Possibly you have never heard of Jordan B. Peterson, but don’t worry, soon you will. He has written a book and he is coming to Australia in March to promote it, and if you’re missing Christopher Hitchens, you’re going to love him.
Peterson is a professor of psychology, previously at Harvard, now at the University of Toronto. He is 54, he has a gentle manner and — I hope it’s still OK to say this — he is easy on the eye.
Peterson’s latest book, his second, is called 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, but books aren’t why he’s getting attention. Peterson is famous for what he says on his YouTube channel, particularly about the role of men in modern society. He says men in the West are suffering a crisis of masculinity because they are encouraged from birth by an apologetic culture to believe that traditionally masculine qualities — strength, aggression, self-reliance — are negative and destructive, while feminine qualities — willingness to co-operate, for example — are the way forward for the human race.
This, he says, is so stupid “it’s hard to know where to begin”. Forcing men to become more agreeable, less competitive, will be the death of them, and all of us.
That’s not all he says. Peterson touches every button: he thinks social justice warriors are mostly faking it, and he can’t abide virtue-signallers. He thinks intellectuals are mainly arrogant.
He is not fond of humanities courses. He blames left-wing academics for the mumbo-jumbo that infects public life. He can’t see the point of women’s studies, and he believes that universities are obsessed not with “intelligent conversation … instead, we are having an ideological conversation”.
He’s also Christian. He takes seriously the idea that God made the rules and that human beings are programmed to feel wretched when they break them.
There is hunger for his message. Peterson’s YouTube channel has 600,000 subscribers. As of last week, he had 10 of the top 10 higher education podcasts on iTunes. He makes $40,000 a month from the crowdsourcing website Patreon and reckons his audience is 90 per cent male.
The left is naturally furious with him, which brings us to the interview he did last week, as part of his book tour, with Cathy Newman on Britain’s Channel 4.
Again, it’s hard to do it justice because it was long, but in short, she totally lost her cool while he cheerfully kept his. She needled him, hectored and ridiculed him, but worse: she twisted what he said. Here is a sample: Newman kept going on about how the gender pay gap is unfair, and Peterson said he didn’t disagree, but said there were reasons beyond the patriarchy — the personal choice of some women, especially mothers, for example, to seek low-paid, less taxing jobs — that explain why some women earn less than men.
“But you’re saying basically it doesn’t matter if women aren’t getting to the top,” Newman said.
“No, I’m not saying it doesn’t matter. I’m saying there are multiple reasons for it,” he said.
“But why should women put up with those reasons?”
“I’m not saying that they should put up with it.”
On it went, spawning many memes in its wake, including one where he says: “I had bacon and eggs for breakfast” and she replies: “So what you’re saying is, kill all vegans.”
The topic then turned to free speech. Peterson had previously said he doesn’t want to use made-up words like “ze” instead of “he” because, as a citizen of a democracy, he won’t be told what pronouns he can or can’t use, especially not if he thinks they’re stupid.
Newman wanted to know how his “right to free speech” trumped a transgender person’s right not to be offended.
“Because,” Peterson explained, “in order to be able to think, you have to risk being offensive. You’re exercising your freedom of speech to risk offending me (in this interview) and that’s fine. More power to you, as far as I’m concerned.”
It’s been called the “gotcha” moment. Newman could barely speak for her own confusion in the face of Peterson’s reasonableness, but the world being what it is today, the story has now been recast to one in which she was merely doing her job as a fearless, probing journalist who has since been targeted by his army of online trolls to the point where she now needs personal security, and that’s what happens when a woman stands up for herself.
But that isn’t what happened.
She did a really poor interview, which is a shame because it meant people didn’t get to hear what Peterson says in his book.
I can help with that. It’s aimed at young men. He encourages them to free themselves, as quickly as possible, of the burdens of their childhood, to accept the failings of their parents, who probably did their best, and take control of their lives, because when you’re carrying a burden or living a lie, you’re suppressing who you really are, and so much of what you could be will never be forced to come forward.
Everyone’s favourite line has to do with how life is going to kill you, so you might as well go do the most magnificent thing you can think of.
Why any of this should be controversial is beyond me, but Peterson has faced the usual revolt: campaigns to stop him speaking publicly; campaigns to stop him getting university funding, and so on. And here’s something truly bizarre: the same week that his book came out to howls of outrage, pretty much every English-language newspaper in the world published at least a summary of a cruel account by an anonymous woman of a private sexual encounter she didn’t enjoy with US comedian Aziz Ansari.
In case you missed it, she met Aziz at a party and made a beeline for him. He took her number. She had a text message from him before she even made it home. They flirted on the phone for a week. He asked her out for dinner and paid for the meal. He asked her back to his apartment. She agreed to go upstairs, where so-called “bad sex” happened.
He popped her up on the kitchen bench and took her knickers off. He gave her oral sex, and she reciprocated. They moved around a bit — to the couch, then over to the big mirror — and played around a bit more, but she wasn’t up for sex. He put on an episode of Seinfeld, poured some wine, eventually called a car to take her home. He texted her the next day to say how much he enjoyed her company and she replied angrily, saying she’d felt pressured. He apologised.
It’s hard to know for certain, but from her vicious description it seems like she didn’t want to be his one-night stand, she wanted to be his girlfriend; and she seems to believe that her hurt feelings justify his public shaming. They don’t. What she has done is revenge porn — in words, not pictures. It is an unforgivable breach of trust to share private, intimate moments, especially under circumstances in which she gets to stay anonymous, and which for him must be excruciating.
She’s OK to do that, but our visiting professor is not OK to say that men could do with a little manning up? No wonder so many are hankering for his world and not hers.