Ilana Simons

Ilana Simons Ph.D.

The Literary Mind

Jordan Peterson: His Attractive Power

Why the famous psychologist thrills and scares me.

Posted Aug 26, 2019

Jordan Peterson is a psychologist who has gathered a cult-like following in the last few years. In 2016, while a relatively unknown professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, he made a series of YouTube videos publicly opposing Bill C-16, a law that protected gender-diverse Canadians.

Peterson was concerned that the law legislated speech, making it illegal if he chose not to use someone’s chosen gender pronoun. See a full description of the bill here. His position sparked both outrage and support, and his articulate fight for individualism has skyrocketed his image since.

His rallying cry, “Clean up your room,” is a psychologically minded call to self-reliance. In his podcasts and videos (with 2.2 million YouTube subscribers), he emphasizes personal responsibility, discipline, and confidence in personal growth. 

He does this, many would argue, at the expense of a more nuanced understanding of our grossly uneven playing field. He focuses on what an individual must do to improve himself, ardently rejecting the victim stance, but paying minimal respect to the forces of our society—like low minimum wage, the massive power of the rich over the poor, racism, and housing crises—that make the American Dream an impractical and even sadistic tease for many.  

But like many visionaries, he is a captivating public speaker—an inspiring storyteller who can weave together Dostoyevsky, Jung, Piaget, Pinocchio, and The Lion King into one powerful narrative; he speaks with spontaneous energy on stage, offering a sense that we could all use our minds so creatively, so actively, so originally.  

He is also a great listener, able to change his tone and style to fit whatever room he is in, conservative or liberal, to allow good dialogue to happen. He is earnest about his work.

I do worry that Peterson is failing to curtail the alt-right characters who rally around him. I mostly witness these followers on Facebook groups, where there is often an anti-feminist and anti-liberal group enthusiasm.

While Peterson himself does his best to speak evenly and thoughtfully about issues and makes it a point to denounce identity politics, his followers tend toward groupthink. I’m a woman on the left. A feminist. I have only said a few brief things in this intro but hope you'll follow the link below to a video I made, which explores my own ambivalence and respect.

A video about Jordan Peterson, whose popularity is inspiring as well as terrifying: