by Helen Lewis published in The Atlantic
Read original on The Atlantic's website
Lewis reviews Jordan Peterson's new book, "Beyond ...Show description
Posted 768 days ago
For good or for bad, I had never heard of Jordan Peterson before this article. It surely makes me curious to look up something of his, but I doubt I will actually pick up a copy of his book. But I do like Lewis's final perspective of him as a public figure:
To imagine that Peterson is popular in spite of his contradictions and human frailties—the things that drive his critics mad—is a mistake: He is popular because of them. For a generation that has lost its faith in religion and politics, he is one of notably few prominent figures willing to confront the most fundamental questions of existence: What’s the point of being alive? What kind of personal journey endows our existence with meaning? He is, in many ways, countercultural. He doesn’t offer get-rich-quick schemes, or pickup techniques. He is not libertine or libertarian. He promises that life is a struggle, but that it is ultimately worthwhile.
Less about Peterson and more about what he represents, I think that his views are important for questioning the current culture moment. Sure, maybe some views have led people to the alt-right or other such groups, but that's less on him as an intellectual and more on how people handle critique and debate.
The simple reality is that the male identity has shifted in the current cultural moment. I'm not implying this is a bad thing, but there are many, many males (young and older) who are finding it difficult to develop an identity that fits within the modern world. What has typically been seen as traditional "manhood" is largely rejected now, and really only accepted as part of a "counterculture" or reactionary culture to an increasingly progressive view of gender.
This, of course, is for the good of society. The traditional characteristics of manhood that led to oppression and gender violence, are being replaced by a rejection of these norms. But as males, we also cannot build our identity as simply reactionary. We can't say "we can't be like our parents or grandparents" because of something they represented, but discover why they were so and figure out how to blend modern morales with an identity that has been passed down to us. We were tought how to be men, and we simply can't reject that because of negative side effects. We must look toughly at our identity as a male and figure out what caused violence and oppression and stamp those out, not act reactionary by simply rejecting manhood altogether.
While I think "cancel culture" is doing more good than harm by bringing unjust actions to the forefront of public attention, it does have consequences for how people, struggling with their own identity, might see themselves. I think figures like Peterson and Josh Rogan filled that gap for some people. But we must know that they are reactionary figures to something, not founders of identity themselves, and we must put forward better identity-leaders for young males to relate to.