Metro City Reporters Livia Wendland and Floria Persis discuss a show held in Amsterdam by Jordan Peterson, a contentious psychologist and media figure.
Jordan Peterson is a Canadian clinical psychologist and professor turned media personality. While his work may sound harmless, he has often been accused of exhibiting bigoted behavior towards the LGBTQ+ community, women and people of color. Peterson first rose to fame in 2016 for his YouTube videos critiquing political correctness and Bill C-16, a law that was added to the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code to protect transgender people and penalize hate speech. Peterson claimed that the law would curb free speech by forcing people to refer to others by pronouns they don’t want to use. This led students at the University of Toronto, his previous place of employment, to protest against him.
Peterson does not identify as a political or conservative figure, instead labelling himself as a self-help expert. He has written numerous books and hosted lectures about finding structure and meaning in life, with his most notable publication being 12 Rules for Life in 2018. As a result, he has garnered a loyal fanbase that looks to him for guidance. Among his critics, he is best known for his negative stance on identity politics, as well as questioning the existence of structural forms of oppression such as patriarchy and white privilege.
On September 25, RAI Theater in Amsterdam welcomed Jordan Peterson to its stage. For prices between 50 to 100 euros, fans flocked to the theater to see the man occupying space in their Youtube feeds and bookshelves. As they made their way into the theater, they were greeted by a line of protesters armed with pride flags and Antifa signs. We spoke with attendees of the show and the protest to learn how one media star can simultaneously inspire so much admiration and contempt.
Nathan is a 24-year-old student of Computer Science and an avid follower of Jordan Peterson. Like many people, he discovered Peterson through his “inspirational” viral videos. “I like how he explains how to find meaning in life,” Nathan says, having a keen interest in Peterson’s philosophical ideas. Laurens (27) and Jules (28), who work in psychology and taxes, also find appeal in Peterson’s way of thinking. They enjoy the fact that he speaks his truth–which is, they say, the “objective” truth.
Many fans shared positive opinions about Peterson’s self-help and life advice. However, they had less to say about his politics, feeling they could not openly agree with Peterson’s cultural and political stances. “I’m very respectful of others’ opinions,” said one attendee, aged 45 and working in user experience. “But when they start trying to modify my language, I’m not a fan.” He is concerned by his company’s diversity workshops, which promote the type of inclusive language that Peterson harshly critiques. Tanischa, a 20-year-old student, agrees that language is heavily policed in today’s social climate. “We’re supposed to have free speech,” she says, looking at the protesters with disapproval, “but nowadays, you can’t say anything without the danger of being stabbed.”
Most protesters also discovered Jordan Peterson through his YouTube videos but were more familiar with his political views than his motivational work. One anonymous protester, who began consuming his content at age 16, eventually found he had a “lack of empathy and human connection, and a dedication to not showing any form of respect to others.” The other protesters agree that Peterson has made bigoted statements toward the LGBTQ+ community, women and people of color.
According to another anonymous protester, “Jordan Peterson says many things that hold a bit of truth, so it’s difficult to distinguish misinformation from facts. It’s a gaslighting technique.” They added that people “get sucked into his bubble” and may subconsciously absorb extremist views. The other protesters expressed similar sentiments, stating that many show attendees were unaware of Jordan Peterson’s conservative narratives. They believe his work is a gateway into the far right, and many people admire him because they associate the title of “professor” with authority.
Warning people about Jordan Peterson’s dangerous viewpoints and starting a dialogue with his fans was the main reason many protesters attended. Mar, a 20-year-old journalism student, stressed the importance of “making people aware of who they spend their money on and give their time to. Most people don’t know how dangerous some things he says can be. Some things seem innocent, academic, and smart, and most of his followers like that.”
Generally, the protestors and attendees did not express much contempt toward each other. The exceptions were those who dismissed the protestors as disrespectful or felt unsympathetic towards the attendees, considering they were paying to see someone they felt is bigoted towards minorities. On a few occasions, attendees approached the protesters to hear their thoughts, and insightful conversations took place. Most people attending the show were unaware of Peterson’s political opinions. They came to like him because his motivational content positively impacted their lives. However, protestors say that his “moderate” presentation is dangerous, as he peddles far-right views that may radicalize his fans.