Jordan Peterson (Still) Wants to Tell You How to Live Your Life
Will his new book demonstrate growth or humility in light of recent life events?
Have you been feeling rudderless lately? Struggling to find direction?
Well all who wander may now rejoice, for the savior has returned. Dr. Jordan B. Peterson is back to direct your life and make publishing employees cry.
He has made a career for himself as a passionate advocate for personal responsibility. Well, it's either his personal responsibility shtick or his hysterical concern for the future of free speech — with particular emphasis on his refusal to be "forced" into using people's preferred pronouns.
It was the latter that first propelled him to international attention. When Peterson mischaracterized a benign amendment to the Canadian constitution as an authoritarian attack on free thought, he became a celebrity "intellectual" overnight. But his bid for continued relevance has leaned heavily on his notion of himself as our culture's great defender of individualism and personal responsibility as the core of all value.
That's certainly a more sustainable angle — seeing as his alarmism about people being prosecuted over the use of pronouns has proven to be misplaced — but that pivot also puts a certain burden on him to demonstrate his own responsibility. He's gone so far as to claim that "happiness is a pointless goal" compared to the guiding beacon of personal responsibility.
And his advice is not entirely misguided. Along with his various lectures, Peterson's first mass market book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, is rife with level-headed (if fairly obvious) advice.
Jordan Peterson: “There was plenty of motivation to take me out. It just didn't work" | British GQwww.youtube.com
Leaving aside the fact that Peterson regularly equates chaos with femininity — so that title could be read as implying that women are poison — there's no doubt that many in his audience (of mostly straight white young men) could benefit from tips like "stand up straight" and "clean your room."
But the thread that has most defined his rhetoric is his edict to "set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world." This is the basis from which he cautions against various calls for cultural progress and social justice reform.
He believes that an individual must always look inward for the cause of any problems in their life before considering larger systemic forces. He doesn't accept the idea that differences in outcomes between groups should be taken into consideration, or that we place restrictions on personal freedoms — say the freedom to express bigotry — for the sake of broader societal benefits.
He's far from entirely consistent on these points, and has been caught off guard when it's pointed out that his advocacy for certain social reforms — to more evenly distribute sex for the benefit of undesirable men — defies this principle. But otherwise he makes great use of it in dismissing concerns about racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination in our culture.
According to Peterson, it's always preferable for differences in attainment — based on gender, sexuality, race, etc. — to be attributed to the individuals involved. This helped to make Peterson beloved by the "anti-SJW" set, while people who care about progressive social causes have identified him as an enemy of their efforts.
That likely includes much of the staff of Penguin Random House in Canada, who were recently taken off guard by the revelation that the publishing house was putting out Peterson's new book Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life. Their reaction to the news came to light this week in a company "town hall."
The event has generated a lot of headlines about tears that were apparently shed at the thought of platforming such a divisive figure. While Peterson could hardly have asked for better press, that's not to say their concerns were illegitimate. As one staff member put it, "I felt it was deliberately hidden and dropped on us once it was too late to change course."
The fact that the company seems to have kept the book secret from their own employees is suspect, but there are some bigger reasons to question this new volume. Since the publication of 12 Rules for Life, Peterson's own exercise of personal responsibility — and therefore his authority to write this sequel — has come into question.
The issues didn't become apparent until September of last year — when Peterson began addiction treatment — but they can be traced back to 2016.
More than a year prior to the publication of 12 Rules for Life, Peterson reportedly experienced some nasty autoimmune responses to certain foods. He was given a prescription for Clonazepam and, on the advice of his daughter, Mikhaila Peterson — an unlicensed nutritionist — switched to a diet consisting largely of meat with a few vegetables.
In addition to his autoimmune issues, he was experiencing severe depression. On an episode of The Joe Rogan Experience he explained the dire effects of straying from those restrictions, including an inability to sleep and "an overwhelming sense of impending doom" as a result of the sulfites in apple cider.
Later — consulting again with his daughter — he restricted his diet to nothing but beef, salt, and water. Health experts strongly advise against this, as there is little evidence of any benefits, and a high potential for malnutrition, which can have serious consequences for physical and mental health. But Mikhaila Peterson charges strangers for her unlicensed take on "the carnivore diet," and her father trusts her...
In early 2019, Peterson's wife Tammy was diagnosed with cancer and given a grim prognosis. Thankfully she has since recovered, but in the meantime Jordan Peterson was experiencing intense anxiety around her health, and his dosage of Clonazepam was increased.
A clinical psychologist by trade, Peterson has pled ignorance to the addictive properties of benzodiazepines like Clonazepam. In any case, he soon found himself unable to reduce his intake without experiencing unbearable withdrawal symptoms including an "irresistible restlessness, bordering on panic."
Leaving aside possible parallels with the negative affects he previously attributed to drinking apple cider, he was admitted into a rehab facility in New York. He later travelled to Russia where he was put in a medically induced coma as part of an emergency detox.
He has since discussed the long, grueling process of his physical recovery. By all accounts he barely survived, and he deserves compassion both for his suffering in that time and for the ongoing struggle shared by all former addicts to remain clean. But the point remains that, throughout his burgeoning career as a cultural critic and font of life advice, his "house" was not "in perfect order" — far from it.
So will Jordan Peterson's new book acknowledge where he fell short? Will he renounce his "perfect order" rule, or maybe add a new rule about not buying into fad diets? Will he acknowledge that an ethos of personal responsibility is not always a match for the surprising challenges life throws at us?
Peterson has demonstrated a capacity for humility before. When confronted by counterarguments from men like Joe Rogan, Jim Jefferies, and Slavoj Žižek — all of whom seem to defy his association between chaos and femininity — he has readily backed off some of his hardline stances.
So it may turn out that Peterson's new book will be circumspect and self-aware — will demonstrate a willingness to learn from his mistakes and extend more compassion to the struggles of people who are unlike him. If that's the case, both Peterson and Penguin Random House can both be forgiven for what seems — at the moment — like a blindness to the irony involved.
But short of that kind of redemption arc, it seems absurd to think that anyone should still be looking to Jordan Peterson for life advice.
Beyond Order will go on sale next March, and is now available for pre-order for anyone who thinks happiness is pointless.
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