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I won’t be buying Jordan Peterson’s new book, and you shouldn’t either

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Like most outspoken public intellectuals on the right, Jordan Peterson uses gibberish and verbosity to disguise the fact that he has nothing particularly insightful to say.

If you found 12 Rules For Life enlightening, as apparently many did, you may be tempted to read Beyond Order: 12 More Rules For Life, in which Peterson will surely inflict further suffering on the pasture of reasoned discourse by giving us another brain-rotting mix of half-formed tripe to ingest.

I have various reasons for loathing this tedious page-hogger. The first is that you can only assume there is something inherently flawed about a self-help book that has sold over 5 million copies while never really saying anything new or revelatory.

Another reason is his stance on gay marriage, opposing it on account of it being “backed by cultural Marxists” and representing “an assault on traditional modes of being”, or his views on same-sex adoption, which he is sceptical of because he believes the “nuclear family is the smallest viable human unit: mother, father, child – and if you fragment it below that you end up paying.”

When presented with actual opposition in the form of Sam Harris, Peterson excused his inability to formulate a coherent argument by blaming it on the apple cider he had one sip of almost a month before.

Peterson, then, is an intellectual fraud. Nathan Robinson summed up the sort of endemic public unwellness that led to him becoming shit-talker-in-chief by calling him “the intellectual we deserve”, while Houman Barekat delivered the brutal “surrogate-dad-for-gormless-dimwits” line.

Reading him is like being cornered at a party by some middle-class stoner who has misunderstood Nietzsche but insists on talking to you about it anyway. Not to mention his point-blank refusal to use a short word where a long one will do.

The psychologist moaned his way into our collective conscience by opposing Canada’s Bill C-16, which was amended in 2017 to protect trans people from discrimination in areas such as housing.

True to form, Peterson failed to compute the actual point of the law, loftily insisting that it was a totalitarian “compelled speech” bill. No one in Canada has since been charged with Pronoun Crime.

He’s also full of contradictions: Peterson’s odd theory of inceldom, where “jocks” have their pick of the women – with dire consequences for society – goes against his constant whining about “equality of outcome” being Stalinism. And despite appointing himself as the rational consul of free speech, he told an audience how he’d “happily slap” a journalist who he disagreed with and threatened to sue Irin Carmon for “referring to him as a misogynist.”

Of course, a lot of what Peterson says is true and so obvious it makes you wonder how it ever got to print in the first place but it’s dressed up in a way that imbues it with an otherwise absent profundity.

Peterson is popular among a certain type of self-pitying conservative because he seems to justify their aimless rage with science. He doesn’t, he just says what everybody already knows in a long and complex way so that once you’ve finally made some sense of it there’s a kind of intellectual satisfaction.

Grandiloquence lures the idle reader into perceiving wisdom that, let’s face it, doesn’t exist. His status as a best-seller is more likely attributed to his online following, Barekat notes, as opposed to his credentials within his scholarly milieu. As H.G Wells put it: ‘If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.’

Writing in the New Statesman, Johanna Thomas-Carr forewarns readers of Beyond Order’s predictable limitations, noting that ‘as you plough on, you find a shard of something unnerving: petty jibes at young environmentalists, censorious judgements of women who want babies after the age of 29, and hypocritical tutting at couples who cohabit before marriage.’

Roseate views of power and hierarchy aside, Peterson fails to understand or sympathise with the desires of those whose politics run counter to his own: When a young environmentalist walks into his clinic for treatment, confiding how troubled she is at the effects of human activity on the planet, Peterson’s prejudices come to the fore, inspiring “two pages of ranting in which he describes the young woman as ‘morally superior’, an ‘ideologue’ possessed by ‘generic, impersonal, and cynical ideas’ and an ‘anti-human’ attitude… He refuses to treat [her], believing she should ‘get her priorities right.’”

Given that 120,000 square kilometres of tropical forest were lost in 2018, or that Indonesia is in the process of changing its capital city because its current one is sinking, I wonder what it is that Peterson deems to be high on the priority list?

If you want a deluge of outdated hogwash from a guy who thinks western civilisation hasn’t adapted to the birth control pill, and that the pill has led to the destruction of western civilisation by causing the women’s liberation movement to happen, thus depriving women of their “natural role as mothers”, conflates trans activism with Maoism, and thinks women complaining about sexual harassment in the workplace while at the same time wearing makeup is “hypocritical”, Beyond Order will probably stoke your excitement. 

That, then, will be a total of 24 rules dumped out of Peterson’s stodgy, constipated mind. Even the alchemy of multi-syllabic grandeur fails to invest even one of them with any veneer. 

But, I’m an optimist, and maybe after 100, or even 1000, he might just come up with one worth thinking about.

Cover image: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons. Image was cropped. Licence here.

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