Someone has finally figured out Jordan Peterson

Elizabeth Sanderson’s explanation makes perfect sense.

Never before have I encountered such a complex, intelligent, and daring work of satire. This “Jordan Peterson” character is the most cutting-edge performance art I have ever encountered. No sincere leftist commentary has ever exposed the link between seemingly banal conservativism and borderline-fascism in such an easily understandable way. This one-man-show is the bumbling Canadian answer to Laibach. As an expert in pseudo-academic nonsense, I have to salute my superior on this one.

“Jordan Peterson” is a work of parody known as stiob: “an overidentification with the person or idea at which it is directed and that it is often impossible to tell if stiob is sincere support, ridicule, or a mixture of the two.” Stiob arose from the late Soviet years, during the Brezhnev era. There are many eerie similarities between that time and our own – the government was largely ran by a cadre of septuagenarians, wages had stagnated, yet all official narratives insisted that there was no alternative. The horizon of possible futures was closed. Into this fray, a new form of parody emerged, one that was often indistinguishable from the thing it was criticizing.

Take, for example, the Slovenian industrial band Laibach. Their artwork and performances are rife with totalitarian imagery, which leads many to wonder whether or not the band themselves are fascist. Laibach can be seen as an example of “stiob”, employing a strategy of subversive affirmation or over-identification in order to tease out truths that cynical distance could not. It is not “satire” as we would usually understand the word.

I’d never heard of “stiob” before, but it seems to be a real and useful term. So I’ve also picked up a new addition to my vocabulary!

Despite his recent notoriety, the most towering accomplishment Peterson leaves behind is his earlier book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. This is the greatest academic practical joke ever conceived. Despite its name and intimidating 500+ page length, the book manages to pull off the impossible, and leave the reader with no meaning whatsoever.

It reads like a cross between Joseph Campbell and Timecube, interspersed with diagrams of the auto-fellating dragon of chaos. Peterson seems hellbent on finding every hokey pseudo-science and subsuming it into his personal worldview. Jungian psychology, evolutionary psychology, social Darwinism… the man has spent decades on what is fundamentally unprovable quackery. It’s sprawling, pedantic, repetitive – a commentary on the demand for quantity over quality that has become so common in academia today.

Move over, Boghossian. Maps of Meaning is the satire you wish “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” could have been. You missed the mark by failing to notice that the social movement ripe for parody is the centrist/alt-right/pseudo-skeptical gang you belong to.

For years I’d been hearing leftists claim that conservative thought is always mobilized in defense of the ruling classes. In response, many right-wingers have taken to insisting they are, in fact, “classical liberals”, and that their politics flows from a respect for freedom and markets rather than defending the powers that be. Enter Jordan Peterson. On the surface he seems like a milquetoast conservative. But when it comes time to defend inequality, Peterson points to animal hierarchies as a justification. His individualism does not arise from a place of ethical consideration, but out of biological essentialism and social darwinism.

The bumbling professor, despite all of his appeals to the contrary, keeps accidentally rediscovering fascist ideas.

There are moments where he almost breaks character – take his story about lobsters, in his more recent book. Peterson knows nothing about biology, but he plunges forward with complete confidence, shamelessly preaching an understanding of evolutionary psychology that sounds like it was ripped straight from a Pick Up Artist forum.

If taken seriously, he is moronic and dangerous. But taken as a work of intellectual Outsider Art? Goddam brilliant.

Dang. Am I going to have to rethink my opinion of Peterson?

At least I’m not going to have to rethink my opinion of his followers — all dupes.


  1. quotetheunquote says

    Hmmm, okay, I’ll go with this (JP is an elaborate performance) for now… big question in my mind is, has Stephen Fry realized this yet? Or is he (Dog help him) among the dupes?

  2. mykroft says

    This raises an interesting question: Is it possible to do satire without knowing it?

  3. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says


    Since the definition only requires that it be sometimes impossible to distinguish the parody from the authentic, I believe that Stephen Colbert’s show and character on Comedy Central would qualify as a stiob. Although there were enough cues for lefties to be confident that Colbert was making fun of the right wing positions and of right wing blowhards specifically, I remember polling that showed that a large percentage of conservatives were confident that Colbert was actually on their side.

    Interesting thought. I’d come across the idea – mocking others through imitation too sincere, too perfect for the target to take offense (since if the performance is that good, then the parody and target are performing largely the same actions and arresting/punishing the parody risks communicating to the masses that the things that the target are doing actually constitute arrest-worthy or punishment-worthy offenses). I don’t remember ever coming across the term, though.

    I certainly can understand how that form of parody would be most useful under dangerous totalitarianism. Hmm.

  4. Zeppelin says

    @Marcus Ranum: It’s one syllable, [sʲtʲɵp], in the actual Russian. How you transpose that into English is up to you.

  5. Zeppelin says

    @jrkrideau: Yup, стёб, with palatalised s and t (and b>p, because Russian does final-obstruent devoicing). Maybe styob would be a better transliteration if you’re trying to get English-speakers to pronounce it right.

  6. Alt-X says

    “The bumbling professor, despite all of his appeals to the contrary, keeps accidentally rediscovering fascist ideas” Sounds like a lot of the alt-right ;)

  7. gijoel says

    It reads like a cross between Joseph Campbell and Timecube

    Oh man that’s harsh, timecube guy doesn’t deserve that comparison.

  8. starskeptic says

    Crip Dyke@8
    except for the laughter from the audience, you’d be right about Colbert…

  9. mynax says

    Jason Yungbluth recently did a fun takedown of Peterson here.
    “Conservatism’s Desperate Love Affair With Jordan Peterson”
    (Yungbluth is a writer/artist for MAD Magazine, and did an awesome webcomic/graphic novel, “Weapon Browns”, about a post-apocalyptic cyborg Charlie Brown. All of the characters are from newspaper comic strips.)

  10. billyjoe says

    That was PZ Myers doing a stiob commenting on Elizabeth Sanderson doing a stiob claiming that Jordan Peterson is doing a stiob.

    Reminds me of Bjork’s song “Bachelorette” where stories are nested within identical stories. It goes four deep with some complicated interweaving of levels


    My dictionary says it’s pronounced “STEE-YOP”. If it’s one syllable, the bit before and after the hyphen must run into each other.

  11. brucej says

    It reads like a cross between Joseph Campbell and Timecube

    Well that managed to propel liquid beverage out my nose…

  12. Gaebolga says

    Reading this, I’m reminded of the brilliant observation that Jar-Jar Binks might actually be a sith lord…