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Stop using Jordan Peterson to explain social issues

Let’s all take a step back and critically think about Jordan Peterson’s arguments and character

By Caterina Fumero


Photo courtesy via Wikimedia Commons


This article will not fall into the classical dichotomy of either adoring or hating Jordan Peterson: actually, if I get to annoy both sides I will be happy.

In case you have not heard of him, Jordan Peterson is a psychologist, who lately has become very famous because of his books, and because of his YouTube lectures. So far so good.

So, what’s the problem?

He is a good, maybe even great, public speaker. He has got the facts with him. His arguments make sense. If you do not know anything about Sociology

Well, many describe him as conservative (again, sometimes we should recognize that political ideas go far beyond the US conservative-democrats polarity) and attack him personally for his ideas. A striking example is the Channel 4 News’ interview.

It was painful to watch.

Plus, the amount of hate he gets online is incredible, usually from people that define themselves as ‘democrats’ or what he calls the ‘radical left’ (whatever that means). And obviously, as everything nowadays, there is a polarized view on this guy: many feel represented, and they use the amount of hate that he gets as a pretext to show how bad and senseless the left is. On the other side, I must say this, no one deserves the amount of hate that he gets. It is embarrassing that people attack him personally online when they disagree with him, and no good points on why they actually disagree are ever made.

Psychology is a great tool to understand your surroundings, but it is not the greatest way to read society

That being said, here is the thing on Jordan Peterson.

He has a bachelor degree in psychology, and a PhD in clinical psychology. I have absolutely no problem with his online lectures on this subject. Actually, if you go and listen to them they are quite interesting.

Nevertheless, lately he has had the habit to speak about social issues. No problem there, if it was not for the way he does it. He is a good, maybe even great, public speaker. He has got the facts with him. His arguments make sense.

If you do not know anything about Sociology.

Or Anthropology.

Or Philosophy.

Or History.

There is a reason all these subjects combine together to explain society. There is a reason for the existence of a discipline – literally called Sociology – that studies social phenomena, and that it is not psychology.

Don’t get me wrong, psychology is a great tool to understand your surroundings. But it is not the greatest way to read society. Jordan Peterson had a PhD in clinical psychology, and you can see that in his arguments. Everything is based on statistics and psychological studies.

Statistics do not consider factors such as culture, religion, history, social norms

Let’s analyse the facts then, shall we?

Between 2003 and 2007, 96% of psychological research was conducted in the West, meaning that we lack information to know whether the results are actually applicable to the world population, or if certain things are culturally specific. Statistics are great, but they are numbers. Numbers give you a broad picture of what is going on. Statistics do not consider factors such as culture, religion, history, social norms.

It is exactly the same thing of having an English dictionary, and claim you know the language. You know words, which is a good first step, but they are just translations of terms out of context. To know the language you need to know the grammar rules, the syntax, how words assume different meanings in various contexts etcetera.

Social sciences are to society what all of the above are to language. You absolutely cannot take any of those elements out of the picture to understand a language.

It is like having a degree in Physics and pretending you are an electrical engineer. Yes, physics is important in the subject, but honestly, I would much rather have you stick to your specialty, or actually study engineering before working in that field.

Jordan Peterson actually offers many interesting psychological learning opportunities, but when it comes to society, just leave it to Chomsky please

So, when it comes to understanding gender studies, families, pay gaps, wars, you cannot just use psychological explanations. Or statistics. You need to understand how culture has affected social norms. And to do that you need to see how western philosophy has shaped our culture. So you might need to study history to understand the context of when those philosophical theories were formulated. And to just erase all of this, to just take into account a discipline that has been around for 150 years more or less, is quite reductive.


Therefore, Jordan Peterson actually offers many interesting psychological learning opportunities, but when it comes to society, just leave it to Chomsky please.


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