Tag Archives: Jordan Peterson

Your Life, Your Power and Jordan Peterson’s “12 Rules”

Pursue what is meaningful, not merely what is immediately expedient. Stand up straight and face the world with courage and confidence. Get your own life in order before you go out and try to save the world. Treat yourself like a person whom you are responsible for. Tell the truth.

These incredibly obvious pieces of advice are some of the aphorisms found in one of the biggest selling books of the moment: Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life. The success of the book and the “academic rock star” status it’s author has achieved recently suggest just how far we have gone off track in teaching the young about life, when such aphorisms come as revelations to many.

Still, 12 Rules for Life is a very good book, and one that many people could benefit from reading. Peterson, who has a vast network of followers on YouTube, is predominately attracting a younger male audience, and I suspect that the book will appeal mostly to them. I see his influence as being a positive development in the evolution of masculinity, as I argued in a recent blog post. Even I, as an older male, found much of value in the book. And women of any age could easily benefit from it as well.

One theme that runs through the book is that we need to teach responsibility to children by setting appropriate boundaries. We need to let them play and explore the world, to make their own mistakes.

Now, given that so many of we adults have matured with deficient parenting, we must teach ourselves such practical wisdom.

Contained within many of the author’s points are fascinating anecdotes and specific, practical applications. Peterson tells stories gleaned from his own life experience, as well as from his experience as a clinical psychologist. There is a lot of history to draw from. The tales keep the text alive, much as with his online videos.

Jordan Peterson’s background as a psychologist influences his teachings. He draws upon biology and evolutionary theory to help explicate many of his points. He famously compares human neurophysiology to that of the lobster, while making the point that we exist in hierarchies that are at least partly explicable as evolutionary patterns. His advice is then to “stand up straight”, following the example of the body language of dominant lobsters. But Peterson is no biological determinist, as his online videos show. He’s simply acknowledging that we humans are not merely ghosts in biological machines, whereby free will and culture determine all behaviour.

 

Biblical allusions
Jordan Peterson draws from many religious and spiritual traditions to clarify and expand his insights, but most frequently from Christianity. One aspect of the book which I found challenging to navigate is the frequent biblical narratives. Using a Jungian approach (Joseph Campbell, if you prefer), some chapters in the book ramble a little, and could be made shorter. The connectivity between some points also sometimes seems unclear. Yet that could have been because I read quickly.

Having said this, the biblical allusions Peterson uses have reopened my mind to the Christian tradition. In mainstream, non-ecclesiastical circles, Christianity is often looked upon negatively. On the political left, it is typically criticised and distained, often at levels which would be termed bigoted if such scorn was directed at any other religion. Perhaps a more balanced perspective is required, lest we jettison entirely a formative wisdom tradition which has helped define us.

Peterson is presumably a Christian, just not a fundamentalist one. He has made the valid point that much of the thinking and values which underpin western thought and legal structures are Christian. Many of the stories in The Bible, including the idea of God, are thus archetypal. They are deeply imbedded within our psyches, even if we do not identity as Christian. Still, it may take some degree of self-discipline for some to wade through the religious mythology.

Commandant Peterson?
Jordan Peterson has engendered hostile reactions which border on hysterical in some cases – and that is not an exaggeration. As just one recent example, a Wilfred Laurier University diversity commitee tried to sanction Lyndsay Shepherd, a teaching assistant, for showing part of a television news clip which featured Peterson. Showing the clip as part of a class debate violated the school’s policy on gendered and sexual violence, she was told. One member of that committee compared Peterson to Hitler, even as he scolded Shepherd.

Peterson’s criticism of bill C-61 was seen by some as an attack on LGBT people in general, but a more reasonable assessment is that it was a criticism of compelled speech and a warning about the encroachment of far-left ideology into the legal system of Canada. The publicity his resistance to the bill garnered, launched Peterson into the public limelight.

In my opinion, a fair assessment of 12 Rules to Life and Peterson’s teachings should negate any fear of an impending Nazi apocalypse. The book is not heavily political, making only brief diversions into politics and ideology. Online, Peterson is very clear in his criticisms of liberal progressivism, and its recent authoritarian predilections. Some see this as vindication of the alt-right, which again is an overreaction. I suspect his work is more likely to pull young men away from the alt-right than to take them there, given that he is openly critical of the far right and authoritarianism in all its forms. My sense is that such critics have typically invested much time, professional training or emotional energy into the various ideologies and philosophical expressions associated with progressivism, and are unwilling to bring critical reflection upon those ideas. This is understandable, because at the level of mind, we naturally feel fear (and respond angrily) when our view of reality is threatened. Peterson represents a threat to many on the far left, because he is willing to stand up and speak his mind. Peterson walks his talk.

The truth is that there are now significant problems with progressivism and the far-left in general, and only long-standing, severe political correctness and its threats of personal and professional sanction for dissenters have thus far prevented these issues from being properly identified and corrected. The time is now right for dissent, and Peterson is an appropriate character to lead the way.

One reason why I feel he can be relied upon to responsibly mediate the current cultural divide is that Peterson is an advocate of introspection and shadow work – looking within the psyche to honestly acknowledge what lies within, no matter how dark. His book lays this ideal down clearly. We are all capable of descending into that darkness, and we must be vigilant to avoid the fate. Such honest introspection is precisely what is missing from progressivism today, largely because it has established an attitude of moral superiority over all opposing voices. This is one reason why it has betrayed many of its founding principles, and become intolerant and often authoritarian. It has divided society.

Guru Peterson
Western society has set far too many men adrift, chronically shaming males and defining masculinity via its pathological expression. 12 Rules for Life may help many men to find confidence and direction amidst this extreme turn to the left. And for that we should greatly thank him.

Of course, given the huge amount of publicity Peterson’s media appearances have generated, there are potential downsides to all this.

Peterson is now very much a father figure to many, as well as spiritual mentor. The shift is occurring in the context of a society which has severely shamed masculinity and devalued fatherhood. Acknowledging all this is a healthy development if expressed responsibly. Yet it seems to me that many of his followers are projecting far too much responsibility onto Peterson for their lives. I call this “giving away your power.” It is a common issue in spiritual circles. Indeed, I would say that it is almost a universal phase of personal and spiritual development. I am no exception, and gave my own power away to one or two spiritual and psychological guides as a younger man. Still, it is to be hoped that those who do this will quickly pass through the phase, and assume greater responsibility for their lives. After all, taking responsibility is a central theme in Peterson’s teachings.

The huge and almost fanatical following that Person has now gathered will naturally produce backlash from those jealous of his success, or who find his teaching incompatible with their own ideals. In turn, online clashes are emerging. I’m not sure what can be done about this, expect for individuals to simply refuse to engage unhealthy online projections. Hateful or violent expressions by some of his fans have already been used to create a case against Peterson. Yet it is hard to blame Peterson for this. Should we blame Obama or Noam Chomsky for the Antifa campus and street violence we have seen in recent times, simply because they cite these figures’ ideals?

Severe Peterson
Peterson is heavily influenced by Nietzsche, and at times his worldview expresses a rather pessimistic bent. Life is suffering, says Peterson, and we must acknowledge that suffering. Life will sooner or later introduce us to pain, suffering and death. Resilience is thus required. The philosophy does make for grim reading at times. Yet he is right, at least in a sense. We all die, and all things pass. We should not waste time in idle pursuits, nor victim consciousness.

Peterson’s is thus almost an anti-new age philosophy. The new age tends to deny death, while naively maintaining that that we can control the world via our thoughts and beliefs. Peterson, on the other hand, believes that death is central to life’s meaning. He implores us to focus our intent, to focus on meaningful work and self-work, and to help make the world a better place. For that is the best way that we can move forward and develop lives of power and purpose. He does not promise utopia. He merely suggests that personal responsibility, meaning and purpose should form a central part of the life journey, regardless of the outcome.

And who can argue with that?

12 Rules for Life is imperfect, but I highly recommend it. It contains much wisdom and thought-provoking philosophy. It is not a book you will forget soon.

Jordan Peterson and the New Masculinity

For some time I have considered writing about men’s issues in the modern world. I have not done so simply because I do not want to be drawn into the culture wars, and especially the gender wars. But something has now changed, and I believe that we can all begin to move forward in a positive way. A new wave of mature masculinity  beckons, and it is a very, very good thing.

My inspiration for entering the discourse is the arrival of Canadian professor and intellectual Jordan B Peterson into the public sphere. In this post I am going to explain why I think Peterson’s ideas and his success are so important. Secondly, I am going to outline what I believe to be a conscious and mature approach to men’s issues. Much of what I will say is equally applicable to women and feminism, as I shall point out.

I am going to use the word “empowerment” to describe this way of being. Jordan Peterson does not like the term, and I can understand why. It suggests having or wielding power over others. The truth is that any such “power” is transient, and I do not think it is wise to base our sense of self upon that which may rise and fall like night and day.

Thus, when I use the term “empowerment” it is more about an internal state, a wise and loving relationship we have with our minds and bodies. This can shift the way we move in the world and relate to others, including the opposite sex.

Years ago I worked with some very wonderful female spiritual teachers who were well aware that our dominant narrative on male-female power is simplistic. I have been deeply influenced by one of my greatest teachers, Jessica, a very powerful and wise woman with a mind so sharp and intuitive it could cut through you like a razor. A gifted intuitive, at times she could be terrifying, such was the accuracy of her perceptions. Jessica said that it was men, not women, who were being dominated and controlled within modern relationships, and also across certain aspects of society in general. I worked with Jessica and other dedicated healers who had a deep commitment to spiritual well-being. Healing personal issues with the opposite sex was a big part of what we did. As a result of what I saw there, I came to the conclusion that men have taken on so much guilt and shame that many are now simply unable to stand within their own power. They have become child-men. In the two decades since, I have not changed my mind.

This is remarkably similar to the conclusion that Jordan Peterson has come to today, in his role as a clinical psychologist, and now as something of a celebrity.

It is beyond dispute that women currently control much of the public discourse on gender relations, and men who offer dissent from the dominant narrative face severe repercussions, both personally and professionally. That Jordan Peterson has successfully managed to rebel against this power structure and come through the battle relatively unscathed shows that the climate has now shifted. We are at the point where open discussion of related issues is now at least possible. This is something that men (and women) should be grateful to Peterson for. A social fabric and public discourse which is founded upon the open shaming of masculinity is good for nobody – not for men, not for women, and not for LGTB people.

Jordan Peterson
In case you are not aware of who he is, Jordan Peterson has risen from the backrooms of Youtube to become a social media phenomenon, almost overnight. A recent interview of him on British TV, Channel 4, (conducted by Cathy Newman) for example, has generated over five million views within a few days. In the interview we see a relaxed and vibrantly intelligent man, but also one with a ready smile and compassion for his interviewer, despite the fact that she tries to detail him at every opportunity. I encourage you to watch this interview. I believe it represents a seminal moment in the evolution of the culture wars.

When Peterson first emerged on YouTube perhaps three years ago, he was a rather more severe-looking and nervous individual. Undoubtedly, the ad hominem attacks he received (and still regularly receives) as a result his criticisms of Bill C-16 were partly responsible for his awkwardness. That bill enshrined the “misuse” of gender pronouns into the Canadian legal system. Peterson could easily have become a casualty of the political correctness monster and had his academic career ruined.

But Peterson has survived, and indeed thrived. The attacks continue. He is regularly grossly misrepresented by mainstream media and the political left as “alt-right”, a white nationalist or simply a conservative. None of these is true. For example, after the previously mentioned Cathy Newman interview, the host station quickly released an article linking Peterson indirectly to alleged death threats that the interviewer had received. This appeared to be little more than an attempt to to deflect attention away from the fact that Peterson had come across as perfectly reasonable and indeed charming in the interview, and had intelligently addressed every point that the interviewer brought forward. Her inability to formulate adequate responses made her seem less than competent.

The Plight of Young Men
Approximately eighty percent of Peterson’s audience is male, and the Canadian psychologist is deeply concerned about the well-being of men, and especially young men. He regularly tells stories of lost younger males who write to him or approach him after his public talks, to thank him for helping them get their lives together. The passion that he has for them is clearly seen in this video, where he openly weeps when relating such interactions.

I agree with Peterson at we have to begin to address men’s issues. The problem is reaching crisis point.

Activism and the Shadow
Jordan Peterson does not let men off easily, however, and I believe that his ideas about masculinity can help herald a new era of a more responsible, empowered and ultimately loving masculinity. In this sense, there is a potential for the new wave of masculinity to be more genuinely empowered and enlightened than third-wave feminism. The latter, like virtually all social justice discourses, has become so focused on blame and projection at a perceived “evil other,” that it has all but abandoned introspection. There is a dark rage and highly destructive drive in modern feminism which should be being addressed by its leaders. Instead, the feminist movement tends to ostracise those female and male feminists and critics who display any dissent towards its often misandrist doctrines. It has lost its way. It is no longer about equality, but about power and control. It has joined the long list of hegemonic ideologies in human history, more concerned for the perpetuation of its own narratives than for truth or the greater good of society. This is admittedly a harsh judgment, but it is my honest perception of what it has descended into.

The new wave of masculinity must avoid such mistakes if it is to offer any genuine resolution to the current impasse between the sexes, and between the political divides. This is why Peterson offers hope. He is willing to be combative, is willing to stand his ground, but is also willing to assume responsibility for the shadow (the darker, suppressed impulses within the mind that we would prefer not see the light of day). He appears to be aware of how a failure to address the shadow can prevent integration of the trauma and self-limiting beliefs within a person’s psyche, and in doing so become downright destructive. When entire movements, groups and nations abandon introspection, they can quickly become delusional and destructive.

Cultivating a Love of Women
Shadow work is the missing link in today’s social justice movements, and I will include much of the men’s movemnt in this. It is for this reason that these movements inevitably descend into destructive delusion, adopting a victim consciousness, including addiction to blame and projection. The new wave of masculinity will have to include a greater degree of courage and commitment to truth than that displayed in the social justice movements we have witnessed in recent years. It will require a willingness to permit criticism and dissent. It must inculcate a high degree of emotional and social intelligence within men, such that the movement is able to offer dissent and criticism in ways that are respectful and mindful of those with differing perspectives.

It must not make the mistake of seeing women as the enemy. Instead it should have at its heart the goal of cultivating deep love for women; and for relationships between men and women. It must avoid the culture of blaming and shaming that delimited the greater good that feminism could have brought to the world. In making men the enemy, feminism has effectively stultified the healing of the collective male-female wound. It has developed a consciousness not of love, but of shaming and destruction.

Of course, all is not lost for feminism, nor for other social justice narratives. But there needs to be a greater degree of introspection and honesty if they are to move forward.

Peterson has a huge fan base. Judging by the comments sections under his YouTube videos, many of these people appear to be responsible and well-meaning. The trolls and haters are there, but they do not dominate the boards that I have surfed. Peterson himself seems to be bringing out the best in his audience, granting a voice to a segment of society that we have lost compassion for. That the online forums are relatively civilised is an encouraging sign, as the same cannot be said for all activists in the associated men’s rights groups.

For this reason, I hope that Jordan Peterson can begin to address the issue of healing relationships between the male and female collectives. To date, as far as I am aware, he has not said too much on how to develop genuine love for women, both in individual relationships, and in general. Hopefully in time he can begin to do so and cultivate this attitude in the mostly young men in his core audience.

A New Masculinity
As Peterson has stated, the new masculity will not entail the negative traits that today’s education systems and media typically attribute to men. Peterson’s healthy expression of masculinity is not about domination and control, colonisation, suppression and rape. These impulses, he states, must be acknowledged and incorporated within the psyche, such that the man develops the right relationship with them. Instead men can exhibit the noble qualities that truly healthy masculinity is capable of: high levels of personal responsibility, love and compassion, courage, doing soul-affirming work, sharing the wisdom of the father.

I am in complete agreement with this. I believe the new masculinity can be more restive, more embodied, more present. It will be deeply responsible. It will allow a healthy expression, not suppression, of sexuality. It will honour the fundamental impulses of men, but in a positive way. We must begin by encouraging men to believe in themselves, to create positive visions of their futures where they can embody the hero archetype, finding deep purpose and meaningful work. For meaningful work is a big part of what makes life worth living for men.

If this is done the right way, I believe we can create a generation of men who will exhibit a confidence and “charisma” that will be far more attractive, in every sense of the word, than the enfeebled, guilt-driven, virtue-signalling male that is often found today, an end result of generations of the shaming of men.

In order to do this, we need to begin to trust men again. And to trust them, we (especially women) have to allow a certain space for vulnerability. We will have to allow our psychological walls to come down, at least some of the time. All spiritually healthy relationships are founded on firm boundaries, but they must also allow those boundaries to soften, when friendship, love and intimacy beckon.

What this will look like in any given man will depend upon the characteristics of the individual. I see Jordan Peterson as a fine embodiment of such a creature. Like all of us, he is imperfect. But his exceptional courage, intelligence and wisdom mean that he has continued to grow as a man even into his fifties. Both men and women can now be the beneficiaries of this. Peterson is the right man at the right moment in history. His massive popularity is just reward for the courage and tenacity he has displayed in championing men in an age where it has become an effective taboo to say anything good about them.

Empowered, deeply embodied men and women are not a threat to each other. When Cassie Jay came to Australia in 2017 to promote her documentary The Red Pill (about men’s rights groups) she was savagely attacked by the media, feminists and even men. The savaging was merciless. This destructive mentality is what we all have to rise above to move forward. We need to start listening to each other, being present with each other. Learning how to love again.

Now is the right time to begin. Let there be (genuine) empowerment for men. And women.