The Troll King
Recently banned from Twitter for transphobic comments, Jordan Peterson, the world's most famous "public intellectual," remains a thin-skinned moralizing zealot
I try not to think too much about Jordan Peterson, even though the world’s most famous “public intellectual” covers many subjects that overlap with my interests. I wrote one piece about him back in 2018, and my ideas about him have not changed. However, the views on culture, politics, and sex that Peterson represents have become increasingly popular — or at least publicly acceptable — since then.
I participate in one web forum with a number of academics and philosophers, many of whom are adamantly anti-woke and Right-leaning (and Anglo-European, white, male, hetero). This group is quick to conflate “Woke-ism” with Fascism and Nazi-ism, with one thought leader writing: “Judith Butler goes after "white heterosexual man" the same way Nazis go after "The Jew.”” Butler is a well-known Leftist academic who writes on gender and who influenced the movement around gender-nonconforming pronouns. I replied to this: “I actually haven't seen the part where JB advocates starving then gassing cis white men and then making candles and lampshades out of them, but look forward to being illuminated by the forum.”
Peterson recently became a columnist for The Daily Wire, Ben Shapiro’s Right Wing media platform. He was just banned from Twitter for a Tweet he says he will never remove: “Remember when pride was a sin? And Ellen Page just had her breasts removed by a criminal physician.” This is just one of Peterson’s many bizarre, vindictive comments on gender and sexuality, revealing an instinctive Incel streak.
Last May, he Tweet-shamed Yumi Nu, a plus-sized Sports Illustrated model, featured on the cover of the swimsuit issue, writing: “Sorry. Not beautiful. And no amount of authoritarian tolerance is going to change that.” The comment is pathetically immature.
Delving into his Twitter archives, Peterson frequently makes weird troll-like comments such as: “Women: if you usurp men they will rebel and fail and you will have to jail or enslave them.” And this one: “Could "casual" sex necessitate state tyranny? The missing responsibility has to be enforced somehow…” He has come close to advocating for “enforced monogamy” on Rogan and elsewhere, and has suggested that women invite sexual harassment by wearing makeup at work.
Why does Peterson remain so popular when so many of his comments and ideas are so asinine, poorly thought out, and dismissible? He expresses the beliefs held by a sizable subset of the populace, and does it in a verbose, pseudo-academic way that gives their instinctive prejudices a veneer of credibility. Also, while Peterson does have a large popular audience, he gets support from Right Wing billionaires who find it in their interest to have such reactionary views amplified.
With his zealous moralizing and finger-waggling, Peterson functions like an Internet-age version of a small-town preacher. If anything, his faults — he is loony, emotionally over-wrought, and a recovering benzo addict — make him more relatable to the masses.
In a recent appearance on Joe Rogan, Peterson made a slew of absurd comments on climate change, with Rogan supporting his nonsense. Peterson said: “There’s no such thing as climate. ‘Climate and ‘everything’ are the same word.” Peterson went on to argue that fracking has environmental benefits and it doesn’t pollute water sources.
What a surprise: The Daily Wire is funded by fracking. Its main backers, Dan and Farris Wilks, Texas billionaire brothers, sold off their company, Frac Tech, for $3.5 billion. Peterson also promotes many Koch brothers-funded nonprofits such as the Cato Institute, as well as supporting Charles Murray’s often-debunked research (also Koch-funded) around race and IQ.
The philosopher Hans-Georg Moeller, in his YouTube series Carefree Wandering, finds a similarity between both Peterson’s popular appeal and the success of “Wokeism,” which, over the last decades, moved from the academies to corporations and even the CIA. In Jordan Peterson: The Mirror of Wokeism, Moeller proposes that both Peterson and Wokeism seek to establish a new form of “civil religion” by turning particular values and ideals into essentialized absolutes.
Peterson places highest value on the “sovereign individual,” seen as the heroically suffering subject of history, who furthers the Biblical God’s act of creation. Wokeism is, for Moeller, “a renewed and intensified form of identity politics” that has spread through every sector of Western society. Woke ascribes ultimate value to ethnic and gender identities, with the belief that addressing historical oppression will lead to a “secular awakening.”
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Daniel Pinchbeck’s Newsletter to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.