People think Jordan Peterson is evil

He's a fan of evolutionary psychology and people hang on to his lips: But is Jordan Peterson right, too?

Millions of people watch his performances on Youtube. Jordan Peterson is currently one of the most influential intellectuals in the Western world. Now he's coming to Europe. How does the Canadian psychologist think?

He is regarded as an “academic rock star”, as “a kind of secular prophet”, even as “the most influential intellectual in the western world”, as the economist Tyler Cowen wrote on his blog “Marginal Revolution”. Nobody moves people and currently dominates the discourse in social networks like a professor from Toronto who hardly anyone knew until a year ago: the psychologist Jordan Peterson.

"There is clearly a hunger that it addresses," says the renowned social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. “The dominant culture is moving further and further away from common sense, so it needs someone to fight for it. In times when there is ideological pressure to say certain things and not to say other things, and when people know in their hearts which things are true, the stage is wide open for such thinkers. "

This year, Jordan Peterson became a phenomenon. His advice book “12 Rules for Life. An Antidote to Chaos »shot to the top of the bestseller lists from Australia to the USA; therefore it comes out in forty translations. His YouTube channel, on which he even puts hours of lectures on the Bible, has 1.4 million subscribers. And his performances, whether in London or Reykjavik, take place in sold-out halls, even when he argues with the neurologist Sam Harris "on the level of an upscale dissertation defense" over philosophical questions. This success earns Jordan Peterson the hatred it deserves: journalists and, above all, journalists around the world are working on him - and only increasing his fame.

Lots of critics

In Europe, the noise level is likely to rise in the next few weeks. Because Jordan Peterson will start a tour in Dublin on October 21, which will take him to Great Britain, the Netherlands and, above all, Scandinavia. The dense program does not yet provide for an appearance in German-speaking countries. After all, the German translation (with a questionable “translated” title) will be published on October 29: “12 Rules for Life. Order and structure in a chaotic world ».

Why does the academic who thinks deeply about life and suffering speaks to so many people? His critics (men are included) make it easy for themselves: You see the disciples on YouTube, who use the in-depth lectures or conversations to create clips and clickbait in which Jordan Peterson “dissects” contradictions or even “destroys” opponents. They complain about the professor who defended himself against a law stipulating that transgender people be addressed with the pronouns they want, allegedly hurting the feelings of the students. And they scoff at the self-portrayal of the intellectual in cowboy boots who, according to the New York Times, lives in a “carefully curated house of horror” with Soviet propaganda on the walls and calls for forced monogamy to prevent frustrated youths from rampaging.

It is therefore clear to the critics: Jordan Peterson stands for everything that made Donald Trump the leader of the free world - he incites men in their white suprematism.

Deeper thinkers like Jonathan Haidt, who with his Heterodox Academy defends himself against polarization at universities and thus in society, take a closer look. Jordan Peterson also finds his audience with women, especially in egalitarian Scandinavia. After lectures, he takes hours for personal concerns of individuals of all ages and genders. In his first book, Maps of Meaning, he asks himself how he would have behaved himself in the horror of the dictatorships of the 20th century. And as a scientist, he reflects the state of research, including on monogamy as a social norm, but of course not as a dictation.

What's true?

The “post-Marxist radical social constructivists”, as they abuse Jordan Peterson, are annoyed by the tenacity of the self-proclaimed classical liberal who says “which things are true”. what does he mean with that?

Evolution: No other thought makes the critics frolic (“biologism!”) As the parable in the first chapter of the book. "Stand up straight and take your shoulders back," the advisor warns. It shows the effect on the lobsters, in which the dominant male straightens up and thus attracts the females, driven by serotonin. This "happiness hormone" apparently has the same effect on crustaceans as it does on humans. That is why they respond to the Prozac lucky pill, "in an astonishing demonstration of the evolutionary continuity of life on earth," as Jordan Peterson writes. But the critics find it unbearable that the same neurochemistry should lead to the same behavior. "Are you telling me I'm a lobster?" Asks Channel 4 news journalist Cathy Newman in a derailed argument with twelve million views on YouTube.

Even after decades of debate - and sixteen years after Steven Pinker's litter "The Blank Slate" - many humanities scholars believe in humans as a "blank slate": there is no human nature, only a variety of cultures that people create at will. In contrast, most anthropologists rely on evolutionary biology, whose doctrine of origin in the tree of life refers not only to diversity due to adaptations but also to continuities. "It is one of the truths of biology that evolution is conservative," writes Jordan Peterson. "If something develops, it has to build on what nature has already created." So why shouldn't certain molecules in Homo sapiens have the same effect as in the lobster for 350 million years? The guide is based on studies - therefore you do not have to assert beliefs, but refute research results if you want to attack it.

Science: Jordan Peterson adheres to the academy's tried and tested rules more strictly than his critics. “I'm not a pseudoscientist”, he defends himself in an interview with journalist Bari Weiss (on Youtube): With 100 publications and 10,000 citations, he is one of the top five percent of psychologists. And after 25 years of research, he considers one question above all to be “an area in which I have substantial expertise”: the differences between the sexes. Evolutionary psychology has long viewed it as proven that the sexes differ on the basis of sexual selection - in their constitution, but also in their interests. That is why it can be proven that the more egalitarian the states, the more different men and women in their career choices. But nobody wants to hear that; when James Damore at Google, based on Jordan Peterson, correctly presented the state of research according to the experts, the company dismissed him.

The clinical psychologist with 25,000 hours of individual therapy can also be regarded as a luminary. Cases that he tells in books or in conversations, especially with women, whom he teaches more self-confidence, testify that his work has paid off. However, as is usually the case in psychotherapy, these successes cannot be checked or measured. And in addition, according to a tradition in his field, the thinker also draws on sources that science sees critically today.

Myths: In order to avoid conflicts in liberal societies, we withdraw from cultures that are based on traditions, religions or nations, says Jordan Peterson: “But that is why we are increasingly falling victim to the despair of senselessness - what kind of progress is that supposed to be? » The seeker of meaning therefore digs in the work of the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung, who believed in archetypes, but also in the myths of ancient cultures, which show life as a struggle between chaos and order, and in world literature, from Goethe to Dostoevsky to Solzhenitsyn: « Great literature holds the key to wisdom. " So he does the same thing that the exegetes have done for centuries - albeit not in a deconstructive manner, as is mandatory in many faculties today.

This is how Jordan Peterson sees the Bible - "the founding document of Western civilization, whatever you think of it" - as a book full of true stories, not in the form of a document of facts, but in the form of parables. The doctrines showed what is good and what is bad: "Religion tells us how we should behave." This is what the author Nassim Nicolas Taleb expresses when he calls religious statements “heuristics for survival with incomplete understanding”: If religions have been around for millennia, there must be something in them that helps people.

Common sense: As the anthropologist Joseph Henrich shows, people's ability to learn from role models is millions of years old - this was what triggered the development of Homo sapiens. Jordan Peterson isn't afraid to share examples from his life: how to get a petulant two-year-old to eat. Or: what you say to a drunken ex-rocker who wants to sell you his microwave oven at two in the morning. "The truth," he advises, "but you damn well have to know what the truth is."

Whether they are thematized in scientific studies or contain traditional myths, addressed in doctrines of faith or given in common sense (developed over millions of years), you can find what people, according to Jonathan Haidt, “recognize as true in their hearts” - because it has proven itself. The left-liberal social psychologist from Brooklyn showed what it was all about twelve years ago: In his bestseller “The Happiness Hypothesis”, Jonathan Haidt demonstrated that modern happiness research comes to the same conclusions as the “old knowledge” from Buddha to Shakespeare. There was no outcry at the time.