Books | March 11, 2020 6:00 am

Inside the Treatment of Jordan Peterson

A complex situation involving a polarizing writer

Jordan Peterson
What caused Jordan Peterson to go missing late last year?
Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons

In a 2018 article in The New Yorker, Kelefa Sanneh wrote about the growing appeal of Canadian author and cultural commentator Jordan Peterson. “Peterson, formerly an obscure professor, is now one of the most influential — and polarizing — public intellectuals in the English-speaking world,” Sanneh wrote. Last year, the already-compex story of Peterson’s life took an unexpected turn, as his daughter Mikhaila​ Peterson informed the world that Peterson was seeking treatment for a dependency on clonazepam.

Following that, the Petersons traveled to Russia; Mikhaila posted a video stating that the elder Peterson had spent time in a medically-induced coma as part of his treatment. It was a shocking moment, regardless of your thoughts on Peterson’s work. At The New Republic, Lindsay Beyerstein delved into the mystery of Peterson’s treatment — and explored why the narrative surrounding it has become so clouded.

Beyerstein’s article includes a blend of analysis and research, leading to a disquieting conclusion:

Based on interviews with medical professionals and a close reading of various statements that Mikhaila and Peterson himself have made on podcasts and social media, it is clear that Peterson ended up in Russia after an extended battle to wean himself off clonazepam. And it seems likely that Peterson, a self-proclaimed man of science, succumbed to the lure of a quack treatment—with devastating consequences.

Beyerstein also notes the contradictory nature of these announcements: “Dependency goes against the core tenets of Peterson’s philosophical brand,” she writes. But there’s plenty to take away from this about the challenges of addressing and treating both drug dependency and drug addiction — all of which Peterson’s treatment brings into sharp relief.

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