21 Apr 2018

Reactions to Jordan Peterson’s “12 Rules”

Jordan Peterson 11 Comments

Scott Alexander had a mixed reaction to Jordan Peterson’s book. It starts out very complimentary, but then Alexander ends up wondering whether CS Lewis would view Peterson as an ally or a mortal enemy.

But that’s not really the thing I want to focus on. My own reaction to Alexander’s review was lament. Alexander actually writes this at one point: “But I actually acted as a slightly better person during the week or so I read Jordan Peterson’s book….I tried a little harder at work. I was a little bit nicer to people I interacted with at home.” (Note that the italics is in the original.)

That’s amazing, isn’t it? The book actually made Alexander a slightly better person while he was reading it. So you’d think Alexander would be saluting–

No, that’s not what happened. Here’s the stuff I took out:

Maybe if anyone else was any good at this, it would be easy to recognize Jordan Peterson as what he is – a mildly competent purveyor of pseudo-religious platitudes. But I actually acted as a slightly better person during the week or so I read Jordan Peterson’s book. I feel properly ashamed about this. If you ask me whether I was using dragon-related metaphors, I will vociferously deny it. But I tried a little harder at work. I was a little bit nicer to people I interacted with at home. It was very subtle. It certainly wasn’t because of anything new or non-cliched in his writing. But God help me, for some reason the cliches worked.

And then, here’s the opening of Alexander’s essay:

I got Jordan Peterson’s Twelve Rules For Life for the same reason as the other 210,000 people: to make fun of the lobster thing. Or if not the lobster thing, then the neo-Marxism thing, or the transgender thing, or the thing where the neo-Marxist transgender lobsters want to steal your precious bodily fluids.

But, uh…I’m really embarrassed to say this. And I totally understand if you want to stop reading me after this, or revoke my book-reviewing license, or whatever. But guys, Jordan Peterson is actually good.

Again, the italics is in the original.

And here’s how Alexander ends the essay:

And it makes me even more convinced that he’s [Jordan Peterson–RPM] good. Not just a good psychotherapist, but a good person. To be able to create narratives like Peterson does – but also to lay that talent aside because someone else needs to create their own without your interference – is a heck of a sacrifice.

I am not sure if Jordan Peterson is trying to found a religion. If he is, I’m not interested. I think if he had gotten to me at age 15, when I was young and miserable and confused about everything, I would be cleaning my room and calling people “bucko” and worshiping giant gold lobster idols just like all the other teens. But now I’m older, I’ve got my identity a little more screwed down, and I’ve long-since departed the burned-over district of the soul for the Utah of respectability-within-a-mature-cult.

But if Peterson forms a religion, I think it will be a force for good. Or if not, it will be one of those religions that at least started off with a good message before later generations perverted the original teachings and ruined everything. I see the r/jordanpeterson subreddit is already two-thirds culture wars, so they’re off to a good start. Why can’t we stick to the purity of the original teachings, with their giant gold lobster idols?

So to sum up: Scott Alexander starts off by mocking him, then admits he became a better person while reading the book and that Jordan Peterson himself is a good person who is trying to make the world better and wrote a “really good” book to do so, and still wraps up the essay by mocking him. What the hell? It’s like a high school bully telling the other bullies, “Yeah, I was in the midst of giving Eugene a swirly, and he actually made a decent point, that maybe I should reconcile with my father. I actually called up my dad and said we needed to talk. Then I gave Eugene a wedgie and stuffed him in the locker, that dork.”

For Russ Roberts’ reaction, see here.

11 Responses to “Reactions to Jordan Peterson’s “12 Rules””

  1. Craw says:

    Alexander is usually good at seeing his class prejudices. Not here I guess.

  2. ThomasL says:

    A ‘for’ and an ‘against’ take in one article:


  3. Tel says:

    I’ve seen quite a few Jordan Peterson videos, you know I think he’s OK but carries on a bit like a school ma’am, maybe people need that these days, I’m not a great enthusiast for it.

    That said, the “Progressive” left are really getting progressively crazier, with their fake Twitter outrage (they must know it’s fake, right, each one cranks the other up) and their political correctness and shutting down free speech by any means necessary. Maybe it’s a good time for a psych to face them down and tell them why they are nuts. At least he sounds very professional while he’s doing it.

    Personally, I think this father business is barking up the wrong tree. The “Progressives” have discovered that they can gain power by using a simple mob strategy and I’m convinced they don’t deeply believe their own carry-on. It’s a signalling technique that guides the mob and allows them to focus their fire on specific targets. Because conservative thinkers are having difficulty coordinating their actions, and constantly get bogged down in the minutiae of refuting arguments that were pretty much moronic from the get-go… the “Progressive” left simply hop from talking point to talking point and don’t look back.

    You can tell they don’t believe their own positions by just noticing how often they will contradict themselves. Anyone criticizing Hillary is instantly branded “misogynous” while saying horrible things about Ann Coulter or Sarah Palin is strangely perfectly legitimate. Clearly it’s not really about women in power, it’s about leftist women in power. Black Lives Matter when a policeman kills a black man, but black lives suddenly stop mattering when you have a Democrat mayor and a lawless, corrupt city with plenty of gang violence (killing may more black people than police ever have done).

    Now they have come up with the confusing term “whataboutism” as a distraction from the massive hypocrisy, but as far as I’m concerned if you are imposing standards onto others and you don’t live by the standards you put out there, then it’s entirely reasonable to both point this out, and pretty much end the discussion right there.

    • Harold says:

      Come on Tel, I know you can do research. The term whataboutism was coined to refer to the soviet union and then principally applied to post soviet Russia. Opinions seem divided as to exactly when it originated, but it is almost universally agreed that it was about the USSR. Typically:
      “Neil Buckley wrote for Financial Times, “Soviet-watchers called it ‘whataboutism’. This was the Communist-era tactic of deflecting foreign criticism of, say, human rights abuses, by pointing, often disingenuously, at something allegedly similar in the critic’s own country: ‘Ah, but what about…?”

      It is not something progressives have come up with, nor is it particularly confusing. It is a variant of the tu quoque fallacy, or appeal to hypocrisy

      “You can tell they don’t believe their own positions by just noticing how often they will contradict themselves. Anyone criticizing Hillary is instantly branded “misogynous” while saying horrible things about Ann Coulter or Sarah Palin is strangely perfectly legitimate.”

      It is very clear that plenty of people criticise Clinton without immediately being labelled misogynist and some criticism of Palin and Coulter has been called out by the left as sexist.

      It may seem to you that double standards are only used by leftists, but I assure you it is quite prevalent among others. A recent example is Kellyanne Conway displaying mock outrage at being asked about her husband’s tweets when spouses have been fair game from the Trump side.

      Some of the attacks on Palin, Clinton and Coulter are misogynistic. It is not only leftist women that are targets, but all women.

      If you look up “misogynist criticism of Palin” you find articles pointing it out in left-leaning publications such as The Guardian. Far from thinking it is perfectly legitimate to use misogynistic insults of Coulter and Palin it is the left that points it out However, Professor Randa Jarrar tweeted about Barbara Bush being a racist and is being investigated. Heterodox academy which is supposed to be committed to free speech and ideological diversity on campus, has not said a thing about it. Where is their concern for free speech here?

      Double standards abound, as do racism and sexism, from left and right. To pretend it is all from one side is to miss the point. So let’s applaud those that are recognising it and criticise those that ignore and propmoter it, whether left or right.

  4. Dan says:

    The reactions to him are so weird. I saw someone the other day saying he is teaching men to never take responsibility for their lives and just blame their problems on other people. Then people like Steve Horwitz piling on in argreement as if that charge isn’t the exact opposite of reality.

    • RL Styne says:

      Have a link to this?

      • Dan says:

        It was on Facebook coming from some left libertarians.

  5. James says:

    Why would anyone be bothered by what the source of their good behavior was?

    Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics, discusses how our virtue should be generated by our desires to be virtuous, not by being forced or legislated virtue. In other words, if you are good because the law forces you, i.e., you pay your taxes under threat of force and those tax dollars are used to aid the less fortunate or you do community service as part of a prison sentence or required school curriculum, those actions are not virtuous.

    One could argue that religion or pseudo religion is a form of force but in this case, the individual is approaching religion or Peterson’s book, out of choice or desire, not coercion.

    I have a friend who is Mormon who was concerned that the good works he preformed were not always generated from his true desire to do these works but more about his concern of entering heaven. I said, and think, that while such conscience choices may sometimes seem lacking in altruism, it is by practice that these acts become part of our character. Aristotle likened this to an athlete who trains until his actions are instinctual and not necessarily out by thought. The virtuous act becomes a trait.

    By the way, Mormon friends are great as they are inclined to do you a favor as a faith commitment. Such an attitude toward my friend is likely lacking in ethic and virtue. I need to reread Peterson’s book.

  6. RL Styne says:

    Alexander is part of the proglodyte religion. He must mock everyone who even mentions Christianity in a positive light or he will be pushed out of the cool kids club. He knows that and has basically admitted it with his taking down of his moderate defense of Trump.

  7. Harold says:

    Here is another review.


    In many ways it is similar to Alexander’s. Both are often uncertain what Peterson is really saying, both think it is essentially a self-help guide (Alexander says “Much of what I think I got from this book was psychotherapy advice;”) Both think Peterson waffles without saying much of significance. Both think Peterson wants both sides of the argument simultaneously. Alexander says
    “I worry he’s pretending to ground his system in “against suffering” when it suits him, but going back to “vague traditionalist platitudes” once we stop bothering him about the grounding question. Alexander also contrasts Petersons main advice “don’t lie, ever.” with his flexible concept of “truth” to apparently mean whatever is useful to you.

    “Peterson defended a pragmatic notion of Truth: things are True if they help in this project of sorting yourself out and becoming a better person..Peterson has a bad habit of saying he supports pragmatism when he really supports very specific values for their own sake. This is hardly the worst habit to have, but it means all of his supposed pragmatic justifications don’t actually justify the things he says, and a lot of his system is left hanging..”

    If this is another in a long line of self help books, fair enough. That is what self help books do – they provide frameworks to support individuals to improve their life given the context in which they live. People do behave a little better for a while after reading self help books. Sometimes they even carry on doing so. As Peterson says, it doesn’t matter too much which system you use, any ordering system will reduce chaos. There is a problem if this is intended to have deeper significance as a commentary on society.

    After seeing one of his 2 hour lectures on Adam and Eve, I thought much the same thing, so these criticisms are not on-offs. I commented at the time:
    “Started listening to the podcast and very soon there is a fallacy. He says we don’t have a better definition of truth than highly functional. This is wrong. I know of no definition of truth that says highly functional.” and second comment here

  8. Jeffrey S. says:


    As a serious Catholic with lots of friends who are small “o” serious orthodox Christians, I am particularly interested in how Peterson treats Christianity. In the end, I would consider him an ally — yes, he’s not a believer, but unlike many in today’s culture he takes Christianity seriously and thinks it has important things to say. In this essay the author hints at the idea that Peterson might help lead young men to Christ and I think there is something to her argument:


    Perhaps Peterson is like the gateway drug that our secular, atheist culture needs before they can mainline the real deal 🙂

    I’m reading his book now and while I find parts of it that I want to argue with (e.g. the parts where he interprets the Bible from a secular frame) there is a lot a keep nodding my head in agreement with.

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