The Canadian professor turned YouTube philosopher is massively popular and a polemic influence on our PC culture.
Jordan has been in New Zealand this last week and I was fortunate enough to see him in Wellington on Thursday night.
He began by informing the audience that he was going to attempt to solve a problem and suggested that this should always be the basis for any essay, book or presentation. That it is far more meaningful (and interesting!) to solve a problem that we’re genuinely invested in finding a solution for, than simply regurgitating a list of facts via power point.
So, with this post, I want to solve the problem or go some way to at least answering the question of whether Peterson really is dangerous as his critics would have us believe or, is he instead dangerously useful; an admirable endeavor he tabled during his talk.
Firstly, I was struck by the number of young men (early-mid 20’s) in the audience motivated to get some answers. Maybe because I had wrongfully assumed that this group would be more interested in shallow pursuits than the deep and sometimes heavy places Dr Peterson travels to during his talks. I know he has a following with disillusioned men but to see so many young guys there was encouraging.
While he covered a variety of topics during the evening his focus was on so called “toxic masculinity”. He drew on experience from his own childhood and career to build the case against disempowering men through shaming their masculinity and how this leads to resentment, ineffectiveness, violence and self-destruction.
I was moved by Peterson’s humility and what I found to be a genuine vulnerability as he shared his concerns for men who haven’t been fathered properly. Not everyone felt the way I did.
Press reporter, Cecile Meier, wrote the following after seeing Jordan in Christchurch:
“Peterson is indeed dangerous because he uses common sense self-help advice and tales of ancient wisdom to subjugate crowds of insecure people. When they are suitably hypnotized, he slowly lets his Handmaids’ Tale - style ideas slip in, or maybe my inferior female brain is just not able to grasp the brilliance of his metaphors”.
Meier also claimed Peterson has said men are naturally more competent than women, which I never heard him say on Thursday or in the significant volume of YouTube clips my husband has subjected me to (with my consent of course). In contrast, I’ve heard him discuss psychological data revealing that although men and women are temperamentally mostly the same, they do differ in certain personality traits, the biggest, by a large margin, is in terms of interests, women being more interested in people and men more interested in things, which is self-evident in my experience.
When discussing Peterson with a smart and less brutal friend, she likes most of what he says but disagrees with his sentiments that there is no pay gap and that this is unhelpful because it reinforces the patriarchal hierarchy and undermines attempts to dismantle it. Peterson suggests the pay gap issue is fundamentally skewed by comparing average incomes between men and women given there are so many variables at the individual level, for example: women taking time off to have children, men being willing to work more dangerous jobs, longer hours etc.
From what I’ve observed Peterson endorses equal opportunity but opposes equality of outcome since the reason anyone tries to rise above the mediocre masses is to produce inequality. People lose motivation to work hard if there is no higher reward for higher effort. For us to grow as a society, innovate and move forward – we have to reward merit; the cream has to be able to rise to the top regardless of sex, ethnicity or sexual orientation, since placing the most competent people where they can do the best job is best for everybody.
Candace Owens and Ayaan Hirsi Ali are both phenomenally intelligent women of colour who have triumphed over adversity. I don’t know what they think about Jordan Peterson, but I do know they don’t pander to identity politics. They suggest there is a tragic irony about it all, an agenda that creates victims out of anyone identifying with any of the many so-called oppressed minorities and is fueled by social justice warriors who have confused empathy with virtue, disempowering further the very people these measures attempt to rescue.
So dangerous or dangerously useful?
A few reflections that I know to be true:
- He was humble– from the minute he walked on the stage he carried himself with a demeanor of gratitude that we were loaning him our power to speak to us and that he genuinely wanted to connect with everyone in the audience.
- There are thousands of people who testify that Jordan Peterson has brought them back from the brink of self-destruction.
- To those who claim he’s dangerous, whose lives have you changed? What evidence do you have that you’re on the right track and making a difference for good in this world?
- If women are really being oppressed by his sentiments what are your solutions other than to deconstruct the white patriarchy?
- Yes, there may be subjects he touches on that are uncomfortable or we disagree with even, but on balance I see a man who is not content to just be ‘harmless’ and has accepted his fate as a whistle-blower of delusion.
Peterson certainly challenged me to boldness; to embrace a life of meaning, responsibility and even hardship; to be dangerously useful and authentic because these are the antidotes to chaos and a painful world and ultimately they’re the only worthwhile and sustainable options anyway.