I admit even though I’d been watching some of Jordan Peterson’s lectures posted on YouTube since 2016, I thought the Canadian psychologist, as a cultural phenomenon, would have dissipated by now. It’s been over a year since his star rose, following not just the release of his book “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos,” but really his foray into the political sphere, when he spoke out against a law in Canada that would compel people to use the “correct pronouns” when speaking with transgendered persons.
As his fame has increased—major publications have profiled him now—and he has sold out many of his venues worldwide, particularly his latest jaunt to New Zealand, his haters have made their voices heard too. “How much would I have to pay you to sit through a two-hour self-help sermon, peppered with relentless biblical references, delivered by a misogynist?” reads the intro to one such opinion column. This woman wrote a diatribe about why she and her boyfriend, who were perfect for each other, nearly broke up over Peterson.
“It all came to a head at 2 a.m. over a Jordan Peterson video.
‘I saw a video of Bari Weiss interviewing Jordan Peterson,’ he said one night. ‘She was really fawning over him.’
‘That’s just her personality,’ I replied. ‘She’s extremely charming and personable.’
‘I don’t see why anyone would fawn over a racist Canadian professor,’ he said, disgusted.
Was he really starting this discussion right now? Despite being half-asleep and kicking the flu, I remained calm. I barely said a word as this so-called discussion turned into a one-sided rant.
‘If she cares so much about anti-Semitism,’ he continued, ‘then, why doesn’t she care about racism?'”
The two salvaged their relationship despite their Peterson differences. “Don’t say you weren’t warned,” Peterson commented when he retweeted the piece on Twitter.
Even as his message has almost normalized to the global public, and we are now accustomed to his rockstar status created by a psychologist-meets-political commentator blend of common sense and passion, he grows even more popular, even more relevant. At every juncture in the news bend, there’s almost always a way to process it through the eyes of Jordan Peterson making his message that much more sustained.
Take Jussie Smollett, the actor who felt his five-figure-per-episode salary was too meager and staged a hate crime for attention, attention he thought would garner him a raise. The heart of the matter was that Smollett felt himself a victim, or worse, that acting like a victim was such a valuable commodity in our society, he would be rewarded with empathy, news hits, and more funds. Alas, Smollett was not—he was smacked down like an annoying gnat and will be made to pay for his attempt to abuse the criminal justice system—not to mention he was suspended from his acting role.
What does this have to do with Peterson? Peterson’s message is the opposite of Smollett’s and in fact, he would probably say it is for the Jussie Smollett’s of the world. A piece in Haaretz observes:
“Peterson has a simple explanation for his extraordinary popularity: In a culture that sanctifies victimhood, he proposes that people confront life’s inevitable pain unflinchingly. So here is Peterson in a nutshell: Life is suffering. We can only bear it if it has meaning. And meaning is created when you take responsibility—by confronting hardship and firmly steering your ship forward, even against waves that will, ultimately, overwhelm it. This is a message people are “hungry for” in our times, he says.”
In essence, Peterson isn’t going away partly because of the man—he is at once compelling and charismatic, passionate and straightforward—but mostly because of his message: He has finally told men not what they want to hear but what they need to hear about pain, purpose, and productivity.
Peterson has been accused of being a misogynist many times, due to his emphasis on encouraging young men to own their flaws and man up; women are rarely the focus of one of his talks. He also really believes in the prominent role men play in society’s well-being. In some ways, he remains the male version of Camille Paglia, who once famously stated, “If civilization had been left in female hands, we would all be living in grass huts.” Women might need a nudge to embrace their womanhood on occasion, but it’s mostly the men tossed into the third and fourth waves of feminism to be eaten alive, vilified, and scorned until they either give up their manhood or lose it in the engulfment, who need a boost.
Peterson isn’t going away because while the rest of us were looking at feminism’s takeover with skepticism, he saw the Jussie Smolletts of the world decades before we did and he knew that men would need a kick in the pants not in spite of “the end of men” but because of it.
Nicole Russell is a freelance writer and mother of four. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Politico, The Daily Beast, and the Federalist. Follow her on Twitter @russell_nm