Jordan Bernt Peterson (born June 12, 1962) is a Canadian clinical psychologist, cultural critic, and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. His main areas of study are in abnormal, social, and personality psychology, with a particular interest in the psychology of religious and ideological belief, and the assessment and improvement of personality and performance.
Peterson grew up in Fairview, Alberta. He earned a B.A. degree in political science in 1982 and a degree in psychology in 1984, both from the University of Alberta, and his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from McGill University in 1991. He remained at McGill as a post-doctoral fellow for two years before moving to Massachusetts, where he worked as an assistant and an associate professor in the psychology department at Harvard University. In 1998, he moved to the University of Toronto as a full professor. He authored in 1999, a work in which examined several academic fields to describe the structure of systems of beliefs and myths, their role in the regulation of emotion, creation of meaning, and motivation for genocide.
Peterson was born on June 12, 1962, and grew up in Fairview, Alberta, a small town northwest of his birthplace Edmonton, in Canada. He was the eldest of three children born to Beverley, a librarian at the Fairview campus of Grande Prairie Regional College, and Walter Peterson, a schoolteacher. His middle name is Bernt (/bɛərnt/ BAIRNT), after his Norwegian great-grandfather.
When he was 13, he was introduced to the writings of George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and Ayn Rand by his school librarian Sandy Notley—mother of Rachel Notley, leader of the Alberta New Democratic Party. He also worked for the New Democratic Party (NDP) throughout his teenage years, but grew disenchanted with the party due to what he saw as a preponderance of "the intellectual, tweed-wearing middle-class socialist" who "didn't like the poor; they just hated the rich". He left the NDP at age 18.
After graduating from Fairview High School in 1979, Peterson entered the Grande Prairie Regional College to study political science and English literature. He later transferred to the University of Alberta, where he completed his B.A. in 1982. Afterwards, he took a year off to visit Europe. There he developed an interest in the psychological origins of the Cold War, particularly 20th century European totalitarianism, and was plagued by apocalyptic nightmares about the escalation of the nuclear arms race. As a result, he became concerned about mankind's capacity for evil and destruction, and dove into the works of Carl Jung, Friedrich Nietzsche, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. He then returned to the University of Alberta and received a B.A. in psychology in 1984. In 1985, he moved to Montreal to attend McGill University. He earned his Ph.D. in clinical psychology under the supervision of Robert O. Pihl in 1991, and remained as a post-doctoral fellow at McGill's Douglas Hospital until June 1993, working with Pihl and Maurice Dongier.
From July 1993 to June 1998, Peterson lived in Arlington, Massachusetts, while teaching and conducting research at Harvard University as an assistant and an associate professor in the psychology department. During his time at Harvard, he studied aggression arising from drug and alcohol abuse and supervised a number of unconventional thesis proposals. In July 1998, he returned to Canada and took up a post as a full professor at the University of Toronto.
His areas of study and research are in the fields of psychopharmacology, abnormal, neuro, clinical, personality, social, industrial and organizational, religious, ideological, political, and creativity psychology. Peterson has authored or co-authored more than a hundred academic papers.
In 2004, a 13-part TV series based on his book Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief aired on TVOntario. He has also appeared on that network on shows such as Big Ideas, and as a frequent guest and essayist on The Agenda with Steve Paikin since 2008.
Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief
In 1999, Routledge published Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. The book, which took Peterson 13 years to complete, describes a comprehensive theory for how we construct meaning, represented by the mythical process of the exploratory hero, and provides an interpretation of religious and mythical models of reality presented in a way that is compatible with the modern scientific understanding of how the brain works. According to Craig Lambert writing in Harvard Magazine, it synthesizes ideas drawn from narratives in mythology, religion, literature, and philosophy, as well as research from neuropsychology in "the classic, old-fashioned tradition of social science".
Peterson's primary goal was to examine why individuals, not simply groups, engage in social conflict, and to model the path individuals take to support their belief systems (i.e. ideological identification) that results in pathological atrocities like the Gulag, the Auschwitz concentration camp and the Rwandan genocide. He explores the origins of evil, and also posits that an analysis of the world's religious ideas might allow us to describe our essential morality and eventually develop a universal system of morality.
According to Peterson, there exists a struggle between chaos (represented by fear) and order (represented by curious exploration). Humans with their capability of abstract thinking also make abstract territoriality—the belief systems which "regulate our emotions". A potential threat to an important belief triggers emotional reactions which are potentially followed by pathological attempts to face internal chaos, and "people generally prefer war to be something external, rather than internal ... than re-forming our challenged beliefs". The principle in between is logos (consciousness), and heroic figures are those who develop the culture and society as intermediaries between these two natural forces.
Harvey Shepard, writing in the religion column of the Montreal Gazette, stated: "To me, the book reflects its author's profound moral sense and vast erudition in areas ranging from clinical psychology to scripture and a good deal of personal soul searching. ... Peterson's vision is both fully informed by current scientific and pragmatic methods, and in important ways deeply conservative and traditional". The psychologists Ralph W. Hood, Peter C. Hill, and Bernard Spilka, in their book The Psychology of Religion: An Empirical Approach (2009), stated that in regard of the relationship of five factor model to religion, the "dynamic model for the tension between tradition and transformation has been masterfully explored by Peterson (1999) as the personality basis for what he terms the architecture of belief".
In 2013, Peterson began recording his lectures ("Personality and Its Transformations", "Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief") and uploading them to YouTube. His YouTube channel has gathered more than 450,000 subscribers and his videos have received more than 25 million views as of October 2017. He has also appeared on The Joe Rogan Experience, The Gavin McInnes Show, Steven Crowder's Louder with Crowder, Dave Rubin's The Rubin Report, Stefan Molyneux's Freedomain Radio, h3h3Productions's H3 Podcast, Sam Harris's Waking Up podcast, Gad Saad's The Saad Truth series and other online shows, discussing the Bill C-16 controversy, identity politics, and his work as a psychologist. In December 2016, Peterson started his own podcast, The Jordan B. Peterson Podcast, which has 33 episodes as of November 13, 2017, including academic guests such as Camille Paglia, Martin Daly, and James W. Pennebaker, while on his channel he has also interviewed Stephen Hicks, Richard J. Haier, and Jonathan Haidt among others.
In January 2017, he hired a production team to film his psychology lectures at the University of Toronto. He used funds received via the crowd-sourced funding website Patreon after he became embroiled in the Bill C-16 controversy in September 2016. His funding through Patreon has increased from $1,000 per month in August 2016 to $14,000 by January 2017 to more than $50,000 by July 2017.
Peterson with his colleagues Robert O. Pihl, Daniel Higgins, and Michaela Schippers produced a program with series of online writing exercises, titled the Self Authoring Suite. It includes the Past Authoring Program, a guided autobiography; two Present Authoring Programs, which allow the participant to analyze their personality faults and virtues in terms of the Big Five personality model; and the Future Authoring Program, which guides participants through the process of planning their desired futures. The latter program was used with McGill University undergraduates on academic probation to improve their grades, as well since 2011 at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University. The Self Authoring Programs were developed partially from research by James W. Pennebaker at the University of Texas at Austin and Gary Latham at the Rotman School of Management of the University of Toronto. Pennebaker demonstrated that writing about traumatic or uncertain events and situations improved mental and physical health, while Latham demonstrated that personal planning exercises help make people more productive. According to Peterson, more than 10,000 students have used the program as of January 2017, with drop-out rates decreasing by 25% and GPAs rising by 20%.
In May 2017 he started new project, titled "The psychological significance of the Biblical stories", a series of live theatre lectures in which he analyzes archetypal narratives and beliefs as patterns of behavior vital for both personal, social and cultural stability.
Critiques of political correctness
Peterson's critiques of political correctness have widened from the preferred gender pronouns of students to broader issues such as postmodernism, postmodern feminism, white privilege, cultural appropriation, and environmentalism. Writing in the National Post, Chris Selley stated that Peterson's opponents had "underestimated the fury being inspired by modern preoccupations like white privilege and cultural appropriation, and by the marginalization, shouting down or outright cancellation of other viewpoints in polite society's institutions", while in The Spectator, Tim Lott noted that Peterson became "an outspoken critic of mainstream academia". Peterson's social media presence has magnified the impact of these views, with Simona Chiose at The Globe and Mail reporting: "few University of Toronto professors in the humanities and social sciences have enjoyed the global name recognition Prof. Peterson has won".
According to his study—conducted with one of his students, Christine Brophy—of the relationship between political belief and personality, political correctness exists in two types: PC-Egalitarianism and PC-Authoritarianism, which is a manifestation of "offense sensitivity". The first type is represented by a group of classical liberals, while the latter by the group known as "social justice warriors" who "weaponize compassion". The study also found an overlap between PC-authoritarians and right-wing authoritarians.
Peterson considers that the universities should be held as among the most responsible for the wave of political correctness which appeared in North America and Europe. He watched the rise of political correctness on campuses since the early 1990s, and considers that the humanities have become corrupt, less reliant on science, and instead of "intelligent conversation, we are having an ideological conversation". From his own experience as a university professor, he states that the students who are coming to his classes are uneducated and unaware about the mass exterminations and crimes by Stalinism and Maoism, which were not given the same attention as Fascism and Nazism. He also says that "instead of being ennobled or inculcated into the proper culture, the last vestiges of structure are stripped from [the students] by post-modernism and neo-Marxism, which defines everything in terms of relativism and power".
Of postmodernism and identity politics
Peterson believes that postmodern philosophers and sociologists since the 1960s, while typically claiming to reject Marxism and Communism because they were discredited as economic ideologies as well by the exposure of crimes in the Soviet Union, have actually built upon and extended their core tenets. He states that it is difficult to understand the contemporary society without considering the influence of postmodernism which initially spread from France to the United States through the English department at Yale University. He argues that they "started to play a sleight of hand, and instead of pitting the proletariat, the working class, against the bourgeois, they started to pit the oppressed against the oppressor. That opened up the avenue to identifying any number of groups as oppressed and oppressor and to continue the same narrative under a different name ... The people who hold this doctrine – this radical, postmodern, communitarian doctrine that makes racial identity or sexual identity or gender identity or some kind of group identity paramount – they've got control over most low-to-mid level bureaucratic structures, and many governments as well".
He emphasized the state should halt funding neo-Marxist faculties and courses, while students should avoid neo-Marxist disciplines like women's studies, ethnic studies and racial studies, as well other courses "corrupted" by the ideology such as sociology, anthropology and English literature. He states that these fields, under the pretense of legitimate academic inquiry, propagate unscientific methods, fraudulent peer-review processes for academic journals, zero publication citations, cult-like behavior, safe-spaces, and radical left-wing political activism for students. Peterson has proposed launching a website which uses AI to identify and showcase the amount of ideologization in specific academic courses. He announced in November 2017 that he had temporarily postponed the project as "it might add excessively to current polarization".
Peterson has criticized the use of the term "white privilege", stating that, "being called out on their white privilege, identified with a particular racial group and then made to suffer the consequences of the existence of that racial group and its hypothetical crimes, and that sort of thing has to come to a stop. ... [It's] racist in its extreme". In response to the 2017 protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, he criticized the far right's use of identity politics, and said that "the Caucasians shouldn't revert to being white. It's a bad idea, it's a dangerous idea, and it's coming fast, and I don't like to see that!" He stated that the notion of collective identity is "seriously pathological ... reprehensible ... genocidal" and "it will bring down our civilization if we pursue it". He has also been prominent in the debate about cultural appropriation, stating it promotes self-censorship in society and journalism.
Of Bill C-16
On September 27, 2016, Peterson released the first installment of a three-part lecture video series, entitled "Professor against political correctness: Part I: Fear and the Law". In the video, he stated he would not use the preferred gender pronouns of students and faculty, and announced his objection to the Canadian government's Bill C-16, which proposed to add "gender identity or expression" as a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act, and to similarly expand the definitions of promoting genocide and publicly inciting hatred in the Criminal Code.
He stated that his objection to the bill was based on potential free speech implications if the Criminal Code is amended, as he claimed he could then be prosecuted under provincial human rights laws if he refuses to call a transsexual student or faculty member by their preferred pronoun. Furthermore, he argued that the new amendments paired with section 46.3 of the Ontario Human Rights Code would make it possible for employers and organizations to be subject to punishment under the code if any employee or associate says anything that can be construed "directly or indirectly" as offensive, "whether intentionally or unintentionally". Other academics challenged Peterson's interpretation of C-16, while some scholars such as Robert P. George supported Peterson's initiative.
The series of videos drew criticism from transgender activists, faculty and labour unions, and critics accused Peterson of "helping to foster a climate for hate to thrive". Protests erupted on campus, some including violence, and the controversy attracted international media attention. When asked in September 2016 if he would comply with the request of a student to use a preferred pronoun, Peterson said "it would depend on how they asked me ... If I could detect that there was a chip on their shoulder, or that they were [asking me] with political motives, then I would probably say no ... If I could have a conversation like the one we're having now, I could probably meet them on an equal level". Two months later, the National Post published an op-ed by Peterson in which he elaborated on his opposition to the bill and explained why he publicly made a stand against it:
I will never use words I hate, like the trendy and artificially constructed words "zhe" and "zher." These words are at the vanguard of a post-modern, radical leftist ideology that I detest, and which is, in my professional opinion, frighteningly similar to the Marxist doctrines that killed at least 100 million people in the 20th century.
I have been studying authoritarianism on the right and the left for 35 years. I wrote a book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief, on the topic, which explores how ideologies hijack language and belief. As a result of my studies, I have come to believe that Marxism is a murderous ideology. I believe its practitioners in modern universities should be ashamed of themselves for continuing to promote such vicious, untenable and anti-human ideas, and for indoctrinating their students with these beliefs. I am therefore not going to mouth Marxist words. That would make me a puppet of the radical left, and that is not going to happen. Period.
In response to the controversy, academic administrators at the University of Toronto sent Peterson two letters of warning, one noting that free speech had to be made in accordance with human rights legislation and the other adding that his refusal to use the preferred personal pronouns of students and faculty upon request could constitute discrimination. Peterson speculated that these warning letters were leading up to formal disciplinary action against him, but in December the university assured him that he would retain his professorship, and in January 2017 he returned to teach his psychology class at the University of Toronto.
In February 2017, Maxime Bernier, candidate for leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, stated that he shifted his position on Bill C-16 after meeting with Peterson and discussing it. Peterson's analysis of the bill was also frequently cited by senators who were opposed to its passage.
In April 2017, Peterson was denied a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant for the first time in his career, which he interpreted as retaliation for his statements regarding Bill C-16. In response, The Rebel Media launched an Indiegogo campaign on Peterson's behalf. The campaign raised $195,000 by its end on May 6, equivalent to over two years of research funding.
In May 2017, Peterson spoke against Bill C-16 at a Senate committee on legal and constitutional affairs hearing. He was one of 24 witnesses who were invited to speak on the bill.
In August 2017, an announced event at Ryerson University titled "The Stifling of Free Speech on University Campuses", organized by former social worker Sarina Singh with panelists Peterson, Gad Saad, Oren Amitay, and Faith Goldy was shut down because of pressure on the university administration from the group "No Fascists in Our City". However, another version of the panel (without Goldy) was held on November 11 at Canada Christian College with an audience of 1,500.
In November 2017, Lindsay Shepherd, a graduate student and teaching assistant at Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU), was censured by her professors and the university's Manager of Gendered Violence Prevention and Support, for showing a segment of The Agenda featuring Peterson debating gender-neutral pronouns, during a classroom discussion. The reasons given included the clip creating a "toxic climate" and being itself in violation of Bill C-16. The case was criticized by several newspaper editorial boards and national newspaper columnists as an example of the suppression of free speech on university campuses. WLU announced a third-party investigation. After the audio recording of the meeting in which Shepherd was castigated was released, WLU President Deborah MacLatchy and Shepherd's supervising professor Nathan Rambukkana published letters of formal apology.
Peterson married his wife Tammy (née Roberts), who has a degree in kinesiology from the University of Ottawa, in 1989. They have one daughter and one son. He became a grandfather in August 2017. He identifies as a classic British liberal. He is a philosophical pragmatist. By religious beliefs, he is a Christian, with views similar to the Christian existentialism of Søren Kierkegaard and Paul Tillich, as well as influence by Carl Jung. He has stated his respect for the teachings of Taoism, as it "sees nature as a constant battle between order and chaos, and posits that without that struggle, life would be rendered meaningless".