The trope “Tall Poppy Syndrome” refers to the impulse in some countries, Canada amongst them, to cut down to size any cultural peer who achieves uncommonly high status and international success. It is a particularly pronounced phenomenon amongst left-leaning tribes in academia and the punditocracy.
Canadian psychologist and academic Jordan B. Peterson presently reigns as the tallest poppy Canada has produced in recent memory (or maybe ever). As predictably as night follows day, Peterson’s meteoric rise drew out some long Canadian scythes. Their prey has to date, however, remained unbloodied.
Journalist Tabatha Southey’s dull blade didn’t even cause a nick on Peterson’s neck with her puerile Macleans.ca attack, sneeringly titled “Is Jordan Peterson the stupid man’s smart person?” And University of Toronto English Literature lecturer Ira Wells, who published his under fact-checked, near-slanderous “The Professor of Piffle” in The Walrus magazine, was himself mowed to stubble by writer Paul Benedetti in his Quillette.com piece, “The Peterson Principle: Intellectual Complexity and Journalistic Incompetence.”
Now Jesse Brown, publisher of Canadalandshow.com, has taken his whack at the poppy in a New York Times op-ed, “Only a country like Canada could Produce a Guy like Jordan Peterson.” For the average reader, unfamiliar with Peterson’s oeuvre, it probably seemed quite reasonable. But to anyone who has acquired a deep familiarity with Peterson’s public work and value system – and Jesse Brown is clearly not amongst them – Brown’s piece is a truly tawdry hit job.
Brown’s thesis, conceived so as to spare himself time delving into Peterson’s oeuvre and any intellectual rigour in engaging on the front of ideas, posits Peterson as a national straw figure representing a few broadly-defined Canadian characteristics. In this way, he can triumphantly shoot down the notion that Peterson is in any way, you know, special.
For Peterson, Brown says, is not the least bit extraordinary. Nothing to see here, folks, so please move along. There is nothing fresh, original or brilliant in his best-selling book, Twelve Rules for Life (which I am pretty sure Brown has not read more than 20 pages of, if that). Those hundreds of videotaped lectures on the Bible and the ideas of Solzhenitsyn, Dostoevsky, Jung, and Jesus are of no importance or interest whatsoever.
The approximately 200 million views of his appearances on his own YouTube channel and those of others:? None of it suggests we have before us anyone deserving of any right-thinking individual’s attention.
That famous Channel 4 interview with Cathy Newman, watched by 8.4 million viewers? Pfft! There is nothing in it whatsoever to tell us about feminism or media bias. The only people watching must all be “disaffected males.” (This is Canadaland-speak for “deplorables” – and by the way, three of those viewings are mine.)
In fact, Brown informs us, Jordan Peterson is actually just a typical Canadian, “the default setting of the Canadian male: a dull but stern dad.” Peterson is even a symbol of “our national preference for stasis.” (Stasis. Jordan Peterson. Jordan Peterson. Stasis. Sorry, not computing.)
So, according to Brown’s logic, any dull but stern dad in Canada could have mirrored Peterson’s trajectory, if only he adds to that description “ a reserve of barely contained hostility toward anyone who might rock [his] boat.” Could the next default Canadian male to rocket to celebrity be Jesse Brown? After all, he is dull and stern, and he too has a “boat,” with the clinching fact that he registers “barely contained hostility” on Twitter to anyone who rocks it.
Seriously, this dud op-ed is embarrassingly jejune for someone who poses as a responsible journalist, not to mention riddled with inaccuracies and clichés, and therefore a blot on the NYT’s opinion-page landscape.
For example, Brown refers to Peterson’s book’s “sixth rule for life,” in which chapter he criticizes young social activists who presume to tell the world how to set itself in order before they have learned to think for themselves – i.e. before setting their own house in order. Brown claims this argument would have prevented Martin Luther King “from ever speaking up.” But MLK only became an activist in grad school after acquiring two undergraduate degrees, so in fact, he bears out Peterson’s argument, not Brown’s.
Brown also references Peterson’s remarks on young activists – “It’s just not right to tell people…that they should go out and change the socioeconomic structure of the culture!” – as part of a “fiery sermon.” But these words were delivered in a one-on-one interview. I’ve seen it. They were not part of a sermon, nor were his firmly straightforward comments “fiery.”
Moreover, Peterson did not “leverage” his defiant stance against Bill C-16 because the bill concerned gender expression, as Brown suggests. Peterson’s beef wasn’t about gender. He is against compelled speech of any kind. Brown’s insouciant waving off of Peterson’s legitimate principled objections demonstrates that he has no appreciation for the seriousness of C-16’s freedom-of-speech implications.
Finally, Brown really should know better than to play that now-tired and tiresome card of the “previously obscure” academic. Come on. Albert Einstein and Bill Gates were also once “previously obscure.” The fact that Brown resorted to such a cheap shot, though, says more about him than about Peterson.
And you know what it says? It says, “I can barely contain my rage that somebody who doesn’t share my ideas and values, someone who is a less worthy Canadian than I, is being rewarded with mass attention, admiration and money that rightfully should be mine, if there was any justice in the world. I am so envious I can hardly bear it.”
Get over yourself, Jesse Brown. Peterson is where he is, fair and square, because masses and masses of people are hungry for the verities and common sense and classically liberal values he stands for.
He is famous because in the current cultural climate, dominated by the velvet totalitarianism embraced by our chattering classes, vanishingly few members of the intelligentsia have the courage to face down the ideological mobbing they get from you and your ilk when they speak their mind and conscience.
Jordan B. Peterson is not the “default” Canadian. He is not the default anyone. He is unique. And you’re not. Deal with it.