Not many academics use lobsters as a stepping stone to fame, but Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson just did. Last week, he was being questioned by a British journalist named Cathy Newman in what may have been one of the most maladroit interviews in the entire history of journalism. Every time Peterson made a point, Newman would aggressively mangle what he said, and throw it back at Peterson as an indignant accusation. (Here, Conor Friedersdorf in the Atlantic smartly analyzes this bizarre interview.)
At one Newman says, “Let me get this straight. You’re saying that we should organize our societies along the lines of the lobsters?” Peterson hadn’t suggested that we all should grow claws, live on the ocean floor or consult crustacean tradition on political organization. Peterson denied a popular leftist idea that hierarchical structures are sociological constructs of the Western patriarchy.
Here’s what Peterson said: “That is so untrue that it’s almost unbelievable. I use the lobster as an example: We diverged from lobsters’ evolutionary history about 350 million years ago. And lobsters exist in hierarchies. They have a nervous system attuned to the hierarchy. And that nervous system runs on serotonin just like ours. The nervous system of the lobster and the human being is so similar that anti-depressants work on lobsters. And it’s part of my attempt to demonstrate that the idea of hierarchy has absolutely nothing to do with sociocultural construction, which it doesn’t.”
The Lobsters Live On
A long and laudatory article on Peterson’s rebellion against PC and the leftist cast of higher education ran in the Guardian with a photo of Peterson in a jacket and tie holding a lobster in each hand. Another photo has Peterson sitting on a pile of books with a black cat in front. Floating by are a chair, a skateboard, a book, and two lobsters.
Peterson came to heavy attention in Canada and the U.S. last year when he refused to use the made-up pronouns of the transgender movement in his classes, though his employer (the University of Toronto) and his province(Ontario) insisted that he must.
Since his pronoun rebellion, Peterson has been increasingly visible on YouTube videos and has had attention from other intellectuals. In fact, he is now being regarded as one of the more significant campaigners against the domination of the campuses by the left. And his work in psychology has drawn a good deal of attention. Camille Paglia estimates him to be “the most important Canadian thinker since Marshall McLuhan.”
Tim Lott reported in the Guardian:
“He believes most university humanities courses should be defunded because they have been ‘corrupted by neo-Marxist postmodernists’ – particularly women’s studies and black studies. This has led him to be branded a member of the alt-right – although his support for socialized healthcare, redistribution of wealth towards the poorest and the decriminalization of drugs suggests this is far from the whole story. He defines himself as a ‘classic British liberal.’ But he also says – when challenged for being a reactionary – that ‘being reactionary is the new radicalism.’
Peterson has largely been in the news for his blazing, outspoken opposition to much of the far-left political agenda, which he characterizes as totalitarian, intolerant and a growing threat to the primacy of the individual – which is his core value and, he asserts, the foundation of western culture.”
He has also taken on Google, reporting that it blocked one of his YouTube videos in 28 countries as extreme.
Peterson combines a good sense of humor with a dark view that life is a catastrophe and the aim of life is not to be happy. HHHHe is a gifted and entertaining teacher whose videos have been watched more than 35 million times, and he is a passionate individualist: “Your group identity is not your cardinal feature. That’s the great discovery of the west. That’s why the west is right. And I mean that unconditionally. The west is the only place in the world that has ever figured out that the individual is sovereign. And that’s an impossible thing to figure out. It’s amazing that we managed it. And it’s the key to everything that we’ve ever done right.”
He is also willing to use apparently frivolous chapter headings in his most recent book, Rules for Life: an Antidote to Chaos
Peterson’s 12 rules
Rule 1 Stand up straight with your shoulders back
Rule 2 Treat yourself like you would someone you are responsible for helping
Rule 3 Make friends with people who want the best for you
Rule 4 Compare yourself with who you were yesterday, not with who someone else is today
Rule 5 Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them
Rule 6 Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world
Rule 7 Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)
Rule 8 Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie
Rule 9 Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t
Rule 10 Be precise in your speech
Rule 11 Do not bother children when they are skateboarding.
Rule 12 Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street