12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, by Jordan B Peterson, Allen Lane, 448 pp, £20, ISBN: 978-0241351635
Jordan Peterson is a Canadian professor of psychology with a strong but not world-shattering reputation in his field who has managed to reach an audience of millions through lectures and talks uploaded to YouTube in advance of the publication of his 2018 international bestseller 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. Peterson has succeeded in enraging Canadian student groups and other progressives, whom he tirelessly disparages as “social justice warriors” and “post-modern neo-Marxists”. I am a professor in a university department which runs social justice undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. Many of my colleagues and academic friends place themselves on the other side of the fence from Peterson in the culture wars that play out on social media. There are things I fundamentally disagree with him on, and yet much of what he has to say is worth thinking about.
I am troubled by intellectual silos. The social policy degree I head up at University College Dublin studies the interplay of liberal, socialist and conservative traditions and diversity of viewpoints that have influenced institutional responses to social problems in different countries. As well as researching social justice issues such as racism my academic work has focused on intellectual history, with a particular focus on conservatives. To write with integrity about thinkers I don’t agree with requires me to try to understand the world from their perspective. The writers who have made the greatest impression on me include those patron saints of conservatism St Augustine and Edmund Burke and the liberal philosopher Isaiah Berlin. However, my intellectual training is rooted in the Western canon of secular sociology which falls to the left because it is focused on understanding power relations and social structures within societies that are profoundly unequal in complex ways.
Peterson is a compelling media performer, whether on TV panel discussions or in lectures uploaded onto YouTube. Some of his online lectures (these now run to several hundred hours) are excerpts from his only other previous book, Maps of Meaning (1999), a monumental exploration of myths and archetypes that intellectually draws on the work of Carl Jung. In its scope and iconoclasm, Maps of Meaning recalls nothing so much as Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae. In some respects, he is also a successor of Robert Bly, whose Iron John addressed what has been called “the crisis of masculinity” through a focus on classic stories.
Peterson’s public lectures at Canadian universities have been routinely challenged. Some have met with the same kind of “no free speech for fascists” chants that have greeted alt-righters such as Richard Spencer, right-libertarian academics such as Charles Murray (with whom Peterson shares some views) and, some years ago, the Holocaust denier David Irving. The flashpoint in Canada which elevated Peterson to international celebrity was his declared refusal to obey a new law supposedly mandating the use of non-gender binary pronouns. It was not that Peterson refused to refer to transgender people as they preferred. He refused on principle – the principle being the right to free speech – to comply, if ever required to, with rules demanding that he use recently-coined but not widely used intersex pronouns. Peterson has come to be represented as free speech martyr; however his free speech has not been impeded. Yet many of the print and online lunges at Peterson by his ideological opponents have missed their mark, accusing him of defending positions which he does not hold. Most of those who have taken him on in television debates have been utterly outclassed and many have come across, compared with Peterson, as peevish, dogmatic and, sometimes not very bright.
There is nothing odious about his twelve rules, though anyone on the left, many feminists, sociologists, secular philosophers, biologists and scientists who study evolution might take serious issue with some of what he presents as truth. Much of Peterson’s advice is practical. It has struck a chord with readers in many countries for good reasons. It is focused on ways in which individuals might improve their lives bit-by-bit.
Rule 1: Stand up straight with your shoulders back.
Rule 2: Treat yourself like you would someone you are responsible for helping.
Rule 3: Make friends with people who want the best for you.
Rule 4: Compare yourself with who you were yesterday, not with who someone else is today.
Rule 5: Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.
Rule 6: Set your house in perfect order before you criticise the world
Rule 7: Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient).
Rule 8: Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie.
Rule 9: Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.
Rule 10: Be precise in your speech.
Rule 11: Do not bother children when they are skate-boarding.
Rule 12: Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.
12 Rules For Life combines insights from Peterson’s clinical practice, some autobiographical material about challenges his own family and friends experienced, analyses derived from the kind of mainstream academic research that got him his professorship and interpretations of myths and archetypes that have recurred since humans first recorded their stories.
Many of Peterson’s most cited academic papers are empirical analyses of “Big Five” personality characteristics where individuals are scored for openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness (a communal orientation toward others) and emotional instability. A large body of psychology literature on these topics finds some ability to predict political views based on some of these characteristics. For example, conservatism seems to be correlated to high levels of conscientiousness (socially prescribed impulse control that facilitates goal-directed behaviour) whilst liberalism seems to be correlated with high levels of openness (the breadth and complexity of an individual’s emotional life) and low levels of conscientiousness. This kind of research has hit the headlines as the basis of efforts by Cambridge Analytica to mine data from social media (where millions of people have obligingly filled out questionnaires so that their Big Five profiles could be harvested) to influence the outcome of elections by identifying potential voters and targeting them online with media content.
Peterson claims that archetypical myths and narratives, whether expressed in Christianity, Buddhist philosophy or in great literature, contain powerful practical insights into the biological impulses, the “Darwinian truths”, that he argues govern human behaviour. Much of his advice is orientated towards negating the chaos people experience when they are troubled. His descriptions of how the problems in day-to-day life multiply for people who are poor, or for those who do not have a meaningful role or meaningful relationships to sustain them, are lucid. Life, Peterson argues, drawing on the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, is inherently tragic.
He argues that human suffering will never vanish and that the inequalities that people to experience under one political system or institution are likely to be recreated in alternatives that promise to replace these with utopia. He has declared that inequality is a worse problem than Karl Marx ever imagined because not all people have an equal starting place. He argues that some people have IQ levels and personality traits that advantage or disadvantage them in relation to others. He contends that people always find themselves having to contend with dominance hierarchies (this, for him, is perhaps his core “Darwinian truth”) but can learn, perhaps, to manage better. He argues that ideological responses to the inequalities experienced by people, such as feminism, offer simplistic remedies that address just some of the factors at play.
In response to one description of him as an “alt right” figure he defined himself in the following terms:
Politically, I am a classic British liberal. Temperamentally, I am high on openness, which tilts me towards the left, although I am also conscientious, which tilts me towards the right. Philosophically, I am an individualist, not a collectivist, on the right of the left. Metaphysically, I am an American pragmatist, who has been strongly influenced by the psychoanalytic and clinical thinking of Freud, Jung and the psychotherapists who have followed in their wake.
Peterson went on to describe how in many lectures over three decades he has warned that the spirit of the Auschwitz camp guard dwells in everybody’s heart and that we should do everything in our power to resist this. A pessimistic account of human nature combines with a preoccupation with the evils of totalitarianism. Most of his ire is directed at left authoritarians but when asked of his views of the “alt right” he has offered the same advice to these: transcend your dangerous, impersonal identity politics and try to live honest productive lives as individuals. He sees his defences of free speech and individual autonomy as having a serious purpose.
So, who these days on this side of the Atlantic describes themselves as a nineteenth century liberal? Pure laissez faire liberalism gave way to several waves of reform liberalism, each of which (reluctantly) accepted a greater role for the state. Liberalism failed Irish society during the nineteenth century when perhaps a million people died during the Famine for the want of an adequate collective societal response. Socialism flourished during the industrial revolution as a response to grotesque inequalities ignored by liberal political economy. Both William Beveridge, the intellectual architect of the British welfare state, and John Maynard Keynes, the economist who figured out how to pay for it, were liberal reformists. Efforts to undo these legacies are generally described as neoliberalism. Its greatest political champion, Margaret Thatcher, in a 1987 interview, famously told us there was no such thing as society:
I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand “I have a problem, it is the Government’s job to cope with it” … and so they are casting their problems upon society, and who is society? There are individual men and women and there are families, and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then to look after our neighbour.
Peterson reminds me, with his sense that most people are just a few steps away from existential catastrophe and in his in deeply felt moral mission to help people deal better with this, more than a bit of the Reverend Robert Thomas Malthus. Malthus’s 1798 Essay on the Principle of Population as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society with Remarks on the Speculations of Mr Godwin, M Condorcet and Other Writers, known as The Essay on Population, grew out of arguments with his father, a devoted admirer of Rousseau and others who subscribed to the theories of the perfectibility of mankind. For Malthus, Godwin, the husband of Mary Wollstonecraft and father of Mary Shelley, exemplified the kind of speculative philosopher “with eyes fixed on a happier state of society, the blessings of which he paints in captivating colours”, who indulged in bitter invectives against the status quo without seeming to be aware of the tremendous obstacles that opposed the progress of man towards perfection.
This in a nutshell also seems to be Peterson’s take on the twenty-first century campus progressives that he constantly denigrates. He disagrees with his opponents’ (as he sees it) blithe optimism that human problems can be fixed because nurture has triumphed over nature, to the extent that even gender is understood to be no more than a social construction.
A few of his immediate opponents in Canadian universities, the so-called social justice warriors who oppose free speech for so-called fascists, have done their best to fit with his caricatures of them. In November 2017 Lindsay Shepard, a postgraduate tutor in the Department of Cultural Analysis and Social Theory at Wilfrid Laurier University, secretly recorded a meeting with her academic supervisor, Nathan Rambukkana and her head of programme, Herbert Pimlott. Shepard was summoned to this meeting following, she was told, an anonymous student complaint that she had shown two video clips in class of a Television Ontario (TVO) debate about university free speech that had featured Peterson. A subsequent inquiry found that there had been no complaint and Shepard received an apology for her treatment at the meeting she recorded.
In the first of these clips, which ran for less than two minutes, Peterson was asked what he found so offensive about Bill C-16, the proposed legislation (later passed in parliament) that added gender expression and identity to grounds for discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act.
Peterson: One, I was being asked – as everyone is – to use a certain set of words that I think are the constructions of people who have a political ideology that I don’t believe in and I also regard as dangerous.
Interviewer: And what are those words?
Peterson: Those are the made-up words that people now describe as gender neutral. To me they’re an attempt to control language in a direction that isn’t happening organically … but by force … And I don’t like these made-up words “zie” and “zher”.
In the second short clip from the same television debate Nicholas Matte, a historian who teaches in the Sexual Diversity Studies programme at the University of Toronto, responds to Peterson: “I don’t care about your language use. I care about the safety of people being harmed. … I want people to be aware that trans and gender diverse communities – and especially people of colour – are being targeted and threatened physically.” At which point, according to Shepard, she asked her class for their thoughts on the topic.
At the beginning of the recorded meeting Rambukkana told Shepard there had been a complaint and that playing the TVO clip and opening up discussion about it could be seen as threatening to students. Shepherd replied that she didn’t see how: “Challenging? “Yes.” “But for me the spirit of the university is challenging ideas you already have.” (Their voices overlap on the recording.) Rambukkana told the twenty-two-year-old Shepard, who by then was in tears, that she had created an unsafe learning environment. Shepard replied: “I’m sorry I’m crying, I’m stressed out because this to me is so wrong, wrong.” Shepherd then asked whom had she supposedly targeted. “Trans folks,” replied the university’s Acting Manager for Gendered Violence Prevention, who also attended the meeting.
Rambukkana then spoke about Peterson’s popularity among “the alt-right community”, and at one point declared that playing the clip, without giving any context for the students, was “like neutrally playing a speech by Hitler or Milo Yiannopoulos”. Shepard was told repeatedly that Peterson was not a credible scholar. But Peterson was by then a senior professor whose work had been cited more than nine thousand times by his academic peers. This citation count was more than seventy times that for Rambukkana’s work and more than 180 times that for Pimlott’s scholarly publications. Simply put, these score differences suggest that Peterson is taken far more seriously by other academics, though not necessarily by ones outside of his particular field.
Rambukkana’s online research profile describes how his academic work is situated disciplinarily at the nexus of communication and cultural studies; methodologically within discourse analysis; and draws theoretical energy from a wide range of sources such as queer, postcolonial, critical race theories and semiotics. These are valid topics for academic scholarship but do necessarily confer expertise on the actual workings of social and legal systems.
The Bill C-16 Peterson objected to merely added “gender identity or expression” to an existing law which protected a range of groups from those incitements to hatred. It arose from a Canadian Supreme Court ruling which defined “hatred” as “the most severe and deeply-felt form of opprobrium”. It had nothing at all to do with pronouns. Peterson’s claim that the Bill was an unprecedented attack on free speech does not stand up; it merely proposed to extend an existing 2002 law that covered a range of groups to another category of persons. But objecting to this supposed tyranny made him a hero to the kinds of people who wanted to believe that they were tyrannised by such laws. In the other silo, Rambukkana and Pimlott, and those willing to spar with Peterson on television about C-16, seemed no less willing to misrepresent the law for their purposes. They were keen to ideologically police debates in their classrooms. The presence of Wilfrid Laurier University’s Acting Manager for Gendered Violence Prevention at the meeting with Lindsey Shepard was a clear example of this. But as far as Shepard was concerned, the TVO debate was merely something to be deconstructed; understandings of the contents of legislation were not part of the course she tutored.
Shepherd has described herself as a “left-leaning” vegetarian, pro-choice, universal healthcare-supporting environmentalist and an ardent supporter of free speech. Her values and ideological views overlapped with those of her lecturers to a considerable extent but were sufficiently different, from their perspective, to warrant censure. These kinds of tyrannies are nothing new in academia. Nor are disputes about campus free speech and the “no platforming” of ideological opponents. Until recently Malcolm Bradbury’s 1975 comic novel The History Man seemed like a period piece. Its protagonist, Dr Howard Kirk, is a left-wing pied piper adept at provoking controversy on campus. He starts a rumour that Professor Mangal, a renowned geneticist who has been criticised for holding racist views, has been invited to speak at the university in order to get the students to stage a protest. He bullies a conservative male student off his course whilst invoking the principle of (his own) academic freedom.
Groups defined by some or other religious or ideological orthodoxies tend to police their members, whether these be feminist, socialist or religious: what happens in the Catholic church when theologians deviate from doctrine or amongst scientologists when a member breaks rank can also happen in universities, though it shouldn’t.
There is an important difference between rules that apply to the members of religious or ideological groups that people can join or leave voluntarily, or that they can seek to change from within (their choices are between exit, voice or loyalty), and rules which restrict or protect free speech in the public sphere. More than fifty democratic countries now place some limits on free speech where this is understood to incite hatred. Authoritarian states like Turkey fire and imprison academics who in any way, shape or form are deemed to be political opponents of the current government. Universities like my own and the University of Toronto, where Peterson works, have policies of providing sanctuary for academics identified by the New York-based Scholars at Risk programme. To the best of my best knowledge, no Canadian academics have yet sought such sanctuary.
Until at least the end of the 1960s social science teaching at my university was dominated by Catholic clergy. The main Irish sociological journal, called Christus Rex until 1970, operated a formal policy of censoring articles to ensure that these were in accordance with Church doctrine. Between 1947 and 1970 it published nothing on major figures like Karl Marx or Émile Durkheim. In my university clerics dominated the teaching of philosophy and the social sciences; Thomism, the thought of Aristotle as interpreted by Thomas Aquinas, was taught as sociology and anthropology. Papal encyclicals such as Rerum Novarum (1891) and Quadragesimo Anno (1931), which articulated natural law doctrine on the family and sexuality, were taught as social theory. The careers of some academics who were unable to operate under such strictures were undoubtedly blighted.
The reasons why the Catholic church invested so much in the control of the social sciences were articulated by the Reverend Jeremiah Newman, the long-standing editor of Christus Rex, in several books and pamphlets. He argued that the Catholic faith would best flourish in a society whose laws and rules bolstered a specifically Catholic public morality. Laws that were in agreement with Catholic doctrine worked to bolster the religious and moral beliefs of “the average man” and thus help him live his life in accordance with these: “What he needs,” Newman wrote, “is a prop to his weakness, but then this is the purpose of all society in all its domains. Political society or the State is no exception.”
Catholic moral monopoly unravelled as Ireland urbanised and its people became more educated. Secularisation was accompanied by challenges to laws and constitutional protections of Catholic positions on sexuality, divorce and, most recently, abortion. Public morality and the mobilisation of stigma used to be the stock in trade of conservatives. However, changing norms and some legislation relating to sexual harassment and, in particular, to sexualised child abuse as well as hate crime legislation aimed at protecting transgender people and other groups who experience prejudice can also be understood as public morality issues.
Within the social sciences there is a recurring cleavage between those, like psychology, which study individuals, and sociology, which is concerned with the structure of social relations that are understood to influence individual behaviour. Both have their empiricists, who collect and use data in much the same way. Interpretative approaches can however differ greatly within and between the social sciences. The ones Peterson objects to are derived from postmodern literary criticism which reduces the social world to texts which can be deconstructed. Postmodernist theory has undoubtedly contributed to literary criticism, but it cannot substitute for actual empirical research into social institutions and processes.
Somewhat similarly, some of Peterson’s claims are backed by interpretations of novels and scripture. He invokes what he variously calls Darwinian truths or moral truths. These are, as he puts it, truths to be observed in nature and accumulated human wisdom. What he comes up with is a playbook or toolkit not a million miles away from a core proposition of Aristotelian or Catholic conceptions of natural law. This depicted human nature firstly as incorporating predispositions or inclinations shared with other living creatures such as to stay alive, to seek nutrition or to care for offspring. Secondly, humans were understood to be uniquely disposed towards reason and rational curiosity and to living together in social communities. What Peterson calls Darwinian truth overlaps with the former though it draws on understandings of evolutionary biology that were not available to Aristotle or Aquinas: we learn something important about humans when we note that lobsters, who have been around for hundreds of millions of years, have brains wired like ours, with serotonin, and, like us, establish dominance hierarchies; we have lived as primates for millions of years and it is ridiculous to think that we are not still shaped by our biological legacies. The second component of Aristotle’s thinking is of less interest to Peterson, going beyond his preoccupation with individuals and families to emphasise a role for society and for the state in enabling people to flourish.
Peterson the psychologist fits clearly into what has been described as the dominant social science perspective on family policy in North America. As described by Michael Rush in The Two Worlds of Father Politics, its clinical focus is very much on individual-level causes and individual agency solutions. It tends, for instance, to attribute social pathologies to the absence of fathers and the inability of lone parents to cope in societies that no longer enable many men to become “male breadwinners”. The remedies proposed include the reinstatement of male role models and, as found in Peterson’s writings, exhortations to men to get their act together.
Family social policy in Europe, however, has come increasingly under the influence of what might be called the Scandinavian model. This de-emphasises traditional family structures. The presumption is that people can flourish without the kinds of traditional structures promoted by conservatives if society steps in and provides support services. The Scandinavian model to some extent institutionalises feminism within the state and supports diversity of family forms. It does not stigmatise lone parents.
Peterson’s project is, in its essence, a conservative one and it is worth understanding because it speaks to very large audiences who cannot and should not be dismissed in social and political debates. A 2018 Australian television interview found a somewhat emotional Peterson defending his 12 Rules: “There’s zero harm in it. It’s just people putting their lives together. They’re not mucking about with other people. They are not trying to make broad-scale social transformation; they’re trying to make their immediate environment better.” Who would break that butterfly on a wheel?
Not me. 12 Rules is well worth reading; some of it chimes with my own experiences and some of my views. Yet, there is much to disagree with in some of what Peterson represents as truth in the huge volume of intellectually very consistent lectures and interviews to be found on YouTube. He sets great store on IQ scores whilst understanding these as less influential than some personality traits in determining how well people do in life. Here he echoes the claims of Charles Murray, author of Losing Ground and The Bell Curve, who argues that the world went wrong when the traditional structures went into decline and male breadwinner, working-class jobs were no longer sufficiently available. By contrast, those with high IQs constitute a cognitive elite who benefit disproportionately in high-tech economies.
More controversially, Murray contends that there are racial and ethnic differences in average IQs and the inference is that these partly explain why African Americans do less well economically than white Americans. Murray’s justifications for distinguishing between racial and ethnic scores seem to be bound up with his unwillingness to consider other explanations for high levels of inequality. He is a libertarian who opposes pretty much any social policy interventions by the state. He is drawn to explanations for social phenomena that fixate on individual natures rather than socio-structural factors that most left-leaning sociologists take into account.
Peterson also argues that racial and ethnic distinctions in average IQ are incontrovertible. He also emphasises, like Murray, that IQ scores place people on a cognitive hierarchy that is a strong predictor of levels of economic success. What he doesn’t do is make the kinds of racist inferences about African Americans that Murray has been justly accused of. When asked about gender or racial inequalities Peterson generally argues these are likely to have many causes and are unlikely to be fixed by the kinds of measures proposed by the left. Simply put, the kind of data he takes seriously seems to be ideologically influenced by his preference for individual responsibility and a minimalist state.
The notion that IQ tests offer a sound basis for understanding social inequalities was discredited by Stephen Jay Gould in The Mismeasure of Man (1981), a critique of statistical methods and cultural presumptions underlying biological determinism, in this specific case the belief that overall intelligence levels within racial and ethnic groups are inheritable. Gould argued that there is no such thing as a direct test of general mental ability. IQ tests measure particular cognitive skills: size of vocabulary, degree of reading comprehension, facility with analogies, and so on. IQ scores clearly tell us something of genuine importance about mental ability because they measure cognitive skills rather than provide a proxy of underlying ability. They are, as Murray and Peterson argue, a reasonably good predictor not only of performance in the classroom but of income, health, and other important life outcomes.
But it makes less sense to think of intelligence as a single entity – to imagine that complex human beings can each be reduced to a single numerical score – that can be measured in all its aspects and ranked on a gradually ascending scale. Gould has argued that The Bell Curve contained no new arguments and presents no compelling data. It merely reworked earlier arguments for biological determinism, which Gould described as “the abstraction of intelligence as a single entity, its location within the brain, its quantification as one number for each individual, and the use of these numbers to rank people in a single series of worthiness, invariably to find that oppressed and disadvantaged groups … are innately inferior and deserve their status”.
Sociologists who study racism and inequalities experienced on the basis of social class, find that these are reproduced from generation to generation, even in education systems that are supposed to be meritocratic. They use concepts like cultural capital to mean not just cognitive abilities or skills but meaningful access to resources or rights that enable people to make the best use of these. These kinds of resources are unequally distributed. In Ireland, the UK or in mainland European countries IQ is rarely invoked to explain educational failure or unemployment. Data from the UK on GCSE exam success levels do not replicate Murray’s ranking of scores for different racial or ethnic groups. When exam results data was analysed to distinguish between pupils entitled to free school meals (a proxy for poverty) and better-off pupils, those who tended to score worst included poor white males. Average results for ethnic groups were highest for those groups with the smallest proportion classified as poor whilst ethnic groups with larger percentages in receipt of free school meals did worse on average. In 2013 all ethnic minorities outperformed poor white boys. But less than one-fifth of white boys were entitled to free school meals and their poor results would have been masked in an analysis that just looked at average scores for different racial or ethnic groups.
Isaiah Berlin’s essay Two Concepts of Liberty distinguished between two fundamental conceptions of freedom in Western society, one that negatively conceived it as freedom from oppression and coercion and another that conceptualised it in positive terms as freedom to be able to achieve one’s own aims. Negative freedom then was freedom that existed until someone encroached upon it, for example, in the case of free speech or assembly. Classic or nineteenth-century liberals like Peterson think that this is all human beings need to flourish and tend to think of any degree of positive freedom as potential tyranny. But how, Berlin asked, could someone pursue their own ends without the means to do so? “[I]f a man is too poor to afford something on which there is no legal ban – a loaf of bread, a journey round the world, recourse to the law courts – he is as little free to have it as he would be if it were forbidden to him by law.” Peterson’s twelve rules contain some useful advice aimed at asserting individual autonomy. However, he ignores how people in many societies have changed the rules of the game by adding, since the early nineteenth century, rights to education, health care and social security for people who were unemployed or too ill or old to work. A considerable bank of experience on the benefits of such collective positive freedoms now counts as old wisdom.
Peterson goes out his way to trivialise the concerns of social movements aimed at addressing many challenges that complex societies must address. Issues confronting women, black and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and “trans folk” can be related to positive freedoms without recourse to postmodernist theory or neo-Marxism. Peterson’s particular map of meaning consists of what he understands as truths about human nature but it does not address social contexts that are radically different from those experienced by primates or lobsters. Neither does it acknowledge the ways in which human ingenuity makes it possible for people to create institutions and invent social practices which allow us to depart from the determinist script.
In a 1997 essay Robin DG Kelley wrote that what we think of as minority or “wedge issues” are at their core “radical humanist” issues and potentially emancipatory for all of us. Whether such movements offer antidotes or just palliatives, they constitute social experiments that can be learned from. There has been much criticism of the solipsism of current incarnations of identity politics. However, feminism, gay rights, anti-racism and good old-fashioned left concern about addressing class inequalities bring to the table ways of imagining positive freedoms and addressing inequalities experienced by too many of us. These are not necessarily incompatible with the mostly sound advice set out in Peterson’s 12 Rules.
Bryan Fanning is the author of Migration and the Making of Ireland. He is professor of Migration and Social Policy at University College Dublin.