What is Jordan Peterson's methodology

The Jordan Peterson phenomenon, explained clearly

1. Jordan - who? Who is this guy?

Jordan Peterson is a 56 year old psychologist and author who teaches as a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Toronto in Canada. He speaks in a thin voice when he is sitting on a podium or arguing with students on his campus, has mottled gray hair combed back and a shirt that is rolled up, which gives him a certain coolness. He has three children, is married and likes to decorate his house with Lenin artifacts that he collects on Ebay. Until 2016, his students and patients or the one million users who were already following his lectures on YouTube knew him. Otherwise, however, Peterson was simply a conservative professor who describes himself as a “classic British liberal” and sees himself as part of an “intellectual dark web” that is fascinated by Christian texts, the social behavior of lobsters and the hero's journey as a narrative strategy.

2. And why is it important now?

Nobody would care about Peterson anymore. No million users on the net, not even the major American leading media like that new Yorker or The New York Timeswhich work off in analyzes and comments to Peterson. Nobody would describe him as the most important intellectual in the western world at the moment like a commentator of the New York Times quoted a good friend in the newspaper.

3. What if it hadn't happened?

If it weren't for a Canadian law with the cryptic name "Bill C 16".

And this one Youtube video from 2016:


It bears the beautiful title "Professor against political correctness: Part I". Peterson speaks out against said law ("the law scares me, and the people behind it scare me too"). It is supposed to make the use of a gender-neutral pronoun mandatory for transgender people, at least that is what Peterson claims. But that's not true at all. Still, when the law came into force in June of last year, Peterson had long been famous. Why? Because his protest - shared as a video and sent out into the world by hundreds of thousands of users - was henceforth celebrated as a rebellious act of free expression against a left mainstream.

4. Well, then he's just another guy who wants to become famous through his fight against the “left mainstream”. That's none of my business!

You can see it that way. But it would not do justice to the hype that Peterson generated about himself. Because the professor is celebrated by his fans for another side of himself: For the psychologist Jordan Peterson, who with his self-help tips in the form of his book "12 Rules for Life - An Antidote to Chaos" 2018 not only won the Canadian bestseller List stormed - but in March of the same year on Amazon slipped to number 1 on the list with the best-selling non-fiction books (in September 2018 it is number 4). In this way and through the new media such as Youtube, Twitter, Reddit and Patreon, Peterson reaches people whom he would rather not reach with his theses against “Marxism”.

Millions of users watch his YouTube lectures or listen to his podcasts. Peterson is thus also a media phenomenon; without Youtube and Reddit it would never be as well known as it is today. He doesn't care whether he lands on some culturally highly respected bestseller lists or not - and neither does Peterson, at least judging by the stoic way in which he rejects any criticism of himself.

This is exactly another key to his success: Peterson does not mind not being loved by a certain political milieu (namely the academic left). On the contrary: He stands by his opinion, unimpressed by all criticism - and that's exactly what many people like about him. Especially those who see him as a political figure and belong to the American alt-right movement. Videos on YouTube that feature Peterson have titles such as “The BEST relationship advice EVER” (1.3 million views) or “Jordan Peterson calmly dismantles feminism infront of two feminists” (3.3 million views). The "Jordan Peterson" hit, however, is an interview by British TV station Channel 4 in which he rhetorically dismantles a journalist who confronts him with his anti-feminist statements (around 12 million views).

5. Who are these people whom he reaches?

Quite different. From members of the alt-right movement to young women and men, from politically interested people to clinically depressed people. What is special about the Jordan Peterson phenomenon is that you can perceive him on different levels, depending on where you stand and which facet of his character you are interested in: as a psychologist, father figure, anti-leftist and martyr of free speech - or as all people bundled in one. In terms of marketing, this is a coup that must first be copied. According to his own statement, however, the majority of his target audience is made up of young white men.

6. I googled Peterson for a moment, he seems to be very polarizing - some celebrate him as a lifesaver, others despise him as a bullshit counter.

Yes, this impression is correct. At least this polarity is also reflected in my research:

KR reader Oliver, who describes himself as a "little fanboy" of Peterson and at 31 years of age as a white, young man, falls into his target group, puts it this way:

“With his background as a long-time therapist (or something like that) he links religious texts and standardized narratives, puts this in relation to his own person, that is, makes it applicable. I love to hear them. (…) For me, the simplicity of a narrative is an expression of integrity: Our socialization should be based on simple rules. I appreciate good metaphors when they add value. I am not religious, but I do not doubt the integrity of the Bible from a cultural point of view. I get access to it through his videos. That helps me to understand morality better and to be able to justify or correct my intuitive attitude. "

KR photo boss Martin, 38, has listened to or watched many of Peterson's YouTube lectures, even daily for a while. He says:

“The reason I listen to Peterson is because I don't feel like my left bladder. I am so sorry. And he's just on the other side. I never thought that someone like that would be my inspiration. But JUST because he doesn't put empathy and compassion first, he's so valuable to me. He also turns the victim myth upside down. For me, as a person diagnosed with chronic depression, Peterson is the perfect mix of intellectual and pragmatist. "

KR Facebook group member Thorsten, 35, thinks little of Peterson:

"Quite a terrible figure who spreads pseudo-intellectual nonsense and lives above all from his image as a rebel against alleged political correctness."

And KR volunteer Efthymis, 34 years old and thus also part of Peterson's target group, is also not enthusiastic about him:

Peterson calls them a generation of young white men who refuse to grow up, but deep down they long for responsibility, structure and calling. But it is precisely with the long-awaited structure that it becomes problematic. Where Western society sees structure in the rule of law, Peterson sees it in a biological hierarchy that can be found in the animal kingdom. His analyzes are behavioral analyzes of lobsters and wolves, not humans. With this he justifies the exploitation of man by man; the thought that the weak must submit to the mighty. In order for these 'lost' boys to adapt to its structure, they have to accept their role in the hierarchy with thanks, do not question anything, or even doubt; find their place in the 'food chain' in an almost metaphysical way. Thus Peterson is nothing more than a biological determinist and in his theory far more faithful to fate than the Marxism he hated. "

7. What does Peterson say now?

Much. It is therefore impossible to summarize his more than 150 YouTube lectures and his two books totaling more than a thousand pages at this point. So let's concentrate on his current book.

Peterson uses a whole set of different ideas that he puts in a more or less coherent context. As if he were wandering through a garden of ideas, picking one from a tree here, collecting another there, and finally throwing everything he had harvested into a large basket. The Bible as well as biology or even his own life serve him as an important source of inspiration.

On a large scale, Peterson is about order versus chaos. The former is the self-declared goal, the latter must be avoided:

“We need rules, standards, values ​​- each for himself and all together. We are pack animals. We have to bear a burden to justify our miserable existence. We need routines and traditions. That's okay. "

And how do you create such order, according to Peterson? With tips suitable for everyday use that you might give to any friend who has been struggling with himself and the world for a long time (“Stand up straight. Get enough sleep. Give your everyday life structure, so always get up at the same time and eat a protein-rich breakfast. Keep your own four walls clean before criticizing others. Take responsibility for your life yourself ") - and through a social hierarchy that Peterson explains and justifies on the basis of biological facts. Gladly based on lobsters.

Yeah right, lobster.

In his book, Peterson uses the social behavior of the crabs to show how the males fight for sexual superiority, territory and thus ultimately for status. For him the animals serve as an illustration of a natural hierarchy. And because lobsters had been around for more than 350 million years, Peterson said, they told you so much about “status and society. The importance of this fact can hardly be overstated. ”Hence, Peterson draws the conclusion:

“It (the hierarchy through natural dominance) is permanent. She is real. It is not capitalism. Not even communism. It is not the military-industrial complex. It is not the patriarchy (...). It's not even a human invention. (...) On the contrary, it is a quasi-eternal part of the world. "

What grows out of this thesis is then only logical in the Peterson universe: a classic black-and-white thinking that knows no intermediate levels. And according to which the world is divided into losers and winners, but also into a female and male sphere:

“The division of nature into its mirrored two sexes occurred before the evolution of multi-cellular animals. It was in a still respectable fifth of that time when mammals emerged to care intensely for their offspring. As a result, the parent and child categories have existed for 200 million years. That's longer than birds exist. Longer than there are flowers. (...) That means that male and female and parent and child are categories for us - natural categories, deeply anchored in our perceptual, emotional and motivating structures. "

"That is longer than birds exist" - this statement is so wrong in the simplification. For example, researchers argue about whether flying mammals are older than the first birds. They developed as descendants from the dinosaurs; their development spans a long period of time. Between 210 and 160 million years ago, dinosaurs became more compact, smaller, and lighter, so that at some point they could take to the skies.

Peterson says something like: Structures that are so old can't be bad ?! Why break away from these?

Why, however, does Peterson refer to the lobster of all things as confirmation of his thesis, why he chooses this example from biology and not any other (bees, for example, whose colonies have a queen at the top of the social hierarchy, and the male drones only serve to mate), he does not explain.

This certainly doesn't make the method of simply referring to biology any more correct. It is well known that modern humans are not only shaped by their genes and are a product of evolution. But also through a cultural history to which we owe different political theories, values ​​such as the human dignity of each individual, freedom, a democratic system and also the emancipation of women - with Hummer, we remember, none of that exists yet.

Fortunately, Peterson finally mentions the importance of cultural history. But that does not prevent him from first explaining all hierarchical social structures with evolution.

8. Peterson is also interpreted as an anti-feminist. What does he say about men and women?

At least now it will be really difficult. One can understand Peterson's self-help tips - if one deducts his sometimes crude theory of ideas - as empowerment for each individual. But for anyone who halfway believes in equal treatment between women and men, it becomes exhausting to take him seriously as soon as Peterson starts to speak about both sexes.

"Boys suffer in the modern world"Peterson is sure of that "You are not welcome". Because in the course of the emancipation of women they would be suspected on the basis of their gender; as possible rapists, as beneficiaries of patriarchy, as “plunderers of the planet”. The lords of creation are sitting on the sloping branch, because even in elementary school, later in high school and even later in university they fell behind in terms of education, says Peterson.

He also collects some astonishing statements about boys and girls, which, although he supports them with sources, can at least be found questionable:

  • Boys are more interested in things per se, girls tend to be more people.
  • Boys are per se more independent than girls.
  • Girls can gain status regardless of whether they compete with a boy or another girl and emerge victorious, whereas boys can only triumph if they win against another boy.
  • Girls are not attracted to boys whom they consider friends. But only to those who surpass another boy in status.

Peterson also quickly explains to readers what a parenting model should look like: namely as a classic family: man, woman, married.

“Children who grow up without a father are at an increased risk of later becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol. Children living with married biological parents are less anxious, less depressed and less likely to commit delinquency than children living with one or more non-biological parents. Children who grow up in single-parent families are twice as likely to commit suicide. "

One would have to be shocked by this list. It would be the downfall for all children of widowers and widows, single parents, couples living together without a marriage license, foster parents, adoptive parents, same-sex couples and divorced people. But we can just take one of Jordan Peterson's very own advice to heart: "Beware of simple causal interpretations - and those who spread them!"

But even this advice does not prevent Peterson from whipping out yet another questionable thesis. Namely his very own interpretation of the term patriarchy:

"To me it looks as if the so-called oppression by the patriarchy was, on the contrary, an imperfect collective attempt by men and women that went on for millennia to free each other from hard toil, disease and want."

Peterson's “proof” for this interpretation: After all, the pill was invented by a man, just like the first tampon!

This "argument" is as wrong as it can be. First: He assumes that the two men have lofty goals where they may have simply thought in their own categories in the sense of success and scientific curiosity.Second, and that is even more important than point one: Even if the two inventors were shaped in their actions by the idea of ​​helping women to achieve more freedom - they therefore refute the countless other examples in which men are “natural” for themselves. Claiming superiority? (Including many great thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, but also Christian theology reflects this image, as does the physiology and anatomy of the 19th century, which proceeded from "different sexual characters" and a "natural" inferiority in the physique of women saw.) Do his two examples refute those politically supported social structures that men still tend to associate with the public sphere and women still rather with the domestic sphere?

9. Hm. Based on such statements, the question arises: How is his success explained?

That is the most exciting of all questions. Jordan Peterson is a rhetorical phenomenon and a gifted storyteller. In discussions he always remains matter-of-fact and sober, referring to supposed facts that he uses as arguments; no matter how much you attack him: the man does not seem to let himself be disturbed by anything and to have a self-confidence made of stone (see for example here and here. This separates him from the heat of a populist, automatically makes his counterpart weaker work and gives Peterson a credibility that is reinforced by his academic title - regardless of whether what he says is ultimately factually correct or not.

Peterson has understood how to package his ideas as stories and what tone he has to strike in order for them to spark emotionally (one could add here, not entirely without an ironic undertone, that Peterson did not study for years how political demagogues communicate for nothing). The narrative style in his book follows an empowering but not soulful tone in which pragmatism, pathos and rigor are skillfully balanced, never far from the next, often personalized anecdote. As if a father were saying to his son: “You are actually a great guy! Believe in yourself - and now finally pull yourself together, boy! "- Stand up straight with your shoulders back!as Peterson puts it.

He thus develops the narrative of the stumbling hero (the white, overwhelmed young man) who has the ability to lead a successful and happy life - provided he follows the tips of Jordan Peterson, which guide him through the jagged labyrinth of postmodernism . For Peterson this is the main reason for the disorientation he proclaimed.

Anyone who wants to delve deeper into the subject of postmodernism or Peterson's reading of it can do so with this text. However, you need prior knowledge of the humanities in order to understand it well.

10. But I don't think it's wrong to have a pilot in our times! Society is changing. And damn fast.

That's right: the emancipation of women, the globalization of the economy, the financial crisis of the past ten years, the increasing specialization and technologization of the world of work, shifting role models of men and women, #Metoo, the Internet, which offers many possibilities, but also one A confusing sea of ​​ideas and images delivers, migration and integration, a world in which old certainties dissolve and new ones have to be found - how attractive is a voice that promises orientation? A guide that claims to be able to resolve the complexity of this world through self-help, and that also seems academically legitimized?

Perhaps that is why Peterson is so attractive to many (men): Because he refers to structures that are thousands of years old and much older (Bible and biology), which form a world of thought in which everything can simply remain as it has always been. Without any pressure to adapt to change.

What is also remarkable about Peterson is that he does not follow any particular ideology, i.e. does not explicitly assign himself to a political camp - and yet has become a political issue. Because the New Right in the USA uses him (which Peterson doesn’t mind) and the Left uses him. Sure: his ideas are undisputedly conservative-reactionary, but the fact that he does not try to sell a certain ideology, but wildly avails himself of all kinds of ideas, is what makes him interesting for a broad target audience.

Critical voices from the Anglo-Saxon region who have dealt with Peterson see precisely this as a key to his success. Because they value his potpourri of ideas as an alternative to “identity politics”. The term comes from the USA and describes a "politics of identity" which, put simply, tries to strengthen the perception and rights of certain social groups, for example those of women, gays, transgender people or blacks. Critics of identity politics see it as the main reason for Donald Trump's election victory.

One such critic is Mark Lilla, professor of the history of ideas at Columbia University of New York. After Trump's victory, he wrote a highly regarded commentary in the New York Times, which should explain Trump's success, but is also a clear criticism of the left. "In recent years American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing".

Peterson does not speak explicitly of politics in his book, but with his ideas he sets a political counterpoint to what Lilla criticizes. (Interestingly, Donald Trump had set exactly such a counterpoint with his election campaign strategy, which was aimed at all those who had had enough of gender-neutral toilets, racism accusations by blacks or "We should all be feminists" wearing T-shirts Women.)

Paradoxically, however, Peterson also pursues identity politics. He also stands up for a certain group and wants to free them - in his view - from their predicament: men.

11. Is it really that bad for men?

Let's put it this way: There have been easier times to be a man. For example, the 50s or 60s in Germany, when the idea of ​​what a man should be was pretty one-dimensional, but also pretty clear: a man went to work, took care of the family financially. He made the announcements, the woman was required by law to run the household. Unintentional sex in marriage was not a criminal offense. A man's status was linked to his professional success, his power, his money. Not about his appearance, about parental leave or communication skills - all characteristics that the “modern man” should definitely bring with him today.

The "new man" should be soft, but not a wimp. He is supposed to be a caring father, but in the end not to dispute the woman's territory as a mother. He should stand by his feelings, but not have any negative ones. He should be a "doer", but not a power animal. He's supposed to be a gentleman, but don't hold the woman's door open (discrimination!). He should be sensitive, but lead the partner through life in case of doubt. He should think as equals, but definitely propose to the woman. He should have a six-pack, but not be a muscleman. He should still have money and status. He should ... and ... and ... and ... and ... and ...

In fact, there are studies that show that boys lag behind girls in school: girls drop out less often and do their Abitur more often.

The unemployment rate is lower for women than for men. They have a higher risk of losing their job.

Men die earlier than women.

Men are more likely to commit suicide than women.

And: men don't have a lobby. If Peterson states that, he's right. They don't have any because they didn't need one for decades, even centuries and millennia. Because they were the ones who had power and distributed power - and because very often that is still the case today.

Do not you think? Then take a look at these examples: The management team of the Ministry of the Interior and Home Office under Horst Seehofer consists exclusively of men. The proportion of women in the Bundestag is 30.9 percent; for every 219 women there are 490 men - the percentage of women is as low as it was in 1998. Out of three managers in the EU, only one person is a woman - and she earns 23.4 percent less than a male colleague at the same management level. In Germany there are 300 chefs who are allowed to adorn themselves with a Michelin star. Only nine of them are women. At the 75th Venice International Film Festival, which ended in early September 2018, only 21 percent of the films admitted came from female directors - a single film by a woman made it into the competition.

12. Why do so many leftists rub themselves up against Jordan Peterson?

The answer to this question arises from points 8, 9 and 10 - those who are politically left are generally more tolerant towards minorities, interested in gender equality and a pluralistic society. Peterson, on the other hand, says sentences that actually represent a provocation the moment he utters them. Because they contradict the basic left canon.

The fact that Peterson is also incredibly successful by making use of the new media and left-wing intellectual institutions that are still opinion makers and can kick off careers by triggering debates may no longer be useful for some leftists new Yorker or at the New York Times be an extra smack.

Peterson also likes to denigrate leftists as Marxists. That not everyone who thinks to the left will like it: for free.

13. Can We Learn From Peterson?

I've thought about it for a long time. What can I, a 34-year-old western woman who believes in emancipation, equality and equal opportunities, learn from Peterson's statements? I asked myself this question really seriously, several times, with all journalistically required objectivity, without my own indignation that could stand in the way of an answer.

The honest answer is: I don't know.

The left may at times get lost in moralistic indignation, at which point Peterson's criticism is justified; I also find it exhausting every now and then to discuss with other feminists who are not even ready to let the other side finish speaking.

Anyone who picks up psychological tips from Petersons and finds help in them: please.

There is greater pressure on men these days as to which roles they should kindly fulfill as a “modern man”. It is certainly true. Nevertheless: Does that mean that a young man automatically has to believe in outdated hierarchies and outdated role models? Does he have to take a lobster as a model? And do I have to listen as a woman that patriarchy never existed like this? That social hierarchies can be justified with the social behavior of lobsters and that they cannot be terminated forever? Is that supposed to be the solution for those changes as we have discussed under point 10? Really?

I think no.

Or, to put an end to the discussion, in Peterson's words: Stand up straight with your shoulders back!

Editor: Rico Grimm; Final editing: Vera Fröhlich; Photo editing: Martin Gommel (lead story:).