How Did Jordan Peterson Become So Successful?

Jordan B. Person’s popularity has exploded since late 2016. He has transformed from being just a clinical physiologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, to a ‘culture warrior’ whose videos about philosophy, psychology, and politics have been watched millions of times over by thousands, if not millions, of fans from all over the world. In mid-2016 hardly anyone knew who he was; his Patreon account had just $1,100/month in backers, his YouTube account had only 8,000 subscribers, and he had only 20,000 Twitter followers. In the span of just 10 months, he now earns over $50,000/month from Patreon [1], has 250,000 Twitter followers, and 350,000 YouTube subscribers.

It’s mind blowing and possibly the greatest non-tech internet success story in years, and the growth shows no signs of slowing. His meteoric accent began in September 2016 when he released a series of videos voicing objection to Canadian government’s Bill C-16:

On September 27, 2016, Peterson released the first installment of a three-part lecture video series, entitled “Professor against political correctness: Part I: Fear and the Law”.[8][14] In the video, he stated he would not use the preferred gender pronouns of students and faculty, and announced his objection to the Canadian government’s Bill C-16, which proposed to add “gender identity or expression” as a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act, as well to the list of identifiable groups whom it is illegal under the Criminal Code to promote genocide or publicly incite hatred against.[15]

But just those three videos alone would not have been enough to gain such a huge following. His popularity continued to grow in early 2017 when students and fans began to post his lectures on YouTube, and then Peterson began live-streaming Q&As for his Patreon subscribers. These videos have been watched thousands of times, for a combined total of 17 million views, and get hundreds of comments in agreement with Peterson. This is further evidence of the post-2013 JSW-backlash and how there is enormous pent-up demand for counter-PC content that intellectuals such as Charles Murray and Jordan Peterson are answering to. Meanwhile, videos of campus protests and or videos with themes of social justice, are summarily down-voted and have many negative comments. The success of Peterson is representative of a tectonic shift in online discourse, from content that is anodyne (cat videos, DIY videos, celeb gossip, sports, etc.) and politically correct, to content that is ‘edgier’. Although Southpark and The Simpsons in the 90’s and early 2000’s had success catering to a similar yearning by young people for edgy content, Peterson’s videos are intended to inform and inspire self-improvement, than just entertain.

Compared to Bill O’Reilly and Larry King, who have been on TV for decades and have a combined net worth of close to half a quarter of a billion dollars, Peterson, in terms of earnings, is not nearly as successful. But Peterson has only been online for a few years. And the success of O’Reilly and King are emblematic of ‘old media’, which is gradually being phased-out by social media. Larry King Live was cancelled in 2010 and although Bill O’Reilly’s contract was renewed in 2017, like Rush Limbaugh, he is old and his successor will almost certainly not earn as much as he has, as the media becomes increasingly fragmented. But also, given all their airtime, King, Limbaugh, and O’Reilly, in terms of cultural influence, they don’t move the needle much (or at least not relative to their viewership and multi-billion dollar backings would suggest); meanwhile, Peterson, with just some videos and Twitter, is able to influence discourse and the Zeitgeist, and his opinions and picked up my the media and social media, as well as disseminated on popular communities such as /r/KotakuInAction/, /r/The_Donald, and 4Chan’s /Pol/. Meanwhile, The opinions of Tucker Carlson and Limbaugh are generally ignored outside of their insular communities…although they have popular shows, they simply aren’t as effective at affecting discourse.

The reason why Peterson is so effective and Limbaugh and O’Reilly aren’t, is because Person’s fans are almost exclusively high-IQ and very engaged, but also, as mentioned above, such fans are also connected with major online communities such as Reddit and 4chan, where they disseminate Peterson’s opinions to an ever broader audience, whereas with Limbaugh’s views aren’t disseminated in a similar manner, instead staying confined. As explained in the post Classification of groups, and the meme propagation process, 4chan and Reddit influence the ‘greater media’ such as Vox, CNN, Fox, whose journalists scour these communities for stories to write. Then those major media outlets spread such ‘memes’ to an even bigger audience. So it goes like this: Jordan Peterson –>> Reddit & 4chan –>> Vox & CNN. Peterson also went on many high-profile podcasts and shows: Stephan Molyneux, Joe Rogan, and Dave Rubin, further expanding his reach. In terms of influence and engagement, a single podcast listener or YouTube viewer is equal to 100 radio listeners or 100 TV viewers. Unlike in the 90’s and the early 2000’s, it’s high-IQ ‘influencers’ who hold the keys to success and viralness, so appealing to these smart people is how ideas get promoted.

It’s easy to understand what he says, not because the subject matter itself is always simple, but because he’s an adept public speaker and doesn’t slur or mangle his words, and rather than talking at his audience, he talks to them. Also Peterson bridges the empathy gap. When disagreeing with something or someone, he don’t come across as too dismissive and dispassionate, but makes an effort to understand the rationale behind how others arrive at their views.

[1] Before you get too envious, Patreon takes 10% of that, and then the Canadian government tax rate (federal & provincial) is 50% for top earners. But still, when you include the Patreon account, his Future Authoring program, his professorship, and his clinical practice, he’s obviously pulling in some serious dough.