27 Feb Why Jordan Peterson is (partly) right and why you should NOT listen to him
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of Jordan B Peterson. If you’ve not, allow me to briefly introduce him to you.
Jordan B Peterson is a Canadian psychologist and academic who’s main area of expertise has been meaning and religion; until, that is, relatively recently when his self-help book “12 Rules for Life” became (somewhat surprisingly) a best seller. Around the same time, his fame grew after he shared a number of his lectures on You Tube in which (among other things) he decried political correctness and claimed the notion that the West is fundamentally an oppressive patriarchy is an appalling idea. He believes that this claim, of the oppressive patriarchy, is both untrue and harmful to young men.
Now Jordan B Peterson has spoken of and written about many other ideas; but in the interests of keeping to a reasonable word limit, I’ll try to keep this article relatively focused and limited in scope.
And in doing so, I’d like to acknowledge what I consider to be a few incontrovertible facts at the outset. Professor Peterson is indubitably educated and eloquent; he’s intelligent and well read. Many of the points he makes in his book and appearances are reasonable and sensible. Who would disagree, for example, with good posture and self-responsibility; with doing what’s right rather than what’s easy or surrounding yourself with supportive people?
But the fact that he speaks powerfully and persuasively, and the fact that he makes a number of motherhood statements and platitudes, does not necessarily make him right overall and definitely does not mean that other statements he makes might, in fact, be false or misleading.
We all know of influential speakers who’ve commanded the attention of significant numbers of people but whose arguments have not always or entirely been valid and factual. We all know of people who’ve been right about certain matters but wrong about others. It’s not hard to find examples of individuals who’ve correctly identified problems but proposed solutions that aren’t entirely (or even remotely) useful or effective.
And this is, in my humble opinion, where we find Jordan B Peterson. I accept his oratory and debating skills and I acknowledge the general usefulness of some of his suggestions. But I also think it’s important to note a number of inaccuracies in his position and logical flaws in the foundations of his theses.
To argue, for example, that there is no such thing as an oppressive patriarchy in the West is a difficult argument to accept. It might not be intentional, and it hasn’t necessarily been created by every male, but the reality is that here in Australia, and similarly in most other parts of the Western world, men are paid more than women, men are markedly more represented in most political systems and at the senior levels of professional organisations compared to women.
He also argues that men are now being disenfranchised as a result of societal changes that leave them feeling left out and less worthy. Now the second part of this may well be true to some extent (although if it is true it’s not the same as men being oppressed). The increasing acceptance of feminist ideology and the integration of equality in most countries and workplaces has seen more women in the workforce and, therefore, some men being affected. There have also been global and economic changes that have seen countries like America and Australia engage in less manufacturing, significantly affecting businesses that have predominately employed middle class males.
But the question Peterson does not seem to consider here, is whether those changes need to be changed or whether those affected need to change. It would seem that trends like feminism, equality, globalisation are unlikely to stop or turn back; and it would seem that in almost all ways they contribute to the “greater good”. Unfortunately, not everyone will benefit from the greater good, but does that mean the social progress itself should be stalled or even criticised?
And this leads to another question about Peterson’s ideology. He decries the situation many of his followers sadly now find themselves in but simultaneously proffers the notion of self-responsibility. If these men (or women for that matter) have found themselves in a situation not to their liking isn’t it then, according to his very own philosophy, their responsibility to make changes; to find new ways to thrive in the new world?
Ultimately, I believe, it is in this way that Peterson’s propositions fail. He offers oversimplified and at times incongruent answers to complex problems; he creates dichotomies that don’t or should not exist; he fights for individualism but blames institutionalism.
I genuinely feel for those who’re affected by the global and societal changes we’ve seen in recent decades. I really do. There’s no doubt that despite the many advances we’ve seen, not everyone has benefited equally.
But at the same time, I believe these changes are undoubtedly and ultimately for the good, for most, in the long term. And so, the challenge then becomes, not how can we help those who’re affected fight the system; but how can we help those who’re affected make the necessary changes or adapt in constructive ways to be healthy and flourishing members of the new systems?