Overview:

Jordan Peterson, chief controversy-courter, is storming off Twitter after his latest foot-in-mouth Tweet. The smell of hyocrisy lingers.

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Jordan Peterson is one of the world’s foremost dividers of opinion. And recently he quit Twitter, much to the sadness of his 2.7 million followers, after a foray into the world of sporting swimwear and beauty. Or beauty in swimwear. Or, for him, not beauty in swimwear.

The New York Times once described Peterson as “the most influential public intellectual in the Western world.” And influential public intellectuals have a tendency to exercise their public influence predominantly in the online world, and notably on Twitter, which is often the place where people get to tell the whole world those secret abhorrent opinions they have otherwisely kept locked up behind mindbars for their own psychological safety.

Culture wars controversy

Peterson has a history of courting controversy. The Canadian academic recently retired from his tenured position as a psychology professor at the University of Toronto, claiming that the equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives at the university created career barriers for “supremely trained heterosexual white male graduate students” and made such faculty positions less of a meritocracy.

This fits in with much of what he spends a lot of time railing against since he has appeared to become a gateway drug to the alt-right. Or perhaps he is long through the gate and on the far side of the field, leaving it open for his followers to tramp through.

Part of the catalyst for his meteoric rise was the 2016 series of YouTube videos where he attacked political correctness and the amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, which were designed to introduce protection for gender expression and gender identity. This is important to note since it was about free speech. Peterson argued that it forced people against their will to use certain pronouns for others.

Since then, he has become immensely popular, writing very successful books, like 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, arguing in public debates, appearing all over international media, including on flagship television shows and news programs, popping up all over YouTube, and more. And he often leaves a trail of wokebait in his wake. Recently, on the BBC’s Question Time, he had a short rant about structural racism in his clockwork attempt to stoke the culture wars. Feminism, postmodernism, Marxism, identity politics… His subjects for public attacks look like a culture wars 101 checklist.

And he’s at it again.

So, what lit the fires of Twitter ire this time?

Unsurprisingly, it involves a female. Of color.

He recently thought it would be well-advised to announce to the world that Yumi Nu (singer and plus-size model) is not attractive.

Also Jordan Peterson:

This is not a Poe or a parody of Peterson, but a rather bizarre Peterson choice of things to comment on. Of course, it’s good and proper that “the most influential public intellectual in the Western world” casts his opinion on women’s bodies. Time well spent. As Arwa Mahdawi stated in her Guardian article on the whole affair, ‘If Twitter had been around during the age of enlightenment we’d presumably have had Immanuel Kant furiously leaning over his keyboard typing: “the Queen of Prussia is NOT hot. Sorry. Don’t critique my reasoning.”

Peterson is right to point out Twitter’s flaws here, although there is also something to be said for how he has made the bed he is now lying in.

Regardless of intentions, and understanding the long history of his controversial views, he has managed to very publicly denounce a plus-sized woman of color and wrap this up, it seems, with an attack on the intolerant authoritarianism of the woke left.

Free speech advocates, I often claim, aren’t interested in the Constitution or the philosophical value of such a freedom, they are really advocating for being able to insult who they want, when they want. And yet the irony (or rank hypocrisy?) is that such people often have the thinnest of skins. Think Trump.

Or Peterson.

Twitter erupted and there were some mightily good replies, as well as, no doubt, some blunt and vicious ones. Many posted pictures of Jordan Peterson looking decidedly rough, often due to his struggles with health, with the same Peterson comment attached. Touché.

“Just what the day needed–a random act of meanness admonishing us to see less beauty in the world than we might have otherwise,” @PropheticQuest wrote.

And some critical replies were from his own supporters. “You didn’t need to comment this. If people agree with you they won’t buy it and supply/demand will fix this really quickly. You’re a brilliant man but don’t judge people…if they can’t fix something about themselves in 5 secs…don’t say anything,” @DanielKeough9 wrote.

Peterson explained himself in some following Tweets and promised an article to set out his reasons for departing.

This fits in with much of what he spends a lot of time railing against since he has appeared to become a gateway drug to the alt-right. Or perhaps he is long through the gate and on the far side of the field, leaving it open for his followers to tramp through.

“I recently stopped accessing Twitter for three weeks as an experiment. I had some of my staff post video links etc. It was a genuine relief. I started to read & write more. I started using it again, a few days ago, and I would say that my life got worse again almost instantly,” Peterson explained.

“The endless flood of vicious [insults] is really not something that can be experienced anywhere else. I like to follow the people I know but I think the incentive structure of the platform makes it intrinsically and dangerously insane.

“So I told my staff to change my password, to keep me from temptation, and am departing once again. If I have something to say I’ll write an article or make a video. If the issue is not important enough to justify that then perhaps it would be best to just let it go.”

What Jordan Peterson got right

Peterson isn’t completely wrong. Twitter is a hive of scum and villainy topped only by the sites that are designed exactly for such behavior: Gab, Parler, Truth Social, and GETTR. As Arwa Mahdawi opined:

I may not agree with Peterson on much but he’s spot on there. And I, for one, am really glad that the man…has finally discovered what everyone else has been banging on about for years. Women and marginalized people, in particular, have been sounding the alarm about how Twitter, along with other social media platforms, ignores violence and abuse on the platform. They have been sounding the alarm about the intrinsically dangerous incentive structures of social media platforms, which prioritize engagement above everything else. But, you know, nothing in life is really important until a rich white guy starts paying attention.

There is something to be said for how virtual crowds piled onto Peterson’s Tweet. The way Twitter is designed is part of the problem, and many understand this. “It’s literally designed for provocative social interaction,” tweeted Bethenny Frankel of The Real Housewives of New York City.

Politico’s Derek Robertson observes this stark reality of the social media platform’s model:

There’s a vast body of research showing the powerful link between moral outrage and the virality demanded by digital advertising revenue models. People get angry and they’re more likely to engage with a post, which benefits Twitter, as well as media companies who can use those engagement numbers to sell advertising. The obviously toxic incentive this creates has led some news organizations to experiment with alternative revenue models, like donations or an old-school focus on subscriptions. But unlike the pre-internet and social media era, there’s an infinite amount of space to be filled and infinite configurations of consumer choice. That makes Twitter, with its relatively small but highly energized and influential user base, the natural platform of choice for merchants of outrage, agitprop and propaganda of all ideological flavors.

Peterson is right to point out Twitter’s flaws here, although there is also something to be said for how he has made the bed he is now lying in.

And what Jordan Peterson got wrong

The thing is, no matter how you slice and dice this whole affair, Peterson is being deeply hypocritical. That’s what he’s got very wrong. You simply cannot justify coming onto Twitter to insult someone by voicing how you find someone unattractive in an attempt to attack the woke left, and then storm off in a huff after you get insulted yourself in retaliation.

It’s arguably very childish.

The idea that the left perpetuates victim culture is another instance of hypocrisy that Peterson exemplified, as writer Billy Binion pointed out:

As we will see, Jordan Peterson has a serial addiction to ignoring his own holier-than-thou guidance.

Women like Nu have to develop thick skins in the modern age of public opinion thrown around on Twitter. The marginalized do really have a harder time online in places like Twitter. For example, in the UK: online abuse against black women MPs has been labeled ‘chilling’ with research showing that black and Asian women MPs are abused more online. A recent study found black women face alarming amounts of harassment on Twitter. In The Conversation, doctoral candidate Breigha Adeyemo wrote in her article “I’m a Black woman and the metaverse scares me – here’s how to make the next iteration of the internet inclusive” about how marginalized people often suffer the most harm from unintended consequences of new technologies. And the BBC recounts here how women politicians are disproportionately targeted by the far right.

Taking all of this research and much more, it contextualizes the sorts of rants and opinions that Jordan Peterson routinely espouses. Actually, it shows how Peterson himself feeds into this state of affairs. And yet, while he perpetuates these sorts of worldviews and attacks, he claims victimhood himself and complains about vicious insults, likely running away to the offline world to write more books to moan about his predicament.

Twitter. You know, the place where people get to tell the whole world those secret abhorrent opinions they have otherwisely kept locked up behind mindbars for their own psychological safety.

After all, there is Rule 6 of his book 12 Rules for Life. Rule 6: Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world. It’s a chapter he could do well to read.

I will leave you with an excerpt from this chapter in his book. It’s a long quote for a piece like this and you may ask me why I devote so much time to it. Read it and you will understand. Ask yourself whether you think Peterson’s actions, here and elsewhere, show a willingness to follow his own guidance, or a tendency to veer toward rank hypocrisy:

Consider your circumstances. Start small. Have you taken full advantage of the opportunities offered to you? 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? Have you made peace with your brother? Are you treating your spouse and your children with dignity and respect? Do you have habits that are destroying your health and well-being? Are you truly shouldering your responsibilities? Have you said what you need to say to your friends and family members? Are there things that you could do, that you know you could do, that would make things around you better?

Have you cleaned up your life?

If the answer is no, here’s something to try: Start to stop doing what you know to be wrong. Start stopping today. Don’t waste time questioning how you know that what you’re doing is wrong, if you are certain that it is. Inopportune questioning can confuse, without enlightening, as well as deflecting you from action. You can know that something is wrong or right without knowing why. Your entire Being can tell you something that you can neither explain nor articulate. Every person is too complex to know themselves completely, and we all contain wisdom that we cannot comprehend.

So, simply stop, when you apprehend, however dimly, that you should stop. Stop acting in that particular, despicable manner. Stop saying those things that make you weak and ashamed. Say only those things that make you strong. Do only those things that you could speak of with honour….

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? Let your own soul guide you. Watch what happens over the days and weeks. When you are at work you will begin to say what you really think. You will start to tell your wife, or your husband, or your children, or your parents, what you really want and need. When you know that you have left something undone, you will act to correct the omission. Your head will start to clear up, as you stop filling it with lies. Your experience will improve, as you stop distorting it with inauthentic actions. You will then begin to discover new, more subtle things that you are doing wrong. Stop doing those, too. After some months and years of diligent effort, your life will become simpler and less complicated. Your judgment will improve. You will untangle your past. You will become stronger and less bitter. You will move more confidently into the future. You will stop making your life unnecessarily difficult. You will then be left with the inevitable bare tragedies of life, but they will no longer be compounded with bitterness and deceit.

Perhaps you will discover that your now less-corrupted soul, much stronger than it might otherwise have been, is now able to bear those remaining, necessary, minimal, inescapable tragedies. Perhaps you will even learn to encounter them so that they stay tragic—merely tragic—instead of degenerating into outright hellishness. Maybe your anxiety, and hopelessness, and resentment, and anger—however murderous, initially—will recede. Perhaps your uncorrupted soul will then see its existence as a genuine good, as something to celebrate, even in the face of your own vulnerability. Perhaps you will become an ever-more-powerful force for peace and whatever is good.

Perhaps you will then see that if all people did this, in their own lives, the world might stop being an evil place. After that, with continued effort, perhaps it could even stop being a tragic place. Who knows what existence might be like if we all decided to strive for the best? Who knows what eternal heavens might be established by our spirits, purified by truth, aiming skyward, right here on the fallen Earth?

Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.

Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Penguin, ePub 26.44-26.52.

I’m not sure telling 2.7 million people that a particular woman is not beautiful (thank you very much, you wokeists) is establishing an eternal heaven, purified by truth, that will help resentment and anger recede.

But who am I to know the chaotic mind of Jordan B. Peterson, “one of the most important thinkers to emerge on the world stage for years“?

Peterson’s house is in desperate need of a good spring clean. Perhaps his time off Twitter will be time with a feather duster in hand. After all, he can be a modern man. Can’t he?

Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...