Jordan Peterson

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Jordan B. Peterson
Peterson Lecture (33522701146).png
Peterson at the University of Toronto, 2017
Born Jordan Bernt Peterson
(1962-06-12) June 12, 1962 (age 54)
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Residence Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Nationality Canadian
Fields Psychology
Institutions Harvard University (1993–97)
University of Toronto (1997–present)
Alma mater University of Alberta (B.A.)
McGill University (Ph.D)

Jordan Bernt Peterson (born June 12, 1962) is a Canadian clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. His main areas of study are the psychology of religious and ideological belief, and the assessment and improvement of personality and performance. He authored Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief in 1999.

Peterson grew up in Fairview, Alberta. He earned a B.A. in political science in 1982 and a B.A. in psychology in 1984, both from the University of Alberta, and his Ph.D in clinical psychology from McGill University in 1991. He remained at McGill University as a post-doctoral fellow for two years before moving to Massachusetts, where he worked as an assistant and associate professor in the psychology department at Harvard University. In 1997, he moved to the University of Toronto as a full professor.

In 2016, Peterson released a series of videos on his YouTube channel in which he criticized the Canadian government's Bill C-16. The videos sparked an ongoing controversy that received significant media coverage.

Childhood and education[edit]

Peterson was born on June 12, 1962 and grew up in Fairview, Alberta, a small town northwest of his birthplace Edmonton. He was the eldest of three children born to Beverley, a librarian at the Fairview campus of Grande Prairie Regional College, and Walter Peterson, a schoolteacher.[1] His middle name is Bernt, after his Norwegian great-grandfather.[2]

His childhood was bookish and he was instilled with a Protestant work ethic; he learned to read at the age of 3 and attended the United Church of Canada with his mother. When he was 13, he was introduced to George Orwell and Ayn Rand by his school librarian Sandy Notley—Rachel Notley's mother. He also worked for the New Democratic Party (NDP) throughout his teenage years, but grew disenchanted with the party due to what he saw as a preponderance of "the intellectual, tweed-wearing middle-class socialist" who "didn’t like the poor; they just hated the rich."[1] He left the NDP at the age of 18.[3]

After graduating from Fairview High School in 1979, Peterson entered the Grande Prairie Regional College to study political science. He later transferred to the University of Alberta, where he completed his B.A. in 1982.[3] Afterwards, he took a year off to visit Europe. There he developed an interest in the psychological origins of the Cold War and was plagued by apocalyptic nightmares about the escalation of the nuclear arms race. As a result, he became depressed about mankind's capacity for evil and destruction, and dove into the works of Carl Jung, Friedrich Nietzsche and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in an attempt to rationalise his emotions.[1] He then returned to the University of Alberta, and received a B.A. in psychology in 1984.[4]

In 1985, he moved to Montreal to attend McGill University. He earned his Ph.D. in clinical psychology under the supervision of Robert O. Pihl and Maurice Dongier in 1991, and remained as a post-doctoral fellow at McGill's Douglas Hospital until 1993.[5]


From 1993 to 1997 Peterson lived in Arlington, Massachusetts, while teaching and conducting research at Harvard University as an assistant and an associate professor in the psychology department. There he studied aggression arising from drug and alcohol abuse.[3] During his time at Harvard, he entertained and supervised a number of unusual thesis proposals.[3] After Harvard, he returned to Canada and took a position at the University of Toronto.[4]

In 2004, a 13-part TV series based on his book Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief aired on TVOntario.[4] He has also appeared on TVO on shows such as Big Ideas, and has been a frequent guest and essayist on TVO's The Agenda with Steve Paikin since 2008.

In January 2017, he hired a professional production team to film the lectures he gives to his psychology class at the University of Toronto using funds he started to receive through the crowd-sourcing/subscription website Patreon after he became embroiled in the free speech/gender pronouns controversy (he had reached $14,000 per month in support as of January 2017, and over $30,000 per month as of May 2017).[6]

Peterson was nominated for the position of Rector of the University of Glasgow in March 2017.[7] He came fifth in the election; lawyer Aamer Anwar came first.

In April 2017, Peterson was denied a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant for the first time in his career, which he interpreted as retaliation for his statements regarding Bill C-16.[8] In response, The Rebel Media launched an Indiegogo campaign on Peterson's behalf.[9] The campaign raised $195,000 by its end on May 6, equivalent to over two years of research funding.[10]


On September 27, 2016, Peterson released the first installment of a three-part lecture video series, entitled "Fear and the Law".[6][11] In the video, he stated he would not use the preferred gender pronouns of students and faculty, and announced his objection to the Canadian government's Bill C-16, which proposes to add "gender identity or expression" as a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act, as well to the list of identifiable groups whom it is illegal under the Criminal Code to promote genocide or publicly incite hatred against.[12]

He stated that his objection to the bill was based on potential free speech implications if the criminal code is amended, as he claimed he could then be prosecuted under provincial human rights laws if he refuses to call a transsexual student or faculty member by their preferred pronoun.[13] Furthermore, he argued that the new amendments paired with section 46.3 of the Ontario Human Rights Code would make it possible for employers and organizations to be subject to punishment under the code if any employee or associate says anything that can be construed "directly or indirectly" as offensive, "whether intentionally or unintentionally."[14] Other academics challenged Peterson's interpretation of C-16.[13]

The series of videos drew criticism from transgender activists, faculty and labour unions, and critics accused Peterson of fostering a climate of hate.[6] Protests erupted on campus, some including violence, and the controversy attracted international media attention.[15][16] In November, the National Post published an op-ed by Peterson in which he elaborated on his opposition to the bill and explained why he publicly made a stand against it. He stated:

I will never use words I hate, like the trendy and artificially constructed words "zhe" and "zher." These words are at the vanguard of a post-modern, radical leftist ideology that I detest, and which is, in my professional opinion, frighteningly similar to the Marxist doctrines that killed at least 100 million people in the 20th century.

I have been studying authoritarianism on the right and the left for 35 years. I wrote a book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief, on the topic, which explores how ideologies hijack language and belief. As a result of my studies, I have come to believe that Marxism is a murderous ideology. I believe its practitioners in modern universities should be ashamed of themselves for continuing to promote such vicious, untenable and anti-human ideas, and for indoctrinating their students with these beliefs. I am therefore not going to mouth Marxist words. That would make me a puppet of the radical left, and that is not going to happen. Period.[17]

In response to the controversy, the HR department of the University of Toronto sent Peterson two letters of warning, one noting that free speech had to be made in accordance with human rights legislation and the other adding that his refusal to use the preferred personal pronouns of students and faculty upon request could constitute discrimination. Peterson speculated that these warnings letters were leading up to formal disciplinary action against him, but in December the university assured him that he would retain his professorship, and in January 2017 he returned to teach his psychology class at the University of Toronto.[6]

In February 2017, Maxime Bernier, candidate for leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, stated that he shifted his position on Bill C-16 after meeting with Peterson and discussing it.[18] Peterson's analysis of the bill has also been frequently cited by senators who are opposed to its passage.[19]

In May, Peterson spoke against Bill C-16 at a senate committee on legal and constitutional affairs hearing. He was one of 24 witnesses who were invited to speak on the bill.[19]


Something we cannot see protects us from something we do not understand. The thing we cannot see is culture, in its intrapsychic or internal manifestation. The thing we do not understand is the chaos that gave rise to culture.

If the structure of culture is disrupted, unwittingly, chaos returns. We will do anything--anything--to defend ourselves against that return.

—Jordan B. Peterson, 1998 (Descensus ad Inferos)[20]

In 1999, Routledge published Peterson's Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. The book, which took Peterson 13 years to complete, describes a comprehensive theory for how we construct meaning, represented by the mythical process of the exploratory hero, and provides an interpretation of religious and mythical models of reality presented in a way that is compatible with modern scientific understanding of how the brain works. It synthesizes ideas drawn from narratives in mythology, religion, literature and philosophy, as well as research from neuropsychology, in "the classic, old-fashioned tradition of social science."[20]

Peterson's primary goal was to figure out the reasons why individuals, not simply groups, engage in social conflict, and try to model the path individuals take that results in atrocities like the Gulag, Auschwitz and the Rwandan genocide. Peterson considers himself a pragmatist, and uses science and neuropsychology to examine and learn from the belief systems of the past and vice versa, but his theory is primarily phenomenological. In the book, he explores the origins of evil, and also posits that an analysis of the world's religious ideas might allow us to describe our essential morality and eventually develop a universal system of morality.[21]

Harvey Shepard, writing in the Religion column of the Montreal Gazette, stated: "To me, the book reflects its author's profound moral sense and vast erudition in areas ranging from clinical psychology to scripture and a good deal of personal soul searching. ... Peterson's vision is both fully informed by current scientific and pragmatic methods, and in important ways deeply conservative and traditional."[22]

Online projects[edit]

Peterson has produced a series of online writing exercises including: the Past Authoring Program, a guided autobiography; two Present Authoring Programs, which allow the user to analyze his or her personality faults and virtues in accordance with the Big Five personality model; and the Future Authoring program, which steps users through the process of envisioning and then planning their desired futures. The latter program was used with McGill University undergraduates on academic probation to improve their grades.[23]

The Self Authoring programs were developed in partial consequence of research conducted by James W. Pennebaker at the University of Texas and Gary Latham at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. Pennebaker demonstrated that writing about traumatic or uncertain events and situations improved mental and physical health, while Latham has demonstrated that planning exercises that are personal help make people more productive.[23]

Peterson records his lectures and uploads them to YouTube. His YouTube channel has amassed more than 250,000 subscribers and his videos have received more than 10 million views as of May 2017. He has also appeared on the The Joe Rogan Experience, The Gavin McInnes Show, Sam Harris's Waking Up podcast, Steven Crowder's Louder with Crowder, Dave Rubin's Rubin Report, Stefan Molyneux's Freedomain Radio and many other online shows about the free speech/gender pronouns controversy as well as his work as a psychologist. In December 2016, Peterson started his own podcast, The Jordan B. Peterson Podcast, which has 17 episodes as of May 11, 2017.[24]

Personal life[edit]

Peterson married his wife, Tammy Peterson (née Roberts), in 1989 and has two children: a daughter, Mikhaila (born 1992), and a son, Julian (born 1993).[6]


  1. ^ a b c McBride, Jason (January 25, 2017). "The Pronoun Warrior". Toronto Life. 
  2. ^ Peterson, Jordan B. (March 23, 2017). "Bernt. Pronounced Bear-ent. It's Norwegian, after my great grandfather.". 
  3. ^ a b c d Krendl, Anne C. (April 26, 1995). "Jordan Peterson: Linking Mythology to Psychology". The Harvard Crimson. 
  4. ^ a b c Staff writer(s) (January 27, 2004). "Former Fairviewite gets TV miniseries". Fairview Post. 
  5. ^ Staff writer(s) (August 14, 2016). "Biography: Jordan Peterson". University of Toronto. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Winsa, Patty (January 15, 2017). "He says freedom, they say hate. The pronoun fight is back". Toronto Star. 
  7. ^ Ferreira, Victor (March 3, 2017). "Jordan Peterson, Milo Yiannopoulos backed to become University of Glasgow rector despite clashing with gender policy". National Post. 
  8. ^ Blatchford, Christie (April 3, 2017). "'An opportunity to make their displeasure known': Pronoun professor denied government grant". National Post. 
  9. ^ Savva, Sophia (May 1, 2017). "Jordan Peterson's federal funding denied, Rebel Media picks up the tab". The Varsity. 
  10. ^ Artuso, Antonella (May 12, 2017). "Supporters fund U of T professor Jordan Peterson's research". Toronto Sun. 
  11. ^ DiManno, Rosie (November 19, 2016). "New words trigger an abstract clash on campus". Toronto Star. 
  12. ^ Craig, Sean (28 September 2016). "U of T professor attacks political correctness, says he refuses to use genderless pronouns". National Post. 
  13. ^ a b Chiose, Simona (November 19, 2016). "University of Toronto professor defends right to use gender-specific pronouns". The Globe and Mail. 
  14. ^ Morabito, Stella (October 17, 2016). "Professor Ignites Protests By Refusing To Use Transgender Pronouns". The Federalist. 
  15. ^ Murphy, Jessica (November 4, 2016). "Toronto professor Jordan Peterson takes on gender-neutral pronouns". BBC News. 
  16. ^ Denton, Jack O. (October 12, 2017). "Free speech rally devolves into conflict, outbursts of violence". The Varsity. 
  17. ^ Peterson, Jordan B. (November 21, 2016). "The right to be politically incorrect". National Post. 
  18. ^ Burke, Brendan (Feb 14, 2017). "Conservative leadership candidate Maxime Bernier reverses support for transgender rights bill". CBC News. 
  19. ^ a b Chiose, Simona (May 17, 2017). "U of T professor opposes transgender bill at Senate committee hearing". The Globe and Mail. 
  20. ^ a b Lambert, Craig (September 1998). "Chaos, Culture, Curiosity". Harvard Magazine. 
  21. ^ Peterson, Jordan B (1999). Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. Routledge. p. 12. 
  22. ^ Shepherd, Harvey (November 11, 2003). "Meaning from Myths". Montreal Gazette. 
  23. ^ a b Kamenetz, Anya (July 10, 2015). "The Writing Assignment That Changes Lives". NPR. 
  24. ^ Peterson, Jordan B. (May 1, 2017). "The Jordan B Peterson Podcast". 

External links[edit]