How a Canadian professor is changing the world
The great Swiss psychiatrist and founder of analytical psychology, Carl Gustav Jung once remarked, “There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own soul.” For Jung it was clear, and to a growing number of young men, his words are clearer still.
For the past few years has borne witness to a strange occurrence. A mostly online movement has emerged made up of almost entirely young men who are following Jung into the dark underworld of their conscious mind. A dissatisfied and desperate generation driven in their pursuit of truth, meaning and the reclamation of masculinity.
These converts have been set on their journey by the words of an unlikely leader of men, clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson. A man whose wisdom, bravery and tough-love has resonated with an audience in much need of guidance, authority and a meaningful life.
Peterson had achieved cult-status in 2016 when he caused a media storm in Canada over his refusal to comply with a new controversial piece of Canadian legislation. The Bill states that it’s mandatory to refer to students by their prefered gender pronouns for those who don’t identify with their biological gender.
As a professor of psychology at The University of Toronto, Peterson drew criticism from transgender activists, faculty and labour unions. Peterson was issued with two written warnings over his position before a huge public backlash eased the pressure allowing Peterson to return to the university to teach.
But it’s his hugely popular lectures on the psychology of religious and ideological belief as well as his fascinating in-depth dissections of classic stories and myths that has propelled Peterson to world-wide fame. While his outspoken views on the dangers of ‘cultural-marxism’ has seen him become a much sought-after social commentator.
And Peterson seems as surprised as anyone that his sizable audience is overwhelmingly male, “One of the things that has blown me away is that a large proportion of my audience has been young men under 30. I’ve spoken to them a lot about responsiblity and what’s so odd about this is when I talk about it everyone is silent, focused and attentive”.
The professor believes the modern world is having an adverse affect on the way men develop their sense of purpose and masculinity, “It’s like Kierkegaard said, there will come a time when we have so much security and comfort that what we will want more than anything else is part deprivation and challenge. And I think that’s what particularly young men want”.
But for Peterson, it’s the lack of responsibility that is the most defining characteristic of most young men. He explains, “I say pick up your responsibility, pick up the heaviest thing you can find and carry it. responsibility is what gives your life meaning, so take on the ultimate responsibility and your life will have ultimate meaning”.
His theory regarding the link between responsibility and meaning has struck a nerve with his millions of followers who credit his teachings with changing their outlook on life. He says, “It might be that the sense of meaning that life can provide to you is proportionate to the amount of responsibility that you take on”.
He thinks young people have been “fed this unending diet of rights and freedoms and there’s something about it that’s so pathologically wrong and people are starving for the antidote and it’s truth and responsibility. That’s the secret to a meaningful life. Without a meaningful life all you have is suffering, nihilism and despair”.
Peterson understands how seductive ‘identity politics’ is to young people who are encouraged to create victim based identities by left-wing universities. “Of course you’re a victim, you’re oppressed in every possible way including your ancestry and your biology and the entire sum of human history has conspired to produce victimized you”.
He continues, “It’s like yes! True! It’s not an accident that the axiomatic western individual was someone who was unfairly nailed to a cross and tortured. Everyone you know is going to die, you too. There’s going to be a lot of pain along the way and lots of it is going to be unfair”.
Peterson passionately rejects the self-defeating attitude which permeates the modern western mind, “If I’m a victim then everyone owes me something and I don’t have to take any responsibility. Act it out and see what happens, you make everything that your complaining about infinitely worse”.
Religious belief plays a major role in Peterson’s hope that we can transcend our pitiful state, “Life is suffering, indisputable. That’s what the religious people have always said. So what do you do in the face of that suffering? Well, there’s a deep idea in the west and its pick up your damn suffering and bear it”.
For Peterson, the answer lies in our ability to self reflect and confront our deeper most flaws, “You have many puzzles in front of you that you could solve but that you choose not to. Those are the things that weigh on your conscience. What would the world be like if we stopped avoiding the things we know we should do?”.
He adds, “How much are we contributing to the fact that life is an existential catastrophe and tragedy? Well, you consult your conscience and it says “that place over there could do with some work”. You work on yourself because you can and then things are a little clearer around you and you’re a little better off and stronger”.
While Peterson urges his followers to ‘confront their soul’, he appreciates that for many it will feel like a leap in the dark, “that’s the act of faith that Kierkegaard was so insistent on. I’m going to act as if being is good, to act as if truth is the pathway to enlightenment, to act is if I should pursue the deepest meaning possible in my life”.
He continues, “The thing that is so interesting about being alive is that you’re all in. So I think, you may as well play the most magnificent game you can while you’re waiting. Do you have anything better to do? Really? Why not pick the best thing possible that you could do, maybe you could justify your wretched existence to yourself that way”.
As pleasure seekers, it is our natural inclination to avoid anything which causes us pain. To go against our nature is to walk down a path rarely trodden. But as Jung observes, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figure of light, but by making the darkness conscious”. And Jordan Peterson is enlightening the minds of an entire generation.