Ah, men! This is the ultimate exclamation of women, frustrated, puzzled and baffled by the other half of the human race, forever a riddle wrapped in ambiguity, ambivalence, anticipation — and admiration and affection. The exclamation has never been static. That frustration and bafflement is once more examined and re-examined, stretched and shrunk, applauded and animated with vigor and vitriol.
The latest provocateur is a Canadian psychologist and "public intellectual" who writes with fresh insight into the nature of the male animal. Dr. Jordan Peterson is a true phenomenon, a professor at the University of Toronto whose books and lectures are sold out, and whose multiple videos are played and replayed on social media. Depending on who you ask, he's the archetypal victim or brainy hero of these polarized times when an innocent conversation between a man and a woman can explode with awesome effect and considerable collateral damage. One profiler calls him "perhaps the single most loathed person by journalistic and intellectual classes in Canada and the United States," with the exception of President Trump
As a Canadian who can't vote in an American election, he fantasizes in one interview, saying that had he voted, he might have entered the voting booth intending to vote for Hillary Clinton only to change his mind at the last moment and vote for Trump. He thinks the president might have won because in a classic choosing of the lesser evil, Americans preferred the "unscripted, impulsive lies of Trump better than the conniving, scripted lies of Clinton."
Some women voted for Clinton because she was a woman, and some men for Trump because he was a man running against her. But in this scenario, sexual differences weren't as crucial as how those differences were embraced by the angry campaign rhetoric mixed with left-wing identity politics and right-wing resentment over being called "deplorables." This continues to tear apart attempts at intellectual dialogue on the actual differences between men and women.
In Peterson's best-selling book "12 Rules for Life," he tells men to "stand up straight with your shoulders back" and "accept the terrible responsibility of life, with eyes wide open." He warns against getting stuck in the "unconscious paradise of childhood," and as the stern moralist tells them, to learn from Old Testament stories, beginning with Moses and those famous original 10 rules.
Peterson is not a fan of either contender of 2016. It's the identity politics, which Clinton defends, that he loathes. He thinks identity politics corrupts the culture at a time when men, both white and not, need a strong moral doctrine to guide them through their lives and their relationships with women. (#MeToo-ers could find illumination here, too, but they won't.)
Political correctness perpetuates everything fraudulent about sexual nature, he teaches. The shoddy thinking of confirmation bias, which reinforces trendy ideas without proof or evidence, ruins everything it touches. He has particular scorn for mandated use of gender-neutral pronouns and refuses to use them despite academic pressure and legal pressure to do so.
Professor Peterson is tarred for his ideas with inflammatory distortion. He is accused of sexism, racism and fascism, and it's clear from the slurs that the left fears those ideas, beginning with an acknowledgement of the crucial and obvious biological differences between men and women, his respect for scientific evidence, the free speech that enables debate and his appreciation for the great books, ranging from Socrates and Solzhenitsyn to the Bible.
In The Atlantic magazine, Caitlin Flanagan argues that the left is trying to "unperson" him because he is influencing young people with intellectual "kryptonite" against identity politics and his emphasis on how to think rather than what to think.
The young men on campus contemptuous of safe spaces with cookies and coloring books to soothe anxiety, who despair of "trigger warnings" that prevent insight into the human condition, who despise rabble-rousers shouting down visiting lecturers with a different point of view, and who are weary of the LGBTQ domination of discussions of morality find the professor and others of the "intellectual dark web" of ideas refreshing. Theirs is "a parallel curriculum" to what they're fed on campus and in the mainstream media.
Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris, Dave Rubin and Joe Rogan, among others, are bound together not through their politics, which are extremely varied, but through their collective iconoclasm and dedication to the free flow of ideas often giving voice to what many feel in their gut but haven't found the language to express. They communicate through radio shows, podcasts, YouTube, videos, speeches and interviews with a vast audience online and in sold-out lecture halls. They talk mostly to men, but women are beginning to listen to Peterson's common sense, too.
The left hates him and is often irrational in its opposition because it has "entered its decadent late phase, and it is deeply vulnerable," writes Flanagan. People who respond to Jordan Peterson aren't looking for ideology but ideas. Amen to that.
Write to Suzanne Fields at [email protected] Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's "Paradise Lost." To find out more about Suzanne Fields and read her past columns, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.