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Jordan Peterson Against the Spirit of Totalitarianism


The article below was originally written for our Icelandic website at my request. The author knows Peterson well and has brought him over here twice for lecturing, with great success. 

Gunnlaugur Jónsson is the founder and CEO of the Reykjavik Fintech Cluster. He is one of the founders of a startup called Veriate, whose mission is to transform discussions on the internet. His book on the banking system, personal responsibility and freedom, Ábyrgðarkver (The Little Book on Responsibility), was published in Iceland in 2012. He invited Dr. Jordan Peterson to deliver lectures in Reykjavik in June 2018 and June 2022.

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I first became aware of Jordan Peterson over six years ago, when he publicly protested legislation designed to force people to use and memorize other people’s made-up personal pronouns. I didn’t get to know him personally then, but I followed what he posted online. Although his protest was important, it was not the most remarkable thing about him. His lectures in psychology had been available on YouTube for years and they were a treasure trove of musings, wisdom and knowledge.

He taught two courses at the University of Toronto, one on the psychology of personality and the other on meaning, purpose, archetypes and myths. He thus explained how stories that have been with humanity for hundreds or thousands of years relate to the knowledge of modern psychology and even the structure of the brain. I found this fascinating and useful stuff, as did so many others.

So, I soon had the idea to introduce him to my fellow Icelanders and invite him to the country to give a lecture. However, I decided to wait a bit and watch him more closely. I watched many of his videos to convince myself that he was not deficient in any area, because many smart people have blind spots. I also convinced myself that he would not fall into the traps that are often set for intelligent people in order to cancel them and make them irrelevant in the media.

Thank You, Cathy Newman

I then finally got in touch with him at a time when relatively few people were aware of him, although his following had begun to grow. He was not too famous to be contacted. I wanted to invite him to Iceland in the summer, so I booked him almost a year in advance. It turned out to be a great decision for another reason because, in the meantime, he became very famous. The most important thing was probably an interview on the TV station Channel 4 in the UK, in which Cathy Newman attempted to lead him into one trap after another by putting words in his mouth.

I think it’s safe to say that almost everyone else would have fallen into one of these traps, because it is tempting in a conversation to accept at least something the interviewer says, in order to build a connection and understanding. He withstood it all, which was almost superhuman, especially given the pressure of being interviewed on television in front of millions of people. Channel 4 posted the video online, and it went viral, now having 42 million views.

It is interesting that Cathy Newman and Channel 4 should have posted the video on YouTube like this, as it puts her in a very bad light. Apparently, she and the station were completely oblivious to this fact. Almost everyone watching saw this differently. This was all very fortunate, both because it confirmed what I thought I had understood before – that Jordan Peterson was hard to cancel – and because it catapulted him to the status of being the most famous and important thinker in the world. So, thank you, Cathy Newman.

Happy Visit to Iceland

When it became known in Iceland that Dr. Peterson was on his way to Reykjavik, many of his ideological opponents started paying attention and attacking him. I had recruited a group of people to help with the lecture, and in addition, a small community of Icelanders who knew what he was about had formed on Facebook. The group tackled all such attacks firmly. If anything, this helped bring more attention to the lectures. Two lectures in Harpa were sold out and about half a percent of the population attended. The lectures were both excellent and almost a million people have now watched the first one in two videos on YouTube. They were both based on his book, 12 Rules for Life, which was published in Icelandic when he arrived in the country. I am very grateful to all the good people that helped, and this trip was especially memorable for Jordan and his family, so he gave the team special thanks in his next book, Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this enterprise was getting to know Dr. Peterson and his family personally. We traveled around the country and met some Icelanders who could tell him something he didn’t know. He learned about our culture, ancient literature, and the wonders of Icelandic nature. He pointed out something to me that I had never properly realized, that Iceland was unique because you couldn’t hear insects in the summer. Icelandic stillness is one of a kind. He stayed with family members in my parents’ house in the South of Iceland, and on the way there, podcaster and photographer Snorri Björnsson took a marvelous photo, which is perhaps the most striking photo ever taken of Dr. Peterson and has since been widely used in promotional material. On one side of the picture, there is lava, symbolic of chaos, which he speaks about frequently, and on the other side, there is a pasture, symbolic of order. He himself stands on the road in between, because that is the road one should take.

Photo: Jordan Peterson between chaos and order on a road in the South of Iceland. Photo by Snorri Björnsson.

Jordan Peterson is very genuine. He is the same in interviews as he is in person. I think that partly explains his popularity. People find him to be sincere and truthful. That style fits in very well with today’s video and podcast culture, where content is often not edited so that viewers are allowed to hear and see the interviewees as they are.

This is how he speaks to people, true and sincere. In his lectures and books he has given good advice, and tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands or millions of people, are now indebted to him. He has six million followers on YouTube, the size of a nation. He fills huge conference halls with his lectures. When he is seen on the streets, people come up to him and thank him for improving their lives and, in some cases, transforming them for the better.

A True Opponent of Totalitarianism

Jordan Peterson examines human history from a psychological perspective. He doesn’t fall into the trap of viewing history only from the perspective of the good guys – the heroes and the victims. He puts himself in the shoes of the evildoers. He wants to understand, and does understand, how people can commit atrocities. How do you find your inner Nazi? And how do you get him under control?

Most people would have participated in the atrocities of their time, had they been put in that position – or at least sat by and allowed them to happen. One needs to be aware of what Carl Gustav Jung called the shadow, the unconscious side of the psyche that does not want the best and is even in conflict with the conscious self. Dr. Peterson, like Jung, believes that understanding this is important. There is a greater risk of falling into the traps of the shadow if one is not aware of them. Dr. Peterson sees people falling into these traps these days, and he’s not alone in doing so.

He talks about people being ideologically possessed. Ideas have people, rather than people having ideas. People learn some simple ideology that they apply to the world, without exception, without regard to reality, without being open, without understanding. With that ideology, they have put themselves on a pedestal. They consider themselves the good people – either the victims or the heroes who are going to save the victims. Those who do not agree are often the villains who have to be disposed of – ostracized, fined and even jailed.

Of course, not everyone involved in such an ideologically possessed movement is as advanced. Many sit by and perhaps participate a little in their ignorance. Some people take advantage of the movement to promote themselves. Amoral pretend heroes.

One root of such movements is what Dr. Peterson calls the spirit of Cain. In the story of Cain and Abel, Cain was bitter towards the world and towards God. That led him to the murder of Abel. Dr. Peterson says that what he is fighting is the spirit of Cain. See an excerpt from this interview with Lex Fridman. He tries to fight with humility for the truth, tries to criticize himself when it is appropriate, unlike Cain. And the humility makes him hard to cancel. Then he shows firmness when it matters. He does not enjoy the fight. One can see that clearly. He only considers the fight necessary, because he sees that surrendering is worse than the suffering of the fight.

The worst crimes in living memory all have the characteristics of the perpetrators painting their victims as evildoers. This was true of the Hutus against the Tutsis, the Nazis against the Jews, and the Communists against anyone who opposed their ideology. First, you must show that you are a victim – then you can kill.

This spirit of totalitarianism includes a strong enmity towards those who disagree. Those who disagree are accused of hate speech. But hate speech is rarely recognized as such when it matters. Racist comments were not called hate speech until after millions had been killed. When the dominant forces and majority use hate speech, it seems impossible to draw attention to it or stop it. Now, people who disagree with the ideologically possessed are called deniers, conspiracy theorists, tin foil hatters, white men, racists, and anti-vaxxers. Such speech is not considered hate speech, even if it has been shown by opinion polls that people who have received a vaccine against Covid often have a dislike, probably disgust, of unvaccinated people, and this has manifested in governments’ harsh measures against the unvaccinated.

Maybe the word “anti-vaxxer” will be considered hate speech at some point in the future, when it no longer matters. The term “hate speech” is used as a weapon of the strong against the weak because the strong get to define it. Thus, the lie behind the use of words is revealed: the fight against so-called hate speech usually does not protect the weak, but creates a basis for the strong to use new hate words against the weak and those who are to be weakened. The fight against hate and extremism must be based on free expression. If you are going to stifle speech, it is likely that you have become the extremist.

The spirit of totalitarianism involves a great certainty and a complete lack of intellectual humility. Based on this certainty, the possessed believe they can take away people’s freedom to live their lives as they choose and then take away their freedom of speech. They go so far that it becomes difficult for them to admit they were wrong. They try to cover their contradictions and errors by loudly denouncing those who point out that the emperor is not wearing any clothes.

Jordan Peterson suggested a few years ago that we may be seeing how totalitarianism based on the archetype of the devouring mother might manifest itself. Now, there is a name for this ideology: wokism. Wokism is obsessed with identity politics (as if everything is about gender, sexuality, and race). There is a strong correlation between wokism and extremism in the response to the Covid pandemic, as wokism can be seen as the extremism of someone who puts themselves on a pedestal as a protector.

The Land of the Nice Fell to Extremism

Dr. Peterson is from Canada, which is a wonderful country and much like my country, Iceland. Canadians are known for being nice. I have traveled quite a bit around the country and done business with Canadians, who are truly polite and nice. Canadian culture is much more similar to my country’s than American culture is. In the United States, there is more arrogance, superficiality, and even harshness. In Canada, I have found there is more consideration, sincerity, and tenderness in business. I don’t want to oversimplify, but this is what I have generally found.

But the land of the nice seems to be a good breeding ground for the extremism of overprotection. Perhaps many of the nice ones have an unconscious Jungian shadow. Since Justin Trudeau took over as Prime Minister of Canada, the spirit of wokism has reigned in the country. Some see Trudeau as a savior, while others see him as a superficial populist. Perhaps his election is just a symptom of the wokism that had begun to take over earlier.

Dr. Peterson became famous when he protested laws that could be interpreted, probably rightly, as forcing people to use made-up third-person pronouns like ze, xe, tey, ve, etc. about people who required it. Therefore, choosing one of the third-person pronouns in the language is rejected: he, she, or it, although by their nature, they can stand for anything and anyone if one is not looking for ways to play the victim and control other people. The silliness behind this is of course obvious to most Icelanders, as there is a strong awareness here that the gender of words does not necessarily correspond to the gender of people; cop is feminine (lögga) and nurse is masculine (hjúkrunarfræðingur), regardless of the gender of the person. There are also more words than personal pronouns in Icelandic that take different forms based on gender, e.g. adjectives.

If you are going to invent new genders for personal pronouns, you can invent new genders for adjectives in the same way, and then inflect them in four cases. If people were to be forced to use such words, they would be forced to learn thousands of word forms. This is simpler in English, because it is largely gender-neutral, outside of words like the third-person pronouns. The English-speaking wokist idea is that people can simply make up their own personal pronouns to describe their gender identity. It should be obvious that it is unacceptable to force people to use such new words. The language must evolve freely.

These laws have roots in the authoritarian mindset. It is not enough for the wokist that a certain group is given the freedom to define themselves by some new gender and be left alone; others must be forced to accept that gender and adjust their use of words. This authoritarian approach reveals the true mindset behind what appears on the surface to be a loving action.

If this were not true, Jordan Peterson would not have become so well-known for this affair. He was protested with great fervor and accused of being the worst kind of person. However, people who looked into it saw the truth that he was the moderate one, an advocate of freedom. People flocked to his lectures because of this, and his fame rose.

Since this happened, he has been subjected to many cancellation attempts. I used falsehoods from many of them to introduce him when he came on stage to lecture in Reykjavik. He has withstood these attacks and the wokists’ efforts have backfired in many ways. More and more people not only see through them but also have the courage to speak their minds.

Photo: Jordan Peterson walked gleefully on stage after the writer of this article introduced him on stage using the media’s falsehoods. Photo by Haraldur Guðjónsson.

Attack on Dr. Peterson’s License to Practice as a Clinical Psychologist

Jordan Peterson has been attacked at the University of Toronto, where he was a professor, but recently the College of Psychologists of Ontario, the governing body for psychologists, has ruled that he should undergo education in the use of social media or lose his license to practice as a clinical psychologist. Dr. Peterson talks about the importance of standing your ground – totalitarianism thrives on indulgence and complicity, among other things. He will not undergo reeducation.

He no longer works as a clinical psychologist, because his fame made it difficult for him to show clients the critical attention needed. But he is not going to let extremists take away his license. Dr. Peterson has taught people to stand their ground, heroically, and never surrender to the lie. Once again, he must show that determination himself.

These actions against Dr. Peterson are being carried out based on his comments in public, from Joe Rogan’s talk show to Twitter. There are thirteen complaints, one of which is based on a 3-hour interview with Joe Rogan in its entirety, without specifying in detail what his offense consists of. Some of the issues concern tweets on Twitter about the government’s actions due to Covid, including a retweet of the opposition leader’s tweet against mandatory masks! Also a tweet expressing his objection to the idea of taking children away from people who protested vaccine mandates! These are crimes in the opinion of the wokists who have gained power in many places. You can learn about the matter in this video, where he is interviewed by his daughter, Mikhaila.

If there was any doubt that Canada has fallen prey to extremism, this case should dispel it. First, totalitarian measures are taken against the citizens of the country, then citizens who protest are attacked, bank accounts are frozen and threats are made to take their children, and then the psychologist Jordan Peterson, who happens to be an expert on this kind of extremism, is not allowed to comment on what is happening. All opposition must be suppressed.

Freedom of expression is the ultimate test of totalitarianism. Totalitarianism begins in the psyche of the extremists. Then it appears in the willingness to take away people’s freedoms. It appears in contradictions and untruths. But the opposition to free speech is what ultimately exposes totalitarianism beyond any doubt.

Now let’s see if Canada falls deeper into totalitarianism or if Jordan Peterson’s fight turns out to be the stone that strikes Goliath in the forehead.

Gunnlaugur Jónsson

This article was originally published on Krossgötur in Icelandic. It has been edited slightly for international readers.

Published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
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  • Thorsteinn Siglaugsson

    Thorsteinn Siglaugsson is an Icelandic consultant, entrepreneur and writer and contributes regularly to The Daily Sceptic as well as various Icelandic publications. He holds a BA degree in philosophy and an MBA from INSEAD. Thorsteinn is a certified expert in the Theory of Constraints and author of From Symptoms to Causes – Applying the Logical Thinking Process to an Everyday Problem.

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