To many Jordan Peterson is a hero, to others a villain. As Professor of Psychology at Toronto University, Peterson came to public prominence when he refused to abide by the University’s edict to use gendered pronouns, which he described as “compelled speech” reminiscent of totalitarian states. In doing so he belled political correctness prevalent in Canada and other western nations that inhibit the airing of ideas to debate and resolution in the public square, in case they offend the precious sensibilities of those of particular identity (race, gender, religion).
Peterson’s following grew when he began recording his course lectures and putting them on YouTube. As a consequence of the extraordinary following, he published books Maps of Meaning and 12 Rules for Life: an antidote to chaos. The latter has sold over 2 million copies in the west and is about to be translated into 50 languages. Sellout tours have been conducted all around Australia and many other countries. To many young men he has become a hero who has given them hope, direction and purpose, filling the void of absent fathers and reassuring them as their masculinity comes under attack. That his messages are so enthusiastically received is indicative of a gap in moral leadership being met.
Much of what Peterson has to say, in his quiet, thoughtful manner, is a bit “old fashioned”, like the moral, inspiring stories in the school readers of the past. Chapters in his book are indicative of lessons grandparents of old would have passed on, with titles: Stand up straight with your shoulders back; Tell the truth – or at least don’t lie; Don’t let your children do anything that makes you dislike them; Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient). I can remember my father saying shoulders back! (he was tall with very straight posture) and eat your veggies! Though grandchildren did retort you become what you eat!
More than anything Peterson challenges people to take up individual responsibility, in truth, to deal with what is a grueling life. Those who have read my book Becoming, will recall that responsibility and truth are critical elements of my Maturity Model for making confident decisions. When reading Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life, I find many similar topics are covered – his more erudite psychology; mine more applied, especially around matters of women and family, better encompassing what the demographic changes in longer life mean for each of us.
Though Peterson has become a hero to some, he has also been a reluctant victim of many who have misrepresented him, labelled as racist, Nazi, homophobe and much worse, for simply stating enduring truths. As a victim he should be lauded by those who clothe themselves in glory defending the “downtrodden”. Yet as a (now) wealthy white male, he is pilloried as an oppressor by the mob.
Snowflake victims abound in ever more narrowing identity groups, be they illegal immigrants, the bullied, abused children, Aborigines, Queers, Muslims, women or ethnic minorities. Each identity attracts organisations providing oversight and support, all with their hands in the taxpayers’ pocket. Without diminishing the impact on victims, they are heralded as heroes, given prominence, consolation and compensation. Taxpayer money is thrown at the problem. Yet ultimately they have to pick up their own bed and walk – i.e. own responsibility for making the best of themselves in this life, regardless of the challenges. A spirit of gratitude for benefits bestowed would be a start. After all, life is tough for all of us and as each is imperfect, so will be the circumstances dealt us.
It may be that the generous, sympathetic taxpayer also becomes a victim of decisions to tax beyond their capacity to pay and care for themselves and their family, as well as prepare for their own future.
Peterson’s popularity emerges when moral leadership from our churches and government has lost credibility. Parenting skills have deteriorated over 50 years and school teachers report increased bullying and physical violence from students and parents. Respect and deference are all but gone. Education funding has increased as standards have declined, historical knowledge replaced by depressing social activism based on ideological absolutes, rather than inspiring stories of heroism: global warming/climate change catastrophe; animal rights, colonization of Aborigines, refugee sympathies, gender fluidity, destruction of the Great Barrier Reef, stop Adani. Where is there space in a crowded curriculum for facts anyway, after all the various ideologies of the day have been grafted into every lesson? And why bother learning when the world is going to end in 12 years?
Dogmatic pursuit of ideologies through the institutions makes victims of us all, especially the children falsely indoctrinated. Truth and balance are absent factors. What is missing is knowledge of the outstanding record of achievement of this country, western civilisation and its institutions that have produced a prosperous, advanced society: respect for the individual, separation of powers, freedom of speech and ownership. Nothing is mentioned of the benefits that have accrued to each of us; only contempt for what is imperfect, bolstered by misrepresentation and untruths.
Peterson asks, “Are you better off than your grandparents?” Twice recently I have heard of children telling their grandparents it was time they “dropped off” and left all their hard earned assets to them. No understanding of the history of toil involved in assembling the assets, nor the institutions that helped make it possible; just entitlement!
Billions of people have been brought out of poverty by liberal democratic market economies. Outside China’s centrally controlled command economy (success of which depends heavily on trade and technology from democratic USA); it is hard to name a country that has done as well as those in the west.
While the global impact may represent mere news items flashing across our screens, Jordan Peterson, hero and victim, brings life down to manageable proportions with suggestions: make you bed, look after your family, do your job. What’s not to like?