In 2019, Jordan Peterson disappeared from public life. One year later, he re-emerged with a diagnosis, a story and no self-reflection whatsoever.
Thanks to Katelyn Burns and Talia Lavin for help fact-checking this episode and Doctor Dreamchip for our lovely theme song!
Aubrey: Hi, everybody and welcome to Maintenance Phase, the podcast where we have the meat.
Michael: You've been practicing that.
Aubrey: I have not been practicing that I have specifically not been practicing it, but it's been in my head. I'm Aubrey Gordon.
Michael: I'm Michael Hobbes.
Aubrey: If you would to support the show, you can do that at patreon.com/maintenancephase. And today, Michael Hobbes, I'm very nervous about what comes next in our two-parter about Jordan Peterson.
Michael: The thrilling conclusion. Yes.
Aubrey: We did a lot of build up last time.
Michael: I know. That's the thing. I've set your expectations too high. I hope you are just going to fizzle out a long running TV show.
Aubrey: Prepare to be disappointed.
Michael: [laughs] So, tell us where we are? What do we know about this Jordan Peterson guy, so far?
Aubrey: Jordan Peterson is a professor out of Toronto. He is very aligned with academic frameworks around moral absolutism. He talks about having felt depressed and anxious, and finding comfort in that moral absolutism.
Aubrey: He has a daughter named Mikhaila, who has rheumatoid arthritis and convinces him to join her on her all-meat diet and that is beef, salt, water the end, that is all you need. Jordan Peterson has gone on Joe Rogan's show to spread the good word.
Michael: What do we know about Mr. Peterson politically? What are his beliefs?
Aubrey: His politics are categorically, completely unaligned with mine.
Michael: Yes. He is wrong about everything and you're right about everything. [crosstalk] as a shortcut. Mm-hmm.
Aubrey: Is that a fair recap?
Michael: Yes, that is exactly where we are. We should also start with a brontosaurus of a content note, because we're talking about Jordan Peterson, this episode is going to involve transphobia suicide, some Holocaust stuff. It's impossible to talk about this man without getting into really rough territory really quickly. So, we left you with a little cliffhanger, a reaction that he has to food. We're going to start with a clip of Mr. Peterson describing that reaction. A little background in early 2016, his daughter talks him into doing this pretty restrictive diet, that is just basically beef, and chicken, and greens. He mentioned in the last episode, it was cucumbers, and broccoli, and maybe some spinach or something. But he's basically he's already down to five foods.
Michael: Jordan Peterson has been taking antidepressants, SSRIs for most of his adult life. In 2016, he stops taking them, because the diet that he's already on is working such miracles. It will later work more miracles when he switches to only beef, but he's already seeing very positive developments from this very restrictive diet that he's on, and that is roughly where we find him in this clip. This is a clip from the same Joe Rogan show that we watched last time, but slightly later in the interview.
Aubrey: We're going back to Joe Rogan.
Michael: Back to live.
Joe: What's fascinating to me is, I haven't heard any negative stories about people doing this.
Jordan: Well, I have a negative story.
Jordan: Okay. One of the things that both Mikhaila and I noticed was that, when we restricted our diet and then ate something we weren't supposed to, the reaction to eating what we weren't supposed to was absolutely catastrophic.
Joe: What did you do? What did you switch to or what did you eat rather?
Jordan: Well, the worst response, I think we're allergic to whatever the hell this is having an inflammatory response to something called sulfites. We had some apple cider that had sulfites in it and that was really not good. I was done for a month. That was the first time I talked to Sam Harris.
Joe: You were done for a month?
Jordan: Oh, yeah. It took me out for a month. It was awful.
Joe: Apple cider?
Jordan: Sulfites in it.
Joe: What was it doing to you?
Jordan: Oh, it produced an overwhelming sense of impending doom and I'd seriously been overwhelming. There's no way I could have lived that if that would have lasted for-- See, Mikhaila knew by that point that it would probably only last a month and I was --
Joe: A month?
Joe: A month fucking cider.
Jordan: I didn't sleep that that month. I didn't sleep for 25 days.
Jordan: I didn't sleep at all. I didn't sleep at all for 25 days.
Joe: How is it possible? [crosstalk]
Jordan: I'll tell you how it's possible. You lay in bed frozen in something approximating terror for eight hours and then you get up.
Joe: Oh, my God.
Jordan: Oh, yeah.
Joe: And this is from fucking cider, from cider.
Jordan: That's what we thought. Yeah.
Aubrey: Boy, oh boy.
Aubrey: This is a phrase I didn't expect to say here. Pretty sure in this case, Joe Rogan is right.
Michael: [laughs] As usual.
Aubrey: The most curse sentence I have ever uttered.
Aubrey: I don't think you can stay up for 25 days.
Aubrey: But I also do know that there have been times when I thought I didn't sleep, but then go back through my night and go--
Aubrey: I remember looking at the clock at 1 AM and then again at 4 AM. But I don't know what was happening for those three hours. So, I must have dozed off or something. But in terms of is this actually what happened? It seems unlikely.
Michael: You are saying things that are written down word for word in my notes.
Michael: I'm not going to debunk this. The recorded, I don't want to say world record, but yeah, world record for staying up is 11 days. That's the longest time anyone has been documented to stay up without sleep. But also, we've all been in this case, where it feels you were up all night.
Aubrey: Yeah. His point is I felt really bad for a month.
Michael: This episode puts us in the uncomfortable situation of having human sympathy for someone, who I deeply dislike.
Aubrey: Yeah, and who I fundamentally disagree with on every level.
Michael: Yeah. This sounds it just uncomplicatedly sucks. He had this allergic reaction. He says, it's to something called sodium metabisulfites that they put in apple cider to stop the fermentation process. That seems something he got from Mikhaila. It's not clear if that's true or if it's because this diet was so restrictive that his body just couldn't process anything other than water as a liquid. Ultimately, it doesn't really matter. It sounds these 25 days are just hell. He's not sleeping, he almost faints when he gets up, he says he's cold all the time no matter what. So, he goes to the doctor and the doctor puts him on clonazepam, which is known as Klonopin, also.
Aubrey: Yeah. I used to have a prescription for that stuff.
Michael: Oh, wait, really?
Michael: Oh, this is very relevant to this episode.
Aubrey: It's benzos.
Michael: It's benzos. I know.
Aubrey: They work really well. I have a different thing now to replace my Klonopin.
Michael: Oh, okay.
Aubrey: Most of the healthcare providers that I've seen since I was regularly on Klonopin have been , "Oh, yeah, we don't do that anymore, because that's extremely addictive and we should super not be prescribing those to people."
Michael: Aubrey spoilers. Stop spoiling the episode.
Aubrey: Oh, fuck. Oh, fuck, Mike.
Michael: You're doing it again.
Aubrey: Am I fired, now? I usually fire you.
Michael: Yeah, what do you know about Klonopin? What do you know about benzodiazepines?
Aubrey: Okay. More than usual.
Aubrey: Klonopin is part of a drug class called benzodiazepines. It's in there with drugs Ativan and Xanax. They all have different acting times. I think, sometimes, people say panic attack and they mean episodes of high anxiety. I was having the kinds of panic attacks where it's, "You think you're having a heart attack, so you call an ambulance?"
Michael: Oh, my God.
Aubrey: That's what I took them for. They're "Okay, when you feel yourself heading into that territory, take one of these and you won't have to do all that."
Michael: Oh, so, you're taking them regularly. You were taking them acutely, when you felt something coming on, you would take one?
Aubrey: Yeah, totally, totally, totally.
Michael: Oh interesting, okay.
Aubrey: That's the basic thing is that it's designed to pull the ripcord on all of your physiological fight or flight responses. So, it's designed to stop a racing heart, it's designed to manage all of these physiological symptoms that get triggered when you're in a state of extremely high or acute anxiety.
Michael: One of the descriptions I came across said that, it slows down the messages between the brain and the body. It works on something called the GABA receptors, which stands for something, but I don't know what it is, that is how stimulated your nervous system is. It just takes the foot off the gas and it works very similar to alcohol actually.
Michael: Another piece of foreshadowing.
Michael: It just makes you calmer on every level of-- Valium is another benzodiazepine.
Michael: Jordan Peterson is a licensed psychologist, right? He's not a psychiatrist. He didn't go to medical school, but he's a medical provider. His doctor puts him on a daily Klonopin and he doesn't really think about it. He's just, "I had this crazy allergic reaction. Then my doctor gave me this thing, so that I'm not anxious and it worked really well. I'm sleeping better, all my symptoms, whatever this allergic reaction was, that's all gone" and whatever. He just moves on. This is the time when he's getting very famous. We talked last episode about he basically has very standard conservative beliefs.
In 2016, 2017, when all this begins, he's known as somebody where he's got this weird kooky book, this academic, unreadable mess. Then he becomes a public figure on this political correctness stuff is out of control. Then he puts out basically a self-help book. It's called 12 Rules for Life and we didn't really go into it in great detail, because it's just extremely standard. Sub: Rachel Hollis, you put your shoulders back, stand up straight, bootstraps, bootstraps, bootstraps. It's just very standard self-help stuff.
Aubrey: Right. Standard self-help stuff, but delivered by a moral absolutist.
Aubrey: I would venture a guess that it's even more shitty and dismissive than usual self-help books.
Michael: Yeah. The line that I still cannot get out of my head is, he's referring to an old childhood friend, who's staying with him and is struggling with depression, and alcohol, and I think he's going through a divorce. He refers to his friend as having the smell of the unemployable.
Aubrey: Holy fuck. What?
Michael: Then his friend kills himself.
Michael: It's supposed to be this touching story and it's just, "Oh, this is how you talk about your friend, who died."
Aubrey: Wait. Why is it a touching story to tell about your friend's death by suicide?
Michael: Well, it's supposed to be , we reconnected as people and I understood him and blah, blah, blah. Then he links to climate change. We don't have time. Aubrey, we don't have time.
Aubrey: We don't have time. There's too much even in a two-parter.
Michael: I struggled with how to cover that book, because I read the whole fucking thing and we really didn't talk about it last episode, but it's just pretty standard right wing stuff and pretty standard self-help stuff. Ultimately, we can hammer it and belabor it into the ground, but it's just not that interesting, even though, people keep trying to make it interesting. I just kept reading through it, "No, nothing new. Nothing new [crosstalk] here really. It's just normal." Rachel Hollis, but without any of the writing talent or the likability. But then, as he becomes more famous, two things start to happen. One track is there's all of this media coverage of him that is essentially making him seem a lot more respectable and a lot more unique than he is. There's an LA Times article called "hate on Jordan Peterson all you want," but he's tapping into frustration that feminists shouldn't ignore.
Aubrey: Oh, God.
Michael: There's also another one in the Atlantic. The headline is, "Why the left is so afraid of Jordan Peterson? The Canadian psychology professor's stardom is evidence that leftism is on the decline and deeply vulnerable."
Aubrey: Oh, good.
Michael: It's feminists and leftist's fault that this right-wing person is popular. I think this is very telling. In this Atlantic article, it says, "There are plenty of reasons for individual readers to dislike Jordan Peterson. There are many legitimate reasons to disagree with him on a number of subjects and many people of goodwill do. But there is no coherent reason for the left's obliterating an irrational hatred of Jordan Peterson."
Aubrey: Oh, I'm tired.
Michael: [laughs] I know. This is very typical of the media coverage at the time. It's like what's everybody's so worked up about? This guy's just telling the truth.
Aubrey: Like, "What were the critiques that folks are responding to at this point?"
Michael: Well, this is the other track that is happening is that, as he becomes more of a public figure, he's doing interviews, he's on TV, he's tweeting, he's writing blog posts. As more information and content comes out of this man, it becomes clearer and clearer that not only does he have a bog standard set of conservative opinions, but he has actually pretty far right opinions.
Michael: He has bad gender stuff. He says, "The idea that women were oppressed throughout history is an appalling theory."
Michael: He says, "Feminists avoid criticizing Islam, because they unconsciously long for masculine dominance."
Aubrey: Whoa, neat, good.
Michael: Not sure how [crosstalk] disprove that.
Aubrey: My longing for masculine dominance is very suppressed at this point.
Michael: That's the first thing I say about you when people like, "Who's this cohost of yours?" I'm like, "Her longing for masculine dominance." She actually [crosstalk] longing.
Aubrey: She doesn't know it, but we all know it.
Michael: And I write fellers.
Michael: That's the voice I do around straight people. He, of course, blames feminists for the rise of Trump and this much harder conservatism. He says, "If men are pushed too hard to feminize, they will become more and more interested in harsh fascist political ideology."
Aubrey: Cool. Good,
Michael: So, ladies, you hadn't been so shrill, the men would not be relighting tiki torches.
Aubrey: It's on us.
Michael: There's obviously some appalling race shit. He has a video called a white privilege. It's a Marxist lie.
Aubrey: Whoa, I'm interested.
Michael: He says, "Islamophobia is a word created by fascists and used by cowards to manipulate morons," which isn't even his quote, that's something that he took from someone else, but he tweets it out.
Aubrey: Oh, that's cool for him to plagiarize that ableism on Islamophobia to just yoink it from somebody else.
Michael: That's where I draw the line.
Aubrey: That's where I draw a line.
Michael: One of the things that also drives me nuts is that, there's always these debates about were like, "What does he really mean, because he's further to the right in some interviews than others." But he's extremely consistent on having wildly retrograde views on trans people. I have listened to many interviews with this man in almost all of them, he brings up his very fervent belief that trans people do not exist. Are you familiar with this autogynephilia? Are you familiar with this?
Aubrey: Yeah, I hate it.
Michael: It's so gross, dude. It's this decade's old myth that they used to say about gay people. There's no such thing as gay men. All they are is they're people who get turned on by themselves. They get turned on when they look in the mirror. So, they've created this whole fantasy where it's like, "I'm going to date other men, because all they want is to be turned on by themselves." It's this bullshit myth that--
Aubrey: Boy, oh, boy.
Michael: It was two homophobic for Anita Bryant, right? It's now been resurrected as a transphobic thing that trans women are just basically men who have a fetish for dressing up in women's clothes and they take it too far. That's the theory. There's no evidence for it. It's complete garbage.
Michael: This is a concept that is too transphobic for a lot of the transphobes. A lot of "gender critical people" don't even bring this up, because it's too fucking hardcore.
Michael: And Jordan Peterson is on Joe Rogan's podcast, all these places saying that like, "This is what's going on." I found a really interesting piece in Haaretz about Jordan Peterson doing very consistently some light Holocaust denial.
Aubrey: What? Well, okay.
Michael: To be clear, he's never done full on the Holocaust didn't happen stuff. But what he does is he repeats a number of myths that appear in Holocaust denial rhetoric and are kind of like an on ramp to Holocaust denial. One of them is that he does this thing where he's like, "Obviously, Hitler was a monster, obviously, atrocities." But you have to give him credit for saving the German economy in the 1930s. You might not his policies, but there were some good things about the regime as well. This is what Haaretz says. "The economic wonder of Nazi Germany is a Nazi propaganda myth. Economic problems were rife already by late 1934, this is a year after Hitler came to power and only got worse from there. Hitler's many aggressive foreign policy actions and his accelerating persecution of the Jews during the second half of the 1930s were partly intended as distractions from the poor economy." It's not true that you have to give it to Hitler on this one. You really don't actually.
Aubrey: Ever on anything.
Michael: He also does this fake, hard truths thing like, "You got to admit about the Nazis being elected." Hitler was elected and like, "No, in the last free and fair election that they had in Germany, he got 37% of the vote."
Aubrey: Yeah, totally.
Michael: This is another one. Peterson uses a false narrative of concern with health and cleanliness to argue that Hitler in 1933 initiated mass tuberculosis screenings, which actually turned out to be a good thing. Again, we're in the, "Ooh, you've got to admit. Hitler did some good stuff." It says, "But no such massive screenings for the benefit of public health occurred. The Nazis considered tuberculosis a sign of racial inferiority and often referred to Jews as racial TB infecting the body politic."
Aubrey: Holy mother fucking shit.
Michael: I know. Screenings were not a good thing, but were used to identify people deemed unworthy of life. Tuberculosis was effectively used as a biological weapon in the ghettos and concentration camps during the war.
Aubrey: Holy fuck.
Michael: Again, he's never really leaned into where this stuff goes. but these are the kinds of arguments that get people curious about this stuff and get people in this frame of like, "Well, maybe the mainstream media isn't telling the full story about the Nazis." It's like, "You got to be really careful with this shit."
Aubrey: It also plays into this bizarre fantasy that he would have to be bad at everything in every moment for him to be considered a bad leader. The implication here is that, committing genocide is not enough to be considered a bad leader. This feels like bananas thing to be saying that I'm like, "Hey, everybody, it's okay to write off Hitler."
Michael: To me, it's a metaphor for the role that Jordan Peterson ends up playing, where he's not officially far right. He stops just short, but he's a little sampler platter. He makes a lot of the same arguments like, "Aren't black people lying about racism? Aren't women lying about sexual harassment? Aren't there questions to be asked about the typical narratives of history that we hear?" He's someone who just inserts doubt into all of these areas. He like, "He shepherds you over not all the way over to the far right, but he walks you to the door of the house party" and he's like, "Have a good night."
Michael: There's actual research on this. Researchers have looked at commenters if you look at YouTube commenters, you can see, well, first they commented on this video, and then they commented on this video, and then this one. 40% of the people, who comment on super far right, like, white nationalist. Videos on YouTube, began in this intellectual Dark Web that Jordan Peterson is personifying. You can't draw a straight line from Jordan Peterson to the far right, but it's a lot of people who ended up on the far right did start in the place that Jordan Peterson is picking them up.
Aubrey: Sure. Gateway drugs aren't real, but this is the gateway drug.
Michael: Exactly. What's amazing to me is, by 2019, his links to the far right are really out in the open. He goes to Hungary and meets with Viktor Orban, this super far right authoritarian leader. He goes to Norway and goes to a party hosted by their mega far right anti-semitic party, takes a bunch of selfies with their party leaders. He says that he didn't get a grant because of like, "Oh, due to my political beliefs, I missed out on this grant." Then, of course, all these other researchers are like, "Oh, I have also lost grants-."
Michael: -you don't get every grant that you apply for." There's no actual evidence that it was due to his political views. Then a far-right website called the Rebel, sets up a GoFundMe essentially for him, and then he ends up earning more than $100,000 and he was going to get 200,000 bucks from the grant. Then this is the most bananas one. He does a video called 'The IQ Problem.'
Aubrey: Oh, no.
Michael: I won't let you speculate in your mind as to what the contents are. Have you ever heard of Stefan Molyneux?
Michael: He's a full-on white nationalist. I was going to read you some quotes to show you just how bad this guy was. But all I will tell you is that, he has been permanently banned from YouTube, Twitter, MailChimp, SoundCloud, and PayPal.
Aubrey: What? What does it take to get banned from MailChimp, Michael?
Michael: [laughs] I don’t know.
Aubrey: Boy, oh, boy. You're going to be like, "He got banned from Safeway, he got banned from the post office." [laughs]
Michael: This guy is too racist for fucking PayPal and Jordan Peterson is doing videos with him.
Aubrey: Boy, oh, boy.
Michael: Looking back, I remain really mystified and frustrated by the fact that these two tracks existed simultaneously. That on one hand, you have pretty mainstream media sources, who are constantly expressing bewilderment that liberals are mad at Jordan Peterson. There's literally another Atlantic article called "Why can't people hear what Jordan Peterson is saying? And it's like, "Why can't you?"
Michael: He's making very straightforward appeals to far-right people. He's being openly embraced by the far-right. He's saying things that are indistinguishable from far-right arguments. It's actually not weird at all.
Aubrey: Yeah. If we're already in this bad faith, shitty conversation about like, "Oh, what are people so fired up about? Is he really that bad? Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." That's someone who thinks it's not.
Aubrey: And he is posing it as a question, so that they don't feel as much of a jerk. If you really want to find out, is it really that bad than actually looking to what's the work that you cite, and source, and whose models are you following and that kind of thing? Actually, it can be really illuminating and didn't really matter.
Michael: Okay. That was a part of the episode where I make you really hate this guy.
Aubrey: Well, it seems pretty earned.
Michael: Yes, exactly.
Aubrey: This is part of the episode, where I make you hate this guy by telling you things that he has said and done by accurately reporting his beliefs and actions. Yes, correct.
Michael: But then, this is the really annoying part, where now we have to go back to sympathizing with him as a human being.
Michael: So, he starts having weird side effects from the benzodiazepines. He starts getting numbness on left side of his body, he starts getting lightheaded, but he doesn't really link any of the health effects to the fact that he's now taking Klonopin.
Michael: In January of 2019, his daughter Mikhaila has to have surgery on her foot, because apparently the ankle replacement that they had done when she was a kid didn't take or it had been done poorly. So, they have to put in a new one. According to him, there's a question of, how well this is going to take? There's a chance that she's never going to walk again. This is just a very stressful thing to go through as a father. Two months after that, his wife is diagnosed with cancer. It's a mild, fairly routine form of kidney cancer. She's going to get a third of her kidney removed. They go in for the surgery, they're like, "Oh, yeah, it's a routine surgery. It is really not that big of a deal."
After the surgery, they sit down with the doctor and they're like, "How did everything go? Get debrief." The doctor says, "It turns out you actually don't have a mild form of cancer. You have a severe form of cancer and you have one year to live."
Aubrey: Oh, Christ.
Michael: Apparently, it's a super rare form of cancer. So, then, he describes the next six months as just a never-ending nightmare. There're more surgeries that she has to have. Nobody knows anything about this weird, rare form of cancer. Traveling to different cities and countries to get specialists to look at it, I mean, it just sounds like, all of a sudden, your life is just completely thrown into turmoil. He talks about sleeping on the floors of emergency rooms. This sounds a genuine ordeal as a husband.
Aubrey: Yeah, it sounds fucking horrible. This is a horrible human experience for everyone involved and it's not something that anybody should have to go through, but all kinds of people do. Boy, oh, boy, it's terrible.
Michael: So, luckily, they come out of the other end of this. His wife has her entire kidney removed, her lymphatic system is removed, and it seems that she's fine now.
Michael: Everything returns to "normal," but his anxiety, what's called breaks through the benzodiazepine. He also starts getting super depressed. So, he goes to the doctor, he increases his dosage, but then the extra Klonopin makes him more anxious.
Michael: It's not totally clear why this happens, but sometimes, taking a medication for anxiety can actually make you more anxious. So, the doctor says, "Okay, that means we need to up the dose again."
Michael: They've now increased his dosage twice, but it seems that his anxiety symptoms and his depression are both getting worse. In May of 2019, he decides to stop cold turkey.
Aubrey: His benzos?
Michael: It's something that it doesn't appear Jordan Peterson's doctor ever told him is that benzos are extremely addictive. Effectively, the only way to get off of them is to do what's called a taper to take three quarters of the pill for two weeks, and then half the pill for two weeks, etc., etc.
Michael: He I spent a lot of time for this on-- there's various forums for people going through benzo addiction and trying to get off and it's really hard. People talk about still taking 1/16th of a pill a year later.
Michael: If you have been on benzos for two years like Jordan Peterson has, it's a really long and slow process to get off of them, and needs to be very strictly controlled, and monitored by a doctor.
Aubrey: It feels very there before the Grace of God go I, because if I had taken these medications as they are more commonly prescribed, which is the way that they were prescribed to Jordan Peterson, I totally could have been in that same addiction and dependency boat.
Michael: Also, the idea of going to your doctor, you're like, "I have the symptom." They are like, "Take this drug." You're like, "Yeah, okay." You just don't really think that much of it. You're like, "I had a thing, my doctor gave me a pill, and now, I'm better." You don't really think of the consequences of that or what it would mean to stop taking it. It doesn't seem that it was ever described to him like how big of a deal this was and it also doesn't seem anybody explained to him that going off of a benzodiazepine, cold turkey is really risky.
Aubrey: Yeah, totally.
Michael: There's insomnia, you can have psychosis, you can have really severe seizures, and then people oftentimes vomit during their seizures, and they choke on it, and you can die.
Aubrey: Yeah, I've had loved ones go off of antipsychotic medications and it's not an uncommon experience for people, who are medicated for a particular mental illness or mental health condition to think, "Well, what's the big deal? I don't want to do this anymore. Why can I just not take medication? Nobody else I know takes medication or I'm tired of the side effect," and it's not an uncommon decision to make to just be like, "I'm just going to go cold turkey."
Michael: Yeah. Another funny thing about going cold turkey is that, it takes a while for the withdrawal symptoms to start happening, because the drug has a half-life. It sits in your system for a long time. Peterson stops taking this medication, but at first, he's like, "What's the big deal? I've stopped taking the benzo. No big deal." Because a day, two days later, you're basically fine. He finally starts getting withdrawal symptoms after a couple of days and they're quite severe. He has this thing called akathisia, which is basically restless leg syndrome, but for your entire body. You cannot move, and it hurts to sit in chairs, it hurts to lie down, it hurts to have anything on you. So, you just have this overwhelming restlessness and you need to move at all times, but also, you're super tired. It's like, you can't sleep, but you can't not sleep. It sounds absolutely awful.
He starts getting these really severe withdrawal symptoms, but he doesn't think that they're benzo withdrawals. Because he didn't think going off the benzo was a big deal. He's like, "Whatever, I stopped taking this pill that my doctor gave me." He thinks all of these symptoms are due to his depression, not due to getting off of the benzo. He starts taking ketamine, which is this experimental drug that they're using for treatment resistant depression. He tried everything for depression. It seems ketamine treatment can kind of breakthrough.
Aubrey: Sure. It's the same set of experimental treatments that's been happening with psilocybin, which is mushrooms and LSD microdosing, all that kind of stuff. Yeah, there's this whole world of psychedelics in particular for treatment of PTSD, depression, all kinds of stuff.
Michael: All of this stuff actually seems relatively promising to me, but also, this isn't what Jordan Peterson has. He doesn't have treatment resistant depression. He has benzodiazepine withdrawal. He does the ketamine, he says, "It's the worst 90 minutes of his life." He waits a couple days, he does it again. He says, "It's awful again." There's been a couple of Monday morning quarterback. Doctors and journalists that have looked into this, they are like, "What happened to this guy?" Because all this is very weird. He's very famous, he's a psychologist, and this is when he basically falls off the radar. He isn't seen in public.
Michael: What doctors say when journalist contact them, and they're not commenting on his case, specifically, but in general, they're like, "Something really went wrong here. In the space of three months, Jordan Peterson had two increases in the dosage of his benzodiazepine, then stopped taking cold turkey, then got two ketamine treatments." According to Peterson, this was all under some medical supervision. It's not clear what that supervision was, but no one at any point told him what was actually going on. There really is some system breakdown here.
Aubrey: Right. This is a series of things that on their own, each of these moves calls for somebody who knows more than just the person using the drug. Someone, who's dealt with more than one person giving you a heads up about like, "Okay, here's what comes next." That seems really important information to have as you're making a series of health decisions for yourself, especially when I'm guessing that a lot of healthcare providers would say, that's a really risky decision to make. Please don't do it.
Michael: One of the things I can't get over about the story is, it's a random family friend, who's like, "Hey, Jordan, I think you're going through benzodiazepine withdrawal."
Aubrey: Jesus Christ.
Michael: This sounds very textbook benzo withdrawal to me. So, Peterson starts taking his benzodiazepine, again. But are you aware of something called the kindling effect?
Aubrey: No. Tell me about the kindling effect.
Michael: It's a very well-known thing, apparently, for people who've gone through these kinds of withdrawals. If you go cold turkey off of the medication, oftentimes, if you start taking it again, the symptoms of the withdrawal don't actually go away.
Michael: These GABA receptors in your brain, it's like running your car engine without oil.
Michael: It's grinding, there's smoke coming out, it's awful. If you do that for long enough, you can't just pour oil in your engine, and then be like, "Oh, it's fixed now, right?"
Aubrey: Right. You're going to have to replace a bunch of other stuff, you're going to have to do some deeper work if we're going to the car metaphor, right?
Michael: And the withdrawals are going to be harder next time. There's something the more times you go through this, the harder it gets, apparently. I think this is kind of dieting to be honest.
Aubrey: This is so rough.
Michael: Yeah, it's rough.
Michael: He starts taking his benzos, again, but he's also sleeping an extra four hours a night, and he still has anxiety, and he still has benzo withdrawal symptoms, even though, he's taking benzos. Sometime, in the fall of 2019, he checks himself into a detox clinic for benzodiazepine withdrawal and it doesn't work. They're tapering him down, but this is something that happens like a lot of people continue to have withdrawal symptoms, even as they're taking benzodiazepines. One thing that they do is, they often switch you to a different benzodiazepine, which is less addictive. Sometimes, they'll switch you to I think Valium or Xanax, and then you can taper off of that easier. He says that, by the time he gets out, he's taking more drugs than he was when he went in. He really objects to this.
In November 2019, he goes back to Toronto, where he checks into another rehab facility. That one doesn't work. It seems at this point that the family, the entire family's just completely desperate that he's got these terrible withdrawal symptoms, he's also got the depression, he's still addicted to benzos. He's got the worst of all worlds. This is when the narrative gets very murky, because from December of 2019 to February of 2020, Jordan Peterson does not remember anything. The only thing he remembers is he wakes up in a hospital in Moscow three months later.
Michael: He does not know anything in the intervening time. All we have is the account of his daughter. Her husband at the time is Russian. It's not totally random that they end up in Russia. It's still not clear how they ended up at this particular clinic in Russia. The only thing that Mikhaila Peterson has said about her thinking process at this time is, she says, "He almost died from what the medical system did to him in the West. The doctors in Russia aren't influenced by the pharmaceutical companies, don't believe in treating symptoms caused by medications by adding more medications and have the guts to medically detox someone from benzodiazepines." Her narrative has always been like, "Western medicine couldn't fix it and they refused to get him off the benzodiazepines."
Other people have said it could be that they were asking for a rapid detox. They wanted him off the benzodiazepines really quickly and that essentially isn't medically possible. The treatment protocol that they find in this clinic in Russia is, they use a general anesthetic to put him in a coma for eight days, while he goes through benzo withdrawals.
Aubrey: So that he's not experiencing the physical sensations of the withdrawals consciously.
Aubrey: That's the idea. Okay.
Michael: In what way, this is not Western medicine? I have no idea. But the reason that she goes to this clinic is because they will do this protocol using propofol, which is actually a very common general anesthetic.
Michael: When you get a surgery, they put you under, they give you a big old dose, and then they give you a trickle dose that keeps you under. But it's quite dangerous that you have to monitor the patient the entire time. This is the drug that killed Michael Jackson.
Aubrey: Oh, fuck.
Michael: His doctor's in jail for four years now.
Michael: When you put a patient under, you have to monitor them that their heart rate and their breathing don't just completely collapse. You have to make sure that you don't give them too much. This is a fairly risky procedure. I found literature on this thing of putting people in a coma for opioid withdrawals. I don't know how credible it is, but it's something that has been tried.
Michael: It seems for benzo withdrawals, it's completely off the books. It doesn't seem something that is anyone is recommending for benzo withdrawals, because it's so dangerous to put people under, and your body and your brain are going through stuff. When you're going through benzo withdrawals, you're having seizures in your brain and shit.
Aubrey: Oh, no.
Michael: Apparently, it's quite dangerous to have people under, because their nervous system is bouncing all over the place, because they're going through these withdrawals, and you have to give them this drug to keep them stable somehow.
Aubrey: Yeah, this whole thing feels gross and weird, and takes us into the gross and weird territory of like, "Who do we believe about their own health stuff?"
Aubrey: You and I are both pretty staunchly in the camp of like, when people tell you their health stuff, you should believe them. I think the challenge with all of this stuff is like, "Okay, you have now been publicly selling a series of decisions that you have made about your health, that's brought to bear here." There is actually a similar to the Morgan Spurlock stuff. When you make your own body, the site of experimentation, then other things that are happening to your body become relevant. This feels like a relevant thing.
Michael: I also think that this is a person, who had every resource to do the right thing. I think a lot of my sympathy for people, who make risky or bad medical decisions comes from the fact that they don't have the information, they don't have access to the medical system, they don't have the resources that they need to make a better decision. I think it's unfair to criticize those people and hold them up to the same standard as people who have more resources. But Jordan Peterson is someone with the most possible resources. He's a licensed psychologist. I don't understand how somebody, who is 57 years old, who's been treating patients for decades, does not know that benzodiazepines are addictive, that he shouldn't go off a benzodiazepine, cold turkey. This is the first thing you learn when you google Klonopin. Make sure not to go off of it. His money and to some extent his fame gives him unfettered access to three countries' medical systems. He gets treatment in America, he gets treatment in Canada, and then he mentions offhand in his book that he had some person arrange an urgent visa for him to go to Russia to go to this clinic on short notice.
Michael: This is someone with an unbelievable amount of privilege and the most imaginable access to the medical system, and he makes these objectively cockamamie decisions.
Michael: On some level, I do feel it's unfair to criticize him for these personal medical decisions. On the other hand, I think that it's worth noting that, it's not necessarily a double standard to say that, this is somebody who should have known better. I also do think, "God, I cannot decide what I think about this for longer than five minutes at a time." I'm acutely aware of the fact that if somebody I like to was going through all this, I would have a bottomless well of sympathy for them and I get the desperation, too. I've had medical stuff, where I've been furiously googling and ordering weird shit on Amazon because I'm so anxious, and I'm like, "Oh, my God, I'll give anything to make this go away."
Aubrey: Yeah, totally. Listen, if somebody that you love is going through something painful, and hard, and scary, of course, you will do. Whatever the fuck it takes, which is part of how people end up in the hinterlands of this kind of questionable treatments or treatments that have never been tested or what have you. That's how people get there and it feels really tricky to figure out how to critique the places, where people land versus the path of the app to get there, because the path they take to get there is a very human, very understandable to me.
Michael: Yeah. He's in a coma for eight days. He completely lost his memory of these three months. This is actually a relatively common side effect of propofol, but most people don't get doses of it like this.
Michael: When he wakes up, he can't use his legs, he ends up getting pneumonia, but it's not clear when he got pneumonia or where and then he has to recover in some random house in Moscow for three weeks to get his legs back. He can't speak at first, he has to get his speech back. Obviously, his thinking is extremely cloudy. It's a really long recovery from this.
Aubrey: God, this is so-- I am feeling human empathy for Jordan Peterson, a person, who specifically does not feel human empathy for trans people and I hate it.
Michael: I know. He literally has a YouTube video called "The problem with empathy."
Aubrey: Oh, fuck man. What?
Michael: He says throughout his sub -Rachel Hollis self-help book, that addiction is a personal failing.
Aubrey: Are you kidding me?
Michael: He says, "Before you help someone, you should find out why that person is in trouble. You shouldn't merely assume that he or she is a noble victim of unjust circumstances. It's the most unlikely explanation not the most probable. It is far more likely that a given individual has just decided to reject the path upward, because of its difficulty."
Aubrey: Just, what's happening here?
Michael: Basically, my own principles prevent me from doing this with Jordan Peterson, but his own principles are directing me to call him a personal failure. That's when he has spent his entire public career saying that, "We should not extend empathy to people in a situation like his."
Michael: Another very important reason not to go under is, it doesn't work.
Aubrey: Oh, Lordy.
Michael: After he's in Moscow for a couple weeks, they fly to Florida to recover fully. Warm weather, it's nice, let's get you away from everything and it doesn't work. He starts getting benzo withdrawals. He says in his book, he says, "In Florida, I attempted to wean off the medication prescribed by the Moscow Clinic." But he doesn't specify if that's a new benzo or a completely different drug. It's probably not propofol because you're not supposed to use that, unless you're going to sleep. It's not clear what that drug is. But whatever he's taking that this clinic gave him, it's not working and he's also got benzo withdrawals still.
Aubrey: Oh, cripes.
Michael: Then, Mikhaila finds a clinic in Serbia-
Michael: -and they go to Serbia, and he goes into a coma again, and it seems they're using some other experimental treatment she hasn't said exactly what it is. It's May of 2020 now. Everybody ends up getting COVID. This is early in the pandemic.
Aubrey: Oh, my God.
Michael: So, they'll all get fucking COVID in Belgrade and then that's the end of them talking about it.
Michael: In June of 2020, Jordan Peterson essentially hasn't been seen in public for almost two years now. He reappears on a podcast episode/YouTube video by Mikhaila Peterson, where she's like, "Here's a family update," and they tell this entire story.
Michael: They won't say what the treatment they got in Serbia was, because they're like, "We don't know if it works yet. So, we don't really want to say anything." He hasn't really talked about this since, which is interesting.
Aubrey: That is interesting.
Michael: He writes about it in his book, but we still don't really know if this worked, or if he's back on the benzodiazepine, or if he's not. It's fully none of my business and I don't really care, but it's interesting that we have no real closure to this side of the story. It's just like, "I'm back now." He comes back in North America and he's back on his bullshit. I'm not going to get into everything he's done since he returned to public life. But in January of 2022, he put out an article called "Why I am no longer a tenured professor at the University of Toronto?"
Aubrey: Oh, this is the one I saw.
Aubrey: The Op-ed that was like, "I'm getting cancelled." But it was like, "I'm getting cancelled by quitting my own job," which-- In that case, I've gotten canceled multiple times, guys. [laughs]
Michael: Yeah, I'm being cancelled by quitting my modest middle-class job for being a millionaire political pundit.
Aubrey: Right. Sort of getting canceled, sort of getting implicitly promoted.
Michael: Yeah, exactly. The main reason that he cites for quitting his job, he says, "First, my qualified and supremely trained heterosexual white male graduate students face a negligible chance of being offered university research positions, despite stellar scientific dossiers. These facts render my job morally untenable. How can I accept prospective researchers and train them in good conscience knowing their employment prospects to be minimal?"
Aubrey: He's genuinely quitting in the name of "reverse racism?" That's his argument?
Michael: Literally like, "I'm defending my white students."
Aubrey: White men, Jesus Fucking Christ.
Michael: Things are hard out here. Of course, the greatest enemy to any of Jordan Peterson's arguments is 'five minutes' on fucking Google. It was graduate students' demographics. Two seconds later, you're at a page 62% of graduate students are white.
Michael: I looked up the demographics for that age group 18 to 24 and 54% are white people. So, 54% of the population and 62% of graduate students.
Aubrey: We are already significantly over represented in grad school.
Michael: Exactly. He does a whole dumb thing about wokeness is out of control. It's always these low-stakes nothingburger anecdotes. He's like, "You can tell wokeness is so out of control, diversity is gone mad," because this is a quote. "CBS has a literally mandated that every writer's room be at least 40% non-white in 2021." But then you google CBS mandate, non-white or whatever, and first link, "CBS set a goal of 40% black indigenous people of color." A goal, it's not binding.
Michael: As a person, who worked at NGOs for 11 years, when you set a goal, it does not mean you're going to reach it.
Michael: Setting a goal is a great way to get PR and no one is going to follow up.
Aubrey: No one's going to be like, "Hey, I know five years ago, you said that long range goal. How's that coming along?"
Aubrey: People probably should, but they don't.
Michael: I'm including this to show the level of punditry that Jordan Peterson is now doing. This is what he left his job to do. Sub Ben Shapiro, edgelord, boring, like woke, this is out of control op-eds. These are a dime a dozen. Why I'm quitting my job it quotes. It quotes Vladimir Putin at length, it's just not good.
Aubrey: Wow, wow. choices were made, sir.
Michael: He's selling victimhood to white people.
Michael: He's selling victimhood to people, who already have a lot of societal power and are in no danger of losing it.
Michael: Which is why he keeps resorting to this chaos dragon myths from a thousand years ago nonsense. Because if you actually have to substantiate any of the threats that you're warning your audience about, it's like, "Yes, CBS set a goal."
Aubrey: It feels so, the whole thing feels so disingenuous, and so shitty, and so whatever.
Aubrey: It's a mixture of, "I've never experienced actual oppression in my life nor have I been close to someone who has. Therefore, I don't have any grounding in this topic. But I hear people talking about it all the time and it seems when they talk about it, they get some kind of social currency like people listen. Therefore, my way into the conversation, and to assert my own relevance, and calm my own insecurities used to claim some level of oppression.
Michael: I really try to have content neutral principles that I apply to people like Jordan Peterson of like, "I'm okay with extending empathy toward people like Jordan Peterson for what's going on in their personal lives." It's always amazing to me that they go through these huge potentially life changing medical crises and it produces no empathy whatsoever. It seems to produce no genuine self-reflection. He's now peddling the same bootstraps, wokeness, whatever stuff that he was doing before.
Michael: He also puts out another self-help book in a year of all this happening.
Aubrey: Oh, Lord.
Michael: It's like, "Really, dude. You're still a self-help guru after making, I think, pretty incontrovertibly bad decisions, you've been still giving life advice." That's the part that I struggle with the empathy. I'm like, "Should you be given advise right now, Jordan?"
Aubrey: Yeah. I also think this all gets really complicated, because I feel extremely strongly that anyone's individual health is nobody's business, but their own. And also, there is a public story that's happening here that has been linked to, again, promoting a particular way of eating, and being, and all that kind of stuff. It feels particularly endemic with dudes in biohacking and biohacking light worlds.
Michael: Well, the closest thing to a conclusion about all this I came to was it like, the reasons why I dislike Jordan Peterson are all exactly the same. I dislike him because of his public acts, and what he writes in his books, and what he says in his lectures, and what he does in public. I don't need to dislike him for this. I'm actually fine with all of this being kind of human, and kind of normal, and it's a series of bad decisions, but I'm 100% sure that I have made worse decisions in my life with different consequences. I'm fine with holding the duality of two things that he's a huge piece of shit and his piece of shitness has nothing to do with his personal medical stuff. Because it's not the reason why he was shitty in the first place. It's just really easy to identify the ways that he's shitty. [laughs]
Aubrey: That's right. His health is not a referendum on his character, his morality, or anything like that, because it's not that for fucking anybody.
Michael: Yeah. But can I give us one last thing?
Aubrey: Are you about to make this a three-parter?
Michael: No, no. I don’t want to.
Aubrey: Okay. Jesus Christ. I was like, "What, Michael?"
Michael: [laughs] I love how you're on edge for this. You're like, "Not again. I can't do this again."
Aubrey: No, Michael, I can't. I don't have it in me.
Michael: No, this is a little beef blog about Mikhaila Peterson.
Aubrey: Let's do it.
Michael: I heard tale from forums from these benzo addiction forums that I was reading and miserable. Jordan Peterson subreddit that has spent a really atrocious amount of time on it.
Aubrey: Oh, Michael.
Michael: There were rumors that she stopped doing the carnivore diet and I was like, "Wait, this is huge, you guys." Because she's still actively promoting a beef-only diet. She sells consultations to help you eat beef and change your life with beef. So, I scrolled back through three years of her Instagram posts, and I found the one where she admits that she's no longer on the diet.
Aubrey: Mm-hmm. Okay.
Michael: Do you want to guess how she does it? Because it's a dilemma. You can't be an influencer of a diet for years and then just like, "Whoops, I'm not on this diet anymore."
Aubrey: I would think that the way that you would want to talk about it is, "This played an important role in my life, it led to a bunch of healing for me, and it has served its purpose, I still believe in it, and it was a time limited thing for me."
Michael: Ding, ding, ding.
Aubrey: Is that what she says?
Aubrey: Really? Oh.
Michael: What she does, she posts on Instagram three images. Each one is a diet. One is a super hardcore beef-only diet, which she calls the lion diet-.
Michael: -L-I-O-N. One is the traditional carnivore diet and that's only animal products. So, a lot of the Bitcoin carnivores, they're on this version, so, you can have cheese, you can have eggs, you can have cream and yogurt.
Aubrey: I got to say, I haven't stopped being bummed out by the phrase "Bitcoin carnivores."
Michael: [laughs] And then the third image is keto carnivore, which is also a bunch of animal products, but then like avocados, and spinach, and stuff. There's a couple of vegetables you can eat on keto.
Aubrey: Sure. Extremely low-carbohydrate fruits and vegetables.
Michael: She basically says, "The lion diet worked so well that she can now tolerate a wider range of foods."
Aubrey: I'm not doing the carnivore diet anymore, because it's so effective that I don't have to.
Michael: Exactly. It works so well.
Aubrey: It works so beautifully.
Michael: I dislike her so much. I've listened to so many episodes of her podcast. This was the only thing that I've seen her do where I'm like, "You nailed it Mikhaila."
Aubrey: Yeah, impressive.
Michael: [crosstalk] not do this deranged diet anymore, but also still promote the diet.
Michael: This happens with everybody that does this diet for very obvious reasons. Physiologically, psychologically eating only beef for the rest of your life is not going to work for 99.9% of people. So, what you find with a lot of these carnivore influencers, they'll use these carve outs. They'll be like, "Oh, I started eating honey today, because honey is an animal product." They just redefined carnivore to include a wider and wider range of foods. It's like, "Oh, it's keto carnivore now," which honestly is fine. It seems like it's good for their health. I'd rather have them promoting that diet than a beef only diet, but it's like, "Yeah, no one can maintain this, and they all just end up cheating, and then calling their cheat, the carnivore diet."
Aubrey: Can I tell you how I thought this episode was going to end genuinely?
Michael: Oh, yeah.
Aubrey: We have gotten some emails as a follow up to our Rachael Hollis' episode being like, "Can you do a Dave Hollis follow up? He's dating this terrible blonde woman."
Aubrey: And I absolutely was like, "Are we going to find out that Dave Hollis is dating Mikhaila Peterson?"
Michael: [laughs] That would be incredible.
Aubrey: I 100% had a moment in my head, where I was like, "Are we about to have our first crossover?" And like, "No."
Michael: Well, he is dating Belle Gibson.
Michael: So, that's a twist.