Jordan Peterson is unwell.
But for fans and followers of the clinical psychologist and crusader against political correctness, the good news is he is getting better.
This week, his daughter Mikhaila posted a bulletin on her website, announcing that after years of suffering absolute hell from his physical addiction to the anti-anxiety benzodiazepine, Clonazepam, Peterson had been admitted to a clinic in Russia for an emergency detox treatment, which had involved him being placed in an induced coma for eight days.
Peterson, she said, was now on the mend and smiling again for the first time in months. She did not say where in Russia he was, and added that there would be no further bulletins on his condition until Peterson was able to speak for himself.
The revelation is the latest twist in the extraordinary rise of Peterson from obscure Canadian academic to what the *New York Times* described as the most influential public intellectual in the Western world.
Peterson first rose to international prominence in 2018 with the publication of his book 12 Rules For Life, and an appearance on Channel 4 News in which he eviscerated his interviewer Cathy Newman in a discussion about gender and the rise of identity politics and has now accrued more than 19m views on YouTube.
He quickly became the most visible, outspoken, and certainly the most divisive figure in the culture wars between Left and Right, challenging the orthodoxies of political correctness and the culture of victimhood he maintains is sweeping across university campuses in America, Canada and Britain. In March 2019, an offer of a Visiting Fellowship by Cambridge University was rescinded following a backlash from students and some members of faculty.
As his book soared to the top of the best-seller lists around the world, Peterson gave up his clinical practice and embarked on a frenetic round of lecture tours, media appearances and speaking engagements. But last year these engagements tailed off in November he was obliged to cancel a talk he was due to give at Londons Hammersmith Apollo as speculation about his health mounted.
Petersons health, and in particular his struggle with the chronic depression he has suffered since the age of 13, has long been a theme in his talks. When I met him at his home in Toronto in 2018 he described the feeling as like freezing to death on an endless stark plain knowing that the reason that you got there is because you did everything wrong. As part of his attempt to control it, he had adopted a diet consisting solely of meat and greens he was barbequing steak for breakfast when I arrived. Its hell on your social life, I can tell you, he told me with a laugh.
He adopted the diet following the example of Mikhaila, 28, who has become a prominent figure on social media herself, not only in her capacity as her fathers assistant and right hand (Peterson also has a son Julian, 27) but because of her own story about her struggles with debilitating illness.
She has her own website, which lists the long catalogue of ailments that have blighted her life. At the age of seven she was diagnosed with severe juvenile rheumatoid arthritis; at eight she was injecting herself with immunosuppressants twice a week; by the age of 12 she was diagnosed with severe depression and bi-polar type 2; at 14 she was diagnosed with idiopathic hypsomnia; at 17 she had her hip and ankle joints replaced; by the time she was 22 she was sleeping 18 hours a day, chronically depressed and experiencing rashes and blistering.
After years of experimenting with eliminating certain foods, she now promotes the wonders of what she calls the Lion Diet, which consists solely of ruminant meat (beef and lamb), salt and water, and which she claims had put her multiple disorders into remission, leaving her completely asymptomatic, medication free and thriving.
It took me years to believe this myself, as it went against all accepted medical teachings, she says on her website a fact confirmed by numerous health professionals, among them Jack Gilbert, the faculty director at the University of Chicagos Microbiome Center, who in an interview with The Atlanticmagazine described the Lion Diet as a terribly, terribly bad idea, adding, if she does not die of colon cancer or some other severe cardiometabolic disease, the life I cant imagine.
Peterson, however, told the American radio host, Joe Rogan that Mikhaila was glowing. So much so that he embarked on the diet himself to apparently extraordinary effect. His lifelong depression, anxiety, gastric reflux (and associated snoring), inability to wake up in the mornings, psoriasis, gingivitis, floaters in his right eye, numbness on the sides of his legs, problems with mood regulation all of it, he told Rogan, had gone.
But in April last year, the familys history of ill-health took another tragic turn when Petersons wife, Tammy was diagnosed with what was believed to be terminal cancer. The couple had been childhood sweethearts, growing up on the same street in the small prairie town of Fairview in Northern Alberta, and have been married for 31 years.
Devastated by the diagnosis, Peterson was prescribed antidepressants and Clonazepam. But in September, in a family bulletin on her Youtube channel, Mikhaila announced that following surgery for the removal of a kidney, and with Tammy making a miraculous recovery, Peterson had tried unsuccessfully to wean himself off Clonazepam, and been admitted to a rehabilitation centre in New York. The family, she went on, felt it important to make the announcement before some tabloid finds out and publishes Jordan Peterson Self Help Guru Is On Meth or something.
The treatment was evidently unsuccessful. In her posting this week, Mikhaila told how several failed attempts in American hospitals, including tapering and microtapering treatments, had left Peterson suicidal, with a condition called akathisia, where the patient constantly feels on the border of panic and is unable to sit still. The family had been forced in extreme desperation to seek treatment in Russia, where doctors have the guts to medically detox someone from benzodiazepines.
It seems somehow fitting that Peterson should have sought treatment in Russia a country that, one way and another, has exercised a powerful sway over his life and his philosophy. Dostoevskys Crime and Punishmentand The Demonsfigure in a list of books he published as influential in his intellectual development.
The rise of the Soviet Union was equally formative. When I met him, we talked, with Peterson in the full lotus position on an armchair, in a sitting room hung with monumental Soviet propaganda paintings a young man clasping the works of Lenin like a prayer book, and Soviet soldiers in the midst of a battle. Upstairs in his office, a painting of young revolutionaries about to be shot by a White Russian hung on a wall alongside a portrait of Yuri Gagarin. A battered cap, worn by a prisoner in a Soviet gulag was framed above his desk, beside a beaten copper crucifix from a Russian Orthodox church.
Peterson began collecting Soviet-era art in the Nineties, buying paintings on eBay, mostly from junk dealers in Ukraine. He told me they served to remind him of the iniquities of totalitarianism, and the evil of art being subordinated to propaganda. He particularly relished the irony of having bought them for a song on eBay, The most capitalist platform thats ever been invented!
Its kind of weird having Lenin around the house, Mikhaila told me. When Dad first started buying them, Mom would say, Not another one!. He now has more than 300.
It was Petersons fierce opposition to what he described as post-modernist Neo-Marxists and the creeping orthodoxies of political correctness that first made him a figure of public controversy in 2017, when he protested against a ruling by the Ontario Human Rights Commission that refusing to refer to a trans person by their chosen name and a personal pronoun that matches their gender identity in a workplace or a school, would probably be considered discrimination.
Peterson argued that his objections were on the grounds on free speech, and nothing to do with discrimination, and that at no time in British Common Law history has the legal code mandated what we must say, as opposed to simply what we must not say. He added that he would use the gender-neutral pronoun of a particular person, if they asked him.
Accusations of being transphobic and promulgating hate speech have followed him ever since. Indeed, it is hard to think of a more polarising figure in the culture wars as the cruel, gleeful postings by some on social media at the news of his illness have once again demonstrated.
In her bulletin this week, Mikhaila said that her fathers sense of humour is back... But he still has a long way to go to recover fully. It appears that were going to get through this by the skin of our teeth.
As a clinician you learn that its a rare person who isnt tragic right under the surface, Peterson told me when we met. But that doesnt mean you get to be a victim. You pick up your goddamn suffering and put one foot in front of the other. Its the way up, and also its the antidote to the way down.
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