Not all he says is defensible, but Jordan Peterson deserves to be taken seriously | Gareth Hutchens

Peterson has observed an enthusiastic audience in Australia, so its worth understanding how he has tapped into that

The 1960 s were a simpler period, where artists were valued for having something to say, rather than how much money they made.

I heard that sentiment in a Bob Dylan documentary once.” Have you heard them play? Did they have anything to say ?”

Five decades later, in another time of culture chaos, a growing number of people believe a clinical psychologist from Toronto University, Canada, is worth listening to .

Professor Jordan B Peterson is not yet a household name in Australia.

But he’s in the middle of a speaking tour that has received an enthusiastic audience. All four speaking events have sold out, including his Sydney and Brisbane displays this week. Organisers know they could have booked more venues.

Why are Australians paying to hear him talk?

Peterson loathes identity politics, rails against postmodernism and “neo-Marxism”, and despises gender analyses and political correctness. He asserts the biological differences between men and women, and delivers pep talks on how to live a meaningful life and how to find the right partner.

He dedicates lectures on the truths embedded in myths and legends the hell is thousands of years old.

To appreciate where he’s coming from, it helps to be familiar with Nietzsche and Dostoevsky and their premonition that the death of mass belief in God would lead to nihilism and/ or the rise of totalitarian value systems as alternatives.

I’ve watched Peterson’s online lectures for a while now, after he became an internet celebrity in late 2016.

It’s been fascinating witnessing media outlets trying to come to terms with him. He’s been described as “rightwing” or” far right” by journalists who have apparently forgotten how to think.

Does he belong to the far right because he loathes political correctness, identity politics and postmodernism? Noam Chomsky has induced similar criticisms for decades. As did Christopher Hitchens.

Is it rightwing to lament the damage done to the left by the increasing propensity of leftist students on North American campuses to harass people who challenge their ideological orthodoxy? Nicholas Christakis, a sociologist and physician from Yale University, who is a self-confessed progressive, says he can’t understand their behaviour. Bret Weinstein, a former biology prof of Evergreen State College, says he can’t understand it either. He considers himself” profoundly progressive” but he says the left is” eating itself .

Peterson deserves to be taken seriously.

He is recommending his students and fans to think deeply about ideas, and the dangers of ideological orthodoxy, which is a good thing.

He advises them to be vigilant :” Know what ideas possess you ,” he tells. If they’re not careful, he says, an idea may come to possess them, rather than the other way around . John Maynard Keynes said something similar.

He also promotes his students to scrub up on the work of Nietzsche and Solzhenitsyn, Freud and Jung, Piaget and Frankl, to understand what those thinkers knew about the human behaviour.

He’s also a charismatic lecturer. He reminds you of the best teacher “youve had”. His videos of his university lectures inspire you to expand the number of volumes on your bookshelf.

But that’s not to tell everything he tells is defensible. It’s not.

His call to starve all postmodernist academics of fund by rending fund from humanities departments indiscriminately is extreme.

He has a frustrating tendency to advise his students to speak carefully and to use language wisely, but then turn around and speak in wild generalisations about “the humanities” or” postmodernists and neo-Marxists ,” which comes across as lazy.

I don’t know if what he says about the predominance hierarchy is correct. His generalisations about gender changes can voice kooky, and maybe some of them are.

But his critique of the state of modern society is resonating deeply with people, so it’s worth understanding how he’s tapped into that.

According to Nielsen BookScan, his new volume, 12 Regulations for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, has been selling well in Australia. As of Monday, it has sold 10,216 copies( hardcover and paperback combined) since its publication date on 16 January. Milo Yiannopoulos’s book, Dangerous, has sold merely 1,548 transcripts, despite being published locally on 1 December 2017.

Why does Peterson think he has an audience in Australia?

” I guess people have been fed a diet of unfettered freedom and rights for so long that there’s a starvation for the other half of the tale ,” he told Guardian Australia.

” Every right we have is associated with an equivalent responsibility, so when the conversation is constantly about pleasure and happiness and gratification and rights, then a corresponding hunger develops, you might tell an unconscious hunger, for the other part of the story, which is responsibility and obligation and truth and grandeur and misfortune, all of that .”

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