I’m a smart person. Really smart, actually, and very expensively educated! But half the time, I just can’t understand a bloody word Jordan Peterson says. And I’ve been thinking recently about why that could be. Ordinarily, I can listen to someone prattling on and quickly get to the heart of what they are trying to express. That’s one of the skills you pick up as a journalist: You learn to quickly identify the core of a problem, the essence of what’s being said. You learn to filter out the noise—and to identify bullshitters. But with Jordan Peterson, once I’ve filtered out the noise, I don’t find a lot left to work with. And there’s another problem. He lies.
When he first began to speak about me, Jordan Peterson described me as “an amazing person.” This was around the time he called me on the telephone, expressing sympathy for the failed assassination attempt on me in February 2017, when I was wrongly accused of supporting child rapists. He offered to do a series of on-camera interviews with me. He described me publicly, and correctly, as “a trickster figure,” explaining that “trickster figures emerge in times of crisis. And they point out what no one wants to see. And they say things that no one will say.”
He continued: “[Milo’s] brave as can be…. And he’s unstoppable on his feet. He just amazes me. I’ve never seen anyone I don’t think—and I’ve met some pretty smart people—I’ve never seen anyone who can take on an onslaught of criticism and reverse it like he can.” Fast-forward to an on-stage interview with Bari Weiss in June 2018 at the Aspen Ideas Festival. Weiss is talking about about a professor who paired me with Hitler and gave us as examples of Very Bad Things. She alleges that I, the interracially married man, am indeed a racist. To which Peterson replies: “Well, possibly, yeah … I haven’t followed Milo that carefully.”
What happened? By his own definition, this is the way demagogues work: by listening to their audience and adjusting their responses accordingly. Why was Peterson suddenly going along with something he knew wasn’t true and rewriting history, pretending he didn’t know that much at all about someone he had on numerous occasions so intelligently explained? I realize that by asking this question, you’re going to think I’m just wounded that someone I once admired has since soured on me. But that’s the thing. From the first time I heard Jordan Peterson speak, my nostrils picked up a whiff of sulfur in the air—and not just because he dresses in that awful, drab, monotonous Victoriana.
In an era of social justice, we are desperate to hear people defending Western civilization, and doing so forcefully in a way that shows up the progressive Left for the vacuous, parasitical bullies they are. Men, in particular, need superheroes like never before in history, although they like slightly feminized men, like the products of the Marvel universe, so that even when immersed in their masculine fantasies, they are still the biggest dog in the room. There’s nothing less intimidating, or more gay, than the aggressive hypermasculinity of Thor, the tongue-tied and slightly dim Captain America or Loki, the wily trickster.
Likewise, by presenting himself as an avuncular, asexual, physically frail character, Peterson can be a hero to men without threatening their manhood, much in the same way my homosexuality has also made me a hero to straight men. This is why Peterson has been able to bamboozle some quite clever people into thinking he is the Second Coming. But I have no patience for gobbledygook, and I have no faith in people who, when push comes to shove, will bend for popularity, comfort and an easy life rather than defend what they know to be true.
Peterson’s manner of speaking is designed to be fascinating. It’s easy to get sucked in. He constantly defers solutions, leaving listeners to fill in the gaps and reach the ultimate conclusions themselves. And he’s always hedging his own statements with phrases such as, “It’s something like that.” The way he speaks is designed to conjure up a rigorously precise, intellectually humble professor who doesn’t want to commit wholly to a claim unless he knows he is absolutely correct.
I do not find this way of speaking fascinating, though clearly I’m in the minority. I prefer plain talk. I like simple, clear, unambiguous statements of opinion. I believe in objective truth and such a thing as right and wrong. I’m never going to be satisfied by a writer who is constantly pointing to deeper solutions that are endlessly deferred. I want to know what a person really thinks. I have no idea what Jordan Peterson really thinks.
And I’ve come to the conclusion that all this constant prevarication occurs not because he’s a great teacher, eagerly hoping his charges will make the final leap of their own volition. Nor is it because he’s a modest Socratic thinker. No. It’s a public relations strategy, deployed so he never really has to commit to saying what he means, because he doesn’t really want to be understood, because, like his friends in the risible “intellectual dark web,” he doesn’t actually like or agree with his own fan base. When Peterson is put to the test, he has an established pattern of going soft at the critical moment.
Peterson’s watershed was a tweet he must now bitterly regret sending, because it gave the game away entirely. He said Brett Kavanaugh should accept his Supreme Court nomination and then quit. Peterson, apparently forgetting everything he knew about the feral Left, claimed that this might somehow soothe the activist wing of the Democrat Party into treating the rest of us with a bit more civility. Ugh, come off it. I remember thinking to myself, Jordan Peterson of all people cannot possibly believe this. And no amount of thrashing around on social media afterwards, claiming he was just engaging in a thought experiment, has persuaded anyone that he was just floating an idea out there.
Peterson’s reaction to Kavanaugh raises questions about his attitude to and relationships with women, which I haven’t seen many people discuss. There is something off about the way he talks about his daughter, though I can’t work out what it is. And I note in his habit of describing the feminine as Chaos and the masculine as Order a kind of incomprehension and fear of women, which makes him a very poor role model for men. It does explain his appeal to a certain kind of socially awkward, sexually confused guy, who cannot relate to girls. But Peterson is just the same! So he isn’t going to help these guys.
There is such a thing as the Chaotic feminine Peterson recognizes. She is the Whore of Babylon, rather than the Heavenly Bride. But Jordan only sees the Whore. This is a fundamental failing in his mythological structure: he doesn’t see the Ordering Feminine—the Lady as Heavenly City who gives a home to her groom. Men are constantly asking feminists to be more honest about male virtue. They have to do women the same courtesy. Peterson doesn’t, and can’t.
What really annoys everyone is how, when the going gets tough, Peterson chucks out everything he’s been preaching for the past two years and takes the easy route. He tells his followers to read Solzhenitsyn. He says he knows and hates Marxism. But then he tweets: “If confirmed Kavanaugh should step down.” With these six words, he revealed his true strategy in the face of the enemy. Surrender and appeasement. A light knock and this guy dents like a tin can, warping and distorting himself to evade critique.
Peterson and I are sometimes compared with respect to our intellectual dexterity, and I think I understand the root of this misunderstanding. It seems to me that there are two types of chameleon. The first kind uses different modes, styles, fashions, media and mannerisms to convey, to different audiences at different times, the same essential truth. His message does not change, but he is intelligent enough to know that you cannot talk to everyone the same way. These chameleons are charming, adaptable and endlessly insightful about human nature. Politicians who reflexively modify their accents in different parts of the country are of this type.
These chameleons are sometimes wrongly thought of as insubstantial by people with no imagination, subtlety or grasp of humor or artistic license. I have always aspired to be such a thinker and performer, which is why I tell fat jokes and call people cunts during lectures about religion and political philosophy. I enjoy blending highbrow analysis with sermo humilis in unexpected and uncomfortable ways, and I don’t mind being misunderstood by dullards or misrepresented by snakes. It’s the price of being someone as comfortable with billionaires as he is with steelworkers.
But then there is the chameleon who looks and sounds the same all the time, but who adjusts and even completely subverts his own ideology, depending on the audience. Jordan Peterson’s grim, predictable wardrobe, his effete speaking style, his pained expressions and his eternally somber affect give the superficial impression of gravity and consistency. But when you look at what he says, you find a coiled and poisonous serpent beneath the dusty carapace.
Asked to define something—anything—Peterson dodges. The author of this book, Vox Day, has suggested that this is the mark of a charlatan. But I see something even worse. There is a theological horror in Peterson’s starting position. He believes that life is suffering, which holds only if you define reality purely in terms of pleasure and pain. This is an Enlightenment reduction of truth to what can be proven empirically, carving the world up into claims of value and claims of fact, relegating religion to the realm of the unknowable. As a Catholic, I believe in the objective truth of God’s existence and love. But for Peterson, religion lives in the world of subjective feelings, divorced from anything besides the relief of suffering. It thus becomes the opiate of the masses.
Meaning is entirely subjective for Peterson, because he accepts this Enlightenment distinction. That’s why he talks about religion as though it were a sort of psychic medicine. And, critically, that’s why he’s a Marxist—even though he claims to hate Marxism. He believes in the end to which Marx tends, and only hates Marx because Marxism fails to get us there. This is why Peterson’s discussions with Sam Harris are so boring. He can’t get past trying to make Harris agree that evil is the same as suffering. Marxism is the unkeepable promise of a release from suffering by earthly means, and this is Peterson’s entire project.
When he’s limiting himself to Tony Robbins-style self-help, Peterson’s prescriptions won’t do you any harm. Cleaning your room isn’t a good habit to get into because there’s something intrinsically good about clean rooms. Rather, good practical habits grow into good personal discipline. Most skills develop by increment, not leap. But he can’t be trusted to talk about anything that matters. When Peterson reads “When You Wish Upon A Star” as a way of focusing on a transcendent goal, he isn’t exactly wrong, but he does not himself believe in the reality of the transcendent. He just wants to fix your mood in the here and now, like a hit of sugar or a compliment from an attractive stranger. He is a line of coke masquerading as the Eucharist.
As Owen Benjamin first noticed, Jordan Peterson has entered what we might call a late decadent phase, in which the bauble of representation by CAA and the promise of stardom act as crucibles, hastening his exposure as Antichrist and diluting his speech and opinions so they are more acceptable to his enemies. He has handed responsibility for his future over to people dedicated to his annihilation. In doing so, he risks us all. Peterson’s position and fandom must become untenable. As he himself puts it, in his 12 Rules for Life, “If the gap between pretense and reality goes unmentioned, it will widen, you will fall into it, and the consequences will not be good. Ignored reality manifests itself in an abyss of confusion and suffering.”
If this ruthless careerism comes as a surprise, perhaps you haven’t been paying attention. Remember Faith Goldy? She was booted from a conference line-up by Peterson, who un-personed his fellow panelist with a classic mealy-mouthed non-explanation, insinuating that she was “too hot a property.” Goldy has made some mistakes, appearing on podcasts with unsavory characters. I would not personally appear on the Daily Stormer podcast, especially not in the wake of Charlottesville. But she is not, as far as I can tell, a racist. Peterson himself said, “I don’t believe she’s a reprehensible person.” But he went ahead and killed her career anyway.
Peterson made her untouchable—persona non grata—and he did so knowing what the consequences to her life would be. After all, if you’re too much for the “extreme” Jordan Peterson, you must really be beyond the pale, right? Goldy has since been physically assaulted by protesters as Canadian media companies sat back and filmed. She has been scrubbed from every online payment service, making it impossible for her to support herself. Ads for her Toronto mayoral campaign have been banned by Rogers and Bell Media. Her life has been destroyed. By Jordan Peterson. She is shouted at in public and assaulted in the street while he tours the world, showered in riches and acclaim.
Peter denied Jesus, just as his nominative descendent Peterson has denied me and others. Both Peters did it for the same reason: fear and self-interest. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Peterson denied me in Aspen, in front of what must have been the wealthiest audience he’d ever addressed. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that his greatest tell to date happened in relation to a Supreme Court announcement, the most important political event outside of a presidential election. When the chips are down, Peterson goes splat.
I can take inconsistency in people—I am myself a contradictory figure. The pop stars and writers I admire are all complex people. And I can take a degree of studied ambiguity. I see and appreciate the strategy in remaining enigmatic and mysterious, even if it’s not to my personal taste in a public intellectual. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy satire or subtlety, obviously—just that I like them in someone who is also capable, when called upon, of calling a spade a spade.
I don’t even mind people whose positions and language soften when the establishment offers them fame and wealth in exchange for spaying them. I think it’s craven, but I understand now, as a happily married man, why someone might pick comfort and family security over being wholly true to themselves. What I can’t tolerate in a public figure is hypocritical disloyalty, the sort of cowardice that hurls allies to the ground in violation of every principle a person has previously stated and in defiance of the very reason the speaker has a platform in the first place. I find Jordan Peterson guilty of this charge, and I cannot excuse it.
If you betray one friend, you will later betray others. If you sacrifice one principle, you cannot be trusted not to sacrifice them all. I have paid a terrible professional and personal price for remaining true to my beliefs and refusing to back down or apologize, unlike some diminutive people I could mention—unsurprisingly, friends with Peterson—who condemned Donald Trump before unctuously praising him a year later for money and popularity. So have other friends of mine in media, politics and academia who know where the slippery slope of moral compromise leads, and who refuse to be soiled by it.
So I know what it looks like, and what it takes out of a person, when he sticks to his guns, no matter the cost. I’m inspired by the fortitude of Pamela Geller and Tommy Robinson, and lucky to call them friends. I am not inspired by Jordan Peterson. Quite aside from the dark, miserable heart of his philosophy, Peterson has repeatedly betrayed everything he says he believes in for his own expediency, convenience and profit, at precisely the time it mattered most, and then lied about it all. And that’s why I’m glad Vox Day has written this book.
When it really comes down to it, Peterson preaches—and practices—capitulation to the violent delights of feminine Chaos. He isn’t prepared to accept the costs of victory or the burden of heroism. He does not hold fast to fact, reason and logic in the face of the maelstrom because he does not possess the heroic manly virtue of courage. The orderliness, certainty and strength of manhood isn’t enough to quiet his troubled soul. At a minute to midnight, with the hounds on his tail, Peterson chooses… to believe all women.
Reprinted from the Foreword to Jordanetics: A Journey Into The Mind of Humanity’s Greatest Thinker by Vox Day. Castalia House, $5.99. Reprinted with permission.
Milo Yiannopoulos is an award-winning investigative reporter and the New York Times-bestselling author of DANGEROUS.