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Jordan Peterson: The ‘anti-snowflake’ crusader speaks out

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Jordan Peterson: The ‘anti-snowflake’ crusader speaks out

This interview was first published on 28 January 2018

This week Jordan Peterson has taken London by storm. The Canadian psychologist-turned-anti-snowflake crusader has been giving sell-out talks to promote his new book, 12 Rules for Life.

On Monday night at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster, the 1,000-seat conference hall was packed to the gills with mostly white young men, from bearded hipsters to bespectacled nerds, already clutching copies of his book. Extra seats had been laid out and were quickly filled. Rock music was playing and the windows were lit with dramatic red spotlights that flanked an enormous black and white photograph of Peterson, who walked onto the stage to the roar of loud applause. It was as if their messiah had finally arrived.

Earlier in the day I met Peterson in a Holborn flat rented by his publisher to discover what all the fuss is about. A word-of-mouth phenomenon, according to his Penguin publicist, the 55-year-old professor of psychology at the University of Toronto lectures on subjects from the dangers of identity politics and use of gender-neutral pronouns, to the power of mythology and the Bible, to why the works of Jung, Nietzsche and Solzhenitsyn matter today more than ever.

Peterson’s fire-and-brimstone views form the basis of the 12-chaptered book, which offers positive advice about telling the truth always, avoiding losers, finding meaning, standing up straight, doing tough-love parenting and listening to others, among other things.

It is precisely the kind of hardline counselling for which he has long been revered, especially by 25 to 40-year-old men, who thank him profusely for helping turn their lives around. Peterson’s videos have clocked up 150 million views and he has 300,000 Twitter followers. But he is also accused of being an alt-Right, racist transphobe, and “the stupid man’s smart person”. In any event, he despises the far-Left and believes all ideologies are inherently evil.

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“I lived through a tumultuous times when I was writing this book,” says Peterson, adjusting a pencil-slim gold tie that one of his fans has just given him. “Particularly around my actions in relation to Bill C-16.” This Canadian bill, which passed in 2016, means that it is now a criminal offence to refuse to call a person by their chosen gender pronoun, which Peterson has argued is an infringement of free speech.

“When I made a video saying I wasn’t going to abide by Canada’s new speech laws there were demonstrations at the university and a huge backlash against me — but only to begin with. Then I had a huge wave of public support. The trans-activists videotaped the talk in an attempt to discredit me but the comments were about 50 to one in favour of what I was saying.

“I’ve had letters from trans people supporting me because they’re not happy. We’re in this weird time when if someone claims to be a member of a minority group and claims persecution of that group, then they can put themselves forward as valid spokesperson and everyone says OK. But, no, it’s not OK. Just because you’re a trans person doesn’t mean you’re a spokesperson for trans people.”

Soon after this Peterson became embroiled in the case of Lindsay Shepherd, an English graduate teacher at Wilfred Laurier University, Ontario, who was hauled up before faculty members after playing a video clip of Peterson on the gender- neutral pronoun debate to her students without first condemning it. She was told her actions were “like playing neutrally a speech by Hitler or Milo Yiannopoulos”. Shepherd covertly taped her inquisition and took it to the media. The story went viral, after which the university issued a public apology to her.

Peterson says this bears out his fears about the bill. “Except it was worse, since it was used to persecute an innocent person.” As for his own role, he says, half-jokingly, “I turned out to be Hitler himself. Or was I Milo Yiannopoulos? Take your pick. That shows exactly the intellectual level at which these ideologues play — they can’t even get their insults sorted out.”

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It’s easy to see why Peterson attracts controversy. You get the sense he enjoys it, or rather that the evangelical zeal with which he talks compels him towards its flame. With his prairie cowboy style — he grew up in Fairview, northern Alberta — and intense gaze, he speaks in a high-pitched, torrential stream of invective, occasionally shouting, and repeating words to emphasise a point, sliding his wedding ring on and off his finger.

“And then there was James Damore,” he starts up. Peterson video-interviewed the Google engineer after Damore was fired for a memo he wrote questioning the benefits of diversity programmes. Damore also suggested that “the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.”

“To understand Damore,” he says, “you have to understand engineers. Damore was asked by the HR department to a session about diversity, equity, inclusivity, white privilege and all those buzzwords these people use now. He was told they wanted comments, and being an engineer he thought they meant that they wanted comments, because engineers think that when you say something you actually mean it. Engineers aren’t political and there’s a reason for that, which is that if one of the dimensions in which people vary is their interest in ‘people’ versus ‘things’, and one of the biggest gender differences between women and men is their interest in ‘people’ versus ‘things’, then engineers are way the hell over on ‘things’.”

He’s delighted that Damore has just launched a lawsuit against the company for unfair discrimination “against a white male” at the same time as it faces another one over the gender pay gap. “Google is in the wonderful position as far as I’m concerned of being harassed legally on both sides, which is exactly what they deserve for playing identity politics.”

Nor does it end there. “Look up ‘white couple’ on Google Images,” he says suddenly. “Then look up ‘black couple’, then ‘Asian couple’.” Peterson and I look together. If you Google ‘white couple’, the first four images on the top row show a white woman with a black man. “This is way more terrifying than you think, because it means that Google is messing about with algorithms that present information to the public according to a built-in political agenda.”

Hardly surprisingly, he is just as contemptuous of #MeToo identity politics and can hardly contain himself when asked what he thought of Hollywood’s leading ladies parading in black dresses at last weekend’s Golden Globes. “What, you mean really sexually provocative black dresses? Those ones?” he snorts. “That says it all. If there’s one industry that capitalises on the exploitation of casual sex, it’s Hollywood. There are all sorts of reprehensible ways that men treat women, obviously, and I’m not saying Harvey Weinstein’s victims invited their own victimisation, but I’m not impressed by the fact that this went on forever and no one said anything. The issue isn’t male sexual misbehaviour, it’s sexual misbehaviour on the part of women as well as men. But we can’t have an intelligent discussion about that, because all the women are good and all the men are bad.”

Take responsibility for your own actions, he says, and it’s ultimately the message of his book. “You can put things straight in your own life and have a massive effect on the world around you. It’s why the victimisation ideology is so corrosive,” he says in parting.

Whether you agree or not, whether you think he’s a maniac or a messiah, or a little bit of both, Jordan Peterson is here now, and here to stay.

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Monica Jones, Philip Larkin and Me by John Sutherland overview

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Monica Jones, Philip Larkin and Me by John Sutherland review
J

ohn Sutherland’s memoir-cum-biography hinges on a profound problem: how nicely do we definitely know a human being? Sutherland – who is Emeritus Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern day English Literature at UCL, and author of, between other books, Lives of the Novelists: A Heritage of Fiction in 294 Life – ponders which Monica Jones is a lot more true: “The Monica I knew as a younger gentleman in the 1960s? Or the Monica I now know from countless numbers of web pages of manuscript documentation, sixty several years on?”.

Jones, who was born in 1922 and died in 2001, was a lecturer in the English department at University Faculty, Leicester. It was in this potential that Sutherland, who examined there as an undergraduate college student in the early 1960s, came to know her.

But she is very best known as the husband or wife of Philip Larkin. Alongside with Andrew Movement and Anthony Thwaite, she was named 1 of Larkin’s literary executors. Following he died in 1985, she organised his diaries to be shredded and burned.

Roger Lewis condemned her as “the most important felony in literary history”. Christopher Hitchens termed her “frigid, drab and hysterical”. And Kingsley Amis fictionalised her as Margaret Peel in his campus comedy novel Blessed Jim a neurotic academic who is Jim Dixon’s really like interest right until he ultimately abandons her for a more youthful, prettier woman.

Sutherland needs to revive her from these portraits, offer a more well balanced account of her everyday living: “Monica justifies, after all these yrs, very clear-sighted judgement”. The reserve flits between distance and intimacy. It is partly a biography of Jones’s existence – her upbringing, her time at Oxford, her go to Leicester, and her partnership with Larkin.

For this, Sutherland relies on her letters archived at the Bodleian library, and the get the job done on Larkin accomplished by Motion, Thwaite, and James Booth. Other sections of the e book are created with the intimacy of an insider – Sutherland, Boswell-like, portrays her in all her convivial wit and putting personality.

Margaret Monica Beale Jones was born in Llanelli to a working-class Methodist relatives. They later moved to Stourport-on-Severn, in Worcestershire, where by she grew up. Her father’s aspect of the household came from that section of the place her mother’s facet came from Northumberland, and Jones, during her lifestyle, preserved a potent affinity with the North. She was an only boy or girl. And she was fiercely impartial. She wished, Sutherland prices her, “a life chosen by one’s self and not imposed on one”.

This individualism was manifested in her dress design and style. “My very first acquaintance with her”, Sutherland writes, “was ocular. That was how she was publicly recognized: the flamboyance (floating flame) of her dress”. She never published an educational short article or e book in her profession – possibly due to the fact of this, she was under no circumstances promoted, in her 37 many years at Leicester, to the placement of Senior Lecturer.

Lecturing utterly eaten her at the university. In the most participating element of the guide, Sutherland writes how, “Miss Jones would, on celebration, turn out to be so impassioned at the lectern that she ripped the webpages of her handwritten text”. He emphasises this position by introducing that, “On other events she would be so moved by the beauty of the poetry she was looking at out that she would break down, croakingly, in tears and be not able, for a moment or two, to continue”. She scorned Concept and modernism to qualify as worthwhile, a literary do the job desires to contact you. She shared, in short, Larkin’s aesthetic eyesight.

Despite the fact that they were being the two at Oxford at exactly the identical time, Jones and Larkin initial satisfied in Leicester in 1946. They turned enthusiasts in 1950 – the yr Larkin moved to Belfast to acquire up a librarian write-up. For the rest of their connection, which lasted until Larkin’s demise in 1985, he experienced significant affairs with a few other females: Patsy Strang, Maeve Brennan, and Betty Mackereth. Patsy, who was a married female, got expecting by him and experienced a miscarriage. He also pursued a largely chaste seventeen-calendar year intimate affair with Maeve, his Hull University library colleague, which ended before long after she broke with her devout Catholic faith by obtaining premarital intercourse with him. And he began his affair with his library secretary Betty when he was even now in a relationship with each Jones and Maeve. Larkin was the only gentleman Jones at any time slept with.

Right after the death of her parents, in 1959, she grew to become dependent on Larkin. Sutherland argues that Larkin “stripped away relationship from her residing household to have sole dominance”. What makes this stranger is they had been nevertheless living independently, in unique towns. As Sutherland brilliantly puts it: “Theirs was a partnership without the need of the conjugal cement of cohabitation. It was a house developed on ink, paper and postage-stamp”. Larkin was incapable of thoroughly committing. He suffered from what Sutherland calls “relational impotence”. Why did Jones, a self-assured, solid-willed, superior-hunting woman sacrifice her independence for a man who constantly betrayed her? This is one of the inquiries Sutherland ponders. It is, he concludes, simply because of the poetry. Sutherland claims of Jones and Maeve Brennan: “They conspired in the injuries mainly because they thought his literary genius made sacrifice a tribute“.

And she beloved Larkin: “He lied to me, the bugger, but I liked him”. A person thing that deeply connected them, aside from shared literary sensibility, was venomous spite. “In Monica”, Sutherland writes, “spite was a indication of life”. This spite occasionally manifested alone in gratuitous racism. Sutherland shares some of this in the most important human body of text, but only thoroughly confronts the full scale of it in his afterword. This is a structural flaw of the reserve that aims to give a well balanced portrait.

Larkin and Jones conceived a ditty alongside one another in reaction to Harold Wilson getting Primary Minister in 1964 with the verse: “Prison for strikers / Provide back the cat. / Kick out the n*****s / How about that?”. Jones instructed Larkin in a letter she enjoyed singing the tune by itself “to reduce my feelings”. And you can hear the apparent relish with which she sings it in a recorded audio clip of them singing it jointly. (Which you can find on Youtube below, from moment 43:58). She was also viciously anti-Semitic. In a single incident, she describes a socialist lady conversing in the college widespread space as a “mincing lisping international Jew dwarf”.

So who is the genuine Monica Jones? Sutherland affirms in the vicinity of the start off of the e book. “The situation I make in the adhering to pages is not a partisan vindication, nor nil nisi memorial, nor the fond recollections of an undergraduate in the presence of a girl of cultivated mind and life-altering kindness to him”. Nonetheless, he afterwards states: “Despite what has not long ago handed under my eyes, I hold on, stubbornly, to the image of what Monica was to me in the 1960s”. If he is “stubbornly” holding on to that picture, fairly permitting it to be complex, how is this guide not “partisan”?

Larkin himself embodied intricate tensions. He was the pooterish male of Center England who at times dressed as a dandy in bow ties and pink socks. He favored Beatrix Potter to most modern novelists nevertheless owned a large assortment of pornography. He was a passionate jazz aficionado who denounced the Wilson authorities as “n*****-mad”.

The same is real, in her possess way, of Jones. She was a vivacious lecturer but she was also a vile racist. She was a depressed companion to a constitutionally unfaithful person but she was also the woman who cultivated the aesthetic sensibility of a person of the greatest poets of the last century.

To borrow a phrase from Walt Whitman: she “contained multitudes”. Sutherland’s book – normally moving, with some beautifully-expressed insights – would have been greatly strengthened by formally acknowledging her multitudinous character somewhat than browsing, desperately, for the “real” Monica Jones.

Monica Jones, Philip Larkin and Me: Her Daily life and Long Enjoys by John Sutherland (W&N, £20)

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