Burn after. . . printing?
Dr. Peterson’s next book Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life is sure to upset, as evidenced by the turmoil brooding at its publishing house
Estimated reading time of article: 5 mins
By James Johnson
A substantial number of staffers employed at Penguin Random House have declared their outrage at their employer and Jordan Peterson, according to Vice. The publishing giant scored the rights for Peterson’s follow-up life rules for shiftless losers. I say this affectionately as I consider myself to be among their ranks. I have had my own significant plights dealing with fear of failure, self-doubt, and the toxic imposter syndrome. Despite all of the affirmations a father can receive from his life-giving wife and loving children, suffering can exist where only those outside of kith and kin can reach. Peterson’s work, regardless of your opinion of his rhetoric, contains a core motif that is positive and I challenge the contrarians to find otherwise.
Whether I agree with Peterson’s view on compulsion of language or not, the greater argument for censorship is at the core of the victim narrative here, as indicated by the “town-hall” at Penguin where it is alleged employees broke down in tears sharing their stories of how Peterson directly affected their lives for the worse. Peterson’s detractors argue his refusal to use self-identified, subjective pronouns to address individuals is trans-phobia in action and under the lens of critical theory, one could verily conclude this to be accurate. Of course with the subjective nature of such malign frameworks, one could posit the very structure of society and human existence is trans-phobic and/or racist and/or sexist under the new terms defined by critical course study and its subsequent migration to the corporate world.
The response of employees at Penguin Random House of the acquisition of Dr. Peterson’s next book is a predictive example of this migration. This current generation of publishers developed their rational in the burgeoning landscape of critical theory in academia.
When I was in college in the late 2000’s, I cultivated my love of reading and writing through the guidance of my instructors, all of whom held coveted doctorates. I trusted their opinions and views. I can see now in hindsight just how integral critical theory was to their course work and rubrics in the arts and humanities. When I think back about writing the papers, I feel utterly ashamed at the quality of their contents. I knew precisely what to write to get me the grade. A dissenting opinion would surly render a C, maybe a B. I quickly learned that the opinions which criticized the predominate theory of liberal arts were to be avoided, perhaps shouted down, because they were all labelled as hateful, intolerable, status quo.
Perhaps my greatest cringe moment from those rebellious days would be this: a girl I had a crush on handed me a book and told me I had to read it. She said it was full of weird political hypotheses and drastic social policy proposals.
“I read it not to absorb the knowledge within, but to understand its power and how it influenced millions of people” she said, reassuringly.
I thought this was reasonable. But when I read the cover I recoiled in horror:
“Mein Kampf!? I can’t read this” was my gut-reaction.
“It’s evil and written by an evil creature, the father of fascism!”
The look on her face is something I’ll never forget, and I felt such a deep, dark shame from it. I felt like she thought I was the monster. It took me a few years to figure out that my thinking was not atypical of students in similar disciplines; young minds deeply invested in critical theory through an enrollment in a post-secondary humanities institute, majoring in a new frontier program of identity-driven academia.
I should have read that book then, or at the very least, listened to the arguments she was making: not that the arguments of Hitler were morally acceptable, but rather a framework for oppression that has the power to link history to current events. A blueprint for authoritarianism. Essential reading for an informed citizenry. But my young mind would have rather burned the book, fulfilling the very power-potential that the poor weak minds of white-supremacists and ethno-terrorists laud it for.
My recoil was akin to the reflexive action of death-avoidance. There is a decay in the work of Hitler, and engaging in it is like dipping your hands into the rotting corpse of evil. It is a great affliction on humanity, like the Wayaobu Manifesto or Pol Pot’s Little Red Book; and thinkers willing to examine it surely find themselves stinking of the reek of despotism. Mein Kampf outlines the degradation of cultures and races deemed lesser or inferior to Hitler. Jordan Peterson wants young people to reach their full potential; to stop smoking so much weed; to fix their personal problems before they endeavor to fix those of the world. His book requests the reader to take responsibility for themselves, to take care of themselves, and to believe that they are capable and deserving of happiness.
I am not comparing Dr. Peterson to Hitler. I have read 12 rules for Life, and I struggle to find any hateful rhetoric within its pages, and I have read it closely (*perhaps a review of the book is in order). I’m sure if i applied my critical literary theory training, I could manifest demerits, but that is academically dishonest and our institutions need more truth, not less. Penguin prints Mein Kampf, and that work is without a doubt harmful to marginalized groups. One would think their employees would have greater qualms with that title, but what do I know?
Any other year and I would have told you it was crazy to think publishers would seek to halt the printing of their own book, but it’s still 2020.