Figuring Out the Jordan Peterson Phenomenon
I’d say that the heart of Jordan B. Peterson’s latest Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life is “Rule XI: Do Not Allow Yourself to Become Resentful, Deceitful, or Arrogant.” It contains the Sleeping Beauty story that you can read at Quillette. Sleeping Beauty, sleepwalking through college, is being pursued by the Evil Queen, her stepmother, who calls her up three times a day to tear a strip off her.
What is the point? The point is, according to Peterson, that there are six archetypes -- as in Jung -- that are going to define your life: “a hero and an adversary; a wise king and a tyrant; a positive and negative maternal figure,” and then there is chaos itself. We would all like to live in an ordered world with only heroes, wise kings, and nurturing mothers, but that isn’t the real world. The real world is always threatening chaos, as in the Dragon of Chaos. You can’t just curl up into a ball to hide from the Evil Queen, you have to learn to deal with her. You have got to do something about it.
Now I like Peterson because his ideas fit into my reductive Three Peoples theory, that there are three kinds of people in the world, Creatives, Responsibles, and Subordinates -- and always will be. Thus I experience his 12 Rules and Beyond Order as an instruction manual for becoming a Responsible and maybe a responsible Creative.
And Peterson has inspired me to learn Nietzsche and Jung end-to-end: good Germans.
Peterson’s worldview is opposed to the Marxian-Freudian -- bad German -- idea that creativity means smashing the old tyrannical order and its sexual repression and creating a new world of social justice and equity. Lefty world assumes that if we can banish the adversary Proud Boys, the white supremacist tyrants, the wicked Karens, we can live as creative “allies,” wise progressive facilitators, and nurturing safetyist mothers happily ever after.
Peterson’s view is that there is no happily-ever-after, that chaos will always be around the corner, and you’d better live your life in that knowledge, in between the rigidity of order and the mayhem of chaos.
In a characteristic dig at Peterson, Vox Day gleefully quotes someone from the Financial Times worried that Beyond Chaos is a hot mess, because of Peterson’s drug dependence problem.
But I didn’t experience Beyond Chaos as very different from 12 Rules. I found them both a hard slog. (But if Peterson is an unimpressive writer, he is gonzo on TV, isn’t he, Cathy Newman and Helen Lewis?) And yet 12 Rules hit a nerve, became a bestseller, and launched Peterson’s 160-city tour. I went to his tour when it hit the Moore Theater in Seattle on June 21, 2018, and I tried to figure out who the audience was.
Well, the only thing for sure is that they were not liberals, or anything else from lefty world. They were not white working class, but many of them could be Trump voters. And I would say they were overwhelmingly 30-40ish.
Here are two things in the public square that have struck me in the past couple of years. The first is the success of Peterson’s celebration of creative responsibility. The second is the extraordinary phenomenon of the Trump Car and Boat Parades. When you compare them to the daily news of the mile-wide and inch-deep woke culture and the Democratic suck-up media, they seem to come from another planet.
Peterson is saying that life’s a bitch and then you die; but you can leave the world a better place. He is not selling a prophetic religion, that the Saviour -- or the UFOs or the Ally culture -- will come and save mankind. He is telling the men of the world to suck it in and clean their room. And then realize that life is never going to be easy, that it will always be a struggle on the border of Order and Chaos.
Here’s a story from a biography of Jung by Gerhard Wehr. Carl Jung is in Africa in the 1920s, and he’s talking to a tribal shaman, who tells him:
“In the old days the [medicine men] had dreams, and knew whether there is war or sickness or whether the rain comes or where the herds should be driven.”... [B]ut since the whites had come to the country the dreams had stopped. They were no longer needed anyway, for the Englishmen always knew what to do.
Ouch. There is the real crime of colonialism: snuffing out religion.
Now comes Peterson, saying, after Jung, that all the religions, going all the way back to Tiamat and Mesopotamia, have something human and vital to tell us about the meaning of life and how to live it. And people are responding to his message.
I wonder why.