The knives are out once again for the man left-liberals love to hate. You’d have thought Jordan Peterson’s recent health scares — wrought about by drug dependency and related depression — might have given him some kind of reprieve but even a medically induced coma couldn’t keep the gloaters from punching the man when he’s down.
The man who espoused traditional masculine virtues such as strength and stoicism is now having to rely on his 28-year-old daughter — oh the delicious irony! Writing in the Times of London, Hugo Rifkind describes Peterson’s ‘apparent collapse’ as ‘a parable’, casting doubt on the legitimacy of his illness while viewing the doctor’s weakened state as a repudiation of everything he has stood for.
The incongruity of Peterson’s predicament also wasn’t lost on Decca Aitkenhead, who interviewed him for the Sunday Times. In her craftily worded piece, she paints Peterson’s daughter Mikhaila as some kind of Machiavellian puppet master controlling her father’s every move while plugging her latest quack diet. Aitkenhead boldly asserts that Peterson defends ‘traditional masculine dominance’, which is just a weaselly way of saying that he acknowledges the existence of hierarchies. The fact that Peterson’s extensive research into human attraction shows that most women prefer to be with a strong, competent male is hardly controversial to anyone who has ever been in a heterosexual relationship. But it is exactly Peterson’s apparently scrupulous adherence to evidence that so irks the gatekeepers of the new orthodoxy of ‘feelings’, ‘implicit biases’ and ‘lived experience’.
Peterson has never shied away from humanity’s brutal underbelly, something many of his enemies prefer to ignore. Our tendency to be self-serving for instance is hardly conducive to a glorious collectivist future. Peterson encourages people to think for themselves, which is anathema to the revolutionary zeal underpinning so much of academia, a world in which ‘allyship’ demands total adherence. By exposing flaws in identity politics, Peterson has successfully slain many sacred cows. No wonder they are out to get him. It is a sad irony that the man who so vociferously warned against the dangers of tribalism has himself become the target of those who would seek to divide and rule. For Peterson’s enemies, his unique ability to inspire millions of disaffected youths is frankly immaterial. The fact that he has dared to question their deeply ingrained orthodoxies means he must be expunged either through ridicule or mischaracterization, both of which he has endured in spades over recent years, the apotheosis being his now infamous run-in with Channel 4 News’s Cathy Newman (26 million views and counting). Peterson won that clash, but he’s losing now.
Rifkind confesses that, for ‘quite liking’ Peterson’s take on ‘fretful masculinity’, he risks getting run out of north London. He’s joking but only a little. It would be the same in most parts of fashionable New York. To acknowledge, as Peterson does, that there is a crisis of masculinity runs counter to the notion that only select minorities have a right to feel aggrieved. White males, regardless of individual circumstance, are unequivocally ‘privileged’ even if statistics show that they are killing themselves in record numbers or that white working-class boys perform worse on average at school than their peers from most other ethnic backgrounds. Truth must never get in the way.
The fact that so many young men now look to Peterson as a surrogate father is surely a damning indictment of our lax parenting skills. During a brief stint as a facilitator at the Good Lad Initiative workshops, I watched in disbelief as radical young social-warrior types tried to convince vulnerable young men of their intrinsic toxicity. Boys were told that traditional masculinity was bad for their health. When I asked my fellow facilitators what they thought of Peterson, they were unanimous in their condemnation, accusing him of being a misogynist and a transphobe. He is in fact neither of these things although he does acknowledge gender differences and resents being impelled to use gendered pronouns, not because he hates trans people but because he views such actions as authoritarian in nature.
Those who seek to tarnish Dr Peterson’s reputation still further will have plenty of opportunities over the coming months. His new 12 Rules for Life book is published in March and has already prompted dozens of complaints from aggrieved staff at his publishers Penguin Random House Canada, with one employee complaining to VICE that ‘people were crying about how Jordan Peterson has affected their lives’. Mikhaila’s terse tweet in response to the complaint should serve as encouragement to anyone cowering before the new authoritarians: ‘How to improve business in 2 steps: Step 1: identify crying adults. Step 2: fire.’ As for Peterson, he still gets upset by what he sees as hit job articles by journalists with an agenda; fearing the worst he made a full recording of his Sunday Times interview with Aitkenhead, which he has subsequently posted online with a firm letter of rebuke. Despite what he has been through, there is still fire in Dr Peterson’s belly.
James Innes-Smith is the author of The Seven Ages of Man: How to Live a Meaningful Life.