Jordan Bernt Peterson (born 12 June 1962) is a Canadian media personality, clinical psychologist, author, and professor emeritus at the University of Toronto. He began to receive widespread attention as a public intellectual in the late 2010s for his views on cultural and political issues, often described as conservative. Peterson has described himself as a classic British liberal and a traditionalist.
Peterson was born on 12 June 1962, in Edmonton, Alberta, and grew up in Fairview, a small town in the northwest of the province. He was the eldest of three children born to Walter and Beverley Peterson. Beverley was a librarian at the Fairview campus of Grande Prairie Regional College, and Walter was a school teacher. His middle name is Bernt (/ˈbɛərənt/, BAIR-ənt), after his Norwegian great-grandfather. Peterson grew up in a mildly Christian household.
After graduating from Fairview High School in 1979, Peterson entered Grande Prairie Regional College to study political science and English literature, studying to be a corporate lawyer. During this time he read The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell, which significantly affected his educational focus and worldview. He later transferred to the University of Alberta, where he completed his BA in political science in 1982. Afterwards, he took a year off to visit Europe, where he began studying the psychological origins of the Cold War; 20th-century European totalitarianism; and the works of Carl Jung, Friedrich Nietzsche, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and Fyodor Dostoevsky.
Peterson then returned to the University of Alberta and received a BA in psychology in 1984. In 1985, he moved to Montreal to attend McGill University. He earned his PhD in clinical psychology under the supervision of Robert O. Pihl in 1991, and remained as a post-doctoral fellow at McGill's Douglas Hospital until June 1993, working with Pihl and Maurice Dongier.
Peterson married Tammy Roberts in 1989, with whom he has a daughter (Mikhaila) and a son (Julian).
From July 1993 to June 1998, Peterson lived in Arlington, Massachusetts, while teaching and conducting research at Harvard University, where he was hired as an assistant professor in the psychology department, later becoming an associate professor. During his time at Harvard, he studied aggression arising from drug and alcohol abuse. An article in The Harvard Crimson said he possessed a "willingness to take on any research project, no matter how unconventional". While at Harvard, he switched his primary area of research from familial alcoholism to personality and authored several academic papers. Author Gregg Hurwitz, a former student of Peterson's at Harvard, has cited Peterson as an inspiration of his, and psychologist Shelley Carson, former PhD student and now-professor at Harvard, recalled that Peterson's lectures had "something akin to a cult following", stating, "I remember students crying on the last day of class because they wouldn't get to hear him anymore." Following his associate position at Harvard, Peterson returned to Canada in July 1998 and eventually became a full professor at the University of Toronto.
In 2013, Peterson registered a YouTube channel named JordanPetersonVideos, and immediately began uploading recordings of lectures and interviews. The earliest dated recordings are from Harvard lectures in 1996. By the end of 2013, content on the channel included the lectures from Harvard, some interviews, and additional special lectures on two defining topics: "Tragedy vs Evil" and "Psychology as a career".
Born and raised in Alberta, Peterson obtained bachelor's degrees in political science and psychology from the University of Alberta and a PhD in clinical psychology from McGill University. After researching and teaching at Harvard University, he returned to Canada in 1998 to permanently join the faculty of psychology at the University of Toronto. In 1999, he published his first book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief, which became the basis for many of his subsequent lectures. The book combines psychology, mythology, religion, literature, philosophy and neuroscience to analyze systems of belief and meaning.
In 1999, Routledge published Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief, in which Peterson describes a comprehensive theory about how people construct meaning, form beliefs, and make narratives. The book, which took Peterson 13 years to complete, draws concepts from various fields including mythology, religion, literature, philosophy, and psychology, in accordance to the modern scientific understanding of how the brain functions.
Beginning in 2003, Peterson appeared on television, speaking on a subject from a psychological perspective. On TVOntario, he appeared on Big Ideas in 2003 and 2006, and in a 13-part lecture series based on Maps of Meaning, aired in 2004. In a 2007 BBC Horizon documentary, Mad but Glad, Peterson commented on the connection between pianist Nick van Bloss' Tourette syndrome diagnosis and his musical talent. From 2011, TVOntario's The Agenda featured Peterson as an essayist and panelist on psychologically relevant cultural issues.
In 2004, a 13-part TV miniseries based on Peterson's book aired on TVOntario.
In 2005, Peterson, with colleagues Daniel M. Higgins and Robert O. Pihl, established a website and company to deliver an evolving writing therapy system called The Self-Authoring Suite. It consists of a series of online writing programs: the Past Authoring Program (a guided autobiography); two Present Authoring Programs, which aids analysis of personality faults and virtues; and the Future Authoring Program, which aids in developing a vision and planning desired futures.
In 2016, Peterson released a series of YouTube videos criticizing the Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (Bill C-16), passed by the Parliament of Canada to introduce "gender identity and expression" as prohibited grounds for discrimination. Peterson argued that the bill would make the use of certain gender pronouns "compelled speech", and related this argument to a general critique of political correctness and identity politics. He received significant media coverage, attracting both support and criticism.
Mikhaila (Peterson's daughter) suffered from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) in her childhood, requiring a hip and ankle replacement when she was 17 years-old. A "nutrition 'influencer' with no medical credentials", she has since adopted what she calls "the lion diet" consisting entirely of eating only beef, lamb, salt, and water. She and Peterson have promoted the diet as a method to reduce the symptoms of JRA and other illnesses, including Peterson's major depression, psoriasis, and uveitis. Nutrition experts, including Jack Gilbert of the University of Chicago, point out that such a diet can result in "severe dysregulation" including a severe deficit of short-chain fatty acids and calcium, an increase in total cholesterol, and cardiac issues. In 2016, Peterson restricted his diet to only meat and a few vegetables in an attempt to control his depression and the effects of an autoimmune disorder. In mid-2018, he stopped eating vegetables altogether and continued eating only beef, salt, and water.
Starting around 2000, Peterson began collecting Soviet-era paintings. The paintings are displayed in his house as a reminder of the relationship between totalitarian propaganda and art, and as examples of how idealistic visions can become totalitarian oppression and horror. In 2016, Peterson became an honorary member of the extended family of Charles Joseph, a Kwakwaka'wakw artist, and was given the name Alestalagie ("Great Seeker"). The Kwakwaka'wakw are one of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast.
In March 2016, after three years of basic uploading of course videos, Peterson announced an interest to clean existing content and improve future content, including a new experiment in crowdfunding through Patreon.
From early 2017, funding for projects dramatically increased through his use of Patreon. Peterson hired a production team to film his 2017 psychology lectures at the University of Toronto. Donations received range from $1,000 per month in August 2016 to $14,000 by January 2017; more than $50,000 by July 2017; and over $80,000 by May 2018. With this funding, a number of projects and lecture series were proposed: more interviews, regular live Q&A sessions, public lecture series on the Bible, conversations with Muslims in Canada and the US, and an online university. From May through December 2017, a lecture series on biblical stories was recorded and released on YouTube. A series of live Q&A events, appearing approximately monthly, were released beginning April 2017, through January 2018, then shifting to an irregular schedule through 2019. Regular donations for the YouTube channel were interrupted in January 2019, when Peterson deleted his Patreon account in public protest of the platform's controversial banning of another content creator, Carl Benjamin (also known as Sargon of Akkad). Following this, Peterson and Dave Rubin announced the creation of a new, free speech–oriented social networking and crowdfunding platform. This alternative had a limited release under the name Thinkspot later in 2019, and remained in beta testing as of December 2019.
For most of his career, Peterson maintained a clinical practice, seeing about 20 people a week. He has been active on social media, and in September 2016 he released a series of videos in which he criticized Bill C-16. As a result of new projects, he decided to put the clinical practice on hold in 2017 and temporarily stopped teaching as of 2018. In February 2018, Peterson entered into a promise with the College of Psychologists of Ontario after a professional misconduct complaint about his communication and the boundaries he sets with his patients. The college did not consider a full disciplinary hearing necessary and accepted Peterson entering into a three-month undertaking to work on prioritizing his practice and improving his patient communications. Peterson had no prior disciplinary punishments or restrictions on his clinical practice.
On 27 September 2016, Peterson released the first installment of a three-part lecture video series, entitled "Professor against political correctness: Part I: Fear and the Law". In the video, he stated that he would not use the preferred gender pronouns of students and faculty, saying it fell under compelled speech, and announced his objection to the Canadian government's Bill C-16, which proposed to add "gender identity or expression" as a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act, and to similarly expand the definitions of promoting genocide and publicly inciting hatred in the hate speech laws in Canada.
When asked in September 2016 if he would comply with the request of a student to use a preferred pronoun, Peterson said "it would depend on how they asked me. ... If I could detect that there was a chip on their shoulder, or that they were [asking me] with political motives, then I would probably say 'no'. ... If I could have a conversation like the one we're having now, I could probably meet them on an equal level." Two months later, the National Post published an op-ed by Peterson in which he elaborated on his opposition to the bill, saying that gender-neutral singular pronouns were "at the vanguard of a post-modern, radical leftist ideology that I detest, and which is, in my professional opinion, frighteningly similar to the Marxist doctrines that killed at least 100 million people in the 20th century."
Peterson has appeared on many podcasts, conversational series, as well as other online shows. In December 2016, Peterson started The Jordan B. Peterson Podcast. In March 2019, the podcast joined the Westwood One network with Peterson's daughter as a co-host on some episodes. Peterson defended engineer James Damore after he was fired from Google for writing Google's Ideological Echo Chamber. In January 2022, Peterson was interviewed by Joe Rogan on The Joe Rogan Experience. During the interview, Peterson claimed that the Earth's climate is too complicated to accurately model. Several climate scientists criticized Peterson, saying that he misunderstood climate modelling.
In response to the controversy, academic administrators at the University of Toronto sent Peterson two letters of warning, one noting that free speech had to be made in accordance with human rights legislation, and the other adding that his refusal to use the preferred personal pronouns of students and faculty upon request could constitute discrimination. Peterson speculated that these warning letters were leading up to formal disciplinary action against him, but in December the university assured him he would retain his professorship, and in January 2017 he returned to teach his psychology class at the University of Toronto.
In February 2017, Maxime Bernier, candidate for leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, stated that he had shifted his position on Bill C-16, from support to opposition, after meeting with Peterson and discussing it. Peterson's analysis of the bill was also frequently cited by senators who were opposed to its passage. In April 2017, Peterson was denied a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grant for the first time in his career, which he interpreted as retaliation for his statements regarding Bill C-16. However, a media-relations adviser for SSHRC said, "Committees assess only the information contained in the application." In response, Rebel News launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign on Peterson's behalf, raising C$195,000 by its end on 6 May, equivalent to over two years of research funding. In May 2017, as one of 24 witnesses who were invited to speak about the bill, Peterson spoke against Bill C-16 at a Canadian Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs hearing.
In May 2017, Peterson began The Psychological Significance of the Biblical Stories, a series of live theatre lectures, also published as podcasts, in which he analyzes archetypal narratives in the Book of Genesis as patterns of behaviour ostensibly vital for personal, social and cultural stability. In October 2020, Peterson announced plans for a lecture series on the Book of Exodus and the Book of Proverbs.
Peterson had proposed a website using artificial intelligence to identify ideologization in specific courses, but postponed the project in November 2017 as "it might add excessively to current polarization".
In 2018, Kelefa Sanneh wrote in The New Yorker that Peterson "is now one of the most influential—and polarizing—public intellectuals in the English-speaking world". In 2022, Mick Brown wrote in The Daily Telegraph that Peterson "has become the most visible, outspoken and certainly the most polarising figure in the 'culture wars' between Left and Right, challenging the new orthodoxies of political correctness that have permeated academia, education, and political and cultural life."
In 2018, he attracted considerable attention in the UK after a Channel 4 interview in which interviewer Cathy Newman's manner of questioning on the topic of the gender pay gap was notable. He disputed the contention that the disparity was solely due to sexual discrimination.
In January 2018, Penguin Random House published Peterson's second book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, in which self-help principles are discussed in a more accessible style than in his previous published work. The book topped best-selling lists in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the US, and the United Kingdom.
In August 2018, Caitlin Flanagan of The Atlantic argued that Peterson is popular because he "offer[s] an alternative means of understanding the world to a very large group of people who have been starved for one. His audience is huge and ever more diverse, but a significant number of his fans are white men. The automatic assumption of the left is that this is therefore a red-pilled army, but the opposite is true. The alt-right venerates identity politics just as fervently as the left". In contrast, in March 2018, Zack Beauchamp of Vox argued that Peterson is popular because he "is tailor-made to our political moment. His reactionary politics and talents as a public speaker combine to be a perfect fit for YouTube and the right-wing media, where videos of conservatives 'destroying' weak-minded liberals routinely go viral. Peterson's denunciations of identity politics and political correctness are standard-issue conservative, but his academic credentials make his pronouncements feel much more authoritative than your replacement-level Fox News commentator."
In November 2017, Lindsay Shepherd, the teaching assistant of a Wilfrid Laurier University first-year communications course, was censured by her professors for showing, during a classroom discussion about pronouns, a segment of The Agenda in which Peterson debates Bill C-16 with another professor. The reasons given for the censure included the clip creating a "toxic climate," being compared to a "speech by Hitler," and being itself in violation of Bill C-16. The censure was later withdrawn and both the professors and the university formally apologized. The events were cited by Peterson, as well as several newspaper editorial boards and national newspaper columnists, as illustrative of the suppression of free speech on university campuses. In June 2018, Peterson filed a $1.5-million lawsuit against Wilfrid Laurier University, arguing that three staff members of the university had maliciously defamed him by making negative comments about him behind closed doors. As of September 2018, Wilfrid Laurier had asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, stating that Peterson filed it in an attempt to limit debate on matters of public interest. Laurier commented that it was ironic for a purported advocate of free speech to attempt to curtail free speech.
Regarding the topic of religion and God, Bret Weinstein moderated a debate between Peterson and Sam Harris at the Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver in June 2018. In July, the two debated the subject again, this time moderated by Douglas Murray, at the 3Arena in Dublin and The O2 Arena in London. In April 2019, Peterson debated Slavoj Žižek at the Sony Centre in Toronto over happiness under capitalism versus Marxism. In the fall of 2021, Peterson resigned from the employment of the University of Toronto, becoming professor emeritus.
The channel gathered more than 1.8 million subscribers and his videos received more than 65 million views as of August 2018. By January 2021, subscribers on JordanPetersonVideos numbered at 3.4 million and total views reached over 200 million.
In March 2019, Cambridge University rescinded a visiting fellowship invitation to Peterson. He had previously said the fellowship would give him an "opportunity to talk to religious experts of all types for a couple of months," and that the new lectures would have been on the Book of Exodus. A spokesperson for the university said there was no place for anyone who could not uphold the inclusive environment of the university. Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope explained that a photograph of Peterson with his arm around a man wearing a shirt reading "I'm a proud Islamophobe" led the faculty to the rescindment due to a conflict between Peterson's "casual endorsement by association" and the school's commitment to interfaith dialogue. The Cambridge University Students' Union released a statement of relief, considering the invitation "a political act to ... legitimise figures such as Peterson" and that his work and views are not "representative of the student body." Peterson called the decision a "deeply unfortunate ... error of judgement" and expressed regret that the Divinity Faculty had submitted to an "ill-informed, ignorant and ideologically-addled mob."
A 2015 study published in Palgrave Communications showed a significant reduction in ethnic and gender-group differences in performance, especially among ethnic minority male students. In 2020, the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) published a study within its Access and Retention Consortium. As HEQCO (with ARC) is an agency of Ontario government, this study represents published research for broader public awareness and application. To support this, several institutions were represented in the research: Mohawk College, University of Ottawa, University of Toronto, Queens University. The program was tested at Mohawk College, and found similar results as with other studies.
Peterson's third book, Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life, was released on 2 March 2021. On 23 November 2020, his publisher Penguin Random House Canada (PRH Canada) held an internal town hall where many employees criticized the decision to publish the book.
Throughout 2019 and 2020, Peterson suffered health problems in the aftermath of severe benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome. In 2021, he published his third book, Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life, resigned from the University of Toronto, and returned to podcasting. In 2022, Peterson signed a content distribution deal with conservative media company The Daily Wire.
Peterson doubts the scientific consensus on climate change, saying he is "very skeptical of the models that are used to predict climate change", and that "you can't trust the data because too much ideology is involved". Appearing on The Joe Rogan Experience in 2022, Peterson claimed that "there is no such thing as climate" and questioned the accuracy of climate modeling. Climate scientists accused Peterson of being "stunningly ignorant" and of confusing weather forecasting with climate modeling. In response to various criticisms, Peterson cited climate-skeptic Fred Singer as a source.
Also in June 2022, Peterson signed a deal with the news company The Daily Wire, which includes the distribution rights to Peterson's video and podcast library. Peterson will also produce bonus content and specials featuring guests for the video on demand platform DailyWire+.
On 29 June 2022, Peterson's Twitter account was suspended under the site's "hateful conduct policy" after posting a tweet misgendering and deadnaming transgender actor Elliot Page. Peterson said he was notified that he would be required to delete the tweet in order to restore access to his account, which he said he "would rather die than do". YouTube has demonetized two of Peterson's videos, one about his Twitter suspension and another video where he said gender-affirming care was "Nazi medical experiment-level wrong." Peterson's Twitter account was restored in November 2022 after Elon Musk acquired the company.
In late 2020 Peterson sought "emergency" detox from benzodiazepine addiction. Peterson stated this rehab was the result of his prescribed dosage of clonazepam being increased after his wife Tammy was diagnosed with kidney cancer. According to Peterson, he made several attempts to reduce dosage or stop the drug completely, but experienced "horrific" benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome.