Accuracy in Media

Jordan Peterson has begun to attract attention from conservatives, particularly men, who have taken to his no-nonsense, up-by-the-bootstraps lectures on YouTube and elsewhere.

Peterson, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto, spoke in Washington last Friday. The Washington Post assigned two of its writers to read his current bestseller, “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos,” and attend the lecture and discuss their thoughts in a printed back-and-forth.

Their takeaway: Peterson’s message is not all that objectionable; it’s just a lot easier to follow if you’re a white male.

“After entering the public consciousness via YouTube lectures, his highly visible opposition to a bill outlawing discrimination based on gender identity and expression, and a combative viral interview with Britain’s Channel 4 News host Cathy Newman, Peterson has emerged as something of a guru for an army of young men looking for guidance on how to make their way through the world,” the piece said.

Today, the book is a best-seller, nationally and internationally, and the book tour is sold out in cities across the United States. A second date even has been booked for Washington.

“But this sort of popularity is not without conflict,” the Post reporters wrote. “Critics have called Peterson’s work simplistic and sexist, pseudoscientific, alarmist and at times conspiratorial. Peterson himself has been accused of being part of the ‘alt-right.’ Still, his influence continues to grow.”

The reporters – James Downie and Christine Emba – identify themselves as, respectively, a 30-year-old white male and a black female. They obsessed at length over the gender and race of the audience. It was 70-75 percent male, Downie said. And 90 percent white, Emba said.  

“And looking at those who didn’t fit within that grouping (including me, a black woman), they appeared to be mostly supportive girlfriends, and even some parents – actually, I think they we were sitting right behind some – who brought their troubled sons. As though they were accompanying them to a therapy session!”

Downie said this may be because for the first time in years, he saw in Peterson’s work life advice aimed specifically at young men. Emba suggested it’s “maybe because you” – Peterson – explain women by describing them as snobby, teasing lobsters.”

They then begin to have the problem Newman had – that Peterson did not fit into their preconceived notions.

“So many people have come to him through political means, even if … it isn’t central to his talk or his book,” Downie wrote. “Peterson seems more focused on his message of “fixing your life” and making yourself better as an individual person, apolitically,” Emba wrote.

“There’s no doubt that Peterson shares many conservatives’ fear of ‘political correctness,’ Downie wrote. “One of the larger applause lines during his talk was a throwaway shot at political correctness. But there’s a dissonance between how central it is to his appeal and how ‘un-central’ it is to his book.”

Emba said she was “surprised, reading the book and going to the lecture, by how simple his message was. How self-evident it seems to me.”

Dave Rubin, the host of the program, “made it sound as though Peterson held some ‘hidden knowledge,’ but there’s no secret to ‘stand up straight and make sure the people you keep around you pull you up rather than drag you down.”

They agreed Peterson brought challenging ideas to the table but that he was limited in his perspective by being a white male.

Downie said men who saw him reading the book approached him and said it spoke “hard truths” they needed to hear, but he couldn’t accept the book’s pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps message.

“There are moments where he’ll admit that sometimes people’s lives go badly for reasons beyond their control, but largely the message you come away with is that if you don’t like the way things are going, it’s your fault and your fault alone. And that’s an easier message to believe when you’re a white male and systemic obstacles aren’t really a thing you run into.”

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