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Peter Robinson: If you're the prime minister of Canada, the man is a villain, but if you're a conservative, particularly a young conservative, it's very likely you think of him as a hero. Jordan Peterson on Uncommon Knowledge now. Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge. I'm Peter Robinson. In 2016, the Trudeau government enacted legislation making it illegal to discriminate on the ground of quote, gender expression, close quote. Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist at the university of Toronto, objected. In particular, he flatly refused to use politically correct gender pronouns, said so in videos, and went viral. In 2017, he began a series of podcasts called the psychological significance of biblical stories, that has been viewed by millions. In 2018 he published a book, 12 rules for life, an antidote to chaos, that became an international bestseller. Last year, he published another bestseller, beyond order, 12 more rules for life. And then he resigned from the university of Toronto, we'll come to that, to devote himself to lectures and podcasts. Jordan Peterson, welcome.
Jordan Peterson: Thank you. Thank you.
Peter Robinson: I should note by the way that we are filming today as part of the classical liberalism seminar at Stanford. All right, question one. The February protest by Canadian truckers. They're protesting COVID restrictions, some of them block border crossings. Some of them snarl the capital city of Ottawa, a quotation then a video clip. Here's the quotation. You, in a message you taped for the protestors. I'd like to commend all of you for your diligence and work, on accomplishing what you have under trying conditions, and also for keeping your heads in a way that's been a model for the entire world, close quote. Now the clip.
Justin Trudeau: It has to stop. The people of Ottawa don't deserve to be harassed in their own neighborhoods. They don't deserve to be confronted with the inherent violence of a swastika flying on a street corner or a Confederate flag, or the insults and jeers just because they're wearing a mask. That's not who Canada and Canadians are.
Jordan Peterson: Wow, can hardly even look at him.
Peter Robinson: Here's the first question. How can discourse in a great democracy have become so polarized that Jordan Peterson and the prime minister look at exactly the same set of events and come to opposite conclusions about them?
Jordan Peterson: Well, he's lying and I'm not. So that's a big part of the, that's a big part of the issue. I don't believe that he ever says a word that's true. From what I've been able to observe, it's all stage acting. He's crafted a persona. He has a particular instrumental goal in mind, and everything is subordinated to serve that.
Peter Robinson: Why, what's the motivation?
Jordan Peterson: The same motivation that generally, that's generally typical of people who are narcissistic, which is to be accredited with moral virtue in the absence of the work necessary to actually attain it.
Peter Robinson: All right.
Jordan Peterson: He's playing a role. You know, the swastika thing. It's like really, about Canadians? Really, we're gonna be worried about Nazis in Canada, 'cause I had protests for example, where people accused me of attracting Nazis. First of all, that just isn't a thing in Canada. There isn't a Nazi tradition, and I don't know anyone in Canada who's ever met anyone who's met some one who was Canadian and who was a Nazi. And so that's just a non-starter. And so when that sort of thing gets dragged into the conversation right off the bat, you know, that Canadians shouldn't be subjected to the inherent violence of a swastika. First of all, it's not even obvious what that swastika was doing there. There's reasonable evidence to suggest that the person who was waving it was either a plant or someone who was making the comment that that was what was characteristic of the government, not of what they believe. Now no one knows, 'cause the story around that event is messy and it's not like there were credible journalists who were going in there to investigate thoroughly, but to use that and the Confederate, the Confederate flag issue is exactly the same thing. You know, the story in Canada, our prime minister implemented the emergencies act. And so the question was why. And so I went on Twitter when this was trending and read at least 5,000 Twitter comments to try to get a sense, these were people who were supporting Trudeau in his application of the emergencies act. And I was trying to figure out, okay, well what do they believe is happening? And the story seemed to be, and this is as far as I can tell, and maybe I'm wrong. The story was something like make America great again, conservative Republicans on the, you know, pretty far right, were attempting to destabilize Canadian democracy. And so my question was, well, what makes you think they care, first of all, about Canada and its democracy. And second, why in the world would they possibly do that? You need a motive for a crime like that. And that was at the same time the CBC was insisting, the Canadian broadcasting corporation, which is subsidized by the liberals to the tune of 1.2 billion a year, was insisting that most of the money that the truckers raised was foreign financed. If it wasn't the bloody Russians, then it was the American conservatives. And so that all turned out to be a complete lie, and so, fine. It's Republican right wingers trying to destabilize Canadian democracy. Why, no one has an answer for that, 'cause what's in it for them? And then, okay, three days later the emergency act was lifted and I thought, okay, now what are they gonna make of that? What could possibly be the rationale for that? And the rationale was, well, that just shows you how effective he was. We had this coup ready to go that was financed by Americans apparently, and our prime minister acted so forthrightly that we only needed to be under the strictures of the emergency to act for three days. It's like, okay, I don't even know what sort of world I exist in where those things are happening. So, and then Canadians, why do Canadians buy this to the degree they do? And I think they're faced with a hard choice, 'cause in my country for 150 years, you could trust the basic institutions. So you could trust the government. It didn't matter what political party was running it. You could trust the political parties, right? From the socialists over to the conservatives, the socialists were mostly union types and they were trying to give the working class a voice. And honestly so, you could trust the media, even the Canadian broadcasting corporation was a reliable source of news. None of that's true now, and so Canadians are asked to make a hard choice or were in the truckers' convoy situation. And the choice was, well, either all your institutions are almost irretrievably corrupt or the truckers were financed by like right wing Republican Americans. Well, both of those are preposterous. You might as well take the one that's least disruptive to your entire sense of security. And so I think that's what Canadians did mostly.
Peter Robinson: All right, I'll come back to Canada. Universities. Jordan Peterson in the national post this past March, quote. I'd envision teaching and researching at the university of Toronto full-time until they had to haul my skeleton out of my office.
Jordan Peterson: Yeah, yeah.
Peter Robinson: Instead you retired. Why?
Jordan Peterson: Well it was impossible to go back. I mean, I couldn't think clearly about what I should do on the professional front for a long time 'cause I was ill. But when I started to recover and looked at the situation, first of of all, there was just no going back. I'm too well known and too provocative, I suppose. I've never really thought of myself that way, but it seems to have turned out that way. I couldn't just return to the classroom, and then there were other problems too. There's no bloody way I'm writing a diversity, inclusivity, and equity statement for a grant. I wouldn't, I can't imagine the circumstances under which I would do that. And that's absolutely crucial now in Canada and increasingly in the US to get any sort of research grant. You have to write a diversity statement, and it has to be the right kind of statement. I read the national sciences and engineering research council's frequently asked questions about how to prepare a diversity statement. And you couldn't, you couldn't write a more reprehensible document from the ideological perspective if you set out with the intent purpose of writing a reprehensible document. And so there's no way I could get funding for my research. And then my students, what bloody chance do they have of being hired in an academic environment today? You know perfectly well, those of you sat on faculty hiring committees, your basic decision right off the bat is okay, who do we eliminate? Because you have way too many candidates. And so you're searching for reasons to get rid of people. And I'm not saying this as a criticism even, it's just a reality, and any whiff of scandal of any sort, it's like, well we have 10 other people we could look at, why would we bother with the trouble? And so I just couldn't see my student having any future. And then I also thought, well, I can go lecture wherever I want, to whoever I want, with virtually any size audience with no restrictions whatsoever. Why would I go back to teaching a small class at the university? You know, not that I didn't like that, 'cause I did like it, but all I could see were disadvantages. Plus it was impossible, so that was why.
Peter Robinson: So again from you in the national post, just exactly what am I supposed to do when I meet a graduate student or a young professor hired on diversity grounds? Manifest instant skepticism? What a slap in the face, the diversity ideology is no friend to peace and tolerance. It is absolutely and completely the enemy of competence and justice, close quote. What happened? How did wokeness, we can come to this in a moment too. Universities' faculty, university faculty, poll after poll of party affiliation in this country, I'm sure it's the same in Canada. The university faculty have been to the left for a long time, but this wokeness is something new. What's the transmission mechanism? What happened and how did it happen in still a small, single-digit number of years?
Jordan Peterson: Yeah, well that's a tough question, you know? I mean, I've tried to put my finger on the essential elements of what you might describe as political correctness or wokeness. And I've done that a variety of ways. I had a student, for example, this is quite a promising line of research. Her name, Christine Brophy was her name. The first thing we wanted to find out was, well, is there really such a thing as political correctness or wokeness, right? Because it's vague.
Peter Robinson: Can you identify it?
Jordan Peterson: Yeah. Yeah. And I meant that psychometrically, because psychologists for 40 years have been trying to, one of the things that psychologists have been wrestling with is construct validation. That's the technical problem is how do you know, when you put a concept forward, whether it bears any relationship to some underlying reality. And so you can think of, well, is there such a thing as emotional intelligence? Is there such a thing as self-esteem, is there such a thing as political correctness? And so the proper answer to that is, well, we don't know, but there are ways of finding out. And so one of the ways you find out is you wanna see if the construct assesses something that's unique and that it does that in a manner that's separate from other similar constructs in a revealing and important way. There's a whole theory of methodology that goes, that should inform your efforts to answer such questions. So for example, if you're a clinician you might want to differentiate between depression and anxiety, keeping the concepts importantly separate so they have functional utility, but also accounting for the overlap because they're both negative emotions for example. It's part of epistemological mapping. And so we asked a large number of people a very large of political questions, trying to over sample questions that had been put forward in the media and in the public sphere as indicative of politically correct beliefs. And then we did the appropriate statistical analysis to see if the questions hung together. And so they hang together if question A is politically correct, let's say you answer it positively, and question B is politically correct and you answer it positively, if there's a large correlation between those two questions, then you think, well, they're assessing some underlying, I don't have to tell you all this, but you know this if you know anything about statistics, then you know that there's something underlying that's holding them together. And we identified a set of beliefs that were observable or identifiable, easily identifiable as politically correct. So then the question, so that exists, then the question is where does it come from? And we haven't done empirical analysis of that, but I think if you're reasonably familiar with the history of ideas, you can see two streams, two broad streams. One is a post-motor stream that basically emerged out of literary criticism. And it's predicated on what I think is actually a fundamental and a valid critique, which is that it's very, very difficult to lay out a description of the world without that description being informed by some value structure. That's at the core of what's useful about the postmodern critique. I think that's at the core of it. And I actually happen to believe that. I don't think you can look at the world except through a structure of value. The question then is, well, what is the structure of value? And also what do you mean by a structure of value? And that's where the postmodernists went wrong and where I think our whole society went wrong, because the radical left types who were simultaneously postmodern turned to Marxism to answer that question and said, well, we organize our perceptions as a consequence of the will to power. And I think that is an appalling doctrine. I think it's technically incorrect for all sorts of reasons that we could get into partly because power, if power is my ability to compel you to do things against your own interest or even your own desire, maybe I can organize my social interactions on the basis of that willingness to express power. I think that's a very unstable means of social organization. And so the notion that it's power that structures our relations, I think it's, where's your evidence for that? There's no evidence for that, it's wrong. But that's what we assumed and what universities teach by and large.
Peter Robinson: But it's a kind of a recurrent temptation though, I'm just thinking now, Gibbon says Rome falls because Christianity rises. Something soft somehow by some horrible historical accident, misplaced power. Nisha, beyond good and evil, Christianity believe, I know he attacks Christianity specifically, but again, he's drawn to power to the will and to, and then of course we don't have to talk about Hitler and the Nuremberg.
Jordan Peterson: And Marx.
Peter Robinson: And Marx. So there's something, you're a psychologist, which means that you spend a lot of time plumbing human nature. There's a kind of recurrent temptation there. In other words, it makes no sense to me that this thing that has raged through these great magnificent institutions, these universities that our grandparents and great grandparents sacrifice to give money to and, these magnificent citadels of learning, this corruption goes, wait, it makes no sense that it emerged from lit grit. It makes no sense to me to suppose that English departments suddenly took over well, unless they're onto something.
Jordan Peterson: Yeah, they are.
Peter Robinson: Do see what I mean?
Jordan Peterson: No, they are onto something. They are onto something. This is why I emphasized in my previous remarks what I think is at the core of the postmodern critique. I don't think you can look at the world except through a structure of value. And the English, so you think, well, how did the, why is literary criticism so relevant or become so relevant and so powerful? And I think, well, I believe that we see the world through a narrative framework. And so that if that's true, and we could talk a little bit about that, what I mean by that, I think you need a mechanism to prioritize your attention and to, because attention is a finite resource and it's costly, so you have to prioritize it. And there's no difference between prioritizing your attention and imposing a value structure. Those are the same thing. And then I think that the mechanisms that we use to prioritize our attention are stories. And that means that the people who criticize our stories actually have way more power than you think, because they're actually criticizing the mechanism through which we look at the world. And so the postmodernists would say, look, you even look at the scientific world through a value laden lens. And I think, yeah, you do, they're right. But what they're not right about is that the lens is one of power. And now for someone like Nisha, the thing about a word like power is you can expand the thing, the borders of the word, to encompass virtually any phenomena you want. And so that's why I tried to define power as my willingness to use compulsion on you or other people, because power can be authority, power can be competence. I don't mean any of that. I mean you don't get what you to do what you want, I get to tell you, coercion, exactly. And I do think that Marxist types view the willingness to use coercion as the driving force of human history. And that's really saying something, 'cause that means it's the fundamental motivation. And that's a very caustic criticism, and it's easy to put people back on their heels about that. You know, one of the things you see about capitalists, 'cause I've been stunned to see the CEOs of major corporations like roll over in front of these DEI activists, I think, well, what the hell's wrong with you people, you know? You're not even making use of your privilege, and why are you, well, it's not very powerful if you're the CEO of a major corporation, you can't even withstand some interns who have DEI ideology. It's like, it's doing you a lot of good. And so, and why would you produce a fifth column within your organization that's completely opposed to the entire manner in which you do business and the capitalist enterprise as such? And one answer would be, well, we don't think much about ideas. It's like, well maybe you should. And you know, you can be cynical about it and say, well, it's just a gloss to keep the capitalist enterprise going while appearing to meet, you know, the new demands of ethical, of the new ethical reality, which I think is a bad argument too. But more importantly it's that people are guilty. And the radicals who accuse us all, historically and as individuals, of being motivated by nothing but the desire for power strike a chord, especially in people who are conscientious, you know, because if you're a conscientious person and someone comes to you and says, like a little mob of 30 people says, you know, you can be a little more careful in what you say and do on the racist front and the sexist front, et cetera. You're likely to think, well, I'm not perfect. I probably could be a little more careful. And it's no doubt that people have been oppressed in the past. And it's also no doubt that, in some sense, I'm the undeserving beneficiary of historical atrocity. And so, you know, maybe I should look to myself, and that's weaponization of guilt and it's very effective and it's not surprising, but it's not helpful. So, you know, so there's a resentment that drives this, like a corrosive resentment that's able to weaponize guilt and it's very difficult for people to withstand it.
Peter Robinson: Listen, I asked friends what one question they'd most like me to hear, most like to hear me ask you. And it was, everybody said the same thing. And then I came across you on a video saying a few years ago, people often asked me if I believe in God. I don't like that question. So I won't ask that question, but the role, you've just talked about values. So here's a question, I wanna hear how you think about this. This is a question that strikes me as philosophy 101. Although I have to admit there are other people who just see no traction in this one at all. My late friend, Christopher Hitchens, just batted this one away. And here's the question. If there is no standard, we don't have to rise to calling it God, but if there's no objective standard of reason outside and above ourselves, if everything is just matter, how can we think, how can we do science? CS Lewis, this is CS Lewis. And Hitchens just thought this made no sense at all. But I feel it. CS Lewis, if I swallow the scientific cosmology as a whole, meaning only all that exists is what we can perceive through our senses, then not only can I not fit in religion, I cannot even fit in science. If minds are wholly dependent on brains and brains on biochemistry and biochemistry in the long run on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees. You feel that one as well?
Jordan Peterson: Yeah. Well, that's a complicated problem, that. First of all, I do believe that I don't think science is possible outside of an encompassing Judaeo-Christian ethic. So for example, I don't think you can be a scientist without believing as an axiom of faith that truth will set you free or that will set us free. So we don't know the conditions under which science is possible, you know, and we tend to overestimate its epistemological potency. It's only been around, I mean, you can stretch it back to the Greeks if you're inclined, but in a formal sense it's only been around for about five centuries and it's only thrived for a very short period period of time. And it's perfectly reasonable to assume that there were particular preconditions that made its rise and ascendancy possible.
Peter Robinson: It is a historical phenomenon. It happened at a specific moment in time.
Jordan Peterson: Right, and at least in principle, for particular reasons. Yeah, and I think one of the conditions, well there's a bunch of them. One is, for example, there's an intense insistence in the Christian tradition that the mind of God in some sense is knowable. So we could say, well, the structure of the cosmos, and you have to believe that that's the case before you're going to embark on a scientific endeavor. You have to believe that there's some relationship between logos, logic let's say, but logos is a much broader concept than logic, that's for sure. You have to believe that there's some relationship between that and the structure of the cosmos. You have to believe that the pursuit of truth is in itself an ethical good, because why would you otherwise bother? You have to believe that there is such a thing as an ethical good. And those aren't scientific, those are not scientific questions, which is why I think the arguments of people like Hitchens are weak. It's like, yeah, Hitchens, Dawkins, people like that. They have a metaphysic, which they don't know. And they assume that metaphysic is self-evidence. Like, well, sorry guys, it's actually not self-evident. And they assume that it can be derived from the observations of empirical reality. And the answer to that is, no, there's gonna be axioms of your perceptual system that aren't derivable from the contents of your perceptual system. And you might think, well, that's not very scientific. And I would say, well, take it up with Roger Penrose and see what he thinks. 'Cause I just talked to him for like three hours about, partly about this topic, about say the role of consciousness and the structure of consciousness, and it's by no means obvious that the materialist reductionists have the correct theory about the nature of consciousness. And not surprisingly, it's like, we don't understand the relationship between consciousness and being at all. And so they're, you know.
Peter Robinson: These are hard, hard questions.
Jordan Peterson: Well, they're the hardest, the hard question for consciousness researchers is why is there consciousness rather than why aren't we just unconscious mechanisms acting deterministically? They call that the hard question. I don't think that is the hard question. I think the hard question is what's the relationship between consciousness and being itself. And, 'cause I don't, I can't understand what it means for something to be in the absence of some awareness of that being. So when we say being, there's an awareness component implicit in the idea of being itself. Consciousness is integrally tied up with being in some mysterious manner. And so, and I also don't believe that the most sophisticated scientists are by necessity reductionist materialists. Like get as far as you can with that, no problem. It's Okham's razor clear if you can reduce and account deterministically, no problem. But don't be thinking that accounts for everything. 'Cause I don't think there's any evidence that it does.
Peter Robinson: From science to politics. Two quotations, Jordan Peterson. This is a tweet of just last month. Does anything other than the axiomatic acceptance of the divine value of the individual make slavery a self-evident wrong?
Jordan Peterson: Right, that's a good one to pick up. Yeah. Yeah.
Peter Robinson: Well you know as my friend Jordan Peterson who tweeted it after all.
Jordan Peterson: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, yeah, I was thinking about, I was thinking about.
Peter Robinson: Hold on, I wanna give you, I'm going to put you in a guest's company here. That's you, here's GK Chesterton. The declaration of independence bases all rights on the fact that God created all men equal. There is no basis for democracy except in the divine origin of man. So these are very similar thoughts. And the notion here is that if that we can't do science without some notion, am I allowed to call it the divine? That's just say it's the Judaeo-Christian-
Jordan Peterson: No, no, the divine's fine. We could define that technically too.
Peter Robinson: Oh, can you? All right, that might get us off a slightly uncomfortable hook here, talking about icky stuff like religion. But so if we can't do science without a notion of the divine, can we engage in self-government?
Jordan Peterson: No, no, no. Well, one of the things I've been talking to my audience about is this right to free speech and how that might be conceptualized. 'Cause you can think about it as a right among other rights, let's say. So it's just one of a list of rights. And you can also think of rights as being granted to you, let's say in some sense, by the social contract. And so a, which is a different theory say than the notion that rights originate in some underlying religious insistence of the divine value of the individual. The problem with the right, there's a bunch of problems with the rights among other rights argument. I don't think free speech is a right among other rights. I think that, I don't think there's any difference between free speech and thought, and it has to be free, because if it's not free, it's not thought. So imagine mostly you have to think about hard things because why think, otherwise, if everything's going alright, you don't have a problem. When you have a problem, you have to think. And if you have a problem, the thinking is gonna be troublesome because you're gonna think things that upset yourself and upset other people. It's part of the necessity, it's part of what will necessarily happen if you're thinking.
Peter Robinson: I just wanna repeat, you said something that just stopped me. Sorry, because it actually stopped me so completely cold that I missed a little bit of what followed. I just wanna repeat it. There is no difference between speech and thought. If you're gonna have free thought, you must have free speech. That's the argument?
Jordan Peterson: Yeah, okay, well I'll unpack that first and then return to the other one. Well, there's a bunch of reasons for that. I mean, first of all, mostly you think in words, now people also think in images, but I'm not gonna go into that, we'll just leave that aside. But mostly we think in words, and so we use a mechanism that's sociologically constructed, the world of speech, to organize our own psyches. And we do that with speech. And basically, when you think, there's two components to it that are internal in a sense. When you think you have a problem, so you ask yourself a question, and then answers appear in the theater of your imagination, generally verbally. So that'd be like the revelatory element of thought, and that it's very much prayer-like in some fundamental sense because it's very mysterious. You know, the fact that you can pose yourself a question and then you can generate answers. It's like, well, why did you have the question if you can generate the answers? If the answers are just there, and where do the answers come from? Well, you can give a materialist account to some extraordinarily limited degree, but phenomenologically, it's still the case that you pose a question to yourself in speech and you receive an answer in speech. Now it can also be an image, but forget about that. Then the next question is, well, what do you do once you receive the answer? And the answer is, well, if you can think then you use internal speech to dissect the answer, which is what you do, for example, you encourage your students to do if they're writing an essay. You know, they lay out a proposition and then you hope they can take the proposition apart. And essentially if they are, what they're doing is they're transforming themselves into avatars, speaking avatars of two different viewpoints. So you have the speaker for the proposition and then you have the critic, and maybe you lay out the dialogue between them. And that constitutes the body of the essay. And you have to be bloody sophisticated to manage that, because it means that you have to divide yourself in some sense into two avatars that are oppositional. And then you have to allow yourself to be the battle space between them. That, and people have to be trained to do that. That's what universities are supposed to do. It's really hard. What people generally do instead of that is talk to other people. And that's how they organize themselves, by talking to other people. And then the reason you have the right to free speech isn't so that you can just say whatever you want to gain a hedonistic advantage, which is one way of thinking about it. You just get, you have a right to say whatever you want. Like you have a right to do what you want, you know, subject to certain limitations. So it's like, it's a hedonic freedom. It's like, no, that's not why you have a right to free speech. You have a right to free speech because the entire entirety of society depends on, depends for its ability to adapt to the changing horizon of the future on the free thought of the individuals who compose it. It's like a free market. In some sense, it's a free market argument in relationship to thought, we have to compute this transforming horizon. Well, how do we do that? Well, by consciously engaging with possibility. Well, how do we do that? Well, it's mediated through speech. So societies that are going to function over any reasonable amount of time have to leave their citizens alone to grapple stupidly with complexity so that out of that stupid grappling, fraught grappling that's offensive and difficult and upsetting, we can grope towards the truth collectively before taking the steps to implement those truths before they've been tested. And so then you might, so that's the free speech argument. The divinity argument is, well, you are that locus of consciousness, that's what you are most fundamentally. And the reason that's associated with divinity, that's a very, very complicated question, but part of the reason I outlined this in my series on the biblical series on Genesis, is at the beginning of Genesis, for example. So imagine this divinity of the individuals rooted in the narrative conception that's part and parcel of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. You have God at the beginning of time, in whose image men and women are made, acting as the agent that transforms the chaos of potential into the habitable reality that is good. And he uses the word, the divine word, logos to do that. And what that implies is that the word that's truthful, there's more to it than that, but the word that is truthful is the word that extracts habitable order out of chaos. And that's what characterizes human beings, that capability. And I think, yeah, that's right. And then you might ask, do you believe that, I would say, well, that's what your culture's based on. So you might say, I don't believe that, it's like, fair enough, say what you want, but try acting, try basing your personal relationships on any other conception than that and see what happens. You know, people are so desperate to be treated in that manner that it's their primary motivation. You want other people to treat you as if you have something to say, that you're worth attending to, you know, that you have the opportunity to express yourself no matter how badly you do it. And if they're willing to grant you their attention and time to help you straighten that out, there isn't anything you want more than that. And if you try to structure your social relationships on any other basis than that intrinsic respect for their intrinsic value, it's gonna fail.
Peter Robinson: Okay, we've talked about faculty. Students, the kids, couple of statistics. According to Gallup, the proportion of Americans who claim no religious affiliation among Americans over 76 years old, just 7%,. 93% of the oldsters claim a religious affiliation. The youngest group that Gallup tested is Americans between 26 and 41. Almost a third claim no religious affiliation. Item one, item two, I'm reasonably certain this is the same in Canada, at least in Eastern Canada, but certainly in the United States, poll after poll after poll shows that young people are far more open to socialism or to, at least to what we would say farther, not just left of center, but farther left political aims. They're the ones who most fervently support, by the way, this is an inversion from the Reagan years in the eighties, when the kids were more conservative than the older, that's not the case now. And then we add my personal observation, which is that during COVID, during the lockdowns, to me personally, almost more shocking than any other aspect was the supineness, the passivity of the kids, except for, it was established very, very early that if you're young, you're at no serious risk of this. You'll get sick perhaps, it'll be a flu, but you're more likely you to die in a car accident up to the age of 20 something then you are to die of COVID. That got established right away, and universities shut down, and they made kids take exams on, or take their classes on Zoom. And I could detect no pushback, no kid was talking, trying to diss the man. In general, they were saying, yes master, like Igores to Dr. Frankenstein. So this is all really bad news.
Jordan Peterson: Why do you think the first part of that question is importantly related to the second part?
Peter Robinson: Well, I was sort of hoping that I was kind of setting that up as the question for you to answer.
Jordan Peterson: Oh, okay, okay. Fair enough, fair enough.
Peter Robinson: In other words, I guess let's just state it, that this is extremely crude and it feels even cruder now that I've listened to you talk with such sophistication for a while now, but here's the crude point, the crude suspicion is that if you don't have some notion of the transcendent, if you don't have some notion of the divine, then you'll believe any damn thing.
Jordan Peterson: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I think that's right.
Peter Robinson: And that's what the kids are doing.
Jordan Peterson: Yeah, well, I mean, Dostoevsky's comment on that was if there's no God, everything is permitted, you know, and he did a lovely job of analyzing that in, well, in Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov. And I think it's true. I think you'll, if you believe nothing you'll fall for anything. And I really do believe that's the case. And you know, you might say, well, what do you mean? You mentioned earlier that people like to ask me if I believe in God and I always think, well, who are you to be asking that question. First of all, you have some notion of what you mean by believe that you think is just accurate, 'cause you know what believe means. And so you have an apriory theory about belief. And now you're asking me if my belief in God fits into your apriory theory. It's how about we start by questioning your apriory theory of belief, 'cause I don't even know what you mean by believe and neither do you, especially when we're asking a question that profound. 'Cause it, you know, do you believe in God, there's two mysteries there. Well three, you, believe, God, all three of those are subject to question. I think people act out what they believe. And so when people ask me if I believe in God, I say generally that I act as if God exists or I try to act as if God exists. And they're not very happy about that because they want me to abide by the rules of, the implicit rules of their question, which is, no, do you believe in the religious view as a pseudo scientific description of the structure of reality. It's like, well, I don't even know how to answer that question because it's so badly formulated, I can't get a handle on it. Do you believe that there's something divine? Well, let's try to define divine here. We can do that for a moment. Most of us have some sense that literary stories differ in their depth. That, I don't think that's an unwarranted proposition. Some stories are shallow and some stories are deep. Some stories are ephemeral and some move you deeply, whatever that means, it's a metaphor, but we understand what it means. Imagine there are layers of literary depth. And one way of conceptualizing the layers of literary depth is that the deeper an idea is the more idea, other ideas depend on it, right? And so you have fundamental ideas that are fundamental, because if you shake that idea, you shake all the ideas that are dependent on them. And then I would say, well, the realm of the divine is the realm of the most fundamental ideas. And you don't get to believe in that or not, because the alternative is to say, well, all ideas are equal in value. It's like, okay, well try acting then. And you can't because you can't act unless you prioritize your beliefs. And if you prioritize them, you arrange them into a hierarchy. And if you arrange them into a hierarchy, you accept the notion of depth. And so that's a no-go. When we use language of the divine, we're talking about the deepest ideas. And so I believe that the notion that each individual is characterized by a consciousness that transforms the horizon of the future into the present, that's a divine idea, it's so deep. And our cultures necessarily, I think functional cultures are necessarily predicated on that idea. So I don't just think it's a Western idea. I don't think you can have a functional culture that in some sense doesn't instantiate that idea because you interfere with the mechanism of adaptation itself by not allowing it free expression. You know, and you can be like my prime minister and you can say, well, I really admire the Chinese communist party because when it comes to environmental issues, they get things done. And I think, I couldn't begin to tell you how many things are wrong with that statement. That would take like 15 years to tell you why you're an inexcusably narcissistic idiot, but we can start like simply. If you know what you're doing and you have power. If you know what you're doing, maybe you can be more efficient in your exercise of, in your control over movement towards that goal. Let's just assume for a minute that you do know what you're doing. Well maybe if you have power, then you're efficient. Fair enough, man. What about when you don't know what you're doing? How about then? Where do you turn? What that means is your ideology failed you. And do you have a mechanism for operating when you don't know what you're doing? Well no, 'cause we always know what we're doing because we're totalitarian and we have a complete theory of everything, and don't say anything to the contrary or else. We've got it all wrapped up. Yeah, except when you don't. And so what do we do in free societies when we don't know what we're doing? Well, we let people talk. And out of that babble, out of that noise, and American culture is particularly remarkable in this regard, you have this immense diversity of opinions, most of which are completely useless, and some of which are absolutely redemptive. And one of the things that's so remarkable as a Canadian observing your culture in particular is that, you know, you guys veer off in weird directions fairly frequently and things look pretty unstable. And then there's some glimmer of hope somewhere that bursts forward in a whole new mode of adaptation, and away you go again. And that just happens over and over and over. And that's a consequence of real diversity, of real diversity. And it's definitely a consequence of like freedom of association and freedom of speech, 'cause it enables all that.
Peter Robinson: Sure, so, all right. That's optimistic. And I always like to end to show on an up note here, but I'm not quite ready to end the show yet. So I want to hold that thought, put a pin the optimism. You mentioned Trudeau's admiration for the Chinese communist party. Ray Dalio, billionaire, on China. Empires rise when they're productive, financially sound, earn more than they spend, and increase assets faster than their liabilities. Objectively compare China with the US on these measures and the fundamentals clearly favor China, close quote. Now this is Jordan Peterson writing about communism in your introduction to the 50th anniversary edition of the Gulag archipelago, the 50th anniversary of the publication of that in the west takes place next year. Jordan Peterson, no political experiment has been tried so widely with so many disparate people in so many different countries, and failed so absolutely and catastrophically. How much proof do we need? Why do we still avert our eyes from the truth? Now I have one, I'm setting this up because this next quotation I think is actually quite beautiful. And I really wanna see what you do with it. Ray Dalio gives voice to this persistent temptation. Jordan Peter says, why, why do we still feel tempted. And Dostoevsky in the legend of the grand inquisitor. The grand inquisitor is speaking to Christ, and he says to Christ, you're all wrong. Receiving their bread from us the people will clearly see that we take the bread from them to give it back to them, and they will be only too glad to have it so, as we will deliver them from their greatest anxiety and torture: that of having to decide freely for themselves. Never was there anything more unbearable to the human race than personal freedom, close quote. It's too hard. Dr. Peterson, it's just too hard. Canada had a good run. The United States had a good run, but sustaining free societies across the decades and across the generations is just too hard for human nature to bear. No, you're not supposed to agree with that.
Jordan Peterson: Well, two things, you know, the first thing is that man does not live by bread alone. So that's the first rejoinder and the second is with regards to difficulty. Well, the only thing more difficult than contending forthrightly with existence is failing to do so. I'm not suggesting for a moment that this isn't difficult. I mean, part of what the Western religious tradition has done and religious traditions in general to some degree is to try to provide people with support from what's divine in their incalculably difficult efforts to deal with the unknown let's say, the unknowable. Know that if you orient yourself ethically in the most fundamental sense, then in some sense you have the force of God on your side, and then maybe you can prevail despite the difficulty. And I think that's, I think that's right. I think it's, I think that's true. So, and you can ask yourself, I try to ask these questions seriously, you know, and I would also say that I've been driven to my religious beliefs such as it is by necessity, not by desire. What do you want to have on your side when you're contending with the unknowable future and its vagaries? How about truth? How about beauty? How about justice? You want allies? Those are powerful allies. That's what the university's supposed to be teaching young people. It's like, you need some allies, man. Well, how about the pursuit of truth? Well then the scientists have their say. And I would say on the economic front, well how about the free trade between autonomous individuals, the free trade of goods of value between autonomous individuals. That's not such a bad thing to have on your side, these eternal verities. And then we could say perhaps that, well, there is a set of eternal verities, but they're all eternal verities. So they share something in common, some good in common, all good things share some good in common. Well, what is the good that they share in common? Well, for all intents and purposes, that's God. And you might say, well, I don't believe in that. It's like, well, I don't know what you mean. You don't believe there's any such thing as good? You don't believe there's any such thing as ultimate good? I'm not trying to make some ontological claim about an old man living in the sky, although I think that's a lot more sophisticated concept than people generally realize. That's not my point. My point is you do have a belief system, whether you know it or not. It's a system of ethics, whether you know it or not, There's either something at the bottom that unifies it or it's not unified, which means you're aimless and hopeless and depressed and anxious and confused, 'cause those are the only other options. And maybe you don't know what that unifying belief is, but that doesn't mean that it's not there. It just means you don't know what it is. And so I'm trying to puzzle out what it is. You know, I can give you a couple of examples very, very briefly 'cause I won't, so I already mentioned the Genesis, the story in Genesis, it associates God with the force process that generates habitable order out of chaos and attributes that nature in some sense to human beings. In the next part of the story, in the story of Adam and Eve, God is what people walk with unselfconsciously in the garden. So Adam doesn't because he's now ashamed and he doesn't walk with God anymore. But so what is God? Well, that's what you walk with when you're unselfconscious. So that's an interesting idea. And then you have the God that manifests itself, himself let's say in the story of Noah, and that's the intuition that hard times are coming and that you better get your house in order. And you think, well, does that lead you that intuition? Well, certainly sometimes if you have any sense, it's like, well, what's the nature of the intuition? Is that a spirit that animates you? Well, obviously because there you are acting, and so you're acting out a pattern. It's a spirit that animates you. And so, and then there's the story of the tower of babel. What's God there? Well, God is that which you replace at your peril because everything will come tumbling down. That's the tower of babel. It's like, well, is that true or not? You think about that for a week, especially in that light, you think, oh, definitely. If we put the wrong thing at the top, like Stalin for example, then look out. And we've done that a bunch of times in the 20th century. I think, you know, Milton conceptualized Lucifer as something like the spirit of unbridled, intellectual arrogance, it's something like, Lucifer is the light bringer. And he is engaged in a conflict with God attempting to replace the divine. And that's pretty explicit in the story. And I look at that and I think, oh, that's a poetic intuition of the battle between the secular intelligence and the religious structure. That's Milton's prodroma. And what he sees happening is the intellect has become so arrogant that it will attempt to replace the divine and rule over hell, I think. Yeah, well that's the Soviet Union, man. That's Mao's China. We know, we know, we've got our theory. It's total, we've solved the problem and nothing's gonna change. Fair enough if you wanna rule over hell. And you think, well, these societies are successful. It's pretty odd definition to success as far as I'm concerned. You wanna be successful like China? You know, that's why it's true that man does not live by bread alone, you know? A wealthy slave, that's no life, man.
Peter Robinson: Last question. And again, I'm gonna take a moment to set this up, and I'm going to fumble, I'm going to grope toward it. I'm going to stumble along toward this question, but here's what, I'm finding myself thinking back to the 1970s. Canada is part of this, but I know the American story better. And in the 1970s, everything goes wrong. Economic stagnation, loss of morale in this country because we lose in Vietnam, Watergate scandal. We're on the defensive as the Soviets advance in Africa, Latin America. And then in the 1980s it all turns, and we go from 1979 and the Soviet and the national humiliation of the Iranian hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, to 1989, one decade, just 10 years later, the Berlin wall comes down. So the question here is the loss of freedom of speech, the corruption of the universities, the rise of China, which is in all kinds of ways a more formidable opponent than the Soviet union was. In all kinds of ways, one could argue that we're in a worse position now than we were in the seventies. And so what I want to know is are you speaking to those few who have eyes to see and ears to hear? Do you believe that we are capable? Do you hope to prompt another kind of restoration, or is Jordan Peterson the fascinating, eloquent, compelling champion of a lost cause?
Jordan Peterson: Well, I mean, when I spent a lot of time at the various universities I was associated with studying motivation for atrocity, 'cause I was very curious about that as a psychologist, not as a sociologist or an economist or a political scientist. You're an Auschwitz guard. Okay, what's motivating you as an individual? And I wanted to understand it well enough so that I could understand how I could do that. Because one answer to that is, well, that sort of behavior so far beyond the pale, that it's completely incomprehensible. It's just a manifestation of say like intense psychopathy and a normal person can't even imagine it. And I think, nah, that evidence doesn't really suggest that, because it isn't obvious that all the people involved in the Nazi movement, for example, were criminally pathological, that they were deviations. Like, incomprehensible deviations from the norm. It'd be lovely to think that and it would make the world a lot simpler, but I think the evidence mostly suggests that, no, you can get ordinary people to do that sort of thing and maybe even to enjoy it. And so that's pretty bloody terrifying. And so I tried to understand that and I think I did to some degree, although we can't go into that, fair bit of that's a consequence of envy. It's the spirit of Cain I would say if you had to sum it up in a phrase, but that isn't the issue. The issue is how do you stop it from happening again? And because that's supposed to be what we're concentrating on, let's say in the aftermath of the second world war. Never forget, which should mean something like how about we don't do this again? And so my question was, well, how do we best go about that, ensuring we don't walk down that road again? And my conclusion was that's, because it was fundamentally an issue of individual psychology most fundamentally, more than economics, more than sociology, all of that. The cure is individual. People have to, they have to act as ethically as they are powerful, or else. And so I've been trying to convince people to do that, I suppose, or to put forward, not to convince them precisely, but to put forward an argument about why that's necessary and why it's on them. It's like, no, this is on you. You gotta understand this, this problem, it's you. You don't get it right, it isn't gonna work. And so how do you do that? Well, you start with what you have under control in your own life, 'cause where else are you gonna start? You look to yourself, put your house in order. Don't be worried about some other person walking the Satanic path. And that's what activists do all the time, right? It's you, it's the corporations, like it's someone else. No, no, it's you. And I think that's also fundamental to the Judaeo-Christian doctrine is that it's you, it's on you, redemptions in individual matter. And so my hope is that if enough people take themselves with enough seriousness, then we won't end up in hell, because we certainly could. It's a high probability. And so, and I also don't think that you can be motivated enough to put your house in order to the degree that's necessary merely by being attracted let's say to the potential utopia that might emerge as a consequence of that. So that'd be a vision of heaven, let's say. No, you need to also be terrified of hell. I think, well, there's no such thing, it's like, just because you haven't been there doesn't mean there's no such thing. It's like you have to be pretty bloody naive to think there's no such thing. Like how much evidence do you need and how does it come about? Well, it comes about at least in partial consequence of the sins of men. And I think that's true. So I go around and I talk to people. I say, look, there's not only more to you than you know, there's more to you than you can imagine. You have an ethical responsibility to act in that light. And you might claim not to believe that, but I would say, well, your whole culture is predicated on that belief. And insofar as you are an active member of that culture and a believer in its structure, then you believe it. You might not be very good at believing it. You might be full of conflict and doubt, and you might not be able to articulate it, but it's still right at the bedrock of your culture, this notion of, what, the divine sovereign individual? Is that not what your culture's predicated on, that idea, the logos inherent in each person? It's something other than that? I've never seen a credible argument made to show that it's anything other than that. You know, you can say, well, rights are attributed to you by the state. It's like, sorry, that's a weak argument because the state's dependent on your actions. So, you know, to believe that you have to believe that the state is the entity and that individuals are just subordinate in some fundamental sense to the state. It's like, no, the state is dependent on the individual to exactly the same degree. So we're the active agent of the state in some sense. We're the seeing eye of the state, the speaking mouth of the state, 'cause the state's dead without the individuals that compose it.
Peter Robinson: Can you, incoming freshman next year, university of Toronto, Stanford university, 18 year old kids coming into this. We've been through three years of COVID. I won't rehearse it all. One sentence. What would you, what would you, what would you say to them as they begin university at the age of 18 or 19? What's the restorative, the redemptive sentence? What should they do?
Jordan Peterson: Don't be thinking your ambition is corrupt. You know, 'cause that's part of the message. Now human beings, we're a cancer on the planet. We're headed for an environmental apocalypse. The entire historical structure is nothing but atrocity, et cetera, et cetera. Anyone with ethical aim whatsoever is just gonna pull back. You don't want to manifest any ambition, support the patriarchal structure, exploit the environment. You gotta crush yourself down. You shouldn't even have any children. It's like, no, there's no excuse for that. There's zero excuse for that. I saw a professor at an event, something like this. He came out and trumpeted this bloody environmentally friendly house he'd built, and you know, fair enough, man. It was a pretty interesting house, but not everybody had the $4 million that it took him to build it. And I'm not criticizing his money even. It's like, he's had some money, good for him. He built a house, okay. But then to trumpet that as a moral virtue, well you're pushing it there. And then he came out to all the kids and he said, you know, my wife and I decided that we were only gonna have one child. And I think that's one of the most ethical things we could have possibly done, and I would strongly encourage you to do the same. I thought, you son of a bitch. You get up in front of these young people. A lot of these kids were children of first generation immigrants from China, and he showed all these images, you know, of these terrible factories in China, these endless rows of sterile mechanism that were subordinating all the Chinese people to this terrible, you know, capitalist machine. And I thought, you don't understand. Half the audience is looking at those factories and thinking that's a hell of a lot better than struggling through the mud under Mao, buddy. And so he, I don't know where he thought he was, but to come out in front of all those kids and basically tell them that the whole human enterprise is so goddamned corrupt that the best thing they could possibly do is limit their multiplication, and to think of himself as a scholar and an educator, it was just, I did say something by the way. It was rather uncomfortable and he stomped off the stage, but that's no message for young people. That's no, there's no excuse for that. And you think, well, I, you know, we're gonna destroy the planet, we have to do this. We have to demoralize the youth to be ethical. It's like, yeah, really? That's your theory? You're gonna demoralize young people to be ethical. That's your theory. It's like, you should go and think about that for like a year. And I'm passionate about this, you know, because you have no idea how many people that's killing. You have no idea. I see people everywhere, all over the world. They're so demoralized, especially young people, especially young people with a conscience, 'cause they've been told to since they were little that there's nothing to them but corruption and power. It's like, how the hell do you expect them to react? You know they, well, I shouldn't do anything, man, you know?
Peter Robinson: Dr. Jordan Peterson on the, what was the phrase? The divine sovereign individual, the divine sovereign individual. Thank you. For Uncommon Knowledge, the Hoover institution, and Fox Nation, I'm Peter Robinson.