Discovering the Ideas of Jordan Peterson

Jordan Peterson

Recently two prominent columnists, David Brooks of the New York Times and Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal, simultaneously have discovered the ideas of Jordan Peterson, about whom I had known nothing. I now know that he is a University of Toronto psychologist, author of a popular new book, “12 Rules for Life:  An Antidote to Chaos,” and popular YouTube analyst of classical and biblical texts and critic of identity politics and political correctness. [1]

David Brooks’ Observations

For Brooks, Peterson’s “worldview begins with the belief that life is essentially a series of ruthless dominance competitions. The strong get the spoils and the weak become meek, defeated, unknown and unloved.” Peterson argues, says Brooks, that “for much of Western history, Christianity restrained the human tendency toward barbarism. But God died in the 19th century, and Christian dogma and discipline died with him. That gave us the age of ideology, the age of fascism and communism — and with it, Auschwitz, Dachau and the gulag.” Now “we’ve decided to not have any values. We’ll celebrate relativism and tolerance.”

Peterson, according to Brooks, rejects these views. Instead, Peterson emphasizes that “life is suffering” and that everyone needs to “choose discipline, courage and self-sacrifice.”

In Brooks’ opinion, “much of Peterson’s advice sounds to me like vague exhoratory banality. Like Hobbes and Nietzsche before him, he seems to imagine an overly brutalistic universe, nearly without benevolence, beauty, attachment and love. His recipe for self-improvement is solitary, nonrelational, unemotional. I’d say the lives of young men can be improved more through loving attachment than through Peterson’s joyless and graceless calls to self-sacrifice.”

Peggy Noonan’s Observations

Noonan distills Peterson’s new book this way: “Know life’s limits, see and analyze your own, build on what you’ve got and can create. And be brave. Everything else is boring and won’t work.”

These views come from his “respect for the stories and insights into human behavior—into the meaning of things—in the Old and New Testaments. (He’d like more attention paid to the Old.) Their stories exist for a reason, he says, and have lasted for a reason: “They are powerful indicators of reality, and their great figures point to pathways. He respects the great thinkers of the West and the Christian tradition.”

Therefore, says Peterson through Noonan, ”Admit “you will die and on the way to death you will suffer; throughout you will be harassed by evil, both in the world and in your heart. . . .Accept the terrible responsibility of life with eyes wide open. . . . Fix what you can fix. Don’t be arrogant. . . .Become aware of your own insufficiency. . Don’t lie about anything, ever.”

Conclusion

Peterson’s ideas and new book sound intriguing. I am adding the book to my reading list.

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[1]  Brooks, The Jordan Peterson Moment, N.Y. Times (Jan. 25, 2018); Noonan, Who’s Afraid of Jordan Peterson?, W.S.J. (Jan. 25, 2018).