Until 2016, Jordin B. Peterson was a relatively obscure, middle-aged professor of psychology at a Canadian university. He had created a self-help program called Self-Authoring. He had also written a tome called Maps of Meaning about the psychological significance of “archetypal stories” from the Bible and mythology. And he regularly posted his university lectures on YouTube, for which he had developed a respectable following. He was accomplished, but he was certainly not famous.
Then came Bill C-16. This Canadian law that may have required (among other things) that public university professors use a student’s pronouns of choice – not only for a transgendered biological male who wants to be called “she” but also for self-proclaimed “non-binary” people, who wanted to be called new, fanciful pronouns. An outraged Peterson declared on his YouTube channel that he would not be compelled to use state-mandated language.
While Bill C-16 would only affect Canadians, many saw it as a natural progression of the shut-up campaign currently being waged by American leftists against anyone who isn’t a full-throated partisan in the social justice wars. And Peterson was seen as a guy who was fighting back – with passion, intelligence, and courage. And what’s more, he drove the left crazy!
Suddenly, Peterson became a YouTube superstar – especially among young, white men. A couple of weeks ago his book of advice, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, was released at #1 on Amazon.com. The success of the book and his media blitz to promote it, has put him on the radar of every conservative thinker out there. Conservative wonks have been trying to size him up: Is he conservative? Is he a friend or foe? If we embrace him as we did Milo Yiannopoulos, will he make us look bad?
Young men (of any race) are rarely conservative – at least in the sense that conservatism is an ideology articulated by National Review, Weekly Standard, and such. But nowadays, young men are often anti-left. Back when the American Left focused primarily on class divisions, there were plenty of young, white men who were happy to get on board. Under the worldview of the old-fashioned left, it was the rich who were cast as the villain – and not very many young men are rich. But since the American left has shifted toward “intersectional” theory, the villain is now pretty much any white, straight, cis-gender male. Since white men don’t see themselves as hateful, “privileged” villains, they rightly (if reflexively) reject the left.
But once young, white men reject leftist ideology, what should they embrace? From what point-of-view can they understand their gut-level revulsion at the stench of intersectional politics? For some young men, it’s Ayn Rand. For others it’s Young Republicans. For a very small number, it is the white-men-are-the-real-victims ideology of the alt-right.
Jordan Peterson provides an additional (and welcome) alternative to these options. He unflinchingly attacks the left, sure – that’s why he’s famous. But once he has his audience’s attention, he refuses to offer an alternative ideology or an outlet for political activism. Instead, he offers personal responsibility.
In Peterson’s view, the healthy focus of a young man’s life should be on becoming competent. You will not be able to fix the world, he explains, until you can run your own life well. This has been said before, but it cannot be said often enough. Political activism cannot give meaning to a young man’s life. He needs, instead, to concern himself with the problems directly in front of him: his job, his family, his own front lawn, his neighborhood association. Focusing on things he can actually change will keep him from growing resentful, make him useful to other people, and maybe, just maybe, prepare him to deal with large societal problems once he has become extremely competent.
Better that than wasting your life kvetching on Facebook about things you can’t control!
Unless otherwise stated, these are the opinions of RT Vaden.