Highly recommended article at Quillette.
Why Jordan B Peterson Appeals to Me (And I Am on the Left)
There is the lecturer, who juxtaposes mythological and religious themes with psychology and evolutionary biology, presenting a synthesis of science and religion, and then there is the social media culture warrior. Watching Peterson’s lectures versus watching snippets of him online, in recent interviews, you are watching two different men…
Maps of Meaning is an attempt to take the wisdom of religion and ancient cultures and explain, through a contemporary lens of modern psychology, what these cultures got right. It is an attempt to revive the past as a source of deep knowledge, not wreckage to be discarded at the altar of scientific materialism, or a postmodern presentism.
I agree one could perceive two men (or more, there’s also the serious scholar), if one worked at it, because of Internet fractionalization – mostly on the basis of hyperbolic click bait headlines – not content. Seeing two men is superficial. An examination of his works reveals just one.
I quibble over a minor point. It has some truth in it, but rankles slightly because it’s hard to think of anyone more totally integrated as a person than Jordan Peterson. Peterson as a teacher and Peterson as a social media presence are exactly the same man. Calling him “two men” concedes something to his critics that they don’t deserve.
Maps of Meaning was published in 1999. Peterson’s lectures on TV Ontario are twenty years old. His interview with Cathy Newman was an educational exercise. He’s been saying what he’s saying for a long time. There are several platforms, but only one man. It’s the message, not the medium. And it’s not who follows him, though who his critics are is revealing.
Another way of looking at this is:
There is a man whose many years studying psychology, and vast experience as a clinical psychologist, have convinced him that postmodernism is an existential, nihilist danger. Until his government decided to apply postmodernist principles to him through the mechanism of compelled speech, he was invisible to the Internet. Then he made his conclusions explicitly public.
There are not two men there, there is one man with the courage of his convictions, thrust into unexpected notoriety for the act of speaking. An action he surely saw in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Peterson has often praised Solzhenitsyn’s insight: “One man who stopped lying could bring down a tyranny.”
Peterson said, “I don’t think he meant that as a metaphor–or hyperbole.”
The one man is the one who’s been trying to identify and prevent tyrannical acts for twenty years. That there are more tyrants whose message has become more ingrained, and that dissemination of ideas has become easier since 1999 does not bifurcate the man. The author never quite recognizes the problem as one of perception, but comes close by explaining the damage the Left is doing to itself.
The problem is simple: journalists guilty about inequality portray Peterson as an anti-trans, Cold War lunatic. Then, people who read that commentary and end up watching videos from his Biblical Series, or his Maps of Meaning lectures, do not find a right-wing radical. Instead, they find a passionate lecturer against authoritarianism who is deeply invested in a symbolic, archetypal understanding of human nature. Now, they realize that all these left-leaning outlets have lied to them. Instead of exposing a bigot, they’ve smeared a serious scholar.
He mentions (excuses?) only Peterson’s strictly academic presentations. I’ve watched hundreds of hours of both his University of Toronto classes and his more forceful interviews and podcasts. Some examples of the latter, totally consistent with his academic message: