Jordan Peterson
© Rene Johnston / Toronto Star/ File
Jordan Peterson giving a lecture at the University of Toronto last year. Peterson is the author of bestselling self-help book 12 Rules for Life.


Dayton:
Could the plight of today's 20-something white American male be cured with a self-help book?

For thousands, the answer appears to be a surprising yes.

The author, Jordan Peterson, is a clinical psychologist and college professor from Canada. He derives answers from theology, psychiatry and philosophy for questions about life, gender roles, and other hot button topics. His book, 12 Rules of Life: An Antidote to Chaos, is currently No. 6 on Amazon.com and is No.1 in self-help categories.

Flipping the pages, this isn't a book of Oprah Winfrey mantras on positivity. It's theme is simple - life is not supposed to be easy. In fact, life is "a catastrophe." Peterson's advice runs the gamut from the simplistic and common-sense - standup straight with your shoulders back at all times, and don't forget to make your bed and clean up your room in the morning - to the more life-changing and revelatory. Happiness is a worthless pursuit in life, according to Peterson.

The book, his subsequent lecture videos, and a very public and pugilistic interview on UK's Channel 4 against anchor Cathy Newman (the video has been watched 7 million times on YouTube), have skyrocketed Peterson to a rare level of celebrity. He's the public intellectual of the moment in the United States, with fame approaching the level of that once held by Christopher Hitchens.

Peterson's concern for young men and boys has set him on an emotional quest- he openly cried during a radio interview describing emails and social media messages he has received from his viewers.

Part of Peterson's fame reflects a feared crisis in young American men today. They are often stereotyped as either basement dwelling video game addicts or frat boy alpha male misogynists, out of touch both with society and their female counterparts - many with no real ambition or suitablity for marriage.

The decline of manufacturing in the US has also closed off a clear path in the work world for many young men.

Peterson will appear in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane next month.

Peterson sees young men as victims of a society that hasn't prepared them to be men, where postmodern, identity group politics has leaked out of the campuses and into the elementary schools, where being an energetic boy is considered a mental health defect, as social media rumors say.

What they find in Peterson is a guide and someone who is frank, and honest about reality. Peterson doesn't simplify the world's problems, he acknowledges them as complicated and that has given him credibility among his fans, who are navigating the new world of ever changing sexual politics, be it at school, work or the dating sphere. His lectures combine his expertise in clinical psychology, along with religious themes and Jungian psychiatry. He skips postmodern and ideological meanings, and gives answers in metaphors that run the range from philosophy and religion to Greek mythology.

The answers are complicated, and in many cases, there are no answers, but young men have found guidance in his videos and now his book, and believe they have found an honest broker.

Peterson painting the world as a dark place isn't surprising for Generation Xers, who came of age during the Cold War and the possibility of nuclear annihilation.

But it's revelatory to some of Peterson's younger interviewers and even shocking.

Peterson would suggest meeting in a coffee shop in public if you were to pursue an online relationship, and avoid bars and sex for at least four dates.

This statement led to one interviewer on Vice News to guffaw and react with shock. "Not even a bar on a first date?"


Young men have found a public advocate, after years of real or imagined blamed for being the cause of all the world's problems; and for not meeting the expectations of anyone. The millennial male is neither sufficiently manly as a whole, or is toxically masculine, depending on the given think piece, magazine article or girlfriend.

But watching and reading Peterson, and analysing what his audience is attracted to most, it suggests young men are crippled by a prolonged adolescence. They were never given the tools to progress to maturity or the tests to gain the confidence to take their place in the world as adults.

As Peterson's popularity has grown, so have the number of women who have begun watching his videos and lectures. It seems adolescence is a cage that spares neither sex when it enters adulthood, and despite the supposed sophistication of young people, there's a lack of maturity the group desperately tries to hide in many instances, as confessed by some comments in his videos.

Maybe Peterson is profiting on another trend of self-indulgence, something common among all ages and groups in the age of social media. Normally that would be the case, but with the current and future challenges faced by our young people, they need all the guidance, and self-help they can get.