The Problem With Jordan Peterson No One Seems To Talk About
On the threat of pseudo-intellectualism and Misogyny Lite
A few days ago, I got an ad for Jordan Peterson’s new Daily Wire series on Instagram, out of all places.
I imagine that happened because I recently wrote a few pieces on incels, Andrew Tate and other misogynistic groups and figures and had to do research for it.
But perhaps this had nothing to do with that, and everyone’s getting it right now.
After all, Peterson’s constellation of beliefs attracts a rather heterogenous audience — although overwhelmingly male — including Christian conservatives and men’s rights activists but also centrists, libertarians, atheists and apolitical people.
And that’s because he has something that many other right-wing darlings don’t have: a title and profession that lend a certain illusory credibility.
He’s a former University of Toronto psychology professor, successful author — his book, ’12 Rules for Life,’ has sold more than 5 million copies — and decorated intellectual. And now he gets to play the role of a stately-looking thought leader fighting off the hysterical social-justice mob obsessed with silly notions like equality.
But while his worldview seems subtler and more compelling than that of a typical conspiracy-obsessed conservative troll, it’s still largely… regressive.
And his views on gender, in particular, are just downright dangerous.
Patriarchy apparently both doesn’t exist and is unavoidable
Jordan Peterson’s brand of seemingly intellectual ideology could be best summarised as ‘we’ve always done things this way for a reason, and so we must simply accept it as something written in stone and move on.’
In an interview for The New York Times a few years ago, he used that logic to explain why chaos is intrinsically representative of ‘femininity:’
(…) it might be unfortunate, but it doesn’t matter because that is how it’s represented. It’s been represented like that forever. And there are reasons for it. You can’t change it. It’s not possible. This is underneath everything. If you change those basic categories, people wouldn’t be human anymore.
He also applies it to many other concepts, like ‘masculinity’ — which he claims is synonymous with order — gender identity and the patriarchy.
Well, actually, he both denied the existence of a male-dominated society — for example, in this interview — using the argument that there’s only ‘a tiny substrata of hyper-successful men’ and claimed patriarchy is the unavoidable ‘natural’ order of the world.
And since, in his opinion, men are the competent, powerful and naturally dominant gender — the order — and women are the emotional and less competent one — the chaos — it doesn’t make any sense to dismantle it. Or any of the norms that support it, like traditional gender roles.
Now, what all of the above theories conveniently ignore is, well, most of the advances in social sciences over the last half a century or so.
But Peterson is two steps ahead here.
He often advises his followers to avoid the disciplines of sociology, anthropology, literature, women’s studies, and ethnic and racial studies, claiming they’re ‘corrupted’ by the supposed evils of the postmodern world.
Of course, he does. Because if he didn’t, chances are they would eventually figure out that his grand theories — which have more to do with all those fields and not his — aren’t grounded in actual science.
There’s long been a consensus in the social science community, for instance, that both nature — biological factors — and nurture — environmental factors — play a part in shaping gender-specific behaviour. And actually, there’s compelling recent research that shows it’s mostly environmental factors meaning that our human nature is likely the exact opposite of being written in biological stone.
Most anthropologists and historians today also recognise that social status was relatively evenly divided between genders before the invention of settled agriculture — approximately 10,000–12,000 years ago. And that patriarchy is neither ‘natural’ nor beneficial to women.
But aside from how laughable it is to dismiss entire fields of study because they won’t support your narrative of how ‘inevitable’ everything is, it’s his proposed solutions that I find possibly the most problematic.
One of his suggestions for preserving the ‘natural’ order of things — men’s dominance over women — and fixing the rise of single, violent men is to… enforce monogamy and consequently cure these men ‘by the love of a good woman.’
And if that sounds familiar to you, that’s because he isn’t the only one who holds this belief.
The insidious threat of Misogyny Lite
A couple of months ago, I joined a popular incel forum under a male pseudonym to find out what’s going on in the mind of an average ‘involuntary celibate’ man.
If you haven’t yet read my recent piece about it and you’re not familiar with incel ideology, in a nutshell, what these mostly young men believe is that it’s entirely women’s fault that they’re single, lonely and miserable.
And so, to get what they claim they’re ‘rightfully owed’ — unlimited access to women’s bodies — women must once again become entirely subjugated by men. One of the most commonly proposed solutions is that women should be ‘transformed’ into a public service for men. Into sort of ‘state-mandated’ girlfriends or wives.
Yup, that’s practically the same idea Peterson suggested.
Only when it’s coming from his mouth, couched in academic jargon and pseudo-scientific theories, it might sound absurd, but not nearly as dystopian and deranged, now does it?
But that’s not the only idea incels share with Peterson. And it’s not only incels who listen to his every word, take his Misogyny Lite theories — since they’re nowhere near as violent as theirs, but still misogynistic — and often make them worse.
And that’s because the men attracted to Peterson’s ideas — incels, MRA’s and other similar creatures — all seem to have a profound sense that their dominant role in society is coming to an end, making them highly frustrated, angry and scared.
Peterson actually did admit on multiple occasions that he’s fully aware of the violent anger and fear many of his male fans harbour.
And yet his approach seems to be to amplify all of that.
To confirm their worst fears and warn them about the future that might come if they don’t do anything about it today, often verging on a rather comical and paranoid territory.
Sure, unlike Andrew Tate, Peterson never uses sexist slurs or claims it’s acceptable to abuse women physically if you caught them cheating. But I’d argue that his theories’ impact is much worse than all of the other misogynistic grifters combined.
It’s much harder to convince people that someone with a background in academia who sounds like they know what they are talking about — or at least conveys that impression — might be utterly wrong. Many men seem to accept Peterson’s arguments as irrefutable simply because of the intellectuality they appear to carry.
In particular, because what he’s saying isn’t exactly revolutionary.
Like many men, his male audience likely grew up believing that men’s dominance is indeed the ‘natural’ order of things because men are stronger and more competent. And they probably had already felt subjugated or betrayed by social progress long before Peterson even received widespread attention.
In a way, his rise to fame was almost inevitable. He was the missing element, the academic veneer, that was then put all over the beliefs they already had.
So why would Peterson’s fans ever question something they not only believed all along and wanted to be true but now also have pseudo-scientific theories for?
Equality isn’t a zero-sum game
What Misogyny Lite presented by the cooly professor Peterson and other theories emerging from the online ‘manosphere’ almost unanimously assume is that equality is a zero-sum game. And if we reach it, men will inevitably lose.
But this isn’t a competition. We’re not battling each other for power or opportunities or the Holy Grail.
It’s true that women can only improve their status in society if we dismantle power hierarchies and norms that are inherently discriminatory, oppressive and misogynistic.
But those very same hierarchies often hurt men, too.
After all, where’s the pressure for men to conceal their emotions, act ‘like a man’ and never complain or seek help because that makes you ‘weak’ coming from if not from the patriarchy and traditional gender roles?
Besides, we already know what happens when societies become more equal. And so far, the evidence has been pretty straightforward: everyone seems to benefit from it.
Men shouldn’t fear what will happen if we reach full gender equality one day. Men should fear what will happen if we fail to do so and continue to add fuel to the fire of the growing anti-feminist backlash.
And it’s not exactly difficult to understand why that is.
There’s already been multiple mass shootings and other acts of violence committed by incels. Teenage boys indoctrinated by Tate and Peterson are already exhibiting increasingly sexist, homophobic, racist and otherwise harmful and violent behaviour.
Not to mention the recent roll-back of women’s reproductive rights in countries like the US or Poland that already led to a sharp increase in maternal death rates.
Jordan Peterson got one thing right, though: there’s indeed a crisis of historic proportions.
But it’s neither driven by the fight for equality nor can it be solved by things like ‘enforced monogamy.’
If anything, if those violent men Peterson claims women ought to ‘cure’ would get into relationships, the rates of violence — in particular sexual violence — would only likely go up.
Pseudo-intellectualism is already harmful on its own. But pseudo-intellectualism combined with misogyny is on another level of danger.
And so I’m afraid that Jordan Peterson’s ideas supported by questionable data and erroneously framed as scientific theory will only breed more vitriol and violence, not less. And ultimately, hurt women and everyone else.
So paradoxically, and despite his often calm and reasonable demeanour, Peterson doesn’t seem to bring much of the ‘masculine’ order.
But more of the ‘feminine’ chaos.
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