This basic confusion over his message highlights a larger and sadder phenomenon. Peterson — or, rather, the men who flock to him — clearly need something to fight against (anti-free-speech snowflakes!), and something to fight for (their leader!). Why is that? The subtitle of Peterson’s book is “An Antidote to Chaos,” and many of his readers really do feel as though they’re living lives of fracture and disarray, left to twist in the wind by broken families, a fading economy and new social norms that seem to give succor to everyone except them. Reams of research about young men succumbing to despair, disappearing into video games and pornography and drugs, back them up.
What is most striking to me, though, is the simplicity of the message. Peterson’s teachings are the sort of thing you would expect to learn from a parent, mentor or religious tradition while growing up. Peterson’s role is like that of a clear-eyed friend: someone to whom you can ask questions, with whom you can reflect upon the difficulties of your life. Someone who will give you bracing feedback when needed.
“Who the hell are you, really?”