Peterson, Rogan, Tate: The cult of toxic masculinity
What do a clinical psychologist, an ex-kickboxer and a colour commentator have in common? In an ideal world, the answer would be: nothing. Unfortunately for us, the three in question are white, male influencers who have an incredibly large audience, a majority of whom are men.
Jordan Peterson, Andrew Tate and Joe Rogan make up a trio of internet "intellectuals" who seem to always be caught up in discussions on a variety of hotbed issues. Sadly, these armchair experts don't seem to have any qualifications backing up their arguments – which they often seem impassioned about.
While being passionate about one's opinions is not a bad thing, their particular case might have greater consequences than initially meets the eye.
In a world where optics is everything, online presence is almost a currency. The more you have, the more power is in your hands. If there's an opinion or idea you want to put out into the world, and you have a large enough audience behind you, you can peddle any narrative or ideology you see fit. In most cases, with very little consequences to boot.
Now, our three musketeers of questionable opinions – Peterson, Rogan and Tate – are all individuals with massive followings online. They have their hordes of internet fans and supporters, many of whom are ready to blindly follow them into the abyss.
Sadly, at least two out of three of them have the intent to lead you into the darkness, to further their own personal agendas, all while acting like their particular beliefs come from rationality and knowledge.
Let's look at Peterson to make our case. The man began his climb to fame in 2016, when he posted a three-part video series called "Professor Against Political Correctness" on his YouTube channel. At the time, Peterson was a professor at the University of Toronto, and was growing increasingly concerned about a federal amendment which would add gender identity to the Canadian Human Rights Act.
His video series focused on combating the planned amendment using "logic," "reason," and "academia." Peterson framed his arguments under the guise of "concern" and used it to build a following of others who shared in his opinions. While some flocked to him because they shared his opinions from the get-go, others – without any preconceived notions – swayed with his opinions simply because he sounded like a smart person who had stuff figured out.
However, Tabatha Southey – a columnist for Macleans – best described Jordan Peterson when they called him a "stupid man's smart person." In an interview with The Guardian, Southey said, "Peterson's secret sauce is to provide an academic veneer to a lot of old-school rightwing cant, including the notion that most academia is corrupt and evil, and banal self-help patter. He's very much a cult thing, in every regard. I think he's a goof, which does not mean he's not dangerous."
Peterson's initial taste for fame alone was concerning. He was amplifying the voice of the alt-right, and reworking it into his own vernacular to make it sound educated, rather than bigoted.
Joe Rogan, on the other hand, is not an alt-right or conservative media personality. Personally, I don't think Rogan even has malicious intent or any grand schemes. The comedian/UFC commentator has built up his reputation around being a centrist. His once-number-one podcast, "The Joe Rogan Experience" became a hit due to its interview format.
On a typical day, when he isn't talking to a celebrity or a UFC star, Rogan brings in an "expert" of a certain topic. In a lot of cases, he invites personalities from both sides of the political spectrum. Rogan's entire schtick involves him learning about topics from his guests, while trying to relate all of the new information he is learning to the things he knows most about: martial arts, drugs, hunting, and so on.
Where all of this goes wrong, however, is that Rogan provides a platform to people like Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro, hence allowing his audience to be exposed to people with an agenda. If we take a look at Rogan's core fanbase, it is clear that a large portion of it consists of men who love the host because of his old-school ideologies around masculinity.
Now, when you expose such ideologies to a group of vulnerable men, who are in the process of trying to understand their sense of masculinity and self, it allows you to shape their ideologies and beliefs. These are malleable minds, looking for their own identity. In a lot of cases, these individuals are already defensive, as they find themselves in a world that is trying to hold men more accountable.
In such a state, it is often easy to indoctrinate these men with a set of beliefs that gives them some sense of identity. When Joe Rogan talks about his opinions about men needing to be more masculine and dominating, these viewers latch onto these ideas. Similarly, when Peterson comes onto JRE and talks about how socialists and the "left" are ruining our sense of tradition, and that men are being attacked unnecessarily, the same listeners feel a sense of kinship and adopt this line of thought.
Joe Rogan, in trying to be the centrist figurehead who opens up discussions – and thereby hoping to establish a common ground between the right and the left – has empowered individuals like Peterson, Shapiro, Dr Robert Malone, and so forth. He has enabled these snake oil salesmen to peddle their worldview to many impressionable people. Not unlike our man Andrew Tate.
Playing off similar sentiments as Rogan, Tate quite literally ran a Ponzi scheme – through his online academy, Hustler's University – to both launch himself into the spotlight, while also making a nice amount of profit. It was young and impressionable men-turned-fanboys who made Tate famous overnight.
Andrew Tate lives by the philosophy that controversy gets you clicks and engagement. Stir up enough trouble, and people will have to see you plastered across the internet. In the same way that he took a page out of Rogan's book, Tate also took notes from Peterson. If you sit down and watch an Andrew Tate video (without immediately suffering an aneurysm, of course), you'll realise just how much of a pseudo-intellectual the man really is.
The former kickboxer preaches everything from the idea that women are a man's property to suggesting that victims of rape should bear responsibility for the crime they have suffered. Tate takes on the persona of a cool, collected, and rational playboy who even has "justifications" to back up his arguments.
For quite a while, he dominated platforms like TikTok and YouTube, building up a cult of devoted followers, who would amplify his voice even more.
Now, this is not the first time the internet has been used to start cult-like groups. Think of the alt-right and incels. The former – while not founded on the internet – saw great success in the medium, and the latter originated on the web and is a well-renowned hate group.
We constantly allow personalities like Peterson and Tate to create a dedicated following on certain platforms in the name of free speech. But when these individuals then leverage their online presence to indoctrinate the impressionable, doesn't that leave us in a dangerous place?
What happens, when more impassioned fans of people like Tate decide that they've had enough words, and now it is time for action? What if, like former US president Donald Trump, Tate asked his followers to go out and mobilise against something he disagreed with?
When platforms like YouTube, TikTok and Instagram finally got around to banning Andrew Tate, his videos had already been viewed billions of times. If Facebook's role in the Myanmar genocide has not made it apparent just how grave the consequences of online indoctrination and misinformation can be, then surely the US Capitol attack should.
Yet, people like Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro still continue to exist and indoctrinate the next generation in subtler ways than Tate could. If we continue to allow these people to exploit freedom of speech to build their own cults of misogynistic men, then incidents like the Capitol attack will be the least of our worries.
Aaqib Hasib is a sub-editor at The Daily Star. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org