Jordan Peterson is a man of many words. Words, it always seemed to me, to be learned from reading books rather than from experience. Maybe I am being judgemental here, but that does not mean I am wrong. For a man to release a book called ‘The 12 rules of life’ is exceptionally bold; for a man to do this when he has lived the life of an extreme academic — even more so.
The people reading Peterson’s books might be twenty-year-old guys struggling to come to terms with life in the Bronx or, fifty-year-old veterans of Iraq who have PTSD.
Yet, somehow his teachings resonate with them. The fact that his works inspire is testament to Petersons ability to think very deeply and see problems very clearly, a skill which is rare in this day and age.
But Dr Peterson’s work does not seem to inspire everyone. He is often reported as ‘taking a stand’ against political correctness. Such a crude description probably paints a less than an accurate description of an extremely complex man, desperate to cut through the complexity but lost in an endless stream of learned words and ideas and with an addiction to the voice in his head.
This is often clear when Peterson speaks with such authority on ideas that are philosophical at best. His entry into profound religious concepts is often painted with his own personal philosophy and still presented in a very factual way. Such presentations can often make him feel like a fundamentalist trying to overcome his fundamentalism.
One example of Dr Peterson’s foray into matter-of-fact life coaching is demonstrated by his views on addiction.
Views that are again presented as straight facts but are more like ideas that have grown; Ideas that make sense according to Peterson’s complex conditioning and view of the world. This is demonstrated further at points as he presents a fact and then corrects himself in real-time, thus updating the fact.
Some portray this as confidence, others as arrogance. Either way, one thing is clear — Jordan Peterson’s audience is utterly divisive. He seems to have a way of inspiring someone while completely angering their neighbour — a recipe for fame if ever there was one.
So, now as he enters a new phase of his life, he must begin, like any good rebirth by facing his demons — the vast population of his critics and followers who will now brand him as an arrogant hypocrite for being unable to sustain his own teachings.
This situation might end up being the first genuine test of Peterson’s authenticity.
It is the academic equivalent to following a spiritual Master for twenty years and then experiencing them crying endless tears when their husband or wife leaves them. To a crude eye, it is the symbol of two decades of wasted time. But, to the mind that is ready, it is a golden gate to a deeper level of reality and sublime teaching by the spiritual master.
The first signs are not particularly hopeful. In the video released by Jordan’s family in February 2020, they expressed that they wanted to make it clear that Peterson’s addiction was physical and by no means psychological. You can’t help but feel that Peterson himself has delivered this message and in doing so demonstrates the crude level of his mental practice. The message itself, in hoping to justify his downfall and keep his followers, instead succeeds in displaying Dr Peterson’s inability to face and accept his own demons. It demonstrates a need for superiority and a desperate attempt to segregate himself from the psychological addicts which he may see as inferior to him in some way.
As Dr Peterson has not yet emerged from rehab himself, the indirect damage has not yet been done. What he faces now is the challenge of thinking deep enough to see this as a great moment of rebirth. As an academic, people took his words on addiction and life as scripture. Now, after facing the real horror of life, he might have the real-world experience to back it up. If he plays his cards right, this experience might allow him to see through his intellectual boundaries to a place where everything is relative, and all facts are limited in their scope.
In viewing addicts, it is easy to see them as weak-minded people.
Whether it was intended or not, Jordan Peterson’s lectures on life and addiction often have that feeling to them. It is like he is talking down to everyone from a higher place in his mind. Now, he might understand that addiction usually has nothing to do with the seeking of pleasure, but more to do with the avoidance of pain. It is often conceived as a reaction to trauma and even when ‘cured’ the underlying trauma-induced pattern is usually replaced with something else such as food or sex (source)
There is no substitute for pure experience. Knowing the road travelled by addicts every day can be the birth of something new — much deeper and greater for Jordan Peterson. But, he has to emerge from his experience with openness, humility and a sense of connection. At least, with some good fortune, he might emerge with fewer barriers between himself and his audience, which could help him use his incredible thinking brain in ways that can genuinely help humanity.
In doing this, he might have to accept that the old Jordan Peterson is dead. Instead of trying to resurrect him, he might have to embrace the new Dr Peterson — a man who combines thinking and reading with real-world experience. He will have to face this new possibility with courage and humility and, in doing so, may just become even more successful than before.