He's a "rock-star" psychologist and author with an almost religious following on YouTube - and he has a blunt message for young people.
jordan peterson
© Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star/Getty Images
Prof. Jordan Peterson of the University of Toronto is the author of the best-selling book “12 Rules For Life.”
Depending on who you ask, Professor Jordan B. Peterson is either the most influential public intellectual in the western world at the moment, or an "alt-right" figurehead who peddles "pseudo-facts" and conspiracy theories.

But there's no denying that the Canadian clinical psychologist and author, currently in Australia for a sold-out lecture series in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane to promote his best-selling book 12 Rules for Life, has struck a nerve.

Dr Peterson, who shot to international fame in late 2016 as a result of his opposition to proposed changes to Canada's anti-discrimination laws, has amassed an almost religious following of largely young men with his strident criticisms of political correctness, identity politics, "neo-Marxism" and western feminism.

His YouTube lectures and videos have collectively amassed more than 45 million views, while his appearances on popular podcasts like the Joe Rogan Experience draw huge audiences. In January, a fiery interview with UK TV host Cathy Newman on the gender pay gap went viral, and has now been viewed more than eight million times.

At its core, Dr Peterson's message - informed by 20 years' of clinical practice - is simply that people must grow up, accept the burden of suffering, and take responsibility for their lives. "It's partly responsibility," he told ABC's 7.30 on Monday.

"I don't think that people have talked to young people about responsibility in any real sense - and been on their side at the same time - for, like 50 years. And that's just too long, because most people find the meaning in their life through responsibility."

Unsurprisingly, Dr Peterson has been attacked relentlessly by the political left. Canadian magazine Maclean's panned him as the "stupid man's smart person", accusing him of peddling something similar to a "literal Nazi conspiracy theory" that Marxist academics are "out to destroy Western civilisation".

A music writer for The Guardian said his arguments were "riddled with conspiracy theories and crude distortions of subjects, including postmodernism, gender identity and Canadian law, that lie outside his field of expertise".

Dr Peterson's appearances on university campuses regularly attract demonstrations - at a recent appearance at Queen's University in Canada, protesters surrounded the building and smashed windows. One was later caught with a garotte.

The 55-year-old has been highly critical of Western universities and in particular the humanities departments, which he blames for much of anti-free speech culture seeping into the private sector as graduates enter the workforce at companies like Google.

He said it was "hard to tell" what the long-term impacts would be. "The broader social effect is not going to be good, because lots of the things that are happening in the universities that aren't good are already leaking out into the broader social world," Dr Peterson said.

"Part of what is going to happen is that people are going to stop coming and speaking on campuses. The comedians in the United States, many of them already won't come and do their shows on campus, because everybody is so sensitive to offence.

"But it also drives political polarisation, which isn't a good thing, unless you want to drive political polarisation. And I think the universities are going to cut the branch off that they sit on."

He hit back at the suggestion being sensitive to causing offence was akin to good manners. "It's a terrible problem," Dr Peterson said. "Imagine the rule is you can't offend anyone. Let's say you're speaking to one person.

"I can't offend you - all right, fair enough. What if I'm speaking to 10 people? Do I get to offend one in 10? How about one in 100? How about one in 1000? You're going to come out onstage and you're going to say something important about something vital and you're not going to offend one person in 1000?

"You can't say something important about anything ever, without offending. Important speech about important issues, especially contentious issues, is instantly offensive."

On the Canadian law that started it all, Bill C-16 - which made it illegal to refuse to refer to a transgender person by their preferred "gender pronoun" - Dr Peterson described it as worse than a mere curtailment of free speech.

"It's a demand that the population uses a certain kind of linguistic approach," he said. "It's an appropriation of speech. There's no excuse for that. That never has happened once in the history of English common law. It's a barrier that we do not cross."

Dr Peterson said hate speech laws were "bad enough". "Who is going to regulate it? Who is going to define it? I know the answer to that - the last people in the world you would want to," he said.

"And then we've crossed another barrier and we allow the government to compel speech for some hypothetically compassionate reason? No way. That's a really bad idea."