"12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos", "The Atlantic", Caitlin Flanagan, Jordan P. Peterson, The Atlantic Magazine
Thanks to several emails from my friend who sees the world somewhat differently than I, here is an article by that he encouraged me to read. I pass it on to MillersTime readers as I start to explore more about what this man, Jordan Peterson, has to say.
I find the title and some of what Flanagan writes to focus perhaps too heavily on the “Left” in our political world when I gather Peterson is also warning the “Right” at the same time.
Let me know if you explore Peterson’s writing, podcasts, etc., and what you think about what he has to say.
From The Atlantic and Caitlin Flanagan: Why Is the Left So Afraid of Jordan Peterson?
Two years ago, I walked downstairs and saw one of my teenage sons watching a strange YouTube video on the television.
“What is that?” I asked.
He turned to me earnestly and explained, “It’s a psychology professor at the University of Toronto talking about Canadian law.”
“Huh?” I said, but he had already turned back to the screen. I figured he had finally gotten to the end of the internet, and this was the very last thing on it.
That night, my son tried to explain the thing to me, but it was a buzzing in my ear, and I wanted to talk about something more interesting. It didn’t matter; it turned out a number of his friends—all of them like him: progressive Democrats, with the full range of social positions you would expect of adolescents growing up in liberal households in blue-bubble Los Angeles—had watched the video as well, and they talked about it to one another.
The boys graduated from high school and went off to colleges where they were exposed to the kind of policed discourse that dominates American campuses. They did not make waves; they did not confront the students who were raging about cultural appropriation and violent speech; in fact, they forged close friendships with many of them. They studied and wrote essays and—in their dorm rooms, on the bus to away games, while they were working out—began listening to more and more podcasts and lectures by this man, Jordan Peterson.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like.
The young men voted for Hillary, they called home in shock when Trump won, they talked about flipping the House, and they followed Peterson to other podcasts—to Sam Harris and Dave Rubin and Joe Rogan. What they were getting from these lectures and discussions, often lengthy and often on arcane subjects, was perhaps the only sustained argument against identity politics they had heard in their lives.
That might seem like a small thing, but it’s not. With identity politics off the table, it was possible to talk about all kinds of things—religion, philosophy, history, myth—in a different way. They could have a direct experience with ideas, not one mediated by ideology. All of these young people, without quite realizing it, were joining a huge group of American college students who were pursuing a parallel curriculum, right under the noses of the people who were delivering their official educations.
Because all of this was happening silently, called down from satellites and poured in through earbuds—and not on campus free-speech zones where it could be monitored, shouted down, and reported to the appropriate authorities—the left was late in realizing what an enormous problem it was becoming for it. It was like the 1960s, when kids were getting radicalized before their parents realized they’d quit glee club. And it was not just college students. Not by a long shot.
Around the country, all sorts of people were listening to these podcasts. Joe Rogan’s sui generis show, with its surpassingly eclectic mix of guests and subjects, was a frequent locus of Peterson’s ideas, whether advanced by the man himself, or by the thinkers with whom he is loosely affiliated. Rogan’s podcast is downloaded many millions of times each month. Whatever was happening, it was happening on a scale and with a rapidity that was beyond the ability of the traditional culture keepers to grasp. When the left finally realized what was happening, all it could do was try to bail out the Pacific Ocean with a spoon.
The alarms sounded when Peterson published what quickly became a massive bestseller, 12 Rules for Life, because books are something that the left recognizes as drivers of culture. The book became the occasion for vicious profiles and editorials, but it was difficult to attack the work on ideological grounds, because it was an apolitical self-help book that was at once more literary and more helpful than most, and that was moreover a commercial success. All of this frustrated the critics. It’s just common sense! they would say, in one arch way or another, and that in itself was telling: Why were they so angry about common sense?
The critics knew the book was a bestseller, but they couldn’t really grasp its reach because people like them weren’t reading it, and because it did not originally appear on The New York Times’s list, as it was first published in Canada. However, it is often the bestselling nonfiction book on Amazon, and—perhaps more important—its audiobook has been a massive seller. As with Peterson’s podcasts and videos, the audience is made up of people who are busy with their lives—folding laundry, driving commercial trucks on long hauls, sitting in traffic from cubicle to home, exercising. This book was putting words to deeply held feelings that many of them had not been able to express before.
It’s hard to think of a best-selling self-help book whose author has not appeared on the classic morning shows; these programs—Today and Good Morning America and CBS This Morning—are almost entirely devoted to the subject of self-help. But the producers did their part, and Peterson did not go to their studios to sit among the lifestyle celebrities and talk for a few minutes about the psychological benefits of simple interventions in one’s daily life. This should have stopped progress, except Peterson was by then engaged in something that can only be compared to a conventional book tour if conventional book tours routinely put authors in front of live audiences well in excess of 2,500 people, in addition to the untold millions more listening to podcasts and watching videos have been viewed, overall, tens of millions of times.) It seemed that the book did not need the anointing oils of the Today show.
The left has an obvious and pressing need to unperson him; what he and the other members of the so-called “intellectual dark web” are offering is kryptonite to identity politics. There is an eagerness to attach reputation-destroying ideas to him, such as that he is a supporter of something called “enforced monogamy,” an anthropological concept referring to the social pressures that exist in certain cultures that serve to encourage marriage. He mentioned the term during a wide ranging interview with a New York Times reporter, which led to the endlessly repeated falsehood that he believes that the government should be in the business of arranging marriages. There is also the inaccurate belief that he refuses to refer to transgender people by the gendered pronoun conforming to their identity. What he refuses to do is to abide by any laws that could require compelled speech.
There are plenty of reasons for individual readers to dislike Jordan Peterson. He’s a Jungian and that isn’t your cup of tea; he is, by his own admission, a very serious person and you think he should lighten up now and then; you find him boring; you’re not interested in either identity politics or in the arguments against it. There are many legitimate reasons to disagree with him on a number of subjects, and many people of good will do. But there is no coherent reason for the left’s obliterating and irrational hatred of Jordan Peterson. What, then, accounts for it?
It is because the left, while it currently seems ascendant in our houses of culture and art, has in fact entered its decadent late phase, and it is deeply vulnerable. The left is afraid not of Peterson, but of the ideas he promotes, which are completely inconsistent with identity politics of any kind. When the poetry editors of The Nation virtuously publish an amateurish but super-woke poem, only to discover that the poem stumbled across several trip wires of political correctness; when these editors (one of them a full professor in the Harvard English department) then jointly write a letter oozing bathos and career anxiety and begging forgiveness from their critics; when the poet himself publishes a statement of his own—a missive falling somewhere between an apology, a Hail Mary pass, and a suicide note; and when all of this is accepted in the houses of the holy as one of the regrettable but minor incidents that take place along the path toward greater justice, something is dying.
When the top man at The New York Times publishes a sober statement about a meeting he had with the president which he in describes instructing Trump about the problem of his “deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric,” and then three days later the paper announces that it has hired a writer who has tweeted about her hatred of white people, of Republicans, of cops, of the president, of the need to stop certain female writers and journalists from “existing,” and when this new hire will not be a beat reporter, but will sit on the paper’s editorial board—having a hand in shaping the opinions the paper presents to the world—then it is no mystery that a parallel culture of ideas has emerged to replace a corrupted system. When even Barack Obama, the poet laureate of identity politics, is moved to issue a message to the faithful, hinting that they could be tipping their hand on all of this—saying during a speech he delivered in South Africa that a culture is at a dead end when it decides someone has no “standing to speak” if he is a white man—and when even this mayday is ignored, the doomsday clock ticks ever closer to the end.
In the midst of this death rattle has come a group of thinkers, Peterson foremost among them, offering an alternative means of understanding the world to a very large group of people who have been starved for one. His audience is huge and ever more diverse, but a significant number of his fans are white men. The automatic assumption of the left is that this is therefore a red-pilled army, but the opposite is true. The alt-right venerates identity politics just as fervently as the left, as the title of a recent essay reproduced on the alt-right website Counter-Currents reveals: “Jordan Peterson’s Rejection of Identity Politics Allows White Ethnocide.”
If you think that a backlash to the kind of philosophy that resulted in The Nation’s poetry implosion; the Times’ hire; and Obama’s distress call isn’t at least partly responsible for the election of Donald Trump, you’re dreaming. And if you think the only kind of people who would reject such madness are Republicans, you are similarly deluded. All across the country, there are people as repelled by the current White House as they are by the countless and increasingly baroque expressions of identity politics that dominate so much of the culture. These are people who aren’t looking for an ideology; they are looking for ideas. And many of them are getting much better at discerning the good from the bad. The Democratic Party reviles them at its peril; the Republican Party takes them for granted in folly.
Perhaps, then, the most dangerous piece of “common sense” in Peterson’s new book comes at the very beginning, when he imparts the essential piece of wisdom for anyone interested in fighting a powerful, existing order. “Stand up straight,” begins Rule No. 1, “with your shoulders back.”
Caitlin Flanagan is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. She is the author of Girl Land and To Hell With All That.
As the resident conservative, you won’t be surprised to hear that I am a huge fan; ironically, he doesn’t consider himself to be a conservative. I saw him when he came to the DC area on his tour….very thought provoking lecture. I look forward to reading this article, thanks.
There is a whole facebook page called “Oh look, another jordan peterson character assassination”…..as most articles (such as the horrid job done on him in the NYT a few months ago: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/18/style/jordan-peterson-12-rules-for-life.html) quote him out of context….because, yes…..he scares the left to death.
This youtube video is very funny….poor Cathy Newman can’t tweet any more, as playful critics will reply, for example…if she tweets.”England contends with Brexit”, hundreds to tweets will come back to her, “So you’re saying it never rains in Brazil?”
Since you enjoyed the Sam Harris podcast with Scott Adams, how about Joe Rogan’s interview? This long form type of interview prevents context misquoting:
As far as divisiveness in our politics…months ago I said something along the lines of…..”favoring the individual over the collective is the answer”……pure Jordan Peterson!
You are not alone, tho others of your ‘ilk’ don’t seem to post as often as you do. So much thanx.
PS – I had to ‘approve’ of your Comment before whoever controls these Comments would post it. Glad to do so, but that’s what took it some time to get posted.
Still ‘planning’ to be in touch and get together for a lunch or dinner.
Micah Sifry said:
I don’t know about Peterson and this article offers little to actually describe him, but Flanagan’s essay uses two straw men arguments that I AM familiar with and neither is fairly described. We may indeed have a problem in some places with overblown appeals to identity, but I would argue that for the most part progressives are NOT living the pumped-up caricature that Flanagan deploys and instead we are mostly just seeking decency and respect for people and identities that the dominant culture has rejected forever.
The decision by the Nation’s poetry editors was terrible and condemned by many, including its own top columnist Katha Pollitt and former poetry editor, Grace Schulman. To write, as Flanagan did, that “all of this is accepted in the houses of the holy as one of the regrettable but minor incidents that take place along the path toward greater justice,” is to demonstrate Flanagan’s bad faith argument.
And then to say that Sarah Jeong’s angry tweets attacking white people were on their face simply that, without referring to the context in which they appeared (she and others have explained this well) is to also fall for Flanagan’s bad faith style. As Jeong’s former editors at The Verge noted (https://www.theverge.com/2018/8/2/17644878/the-verge-new-york-times-sarah-jeong), we now live in an age where voices like Jeong’s (female, non-white, non-conforming) are frequently targeted online, and the right response to such online bullying tactics is full-scale pushback, not assuming that people are arguing in good faith.)
See Comment before and after yours.
OK thanks! I did post an addendum…..asking how is it possible that anyone does not know Peterson? His book has been a number one best seller globally for months…….I don’t mean this as disrespect…but it points out some of the echo chambers we all live in. Clearly the left is not ignoring him….but by not covering him, does that imply they fear him?
Land Wayland said:
If Mr. Trump was a rogue wave, formed by the momentary confluence by the wave representing a nation that is adrift and lacks a common goal, the wave that is the lack of credible leadership from any of the traditional sources, and the wave that was the emergence of a snake-oil salesman who knows how to manipulate the suckers and hoi polloi, then when the wave subsides, a goal will be found, credible leadership will appear and the snake-oil will be found to be toxic and the wave will disintegrate on the unyielding rocks of the Constitution.
But this could indeed be one of those periods when the “times are a’changin” when this nation needs, not another band-aid applying EMT (Electrifying Media Tyrant) but a political physician with a clear vision of the goals needed to reshape the nation’s destiny and guide it on the next phase of its development.
Mr. Peterson is articulating the position that the social and political republican concept that has prevailed for the last 200 years–that great work is best done by well led groups—is passe and that power has moved directly to the democratic masses and that leaders are now merely those who see which way things are moving and run faster than the crowd.
Perhaps the urges and fits-and-starts of the hippies of 50 years ago who listened to the messages in the popular folk music and discovered that alternative forms of reality did exist and then proclaimed an end to “politics as usual” ago, was actually the awakening of an idea that has now found the tools (cellphone, internet and computers) to give their vision life and longevity. What happens if “we the people” really do run things (instead of leaving leadership to the well-monied aristocrats)
We may be in for the longest 20-30 years in our country’s political life as we are presented with a series of magnetic personalities who promise to provide the verbal elixir that cures it all and we down bottle after bottle of stuff that doesn’t work but does possess great enematic powers, until we again tire of the endless game of politics and leave it to the wonks and the professionals.
As Churchill, cautioned, Democracy is the worst-possible form of government, but it is better than of the others that have been tried.
So you’ve never heard of him either, I’m guessing?
This is an interview with JP that I found interesting. Maybe I have been around too long but to me he is the guru de jour. Common sensical, yes, and to many young males it may be welcome. But like most gurus, he is getting too wrapped up in himself.
I found that FT article interesting, but I’m guessing for a different reason. In the interview, JBP says many interesting and thought provoking things….yet one can’t help be puzzled by the DRIPPING condescension of the interviewer. I don’t know whether the author is left or right, but HE certainly fears JBP…..for some reason only known to him.
I have found JBP to be quite humble and self-deprecating….so I am not sure why you think he’s too wrapped up in himself….he could certainly be…..he makes 80k a month from his Patreon account alone….not to mention his speaker fees, as he sells out large venues globally.
I find him refreshing….
Richard Levi said:
At the outset I acknowledge I know nothing of Jordan Peterson. Having read the article, I still know almost nothing of Jordan Peterson. This is what I refer to as useless journalism–it describes a dispute between competing ideological camps and the strong sentiments held on both sides, but it never describes what is the substance of the dispute. It’s all Sturm und Drang without explanation.
Clearly it has something to do with identity politics. And on that subject I have decided views–identity politics is simply another word for tribalism. It leads to war, murder, disrespect and brutalization. It’s not clear if either political party can rise above it, but we were unarguably better off when politicians could vote their conscience rather than have to tick off the appropriate ideological box. I’m not a big fan of nostalgia, in part because memory tends to dampen the real attendant negatives, but I felt safer and more comfortable when we had MODERATE legislators and I think the country was better off.
You would therefore love Jordan Peterson…..you are the third or fourth poster who knows nothing about him…..and I mean no disrespect to you or the others….but that really is interesting to me……his book (which, IMO, is not that great a read…..basically just common sense)….is a global bestseller….
Thanks to all who took the time to respond above and/or in direct emails to me.
My intent in posting Flanagan’s article was in part to see if others, like myself, were not familiar with Jordan Peterson and hopefully to spark some interest in searching out some of his writings and work. Clearly, The Atlantic article did not give much information about him.
I think many of us live in various sorts of bubbles, talking to, listening to, reading and watching a somewhat limited or narrow range of sources of ‘information.’
As Peterson has a strong following and seems to appeal to a significant audience (as Flanagan learned), it seems worthwhile for those who don’t know of him to learn a bit about what he has to say.