The professor, politico, and impresario Jordan Peterson is known for opposing transgender pronouns as compelled speech. From gotcha TV clips to animated YouTube videos compiling his messages, Peterson seems to be omnipresent.
But he didn’t just appear out of thin air. He’s been talking about psychology online for decades. In fact, when I first stumbled upon Peterson’s YouTube page about two-and-a-half years ago, I didn’t know anything about his political views because he rarely discussed them.
The Atlantic’s Caitlin Flanagan begins her recent article on Peterson, “Why the Left is So Afraid of Jordan Peterson” with an anecdote I share. Like her son, I too discovered Peterson’s class lectures on YouTube, before his channel boasted more than 1 million followers, and found his views about psychology, biblical interpretation, and psychotherapy plain fascinating.
While his political views burst onto the global scene due in part to him challenging transgender issues, social justice warriors, and other harmful aspects of liberal propaganda, his views as a psychology professor are as profound, if not more so. While this is by no means a comprehensive view of his lengthy career as a professor and clinician, here are a few YouTube clips worth watching to discover that, as one commenter quipped, “Back then Jordan Peterson was a refreshing beer, now he’s a fine wine.”
Jordan Peterson on Parenting
Peterson is a father of two and because he has such insight into the human mind due to his academic training, he often weaves observations of parenting and psychology into a brilliant blend of how-does-it-work and how-to. Of course, one of his 12 points from his bestselling “12 Rules for Life” is “Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.”
To that end, there are several fantastic clips on how to discipline the strong-willed child, since, he says, his son was “a tough little rat.” He explains how to know what kids are thinking, and how to teach your child what “no” means.
For many exasperated parents of toddlers, even his advice on how to simply refuse to put up with and ignore a toddler’s temper tantrums until the child can be pleasant is welcome.
Jordan Peterson on People in General
If you enjoy psychology, and seek to understand what motivates humans, you’ll enjoy Peterson’s stories about child’s play and rats (of course) that demonstrate how the human brain is wired for reward. If you’ve never heard this before, your mind will be blown and you’ll instantly recall times you’ve witnessed this, especially with children. It’s one of those nuggets that can be applied universally to so many life situations, from the ball field to the board room.
“And to see that that’s built in, that sense of fair play, that’s mind-boggling … because that’s evidence for the biological instantiation of a complex morality — fair play. Even if you can win, you shouldn’t all the time.”
Jordan Peterson the Theologian
It’s a common theme in Christianity that all humanity suffers evil. While some religions might try to evade this with a “prosperity gospel” (think Joel Osteen) many, particularly reformed theologians like John Piper, encourage Christians to embrace suffering because it can prod a believer on to sanctification.
One of Peterson’s most somber lectures I’ve seen represents his psychological and theological take on suffering. “Life is suffering,” he says matter of factly. “What do you do about that?”
Not only is this lecture a trifecta of theology, psychology, and inspiration, it’s the opposite of what most of pop culture offers young people today. Thus, it needs to be heard all the more. He gets emotional in this clip, a testament to how powerfully he believes in this concept.
“With life, no matter what you do you are all in. This is going to kill you. Might as well play the most magnificent game you can while you’re waiting. Because do you have anything better to do?”
Jordan Peterson on Men, Women, and Romance
Some of my favorite Peterson clips of all time delve into the psyche of men, women, and romantic relationships. He gives everything from explanation to advice and in doing so fulfills everything from professor and therapist to favorite uncle and father.
Here, Peterson describes probably one of the simplest and yet most difficult things one should do in a relationship: Ignore the things your partner does that you don’t like and recognize the things your partner does. As an aside, this video was clearly taken well before Peterson’s foray into politics and you can tell: His face is fuller, he looks younger, and he laughs more. It provides a boost of empathy and a reminder that all humanity ages and wears with time, even Peterson.
One of Peterson’s favorite analogies to help his students understand the psychological makeup of young men are the stories of Peter Pan and Pinocchio, which share similarities. Here, he talks about the tragic life of the man-child, the boy who never grows up, and Tinkerbell, who is the “fairy of porn. … the substitute for the real thing.” (Just try to unsee her that way from now on — you can’t.) It’s brilliant.
Although Peterson rarely mentions the word “alpha,” in several lectures he delves into dominance hierarchies, Freud, and why women want men with alpha traits. It seemed to be, at least during one point in time, a favorite topic. This video is fascinating because he uses children’s stories and films to make his point, particularly using “The Lion King’s” Mufasa to show how men project their alpha traits and correctly integrate their “aggression” into their maturity.
Peterson is not just tough on men, though. In this clip of a brilliant interview with Camille Paglia, he discusses why he thinks men can’t engage with crazy women. He’s not wrong. The entire discussion, which lasts more than an hour, is well worth a listen.
Jordan Peterson on Politics
I promised this list wouldn’t include political topics but this one is unique. In this lecture to a live audience, Peterson appears at first to be making a psychological case for capitalism. “We need genuine hierarchies of competence,” he says. However, because of how capitalism best functions and what a system like that naturally encourages people to do, the lecture morphs into more of an inspirational speech on how people should make something of themselves.
“Go try … aim for the top. What the hell are you going to do if you don’t? Flap about uselessly and whine about your life? You’re going to make yourself miserable … Go out there and make something of yourself. Be an honest person and work and get to the top. Stand up for yourself like a respectable human being and be a bit of a light in the world instead of a blight.”
This snippet is less than ten minutes and you’ll be crying or applauding by the end. It’s Peterson at his TED-talk finest.