Jordan B. Peterson is a celebrity Canadian psychologist who has written a couple of best seller self-help books, rising from relative obscurity in 2016. Most (80%) of his followers are males1 and in an online Reddit site an analysis shows that most are young men and belong to four main groups: attentive acolytes – the unquestioning loyalty of the devotee toward the charismatic leader; angry bothers – the shared anger and misogyny of the young man as reverse victim; abandoned sons – the need for warmth, affection, and validation of the fatherless son; and the admiring student – keen curiosity of the alert and keen student, including possibly a critical and dialogical engagement with the teacher2.
The nature of Peterson’s interpretation of masculinity, as well as those of his followers, resist easy characterisation. However, the presence of the more extreme statements of toxic masculinity and misogyny is limited. The overall tone is that of traditional conservatism, with its emphasis on the patriarchy and sexist assumptions regarding fixed and inherited sex and gender roles. While these are reactionary and anti-feminist, they are situated within a familiar ideological landscape in opposition to liberalism2.
One of Peterson’s best sellers was ‘12 Rules for Life’, and a review of this book begins with “Jordan Peterson is an enigma. At present, he is the best-known public psychologist … but also the least understood, because of the opacity of his views (Johnson, 2018)”1. At an event some years ago, atheist Sam Harris asked Jordan Peterson: “What do you mean by God?”. Peterson replied with the following: God is “how we imaginatively and collectively represent the existence and action of consciousness across time.” God is “that which eternally dies and is reborn in the pursuit of higher being and truth.” God is “the highest value in the hierarchy of values.” God is the “voice of conscience.” God is the “source of judgment and mercy and guilt.” God is the “future to which we make sacrifices and something akin to the transcendental repository of reputation.” God is “that which selects among men in the eternal hierarchy of men”3. Opacity is an understatement.
Peterson has hit upon the same technique used by spivs since time immemorial: if you spout drivel that is at best difficult to fathom, but mostly gobbledegook, the gullible will believe you are being profound; but it is pseudoprofundity (i.e. bullshit). This technique has worked ever since the first con-man met the first sucker. Frankfurt (2005) defined bullshit as something that is designed to impress but that was constructed absent of direct concern for the truth4. Thus, bullshit, in contrast to mere nonsense, is something that implies but does not contain adequate meaning or truth5. This phenomenon is similar to what is referred to as ‘obscurantism’: when the speaker utters the verbal equivalent of smoke and mirrors to suggest depth and insight where none exists5.
Peterson has become the most recent darling of the old conservative bloke network and now fronts an organisation called the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship (ARC) which markets itself as a think tank. This crowd held a conference in London at the end of October which was attended by the worst three prime ministers in Australian history (Howard, Abbott and Morrison), two former deputy prime ministers (the beetrooter Joyce and Anderson), former New South Wales premier Dominic Perrottet, dodgy Angus Taylor, creationist Andrew Hastie, poor benighted Dan Tehan, No campaign liar Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, Institute of Public Affairs drone James Paterson, and the relevance deficit disorder sufferer Mark Latham6.
Peterson’s book ‘12 Rules for Life’ include rules that he clearly does not follow, particularly the one ‘be precise in your speech’ when he is clearly an obscurantist. ‘Tell the truth – or at least, don’t lie’. This is rich coming from a person who fronts an organisation named the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship, when the conference run by it, is replete with liars such as those three former prime ministers7-9. They were the worst liars I have seen in my decades of watching politics. Climate change deniers are liars too10, and the conference was also replete with such people, not least of all the Australian right-wing politicians. They deny the many decades of climate science, without actually having the slightest understanding of how science operates. Who can forget the ludicrously incompetent Barnaby Joyce stating that it was god that did it, or it was the magnetic field of the sun11,12? That is where the only profundity lies; in Joyce’s profound stupidity.
In Wong’s review of Peterson’s book, he states that Peterson stressed the danger of nihilism and totalitarianism following the destruction of traditional religious values by rationalism and empiricism. Wong says that Peterson believes religious and cultural thinking is an important source of “mythological truths” (oxymoron and obscurantism alert!) evolving over eons and passed on to us as “collective unconsciousness”1.
Many of the religious are hell-bent (excuse pun) on forcing their beliefs onto others before their religion fades into irrelevance, as it seems to be doing quite quickly13,14. Indeed, the religious themselves wish for a form of totalitarianism, such as that abroad today in the theocracies of Iran and Afghanistan. To this end, in the western democracies, they have either aligned themselves with narcissistic wannabe fascists like Trump, or have largely taken over right-wing political parties, such as the Republican Party in the US and the Liberal Party in Australia. Should Trump be elected president in 2024, he, and much of the Republican Party, want to turn the US into a totalitarian theocracy with Trump as ‘king’15.
According to Wong, Peterson asserts that there are two pillars of truth. The first is science, which is about the “truths or empirical laws” of nature. The second is religion which is “the narrative of the laws of values or moral actions in human life”1. This is, of course abject bullshit. As Arthur C. Clarke stated: “One of the greatest tragedies in mankind’s entire history may be that morality was hijacked by religion”. One could perhaps believe Peterson if there was evidence that religious organisations are moral. However, that is not the case, as has been shown in many churches and other religious organisations by the revelations of their abuse, sexual and otherwise, of children and their covering it up.
Peterson’s assertion that science is about the truths or empirical laws of nature, is ironic, given that the sort of people that turned up for the conference in London are mostly deniers of science. Whether it be evolution, radioisotopic dating, genetics or climatology, you can bet your bottom dollar that there would be many in attendance who would deny one or other, or perhaps all of these. Andrew Hastie denies evolution and genetics, and probably radioisotopic dating; Tony Abbott denies climatology (at least he does this month)16; as does James Paterson, Scott Morrison and Angus Taylor, and probably John Howard17.
What Peterson has realised is that you can make big bucks if you align yourself with the amalgamated religious right and the political far right, and indulge in obscurantism, make allusions to god and tell lies. These fit perfectly with the modus operandi of both arms of this amalgamation. In addition, the organisation he fronts includes “responsible citizenship” in its name when, in its climate change denialism, it is anything but responsible. This denialism will be one of the causes that will likely lead to millions of people dying and parts of the planet becoming uninhabitable, and may lead to a significant extinction event among the other species inhabiting this world.
Bogus names and assertions are very commonplace among the religious and the far right. The examples are too numerous to list all of them here, but a few will suffice: They include Morrison’s Religious Discrimination bill which was supposedly to prevent discrimination against the religious, but was entirely about allowing the religious to continue discrimination against others18. The Australian Environment Foundation is a front group for the Institute of Public Affairs, a climate change denying organisation funded by big mining companies and overseas companies and organisations that also deny climate change. The Bennelong Society is named after “a famous Indigenous Australian — one of the Wangal people — who had a close relationship with the early colonists”, and despite being named after an Aboriginal, the organisation is against land rights and self-determination for Aboriginal people. Family Voice Australia, up until 2008 known as the Festival of Light, is a conservative Christian association, opposed to same-sex marriage, voluntary euthanasia, decriminalisation of marijuana, decriminalisation of sex work, decriminalisation of abortion, and just about any other advance in society19. However, perhaps the prime example of a lie in a name belongs to the Liberal Party which, ever since the election of John Howard to the leadership, has become decidedly illiberal.
Like those organisations above, the ARC is a dodgy organisation with a lie in its name, fronted by a spiv, holding a supposed conference attended by a bunch of liars, religious nutters and science deniers.