I saw Jordan Peterson speak last week at Balboa Theater in downtown San Diego, and I’ve spent a long time trying to collate my thoughts.
I first became a fan of Peterson when I went to hatewatch him, and found a lot of the things he was saying were reasonable and intelligent. I also bought his book, 12 Rules for Life, and many of his points coincided with the reality that I’d discovered myself as I climbed out of depression. Simple things like cleaning your room and standing with your shoulders back could create positive feedback loops to change your entire life for the better. I was especially interested in his cognitive base for meaning, and the idea that many young people were going through a crisis of meaning and becoming depressed as a result. I didn’t agree with everything he said. For one, I’m a progressive and he’s more of a traditionalist. He believes that the answers to who we should become are found in the deep archetypes of the past. I think these archetypes can help us build a different kind of future than we’ve seen.
I also watched many of the “JORDAN PETERSON DESTROYS CRYBABY SJW” videos, which he seemed to be more known for. There was a portion of his fanbase that were just as partisan as the people they claimed to hate for their extreme partisanship, but Peterson himself didn’t strike me as particularly one-sided, so I dismissed that as just idiots clinging to another “guru” to give meaning to their life.
At this point he was already extremely popular, and I found that a movement called the “Intellectual Dark Web” had been brewing alongside it. The “IDW” as a movement just seemed like a reaction to extreme leftist views, but other then that there was nothing particularly groundbreaking about it.
My boyfriend overall paid about $500 for both of us to get VIP passes and meet him after the show, along with a more private Q&A session. My boyfriend wanted to ask him a question, and although that’s a lot of money to us, we can do it and still continue to eat afterward. The first thing that struck me when I stood outside the theater was how clean and well-put together everyone was. It was definitely a well to-do crowd. The women were mostly thin and conventionally good-looking, with hair-extensions, eyelash extensions, expensive coats, gucci belts, and ostentatious designer purses. For the most part the men were well-groomed and had on expensive suits. They struck me as mostly upper middle-class conservatives and libertarian types.
We had to go through security and get our bags checked. My boyfriend had brought his Peterson book, “Maps of Meaning.” We were told that Peterson would not be doing signings but we could buy a signed copy of 12 Rules for Life. Note that we had at this point already paid a large sum of money to be there. My boyfriend had to go back to the car, as he’d brought his knife, and I went into the theater. I bought $8 cups of beer and people-watched for a bit. There was a woman in an expensive black coat and beret, with straight platinum hair, who seemed deeply annoyed to be there. There were young college students with perfect posture. The first word that came to my mind was “Neoliberals.” When my boyfriend came back we headed to our seats. In front of us there were two blank faced college-students being raucously hit on by a woman wearing a huge wedding ring. We immediately knew we’d need more beer to get through this night, and he headed to the bar. We went through 3 drinks before the show started.
I was surprised to see Dave Rubin come out, but apparently this had been on the ticket and I wasn’t paying attention. He introduced for Peterson, said some token thing about fighting identity politics, and then at the end said, “Clap if you think we’re winning.” Almost everyone clapped. I wasn’t sure who “we” was, or what “winning” meant, so I refrained. Then Peterson came on. It took him a few seconds to get going, as he didn’t have a set show and sort of talked where the night took him. He started off talking about writing, because he was working on his new book. Once Peterson got the thread of what he was trying to say, he became a lively and engaging speaker. One thing I can say about Peterson, he is captivating and has a way with words. He understands how to keep people engaged through telling stories. I was also glad that he refrained mostly from politics and talked about his new book, which is more about personal psychology.
I’ll refrain from any spoilers, but there was nothing truly groundbreaking about what Peterson was saying. It’s mostly his style and framing that makes what he says interesting.
Although, here’s where I vehemently disagree with him: He has said on multiple occasions that he suffers from depression. At one point, Peterson said that happiness wasn’t something you should work for. “You don’t get to be happy, why on earth would you think that?” he said, brows furrowed, and the crowd laughed.
It’s weird to realize that you’ve figured out something Doctor Peterson hasn’t – that happiness is built right into the systems and modes of existence, if only you can perceive it. And here he is, telling these people who are clinging to his every word, that consider him a guru, that you can’t have happiness, because he himself doesn’t know how to get it and so assumes it isn’t possible. A few years ago I would’ve been hard pressed to find a person more depressed than me. I too, thought happiness was a useless goal. It’s not like I was just born with an internal sense of how to do these things, but I learned them with the help of my boyfriend and through my own excruciating trial and error.
Telling people they can’t be happy seems like an excellent recipe for creating people who cling to the status quo out of a sense of duty and forego their own happiness.
Then came the questions. Peterson did his best to answer them. although Rubin picked such questions as, “Will you run for president?” (Keep in mind he’s Canadian), and “What will you do when we win the revolution? (Again, what is this “revolution” talk?) Peterson managed to sidestep the bipartisanship and say that “winning” was “Speaking your truth.” But it became clear that most of the audience here was not the self-reflecting or self-improvement type. They were here to get Peterson to reassure their own worldviews, to be smug and self-satisfied because they were rich enough to pay for this, and wanted him to “own the libs” so they could “win” whatever fucking war was going on in their own minds.
When the talk ended, the VIP company set up and talked to the crowd like children. You could also pay to go meet Rubin, and that’d be a “Great deal” because you don’t have to wait long in line for Peterson. The VIP manager said to “Help them out,” and go quickly through the line and not talk to Peterson except a quick hello, as if they were doing us some great favor to meet him, and we hadn’t paid $200 each to do so. So my boyfriend wasn’t able to ask his question, which was really the sole reason we’d gone in the first place.
My heart nearly exploded when I met him. I shook his hand and just simply said it was nice to meet him. He did look me in the eyes and ask my name, and didn’t seem annoyed by my presence, which I respected out of someone who saw about 200 people in a row. Whatever you can say of Peterson, he seems genuine.
It’s just unfortunate that he used that genuineness, and the cultural zeitgeist, to capitalize on people and make a ton of cash.
Then there was the Q&A, which was profoundly disappointing, as mostly people asked questions that you could find online. There was one guy who had a “Not really a question but a comment,” response. One kid was having an existential crisis and needed Peterson to tell him how to live without a god. Another asked why Peterson didn’t like Ayn Rand. What books should I read my children?
The last question was a woman asking what his thoughts were on climate change. She practically had her idiocy radiating from her like a nuclear glow. Peterson said it was a complicated subject and the prediction models don’t always match reality, “Yes,” she purred, “It’s the fear,” as if they shared some special bond that really only existed in the woman’s mind. (Don;’t @ me asking about this I don’t know enough about climate change to comment on it.) So, that was a particularly obnoxious note to end the thing on.
The best part of the night was probably eating chicken and waffles at a 24 hour diner afterward.
It’s taken me a while to organize my thoughts on the subject, as I felt conflicted feelings about the event. I was glad to meet him and I thought he was an engaging speaker. But I could’ve watched the same damn thing on Youtube and the crowd and the VIP event bothered me. And while Peterson is an intelligent mind, honestly, the fact that people are thinking this is a revolution while he talks primarily to rich people so they can feel self-satisfied bothers me. He makes a ton of money through donations online, has sold over 2 million books, has multiple business ventures, and charges for people to even meet him.
I think it’s incredibly easy to fall into the trap of the machine, to continue to do what you can to make money once you no longer need to. To think that earning money is the same as affecting change. It’s not that I don’t think people should be able to earn a lot of money if they’re good at something, but if you just use your capital to get more capital, it can subtly change you and your message to the point where it rings false. There was a veneer of sleaziness over the entire thing. Peterson himself had to be polite even to the jerks, to take stupid questions with grace, because they had paid money to access him. He had let the money itself warp him and rope him into a social contract.
But he’s a traditionalist, who believes it’s not possible to be happy, remember? Although roping myself into social contracts I didn’t want is one of the reasons I became so deeply unhappy in the first place.
If I was Peterson, I would be talking to the people who actually needed to hear the message of autonomy and how to climb out of dire circumstances – in community colleges, in poor neighborhoods, in public venues. I wouldn’t charge $20 online to take a personality test to discover who I was or charge so much for the authoring suite if I was getting tens of thousands of dollars a month in other venues. The people who can afford these things probably don’t need them.
I made $40 on Amazon royalties last month and I still send my book to people for free who can’t afford it.
If I ever “get big” and charge money to shake my hand, I’ve clearly died and a lich has taken my place. Take appropriate action.
I left that theater feeling like Peterson was becoming a victim to his own hype machine. And I became somewhat sure that Peterson isn’t the revolution. He’s just another guy who said something that struck a nerve and then got rich off of it. He’s not any different than Danielle Bregholi in how he got famous – because he got famous from outrage. Peterson capitalized on that and made a business out of it – but some of it seems like it’s become too self-serving. Maybe Peterson was always like that. I don’t know. I can’t deny that he’s done good for people and seems warm and genuine. But at the end of the day, he’s spoon-feeding many people a message that they already want to hear, so that they can pat themselves on the back and assure themselves they are “Winning.”
Like Peterson said, winning is speaking your truth and being internally consistent. Living as you believe. But I can’t help but imagine that people were hearing a different message, and that was: “I am here, so that means I already won.”Related posts
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