The Deconstruction of Jordan Peterson

There are a lot of Jordan Peterson fans. Very vocal Jordan Peterson fans. Some of you may be a bit upset with me over what I’m going to write. Hang into the end, and criticize my failings in the comments.

Who is Jordon Peterson

Yes, I know if you are reading this, you probably already know who Jordan Peterson is at least vaguely. He’s a Clinical Psychiatrist, and a professor of Psychology.

His Claim to Fame

His claim to fame is his book 12 Rules for Life. I haven’t read the book, and don’t intend to (one of the problems with being disabled is a lack of money for books). I have read a lot of the comments on Amazon, checked the Wikipedia page, and read what Amazon would let me read.
Peterson appears to have gathered a bunch of things, rolled them into one book, and then marketed the heck out of it. A lot of writers do that. It doesn’t make them original thinkers!

The Critique

Oh, what a rabbit hole I’ve crawled down. I’ve been laughing myself silly over this. For once, the Far Right and the Far Left agree on something. Both sides think he’s an idiot. The fury Peterson begets is hilarious. People either love him or hate him, and I’ve read some fascinating articles for and against.

And everyone is missing the obvious. Peterson is a scam artist. It’s all about the money honey.

Peterson has this wonderful list of things that will make people better. He’s so entranced by these things that he is getting interviewed by every paper in print. Telling everyone about his momentous work is very important to the world in his opinion.

But if it really was that important, he’d want EVERYONE to have access to it. Think about this hard. If his theories would make the world a place he’d want to live in, he’d be giving away copies. Considering the price his books go for, that isn’t his aim.

It’s all about money.

There’s nothing wrong with making money. I love having money. Most people do. You can do so many useful things with it.

I call Peterson a scam artist because he’s out there promoting his wonderful book, which is so hugely important he thinks everyone should read it. And he’s doing it for the cash. Not to make people’s lives better. Just for the cash.

I know a lot of folks who will disagree with this. You can tell me what an idiot I am in the comments. I don’t delete comments unless they are off-topic. Warning — I argue back.

Then there’s issues with what he wrote…

I’m putting in a shout out to Denis Rancourt of the Ontario Civil Liberties Association. Denis has read Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life and wrote about it. Denis and I have sparred over issues in the past, but while I question some of his value judgements, he is a good solid reporter of facts. I’m using Denis’ write up because I trust him for accuracy.

The first point of issue is Peterson’s concept of a Dominance Hierarchy. It’s obvious that Peterson has not kept up with the research on Authoritarianism, and Authoritarian Followers (PDF Warning). Dominance Hierarchies only matter to Authoritarians and Authoritarian Followers. Hold that thought for a minute, I’ll be coming back to it.

Second is that Peterson has no ‘medical’ credentials. He may be a wonderful psychiatrist, but his understanding of the human body seems very limited. Take Serotonin. Denis quoted part of Peterson’s book, and I’m quoting a part of that part.

Consider serotonin, the chemical that governs posture and escape in the lobster. Low-ranking lobsters produce comparatively low levels of serotonin. This is also true of low-ranking human beings (and those low levels decrease more with each defeat). Low serotonin means decreased confidence. Low serotonin means more response to stress and costlier physical preparedness for emergency—as anything whatsoever may happen, at any time, at the bottom of the dominance hierarchy (and rarely something good). Low serotonin means less happiness, more pain and anxiety, more illness, and a shorter lifespan—among humans, just as among crustaceans. Higher spots in the dominance hierarchy, and the higher serotonin levels typical of those who inhabit them, are characterized by less illness, misery and death, even when factors such as absolute income—or number of decaying food scraps are held constant. The importance of this can hardly be overstated.

Peterson is dead wrong. High levels of serotonin cause social phobia. Serotonin levels are controlled by a special protein. Those with high amounts of this protein in winter tend to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, which no amount of standing up straight will cure. Peterson’s lack of medical credentials has bit him here.

If you are interested in Serotonin, there’s a lot of research that has been done.

What does it mean?

Peterson is selling a New Age version of Old Age ideas. The ideas aren’t new, or even unusual. Nor is the science behind them correct.
Peterson is however making lots of money on this. His book is a bestseller.

Note the 83% Five Star rating. Looks just a little odd. That’s because Peterson’s followers, are Authoritarian Followers. They’ve elevated Peterson to the position of their Authority, and they’ve rated his book that way. Peterson absolutely loves that. Hey, he should! It’s making him a lot of money.

He also loves his fans. Peterson has created a Dominance Hierarchy with him at the top. What’s not to love about this for an Authoritarian? He gets to lead, they get to follow. Both get something out of it, though it isn’t what Peterson says it is.

Why am I beating up on Peterson? Because I like the truth. Peterson is lying to his readers. Too bad that they are unlikely to realize that.


Wayne Borean
Saturday June 9, 2018


Join the conversation


  1. Honestly I thought it was a poorly written book. I set it down and never picked it up again. That says a lot, right there. I'm an author myself, I write for a living and do fairly well at it, so I was especially disappointed at how poorly the book was written, when the man does such nice lectures.
    I may pick the book up again at some point, to see if it really has anything to offer, but I suspect it doesn't. Self help books are supposed to be compelling, not a slog.

  2. Just as a minor nitpick, Peterson isn't a psychiatrist as you identified him, he's a psychologist. The difference is that a psychiatrist is a medical doctor (MD or DO) who specializes in the mind. A psychologist has training and experience in the mind but lacks the medical training a psychiatrist has. Which explains Peterson's incorrect belief about serotonin.

  3. Peterson isn’t at the top of the dominance hierarchy he created. He’s at the top of the dominance hierarchy he chose to climb slowly, steadily, then exponentially, over the past 40 to 50 years.

    1. Peterson created his own dominance hierarchy through his books, lectures, etc. He now has a large number of followers who think he knows what he is doing, and take his utterances seriously. That makes him the head of his own hierarchy.

      As far as the world outside his hierarchy is concerned, Peterson is just another college professor who writes books, that may or may not be useful.

      I personally think he is dangerous. His science is WRONG. But he hasn’t withdrawn the works which quoted the bad science, nor has he made any statements that I am aware of addressing the issues. Bad science is like like arsenic – too much will kill you.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *