Why it’s hard to sympathize with Jordan Peterson

Just recently, Canadian professor Jordan B. Peterson checked into rehab. Peterson had been grappling with an addiction to medication he’s been taking to cope with his depression, his wife’s cancer diagnosis being the cause of that. The psychologist-turned-author achieved recent fame for speaking out against the Canadian government’s passing Bill C-16, a bill that gave people protection from discrimination based on gender identity. Ever since then he’s gotten widespread attention, touring all over North America, holding lectures rallying against left-wing politics and “political correctness.”

            I have great empathy for anyone that’s going through personal issues and are reaching out to others for help. However, it’s frankly difficult to have the same amount of empathy for Mr. Peterson. I will preface this by saying that Peterson is a charismatic man whose knowledge of psychology is very interesting and profound. I think much of what he has to say can be inspiring to many people, especially young men like myself. Although, when it comes to social commentary he glosses over much of the history and sociology that informs our world today. My beef with Peterson is the fact that he, like many conservatives, often plays down much of the inequality that affects our society.  He justifies this through his theories of “competence hierarchies.” The idea that the people at the top have gotten where they are by simply earning it. What he doesn’t account for things like bias, nepotism, wealth inherence and how people are generally socialized to discriminate against certain groups of people.

            Much of his lectures are him going on long winded rants, fear mongering about the “Postmodern Neo Marxists” destroying the West. A quick Google search shows that these two schools of thought are incompatible. Postmodern philosophy was born out of intellectuals questioning how people viewed the world back then. Is there such a thing as objective reality? Is history always about progress? They don’t ever suggest giving expansive power to the state. They don’t speak of these grand narratives about a “war between rich and poor” and entirely reject grand narratives as a whole. It’s the rejection of life having inherent meaning, not class struggle that believers of Marxism might say.

            Peterson’s rants are centered on things that are more or less child’s play in the grander scheme of things. Topics such as identity politics, feminism and left-wing radicals at college campuses. As a college kid myself let me tell you that most of us are too involved with our own lives to even give a single four-letter word about these things. Feminism more or less is still a controversial philosophy despite the acceptance of second and third wave feminism into pop culture. Identity politics is something that’s only discussed within certain circles of the internet. Rarely is it talked about in the wider scope of culture. While many college students lean left, many of us are more concerned about choosing between studying for our chemistry final, and deciding whether to come into work or stay home and down that last fifth of Hennessy hidden in our cabinet. The “Social justice warrior” types that make their rounds on the internet are a small minority and most people see them as a pariah. That being said, they aren’t representative of left-wingers as a whole. Same as how Charlie Kirk and those “very fine people” don’t represent the right as a whole.

All that being sad, I don’t have any ill will towards Mr. Peterson. I hope that his wife bounces back as the idea of losing your soulmate must be a lot to deal with. I hope Peterson himself gets the help he needs and internalizes this experience, as well as empathize with many people in the US that die annually because they were too broke to pay their medical bills. I hope that maybe then he can realize that his personal philosophy taking control of one’s life is inspiring, but it‘s a flawed way to judge society as a whole. Because at the end of the day, you never know what battles people are fighting.

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