Jordan B. Peterson, Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto, is a man for our times. Peterson is proving a force to reckoned with. He is erudite, highly articulate, and–importantly–willing to use YouTube to reach audiences who might never otherwise take an interest in his Jungian theories of personality.
A Man of Character
Dr. Peterson possesses, apart from an obvious knowledge, a sense of human limitations. When asked thorny questions, he readily admits he doesn’t know. In a recent VICE interview, when asked whether men and women can work together, Peterson claimed he didn’t know. When pressed for more, he responded that the question cannot be answered. He argued that, until we know the rules of interaction in the workplace, no answer can be given.
Peterson is the rare man, willing to think through an idea, open, and often on the spot. He highlighted this recently when asked if he would have voted for Trump. Peterson responded that he would have entered the booth planning to vote Clinton… and then changed to Trump at the last minute. He is nothing if not courageous.
As an academic, Dr. Peterson is known as a clinical psychologist, and a Jungian personality theorist. But he’s also an intellectual pugilist. When his work was unfairly attacked on Twitter, he responded: “I’d happily slap you.” The Daily Beast claims, “Not since Buckley has the right boasted such firepower. It’s no wonder people are so mad.”
Jordan Peterson’s latest book, 12 Rules for Life, is a book written to do more than inform: it is written to change lives. His somewhat whimsical rules include simple, humble, profound, and even some unusual recommendations. It is too much to review all 12 rules, but one rule is highly important for this moment in history. Rule 6 reads, plainly, as follows: Set your own house in order.
This rule places Peterson solidly within Thomas Sowell’s set of thinkers who hold a “constrained vision.” This position maintains that man is limited, even flawed, and views man’s ability to change and improve society as also being tragically limited. Peterson, consequently, shows immense contempt for the university radical student. 19-year-old idiots who can’t organize their own rooms, much less hold down mundane jobs and juggle the many responsibilities which go along with being an adult.
Peterson’s vision of human life is a tragic one. Life is suffering, he says, and points to Buddhist and Christian visions of life as proof.
Later on, he may discuss lobster biology, then Jungian archetypes and personal transformation, or even his daughter’s severe health troubles.
I found Peterson’s views on religion and morality the most curious part of his book and lectures. Peterson is a Darwinian, and as such is something of a naturalist. But unlike his fellow Darwinians, like Dawkins, Peterson has nothing but respect for religion. He has tried, unsuccessfully in my view, to ground religion and morality in some sort of evolutionary adaptation over long periods of time. Christian philosopher William Lane Craig recently challenged Peterson on this, during an open forum. As befits his past behavior, Peterson gave way to Craig and admitted he couldn’t fully answer the challenge.
Peterson’s view of religion is that of Carl Jung, a man he describes as “terrifyingly smart.” Peterson and Jung share a view that Christianity, along with all other religions, share common stories or archetypes. This position destroys any claim to uniqueness by any faith. Furthermore, Peterson views religious texts as symbols, to be dealt with as high-level symbols. As such, religious texts only pertain to the real world by aiming us to higher truths.
Readers of grounded faith will find these things disagreeable. But they should not used as a stick to beat Peterson. He is on the Right side of things in too many ways to count him as an ally.
Jordan Peterson’s moment is now. So take a page from his book and, in the words of a now-priceless internet meme, clean your damn room!