It is a mystery to me what upsets wokies about Jordan Peterson so much. The psychologist and self-help guru might have made a lot of fuss about pronouns – for gawd’s sake – but much of his output ranges from the banal to the eccentric.
Even thumbing the chapters of his bestseller 12 Rules For Life gives you a flavour of this. The advice ranges from “make friends with people who want the best for you” to “do not bother children when they are skateboarding”. There’s allegedly a long passage about lobsters and relations between the sexes too.
This conundrum of Petersonian controversy was best summed up by the New Statesman’s Stephen Bush. Writing a review of 12 Rules For Life in 2018, he said:
I’ve read more self-help than I care to think about, and so 12 Rules For Life left me with an overpowering feeling of déjà vu. It’s the usual collection of banalities, commonplace advice dressed up as forbidden wisdom.
In an astute observation that might have soothed angry wokies, Bush added that the book was written to “to sell routine psychological well-being to the kind of man who might otherwise sneer at ‘self-care’.” That term should be snorted at since it sounds like a euphemism for wanking, but the point is well made.
Even so, people are still upset at Peterson, who is due to release a follow-up to 12 Rules titled Beyond Order: 12 More Rules For Life. According to Vice, staff at Penguin Random House in Canada have wet the bed over the publisher’s decision to publish the book, with one employee accusing management of wanting to make money.
Some of the quotes against Peterson are joyous, with one staffer calling him “an icon of hate speech and transphobia and […] of white supremacy”. Another employee reported workers crying “about how Jordan Peterson has affected their lives”.
In defence of these staff, if I thought my employer was stoking white supremacy I would at least ask for a raise. Yet such claims seem like so much guilt by association, and hysterical given the banality of Peterson’s message.
It would be overstating it to say that free speech is in crisis, but there is a worrying amount of people in publishing trying to censor those they don’t like. In America journalists like Bari Weiss, Glenn Greenwald, Matthew Yglesias and Andrew Sullivan have all left titles because of internal pressure, with Suzanne Moore in the UK quitting the Guardian for similar reasons recently.
As the journalist Christopher Hitchens argued, such pressure is not merely an attempt to stop such people writing, but to prevent everyone from reading their blasphemous thoughts. Those who value the right to make their own judgement on things should resist such social censorship.