Who is Jordan Peterson? A guide to the next controversial Canadian to grace our shores

It seems an improbably small demographic to be dominating the cultural conversation, but a third controversial Canadian speaker is coming to New Zealand.

His name is Jordan B Peterson, and over the last several years he's built up an online cult following, primarily among white men in their 20s and 30s.

He recently posted on Twitter (where he has more than 800,000 followers) that he'll be gracing our shores in February 2019.

But who is he, what does he believe in - and what's with the lobsters?

A quick bio

Born in Alberta in 1962, Peterson earned a PhD in clinical psychology before going on to work as an associate professor at Harvard. He moved back to Canada in 1998 to become a professor at the University of Toronto, where he enjoyed a respected but fairly conventional career until 2016.

His 'big break' came when he posted a series of YouTube videos about how he'd refuse to use the preferred pronouns of some of his students and fellow faculty members. Those videos went viral, propelling Dr Peterson to internet stardom. 

Thoughts on women

Dr Peterson has received a lot of criticism for his thoughts and theories about women. In an interview with Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson, he said he said the idea that women were oppressed by men throughout history is an "absolutely reprehensible rewrite of history".

He believes in "traditional" gender roles because he thinks men might simply be more competent than women, and he's suggested women wear makeup to work to be "sexually provocative".

When a member of the 'incel' community drove a van into a crowd in Toronto and killed 10 people, Dr Peterson proposed a system of 'enforced monogamy', which many interpreted to mean women are given to men as sexual partners in order to prevent such acts of violence.

*Clarification: Dr Peterson later wrote in a blog that "enforced monogamy" actually means "socially-promoted, culturally-inculcated monogamy" not "government-enforced monogamy". However scientific papers that use the term "enforced monogamy" use it to describe the process where sexual selection has been taken away, which would contradict Dr Peterson's definition of the term.The papers that Dr Peterson linked to to support his argument also did not make any mention of the term "enforced monogamy".

Yet one of the central themes of his wildly successful 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote To Chaos is that order is masculine and chaos is feminine - which would seem to contradict his view of male violence as an inevitable result of their sexual frustration.

Thoughts on race

Dr Peterson has called white privilege a "Marxist lie".

He has also dabbled in the widely debunked 'race IQ theory' beloved by far-right figures like Stefan Molyneux.

Appealing to young men

Dr Peterson has become something of a father figure to an enormous online community of mostly young, mostly white men. It's a responsibility he takes seriously, proffering parental advice such as 'stand up straight' and 'clean your room' as part of his 12 Rules.


Dr Peterson believes that hierarchies are natural and humans are wired to live in them. As evidence, he cites the hierarchical structure of lobsters, a species he claims shares key brain similarities with humans.

This theory has been met with scepticism from marine biologists, who say there are many animals more comparable with humans and that we shouldn't look to animal structures in order to make sense of our own society.

Nonetheless, lobster imagery is now a core part of Dr Peterson's brand.

Myths, legends and fairytales

Dr Peterson teaches that cultural myths and legends often contain ancient truths applicable to modern life, which he expanded on in his book Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief.

He's said that the fairytale Sleeping Beauty represents female unconsciousness being cured by male active consciousness. He's also said that witches "do exist, they just don't exist the way you think they exist" - a quote that was widely mocked on social media.

Making bank on Patreon

As of May 2018, Dr Peterson was making around $80,000 a month purely through donations to his Patreon. Regular donors are rewarded with Q&A sessions with him, which are streamed live on YouTube. 

Some additional fun facts