A personal perspective on Jordan B. Peterson’s psychology
In late 2017, I developed a very serious mental health problem: after encountering crushing catastrophes in multiple facets of life, I became an angry, bitter, resentful, purposeless and vengeful person. As a self-proclaimed radical liberal who believed in moral relativism and subjectivity, my intellectual composition only helped exacerbate my worsening situation. In short, I had fallen into a chaotic abyss that was myself, and my long-standing personal philosophies only rendered prospects of recovery even dimmer.
What saved me then, in early 2018, was a YouTube video of a Canadian clinical psychologist who had a funny voice and was talking about lobsters.
In case you have not heard yet, Jordan B. Peterson is a Canadian professor at the University of Toronto who skyrocketed to internet fame after being involved in a gender pronoun debate in 2016 (regarding which I shall not go into detail). I myself did not know this then, when I was watching video after video of him talking about topics ranging from the nervous system of crustaceans to the fundamental structure of reality and, strangely enough, slowly regaining my sanity and getting my shit together (or as the Petersonian saying goes, cleaning up my room). Despite the apparent look of pop-psychology and pseudoscience that many titles of video clips concerning him may suggest, once you really start to watch the original videos attentively and thoroughly, things start to get serious and deep very fast.
His penetrating analysis of the human condition and detailed diagnosis of our modern ills is so intellectually illuminating and breathtakingly eloquent that the only similar experience I can recall is reading Tolstoy.
Upon discovering Peterson’s videos and, subsequently, his only two books, I experienced an amazing recovery from my previous troubled state. I realized that much of my suffering was due to my own inability to cope with the more disturbing aspects of reality. I viewed happiness and comfort as foundational goals in life, and I found those virtues during the protracted period of luxurious fortune I had before 2017.
Understandably, when I was suddenly plunged, as anyone who lived in this world of ours would eventually be, into the infinite array of meaningless suffering that constitutes the daily reality of being, I simply lost it. The pursuit of happiness as the supreme goal in life is an illusion that instantly shatters upon first contact with worldly suffering, and therefore it is simply unhealthy to maintain happiness as a goal. One needs a transcendent goal in order to confront the reality of pain. This is not to dismiss happiness and comfort in an ascetic fashion, but to view the occasional occurrences of happiness as gifts to be treasured, not ends to be pursued.
As I mentioned, I had a speedy recovery after discovering Peterson. However, and unfortunately, that was not the end of my story. For I, like anyone excited by the discovery of a new inspiration, quickly informed friends of Peterson, as I had when first stumbling upon Tolstoy. The reaction I received was, to say the least, mixed; one friend straightforwardly told me, “I hope you’ll grow out of this extremist crap when you’re older.” Another responded with a nebulous “you should remain critical,” and a third directly rebutted some strawmen and then proceeded to refuse further discussion. Only one friend, who was also experiencing particular confusion and generally negative emotions at the time, reacted positively. It was then, when I researched the political side of Peterson, that far from gaining clarity, I became more confused. Mainstream media in the West seems to be transfixed on labeling Peterson as some kind of a dangerous far-right extremist, and determined to remain willfully deaf to his many defenses against these slanders. When I started confronting my friends about their disparaging views of Peterson, few of them had either watched even the shortest piece of one of his original videos or expressed real interest in reading either of his books.
I abruptly end my narrative here, as I consider myself currently unprepared to represent any of the more radical views concerning Peterson’s politics; this is a personal perspective, after all.
Coming from a country once ravaged by extremist politics, and being considered a minority in the country I am now studying in, I am surely not insensitive to the causes that many here at Brandeis so vehemently espouse.
However, I do also believe that there is far more to the Canadian professor, whose books and videos helped lift me from a most disastrous period of life, than simply the derogatory tags assigned by our otherwise trustworthy media.