There is no single person that exposes the intellectual frailties of popular culture more than Jordan Peterson.
Some of this stems directly from his actions. In his own work, intentionally and directly, Peterson challenges various psychological and cultural weaknesses and encourages us to be better.
That’s very valuable.
Just as important, however, are the actions of others in response to Peterson.
Some take his advice on board and improve their lives. Others engage with him in a mature and reasonable way, like the GQ interviewer Helen Lewis.
The most illuminating responses, however, are those that attack him. They reveal more about the weaknesses of our time than Peterson himself could ever do directly. Both frustrating and fascinating, these individuals respond in precisely the ways Peterson would argue we shouldn’t.
Every time I watch an attack on Peterson, I see irritation. I see anger. I see defence of the ego. I see fear attempting to hide in various ways.
Peterson is very clever.
This is enough to frighten many of us.
Peterson is also strong, reasonable and hard to provoke.
He is also willing to approach difficult (‘taboo’) topics with a nuance and rigour rarely seen in public discourse.
The result? A range of angry, threatened individuals doing their best to slur, insult or mischaracterise.
Off the top of my head, the list of faulty approaches includes:
- Judgments clouded by emotion.
- Judgements projecting personal biases.
- Judgments projecting the views of allegedly similar thinkers onto Peterson – tarring him with a wild and unfair brush.
- Unsympathetic readings.
- Inaccurate readings.
- Arguments made in defence of personal weaknesses, vulnerabilities and insecurities.
Is this some great irony?
These individuals are attacking Peterson in ways he expressly counsels against.
It certainly seems comical at times.
It also fills me with despair and anger.
I do wonder how Peterson himself handles the fact that many people are responding to him with behaviour that his book (rightly) argues against.
The worst offenders
For particularly frustrating examples, see:
- The infamous Cathy Newman interview. She said she was proud of this. It was one of the worst attempted hit-pieces I have ever seen. Constant rudeness, misunderstanding, mischaracterisation. Peterson keeps his cool incredibly well.
- Peterson on QnA Australia. Terri Butler – clearly out of her depth and responds with insults and condescension.
- The infamous “Jordan Peterson: Custodian of the patriarchy” piece by the New York Times. This article is so biased it is laughable at times, though again, very disheartening. His views are either taken out of context or represented inaccurately. The descriptions of Peterson are more year-9 Creative writing than professional journalism. Even the image chosen gives Peterson a demonic look.
Is there a better way?
Yes, and ironically, it’s broadly comparable to the way advocated by JP himself.
Look to your own sins. Put your house in order.
If something angers you, it might very well be because it exposes some vulnerability inside you.
We often resent what we want or admire.
Examine your thoughts closely. Seek counsel. Talk. Pick them apart.
Once you’ve worked on yourself for a while, you’ll have more access to the truth, without all those biases and cloudy thoughts/ feelings getting in the way. You will be more able to see things as they actually are.
You will be a happier, more truthful, more useful person.
To get there, as always, the first step is awareness.
Credit: I got the idea for my title from this title: https://medium.com/rebel-wisdom/jordan-peterson-and-the-new-york-times-a-rorschach-test-for-the-culture-wars-3c172113b3d0
I haven’t actually read that article, though.