It’s a hoot to watch Jordan Peterson‘s videos — he stands before crowds doing … crisply-articulated philosophy, seemingly on the fly. He is an outspoken psychologist at the University of Toronto who covers a lot of intellectual ground with an impactful delivery. One of Peterson’s primary messages is so simple as to seem trite: take control of yourself, because you can and you should for your own sake and those around you! But his treatment is an empowering tonic for both men and women, and many are listening. He has toiled away as a professional psychologist, a professor, an author and a philosopher for many years; his ascent to notoriety has been recent and fairly meteoric. Luminaries like Tyler Cowen and Noah Smith now call Peterson one of the top public intellectuals in the western world.
However, Peterson takes positions that are seemingly hard for the Left to swallow: he believes in the power of individual action; that freedom of expression is the basis of personal and academic freedom; that identity politics is destructive (whether on the Right or the Left); and that white privilege is a lie.
Predictably, the Left has attacked Peterson and attempted to characterize him as a spokesman for the far-right. He meets challenges of this kind with a kind of charged equanimity, exposing falsehoods with quick-footed logic, empirics, and honest reflection. Dan Sanchez has written a nice summary of the attacks on Peterson and shows them to be wholly without foundation. He has critics in both ends of the political spectrum, as Sanchez observes:
“[Far right] critics don’t understand what Peterson is saying, because they are mired in the mindsets of politics and war. The way of politics and war is to confront an enemy horde by amassing your own horde: whether it be on the battlefield, in street demonstrations, or in voting booths. It is to fight tribal barbarism by tending toward the tribal and the barbaric yourself. But the way of the heroic, civilized individual is to lead by example and to lead by appealing to the interests of those whose behavior you want to influence.”
And in Peterson’s own words, quoted by Sanchez, tribal barbarism is the way to social ruin:
“…where we’re making your group identity the most important thing about you. I think that’s reprehensible. I think it’s devastating. I think it’s genocidal in its ultimate expression. I think it will bring down our civilization if we pursue it. We shouldn’t be playing that game.“
On those assertions, Sanchez notes the following:
“… Peterson’s claim that identity politics is ‘genocidal in its ultimate expression’ is no exaggeration. Hitler’s military invasions and death camps were the ultimate expression of the racialist and nationalist identity politics that spiritually drove Nazism. And Stalin’s weaponized famines and ‘gulag archipelago’ were the ultimate expression of the class warfare identity politics that spiritually drove Soviet communism.”
So Peterson clearly condemns groupthink on both the Left and Right. He celebrates the value of people as individuals, and he urges us all to realize our value through individual responsibility and productive effort. Help yourself, help those you love, and help others. That’s a call to real human action, as distinct from the seeking of rents through the political process. Peterson is both a fascinating personality and thinker. His ideas and passion can be a powerful antidote to the complacency that plagues so many today. I hope he continues to gain prominence.