On tour with Jordan
I got the phone call back in January. The man on the other end of the line asked if I’d be willing to MC an evening with Jordan Peterson in Brisbane a couple of months in the future. He was planning to have Peterson speak in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
Now this was back when almost no Australians would have heard of Jordan Peterson. My wife and I knew of him only because both our kids went to a Canadian university and Peterson had made a name in Canada by standing up against the pronoun police, aka the incredibly politically correct Justin Trudeau government which had legislated to try to force people to use pronouns other than ‘he, she and they’ when dealing with transgendered people. Peterson had refused, publicly, and had done so on the basis that no government in history had used the force of the law to try to control language in this way.
It was a brave stand. Moreover, this marked Peterson out as one of the few academics in today’s Western world who cared about free speech, let alone was willing to put his career on the line for it – because you can guess what his home university’s initial response was. ‘Of course I’d MC’, I told the man on the phone when I got that call in January. It was the least I could do, I thought to myself, while also wondering how many Australians would actually to come to hear this man talk.
And then it happened: the TV interview Jordan Peterson had with Britain’s Cathy Newman, a pommy Leigh Sales of sorts. If you haven’t yet seen it, do so. It has already had some 8 or 9 million views. It’s a half-hour masterclass on how to dismantle the unthinking lefty assumptions behind their support for pseudo-quotas and what amounts to a Marxist desire for equality of outcome (just for some, of course), never equality of opportunity. Oh, and Peterson also points out to Newman that she can’t even do her own job without sufficient free speech to offend people. Having been trying to defend the need not to offend, this leaves her wholly speechless for tens of seconds. Brilliant! At any rate, as that TV interview went viral around the world, I knew the Peterson tour here in Australia would be a massive success. And so it proved to be.
The ostensible reason for the evening was that Jordan was here to launch his new book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. It is now a #1 bestseller. It’s hard to describe the Peterson message concisely, but it clearly resonates with young men as they comprised about two-thirds of the audience. In essence, Jordan struck me as a cross between Billy Graham (because he really does mesmerise the crowd, speaking without a note for two hours and drawing on deeply theological themes that touch on the meaning of life, albeit without any overt Christianity) and an incredibly up-market self-help guru. It’s a powerful combination.
Peterson talked across a dozen or so themes (hence the title to the book). Then he tied them all together under the banner of how one might lead a meaningful life in today’s world. You don’t have to agree with all Peterson’s positions and pre-suppositions – and I don’t as it happens – to realise quite quickly that he’s on the same general side that you want to be on. He’s for Western civilisation. He’s powerfully for free speech (unlike almost the entirety of the Coalition cabinet, all those ‘this is a third order concern, people care about economic issues’ clowns – which is why, presumably, Team Turnbull attacked and undermined superannuation, imposed a bank tax, forked out billions for a Gonski plan that will do nothing to raise scores, and wouldn’t even understand the concept of cutting spending. But I digress.)
Peterson is also for honesty in debate, and so against political correctness that serves to put some issues out of bounds. He is against mindless demands for equality of outcome, as though we should count up the number of people in some group X and then ensure that same percentage of X’s is in Parliament, on company boards, on the ABC, what have you. This ignores the fact that different people have different preferences, and life goals. And anyway, it is never every group of individuals who are given the quota outcome. (Think conservatives working for the ABC. They make up a lot more than zero per cent of the population at large.)
Peterson had an interesting point about equality in his talk. It was that in every human society that has ever existed there has been inequality. Indeed, the more totalitarian the more unequal. Self-declaredly left-wing societies (think Venezuela perhaps) are worse than the West too. In fact, the evidence is plain that inequality is not a function of Western civilisation and of patriarchal white men. Animal species going back 330 million years exhibit hierarchal structures. All human societies do too. So if the Left really cared about inequality, it’s not even coming close to confronting the problem. Meantime, Western civilisation, the least patriarchal in human history (fact!), at least generates huge wealth that can be used to distribute down to those at the bottom of the pyramid.
Oh, and Peterson noted that if you say anything outside the accepted uni-left-wing-PC-ABC worldview, the general response is to label you ‘alt-right’. It’s pathetic. It’s a sign of a losing argument. It reminded me of a recent column in the Australian by Noel Pearson in which those who in effect differed from him were labelled ‘hard right’. And likewise, I thought back to my recent radio debate with Paul Kelly in which those who wanted out of the Paris Accords on climate change and wished not to spend billions on Gonski schools funding and on the NDIS were similarly labelled ‘far right’. Peterson’s point about this debating ploy is correct. You hardly have to don a brown shirt and sport a little black moustache to differ from the great and the good on Aboriginal issues or on energy policy.
At any rate, it was an immensely stimulating night. I’m still not a self-help kind of guy. Nor am I possessed of the religious or semi-religious gene. But Peterson is a force for good, no doubt. Lucky I picked up the phone back in January.