There’s a man in Canada who wants young people to eatrnbreakfast, lift weights and clean their room. He’s not your typical celebrity,rnbut there’s no denying that he has celebrity status—with 150 million YouTubernviews, the University of Toronto professor answers psychology questions fromrnhis subscribers, has uploads of his university lectures (what he callsrn‘conversations’) and most recently released a new book that has hit Amazon’s bestsellerrnlist.
On Jan. 31, Jordan B. Peterson was in Los Angeles to give arntalk about his new book 12 Rules forrnLife: An Antidote to Chaos at the sold out Orpheum Theater. The mostly-malerncrowd he drew at the event was indicative of the already acknowledged fact thatrnit is mainly men who gravitated towards his message. (Eighty percent of his 750,000rnplus YouTube subscribers are male, though Peterson points out that YouTube inrngeneral skews to a male audience where his fame has largely grown.)
Peterson first made headlines in Canadian newspapers, andrnthen international news outlets, for refusing to agree with a federal andrnprovincial government mandate on transgender pronouns. Although he says hernwould refer to a transgender woman as “she,” he doesn’t want “to cedernlinguistic territory to post-modernists.” (He says there are only two genders,rnmale and female, and so refuses to use the newly created pronouns for the approximatelyrn70 different non-binary genders, which are recognized by the Canadian government.)rnA free speech advocate, Peterson refuses to allow the government to dictaternwhat words are acceptable.
One of the 12 rules, “Tell the truth, or at least don’trnlie,” provides an explanation of the philosophy that made Peterson speak uprnabout the transgender pronoun legislation. Decades ago Peterson felt like arnfake when his words didn’t reflect the truth. “I was using language to bend andrntwist the world into delivering what I thought was necessary.” (pg. 205) Hernbegan to practice listening to his “internal voice” to gauge whether what hernwas saying was true or just from an ambition to win an argument or gain status.
“The better ambitions have to do with the development of yourrncharacter and ability, rather than status and power,” Peterson writes. “Statusrnyou can lose. You carry character with you wherever you go, and it allows yournto prevail against adversity.”
Telling the truth has gained Peterson an unlikely following.rnHe tells young people that they need to grow up, to create real relationshipsrninstead of resorting to pornography, to work hard. And they listen. “They havernsomething to offer,” Peterson explained to Cathy Newman during a Channel 4 Newsrninterview. “People have within them the capacity to set the worldrnstraight—that’s necessary to manifest in the world. And also, doing so, isrnwhere you find the meaning that sustains you in life.”
Peterson is, in his own words, a lateral thinker, whichrnpushes the book’s page count to almost 400 pages. His second rule, “Treatrnyourself like someone you are responsible for helping,” spends several pages provingrnthat people are more likely to take care of their pet than follow life savingrnorders from their doctors. “How much shame must exist, for something like thatrnto be true?” he asks before launching into the story of the earth’s creation, thenrnto a discussion on the evolution of scientific study and then to pages on therndefinition and property of chaos and order, with an exhaustive supply ofrnexamples of each. Then he takes us back to the Garden of Eden to a detailedrnaccount of the first sin of Adam and Eve before acknowledging mankind’s fallenrnnature. Peterson draws on Carl Jung for the answer to dealing with our fallenrnnature, which he says is also found in the Bible: “embracing and loving thernsinner who is yourself, as much as forgiving and aiding someone else who isrnstumbling and imperfect.” (pg. 60)
His arguments take a winding road because he is eager to gornback to first principles and more than happy to define and explore new ideasrnthat come to light on his path to his final conclusion. His writes the book asrnan antidote to suffering. Although suffering has no limits and although therernis no avoiding pain, there is still no need to suffer “stupidly.” Somernsuffering, in other words, can be eliminated if someone is willing to makernsacrifices now for greater happiness later. He adds that if evil is real, so isrngoodness; the highest good should be everyone’s goal, wherein lies life’srnmeaning.
Peterson says he “acts as if God exists” and is hesitant torncall himself a Christian—a revelation that surprised Spectator’s Timothy Lott (and undoubtedly many more)—since Petersonrnso often references both the Old and New Testament to back up the tenants ofrnhis belief system. He appears willing to agree with the precepts of the Biblernwithout saying he believes that the biblical stories actually happened. Therndeath and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for example, may be true, he told Lott,rnbecause “the world is a very strange place. It’s far stranger than we think.”rnBut he mostly thinks of the resurrection story as a “phoenix story” thatrn“symbolizes the necessity of the psyche to undergo a sequence of deaths andrnrebirths in its attainment of the ideal.”
Old clips of Peterson’s first news interviews about therntransgender pronoun debate often show a man visibly angry. “I am not going tornbe a mouthpiece for language that I detest,” he says through clenched teeth. Butrnhis manners have definitely evolved. Most recently, Peterson won applause forrnhis handling of the Cathy Newman interview where he was repeatedly accused of beingrnanti-woman despite his track record to the contrary. He good naturedlyrnexplained his actual position while backing up his stance with clinical findings.rn“Women are just as smart as men, the data on that is very clear,” he says,rnwhile agreeing that the gender pay gap exists, but saying other factors are atrnplay besides sex discrimination.
Recently, during an interview with Rubin Report, Peterson acknowledgedrnthat his rough Alberta upbringing needed to be toned down to properly handlernthese kinds of interrogations. “You can be strong and defend yourself minimally,rnand that’s a real art, that’s the essence of sophistication,” he says of thernattitude he hopes to adopt. “And so it’s been a continual challenge to adjustrnmy sophistication to the level of challenge, and I’m trying to do that, but Irndon’t always manage it.”
A nod to rule 4: “Compare yourself to who yournwere yesterday, not to who someone else is today.”