Jordan Peterson. (Photo by Chris Williamson/Getty Images)

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It’s genuinely tragic what happened to Jordan Peterson.

The Canadian psychology professor first rose to fame by railing against the liberal obsession with identity that shaped the culture wars of 2016, and subsequently became so polarizing (and popular) that his self-help book, 12 Rules For Life, sold over three million copies worldwide. 

Peterson offered solid advice for angry, isolated young men; he promoted the idea of personal responsibility, discipline and self-confidence. The problem was that his positive messaging was often accompanied by his other beliefs, some of which were simply old-fashioned conservative ideals, repackaged, and some were really quite strange. Harmful, even. 

Despite marketing himself as an intellectual who wasn’t afraid to ask tough questions, Peterson would often blurt out seriously unscientific and outlandish claims, most famously, his strange fixation on lobsters, and the supposed similarity between crustaceans and humankind, which he used to justify the existence of unjust hierarchies.

It’s a bit like pointing to a bee hive, and claiming that the insects success makes a compelling argument to restore the monarchy. 

Eventually, Peterson started to hang out with “race realist” Stefan Molyneux (so much for rejecting identity politics) and began to promote his daughter’s eye-wateringly stupid diet, which consists solely of beef, salt and water (sounds like a great way to develop scurvy). 

Months into his all-beef diet, Peterson claimed that ingesting any substance other than beef would cause him serious psychological and physical harm; he even claimed that a single glass of apple cider caused him to stay awake for a full month, and filled him with “an overwhelming sense of impending doom” (I’m not kidding). 

Peterson ended up becoming addicted to anti-anxiety medication after personal tragedy struck, and suffered all sorts of horrendous health complications - it’s still not clear if he ever really recovered. 

Now, Peterson is back, and he is about to release another self-help book, titled, Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life. Which seems incredibly hypocritical, considering his big rule, one that he consistently touted while public speaking, which reads:

Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.

This rule always bothered me, a lot. It’s the kind of thing that sounds innocuous on the surface - after all, what’s wrong with practicing what you preach? Surely, there are plenty of obnoxious activists who could use that advice. 

But the way Peterson promoted this rule wasn’t meant to encourage - he was essentially telling activists to be quiet, to accept the world’s structural injustices, because they were imperfect and didn’t clean their rooms, or whatever. 

That rule functions as a cudgel, to crush the idealism of young people. And it’s a rule that has no basis in reality - historical heroes like Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. had plenty of personal problems too. 

And so, quite frankly, does Peterson.  

Ironically, having a messy personal life doesn’t mean that Peterson’s emphasis on personal improvement, on finding meaning through responsibility, isn’t worth listening to. That is undeniably good advice.

But the notion that only those with neat and tidy personal lives are allowed to criticize the world, is dangerous nonsense. 

Just like the idea of a human living solely on beef, salt, and water.

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