Heard of Jordan Peterson? If not, it seems inevitable that will happen soon, given his viral videos and headlines referring to the "Jordan Peterson Moment" and the "Jordan Peterson Phenomenon." Peterson is a 55-year-old psychologist at the University of Toronto whose latest book, 12 Rules for Life, has become an international best-seller. In fact, Peterson has managed to become "one of the most influential—and polarizing—public intellectuals in the English-speaking world," writes Kelefa Sanneh in the New Yorker. Some basics about him:
- A theme, and critique: Peterson "delivers stern fatherly lectures to young men on how to be honorable, upright, and self-disciplined—how to grow up and take responsibility for their own lives," writes David Brooks in the New York Times. The message has found an audience, though Brooks says it "sounds to me like vague exhortatory banality." Peterson's "recipe for self-improvement is solitary, nonrelational, unemotional," and Brooks thinks "the lives of young men can be improved more through loving attachment than through Peterson's joyless and graceless calls to self-sacrifice."
- The interview: Virtually every story about Peterson refers to this interview of him by Cathy Newman of Channel 4 News in Britain earlier this year. In it, he defends his view that men need to "grow the hell up," and the gist of much commentary is that Peterson came up against a hostile interviewer and won convincingly. At the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf has a detailed critique, faulting Newman for trying to "put words into the academic's mouth."
- Profile: As the New Yorker profile notes, Peterson rose to prominence as a "culture warrior" in 2016 by arguing against a Canadian bill on transgender rights—he thinks it violates free speech to be required to use special pronouns to refer to trans people. Peterson "typically sees liberals, or leftists, or 'postmodernists,' as aggressors—which leads him, rather ironically, to frame some of those on the 'radical right' as victims," writes Sanneh. Still, readers of his new book expecting political stridency might be surprised at how pragmatic the advice is, he adds.
- Both sides: A review at the Vancouver Sun notes that 12 Rules is one of the most popular books ever written by a Canadian. Peterson gets pilloried by both the left and right, "with both sides tending to pigeonhole him," writes Douglas Todd. "But Peterson is far more multi-faceted and eclectic than rigid thinkers want to accept."
- Popularity: Axios calls attention to this tweet by Peterson on March 1: "If you have sent me something, by mail or email, and have not received a response, please forgive me. I am receiving so much correspondence that I cannot keep up at all (30000 emails on one account alone since September)."
- After Jung: A flattering piece at the National Catholic Register digs into Peterson's debt to psychologist CG Jung and likens Peterson to mythologist Joseph Campbell, all of which "permits him to speak with a kind of psychological and spiritual authority to which young people are not accustomed but to which they respond eagerly."
- Business, too: At Forbes, Bill Conerly expounds on how Peterson's views can be applied beyond politics. Peterson "has an important insight that business leaders should consider: Liberals and conservatives need each other in business."
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