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Keywords: Gmail, Jeffrey Gray, Antarctica, Nietzsche, Equilibrated, Trust, Children, Happy, Death

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Biblical Series X: Abraham: Father of Nations

by Dr. Jordan Peterson

Hello everyone. It’s been a very strange day. I’m going to tell you about what happened, and then I’ll start the lecture. I got up this morning and started to put my day together, and I tried to sign in to my Gmail account. It said that it had been disabled because I violated the terms of service with Gmail. I thought, ‘well, I didn’t violate any terms of service that I know of.’ I set up a new YouTube channel yesterday, called Jordan B Peterson Clips. We made some technical changes, and so I thought maybe it had something to do with that. And I had been shut out of Google one other time, years ago.

When you get shut out like that, there’s a little form you can fill out. So I filled out the form, and I said I had been shut out, and that I didn’t know why, and I sent it off. And then I realized that one of my staff members had called me and said that she was locked out of the YouTube account. I thought, ‘oh, yeah! The YouTube account is hooked to the Gmail account.’ That meant that I couldn’t get access to any of my YouTube videos. They were still up and online, but I couldn’t get access to them. I couldn’t post last week’s Biblical lecture, for example. That was worrisome, and made me suspicious. And then, about two hours later, I got an email from Google. They said that they had reviewed my request to be reinstated, and that I had violated Google’s terms of service, and that they weren’t going to turn my account back on. They didn’t say why; they didn’t say anything. There was no warning, whatsoever, about any of this. They didn’t tell me why, and they didn’t say why in the email response. And so I wrote them back—because they said I could—and I said, ‘this might not be a good idea,’ basically, ‘and you might want to think about it.’ And then I tweeted what had happened. I took screenshots, and I tweeted, and I contacted a whole bunch of journalists, because it turns out that I know a whole bunch of journalists.

What happened, then, was that I got a call from The Daily Caller in the United States. I had done an interview with them last week, which isn’t posted yet. They interviewed me, and, within 20 minutes, had posted it online. They have a fairly big audience, and so that was good. And then somebody phoned me from Ottawa, and I did a live radio show. That was good. And then a number of other journalists contacted me, and I sent them the information. But another one of my staff members, my son, emailed me and said, ‘look, you should hold off, because maybe there’s still a mistake.’ I thought, ‘yeah, it might be just a mistake. But then why in the world did I email Google, and they contacted me and said they would not reinstate it, and didn’t provide me with any information?’

I contacted the other journalists, and I said, ‘maybe this is just a mistake, so let’s hold off.’ And then, about half an hour later, while I was trying—I use this AdWords account that’s linked to Google. I don’t run ads on my videos, but I need the AdWords account because it helps me add some little gadgets to the videos that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to. I was always playing with that. The system came back online. I thought, ‘well, that’s interesting.’ Lots of people had emailed and twittered me. Some of the people were from within Google, and some people elsewhere, and they were doing whatever they were going to do to help me get all this material back up and running, and so something worked. My suspicions are that what worked was the publicity. But maybe not, you know?

Being in this situation is very weird. There has been a number of recent episodes where these larger companies—Facebook, Google, Patreon…Not that Patreon is a massive company, but it’s starting to become reasonably significant—have decided, on rather arbitrary grounds, to shut down their users. This is very ominous, partly because we’ve turned our communications over to very large systems, or very large systems have emerged to mediate our communication. There’s lots of benefit to it, so you don’t want to get too cynical about it. But we’re blind with regards to the policies that regulate the regulatory actions of these large organizations. That’s really a bad thing. Something else, that’s even more ominous, is that it’s highly probable that we’re going to build political algorithms into our artificial intelligence. This sort of thing will be regulated by machines that no one understands. That’s a really bad idea, and that’s a really likely possibility.

So anyways, I was all confused about this. I thought, ‘Jesus, maybe I flew off the handle,’ you know? It was stressful, man. I have like 150,000 emails in that account. That’s a lot of emails. It’s all my correspondence for the last 10 years, so it’s an archive as well as an ongoing email system. I have a commercial email system that I just set up three weeks ago, with like six different email addresses, now, to try to organize my correspondence, so I wasn’t completely unable to communicate. But my calendar was gone, and that’s a bloody disaster, because I’ve got things schedules out forever, and I don’t remember what they are. I can’t even remember what I’m doing in a day, much less in a month. But I thought maybe I’d flew off the handle, and I’d worried that I’d contacted journalists too soon. But, anyways, it all worked out.

Then what happened, just as I was coming to this lecture, I stepped outside, and there was a little package. Luckily, it wasn’t a bomb. My wife and I looked inside it, and there was a couple of bottles of wine in there, so that was nice, and there was a little note. I’m going to read you the little note, because it’s actually pretty interesting. This person said that they had finally tackled the Self Authoring Suite, so they seemed to be happy about that, but that’s not so interesting, except peripherally.

"A friend on Twitter has contact with Google engineers. She said, ‘I spoke with some friends inside Google, who offered to help.’" I did get contacted by quite a few people at Google, who said that they had been watching my lectures, and so on, and were happy about what I was doing. "‘I spoke with some friends inside Google, who offered to help. But they suggested he set up a backup plan. The teams are feeling significant pressure from advocacy groups," and, quote, "‘I have at least four Google engineers who offered to speak up on his behalf. But they know the team dynamics, and, unfortunately, especially YouTube, is an SJW cesspool. I hope this information is useful to you.’" It’s like, yeah, it’s kind of useful, all right.

So that was part of what happened today. I still don’t really understand it, because I don’t know why it got shut down, and I don’t know if anything I did got it turned back on, and I don’t know the reasons for it. That’s also rather ominous. It seems to me that, when I was thinking it through, I have a fairly…what would you call it…respectable YouTube following. I don’t know if you’d necessarily call it respectable. It’s a fairly large YouTube following. It seems to me that it would have been appropriate for Google, if they were going to shut down my account, to tell me why—I would think—and also look me up, especially after I emailed them, and then maybe not to have emailed me back and said, ‘no, we’re not going to reinstate you, but we’re not going to tell you any reasons.’ They didn’t say they weren’t going to tell me any reasons; they just didn’t tell me any reasons. And then it also seems very strange to me that it just all of a sudden went back on, after two hours.

I don’t know what to make of that. Maybe more information will come to light over the next few days. I hope that I didn’t jump the gun, but it’s a very peculiar set of circumstances. I thought it was kind of amusing, actually, that the video that they stopped me from posting today was the last Biblical lecture. You wouldn’t necessarily think that that would be the sort of thing that people would want to stop from being posted. But we’re in very, very strange times. So that was my adventure for today.

I hate speakers who apologize to the crowd before talking to them, because, if you’re speaking to people, and they put all this effort into coming, then you shouldn’t tell them what a sorry and useless creature you are before you talk to them, and ask for their forbearance and forgiveness. You’re a little late for that, but I’m still going to do that a little bit today. I wanted to spend all day preparing this lecture—I mean, I’ve prepared it a lot beforehand, but that rattled me up a lot, and so I didn’t prepare as much as I could have. Anyways, we’ll stumble forward, and see how it goes. I’m reasonably familiar with the stories, now. Onward and upward.
So I’m going to reiterate this. I’ve learned something…I have this idea that it would be a good idea for young people, and older people—citizens of the West, let’s say—to learn more about their culture and their civilization, because it’s a great civilization. It’s taken a lot of work to put together. I know a fair bit about it, but I wouldn’t consider myself nearly as educated as a person should be. But I’m not too badly educated. But I tell you, going through these Biblical lectures, verse by verse, just makes me even more aware of how unbelievably ignorant I am, for two reasons: One is because I’ve been using this place—I think I told you last week, but I want to reiterate it, because it’s important. The way they’ve set it up is so interesting. You can go through the Biblical stories, verse" by verse. For each verse, there’s a whole small font page of commentary, from multiple sources. Not only is the Bible a hyperlink in the way that I discussed in the first lecture, with all the verses referring to not all the other verses, but lots of them, but it’s got its tendrils out into literature, direct commentaries on the text, and all the literature that’s been influenced by it. It’s an unbelievably central and core text. It’s so interesting to read a book where every sentence has been commented on, well, really, in volumes. And then to just get a sense of that volume of material, how much brain power has been put into this….I’m so ignorant about this. There’s all this work, and it seems that we’ve left it to decay in the dust, and it’s a big mistake, man. It’s a big mistake, because the people who were writing these commentaries…A lot of it’s from the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. It’s kinda archaic, and some of it’s outdated, and some of it you wouldn’t agree with, but, if you read all the commentaries side by side, you get a pretty good blast of wisdom coming at you. The thing about wisdom is it stops you from running face-first into walls. It’s not just there so that you can talk to people at parties about what university you graduated from. It’s there because the information is unbelievably useful.

One of the things that I realized, that I want to return to tonight, that I’ve been thinking a lot about, is this idea of the ark. I think I mentioned to you last week that I figured out that there is this idea that Noah was perfect in this generations, and that meant that he had set his family in order; it wasn’t just him, but he had set his family in order, and, because of that, when the catastrophe came—like it comes to everyone—he was able to withstand it, because he had the support of the people who were near and dear to him. That’s really important when things come along to lay you low. If you’re alone, and the flood comes…Man, goodbye to you. If you’ve got 10 or 15 people supporting you in a tight network, and your interrelationships with them are pristine, and you can tell them the truth, and they can tell the truth back to you, it’s possible that you might be able to find a way that will preserve you, when the terrible things come knocking at your door.

The idea of the ark is very, very concrete in Noah. It’s actually a structure that he inhabits. It’s almost like a child’s story. I’m not being cynical about that. There are some bloody brilliant children’s stories. It’s really concretized, but then Abraham comes along. Instead of an ark, there’s a covenant, right? It says in the story of Noah that Noah walked with God. Of course, it isn’t clearly, exactly, if he’s walking with God, or before God, which we’ll get into later. I see this as part of the increasing psychologization of the sacred ideas that were acted out by archaic people. First of all, it’s concretized in the form of a ship that actually sustains you when the floods come. It’s very concrete imagery; the type of thing you might see in a movie. But then, with Abraham, it turns into a psychological covenant, in some sense. It’s like a contractual agreement. It’s a contractual agreement between Abraham and God, but that doesn’t really matter…Obviously, it matters, but it’s only half of what’s important about that. The other half is that it’s a contract.

One of the things that you do with your ideal, let’s say, is that you establish a contract with it. You also establish a social contract with other people, right? That’s what keeps society organized. There’s this idea, that emerges in the Abraham stories, of a sacred contract, and that has the same function as the ark. God tells Abraham to go forward into the world. We talked about that last week. He does that. He encounters famine, tyranny, and powerful people who want to take from him what’s his. God sends him out in the world, but it’s not like he has an easy ride of it. It isn’t easy, at all. It’s as hard as it can be. But there’s this consistent emphasis in the text—and I think it’s something really worth attending to—that, if you maintain your contract, and that has to do with honesty, trust, truth, and all of those things, then you have the best possible possibility of making your way through the catastrophe and the chaos.

I don’t want to be naive about this. When I read Jung, and I started to understand the idea of the hero archetype—you know, the idea that the human being is a logos force that can stand up against chaos, catastrophe, tragedy, and evil, and prevail…I never did think that’s what it meant, that, if you did stand up, and tell the truth, that you would necessarily prevail. It’s not a magic trick. It’s your best bet. That’s the thing: you don’t have a better option.

The idea’s emerging in the Abrahamic texts. It’s like, people are figuring this out: that would be progressive revelation. That’s one way of thinking about it. You can think about that in religious terms, but you could also think about it as humanity consulting itself, each individual talking to themselves, which is what we do when we think. Each individual communicating with every other individual, and gathering a body of wisdom that helps people orient themselves in the toughest conditions. It’s an incremental process. I really do believe that’s speaking purely secularly. I do believe that’s what manifests itself in Biblical stories. It’s the dawning enlightenment of mankind—something like that—as we start to understand the principles by which we have to live, in order to orient ourselves properly in the world.

I also do believe—this is the unspoken question. You don’t have any idea how rich and fulfilling your life could be, despite its tragedy and limitation, if you stopped doing the things that you know to be wrong. It’s a really grand experiment. One of the things that God tells Abraham, constantly, as the story progresses—especially every time Abraham makes a sacrifice—God says, "walk with me, and be perfect." It’s something like that. And so the injunction is, aim high; establish this relationship with the highest thing that you can conceive of. You might as well do that, because what are you going to do, establish a relationship with the most mediocre thing you can conceive of? Or are you going to establish relationship with the lowest thing that you can conceive of? People do that, and I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s a really bad thing. There’s a lot of pain associated with that, and maybe there’s pain that can expand into a world-destroying force, down that route. There’s absolutely no doubt about that. Is there something superstitious and foolish about attempting to establish a contractual relationship with the source of all being? I just don’t see that as an erroneous conception. It’s not necessary, perhaps, to get lost in the details. We can argue forever about what God might or might not be, but we could at least say that the concept of God is an embodiment of humanity’s highest ideal. We could at least agree on that. And then you might say, ‘well, is that real?’ The first thing I would say about that is, there’s a lot of things about the world we don’t understand. The second thing I would say is, it depends bloody well on what you mean by ‘real.’ That’s for sure. That turns out to be a very complicated question.

Ok, so Abram had just gone off to fight a bunch of kings, and get his nephew back, which seemed to be a pretty courageous act. So that brought a story to an end. It’s interesting. I think what happens in the narrative is that there’s a story. So Abraham is somewhere, and he goes somewhere else. That’s a story, and he has adventures along the way. Those adventures are usually the typical kind of adventure, which is a rift in the structure of the story, and exposure to a kind of chaos and novelty, and then a reconstitution of the mode of being. So that’s a classic story: you are somewhere; you’re a certain way; you’re moving forward; something happens that you don’t expect; it blows you into pieces; it introduces chaos; you face the dragon; you get the gold, or maybe the bloody thing eats you, and the story is over, and then you get to where you’re going. But then the question is, well, what happens when you get to where you’re going? That’s a really important issue.

One of the things that happens to people all the time in their life is that they get to where they’re going, and then they don’t know what to do. For example, when you graduate from university: It’s like, ok, story over. Who are you, now? Who are you the next day? What happens is, when you succeed, then there’s a success crisis. The success crisis is, well, I’ve run this story to its end. Now what? That’s exactly what happens in the Abrahamic stories. They’re punctuated by a period of contemplation and sacrifice. So every time an Abrahamic story comes to its end, then Abraham makes another sacrifice, and communes with God, and then he figures out what to do next. That seems psychologically right. What you should do when your story comes to an end, when you’ve achieved what it is that you want to achieve—or perhaps when you’re in terribly dire straits, but we won’t talk about that at the moment—the next question is, ok, now I’m that person, or I have that character. What do I need to do next? Some of that is always, well, what do I need to give up? What do I need to let go of so I can move to the next plateau? Assuming that your life is, hopefully, a sequence of upward moving…It’s like Sisyphus, but each time you climb up the mountain, you get a little higher on the mountain. It’s something like that. So it’s Sisyphus with an optimistic bent. And, maybe if you push the rock up the mountain properly, and let it roll down, and if you do that right, then it’s ok. Every time you roll it back up, it’s better, in some sense. I don’t think that’s unrealistic, either.

Abraham goes and rescues his nephew from this tyrannical king, and that’s very brave. He doesn’t take any reward for it, because, as far as he’s concerned, it’s just a manifestation of the right thing. And then he has another vision.
"After these things"—that’s the battle—"the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir. And, behold, the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.
"And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness. And he said unto him, I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it. And he said, Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?"
And then he does a sacrifice: "Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon."
And then God comes down, and, well, Abraham goes into a trance—that’s what it appears to be, in the story—and has a great terror, and then God appears to him. I’ll just review this commentary, again. This is from Joseph Benson: "And when the sun was going down"—that’s about the time when you wash up for the evening—and he’s "praying and waiting till toward evening; a deep sleep fell upon Abram—not a common sleep through weariness or carelessness, but a divine ecstasy, that, being wholly taken off from things sensible, he might be wholly taken up with the contemplation of things spiritual."

Very strange—a very, very strange series of interpretations. It does seem that what happens to Abraham is that he falls into some sort of revelatory trance. And so, as I’ve taken some pains to explain, we don’t really understand such things. We can’t rule out their existence, because there’s too much evidence that they do, in fact, occur. Perhaps it’s a technology that we no longer possess. That’s one possibility. Perhaps we no longer know how to access these sorts of states of consciousness. It’s certainly possible.

"And lo, a horror of great darkness fell upon him—this was designed to strike an awe upon the spirit of Abram, and to possess him with a holy reverence. Holy fear prepares the soul for holy joy; God humbles first, and then lifts up."

I think that’s right, too. One of the experiences I’ve had in my life—fairly commonly, in a variety of different ways…This is especially true when I was paying a lot of attention to my dreams, which I did for about 15 years, I guess. Something like that. Now and then I would feel like I’d learned some things, and had sort of consolidated them, and then, before I went to sleep, I’d think, ok, I’m ready to learn something else. I didn’t say that without trepidation, because, usually, when you learn something, it’s not that pleasant. You usually learn something about why you’re wrong, and the deeper the thing that you learn, the more you learn about why you’re wrong. There’s a death that’s associated with that, because then you have to let that part of you that’s wrong die. That’s the sacrifice, right? You have to be willing to make a sacrifice before you’re going to learn something. And perhaps what you’ll learn is in proportion to your willingness to make a sacrifice. I really do believe that. I also think that, if you commit to something, that means that you don’t do a bunch of other things, right? So that’s a sacrifice of all those other things. You commit to it, and you set your sights on it. If you really commit to it, and you get the sacrifice right, so to speak, then the probability that that thing will be successful vastly increases. I think that’s also not a naive way of thinking, or a foolish way of thinking. My experience has been that that’s the case.

Back to the dream. I mean, I do think that we learn in trepidation, and that, most of the time, you have to be laid low before the new revelation can make itself manifest. I think that’s also what happens to people, often, in psychedelic experiences, when they have a bad trip. They don’t get through the bad part of it, and maybe that’s because there’s so much mess in their lives. Now, I’m speculating, but it’s informed speculation. There’s so much mess in their lives that the altered state of conscious makes manifest that it’s like a little trip through hell. But the mess is so complete, comprehensive, and all-pervading that there’s no way they can get through it. Now, if they could get through it, and start to sort those things out, there would be, perhaps, a compensatory, positive revelation, at the end. But the first thing is, if you want to learn something, you’re going to encounter…Well, you have to figure out what’s wrong before you can figure out what wisdom you need next, to guide yourself. That’s no laughing matter. So I think that’s what this refers to. I think that’s the sort of psychological experience that this refers to.

We built this a little bit into the Future Authoring Program. I read this really cool paper, once. It was a review by this guy named Jeffrey Gray. Jeffrey Gray wrote a book called The Neuropsychology of Anxiety, and that is a great book. It is impossible to read. It took me, really, like six months to read it. The reason for that is that he reviewed about 3,000 papers, and they were all neurological papers, and heavy psychological-slash-biological papers. He actually read them all, and he understood them, and he synthesized them. And then he wrote this book about the synthesis. He’s very, very careful of his terminology. And so to read the book you have to understand brain anatomy, neuropharmacology, the whole literature on animal behaviour, and a whole whopping dose of human psychology and cybernetics. It’s a vicious book, but you really learn something when you read it, if you go through it bit by bit. It’s had an overwhelming influence on psychology, even among people who haven’t read it, which is most of the people who cite it, by the way.

He outlined this real cool study about how to motivate rats. Rats are a lot like us, in positive and negative ways. Biochemically and psychopharmacologically, they’re very, very similar, and they have very complex social environments. They have hierarchies, and they play, and they laugh. Jaak Panksepp found out that rats laugh if you tickle them. You can tickle them with the end of a pencil eraser, but you can’t hear them laughing, because they laugh ultrasonically, like rats, so you have to record it, then slow it down. Then you can hear them giggling away, when you tickle them. You think, ‘you’re going to spend 50,000 dollars on a study demonstrating that rats laugh?’ And you think, ‘well, wait a second. That’s a major league study: Jaak Panksepp discovered the play circuit in mammals.’ That’s a bloody big deal. If you get that by rubbing rats with a pencil eraser, then good for you.

Anyways, Gray talked a lot about how to motivate a rat. You might have heard about B.F. Skinner. He used food pellets to motivate his rats. But what you don’t know about Skinner is that those rats were starved to three quarters of their normal body weight, so they would work for food, man. Skinner’s rats were kind of oversimplified. But you can get rats to work for food. They don’t have to be that hungry. They’ll do all sorts of things. They’ll press levers, and they’ll open doors, and they’ll solve problems. One of the things you can do to kind of measure how much the rat is motivated—let’s say you’ve run him through a maze, and he knows there’s some food at the end of the maze. You can tied a little spring to his tail, and see how hard he pulls when you open the door to the maze, because that’s how much work the rat is willing to do. So you can measure that. Or you can see how fast he skitters down the maze. You can get an estimate about the rat’s motivation. And so then you might say, ‘well, how motivated is a hungry rat?’ The answer would be, it depends on how hungry he is. But there’s another answer: it also depends on what’s chasing him when he’s going after the food. So if you have a rat, and you have food over here, and you waft in some cat odour—rats hate cat odour, and it’s innate; they never have to see or smell a cat to be absolutely petrified by cat odour—and then open the door, that rat will zoom to that food a lot faster than if it’s just hungry. So a rat running away from something that it doesn’t want, towards something that it does want, is a very motivated rat.

There’s this idea in the Old Testament that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. It’s a pretty harsh idea. But there’s something really useful about it. One of the things you see with people, all the time, is that maybe they’re trying to stumble forward, towards their ideal, as poorly defined as it might be, but then they’re afraid, right? They’re afraid about what they might encounter, and that stops them, because fear does stop people. It freezes you, like a prey animal. People move ahead, but then they get afraid, and then they stop moving ahead, and that’s not so good. Negative emotion is a really powerful motivator, so we’re more motivated by negative emotion than positive emotion, quantitatively speaking. Quantitatively speaking, you can measure that. That’s, I think, because we can only be so happy, but we can really be suffering and dead. You have to pay more attention to the negative, and that’s bad, because the negative can stop you.

In my clinical practice, I often talk to people who are trying to make a difficult life decision. They are weighing out the costs and the benefits of making the life decision. One of the things I always talk to them about is, wait a second, that’s an incomplete analysis. You have to weigh out the benefits and the costs of doing this, and you have to weigh out the costs and benefits of not doing it. That’s not the same as the zero that you assume that you’re starting with, right? Because to not make a decision also has a cost, and sometimes the cost of not making a decision is far worse than the cost of making a decision, even if the decision is risky. And so one of the things you can derive from that—and this is very useful, I think—is that—this is also, I think, why it’s so useful to contemplate your mortality, so to speak—you’re screwed no matter what you do. That actually frees you. You have path A that has catastrophes, and you have path B that has catastrophes, and you don’t get to have the no catastrophe path, but you get to pick which one. That’s really something. If you know that there’s terrible risk associated with everything that you do and don’t do, then you can afford to take some risks, because you’re not—this is all within the ark metaphor. I’m still making the case that, despite the fact that your life is essentially catastrophic, you can make a covenant with the highest ideal, and that will take you through it the best way possible. I’m still making that case.

So then you think, ok, ‘I’m trying to make this decision. I’m going to try to do something difficult, and isn’t that terrifying.’ And then you think, ‘yeah, but wait a minute. What’s really terrifying is not doing it.’ And then you think about the cost of not doing it. In the Future Authoring Program, we have people do this little meditative exercise, which is, ok, think about your insufficiencies, by your own definition, the way that you don’t do what you know you should do—about the things that you do, that you shouldn’t do, that you know you shouldn’t do beyond a shadow of a doubt. There’s some things like that. That’s bad habits, and poor aim, and resentment, and hatred, and aggression, and unresolved conflicts, and all those things that are dementing and warping you. And then think, ok, those things get the upper hand, man. They get the upper hand, and they take you to the worst possible place you could go in the next three to five years. What exactly does that look like? And so you sketch all that out, and you think, ‘hey, I don’t want to go there.’ The next time that a temptation comes up, you think, ‘well, it’d be a lot better for me if I didn’t succumb to this temptation.’ That’s kind of weak, eh? You’d look a little better if you didn’t eat like a cheesecake a day, or something like that. That’s something, but it’s not the same as, I’m going to have diabetes, and I’m going to lose my damn leg in five years if I don’t get my eating under control. That’s motivating. So then the temptation comes along, and you think, ‘oh, how about no?’ Seriously—how about no? Not just because a higher good would be obtained if I avoided it, but because a terrible catastrophe would be averted if I didn’t.

Well, so you want to get your fear behind you, right? You want to get it behind you, where it’s pushing you forward, instead of in front of you, where it’s stopping you. You get your fear behind you, pushing you forward, by actually thinking through the consequences of not putting your life together, and that the least of those is that you waste it, and suffer. You’re going to suffer anyways, man, so you waste it, and suffer. That’s a bad deal, because, maybe, if you’re going to suffer, you could at least do something noble, glorious, upright, powerful, honourable, admirable, helpful, and difficult. That’s just so much better, and maybe that’s good enough so that you think, ‘hey, a little suffering; it’s basically worth it. At least it’s a way forward.’

"And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not their’s, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years." God, he’s hedging his bets here a lot, right? He says to Abraham, ‘well, go out into the world,’ and then he confronts him with a famine, and he confronts him with a tyranny, and with powerful people who want to take his wife, and then he loses his nephew, and then he has to go fight a war, and now he’s reconstituting this covenant. God says, ‘yeah, a nation is going to come from you, but they’re going to be slaves to tyrants for like 400 years.’ He’s not a great salesman, exactly. But the thing I like about it is that it’s realistic. You gotta think, too, who knows why it is that the Bible exists, or why people wrote it? But, you know, if they’re gonna sell you something, I don’t know if this is the way to do it.

Unless you’re a salesman who’s sophisticated beyond belief—because you’d think that, if it was just a matter of controlling the masses, let’s say, which is one, say, Marxist interpretation of religion, or a matter of providing people with a primitive defense against death anxiety, which is essentially the Freudian interpretation, that you’d make the deals that God cut with Abraham a little more on the positive and polished side, instead of making them a realistic offer, constantly, like they are. That’s part of the reason, I think, it is reasonable to treat the Bible as literature. It’s more than literature. It’s something other than literature. But you can treat it as literature, and I think the reason you can treat it as literature is because the characters are all complex, including the character of God himself. It’s complex and sophisticated. It’s not one-sided. It’s paradoxical and incomprehensible, at times, but I think good literature is like that.

Here’s something about true art. This is something I learned from Jung. It’s so smart. Imagine that you inhabit the land that you know, conceptually and practically. And then imagine outside of that. There’s a massive space of things that you don’t know. And even outside of that, there’s a space of things that no one knows. So it’s the known territories surrounded by the unknown. That’s the canonical, archetypal landscape. The unknown manifests itself to you, and that’s where new knowledge comes from. But the question is, how is that knowledge generated? It doesn’t just leap from completely unknown to completely articulated in one move. That isn’t how it happens. It has to pass through stages of analysis before it becomes articulable.

The first stage of analysis, as far as I can tell, is that you act it out. So if something really surprises you, you first react to it with your body. That’s your first category. It’s not conceptual, at all. It’s embodied. And then maybe you’re at home, at night. Something startles you, and you freeze. It’s dark. Your imagination populates the darkness with whatever might be making the noise. That’s the sequence: embodied response, imaginative representation, exploration, articulation. That’s how information moves from the unknown to the known. Artists are the people who stand on that imagistic frontier. They put themselves out into the unknown, and they take a piece of it, and they transform it into some mythological image. They don’t know what they’re doing, exactly. They’re guided by their intuition, if they’re real artists. Otherwise, they’re just propagandists. They have to be contending with something that they don’t understand. What they do is they make it more understandable. And then people gaze at those artworks, or they listen to the stories, and then they start to become informed by them, but they don’t know how or why.

I was at the modern museum of art in New York. I’m afraid I don’t remember which one, unfortunately. I was in this amazing room. It had all these priceless paintings from the late renaissance hanging in it—each painting worth, who knows. A billion dollars, maybe. Priceless paintings. The room was a shrine. It was full of people from all over the world, who were looking at these paintings. You think, ‘well, what the hell are these people doing, coming to this room, looking at these paintings? What are they up to?’ One of them was the painting of the Assumption of Mary. Brilliantly composed. All these people were looking at it. I thought, ‘what are they doing? They don’t know what that means. Why are they looking at that painting? Why is it in this room? Why is that painting worth so much?’ And the answer to that is, well, we don’t really know. It happened; they’re sacred objects, in some sense. We gaze at them in ignorance and wonder. The reason for that is that the unknown shines through them at us, in partially articulated form. Well, that’s the role of art, and that’s the role of artists.

Real artists are contending with the unknown, and they’re possessed by it. They have a personality trait—openness—that makes them do that. They can’t even help it. I’ve had lots of creative people in my clinical practice. I can tell you, the worst thing for creative people is to not be creative, because they just die. Maybe you’re a tree with a few major branches. That’s your personality. So if you’re extroverted, you can’t be cut off from people, because you just wither. And if you’re agreeable, you have to be in an intimate relationship, or you die. And if you’re conscientious, and you’re unemployed, you’re just going to eat yourself up, because you have to have a duty, and you have to carry a load. You just can’t stand it, otherwise. Open people have to be creative. They have to be, because, otherwise, they die. They don’t have any vitality. They’re cursed with the necessity of putting a foot out into the unknown, and making sense of it. They’re also cursed with the necessity of trying to make a living while they’re doing that, which they can’t, because it’s almost impossible to monetize creative action, as many of you who are creative will no doubt find out. It’s very, very frustrating.

It’s not that creative action is without value. The creative people are entrepreneurs, and the creative people revitalize cities, and the creative people make things magnificent and beautiful. You think about what’s happened in Europe over the last 2,000 years. It’s amazing: an unbelievable collaboration to make things so beautiful that they’re jaw dropping when you walk into them. You think about the economic value of that, right? I think it’s either France or Spain that’s the most visited country in the world. It’s one of those two, I think. I think there’s more tourists in France than there are people, most of the time. Part of the reason for that is that it’s just so damn beautiful. You just can’t stand it. You think, ‘what’s the economic value of that?’ It’s absolutely incalculable. What’s interesting, too, is that you build that beauty in, and then the farther away you get from it in time, the more valuable it becomes, right? Instead of decaying, it has exactly the opposite effect: its value magnifies.

One of the things that I’m deeply ashamed of, as a Canadian, is that our sense of beauty is so underdeveloped. We’re so primitive…It’s not even primitive. That’s the wrong word. I don’t know what it is. It’s second-rate, at least. It’s terror, too, because people are afraid of beauty. But the idea that art is…The conservatives really have a problem with this, in particular. Conservative people tend not to be that creative, by temperament. It’s a mystery to me, because they should be concerned with economic development, and beauty is so unbelievably crucial to economic development. It just yells out at you.

Anyways, so that’s what artists are doing. One of the things I would say is, buy a damn piece of art! Find one that really speaks to you, and buy a piece of art, because you invite that into your life. Look out, if you do it. If it’s a real piece of art—because you’ll also get a little introduction to the artist, and then that’ll seep into your life. That’ll change things like mad. But it’s unbelievably worth it. It opens your eyes to the domain of the transcendent. That’s the right way of thinking about it. A real piece of art is a window into the transcendent. That’s what it is. You need that in your life, because you’re finite and limited, and bounded by your ignorance and lack of knowing. Unless you can make a connection to the transcendent, then you don’t have the strength to prevail. That’s part of the covenant with God. You can see that.

You look at these magnificent cathedrals that our civilization built over the centuries…They’re still building the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. It’s an amazing building. I think it’s going to take them 300 years to build that. People in the Middle Ages, they’d start building a cathedral, and they’d think, ah, we’ll be done this in 300 years. Imagine the vision that it took to invest in something like that! We look at quarterly reports. We can’t think 300 years into the future, to build something of that kind of remarkable…remarkable what? Those cathedrals are trees, first, right? They’re a forest, right? The gothic cathedrals, they’re forests, and the sun is shining through the branches. That’s the stained glass. They’re the perfect balance of light and structure. They’re representing something about the proper structure of being, which is something like the proper balance between light and structure. They represent the sacred tragedy of mankind. That’s why they’re in the shape of a cross. They’re open to the sky. That’s why they have a dome. They’re full of gold so that it glitters. That’s like the city of God. You can see that. Integral to our culture is the idea that duty is one pathway towards God, and if you can’t find another pathway, why don’t you use beauty?

I’m sure most of you do that with music. Music is the one thing that modern people can’t be cynical about. Thank God for that. We’ve been fascinated by music. It speaks meaning to people, even nihilistic, punk rockers are so damn engaged with their music that they can hardly stand it. You can knock on them and say, ‘look, you’re having a transcendent religious experience,’ and they’ll just tell you to fuck off, hah, because that’s what punk rockers have to do. But that’s still what’s happening.

Ok, so I got into all of that because I was talking about the Bible as literature. We need, in our culture, to justify the arts. I don’t want to do that by talking about high culture, or about something abstract and evanescent. That’s the wrong way to go about it. This is vital. One of the things that’s really interesting about the University of Toronto is tha