Jordan Bernt Peterson
June 12, 1962
|Thesis||Potential psychological markers for the predisposition to alcoholism (1991)|
|Doctoral advisor||Robert O. Pihl|
Jordan Bernt Peterson (born June 12, 1962) is a Canadian clinical psychologist and a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. His main areas of study are in abnormal, social, and personality psychology, with a particular interest in the psychology of religious and ideological belief and the assessment and improvement of personality and performance.
Peterson has bachelor's degrees in political science and psychology from the University of Alberta and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from McGill University. He was a post-doctoral fellow at McGill from 1991 to 1993 before moving to Harvard University, where he was an assistant professor in the psychology department. In 1998, he returned to Canada to become a faculty member in the psychology department at the University of Toronto, where he eventually became a full professor.
Peterson's first book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief (1999), examined several academic fields to describe the structure of systems of beliefs and myths, their role in the regulation of emotion, creation of meaning, and several other topics such as motivation for genocide. His second book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, was published in January 2018.
In 2016, Peterson released a series of YouTube videos criticizing political correctness and the Canadian government's Bill C-16, "An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code". The act added "gender identity and expression" as a prohibited ground of discrimination,[a] which Peterson characterised as an introduction of compelled speech into law, although legal experts have disagreed. He subsequently received significant media coverage, attracting both support and criticism. Several writers have associated Peterson with an "Intellectual Dark Web".
Peterson was born on June 12, 1962. He grew up in Fairview, Alberta, a small town northwest of his birthplace (Edmonton). He was the eldest of three children born to Walter and Beverley Peterson. Beverley was a librarian at the Fairview campus of Grande Prairie Regional College, and Walter was a school teacher. His middle name is Bernt ( BAIR-?nt), after his Norwegian great-grandfather.
When Peterson was 13, he was introduced to the writings of George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and Ayn Rand by his school librarian Sandy Notley (the mother of Rachel Notley, leader of the Alberta New Democratic Party and 17th Premier of Alberta). He worked for the New Democratic Party (NDP) throughout his teenage years, but grew disenchanted with the party. He saw his experience of disillusionment resonating with Orwell's diagnosis, in The Road to Wigan Pier, of "the intellectual, tweed-wearing middle-class socialist" who "didn't like the poor; they just hated the rich". He left the NDP at age 18.
After graduating from Fairview High School in 1979, Peterson entered the Grande Prairie Regional College to study political science and English literature. He later transferred to the University of Alberta, where he completed his B.A. in political science in 1982. Afterwards, he took a year off to visit Europe. There he began studying the psychological origins of the Cold War, 20th-century European totalitarianism, and the works of Carl Jung, Friedrich Nietzsche, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and Fyodor Dostoevsky. He then returned to the University of Alberta and received a B.A. in psychology in 1984. In 1985, he moved to Montreal to attend McGill University. He earned his Ph.D. in clinical psychology under the supervision of Robert O. Pihl in 1991, and remained as a post-doctoral fellow at McGill's Douglas Hospital until June 1993, working with Pihl and Maurice Dongier.
From July 1993 to June 1998, Peterson lived in Arlington, Massachusetts, while teaching and conducting research at Harvard University as an assistant professor in the psychology department. During his time at Harvard, he studied aggression arising from drug and alcohol abuse and supervised a number of unconventional thesis proposals. Two former Ph.D. students, Shelley Carson, a psychologist and teacher from Harvard, and author Gregg Hurwitz recalled that Peterson's lectures were already highly admired by the students. In July 1998, he returned to Canada and eventually became a full professor at the University of Toronto.
Peterson's areas of study and research are in the fields of psychopharmacology, abnormal, neuro, clinical, personality, social, industrial and organizational,religious, ideological,political, and creativity psychology. Peterson has authored or co-authored more than a hundred academic papers and has been cited almost 8,000 times as of mid-2017.
For most of his career, Peterson had an active clinical practice, seeing about 20 people a week. He had been active on social media, and in September 2016 he released a series of videos in which he criticized Bill C-16. As a result of new projects, he decided to put the clinical practice on hold in 2017 and temporarily stopped teaching as of 2018.
In June 2018, Peterson debated with Sam Harris at the Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver while moderated by Bret Weinstein, and again in July at the 3Arena in Dublin and The O2 Arena in London while moderated by Douglas Murray, over the topic of religion and God. In April 2019, Peterson debated professor Slavoj ?i?ek at the Sony Centre in Toronto over happiness under capitalism versus Marxism.
In 1999 Routledge published Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. The book, which took Peterson 13 years to complete, describes a comprehensive theory about how people construct meaning, form beliefs and make narratives using ideas from various fields including mythology, religion, literature, philosophy and psychology in accordance to the modern scientific understanding of how the brain functions.
According to Peterson, his main goal was to examine why both individuals and groups participate in social conflict, explore the reasoning and motivation individuals take to support their belief systems (i.e. ideological identification) that eventually results in killing and pathological atrocities like the Gulag, the Auschwitz concentration camp and the Rwandan genocide. He considers that an "analysis of the world's religious ideas might allow us to describe our essential morality and eventually develop a universal system of morality".Jungian archetypes play an important role in the book.
In January 2018, Penguin Random House published Peterson's second book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. The work contains abstract ethical principles about life, in a more accessible style than Maps of Meaning. To promote the book, Peterson went on a world tour. As part of the tour, Peterson was interviewed in the UK by Cathy Newman on Channel 4 News which generated considerable attention, as well as popularity for the book. The book topped bestselling lists in Canada, the US, and the United Kingdom. As of January 2019, Peterson is working on a sequel to 12 Rules for Life.
In 2013, Peterson began recording his lectures ("Personality and Its Transformations", "Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief") and uploading them to YouTube. His YouTube channel has gathered more than 1.8 million subscribers and his videos have received more than 65 million views as of August 2018. In January 2017, he hired a production team to film his psychology lectures at the University of Toronto. He used funds received on the crowdfunding website Patreon after he became embroiled in the Bill C-16 controversy in September 2016. His funding through Patreon has increased from $1,000 per month in August 2016 to $14,000 by January 2017, more than $50,000 by July 2017, and over $80,000 by May 2018. In December 2018, Peterson decided to delete his Patreon account after Patreon's bans of political personalities who were violating Patreon's terms of service regarding hate speech.
Peterson has appeared on many podcasts, conversational series, as well other online shows. In December 2016, Peterson started his own podcast, The Jordan B. Peterson Podcast, which has included academic guests such as Camille Paglia, Martin Daly, and James W. Pennebaker. On his YouTube channel he has interviewed Stephen Hicks, Richard J. Haier, and Jonathan Haidt among others. In March 2019, the podcast joined the Westwood One network with Peterson's daughter as a co-host on some episodes. Peterson supported engineer James Damore in his action against Google.
In May 2017, Peterson began The Psychological Significance of the Biblical Stories, a series of live theatre lectures, also published as podcasts, in which he analyzes archetypal narratives in Book of Genesis as patterns of behavior ostensibly vital for personal, social and cultural stability.
In March 2019, Peterson had his invitation of a visiting fellowship at Cambridge University rescinded. He had previously said that the fellowship would give him "the opportunity to talk to religious experts of all types for a couple of months", and that the new lectures would have been on Book of Exodus. A spokesperson for the University said that there was "no place" for anyone who could not uphold the "inclusive environment" of the university. After a week, the vice-chancellor Stephen Toope explained that it was due to a photograph with a man wearing an Islamophobic shirt. The Cambridge student union released a statement of relief, considering the invitation "a political act to ... legitimise figures such as Peterson" and that his work and views are not "representative of the student body". Peterson called the decision a "deeply unfortunate ... error of judgement" and expressed regret that the Divinity Faculty had submitted to an "ill-informed, ignorant and ideologically-addled mob".
In 2005, Peterson and his colleagues set up a for-profit company to provide and produce a writing therapy program with a series of online writing exercises. Titled the Self Authoring Suite, it includes the Past Authoring Program (a guided autobiography); two Present Authoring Programs which allow the participant to analyze their personality faults and virtues in terms of the Big Five personality model; and the Future Authoring Program which guides participants through the process of planning their desired futures. The latter program was used with McGill University undergraduates on academic probation to improve their grades, as well as since 2011 at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University. The programs were developed partially from research by James W. Pennebaker at the University of Texas at Austin and Gary Latham at the Rotman School of Management of the University of Toronto. Peterson's co-authored 2015 study showed significant reduction in ethnic and gender-group differences in performance, especially among ethnic minority male students. According to Peterson, more than 10,000 students have used the program as of January 2017, with drop-out rates decreasing by 25% and GPAs rising by 20%.
Peterson has characterized himself as a "classic British liberal", and as a "traditionalist". He has stated that he is commonly mistaken to be right wing, as, for example, The New York Times has described Peterson as "conservative-leaning", and The Washington Post has described him as "conservative". Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Yoram Hazony stated, "The startling success of his elevated arguments for the importance of order has made him the most significant conservative thinker to appear in the English-speaking world in a generation." Nathan Robinson of Current Affairs opines that Peterson has been seen "as everything from a fascist apologist to an Enlightenment liberal, because his vacuous words are a kind of Rorschach test onto which countless interpretations can be projected." Prominent libertarian socialist intellectual Noam Chomsky has agreed with Robinson's criticism, although he described Peterson as "far on the right".
Writing in the National Post, Chris Selley said Peterson's opponents had "underestimated the fury being inspired by modern preoccupations like white privilege and cultural appropriation, and by the marginalization, shouting down or outright cancellation of other viewpoints in polite society's institutions", while in The Spectator, Tim Lott stated Peterson became "an outspoken critic of mainstream academia". Peterson's social media presence has magnified the impact of these views; Simona Chiose of The Globe and Mail noted: "few University of Toronto professors in the humanities and social sciences have enjoyed the global name recognition Prof. Peterson has won".
According to his study--conducted with one of his students, Christine Brophy--of the relationship between political belief and personality, political correctness exists in two types: "PC-egalitarianism" and "PC-authoritarianism", which is a manifestation of "offense sensitivity". Jason McBride claims Peterson places classical liberals in the first type, and places so-called social justice warriors, who he says "weaponize compassion", in the second. The study also found an overlap between PC-authoritarians and right-wing authoritarians.
Peterson considers that the universities should be held as among the most responsible for the wave of political correctness which appeared in North America and Europe. According to Peterson, he watched the rise of political correctness on campuses since the early 1990s. In his view the humanities have become corrupt and less reliant on science. Instead of "intelligent conversation, we are having an ideological conversation". From his own experience as a professor, he states that the students who are coming to his classes are uneducated about and unaware of the mass exterminations and other crimes against humanity perpetrated by Stalinism and Maoism, which were not given the same attention as fascism and Nazism. He also says that "instead of being ennobled or inculcated into the proper culture, the last vestiges of structure are stripped from [the students] by post-modernism and neo-Marxism, which defines everything in terms of relativism and power".
-- Peterson, 2017
Peterson says that postmodern philosophers and sociologists since the 1960s have built upon and extended certain core tenets of Marxism and communism while simultaneously appearing to disavow both ideologies. He says that it is difficult to understand contemporary Western society without considering the influence of a strain of postmodernist thought that migrated from France to the United States through the English department at Yale University. He states that certain academics in the humanities:
... started to play a sleight of hand, and instead of pitting the proletariat, the working class, against the bourgeois, they started to pit the oppressed against the oppressor. That opened up the avenue to identifying any number of groups as oppressed and oppressor and to continue the same narrative under a different name.... The people who hold this doctrine-this radical, postmodern, communitarian doctrine that makes racial identity or sexual identity or gender identity or some kind of group identity paramount-they've got control over most low-to-mid level bureaucratic structures, and many governments as well.
Peterson says that "disciplines like women's studies should be defunded" and advises freshman students to avoid subjects like sociology, anthropology, English literature, ethnic studies, and racial studies, as well as other fields of study he believes are corrupted by the neo-Marxist ideology. He says that these fields, under the pretense of academic inquiry, propagate unscientific methods, fraudulent peer-review processes for academic journals, publications that garner zero citations, cult-like behaviour,safe-spaces, and radical left-wing political activism for students. Peterson has proposed launching a website which uses artificial intelligence to identify and showcase the amount of ideologization in specific courses. He announced in November 2017 that he had temporarily postponed the project as "it might add excessively to current polarization".
Peterson has criticized the use of the term "white privilege", stating that "being called out on their white privilege, identified with a particular racial group and then made to suffer the consequences of the existence of that racial group and its hypothetical crimes, and that sort of thing has to come to a stop. ... [It's] racist in its extreme". In regard to identity politics, while the "left plays them on behalf of the oppressed, let's say, and the right tends to play them on behalf of nationalism and ethnic pride", he considers them "equally dangerous" and that what should be emphasized instead are individualism and individual responsibility. He has also been prominent in the debate about cultural appropriation, stating the concept promotes self-censorship in society and journalism.
On September 27, 2016, Peterson released the first installment of a three-part lecture video series, entitled "Professor against political correctness: Part I: Fear and the Law". In the video, he stated he would not use the preferred gender pronouns of students and faculty, saying it fell under compelled speech, and announced his objection to the Canadian government's Bill C-16, which proposed to add "gender identity or expression" as a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act, and to similarly expand the definitions of promoting genocide and publicly inciting hatred in the hate speech laws in Canada.
He stated that his objection to the bill was based on potential free-speech implications if the Criminal Code is amended, as he claimed he could then be prosecuted under provincial human-rights laws if he refuses to call a transgender student or faculty member by the individual's preferred pronoun. Furthermore, he argued that the new amendments, paired with section 46.3 of the Ontario Human Rights Code, would make it possible for employers and organizations to be subject to punishment under the code if any employee or associate says anything that can be construed "directly or indirectly" as offensive, "whether intentionally or unintentionally". Other academics and lawyers challenged Peterson's interpretation of C-16.
The series of videos drew criticism from transgender activists, faculty, and labour unions; critics accused Peterson of "helping to foster a climate for hate to thrive" and of "fundamentally mischaracterising" the law. Protests erupted on campus, some including violence, and the controversy attracted international media attention. When asked in September 2016 if he would comply with the request of a student to use a preferred pronoun, Peterson said "it would depend on how they asked me [...] If I could detect that there was a chip on their shoulder, or that they were [asking me] with political motives, then I would probably say no [...] If I could have a conversation like the one we're having now, I could probably meet them on an equal level". Two months later, the National Post published an op-ed by Peterson in which he elaborated on his opposition to the bill and explained why he publicly made a stand against it:
I will never use words I hate, like the trendy and artificially constructed words "zhe" and "zher." These words are at the vanguard of a post-modern, radical leftist ideology that I detest, and which is, in my professional opinion, frighteningly similar to the Marxist doctrines that killed at least 100 million people in the 20th century.
I have been studying authoritarianism on the right and the left for 35 years. I wrote a book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief, on the topic, which explores how ideologies hijack language and belief. As a result of my studies, I have come to believe that Marxism is a murderous ideology. I believe its practitioners in modern universities should be ashamed of themselves for continuing to promote such vicious, untenable and anti-human ideas, and for indoctrinating their students with these beliefs. I am therefore not going to mouth Marxist words. That would make me a puppet of the radical left, and that is not going to happen. Period.
In response to the controversy, academic administrators at the University of Toronto sent Peterson two letters of warning, one noting that free speech had to be made in accordance with human rights legislation and the other adding that his refusal to use the preferred personal pronouns of students and faculty upon request could constitute discrimination. Peterson speculated that these warning letters were leading up to formal disciplinary action against him, but in December the university assured him that he would retain his professorship, and in January 2017 he returned to teach his psychology class at the University of Toronto.
In February 2017, Maxime Bernier, candidate for leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, stated that he shifted his position on Bill C-16, from support to opposition, after meeting with Peterson and discussing it. Peterson's analysis of the bill was also frequently cited by senators who were opposed to its passage. In April 2017, Peterson was denied a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grant for the first time in his career, which he interpreted as retaliation for his statements regarding Bill C-16. A media-relations adviser for SSHRC said, assess only the information contained in the application." In response, The Rebel Media launched an Indiegogo campaign on Peterson's behalf. The campaign raised C$195,000 by its end on May 6, equivalent to over two years of research funding. In May 2017, Peterson spoke against Bill C-16 at a Canadian Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs hearing. He was one of 24 witnesses who were invited to speak about the bill.
In November 2017, Lindsay Shepherd, the teaching assistant in a Wilfrid Laurier University first-year communications course, was censured by her professors for showing a segment of The Agenda, which featured Peterson debating Bill C-16 with another professor, during a classroom discussion about pronouns. The reasons given for the censure included the clip creating a "toxic climate", being compared to a "speech by Hitler", and being itself in violation of Bill C-16. The censure was later withdrawn and both the professors and the university formally apologized. The events were criticized by Peterson, as well as several newspaper editorial boards and national newspaper columnists as an example of the suppression of free speech on university campuses. In June 2018, Peterson filed a $1.5-million lawsuit against Wilfrid Laurier University, arguing that three staff members of the university had maliciously defamed him by making negative comments about him behind closed doors. As of September 2018, Wilfrid Laurier had asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, saying that it was ironic for a purported advocate of free speech to attempt to curtail free speech.
Peterson has argued that there is an ongoing "crisis of masculinity" and "backlash against masculinity" in which the "masculine spirit is under assault". He has argued that feminism and policies such as no-fault divorce have had adverse effects on gender relations and have destabilized society. He has argued that the left characterises the existing societal hierarchy as an "oppressive patriarchy" but "don't want to admit that the current hierarchy might be predicated on competence." Peterson has said that men without partners are likely to become violent, and has noted that male violence is reduced in societies wherein monogamy is a social norm. He has attributed the rise of Donald Trump and far-right European politicians to what he says is a negative reaction to a push to "feminize" men, saying "If men are pushed too hard to feminize they will become more and more interested in harsh, fascist political ideology." He attracted considerable attention over a 2018 Channel 4 interview where he clashed with interviewer Cathy Newman on the topic of the gender pay gap. Peterson disputed the contention that the disparity was solely due to sexual discrimination.
Peterson doubts the scientific consensus on climate change, saying he is "very skeptical of the models that are used to predict climate change," and that "[y]ou can't trust the data because too much ideology is involved".
In a 2017 interview, Peterson was asked if he was a Christian; he responded, "I suppose the most straight-forward answer to that is yes". When asked if he believes in God, Peterson responded: "I think the proper response to that is No, but I'm afraid He might exist". Writing for The Spectator, Tim Lott said Peterson draws inspiration from Jung's philosophy of religion and holds views similar to the Christian existentialism of Søren Kierkegaard and Paul Tillich. Lott also said that Peterson has respect for Taoism, as it views nature as a struggle between order and chaos and posits that life would be meaningless without this duality.
Starting around 2000, Peterson began collecting Soviet-era paintings. The paintings are displayed in his house as a reminder of the relationship between totalitarian propaganda and art, and as examples of how idealistic visions can become totalitarian oppression and horror. In 2016, Peterson became an honorary member of the extended family of Charles Joseph, a Kwakwaka'wakw artist, and was given the name Alestalagie ('Great Seeker'). In late 2016, Peterson went on a strict diet consisting only of meat and some vegetables to control severe depression and an autoimmune disorder, including psoriasis and uveitis. He stopped eating any vegetables in mid-2018.
In 2019, Peterson entered a rehabilitation facility after experiencing symptoms of physical withdrawal when he stopped taking clonazepam, an anti-anxiety drug. He had begun taking the drug upon his doctor's recommendation following his wife's cancer diagnosis.
Jordan Bernt Peterson of the University of Toronto
Bernt. Pronounced Bear-ent. It's Norwegian, after my great grandfather.
classic British liberal Jordan B. Peterson
Interviewer: Quick question, are you a Christian? Peterson: I suppose the most straight-forward answer to that is yes, although I think it's ... it's ... let's leave it at 'yes'.