The image painted by Jordan Peterson and supporters alike is of a father, guiding the young men who are drawn to him through a complex and hostile world. “Our culture confuses men’s desire for achievement and competence with the patriarchal desire for tyrannical power,” Peterson said during an interview for GQ. Rarely mentioned, however, are the unfortunate groups attracted to Peterson’s teachings. Detractors routinely accuse Peterson of subtly dog-whistling toward the alt-right, incels (involuntary celibates), and even the alt-lite. Although Peterson denounces such groups, his audience makeup continues to highlight the connection between his teachings and malicious ideologies.
The reality is this: Peterson’s sprinkled condemnations of toxic masculine and authoritarian proclivities do not erase his magnetism among young men with those poisonous inclinations. Broadly speaking, Peterson pushes a strongman masculinity, enforced by pseudo-spirituality, junk-science personality tests, justification of hierarchies, and behaviorism. This emphasis predisposes adherents to accept the injustices and deficiencies of society as originating from the character flaws of individuals, instead of systemic failures, and effects outside their control. Peterson communicates what he considers wrong and right by arguing unfortunate losers in the hierarchy are creations of their own ineptitude. His prophetic side presents worn-out theories and perspectives as originating from intellectualism and nature. Peterson positions his teachings – with the help of myth, archetypes, and the appropriation of religious symbols – as this is how the world works. To question such a construction is, Peterson argues, to be insane. To question Peterson’s construct is to question reality. Peterson has subtly crafted a social totalitarianism; One where men benefit the most.
His world is full of inexplicable danger, and maliciousness is the default. So toughen up and embrace your masculinity. But Peterson’s brand of masculinity is a metaphysical and physical hybrid. Sprinkled in the toughness is enough spirituality to deepen its features. This is why he attracts so many young men, and also why so many fail to see the danger that lurks beneath his proverbs.
Peterson’s masculinity gives his followers plenty of high-minded thought with which to flatter their own sensibilities. He convinces them that their masculinity is something to be clung to, and that its roots run deep. Peterson fashions a spirituality around his masculine identity politics. What better way to prove a claim than to argue that it is an ancient concept of truth? Peterson gifts young men a philosophical justification for their masculine-superior proclivities by relying on naturalism, behaviorism, and spiritual duality.
Enforced by rigid gender dichotomy, Peterson’s philosophical masculinity specializes in attracting men. “Men are so hungry for” responsibility, he says in a 2017 video. In 12 Rules for Life he writes: “It is because men are and throughout history have been the builders of towns and cities…” Boys tilt toward things, he argues. Boy are competitive. They don’t like to obey.
Not so for women. Peterson assumes natural determinism, stating that women naturally fit into hierarchies. They are more agreeable, and “tilt toward” people. In the same video, Peterson asserts: “If a system sets out a structure and says, ‘Here’s a pathway to attainment. The women won’t rebel against that,’ they’ll go along with it.” Women are not the movers and shakers that men are because women already have everything they need to find meaning. Women have their responsibilities and duties outlined from the beginning: give birth, raise children, etc. Their allotment gives them a leg up in the game and snuggly positions them in the dominance hierarchy. Here we observe the many subtle facets of Peterson’s social totalitarianism. Not only is the system masculine and owned by men, but women are inherently dictated to conform to it. In Peterson’s book, nature relegates women to submission because of their agreeable essence. And agreeable people “become indecisive and too easily swayed.” Most job and family troubles, for women, can be traced to their lack of aggressiveness, he adds. “Aggression underlies the drive to be outstanding, to be unstoppable, to compete, to win,” Peterson declares in rule 11 of 12 Rules for Life. So women are not equal contributors to civilization because they do not follow man’s natural aggressiveness. This perspective of women necessitates labeling all questioning, reform, or betterment by women as a rebellion against the natural order.
Peterson makes this definition of rebellion clear in how he encourages his own daughter:
“To stand behind my daughter? That’s to encourage her, in everything she wants courageously to do, but to include in that genuine appreciation the fact of her femininity: to recognize the importance of having a family and children and to forego the temptation to denigrate or devalue that in comparison to accomplishment of personal ambition or career.”
Peterson sinks his daughter’s ultimate worth to the level of biological necessity, signaling she will never be more than the babies she can produce. As described by the word “devalue:” by devaluing motherhood she decides to value something else more. With patronizing words of affection and encouragement he imprisons her ambitions, dreams, and happiness inside her biological functions. On the other hand, Peterson’s son gets support in his “commitment to transcendent good” and worldly progress. Men lead. Women follow and birth more male leaders.
Men even lead in the enlightenment of women. Consciousness rescues women. Consciousness, Peterson argues, is inherently a masculine symbol. Peterson comes just short of saying that women need men to rescue them. Leaving it at too much dependence being bad for everyone.
Peterson enslaves women, while freeing men to aim higher. “Men have to figure out what they have to do,” says Peterson. Male responsibility has become devalued – at least, what has represented the status quo for male responsibility. The culprit is Feminism, with its misguided male privilege theories. Now that men cannot find meaning in responsibility, they settle for pleasure. So men are rebelling by refusing to play the game at all. Peterson blames political correctness and Feminism for the uncoupling of young men from the nostalgic responsibility that he believes gave their lives so much meaning.
This pillar of Peterson’s perspective is ingeniously subversive. By villainizing social structures as the source of personal problems, Peterson creates an “us versus society” mindset and a victimhood complex. You – as a man – are no longer the problem, you are the victim of grand malevolent forces. Feminism has stripped you of your masculine responsibilities. Since society no longer values monogamy (which is a lie), how will you find value and confidence when all roads are closed to you? The game of oppressor and oppressed, and privilege has turned men away from social cooperation. Peterson’s victimhood narrative is attractive to young men who cling to rigid masculinity in the wake of “Feminazis.” Peterson provides a familiar harbor where their masculine proclivities can stew safely.
Rigid masculinity necessitates rigid gender roles. Peterson offers exactly that at the end of one of his lectures:
“People are pack animals. They need to pull against a weight…For the typical person, they’ll eat themselves up unless they have a load. This is why there’s such an opiate epidemic among dispossessed white middle-aged guys who are unemployed in the US. It’s like, they lose their job. They’re done. They despise themselves. They develop chronic pain syndrome and depression, and the chronic pain is treated with opiates.”
He connects the deconstruction of the male-as-breadwinner stereotype, to the corruption of young men. Peterson does not suggest men should detach themselves from this shallow stereotype because it enslaves men to a rigid perspective. The possibility that equating men to “pack animals” is unhealthy never crosses his mind.
There is nothing wrong with supporting a family. Where that runs afoul is beginning and ending one’s personal worth with this role. This is why some men opt to commit suicide rather than tell their spouse about a job loss. Peterson wallpapers over the flaws, hammering this identity into the minds of his young, male disciples. Patriarchal systems enslave women – and even men – to some higher power, usually nature. Peterson’s masculinity is no different.
Nature is just the foundation for this enslavement. Card by card, Peterson balances up his house with complementing ideas, including hierarchies, hero archetypes and myth.
Hierarchies are inseparable from his male-female dichotomy. Peterson criticizes the left for flattening hierarchies, leaving society unable to solve complex problems. Without hierarchies, without the ability to prioritize, humans lose their worth, meaning, and direction in life.
Peterson paints only in black and white, accusing the left of plotting to abolish all hierarchies. The paint stroke is too broad to portray reality. Suggesting that the Left plots to eradicate the hierarchy of prioritizing is misleading. It is equally misleading to label prioritizing, a hierarchy. Peterson skips around from one of his pet hierarchies to another, with little definition of the differences. He equates basic biological taxonomic hierarchy you learned in high school (species, genus, family, etc) with the hierarchy in a corporate cubicle hell-hole. The only similarity is in the word, “hierarchy.” “Species” do not give yearly bonuses to “genus,” that is absurd. Conversely, the corporate cubicle hell-hole is not classified by the latin names of its organisms.
This obsessive focus on hierarchies creates the distaste in so many mouths. His incessant harping on inequality, hierarchies, masculinity, and weakness is reminiscent of dog-whistle politics. Peterson’s defense – sprinkled with token calls to balance and criticism – reeks of an ideological movement that looks for an excuse to dismiss any injustice that does not bolster their privileged lifestyle. Regardless, his audience uses his ramblings to justify a rigid system of oppressive gender and class hierarchies.
Peterson also states that hierarchies are not natural, but the human brain has evolved to consider them natural. His fatherly advice is to conform. This is often his advice. Does inequality exist? Well, conform to it. Trying to eradicate inequality is paramount to “social suicide.” Peterson never suggests that there are other societal values besides work competency, material wealth, and physical attractiveness.
Speaking of physical attractiveness. Peterson’s masculine-superior dog whistling is incomplete without mentioning his favorite crustacean; the lobster. His appeal to these creatures is comical, misguided, and even disturbing “See! Even this microcosm of nature bolsters my teachings.” A myriad of animals can be (and have been) trotted out to prove any number of ideological whims. For example, male seahorses carry their eggs during gestation, lending an example of stay at home fathers. The ribbon eel is a protandric hermaphrodite that is born as a male and transitions to a female, providing a nature-based justification for transgenderism. Do not forget clownfish, another protandric hermaphrodite. They group in harems of one large female with a small reproductive male and an even smaller non-reproductive male. If the female is removed, the reproductive male flips into a female, and the non-reproductive male will become fertile.
Ignoring these inconvenient examples, Peterson handpicks a handful of animals that embody his hierarchies, and their trappings. The lobster is a definition of a successful male, with its domination, and the sexual and physical accoutrements that come with it.
Peterson’s hierarchy is based on competency. Competency, not power, determines our social position, he argues. Why? In the GQ interview Peterson simply says, “That’s why our society works.” For him, only when a society degenerates into tyranny do social relationships become dependent on power. Amazon’s placement of its HQ2 close to the two seats of American power – New York City and Washington DC – may not fit Peterson’s definition of tyranny.
Peterson admits that Western culture is by no means perfect, with some level of tyranny. But, he quickly adds, our society is the least tyrannical in the history of the world. This broad statement is proved false by quickly thumbing over to any economic freedom index on the internet.
Vague and vapid economic anecdotes like the one above brush away the nuance and complexity of the market, especially given our regulated economy where big businesses take advantage by any means necessary. For example, occupational licensing, limits the supply of service providers and increases prices for consumers. And ride-sharing services promise freedom and self-control to employees, while eeking by on unsustainable practices and low pay. With abstracted and ambiguous economic quips, Peterson whitewashes over the injustice and corruption that exist.
But Peterson does not stop at dumbing down economics in his relentless pursuit to exonerate hierarchies of any wrongdoing. When forced to acknowledge atrocities, Peterson shifts the blame from the institution to the individual by blaming the “unrealized self.” In rule 8 of 12 Rules for Life, Peterson writes:
“If you betray yourself, if you say untrue things, if you act out a lie, you weaken your character. If you have a weak character, then adversity will mow you down when it appears, as it will, inevitably. You will hide, but there will be no place left to hide. And then you will find yourself doing terrible things.”
Here he connects horrendous atrocities committed by ordinary people with their inability to say “no.” This inability to say “no” originates in hiding from others, which suppresses and obscures “the potentialities of the unrealized self.” They failed to reveal themselves to others, and subsequently from themselves. The atrocities of Nazi Germany, Soviet gulags, and the My Lai massacre of unarmed South Vietnamese civilians by US troops are the result of people hiding from themselves. They betrayed themselves. They spoke untrue things.
Peterson leaves out the role of external authority in individuals’ choices. Hierarchies are built on conformity and obedience. Hierarchies condition lower-ranking members to experience discomfort when disobeying. Hierarchies breed homogeneous behavior, because the sheep conform to their peers and follow orders from above. The individual’s perception of responsibility shifts and they later downplay the influence the group had on their behavior. One feels less responsible for an action demanded by an authority, creating more moral tolerance for actions of evil.
Stanley Milgram’s experiments on obedience to authority in the 1960s illustrate the perverse influence of some hierarchies on the human conscience. The experiments required random subjects to administer electrical shocks of accelerating severity to another person, testing how far they would go before disobeying the instructor. Peterson’s mumbo-jumbo, inspirational platitudes suggest that normal people would have to lie to themselves in order to participate in torture or genocide.. But as we see in Milgram’s study, people can participate in these horrible actions because of Peterson’s precious hierarchies when personal responsibility moves up onto the authority that ordered it. Hierarchies historically have enabled propaganda to dehumanize the victim group. Buffers and distance between the soldier and victim remove feelings of guilt and empathy. Authoritarian conditioning prevents breaking rank or the social order. Combine all of these ingredients into one community; the result is an effective recipe for perpetrating atrocities, and it’s only a few degrees removed from the recipe prescribed by Peterson in his work. As Milgram outlines in his book, “Obedience to Authority:”
“This is, perhaps, the most fundamental lesson of our study: ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority. A variety of inhibitions against disobeying authority come into play and successfully keep the person in his place.”
Experts consulted before the experiment believed that subjects would rebel against the experimenter, believing that no person with a normal conscience would voluntary hurt another person. Yet, over half of the participants administered electric shocks to the highest (fatal) level. Subjects explicitly justified their actions by shifting responsibility to the authority figure. Many only continued to hit the torture button after receiving a verbal acknowledgement that all blame would be on the instructor. Plenty of subjects expressed hesitation, verbally appealing to moral sentiment. But very few connected this lip service to action. Those who did act did so with a mindset of free choice. They saw the possibility of action outside of the acceptable parameters presented by authority. The injustice of fatally shocking a helpless victim was obvious to everyone. What was difficult was making that acknowledgement an action. The action was a simple defiance of an arbitrary and simple authority. Saying no to a vague authority was a bigger moral bother than murder.
Hierarchy is the structure for man’s domination in Peterson’s social totalitarianism. But myth provides the gospel. Peterson utilizes a collection of theories and rhetoric to encapsulate this pseudo-spiritual masculine dominance. Mythology is a big part of this collection; along with heroism, the appropriation of religious symbols, and Carl Jung’s archetypes. Carl Jung’s school of thought influenced a significant portion of Peterson’s teachings.
Carl Jung believed that humanity’s ancestral and evolutionary past imprinted certain characteristics on it. These characteristics show up in dreams, literature, art, religion, etc. Jung labeled them “archetypes.” The power of these archetypes comes from the assumption that they are traits passed down from our primordial ancestors.
The hero is a constant reference in Peterson’s teachings, and is a main Jungian archetype. The hero pursues grand adventure. He fights the dragon, embodying a great challenge to overcome. Every adventure and challenge molds the hero into the man he is destined to become. But the hero cannot become himself until he grows up. Conveniently for Peterson, growing up comprises regular life choices like having and supporting a family, and taking responsibility.
The hero archetype is the subject of myths. Myths are one of Peterson’s biggest crutches. This narrative of grandeur, reserved for men, shape Peterson’s masculine fantasy. According to him, archetypes permeate the world and are eternal. Humanity is predisposed to adapt to that which lasts forever. This makes the archetypal world our true environment. This is how Peterson strengthens men’s masculinity as absolute and righteous. He outlines a picture of healthy masculinity and lays down a foundation that he argues is immutable. Myth reaffirms basic truth instead of mirroring subjective social norms. Of course he finds Feminist critiques frustrating. To him, it is comparable to critiquing the theory of gravity; it is insanity to do so.
Trailing behind Peterson, his male followers continue along in their privileged delusion. They believe they have found meaning for their lives. In fact, man was always imbued with meaning, the lucky one of the two sexes. These men claim their privilege is nonexistent, and that they are the real victims in the culture war. By shirking off the guilty verdict of privilege, they have found an alternative that reasserts their privilege. Men are the heroes; the focal point of the story. Women are relegated to fulfilling their duties, which requires no grand adventure to discover (thanks to nature). By imbuing their masculinity with an inherent sense of adventure and self-discovery, they have positioned themselves above nature and above women. By using past myth to communicate eternal truth, they reinforce group relationships and morality into a male-dominated system.
Peterson’s hero rhetoric, although rooted in archetypes, has real-world implications. Peterson has already positioned men as the movers and shakers of humanity. To reach your full potential, you must grow up. Men have this the hardest, according to Peterson. They need to find their meaning. The hero’s journey is exceptional and only experienced by the worthiest of individuals. The hero confronts the unknown world and all of its dangers in order to conquer it and ultimately make it habitable for others. It is this voluntary pursuit, Peterson clarifies, that makes it “possible to find deep meaning.” The hero’s journey defines success and failure, Peterson adds:
“…the successful person is the successful hero who establishes order in the midst of chaos and sets up a domain in which he and his family, let’s say, and the community can survive and thrive. The unsuccessful is someone who fails at that and then perhaps, even worse, becomes embittered by that failure and turns against life and begins to act in a malevolent manner and a destructive manner.”
The adoption of the hero as the catalyst of meaning, the hero’s journey as the definer of success, and Peterson’s male predisposition for aggressiveness, all together cast heroism as a distinctly manly endeavor. If women are naturally agreeable, content to obey the hierarchies they have been born into, why would they take up the hero’s journey? Yes, Peterson might try to avoid this by clarifying the hero’s journey and its male-female distinctions as a symbolic representations of masculinity. Because of its symbolic nature, women are not inherently prohibited from heroism. However, the symbolism does little to soften the message Peterson is sending: the journey of self-discovery is a masculine one. Peterson’s construction, by utilizing masculine language and symbols, prevents women from being a part of the narrative. Marianna Fotaki, professor of business ethics at the University of Warwick Business School, best describes this subjugated nature of symbolic masculine language in “No Woman is Like a Man (in Academia): The Masculine Symbolic Order and the Unwanted Female Body:”
“…speaking through the restricted trope of the masculine logos puts women in a position of an ‘invisible’, ‘voiceless’ or ‘silenced’ other or often as self-abjected women…”
Women are the “other,” because masculinity is the default. Women cannot take ownership in this world of meaning, because Peterson has relegated to them to a corner labeled “naturalistic determinism.” They are not physically segregated; merely advised (read, socially coerced/indoctrinated) to take a pathway better suited to their femininity.
This veneration for the hero, and its masculine categorization resemble the ideology of Thomas Carlyle (1795 – 1881). A Scottish philosopher and author of “On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History,” Carlyle’s book and beliefs are one of the earliest influences for fascism. A famous quote from Carlyle sums up his hero worship: “The history of the world is but the biography of great men.” Heroes, Carlyle believed, had an inherent capability to rule. This ability designated heroes worthy of ruling the masses. Heroes decided history and the course of humanity. So the masses were preconditioned to be ruled by an elite few. Because of this conditioning, Carlyle believed inequality is natural. Everything of value originates from inequality. Carlyle was an opponent of democracy, capitalism, abolition of slavery, and voting rights, opting for a state-mandated, social hierarchy with the most competent men at the top and the least competent on bottom (sound familiar?). His hierarchy consisted of disciplined economic groups functioning as a military unit.
This is not to say that Peterson’s worldview is borrowed from fascist ideologies, or that he is a fascist. Yet, the connections between Peterson’s teachings and fascist rhetoric and language is worrisome. For example, Peterson fails to acknowledge the damage done by totalitarian regimes utilizing rigid gender norms and stereotypes. Rigid gender norms were a hallmark of fascist regimes and movements. Mussolini pushed for a virile masculinity, defined by outdoor sports, chiseled features, and war as the training ground for manhood. The Italian novelist and supporter turned dissident of Mussolini’s, Mario Carli, described war as “something sublime because it forces every man to face the dilemma of choosing between heroism and cowardice.” J. A. Mangan’s “Superman Supreme: Fascist Body as Political Icon” outlines the pervasiveness of masculinity throughout various fascist movements, including Brazil, Spain, Italy, and China.
These similarities, at the very least, could explain why the alt-right and related white supremacist variants are attracted to Peterson’s teachings.
Peterson thinks men are flocking to him because they are craving meaning in a society that demonizes them. It never struck Peterson that he is attracting men thanks to his combo of behaviorism and male superiority. Behaviorism is attractive because it answers complex issues with simple checklists. It is a theory that posits the importance of environmental stimuli – and especially reinforcement and punishment – in understanding human and animal behavior, as well as in treating psychological disorders. It is attractive for the same reason legalism is attractive: follow these rules and no trouble will come your way. Little to no mindset or worldview change is required. Peterson advocates behaviorism as any stereotypical, pessimistic father figure would. A behaviorist is, according to Peterson, the “most logical, clinical type of psychologist;” an “initiatory shaman.”
Behaviorism is vital to strongman masculinity. The strongman advocates a specific set of behavior, for the agreeable and aggressive alike. For women, stay in your lane; do not question the inherent duty you have been prescribed, such as motherhood. Women, do not usurp the men in your life. For men, it is about grooming and sustaining the apex-creature image that keeps them in power. Keep your shoulders up so others respect you. Do not exhibit feminine characteristics, or else other men will mock you, and women will not date you (because women want manly men). Act strong, confident, and capable of aggression to be successful. Why? Because you want women to be attracted to you and other men to respect you.
Peterson highlights in Rule 11 the behaviorism of strongman masculinity during his days working on a railroad line crew. He describes the toughness and manly chumminess of the all-male crew. New recruits were socially, physically, and emotionally hazed before being accepted. Peterson mentions a particular new recruit who was too effeminate, and unable to take a joke. At no point does Peterson stop and wonder if the man’s reactions and “bitchiness” were a result of the cruel actions of the crew. Nor does he criticize the crew. He places all the blame on the victim. He holds up the behavior of the crew as a gold standard for manly interaction, one which the new guy couldn’t handle. A misguided diagnosis by Peterson that whitewashes bullying and hazing.
After this anecdote, Peterson lists a mini manifesto of the male code of behavior:
“Do your work. Pull your weight. Stay awake and pay attention. Don’t whine or be touchy. Stand up for your friends. Don’t suck up and don’t snitch. Don’t be a slave to stupid rules. Don’t, in the immortal words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, be a girlie man. Don’t be dependent. At all. Ever. Period. The harassment that is part of acceptance on a working crew is a test: are you tough, entertaining, competent and reliable? If not, go away. Simple as that. We don’t need to feel sorry for you. We don’t want to put up with your narcissism, and we don’t want to do your work.”
How a clinical psychologist can call this healthy is disturbing. He advocates indifference to the emotional needs of others and an unwillingness to accept help. He normalizes bullying as some sick friendship test. Furthermore, Peterson takes the behavior of these men at face value. He avoids any critical analysis, opting to see the antics of shitty people as the tried and true process for acceptance. This is how the game is played, therefore it must be played.
Strongman masculinity is reinforced in Peterson’s use of enforced monogamy in relation to Incels. He has rebutted Incel grumblings multiple times. If you’re not aware, Incels (an abbreviation of involuntary celibates) are an internet subculture of white, male heterosexuals who believe they have been denied sex. Yet, Peterson still provides a framework for helping Incels on their own terms. He does not discuss it in the same victimhood terms that Incels do. But he does sprinkle enough victimhood language to sweeten the pot. In an appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast, the two clashed over Peterson’s usage of “forced monogamy” in relation to Incels:
Rogan: Why is enforced monogamy the solution for people that are involuntary celibates?
Peterson: It is the solution to the relationship between men and women, fundamentally is monogamous social norms.
Rogan: But these men are unattractive. If these men are unattractive, and I don’t mean physically unattractive, women aren’t seeking them as mates. They need to become men. That’s the solution.
Peterson: But they need to do that in a society where monogamy is the social norm.
Peterson went on to say that polygamous societies are unhealthy to men, because they group all the women with a minority of men. Polygamous societies are also unhealthy to women and children, because it leaves one without proper attention and love, and the other without a stable environment for growth. Rogan counters Peterson’s entire proposition by saying that his guest’s critique is a hypothetical. Our society is not polygamous. It is strongly monogamous. Rogan believes the answer for Incels is to become attractive. For him, Incels and enforced monogamy are not related.
Expounding on his website, Peterson connects enforced monogamy to social regulation:
“Men get frustrated when they are not competitive in the sexual marketplace (note: the fact that they DO get frustrated does not mean that they SHOULD get frustrated. Pointing out the existence of something is not the same as justifying its existence). Frustrated men tend to become dangerous, particularly if they are young. The dangerousness of frustrated young men (even if that frustration stems from their own incompetence) has to be regulated socially. The manifold social conventions tilting most societies toward monogamy constitute such regulation.”
Structuring behavior is just another facet of the social totalitarianism Peterson constructs. Yes, social structure is important. What society values and normalizes is no trivial matter. Yet, Peterson wades into dangerous waters by treating personal problems with social engineering. You forgo the complexities of life by offering up structural solutions as a form of salvation. Plus, this risks subjugating the many in order to help a few wayward men. But this risk pales in comparison to Peterson’s ignorance (or purposeful deception). As Rogan stated, Society is already monogamous. Peterson pushes social legalism by deceiving his followers about this societal fact. The fear of polygamy is a red herring to distract from the brokenness of our social norms. So the reinforcement of monogamy is a dog whistle to strongman masculinity: it reasserts women’s place in a system designed for men to dominant and conquer (i.e. heroism).
Hierarchies and behaviorism go hand in hand. Hierarchies instill proper behavior (i.e. social constructs emanating from social values, not necessarily healthy or true). To succeed in the hierarchy requires adhering to its behaviorism. Peterson inadvertently outlines how society instils its authority through behaviorism in rule 5: “Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.” The parenting advice in this chapter is behaviorism to its core.
Parenting, Peterson outlines, is a constant mix of rewards and punishment which are all aimed to instill proper behavior in children. Proper behavior is a necessity for children to have a chance at successful life in society. Proper behavior is not determined by the parent’s values, but by what will acclimate the child into society. Why teach children to obey and listen to adults? Because they are dependent on adults for survival. Children should “act in a manner that simultaneously ensures optimal adult attention,” and gracefully meets the expectations of society. Peterson elaborates:
“This does not mean crushed into mindless ideological conformity. It means instead that parents must reward those attitudes and action that will bring their child success in the world outside the family, and use threat and punishment when necessary to eliminate behaviors that will lead to misery and failure.”
It is not that social adjustment is innately wrong, or that rewarding and punishing children is wrong. It is specifically Peterson’s reliance on behaviorism to make socially-compliant children that is unnerving. His reasoning goes like this: teach children appropriate behavior to fit into society’s definition of what is acceptable. Said children will then be successful in society. Each positive behavior Peterson describes is to please others. Be fun to hang out with so that others invite you back. Cultivate a proper sleeping habit so your parents do not resent you, and can enjoy their lives. Follow these rules and you will be welcomed everywhere. Ultimately, behave to please others so they like you and want you back.
This collectivism is apparent to Peterson. But behaviorism has the potential to squash individualism and free-thinking. Peterson barely mentions this in passing; and only in reference to ideological conformity, not social conformity. He gives no explanation for why biting, bullying, or irregular sleep habits are unhealthy or immoral – just that these behaviors prevent fitting in with the crowd.
This shallow explanation is further shown in Peterson’s statement that a woman has the ability to say no to a “powerful, narcissistic man” only because she has “social norms, the law, and the state backing her up.” Peterson argues that women cannot utter the word “no” without the threat of punishment toward men. If all that holds men back from assaulting women is the threat of punishment, then society has bigger problems than lackadaisical parents.
Nowhere does Peterson state that maybe society considers it immoral to physically violate another person. This reduces men to animals who must be continually threatened to not rape women. This removes their personal agency and responsibility. Peterson references this inherent sexuality of men in a VICE interview:
“What are rules that govern sexual interactions between men and women in the workplace? The answer is, we don’t know. So I’m throwing out some questions. How about makeup? That’s ok. Is it? Why? Why is it ok?”
Peterson’s approach to sexual harassment in the workplace is behaviorism, victim blaming, and animalism all in one. First, to say that the rules are unknown or blurry is to misread the situation. The rules were always there. But consequences were lacking. Secondly, the problem is not his criticism of high heels and makeup as sexual signals. Feminists have been making this connection for decades. The problem is how he pushes the problem onto the female body. For him, makeup is to sexual harassment what skirts are to rape. It is victim-blaming. Men are not sex-charged robots lacking consciousness or free will. They are not defined by their biological urges alone. How a man perceives women defines a significant portion of how he will treat them.
As someone who positions himself as bringing responsibility back to the masses (especially young men), Peterson’s behaviorism ironically begins degenerating humans to the level of Pavlov’s dog. Peterson’s parenting style is simply the clearest example of this. Peterson’s behaviorism leaves little to no room for morality, or awareness of the petty social standards imposed on us daily. What society requires of you is rarely just, moral, healthy, or worthy.
Social structures influence us heavily. Failing to constructively question and critique those structures leads us to place all the blame on ourselves (as Peterson does for those who have committed horrible atrocities, as referenced earlier). This failure shapes social perceptions of who is a victim; completing the recipe for social totalitarianism. If society’s structures are natural and success is largely determined by removing harmful behavior, then the chance of the blame for failing landing on the individual, not external factors, is high.
Peterson goes on to solidify the view that not everyone who is failing is a victim. If you are failing or feel resentment, only two explanations exist: you are a victim of injustice, or you are being selfish and refusing to better yourself. In rule 3, Peterson outlines the possible root of your misery:
“Maybe your misery is your attempt to prove the world’s injustice, instead of the evidence of your own sin, your own missing of the mark, your conscious refusal to strive and to live.”
Yes, not all failure is the result of forces outside of your control. And some people do play the victim card to divert attention from themselves. But Peterson does not leave it there. He fashions a false dichotomy, and then slants the scales toward selfishness. He explains that failure’s existence requires no explanation. Failure and vice are the easy paths. All that failure requires is the cultivation of a few bad habits. Conversely, success and virtue are what need explanation. They are the mystery. This reinforces the perception that the downtrodden are victims of their own misfortune. Peterson says it explicitly: “It is far more likely that a given individual has just decided to reject the path upward, because of its difficulty. Perhaps that should even be your default assumption, when faced with such a situation.”
It is a mind blowing case of pessimism. It desensitizes us to the poor and unfortunate. It is a binary state of success or failure, dangerously combined with victim-blaming. Peterson crafts a de facto outlook of social totalitarianism (although he has and would deny it). First, Peterson takes the reality of life and moralizes it. Hierarchies are effective and if balanced correctly (a big “if”), are exceedingly just. If you are competent, goal-oriented, and socially-adjusted, you will find meaning and success within the hierarchy. To become all those things, parents must instruct their children to behave in line with social expectations. After that, failure is most likely due to selfishness, laziness, and whining. Peterson moralizes this dichotomy even more: accepting failure as your responsibility is living authentically. Those who blame something or someone else are inauthentic. If you fail in the hierarchy, and lie to yourself, you deny your inner truth.
Peterson compounds this by dehumanizing, gaslighting, and victim-blaming the outcast, disobedient, and dissimilar. All of these are important components in social hierarchies. Failing to accept your failure as your own fault is one thing; it is another to openly buck the system. Disobedient children are described as “rats,” “little monsters,” “devils,” “brats,” and “varmint.” Peterson even physically menaces these children. In one disturbing instance in rule 5, Peterson jokes about throwing a small boy thirty feet. “No, I didn’t,” he clarifies, “But it would have been better for him if I did.” That would have been child abuse.
Peterson’s victim-blaming even covers the destruction of New Orleans by hurricane Katrina in rule 6. The city was taken down by “blindness and corruption” because a mandated levee system was not finished. “A hurricane is an act of God,” says Peterson, “But failure to prepare, when the necessity for preparation is well known – that’s sin…And the wages of sin is death.” A natural disaster, in Peterson’s eyes, is punishment for sin. The city failed to carry out their duty competently. They deserved what happened to them, because they were disobedient.
Nothing compares to the utter dehumanization in rule 9, ironically titled “Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.” Here, over the course of seven pages, Peterson gaslights a female client who said she was raped multiple times. From his description, this is a woman who has had a difficult life. But the first thing Peterson jumps to is the involvement of alcohol. He goes on to label her “a ghost of a person,” unable to think for herself. She was “a walking cacophony of unintegrated experiences,” “a movie played out of focus,” and “vague and non-existent.” She is also “unfulfilled sexually,” afraid of men, ignorant of the world, and easily influenced. He proceeds to victim-blame this woman:
“I thought, ‘Part of you wants to be taken. Part of you wants to be a child. You were abused by your brothers and ignored by your father and so part of you wants revenge upon men. Part of you is guilty. Another part is ashamed. Another part is thrilled and excited. Who are you? What did you do? What happened?’ What was the objective truth? There was no way of knowing the objective truth. And there never would be.”
This woman, Peterson describes, has never held a job. She lives off of welfare. In Peterson’s view, based on his definition of a functioning adult in the social hierarchy, she is a miserable failure. She is the encapsulation of the unadjusted, suffering in misery, because she failed the social hierarchy. And he rips into her for it. Empathy is nowhere to be seen. Her humanity is brushed aside.
Social tyrannies subsist on mythology. Not the mythology you are familiar with, but the mythology of a broad nature; the use of cultural materials to sell products or reinforce the status quo. “This is how the world works” is a mythological symbol. It naturalizes a cultural view or entity, strengthening its position in society by making people believe it is an absolute instead of a construct. The French literary theorist, Roland Barthes outlined the bulk of this approach to culture in his book “Mythologies.” His work contrasts sharply with Peterson’s use of myth to communicate basic and evolutionary truths.
As laid out earlier, Peterson’s myths reinforce the dominance of society via Jungian personality-test-ish archetypes. What Peterson states is natural is just subjective, culturally specific characteristics that funnel people into acceptable roles.
His image of success as mystical, and failure as easily explained bolsters the view of success as a signifier for virtue and decency. The myth of success leads you to believe those with money and material positions have it together, and/or are morally upright. The myth of failure is that feeling of disgust whenever you venture into a low-income neighborhood. Poverty is uncomfortable because it is associated with immorality.
Hierarchies are based on status and power, but Peterson would have you believe they are based on competency, and that competency is indicative of virtue. Competency is not the end all be all, nor the sole cause of someone’s success. But you would never know that by listening to Peterson. His myth of competency blinds you to the reality of the world. Peterson’s mythology is adept at creating sacred cows at every turn. The purpose of myth, in fact. Sacred cows prevent rebellion and heresy. They prevent questioning.
Peterson’s blend of religious symbols, myth, and doctrine is nothing new. It is a tool in this myth creating. The West has done a remarkable job recently in appropriating ancient religious practices to suit modern needs. This silly fashioning of meaningless ritual by The West makes it incompatible with the ritual’s origins. Peterson is no different.
Like any effective social totalitarianism, the lie of earthly salvation is dangled out in front to distract us from the suffocation to come. “To place the alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering at the pinnacle of your hierarchy of value,” Peterson proclaims, “is to work to bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth.” If you act properly, which is to say follow the axioms outlined in his teachings, everything will “stack up and align along a single axis,” Peterson says, “everything will come together.” Despite his continual references to Being, meaning, and other lofty non-materialistic aims, Peterson always returns to earth. Materialistic success – as defined by riches, spouse, and social approval – surrounds every exaltation. Hierarchies focus on the materialistic. To be competent is to be materialistically successful, and vise versa. How “unnecessary pain” is to be alleviated in a system that values the accumulation of wealth above all else, and demonizes the unfortunate is beyond me. Maybe the clarifier “unnecessary” hints to the true aims of his system.
Peterson creation, constructed with the power of hierarchies, is devoid of a God. His judges every man according to their assimilation to the rigid expectations of society. That which is normal is good. Normal being the status quo, how it’s always been done, etc. Behind every assimilated man, is an even more assimilated woman. Defined by her ability to rear children and choose a mate. Peterson’s doctrine sounds freeing at first glance. But they are the ramblings of a father who just wants his kids to get a good education, find a nice girl, get a good job, and settle down with well-behaved kids. Unfortunately for Peterson, he has created a mythology that traps us in this present earthly hell.
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