When a professor of psychology at a state-funded university skyrockets into popularity by publicly denouncing a national policy regarding preferred pronouns, he does what most of us would presume to be is career suicide. Even tenured professors have felt the heat from the ardent defenders of political correctness, perhaps even more so now than when Jordan Peterson went viral a few years ago. And in his apparently firm, resolute denunciation, he seemed to be standing on all the same values that commentators just to the right of center have been advocating for in the US for years: liberty, individualism, free speech, et cetera.
But, give him a few months, or years, and it turns out that this viral professor isn’t all that alien to the public forum. It turns out that far from being camera shy, he’s been on national Canadian television multiple times before the incident even occurred. It turns out that he could use an extra five-figures a month to get some sort of glorified Rate-My-Professor alternative site running, so prospective students can figure out how Marxist their professors are. It turns out that he rather enjoys speaking engagements and that shaking his hand costs about a hundred bucks a pop. It also turns out that he has a bizarre fixation on Soviet artwork, dressing like a crazy person, and making the same frivolous comments about how complicated it is to believe in Holy Scripture over and over again.
Jordan Peterson is such a professor. I’ve written about him several times over the past year, chiefly because of how annoying his fan base is, how much favor he seems to garner with people who ought to know better, and how obviously transparent his trickery actually is. For my own part, I also believe that what he advocates isn’t merely ineffectual change or bad advice for conservatives, but is actually outright evil and rooted in a form of Gnosticism that had all but been eradicated from the public forum until the era of modernity. Vox Day happens to be someone else who found the professor’s obnoxiousness a bit too much to bear, so he went ahead and published this short volume on the general phenomenon of Peterson’s overall thought, taking specific aim at the man’s latest book, 12 Rules for Life.
What Vox argues in Jordanetics is that Peterson’s twelve rules, despite the titles of their associated chapters, don’t have anything to do with what he’s talking about—and in fact, that Peterson directly contradicts his own rules in the effort of explaining them. Vox’s book aims to make Peterson’s own incomprehensibility obvious to the people least willing to accept it, and as such, he writes—unlike Peterson—as plainly as possible.
As the book is billed and presented as a take-down and critique of Peterson’s general school of thought, with particular emphasis on his messy self-help book 12 Rules for Life, it’s something of a surprise to find that the book doesn’t really begin until about seventy pages in. The first third of the work is concerned with dispelling accusations of jealousy, recounting anecdotes regarding the vivacity of Peterson’s cultish fandom, and detailing the slow migration away from the man that so many of his fans eventually undertake. For those who have had a passing interest in Vox’s critiques of Peterson, the video projects and various streams he’s given on the subject over the past year or so provide decent background. Unfortunately, much of the first third of Jordanetics supplies little additional material.
What these early chapters amount to are essentially transcriptions of comments from his YouTube channel and blog, a brief summary of Peterson’s suspiciously accelerated rise to popularity, and the entire transcript of a video he produced last year tackling Peterson’s charlatanry. While it’s understandable, in the interest of thoroughness, to include numerous examples of user feedback with regards to the comment transcriptions, both of these chapters are repetitive and overlong for that very reason. Meanwhile, given how easy it is to find the Voxiversity video in question, I have to wonder if these chapters were included in the beginning of the book simply to add length. If that’s the case, it didn’t work, given that Vox’s succinctness—coupled with Peterson’s general vacuousness—makes any reasonable critique a relatively short endeavor. Where 12 Rules for Life clocked in at a rambling four-hundred some-odd number of pages, Jordanetics finishes up at just over half of that.
Once the meat of the book actually kicks off, it actually starts to get interesting. In the chapter dealing specifically with Peterson’s first rule, Vox outlines Peterson’s general view of the social hierarchy by inadvertently pointing out his bizarre synthesis of Taoism and Gnosticism: advocacy of the obnoxiously mediocre. This chapter is especially revealing, as it depicts the full absurdity of Peterson’s mentality. Vox writes:
“After all, does the tyrant at the top of the hierarchy also possess good posture? Of course he does! In fact, Peterson illustrates this in great detail: the lobster at the very top of the dominance hierarchy gets everything he wants when he wants it, and he does so by standing tall and lording it over all those beneath him.” (81)
And yet, Vox points out, Peterson continually warns against becoming too tyrannically ordered. So which is it? Are we supposed to have good posture or not? If we have good posture, does that put us higher on the social pyramid or not? Do we want to ascend the pyramid or not? Vox’s point, of course, is that Peterson knows exactly the kind of audience he’s targeting in 12 Rules for Life, and it happens to be, generally, the demographic you least want to be in power: pathetic push-overs who lacked strong father figures in their lives.
Additionally, this concept addresses one of the main themes of Peterson’s self-help book: discerning a middle way between what he calls chaos and order, the anarchy of uncertainty on the one hand versus the tyranny of inflexible rigidness on the other. Vox points out that at no point does Peterson use the term Middle Path in this exegesis, an eastern and specifically Buddhist moral term that denotes more or less the same thing. Why Peterson goes out of his way to avoid the use of the term, Vox effectively infers a few chapters later.
It’s no secret that Peterson’s use of language is nebulous, if we’re being charitable. Uncharitably, we could simply call him an outright liar, given his stage antics and the absurd degree that he is imprecise with his words even as he claims the opposite. Vox gets into this in the following chapter, noting that Peterson uses the words “chaos” and “order” to mean, basically, bad and good; and yet, as noted last year on this very blog, the notion that a greater good exists when evil is taken into account with it is simply bonkers. The last couple of chapters discuss this point in more detail, in which Vox tracks Peterson’s generally Gnostic sense of morality back into Carl Jung and various occult writers.
On this topic, Jordanetics approaches its conclusion. The connections to the occult practices of the Aliester Crowley’s Thelemic Society, and the slightly earlier Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn may sound out of place, given Peterson’s position as the lead psychologist of the Intellectual Dark Web, but those familiar with his writings and chief influences won’t find such company to be obscure. Carl Jung’s general Gnosticism, coupled with his lifelong research into alchemical treatises all pointed toward something more sinister than the simple accumulation of background data on presumed archetypal patterns of the unconsciousness.
The truth, and what Vox implies in some of this later work on Peterson, is that the practice of the occult never actually went away, despite our contemporary society’s full-throated endorsement of materialism. He spends several chapters interpreting what Peterson has to say on religion—specifically Christianity, though without any specific version of it in mind—language, and individual willpower within that occult framework. Language, essentially, becomes a tool to obfuscate reality in the attempt to redefine it. And reality, being a manifestation of the truth, can’t actually be redefined, but false descriptions of it can fool those of us interested in being blinded by what is convenient and easy to believe. Peterson, being a psychologist, is well aware of this, but seems to use this as treatment rather than recognize that such practice furthers self-destructive delusions.
Jordanetics doesn’t need to be long in order to take down the general credibility of Peterson’s public persona. Vox’s critique fires straight down the same line that Peterson traces in 12 Rules for Life, though he sheds light on specifics that Peterson would probably prefer remain unsaid. On the other hand, one gets the distinct impression—having read Peterson in his own words, and having attempted to sit through some of his downright grueling lectures—that Peterson isn’t even aware of anything he actually says. He’s a man so wrapped up in himself that life is little more than a long, steady, constantly improvised performance that he doesn’t have time to prepare for. This would explain the audacity it takes to repeat the same performances on different stages when confronted with the same questions for decades on end. It would explain how his shoddy life philosophy could be repeated over and over by a man who humbly brags about his own intelligence on national television. And it would explain how he can be capable of going on long, pointless tangents connecting esoteric phenomena, religious symbolism, and his own guilt-ridden past and yet manage to say nothing of substance.
Vox’s video on Peterson from last year was entitled The Madness of Jordan Peterson, and after reading Jordanetics and reflecting on Peterson’s impact, I don’t think “madness” is the right word to describe the fullness of the psychologist’s character. The only words I can come up with are “delusion” or “villainy”.
For those unfamiliar with Vox’s critiques, Jordanetics does a good enough job bringing out the worst of Peterson’s thought and just about all of it is done in Peterson’s own words. He’s not a difficult charlatan to cut down to size once you stop believing in his persona of bumbling intellectual faux-sincerity. The main take away from Vox’s book remains something that Vox tends advocate no matter what the circumstance is: listen clearly to what is actually being said. Peterson relies on his audience filling in blanks that he baits them with so that he doesn’t have to be responsible for asserting anything himself. Maybe he’s using the bait because he just doesn’t know. Maybe he admits that he doesn’t know anything. As a matter of fact, he does. Frequently. That so many people can listen to a man who proclaims with pride “I don’t know what I’m talking about” after he’s sunk countless hours into being a university professor—a position that exists to be filled by people who are supposed to know what they’re talking about—is exactly part of the problem today.