Until recently, Jordan Peterson had been a relatively obscure figure outside of a burgeoning and loyal YouTube following. Peterson’s earlier book, Maps of Meaning: the Architecture of Belief, explored social conflict, and territoriality in belief systems, particularly as it pertained to extremism in the defense of belief systems against “chaos.” Peterson, who teaches at the University of Toronto, is a clinical psychologist by training, and he has the personality to match. He is tweedy, stolid, and boring.
But now, boring Jordan Peterson has more than 800,000 followers of his YouTube channel and more than 7 million views of his interview with British television’s Channel 4. Peterson sat for the interview as part of a promotional tour for his new book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. The hostile interlocutor, top-rated political correspondent Cathy Newman, baited Peterson and castigated him for his anti-feminist views. Peterson politely stood his ground, maintaining his heterodox positions about men, women, and identity politics.
The interview flopped, at least for Newman. She came in as an inquisitor for a heretic, and instead she platformed Peterson’s book. 12 Rules soared to number one on Amazon.com in Canada and the United States. Young men and teens, in particular, drove these sales.
What Makes Peterson Possible
Families in the United States are in crisis. Twenty-four million children live in a household without their biological father. Nearly 20 million children live in single-parent homes, almost all of which are headed by women. Children who live without fathers are more likely to use drugs, fail to achieve high levels of education, and commit crime.
Boys know that the burden of this crisis falls mainly on them. The absence of fathers in the home deprives young women of a model of a caring man, but it deprives boys of a model of whom they are to become. Many fatherless boys have no sense of becoming, and the ethos of manhood transmitted from one generation to the next has become increasingly chaotic.
Boys are sent through a school system that is not tuned to their success. Early grades emphasize fine motor and social skills that develop later in boys. Gross motor skills, formerly taught in extensive physical education and unstructured recess, are de-emphasized. Conflict-simulating and rough play are punished rather than channeled. Athletics is divorced from competition. In wholesale fashion, boys are medicated, and sent to special education with a thick IEP, to squeeze them into a pedagogy poorly tailored for their needs. Behaviors common to boys that had been within norms a generation ago are now categorized as ADHD or autism spectrum disorder.
The results become plainly obvious in higher education. According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, women represented more than 57 percent of students receiving a bachelor’s degree. According to the same reports, women earned the vast majority of masters degrees, 60 percent, and the majority of doctoral degrees, 52 percent. Women continue to lag in obtaining degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math. Young men and boys are keenly aware that there is much more concern for the gender imbalance in STEM, where women lag, than there is in every other category where it is males who are falling behind.
Boys, when they get to college, find themselves in an unwelcoming environment. They will read in their college newspapers that the future is female. While many of them are still boyishly—and charmingly—nervous even to speak to a young woman, they will be told that they are part of a “rape culture.” Their professors, administrators, and peers will describe the quality of being a boy as “toxic masculinity.” If they deny the poisonous accident of their birth, peers and teachers will take offense. They will be made to study the catalog of men’s transgressions against women—and if they concentrate in humanities, confess to them. This catalog, they will be made to understand, stretches as far as the eye can see.
The Tomato’s Direction
But these boys will also know deep in their bones that all of this cannot be true. They will sense there is something about this that is deeply wrong. And they will become indignant. The intelligent ones will seek an articulation to help them understand that indignation. Back to Peterson.
Peterson has said at various times and places that the intellectual infrastructure of the North America has been taken over by postmodernists. Peterson traces this to the embrace of the work of Jacques Derrida, beginning at Yale University, and spreading to the entire North American university system. Peterson claims that this postmodernism is a proxy for Marxism, which must masquerade as something other than it is because the failures of Marxism have so discredited its doctrines. In lieu of capital and labor, postmodernism has substituted oppressor and oppressed and invested heavily in a new expression of class struggle known as “identity politics.”
Whittaker Chambers purportedly once said of Joe McCarthy that he “simply knows that someone threw a tomato and the general direction from which it came.” The young in their innocence have a nose for a lie told by an adult. Despite the insistence that the world is fairer and that injustices are righted as new paradigms take the place of the old ones, their experience is telling them this is a lie.
Boys and young men are not doing well in America today, and they are not treated fairly. Someone has thrown a tomato. Jordan Peterson gives boys a sense of the general direction from which it came.