, mother and child.” But, of course, it’s men that now face an “existential crisis.” (38:30) Got it?
An audience member at the RSA interview asked Peterson if he is reviving “Kinder, Küche, Kirche” (38:30), and while he at first didn’t understand the term, he replies that “it’s kind of obvious what women should do”: career and family. Yet, in these times of Chaos, “We don’t have a good mythological pattern for modern femininity.” Given the lack of mythological pattern (which I don’t remember any feminists asking for), Peterson places much more emphasis on family than career. Women have an essential place at home caring for babies (hopefully producing some boys that can be individuals and ‘world-redeeming heroes’).
In Peterson’s Jungian worldview, all of Being is split into a gendered binary of archetypes: Logos and Eros (Jung) become Order and Chaos (Peterson). Jung (1927)writes: “Woman’s psychology is founded on the principle of Eros, the great binder and loosener, whereas from ancient times the ruling principle ascribed to man is Logos.” Peterson:
“Order, the known, appears symbolically associated with masculinity … This is perhaps because the primary hierarchical structure of human society is masculine, as it is among most animals… It is because men are and throughout history have been the builders of towns and cities, the engineers, stonemasons, bricklayers, and lumberjacks, the operators of heavy machinery. Order is God the Father, the eternal Judge, ledger-keeper and dispenser of rewards and punishments. Order is the peacetime army of policemen and soldiers. …
Chaos—the unknown—is symbolically associated with the feminine. This is partly because all the things we have come to know were born, originally, of the unknown, just as all beings we encounter were born of mothers. …
Chaos, the eternal feminine, is also the crushing force of sexual selection. … Most men do not meet female human standards. … It is Woman as Nature who looks at half of all men and says, “No!” For the men, that’s a direct encounter with chaos, and it occurs with devastating force every time they are turned down for a date.” (Rule 2)
If women create Chaos by their nature, then just imagine those Divine Mothers who wear makeup at work (Eros) and worse, subvert their natural function by taking the birth control pill, which is “possibly” responsible for “a lot of the antipathy that exists right now between women and men.” Like much of Peterson, the argument about birth control is unoriginal, dating back at least to Carl Jung writing about ‘Women in Europe’ (1927): “contraception is a fact of enormous importance to women in general, because it does away with the constant fear of pregnancy and the care of an ever-increasing number of children. This deliverance from bondage to nature brings a release of psychic energies that inevitably seek an outlet. Whenever a sum of energy finds no congenial goal it causes a disturbance of the psychic equilibrium. Lacking a conscious goal, it reinforces the unconscious and gives rise to uncertainty and doubt.”
Psychic energies! Uncertainty and doubt! Equilibrium disturbed! Chaos!
While Peterson pretends to dismantle feminist and critical race theory based on the science of dominance hierarchies in lobsters, at root, there’s nothing scientific about Peterson’s claims. It’s Jung.
Despite his own shaky intellectual foundations, Peterson criticises Peggy McIntosh’s methodology, for offering a ‘personal account’ of white privilege, but Peterson begins his book with a fantastical dream that reveals truth:
“My dream placed me at the centre of Being itself, and there was no escape. It took me months to understand what this meant. During this time, I came to a more complete, personal realization of what the great stories of the past continually insist upon: the centre is occupied by the individual. The centre is marked by the cross, as X marks the spot. Existence at that cross is suffering and transformation—and that fact, above all, needs to be voluntarily accepted.”
Peterson filters his interpretation of the word through a mythology built on a static binary derived from a Jungian mythology, and so for Peterson to then criticize people for talking about patriarchy in terms of Western Capitalism, instead of the science of dominance hierarchies in lobsters, is conflicted and dishonest. David Tacey argues that Jung’s archetypes were a way of trying to “put in stone” the ideas about gender that feminists “were attempting to unravel and make fluid.” “It suits men best to keep their women ‘feminine’, and what better way to keep them in order than to argue that it is for their own psychological health that they should strive toward conventional femininity.”
Perhaps the worst disruption of Logos and Order is created by the men who don’t – or, in Peterson’s mind, can’t – compete with each other in the dominance hierarchies as a way of attracting a woman to mate with. This idea blew Joe Rogan‘s mind: Men who are unable to compete, those “sneaky”, “pathological guys bolstering up the feminists”, instead “compete as allies”. Peterson repeatedly blurs cultural criticism with what sounds like the professional clinical judgment of a psychologist: the feminine & feminist mental pathology of individuals shakes the Order of Western Civilization.
Like much of Evolutionary Psychology more broadly, Peterson aims to exclude the whole of social sciences from analyzing and critiquing the world, both methodologically and substantively. If Evolutionary Psychology says that women wear makeup to look sexually flushed and that lobsters and not patriarchy explain our societal hierarchies, then what’s the use of the social sciences? More importantly, who are women (and feminist men) to break the biological rules of the game, violating Order and Logos with their Chaos and Eros?3See Robert C. Richardson, Evolutionary Psychology as Maladapted Psychology. “Evolutionary psychology does have as a core part of its agenda the ...continue
But Peterson hasn’t displaced sociological analysis with something more rigorously scientific; he’s adopted Jung’s analysis of the “relatively stable, conventional, even stilted Swiss-German society of his day”, but we have no reason to cling to Jung’s inference that “therefore, this is how men and women are, have always been, and must always be.” For Peterson, however, the archetypes play a sociopolitical role, a backdrop against which he can chart what he sees as a decline of Western Civilization.4Quotes are from Tacey White supremacists feed on this kind of narrative about the decline of Western Civilization. Unsurprisingly, the enemy within – the feminine threat to reproductive values in the service of Western life, those SJWs who tell lies about white privilege and structural racism – turns out to be the most vulnerable among us. Tabatha Southey ends her essay about Peterson in McLeans with a very sobering thought:
“What he’s telling you is that certain people—most of them women and minorities—are trying to destroy not only our freedom to spite nonbinary university students for kicks, but all of Western civilization and the idea of objective truth itself. He’s telling you that when someone tells you racism is still a problem and that something should be done about it, they are, at best, a dupe and, at worst, part of a Marxist conspiracy to destroy your way of life.
Peterson says he only thinks of it as a “non-violent war.” But when you insist the stakes are that high, the opposition that pernicious, who’s to say where the chips will fall?”
The only part of Kinder, Küche, Kirche missing from Peterson so far is the strong nationalism and construction of a common enemy, infiltrators bent on the destruction of truth.
What is patriarchy and why is it bad for everybody?
bell hooks – Understanding Patriarchy
Philippe Leonard Fradet – 7 Reasons Why Patriarchy Is Bad (and Feminism is Good) for Men
Jordan Stephens – Toxic masculinity is everywhere. It’s up to us men to fix this
The Cold War rages on: Peterson’s talk at Sovereign Nations
In November 2017, Peterson spoke at the first Sovereign Nations conference, held at the Trump hotel in Washington, and organized by cruise director for the conservative Christians, Michael O’Fallon, who has previously hosted a “Tea Party as Seas” cruise. I wish I was making this up. Typical of much neoconservative thought, the theme of the conference, ‘Understanding the Causes of Things’, is ironically Marxist in spirit given their hysteria about Marxism.5See Andrew Hartman, p. 40. Writing about the neoconservatives, he says “long after they had eschewed political Marxism, they maintained the ...continue In O’Fallon’s mind, Western Civilization is being attacked by George Soros, communists, identity politics, feminists, and Islam. According to the Sovereign Nations website, Nigel Farage, on the other hand, is a beacon of nationalism and freedom.
The aim of Sovereign Nations is to get people to ‘reclaim’ America: “Do you value the rich heritage of our nation? Do you value the men’s lives whose blood was left on battlefields to ensure our national future?” In his summary of Peterson’s talk, Identity Politics and the Marxist Lie of White Privilege, O’Fallon writes:
“The accusation of “white privilege” is a fertile fallacy wrapped in the self-righteous robes of “social justice” as it reduces cultural and social issues down to immutable characteristics as opposed to individual decisions and responsibilities… Dr. Peterson’s thesis centered around that historical revelation that communism was not popularized in the West under the obvious and direct banner of communism. Instead, it came largely under the banner of postmodernism, and aimed to transform the values and beliefs of our societies through its Marxist idea that knowledge and truth are social constructs. …Even more concerning is that the fallacy of “white privilege” has found its way in through Reformed Christian circles and into the two largest Protestant denominations in the United States: The Southern Baptist Convention and The Presbyterian Church in America. … Those present at the lecture were charged with the responsibility to learn about the root cause of the current uses of intersectionality to divide our nation and destroy Western civilization.”
Both O’Fallon and Peterson identify ‘postmodern Neo-Marxism’ – everyone from “those French monsters” Jacque Derrida and Michel Foucault who “define hierarchy as power” to Kimberlé Crenshaw – as the post-Cold War enemy of Western Civilization. Peterson believes that their ‘theories of human nature’ mean that “I can make you into anything I want. That’s a big problem.” (35:00) Peterson casts about for any critiques of communism he can find, and while he fondly quotes George Orwell’s critiques of middle-class socialists from The Road to Wigan Pier, he ignores Orwell’s larger political project: “Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it. It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such subjects. Everyone writes of them in one guise or another.”
Far from being an original analysis, Peterson offers a variant on a conspiracy theory with roots in Nazi Germany about ‘Cultural Marxism’ posing a threat to freedom and nationalism. In a review of Peterson’s book, Shuja Haider writes, “This strange conspiracy theory has increasingly gained traction among the far right, famously appearing in 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, the manifesto Anders Brevik distributed before he murdered 77 people in Norway.”
Peterson finds his anti-communist hero in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, author of Gulag Archipelago, a book that chronicles Stalin’s crimes, the “horrors of the twentieth century, the tens of millions who were stripped of employment, family, identity and life.” Peterson then invokes communist crimes from Stalin to Pol Pot to argue that Marxism is about hatred and the “corpses are the evidence”. In Peterson’s mind, ‘identity politics’ forges a common link between Mao and transgender activists, Stalin and intersectional feminists, fueling resentment, lies and deceit:
“Communism, in particular, was attractive not so much to oppressed workers, its hypothetical beneficiaries, but to intellectuals—to those whose arrogant pride in intellect assured them they were always right. … It was deceit that killed hundreds of millions of people in the twentieth century. It was deceit that almost doomed civilization itself. It is deceit that still threatens us, most profoundly, today.”
There’s absolutely nothing original about Peterson’s argument; it’s Red Scare rebooted for the 21st century. Historian Andrew Hartman calls the comparison between social activists and the authoritarian communist dictatorships “absurd to the greatest degree” (19:00). Fighting for universal healthcare won’t lead us to the gulag. Jedediah Purdy argues that “the relevance of Marxism is the recognition that some of what divides people politically is not bad faith or petty grievance, but a profoundly structured, pervasive difference in their social roles, life prospects, and control over their own activity and their societies.” While this intersectional analysis is nuanced and multi-factored, qualities Peterson sometimes claims to value, Peterson instead offers a reductive analysis of inequality that suggests all attempts to improve the world in fact meddle with the natural hierarchy based on IQ.
The horrors of 21st Century communism under Mao, Stalin, and the Khmer Rouge were horrors of authoritarian regimes that murdered their way into power. And so, Nathan J. Robinson argues that “It’s incredibly easy to be both in favor of socialism and against the crimes committed by 20th century communist regimes. All it takes is a consistent, principled opposition to authoritarianism.” The communist regimes are examples of successful dictatorships, not failed socialism. Comparing transgender activists who fight on behalf of the oppressed to Mao or Stalin makes no sense, either historically or ideologically. Activists for social justice rise up against state violence, oppose torture, and seek to expand who gets counted when we say ‘we’, to humanize people who have long been dehumanized.6Robinson goes on to say: “When anyone points me to the Soviet Union or Castro’s Cuba and says “Well, there’s your socialism,” my answer ...continue
Trafficking in well-worn right-wing conspiracy theories fits Peterson’s larger narrative in which people who speak the language of social justice pose the greatest risk to freedom and Western Civilization. This narrative requires ignoring the crimes the U.S. committed in the name of free markets and anti-communism during the Cold War. Greg Grandin writes that the actions of the U.S. in Latin America “contributed to the torture and murder of hundreds of thousands of individuals”, “but the enormity of Stalin’s crimes ensures that such sordid histories, no matter how compelling, thorough, or damning, do not disturb the foundation of a worldview committed to the exemplary role of the United States in defending what we now know as democracy.” The U.S. “fortified illiberal forces, militarized societies, and broke the link between freedom and equality.” If you’re looking for examples of a viable socialist alternative, it’s worth remembering that the U.S. actively destroyed and undermined anything that might have been a good example of socialism.
Much like his dichotomous thinking about gender, Peterson’s good-guy / bad guy, the West vs. the rest, sociopolitical narrative lacks the subtlety to grapple with our complex world. Yes, the West does hold forth freedom as a core ideal, but while some have enjoyed that freedom, many were – and still are – denied freedom. Contrary to what Peterson denies, the West did get rich by going “around the world stealing everything we could get our hands on”. The British Empire profited from destroying industry in India; slavery and the extermination of the indigenous population was an integral part of capitalism in North America. The story of the West has been one of accumulation by dispossession.7See David Harvey
Peterson isn’t so naive as to deny the “reality of suffering”, he even says it forms the “cornerstone” of his philosophy, but he claims that there is no structural oppression – white supremacy or patriarchy – only the suffering of Being, the suffering of the individual, the suffering we all share as humans. Any time people attempt to shift the conversation from talking about individual suffering, Peterson accuses them of dodging responsibility and playing the ‘identity politics’ of oppressor / oppressed that creates resentment and victimhood.
But we can’t simply chalk all suffering in Western Civilization up to the order of Being and the thrownenss that comes with being human. Dismissing critics for playing the ‘identity politics’ of oppressor / oppressed shores up power for white supremacy and patriarchy which exacerbate the suffering that comes with life more generally. As Sincere Kirabo argues, “What’s ironic is politics are unavoidably connected to identity for everyone.”
When discussing common identity — separate from individual identity — we’re describing what’s imposed on us by an established history of social standards, stratification, controlling images, and stereotypes.
Basically, “identity politics” is used as an expression to identify political deviance — to describe political actions defying imbalanced political structures we’ve been conditioned to accept.
Peterson is obsessed with rooting out ‘deviance’ – remember the university programs he would like to eliminate? – and is driven by anger at the idea that “we teach our young people that our incredible culture is the result of male oppression.” Complementing his attack on the idea of white privilege, Peterson attacks the idea that an oppressive patriarchy ever existed, instead calling it an “imperfect collective attempt by men and women, stretching over millennia, to free each other from privation, disease and drudgery.” Imperfect? That “collective attempt” systematically excluded women from positions of power, and devalued feminine qualities, emotions, and labor. That logic of the patriarchy continues, and it’s always negatively impacted men also, which Peterson appreciates, though he fails to identify patriarchy by name as the cause of male suffering.
“Boys are suffering, in the modern world. ….Girls can win by winning in their own hierarchy—by being good at what girls value, as girls. They can add to this victory by winning in the boys’ hierarchy. Boys, however, can only win by winning in the male hierarchy. They will lose status, among girls and boys, by being good at what girls value. It costs them in reputation among the boys, and in attractiveness among the girls. Girls aren’t attracted to boys who are their friends, even though they might like them, whatever that means. They are attracted to boys who win status contests with other boys. If you’re male, however, you just can’t hammer a female as hard as you would a male. Boys can’t (won’t) play truly competitive games with girls. It isn’t clear how they can win. As the game turns into a girls’ game, therefore, the boys leave. Are the universities—particularly the humanities—about to become a girls’ game? Is this what we want?”
Peterson is unable to grasp what critics of patriarchy actually say. The feminist and critical race theorist bell hooks argues that patriarchy is at the “root of the psychological ills troubling men in our nation” and laments that “there is no mass concern for the plight of men.”8“Until we can collectively acknowledge the damage patriarchy causes and the suffering it creates, we cannot address male pain. We cannot demand for ...continue When people talk about smashing the patriarchy, they mean making life about something other than the competition between men for mates. They mean giving men more options for acceptable social behavior besides proving their dominance over each other – and over women. We could end the suffering for many boys by letting them do ‘girl’ things. But for Peterson, the solution to male suffering lies in embracing dominance hierarchies because, well, that’s what lobsters do. “Standing up physically also implies and invokes and demands standing up metaphysically. Standing up means voluntarily accepting the burden of Being. … You step forward to take your place in the dominance hierarchy…”9Leonor Gonçalves, research associate in neuroscience, physiology and pharmacology at University College London, thoroughly debunks Peterson’s ...continue
However, playing this dominance hierarchy game in fact “exploits the majority of those it beckons to climb its heights”, according to Don Sabo. “Patriarchy’s mythos of heroism and its morality of power-worship implant visions of ecstasy and masculine excellence in the minds of the boys who ultimately will defend its inequities and ridicule its victims”10Sabo is quotes in The Agony of Masculinity by Pierre Orelus. See also Allan Johnson who argues that patriarchy’s oppression of women is mediated by ...continue
To leave patriarchy unchallenged normalizes the status competitions among men as the default and only way of operating, which appears to be Peterson’s aim: “The evidence that hierarchies in the Western world at least are predicated on competence [and not oppression] is the fact that the damn lights are on and there isn’t rioting in the streets.” (40:00) But there’s no reason to think that we need a patriarchal order to keep the lights on unless the argument is that co-operation doesn’t matter and women are incompetent. In fact, hierarchies work against cooperating.
Even if Peterson were to concede that there are real victims of oppression and structural injustice, he sees no point in trying to make the world more fair:
“The introduction of the “equal pay for equal work” argument immediately complicates even salary comparison beyond practicality, for one simple reason: who decides what work is equal? It’s not possible. That’s why the marketplace exists. …
Worse is the problem of group comparison: women should make as much as men. OK. Black women should make as much as white women. OK. Should salary then be adjusted for all parameters of race? At what level of resolution? What racial categories are “real”? …
Disabled people should make as much as non-disabled people. OK. On the surface, that’s a noble, compassionate, fair claim. But who is disabled? .. What about someone with a lower IQ? Someone less attractive? Someone overweight? Some people clearly move through life markedly overburdened with problems that are beyond their control, but it is a rare person indeed who isn’t suffering from at least one serious catastrophe at any given time.”
There is only the suffering that comes with Being, which we all need to face with responsibility, but there’s no oppression, only catastrophes and acts of God.
“Here’s the fundamental problem: group identity can be fractionated right down to the level of the individual. That sentence should be written in capital letters. Every person is unique—and not just in a trivial manner: importantly, significantly, meaningfully unique. Group membership cannot capture that variability.”
Peterson seems like he’s about to go full snowflake on us, except that he offers hierarchy as “the cure for much human suffering” since it’s the “only way animals can share a domain or territory without constantly destroying each other.”11See his Sovereign Nations talk
“It’s winner-take-all in the lobster world, just as it is in human societies, where the top 1 percent have as much loot as the bottom 50 percent—and where the richest eighty-five people have as much as the bottom three and a half billion.”
“One thing we can’t do is say that: hierarchical organization is a consequence of the capitalist patriarchy. It’s like. That’s patently absurd. It’s wrong.” (28:00).
Again, Peterson misunderstands the criticisms of capitalist patriarchy. Jeff Bezos did not amass his fortune in one-on-one contests in a lobster-like dominance hierarchy. And Lobsters haven’t gotten rich off of slave labor or from financializing the economy. When social justice activists challenge inequalities, it’s not for nothing that those with power see them as dangerous Social Justice Warriors, but it’s not because they will unleash the next gulag. Overwhelmingly, protests for social justice are non-violent.
The most dangerous kind of SJW is supposed to be the intersectional feminist. When Peterson explains his understanding of intersectionality, he starts to list characteristics that might define a group of people. After starting with ‘Black’ and ‘woman’, he adds: ‘lesbian’, ‘ugly’, ‘stupid’. His juvenile racist and homophobic attack on intersectional feminists predictably wins him laughs from his audience.
As Kimberlé Crenshaw explains, “Intersectionality is not primarily about identity. It’s about how structures make certain identities the consequence of and the vehicle for vulnerability.” In reality, intersectionality is about humility and nuance, which Peterson claims to value. Crenshaw encourages us to ask questions about what – and who – we are missing in our analysis. What questions do we need to ask that we are not asking? How do our systems work and who do they not work for?12Tressie McMillan Cottom: “Intersectionality’s raison d’être is to reveal the systems that organize our society. Intersectionality’s ...continue In Crenshaw’s seminal paper, Mapping the Margins (1991), she examines how the most vulnerable among us – immigrant women who experience domestic violence – face unique systemic barriers, such as risking deportation, for reporting abuse.
Often, the problems we should be talking about are invisible except through an intersectional lens. For example, women of color are often erased as victims of sexual violence. After the brutal rape of the Central Park jogger (1989), Trump took out a full-page ad in the New York Times calling to “Bring Back the Death Penalty, Bring Back our Police”. Yet, in the same week, Crenshaw points out that “twenty-eight other cases of first-degree rate or attempted rape were reported in New York. Many of these were as horrific as the rape in Central Park, yet all were virtually ignored by the media. Some were gang rapes, and in a case that prosecutors described as “one of the most brutal in recent years,” a woman was raped, sodomized and thrown down fifty feet off the stop of a four-story building in Brooklyn. … This rape survivor, like most of the other forgotten victims that week, was a woman of color.”
Contrary to Peterson’s claim that it would be impossible to account for all the different parts of identity without winding up at ‘the individual’, Western Capitalism runs on making such divisions: free peoples vs enslaved peoples, men who can vote vs women who can’t, paid workplace labour vs unpaid domestic work, Capital vs workers, and citizens vs. non-citizens. An intersectional analysis does not sew new divisions where there were none before, but aims to provide justice for people harmed by the very structures that have benefitted others.
What is intersectionality? (and why we should all embrace it)
Kimberlé Crenshaw – The Urgency of Intersectionality
Black Feminisms – What is Intersectionality?
Tressie McMillan Cottom – The Intersectional Presidency
Into the Clinic
Peterson is a clinical psychologist, and his call to the KEK boys is grounded in self-help language: become something, take charge of your life. However, the central therapeutic anecdote in 12 Rules does not involve Peterson helping KEK boys who need to grow up, but a patient, Miss S, who tells Peterson: “I think I was raped five times.” He describes her in the most condescending of terms: “She was a ghost of a person”, “vague to the point of non-existence” and had “finagled her way” into a government position with no knowledge or expertise, a life-long welfare recipient. “She knew nothing about herself. … She knew nothing about the world.”
Ironically, this anecdote forms the opening of a chapter about Rule 9: “assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.” So why does Peterson deny Miss S any knowledge? In Peterson’s interview with Cathy Newman, he tells her that people want incompetent partners so they can dominate them. Perhaps Peterson wants incompetent patients for the same reason? Denying other people the capacity for competence has always been a way of dehumanizing them.
Peterson goes on to recount his thoughts as he hears Miss S’ story: “You’re a denizen of chaos and the underworld” and “you’re unfulfilled sexually. You’re afraid of men and ignorant of the world and know nothing of yourself. … Part of you wants to be taken.” We’re then supposed to think that Peterson is some kind of hero for neither affirming nor denying her claim that she was raped. To do so would have been to give ‘advice’ rather than ‘listen’; Peterson proudly proclaims that at least “she didn’t leave as the living embodiment of my damned ideology.”
If someone says “I think I was raped five times”, and you refuse to provide any kind of confirmation, then that makes a statement, too. As a therapist, Peterson should know that silence is a kind of communication. In fact, he tells Joe Rogan “most people don’t understand the risks of silence.”
Perhaps when he sees Miss S as ‘denizen of the underworld’, he expresses his fear of ‘Chaos’, of the feminine, of not being able to order (to command, and put in order) his world? Withholding ‘advice’ – taking a clear stand on rape – protects himself from judgment, allowing him to conceal his ideology, and more importantly, sparing himself from being found inadequate by a woman whom he looks down upon. Perhaps Peterson still hangs onto his experiences with Miss S because she left his therapy practice finding Peterson to be boring, someone incompetent who finagled his way into the profession. Perhaps Peterson is afraid of women, but more deeply, afraid that he’s not worth their time.
Rule 11: Don’t bother kids when they are skateboarding
Activists don’t like kids who skateboard. In fact, activists are much more like the kids who committed mass murder at Columbine because in both cases, they have “appointed themselves judges of the human race”, says Jordan Peterson with his best non-judgmental expression.
“And why does it so often seem to be the very people standing so visibly against prejudice who so often appear to feel obligated to denounce humanity itself?
I have seen university students, particularly those in the humanities, suffer genuine declines in their mental health from being philosophically berated by such defenders of the planet for their existence as members of the human species. It’s worse, I think, for young men. As privileged beneficiaries of the patriarchy, their accomplishments are considered unearned. As possible adherents of rape culture, they’re sexually suspect. Their ambitions make them plunderers of the planet. They’re not welcome.”
Peterson’s 11th rule about not bothering kids when they are skateboarding stands in for not bothering boys who are just being boys. And I’d be shocked as shit if he weren’t the first person on the block to do something about the skateboarders. In contrast to the let boys be boys attitude, since Peterson sees activism as something of a girls’ game, no one should be allowed to play it until the house is in order. “Don’t reorganize the state until you have ordered your own experience. Have some humility. If you cannot bring peace to your household, how dare you try to rule a city?” Instead of talking about systemic injustice, we should turn inward to look for causes of failure: “Start small. Have you taken full advantage of the opportunities offered to you? Are you working hard on your career, or even your job, or are you letting bitterness and resentment hold you back and drag you down?” And we certainly shouldn’t forget how most people who are suffering have simply refused to take responsibility for their lives: “Before you help someone, you should find out why that person is in trouble. You shouldn’t merely assume that he or she is a noble victim of unjust circumstances and exploitation. … It is far more likely that a given individual has just decided to reject the path upward, because of its difficulty.”
Jordan Peterson and his followers are definitely people in trouble. And they have spun a dangerous narrative where folks who work for social justice are really just duplicitous in their kindness. Like all rigid conspiracy theories, there’s no way to falsify it once you give yourself over to the premises. You can’t touch bottom without the ideologue who can reveal the redemptive truth. Peterson is a necessity of his own philosophy, and nothing more.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Even the conservative National Post finds Peterson’s claims to be hyperbole and factually incorrect: “Universities instead fall under provincial codes — but the Ontario Human Rights Code has included gender identity and expression for five years now, long before Peterson gained fame for his arguments.”|
|2.||↑||See this and this on Molyneux.|
|3.||↑||See Robert C. Richardson, Evolutionary Psychology as Maladapted Psychology. “Evolutionary psychology does have as a core part of its agenda the over- throw of much of contemporary social science and psychology, including the model on which these sciences supposedly depend.’|
|4.||↑||Quotes are from Tacey|
|5.||↑||See Andrew Hartman, p. 40. Writing about the neoconservatives, he says “long after they had eschewed political Marxism, they maintained the analytical Marxist tendency for diagnosing problems in relation to root causes, internal logics, and overarching structures.”|
|6.||↑||Robinson goes on to say: “When anyone points me to the Soviet Union or Castro’s Cuba and says “Well, there’s your socialism,” my answer isn’t “well, they didn’t try hard enough.” It’s that these regimes bear absolutely no relationship to the principle for which I am fighting. They weren’t egalitarian in any sense; they were dictatorships. Thus to say “Well, look what a disaster an egalitarian society is” is to mistake the nature of the Soviet Union. The history of these states shows what is wrong with authoritarian societies, in which people are not equal, and shows the fallacy of thinking you can achieve egalitarian ends through authoritarian means. This is precisely what George Orwell was trying to demonstrate, though almost everybody seems to have missed his point.” According to Halliday and Chang, “Mao was not a fanatic, searching for more enemies out of ideological fervour. His was a practical operation whose goal was to designate targets to be shaken down, and to create enemies who could be “legitimately,” according to Communist doctrine, dispossessed and worked to death- what Mao himself termed “to do limitless forced labour.”|
|7.||↑||See David Harvey|
|8.||↑||“Until we can collectively acknowledge the damage patriarchy causes and the suffering it creates, we cannot address male pain. We cannot demand for men the right to be whole, to be givers and sustainers of life. Obviously some patriarchal men are reliable and even benevolent caretakers and providers, but still they are imprisoned by a system that undermines their mental health.|
|9.||↑||Leonor Gonçalves, research associate in neuroscience, physiology and pharmacology at University College London, thoroughly debunks Peterson’s simplistic narrative: “While lower levels of serotonin are associated with decreased levels of aggression in vertebrates like the lobster, the opposite is true in humans. This happens because low levels of serotonin in the brain make communication between the amygdala and the frontal lobes weaker, making it more difficult to control emotional responses to anger. So not only does it seem unlikely that low levels of serotonin would make humans settle in at the bottom of a hierarchy, it goes to show that lobsters and humans are just not a great comparison.”|
|10.||↑||Sabo is quotes in The Agony of Masculinity by Pierre Orelus. See also Allan Johnson who argues that patriarchy’s oppression of women is mediated by “status contests” (Peterson’s words) between men: “What drives Patriarchy as a system – what fuels competition, aggression, and oppression – is a dynamic relationship between control and fear. Patriarchy encourages men to seek security, status, and other rewards through control; to fear other men’s ability to control and harm them; and to identify being in control as both their best defense against loss and humiliation and the surest route to what they need and desire.”|
|11.||↑||See his Sovereign Nations talk|
|12.||↑||Tressie McMillan Cottom: “Intersectionality’s raison d’être is to reveal the systems that organize our society. Intersectionality’s brilliance is that its fundamental contribution to how we view the world seems so common-sense once you have heard it: by focusing on the parts of the system that are most complex and where the people living it are the most vulnerable we understand the system best.”|