“Falsehoods have consequences, that’s what makes them false” – Jordan Peterson
Jordanetics is not the book I expected it to be. I expected a political criticism of Jordan B. Peterson’s politics, a takedown of atomised individualism, and a nationalist defence of group identity.
Much of this was present. However, Vox Day’s Jordanetics: A Journey into the Mind of Humanity’s Greatest Thinker is a far more interesting book because it explains what motivates Peterson while giving us the true meaning of his philosophy, something much more sinister than I had ever anticipated.
The book begins with a foreword by Milo Yiannopoulos. Milo recounts his relationship with Peterson. Starting in 2017 Peterson described Milo as “an amazing person,” contacting him and offering to do a series of video interviews with Milo. Peterson described Milo as an archetype, a ‘trickster figure,’ explaining that “trickster figures emerge in times of crisis, and they point out what no one wants to see, and they say things that no one will say.” Peterson offered many more words of praise and encouragement for Milo, describing him as brave, unstoppable, and even amazing.
Several months later Peterson was being interviewed by Bari Weiss at the Aspen Ideas Festivals. Weiss is discussing racism, alleging that Milo is indeed a racist. What is Peterson’s response? He sheepishly responds: “Well, possibly, yeah … I haven’t followed Milo that carefully.” What caused this turnaround? Milo tries to explain with his view on the two types of Chameleons.
There are those Chameleons that change their modes, styles, fashions, and mannerisms to convey the same essential truth to different audiences. Like a politician who reflexively modifies his accent in different parts of the country. These Chameleons are described as “charming, adaptable and endlessly insightful about human nature.”
Unfortunately, Peterson is the second type, the Chameleon who sounds the same all the time but underneath adjusts his own ideology depending on the audience. Jordan Peterson’s “grim, predictable wardrobe, his effete speaking style, his pained expressions, and his eternally somber affect give the superficial impression of gravity and consistency. But when you look at what he says, you find a coiled and poisonous serpent beneath the dusty carapace.”
The most memorable example that Milo uses is Peterson’s infamous Kavanaugh tweet. Jordan Peterson has made a name for himself as a critic of what he describes as the excesses of the Left. One topic Peterson is particularly well known for is the issue of men’s rights.
This makes it especially jarring when Peterson suggested Brett Kavanaugh should step down as Justice of the Supreme Court simply because of the accusation of sexual assault. Milo says; “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that his greatest tell to date happened in relation to a Supreme Court announcement, the most important political event outside of a presidential election. When the chips are down Peterson goes splat.”
The first few chapters in the book seek to shine a light on Peterson’s personal character. Vox Day writes; “There are three different spiritual poisons that feature prominently in the 12 Rules: ignorance, narcissism and mental illness.”
Peterson’s ignorance is shown through several basic factual errors he makes in both his lectures and books. Shoddy scholarship is on full display in 12 Rules for Life when Peterson claims that small town are statistically overrepresented in producing eminent individuals, he cites an 87 year old paper. The main issue is that this is not even what the cited 1930 paper states.
The author instead states the exact opposite; “No significant differences appear which would enable us to conclude, e.g., that small towns are more likely than large to foster the production of eminent scientific men,” (The Development of Men of Science by A.T. Poffenberger, 1930). This example is only one of Peterson’s many factual errors which range from a total ignorance of what historical period Marx was active in, to the astounding claim that 40.8% of the US population with an IQ above 145 is Jewish.
Peterson’s narcissism is exposed early on. Any personal experience Peterson had throughout his life is likely to be taken as a general human norm. He left his small town because he found it oppressive. So small town life is therefore where you “drag your years behind you like a running dog with tin cans tied to its tail.” Most of Peterson’s advice isn’t based on psychological studies or experience from helping patients, instead, they are based on autobiographical interpretations where he “frequently sets up his personal, egocentric experience as a common universal event.”
Peterson’s mental health is nothing to write home about either. Peterson has admitted in a 2012 interview that he takes two antidepressants, declaring that he will never stop taking them. Maybe this helps explain why Peterson devotes such a large section of his book to why people should ‘Take Your Pills.’
Approximately half of Jordanetics is structured around Peterson’s 12 Rule for Life. Vox Day uses these as a launchpad to uncover the true meaning of Peterson’s philosophy. As Day writes; “Each rule is both a metaphor and a mask.” This is where the book begins to fully critique Peterson’s philosophy, a Frankenstein monster borrowing parts from Gnosticism, bastardised Taoism and Peterson’s own childhood trauma. Chapters six to seventeen follow a similar structure: Here is Peterson’s supposed rule for life – here’s what Peterson actually talks about in the chapter – here’s the true meaning of Peterson’s rule.
One example is when Vox examines Peterson’s third rule: Make Friends with People Who Want the Best for You. Based on the title you may expect a chapter focusing on positive stories, friends who have helped motivate and support Peterson or his patients throughout their lives. Instead, Peterson relays stories of his troubled friend Chris who ultimately ended up committing suicide. The chapter and rule have nothing to do with making better friends or choosing them more carefully, the message put across is to cut out the influence of troubled individuals who will drag you down the social hierarchy hierarchy. Contemplating his friend’s suicide, Peterson writes:
“What was it that makes Chris and Carl and Ed unable (or perhaps, unwilling) to move or to change their friendships and improve the circumstances of their lives? Was it inevitable – a consequence of their own limitations, nascent illnesses and traumas of the past? For every individual driven to achieve, there is another who is indolent. The degree to which these differences are immutably part and parcel of someone is greater than an optimist might presume or desire. And there is illness, mental and physical, diagnosed or invisible, further limiting or shaping our lives.”
Vox draws from this the third principle of Jordanetics: Leave the wounded behind to die.
Vox Day has clearly been inspired by Thomas Aquinas’ style of argumentation. Early in the book, he lines up potential objections to his critique of Jordan Peterson, then one by one refutes each objection. His methodical style of writing can be contrasted with a continued theme throughout the book; Jordan Peterson’s total lack of coherent meaning when he speaks or writes.
Vox Day describes Peterson’s speech as bafflegarble, the word-smog Peterson uses to conceal his actual meaning. For a man who says he’s very, very, careful with his words, he often assigns multiple meanings for words or uses contradictory definitions. For example, Peterson appears to have at least five competing definitions of God he may use depending on the circumstance.
However, in a way Peterson is right. He is precise in his speech, always being careful to never describe his personal philosophy or political beliefs in such a way that they would be readily understood by his fans, as Peterson is neither a Christian nor a Right-winger of any kind. When Peterson is asked a direct question on a topic potential controversial to his fans, hilarity ensues:
TIMOTHY LOTT: Do you believe that Jesus rose again from the dead?
JORDAN PETERSON: (thinks).
TIMOTHY LOTT: Literally.
JORDAN PETERSON: I find I cannot answer that question, and the reason is, because, okay let me think about it for a minute see if I can come up with a reasonable answer to that. Well, the first answer would be, it depends on what you mean by Jesus.
TIMOTHY LOTT: A historical human being that existed.
JORDAN PETERSON: In a body?
TIMOTHY LOTT: In a body.
JORDAN PETERSON: In a body. Do you believe that, or do you not believe that? You know, it’s not, it’s… I don’t know.
The book ends with three appendices, one of them is 12 questions for Jordan Peterson. Those attending Peterson events are encouraged to ask question such as “You have said that you consider group identity to be dangerous and pathological. Do you consider yourself to be a Canadian?”
The book contains too many interesting sections to fit into a short review. I haven’t mentioned the Apple Cider, Peterson’s eerie similarity to Aleister Crowley or his flip-flopping on freedom of speech. If you would like to read a well written critical perspective on Jordan B. Peterson, then I highly recommend Vox Day’s Jordanetics.