In this occasional series, Jordan Peterson writes from his international speaking tour for his book, 12 Rules for Life, where he’s speaking to sold out crowds throughout North America, Europe and Australia.
Over the last few years, I have received many tens of thousands of emails. I stopped even trying to keep up. But I read them from time to time, and often feel that it would be better to read and answer more. If I want to write my next book, and continue touring and lecturing, and stay on top of the other projects I am committed to (including producing new material for my YouTube channel and podcast) then it’s not possible. It’s too bad, because so much of what is sent my way is thoughtful and heartfelt and positive.
Today, Dec. 28, 2018, a few more letters than usual made it through the multiple barriers that are now in place to slow the onslaught of communication. Three came in close succession, each quite different. I thought it might be interesting to share them more broadly.
The first one came from a mother of teenagers (you’ll see why that description is relevant). She was objecting in a very particular way to the lawsuit that I took out against Wilfrid Laurier University (of Lindsay Shepherd fame). For those of you unfamiliar with the story, here’s a brief recap. In 2017, Shepherd served as a graduate teaching assistant in the Communications Department at WLU. During one of her classes, she played a five minute clip of me discussing issues related to the use of so-called gender neutral pronouns on TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin. For this crime, she was hauled in front of two professors, Nathan Rambukkana and Herbert Pimlott, and an administrator from the University’s Diversity and Equity Office, Adria Joel, and disciplined. Shepherd had the remarkable good sense to record the meeting, which was later released, to internationally scandalous effect. During that meeting, I was, among other things, compared to Adolf Hitler and to Milo Yiannopoulous, a right-learning provocateur who was particularly famous at that time. The leaders of the proceedings hadn’t enough sense even to sort out their calumny. In any case, after the recording was circulated, the rightly embarrassed President of WLU publicly admitted that university policy had been violated by the interlocutors, that the TA had done nothing wrong, and that the disciplinary meeting should have never taken place. She apologized, as well, to Shepherd.
Things did not go easily for Shepherd after this despite all this “admission of error.” In consequence, she took out a well-justified lawsuit against her tormentors in 2018, stating that her future career opportunities as an academic had been fatally compromised (as they most certainly had), and listing the details of her continued persecution. I read her deposition, concluded that WLU had learned absolutely nothing from the scandal, and launched a parallel lawsuit, listing more than a dozen arguably slanderous acts on the part of Rambukkana et al. My action has been regarded as paradoxical by some, given my now somehow scandalous pro free-speech stance, as if the distinction between slander and appropriate verbal conduct had been suddenly erased. In any case, many of those who consider themselves my enemies have objected to my legal actions in relation to WLU. The first letter of the three I mentioned came from a writer (the aforementioned mother of teenagers) firmly and happily in that camp:
My children like Jordan Peterson and I’m not a fan. I can’t wait to tell them the “free speech” guy is suing folks because he doesn’t like THEIR free speech. Oh, the ironies aren’t lost on me, and I hope not on my children. Tell Jordan he must be fake, if he doesn’t allow others the same he constantly spews about —free speech out wins political correctness! I love It — can’t wait to tell the teenagers! Thanks. You made my day. My teenagers are squirming on this one, and I can’t stop laughing.
Suing “folks,” says the letter writer. These “folks” are, among others, the same Rambukkana and Pimlott who, along with their Faculty Association, are now suing their erstwhile TA, Shepherd, according to an announcement made recently. Apparently, what they said in the meeting was not defamatory (despite the university’s apology for the fact of the meeting’s very existence) but if by some chance it was, then it was Shepherd’s fault for sharing the proceedings — despite the fact that such an action was her only available defense.
I responded to the letter, although I usually don’t. Maybe I was annoyed beyond intelligent reticence by the mean-spirited gloating of a mother delighted to have the chance to defeat her own children. In any case:
Dear Ms. [redacted]
If you look into the Lindsay Shepherd situation with more care and are not absolutely appalled then you did not understand what you have seen. Describing a colleague as Hitler (among many other careless pejoratives) at a university, during an inquisition (1) based on a lie and (2) aimed successfully at destroying a 24-year old graduate student’s career is slander, not free speech.
Why the glee on your part? That young woman had a very miserable two years as a university she trusted and respected alienated and tormented her. I see very little amusing about the whole sad situation. And if I win the suit, taken out in support of her, I plan to donate the money to graduate student scholarships.
Finally, if you care more about your teenagers than about being right you could share this letter with them. You could also try to find out what they’re learning from me that seems to be attracting their attention. After all, it’s not always that easy to get through to teenagers.
Tell them I said Hi.
So that was that.
Within the same 30-minute period, however, I also received two other letters, each of which might shed some light on the reasons Ms. [redacted]’s teenagers find my YouTube videos, etc., compelling. I obtained permission from the writers to use what they wrote, after it was properly anonymized (so some identifying details, irrelevant to the gist of the material, have been changed).
The first of the latter two letters was from a student in Turkey. He wrote:
I’m not even sure if this is your legitimate email address, or that you’ll even read my message. But I just wanted to say to you that listening to your speeches helped me a lot. I’m a 23-year-old male student in Turkey. I’ve read all your books and watched all your videos. I’ve had serious mental traumas inflicted upon me by those I called my closest. I have no real friends left, and no one to care for me. I’ve been falsely accused of rape, and was cheated on by the love of my life. I’ve been severely depressed for a year and a half. I’m using five antidepressants, tried suicide, and was in fact declared dead at one point for one minute.
I’m living my life just for the sake of living, and nothing else. I just wanted to say thank you. You really helped me a lot. I wish I could meet you in person, but I know that’ll never happen. You don’t deserve the attacks or backlash from the media that you get. Please keep doing what you do. You are helping too many people that need it the most.
So that might provide some partial explanation to, let’s say, concerned mothers. The third letter writer had this to say:
During the Q&A section of one your lectures on the psychological significance of the Bible you challenged an audience member to explain why young men were so interested in the material you were presenting. While I am confident that I probably do not have the answer, I do have an idea I think worth sharing with you.
At least for me, the lecture series feels analogous to the scenes in fantasy stories and myths where the young hero learns that magic is real, and exists within him. To illustrate this point, I will draw some parallels between my experience listening to the lectures, and part of Star Wars, Episode IV, A New Hope — specifically the scene where Obi-Wan Kenobi gives Luke his father’s lightsaber.
Obi-Wan, an old wise warrior/hero, reveals to Luke (a self-pitying young man with ambition but no direction), the nature of the universe and his role in it. In your lecture, you — an older man (no offence) — tells your crowd (largely youthful, somewhat vagabondish men) the nature of their cultural heritage and their place in that heritage. Obi-Wan tells Luke that his father Anakin was a noble warrior and hero who fought in the grandest and most tragic of wars. You tell the individuals in the crowd that they are the inheritors of a similar grand tradition of heroism and adventure; that they can, as those before them did, “wrestle with God,” and that they are part of the fight to make the world right (to bring about the kingdom of God).
Obi-Wan tells Luke about The Force, which is the power of life that flows through and connects all living things, and hints that Luke himself can learn to use it himself. You tell the crowd about Logos, the Word of God through which he created the world, and that this is the power of the divine that any individual so motivated can call upon and wield. You suggest to the crowd that they can shape the world to be better by speaking the truth, thereby expressing the divine power that lies within them.
I would like to tell you a story you have heard a hundred times already. I was eating too much junk food, watching too much online porn, and wasting all my time. Now, however, with the roadmap given to me by yourself, Jocko Willink, and Joe Rogan (The Three J’s — aka The Holy Trinity of Male Actualization) I am on the path to grad school for anatomy and neurobiology, holding down a full-time job, dating a girl I am going to marry, doing judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and fixing and elevating my relationship with my family.
I’d love to buy you all steaks one day. Merry belated Christmas and a Happy New Year.
It’s a sad world, in my estimation, where young men (and not just men; and not just young) have been left so bereft of guidance and direction by the systems purporting to educate that nihilism and despair appear as the only reasonable options.
And it’s a sadder world when attempts to rectify that terrible problem are met with cynicism and sarcasm of an entirely unwarranted and destructive sort — directed, in the first case, by a mother against her own children.
But it’s diagnostic of the malaise that currently permeates and threatens our entire culture.
Jordan B. Peterson is a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, a clinical psychologist and the author of the multi-million copy bestseller 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. His blog and podcasts can be found at jordanbpeterson.com
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