Debunking "The Times" hit-piece on Jordan Peterson
I first came into contact with Jordan Peterson a few years ago, before he became ill. I was stressed and not knowing who to talk to I wrote to him not expecting a reply. Yet, to my surprise I not only received a reply but also support that helped me through my issue. It makes a poignant illustration about the type of person he is. After Jordan got ill we lost contact, of course he was in no state to contact me or anyone else. I do remain thankful and as a result, while I am really no one of any note, I feel I must plainly point out the propaganda and slander against him by Decca Aitkenhead of “The Times”. While there is not much I can do, I can with my linguistic knowledge dissect and analyse the lies told by this pseudo-journalist. I will combine a section by section discourse analysis with a combination of facts and the evidence from the audio that was made available online. The Times and this so called journalist ought well look in the mirror and hang their heads in utmost shame.
It should be pointed out that The Times contacted Peterson promising to give a fair account and not to use flashy, cliché headlines. They lied on both accounts, bringing into serious doubt that anything they produced can be called journalism. The headline reads “Jordan Peterson on his depression, drug dependency and Russian rehab hell”, if it sounds like a cheap supermarket tabloid style heading, it is only because the article is of the same low calibre. Oddly, what was meant to be a hit-piece against Jordan Peterson ended up as the incoherent rambling of a stalker-like personality which is positively obsessed with Mikhaila Peterson. Apparently, reality and facts are both optional for The Times and Aitkenhead, their ethics, non-existent. Original text in italics, explanations follow each section. It is long because the original literary flotsam itself is long. As we say in linguistics “the bias is strong with this one”. We begin….
I thought this was going to be a normal interview with Jordan Peterson. After speaking with him at length, and with his daughter for even longer, I no longer have any idea what it is. I don’t know if this is a story about drug dependency, or doctors, or Peterson family dynamics — or a parable about toxic masculinity. Whatever else it is, it’s very strange.
The introduction is designed to make one feel a certain emotion at the outset of the article, already the piece is biased. Saying she thought something would be from the first sentence is a fairly open primer for negative content. There is an inclination of the reader to remember the first and last section or point of a sentence rather than the filler with the dash adding emphasis on the next phrase, she wants you to believe this is all about toxic masculinity but that is really a distraction.
Peterson, a clinical psychologist, is a conservative superstar of the culture wars. Born and raised in Alberta by a librarian and a teacher, he spent the first three decades of his career in relative academic obscurity, churning out papers and maintaining a small clinical practice.
In reality Petersons views are not conservative on many matters but this classification is another primer from information that the author wants the reader to believe later in the piece. Emphasis on three decades is designed to make on assume his ideas are of little relevance, “churning out papers” is a very poor choice of words, after all “churning out papers” in an academic sense is hardly as simple a matter as writing slanderous hit pieces and not nearly as easy, it takes years of research in some cases, research….a word the author seems unfamiliar with.
All that changed in 2016 when he challenged, on free-speech grounds, a new Canadian law he argued would legally compel him to use transgender people’s preferred pronouns . A lie cloaked in semantics, but poorly. The particular issue was not based specifically on pronouns, the underlying factor to which he objected what the legislation of speech that is compelled. This concern about compelled speech is based on sound historical evidence of what takes place once such laws are enforced on the population and the devastating totalitarian effects that can result.
Practically overnight the Toronto professor became a YouTube sensation, posting videos and lectures attacking identity politics and political correctness, and dispensing bracing advice about how to be a real man.
This sentence is designed to make the reader think that his YouTube video’s started being posted from this period, a quick look at his channel will however show that he has been posting videos for about seven years, much further back than this incident. The term “real man” is not used in any of his videos.
His 2018 self-help bestseller, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, has made him arguably the world’s most famous — and certainly its most controversial — public intellectual.
His ideas are for the most part not particularly controversial, those who find his work controversial are actually a very radical and narrow branch of academics, his work in psychology is highly respected.
For three tumultuous years wherever Peterson went uproar and adoration followed. His explosive confrontation with Cathy Newman on Channel 4 News in 2018 resulted in the network calling in security experts after some of his supporters posted abuse and threats online.
Here the propagandist returns to emotive language. The interview with Cathy Newman was far from explosive, throughout the interview Peterson smiles, keeps a level voice, shows no aggressive body language and at the same time calmly dismantles the poor attempts to rephrase his every answer in a poor light. If anything it was Newman, who through the severe lack of skill and attempt at bias in her interview, made herself look bad. Her excruciating repetitive use of the phrase “So you’re saying” became a meme for this very reason. The alleged abuse directed toward her was “assumed” to be from his supporters, but no evidence of this was provided. He would also never encourage such behaviour.
To the millions of young men who idolise him, the erudite, unflappable 58-year-old is a kind of fantasy father figure.
This sentence seems to be the authors own kind of fantasy, made up by her using her feelings, certainly not facts.
Life is tough, he warns them; they need to stop whining, tidy their room, stand up straight and deal with it.
Life is tough and cleaning your room are both metaphors for getting your life in order. Aitkenhead seems to have trouble understanding metaphor.
He accuses the “neo-Marxist radical left” of trying to “feminise” men, and defends traditional masculine dominance.
Perhaps because in the Western world there is a push to feminise men by removing classifying the majority of masculine traits as toxic and encouraging them to be more like women in their behaviour. “Traditional masculine dominance”? Never have I seen or heard Jordan do anything of the sort, rather he has sought to explain why certain masculine traits are natural and actually prevent many of the traits that could when presented in excessive measure be seen as toxic. That is why there is emphasis on “cleaning” ones room and removing chaos.
According to Peterson men represent “order”.
In symbolic metaphor the male, not men, is seen to represent order. There is a difference. Does the author understand the nature of a metaphor? This is also not an invention by Peterson but based on existing understanding.
To his critics he represents the respectable face of reactionary misogyny, and a dangerous gateway drug to online alt-right radicalisation.
His critics are for the most part radical ideologues. Blatant fabrications, none of the theories in his work encourages any form of misogyny, on the contrary large sections of his work show how to avoid such behaviours and to take personal responsibility. Peterson does not like the alt-right and they don’t like him, both he and they have made this point quite clear. I will write a personal apology letter to the author if she can fine ONE person who was radicalised by his work, if they have been then they obviously haven’t read his work. The more we read the more this dreadfully written opinion piece implodes in on itself.
If his rise to fame was dramatic, what has happened since he disappeared from public view 18 months ago sounds fantastical — in his daughter’s words it is “like a horror movie”.
Having your wife almost die from a cancer so rare that there is hardly any literature on it and with a near 100% mortality rate in the first year, then becoming severely ill, to the point of death, due to the side effects of dangerous medication seems just about as close to a horror story as one can get.
A movie in which her father gets hooked on benzodiazepines, becomes suicidal, is hospitalised for his own safety and then diagnosed with schizophrenia.
This sentence is so wrong it is hard to know from where to begin. “Get hooked on” is a very callous way of saying “could not stop using benzodiazepines lest the side effects of doing so kill him”, it is not a dependency because there is no desire for the medication, rather it produces violent side effects when stopped. Akathisia does make people suicidal due to the excruciating and unrelenting nature of the side effect. “Diagnosed” is clearly the wrong word used to discredit him, the correct word is “misdiagnosed” but the author knows that. It was made very clear in the interview that the diagnosis was an error on the part of the doctors. When a diagnosis is an error it is a misdiagnosis. It is difficult to imagine that Aiktenhead’s command of the English language is so poor as to not know the difference.
Against his doctors’ advice she flies him to Russia to be placed in an induced coma. He emerges delirious, unable to walk, and ricochets from one rehab centre to another, ending up in a Serbian clinic where he contracts Covid-19. This is designed to make it appear that he went against reasonable medical advice, bear in mind these were the same doctors that were unable to accurately diagnose his condition, gave a misdiagnosis and medication which made his condition worse. All this was in the interview. Emerging delirious and unable to walk is a fairly common result of detoxification from powerful medications. The condition did not last long, also common. How exactly can a man who is still weak “ricochet” from one place to another, is he a bullet? A very poor use of metaphor, no wonder she doesn’t understand his work. In reality he visited several clinics to find one that could give him the needed treatment, also not uncommon.
Back home in Canada at last, from where he speaks to me earlier this month, he breaks down in floods of tears and has to leave the room. When I ask if he feels angry with himself for taking benzodiazepines, his daughter jumps in, arms waving — “Hold on, hold on!” — and tries to bring the interview to a close.
The flood of tears ironically destroys her own argument later in the article, which she seems to have overlooked, where she claims he is a man shut off from his own emotions. Generally, men shut off from their own emotions don’t cry. The next blatant fabrications then occur, the tone of voice that Mikhaila Peterson uses is not consistent with someone using rapid body movements never mind arm flailing as Aitkenhead would have the reader believe, the recording also shows that the conversation had been going for a considerable period of time, that Peterson’s condition was not particularly good, and that she was given ten more minutes, she was not cut off.
If this was a movie, its director would unquestionably be the 28-year-old Mikhaila Peterson, CEO of her father’s company.
The age quoted at the time was wrong, why is this a movie? The choice of words is grandiose and attempts to distract from the fact that Peterson is a human being who has suffered, and that Mikhaila’s actions in taking care of her father are for some reason unusual.
She and her Russian husband appear to have assumed full charge of his affairs, so before I am allowed to speak to him I must first talk to her.
The fact that her husband is Russian could not be more irrelevant, what appears to be happening here is that Aitkenhead is making casual reference to his ethnicity because of recent negative sentiments concerning Russia, this is a fairly well known technique of propagandists. “Assumed full charge of affairs” is a clear attack on their intentions making it appear that they took control by coercion or force. Vetting calls and assisting an ill family member is also a normal behaviour, if anything it shows that the family is functioning well.
Unrecognisable from the ordinary-looking brunette from photos just a few years ago, Mikhaila today is a glossy, pouting Barbie blonde, and talks with the zealous, spiky conviction of a President Trump press spokeswoman.
The author, a feminist, seems to pull no punches in attacking the physical appearance of another woman she doesn’t like. The paradox of this hypocrisy is made all too clear when one sees that Decca Aitkenhead is just as blonde and poutier, clearly the pot calling the kettle black. The ad hominem is uncalled for and is petty revenge for the fact that she did not get from the interview what she wanted. The Trump analogy is an attempt at creating an atmosphere of dislike in the reader as she thinks the reader is likely to share her own particular views.
According to her website she has suffered from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder, since early childhood, which necessitated a hip and ankle replacement at 17. Other symptoms — chronic fatigue, depression, OCD, nose bleeds, restless legs, brain fog, itchy skin, the list goes on — forced her to drop out of university, “and it finally occurred to me that whatever was happening was likely going to end in my death, and rather soon. After almost 20 years, the medical community still had no answers for me.” So she decided to cure herself.
People with no other option are often forced to find their own help.
In 2015 Mikhaila began to experiment with food elimination. Starting with gluten, she removed one food group after another from her diet, until for the past three years she has eaten literally nothing but red meat — almost exclusively beef — and salt. This has, she claims, cured everything. She now makes podcasts and blogs about her “lion diet”.
Autoimmune disorders are still largely understood; the author could have used this amazing thing called Google to find that out. One method of finding which foods cause reactions and allergies is food elimination. In her case she found what worked. The lesser of two evils. After spending considerable time looking over her site, there was no area that stated that this was a cure all. The footer of her page explicitly says that it is not for everyone.
Needless to say the medical profession does not endorse this diet. Nevertheless, in 2018 her father adopted it and within months declared it had cured his depression, anxiety, psoriasis, snoring, gingivitis, gastric reflux, even the floaters in his right eye. He stopped taking the SSRI antidepressants that he had been on for 14 years. He was, he proclaimed, “intellectually at my best”.
Once again, while certain interventions do not work for some people they do for others. The same is true for medication, not all medications can be used by everyone. The fact that the same diet worked for both is most likely due to the close genetic relationship. If the author is so unaware concerning the fields of diet and medicine, would it rather not be better to keep silent? Of course, an empty can rattles the most.
Like every medical autodidact I’ve ever met, Mikhaila rattles off pharmacological jargon at 100 miles an hour, sweeping from one outlandish tale to another with breathless melodrama that becomes increasingly exhausting to follow.
These statements are plainly untrue. The interview was recorded, if she made mistakes in “the jargon” which people in medicine call “medical terminology”, it would be all too obvious to every medical professional, the fact that the author could not understand is purely a result of her own lack of knowledge as clearly displayed through the entire article. The attempt to discredit her has really backfired as it highlights the authors own inability. The tales were neither outlandish nor breathless melodrama this is personal projection.
She wants to give me the “nitty-gritty nasty details” of the past 18 months herself, “because Dad is still not fully recovered, and he’s still extremely prone to anxiety, so any recounting of the story knocks him out for a couple of days”.
Here we see the implication that Peterson is capable of doing the interview himself and that his daughter has needlessly taken over. Remember, the trope being built here is that Peterson is not really that ill and that his daughter is merely controlling and interfering. This then begs the question, if he was indeed fully recovered then why would he burst into tears during the interview and need to leave the room to gain composure? The Aitkenhead continues to undermine her own arguments repetitively without seeming to notice it at all.
After 80 minutes on Zoom, the one thing of which I’m certain is that, were I as close to death as she assures me her father repeatedly was, this is not the person I would entrust with saving my life.
This is personal opinion, if this was to be a personal opinion piece then it should have been clearly stated at the beginning of the article and told to the Petersons before they agreed. This is purely a sentence comprised of opinion and malicious at that. It attacks Mikhaila’s intentions and behaviour, when as it stands, based on the evidence and facts, her actions and those of her family were central to Petersons eventual survival.
The problems all began, according to Mikhaila, in October 2016. By then she, her husband and her father were consuming only meat and greens — the full lion diet would come later — and ate a stew that contained apple cider, to which all three had a violent “sodium metabisulphite response. It was really awful — but it hit him hardest. He couldn’t stand up without blacking out. He had this impending sense of doom. He wasn’t sleeping.”
Yes, they had a bad reaction. It stands to reason that this physical reaction would, coupled with the immense physiological and psychological stress he was under, impact both his physical and mental health.
Peterson himself has said he didn’t sleep for 25 days, a claim that has been widely disputed, given that the longest period of sleeplessness recorded is 11 days. Mikhaila brushes this away impatiently. “He was in really bad shape, right.”
The claim was NOT that he had not slept at all for 25 days, but rather that the quality of sleep was not appropriate for the body to recuperate and reboot, given the symptoms it is likely that he was unable to get any deeper than stage two of sleep, meaning the body repair that takes place at stage three was not happening. This is not only cherry picked but twisted out of context and semantics so as to be beyond recognition. Very little of the tone of Mikhaila’s voice during interview had any inkling of impatience, by the end of the interview it did however carry hints of annoyance and concern partly due to the authors badgering and partly because of her father’s condition.
Peterson had plenty of reasons to be unsettled. His book 12 Rules would be coming out a year later; his job at the University of Toronto was in jeopardy due to the transgender pronoun controversy. “So that was incredibly stressful,” Mikhaila agrees. “And then just going from not being known to being known was stressful. But our entire family agrees, the main problem here was this weird health thing.” They consulted doctors, “who didn’t really know what was going on”, until the family GP prescribed “a really low dose of benzodiazepine”, the family of sedative drugs that includes Valium. It seemed to help. “And we were, like, OK, whatever.”
It did initially help because it relieved the symptoms of anxiety he was suffering from.
By early 2019 Peterson was a household name, his book a global bestseller, when disaster struck. His wife of 30 years, Tammy, was diagnosed with kidney cancer. “We did a whole bunch of research and it was this extremely rare cancer that is extremely deadly.” Tammy suffered all kinds of surgical complications, and Peterson spent months at her hospital bedside, terrified she would die. That summer his doctor raised his benzodiazepine dose, but instead of soothing him it seemed only to make matters worse. “Dad started to get super-weird. It manifested as extreme anxiety, and suicidality.”
This section carries some normality only because it is mostly directly quoted.
On another psychiatrist’s advice he quit the drug and started taking ketamine, but cold turkey sent him into benzodiazepine withdrawal.
At this stage he did not realise that benzodiazepine had normalised in his system, a very dangerous situation. He did not “quit” because he was not dependant, dependency denotes a feeling of craving the drug. In this case stopping the drug caused the dangerous side effect. Cold turkey is used to try and push the false idea of addiction.
Another psychiatrist, a family friend, told him to resume the benzodiazepine and check into a rehab clinic to help wean him back off it slowly. After six weeks in rehab in Connecticut he was in a worse state than ever, still on the benzodiazepine plus now additional drugs, unable to stop pacing or writhing with agitation.
It would have been simpler to say Akathisia.
Frightened he would kill himself, Peterson transferred to a public hospital in Toronto in November, where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Once again, when one is diagnosed with a condition from which one does not suffer, it is not a diagnosis, it is a misdiagnosis, Peterson does not have schizophrenia…
The hospital wanted to treat him with electroconvulsive therapy, but Mikhaila and her family were having none of it. “It’s not like we’re uneducated in these things, right?” she says. “We kept telling them, no, the problem was his medication. But they wouldn’t listen to us. So we started calling rehab clinics around the world. We rang 57 of them. And this one place in Russia was, like, ‘Yeah, we do detox.’ So we thought, what do we do? It’s got to be dangerous because no one else will do it. But my family agreed, let’s give it a shot.”
Once again this passage is designed to make the reader believe that the family was being unreasonable in their concerns and lack of trust in the doctors’ ability, even though it was clear that the doctors did not know what was going on in his case.
The Toronto doctors “were not OK with it. We had to sign papers taking responsibility for whatever happened. And they were annoyed about it enough that they wouldn’t give us his discharge papers. Which is not even legal, right? It was a complete mess.”
Correct, it is not legal.
In January last year, with the help of her husband, a nurse and a security guard, Mikhaila put Peterson on a private plane to Moscow. The clinic there was more familiar with detoxing patients from opiates than benzodiazepines; they took one look at Peterson and said he’d been deliberately poisoned. “And I was, like, no, it’s the meds!” To complicate matters further, the clinic intubated him for undiagnosed pneumonia. Did she feel her father was in safe hands? “Well, my husband was translating everything, which was terrifying. But the clinic looked really modern. It didn’t look sketchy.”
Asking if Makhaila thought her father was in safe hands primes for the next sentence particularly with the wording “sketchy”, an easy manipulation due to the lack of context in the written from that is conveyed in spoken form. It is possible to create a negative connotation to statements by “padding” the surrounding text with primers.
The medics administered propofol, the drug that killed Michael Jackson, to induce an eight-day coma, during which they “did something called plasmapheresis, which takes your blood and cleans it. Benzodiazepines have such a long half-life, there’s a theory that maybe some of the withdrawal is because you still have benzodiazepines in you. So the plasmapheresis got rid of everything.”
Here it seems that Aitkenhead did for once use Google and found exactly what she was looking for, the death of a famous person by the drug propfol. Of course, another attempt to make it appear that the clinic didn’t know what it was doing. However, the sad reality is that any powerful medication has the potential to kill, hence the death of Michael Jackson is irrelevant in practice but useful for propaganda.
When Peterson regained consciousness, it became clear that they were not out of the woods yet. “He was catatonic. Really, really bad. And then he was delirious. He thought my husband was his old roommate. Oh, it was horrible.” Did she panic? “Yeah! I lost a whole bunch of hair. I’ve never been that stressed in my entire life. We’d brought Dad here and it was, like, what did the detox do? Was it too hard on his brain? I thought, I’m f***ed if this goes badly. The entire world is going to blame me, because who brings somebody to detox from these medications in Russia? It’s, like, this is really bad.”
Peterson was transferred to a public hospital near Moscow, “for people with severe head trauma, basically. It was like a Soviet-era hospital from a movie. But it was full of really — thank God — really, really, really, really skilled doctors. So I went the next day, and Dad was back!”
The only parts of the piece which are not blatant propaganda are direct quotes, when these are actually not surrounded by terminology to warp the context. It is however clear that the parts of the interview were picked so as to frame Peterson, his daughter and his family in the worst possible light.
The doctors had put him on new drugs; he was alert. By now it was February and Peterson had no memory of anything since mid-December. He had even forgotten how to type. Over eight days he learnt to walk again, and was then transferred to another clinic to convalesce. In late February his family flew him to Florida, rented a house in Palm Beach, hired nurses and thought he would recover. But ten days later all the old symptoms came back. Unable to stop moving, in pain, Peterson was suicidal again. “And I was, like, what is going on?” Mikhaila contacted a clinic in Serbia — “this, like, top-of-the-world private hospital” — and flew her father to Belgrade, where he was diagnosed with akathisia, a condition of restlessness classically linked to benzodiazepine withdrawal.
And with deadly potential. The first time the word diagnosed is used properly in this article.
Finally Mikhaila had found doctors who corroborated her own theory.
A further attack, this was not her theory, this was the correct diagnosis. A better sentence would be “Finally Mikhaila had found doctors who identified the condition and gave an accurate diagnosis.”
They prescribed further sedatives and antidepressants and an opiate; her father seemed “stoned” but “at least started to relax”. Father and daughter released a podcast, updating fans on his recovery. And then Serbia went into lockdown, so she moved into her father’s clinic with her husband, their nanny and three-year-old daughter — and all five of them promptly contracted Covid.
Poor word choice, “promptly”, it was not as if contracting Covid was a personal choice.
By now my head is spinning.
The same feeling linguists get from reading this propaganda and slander.
The blizzard of obscure pharmaceutical terminology keeps on coming, as Mikhaila reels off the names of more antibiotics and antidepressants and antipsychotics prescribed to her father, recounting her objections to this one and that one until it all becomes a blur.
Using words like obscure conveys the idea of unimportance, just because the author did not understand, did not mean it was unimportant. The author sought to have an interview, giving information freely is something most journalists would be thankful for because they can then research these points after the interview. If the author desired to interview Peterson about medicine but was unwilling to listen to medical terminology then the author was ill suited to doing the interview from the outset. It is clear the author had no intention even attempting to understand, of course, understanding is not required for smear campaigns.
The long and the short of it is that late last year Peterson flew home to Canada. His akathisia — the intense agitation and restlessness that makes him suicidal — has improved significantly but not disappeared. No one can understand why it still plagues him. He still isn’t free of meds. Having gone through several more doctors in Toronto, Mikhaila is currently corresponding online with “thousands” of akathisia sufferers, who are “telling me what worked for them”.
Corresponding is an odd way of wording this as correspond indicates a two-way form of communication but in reality the emails are mostly only received and are sent by the numerous individuals’ on volition.
Has she ever, I wonder, felt perceived by the medical profession as the problem? “Completely, yes. Hundred per cent. I’ve been problematic for a while.” She starts to laugh. “I’m pretty pushy when I think something is wrong.” She doesn’t have any actual medical training, though, I point out. Doesn’t she worry about the responsibility she has assumed for her father’s treatment? “But because of my experience of being ill, I’ve done a lot of research. There’s this trust people have of doctors that I don’t have. Because doctors are just people, right?”
This entire section creates the feeling that Mikhaila is some sort of anti-medicine radical or extremist, rather than someone shrewd in their choice of healthcare. Especially as the problem started as a result of not checking the medication used, that is to say the benzodiazepines prescribed by the doctor, it stands to reason that the family would be more cautious of medical advice they did receive. Calling attention to her lack of medical credentials is an extension of painting her as a radical. The author seems to believe that doctors are not just people, or that their advice is somehow infalliable. Historically, there have been doctors involved in some of the worst human rights violations in history, Unit 731 was run by doctors, the Nazi death camps were staffed by doctors, so her insinuation of medical infallibility is moot. This is nothing more than a shoddily veiled personal attack.
This opinion is not uncommon in North America, where surprising numbers regard YouTube as a viable substitute for medical school.
Comparing her to uninformed YouTube viewers when she has read the available research on the matter and given a proper diagnosis of a rare ailment is a faux pas at best. The blanket statement concerning North American views are far fetched.
Whatever your opinion of Peterson, however, his scrupulous deference to scientific data is indisputable. His public image is defined by scholarly precision; “There’s no evidence for that,” is practically his catchphrase. This is not a compliment; the sentence draws attention to his professionalism in the field in order to attack him for cooperating what the author insinuates as being unreasonable attempts by his daughter as found in the following sentences.
I am dying to ask him why he submitted to this medical circus, orchestrated by his daughter against his doctor’s orders, when we speak the following day.
The so called journalist does very little to hide her contempt for Mikhaila. A medical circus? Who are the clowns of this circus? For someone who seems to have surpassing difficulty at understanding simple metaphors, Aitkenhead is greatly skilled at using metaphor to insult others. Orchestrated? A word with such negative connotations does not have any place in describing the successful actions of a daughter taken to address a serious health issue. By this point Aitkenhead is likely tired and could not be bothered even hiding her personal contempt of Mikhaila about whom she seems completely obsessed. It would appear that Mikhaila is living in Aitkenheads mind rent free.
But at the end of this long and often bewildering account from his daughter, I still can’t tell if her father will be cogent or incoherent. I don’t know what to expect. And Mikhaila will, of course, be monitoring our conversation.
Previously Aitkenhead had implied that Peterson was now fine and that his daughter ought to butt out, now she does not know if he will be cogent or not, it seems in her own little smear campaign that she is unable to make up her mind exactly how she wants to attack Peterson.
Peterson is as impeccably groomed, composed and meticulously courteous as ever when he appears on Zoom a day later. He looks gaunt and pale, though, and I’m struck by an overwhelming sense of his vulnerability.
He seems gaunt, pale and vulnerable, descriptions which undermine her claim that Mikhaila was not needed. Perhaps when writing propaganda, it would be better for her to check whether or not there are not glaringly obvious contradictions in her rhetoric.
As the professor is famously data-driven, I ask what medical evidence was so compelling that it persuaded him to detox in Moscow. He looks slightly blank. “I don’t remember anything. From December 16 of 2019 to February 5, 2020,” he says, “I don’t remember anything at all.” He reassures me that he did, nonetheless, consent to being treated in Moscow, so again I ask why.
This section is designed to set Peterson up in a way that communicates a lack of competence later in the piece, it is designed to linger in the back of the mind long enough to support the bias in later sections.
“Well, I went to the best treatment clinic in North America. And all they did was make it worse. So we were out of options. The judgment of my family was that I was likely going to die in Toronto.” Why would he put his life in the hands of his family and not the medical profession? “I had put myself in the hands of the medical profession. And the consequence of that was that I was going to die,” he repeats blankly. “So it wasn’t that [the evidence from Moscow] was compelling. It was that we were out of other options.”
The trope is repeated throughout this article: “his family has no medical experience, they disobeyed the doctors who are professionals, they did the wrong thing, they think they are better than others”. It ignores the fact that they were correct and the doctors were wrong, which is the ultimate crux of the matter. He survived due to his family’s shrewdness and not the doctors in North America.
I’m curious about the extent to which his mental health was troubling him in the months and years leading up to the crisis. On his book tour he’d delivered a different lecture each night at 160 cities in 200 days, addressing crowds of many thousands. Feted as a psychological authority in possession of all the answers — busy dispensing advice to fans about their mental health — how worried was he about his own? “Well, I don’t think it’s a mental health issue. I think it’s a physical health issue. I have an autoimmune disorder of some sort, and much depression is autoimmune in nature.”
Even if that is the opinion of the author, or the opinion of certain fans, never has Peterson claimed to “have all the answers”. On the contrary, whether asked by students or whether on a TV interview, when questions are posed for which he does not have the answer he clearly says “I don’t know”, often with a calmness and honesty that causes laughter for its frankness. Autoimmune diseases can cause depression.
Now I’m confused all over again.
Probably the only honest observation by the author in this article.
Throughout all his medical ordeals there wasn’t ever a formal diagnosis of an autoimmune disorder, was there? “Yeah, there was,” Mikhaila jumps in. “In Russia and in Serbia. Fibromyalgia.” That isn’t an autoimmune condition, is it? “I mean,” Peterson says vaguely, “these sort of autoimmune conditions aren’t very well understood — and fibromyalgia is a good example of that. It’s terra incognita.”
She did not “jump in” she was part of the conversation, hearing things from someone that one does not like does not constitute “jumping in”. Whether fibromyalgia is an autoimmune disease or not is currently a matter of debate, a 2020 study indicates that it may well be a neuropathy-induced autoimmune disease. When a theory is contested, it is standard to report both the original idea and the most recent findings for cross comparison, these recent findings however did not suit the authors desire to discredit Peterson.
Then he starts talking instead about post-traumatic stress disorder. “One of the markers for post-traumatic stress disorder is derealisation. Like when the things around you don’t seem real. And I was in a constant state of derealisation from October 2016 till …” — he checks the day’s date with a mirthless chuckle — “January 12th of 2021.”
Here we see that she tries to show him as having been corned due to a mistake, that she seems to know more about medicine than him and that he tried to change the subject. The recording will however show that he was merely continuing with a chronological explanation, the authors failure or unwillingness to understand is her own responsibility.
Being Jordan Peterson, he explains, has involved five years of untold pressure. “I was at the epicentre of this incredible controversy, and there were journalists around me constantly, and students demonstrating. It’s really emotionally hard to be attacked publicly like that. And that happened to me continually for, like, three years.” In 2017, 200 of his colleagues “signed a petition at the University of Toronto to have me removed from my tenured position. And my faculty association forwarded that to the administration without even notifying me.” When he gave a talk at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, “protesters were banging on the windows. It was like a zombie attack. They arrested a woman who was carrying a garotte, for God’s sake! And I was harassed directly after the demonstration by a small coterie of insane protesters who were in my face for two blocks, three blocks, yelling and screaming.”
Mostly this has been left intact because the author likely feels it negatively portrays him. If that is not understandable, bear in mind her main audience are those who already have a dislike for him.
Was it frightening? “I guess I’d have to say yes, definitely. I was concerned for my family. I was concerned for my reputation. I was concerned for my occupation. And other things were happening. The Canadian equivalent of the Inland Revenue service was after me, making my life miserable, for something they admitted was a mistake three months later, but they were just torturing me to death. The college of psychologists that I belonged to was after me because one of my clients had put forth a whole sequence of specious allegations. So that was extraordinarily stressful.”
Of the many experiences he gave this was probably the type of comment she was looking for to bolster her position. She would not have to make allegations as this was brought up in conversation, hence creating casual links with the tone of the rest of the article.
He was — and remains — intensely frustrated that journalists keep casting his work as “fundamentally political”. “I really don’t like upsetting people,” he says. “I’m a clinical psychologist, it’s in my nature to help people. I’m not interested in generating controversy. I’ve been trying to help people [understand] that they need a profound meaning in their life because their lives are difficult.”
This is true, likely viewing this as damaging when in reality it supports his case, or alternatively to make her writing seem less bombastic. However it is not without enigma that she is one of those very “journalists”.
His fans’ enthusiasm for his tough-love message quite unravels him. “The response has been continually amazing. I don’t know what to make of it. What should I think of the fact that I have 600 million views on YouTube?” He certainly thinks about it a lot; he references his viewing figures repeatedly, with a kind of awestruck wonder. “So it’s the scale of exposure that’s — well, I mean, it’s not unparalleled, because there is no shortage of famous people, but it’s certainly unparalleled for me! I mean, when all this hit me I was already 55 or something. I’d laboured under relative obscurity. But now I’ve had this incredible view into the suffering of thousands and thousands of people, and I can’t go out without people coming up to me. And they’re usually quite emotional, and I’m …” His voice trembles, then cracks.
The obscurity wording used in the introduction was most likely taken from here, it could be said that the author was using the same wording as Peterson but the context makes all the difference. In this case, Peterson used the term for himself to express a humble view of self, the author uses the same wording at the beginning for the purpose of casting doubt on ability, the same word with dramatically different interpretation as per context. His trembling, cracking voice further invalidates her later claims that he is not in touch with is feelings.
“You don’t have conversations like that, that often, outside of the clinical sphere. So part of what’s overwhelming to me is how it’s direct evidence of how little encouragement so many people get.” His face crumples into tears. “They’re starving …” He breaks down. “Sorry,” he sobs, “I haven’t done an interview for a long time.” He gets up to leave and returns a minute later carrying a towel to dry his eyes. Yet another section illustrating a contradiction of her later points concerning lack of emotion and toxic masculinity.
“And things just fell apart insanely with [his wife] Tammy. Every day was life and death and crisis for five months. The doctors said, ‘Well, she’s contracted this cancer that’s so rare there’s virtually no literature on it, and the one-year fatality rate is 100 per cent.’ So endless nights sleeping on the floor in emergency, and continual surgical complications.” He looks shellshocked. “So I took the benzodiazepines.”
This is not designed to create pity, it is another primer for the attack in the next passage. The author uses the same repetitive sequence of primer, negative, primer, negative. Those drugs are notoriously addictive; I point out; he had surely heard enough horror stories about housewives hooked on Valium in the 1960s to be wary? “No, I really didn’t give it a second thought. They were prescribed and I just took them.”
A man in desperation, who took medication which was widely marketed as a safe alternative to Valium, a man who trusted his doctor. Not particularly amazing. What is amazing is the cognitive dissonance, whereby the author attacks the Petersons for not fully trusting the doctors who had created the problem, then made it worse, but now criticises Peterson for not questioning the doctor in this case. Whether this is a pure failure of logic or sheer vindictiveness may be a matter of debate, however journalism, that it is not.
Maybe they really were the cause of all his problems. The more he talks, though, the more I wonder whether toxic masculinity might have been a culprit, too.
To draw attention away from the previous point and mistakes on the part of the doctor, Aitkenhead now uses buzz words. Those suffering from the traits that feminists classify as toxic masculinity or even that the APA includes in its definition does not include showing emotion in the way that Peterson did during the interview.
His family history of depression might tell us something about the price to be paid for his bootstrap philosophy; that when life became excruciatingly stressful, Peterson’s stand up, man up, suck it up mentality didn’t work. At the very point when the most famous public intellectual on the planet was preaching a regime of order and self-discipline, he was privately in chaos.
Bootstrap philosophy would be another wording for discrediting his work, the term is incorrectly used as the philosophy used is theoretically sound and can be checked against sources other than itself. I will quote a movie here “That word, I do not think it means what you think it means”.
Parallels with Donald Trump come to mind; another unhappy man closed off from his emotions, projecting strong man mythology while hunkered down in a bunker with his family against the world.
If anything the author is mildly obsessed with Trump which is her person measure of an unlikable individual. The sentence here so poetically turns her entire piece into the Hindenburg of Journalism that any linguist has to put on their sunglasses and watch the burning glare of rhetoric contradicting itself with such literary intensity that one’s hair positively reeks of smoke. Numerous times, the author talks about Petersons emotions and crying here she claims that he is closed off from his emotions. The self-contradiction is truly exquisite. There is also no strong man mythology the claim is fabricated.
Peterson’s critics will undoubtedly point out that he built an entire intellectual philosophy upon the principle that life is all about pain and suffering; that the strong, manly response is to square one’s shoulders and battle through it, not to take drugs to numb the pain. “No, I’ve never said that. Look, if you’re a viable clinician you encourage people to take psychiatric medication when it’s appropriate. What I really encourage in people is to understand that it isn’t useful to allow your suffering to make you resentful. And, believe me, I’ve had plenty of temptation to become resentful about what’s happened to me in the last two years.”
The author must even be getting tired of herself at this point because two sentences directly contradict each other back to back. She claims he has told men to man up and not take medication, she claims this as if it were a fact. He then says he never said anything of the sort, her insinuation is that he did. I would challenge the author to present evidence, although much like most of the “evidence” in this article it would have to be fabricated as he has never encouraged anyone who needs medication not to use it.
When I watched the podcast he made last June with Mikhaila in Belgrade, I tell him, I thought he looked angry, and wondered who or what he was angry with. “Well, pain will make you angry.” Is any part of Peterson angry with himself for taking benzodiazepines? He hesitates. “I wouldn’t say angry. But it’s not like I failed to see the irony. That was another thing that continues to make it difficult to stomach. You know, should I have known better? Possibly.”
Anger and irritability are side effects or symptoms of pain. His regret however is what she had been pushing for and was the answer that she wanted for her prepared narrative. Hindsight is also a powerful thing; most people regret catastrophic events in their lives even when such events where outside of their power to prevent.
Mikhaila interrupts sharply. “Well …” but he continues. “I mean, I did do my thesis on alcoholism.” She raises her voice and waves her arms. “This is — hold up, hold up! You had a side-effect from a medication. Should you have known better that benzodiazepines can cause akathisia in people who take SSRIs?” “No,” Peterson defers.
Mikhaila’s tone of voice does not indicate arm waving, at most movement of the hands. At the outset it had already been established that he did not know what the drugs would do and that he took them at the doctors advice, once again Aitkenhead is making her own reality and pushing her predefined narrative. Listening to the recording he did not defer, he answers the question “No” because he did not know that the medication could cause akathisia as the author insinuates.
Enunciating each word, she spells out: “This. Wasn’t. A. Benzodiazepine. Dependency. Problem. This was an akathisia side-effect from psych meds.” Her father nods. “Right. Yes, that’s right.” Mikhaila checks the time. “We have to wrap up.” He glances up. “I’m doing OK, by the way.” “Yeah, yeah, I know. But still.” Is he absolutely sure, I try once more, that what he experienced wasn’t an understandable response to intolerable stress? “There’s no way akathisia is that,” Mikhaila snaps.
Usually when people are having difficulty grasping basic concepts enunciating each word is needed. An important part is also skipped, after saying “Yeah, yeah, I know. But still.”Mikhaila also says “Mom will kill me”. This is important because it draws attention to the fact that she is not controlling at all but rather, her mother is also concerned about the health of her husband. It would make sense, giving her mother’s condition that she would not desire to give her unneeded stress. The author purposely omitted this. Mikaila did not snap. Peterson’s wife is making a miraculous recovery from cancer. His greatest source of stress right now is “fear that the akathisia will come back. It’s unbearable. And there’s always this sense that you could stop it, if you just exercised enough willpower. So it’s humiliating as well.” Does it generate a self-punishing voice in his head, accusing him of being weak? “Yes, definitely.” He worries that akathisia must look like weakness to everyone else too. “It’s certainly how it appears. Grotesque, for sure.”
The words are taken out of context almost to a degree that the cognitive dissonance has a personality all of its own. Aitkenhead seems to be a master of hearing what she wants to hear….maybe she got tutoring from Newman.
He suffered akathisia for 26 days in November, and five in December — “and those episodes would last five to seven hours.” So far in January he has suffered none, “but I can feel it lurking”. Every morning he takes a 90-minute sauna, scrubs himself in the shower for 20 minutes, walks for between two and four hours, “and then I can begin to have something resembling a productive day”.
The author could choose to expand on this point, but she really isn’t interested in points that could actually be used to help other sufferers. After all, never let truth get in the way of an agenda. Rather, the next paragraph rapidly changes subject in an unnatural in ineloquent way towards politics.
One thing that has not changed is his politics. Asked about the storming of the Capitol in Washington, he clicks back into more familiar, self-assured Peterson mode. “I thought that the continual pushing on the radical leftist front would wake up the sleeping right. I saw it coming five years ago. And you can put it at Trump’s feet, but it’s not helpful. I mean, obviously he was the immediate catalyst for the horrible events that enveloped Washington — and perhaps it’ll all die down when Trump disappears. But I doubt it.” Should Trump be impeached? “I think he should be ignored.”
This paragraph is so slap dash and out of sync with the rest of the paragraph, a desperate attempt at trying to smear some more. To sum it up, this is the journalistic version of the “Chewbacca Defence”. This is obvious from the next paragraph which abruptly switches back to his book and condition.
Incredibly, throughout all of this he has managed to write another book — Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life — the sequel to his self-help bestseller. I ask how he feels about the prospect of its publication this spring. “Well, I’m ambivalent about it because I can’t judge the book properly. I didn’t write it under optimal circumstances, to say the least, so I can’t make an adequate judgment of its quality.” Why didn’t he postpone the book until he was better?
“I can tell you why I did it. How I could do it. It was easy. Because the alternative was worse.” He’d lost a year to Tammy being ill, then a year to his own illness. “If I would have lost the book, I wouldn’t have had anything left.” I tell him I’m amazed he managed it, and he looks pleased.
When someone is ill, there are things that are a distraction for the pain and anxiety that come with it, for Peterson, his outlet is writing. It makes sense on a psychological level that writing would be a coping mechanism. It actually proves the point of his self-authoring program which is not purely designed as a program for writing but for channelling thoughts and emotions.
“If you would have seen me, believe me, it would have been more amazing. When I recorded the audio book in November I was akathisic almost the entire time.” His voice raises and fills with pride. “I would go to the studio virtually convulsing in the car. I was moving just frenetically, and then I’d get upstairs into the studio and force myself to not move for two hours.
“If you would have asked me to lay odds on the probability that I would live to finish the recording, I would have bet you ten to one that I wouldn’t have. But I did the recording. And it was the same with the book. Because not to would have been worse. So, to the degree that I can explain how I was able to manage it, I’m not going to talk about willpower or courage, I’m going to talk about the lesser of two evils.”
She mostly leaves this part intact because the finishing pot-shot one-liner is designed as the last snide remark for this decrepit article.
Except, of course, that he has ended up framing his story in terms of his willpower and courage.
At least the writer is consistent, beginning the article with a lie and ending with a lie. I have only seen in his videos, a profound thankfulness to be alive and that his wife had survived her terrible ordeal, also thankfulness for the help of his daughter and her husband.
Comparing the audio and this work of propaganda makes the two pieces seem like completely different events. The astonishing degree and the audacity of the sheer gall and lack of self-restraint in writing brazen untruth and slander really makes one wonder about the current state of journalism. I do wonder about intention. Did the author of this glyphic offal feel emboldened because it was the written word? Was the motivation monetary? Was it a matter of pride in her mind, a quick and cheap shot at fame? Did she think linguists and communication experts would not pick up on it? One can but speculate, but her failure turns her into a parody of journalism and only increases Petersons appeal.