Jordan Peterson: The battle for the hearts and minds of young men

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Dr Jordan Peterson has controversial views on young men and their place in the world. 

By PHOEBE LAY and SAM O’CONNELL 

A book that many young men have said changed their lives actually stokes “fear and hatred”, a sociology lecturer says.  

Dr Jordan Peterson’s besteseller 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos calls on his readers to take action and search for what is meaningful among the “tragic” aspects of their lives.

Penned as a self-help book, it has developed an unexpected, predominantly male, international cult following after the growing success of his YouTube lectures.

He argues that society has led young men aged 18 to 35 into disillusionment and carelessness. 

But Monash University sociology associate Dr Marcus Maloney says that while there are  significant issues to be dealt with in the area, Dr Peterson’s methods and proposed solutions are unhealthy. 

“His ‘solutions’ really do nothing more than stoke fear, hatred and misunderstanding,” Dr Maloney says.

He says the topic is important and that Dr Peterson speaks to “genuine anxieties”, but approaches it in an unhealthy manner.

“Issues that do impact young men disproportionately are often things relating to what’s called ‘risk behaviours’,” Dr Maloney says.

Risky behaviors such as drugs, alcohol abuse and violence are the “core driver” stemming from “pressures and expectations of traditional masculinity”, he says.

Dr Peterson’s book was a No.1 bestseller on Amazon and the Wall Street Journal, with sold-out talks worldwide, including Melbourne earlier this year. 

His views have been both widely praised but also widely criticised, and were described by American journalist and activist Abby Martin as being an “intellectual cover for bigotry”, while some reviewers have called 12 Rules for Life  “pseudo-profound” and “verbose”.

Jordan Adamson says Dr Peterson’s views have changed his life.

Peterson fan Jordan Adamson, 23, says the psychology professor is the first person to offer him a coherent path forward after he identified an issue in his life. He attended Dr Peterson’s Melbourne talk. 

“I was at a point where I was kind of losing my motivation because I was telling myself, ‘some people just have to lose in life, maybe that’s just me,’” Mr Adamson says.

Projections of worthlessness led to feelings of disinterest in his future and mental health, he says.

“Peterson comes along and he tells me: ‘Pick up your burden kid, the world actually needs you … as a functional, competent member of society.’”

“The rules tend to come to me when they’re needed and when the situation arises,” Mr Adamson says.

Focus on male issues

One of Dr Peterson’s criticisms is Western society’s focus on women’s issues. He claims the focus has led to confusion and alienation among young men.  

Women are not oppressed, he says, and identity politics, post-modern thought and gender issues were a destructive force, especially as they are taught in universities.

“Peterson sees young men as victims of a society that hasn’t prepared them to be men, where postmodern, identity group politics has leaked out of the campuses and into the elementary schools, where being an energetic boy is considered a mental health defect,” BJ Bethel writes in a review in the Sydney Morning Herald

Dr Maloney says men’s issues could sometimes take a back seat.

“But it’s very important to keep in mind that, for a very long time in societies like ours, the equation has been working much more intensely the other way,” he says.

Dr Maloney describes this period as a “shift towards greater diversity and inclusivity” and a “rebalancing of priorities in public discourse”.

Dr Maloney’s research includes young men’s engagement with YouTube, and video game cultures.