Jordan Peterson, the Sacred, and the Therapeutic
What makes Jordan Peterson so popular? There are scores of popular pundits who attack political correctness, many with more aplomb than the professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. The estimable Mark Steyn comes to mind, or Heather Mac Donald, or Dennis Prager, among many others. I've attempted my own diagnosis of the PC disease, as existential dread and as a witch hunt in response to the tragic failure of too many black Americans.
Dr. Peterson, though, is the people's choice as champion against PC madness for the time being.
A full 80% of Americans think that political correctness is a problem in their country, according to polling data, and a reaction against the excesses of the new Savonarolas has been gathering for some time. But why choose Dr. Peterson as the poster-boy for this reaction?
I believe that his enormous and sudden popularity stems from his use of the language of therapy to attack the symptoms of a therapeutic society. His 2018 bestseller Twelve Rules for Life is a self-help book, not a work of politics, philosophy, or cultural criticism.
Therein, I think, lies Dr. Peterson's great appeal. The four-fifths of Americans who think that PC has gone too far do not want to undo the great cultural transformation of the past half-century, which has placed self-esteem at the center of human concerns at the expense of traditional virtues. We no longer wish to do what is good and upright in the eyes of God; who does this God think He is, sitting in judgment over us? We want to be our own little gods and make ourselves into whatever we would like to be. We have, as Justice Kennedy wrote in the Obergefell decision, a right "to define and express [our] identity." That is the purpose of therapy, which asserts that healing comes from within, that man is the measure of all things, and our own sense of self-esteem and well-being is the gauge against which our behavior must be measured.
Of course, there are limits to our ability to define and express an identity. We may identify as an octopus and drown, or identify as a bullfinch and plummet to our deaths from a height. The progressives haven't yet rallied to the cause of octopus-and-bullfinch identifiers, but they have done something equally ridiculous, namely to attempt to outlaw the second most pronounced differentiation in nature, namely male vs. female (the most pronounced is alive or dead). That does a horrible disservice to the tiny minority of people who cannot rid themselves of the belief that they were born into the wrong gender. Sufferers from gender dysphoria believe more fervently than anyone in the absolute nature of gender difference, but they want to be on the other side of the gender divide.