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Jordan Peterson v Milo: how the Trickster lost his mojo

By Jason Beale - posted Tuesday, 12 March 2019

I just don't understand half of what he…says…If I don't understand half the sentences that come out of his mouth, what on earth are the rest of America like getting from this? Milo Yiannopoulos to Stefan Molyneux, on Jordan Peterson, 2018

A friend of mine is currently on a Jordan Peterson kick. He delves Peterson's writings with great interest, as he has previously done with the works of academics John Gray and John Carroll, two other favourite authors. He sometimes sends me a cheeky text message reading: WWJD, or 'What Would Jordan Do?' We have often debated the phenomenon of Peterson's fame and the value of his ideas, and as friends we are free to be as serious or irreverent as we like in each other's company. He has an uncomplicated appreciation of Peterson's writings. He finds them interesting, inspiring and helpful, and to that extent they have proved their worth.

My friend is hardly the 'angry young man' stereotype that many journalists associate with the Peterson 'movement'. He is a peaceful person about the same age as Peterson, who is adverse to noise and crowds, and who avoids internet chatrooms and YouTube, in preference to podcasts and library books. Naturally, we each tuned into the recent Q&A program on the Australian national broadcaster ABC, to see how their headlining guest Jordan Peterson the best-selling Psychology Professor, opponent of neo-Marxist post-modernism and political correctness, would fare in the 'belly of the beast' as it were.


After the initial civilities, the show lurched into another dimension with the sudden appearance via pre-taped video of a dark-eyed Milo Yiannopoulos in close-up, who peevishly accosted the Professor with accusations of betraying his so-called 'allies' in the culture wars. Apparently this left my friend quite nonplussed, as he had no prior knowledge of Yiannopoulos, known only as Milo to his followers. Forced to summarise a chameleon, I explained to him that Milo was an attention-seeking YouTube commentator of the 'alt-right', an anti-Islam, anti-Feminist, anti-PC activist, who had given speaking tours of Australia in the recent past, and who had been 'no-platformed' by many media outlets including the ABC.

It isn't radical Islam, it's Islam that is the problem.. . . I don't care about skin colour. All my boyfriends are black . . . What I do care about is values and ideas. And the regressive social attitudes of Muslims in the West are terrifying, absolutely terrifying.

Milo Yiannopoulos in interview with BBC's James Cook, October 2016

Expel Islam from the West . . . Anyone who describes themselves as a Muslim we should send back to the Middle East.

Milo Yiannopoulos in discussion with Emma Eros, November 2017

Given the extreme views he espouses, the decision of Q&A to give Milo Yiannopoulos a significant spot at the top of the show was remarkable to say the least. This clear attempt to catch Peterson off-guard, and take him down a few notches, bespeaks the animosity of the media towards his critical presence. Milo was more than happy to cynically accuse his 'ally' of disloyalty on Australian national television ('You thought I might be a racist, when you know I'm not.') Most people watching were probably at a loss to understand the fuss. It was a great opportunity for Q&A to associate Peterson with a bad-boy provocateur, and reveal the alt-right 'eating one of their own'. A perfect stitch-up of Peterson in other words.

The other guests didn't help much either. With the unexpected exception of the transgender activist Cate McGregor, they showed little interest or engagement in anything Peterson had to say, other than to divert the discussion elsewhere or dismiss him out of hand. As a reader of his best-selling book, I was looking forward to hearing some critical discussion of his fundamental ideas, but was sorely disappointed. He was treated with amused discourtesy by panelists and audience members alike. I suppose life can be hard when you are an internet phenomenon who challenges left-wing shibboleths, and the latest 'leading public intellectual' to boot. Peterson himself is certainly aware of the importance of status and what other people will do to keep it.

He's as brave as can be . . . and he's unstoppable on his feet. He just amazes me . . . I've met some pretty damn smart people, I've never seen anyone who can take on an onslaught of criticism and reverse it like he can. Bloody amazing.

Jordan Peterson on Milo Yiannopoulos, Manning Centre Conference, February 2017

He's a trickster figure, archetypally speaking . . . Trickster figures emerge in times of crisis, and they point out what no-one wants to see, and they say things that no-one will say.

Jordan Peterson on Milo Yiannopoulos, Manning Centre Conference, February 2017

Peterson's comments on Milo quoted above, show that he was familiar in early 2017 with the young firebrand's impact in the world of alternative media, including as the editor of Breitbart News, where he was notorious for polemical slogans such as 'Feminism is Cancer'. Peterson was clearly impressed by the energy and volubility of Milo, describing him as amazing, brave and smart. Using archetypal imagery he also framed Milo as a 'trickster' figure, someone able to utter unpleasant 'truths'. Given Milo's flamboyant gayness, is it at all possible that Peterson was entranced with a projection of his own Anima, to use Jungian psychology? In any event, Peterson's tendency to subsume specific comments about Milo into a general discussion of archetypes makes it unclear to what extent he actually supported Milo's views. Considering how Milo would return to haunt him on Q&A, Peterson may have wished he kept his enthusiasm to himself.


He's an entertainer . . . The negatives are, it can get grandiose, and you can get surrounded by sycophants, and sort of disappear down the rabbit hole. But, I would not know what to predict about his future. He's playing an extraordinarily dangerous game, but he seems quite tough.

Jordan Peterson on Milo Yiannopoulos, Manning Centre Conference, February 2017

I worry a little for him, because I don't think he sees what's coming for him. He doesn't see the fall he's being set up for at the moment, and I'm not sure how well he's going to deal with it. He seems like a nicer person than us [laughs].

Milo Yiannopoulos to Stefan Molyneux, on Jordan Peterson, 2018

Milo, the 'poster boy' of the alt right, has had a rocky few years since then, resigning from Breitbart over 'pedophilia' remarks, his book contract with Simon & Schuster cancelled, and being recently banned from the crowd funding website Patreon. Peterson's popularity, on the other hand, has continued to expand with almost two million YouTube subscribers (one million more than Milo), and his appeal has clearly spread across the social spectrum in a way the media has failed to fully acknowledge. This broad appeal is something beyond the ability of Milo, with his conceited hauteur and ruthless mockery of his opponents. His views on Islam and Feminism are always bluntly unforgiving and ignorant of real-world consequences, condemning him to the margins of any serious political discourse.

At the Aspen Ideas Festival last year, Peterson clarified his previous comments somewhat by stating "I didn't say I was a fan of Milo" and when prompted by the interviewer he even allowed that Milo was "possibly" a racist, although "I haven't followed Milo that carefully." A non-committal comment that he fully recanted in an extremely gracious and humble manner, when indignantly confronted by Milo on Q&A. Soon after, journalist Andrew Bolt offered Milo another platform on the Bolt Report to continue the attack. Milo claimed Peterson was somehow disappointing his public who had raised him up from obscurity: "He's been granted a platform by people . . . who assumed he would [speak up for them] . . . He hasn't gone to battle for the people who support him, who buy his book, and who admire or once admired him, and I count myself in that category." Milo's lack of admiration for Peterson was clear enough, in what amounts to a jealous attempt at one-upmanship by a fading alt-right celebrity.

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Jason Beale is a Melbourne writer and artist.

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