Jordan Peterson’s Gravitational Slingshot

Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash

I never tire of the stories. There is something magical about tales of metamorphosis; when, against all odds, a person’s trajectory seemingly defies their point of origin. In astronomy, the gravitational slingshot is a case in point. Imagine a meteor barreling along in one direction, then sucked off course when it enters the gravitational force field of a nearby planet; the meteor is dragged off course. It spins dramatically around the circumference of that planet and shoots out in the exact opposite direction from whence it came! In our metaphor, Jordan Peterson is the planet! Our friend, Jim, the meteor!

Initially, Jim, a young man in Australia, identifies as a ‘guy of the modern world’. Originally from Britain, he subscribes to an anti-colonial narrative. Very involved in the woke movement, Jim was ‘hard-line’. Over the course of 15 years he was, he suggested, busy “woke-izing” his peers. An atheist, a hippie and anti-authoritarian, Jim intended to influence. He was girded to his worldview, with no sign of change in sight.

Then, in 2016, he came upon a video: Jordan Peterson debating transgendered activists. Peterson was concerned about the push to legislate the mandatory use of pronouns for this population. Peterson’s concern: no one in English law had ever been forced to say something; was this a path to totalitarianism, as Peterson forewarned? Jim was getting the distinct idea that in the woke sensibility it was not enough to be tolerant anymore. Was this mentality becoming too prescriptive for his comfort level? Was this a crack in the system that he had embraced so completely? A seed of doubt. He needed to learn more.

Jim hears about Peterson’s Biblical lecture series. He tunes into the first lecture, about the first few words of the Bible. Jim watched. All three hours.

“I was sold! About the necessity of the Bible, the vitality of the Bible… I was blown away.”

In the meantime, Jim’s newfound scepticism about his former worldview and his interest in some of what Peterson was saying garnered attention. His friends were troubled: Jim wasn’t rejecting Peterson out of hand. They began sending him hit pieces about Peterson, intent to shine light on what Jim wasn’t seeing. Jim was open: “I was prepared to be wrong.” He read every article carefully, then would locate the quote that each writer had advanced in making a case.

Each time, Jim researched the source. Each time, he came to the conclusion that Peterson was being deliberately misquoted. Each time the criticism simply didn’t hold up. He tried to gently clarify, “I don’t think this is what he’s saying.”

He lost long-standing friendships. Very good friends.

In one of life’s ironies, Jim’s investment in Peterson’s ideas was accelerated by others trying to discredit these ideas. Jim wouldn’t have done a deep dive into Peterson’s opus except for all this pushback. The more he researched, the more he realized, “I’m on board with him.” He credits Peterson with a lot: “He started me on this journey.”

What journey?

Disillusionment about ‘woke’, then losing friends, then actively taking on one of Peterson’s prescriptions: heal your relationship with your father. Jim started to engage classic sensibilities, the type of thinking that used to characterize Western society. These happen to be values that were held dear by his father — and the patriarchy, more generally, of course. In the past, Jim and his dad used to spar over politics. Now, they were aligned. Laughs Jim, “That’s fun!” His relationship with his dad has never been better.

The next development: when he and his wife initially conceived, Jim was excited about the prospect of becoming a parent. Prior to Peterson, Jim was not particularly inspired by the father archetype, how he might want to embody it. With the influence of Peterson, Jim waxed enthusiastic about fatherhood. He came to see his value added: boundary setting, discipline and providing a frame as an authority figure. Now the father of two, Jim feels Peterson’s imprint on that important role.

Then, the final transformation: having emerged from a decade where “the smartest guy in the room was an atheist” — referring to Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and others — Jim would never have expected he would lift the stake he had firmly planted. And yet, now he felt “lead to something I believed was true and something I needed in my life. Something I needed to do for me and for my kids.”

Jim is now a Christian conservative. Or, as he tells us: “I’ve joined the other team.” He’s always been the guy who wanted to help the underdog. Now, people of faith are the underdog. It’s clear who Jim is rooting for: “I want Team Jesus to win!” Jim cheers on a resurgence of Christianity.

In the past couple of years, while Peterson was struggling, Jim diversified his input, delving into the work of many commentators and important teachers. He never forgets, though, who served as the first cause, the most articulate apologetic for Christianity today. Jim is hopeful that Peterson will continue his good works. And Jim will continue his: kids to raise, dinner to make, values to impart. Jim feels that he’s found the right people to influence. Also the right message.

Looking back in retrospect: Jim’s original impulse was catapulted by one niggling question. Would enforced speech be the first domino to fall, opening the door to additional impositions, breadcrumbs on the path to totalitarianism? Five years later, we talk mere weeks after the Canadian Prime Minister rebukes a so-called ‘fringe’ minority for their “unacceptable views,” freezes bank accounts and stomps on personal freedoms in a manner that, to Jim, seems like the fruition of Peterson’s original warning. Sadly, Canada is not doing well. But, if, as a Canadian, I am tempted towards despair about where we are, (and I am), I’ll follow Jim’s example and take page and verse out of Peterson’s dictum: “It is my firm belief that the best way to fix the world — a handyman’s dream, if ever there was one — is to fix yourself.”

Jordan Peterson’s work: vast in scope and complex in nature. Lobster University Press explores specific themes addressed by Peterson in order to help readers better integrate the material, expand their ‘map of meaning’ and tweak that most important of abilities: the capacity to “turn chaos into habitable order!” These works are the product of discourse and exchange with other JP enthusiasts, as we continue to mine the depth of his work and explore helpful applications.

Learn more about The Jordan Peterson Cheat Sheet: Coloring Book That Can Change Your Life!

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