“Go to hell!” That was American-Muslim scholar, Dr Omar Suleiman’s fiery response to controversial Canadian psychologist, Jordan Peterson, after the 62-year-old tweeted his support of an impending Israeli massacre in Gaza. “Give ’em hell [Netanyahu],” Peterson had posted on X, cheering on the Israeli Prime Minister, while seemingly oblivious to the fact that Gaza had already been turned into hell by a 16-year Israeli siege simply for voting the wrong political party. “Enough is enough,” Peterson added for good measure.
Give 'em hell@netanyahu
Enough is enough
— Dr Jordan B Peterson (@jordanbpeterson) October 7, 2023
It is no secret that Peterson’s sympathy lies with the apartheid state. My colleagues at MEMO had in fact pointed this out following his interview with Netanyahu last year. Peterson’s defence of Israel, unfortunately, reflects a broader moral blind spot among many Western intellectuals and politicians. They apply hypocritical double standards, acting as apologists for Israel’s system of apartheid and racism, while proclaiming their own moral and intellectual superiority. Oblivious to their own contradiction and moral failing, their willingness to excuse and enable injustice undermines their claims to fostering enlightened values.
Peterson’s inflammatory tweet cheering Israeli aggression, however, reveals something more sinister than the typical moral blind spot of Western centrists. For someone who constantly reminds his followers that he is “precise” with words and exhibits philosophical doubt and caution, his certainty in calling for violence against Palestinians is jarring. How can a man so wary of making precise declarations be so confident in advocating the slaughter of a besieged people?
Despite all his lectures warning against tyranny and authoritarianism, Peterson has no trouble setting aside his professed ambivalence about God to unambiguously demand bloodshed. His rhetoric exposes a dark hypocrisy – moral uncertainty when it comes to his own views, but certainty when urging the destruction of human lives he deems unworthy. Such casual dehumanisation exposes the hollowness of Peterson’s philosophy and world view.
Peterson’s bellicose rhetoric did not end with encouraging Netanyahu to ruthlessly attack Gaza. In a second inflammatory tweet, two days later, Peterson scorned calls for a ceasefire, exhibiting the unhinged mindset of someone not only disconnected from reality-as evidenced by his many others tweets over the past two day- but also oblivious to his responsibility as a public intellectual. “We’re Wayyyyyyyyyyy Past that,” said Peterson in X, sharing an alleged report of a call for a ceasefire by Hamas.
Past that https://t.co/2LHZrpILjn
— Dr Jordan B Peterson (@jordanbpeterson) October 9, 2023
Given their influence, Peterson’s inflammatory comments call into question the role and responsibility of public intellectuals. Ironically, Peterson himself seems cognizant of the burdens that come with having a huge global platform. In a recent interview with Piers Morgan, he acknowledged the heavy toll his status as an influential thinker has taken on his life. He broke down in tears while conveying the weighty sense of duty he feels to use his privileged position wisely.
Yet, despite such dramatic reflections on his far-reaching responsibility, days after his interview with Morgan, Peterson acted with callous irresponsibility when he used his powerful voice to encourage violence against Palestinians. His emotional reflections clash jarringly with his incendiary tweets. For an intellectual who recognises his own burden of duty, Peterson’s reckless comments were a failure to live up to the very responsibilities he so powerfully described.
It is worth stating why Peterson has been elevated to the status of public intellectual. His rise to fame reveals much about the divisions and malaise of modern society. In many ways, his elevation reflects the psychological unrest of our times. Drawing on Philip Rieff’s critique in The Triumph of the Therapeutic, our age is defined by the decline of traditional cultures and the displacement of spiritual meaning with an emphasis on therapy and the self. In this context, it is unsurprising that a clinical psychologist like Peterson has gained the status of a demagogue, providing consolation for millions of lost souls.
As Rieff predicted, the epidemic of psychological and spiritual disorders brought on by modernity has created demand for therapy and meaning that Peterson provides to millions of alienated people. His success speaks to the therapeutic disorder of society. An age obsessed with the inner self predictably turns a therapist offering answers into a revered demagogue. Peterson’s persona as anti-hero matches the temperament of our times. His rise reveals how modern culture seeks psychological treatment and meaning from thinkers who reject the radical individualism and malaise of the present age.
Peterson rose to prominence by positioning himself as a counter to the excesses of contemporary progressive movements. His impassioned critiques of political correctness, identity politics and campus culture resonated with those who felt that modern liberalism had gone too far. However, while often portrayed as an ally of traditional conservatism, the reality of Peterson’s ideas and their implications are more complex, and now turns out to be violent and dark. Though allying with conservatives on issues of free speech and opposition to radical left ideologies, the core of Peterson’s views is at odds with a vision of peace and harmony.
Many have questioned Peterson’s credentials as a public intellectual. However, his recent advocacy for aggressively bombing Gaza makes his unsuitability undeniable. In calling for raining death and destruction on two million Gazans, including one million children, Peterson revealed a disturbing bloodlust incompatible with thought leadership. This lifts the mask, exposing him as unfit for such status.
In our therapeutic age, stopping Peterson’s influence may prove impossible. Yet, no credible public thinker would celebrate atrocities in this manner. Regardless of one’s positions, cheering civilian carnage disqualifies Peterson’s status as an intellectual and uncovers him as a spiritual charlatan. Those doubting his suitability can now point clearly to his Gaza statements as evidence. Any sage guidance he provides stands negated by his failure of wisdom and morality on this issue. Peterson’s revealed disposition marks the definitive end to considering him a constructive voice.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.