Author: Jordan B. Peterson
Page count: 432
Dr. Jordan Peterson has become an increasingly household name over the past few years. But who exactly is this man, and what is he all about?
Dr. Peterson is a Canadian clinical psychologist, professor of psychology, and YouTube personality. He first found himself in the public eye when, in 2016, he released a video on his YouTube account entitled “Professor Against Political Correctness: Part 1: Fear and the Law.” Dr. Peterson released the video in opposition to the recent announcement of a proposed bill in the Canadian legislature, Bill C-16.
This proposed bill would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to add “gender identity or expression” as a prohibited ground of discrimination. The bill would also expand the definitions of promoting genocide and publicly inciting hatred in the hate speech laws in Canada.
Dr. Peterson believed that the amendment would include an aspect that the rest of the Canadian Human Rights Act lacked up to that point. This aspect is compelled speech. The Canadian Human Rights Act up had not required certain speech to be used, it more so prohibited hateful speech from being used. Several law professors opposed this view and claimed that this interpretation of Bill C-16 was mistaken. Nonetheless, Dr. Peterson had his viewpoint and defended it all the way to a Canadian Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs hearing, where he was one of 24 witnesses invited to speak about the bill. His efforts were in vain though, as the bill was passed with a strong majority on May 17, 2016.
It should be noted that during the media firestorm that erupted around Dr. Peterson when he opposed the bill, the University of Toronto, where Dr. Peterson works as a professor, sent him two letters of warning that he felt would eventually lead to disciplinary action against him. They ultimately did not pursue disciplinary action against him, and he was allowed to return for the following semester. However, Dr. Peterson was, for the first time in his career, denied a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant. He interpreted this as retaliation for opposing Bill C-16. The committee denied this and said that only the information in the application was assessed to determine who would receive funding.
More recently, Dr. Peterson published a new book on March 2. This book, “Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life” is the second in its line, and the announcement of its publication by Penguin Random House Canada was met by backlash from its employees. Many of them were vehemently opposed to their company publishing a book by Dr. Peterson.
When asked about Dr. Peterson’s book, one Penguin employee told VICE World News, “He is an icon of hate speech and transphobia, and the fact that he’s an icon of white supremacy, regardless of the content of his book, I’m not proud to work for a company that publishes him.”
Penguin said that they were willing to listen to their employees’ feedback, and they held a forum where they could discuss everything. The employees felt that this was too little too late. It was too late to back out of printing Dr. Peterson’s book. It was also a little late to plan a walk-out, as some other publishing companies’ employees have to protest when their companies published works by authors they did not approve of. According to another Penguin employee that spoke to VICE World News, Anne Collins, the publisher of Knopf Random Canada Publishing Group (the imprint under which Dr. Peterson’s book was published) held a meeting to discuss the employees’ concerns.
The Penguin employee that spoke to VICE World News said “Collins opened the meeting by talking about how Peterson has, ‘helped a great number of people on the fringes of society who would otherwise be radicalized by alt-right groups.’”
That employee criticized these remarks. That same employee told VICE World News that Collins replied by “noting her background in journalism and saying that it’s important to be publishing ‘a variety of voices.’”
Penguin’s employees felt that this was false, and the possible financial gain from printing a work by someone as prominent as Dr. Peterson was a much stronger factor in the decision to publish his newest work.
So, what exactly does the book talk about? Why is there all this controversy around it? The 12 rules that Dr. Peterson stresses in his newest book are as follows:
- “Do not carelessly denigrate social institutions or creative achievement.”
- “Imagine who you could be and then aim single-mindedly at that.”
- “Do not hide unwanted things in the fog.”
- “Notice that opportunity lurks where responsibility has been abdicated.”
- “Do not do what you hate.”
- “Abandon ideology.”
- “Work as hard as you possibly can on at least one thing and see what happens.”
- “Try to make one room in your home as beautiful as possible.”
- “If old memories still upset you, write them down carefully and completely.”
- “Plan and work diligently to maintain the romance in your relationship.”
- “Do not allow yourself to become resentful, deceitful, or arrogant.”
- “Be grateful in spite of your suffering.”
None of these rules seem incredibly inflammatory. In fact, after reading through the book, I counted around two or three sections of text in total that talk about political ideas in any sense. One such section briefly mentions the patriarchy and Dr. Peterson’s views on it. Dr. Peterson says in his book, “the increasingly reflexive identification of the striving of boys and men for victory with the ‘patriarchal tyranny’ that hypothetically characterizes our modern, productive, and comparatively free societies is so stunningly counterproductive (and, it must be said, cruel: there is almost nothing worse than treating someone striving for competence as a tyrant in training).” This is essentially the deepest that Dr. Peterson dives into political concepts in his book. Other than those sections, the book is just aimed at helping people to figure out their lives and how to deal with the ensuing chaos that comes with living.
I understand why the employees at Penguin are upset, and I think that their issue has more to do with providing Dr. Peterson a platform based on his prior publicly made stances on various topics. However, this particular book is not something that will lead to indoctrination into any alt-right group. Instead, it is really something that people might find helpful and can help to bring some much-needed order into their lives.
This raises an interesting moral dilemma that I will leave to the readers. How great do the sins of a man’s past have to be to warrant taking away his opportunity to help people that might need it? There certainly are egregious acts that people can commit that they deserve to be deplatformed for and ostracized over. That is without question. However, people can be capable of great evil and great good, and it is that capacity to choose what we are going to do that makes us extraordinary creatures. It is the utility of that choice that defines who we are and in this case with this book, Dr. Peterson is choosing to try and do some good. Why should he be stopped?
Many people, including myself, have claimed to gain some benefit from Dr. Peterson’s work. This does not mean that I incorporate everything he says into myself because he is only human and is therefore flawed. However, I feel that my life has only been improved since discovering him. There is much more order in my life and (people that follow Dr. Peterson will understand this reference) my room is far cleaner because of learning what I can from him.