The news was shoking and unexpected: Jordan Peterson, one of the most recognizeble public intellectuals of our era, nearly died because of a developed addiction to a tranquillizer and is now seeking treatment in Russia. He was prescribed the tranquillizer a couple of years ago after his wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer. But some people have seen in Jordan Peterson’s recent bad turn of luck a vindication for his past misdeeds.
Many see the contemporary world just a few steps away from utopia, with equality for the sexes, prosperity for everyone, sexual freedom and a thriving cultural diversity. The world has never been, according to these people, so close to a postmodern utopia, and that’s what makes them furious every time they encounter instances of deviations from the straight and clear path they see for the future of humanity: a mixing of identities, a world where women do the same things as men and are exactly like men, a world where you can decide what your sex is, with people from all sort of traditions and backgrounds and still embodying the principles of Western postmodernity. Everything that appears to reject the universal ideals of a world that has left all traditions behind itself deserves to end up into the dustbin of history.
Jordan Peterson is not one of these people. A Canadian professor of psychology, Jordan Peterson gained a wide notoriety when he published a series of Youtube videos where he spoke out against the tyranny of politically correctness, the pervasive tendency in modern society that pressures one to say and think things that cannot possible offend anyone, in particular women and minority groups like racial and sexual minorities. Some people perceive this tendency as hypocritical, a form of “virtue signalling”, where many people have become concerned about fighting for and getting extremely heated up about the causes of the day (may this be the right of transgender people to use the bathroom they see fits their sex, or the argument about the “pay gap” between women and men), while dismissing many of the issues that concern large parts of the population, like the stagnation of the middle class, the degradation of contemporary cities and the hopelessness of the working class as problems that affect only retrograde and deplorable people who refuse to accept the bright future that stands before humanity because they are too backward to accept change.
In a famous YouTube video, Jordan Peterson defended his right to address a female student with a non-traditional sexual identity as “she”, rather than adopt the “they” the young woman (who probably would be offended if she was referred to as a woman) was intensely claiming for herself and other people who feel like her. An individual like Jordan Peterson does not have the right the dictate to somebody else what is their sexual identity, the argument goes. There are infinite genders, not limited exclusively to binarity of biology, and opposing this view means to be going against the deepest and dearest principles of contemporary Western society. This is why a character like Jordan Peterson quickly became ostracised in much of the Western public discourse. The issues of not very large sexual minorities do not concern only these comparatively small groups but offend the declared foundations of postmodern utopia: that individuals can do whatever they want and become whatever they want and that these desires are not to be restrained by anything, be it tradition or biology. It may sound a little strange and exaggerated in much of the rest of the world, but in places like the USA, Canada or Germany, much of the societal and political discourse is around sexual identities: the intimate sphere has become the most pressing public issue, while public issues are not discussed anymore, because they are simply managed by professionals, who have no time or patience to wait for the consensus of the people.
In another interview with the the British Channel 4, after having become already famous and having published the world-wide bestseller book “12 rules for life”, Jordan Peterson argued with an animated female interviewer about the gender pay gap, the differences in earning between men and women. Feminists and many women are enraged at what they see as an intolerable injustice unworthy of the era of equality we all need to be working to achieve. Economists, however, have often raised doubts about the legitimacy of the concept of “gender pay gap”: while it is true that the total number of men earn more than all women put together, differences in earnings can be explained by different career choices and patterns, with men having the obvious advantage of not going through things like a maternity leave, for example, not because evil men unjustly rob women of the fruits of their labour. While Jordan Peterson politely and carefully tried to present his interviewer with these arguments, the journalist turned visibly more impatient: was the professor trying to say that there is not pay gap between men and women? This short video well symbolizes the inclination of modern public and media discourse towards easy and emotional points, rather than careful and thoughtful discussion.
“In the US, Canada or Germany, much of the societal and political discourse is around sexual identities: the intimate sphere has become the most pressing public issue, while public issues are not discussed anymore, because they are simply managed by professionals, who have no time or patience to wait for the consensus of the people”
The empowerment of women, one could also say the revenge of women, is one of the undeniable trends of the 21st century: going against this trend often equals to a political and societal suicide. Because of his views, Jordan Peterson was dubbed as controversial and a darling of extreme right wing movements. However, his instant and immense popularity, which he gained in spite of being dismissed as controversial, is a testimony to the fact that there are many decent people out there who have views that are very similar to his. But these days having even slightly traditional views on a specific set of societal issues is considered to be the an unforgivable and scandalous thought crime by the intellectual establishment reigning in the West. However, another tendency of the 21st century appears to be that the intellectual and cultural establishment never before seem to have lived so far away and encapsulated from the feeling and worries of many people. Jordan Peterson spoke for common sense in a world absorbed by tales of utopia. For this reason let’s wish Jordan Peterson well.
Stefano Di Lorenzo