Jordan Peterson Is Sad the Patriarchy Is Dying
Posted May 18, 2018 6:26 p.m. EDT
TORONTO — Jordan Peterson fills huge lecture halls and tells his audiences there’s no shame in looking backward to a model of how the world should be arranged. Look back to the 1950s, he says — and back even further. He is bringing them knowledge, he says, but it’s knowledge that they already know and feel in their bones. He casts this as ancient wisdom, delivered through religious allegories and fairy tales containing truth, he says, that modern society has forgotten.
“The masculine spirit is under assault,” he told me. “It’s obvious.”
In Peterson’s world, order is masculine. Chaos is feminine. And if an overdose of female is our modern poison, Peterson knows the cure. Hence his new book’s subtitle: “An Antidote to Chaos.”
“We have to rediscover the eternal values and then live them out,” he says.
The ideas of Peterson, 55, a University of Toronto psychology professor turned YouTube philosopher turned mystical father figure, have emerged as influential. The messages he delivers range from hoary self-help empowerment talk (clean your room, stand up straight) to the more retrograde and political (a society run as a patriarchy makes sense and stems mostly from men’s competence; the notion of white privilege is a farce). He is the stately looking, pedigreed voice for a group of culture warriors who are working diligently to undermine mainstream and liberal efforts to promote fairness.
He is also successful. His book, “12 Rules for Life,” which was published in January, has sold more than 1.1 million copies. Thanks to his YouTube channel, he makes more than $80,000 a month just on donations. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken his online personality tests and self-improvement writing exercises.
Yet he rarely smiles. He has written about dogs being closest in behavior to humans, but there is something extremely feline about him. He always wears a suit. “I am a very serious person,” he often says.
Wherever he goes, he speaks in sermons about the inevitability of whom we must be. “You know you can say, ‘Well, isn’t it unfortunate that chaos is represented by the feminine’ — well, it might be unfortunate, but it doesn’t matter because that is how it’s represented. It’s been represented like that forever. And there are reasons for it. You can’t change it. It’s not possible. This is underneath everything. If you change those basic categories, people wouldn’t be human anymore. They’d be something else. They’d be transhuman or something. We wouldn’t be able to talk to these new creatures.”
His home is a carefully curated house of horror. Most of the sprawl of art is communist propaganda from the Soviet Union (execution scenes, soldiers looking noble) to remind himself, he says, of atrocities and oppression. He wants to feel their imprisonment, although he lives here on a quiet residential street in Toronto and is quite free.
“Marxism is resurgent,” he says, looking ashen and stricken.
He quit his private practice last year and is on an early sabbatical from the University of Toronto. He dragged the school into controversy in 2016 by opposing a Canadian bill that he believed would compel him to use a student’s preferred pronouns.
“I am not going to be a mouthpiece for language that I detest, and that’s that,” he said during a debate. Peterson, who grew up in Fairview, a small town in northern Alberta, spent his career teaching psychology at Harvard and then the University of Toronto, all while running a clinical practice.
The lesson most patients need to hear “grow the hell up, accept some responsibility, live an honorable life.”
“We just haven’t talked about that in any compelling way in three generations,” he says. “Probably since the beginning of the ‘60s.”
Why did he decide to engage in politics at all? He says a couple years ago he had three clients in his private practice “pushed out of a state of mental health by left-wing bullies in their workplace.” I ask for an example, and he sighs.
He says one patient had to be part of a long email chain over whether the term “flip chart” could be used in the workplace, since the word “flip” is a pejorative for Filipino.
“She had a radical-left boss who was really concerned with equality and equality of outcome and all these things and diversity and inclusivity and all these buzzwords, and she was subjected to — she sent me the email chain — 30 emails about whether or not the word ‘flip chart’ was acceptable,” he says.
So he was radicalized, he says, because the “radical left” wants to eliminate hierarchies, which he says are the natural order of the world. In his book he illustrates this idea with the social behavior of the lobster. He chose lobsters because they have hierarchies and are a very ancient species, and are also invertebrates with serotonin. This lobster hierarchy has become a rallying cry for his fans. “The people who hold that our culture is an oppressive patriarchy, they don’t want to admit that the current hierarchy might be predicated on competence,” he said.
He illustrates his arguments with copious references to ancient myths. I ask why these old stories should guide us today.
“It makes sense that a witch lives in a swamp. Yeah,” he says. “Why?
“That’s right. You don’t know. It’s because those things hang together at a very deep level. Right. Yeah. And it makes sense that an old king lives in a desiccated tower.”
But witches don’t exist, and they don’t live in swamps, I say.
“Yeah, they do. They do exist. They just don’t exist the way you think they exist. They certainly exist. You may say well dragons don’t exist. It’s, like, yes they do — the category predator and the category dragon are the same category. It absolutely exists. It’s a superordinate category. It exists absolutely more than anything else. In fact, it really exists. What exists is not obvious.”
Recently, a young man named Alek Minassian drove through Toronto trying to kill people with his van. Ten were killed, 16 were injured. Minassian declared himself to be part of a misogynist group whose members call themselves incels. The term is short for “involuntary celibates,” although the group has evolved into a male supremacist movement made up of people — some celibate, some not — who believe that women should be treated as sexual objects with few rights. Some believe in forced “sexual redistribution,” in which a governing body would intervene in women’s lives to force them into sexual relationships.
Violent attacks are what happens when men do not have partners, Peterson says, and society needs to work to make sure those men are married.
“He was angry at God because women were rejecting him,” Peterson says of the Toronto killer. “The cure for that is enforced monogamy. That’s actually why monogamy emerges.”
Peterson does not pause when he says this. He explains: Otherwise women will all only go for the most high-status men, and that couldn’t make either gender happy in the end.
“Half the men fail,” he says, meaning that they don’t procreate. “And no one cares about the men who fail.”
I laugh, because it is absurd.
“You’re laughing about them,” he says, giving me a disappointed look. “That’s because you’re female.”
Preventing hordes of single men from violence, he believes, is necessary for the stability of society. Enforced monogamy will save us all.
Some of Peterson’s supporters pay $200 a month for a 45-minute Skype conversation to discuss their problems. (Peterson says this service has since been discontinued.)
For today’s Skype call, he wears a sharp blazer and button-down, but no shoes.
The caller, Trevor Alexander Nestor, is a young white man, bearded and unemployed.
“I’m really hoping that somebody is going to recognize my talent,” Nestor says.
Nestor says he recently wrote a paper on how testosterone levels and sperm count are dropping. He argues sociocultural transformations are probably making men less virile, and Peterson nods along.
At one point, Peterson, relatively quiet, becomes heated on the topic of women who find marriage oppressive.
“So I don’t know who these people think marriages are oppressing,” he says. “I read Betty Friedan’s book because I was very curious about it, and it’s so whiny; it’s just enough to drive a modern person mad to listen to these suburban housewives from the late ‘50s ensconced in their comfortable, secure lives complaining about the fact that they’re bored because they don’t have enough opportunity. It’s like, Jesus, get a hobby. For Christ’s sake, you ... you ... .”
Nestor says he was an engineering student at the University of California, Berkeley, but decided to transfer after feeling overcome by the liberal dogma when he took theater classes for his humanities requirement.
“They were teaching in classrooms things like Martin Luther King Jr. would have supported violent rebellion, and marriage is an institution that is designed to control the sexuality of women,” he says. “I’ve talked to a few young women, and they have told me they do wish that they could be housewives,” Nestor says. “But what they’ve said to me is that they feel as though if they were to pursue that, other people would look down on them.”
“I’ve had lots of women tell me that,” Peterson says. “Women will never admit that publicly.”
When Peterson talks about good women he often uses the words “conscientious and agreeable.”
Nestor feels anxious, and Peterson says he should. “My primary focus has been to not be homeless,” Nestor says.
“You don’t have a future and you don’t have a job and no bloody wonder you’re anxious,” Peterson says. “That just means you’re sane.”
Jacob Logan, 18, from Alliston, Ontario, was first in line for Peterson’s talk May 3 at the Queen Elizabeth Theater. He had arrived 12 hours early, wearing a shirt with lobsters stacked upon each other.
“Whenever I listen to him, it’s like he’s telling me something I already knew,” Logan says. “Learning is remembering.”
Peterson is wearing a new three-piece suit, shiny and brown with wide lapels with a decorative silver flourish.
It is evocative of imagery from a hundred years ago. His speech too is from another era — stilted, with old-timey phrases, a hypnotic rhythm. It’s a vocal tactic he came to only recently. Videos from a few years ago have him speaking and dressing in a more modern way.
I ask him about the retro clothes and phrases. “That’s what happens when you rescue your father from the belly of the whale,” he says. “You rediscover your tradition.”
Inside among the crowd was Sue Bone, 66, a retired flight attendant from Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Bone loved her flight attendant job until she began to find it dehumanizing and corporate. Her friend told her the airlines were now run by “angry gay queens,” she says. She found Peterson. She feels he understands the danger of these strange new social forces.
“He’s waking us up in the West,” she says.
“You’re a divine locus of consciousness,” Peterson tells the crowd of 1,200 or so people.
He pleads — he often sounds frustrated, like you’ve just said something absurd and he’s trying to correct you without raising his voice. He runs his hands over his face when it’s all too much. He cries often. Long after the show, around midnight, there is still a group outside, lingering and talking.
Lion Arar, 22, a theater student in Montreal, says Peterson’s discussion of gender brought him back to religion.
“It made sense in a primordial way when he breaks down Adam and Eve, the snake and chaos,” Arar says. “Eve made Adam self-conscious. Women make men self-conscious because they’re the ultimate judge. I was like, ‘Wow, this is really true.'”
The changes in his life include starting to clean his room. “My mom’s been nagging me for years, but I’ve never done it until Dr. Peterson,” he says.
Andrew McVicar, 45, a waiter, says it was good to hear someone finally talk about how hierarchies were OK. He says current politics are pushing for everyone to be the same, promoting women and minorities into unearned positions.
“It’s forced diversity; it’s saying you must have X percent of A-B-C,” he says. “How about, look at yourself?”
Jeffrey Rouillard, 21, from Montreal and also studying theater, says he was drawn to Peterson after watching a prominent female journalist grill him.
“How many times have I been in a situation where I had been set up to be the bad guy?” Rouillard asks.
“Jordan’s exposed something that’s been festering for a long time,” says Justin Trottier, 35, the co-founder of the men’s rights organizations Canadian Association for Equality and Canadian Centre for Men and Families. “Jordan’s forced people to pay attention.”
Trottier made headlines when his group called the anti-manspreading subway initiatives sexist. One of their group’s main goals is “waking the police up” to female-perpetrated domestic violence, Trottier says.
Now, “there’s more acceptance of what we’re trying to do,” he says.
There are now regular Jordan Peterson discussion groups. The one in Toronto meets once a week at a restaurant called Hemingway’s and is run by Chris Shepherd, who used to be a professional pickup artist and coached men on how to get sex fast at a club but is now a dating coach.
Shepherd first encountered Peterson in a viral video of the professor getting yelled at by campus activists. Watching the stoic professor take on righteous liberal anger touched Shepherd.
“Campus censorship has been a problem when I was at university too,” he says at Hemingway’s one recent afternoon.
I ask for an example.
“One law professor said something like ‘You young ladies should get married and start families,’ and he got fired,” Shepherd says. “The message was just you’ll have a happier life if you get married instead of focusing on your career.”
“Certainly not a firing offense,” he says. Except, for now, it is.