I fell into an instant and deep connection with a man while on a work trip. I’m happily married, so there’s no chance of a romantic future, but the friendship has been, and is, enlivening. We share many interests, but mostly we have an easy understanding—something slow and patient and unusual in this world. We occasionally talk on the phone about life, and we’re looking forward to having lunch when our paths cross again next month.
However, in the gaps between conversations, I’ve come to realize that he might be a fan of Jordan Peterson. He hasn’t mentioned his name, but there have been significant clues. More alarmingly, he has betrayed a thin-skinnedness around sensitive topics like #MeToo and transgender issues. He’s said nothing that’s outright offensive—maybe because I’ve made my politics clear. But if I ask directly, and he responds affirmatively that he is a fan of Peterson, what should I do?
—Not a Fan of Social Darwinism
Dear Not a Fan,
Both of you are lucky. Not enough people make time for real conversation and friendship in adulthood. As well, too many people isolate themselves from anyone whose values or politics are at odds with their own, and when we do that, we get intellectually soft. Worse, we lose the empathy with our opponents that can be so crucial to persuasion.
That said, Not a Fan, I’m delighted you plan to keep your clothes on, not only because you’re happily married, but also because it would be advice-columnist malpractice to condone sex with a Jordan Peterson fan.
For those readers who have been dwelling in happy ignorance, Jordan Peterson is a Canadian psychologist, best-selling author, and wildly popular YouTube star promulgating backward and deeply unoriginal biological determinism with certainty, zeal, and a lot of Jungian mumbo jumbo. Confronting Peterson’s repellent ideas, if you can do so without getting defensive or insulting, might actually help your friend think through some of these issues. There are a few things you can recommend that he check out, if you want to gently counter the propaganda. One is any book by Cordelia Fine, a psychologist who has been ruthlessly dissecting the banal discourse over “essential” differences between the sexes for years. Another is a wonderful video called “Jordan Peterson: ContraPoints,” by the transfemme YouTube star Natalie Wynn, who does a fabulous job of acknowledging the value of Peterson’s self-help advice—you wouldn’t be reading this if no one needed advice!—while exposing his far-right political agenda.