By Jonathon Van Maren
As Dr. Jordan B. Peterson trots the globe for the launch of his new book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, it has been immensely amusing for me (and millions of others) to watch progressive media figures invite him into their studios, come out swinging their hatchets, and miss entirely while Peterson looks alternatively bemused and mildly concerned at their comprehension abilities. His now-famous interview with Cathy Newman of Channel 4 has wracked up nearly five million views, and some are already referring to it as a definitive defeat in the progressive war against common sense.
What I think is important to note is that a key reason journalists like Newman seem so utterly befuddled by Peterson is that most of them are so trapped in their elitist fishbowls that they cannot fathom that they might be wrong, and that public intellectuals with millions of followers reject most of their flimsy dogmas out of hand. Peterson’s interviewers shift between attempting to mischaracterize his positions to demonize him, goggling in mute shock when he calmly dismembers their ill-thought out positions, and attempting to ambush him with various accusations of association with the alt-right.
If any of them had bothered to glance over his CV and realize that warning about the totalitarianism of both Left and Right has long been an obsession of Peterson’s, perhaps they wouldn’t come off as quite so ridiculous. But in Peterson, the progressive elites see only one thing: A threat to their orthodoxies who must be destroyed. So far, all they’ve managed to do is send more people skittering over to his YouTube channel as they embarrass themselves with sloppy attempts to hang a variety of formerly effective labels around his neck. It’s not going to work this time. Peterson will prove very, very difficult to demonize.
Peterson is hard to caricature because he won’t engage in the back-and-forth exchange of bumper sticker slogans. His lectures are hours long because complex topics take complex analysis. The game of “gotcha!” that the media likes to play consists of highlighting some microaggression or perceived violation of their current ideology, and then forcing their target to retreat, retract, or recant. Peterson doesn’t do so. Instead, he explains calmly what was being said and discussed. He’s winning the game because he won’t play by the rules that were created to ensnare people like himself.
There’s another reason Peterson will be hard to demonize: He is a deeply compassionate man. I’ve seen him respond to angry questioners at his lectures and spend hours outside among the students engaging seriously with the concerns of his critics. My friend Scott Hayward recounted one particularly indicative anecdote from Peterson’s lecture “12 Things Conservatives Should Do” last spring. During the question and answer portion at the end of the talk, a young fellow began to ask Peterson a question. He’d written the question out in advance on his smartphone, but he was still nervous and stumbling over his words, even “shaking a bit.” Peterson spoke to him quietly and gently, saying, “Don’t worry about the others in the room. Just pretend it is you and I, and ask your question.” My friend, being at the front of the lecture hall, heard all of this.
As I’ve written before, I’m enormously encouraged by Dr. Peterson’s meteoric rise to influence. He is singlehandedly robbing both the alt-right and the progressive Left of followers, skewering identity politics, and encouraging young men to take responsibility for their behavior and their lives. Some are already calling him the most significant public intellectual of our time—and if that proves to be the case, the totalitarian progressives will face an implacable foe as they continue to divide society and attempt to criminalize thought and speech that they disagree with. Peterson, as his recent media interviews prove, will be up to the task.
For anyone interested, my book on The Culture War, which analyzes the journey our culture has taken from the way it was to the way it is and examines the Sexual Revolution, hook-up culture, the rise of the porn plague, abortion, commodity culture, euthanasia, and the gay rights movement, is available for sale here.