Opinion: Critique of Jordan Peterson

Posted on Sep 5 2018 - 5:50am by Jacqueline Knirnschild

With 1.4 million YouTube subscribers, Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson — who rose to fame after refusing to use gender-neutral pronouns in defense of free speech — has become an influential thought leader, particularly with his critique that Western society has veered too far toward the “feminine chaos” of far-left liberalism and is headed toward a “female totalitarian” state.

Peterson claims that a return to the “masculine order” of far-right conservatism will create a balanced society and uplift men who are being “pushed too hard to feminize,” but in actuality, his ideologies provide men who feel victimized by minority empowerment with unfounded evidence to reinforce patriarchal hierarchies and male entitlement.

Peterson defends dominance hierarchies as biologically natural and, therefore, necessary for an enduring society. Peterson uses lobsters as the basis for his argument in his book “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos,” in which he writes that a “loser lobster” shrinks away from conflict and grows sad, sickly and loveless, making it harder to climb back up the social ladder. “It’s winner-take-all in the lobster world, just as it is in human societies, where the top 1 percent have as much loot as the bottom 50 percent,” he writes.

But humans have much more complex brains, with 86 billion neurons compared to a lobster’s 100 thousand. Besides, shouldn’t humans strive to be more advanced than lobsters? Just because something is natural in the animal kingdom doesn’t mean it’s right. Bees organize around the queen, and after breeding season, male bees are driven out of the colony to die. But somehow I doubt that Peterson would support this “natural” bee division in our society.

Peterson claims that “boys’ interests tilt towards things; girls’ interests tilt toward people,” but a 2005 analysis of 46 meta-analyses, backed by the American Psychological Association, found that “gender differences had either no or a very small effect on most of the psychological variables examined.” In addition, Peterson fails to acknowledge that nature and nurture cannot be separated. As science journalist Angela Saini draws attention to in her recent book, if a child is given mechanical toys to play with, they will naturally become better at building things.

Peterson points out that countries with more gender equality have fewer female STEM grads — supposedly proving that innate differences between males and females exist. But researchers believe that this paradox exists because countries with less gender equality often have little welfare support, making a relatively high-paying STEM career more attractive.

Most problematic is Peterson’s theory that male violence can be regulated with “socially-enforced monogamous conventions.” He contends that men get frustrated when they are not competitive in the sexual marketplace and, thus, become dangerous; therefore, having a lifelong sexual partner would curb violence.

But he fails to acknowledge that violence occurs at high levels within monogamous relationships: Forty percent of American female murder victims are killed by intimate partners, and globally, 30 percent of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner. So, is Peterson suggesting that women should absorb male partner violence in order to save the rest of society?

Enforcing monogamy not only disregards female autonomy but it also implies that men are entitled to sex, and if they aren’t given sex, they are justified to act violently, especially toward the women who rejected them. Peterson does not entertain the idea that violent men may actually be mentally ill and would benefit from counseling aimed at developing self-confidence and independence.


Jacqueline Knirnschild is a sophomore anthropology and Chinese double major from Brunswick, Ohio.