Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, world-famous clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at University of Toronto, came to the Pikes Peak Center in downtown Colorado Springs Oct. 8 as part of a speaking tour for his new book. Titled “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos,” the wildly popular self-help book details ways in which to live ethically, according to Peterson. Peterson specializes in the study of personality, social, and abnormal psychology, and holds a special interest in the psychology behind self-improvement and assessment.
Inside the theater, the stage was set simply, with cool blue lights coloring a large white backdrop. Four simple wooden chairs surrounded a stool and a microphone stand, although, while presenting, Peterson didn’t sit down once. Instead, he opted to pace back and forth as he captivated his audience, only stopping at the stool to sip from one of the seltzer waters he placed there. His voice was gruff yet sharp. He intended to only briefly introduce his 12 rules for life; however, including several anecdotes, this introduction ate the majority of the hour allotted for him to speak.
Peterson ran through his rules for life, urging the audience to face their problems head on, construct positive relationships, and to move forward into the present. “When you think over and over again about some mistake you made or what you could’ve done differently, it’s pointless,” said Peterson. “Everyone can make little steps to make themselves less terrible than the person they were yesterday.”
The audience gave Peterson several standing ovations. “[“12 Rules for Learning”] is very popular in the military,” said Eric Kreble, 29, a Navy veteran. “I learned about the book through some of my buddies still in the service. Apparently, it just spread like wildfire. What appeals to me about [Peterson and his colleagues] is the fact that one, they back everything with logic, and two, they actually apply a lot of what they say to your life and actually [tell you] how to make it better.”
Similarly, Peterson’s work affected Colorado College student Finn Bingham ’21. “It was actually my dad [that got me into listening to him],” said Bingham. He continued, “I had just taken a semester off, I was bumming around, working at a restaurant, and the dude just has some words that really resonated with me. [Peterson] helped me realize that I don’t have to wait around in life, that I can do something cool.”
Indeed, Peterson appeals primarily to young, white males, and they comprise the majority of his following. So, what makes Peterson’s work so galvanizing for his target demographic? He preaches the importance of “strengthening the individual,” the individual being men who don’t like certain aspects of themselves and/or their life. According to the LA Times, “although his message appeals to both genders, the core of his fan base and the focus of his world-saving fervor are young men…there is certainly evidence that many men and boys have been left struggling by the cultural transformations of recent decades.”
As insightful as his lessons on improving oneself are, Peterson’s ideas surrounding feminism, people of color, and the queer community have been called into question on several occasions. He writes that “if men are pushed too hard to feminize, they will become more and more interested in harsh, fascist political ideology,” seeing feminism’s “assault” on masculinity as a threat to the success of young men. Hence, while Peterson does not consider himself a political figure, he is a self-proclaimed “professor against political correctness.” He first entered the public eye in 2016 after he attacked a proposed Canadian bill that would mandate citizens to address trans people by their preferred pronouns. He declared the bill a “grave danger to free speech rights,” and according to Vox, “he said he would refuse to refer to transgender students by their preferred pronouns; separating gender and biological sex was, in his view, ‘radically politically correct thinking.’” He has also championed an anti- “radical left identity politics” narrative and has cautioned against the “victim mentality” which he believes to be gaining a growing presence in our society.
Naturally, not everyone in Colorado Springs welcomed Peterson warmly. In a recent entry in the Colorado Springs Independent’s “Queer and There” column, trans columnist Heidi Beetle believes that Peterson’s appearance in Colorado Springs “[deserved] to be protested” for several reasons including his “inaccurate statements about feminism” in which “he postulates the gender essentialist [notions].”
Colorado College Professor Dr. Michael Sawyer concurred. “White men feel like they’re under attack right now. It seems to me that he feels like he’s in an unstable and fraught position because what he understands to be ‘male’ is necessarily problematic with the way the world is going, and he feels discomforted by that,” said Dr. Sawyer. “I saw one interview of him where he was talking about how women wearing makeup or high-heeled shoes is provocative, the notion being, how can a male who is functioning properly not be provoked by the appearance of women’s bodies? He’s arguing that his sensibility as a man is under assault by him having to bracket his behavior. [His take on feminism] is both anti-woman, and it’s also a particular type of strident about the white supremacist argument…Think about discursively what he’s doing with his anti-feminist attacks and his attacks against queer populations, and also what he says about indigenous populations and people of color…he’s created a persona that’s a type of performance artist of a type of white, male privilege, that is styled as a type of informed biology, philosophy, all these things that he proposes are actual thinking, and referenceable ideas and informed buttresses of his argumentation.”
Dr. Sawyer is familiar with the type of people Peterson captivates, and drew on his own experience in the Navy. “[I joined] right at the time when they started allowing women into the combat arms, so women started appearing on ships, et cetera,” Sawyer said. “So, I remember having these conversations, and they were like, ‘well, how are we going to manage having women in these places,’ and I’m like, ‘what does that mean?’ and they were like ‘well, you know, you can expect that bad things are going to happen,’ and I’m like, why would you expect that? Because the notion is that you can tell someone to run up a beach towards machine guns, but you can’t get them to understand that you shouldn’t be sexually harassing and assaulting people.”
Even members of Peterson’s target demographic question his stance regarding social justice issues. According to CC student Ian O’Shaughnessy ’20, “he has a strange tendency of making otherwise apolitical types into staunch advocates, even acolytes, of him and his views. I’ve seen his effect on some of my friends and certainly on the internet, and it makes me somewhat uncomfortable.”
Yet despite the backlash against him, Peterson never faltered in his rules or his position on political issues. His Twitter following, at 900,000 now, grows in numbers every single day, and he continues on his book tour, travelling from city to city.
“What I say is the most meaningful approach to life is to tell the truth and let whatever happens happen,” said Peterson. “The more you move forward confidently and willing to take on the challenge and then the potential danger, then the stronger you get.” And Peterson does just that; he says things, and regardless of one’s own personal opinions, it’s impossible to deny that he stands by them.