“But again, this aside, Jordan Peterson’s lessons of personal responsibility and taking charge of one’s life are actually helping people, which brings me to my friend, Fred.”
In a November 17th Merion West article, Conrad Hamilton and Matt McManus announced their plans to release a book entitled Myth and Mayhem: A Leftist Critique of Jordan Peterson, which they assert will be the first comprehensive, book-length takedown of the Canadian psychologist-turned-public-intellectual. What is noteworthy about this book is that it will be written by four authors who have respective expertise in the areas of feminism, philosophy, Marxism, and the principles of argumentation. The purpose of this joint venture is to, in the words of Hamilton and McManus, “confront Peterson on his own terms—to eschew tawdry criticism and ad hominem attacks and instead get to the nucleus of his thought” in their attempt to beat the “anti- woke, truth telling patriarch act” out of Peterson’s persona.
After reading about this upcoming book project, I sought to learn more about Jordan Peterson—beyond simply his stances on political correctness, gender neutral pronouns, and the like. As such on November 19th, I attended a screening of The Rise Of Jordan Peterson, a new documentary about Peterson’s life, at my alma mater, Columbia University. The film was directed by Patricia Marcoccia and produced by her husband, Maziar Ghaderi. Although the two Toronto-based filmmakers lean “left of center” politically, fortunately, this did not factor into their film-making decisions. The film, instead, “thoughtfully explores the ways in which Peterson has been both celebrated and reviled.”
One of the most important points in the film, in my view, belongs, though, to the “celebrated” camp; it’s also in line with many comments that Hamilton and McManus received regarding their new book project. The point, in effect, is: ‘Enough high-minded academic critiques. Jordan Peterson is actually helping people.’ This was also what one commenter named Will was getting at when he wrote beneath Hamilton and McManus’ book preview, “I am a municipal maintanence [sic] worker in Toronto. Jordan Petetsons’ [sic] lectures and writing have been a major factor in my journey to stop making excuses for myself, finding sobriety and getting my finances in order.”
Similarly, in Marcoccia and Ghaderi’s film, a high school student named Connor describes how Peterson’s methods taught him, “how to act in the world.” Another, Matthew, suggests that Peterson helped him to “rekindle his faith in religion” and gave him, “the courage to stand up for his conservative and libertarian beliefs in the classroom.” Even so, many theaters have decided to pass on the film because of widespread criticism of Jordan Peterson, which, of course, primarily comes from the Left. For many of his critics, Peterson’s views on the importance of family, traditional gender roles, and an uncompromising commitment to free speech are unpalatable.
But again, this aside, Jordan Peterson’s lessons of personal responsibility and taking charge of one’s life are actually helping people, which brings me to my friend, Fred. Fred is a well-respected bassist and music business entrepreneur whose wife is suffering from frontal lobe dementia. Fred described to me learning about Jordan Peterson, by chance, through a random Internet search and discovering that Peterson’s mother-in-law was suffering from the same condition as his wife. From there, he stumbled upon a Youtube video where Peterson describes how his father-in-law dutifully and lovingly cared for his wife throughout her illness. In an incredibly powerful moment in this video, Peterson advises anyone suffering through great adversity to: “…stand up straight and fully face the darkness, and what you discover is at the darkest part is the brightest light.” Peterson breaks down momentarily as he says this and starts to cry, and so did my friend Fred as he listened. From that moment on, Fred tells me, he realized that he was not alone—and that it was possible that he would not only survive his darkest hour but might even be able to grow from the experience. For Fred, of all of Peterson’s advice, the Jungian axiom “that which you most need will be found where you least want to look” was most transformative in his life. Matt McManus might say that insights such as these are nothing more than a, “Schopenhauerian- Nietzschean trope.” Dismiss advice Peterson’s advice all you’d like with big words, but for the countless people that Dr. Peterson has helped, from my friend Fred on down, these words have been nothing short of transformative.
However, if he hopes to convince Jordan Peterson’s supporters of the “acute limitations of [Peterson’s] thinking,” he is going to have to explain Peterson’s track record of helping those in need—from Will in Toronto, to the young men featured in Marcoccia and Ghaderi’s film to my own friend, Fred.
Matt McManus brings considerable academic firepower to important debates. He is one of Merion West’s most prolific writers, and I enjoy reading his opinion pieces, even when I disagree with him. However, if he hopes to convince Jordan Peterson’s supporters of the “acute limitations of [Peterson’s] thinking,” he is going to have to explain Peterson’s track record of helping those in need—from Will in Toronto, to the young men featured in Marcoccia and Ghaderi’s film to my own friend, Fred. For academics who want to criticize Peterson with high-minded references and ivory tower abstractions, they would be wise to remember that many of these ideas fall apart in the complex world in which we actually live, a world where people are actually suffering. And some of these people are finding tremendous consolation in the words and advice of Dr. Jordan Peterson.
Tony D. Senatore graduated from Columbia University in 2017, at the age of 55. He is a well-known bassist and musician.