Jordan Peterson: Torture by Bad Journalism

The news that Jordan Peterson has entered an addiction facility in Russia is no surprise to those of us who have watched the interviews, discussions, and debates for the last four years.

The immediate cause is his dependence on an anti-anxiety medication, but it is certainly the case that since 2016 an army of students, activists, journalists, and liberal professors have poured over him the kind of contempt that the rest of us can barely imagine undergoing. The irritants have been overwhelming.

We have seen him accosted by protesting students who charged him with inspiring Nazis; treated by journalists as a hidebound clod; smeared him as a “mean, mad white man” before a live crowd by a media personality/professor; and belittled in a long profile in the New York Times by a young reporter he allowed into his home. Those occasions were infuriating to anyone who wanted to hear what Peterson had to say. To be the object of them had to have been impossible.

The “mad white man” remark came from Michael Eric Dyson of Georgetown University and MSNBC, who, in his blustering way, accused Peterson of failing to appreciate the sufferings of people not like himself. It happened in one of the Munk Debates when Dyson told Peterson in hortatory tones that he must learn to listen, pressing that word as a command.

Imagine what it must have been like to hear this rambling lecturer instruct him in the art of listening. If you have seen Professor Dyson on TV, you know that he prefers talking to listening, and when he hears a contrary opinion, he rushes to shut it down. Peterson, on the other hand, is a clinical psychologist. Not only does he patiently wait while others speak their thoughts, but he has logged thousands of hours with mental patients and troubled souls. They have come from all walks of life and represented every demographic and every mental health problem. His training and his daily labor ask him to listen to them, to consider their experience and suspend his own.

When Peterson heard Dyson’s exhortation in the debate, he was already so annoyed by the “mean, mad white man” remark that he didn’t think to cite his very profession in response. The whole idea of “you-don’t-listen” may have struck him as so absurd that he couldn’t come up with a ready reply. “How can someone so misconstrue who I am?” he must have thought.

This misconstruction of who he is, what he thinks, and what he says, however, has been a regular feature of Peterson’s life ever since he declared against the pronoun police in 2016. Gender multiplicity was on a rollback then, and the activists weren’t about to let a Toronto professor block their progress. They didn’t want to debate the issue; they aimed to rid the world of objectors. Peterson had a special resistance to totalitarianism long before the gender militants came along, and he saw in them the familiar tactics of intimidation, mobbing, guilt trips, shunning, and expulsion. He wouldn’t comply, and for his failure to bow, the activists had to go to work. That didn’t mean arguing with him. It meant characterizing him.

The subsequent years have seen exactly that: a steady characterization of Peterson as this and that and that. He considers patriarchy a historical fabrication, and so he’s a sexist. He thinks white privilege is bunk, and so he gives license to racists. He rejects gender fluidity, so he’s a transphobe. The crowds at his lectures, the best-selling book, the million-times-downloaded videos . . . they have only made the task of characterization more urgent.

Hence, in the famous interview with Cathy Newman, Peterson had to sit and observe her twist his words into patent nonsense (“So, what you’re saying is . . .”). The Forward published a profile of Peterson with the title, “Is Jordan Peterson Enabling Jew Hatred?” and had a photo of Peterson juxtaposed to a photo of Hitler.

British GQ sent a young feminist to interview Peterson, but it wasn’t an interview. Instead, it was a series of insinuations from a journalist who, as she said in the conversation, attributes the rise of Donald Trump to all those Americans who couldn’t handle a black man in the White House. At one point, when she raised his obligation to disavow the alt-right, he replied, “I’m extraordinarily sick and tired of this particular accusation-slash-line of questioning.” But he stayed with her till the end.

In another interview with The Economist, when Peterson states that females go after others more often through vicious gossip than men do, and she doubts what he’s saying, and replies: “Where is that data on innuendo and gossip?” the snide tone in her voice revealing that she doesn’t believe it exists.

“There’s a whole literature on that,” he says, but she doesn’t accept it: “Just to be clear, you think that is predominantly a female modus operandi.”

“It’s not that I think it,” he snorts. “It’s that the clinical literature indicates that . . . I’m not making this up!”

To have to repeat over and over, “I am not what you think I am,” and, “That’s not what I said,” is a sorry existence. Conservatives who live and work in liberal enclaves feel the pressure all the time, but Peterson has undergone it to the thousandth degree. Watch this smug Millennial from VICE sit down for 20 minutes with Peterson

Don’t bother with the actual words the interview speaks. Look at his demeanor, the expression on his face, the sly smile, and bemused condescension. All of it communicates a fixed impression of superiority. The man opposite our interviewer is clearly undeserving of anything better, he seems to say. Peterson’s replies won’t make a dent in that verdict, either. What Peterson will argue will not change what he is, not in the eyes of our 21st-century journalist: a wayward, backward figure. You can tell that Peterson recognizes the game his antagonist is playing, but he lets it go on. In fact, I don’t know of any occasion in which Peterson has walked out of an interview or an event.

As the months passed, though, it had to take a toll on him. Fame can send people into a tailspin, and this kind of fame, especially so. Peterson has hundreds of thousands of fans around the world, and they have brought him wealth and renown. He also has hundreds of thousands of enemies, and many of them work in the media. The fans love him for what he says and writes, and for the conviction he adds to it. The enemies hate him for what he is. They put him ever on the defensive. He must prove his innocence, and he can’t. In their company, the issues aren’t salient; he must justify himself. Worse, he must justify himself to people who will never believe that he is justified.

It’s exhausting; it’s exasperating. The people who have challenged Peterson to explain himself, and who then mangle his explanations, seem altogether secure in their position. They have big institutions and left/liberal culture behind them. They will leave the interview unchanged. Peterson, meanwhile, walks away, irritated and uncertain.

I am not sure that these episodes played a large role in his collapse, along with the illnesses in his family and the fatigue of nonstop travel and the medications. But this set-up, crafted by an academia/media juggernaut that demands fealty to dogmas about patriarchy, racism, and gender fluidity, is a unique type of pain. It is dispiriting to sit down with someone for the first time and read in his eyes dislike. It’s singularly frustrating to realize that nothing you say will lift the cloud over your head. And then to maintain your politeness . . . well, Peterson deserves a rest.

Mark Bauerlein

Mark Bauerlein

Mark Bauerlein is a professor of English at Emory.

41 thoughts on “Jordan Peterson: Torture by Bad Journalism

  1. Strange to be the first comment here. As a fellow Canadian, I can put forth the idea that Dr Peterson is Canada’s Man for all Seasons. I would not wish the same untimely end upon him as happened to the original.

    I do agree that he became a lightning rod for dark forces that saw him as the epitome of everything they stand against. And yet I still feel that there is more in common in his stance with the likes of Thomas Sowell and Shelby Steele – both of whom possess enchanted immunity that he does not.
    I recall noticing roundabout 2018 or so, that in many of his interviews, he would get around to passionately remarking on a following he was so readily willing to speak with, and how much he appeared to be almost overwhelmed by their responses to him. I never got the sense though, that he was overcome with self-grandiosity due to their adoration. Not a bit.
    It was, I think, because as time went by, he became overwhelmed by this ever growing hunger in ever growing masses of people (not the least or smallest number, young white men) for the truth. Honestly spoken. Something of a necessary respite from the spin and the lies and the stupidity of his antagonists. All they really have going for them is an outrageous coward’s power. They certainly were never his match for intelligence and clear thinking, or honesty, or the courage to speak out from a foundation of reality.

    That is one hell of a role and function to provide in the lives of millions of young people who have been lied to and frankly, bullshitted for most of their lives. And especially regarding their educators. As rare as Dr Peterson appears to be in this sorry world, I hope that his example will provide the courage and the will to a beleaguered population to one day grow an army of him. The load is far too heavy for any one man to bear up against.
    Seeing as reality itself provides no guaranteed safe space for any of us, this includes the cadres, bullies, liars, sneaks, thugs and self-proclaimed victims, intersectional or otherwise. I imagine they have always been there, buried in the infrastructure. They’ve just never had access to the kind of power they now suck up like vampires.

    I wish Dr Peterson the absolute best, and a well-earned rest from his travails. He has done my nation proud.

  2. After the ‘Cathy Newman’ debacle, we can be certain they will never again try to publicly debate him on his positions.

  3. Peterson’s so called “enemies” do hate him for what he is – a charlatan. People with critical thinking skills can see right through his word salad vapidity. Couple that with the psychoactive drugs and his fantasies of ingesting his sister, and the world is probably better off with his diminished persona.

    1. Surely to be hated by a loud and vociferous gang, is to have enemies, is it not? Not simply ‘scare quote’ enemies but actual, real enemies, people who wish to do the man harm…if not physical, then emotional, intellectual, social & economic?

      And if they hate him for being a charlatan (one who pretends to be something one is not), what is he so pretending? How is he seeking to deceive or mislead? Surely when we call someone a charlatan we are required to specify in what way, exactly, he is seeking to defraud us?

      When he says, as a for instance, “Men and women aren’t the same. And they won’t be the same. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be treated fairly.” Is that wrong? Is that misleading? Is he attempting to somehow cheat or swindle his audience with that truthful observation? When he says, “Free speech is not just another value. It’s the foundation of Western civilization.” Is that a trick? Is he seeking to hoodwink someone? Why would such commonsensical statements generate such slavering hatred?

      And what is this “word salad vapidity” that “people with critical thinking skills” (whoever they might be) can see right through? And what exactly is the ‘real truth’ they must, presumably, find — there on the other side?

      When Peterson says, “To stand up straight with your shoulders back is to accept the terrible responsibility of life, with eyes wide open. It means deciding to voluntarily transform the chaos of potential into the realities of habitable order. It means adopting the burden of self-conscious vulnerability, and accepting the end of the unconscious paradise of childhood, where finitude and mortality are only dimly comprehended. It means willingly undertaking the sacrifices necessary to generate a productive and meaningful reality (it means acting to please God, in the ancient language).”…. that hardly seems vapid, now, doesn’t it? But if, let’s say, ‘someone with critical thinking skills’ were to somehow see through this call to ‘stand up straight’ would they then suggest that refusing to accept the responsibilities of life is somehow a better way to be?

      As for whatever the man’s own, personal challenges might be…..whatever problems he’s faced in his own life….surely we can leave all that to him, can’t we (as he himself continues to struggle to make of his life a “productive and meaningful reality”)? Wouldn’t it be, in fact, a superior choice to focus our time and energy not upon the man’s own human frailties but upon his works and his words (and recognize, with some humility, that “there, but for the grace of God, go I”?)

  4. Excellent analysis and article on one of the geniuses of our day. I left that world (your world too) for an internal, American exile running a French restaurant in an out of the way place where I studiously avoid these conflicts but use food and epicureanism as a platform for ideas in relation to contemporary culture.

  5. Cry me a river. Tommy Robinson was actually sent to jail as a result of his activism. On multiple occasions, no less, incarcerated in prisons with the constant threat of physical violence.

    Although I’m not a fan, Noam Chomsky faced significant backlash at MIT for his work in documenting the atrocities committed by the US government. He had support in the left wing movement, but faced hostility from other sources.

    Both Robinson and Chomsky are gatekeepers in their own way, protected by a certain power structure that sees them gain access to media platforms. So too is Peterson. His entire rise to fame was orchestrated by a TV producer, which explains his ability to access MSM outlets in the first place (as opposed to someone like Paul Gottfried of Kevin MacDonald, who are outright shunned).

    The difference is that Robinson and Chomsky didn’t wilt as a result of criticism. They aren’t drug addicts who need extensive stays in mysterious Russian rehab facilities. Peterson’s problems might be exacerbated by his fame, but they are unlikely to be solely caused by it. Reading ‘Maps of Meaning’, there are plenty of warning signs to indicate that he was not the most stable person on earth.

    1. The NY Post reports that “he was diagnosed with pneumonia and put into an induced coma for eight days” — pneumonia is liquid in your lungs, more drowning than drug addiction, and to be put into a induced coma for it gives an idea of just how desperate his situation was.

      The Post also reports that he was prescribed this which makes him a victim of medical malpractice and not a drug addict. Mention was also made of a severe autoimmune disorder — that’s when the immune system mistakes the body’s own tissues as foreign invaders and attacks them. Again, not drug addiction.

      The Post also quoted his daughter as saying that he had been repeatedly misdiagnosed in North American hospitals — I’m wondering how much of this is an indirect result of hospital staff disliking him for his political views….

  6. At some point, we reasonable people need to stop even bothering to interact with these amoebae posing as “journalist”, “professors”, and the like.They deserve not one second of our time, not one glimpse of our attention. Starve them of what they basely crave: slobbering attention. Kill them thus, and bury their rotting corpses on their campus of choice.

    1. I do not believe that the Higher Ed Act has been reauthorized yet — and after the election (and the inevitable riots on college campii), it well might not be.

      Shutting off the money would end an awful lot of problems in this country — and the question is if Higher Education is worth saving. My guess is that at least half the country would say “no.”

  7. I wish Dr. Peterson could take hope that ordinary people see what is being done to him, and take comfort that it is infuriating to all who are sane and civil, and we are happy that there’s someone has the courage to confront the nasty PC crowd.

  8. An extraordinary and courageous man who refuses to sit in the back of the bus. You are correct in that his detractors will never recognize his character. More the pity.

  9. Thank you for saying what has been clear to me for a while. Jordan Peterson is one of the most heroic figures I’ve seen in my lifetime. He continued to knowingly put himself in harms-way, because of his sense of duty to humanity, and his understanding of societal dysfunction. Being able to clearly “see” these pervasive issues, and then to have your words twisted by intellectually capable enemies who don’t have the same ability to “see” the issues, is a unsustainable dynamic, even for someone as capable and heroic as he is. My heart goes out to him and his family and I pray for his recovery.

  10. When the left hears something they don’t like, they never try to debbate the point, They descend into name calling, innuendo, and false claims about that person. Outside of mobbint the opponent they have very little to offer.

  11. Self reflection and inserting racism and bigotry where criticism stands alone… Marxists have no souls…. Peterson is great man…. unless you don’t listen to what he says and you only hear what your ears choose to let in…..

  12. Well done.
    Peterson is a sacrificial lamb for truth in an environment kept in the tradition of a man of old his name was Pilate uttering these words “what truth?” Who was talking to Jesus a man to be condemned not because he was saying the truth, but rather he was the truth himself. Pilate’s uttering was pervasive among the public figures then, and still even today.
    Please respect this genuine man and pray for his recovery, we need his voice in this wilderness.

  13. I could not agree more with your assessment. I think one of the main challenges in our society is that an intellectual has to conform his convictions to those of the liberal elites or suffer their wrath. Peterson is a thoughtful and reflective man entitled to his views just like others with opposing ones. Without giving him a voice, freedom of speech is undermined as is the future of open discourse and a civilized culture…

  14. It seems inevitable that he would go through something like this eventually. He went from relatively obscure college professor to world famous cultural icon practically overnight. He’s been burning the candle at both ends just trying to keep up. You can’t stay on top forever. I hope he gets through this and returns stronger than ever.

  15. Thank you for this. He has been the subject of such vitriol, I don’t wonder that his eventual breakdown has been a given. Times do not change and the “Witch Hunts” and “Autos da fé” are still happening.

  16. A more factually accurate article!

    Many prescribed drugs can cause physical dependency – not the same as addiction.

    Mr. Peterson’s ordeal also raised awareness of akathisia. Not an uncommon Adverse Drug Effect, this ADE can cause Self-Harm, suicide, or violence in the healthy.

    Thanks and best wishes

    Dee

  17. Thank you for your honesty analysis of Dr. Jordan Peterson. It is nice to see an article where the author has done their homework and hasn’t made up their mind about him before the fact.

  18. “All sheep and no shepherd,
    everyone is the same, everyone wants to be the same,
    anyone who is different goes voluntarily to the Madhouse.”

    — Friedrich Nietzsche

  19. Thank you,for a good article, on JBP. I relived all my frustrations…being an early, listening, ‘student’, of his many hours, on YouTube. It’s all there…years of his ideas, studies, explanations, hypotheses, teachings at Harvard, and more recently, his Podcast and TV interviews, Book tour speeches, ect. The man is an open book! Disagree with his ideas, have a thoughtful, intelligent debate…. like those, was Sam Harris. That is fair game. Willing people, all over the world, watched and listened and learned!
    So, I find the purposeful or ignorantly misinformed, constant character assassinations, of JBP, a very frustrating, disappointing, but useful learning, experience. I’ve grown a thicker hide, …small, comparison, to his experience, l know, but extremely useful.
    My respect and admiration for the man, has only grown. I wish him a return to good health, and a good life.

  20. Thank you for describing so perfectly the situation Dr. Peterson has been experiencing. He has been dealt in spades the character assassination and downright meanness that is the M.O. of the Left. Personally, I pray for his recovery and that he will continue to be the voice of reason and uplift in this world.

  21. Very sad about what is going on in JBP’s life. So scary to see how descending voices are treated in the media and in academia.

    When I first heard of Dr. Peterson in early 2017, I was do happy to see someone able and willing to push back at the absurdity of the current nonsensical story line.

    Wishing him and his family God’s protection and blessings.

  22. Perfectly said. I love Jordan Peterson and believe him to be a genuine, caring human being who has been vilified by the left for speaking truth.

  23. If people would stop and listen to him, they would be changed for the better. The overriding thesis in my mind is: Life is suffering and chaos, take responsibility for yourself and do what you can to ameliorate suffering and constrain malevolence. His education, both formal and informal, puts him in a position to be able to instruct others. Thank you for your thoughtful piece.

  24. Thank you. Yes he does. It’s quite sad when we have someone that cares so much about human kind and the future lives of our works and only making us want to do better and trying to explain to us why and how. And we have all these cruel, insecure, no nothing. Individuals that only want to devour and scrutinize. Thank you so much for your writing on Jordan Peterson. Bless you and your writing. Much appreciated

  25. Dear Professor Bauerlein,

    Thank you very much for your sophisticated article about Jordan Peterson. Well said and analysed!

    Best Regards

    Julia

  26. Thank you for writing this piece. It spoke out many things I’ve been feeling and considering. I hope to see Peterson alive and well, with or without the fame.

  27. Even if Dr. Peterson never writes another book, or ever lectures again, he has accomplished more academically than most of his critics ever will.

  28. Jordan Peterson is brilliant! He speaks truth in a world blinded by political correctness! He is a light in a world of darkness! I applaud his courage and strength and his amazing valor! He is one of the greatest heroes of our time because he frees us from the dark lies that truly keep us in bondage. If only all people could think at this level. The problem is, they are all too ignorant to understand this level of intelligence.

  29. Mark, thanks for writing this very sympathetic post on Peterson and his present struggle. For those of us who appreciate Peterson, his thought, work, and courageous example of speaking the truth as he perceives it (in a world increasingly blind to it), this post is much appreciated!

  30. Well said – I completely agree.
    I do not understand people who can become so upset because you have a different view than them. They have really put him through hell for trying to help people consider things differntly.
    And it’s based on his experience and
    studies or “clinical literature” which he is
    clearly well versed.

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