Back in 1989 I picked up a copy of the RE/Search book “Modern Primitives” and within a day or two I realized that body modification was going to be a yuuuge thing in the 1990s and beyond. I’m not right on big trends all the time but sometimes I can pick up on things just before they hit the mainstream.
That’s was very much the feeling I had when I stumbled on the videos of Jordan Peterson. I’m not a big fan of a lot of his content, but I realized before many others that he was headed for the center ring.
If I had to describe his appeal (thinking with my typing fingers) I’d say it’s two pronged.
One, he reinvents Christianity for post religious reality. He doesn’t stress the supernatural elements but he distills the ethical essence not as a hyponymic example of the human capacity for belief or necessity of faith but as a universal symbolic retelling of the eternal individual struggle for self-improvement.
Secondly, under the guise of a self-help regimen he’s creating an individualized ritual initiation into manhood. Most traditional societies had some kind of ritual (often imbued with physical and emotional pain that were to be stoically endured) to mark the transition from youth to adulthood. The modern world has largely given up on that leaving many men unsure of how to be adults and adrift in an extended adolescence they can find no exit from.
The reason he’s connecting with so many men is that he offers them a road map for thinking of themselves as men (and as carriers of ethics and values). By keeping it individual and embedded in meta-understanding one’s own life as a new instantiation of eternal processes his public presentations don’t degenerate into the weirdness of previous attempts to retro-define manhood a la Robert Bly’s forest rituals or the addlepated silliness of the Promise Keepers (not to mention the noxious snake oil peddled by MRAs or PUAs). He’s offering a road map to self-aware manhood that’s dignified and simultaneous religious in nature but not content (or vice versa). You can disagree with a lot of what he says, but he’s connecting with a lot of men in ways that no one else is now by repackaging the eternal narrative of initiation into manhood.