Jordan Peterson’s book, 12 Rules for Life, is riding high in the best sellers list at the moment. I read it. I liked it. A sort of pseudo self-help book, Peterson pulls together his experience as a clinical psychologist and his interest in biblical stories, inspired by his faith, and creates an engaging and informative read.
Peterson’s prominence is not necessarily a problem, given that he is a qualified and experienced psychologist.
The trouble comes from the other side of his rhetoric, away from the self-help and the psychological insight. Here, Peterson lashes out at feminism and what he views as the insatiable onslaught of postmodernism.
Through this, Peterson has found himself the unwilling poster boy of the alt-right. The group, who reject mainstream conservative thought and identify with rabid anti-feminism, white nationalism and borderline neo-nazi thought, have been emboldened by the election of Donald Trump, masterminded by their sweetheart Steve Bannon, culminating in the deadly gathering at Charlottesville last year, which saw the assembly of sort-of fascist avengers, drawing in the remnants of the Klan, the neo-nazism of Richard Spencer and teenage wannabes from online forums. I do not believe for a moment that Peterson, for all his faults and hypocrisy, is a member of the alt-right. Nor are many of his fans. However, those who idolise Peterson stand on a dangerous and infirm stepping stone, from which they fall into the dark crevices of the alt-right is just a misstep away. The new trend of YouTubers, known as the skeptic community, who define themselves as anti-feminists, antisocial justice warriors, who see themselves rather laughably as bulwarks against the creeping influence of censorship, associate all too closely with the rhetoric of the alt-right. These people boast hundreds of thousands of subscribers online.
Supporters of these groups are overwhelmingly young white men. Why? Firstly, the skeptic community presents itself as logical in the face of emotion, offering a rational viewpoint when policy is increasingly informed by hysterics. This plays into one of the defining traits of teenage males – arrogance. A belief that their intelligence and capability for rational thought is superior to almost everybody else’s. This sounds like a generalisation, because it is. But am I wrong? The second way this community can attract young white boys who might otherwise be dull conservatives is by distorting the concept of personal responsibility. Taking account of one’s own actions, accepting responsibility and risk, are manipulated by online personalities to attack affirmative action and minority groups generally who advocate for policies seeking to right historic injustices. These personalities argue that any such policy is nothing short of victimhood. If a person is inclined towards conservative thought, then you can see how powerful such a manipulation becomes. It is put across that one must either choose between personal responsibility, the bulwark of conservatism, or pandering to victimhood. Again, some rational consideration would reveal how infantile such an ultimatum is, but we are dealing with over-confident teenagers here. Critical faculties are not their strong points.
Speaking more generally, members of privileged groups do not like being told of their privilege, particularly when they do not feel any advantage. A teenage boy without many friends, with low self-confidence, struggling to get his head around relationships, lonely, sad, embittered, such a person does not feel privileged, and as much as they like to pride themselves on the notion that facts do not care about feelings, no person is immune to emotional response. They have yet to understand that the two concepts are divorced from one another, and that structural privilege does not necessarily mean you will enjoy an easy life. The rhetoric surrounding such issues is therefore incredibly powerful.
Luckily, though you might find their views on feminism, social justice or socialism unsavoury, most are unlikely to join the alt-right. But some will, and this is how they get started.