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Some Initial Thoughts on Jordan Peterson: Dec 6, 2017

December 6, 2017 12 comments

About three weeks ago, the blogger more commonly known as Rollo Tomassi asked me about my thoughts on Jordan Peterson. In case some of you don’t know much about this person, just google his name or search Twitter for posts by him or about him. To make a long story short, Jordan Peterson is currently a professor in the department of psychology at the University of Toronto who has reached a level of fame (or notoriety) on some parts of the internet because of his allegedly non-establishmentarian views on topical issues such as postmodernism, political correctness, white privilege and cultural appropriation.

So what do I think about this guy and his views and positions? Are they genuine or based in a desire for fame and money? Well.. what I am going to say about all that in the rest of this post (and maybe a future one) is not going to be liked by either his supporters or detractors. My analysis of other people tends to be a bit more complex than saying that they are irredeemably bad or unremittingly good. I like to understand the environment which they grew up in and how they achieved, or fell into,their current position.

So let us start with how Jordan Peterson reached where he is today.

1] According to Wikipedia, he grew up in a small town (Fairview) somewhere in the middle of the province of Alberta in Canada. Basically that is the Canadian equivalent of growing up in some one horse town in west Texas or the deep south. In other words, he grew up in an environment that was socially conservative, quite racist and not progressive- to put it mildly. It is therefore not surprising that many of his current publicly held viewpoints are somewhat CONservative. The fact that he now often glosses over his early background tells you something about how he sees unpolished CONservatism.

2] It seems he got into the big university in that province, moved on to a more prestigious one in the east, then went on to Harvard and came back to Canada after a few years. This is a very common pattern for career climber types in Canadian universities and provides an interesting insight into what he wants in life. In case you are wondering, many Canadian universities prefer to recruit people who have spent some time at ivy-league universities because it looks good for the university- regardless of whether the person in question was the best candidate for that position.

3] He attempted to get into the media spotlight since the early 2000s. While his early attempts were not very successful, they did get him onto what is basically the Canadian version of a PBS type channel. It is noteworthy that these attempts at media exposure steered clear of the type of subjects and issues for which he is now famous. For many years after his initial forays into media exposure he was basically a TED-talker type who offered his “insights” into hard to define topics- which is another way of saying that his act involved appearing to provide erudite answers for deliberately vague topics.

4] His break into semi-fame came when he started to upload his lectures to YouTube in 2013. That is also when I first came across his name on various blogs- especially in their comment sections. As many of you also know, the ‘alt-right’ movement also took off at around that time. However the action which contributed most to his public persona involves his public position on the C-16 bill (in 2016), which he correctly pointed out could be used to severely restrict freedom of speech. It also helped that the bill in question was being pushed through parliament in a pretty heavy-handed manner.

And this brings us to the question as to how this small-town raised prof with CONservative leanings became an internet celebrity. Alternatively, why didn’t other far more well-known academics step into the public discussion about those topics. Surely, there is no shortage of academics in Canadian and American universities who will go on record for their support of a variety of other social and political causes- from talking about ‘climate change’, rights of transgender people etc. Why are so many academics unwilling to support ideas such as free speech, even at the level they used to a couple of decades ago? What has changed?

5] In my opinion, the most important change in academia and pretty much every other large institution in western societies over the last 20-30 years has been their capitulation to the ideology of neoliberalism. But what does an ideology such as neoliberalism have to do with the silence of entire institutions on issues such as free speech? Well.. a lot, but it basically comes down to two types of effects.

6] Firstly, neoliberal institutions tend to hire and promote only certain types of people.You have to be consistently pleasant-acting, spineless, middle-manager type to reach even the middle-levels of these institutions. There is zero tolerance for dissent, independent thinking or opinion. In neoliberal institutions, everything is about money and appearances. Also, expressing opinions that are not approved by higher-ups or not ‘fashionable’ is severely discouraged. It is therefore not surprising that almost no other academic of any public stature in Canada has expressed views that are even marginally similar to Peterson.

7] Secondly, embracing neoliberal ideology results in concentration of power- specifically of the institutional type. What was once a dynamic and flourishing eco-system of small, medium and large institutions decays into a mono-culture full of monopolies and oligopolies. The people who reach the highest level of power in these institutions are cut from the same proverbial cloth and run those institutions solely to maximize their personal profit and power. Consequently, they try to minimize any appearance of dissent and try to force their beliefs (in reality, what they want others to believe) upon their employees.

8] The net result of this institutional governance shift has been that any idea, cause or belief which runs contrary to the neoliberal goal of making maximal amounts of money for a select few is ignored, suppressed or ridiculed. In other words, ideas such as freedom of speech or even suggestions of ideological non-conformity are now perceived as too risky and potentially career-ending by many people in the system. That is also why these issues were raised by somebody like Peterson, rather than by somebody who was far more “famous” than him.

I should also point out that the neoliberal elite like to be seen as enlightened, just and deserving of their ill-gotten gains. That is why they are quite happy to support various “social justice” movements as long as those movements do not question the socio-economic status quo. To summarize this post, Jordan Peterson’s ascent to fame has more to do with numerous failures and dysfunctions within the current socio-economic-cultural setup (aka ‘the zeitgeist’) than innate ability or belief in the causes he is promoting. He just saw an under-served market and rode that opportunity to fame.

What do you think? Comments?