The other day, someone asked me about Jordan Peterson, who is all the rage now, especially after his run-in with a local lunatic in London. I must admit, it was a funny 30 minutes, but mostly because Cathy Newman is so dumb. She tried using the active listening technique to paint Peterson as some sort of monster, but she just came off sounding deranged. I’ve run into a lot of women who use this technique. It’s very popular with women in sales for some reason. My guess is it is part of standard sales training.
As far as Peterson, his angry Evil Bert style of speaking is a bit annoying. I know he can’t help it, but his voice conjures images of Kermit going Ike Turner on Miss Piggy. That and I’m just not into the civic nationalist stuff. I’ve heard all of it and know everything they have to say. Ask Peterson why sub-Saharan Africans had not discovered the wheel until Europeans arrived and he runs out of the room. All the tough talk about sticking to facts and clear thinking goes out the door as soon as a taboo topic is mentioned.
That said, Peterson seems to know his limitations. He stays away from taboo subjects as much as possible, so he does not reveal those limitations. That way he can stick to new age advice and religious topics, which he does better than most. He does talk honestly about the biological roots of sex differences and that’s often the best way to introduce people to biological realism. If someone can accept that evolution made boys and girls different cognitively, as well as physiologically, they can accept the diversity of man.
Anyway, I saw this on Maggie’s Farm yesterday. It appears that not everyone is a fan of Peterson. That Mic piece makes a lot of nutty claims, like “cultural Marxism is an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory cooked up by conservatives in the 1980’s.” He also says the alt-right are fans of Peterson. It’s the nature of the hive mind to see the world as those inside versus those outside. The people outside are just an undifferentiated other. That means “alt-right” is now another name for “the people outside the Progressive walls.”
The remarkable thing about Peterson is that no one seems to remember the previous versions of him. Self-help gurus have been a common phenomenon in the English speaking world, going back to the 19th century, when a guy named Samuel Hines published the book Self-Help. The birth of mass media after WW2 made it possible for the self-help guru to reach a wide audience. The snake oil salesman put down his patent medicine and picked up a pen. Same pitch, same promise, different vehicle.
Peterson is lot like Stephen Covey from a couple of decades ago. Peterson uses religion and his credentials as an academic to add authority to his work. Covey relied on rich, successful people to provide the authority. His book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People sold 25 million copies. Everyone wants to be successful, so they will buy the secret if they can. Peterson’s new book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos is already a best seller. It promises a lot for just a little, which is the key to a good self-help book.
That’s the thing with all self-help gurus and lifestyle guides is they almost always rely on the appeal to authority. Their presentation can be boiled down to “this is who I am, this is what I have for you and here is why it is good for you.” That first part is critical. The self-help guru must first convince you he is an authority or he has learned from people who are an authority. Covey was fond of name-dropping the successful people he had met, as a way to burnish his credentials. Peterson relies on his credentials as an academic.
Unlike Covey, Peterson’s doles out his secrets in the form of finger-wagging lectures. In his book, the first of his 12 items is a reminder to stand up straight. He’s recycling some quackery from a few years ago called Power Posing. Peterson re-frames it using animals, but it is the same quackery. Rule six is a fancy way of saying “clean your room” and his eighth rule is “tell the truth.” Maybe he is saving it for the next book, but there really should be a rule about not picking your nose and making sure you clean your plate at dinner.
There’s another unique twist to Peterson. He has used his status as victim of the Cult of Modern Liberalism to ingratiate himself with his audience. Most self-help guys eschew the victim stuff. Instead they want you to see them as winners. Peterson is pitching himself as a noble warrior fighting the last futile wars on the college campus. There’s an undercurrent of romanticism to his presentation. That’s probably why his stern granny routine is popular with younger people. It is how they imagine adults used to act before Progressivism.
The interesting thing about the modern professional advice giver is they are filling a role that used to be occupied by priests and ministers. As America lost its religion in the last fifty years, the self-help guru has filled the void. It’s probably why Peterson’s use of religion in his presentation works so well. Rather than invent a new religion, he can just borrows the good stuff from the old ones. People may not believe in God anymore, but they are going to believe in something. Humans are built to be believing machines.
That’s the trouble with the modern age. In the prior age, we had a way to deal with proselytizing fanatics. We made them missionaries and sent them off to convert the savages. If the savages ate them, there were more missionaries ready to go. Those with a burning desire to dispense advice to others were put into the priesthood, so they could help those who needed it. The death of organized Christianity has removed these options from us. As a result, we’re plagued with fanatics, busybodies and scolds.