Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson became famous after he spouted transphobia and refused to use nonbinary pronouns to address nonbinary students and staff at his school. He then published a wildly popular self-help book 12 Rules for Life, and has been lauded in the popular press as a leading voice for disaffected men. Center right pundits like Conor Fridersdorf and David Brooks have held him up as an honest and important thinker, unfairly maligned by the left.
Unfortunately, Peterson's writing and YouTube videos are a bolus of nonsense, resentment, and bigotry. This page provides resources explaining the problems with Peterson's worldview and arguments. It is not meant to be all-inclusive, but hopefully can be helpful nonetheless.
An ongoing compilation of mainstream takedowns of Peterson.
A Reddit thread collecting links to critiques.
Ohana with another long list of critiques.
Oman Reagan put together a twitter thread of links and quotes about Peterson.
Canadaland podcast analyzes Peterson's rise.
Katja Thieme on Peterson's failure to cite sources.
Academic critics of Peterson have repeatedly pointed out that while he claims to argue against current research and teaching, he rarely references the work of the scholars and fields he so openly reviles, forgoing the foundational practice of citation—a clear sign that his criticism constitutes in no way serious scholarship. Instead, he engages in shallowly sourced polemic.
Bernard Schiff, who got Jordan Peterson his job, repudiates his colleague.
I have no way of knowing whether Jordan is aware that he is playing out of the same authoritarian demagogue handbook that he himself has described. If he is unaware, then his ironic failure, unwillingness, or inability to see in himself what he attributes to them is very disconcerting.
Nellie Bowles, "Jordan Peterson, Custodian of the Patriarchy."
“He was angry at God because women were rejecting him,” Mr. Peterson says of the Toronto killer. “The cure for that is enforced monogamy. That’s actually why monogamy emerges.”
Mr. Peterson does not pause when he says this. Enforced monogamy is, to him, simply a rational solution. Otherwise women will all only go for the most high-status men, he explains, and that couldn’t make either gender happy in the end.
“Half the men fail,” he says, meaning that they don’t procreate. “And no one cares about the men who fail.”
I laugh, because it is absurd.
“You’re laughing about them,” he says, giving me a disappointed look. “That’s because you’re female.”
Tabatha Southey, "Is Jordan Peterson the Stupid Man's Smart Person?"
To be clear, Jordan Peterson is not a neo-Nazi, but there’s a reason he’s as popular as he is on the alt-right. You’ll never hear him use the phrase “We must secure a future for our white children”; what you will hear him say is that, while there does appear to be a causal relationship between empowering women and economic growth, we have to consider whether this is good for society, “‘’cause the birth rate is plummeting.” He doesn’t call for a “white ethnostate,” but he does retweet Daily Caller articles with opening lines like: “Yet again an American city is being torn apart by black rioters.” He has dedicated two-and-a-half-hour-long YouTube videos to “identity politics and the Marxist lie of white privilege.”
Nathan Robinson, "The Intellectual We Deserve"
But, having examined Peterson’s work closely, I think the “misinterpretation” of Peterson is only partially a result of leftists reading him through an ideological prism. A more important reason why Peterson is “misinterpreted” is that he is so consistently vague and vacillating that it’s impossible to tell what he is “actually saying.” People can have such angry arguments about Peterson, seeing him 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.
Noah Berlatsky's live-tweet of Peterson's 12 Rules for Life.
it's hard to even know what to say except, "humans aren't lobsters human aren't lobsters humans aren't FUCKING LOBSTERS WE'RE NOT FUCKING LOBSTERS HOW CAN WE EVEN BE ARGUING ABOUT IT THEY ARE LOBSTERS! LOBSTERS! THEY'RE FUCKING LOBSTERS!!! WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU EVEN TALKING ABOUT
Richard Poplak's vicious review of 12 Rules for Life.
12 Rules For Life is paleo-intellectualism crossed with a Hallmark card. We’re all going to die in a ball of fire.
Gremlin 2 Studies explains that "Jordan Peterson" is in fact a brilliant piece of performance art.
This Jordan Peterson character, however, is something else altogether. His commitment to the bit is commendable. Peterson is portrayed as a pompous, self-serious buffoon. Though I have to admit, the fake Canadian accent is a bit over-the-top, it really challenges the believability of the character.
Peterson and Trans Issues
Siobhan O'Leary, on Peterson's misrepresentations of trans rights legislation in Canada.
Peterson has gone on to make a number of arguments about Bill C-16 and trans people more generally. He argued how the singular “they” was an improper pronoun despite using it no less than five times in his statement, even in reference to some non-binary folks’ preference for “they” and “their” as a pronoun. He then argued that non-binary people don’t exist, a position that he later recanted. He then abandoned his previous tracts altogether to claim Bill C-16 would introduce criminal penalties for those who misgender a trans person, knowingly or otherwise, even though that claim has been debunked by law experts who joined him on an appearance on TVO and at a campus debate on legislation on gender identity that he hosted at the University of Toronto.
Alexander Offord on Peterson's misrepresentations of trans rights law and free speech arguments.
The truth is, if you were interested in protecting free expression, you wouldn’t be expending energy defending charlatans and ideologues like Jordan Peterson. You wouldn’t be writing columns lambasting innocuous human rights legislation designed to protect the marginalized. You wouldn’t be contorting into intellectual pretzels in an effort to convince yourself that by speaking out against laws designed to protect transpeople, you were speaking out against neoliberal power centres.
Aaron Huertas explains that trans people aren't threatening Peterson's free speech.
There are are a lot of important free speech issues out there, including newspapers’ right to publish national security leaks, access to a free and open Internet, and the right to protest. But Jordan Peterson’s “free speech” claims are confused and based on unproven claims around Canadian law.
A report on Peterson doxxing trans activists.
U of T psychology professor Jordan Peterson took to Twitter on October 26 to broadcast the Facebook profiles of two students who helped organize a protest of a Ryerson free speech event where Peterson was scheduled to speak; it was cancelled in August.
Andy Holmes at the University of British Columbia reports on a debate during which Peterson repeatedly and deliberately misgendered his nonbinary interlocutor.
The debate was organized by U of T, and throughout the debate, which covered the issue of academic freedom in relation to the use of gender-affirming pronouns, Peterson repeatedly misgendered Dr. Bryson, referring to them as “she” and “her.” In the wake of the debate, Bryson informed the Ubyssey that they had received large amounts of hate mail and violent threats via email and social media from people who took issue with their gender expression and viewpoints.
Peterson and Bigotry
A reddit post documenting Peterson's misogynist statements.
Feminist philosopher Kate Manne on Peterson's misogyny and enforced monogamy.
Peterson is very close-mouthed about the prevalence of domestic violence, marital rape, and intimate partner homicide in the context of the idea of enforced monogamy. So if you’re trying to prevent male violence, enforcing heterosexual monogamy seems a remarkably poor way to go about it — as well as obviously infringing on women’s entitlement to orient themselves toward whatever and whomever they wish (other women, multiple partners, and their own projects and ambitions). Monogamous relationships are just one potentially valid option among many, all of which have risks and rewards, costs and benefits.
Kate Manne again on Peterson's obsession with hierarchy.
But notwithstanding the mere existence of such great heights, we should ask: who in the world is likeliest to be experiencing vertigo at the moment? Peterson does not consider this question, but its answer is not far to seek: those with furthest to fall, given their historically great expectations. Privileged white men, all else being equal, who also happen to number disproportionately among Peterson’s loyal readers.
Paris Martineau on how Peterson is a stepping stone to the alt right.
Peterson’s alt-light messaging quickly takes a darker turn. Finish that video and YouTube will queue up “Jordan Peterson - Don't Be The Nice Guy” (1.3 million views), and “Jordan Peterson - The Tragic Story of the Man-Child” (over 853,000 views), both of which are practically right out of the redpill/incel handbook.
Robert Jago explains how Peterson uses a claimed indigenous identity to combat charges of racism.
What first drew my attention to Peterson’s ties to the Kwakwaka’wakw, however, was the way he seemed to be exploiting that “friendship.” He appeared to be deploying it as a talisman to ward off any social consequences for helping spread racial stereotypes about Indigenous people. It was a defence rooted in identity politics—his language was okay, because he is, after all, an “Indian” through his connection to Charles Joseph. Yet Peterson himself, in a Youtube video, called that “whole group-identity thing” a “pathology” and “reprehensible.”
James Harbeck on why Peterson can't speak for First Nations people.
Noah Berlatsky on how Peterson spreads anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
Peterson's rabid anti-leftism makes him an easy mark for fascist propaganda. Right-wing anti-Semites in Hitler's day spun elaborate conspiracy theories linking Jews and leftists, and supposedly centrist politicians who hated and feared Communism believed them. Today, right-wing anti-Semites spin elaborate conspiracy theories linking Jews and leftists, and Peterson, gazing at the Soviet-era art on his walls, believes them.
Ari Feldman on how Peterson's poor understanding of the Holocaust can give comfort to anti-Semites.
Yet Peterson rarely speaks about anti-Semitism itself, even though he says he’s been obsessed with the Holocaust since he was a teenager and lectures on it frequently. Critics say this omission may encourage anti-Semitism among Peterson’s followers, who range from avowed neo-Nazi communities like the Daily Stormer to frustrated young men looking for a scapegoat.
Three Arrows on Youtube explains how Peterson misrepresents the Nazis in ways congenial to the alt right.
Eric Levit on Peterson's inability to understand structural racism.
Should black people in poverty-stricken, segregated communities stop complaining because Jordan Peterson’s great-grandfather was a serf? Is it difficult to understand how people as manifestly intelligent as Jordan Peterson and Caitlin Flanagan could possibly find that argument compelling (unless one stipulates that their political perceptions are biased by their racial identity and class position)?
Peterson and Philosophy
Paul Thagard on Peterson's incoherent philosophy in his first book, Maps of Meaning.
Nevertheless, I think there is a central line of argument that can be extracted from the book, along the following lines:
1. Myths are culturally universal.
2. Myths are the psychological origin of morality.
3. Myths are the philosophical basis for morality.
4. Myth-based morality grounds political judgments about totalitarian states.
I will provide quotes from Maps of Meaning that justify the attribution of these claims to Peterson, followed by evidence and arguments that each claim is false.
Jeet Heer on Peterson' out of date use of myth.
Contra Peterson, witches aren’t real. More importantly, the cultural meaning of witches changes over time (as with the feminist effort to reclaim witches as heroines).
Shuja Haider on Peterson's ignorance of postmodernism.
The conflation of postmodernism and Marxism may come as some surprise to those who identify as belonging to either side of the equation. Perhaps the best-known theorization of postmodernity, Fredric Jameson’s Postmodernism: The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, conceives of the period as an object of inquiry to which Marxist analysis may be applied, not a theoretical perspective. Today, it is not uncommon to see condemnations of postmodernism and pleas for a return to Enlightenment rationality in the pages of Jacobin. But Peterson is not the only ideologue to elide the distinction between these usually opposed frameworks. This strange conspiracy theory has increasingly gained traction among the far right, famously appearing in 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, the manifesto Anders Brevik distributed before he murdered 77 people in Norway.
Margot Speed, also on Peterson's ignorance of post-modernism.
In reality, Peterson has used his intelligence to portray ‘the enemy’ as nothing more than an idea. It’s really one of the oldest tricks in the book (see: cultural Bolshevism). Whenever he wishes to turn his scorn upon a group or a cause, be it the gender pay gap or climate change scientists, he can state that ‘postmodern neo-Marxism’ is at work. This leads to situations in which critics of Peterson attempt to typecast him as a bigot of one kind or another for his critiques, but he can deflect them by arguing that his only issue is with ‘the ideology’.
Kate Manne on Peterson's obsession with hierarchy.
The chaos is in turn presented as a universal, ahistorical fact about the nature of Being or human existence. Given all this, it is striking how many of the discussions reduce to advice about how to win at something, anything, nothing in particular: and how not to be a “loser”, in relation to others whose similarity to oneself is secured by the time-honoured narrative device of anthropomorphization, under a more or less thin veneer of scientism. Rule One is “Stand up straight with your shoulders back”, to avoid seeming like a “loser lobster”, who shrinks from conflict and grows sad, sickly and loveless – and is prone to keep on losing, which is portrayed as a disaster.
Pankaj Mishra on Peterson's philosophical reliance on fascist mysticism.
In all respects, Peterson’s ancient wisdom is unmistakably modern. The “tradition” he promotes stretches no further back than the late nineteenth century, when there first emerged a sinister correlation between intellectual exhortations to toughen up and strongmen politics. This was a period during which intellectual quacks flourished by hawking creeds of redemption and purification while political and economic crises deepened and faith in democracy and capitalism faltered.
Harrison Fluss on Peterson's incoherent authoritarianism.
Peterson’s philosophy reflects the brutal nature of capitalism’s irrational demand that we sacrifice human beings for profit, which he transforms into a call for individuals to sacrifice themselves for something transcendent and holy. In other words, Peterson tries to Latinize the bourgeois kitsch with mediocre calls of self-actualization. But the self is not actualized: it is told to kill or be killed in capitalism’s endless competition.
David Livingstone Smith and John Kaag on how Peterson's philosophy is really a charismatic cult of personality.
But charismatic leadership has never been about logical consistency or even rational coherence. Charismatic leaders serve a function in times of rapid social change, when long-standing social identities are threatened. They advertise a glorious future in which the group they minister to will take its rightful place and their enemies will be vanquished. In return for these promises, charismatic leaders elicit worshipful, even delusional, devotion in their followers.
Adam Novy on Peterson's ignorant use of folklore and mythology.
If Peterson spent more time with literary texts instead of just throwing them into facile YouTube videos, he might know they do not act as bluntly as he wishes them to act. Literary texts are disco balls, spraying glittery bits of imagery and light in all directions. Peterson’s vision cannot resonate at the level of philosophy or literary criticism, where the rules are too demanding. Where Peterson excels is at the level of carnival-barker chicanery. He’s for people who want to hear that women are bad.
Jon Herington explains Peterson's Motte and Bailey argument style, in which he makes outrageous claims, then walks them back when challenged.
Peterson and Science
PZ Myers on Peterson's ignorance of lobster biology. (Myers is quoting an email from an anonymous biologist.)
Leaving aside the comparison of deeply divergent lineages, there is enormous variability in social structures even among our closest primate relatives. Bonobos have promiscuous sex and matriarchy as part of theirs. The point is that even where hierarchical systems have a presumed genetic basis, this is a rather malleable trait evolutionarily and the specific forms of social hierarchies can be quite different even among species with brains that are extremely similar.
Bailey Steinworth on everything Peterson doesn't know about invertebrate reproduction.
Evan Murphy on the bad science behind Peterson's explanations of the gender pay gap.
The way Peterson frames it, it’s like we have the benefit of a giant social experiment in the form of the cold socialist North; we took away all of the legal differences between the sexes and their treatment, and there are still noticeable differences between them, which allows us to conclude that these remaining differences are natural and ineradicable. QED — What hubris would have to possess us before we try to pervert the homeostasis of the world any further.
The Genetically Modified Skeptic Youtube channel has video of Jordan Peterson claiming that you can find representations of DNA in ancient Chinese art. Which is pseudoscience nonsense.
A court rejects Peterson's personality testing as unscientific nonsense.
Peterson vs. Zizek Debate
In April 2019, Peterson had a debate with philosopher Slavoj Zizek, ostensibly on the topic of whether Marxism is compatible with Marxism.
A pre-debate article in which Zizek criticizes Peterson for his conspiracy theories but says they have common ground because (to paraphrase) they both resent marginalized people .
But I do wholeheartedly disagree with Peterson when he enters the domain of conspiracy theories. What I find really problematic is that he interprets PC (and his other targets) as the extreme outgrowth of “cultural Marxism” (a block which comprises Frankfurt School, the “French” poststructuralist deconstructionism, identity politics, gender and queer theories, etc.). He seems to imply that “cultural Marxism” is the result of a deliberate shift in Marxist (or Communist) strategy: after Communism lost the economic battle with liberal capitalism (waiting in vain for the revolution to arrive in the developed Western world), its leaders decided to move the terrain to cultural struggles (sexuality, feminism, racism, religion…), systematically undermining the cultural foundations and values of our freedoms. In the last decades, this new approach proved unexpectedly efficient: today, our societies are caught in the self-destructive circle of guilt, unable to defend their positive legacy…
The Pedantic Romantic notes briefly on twitter how ridiculous it is that Peterson has not read Marx.
Nathan Robinson did an abortive live blog.
as usual, he has just said the word “nature” in order to justify a vast range of hierarchical structures without any actual evidence that those structures are necessary.
Benjamin Studebaker explains Marx to Peterson, who has never read him.
There are three necessary features which distinguish a bad Marx paper:
The paper contains a close reading of the Manifesto.
The paper contains almost no references to any other texts, either by Marx or by other socialist thinkers.
The paper contains a long digression about all the reasons the Soviet Union was terrible. I call this the “tankie-bashing” bit.
Sam Miller and Harrison Fluss point out that Zizek and Peterson agree in embracing reactionary pessimism.
Žižek surely isn’t as odious as Peterson. But the debate revealed just how far the leftist intellectual has fallen, and why we need a real Marxist politics to argue forthrightly for freedom and justice.
Miscellaneous Peterson Foolishness
Peter Coffin on Peterson's ties to the Koch brothers.
Matthew A. Sears on Peterson's efforts to use lawsuits to stifle critics.
Irin Carmon on how Peterson has sued Kate Manne because she said his book was misogynist.
“It’s a classic attempt to chill free speech,” Manne says. “Like many of his ilk, what he really seems to be demanding — when one examines his actions rather than words — is to be able to speak free from legitimate social consequences, such as other people talking back.”
Cedar Riener on Peterson's arrogance and how it leads to bullying children.
So JP is making an object lesson of how this kid is representative of what is wrong with the world (so little respect for traditional authority?) without remembering the very first thing he mentioned about this kid: his nanny was in a car accident and he has been shuffled around
Yastreblyansky points out that Cathy Newman was not unfair to Jordan Peterson.
Like Ross Douthat or Bret Stephens in cases we've looked at, he wants his audience to hear it, but he doesn't want the responsibility of having said it, so he keeps weaseling between saying it and denying it. Newman is trying to pin him down: "Well, are you saying this, and if not, what?" and he's replying no, but he's unable to give her an alternative. Or what, Conor Friedersdorf, am I missing here? What is the subtle idea Newman is cruelly and brutally caricaturing?
One of Peterson's clients discusses the poor care she feels she received.