Keywords: University, Radical, Monogamy, Trans, YouTube, Wilfrid Laurier, Milo, Masculinity, Discipline, Gender
So I assume you’re all here to talk about the early work of Carl Jung, and this man’s carnivorous diet, and the Soviet art he collects. In all seriousness, I’m really excited to be here with you. We’ve never met before. Your official title is that you are a clinical psychologist and a professor at the University of Toronto. You’ve written two books, one called "Maps of Meaning
", and the best-selling 12 Rules for Life
, which is currently being translated into 40 languages. But this description does not capture what you’ve become, which is a kind of phenomenon.
When I was reading 12 Rules for Life, in a café, in the locker room of my gym, it was sitting out on a bench. People were coming up to me, and saying, "this book saved my life." And yet, there are other people in the country, including some of my fellow journalists, who insist that you are actually a gateway drug to the far right. So I’m excited to be here with you—not the myth of you, but with the man; and I’m hoping we can use this hour or so to talk about your views on meaning, on gender, on feminism, God, higher education… I’m sure we can solve all of that in under an hour.
I want to start with the book 12 Rules for Life
, which I’m hoping some of you have read. Here’s some of the messages in that book: "gender isn’t a social construct"; "people should strive for meaning in their lives, not happiness"; "life is suffering, but there are ways to transcend it"; "stand up straight"; "make your bed". Now, all of this, to me, seems pretty commonsensical. And yet, I don’t think that there is a Canadian in the world that I’ve read more think pieces about.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that you are, sort of, the most loved and loathed public intellectual in the Western world at the moment. I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about what that’s like, and your understanding of it. You just came from two days in Vancouver, at an event with Sam Harris, talking for over two hours about the question of truth, and 5,000 people showed up to those events—not exactly a sexy Beyonce concert. What’s going on? How do you understand it, and your place in it? Dr. Jordan Peterson:
Well, I think you don’t want to underestimate the role that technological transformation has played in this. I’ve been thinking about YouTube and podcasts quite intensely for about two years. I started putting my university lectures on YouTube in 2013. I did that for a variety of reasons—mostly curiosity and the drive to learn. I’ve found that, if I want to learn a technology, the best way to do it is to use it. I’m always learning new technologies—not that that makes me particularly unique—and I had some success with my lectures on public television in Canada. I did some lectures with this series called "Big Ideas" on Canadian public television.
There’s about 200 of those lectures, and I did five of them. Two hundred done by 200 different people, but I did five of them, and they were regularly in the top 10 of the most viewed lectures. So I knew there was some broader market for, let’s say, ideas. I thought, "well, I might as well put my lectures up on YouTube, and see what happens." And then, by April of 2016, I had a million views. I thought, "huh. The only reason people are watching these is because they want to watch them, because they’re actually really hard." A million of something is a lot. If you sell a million copies of your book—well, first of all, that never happens, right? It’s very, very rare. You never have your scientific papers cited a million times. You rarely have a million dollars. It’s a very large number. BW:
Well, this room excepted. JP:
Well, fair enough. It’s, of course, not as uncommon as it once was, but it’s still a significant number, and I didn’t really have any way of calibrating that. I thought, "well, what am I supposed to do, now that I hit a million views? How am I supposed to conceptualize that? What is this YouTube thing anyways, that was once a repository for cute cat videos? What does it mean to have a million views on it?" So I really started to think about it, because there were a lot of people commentating, as well, and they were into the lectures and following them avidly. I thought, "OK, so what is this YouTube, exactly?" I thought, "well, for the first time in human history, the spoken word has the same reach as the written word. And not only that: no lagged publication and no barrier to entry." That’s a major technological revolution. That’s a Gutenberg revolution. That’s a big deal. This is a game changer. It was soon after that that I discovered the podcast world, which is about 10 times as big as the YouTube world. The podcast world is also a Gutenberg revolution, except it’s even more extensive.
The problem with books and videos is that you can’t do anything else while you’re doing them, right? When you’re reading, you’re reading. When you’re watching a video, you can be distracted, but you have to pay attention to the video. But, if you’re listening to a podcast, you can be driving a forklift or a long haul trunk, or you can be exercising or doing the dishes. And so what that means is that podcasts free up, say, two hours a day, for people to engage in education activities that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to engage in, and that’s about one-eight of people’s lives.
So podcasts hand people one-eighth of their life back, to engage in high-level education. I thought, "well, people actually want to do this. There’s a massive market for high-level intellectual engagement, that’s much deeper and more desperate, let’s say, than anyone suspected." We really saw that in Vancouver. I mean, the discussion I had with Sam Harris, the two discussions—we talked about the relationship between facts and values, and science and religion more peripherally. But the dialog was conducted approximately at the level, I would say, of a pretty rigorous PhD defense.
We were only suppose to talk for an hour and go to Q&A, but the crowd didn’t want us to stop, so we talked, the first night, for two and a half hours, and the second night for two and a half hours. The crowd was 100 per cent on board the entire time. It wasn’t because Sam was winning or I was winning. Neither of us, in fact, were trying to win: we were trying to learn something, and we were actually trying to learn something. We weren’t just pretending to do that. The place erupted at the end, and I think one of the things I’ve realized in the last couple of days, as I’ve been thinking this through, is the narrow bandwidth of TV has made us think we’re stupider than we are. People have a real hunger for deep intellectual dialog, and that can be met with these new technologies. That has revolutionary significance, and that’s starting to unfold. BW:
I wonder about… You love to quote this line, this Nietzsche line, that anyone who has a "why" to live for can endure almost any "how". JP:
What’s your "why"? What’s driving you? You are the most busy man—I mean, to get you here… Wherever you were last night, and in Portland tomorrow… I don't know how you’re alive, frankly, right now. What is driving you? What is this relentless drive, and what are you pushing toward? JP:
I’m trying to… Well, I spent 15 years writing the first book I wrote, which is called Maps of Meaning
. It’s akin to 12 Rules for Life
, although it’s a much more difficult book. The audio version of that book is out now, by the way. It’s been out since June 12th. If you liked 12 Rules
or you were interested in it, you could try that. I think the audio version is much more accessible, because it's a difficult book. Getting the cadences of the sentences right is an aid to comprehension. I spent 15 years writing that book, about three hours a day writing, and a lot more time reading.
I was interested in solving a problem. I was interested in the great atrocities of the 20th century: the ones that were committed on the right and the ones that were committed on the left. But I was interested in it psychologically. What that means was, had I been there, what could have I done to not participate? So that’s what I’ve been trying to figure out; because, for me, what happened in Nazi Germany, and what happened in the Gulag Archipelago, and in Maoist China—many places—was a sufficient definition of "hell"—convincing, as well. I wanted to understand what the opposite of that was, and not sociologically or politically or economically, because I think that, in the final analysis, those levels of explanation are insufficient. But psychologically, "how is it that you must conduct yourself in the world, so that if the opportunity to participate in such things arises, you won’t?"
When the holocaust museums went up, there was a motto that went up along with them, which was, "never forget". I thought, "yeah, fair enough. But you can’t remember what you don’t understand." So I wanted to understand it. When people read history, they either read it as detached observer, or they tend to read it as, well, maybe, the heroic protagonist. People like to imagine that they would be Schindler
in Schindler’s List, but that’s wrong. The probability that you’ll be the perpetrator is much higher, especially merely the perpetrator that’s ensconced in silence, when silence is not the appropriate thing.
So I wanted to, having figured out what constituted hell and the pathway to that—which would be, I suppose, the cowardice and resentment that produces either complicitness in those events or failure to oppose them when they emerge. I wanted to understand what the opposite of that was, because I think that’s what needs to be learned from what happened in the 20th century. I wrote Maps of Meaning
to understand that, and to lay out what the opposite was. That turned out to be extremely helpful, to me, and then to the people I started to teach about that, because it’s useful to know what the opposite of hell is.
I’ve been teaching those things to people since 1993, so that’s 25 years. The response from the students has always been the same sort of response I’m getting now, absent some of the negative characterizations, let’s say, which have emerged for particular reasons. But these students have always said one of two things, and this is the vast majority of them. This isn’t cherry-picked responses: it’s been the same everywhere. And this is the same response I get from my audiences now, too. They say, "you’ve given me words to explain and understand things that I always knew to be true," or, "I was in a very dark place for one of the seven reasons that people might be in a dark place"—alcohol or drugs or failure of relationships or lack of vision or nihilism or hopelessness or depression or anxiety, or all of the pitfalls that people can encounter—"and I’ve been developing a vision for my life, and trying to adopt responsibility, and trying to be careful with what I say, and things are way better." That’s what drives me.
It’s so interesting, watching what’s happening, because, you know, you said, "I’m the most loathed and the most loved man." It's like, I’m loathed by a very small percentage of very noisy people, and they are people who either don’t or haven’t or won’t take a look at what I’m doing, partly because it doesn’t fit within their conceptual scheme. Whenever I’m interviewed by journalists that have the scent of blood in their nose, let’s say, they’re very willing and able to characterize the situation I find myself in as political, but that’s because they can’t see the world in any other manner than political.
The political is a tiny fraction of the world, and what I’m doing isn’t political: it’s psychological, or philosophical, or theological. The political element is peripheral. If people come to the live lectures, let’s say, that’s absolutely self-evident. That’s not what they’re about; that’s not why people are there; that isn’t what they talk to me about afterwards. It’s fundamentally irrelevant. The only reason this ever became political is because, in Canada, our provincial and federal governments had the unspeakable arrogance to propose compelled speech legislation in a British common law system, where that had never been done, ever, even once, and despite the fact that your Supreme Court in 1942 made such things unconstitutional. BW:
Can you explain to people, here, what actually happened? Which is that you opposed this law, which was going to compel you, you say, to use preferred pronouns of people that are transgender. Is that accurate? JP:
It’s accurate but partial. There were provincial laws that were already in place to compel this sort of thing, but a federal law had been generated. I went and read the policy guidelines within which the federal law was to be interpreted. Those were produced by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, which is a radical leftist inquisition, fundamentally. They had documented out a very large number of policies that would make anyone sensible’s hair stand on end—if they read them, which they didn’t. But I did, and not only did I read them, I understood them; and, having read them and understood them, I made videos.
One night, I got up at about three in the morning, because it was really bothering me, for a variety of complicated reasons, including the fact that a number of my clinical clients had been bullied into a state of ill mental health, by radical social justice warriors, at their various work places. This was long before I was embroiled in any of this controversy, by the way, so it wasn’t a sampling bias. At the same time, my university had the unmitigated gall to mandate unconscious bias retraining for their human resources staff, despite the fact that unconscious bias measurements are not reliable or valid, even by the testimony of their formulators, and despite the evidence that there is no data whatsoever lending unconscious bias retraining even the vaguest shred of credible outcome. So these videos—because I was annoyed about this, and I thought, "what will happen if I make a video?" BW:
This is one of the things that I feel—or maybe you can answer it for us. I feel, because of this incident, you are often characterized, at least in the mainstream press, as being transphobic. If you had a student come to you, and they said to you, "I was born female. I now identify as male. I want you to call me by male pronouns." Would you say yes to that? JP:
Well, it would depend on the student, and the context, and why I thought they were asking me, and what I believed their demand actually characterized, and all of that. Because that can be done in a way that’s genuine and acceptable, and in a way that’s manipulative and unacceptable. If it was genuine and acceptable, then I’d have no problem with it; and if it was manipulative and unacceptable, then not a chance. You might think, "well, who am I to judge?" BW:
How do you tell? JP:
Well, first of all, I am a clinical psychologist, and I’ve talked to people for about 25,000 hours, and I’m responsible for judging how I’m going to use my words. I judge it the same way I judge all the interactions I have with people, which is to the best of my ability and characterized by all the errors that I’m prone to. So, you know, I’m not saying that my judgment would be unerring, but I have to live with the consequences. I’m willing to accept the responsibility. But, also, to be clear about this, that never happened: I never refused to call anyone by anything that they had asked me to call them by. Although that’s been reported multiple times, it’s a complete falsehood, and it had nothing to do with the transgender issue, as far as I was concerned. Besides that, if it had only to do with the transgender issue in Canada, the probability that this would have had the impact that it had is zero. It wasn’t about that at all. It was about something far deeper and far more insidious, and everyone knew it, which was why it didn't go away. What should have happened is there should have been some controversy around it—maybe even a protest—and everyone’s attention should have gone away, like, a week later. That didn’t happen even a little bit. As I knew, there’s far more going on, here, than this little bill would have revealed. BW:
One of your rules in 12 Rules
is—I hope I’m getting this right—"choose your words carefully". It would be ironic, if I got that one wrong. JP:
"Be precise in your speech". BW:
OK, "be precise in your speech". JP:
You got it right. BW:
Sort of. JP:
Yeah, you got the gist of it. That’s the crucial thing. BW:
One of the things that’s happened to you in the past two years is that every utterance of yours—and Kitty alluded to this in her introduction—is analyzed, maybe manipulated. How do you live with that reality? How do you even have the confidence to, sort of, continue, from my perspective, rush into the breach on all sorts of—what have become third rail issues, knowing that so much of what you say is going to be mischaracterized. And then I have a followup to that. JP:
Well, I mean, about 25 years ago, 30 years ago, maybe. 1985… I guess that’s… How far along ago is that… It’s a long time. BW:
Some years. JP:
Yeah. I decided that I was going to be very careful with what I said. When I was thinking through some of these ideas that I already described, trying to understand what tilted people towards vengefulness and cruelty, I was contemplating that personally: "what would tilt me towards that? or what did tilt me towards that?" At the same time, I developed an acute awareness of my speech. I asked a question, and when you ask yourself a question, and you really ask a question, you start thinking of the answer, whether you want to think it up or not. And the answer that you might generate might bear very little resemblance that you would like to generate. I had asked myself a question, which was, "what’s the pathway out of this hell?" let’s say, "and how might I be tangled up in that?"
One of the things I started to realize was that I wasn’t very careful with what I said. That seemed, in some way, to be related to that. It’s not surprising, because it’s not really obvious that the Nazis, for example, were all that careful about what they said, in terms of its relationship to the truth. Quite the contrary, and the same with the ideologs in the Soviet Union—so the idea that there was some relationship between carelessness in speech, lies and deception, and that sort of thing, or self-aggrandizement, or any of the things you can indulge in, if you’re careless with your speech, and the weakening of our character to the point where you might get tangled up in great and terrible sociological movements. That seemed, to me, to be reasonable—and many people have commented on that, like Solzhenitsyn
, for example. So I started to experience discomfort with what I was saying. What seemed to happen was that I started to realize, and could feel it—I was reading Carl Rogers
at the same time, and he actually suggested that psychotherapists pay attention to exactly this sort of thing. I started to understand that many of the things I was saying weren’t true. I didn't really believe them; they weren't really my thoughts; they made me feel weak, when I said them. BW:
Can you give an example? JP:
That’s a good question. Can I give you an example… Oh, maybe I would engage in an argument with someone at a bar on an intellectual issue, for the purpose of displaying my intellectual superiority—or, at least, hypothetically displaying it, you know? Sometimes people like to argue, and they like to argue because, hypothetically, they would like to win. BW:
So you don’t mean, though, that you were mouthing platitudes. JP:
Oh, sure. I was doing that, definitely. Oh, yes. All the time. And sometimes they weren’t even platitudes, you know? They might have been things I picked up in books, that weren’t cliches. But they weren’t mine. I didn’t have any right to them. Just because you read something, doesn’t mean you have a right to it. You have to understand it, and understanding something that’s deep means a deep transformation. It means you have to live it. So just because you know a philosophical concept and you can say it, doesn’t give you the right to utter it, as if it’s yours. You have to earn that. I was a smart kid, and my head was full of ideas that I hadn’t earned. I could lay them out, but that doesn’t mean that they were mine or me. There was a falsity in expressing them. I couldn’t tell, for a while, because I would say things, and part of me would be all critical about what I was saying: "you don’t believe that; that’s not accurate; it’s kind of a lie." It was saying that to almost everything I said. I took a risk: I thought, "OK, I’m going to assume that the part of me that’s critical about what I’m saying is right," even though that was terrible, because, often, it meant I could hardly speak. And then I learned to only say things that didn’t make me feel weak; and then I decided that that’s what I was going to do. So I’ve been careful with what I’ve been saying, for a long time. BW:
I’m having a hard time with what you’re saying right now, because shouldn’t the test be, "I’m only saying things that are true," not, "I’m only saying things that don’t make me feel weak"? What am I misunderstanding in that formulation? JP:
Well, what you’re misunderstanding, in part, is—how do you know the things that you’re saying aren’t true? I would say, one of the ways you know is they weaken you, and you can learn that. You can learn to feel that. Carl Rogers
talked about this a lot in his work of psychotherapy. He said that one of the primary roles of a psychotherapist is to be congruent, and what he meant by that was that there was no disjunction between what you felt in a situation, let’s say, and what you said—that it was all one piece. That was an embodied unity, not merely a conceptual unity. So I really do think that there’s something to it. BW:
You almost mean psychologically weak, not weak in terms of power? JP:
I mean psychologically weak. I mean morally weak. I mean weak in character. That sort of thing. So I got very careful with what I said, and, at the same time, I was spending a tremendous amount of time writing. I was very careful with what I wrote. So, in Maps of Meaning
, I think I rewrote every sentence in that book at least fifty times. BW:
That’s crazy. JP:
Oh, yeah. That’s for sure. I would take a sentence out and write a bunch of variants of it, and then I would pick the variant that was best, and then I’d try to come up with all the arguments I could about why the sentence was stupid and wrong. BW:
Please don’t tell me you still do this. JP:
Yeah. I still do this when I’m writing. BW:
Did you do 15 versions of every sentence for 12 Rules for Life
, also? JP:
I said "fifty". BW:
Oh, fifty. Excuse me. I meant to be precise in my speech, but I… JP:
It was more like 15, with 12 Rules for Life
, so it was less. But I’m a better writer than I was, then, so I didn’t have to do it quite as often. I kept writing it, until I couldn’t make the sentences any better. That doesn't mean they were good: it just meant I got to the point where, if I was rewriting them, it wasn’t obvious the rewriting was better than the original sentence. So then I had to stop. BW:
So my question a few minutes ago was, "how has knowing that your words are going to be intentionally twerked changed you?" JP:
Well, it’s made me evermore careful. It’s exaggerated the care. But I had been quite careful, and the evidence for that is quite clear. When all of this political controversy around me, and that swirled around me—well, it still is. Maybe it’s even exaggerated, to some degree. But it was very intense, in Canada, for a good six months, and people were going over what I had put on YouTube, with a fine-toothed comb. There was 200 hours of videos, there. And you think, "well, with some creative editing, and with motivation and mind, you’d think, if you went over 200 hours of someone’s lectures, you could find a smoking pistol, even if you had to chop out a sentence." No one found anything, and the reason for that was—there wasn’t anything there. That’s why they didn’t find anything.
So I had already been very careful, and I had discussed all sorts of unbelievably contentious issues. My classes were very intense. The Maps of Meaning class, in particular… Its basic presupposition—partly what I was trying to do with my students was convince them that, had they been in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, they wouldn’t have been on the side of the good. That’s a hell of a thing to drag people through, but it’s, statistically, overwhelmingly likely. So it’s a very serious class, and certainly a place where you could step badly at any given moment. I talked about gender differences, and the biological substructure of consciousness, and all these things that could easily become politically contentious. But, as I said, there weren’t any smoking pistols. But now, for the last two years, I’ve been more careful—and I have people watching me. My family watches me and what I’m doing. They keep very careful track of it, and if I deviate a little bit from how I should have behaved, then they tell me—and I have friends who are doing the same thing—and I listen to them. BW:
Do you feel you deviated from how you should behave, when you said of, I think it was Mishra, in the New York Review of Books… JP:
Well, let me just share what you said. I’m trying to be precise in my speech, but I believe you said, "you’re a sanctimonious prick, and if you were in my room, I’d slap you." You don’t regret that? JP:
Not a bit, and I’ll tell you why. It’s really complicated, you know? I have this friend, who’s a native carver. He comes from a very rough background—like, way rougher than you think. Maybe some of you have come from rough backgrounds, or you know people who have come from them, but he comes from a plenty rough background. I started working with him, buying his art, 15 years ago. He was a survivor of residential schools in Canada. We got pretty close. He helped me design the third floor of my house. Anyways, the long and short of it was that I got inducted into his family, about a year and a half ago, in this big ceremony up in a native reservation, in northern Vancouver. We’ve been through a lot together, and a lot of it’s been pretty rough. This whatever the hell his name was, Mishrash, or whatever the hell his name was, had the temerity to say that I was "romancing the noble savage". It’s like, "watch your step, buddy. You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, not even a bit."
Had I been a left-leaning personage, and he had made a comment like that, there would have been hell to pay—which isn’t to say that I’m a right-leaning personage, by the way. So I don’t regret it a bit. I think what he said was absolutely reprehensible, and that he should have been called out on it. So I don’t regret it at all. Now, people said, maybe it would have been better for me not to have made that comment. It’s possible that they’re right, but I actually thought about it, and I thought, "there’s no excuse for that. You don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re meddling with things you don’t understand, and you’re making a casual aspersion not only on me, but on my ‘noble savage’ friend." Yeah—no. BW:
So, speaking of things that people have said, sort of, to defame you, you’re currently suing Wilfrid Laurier University. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think administrators, there, in their meeting with Lindsay Shepherd, who was a TA, who showed a clip of you—they sort of interrogated her, accusing her of creating a hostile teaching environment, for showing a clip of you in her classroom. During that interaction, which she recorded, they compared you to Hitler. JP:
No, they compared me to Hitler or Milo Yiannopoulos. It’s important, and the reason it’s important is because… BW:
Just to finish that question—maybe you’ll braid this in. You are one of the most outspoken champions, I would say, of free speech right now. I would like for you, if you can, to sort of grapple a bit with believing in free speech so strongly, and yet also suing this university for slander. JP:
First of all, they said playing a clip of Jordan Peterson was like playing a clip of Hitler or Milo Yiannopoulos. I thought, "well, let’s go a little easy on the Hitler comparisons, there, guys. You might want to save that for when it’s really necessary, because you don’t use…" It’s sacrilegious to use an insult like that, except in situations where it’s justified. It’s not appropriate to use a catastrophe like that casually, especially when you’re doing it under the guise of moral virtue. There’s no excuse for it. And then the second thing is, "you’re a professor, both of you. Which is it? Am I Hitler, or am I Milo Yiannopoulos?" Seriously. Those are not the same people, in case you didn’t notice. One was the worst barbarian in the 20th century, with the possible exception of Stalin and Mao, and the other one is a provocateur trickster, who’s quite quick on his feet, and is… what would you say… stirring things up in a relatively non-problematic way. They’re not the same creature. So to combine them in a single, careless insult during an administrative investigation—which was entirely unwarranted, by the way, and was predicated on an absolute lie: there hadn’t been a student complaint, as the university admitted. There’s no excuse for that, and, if they weren’t professors, it wouldn’t have been so bad. But they were.
The reason I sued them—there’s a whole bunch of reasons. The Hitler comparison and the Milo Yiannopoulos comparison were only two of about 40 things that they tarred me with, and they’re all listed in the deposition. The only reason I brought the lawsuit forward—what, seven months later; something like that—was because of what happened with Lindsay Shepherd. What happened to her at Wilfrid Laurier is absolutely inexcusable. Everything they did to her was predicated on a lie. Then the university apologized, and so did the professor. And then he lied during his apology, which was a forced apology anyways, and therefore of very little utility. They were subject to no disciplinary action, even though the statutes of the university required it, and they made Lindsay Shepherd’s life a living hell, even after they apologized to her and told her that she did nothing wrong, and that they hadn’t followed their own procedures.
I read her deposition, and I actually read it on YouTube
, where it’s got about 500,000 views, by the way. I thought, "you people haven't learned anything. You’ve learned absolutely nothing. And so, if one lawsuit doesn’t convince you, maybe two will." And so then, with regards to free speech: free speech is still bounded inside the structure of law, and these people broke the law—or, at least, that’s my claim. So I don’t see the contradiction, there, at all. You can’t just slander someone, defame them, lie about them. You can’t incite people to crime. There’s all sorts of reasonable restrictions on free speech that are already codified, essentially, in the British common law system. Wilfrid Laurier learned nothing, but this isn’t over yet. BW:
But isn’t it creating a chilling effect, which is something that those of us who care so much about free speech want to, sort of, stay away from? You could say these sort of defamation lawsuits are a really, really dangerous slippery slope. I’m kind of surprised you don’t see it that way. JP:
Well, I do see it that way, which is why I spent seven months thinking about it, before I decided to do it. But I thought that there’s always risk, in every decision: there’s the risk of doing something, and there’s the risk of not doing something. Both of those risks are usually catastrophic, in every decision you make in life. I weighed up the risks, and I thought, "nope. The risk, here, of not doing something is greater than the risk of doing something." Had they shown any sign—look, one of the things that Wilfrid Laurier did in the aftermath of this scandal, which, by the way, was the biggest scandal that ever hit a Canadian university by a large margin. It was an international scandal. I rarely go places where people haven’t heard about this, so it was a big deal.
They had plenty to learn, and they learned nothing. They had set up a panel, hypothetically, on free speech and its relationship on inclusivity et cetera. The only two people on the panel who were advocating for the free speech position resigned in frustration, and I know that because I know who they are. And so, well, that’s just one of the pieces of evidence that they didn’t learn anything. They continued to mistreated Shepherd, continually. Her deposition—it’s like a novel of stupidity. My sense was, had there been any sign whatsoever of, let’s call it, true apology and procedural rectification, she would have left them alone, and so would have I. But there was zero. In fact, if anything, what they did was double down and go underground: "here’s our apology. Here’s our procedures." That’s what they showed the world. "Here’s how nothing at all has changed." No: not good enough. BW:
Since we’re on the subject of universities, you recently said that what universities have done is "beyond forgiveness". I wondered if you could explain what you mean by that—and a second, connected question: should we abolish universities? JP:
No, they’ll do that themselves. BW:
OK. Let’s hear a little bit about what they’ve done that you think renders them beyond forgiveness. JP:
Well, they’re overwhelmingly administratively top-heavy; and they don’t spend any more money on the faculty than they did 30 years ago; and the cost of that administrative top-heaviness, which is well documented—not by me, by other people—has accelerated over the last 20 years. There has been a radical increase in tuition fees, especially compared to the radical decrease in the price of most things over the last 20 years. So they’ve become administratively top-heavy—and this is especially true in the United States. The way that’s been managed is that unsuspecting students are given free access to student loans that will cripple them through their 30s and their 40s, and the universities are enticing them to extend their carefree adolescence for a four-year period, at the cost of mortgaging their future earnings, in a deal that does not allow for escape through bankruptcy. So it’s, essentially, a form of indentured servitude.
There’s no excuse whatsoever for that. It means the administrators have learned how to pick the future pockets of their students, and, because they also view them, in some sense, as sacred cash cows and fragile, let’s say—because you might wonder why the students are being treated like they’re so fragile. It’s like, "well, we don’t want them to drop out, now do we? If they drop out, then we don’t get our hands on their future earnings, in a way they can’t escape from." That cripples the economy, because the students come out overladen with debt that they’ll never pay off, right at the time when they should be right at the peak of their ability to take entrepreneurial risks. So they can’t do that, because they’re too crippled by debt. That’s absolutely appalling.
They’re gerrymandering the accredited processes, so that the degree no longer has its credible value. They’re enabling the activist disciplines, which have zero academic credibility whatsoever in my estimation, and I’m perfectly willing to defend that claim. By enabling the activist disciplines, they’re allowing for the distribution of this absolutely nonsensical view that Western society is fundamentally a patriarchal tyranny, which is absurd on at least five dimensions of analysis, but is becoming increasing the thing you have to believe, if you’re allowed to speak in public. What else… Well, that’s a good start. They’re not teaching students to read critically. They’re not introducing them to great literature. They’re not teaching them to write. The list goes on and on and on. BW:
Do you think, in a way, that you are a symbol of higher education’s failure? Meaning, the reason, maybe, that people are showing up—5,000 people to listen to you. It’s going to be 20,000 in London, in July—is because there aren’t that many people who, unironically, are talking about what it is to live a good life, and asking questions about how to live a meaningful one? If you would say that in most universities, I feel that you would be laughed out of the room. JP:
Well, it depends on how you said it, and to whom. But if you say it to students, then they’re so happy to listen to you that they can hardly stand it, because even the most cynical students come to university hoping there’s something there worth learning. The reason that they’re exposed to great literature, for example—because there is such a thing. It’s not all power claims—is because great literature contains the key to wisdom, and you need wisdom to be able to live without undo suffering. So, yes. Would I say that what happened to me is a reflection of the failure of the universities… It is, in part. Although, I did teach this… BW:
And not just you: the whole Intellectual Dark Web. The fact that people listen to Sam Harris talk for hours. I mean, all of these people… JP:
Well, you want to go for the simple solutions, before you go for the complex ones; and you want to go for the solutions that are associated with ignorance, rather than malevolence, first. I would say that we don’t want to underestimate the degree to which what’s happening with YouTube and with podcasts, as a consequence of a technological revolution. I’ve known for years that the universities underserve the community. For some reason, we think that university education is for 18- to 22-year-olds, which is a proposition that’s so absurd that it’s absolutely mind boggling that anyone ever conceptualized it. It’s like, "why wouldn’t you take university courses throughout your entire life? What, do you stop searching for wisdom when you’re 22?" I don’t think so. You don’t even start, usually, until you’re, like, in your mid-20s.
I knew the universities were underserving the broader community a long time ago, but there wasn’t a mechanism by which that could be rectified, apart from, say, books. Of course, that was part of the rectification. So I think you don’t want to underestimate the technological transformation. And then I would also say—I mean, I was teaching this in university, so it isn’t like there isn’t anybody in universities still teaching this sort of thing. There are plenty of qualified professors, who are still doing a good job. But they’re being pushed out very rapidly, and terrified, as well, by the activist disciplines. BW:
You speak and write a lot about how masculinity is in crisis. What are some of the main signs of it—and then we’ll open it up to questions soon—and is Trump a symbol of that crisis, or a corrective to it? JP:
Well, I don’t really think that masculinity is in crisis. I think that, to the degree that masculinity per se is regarded as toxic, that will produce a crisis, which isn’t the same thing. I think there’s a crisis of meaning, let’s say, in our culture, but that’s not new. That’s been the case for quite a long time, but I don’t think it’s specific to masculinity. That’s been a story that’s kind of aggregated around me, and the way that happened was, well, the people who don’t like what I’m saying look at my audience, and they say, "oh, well, he’s speaking mostly to men. Therefore he must be speaking to men." It’s like, "no: the baseline rates for YouTube utilization are about 80 per cent male, so the fact that most of the people who are watching me on YouTube were male is an artefact, to some degree, that most of the people who watch YouTube are male."
Now, it may also be that the sorts of things that I’m saying are more pertinent to men—although, I’m not convinced of that. Most of the students throughout my university career have been women, because psychology is dominated by women, to a great degree. Ever since I published my book, the proportion of people who are coming to lectures that is female is reliably increasing. It’s probably up to about 35 per cent, I would say, now, from, probably, about 20. I don’t think it is a message that is particularly germane to men, although it is germane to men. I don’t think that there’s, like, an independent crisis of masculinity.
There might be a crisis of concepts of masculinity, and I think that’s hard on young men, in some ways. The reason for that is you’re supposed to be duty bound, as a virtuous person, to buy the doctrine of the tyrannical patriarchy. It’s like, well, look. First of all, every hierarchical system tends towards tyranny. That’s a universal truism. Our structures have the same problem, obviously, and we have to be eternally vigilant, so they don’t devolve into tyranny. But that doesn’t mean that they are tyrannies and always have been. Of course, also, compared to what? Compared to your hypothetical ideological utopia? Yes. Compared to every other society that’s ever existed on the planet, including most of the ones that exist now? Definitively not. But anyways, if you buy that idiotic unidimensional idea, which is a pathological error, and you see your culture as a tyrannical patriarchy, then you see any attempt to move up that hierarchy as a manifestation of patriarchal tyranny.
The problem is that a lot of ways you move up a modern, functional hierarchy is through competence, and if you take young men—it doesn’t happen as much with young women, for reasons we can go into—and you say, "every manifestation of your desire to move up the hierarchy is nothing but proof of your participating in the tyrannical patriarchy," then you tend to demoralize them, which is exactly what you’re trying to do, by the way, if you take that stance to begin with. I really think that, at the bottom of the most pathological manifestations of the collectivist dictum, is the assault on the idea of competence itself. That’s another unforgivable sin that the university has committed. There’s no doubt that human hierarchies are error prone, and they tilt towards tyranny. Obviously. But that doesn’t mean that they are unidimensional patriarchal tyrannies. They’re neither patriarchal nor tyrannies, but that’s received wisdom, now, and to question that means that you're a misogynistic fascist. So I tell young men, it’s like, "no, no, no. There’s something to competence, man." BW:
Speaking as a woman who has read your book—and I’m with you for so much of it, and then you start to lose me, when you talk about archetypes. The way you talk about archetypes in the book—and, again, forgive me if I’m being slightly imprecise, but I’m trying to gloss it for an audience who might not have read it—is that, in this sort of Jungian archetypal world, chaos is feminine, order is masculine; and the subtitle of your book is "An Antidote to Chaos". So, as a woman reading that… I’d like for you to explain to me, maybe, what I’m missing, there, because that’s when you started to lose me a little bit, as a reader. Why does there need to be an antidote to the feminine in that way? JP:
Well, there has to be an antidote to anything that’s manifesting itself in excess. It’s chaos that’s manifesting itself in excess at the moment, in our culture, and so that’s what I decided to address in this book. Mostly that was because, I suppose, it was addressed, at least in part, to younger people; and what younger people have to contend with, generally speaking, is an excess of chaos, because they’re not very disciplined. We kind of have this idea that, well, you’re free as a child, and then you… Let me see if I can put this properly… That you have a certain delightful, wonderful, positive freedom as a child, and then that’s given up, as you approach adulthood. But the truth of the matter is that you have a lot of potential as a child, but none of that is capable of manifesting itself as freedom, before you become disciplined; and discipline is a matter of the imposition of order, and the order is necessary, especially for people who are hopeless and nihilistic, and lots of people are hopeless and nihilistic—way more people than you think. Part of that is because no one’s ever really encouraged them.
The book is, in part, a matter of encouragement. It’s like, "lay a disciplinary structure on yourself. Get the chaos in check. And then you can move towards a state that’s freer, because it’s discipline first." If you’re going to become a concert pianist, there’s going to be several thousand hours of extraordinarily disciplined practice. That’s the imposition of order on your potential, let’s say. But what comes out of that is a much grander freedom. And so, virtually every freedom that you have in life that’s true freedom is purchased at the price of discipline. Because I think that it’s nihilism and hopelessness that constitute the major existential threat—especially to young people, at the moment—then I was concentrating on the necessity of discipline and order.
The issue with regards to the metaphysical or symbolic representation of chaos as feminine… Well, that’s a very complex problem. The first thing you have to understand is that there’s no a priori supposition that order is preferable to chaos, in any fundamental sense. They’re not constituent elements of reality. You can’t say one’s bad and the other’s good. You can say that they can become unbalanced, and that’s definitely not good. Too much chaos is not good, obviously. Too much order is not good, equally obviously. Those are the two extremes you have to negotiate between. I’m not making a casual claim, with regards to the idea that reality is an amalgam of chaos and order.
I don’t think there is any more accurate way of describing the nature of reality. That's the most fundamental… Maybe not "the" most fundamental truth, but it’s certainly… There’s two. There’s two fundamental truths: reality is composed of chaos and order, and your role is to mediate between them successfully. That’s metaphysical and symbolic truth—but it’s more than that, because that’s actually how your mind and your brain is organized: not only conceptually, but emotionally, motivationally, and physiologically. I don’t really understand how that can be, because it isn’t obvious to me how the most fundamental elements of reality can be chaos and order. But the evidence that that is the case is overwhelming.
I can give you a quick example, which is quite interesting. So you have two hemispheres. There’s a reason for that. The fundamental reason for that is that one of them is adapted for things you don’t understand—that’s, roughly speaking, the right hemisphere—and the other is adapted for things you do understand—that’s the left hemisphere. And so that's a chaos-order dichotomy. The fact that you’re adapted to that, that the very structure of your brain reflects that bifurcation, indicates, as far as I can tell, beyond a shadow of a doubt—because it’s also characteristic of nonhuman animals, many of them—that that differentiation is fundamentally true, in some sense.
Now you might ask, "well, why is that conceptualized as masculine versus feminine?" because it’s not male versus female, by the way. Those are not the same thing, because one is conceptual. That’s extraordinarily complicated. I think the reason is that we’re social, cognitive primates, and that our fundamental a priori cognitive categories are masculine, feminine, and child. It's something like that. That’s the fundamental structure of reality, because we’re social creatures, and we view reality as something that’s, essentially, social in its nature. And then, when we started to conceptualize reality outside of the social world—which wasn’t very long ago, by the way, and which is something that animals virtually don’t do at all—we used those a priori social categories as filters, through which we interpreted the external world. We’re sort of stuck with that, in some deep sense.
You might say, "well, why do we have to be stuck with that?" "Well, because some things are very difficult to change." If you go watch a story, and the characters in the story slot themselves into those archetypical categories, then you’ll understand the stories, and if they don’t, you won’t, because your understanding is predicated on application of the archetypal a prioris to the story. You wouldn’t understand it otherwise, so you can’t get under that. There’s no "under" that—not to remain human. I can give you a quick example. I like to use Disney movies for a variety of reasons, mostly because everyone knows them. But it's not accidental that the evil queen in Sleeping Beauty
is not an accidental character: she’s the way she is because we understand her, and the reason we understand her is because we see the world in the categories that I just laid out. BW:
Are you saying she has to be a queen, and not a king? JP:
No. If she was an evil king, she’d be different. She’d be like Scar in The Lion King. He’s just as evil, man, but not the same character, right? BW:
Yeah. I guess I’m struck that it seems like a lot of your intellectual project is reasserting difference in an age where we’re told that everything is the same, and that it’s almost indecent to say.. JP:
It’s stupid. BW:
Sorry to be so blunt, but look, the problem with some of this—some of it’s wilful blindness, but some it’s just ignorance. So let me just lay out a couple of things. For example, I’ve been taken to task, along, let’s say, with James Damore
, who had actually been highly influenced by my videos and my classes, before he did what he did at Google. I’ve studied personality differences between men and women for 25 years and written papers on the topic. It’s actually an area of expertise of mine, and substantial expertise, too—and not pseudoscience expertise, thank you very much. I’m not a pseudoscientist. My publication record puts me in the top .5 per cent of psychologists, so I’m not a pseudoscientist by any stretch of the imagination. I have 10,000 citations—and that’s not a million, but it’s a lot—and a hundred published papers.
Let me lay out one of the personality differences between men and women, because it’s worth understanding. You might say, "well, there can’t be personality differences between men and women, because that’s anti-feminist." It’s like, "no, it’s not. We might have to actually understand that there are differences between men and women, so that we can let men and women make the choices they’re going to make without subjecting them to undo manipulations." One of the reliable differences between men and women cross culturally is that men are more aggressive than women. Now, what’s the evidence for that? Here’s one piece of evidence: there are 10 times as many men in prison. What’s that, a sociocultural construct? No, it’s not a sociocultural construct. OK, here’s another piece of data: women try to commit suicide more than men, by a lot, and that’s because women are more prone to depression and anxiety than men are, and there’s a reasons for that, and that's cross culturally true, as well. They're more likely to try to commit suicide, but men are way more likely to actually commit suicide. Why? Because they’re more aggressive, so they use lethal means.
OK, so now the question is, "how much more aggressive than women?" The answer is, "not very much." So the claim that men and women are more the same than different is actually true, but this is where you have to know something about statistics to actually understand the way the world works, instead of just applying your a priori ideological presupposition to things that are too complex to fit in that rubric. So, if you drew two people out a crowd, one man and one woman, and you had to lay a bet on who was more aggressive, and you bet on the woman, you’d win 40 per cent of the time. OK, so that’s quite a lot. It’s not 50 per cent of the time, which would be no difference whatsoever, but it’s quite a lot. So there are lots of women who are more aggressive than lots of men. So the curves overlap a lot: there’s way more similarity than difference, and this is along the dimension where there's the most difference, by the way. But here’s the problem: you can take small differences at the average of a distribution; the distributions move off to the side; and then, all the action’s at the tail.
So here’s the situation. You don’t care about how aggressive the average person is. It’s not that relevant. What you care about is, "who is the most aggressive person out of 100?" You take 100 people, and you take the most aggressive person, because that's the person you better watch out for. What’s the gender? Men, because if you go three standard deviations out from the mean on two curves that overlap but are slightly disjointed, then you derive an overwhelming preponderance of the overrepresented group. That’s why men are about 10 times more likely to be in prison. It has nothing to do with socialization. And then there are other differences, too.
It turns out that differences in aggression and agreeableness also predict differences in interest. So it turns out that men are more interested, in average, in things than women are; and women are more interested in people, on average. That’s actually the biggest difference that’s been measured between men and women. It has nothing to do with ability. It has to do with interest. The way that manifests itself is that women are more likely to go into disciplines that are characterized by the care of others, and you can tell that by the way occupations are segregating. All you have to do is look at the data for, like, 15 minutes: women overwhelmingly dominate health care, and that’s accelerating, by the way. Men dominate engineering, let’s say. You say, "that’s sociocultural." It’s like, "no, it’s not, and here’s the proof." You want to test this hypothesis, right? The other thing you want to understand is that left-leaning psychologists generated this data. You think, "well, how do you know that?" That’s easy: there are no right-leaning psychologists… BW:
Except for you. JP:
Well, that’s what people say. BW:
I’m on stage with the only one! JP:
…and that’s been well documented. People have published this data despite their ideological proclivities, and despite the fact that this is not what they expected to find, or what they wanted to find. What you do, now, is you stack countries by how egalitarian their social policies are, from the least egalitarian to the most. You say, "well, the Scandinavian countries are the most egalitarian"—and, by the way, if we don’t agree on that, then there’s no sense in having this discussion at all, because we don’t agree on what "egalitarian" means. If you don’t think what the Scandinavians have done is move in the direction of egalitarianism, then I have no idea what you mean by "egalitarianism". Now, you could say, "well, they haven’t done it perfectly." It’s like, "yeah, yeah, it’s true, but it’s not relevant to this argument." So what you do is you stack countries by how egalitarian their social policies are, and then you look at occupational and personality differences between men and women as a function of the country.
What you find is, as the country becomes more egalitarian, the differences between men and women increase. They don’t decrease. What that means is that the radical social constructionists are wrong. It’s not a few studies with a couple of people, done by some half-wit psychologists in some tiny universities. It’s population-level studies that have been published in major journals, that have been cited by thousands of people. It’s not pseudoscience. It’s not questioned by mainstream psychometricians and personality theorists. We figured this out back in, like, 1995. Everyone thought it was settled. So what’s the big problem? Well, who knows what the big problem is. The outcome is not exactly the same between the genders. It’s like, "who says it has to be?" And, more importantly—and this is something to ask yourself constantly—"just who the hell’s going to enforce that? And just how exactly are they going to enforce that?"
Believe me, it’s not going to be in some manner that you like, because there are differences between men and women, and, if you leave them alone, those differences manifest themselves in different occupational choices: that’s the other finding. This is a newer one: as the societies become more egalitarian, the occupational choices between men and women maximize. What that means is that fewer and fewer women go into the STEM fields. Now, no one wanted that. No one predicted it. No one was hoping for it. It actually flew in the face of, I would say, the most established psychological theories. My presupposition certainly was, 20 years ago, that what would have happened, as we made societies more egalitarian, would be that men and women would converge.
That’s not what happened. The biological differences maximized, as we eliminated the sociocultural differences. Maybe you don’t like that. That’s fine with me. I didn’t say I liked it. But whether or not I like a piece of data has very little bearing on whether or not I’m liable to accept it. I’m trying to look at the damn scientific literature, and to draw the conclusions that are necessitated by the data. And then you can say, "well, the whole thing is suspect, because it’s the construction of the patriarchal tyrants who generated the Eurocentric scientific viewpoints." It’s like, "if you want to have that conversation, then go to an activist discipline and have it, because it’s not the sort of conversation that anyone sensible would engage in." BW:
I’d love to open up the room to questions. Please: sensible questions, and please keep them short. JP:
Or not sensible. BW:
But genuine questions. Someone with a microphone will find you, if you raise your hand. Q1:
Hi, good evening. My name is [inaudible]. I wanted to understand a little bit of your view, more, on the fact that—not fact, but at least observation, that over generations and generations… at least what I’ve heard and seen from my family, I can take up that women being told about their position in the home and men being told their position to work, and be a little more aggressive, you know? The social conditioning. So how does that play a role? because I didn’t hear that being a dimension of reaching these conclusions. JP:
Well, I never claimed that the differences between men and women were 100 per cent biologically determined. There are biological influences. The radical constructionist make the opposite claim: "there are no biological differences between men and women." First of all, that’s so preposterous that it barely even requires an answer, but you might specify it a bit, and say, "no, there are no biological differences that manifest themselves psychologically." That’s not quite as preposterous, but it’s also incorrect. It’s obviously the case that all sorts of things about sex roles and gender roles, let’s say, are conditioned by sociocultural mechanisms, because human beings are very, very plastic. And so the manner in which those biological differences manifest themselves in a culture is radically influenced by the nature of the culture, but that doesn’t mean that the biological influences don’t exist. BW:
But are you saying—should we be countering that, sort of, traditional cultural mores? Q1:
What I still don’t understand is—like, at one point you’re saying it’s not necessarily biological or inherent, if I do paraphrase it. JP:
Well, some of it is. Q1:
Yeah, but it’s very unclear in the way, at least, [inaudible] is very short, and maybe it means a larger discussion. It seems that it’s easy to deduce that these are inherent differences which exist, and social conditioning wasn’t taken as a parameter. JP:
That’s controlled for by the comparison between societies that have different levels of egalitarianism built into their social structure. It’s all taken care of in the analysis: if the biological differences manifest themselves maximally where the sociocultural influences to equalize gender are maximal, then, obviously, the biological differences are powerful and profound. It’s conclusive. So it’s taken into account in the data analysis. That’s why you stack up the countries. The egalitarian nature of their social policies is to control for the sociocultural influence. You gotta admit—just think it through, for a minute. It isn’t even that—what you would have expected, theoretically, is that the societies that are the least egalitarian would have the biggest differences between men and women, and that, as the societies got more and more egalitarian, those differences would get smaller, and maybe disappear, even. But that isn’t what happened.
Exactly the opposite is what happened: they maximized in the most egalitarian societies. Therefore the social constructionist position—the radical social constructionist position—is wrong. It’s wrong. It’s been refuted, which is partly why the radical social constructionists have taken the legislative route to impose their viewpoint. They lost the scientific war: "well, then we can just attack science. It’s science itself that’s suspect." "Well, then quit using your iPhones." Well, if you’re going to have your convictions, man, lay them out in your life. If you think the scientific process is suspect and tyrannical and oppressive, and all that, then quit using the products that it produces. You don’t get to have your cake and eat it, too. BW:
Let’s go to this young woman, right here. Q2:
Hi, my name’s Julia, and I recently read in The New York Times an article about your comment on forced monogamy. What are your comments on how that was perceived by the public and, specifically, the left? BW:
Great question. I think it was "enforced monogamy", though. JP:
Yeah: "enforced monogamy". First of all, that’s a technical term, by the way. That’s been used in the anthropological literature for a hundred years. The journalist, who was not stupid, knew that perfectly well, and reported the story the way she reported it despite that. But what’s even more surreal about that story is that, if you’re going to try to undermine someone’s credibility and do it effectively, you should attribute to them an extreme view that some person, somewhere, actually holds. OK, so the view that was attributed to me was something like, "I want to… BW:
The road to The Handmaid’s Tale. JP:
Exactly: "I want to find useless men and distribute women to them at the point of a gun, so that they don’t become violent." It’s like, no one has ever believed that, ever, anywhere. BW:
Except Margaret Atwood. JP:
That’s right. She wrote a book about that. But, so, it’s just absolutely preposterous. It’s preposterous in a bunch of ways, because she interviewed me for about two days, and we talked about that for about two minutes. It was a peripheral conversation. It’s an anthropological truism—generated primarily by scholars on the left, just so everyone’s clear about it—that societies that use monogamy as a social norm—which, by the way, is virtually every human society that’s ever existed—do that in an attempt to control the aggression that goes along with polygamy. It’s like, "oh, my God! How contentious can you get?" Well, how many of you are in monogamous relationships? Well, the majority. How is that enforced? BW:
I think this is a very polyamorous room, having a looking around. JP:
So it was just… It was desperate. That’s what it looked like to me. The problem is, it was also desperate and amateurish. She could have done a much better job with a much less extreme characterization. It’s like, "oh, yes: I want to take women at the point of a gun and distribute them to useless men." It’s so stupid, partly because, if she would have been reasonable—and she knew this, too—one of the things I’ve told men specifically, over and over and over and over, is, "if you’re being rejected by all the women that you approach, it’s not the women!" Right.
These characters, like the guy who mowed down those people in Toronto—he ends up blaming women. He’s blaming more than women: in some sense, he’s blaming the structure of Being, for producing women that reject him. That’s part of what makes him violent. It’s like, "well, what the hell’s wrong with him?" He’s got it completely backwards. If everyone you talked to was boring, it’s not them, right? So, if you’re rejected by the opposite sex—assuming that you’re heterosexual—then you’re wrong: they’re not wrong, and you’ve got some work to do, man. You’ve got some difficult work to do.
There isn’t anything I’ve been telling, let’s say, young men, that’s clearer than that. It’s actually something I’ve been criticized by, by people on the left. They think I don’t take structural inequality, for example, and so forth, into account sufficiently. What I’ve been telling people is, "take the responsibility for your failure onto yourself." That certainly applies to, well, especially when you’re trying to formulate a relationship, and you’re getting rejected left, right and center. That’s a hint that you have some work to do. Now, it might also be a hint that you're just young and useless, and why the hell would anybody have anything to do with you, because you don’t have anything to offer. But that’s rectified, and, partly, even maturity rectifies that. So not only was that… what would you call it… "accusation" surreal and absurd, made by a journalist who knew perfectly well what I was suggesting and chose to misrepresent it anyways, the conclusion that people derive from that is exactly the opposite of what I’d been suggesting, in particular, to young men. So it’s absolutely preposterous. Q3:
Professor Peterson, I teach students. I teach trans students, and I’m asked, often, to call people singularly "they". It started, probably, about four years ago. It struck me as very odd. I’m 52. Some of them, you can tell that it’s coming from a very deep place, and that’s how they feel, and they deeply need to be called "they". Some of them, my horse sense says that they’re kind of enjoying giving me a certain shock, and that there’s a certain theatrical aspect. It’s my horse sense that there’s a certain [inaudible] aspect to it. I kind of feel it, and I’m probably right. But I can’t know. I’m a linguist; I’m a person; and my general feeling has been, "whatever they ask, just go with it, and let’s change our usage of the pronouns, because we have a lot to do."
Now, what you said was interesting. What you said was that the way you make the difference in deciding these cases is based on the fact that you have psychological training, and that you can tell. What I want to know is—for my own elucidation, and also because I think many of us wondered, but then it kind of went by—how do you know? Now, I want to specify: I’d rather you didn’t recount the whole episode of how ridiculously you were treated amidst that whole controversy. JP:
Three quarters of the room knows. I sympathize with you. I thought it was ridiculous. I want to know specifically, because I’m a linguist. You have psychological training. How would you know? And if you hear—I’m almost done—a tiny bit of scepticism in my voice, you’re correct. However, I am open to being convinced. Based on your training, which is immense, how would you know which students to discount, as opposed to which ones to go along with? JP:
OK, first of all, I wouldn’t "know", right? which is partly why your scepticism is justified. But I have to be responsible for what I say, based on my willingness to take responsibility for my judgment. So I would be willing to do that, despite the fact that I could be wrong. But, having said that, in any reasonable situation, I would err on the side of addressing the person in the manner they requested to be addressed. But that’s not the issue for me: the issue is, now I’m compelled by law to do so. It’s like, "no, not doing it—not now, because it’s compelled by law." So that’s the end of the game, as far as I’m concerned. There is no excuse for compelling it by law.
That’s my position, and I think there’s all sorts of reasons for that. I don’t think it was an isolated legislative move. I think it’s part and parcel of a whole sequence of legislative moves that have been made and continue to be made in Canada. I think it’s an attempt by a certain radical ideology to gain the linguistic upper hand, which I think is a terrible thing to do—to allow. So I had lots of reasons for rejecting the legislation. But it had nothing to do with… Q3:
I asked about how your psychological training would make the difference. That’s very interesting. We’re talking about expertise, here, and my ears pricked up, when you talked about how there is a way of thinking that would allow us to decide. JP:
No: there’s a way of thinking that would allow me to decide, for me. Q3:
No: us to decide, for us. Surely you have a larger mission than just what’s going on in your own head, and I mean that. JP:
No: I had a perfectly straightforward mission, which was, "there was no damn way I was going to say those words, when I was compelled to by law." That was my mission. Q3:
You weren’t trying to model for the rest of us a way of thinking? It was, really, only about you? JP:
It was about me and the law. I thought the lawmakers had gone too far. They’d stepped out of their appropriate territory, into the domain of linguistic freedom. As far as I was concerned, I wasn’t going to put up with that. And so, if people were happy about that and wanted to follow the example, that was fine with them. But for me, it was something—and that was the statement: "I’m not doing this." And then people can draw their own conclusions from that. Maybe they want to do it. I’ve spoken to no shortage of trans people. My proclivity has been, without exception, so far, to address them in the manner that seems most socially appropriate under the circumstances. Now, you asked a specific question, which was, "do I have special expertise that I might share with other people?" Q3:
Because you’re doing Martin Luther, and I think that these issues are a little subtler than those. JP:
What makes you think that you’re doing the kids that are grandstanding any favours, by going along with their manipulation? Q3:
Because I can’t decide which ones those are. I just have my gut instinct, and that’s not good enough. JP:
Fair enough, but you have a type one and a type two error problem. One error is that you don’t call students what they deserve to be called. That’s one error. The other error is that you call students what they want to be called, even though they don’t deserve it. So what you’re trying to do, optimally, is trying to minimize both those errors. To do that, you have to take a middle route. Now, what you’ve decided to do—and I’m not criticizing it—is to allow for the possibility 100 per cent of one of those errors, because you think it’s a less significant error. You might be right. But it’s not like you’re acting in an error-free manner: you’ve just decided to minimize one form of error at the expense of the other. I would say you’re allowing attention-seeking and somewhat narcissistic undergraduates to gain the upper hand over you in your class. Believe me, it’s not a criticism. I understand why you’re doing it. Q3:
Professor Peterson… BW:
Isn’t John just erring on the side of generosity? Q3:
…I have one more thing to say… JP:
…because I’m not going to take up any more space. JP:
Are you saying that psychological theory has nothing to teach us about this? Because you’re talking around my question. You’re gorgeously articulate; you’re smarter than me. Does psychology have anything to teach us, or not? Yes or no? On this question. JP:
I don’t think it has anything to offer that I could teach you without… Hm, let me think. Q3:
So it’s just that it’s too complicated? JP:
No, no. It’s not that. Well, it is that, in part, because it’s not easy to articulate out the unerring principles by which you would make such a categorical judgement, because those are very situation-specific problems. It’s part of the problem of how to make a generic moral truth apply to a very individualistic situation. The problem in the sorts of situations you’re describing is, generally, the devil’s in the details, right? You have all these student, the ones you just laid out. They vary in their attitude towards their self-professed gender, from the ones who are grandstanding to some degree, let’s say, to the ones that are very serious. You have to make a judgement, in the moment, that is dependent on the variables that present themselves in a very complex way, in that situation.
I understand why you took the pathway that you took. It’s perfectly reasonable to do so. My point was that you don’t minimize all the errors by doing so. It’s fine. It’s still a fine way of approaching. My point was that, because of my psychological acumen, I would say, the experience that I’ve derived, is that I would be comfortable in making the judgement and taking the consequential risk. I’m not saying I’d be correct. That’s not the same thing at all. I’m willing to suffer the consequences of my error. It’s not the same thing as being right. And so, if I feel that a student is manipulating me, then I’m not going to go along with it. Now, I might be wrong about that and actually hurt someone, who’s genuinely asking for something that they need. But I’m also… what would you say… sensitive to the error of allowing manipulation to go unchecked. Aha! You’re back. BW:
No, John… Q3:
A question… BW:
And then there can be a two-hour podcast on your wonderful podcast, which everyone can listen to. Q3:
Everything you’re saying is very-well put, but it’s [inaudible] slippery, and I know you can do better. It’s too slippery for me. BW:
Invite him on. OK, hands… Here, in the orange-and-pink scarf. Q4:
Thank you both for this really interesting conversation, which is not like most of the conversations we’ve had here, at the Ideas Festival. BW:
This is my first one, so I have no idea. Q4:
So, Doctor Peterson, there are a million questions that I’d like to ask. I’m only going to ask one, obviously. I’m a social psychologist with a clinical background. The thing that, I think, I’d most like to hear about right now, at this moment, is the very noisy, small percentage of people who oppose you. Have you thought of something they might be right about, that they might actually a point about, that you hadn’t thought of, but you’ve started to think they might actually have a point about? BW:
Great question. JP:
I don’t know if I’ve started to think about the point that they have that I didn’t think about before. I mean, people have been characterizing me as right wing. I’m not right wing, so the characterization isn’t very helpful. One of the things I do all the time in my public lectures is make a case for the utility of the left. The case can be made quite rapidly: If you’re going to pursue things of value in a social environment, you’re going to produce a hierarchy. It’s unavoidable, because some people are better at whatever it is that you value. And so, when that lays itself out socially, it will produce a hierarchy. The hierarchy has a necessity, if you’re going to pursue the things of value. But it has a risk: the risk is, that will ossify and become corrupt. That’s risk number one. Risk number two is that, when you produce the hierarchy, you’re going to dispossess a number of people, because there will be lots of people in the hierarchy, who aren’t good at it, and they’ll be dispossessed. So you need a political voice for them. That’s the left. So I make that case over and over.
What the right does is say, "yeah, but we still need the hierarchy." It’s like, "yes, you still need the hierarchy." The reason we need the political dialog is because we need the hierarchy, and we can’t let it get out of control. The way to balance those two competing necessities isn’t by only having the hierarchy or by dissolving the hierarchy. You have to live with the tension, because the situation keeps shifting. So the way you live with the tension is by talking. You say, "well, there’s the current state. The hierarchy needs to be tweaked this much, because it’s getting too tyrannical, and it’s dispossessing too many people. We need to tweak it, so it’s not as corrupt, and so it’s a little bit more open. We have to talk about that all the time. It’s not the only thing the right and left do, because they also talk about the necessity of borders. That’s the other fundamental thing that they do. The dialog has to continue, so that we can have the hierarchies and utilize them as tools, without allowing them to descend into tyranny.
I made a case on the web. I did a talk at the University of British Columbia, "A Left-Wing Case for Free Speech
"—as if that’s so difficult to make. I mean, that’s the sort of case that was made until, like, 2014, or something like that. So the left-leaning types have all sorts of things, that are correct, to say. One of the problems of the left—and this is another thing that I talk about all the time in my public lectures, by the way: we know how to put a box around the extremists on the right. Basically, we say, "oh, you’re making claims of ethnic or racial superiority: you’re not part of the conversation anymore." What do we do on the left? Nothing! That’s not good, because there’s an issue: "can the left go too far?" "Yes." "When?" "Oh, we don’t know." Well, that’s not a very good answer. Now, you could say, "well, then it’s up to the moderate leftists, to figure that out, so they can dissociate themselves from the radicals." And it is up to them, but that’s actually not a very good answer either, because it’s all of our problem. Centrists don’t know how to reliably identify the too-radical left. Right wingers don’t know how. And it’s partly because it’s actually, I think, more conceptually complex. With the radical right, you can kind of lay it down to one dimension: "oh, racial superiority. Nope: you’re out of the conversation." BW:
But that’s Milo, who you mentioned before. JP:
I didn’t say I was a fan of Milo. BW:
No, but you called him a prankster. JP:
Well, he is a prankster, mostly. BW:
Yeah, but he’s also a racist. JP:
Well, possibly. Yeah. I haven’t followed Milo that carefully, and it’s possible that he is. It’s hard to tell what Milo is, exactly. He’s a very complicated and contradictory person, destined to implode, which is exactly what happened. There’s just no way you can be that contradictory a person and manage it. It’s just not possible. He was just too many things happening at the same time for anyone to ever manage. But on the left… I don’t know what it is. I think the left becomes toxic—one of the things that makes the left unacceptable is demands for equality of outcome.
It’s like, "nope. You’ve crossed the line, man." That’s not an acceptable demand, and that’s increasingly a moderate leftist demand, as well. It might be more complex. It might that there’s four things that you have to demand, on the left, that all of a sudden makes what you’re doing unacceptable, and we don’t know what those four things are. So I actually think it’s a conceptual problem, as well as an ethical problem. We don’t know how to bind the necessary left, so that the radicals don’t dominate counterproductively. And if you don’t think that the radical leftists can dominate counterproductively, then, well, heaven help you. BW:
That, I agree with. But the idea that it’s so clear on the right is not clear to me. I mean, look at the Trump administration. JP:
Oh, I don’t think that it’s necessarily applied very clearly. But, at least conceptually, it’s more… BW:
But we can point it out. JP:
We can point it out better. BW:
That’s because of World War II? JP:
Yes. That helped quite a lot, actually. But the thing is that the communist catastrophes don’t seem to have made it any clearer on the left. BW:
That’s another thing that the universities have done that’s unacceptable, by the way—the intellectual class, by the way. It’s never come to terms properly with the fact that the intellectual class, as a whole, was supportive of the communist experiment, and it was an absolutely catastrophic failure on every measure of analysis. People say, "well, that wasn’t real communism." It’s like, "you really shouldn’t ever say that." This is what it means. It’s the most arrogant statement that a person can make. It means that, "had I been in the position of Stalin, with my proper conceptualization of the Marxist utopia, I would have ushered in the utopia." That’s what it means. It’s like, "no. First of all, if you actually were that good spirited—and you’re not, by the way—you would have been eliminated so fast after the revolution occurred that it would have, well, it would have killed you." That’s what happened: after the Russian Revolution, the small minority of people that were generally well meaning, they were dead, like, within two or three years. So that wasn’t real communism. BW:
I think I’m seeing zero, as in zero questions, zero time, zero something. One more question, really. OK. Yeah, I know. Several people do. Can we take a few, and he’ll answer them shortly? Maybe two more? Let’s go here, and the front row, right here. Yes, but make it very, very short. Q5:
Thank you for coming, and I’m honoured. It’s very important. Great mentor. Great help to me and a lot of people that I’ve been sharing your work with. I have two books here, and I would like you to sign them for them. BW:
OK, you could do that after, I’m sure. Yes. Q6:
Professor Peterson, this is akin to the question that the young woman over there asked. If you could get in a self-reflective mode, over the course of your life and career to date, what could you say honestly, to us, about where you felt you’ve been most wrong, and what provoked that? JP:
I’m not thinking about how I’ve been wronged. Q6:
How you’ve been wrong, like wrong in your thinking. JP:
Oh, incorrect. I was wrong about the Big Five personality theory
for about five years. I know that’s not very interesting to any of you, but I didn’t like it at all. It was brute force statistically derived. It wasn’t theoretically interesting. I didn’t like it at all, but I was wrong about that, because the science was well done. What else have I been wrong about… Well, you asked for profound examples of being wrong. In my field, that’s actually a profound example, because that’s one of the major theories of the field. You’re thinking of more interesting examples…. What have I changed radically… Oh, when I was a kid, I was an avid socialist. I was wrong about that. But more specifically, I was wrong about that because I thought that there were questions I wanted to answer that that doctrine could answer. It wasn’t that it was socialism that didn’t make the answers emerge: it was that it was the wrong level of analysis. That was a major source of error.
It was, sort of, the source of error that the journalists that are going after me are making. They think everything is political. It’s like," no, it’s not. There’s lots of levels of analysis, and the political is one." I learned, eventually, that the political wasn’t the right level of analysis for the questions I was interested in addressing. That was a major error. It took me years to sort that out, and to figure out what the consequence was. I was wrong about the significance of religious ideas, because, when I was a kid—13, or so, and I was smart enough at that point to see the contradiction between the evolutionary account of the origin of human beings and, say, a scriptural account—I just dispensed with that in a, sort of, new atheist move. I threw the baby out with the bathwater, and I was really wrong about that—like, profoundly wrong about that. I’m sure I’m profoundly wrong about a bunch of other things, but I’ll figure out what some of those are as we go ahead. So that’s three things. Those are big things. If I thought more, I could come up with other examples. But those are pretty big things I was wrong about. BW:
Thank you all so much. Clearly, an hour and a half is not enough with you. But thank you so much for your time. JP:
Thank you very much.