The Return of the Peterson

Dr. Jordan Peterson returns to Toronto after an 18-month absence due to serious health issues, or more specifically: depression, benzoate addiction, Covid-19 diagnosis, and bunch of other stuff, such as his wife being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. He has been through more personal turmoil in the past 18 months than most people will endure in a lifetime. His debate with Slavoj Zizek was the last we saw of him on the public stage, and then he just sorta faded away.

From the video summary:

I have returned home to Toronto after spending much of the last eighteen months in hospitals. I am hoping that my health has improved to the point where I can start producing original content again. Thank you to all who are watching for your support over the course of this trying time. I hope that you all are coping with the COVID crisis successfully.

The above video has been watched 2 million times in just 2 days, which is unprecedented even by Peterson standards of popularity. Even Hollywood and Trump cannot get those kind of numbers. This goes to show the enduring popularity of Dr. Peterson, which has only grown in his absesne, and the importance of his message to the millions of people who follow him. Viewers are drawn to his authenticity and tenacity in his opposition to political correctness and his willingness to express inconvenient truths such as about human biology, and also are drawn his life lessons. Whether or not this can be attributed to a ‘crisis of masculinity,’ as many in the media put it, is debatable, but his ideas are popular with the 20-30-year old male demographic, in particular. It is evident he is providing a service or message that is otherwise lacking in society, yet extremely valuable and important.

Dr. Peterson was widely criticized, even by his supporters for tweeting, on October 5th, 2018, that Brett Kavanaugh–Trump’s appointment for associate justice of the Supreme Court–should step down if confirmed, due to controversy during the confirmation process regarding possible sexual misconduct claims on the part of Kavanaugh against his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford (that were later revealed as unsubstantiated according to an independent Senate report in November 2018). Dr. Peterson–who is a-political and not tied to any specific party, having neither supported Trump or Hillary in 2016 (he’s Canadian)–had become endeared to conservatives for his ‘traditionalist’ stance on gender roles and his opposition to gender-neutral pronoun usage, so such a comment seemed out of character and came as a shock to many of his conservative supporters, who largely pegged Peterson as being on their ‘team’ and supported the confirmation of Kavanaugh. The tweet is still up, and him not deleting it in the face of so much criticism, shows his willingness to defend his ideas and not acquiesce to popular opinion.

Also adding to his popularity is the perception of scarcity. While in treatment, Dr. Peterson only appeared sporadically, on his daughter’s channel, and also penned a few articles, but was otherwise incommunicado. This made him scarce and even more sought-after, similar to how the popularity of musicians’ work seems to increase posthumously, as there is no new work being produced. For example, Beatles songs are more popular than ever, it would seem, in spite of the band having broken up half a century ago. The legacy, that lives on in people’s memories and is spread through word of mouth and the lived experience, far outlasts the individual. Had Dr. Peterson continued to produce content for the past two years, is is possible people would have grown tired of him, as his message may have become stale and repetitive, and moved on to someone else.

I think he also got into a sort of creative rut. His debate with Slavoj Zizek was widely criticized by both supporters and critics of Marxism; to put it bluntly: it sucked, and neither side seemed prepared or engaged with each other’s arguments. He had some projects in the works: an anti-censorship platform and social network marketed as an alternative to Twitter, Thinkspot, which is unfinished and mostly serves as a repository to host Dr’ Peterson’s content; and an alternative to Patreon that he planned to start with Sam Harris, but it never got off the ground. The problem with creative work, whether it’s writing or making videos, is that no one tells you what to do. The creative freedom and autonomy that makes creative work appealing, as opposed to having a boss, also makes it more challenging at the same time, because all the responsibility comes down to you.

His personal struggles also show that money does not buy happiness, at least not for him. I do not how much he made but it must have been in the many millions, between the book sales, Patreon donations, lecture and speaking appearances, and presumably much more. Money is very useful for getting medical treatment for conditions that do not involve mental health , but mental illness is one of those things in which no amount of money seems to do any good.

A lot has transpired in Dr. Peterson’s absence: the rise of BLM and antifa, an increasingly divided nation politically, ‘cancel culture’ and social media shaming, an academic climate that seems increasingly hostile to free speech and the free exchange of ideas, the pandemic, and the 2020 US presidential election (and its aftermath, that is sure to leave the country even more divided and even angrier). Much like how people turned to Cronkite to guide them through the turbulent times of 60s and 70s, Dr. Peterson fills a similar role, although also as a mentor, to a new generation seeking a beacon of clarity and guidance in a sea of conflict and uncertainty.