Friday, January 19, 2018

The curious star appeal of Jordan Peterson

Why are young Brits flocking to hear a psychology professor talk about morality?

20 January 2018

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Last Sunday night a capacity crowd of mainly young people packed into the Emmanuel Centre in London. Those who couldn’t find a seat stood at the back of the hall. When the speaker entered, the entire hall rose to its feet. It was his second lecture that day, the fourth across three days of sold-out London events. For an hour and a half the audience listened to a rambling, quirky, but fascinating tour of evolutionary biology, myth, religion, psychology, dictators and Dostoyevsky. Occasionally a line would get its own burst of applause. One of the loudest came after the speaker’s appeal for the sanctity of marriage and child-rearing.
Yet this was not a Christian revivalist meeting. At least not explicitly or intendedly so. It was a lecture by a 55-year-old, grey-haired, dark-browed Canadian academic who until 18 months ago was little known outside his professional field of psychology. Today, for at least one generation, Professor Jordan Peterson of the University of Toronto has become a mixture of philosopher, life-coach, educator and guru. He has the kind of passionate, youthful, pedagogical draw that the organised churches can only dream of. Anybody interested in our current culture wars, not to mention the ongoing place of religion, should head to YouTube, where his classes have been viewed by millions.
YouTube arguably made Peterson. That and an uncommon reluctance to genuflect before the hastily assembled dogmas of our time. In 2016 he made a stand against the Canadian government’s introduction of a law that aimed to make it a crime not to address people by their preferred gender pronouns (regardless of chromosomes). The issue of ‘gender pronouns’ may sound a strange springboard to international attention. But Peterson did something a decreasing number of people in our societies are willing to do: he stuck his head above the parapet. He politely but firmly objected to officials telling him or anyone else what words to use or to define for him what the meanings of words should be. There was an outcry. His classes were disrupted by often riotous protests. There were serious efforts to force him out of his university position. For a moment, it looked as though the social justice mounties might get their man. But for once it didn’t work. In fact it badly backfired. Not only did a lot more people discover a counter-cultural (or counter-counter-cultural) hero who was willing to say what almost everybody else thought. They also discovered someone with not only humanity and humour, but serious depth and substance.
Peterson was in London to promote his new book (his second) 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. This does what it says and then some, providing a practical life lesson in every chapter, each one explored through Peterson’s deep learning and insight. Chapters circle around rules such as ‘Stand up straight with your shoulders back’, ‘Make friends with people who want the best for you’ and ‘Be precise in your speech’.
Others are slightly more leftfield (‘Do not bother children when they are skateboarding’). But all get to truths which anyone with an eye to tradition will recognise: ‘Tell the truth — or, at least, don’t lie’; ‘Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)’. Although he roams across traditions and cultures, on subjects like this last one the foundations are clear.
And Peterson does not shy away from making them so. He sees the vacuum left not just by the withdrawal of the Christian tradition, but by the moral relativism and self-abnegation that have flooded across the West in its wake. Furthermore he recognises — from his experience as a practising psychologist and as a teacher — that people crave principles and certainties. He sees a generation being urged to waste their lives waving placards about imaginary problem, or problems far beyond their (or anyone’s control) and urges them instead to cut through the lies, recognise the tragic and uncomfortable position we are in as humans and consider afresh what we might actually achieve with our lives.
On Sunday he repeatedly referred back to biblical sources. Apologising that he had already given one structured talk that morning, he announced that he wanted to be more freewheeling. Criss-crossing the stage, holding his brow and engaging the audience like his own students, he asked why dragons appear as mythological beings in cultures across the planet and what the evolutionary reasons for that might be.
Going back to the time when we lived in trees and feared fire and snakes, he explored the psychological and mythical reasons why the snakiest of all snakes might have lodged itself in each culture as the representation of evil. And from there we went to Eden and the Gulag via the Judeo-Christian tradition’s discovery that even if we chase down every snake in the land we cannot fully destroy the one inside ourselves. Motes, beams and eyes were discussed in relation to his advice to a generation hooked on public displays of morality: ‘Set your house in perfect order before you criticise the world.’
The following night, in a talk that was live-streamed, he went back to a more structured — but still freewheeling — talk with frequent dashes of humour. He answered a young woman who complained that her friends didn’t listen when she spoke. He referred to the wisdom of the verse about ‘pearls before swine’. This was not in jest. It was a sincere recommendation that she should find friends who would value both her and her thoughts. Towards the end, this self-declared but far from didactic Christian mentioned in passing that ‘the central figure of western culture is Christ’. And in closing (after being asked which of his own rules he falls short of observing), he described how ‘until the entire world is redeemed, we all fall short’. Certainly, Peterson has found a huge audience by telling uncomfortable truths. But he also tells them what should be comfortable truths too.
Of course, on their own, such statements might be a turn-off to young people. But Peterson’s other qualities prevent that happening. The first is he is unafraid to investigate the highest realms of learning (including the latest discoveries in science and psychology) and to turn them to practical use. In doing so he recognises that people — particularly young people, and young men most of all — are badly in need of help.
From his teaching, speeches, writing and interviews, it is clear that Peterson has made one of the most unpopular but vital realisations of our time: that we are creating a generation of men who (especially if they don’t belong to any ‘minority’ group) are without hope, foundation or purpose. Everything in the culture insists that they are terrible: proto–rapists when they are not rapists; proto-racists when they are not racists; condemned for their ‘privilege’ even when they are failures and their every success dismissed as undeserved.
This is destined to produce societal resentment and disengagement on a generational scale. Female politicians, among others, scoff, and most men run scared or duck. Peterson is one of the very few to take this problem seriously and to help young people to navigate towards lives of meaning and purpose. On Sunday night, one young woman asked what advice Peterson would give to a student like her. He told her to ignore those professors who aimed to wither the souls of their students. Instead he urged her to use her student years to cultivate the greatest possible friendships. Many of these friendships would be with people who — as Peterson put it — were dead; people whose feet the deconstructionists and resentment-cultivators of modern academia were not worthy of touching.
This is another part of Peterson’s appeal. While he grounds his deep learning un-abashedly within the western tradition, he also shows vast respect towards (and frequently cites ideas from) innumerable other traditions. He has a truly cosmopolitan and omnivorous intellect, but one that recognises that things need grounding in a home if they are ever going to be meaningfully grasped.
Finally, as well as being funny, there is a burning sincerity to the man which only the most withered cynic could suspect. At several points on Sunday evening his voice wavered. At one point, overwhelmed by the response of the audience and its ecstatic reaction to him and his wife (who was in the audience) he broke into tears. It is an education in itself to see a grown man show such unaffected emotion in public. Certainly, he demonstrated to a young audience trying to order their own lives that an emotional person need not be a wreck and that a man with a heart can also have a spine.
‘What was that?’ asked an old friend I bumped into on the way out. Hundreds of young people were still queueing to get books signed. Others stood around buzzing with the thrill of what we had heard. I still don’t have an answer. But it was wonderful.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Mark Steyn Show with Jordan Peterson

What's So Dangerous About Jordan Peterson?

Not long ago, he was an obscure psychology professor. Now he leads a flock of die-hard disciples.

By Tom Bartlett
January 17, 2018

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They’re waiting in the cold for Jordan Peterson, hands shoved in jacket pockets, serious books like The Gulag Archipelago and Modern Man in Search of a Soultucked under arms. The crowd outside the University of Toronto’s Isabel Bader Theatre on a Tuesday evening in November is mostly male and mostly in their 20s. They’ve spent hours watching Peterson on YouTube, where he rails against the enervating evils of postmodernism, dissects the Bible at length, and offers fatherly advice about how to "change the world properly." They recite his dictums on personal responsibility, like "Clean your room," "Sort yourself out," and "Don’t do things that you hate." They devour the classics he deems must-reads — Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, Orwell. When asked to describe him, they reach for superlatives: brilliant, breathtaking, wise. When asked to compare him, they turn to historical figures: Plato, Diogenes, Gandhi. They insist he’s changed their lives.
Soon the man himself will arrive and deliver an often dazzling, sometimes puzzling, rarely dull two-hour lecture on the symbolic and psychological underpinnings of the book of Genesis. Afterward he will field knotty questions from the audience on whether originality is really possible, the tension between honor and happiness, and the evolutionary upside of solitude. These questions seem designed to be difficult, as if the audience were engaged in a giant game of Stump the Guru. It’s during such sessions that Peterson is at his improvisational best, sprinkling in ideas from philosophy, fiction, religion, neuroscience, and a disturbing dream his 5-year-old nephew had one time. It’s a hearty intellectual stew ladled up by an intense 55-year-old psychology professor who gives the impression that he’s on the cusp of unraveling the deep secrets of human behavior — and maybe the mystery of God, too, while he’s at it.
You’d never guess from the reverential atmosphere in the 500-seat theater just how polarizing Peterson has become over the past year. Days before, fliers were tacked up around his neighborhood warning the community about the dangerous scholar in their midst, accusing him of "campaigning against the human rights" of minorities and associating with the alt-right. There have been several calls for his ouster from the University of Toronto — where he’s tenured — including a recent open letter to the dean of the faculty of arts and science signed by hundreds, including many of his fellow professors. Friends refuse to comment on him lest they be associated with his image. Critics hesitate, too, for fear that his supporters will unleash their online wrath. A graduate student at another Canadian universitywas reprimanded for showing a short video clip of Peterson to a group of undergraduates. One of the professors taking her to task likened Peterson to Hitler.
It can be tough to parse the Peterson phenomenon. For one thing, it seems as if there are multiple Petersons, each appealing to, or in some cases alienating, separate audiences. There is the pugnacious Peterson, a clench-jawed crusader against what he sees as an authoritarian movement masquerading as social-justice activism. That Peterson appears on TV, including on Fox & Friends, President Trump’s preferred morning show, arguing that the left is primarily responsible for increased polarization. That Peterson contends that ideologically corrupt humanities and social-science programs should be starved of students and replaced by something like a Great Books curriculum.
There’s also the avuncular Peterson, the one who dispenses self-help lessons aimed at aimless young people, and to that end has written a new book of encouragement and admonition, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Random House Canada). The book isn’t political, at least not overtly, and it grew out of his hobby of answering personal questions posted by strangers on the internet. That Peterson runs a website on "self-authoring" that promises to help those with a few spare hours and $14.95 discover their true selves.
Then there’s the actual Peterson, a guy who Ping-Pongs between exuberance and exhaustion, a grandfather who is loathed and loved by a public that, until very recently, had almost entirely ignored him. Now he has more than a half-millionYouTube subscribers, nearly 300,000Twitter followers, and several thousand die-hard disciples who send him money, to the tune of $60,000 per month. Even the man with all the answers appears stunned by the outpouring, and at the sudden, surreal turn in his life. "When I wake up in the morning, it takes about half an hour for my current reality to sink in," he says. "I don’t know what to make of it."
Figuring out what to make of Jordan Peterson’s rise requires first rewinding a few decades. Peterson grew up in the tiny town of Fairview, Alberta, where the high temperature stays well below freezing in the winter months and where the closest city, Edmonton, is a five-hour drive away. It’s a place where a teenage Peterson and his buddies drank too much, built bonfires, and cruised around the endless countryside.
Peterson attended the University of Alberta, earning degrees in psychology and political science before going on to get his doctorate in clinical psychology at McGill University. A fellow graduate student, Peter Finn, now a professor of psychology at the University of Indiana at Bloomington, remembers Peterson as quick-witted and confident. "He was an enjoyable person who liked to be different and thought highly of himself," Finn says. "I thought, Who the hell is he?"
Peterson’s early research examined how alcoholism runs in families. When he wasn’t conducting studies on the genetic predisposition for addictive behavior, he was plugging away on a side project that would become his manifesto: Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. He worked on that manuscript, he says, three hours a day for 15 years, rewriting it scores of times. It was not the sort of book that a psychological researcher following the well-trod path to academic success would take on. It does not zero in on a phenomenon or stake out unclaimed ground in a subfield. Instead the book is a sweeping attempt at making sense of man’s inhumanity to man, the purpose of existence, and the significance of the divine. Peterson leaps from Wittgenstein to Northrop Frye to Grimm’s Fairy Tales, then on to Hannah Arendt, B.F. Skinner, and Dante. The book is shot through with theories of religion ("God" appears several hundred times in the text) and informed by Carl Jung’s archetypal view of the collective unconscious, an influence that’s still evident in Peterson’s work.
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Maps of Meaning offers clues to the strongly held political stances that have turned Peterson into a controversial philosopher-pundit. In college, he writes, he espoused socialism almost by default. He tried to emulate the movement’s leaders, dutifully attending meetings, absorbing their slogans and repeating their arguments. Over time, though, he found that he didn’t respect his fellow activists, who struck him as perpetually aggrieved and suspiciously underemployed. "They had no career, frequently, and no family, no completed education — nothing but ideology," he writes. He also discovered that he often didn’t believe the things he was enthusiastically spouting. "Despite my verbal facility, I was not real," he writes. "I found this painful to admit." He also became obsessed with the looming prospect of nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States. He fell into a depression, suffered "apocalyptic dreams" several nights a week, and fought against "vaguely suicidal thoughts."
Carl Jung rode to the rescue. Peterson read a passage from one of Jung’s essays about the importance of understanding "these fantastic images that rise up so strange and threatening before the mind’s eye." According to Jung, the way you understand them is by framing your personal struggles in terms of ancient stories, embracing the "power of myth," as Joseph Campbell, another Jung disciple, put it. That epiphany made the bad dreams go away, and Peterson embarked on what has become a lifelong project of grappling with the strange and threatening images in his and other people’s minds.
He continued writing Maps of Meaning after he was hired as an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard University, using the book-in-progress (at one point titled "The Gods of War") as a text for his classes. In 1995, Peterson was profiled in The Harvard Crimson, an article that reads like an award introduction. One undergraduate told the newspaper that Peterson was "teaching beyond the level of anyone else," and that even "philosophy students go to him for advice." A graduate student from back then, Shelley Carson, who now teaches at Harvard and writes about creativity, recalled that Peterson had "something akin to a cult following" in his Harvard days. "Taking a course from him was like taking psychedelic drugs without the drugs," Carson says. "I remember students crying on the last day of class because they wouldn’t get to hear him anymore."
Eventually, in 1999, Maps of Meaning was published — his magnum opus, the central preoccupation of his life to that point — and no one cared.
Or nearly no one. The chairman of the psychology department at Harvard at the time, Sheldon White, was impressed, calling it a "brilliant enlargement of our understanding of human motivation." A few others chimed in with praise, but the response was mostly crickets. It sold fewer than 500 copies in hardcover. "I don’t think people had any idea what to make of the book, and I still think they don’t," Peterson says. "No one has attempted to critique it seriously."
He had considered using Maps of Meaning as the basis for his application for tenure at Harvard. When that moment came, though, he found he wasn’t emotionally up to the task. "My mood at the time wasn’t of sufficient stability to feel that I was in the position to make the strongest case for myself, unfortunately," he says. He received an offer from the University of Toronto, and he took it. By then he was married with two small kids, and the prospect of steady academic employment was attractive. Peterson moved back to Canada.
In the years since then, he’s become a popular professor at the university. Typical comments on include "life-changing" and "he blew my mind" and "he is my spirit animal." He ran a private clinical-psychology practice, consulted for law firms, and developed his self-authoring website, which is based on ideas from psychologists like James Pennebaker and Gary Latham on the benefits of goal-setting and the therapeutic value of writing about emotion. He also offered occasional commentary on public television in Ontario, sometimes while wearing a fedora.
He continued to research topics like religion, creativity, and the effect of personality on political orientation. But he is not widely known as an expert on any of those topics, nor is he considered the pioneer of a game-changing concept. He hasn’t frequently published in top journals. That may be, in part, because he is an old-fashioned generalist, more interested in understanding the connective tissue between seemingly disparate ideas than in tilling a small patch of disciplinary soil. Still, it seemed to some who knew him then that the promising professor who wowed them at Harvard in the 1990s had fallen off the map.
In the video that made Jordan Peterson famous, he can be seen sparring with a handful of transgender students about the use of pronouns. He is nattily attired in a white dress shirt with rolled-up sleeves and dark red suspenders. Several supporters, all of them male, stand behind Peterson, amplifying his points. A transgender student accuses Peterson of being their enemy for refusing to use gender-neutral pronouns. "I don’t believe using your pronouns will do you any good in the long run," he says. "I believe it’s quite the contrary." When another student asks what gives him the authority to determine which pronouns he uses when referring to someone else, Peterson spins to face that person.
"Why do I have the authority to determine what I say?" Peterson replies, his voice brimming with outrage, his fingers pressed to his own chest. "What kind of question is that?"
The video has three-million-plus views and more than 45,000 comments. It was filmed in October 2016 after a free-speech rally on the University of Toronto campus, an event that was prompted by a series of videos Peterson posted on YouTube titled "The Politically Incorrect Professor." In the first video, he argues against a proposed law in Canada that would make so-called misgendering — that is, using pronouns other than the ones a person prefers — a potential human-rights violation, punishable with a fine (that specific statute, which later passed, does not apply to university employees like Peterson, though a similar provision, passed years earlier in Ontario, does). He also objects in those videos to mandatory bias training for staff members at the university. Peterson considers such laws anathema to free speech and makes the case, as a number of other psychologists have, that measures of implicit bias are based on shaky science.
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The university’s student newspaper noticed the videos. That tipped off the rest of the news media, which prompted a pro-Peterson rally where Peterson attempted to speak while activists tried to drown him out with chanting and white noise. There was a second rally, followed by a debate between Peterson and two professors defending the proposed law and the use of gender-neutral pronouns. Transgender students protested that event using the hashtag #NotUpForDebate. On a Canadian news show called The Agenda, Nicholas Matte, a historian who teaches in the Sexual Diversity Studies program at the University of Toronto, accused Peterson of abuse, violence, and hate speech for his refusal to use gender-neutral pronouns. Peterson insisted that he would not waver in his opposition to the law, even if it meant going to jail. "I’m not using the words that other people require me to use, especially if they’re made up by radical left-wing ideologues," he informed Matte and the television audience. "And that’s that."
Peterson started appearing on podcasts and YouTube shows like The Rubin Report and Waking Up, hosted by Sam Harris, where the two wrangled fruitlessly over the definition of truth for two hours. Perhaps most important, Peterson appeared on a podcast hosted by Joe Rogan, a comedian and Ultimate Fighting Championship commentator, whose show is often among the top 10 most-downloaded on iTunes. Rogan spoke with Peterson for nearly three hours and declared him one of his favorite guests. He’s had him back twice since, and those podcasts have each been listened to by millions.
After the Rogan endorsement, Peterson’s online following swelled. He had been posting videos on YouTube for years, often of his classroom lectures, which had gained a modest following. But that audience expanded exponentially in the wake of the pronoun controversy. Last spring he started an account on Patreon, which allows users to donate money to support a person, often a musician, cartoonist, or other artist, though it’s become a fund-raising vehicle for activists, too. The first month he received $600, which was enough to help purchase better equipment to film his lectures. But the amount kept growing and, at last count, topped $60,000 per month (Peterson now keeps the amount he’s raising private). Those who give $50 or more get to ask questions in a monthly online Q&A session. Those who give $200 per month get a one-time personal Skype chat with Peterson for 45 minutes. The income from Patreon, along with the new demands on his time, caused him to put his clinical practice on hold indefinitely.
Other YouTubers edit and repackage his clips with titles like "Those 7 Times Jordan Peterson Went Beast Mode" and "Jordan Peterson to Student: You Can’t Force Me to Respect You." There is an active forum on Reddit devoted to all things Peterson. There is another forum devoted solely to Peterson memes, of which there are many. There is Peterson-inspired fan art, including a painting of him arguing with transgender students and an old-fashioned medicine label for "Dr. Peterson’s Sort Yourself Out Syrup," which purports to cure, among other ailments, "identity politics" and "bloody postmodernism."
Some of what Peterson says isn’t discernibly different from the messages of conservative firebrands like Ben Shapiro or the liberal-baiting troublemaker Milo Yiannopoulos, both former Breitbart pundits. Like Shapiro, Peterson argues that the left is transforming the next generation into victims and whiners. Like Yiannopoulos, Peterson argues that the patriarchy is a boogeyman. But when he’s been lumped in with what’s come to be called the alt-right, as happens fairly regularly, Peterson has pushed back, calling it "seriously wrong." The erstwhile socialist considers himself a classic British liberal, and he has castigated the far right for engaging in the "pathology of racial pride."
Peterson’s route to notoriety mirrors that of other professors like Nicholas Christakis and Bret Weinstein. In the fall of 2015, Christakis, a sociologist at Yale University, was encircled by students upset about an email his wife had sent questioning the need for Halloween-costume guidelines. Last spring Weinstein, then a biologist at Evergreen State College (he has since resigned), confronted a group of students furious that he had objected to a planned Day of Absence in which white professors and students were encouraged to leave campus. In both cases, those clashes were captured on video and widely shared online. In both cases, the professors were largely lauded as voices of reason, while the students were mostly mocked as overly sensitive and out of control.
Peterson has used his unexpected notoriety to express dissatisfaction with the state of the university in Canada and the United States. He believes that the humanities and the social sciences in particular have become corrupted — a term he employs with relish — by left-wing ideology, and that they are failing to adequately educate students. He lays much of the blame at the feet of the late Jacques Derrida and his disciples for replacing, as he sees it, a search for truth and meaning with grousing about identity and power structures.
His critique is broadly consistent with that of Jonathan Haidt, the New York University psychology professor and founder of Heterodox Academy, an organization whose goal is to increase ideological diversity at universities. Peterson and Haidt met in 1994, when Haidt interviewed for a position at Harvard and Peterson was an assistant professor there. Haidt remembers Peterson as "one of the most memorable professors" he spoke with that day. They didn’t keep in touch, but they met again recently when Haidt appeared on Peterson’s podcast. "Socrates would be aghast at how few of us are willing to stand up for academic freedom if it risks arousing an angry mob," Haidt wrote via email. "Jordan Peterson is one of the few fearless professors."
He also has a booster in Camille Paglia. Paglia, a professor of humanities and media at the University of the Arts, and a prominent cultural critic whose views don’t fit neatly in political categories, identifies as transgender, though she has also been skeptical of what she calls the current "transgender wave." Like Peterson, Paglia condemns postmodernism as a malevolent movement. While she hadn’t heard of him until recently, Paglia regards Peterson as a long-lost scholarly brother and sees a link between Maps of Meaning and the provocative 1990 book that made her reputation, Sexual Personae. "It is truly stunning to me how Prof. Peterson pursued his own totally independent path of scholarship in another discipline and yet how our intellectual paths would eventually converge!" she wrote in an email. Paglia blurbed Peterson’s new book, calling him the most important Canadian intellectual since Marshall McLuhan.
After Peterson’s Biblical lectures, devotees like to meet at a bar called Hemingway’s, an appropriately named venue given his emphasis on the value of masculinity. (Peterson argues for the societal importance of the "masculine spirit" and contends that feminists unjustly stigmatize qualities like competitiveness.) My unscientific sampling of the crowd found that the men over 30 saw Peterson as standing up against a tide of anti-male bias. One mentioned that he became interested in Peterson after hearing him speak with James Damore, the former Google software engineer who wrote a memo complaining about the company’s "ideological echo chamber" and asserting that biological differences between men and women explain, at least in part, the gender gap in the tech industry. Peterson seems to be making a passionate case for what they already felt. A software engineer told me he respected Peterson because he "drew a line in the sand."
The men in their 20s more often mentioned Peterson’s call to personal responsibility and self-improvement, what Peterson has called the "metaphysical fortification" of the individual. "I watched one of his videos and I realized he wasn’t full of shit," a graduate student in early-childhood development said. A religious-studies student, who is also a practicing Sikh and wears a turban, confessed that he and his girlfriend broke up over his support for Peterson. A Bitcoin entrepreneur named Tom who was wearing a T-shirt covered with images of Donald Trump’s face (he said he liked the shirt because it "triggered SJWs" — that is, social-justice warriors) told me, "In my opinion, he’s our generation’s philosopher."
There were female fans, too, though they were clearly outnumbered. One recent Toronto journalism graduate whispered that she had a crush on Peterson. Another woman, Kristen, didn’t want her last name printed because she’s already suffered blowback from online friends over her fondness for him. "I think people misconstrue what he’s about," she says. His overall message, according to Kristen, is "pick yourself up, bucko" — quoting one of Peterson’s taglines.
His influence, though, runs deeper than cross-stitch-ready phrases. Gad Saad sees Peterson’s appeal in religious terms. Saad, a professor of marketing at Concordia University, has likewise sparked the ire of some on the left with his critiques of feminism and Islam. "Jordan has an apostolic flair," Saad says. "He represents the irreverent academic who isn’t willing to toe the line, who stands on principle. Most academics are too tepid in trying to tackle these issues." A former student of Peterson’s at Harvard, Gregg Hurwitz, now a writer of best-selling thrillers, has long drawn inspiration from him. Hurwitz slipped some of Peterson’s self-help quotes into his novel Orphan X, which is slated to become a movie starring Bradley Cooper. Hurwitz thinks Peterson’s knack for extracting life lessons from lofty concepts helps account for his appeal. "It’s this ability to take the evolutionary, archetypal narrative and apply it to cleaning up your room," he says. "And he’s actually authentic." Hurwitz remembers how, at Harvard, Peterson was quick to shut down students who used "facile ideological arguments" from either end of the political spectrum. "He would dispatch them readily and was unafraid to do so," Hurwitz says.
There are plenty of others who see Peterson as a malignant force and argue that he provides intellectual-sounding cover for bigotry and misogyny. But persuading them to state those views on the record is a challenge. One cited "personal and community safety threats" as a reason for not commenting. Another asked that even her refusal to comment be kept off the record. They worry about their names’ merely appearing alongside his — and perhaps with some reason. David Cameron, dean of the faculty of arts and science at Toronto, said he was inundated with hostile emails after he sent two letters to Peterson warning him that failure to use a student’s preferred pronoun "can constitute discrimination" under Ontario law, and also reminding him to engage in "civil, nonviolent interactions at all times." (Peterson made both letters public and called them "inexcusable.")
Even friends and former co-authors turned down requests for interviews or simply didn’t respond. A former student and admirer, who asked to speak on background, has mixed feelings about the version of Peterson now on display. "His core psychological ideas really are that good," he writes in an email. "However, I’m afraid that the more time he spends publicly revealing his ignorance of the history of race- and gender-relations, the less eager I am to be on record saying anything good about him."
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What you can’t help noticing when you walk into Jordan Peterson’s unassuming row house in central Toronto are the paintings. There is Soviet propaganda everywhere, including on the ceiling. He has more than 200 such paintings: Lenin addressing a crowd, a portrait of a Soviet agronomist, Russian soldiers during World War II. In the early 2000s, Peterson began buying these paintings on eBay because the irony of bidding for communist agitprop on the most capitalist marketplace ever devised was too delicious to resist. But he also bought them to remind himself of how glorious utopian visions often descend into unspeakable horror.
To understand Peterson’s worldview, you have to see the connection between his opposition to gender-neutral pronouns and his obsession with the Soviet Union. He believes that the insistence on the use of gender-neutral pronouns is rooted in postmodernism, which he sees as thinly disguised Marxism. The imposition of Marxism led to the state-sponsored slaughter of millions. For Peterson, then, the mandated use of gender-neutral pronouns isn’t just a case of political correctness run amok. It’s much more serious than that. When he refers to the "murderous ideology" of postmodernism, he means it literally.
In person, Peterson is wiry, hyperalert, ready to pounce. His dark hair is graying and closely cropped on the sides. He’s lost the beard he sported in years past, along with a lot of weight — 50 pounds, he says, since he changed his diet and stopped taking antidepressants. When you watch old videos of Peterson’s lectures, you’ll hear the same ideas, often the same anecdotes, but the professor delivering them is a more measured, genial figure. These days Peterson seems like a man possessed. His brow furrows, his eyes narrow. He speaks in rapid-fire, um-less sentences. He doesn’t smile much. Sometimes Peterson seizes his temples with one hand as if squeezing out an especially stubborn thought.
His lectures are largely improvised. He writes out a bare-bones outline, but he’s never sure exactly what he’ll say or how long he’ll talk (90 minutes? Two hours? More?). His audience likes the no-frills urgency, the sense that he’s digging to the heart of impossibly complex conundrums, the feeling that they’re observing a bona fide philosopher sweat out the truth under pressure. His frenetic, freewheeling approach is the antithesis of a rehearsed TED talk. He describes his method as a high-wire act. "It’s always a tossup as to whether I’m going to pull off the lecture, because I’m still wrestling with the material. Because the lecture in the theater is a performance — it’s a theater, for God’s sake," he says. "What I’m trying to do is to embody the process of thinking deeply on stage." He pauses for a moment, then amends that last statement: "It’s not that I’m trying to do that. That’s what I’m doing."
Not long ago, Peterson had his picture taken with a couple of fans who were holding a Pepe banner. One of them was also forming the "OK" sign with his fingers, probably a reference to the "It’s OK to Be White" meme created on 4Chan, one of the more offensive and irreverent corners of the internet. Pepe is a smirking cartoon frog that was originally conceived as an innocent illustration but has been appropriated as a tongue-in-cheek icon by aggressively pro-Trump types.
Peterson thinks pointing to that photo as evidence of his sympathy for white supremacy is silly. "I’ve had my picture taken with twenty-five hundred people in the last year, maybe more," he says. Peterson, who has written a lot about religious iconography, finds the mythos around Pepe fascinating, noting how Pepe is worshiped by the fictional cult of Kek in the made-up country of Kekistan. "It’s satire," he says. "A lot of these things are weird jokes." They’re poking fun, he contends, at the oversensitivity of those who would condemn images of frogs or benign statements about the OK-ness of white people. And Peterson has put his own spin on the joke: In a recent video, he held up a Kermit the Frog puppet with a Hitler mustache as a way of acknowledging the criticism, and also, perhaps, of showing his younger followers he’s down with the latest memes.
Asked whether he worries that his association with these symbols and slogans, which have been employed by a number of avowed white supremacists, could be misunderstood, Peterson waves off the concern. "I know for a fact that I’ve moved far more people into the center," he says. "People write and say, ‘Look I’ve been really attracted by these far-right ideas, and your lectures helped me figure out why that was a bad idea.’ That also happens with people on the far left."
He’s also heard the criticism, including from some longtime colleagues, that he fails to couch his language carefully and as a result naïvely wades into fraught conversations about gender and race. "They say, ‘I kind of agree with Jordan, but he could have been a lot nicer about it,’" he says. "It’s an attitude that brought out a rather cynical reaction in me: ‘Oh, yeah, you could have done what I did, but you would have done it better?’ It’s like, go ahead, man! Have at it!"
Peterson did recently back down after proposing a website that would use an algorithm to determine which university course descriptions contained postmodern and Marxist language. His plan, which he announced on a television news show, was to create a list of those courses so that students could avoid them. He reiterated his claim that the humanities and the social sciences have become ruined by postmodernism, and he hoped that this list would help bring down those departments. He saw this as a first step toward starting his own online university founded with the mission of developing character, though the plans for such a grand enterprise remain sketchy. The reaction to his website proposal was not positive. Peterson, after talking with a number of friends who told him that it was a bad idea, decided to scrap the website, at least for now. "The question was, ‘Would it do more harm than good?’ " he says. "I thought it might add to the polarization."
On the table in his den is a copy of his new book, 12 Rules for Life. It is, in a sense, a more accessible version of Maps of Meaning. In it you won’t find flowcharts featuring dragons or the full text of a letter he wrote to his father in 1986. Instead it’s an anecdote-driven advice book that encourages readers to "treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping" and "pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)." It would be hard to ferret out anything to protest in these pages. The preorders of 12 Rules already dwarf the total sales to date of Maps of Meaning.
Peterson seems more than a little overwhelmed by what’s happened to him over the past year. He estimates that he’s received 25,000 emails in recent months from fans who want to express what he means to them. At the same time, health problems that have long plagued him, including bouts of debilitating fatigue, have resurfaced. Plus there’s the ever-present anxiety: He is speaking so often now, and what he says is so closely scrutinized by supporters and detractors alike, that he fears one inartfully phrased remark could be used to pull him down from his new perch. "Surfing is the right metaphor," he says. "It’s like I’m on a very large wave, and that’s, you know, really something, but mostly you drown."
Tom Bartlett is a senior writer at The Chronicle.

Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson: the ‘anti-snowflake’ crusader speaks out

To his fans, Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson is a hero of rationality — but to his critics, he’s an alt-Right transphobe. Katie Law meets the controversial professor

By Katie Law
17 January 2018

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This week Jordan Peterson has taken London by storm. The Canadian psychologist-turned-anti-snowflake crusader has been giving sell-out talks to promote his new book, 12 Rules for Life. 
On Monday night at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster, the 1,000-seat conference hall was packed to the gills with mostly white young men, from bearded hipsters to bespectacled nerds, already clutching copies of his book. Extra seats had been laid out and were quickly filled. Rock music was playing and the windows were lit with dramatic red spotlights that flanked an enormous black and white photograph of Peterson, who walked onto the stage to the roar of loud applause. It was as if their messiah had finally arrived. 
Earlier in the day I met Peterson in a Holborn flat rented by his publisher to discover what all the fuss is about. A word-of-mouth phenomenon, according to his Penguin publicist, the 55-year-old professor of psychology at the University of Toronto lectures on subjects from the dangers of identity politics and use of gender-neutral pronouns, to the power of mythology and the Bible, to why the works of Jung, Nietzsche and Solzhenitsyn matter today more than ever. 
Peterson’s fire-and-brimstone views form the basis of the 12-chaptered book, which offers positive advice about telling the truth always, avoiding losers, finding meaning, standing up straight, doing tough-love parenting and listening to others, among other things. 
It is precisely the kind of hardline counselling for which he has long been revered, especially by 25 to 40-year-old men, who thank him profusely for helping turn their lives around. Peterson’s videos have clocked up 150 million views and he has 300,000 Twitter followers. But he is also accused of being an alt-Right, racist transphobe, and “the stupid man’s smart person”. In any event, he despises the far-Left and believes all ideologies are inherently evil.
“I lived through a tumultuous times when I was writing this book,” says Peterson, adjusting a pencil-slim gold tie that one of his fans has just given him. “Particularly around my actions in relation to Bill C-16.” This Canadian bill, which passed in 2016, means that it is now a criminal offence to refuse to call a person by their chosen gender pronoun, which Peterson has argued is an infringement of free speech.
“When I made a video saying I wasn’t going to abide by Canada’s new speech laws there were demonstrations at the university and a huge backlash against me — but only to begin with. Then I had a huge wave of public support. The trans-activists videotaped the talk in an attempt to discredit me but the comments were about 50 to one in favour of what I was saying. 
“I’ve had letters from trans people supporting me because they’re not happy. We’re in this weird time when if someone claims to be a member of a minority group and claims persecution of that group, then they can put themselves forward as valid spokesperson and everyone says OK. But, no, it’s not OK. Just because you’re a trans person doesn’t mean you’re a spokesperson for trans people.”
Soon after this Peterson became embroiled in the case of Lindsay Shepherd, an English graduate teacher at Wilfred Laurier University, Ontario, who was hauled up before faculty members after playing a video clip of Peterson on the gender- neutral pronoun debate to her students without first condemning it. She was told her actions were “like playing neutrally a speech by Hitler or Milo Yiannopoulos”. Shepherd covertly taped her inquisition and took it to the media. The story went viral, after which the university issued a public apology to her.
Peterson says this bears out his fears about the bill. “Except it was worse, since it was used to persecute an innocent person.” As for his own role, he says, half-jokingly, “I turned out to be Hitler himself. Or was I Milo Yiannopoulos? Take your pick. That shows exactly the intellectual level at which these ideologues play — they can’t even get their insults sorted out.”
It’s easy to see why Peterson attracts controversy. You get the sense he enjoys it, or rather that the evangelical zeal with which he talks compels him towards its flame. With his prairie cowboy style — he grew up in Fairview, northern Alberta — and intense gaze, he speaks in a high-pitched, torrential stream of invective, occasionally shouting, and repeating words to emphasise a point, sliding his wedding ring on and off his finger.  
“And then there was James Damore,” he starts up. Peterson video-interviewed the Google engineer after Damore was fired for a memo he wrote questioning the benefits of diversity programmes. Damore also suggested that "the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don't see equal representation of women in tech and leadership."  
“To understand Damore,” he says, “you have to understand engineers. Damore was asked by the HR department to a session about diversity, equity, inclusivity, white privilege and all those buzzwords these people use now. He was told they wanted comments, and being an engineer he thought they meant that they wanted comments, because engineers think that when you say something you actually mean it. Engineers aren’t political and there’s a reason for that, which is that if one of the dimensions in which people vary is their interest in ‘people’ versus ‘things’, and one of  the biggest gender differences between women and men is their interest in ‘people’ versus ‘things’, then engineers are way the hell over on ‘things’.”
He's delighted that Damore has just launched a lawsuit against the company for unfair discrimination “against a white male” at the same time as it faces another one over the gender pay gap. “Google is in the wonderful position as far as I’m concerned of being harassed legally on both sides, which is exactly what they deserve for playing identity politics.” 
Nor does it end there. “Look up ‘white couple’ on Google Images,” he says suddenly. “Then look up ‘black couple’, then ‘Asian couple’.” Peterson and I look together. If you Google ‘white couple’, the first four images on the top row show a white woman with a black man. “This is way more terrifying than you think, because it means that Google is messing about with algorithms that present information to the public according to a built-in political agenda.” 
Hardly surprisingly, he is just as contemptuous of #MeToo identity politics and can hardly contain himself when asked what he thought of Hollywood’s leading ladies parading in black dresses at last weekend’s Golden Globes. “What, you mean really sexually provocative black dresses? Those ones?” he snorts. “That says it all. If there’s one industry that capitalises on the exploitation of casual sex, it’s Hollywood. There are all sorts of reprehensible ways that men treat women, obviously, and I’m not saying Harvey Weinstein’s victims invited their own victimisation, but I’m not impressed by the fact that this went on forever and no one said anything. The issue isn’t male sexual misbehaviour, it’s sexual misbehaviour on the part of women as well as men. But we can’t have an intelligent discussion about that, because all the women are good and all the men are bad.” 
Take responsibility for your own actions, he says, and it’s ultimately the message of his book. “You can put things straight in your own life and have a massive effect on the world around you. It’s why the victimisation ideology is so corrosive,” he says in parting. 
Whether you agree or not, whether you think he’s a maniac or a messiah, or a little bit of both, Jordan Peterson is here now, and here to stay. 
12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Allen Lane, £20) is out now.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Trump’s right about the need to pick immigrants for skills

January 16, 2018
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The world fell on Donald Trump’s head — yet again — when he said in a White House meeting that we should be trying to get immigrants from Norwayrather than “shithole” countries in the Third World.
The media has treated Trump’s remarks, made in a heated exchange with senators over a proposed immigration deal, as an explicit confession of racism. Why else would he scorn immigrants from places like Haiti and Somalia, while yearning for those from lily-white Scandinavia?
He was almost surely trying to say that we should pick immigrants for skills (he reportedly mentioned Asia as well as Norway), but typically stated his position in the crudest terms possible.
The ensuing controversy has created a cottage industry of TV and newspaper commentators declaring proudly that they came from shithole countries (Ireland! Russia!), and implying that as long as we are welcoming enough people from distressed countries, our immigration policy is on the right track.
This discussion is largely informed by a romantic view of the experience of the early 20th century, which is, unsurprisingly, not applicable 100 years later.
First, the economy has changed. We no longer can toss low-skilled immigrants into the maw of an insatiable manufacturing sector. “Many of the immigrants who arrived in the early 1900s,” economist George Borjas writes, “got jobs in the booming manufacturing sector. Those manufacturing jobs, which over time evolved into well-paid and stable union jobs, created a private-sector safety net that protected the pay and economic status of the immigrants and their children and grandchildren.”
Even so, Borjas notes that the evidence suggests there was no real improvement over the lifetimes of the Ellis Island immigrants, and initial differences in income among different groups “persisted into the grandchildren’s generation.”
In short, the wave of mass migration a century ago is not a warrant for a thoughtless immigration policy today. The fact is that immigrants from rich countries tend to do better here than immigrants from poor countries, and education level is a key factor.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, nearly half of Asian immigrants are employed in management, business, science or the arts, higher than the proportion of the native born. The median income of households headed by Asian immigrants is $70,000, higher than that of the native born.
The median income of a household headed by an Indian immigrant is an astonishing $105,000. This is largely because their level of education is off the charts. Three-quarters of Indian immigrants have a college degree or more. The Indian immigrants don’t reflect the norm back home, where the average person has less than six years of schooling, but we’re skimming off a more skilled element of the population.
Critics of Trump’s comments rightly point out that immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa, reportedly part of the shithole argument, are doing pretty well here. But it depends on the country. About 60 percent of Nigerian immigrants have a college degree and more than 50 percent work in management positions. In contrast, only 11 percent of Somalis have a college degree and half are in poverty.
The numbers for immigrants from El Salvador, to pick a country also reportedly part of the White House discussion, are less encouraging. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, more than half of Salvadoran immigrants don’t have a high-school degree and half are living in poverty or near it. This doesn’t mean they don’t work hard, or deserve to be insulted, but they are struggling.
We’re blessed to live in a country that many millions around the world want to move to. This affords us the luxury to be more selective in our immigration policy and, like Canada or Australia, establish a system emphasizing skills suited to a 21st-century economy. Some might be from Norway, some might be from s- - -holes — all should be prepared to thrive.

The Movie That Made Moral Idiocy Chic

January 11, 2018

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Fifty years ago, the movie that changed the movies premiered. Anybody old enough to remember films before “Bonnie and Clyde” can testify to the jolting power of Arthur Penn’s kinetic blend of bluegrass slapstick, Depression-era nostalgia, and gruesome, stylized violence. But something else was revealed then, something that I, just 14 at the time, was too callow and ignorant to notice behind the movie’s aesthetic sheen—the moral idiocy that has since come to define so much of contemporary American popular culture.
“Bonnie and Clyde” staked a claim to a moral seriousness that supposedly validated the stylistic innovations and elevated the film beyond mere flashy entertainment. Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, played with fashion-magazine glamour by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, are “just folks,” as Dunaway says in the movie, salt-of-the-earth Americans driven to crime by the machinations of the evil banks they rob for some justified payback, Texan Robin Hoods admired by the common-man victims of American capitalism. Yet “the Man,” embodied in the sadistic Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, wouldn’t let them be, hunting them down and slaughtering them in the film’s famous bloody climax, just after Bonnie and Clyde had finally found the soft-focus sexual fulfillment long a cliché of Hollywood romantic sentiment.
“Social Bandits” on Screen
The Marxist folk-tale underlying the movie’s otherwise conventional star-crossed-lovers plot was obvious, and as such the cinematic innovations accounted for the film’s popularity with many critics (TheNew York Times’s Bosley Crowther was a noble exception). The movie was, in fact, a popularized version of Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm’s 1959 “social bandit” thesis, a bit of communist agitprop arguing that robbers and thieves were really expressions of the “people’s” legitimate resistance to unjust economic and political structures. This notion helped to glorify and justify the violence against authority that exploded in the 1960s, from the bombing of college labs to the depredations of the Black Panthers, the Oakland street gang that was shrewd enough to exploit the delusions of privileged white kids in order to provide cover for the gang’s crimes.
The corollary to the “social bandit” idea was that those responsible for maintaining social order—particularly the police—were, in reality, the goons of an oppressive establishment, and as such legitimate targets of retributive violence. The “pigs” were now the enemy, at best oafish dupes of “the Man,” at worst sadistic crypto-fascists who delighted in inflicting pain on the “people”—the cultural infrastructure behind the Black Lives Matter movement.
This demonizing of legitimate authority is obvious in “Bonnie and Clyde,” where all the police are depicted as anonymous shock troops of capitalist oppression, genetically deprived hillbilly racists spraying bullets with moronic glee, as in the scene showing the capture of Clyde’s brother Buck. Frank Hamer is particularly creepy, obviously sexually oppressed and filled with vengeful rage over the gang’s playful kidnapping of him (which never actually happened). His sadistic nature is obvious in the film’s slow-motion climax, when he engineers the couple’s death with a fusillade of excessive force, repeatedly raking the bodies with machine-gun fire.
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The Real Bonnie and Clyde
And here we come upon the monstrous lie at the heart of the film. The historical Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were not beautiful Robin Hoods but psychopathic killers—Clyde had jug-ears and a weak chin, Bonnie the mean mouth and ferret eyes of a white-trash skank. Their sexual proclivities, which perhaps included their younger male accomplices, were sordid, not romantic.
And their violence was usually an unprovoked sadistic indulgence, like their killing of two highway patrol officers on Easter Sunday in 1934. Their 12 victims were mostly police officers who, in accord with the laws Barrow and Parker scorned, announced themselves as such before they were gunned down in cold blood. Nor did the gang rob that many banks, their targets just as often being small mom-and-pop stores. As for distributing the money to the “people”—those scenes in the film were actually based on anecdotes about John Dillinger—there is no evidence that these predators ever gave a dime to the victims of the Depression, some of whom the pair robbed.
So, too, with the movie’s despicable portrayal of Frank Hamer, the Texas lawman who doggedly tracked the two and put an end to their murderous career. Hamer’s methods do not meet our modern standards of police work founded on solicitude for criminals and a fetishizing of process. He lived in a tougher world where such luxuries were fatal. In fact, the reason he and his fellow lawmen killed Bonnie and Clyde the way they did was because of Clyde’s long record of resisting arrest and shooting down police officers on sight. In life, Hamer, who once single-handedly faced down a lynch mob trying to murder a black man in his custody, was one of those grim, unpleasant men whose bravery makes it possible for spoiled plutocrats like Warren Beatty and Arthur Penn to make “mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep.”
This distortion of historical truth has come to dominate American popular culture, which has made the leftist libretto its default narrative, one immune to the repeated demonstrations of its falseness and bloody failure. Warren Beatty’s “Reds,” a ludicrous valentine to John Reed, one of Lenin’s most useful ofuseful idiots, used the same technique of papering over historical lies with cinematic glamour and wide-screen flair. Just about every war movie made is pretty much a lie, depicting brave Americans as psychopathic killers, pathetic idealists, or drug-addled victims drafted into an unjust war to serve the capitalist Evil Empire. In fact, if I ever needed 10 good men, I’d take any 10 Vietnam vets picked at random over any 10 college professors or reporters or movie directors.
Fashion vs. Truth
Just as bad, “Bonnie and Clyde” also enshrined the wrapping of this Orwellian reversal of historical truth in the glamour of style—the essence of what Tom Wolfe called “radical chic.” Truth doesn’t matter, as long as you’re in fashion. Politics isn’t about coherent principle and the possible, it’s about stylistic display, sensibility, and politically correct sentiment, a way for the privileged to show how much better they are than everybody else. Worse, this attitude has legitimized a complete disconnect between word and deed, between what one says and how one lives. Privilege and power can now be enjoyed and indulged, as long as one mouths the proper progressive pieties: conspicuous consumption is OK if one agonizes over income inequality, and King Kong-sized carbon footprints accepted if one rails against global warming.

In short, “Bonnie and Clyde” is a milestone in the transformation of American culture from one that reflects the mentality of adults, to one that enshrines the mentality of teenagers; one that celebrated moral intelligence to one that revels in moral idiocy. Unfortunately, an adolescent disregard for reality and an obsession with fashion and feeling are dangerous indulgences in a world filled with ruthless enemies who see our cultural immaturity as the sign of our moral exhaustion and deserved extinction.
Bruce S. Thornton is a Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution. His books include "Greek Ways: How the Greeks Created Western Civilization" and "Democracy's Dangers & Discontents: The Tyranny of the Majority from the Greeks to Obama."