Public intellectual Jordan Peterson believes the cultural desire to view everything in terms of the political spectrum is, at its root, responsible for his wildly inaccurate portrayal by many in the establishment media, he tells The Daily Caller in an exclusive interview.
TheDC reached out to Peterson after a particularly egregious NBC News segment titled, “Who is Jordan Peterson, favorite figure of the alt-right.” The segment featured only seconds of an hour-long interview with Peterson and did not allow him to opine or offer thoughts on the “alt-right” political movement he is supposedly the poster child of.
The NBC News interview is just the latest in a series of attempts by outlets like Vanity Fair and British TV broadcaster Channel 4 news to cast him as a purveyor of right-wing beliefs without engaging the underlying substance of his work. This portrayal has not stopped Peterson from authoring a best-selling book and filling whole theaters across the U.S. while on tour.
Peterson, in characteristic fashion, offered his lengthy thoughts on the media, the alt-right, and more:
On the NBC News segment:
It was the most dishonest portrayal of what I’ve been doing that’s been done so far, and it’s a real race to the bottom, because there were six or seven other pieces that were really pretty bad, but NBC—I think they reached a new low. It was bad enough that it called for an explanation. What was so interesting about their trailer was that…someone had pre-crafted the narrative, and they needed a villain. That was me. Who I was and what I was saying was completely irrelevant. And that was so striking, because it was so amateurish and so ham-fisted and so desperate all at once that it presented kind of a mystery.
On the general trend of his media portrayal:
Well, I think there’s two things driving that. One is somewhat nonobvious. I think that because we’re having a technological transformation, and the shift of people’s attention away from classic television networks, and cable TV for that matter, [is], I would say, failing, and [there are] extraordinary difficulties in publishing industries at large in the journalism realm.
There’s a desperation…there’s a certain deterioration of quality, and a certain desperation, and I think that’s all adding up to increasingly unattractive means to attract a dwindling audience. We don’t exactly know what’s driving polarization. They’re all feeding in the same direction, kind of like a positive feedback loop. It’s almost like a microphone that’s brought up too close to the speakers. And you never want to jump to the conclusion that you understand that sort of thing. You can say, ‘Well, it’s just political.’ But I’m not sure it is just political. I think that a lot of that is a desperate attempt to drive clicks…on part of a dying enterprise.
On why specifically people in the media don’t like him:
Obviously, I’m no fan of the radical left. I think that the celebration around Karl Marx’s birthday is as reprehensible as celebrating Mao or Stalin or Hitler, and I’m not a fan of the Marxist take on the world and the manner in which it is promoted endlessly on college campuses. It’s in the best interest of the radical left types—best psychological and strategic interest—to refuse to admit to the possibility that reasonable people can object to their ideological staff. Because if reasonable people objected, that would imply that their ideological stance is not reasonable.
Strategically, it’s much more effective to paint me as the leader of the most reprehensible source imaginable who would take a stance epithetical to the radical left. So it’s a part of this, ‘If you’re not with us, you must be a Nazi,’ which is…very counter-productive on the part of the left—it’s a very poor strategic move—because one of the things you do is alienate people who are actually somewhat amenable to assuming that the claims of the compassionate left are justifiable. And so, it’s a foolish move, and then there’s an additional element of the great-standing on the part of a handful of narcissistic journalists.
I think Cathy Newman especially falls into that category and the guy they interviewed for the NBC piece—I don’t know where the hell they scraped him up—and even the interviewer they sent, who has released some of the more detailed clips, the Vice interviewer as well—they’ve all used the situation as a form of ideological signaling.
On the Alt-Right:
I think the fundamental error is not even calling me alt-right; I think for reasons we already discussed that it’s a parody at best. It’s a real parody. It’s ironic and malevolent at the same time. The real problem is to think about what I’m doing as political. And this is actually a reflection of the deeper problem of polarization in identity politics. Our society, at the moment, is structured so that the only narrative that willing to frame things in is a political narrative. Everything’s political. You’re right or you’re left—it’s like, no. Sorry, not everything is political.
The fact that everything has become political is actually a sign of how much power the radical left view has already—of how much influence the radical left has already managed, because, in large part, they’ve got the linguistic high ground, and they can frame the question, ‘Well, are you left or right?’ And you can say, ‘Look, it’s not political,’ and they say, ‘No, everything’s political. If you’re denying it’s political, you must be right.’ It’s like, no! Everything isn’t political. But, we can’t have that discussion, and it’s partly because the people who are construing the situation that way can’t think in any other way than the political. They can’t approach art except through the political; they can’t approach literature except through the political; philosophy, economics, sociology, psychology—it’s all political. Well, no. Not the right level of analysis.
So, what I’m trying to do is introduce a different level of analysis. One that’s more psychological, but I would also say it’s more philosophical, and likely more theological, because very deep things are at stake here, but that doesn’t even fit into the ideological system or the intellectual system that so many of these journalists who have been trained by the postmodernists—that’s how they think. It’s the water they swim in. They can’t see outside it, and I think literature has become subject to nothing but political critique shows you how deep the ideology goes. You know, I was interviewed by a journalist the other day who did her undergraduate in comparative literature at Columbia, and she told me—very brave girl, and she’s been very successful—that she didn’t even know there was another way to read literature. She had been so steeped in the postmodern Neo-Marxist tradition of deconstruction—you know, ‘What power group does this author stand for? Whose political viewpoints are being put forward in this book?’ She didn’t even know there was another way to read literature. And so, it’s the same situation with journalists who are viewing everything through a political lens. They don’t know, as far as I can tell—that’s only one way to look at the world, and certainly, by no means self-evident that it’s the most credible way.
See, part if it is [that] it isn’t even so much to foresee into the alt-right vault; it’s to force discourse into the political vault. And the alt-right accusations are a secondary consequence of that. You know, if I stand for the individual; if I stand for psychological development, which is definitely the case—I’m a clinical psychologist and I’m educated—my primary goal has been to focus on individual development in my personal life, my professional life, all of that. It’s the same thing that I’m doing with the YouTube lectures. It’s focused at the level of the individual, which is, I think, the right level of analysis. So, it’s not the postmodern, Neo-Marxist political level of analysis, because I’m not interested, fundamentally, in people as groups: political, ethnic, racial—I don’t care. I understand that that’s a level of analysis, but it’s not the most…it’s a level of analysis that produces pathology. It’s the paramount level of analysis. If everybody becomes a member of the group, then you have a reversion to tribalism, and then you have conflict.
On why he is so popular:
Because I’m on the side of my audience. You know, I was talking to Dave Rubin about this because he’s opening for me, and we were talking about this so-called ‘intellectual dark-web,’ which is a very mutely group of people, it’s not like we have anything obvious in common—certainly not political viewpoints; I mean, there’s a choke toward the libertarian individuality—but, the only thing I think that unites the people that are commonly lumped together in this intellectual dark-web group is that none of us think our audience is stupid. We give them the benefit of the doubt.
That’s the case with Rogan and Rubin and Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Christina Hoff Sommers, and Jonathan Haidt is sometimes put in the group. Very divergent political and philosophical views and religious views, as well—very, very divergent. Everyone treats their audiences seriously as if they can think and I think I really am on the side of the individuals I’m speaking to and I want them to be better people—the right way forward—and they know that’s true and that’s the real story.
You know, when the people come up to me after the talk, whether I’m signing books—well, now I’m not doing that because the crowds are too big—but I meet the people who bought tickets that enable backstage access and it’s the same ideas and the same stories I heard when I was signing books and the same stories I hear when people stop me on the street, which is four or five times a day now: ‘I was having a rough time in some manner. I was aimless, nihilistic, depressed, drinking too much, using drugs, counterproductively fragmented in my relationships. I’ve been watching your lectures and they’ve really helped me out.’ And that’s the story. And, you know, it’s not that surprising, in some sense, because I’m a clinical psychologist.
There were some great clinicians in the 20th century—great men. Freud was a genius, Jung was a genius, Carl Rogers was a genius—there’s a half-dozen psychologists of the 1950s and humanists of the 1960s. These people were not only philosophically astute and extraordinarily well-educated, many of them, and also scientifically knowledgeable, but they [also] had great practical utility. And so partly what I’m doing is making that knowledge publicly accessible. Why is it helpful? Well, it’s devised from the work of people who were spectacularly successful as clinical counselors.
So, from that perspective—now there’s more to it, because I would say from that group of clinicians, Carl Jung was an outlier because he was also doing something else, and that was attempting to address the Nietzschean conundrum. Nietzsche stated that God was dead, and he thought that was a catastrophe, not a triumphant statement, and he thought that people would have to become their own gods in some sense in order to recover from that, which I think is an indication that Nietzsche understood the magnitude of the problem, but Jung—following Freud—understood that people can’t create their own values. We have a nature, and it’s a deep nature. So, Jung went back to the source of values, because he was primarily a psychoanalyst of religious thinking and attempted to revitalize the ancient traditions from a psychological perspective. It’s amazingly powerful and it needs to be done because the story that our culture is immersed in is the Judeo-Christian mythos, let’s say. We don’t understand it. We’ve rejected it rationally without understanding it philosophically. And so the other thing I’m trying to do is put the mythos back into our culture.