The criticism Jordan Peterson deserves

Oh my god. Jesus. Holy fuck. I’m reading this critique of Jordan Peterson by Nathan Robinson, and at every paragraph all that’s running through my head is expletive-laden expressions of disbelief. It’s not at what Robinson says, though — it’s because he has taken Peterson very seriously indeed, gone back to his first book, quotes extensively from it, includes some of the diagrams, and also transcribes some of talks, so the article is like a mega-dose of Petersonisms so thorough that you’re not going to be able to claim these are out-of-context excerpts that distort his meaning. There is no meaning there.

Jordan Peterson appears very profound and has convinced many people to take him seriously. Yet he has almost nothing of value to say. This should be obvious to anyone who has spent even a few moments critically examining his writings and speeches, which are comically befuddled, pompous, and ignorant. They are half nonsense, half banality. In a reasonable world, Peterson would be seen as the kind of tedious crackpot that one hopes not to get seated next to on a train.

You have to read the transcript of his lecture about a children’s book to believe it. It starts off with Peterson reading a few lines about feeding a dragon pancakes, and then he meanders off into this long twisty anecdote about how he and his wife were taking care of some kids and they had to give them lunch and one of the kids wasn’t enthusiastic about eating but they were having none of that and then it segues into this totalitarian morality play.

So, we bring all the kids to the table and they’re sitting around and they’re having lunch and the rule is, as I said, eat what is in front of you and be PLEASED AND HAPPY ABOUT IT.

Oh, you better. Because Jordan Peterson is going to sit there for four hours poking your face with a spoon if you don’t eat it all up, and he expects to be able to control your thoughts about it, too. And then the story ends with the kid’s mother coming to pick him up and Peterson is visibly furious about this anecdote from years ago because the mother was far more casual about forcing the kid to eat than he was, and he’s now calling that mother the dragon who probably ruined the kids life. It’s nuts. You can watch the performance, and it’s horrifying. He is supposedly talking about his book, Maps of Meaning, and analyzing this children’s book, somehow, yet he spends 17 minutes in this incoherent angry ramble about a trivial incident that he has stuffed full of nefarious meaning in his head.

I read one chapter of Peterson’s latest book and was dismayed and incredulous that this guy is considered a popular, serious scholar. Nathan Robinson dug deep and reviewed a mountain of Peterson’s work, and I don’t know how he did it. I hope he’s OK.

That one chapter was enough for me to see that he was a worthless pseudo-intellectual. But then, I’ve been reading intelligent design creationism crap for years, and have learned to spot a fraud pretty quickly.


  1. Porivil Sorrens says

    I’m not sure what my favorite Peterson moment is – that part in his book where he got in some sort of simian staring match with a literal four year old, or the part where he declared Frozen to be dangerous propaganda because the villain isn’t immediately obvious.

  2. says

    The most perverse irony in JP’s pronouncements is that he’s so vacuous he’s essentially guilty of the very same “post-modernism” he constantly rails against. Try to wrap your head around his definition of truth to see this. It’s layers of nonsense deepity piled on top of previous ones.

  3. leerudolph says

    With a record like that, I’d say he’s well on his way to be given a permanent post on the op-ed page of the New York Times!

  4. cartomancer says

    I do wish that Americans would stop writing “the Western World” when what they mean is “a handful of Americans in one small corner of the internet”. Outside of your parochial little bubble nobody has even heard of this Petersen character. Ask someone in the UK who the most influential living intellectuals are and they would probably say someone like Simon Schama or Mary Beard or Roger Penrose or (until yesterday a least) Stephen Hawking. Noam Chomsky on the off chance. A Frenchman or a German or a Japanese respondent would give different names entirely.

    At most a British person might say that Petersen is that smug American fascist who was owned by that woman on Channel 4 when they were having a slow news day. Nobody over here knows who he is. The only reason I know is because PZ Myers keeps talking about him. By extrapolation, that must mean that PZ Myers is the most influential intellectual in the entirety of human history…

  5. screechymonkey says

    I found it ironic that the linked article notes some criticisms of Peterson by Sam Harris, because Peterson seems to employ the Sam Harris Two-Step:

    1. Make a bold claim that is factually or morally dubious, to the applause of your fans for your courage and independent thinking.
    2. When criticized, insist that you weren’t really saying that, you were saying something incredibly bland and unnotable, and shame on the critic for interpreting your words pretty much the same way your fans did.

    A friend of mine has recently become a Peterson devotee, and while singing the man’s praises, he claimed that supposedly Peterson “set a new record” for most publications before receiving his Ph.D. I have no idea (a) what sort of record he is supposed to have set (for his school? for his field?); (b) if anyone actually keeps track of such things; and/or (c) whether the academic world would regard such a record would actually be a sign of brilliance or productivity or whatever it’s supposed to be, or if it’s like how writers give their fictional geniuses multiple Ph.Ds thinking that it signals brilliance. Anyway, it struck me as a sort of folk legend.

  6. says

    #6: Canada, the United States, Uruguay…they all blur together from the other side of the Atlantic.

    But I do kind of agree with #5 — Peterson is a weird narrow phenomenon that will be, I hope, short-lived and quickly forgotten. Like Trump.

  7. tulse says

    I’m amused/befuddled that Peterson could write the below with a straight face:

    Are you working hard on your career, or even your job, or are you letting bitterness and resentment hold you back and drag you down? […] Don’t blame capitalism, the radical left, or the iniquity of your enemies. Don’t reorganize the state until you have ordered your own experience. Have some humility. If you cannot bring peace to your household, how dare you try to rule a city? … Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.

    Honestly, how does he not see the absurd hypocrisy in that statement. Or does he think his house is in perfect order already?

    supposedly Peterson “set a new record” for most publications before receiving his Ph.D.

    I got my PhD at the University of Toronto many years back, and although Peterson was on staff, I don’t recall anyone thinking he was a particular boy genius (there were plenty of other faculty who were more accomplished and thought of more highly). He certainly was no prodigy. I was genuinely surprised when I discovered that, nearly two decades later he had suddenly become this alt-right-adjacent figure. Until then, I honestly hadn’t thought about him since grad school.

  8. cartomancer says

    I’m a Classicist / Medievalist. My map of the world only has three continents on it.

  9. says

    I was willing to believe people who assured me that he’s at least capable in his field of expertise, psychology, but now I’ve read this long ramble about how it’s a good idea to turn every interaction with a child into a power struggle and he’s still angry, years later, about the time a small boy defied his authority by sitting quietly while Peterson poked him over and over. Now I don’t know what to think, except to feel bad for the kid.

    Also, I liked that children’s book growing up and that charlatan needs to get Jack Kent’s beautiful name out of his mouth.

  10. Zeppelin says

    I hadn’t heard of Peterson until I read about him on this blog. Even if he should end up being enduringly popular in the US (I still hold out hope that Canadians are on the whole too sensible for him), I expect he’ll be an Ayn Rand type figure — big in US political pop culture, minor offshoot cults in the rest of the Anglosphere, unheard of anywhere else. He’s certainly no Noam Chomsky or even Richard Dawkins.

  11. says

    Peterson’s whole career is based on wrapping up unthinking prejudices and privileged assumptions in thinky words and handing it back to the privileged dudebros who never wanted to think in the first place – so they can now point to this ‘philosopher’ as why they were right all along.

    I know because I have had to hear from him from the start of him becoming a stain on the face of media, because he got his start by lying about a bill for legal protections for trans people, claiming that it would criminalize him for not using the right pronouns (it doesn’t), and furthermore setting up “not using the requested pronouns” as a Free Speech hill to die on.

    His career literally started with trumping up a ‘philosophical’ argument to justify, nay, LIONIZE being a complete asshole to trans people. So naturally the alt-lite ate that all up and loves him.

  12. Rob Bos says

    “1. Make a bold claim that is factually or morally dubious, to the applause of your fans for your courage and independent thinking.
    2. When criticized, insist that you weren’t really saying that, you were saying something incredibly bland and unnotable, and shame on the critic for interpreting your words pretty much the same way your fans did.”

    This is called a “motte-and-bailey” argument. You make a claim, then when challenged, retreat to a trivially defensible banality. When the challenge lets up, you go back to the claim.

  13. Chris J says

    There’s a section about how Peterson is really annoyed that he can’t hit women.

    Oh, sorry, that’s not quite right. He’s terribly annoyed that hitting women isn’t an option.

    Wait, hang on. He’s terribly annoyed that, if a woman and he get into a disagreement, he’s not allowed to try to win the argument by hitting her.

    One more time…

    But seriously, I’ve run into this mindset before. It’s a bizarre cry of helplessness when violence is off the table, as if it were ever on the table when dealing with men. I’ll agree that it’s not quite true that folks like Peterson are advocating for violence against women directly, it’s more like they feel impotent if the option of violence is taken away from them, and culture has said that it is taken away when dealing with women.

    But, like, how many physical fights has Peterson gotten into? Not many, I’d wager. He’s scared, and when he’s scared he feels like he needs the option to be violent, and if he can’t be violent then he feels even more scared and become fixated on the violence that was probably not gonna happen anyway now that someone says he can’t do it. It’s all insecurity, when you come down to it, and one sad thing about our culture is that we teach men to respond to insecurity with violence.

  14. blf says

    I’m a Classicist / Medievalist. My map of the world only has three continents on it.

    And dragons, here be…

    (I was going to snark “And flat”, but then it occurred to me most(?) educated people of that time-frame knew the Earth wasn’t.)

  15. blf says

    Last month the Gruaniad had an article on the vapid kook, How dangerous is Jordan B Peterson, the rightwing professor who ‘hit a hornets’ nest’?:

    Since his confrontation with Cathy Newman [of the UK’s Channel 4 News], the Canadian academic’s book has become a bestseller. But his arguments are riddled with ‘pseudo-facts’ and conspiracy theories

    […] Last November, fellow University of Toronto professor Ira Wells called him “the professor of piffle” — a YouTube star rather than a credible intellectual. Tabatha Southey, a columnist for the Canadian magazine Macleans, designated him “the stupid man’s smart person”.

    “Peterson’s secret sauce is to provide an academic veneer to a lot of old-school rightwing cant, including the notion that most academia is corrupt and evil, and banal self-help patter,” says Southey. “He’s very much a cult thing, in every regard. I think he’s a goof, which does not mean he’s not dangerous.”


  16. screechymonkey says

    Chris J @ 15:

    I’ve run into this mindset before. It’s a bizarre cry of helplessness when violence is off the table, as if it were ever on the table when dealing with men.

    I usually see it on the Internet, where user A objects to something nonthreatening that user B wrote and says “you wouldn’t DARE say that to my face.” (For bonus irony points, A can accuse B of being an Internet Tough Guy, on the Peterson theory that any disagreement is an implicit offer to fight that must be backed up in meatspace.)

    The implication, of course, is “because I would beat the shit out of you for saying it,” though often A tries to pretend otherwise to avoid violating any forum rules about threats.

    I’m always tempted to butt in with a thousand irritating questions for A, like:
    (a) what if it turns out that, as big and tough as you no doubt are, B is actually bigger and tougher?
    (b) what if you’re alone but B is accompanied by twelve of his closest friends?
    (c) what is B is lawfully strapped with a gun?
    (d) what if B agrees to meet you and repeat his or her statement, provided the meeting is in broad daylight outside a police station with plenty of witnesses on hand?
    (e) what if B is so obviously your physical inferior (due to age, size, physical condition, throw in gender if A is a “traditional male”) that you would look like a ridiculous bully for even vaguely threatening B? (aka the Jordan Peterson dilemma)

    All of which would quickly show that what A is really saying is “if I could beat you up, without risk to my own physical safety, pride, or freedom from jail, I would totally do it.” What that is supposed to tell us about B is unclear, but I sure know what I think about A!

  17. says

    OK, I’m reading that kiddie episode and holy fuck
    Just for the backstory, the kid in question’s nanny had an accident, so the kid is being handed around the neighbourhood for a few days and the mother tells the Petersons that he won’t eat.

    It’s like, he won’t eat, all day, which by the way is not okay, it’s not okay, and you’re going to tell us that it’s okay and you’re going to expect that we’re just going to accept the fact that you think it’s okay.

    Uhm, I mean, you can disagree with the mother’s point of view, but that’s not enough for Peterson. He is not even willing to accept that this is her opinion. I mean, what?

    I came back the little guy was in the porch like where the boots were and everything and he was sort of standing there like this [sulking] and I thought hmm that’s not good because there’s all these other kids like he should have been in there playing eh? That obviously that’s what a child is primed to do!

    This guy is a psychologist???? I mean, everybody with a shred of understanding would think “poor kid. His nanny, with whom he probably has a very close relationship because she is with him at least 8 hours a day had an accident. He must be worried! And then he’s at a new house with different people he hardly knows every day, that must be hard! And he’s only 4 years old!”
    But not Jordan Peterson. To him, children have no right to be sad or lonely or simply overwhelmed. They must be happy!

    So I’m poking this kid and trying to get him to, smile but there’s no damn way you know I’m poking him he’s just ignoring me like mad and I thought that’s not good, you know, because you don’t want your four year-old to have learned that you should, that it’s okay to ignore the adults

    So we got an adult man who keeps touching a kid who clearly does not want to be touched by him, but the problem is the kid, because an adult has got the right to do that and heavens forbid the kid does not react as supposed. Fuck, it’s creepy.

    There’s something deeply wrong with this little kid.

    There’s something deeply wrong with one person in this interaction and it’s not the boy.

    you can buy PRE-COOKED hard-boiled eggs

    Imagine the horror.

    Now, that’s a lot of time, and then you’re going to do that for 18 years. SO then you might ask yourself… what sort of response do you need… from your child… in order to not feel resentful and miserable about the fact that you have to do that for three bloody months this year.

    Now, I could have some slight sympathy here. I have snapped at the kids for not eating what I prepare, especially if they were the ones asking for that meal, but three things:
    1. I’m damn sure Jordan Peterson doesn’t do the cooking. You can easily see that by him estimating the same amount of time for making breakfast as for making lunch.
    2. My kids are not there to satisfy my needs. They are not there to cheer me on.
    3. Easy solution: make food for yourself. I told my kid that if theys’re going to complain anyway I’ll simply ignore what they say and make the food I like. No kid ever starved at a full table (eating disorders excluded)

    Do not think that you’re going to be able to maintain a healthy attitude towards your child or towards your food or towards yourself if all you can muster up for the effort of cooking and preparing food is the attitude of a slave and continual punishment from the people you’re offering food to. It’s like who the hell wants that?! So you want to teach the miserable little blighter that he’s lucky that there’s any food there at all and that the proper attitude is to say really thank you very much mom or thank you very much dad

    So Peterson’s recipe for managing the frustration that comes with raising kids is not to grow some healthy attitudes and coping mechanisms yourself. You, the adult, simply hand the burden to the child.

    It’s like I don’t care how stubborn you are I am GOING TO WIN!

    And here’s a grown ass man bragging about the time he made his 9 months old child submit to his will.

    He did kind of nine month old things which means he just put his head down and when she put the spoon towards him he just averted his head one way or another so so that was interesting because I knew his parents had given up feeding him when he was about eight or nine months old, because those tricks worked and so that’s why she could come to the house and say [in high pitched voice] “he probably won’t eat all day but that’s alright” which it ISN’T. IT’S NOT ALRIGHT.

    No, Jordan Peterson. It’s not because his parents gave up. It#s because his parents respected him. Since he was apparently a healthy normal weight boy, I’m pretty sure he didn’t stop eating when he was 9 months old. He probably only didn’t want to eat at other people’s houses (again, remember, extreme stress situation). He never developed any more “sophisticated” resistance methods against adults trying to violate his boundaries because he didn’t have to.

    he was super thrilled because he’d finally accomplished this ABSOLUTE BASIC NECESSITY… that he hadn’t mastered in FOUR YEARS. He FINALLY GOT IT RIGHT.

    Yes, apparently Peterson does believe the kid didn’t eat those last 4 years.

    he’d internalized all that he thought he was a bad kid

    Who said anything about “bad kid”? Oh, you Jordan…

    It was like horrifying and amazing at the same time and that he followed my wife around after that, in the house, just like a puppy dog.

    Abused kids always try to please the people who abuse them, hoping to prevent more abuse.

    She should have said “well how did you get him to eat? It’s like what the hell is he doing hugging you? He never does that to me!”

    Does he peep into their home?

    So that meant that the child was the problem.

    No, Jordan. Nothing in your story suggests that the mother saw her child as a problem or that the child didn’t have a close relationship with her. It’s you who has a problem.

  18. says

    Chris J
    It’s also blatantly not true. Women are damn aware of the possibility of men hitting them. I don’t thin I know a woman who has never consciously made the decision to shut up or politely agree with a man because she was acutely aware of the threat of violence.

  19. brutus says

    There a lot to like and more to dislike in Robinson’s takedown article. I grew weary early on with absolutist (everything, always, nothing, never, etc.) and sarcastic remarks. It’s true that Peterson has made himself an easy target by indulging in obfuscation and slipperiness, especially when challenged. But to say that there is “almost nothing of value” flies in the face of abundant evidence that people (friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, etc., though perhaps concentrated in N. Amer.) do indeed find his ideas quite valuable. Doesn’t matter that those ideas are wide open to disputation, distortion, misinterpretation, and misuse, much of which lies well beyond Peterson’s control. Moreover, telling people “you’re fools for believing this nonsense” isn’t a very good approach; makes it almost taboo and attractive. Far better to show how and why Peterson’s ideas fail. Robinson does that partially but succumbs too easily to simply bullying his subject. Blech. BTW, I’m not an apologist for Peterson, but neither do I find it wise to discard him as nothing more than a charlatan.

  20. Owlmirror says

    somehow, yet he spends 17 minutes in this incoherent angry ramble about a trivial incident that he has stuffed full of nefarious meaning in his head.

    I’ve been listening to this. It just goes on and on and on and on and on and on . . .

    How the fuck can anyone think that this guy is an awesome intellectual? This is not an intelligent thinker and speaker. This is Grampa Simpson with more energy to power his blather and digressions.

    I’ve been reading this 12 part review of 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos. It certainly looks like Peterson has the same problem in writing that he does in speaking: he rambles terribly.

    I’m not sure the incident is completely trivial, either. It sounds a bit like Peterson is at least borderline abusive, and at least some of the rambling is throwing out ad-hoc rationalizations for his abusiveness. He calls the mother of the kid a “dragon” because she didn’t follow up to find out what Peterson’s wife did that worked with the child. Well gee, maybe Peterson should have taken the initiative to tell the mother what worked? Hey, Peterson, maybe there’s a dragon looking back at you from the mirror.

  21. says

    #21: People find Ken Ham’s ideas valuable, too. They’re still wrong, and that a number people think they’re fine doesn’t make them right.

    What’s most damning in that article isn’t what Robinson says, it’s what Peterson says. And he’s full of shit, full stop.

  22. says

    #19: Yes, what his story reveals is how authoritarian Peterson is. Kids must eat what he serves them on his schedule, and the must be happy about it.

    We raised three kids. They were all different, and that’s ok. Our oldest was not that interested in food, and now he’s thin as a rail, and when we visit we take him out to eat and encourage him to chow down, and he might eat half a hamburger and take the rest home to eat the next day. That’s OK! #2 child would eat anything and everything (he was also more athletically inclined). That’s OK! #3 child was an annoyingly picky eater as a kid (we were once told to serve pale food with no flavor), but as she got older she developed more diverse tastes. That’s OK!

    I can’t imagine forcing all of them to follow one dietary regime. Each others? Mine? My wife’s? They have their tastes, I have mine, and I wouldn’t want to force them to follow some other person’s food preferences, and to be required to be happy about it. That’s the most disturbing thing, that he thinks he can order somebody else to be happy about being obedient to his whims.

  23. says

    The first lecture of his that I saw on youtube, he was going on about how we just don’t know whether or not people actually do meet real extra-dimensional beings when they take the drug DMT.

  24. Owlmirror says


    They’re still wrong, and that a number people think they’re fine doesn’t make them right.

    The review I linked to @22 points out that some of the rules Peterson offers aren’t bad, in and of themselves — but in the material meant to fill out and support the bare text of the rules, Peterson rather ironically demonstrates that he does not seem to be capable of following the good parts of his own advice.

    Closing paragraphs of the final part (Camestros Felapton):

    This discussion of how he reacts to cats is revealing:

    “When you meet a cat on a street, many things can happen. If I see a cat at a distance, for example, the evil part of me wants to startle it with a loud pfft! sound— front teeth over bottom lip. That will make a nervous cat puff up its fur and stand sideways so it looks larger. Maybe I shouldn’t laugh at cats, but it’s hard to resist. The fact that they can be startled is one of the best things about them (along with the fact that they are instantly disgruntled and embarrassed by their overreaction). But when I have myself under proper control, I’ll bend down, and call the cat over, so I can pet it.” – Peterson, Jordan B.. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (p. 352). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

    I don’t know about others but I don’t have to be under ‘proper control’ to want to pet a cat. I wish Peterson had put this insight in Chapter 1 – it would have changed the book for me. It would have become a character study – an insight into a man with his own demons, attempting to understand himself but prone to extrapolate his own demons onto the rest of humanity.

    12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos is not a book I can recommend anybody read. there are better sources for advice and there are clearer essays on modern rightwing politics.

    Brian Pansky:

    The first lecture of his that I saw on youtube, he was going on about how we just don’t know whether or not people actually do meet real extra-dimensional beings when they take the drug DMT.


  25. wanderingname says

    Jesus. Has anyone assessed Peterson for mania? I mean, he’s got grandiosity, flight of ideas, pressured speech and distractibility.

  26. Tethys says

    I can’t believe he is bragging that he instigated and ‘won’ a power struggle with a 4 year old over eating, but knowing he thinks it’s funny to play dominance games with random cats and be entirely clueless about them too managed to score even lower on the scale of oblivious self-importance

  27. blf says

    The mildly deranged penguin — who uses cats as trebuchet ammo — postulates that what really happened in the encounter with the four-year old is a mind swap at the start (possibly caused by uncontrolled cat landing?), explaining the kook’s temper tantrums: It’s an immature worried kid, not a supposedly-learned professor, spewing shite.

    (I point out the vocabulary is not that of a four-year old. She(the mildly deranged penguin) waddles off, muttering something about needing to recalibrate the kitty launching pad.)

  28. tacitus says

    And I thought I was verbose…

    The only reason I’d heard of Jordan Peterson is because almost every single alt-right and white nationalist podcast I’ve listened to (don’t judge) drops his name at least once, always in appreciation, often to lionize him. So much so, in fact, that I was surprised to find that he’s actually regarded as a mainstream conservative thinker. Whether or not he personally endorses far right ideology, it’s clear he is a hero to those who do. They see his work as giving their racist misogynistic ideology the intellectual heft they need to establish themselves in the mainstream of American society.

    It’s funny to read the comments from readers of his books about how they are impressed by his work, even though they had trouble understanding much of his florid language and tortuous reasoning. Ironically, when these same people turn to the more complicated concepts of modern science, like relativity and quantum mechanics, they take the opposite tack — rejecting those theories out of hand because they argue that scientific theories that are inaccessible to common sense understanding must be invalid. I guess the difference is they have a hard time pressing Einstein’s Theory of Relativity into service in their anti-social justice crusades.

  29. drjerkburg says

    I had to stop lurking and register to add a comment. This hits exactly on the nose. I took Peterson’s course in 2003 and it was exactly this banal drivel… 8 of 13 weeks of lectures we watched Fritz the Cat, and I suppose learned personality psychology by osmosis. The readings for the class were a random assortment of Freud and Jung (or something like that, I didn’t read them). For the final exam a chicken could pass, and a lot of students for finished before the minimum 30 minutes required before you could get up and leave.

  30. john says

    If my comment is off topic, please delete it, I apologize in advance.
    Can I earnestly ask if someone could point me in the right direction of any social commenters/thinkers better to follow than Jordan? I ask this because after realizing I was in a social media bubble/echo chamber of only left wing/progressives after the last election, I decided to pierce that bubble and follow/subscribe to everything on the spectrum, left–>right so as to get a more complete view of where we are at or just try to understand what the heck is going on now politically/culturally etc.. So I went ahead and unmuted many right wing leaning family members and let them sit at my facebook/twitter table after slowly expelling them from my daily feed.

    So like many, my first exposure to Jordan was that UK interview and I thought he rationally stated his case, I saw no red flags in particular. Since then I have seen posts (conservative manily) praising his book and was considering checking it out but now I see this post and all the comments and I am just flat out confused.I also bookmarked a podcast on youtube that was shared of Peterson and Bret Weinstein, but I haven’t gotten to it as it is like 3 hours long.

    Many here saying how weak of a thinker he is, please point me to some others I can include on my feed. Or that one comment above on how weak his book is and there are better choices in terms of advice books. Anything that I can further investigate would be helpful.

  31. Tethys says


    Anything that I can further investigate would be helpful.

    There are plenty of moral philosophy authors that are worth reading, assuming that is the particular subject you are interested in learning. This critique of Peterson by a pschologist lays out some of the sloppy thinking and counterfactual claims that underlie his book. It also contains multiple links and references to people who are worth reading , but they cover a broad range of subjects besides philosphy. Try reading some Hume or Dennet, heck even Neitzsche or Kant is better than reading the dreck invented out of whole cloth by Jordan.

  32. doubtthat says

    Didn’t succeed at the challenge, gave up on that speech transcription right about the time the kid gets dropped off. I much preferred your summary to reading that insane rambling.

    I made the mistake of engaging with a Peterson fanboy on a tweet link that article. There were a couple of awesome moments:

    -Peterson ALWAYS means “ought” when he says “is.” ALWAYS. Then why is he giving social advice to lobsters? Well, not there, obviously…
    -We shouldn’t criticize Peterson’s lobster claims from the infamous interview because that was him talking on tv, not writing. So, he couldn’t accurately express the ideas he wrote about out loud? Amazingly, an argument that not even Peterson can accurately interpret Peterson
    -He uses a bizarre meaning of truth that even his fans think is wrong, but if you stop being a big jerk and use his wrong meaning of truth, the rambling diatribes make sense, somehow – Nonsense + Bad Definition of Truth = Life Altering Catharsis

    He did a podcast with Harris, apparently. A Harris-Peterson podcast is the closest I’ve come to believing in the supernatural, because that MUST be hell.

  33. john says

    thank you Tethys!
    I kind of panicked for fear of being flamed for asking such an oafish question, but alas couldn’t delete my comment.

  34. Tethys says

    Asking for better sources is never an oafish question. It’s far preferable to convincing Peterson’s acolytes that he is narrow minded, deeply biased, and has zero understanding of the concepts he is discussing so authoritatively. .

  35. tacitus says

    Can I earnestly ask if someone could point me in the right direction of any social commenters/thinkers better to follow than Jordan?

    I sometimes dip into National Review’s website to see what the other side is thinking. They have a collection of conservative pundits, some of whom, like Jonah Goldberg, must fancy themselves as the next William F. Buckley (though they usually can’t get past the usual partisan politics.) But mostly, it seems, they’re still bemoaning the loss of William F. Buckley.

    As a Brit, I am a big fan of BBC Radio’s output. They maintain a massive archive of past documentaries and other factual output, all available as podcasts via the web or the BBC iPlayer Radio app. Unlike their TV output, all of it is freely available worldwide.

    Of course much of the content has a British slant, but here are three shows that could be of interest to you:

    1) Thinking Allowed — a weekly half-hour news magazine exploring all kinds of contemporary issues in the social sciences from feminism to prison reform, and much else. Lots of interviews with researchers and experts in the fields under discussion, so could be useful pointers to a deeper dive. The presenter is a professor of sociology.

    2) In Our Time — a weekly round table where real experts are invited to talk at length about the week’s chosen subject. They cover mostly science, literature, history, and philosophy. For example, last week’s show was all about the Scottish Highland Clearances. This week’s is about Augustine’s “Confessions” and next week it’s de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America.” There are hundreds of past shows to choose from.

    3) The Moral Maze — I’m not really a fan of this show, but you might find it interesting since it’s a debate show in the form of inviting “witnesses” from both sides of some contemporary (typically controversial) issue to be asked questions by a resident panel. Last time I heard it, for example, they had Peter Hitchens’ on (Christopher’s conservative brother) as well as a couple of liberals to talk about the issue at hand (which I cannot for the life of me remember). I find the show more irritating than enlightening, but YMMV.

    I am sure there’s much more you’ll find interesting, so it’s worth searching the archives. They quite often produce one-off series on, say, philosophy, or numbers, etc. and keep them available afterward. The two stations that produce most of the content are BBC Radio Four (NPR on steroids) and BBC World Service. By law, they are required to be non-partisan, but of course, that means by American standards, the content slants liberal. “Reality has a liberal bias” and all that.

  36. eleanor says

    Reading that made me wonder, in a sad way, what Peterson’s own childhood was like.

  37. A. Noyd says

    From the article:

    People can have such angry arguments about Peterson, seeing him as everything from a fascist apologist to an Enlightenment liberal, because his vacuous words are a kind of Rorschach test onto which countless interpretations can be projected.

    This is exactly the key to his popularity. And it’s the same method a lot of popular “deep thinker” types use, such as Deepak Chopra. I’m not sure exactly how Robinson expects the left “to offer people a coherent political alternative” when the attraction is the lack of coherence itself.

    Peterson is definitely a crap thinker though. One thing in particular stood out to me. Again from the article:

    in his Channel 4 interview Peterson talks about the “totalitarian” tendencies of the activists who tried to add gender identity to the human rights bill:
    PETERSON: No, I’m saying that the philosophy that drives [trans activists] utterances is the same philosophy that already has driven us to the deaths of millions of people [by Maoists].
    NEWMAN: Okay. Tell us how that philosophy is in any way comparable.
    PETERSON: Sure. That’s no problem. The first thing is that their philosophy presumes that group identity is paramount.

    So says the guy who threw a fit about pronouns because it’s just too hard to consider each person individually and respect their individual wishes. He’s against there being too many new kinds of pronouns and pretends he’d be okay with trans people if they could just stick with the established binary—that is, identify with one of two groups. But noooooo, it’s leftist trans people who presume group identity to be most important of all.

  38. KG says

    This is called a “motte-and-bailey” argument. – Rob Bos@14

    I love it! Neoclassical economists use one of these a lot – the bailey being the claim that everyone is selfish, the motte being “Oh, it just means everyone pursues their own goals, those could totally be altruistic!” (ignoring the fact that this means the analytical techniques the bailey justifies, in which everyone is supposed to know what everyone else wants, collapse). I’ve dubbed this specific example the “neoclassical shuffle”. Postmodernists tend to use them too, the bailey being “There is no objective truth”, the motte something like “Any text can be interpreted in more than one way”.

  39. KG says


    BTW, I’m not an apologist for Peterson

    (Following a paragraph-long apologia for Peterson.)

  40. eleanor says

    I want to come back to this: “He calls the mother of the kid a “dragon” because she didn’t follow up to find out what Peterson’s wife did that worked with the child.”

    If you’re a parent of a child with any kind of problem, you get resigned to being told that the problem will go away if you just use this One Neat Trick. It can sometimes be quite easy for an acquaintance or stranger to get your child to behave in the desired way, in an unusual context, as a one-off, and then to tell you proudly what “worked”. That’s no guarantee that the same method will work a second time, let alone permanently, and it also discounts the possibility that the parents have already tried the method 58 times themselves and the reason they don’t use it any more is that it isn’t effective long-term.

    But the Peterson types can’t see this, because it conflicts with their view of themselves as experts on everything; in their view, if the parent doesn’t subscribe to their opinion and respond with thanks and praise, it’s because the parent is bad. And this illustrates one of the wider problems in what I’ve seen of Peterson’s writing: he wants to turn anecdotal subjective ideas into universal laws, and then to dismiss objections on the grounds that the objectors are inferior people.

  41. Onamission5 says

    Wait– not his kid? Neighbor’s kid, who presumably misses his regular caregiver, is experiencing a change in routine, and is distressed from having to get passed off from one unfamiliar environment to another day after day? It never occurred to Peterson that factors besides “dragon mom” might be at work?

    I thought Peterson was supposed to be a psychologist, yet he immediately turns the emotional discomfort of a small child sent to an unfamiliar environment into a power struggle of disregarding the child’s physical and emotional boundaries and ascribing that child’s obvious distress to weak parenting. WOW.

  42. billyjoe says

    The following is an excerpt from Nathan Robinson’s review of Jordan Peterson’s earlier book “Maps of Meaning”:

    Nobody can be sure they are comprehending the author’s meaning, which has the effect of making the reader feel deeply inferior and in awe of the writer’s towering knowledge, knowledge that must exist on a level so much higher than that of ordinary mortals that we are incapable of even beginning to appreciate it

    I have not read the book so I cannot comment, except to agree that the passages and diagrams he quotes from the book are convincing illustratrations of the above quote.

    But it is exactly the reaction I got when I first started reading books by Mystics. I truly felt they were saying something profound that I was unable myself to comprehend. And what convinced me were the banal truths that those books contained that I had always taken for granted but ever really thought about much. In the end, I decided that the inpenetrable passages were just utter nonsense. No matter how often you read certain passages, no matter how many different ways you tried to understand their true meaning, no matter how many different ways the authors tried to explain their meaning, nothing actually meaningful ever emerged.

    I discussed this many years later with my father-in-law, who was a sort of polymath (he died last year), and his response was “if a person cannot explain what he means in terms that a reasonably intelligent layman can understand, he probably does not understand it himself”. Not an original thought but I think a good guide to detecting BS. What puzzles me most is how someone could spend so much time and energy writing this stuff. Apparently Jordan Peterson had been forming his “thesis” for over fifteen years before he wrote that book. And Mystics have spent lifetimes pondering the imponderable.

    In my personal life, I made the acquaintance of two people, neither of whom are famous, but one of whom did attain some temporary notoriety, who spoke just like these Mystics – as if they have profound insight while uttering utter banalities. One had the world’s first real solution to the treatment of Depressive Disorder after suffering a episode of depression himself. It was all standard stuff rapped up in impenetrable language. He also drew crazy diagrams similar to the ones in Peterson’s book. The other was more of a crank who was going to revolutionise physics (all of physics!) with a fundamental insight of his own. He wrote a book full of garbage words – and lots of neologisms, which seems to be a sort of trademark of cranks – and garbage diagrams.

  43. billyjoe says

    I don’t know if anyone else read the long text of one of Jordan Peterson’s twenty minute lectures in Nathan Robinson’s (sorry, I got his name wrong in the previous post) review.

    It is instructive in how his mind works. He tells the story in minute excruciating detail, trailing off into tangents at almost every opportunity, also told in minute excruciating detail. His authoritarianism comes across in spades. And his lack of vision.

    His solution is for everyone pay attention only to their own lives and, only when their own lives are perfect (which, of course, is never), should they ever attempt to improve the lives of others. “Clean up your own room”. But it’s like student activism in the past has not helped to end segregation and the Vietnam war (as Nathan Robinson points out). Fix this one problem here until it’s perfect and only then move onto the next problem. Which means the next problem never gets any attention. The death of political action and servile acceptance of the status quo.

    On interesting thing, though, is that he did use a sex neutral noun. Did anyone else spot it? He said “tradesperson” instead of “tradesman”.

  44. says

    One of the things my childhood abusers tried with me was force-feeding.

    This man is a vile piece of shit, who should not be allowed anywhere near children.

  45. DLC says

    I read this critique of Peterson without having heard of him before. Some of my takeaways: He seems like some sort of Right-Wing Deepak Chopra, spewing out gigabits of useless word salad which he hopes the Rubes will be impressed by, except Chopra uses “quantum” a lot. His budding sadism toward the cat combined with his control-mania with the child leaves me to think he’s a proto-fascist. He wants to be in charge, the way Daddy was in charge. Cretin.

  46. says


    If you’re a parent of a child with any kind of problem, you get resigned to being told that the problem will go away if you just use this One Neat Trick.

    Or when parents whose kids never gave them a particular kind of trouble think it’s because of their own particularly good parenting…
    I usually offer advice in the form of “what helped us was X, but all kids are different”. Most advice I give is just gently telling them that parenting is hard and that everybody struggles.

  47. hemidactylus says

    I may have arrived too late to the party, but this parody of Peterson is the only thing you will ever need to read ever. I had started reading it with a very serious bent and got severely Poe-ed at first until I caught on. Enjoy:

    “1 Stand up straight with your shoulders straight
    Most lobsters are complete bastards left to their own devices. Most humans are complete bastards left to their own devices. This proves there is a God who wants us to have Order. Order is Masculine and Chaos is Feminine. Therefore to move towards Order, we all need to man up. Happiness is pointless. We are all on this Earth to suffer. So learn to suffer like a man. Not everyone can be as rich and successful as me, but try to be less of a failure than you already are.”

    There’s so much more.