Jordan Peterson: the controversial professor described as the most influential public academic in the world

55-year-old clinical psychologist has garnered huge online following for his controversial views
55-year-old clinical psychologist has garnered huge online following for his controversial views

Who is Jordan Peterson?

Jordan Peterson has 12 Rules for Life, but you can tell most about the man from two of them.

Rule six: set your house in order before you criticise the world.

And rule eight: tell the truth. Or at least don't lie.

The clinical psychologist and University of Toronto professor is often described as a "provocateur", most recently and most controversially by Channel 4 News presenter Cathy Newman. But it's clear Jordan Peterson believes he is right when he says the "so-called" oppression of the patriarchy is an "imperfect attempt" by men and women to free each other from privation, Nelson from The Simpson's mother is a "thoughtless slut", children need discipline, and parents should come in pairs.

His bestselling novel 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos contains many far more useful and far less controversial tips: interrogate your own dreams, stand up for yourself, stop striving for happiness because it will never, ever make you happy, and watch an episode of The Simpsons at one-and-a-half time the normal speed if you want a quick pick-me-up.

But those aren't the ones that captivated social media, or the reason the New York Times labelled Peterson the "most influential public intellectual in the Western world right now".

Before he became a star novelist, Peterson was a YouTube star – and before he became a YouTube star, he was a Quora one, developing a degree of internet infamy thanks to his answers on the Q&A website.

The origin of Peterson's book came from an answer on that very site to the question: 'What are the most valuable things everyone should know?' His answer listed pronouncements that didn't make it into the final list of rules, including 'work as hard as you possibly can on at least one thing and see what happens' and 'dress like the person you want to be'.

Is Jordan Peterson right wing?

Peterson addresses the question of whether he is right wing in his book, saying many of his beliefs – such as the way wealth is currently distributed is unfair – could easily be viewed as leftist.

But he vehemently rejects Marxist ideology, which he believes is discredited. In a recently uploaded YouTube interview, he said if he ran for office it would be for Canada's liberal party, currently led by Justin Trudeau, but he considers himself to be philosophical rather than political.

If anything Peterson is a small-c conservative, espousing the benefits of "stable, loving relationships" and two-parents, biological families while rejecting legislation on gender neutral pronouns.

Why do alt-right people like Jordan Peterson's views?

Peterson became a cult hero for the alt-right after speaking out against the "tyranny" of political correctness, with notorious anti-feminist internet forum The Red Pill lauding him for "melting the snowfalkes".

In his now infamous Channel 4 News interview he compared trans activists with Chairman Mao, arguing:

The philosophy that drives their utterances is this same philosophy that already has driven us to the deaths of millions of people.

Left wing media outlets have described Peterson as alt-right because he has argued men have protected women throughout history, rather than oppressed them, and gender is not socially constructed.

That doesn't mean their analysis is correct. Confronted about his alt-right supporters in a YouTube video, Peterson spoke out against polarisation, saying:

What I try to recommend to people is they find someone they don't agree with and have a conversation with them.

What is Jordan Peterson's opinion on so-called social justice warriors?

12 Rules for Life is part self-help book, part manifesto.

In one part of 12 Rules, Peterson explains his theory that what he believes to be the feminisation of society is actually causing the recent resurgence of the right wing in Europe and the rise of Donald Trump in America, arguing:

When softness and harmless become the only consciously acceptable virtues, then hardness and dominance will start to exert an unconscious fascination.

Partly what this means for the future is that if men are pushed too hard to feminize they will become more and more interested in harsh, fascist political ideology.

What do academics think of Jordan Peterson's theories?

Peterson's argument that left wing university courses which espouse Marxism should lose state funding is unlikely to endear him to colleagues.

Political science David Tabachnick argues Peterson is unique not because what he says is that new or original – but because of his ability to tap into "fear, resentment and frustration" through his social media presence.

"He has harnessed the same emotional power that propelled Donald Trump to the presidency in the United States," Tabachnick writes in The Conversation. "Like many social media stars before him, Peterson will eventually fade from the scene Yet the underlying foundation of his popularity will remain and another person will easily fill his place."

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