On Saturday night I braved the hordes of ‘incels’ who flocked to worship their ‘hero’, the psychology professor turned online superstar Jordan Peterson.
Incel stands for ‘involuntary celibate’, and according to actress Olivia White the label fits the angry sexually deprived young men who idolise ‘this insane man’ Peterson, and who regard him as their ‘pseudo-intellectual hero’.
The tweeted accusation brought Peterson to tears when he discussed it with Piers Morgan on his talk show Uncensored in September.
Jordan Peterson (pictured at Britain’s Cambridge University in 2018, has gone from being a little-known professor of psychology at Canada’s Toronto university to worldwide fame
‘I thought the marginalised were supposed to have a voice?’ Peterson said.
‘People have been after me for a long time because I have been speaking to young men, what a terrible thing to do.’
For a close up look at who Peterson’s audience actually is, I attended his ‘Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life’ national speaking tour in Sydney.
The bulk of his audience were young men but it certainly wasn’t exclusively so, there were a substantial number of women plus some distinguished older looking attendees.
After talking to many, the main theme behind their devotion to Peterson was based on his courage ‘ to say things that are meant to be said’.
Ben, 22, said he was there after reading Peterson’s 2019 bestseller ’12 Rules for Life’.
‘I did think it motivated my own personal life and I think for today’s society he’s a good role model. I think he’s someone people my age or adolescents should be looking up to,’ Ben said.
Actress Olivia Wilde (pictured at a November an Oscars awards ceremony in Hollywood) said that Peterson was ‘insane’ and was a ‘hero’ to incels
‘Especially for males in our age, he makes us be more accountable for our day-to-day lives in little things and simply just cleaning up your own act, in your own house and then broadening that out to the wider range of society.’
Ben did not think he was an ‘incel’ or that Peterson’s audience was predominantly ‘incels’.
‘I think there are a lot of different people here, there are a diverse group of people, you just can’t put up an umbrella over all these different people because they like Jordan Peterson,’ he said.
Connor, 25, said he had been a Peterson fan for a couple of years after discovering him on YouTube, which has been the Canadian academic’s springboard to global fame.
‘His (Peterson’s) first book is a great message – clean yourself up, get your basic variables in order try to maximise them before you go out into the world,’ Connor said.
‘There’s a lot of traps that young men can fall into and I think that’s really great advice to counter those ideas.’
Connor, who was waiting to attend Peterson’s lecture in Sydney on Saturday says Peterson’s books have a ‘great message’
As for being ‘anti-woke’, Connor said Peterson is ‘definitely smacking any nonsense that’s being said’.
Peterson’s dedicated YouTube channel has nearly 6 million subscribers and his popularity on the platform soared after he did an interview with UK TV presenter Cathy Newman in 2017.
With a calm and academic demeanour, Peterson systematically challenged Newman’s assertions about the gender pay gap and the footage earned multiple YouTube postings with titles such as How Jordan Peterson owned Cathy Newman’.
The unlikely journey of the 60-year-old Toronto professor and clinical psychologist into becoming a global ‘influencer’ began in 2016 when he refused a university direction to use students’ preferred gender pronouns.
Stances such as this led to accusations he is a ‘darling of the alt right’ as a 2019 Sydney Morning Herald profile labelled him.
‘Alt right’ is a loose description of an internet and meme-driven sexist backlash by ‘angry white males’ against woke notions of equality.
George (pictured left) said that the term ‘incel’ was used to dismiss Peterson’s message and his fans
George, 24, said he had been a fan of Peterson since seeing him on Joe Rogan ‘s podcast, which has also been accused of being a platform of the ‘alt-right’.
‘I like his stance on a lot of political commentary,’ George said.
‘The way he views conservative ways about how men should act.’
George said he did not meet the definition of being an incel as he’d had a girlfriend for a year, and others before that.
He did not believe the term accurately described Peterson or his fans.
‘I don’t think he is like that at all, I think they use that term to dismiss any kind of discourse and dismiss you straight away,’ he said.
A 28-year-old woman sitting nearby, but who did not wish to be identified for work reasons, said she appreciated the way Peterson ‘views the world’.
George and Raphael are migrants from the Middle East who certainly don’t fit the description of being ‘angry white male’ fans of Peterson
‘Everything he says is very logical, it makes sense,’ she said.
‘These days people make up these things that are illogical or are fallacies that just don’t make sense.’
Her male partner is also a Peterson devotee but was unable to attend so she came solo.
She believed modern men were struggling with shifting goalposts of gender roles.
‘Men don’t know where they fit these days,’ she said.
‘They suppress their masculinity but the woman still wants them to be masculine in some respects. They are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t, basically.’
Ben said that Peterson’s message to young males was to be accountable and put their lives in order
George, 37, his wife Parisa, 36, and Raphael, 33, certainly did not fit the mould of ‘angry while incel males’ with the married couple being young parents and the trio having migrated from the Middle East.
George said Peterson ‘has stood up for the silent majority that agrees with his message’.
‘I think he articulates what most people would like to say but can’t,’ George said.
‘He encourages you to ask questions and just listen to everyone and not shut it down.’
Raphael believed Peterson gave ‘hope for a lot men, especially the ones that he looks to attract and reaches out to, the people that feel alone and helpless’.
‘With male suicide rates being so high and mental health being a big thing, he’s just saying we can be more appreciative of what you have and even if you do go through things that’s fine,’ Raphael said.
Peterson (pictured lecturing in Sydney in 2019) has been an unlikely internet sensation
‘He’s taking off that mask of masculinity and if you do want to feel things you can feel things it’s normal to do that. Getting past that whole thing of “I’m a guy, get over it and just rub some dirt in it it will be sweet”.’
Parisa thought it wasn’t just modern males feeling confused.
‘I think both genders are a bit lost,’ she said.
‘Women have taken on masculine traits, men have taken on feminine traits and I think relationships suffer from it.’
Peterson, who has called his rules ‘an antidote to chaos’, fell in his own very chaotic period when he developed an addiction to sedative benzodiazepines and struggled with depression after his wife Tammy was diagnosed with cancer.
He checked himself into rehab for the drug addiction in 2019 and in 2020 underwent a controversial Russian treatment that put him an induced coma for eight days.
Jordan Peterson gave a lecture in federal parliament last Thursday, which was attended almost exclusively by Coalition MPs
Raphael said these events did not shake his belief in Peterson.
‘Eveyone goes through sh*t, no one’s perfect,’ Raphael said.
‘To look at someone going through drug addiction, alcohol addiction, painkiller addiction and I shouldn’t listen to him anymore?’
Peterson remains a controversial figure, even when invited to give an address in federal parliament, which he did last Thursday to a room almost exclusively filled with Coalition MPs with former prime minister Scott Morrison claiming a front row seat.
Advertising executive and prominent Labor supporter Dee Madigan tweeted that attending the lecture undermined Liberal MPs’ credibility on women’s issues.
Peterson’s parliamentary lecture seemed to gain very close interest from former prime minister Scott Morrison (picture seated centre)
‘Wonder what the Venn diagram looks like of Libs today talking about helping end violence against women. And Libs today who went to Jordan Peterson lecture,’ she tweeted.
Raphael rejected the accusation that Peterson was pushing ‘toxic masculinity’.
‘If you were going to say toxic masculinity there’s someone like Andrew Tate who tries to belittle women, at no point does Jordan Peterson belittle women,’ he said.
‘I think what he fights for is that if you want equal rights for everything it needs to be in all classes not just the ones that you want.
‘If you look at his critics, I am sure about 95 percent of them would be women who are strong feminists and they are not feminists to make things equal they are feminists to get women in power.
‘Women aren’t going there aren’t enough female plumbers or not enough sparkies… it’s always about powerful jobs.
‘It should be across everything not just politics and C-level roles.’
George said he believed ‘woke culture has created all this chaos we have in the world’.
George, Raphael and Parisa described Peterson as being like a ‘father figure or mentor’.
‘He says things that are meant to be said,’ Parisa said.
When it finally came time for Peterson to say the things ‘meant to be said’ there were almost no empty seats in Darling Harbour’s 9,000-capacity Aware super theatre.
Peterson took the stage to a rock star welcome of wild cheers and applause.
What followed was a 45-minute type of free-form lecture, which carefully explored in detail just one of Peterson’s rules from the newest book: ‘Do not carelessly denigrate social institutions or creative achievement’.
The crowd around me murmured appreciatively when Peterson came up with a telling observation or conclusion.
‘So good,’ I heard murmured several times.
Peterson suffered serious depression after his wife Tammy (pictured right) was diagnosed with cancer
While it might not have been a university seminar, Peterson was not afraid to talk in a semi-academic manner.
Here is a sample sentence, almost picked at random: ‘One of the collieries of that is that to be constituted you have to be a harmonious player in the multi-dimensional symphony of some real sense social interaction.’
As internet era mega-influencers go, Kim Kardashian it was not.
The lecture finished with a virtuoso weaving together of its various strands of thought and this was followed by a 10-minute session where Peterson answered at some length two questions submitted by the audience.
As he left the stage to more thunderous applause a male voice behind me shouted loud and clear: ‘We love you bro!’
For a figure of such political controversy, there was almost no contentious commentary, even when a question invited some.
Peterson’s at times fiery interview with UK TV presenter Cathy Newman (pictured right) earned him many internet plaudits
However, during the lecture Peterson did embark on a brief detour to discuss his rule of ‘abandoning ideology’.
What he did on stage was demonstrate how to do that by inviting the audience to join him in ‘thinking things through’, from first to last principles, avoiding rigid dogmas or pat unexamined assumptions.
If this makes him a ‘hero’ to young men, even incels, they could probably do a lot worse.