YouTube Video
Podcast Episode
Audio published on May 17th, 2018

Keywords: Hierarch, Tyranny, Addict, Consumer, Difference, Pattern, Sin, Spirit, Music, Postmodern, Sacrifice

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Freedom and Tyranny

A Discussion with Russell Brand

Russell Brand: Dr. Jordan Peterson, thank you for coming on Under The Skin. It’s lovely to see you again.

Dr. Jordan Peterson: It’s good to see you too. It’s nice to meet in London.

RB: Yeah. It’s different, isn’t it? Both of us were exiled in Los Angeles, in our last conversation. But I enjoyed it very much. I got a lot from it. I’m happy to talk to you, more. This is very much home turf for me now. We’re in London; we’re in a publishing office. You’ve been promoting a book. I presume that’s why you’re here.

JP: Yes. I’m doing a couple of public lectures.

RB: How do you find that? In a way, I’ve been comparing you to the British opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, in that you’ve been doing this for ages and now you’re experiencing an almost unprecedented level of attention. But I’m assuming that your skill set is applicable. You’re a lecturer. You’re a clinical psychoanalyst. So it’s not like, "oh, my God—there’s cameras!"

JP: Right, right. Well, the large-scale lectures I’m doing aren’t that much different in kind from the lectures I was doing at the university. I mean, the venues are larger.

RB: Yeah. How much is the Apollo? Three thousand seats, I think? Maybe more.

JP: Yeah. There were 5,000 at the Apollo.

RB: Were you not nervous?

JP: I’m not as nervous doing that as I am, often, going off to talk to journalists.

RB: Individual journalists?

JP: Yeah. There’s a variety of things about those venues that work in my favour. I like talking to crowds. I’ve always enjoyed lecturing. Lecturing to several thousand people isn’t that much different than lecturing to several hundred people. But I also know that the people who come—they’re happy to be there. I’m speaking to a welcoming crowd. All of the details are essentially under my control. I’m actually enjoying it quite a bit. I mean, I’m apprehensive before, because, well, you should be, you know? I want to do a good job, and I want to make sure things go well, and I want to get through the material properly, and get a little farther in my thinking. I’m trying to make each time I lecture better than the last time. Obviously, I don’t always succeed at that. But it’s good. I’m enjoying it, and my wife is a very good travel companion. She’s very stable, and she helps me plan my days. So we’ve got it down to a bit of a routine, I would say.

RB: Tammy is in the room with us. We’ve already met, previously, in Los Angeles. You won’t be on mic—there isn’t a mic—but it’s just in case listeners are wondering why—perhaps they can detect in my voice that I’m occasionally glancing towards a spouse. The reason is because I am. I’m curious, when you’re doing these lectures, is there not a performance component?

JP: Definitely. A lecture theatre is a "theatre," and a lecture is a form of theatre. Now, it’s a serious form of theatre, but theatre can be serious. Partly what I’m doing is presenting ideas to an audience, but I’m also modelling the act of engaging with ideas. That’s the theatrical end of it. I don’t give the same talk twice. I have my stories, and I have my collection of things I know and talk about, but I try to do two things: I’m always talking to specific individuals in the audience, so I’m having a conversation with the audience. That’s part of the dynamic element of the performance. The other thing I’m trying to do is further my thinking on the topics I’m addressing. There is a theatrical element of that. I think the closest thing, really, it compares to is probably standup comedy. Although, I think the routines that comedians have are probably more well and formally practiced than the talks that I engage in. I don’t really think of it as delivering a lecture to an audience. I’m trying to think about complicated things in realtime, with an audience there to participate, and to use the audience as an indicator of whether or not what I’m saying is gripping and comprehensible.

RB: Your apprehension and understandable adrenaline prior to going on stage doesn’t lead you to lean into schtick? Which would be the opposite of what you’re describing: wanting to remain engaged in the dialectic process of discovery. Obviously, I am a comedian. For us, I would argue that there is a distinction between performing before two hundred people or five thousand people. Around two hundred, I feel like I’m very relaxed; I’m comfortable; I feel like I’ve got a lot of space in there. Five thousand, I feel like, "sharpen up, now. You’ve got no room," particularly because the other crucial difference is, there needs to be a laugh every 20 to 30 seconds. If there isn’t, it gets pretty frosty up there. It’s appealing to me, as a comedian that’s interested in furthering intellectual debate, looking at the new intersections between politics and spirituality. Perhaps they’ve always been there, these evaporating contexts, the emergence of new ideas—perhaps best exemplified by your own particular trajectory. It’s interesting, to me, that these spaces are now becoming available for types of performance that aren’t so contingent on rapture and applause.

JP: I know. It is a very strange thing, and I’m not sure what to make of it. You see Sam Harris doing something quite similar. Richard Dawkins is doing something quite similar. I’ve been trying to conceptualize this. One comparable audience, or one comparable situation, is that of standup comedians. Another, I suspect, are travelling evangelical types.

RB: Yeah!

JP: Of course, what they’re doing is explicitly religious. This has elements of both of those. What’s emerging that’s so interesting is that there’s a clear public appetite for high-level intellectual conversation, if it’s dynamic. I don’t know what’s accounting for that, all of a sudden. Maybe it’s because these sorts of discussions aren’t taking place like they should, in the classical media space.

RB: You might be right there. To slightly mangle the Jung quote that you use in your book, 12 Rules—that I’m really enjoying, actually—"one could infer motivations from results."

JP: Right.

RB: Perhaps it is that political discourse, social discourse, has been superficial—detached from meaning, from purpose, from experience; that there is an opening appetite for substance. People are starting to—as you said about theatre, before. The origins of theatre and the origins of religion are closely connected, and both of them still owe a debt, or at least, functionally, must relate to meaning and purpose—giving us stories that help illuminate the path we’re walking.

JP: There’s something about that that’s profoundly correct. The New York Times has recently written about the rise of the so-called Intellectual Dark Web, which is a term that Eric Weinstein so brilliantly coined, I would say, and very thoughtfully. I think the thing that unites the people who are loosely grouped into that collection is that they are having serious conversations with an audience that they respect. They’re a very diverse range of people—Sam Harris and I disagree about many things, for example. But Sam respects his audiences, and he’s engaging them in extremely serious discourse, about very deep topics—about the structure of reality, actually, and the relationship between science and religion.

I think it is a consequence of the fact that not only has our public discourse, let’s say, in the media and politics become shallow—I think it’s become unbearably shallow in the universities. It’s become so ideological. It’s just not helpful. I was interviewed by a New York Times journalist last week. She’s going to publish this on Sunday. She did a literature degree at Columbia. She told me—she was quite appalled, actually, by her degree, especially in hindsight—that she didn’t know until she graduated that there was any way of reading great literature other than through a postmodern lens. The postmodern lens takes a book, whatever it happens to be, and you decide which power hierarchy the author was serving and who he or she has excluded from consideration. So it’s completely read through a political lens, as if the book’s nothing but a tool of a political and economic domination, essentially. That’s the assumption. Everything’s contaminated by politics and power to some degree, right? But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to art and literature except in service of group domination. It’s an appalling way of looking at the world.

RB: It would be an extraordinary bias to bring to Jane Eyre. It would be difficult to make sense of it, through that lens. Economics and politics—of course important themes are going to be present in great works of art.

JP: But they’re still great works of art—that’s the thing. Even with something as transient as comedy, let’s say—you can’t reduce comedy to the political or the economic. Comics who become too ideological—like musicians who become too ideological—they’re just not funny anymore. I mean, you can have your viewpoint, left or right, and that’s fine, and people do, but you have to be able to transcend that viewpoint continually, and you have to be able to criticize it. Otherwise, you’re not amusing. You just become a demagog, of sorts.

RB: Yes. I would agree that, once there’s a rubric to which you become enslaved, it becomes dogmatic. Then there’s no room for nuance; there’s no room for hypocrisy, humour, the transcendent, mirth, chaos. These forces need to be unleashed.

JP: There’s also things you can no longer laugh about, because you’re so committed to your axioms. You dare not transgress against them. That’s deadly, if you’re a comedian. The rule for comedy would be—and this is something I like about Sarah Silverman: she will say anything, if she thinks it’s funny. She’s very daring in that manner. I’ve heard her tell jokes that really would curl your hair. But you can tell by watching her: something will pop into her head, and she goes, "jeez, I don’t know if I should say this," and then she’ll say it, and it’s often horribly funny, and horribly funny is a good kind of funny. It’s daring, and it’s something I really admire about comedians, too: they’ll take that risk. It’s something, also, that I’ve found disturbing with regards to the many things I find disturbing about university campuses: so many comedians won’t go perform on university campuses anymore, because they can’t be funny. People get offended, and it’s a false offended.

RB: I think it’s a kind of Simon Says type of—do you know that game? There’s certainly things that we know we’re not allowed to say; there’s certain things we know we’re supposed to think. There’s a kind of formulaic dance—a courtly behaviour, I’ve heard it referred to as. We are meant to pay a homage to a particular type of set of protocols and manners, and it’s not necessarily anchored to a real morality. It’s not anchored to a sense of spirit, or to a sense of love or kindness. It’s like, "these are the rules that we abide by." I want to talk to you a bit about the 12 Steps, and the model for handling addiction. I’ve written about myself in my book, Recovery, because I want to see what you think of it. 12 Steps have anonymous fellowships. If I were to belong to them, I wouldn’t be able to say I belonged to them, without breaching their code of anonymity. But what’s positive about this approach to addiction is—as we have discussed off mic—it creates community. Other people that have got a similar endeavour—in fact, it was Jung who identified this solution. He said that people who have got chronic addiction issues will struggle to change, unless they have a spiritual realization of some kind and the support of community.

JP: The spiritual realization component—that’s actually supported by the relevant addiction literature. One of the classic cures for addiction is spiritual transformation. The hardcore scientists have laid that out as a reality in the addiction literature.

RB: I agree, because they use more secular language around that, as spiritual transformation could just be a change of perspective, a renewal.

JP: A radical change of perspective.

RB: Typically, from my experience, that’s from a self-centred view, a self-obsessive view, about getting your own needs met—a solipsistic, narcissistic perspective, about "life is just this adventure where I go around trying to accumulate and accrue," to, "oh, wow—I’m here to be of service." That’s the transition, microscopically. But in addition to community—like having connections between one another—the 12 Steps themselves, I think, are an interesting model for transformation, and shouldn’t be overlooked. In fact, what my book was about—could that method be transposed to anybody who’s interested in change? I wanted to talk to you about that, to get your perspective.

JP: Sure.

RB: The first step is acknowledging that you are powerless over your addiction, and that your life has become unmanageable. Just admitting, "I don’t want to be in this situation."

JP: OK. There’s two parts to that admission. One is that you’re in trouble… I guess there’s three. "You’re in trouble, and it’s serious. Things could be better. And you don’t have the wherewithal, at the moment, to make them better." The thing that’s interesting about that is that there’s a kind of radical humiliation and humility that goes along with that. So you say, "I have a problem, and what I know, at the moment, isn’t sufficient to solve it." Great, because now you’ve opened yourself up to the possibility of learning something. You say, "I don’t know enough to fix this." It’s like, "OK, well, you could learn." One of the things that’s so interesting about people is that, if they decide they have a problem, and they also notice that they could learn, the probability that they will learn goes way up.

RB: That’s very interesting. You’ve actually conflated the first three steps there, in your analysis of the first one. The first one is admission that there’s a problem. The second one is recognizing that things could improve—coming to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. The third one is to make a decision to turn our life and our will over to the care of God, as we understood God.

JP: We can talk about that from a secular perspective, and say, "well, there’s a higher order moral principle that needs to be brought into the situation." And you sort of described that, right at the beginning of the question. You said, "well, from a psychological perspective, partly what you do, when you move from an addicted state, is move from a viewpoint of the gratification of immediate desire—and maybe the accumulation of things as a marker of success—to the notion that, no: you actually have a higher purpose, and that higher purpose might involve being of service." That could be of service to yourself—which means you wouldn’t be addicted anymore, because that’s not a good way of being in service to yourself—and to the broader community, however you might define that. That’s a higher-order purpose. It can integrate your motivations at a level that doesn’t leave you at the whim of impulse. That’s the purpose of a higher-order motivation. OK, so we’ve got three.

RB: Yes. That’s the first three. It’s to get you to that position where you’re willing to change, believe in the possibility of change, and accept help in order to achieve that change. The fourth and fifth steps are about inventorying—this is where the 12-Step Program becomes a fusion of spirituality and psychoanalysis, because the fourth step is like a four-column method, where you write down a list of all your resentments in your life: your childhood resentments, your resentments against the government, people you work with. You write it all down, and it’s a diagnostic tool where you identify what it is in you that doesn’t like that. And also, interestingly—in 12-Step theology, let’s call it—it says that, "any time that you are personally disturbed, you have to take responsibility for it, to a degree." There is something in you that’s being [inaudible].

JP: Yes, you should at least ask yourself that question: "is it me, or is it the world?"

RB: Yes.

JP: Well, let’s consider first the possibility that it might be—I wrote about that in the sixth Rule: "put your house in perfect order."

RB: Yes, yes. In fact, I did a truncated and somewhat more linguistically explicit, expletive-laden version of the 12 Steps, and I’ve got your 12 Rules for Life, here. They don’t necessarily correlate… Say your first one, "stand up straight with your shoulders back." That’s a great chapter, I think. I love the lobster stuff, and the ancient, timeless—almost roots—of hierarchy.

JP: Yeah.

RB: And the chemicals that are at play—what’s happening when we talk about self-esteem. The sixth one, "set your own house in perfect order before you criticize the world"—steps four and five, in the 12-Step Program, deal with that: Inventory what’s going on in your life. Inventory what your baggage is, in your own personal narrative.

JP: It’s very practical. Let’s say you want to fix up your house—which is, actually, quite a lot like fixing yourself up, and which is quite a common dream metaphor. The first thing you want to do is go around and see what needs to be fixed. The interesting thing about that is akin to what comedians do: comedians look at a problem and rise above it, and make a joke about it. As soon as you’re willing to admit that you have a problem, then you’ve immediately contacted the part of yourself that’s at least strong enough to admit that you have a problem. The act of admitting the problem is actually the first step to solving it.

RB: Yes.

JP: It’s an optimistic step, because you might say, "oh, my God—I can’t admit that I have a problem, because what if I can’t solve it?" Well, exactly—then, maybe, you won’t admit to it. If you do admit to it, you’re simultaneously admitting to the possibility that you could solve it.

RB: Yes.

JP: And then it can actually become something that’s optimistic.

RB: Yes.

JP: You can say, "my life is horrible. I’m doing 50 things wrong. Well, great! I can fix those things. Then, maybe, it won’t be so horrible."

RB: The admission itself demonstrates progression and possibility for further progression.

JP: Exactly. That’s why humility is always stressed in great religious traditions. Humility is precisely that. You have to look at why you’re not so good.

RB: Yeah.

JP: That has to break down your pride, to some degree, and your arrogance. That’s great, because if you break down your pride and your arrogance, then you’re primed to learn, and you can solve your problems. It’s a bit crushing, to begin with, because you might think, "oh, my God—there’s a lot of things wrong with me."

RB: Yes.

JP: But then, at least, you’re on the road to fixing them.

RB: My personal journey of recovery has been like a kind of death. When I was 27, it was like the death of the drug addict self. That guy died.

JP: That’s funny, because I told Tammy when we were coming here today that, when you were 27, you made the decision to live. I knew it was 27, because celebrities who are sort of on fire die all the time at 27, because they don’t make that decision. They don’t decide that they’re going to take that final step into maturation. They want to hold on to that Peter Pan thing, that possibility.

RB: Pluripotent.

JP: You bet. Exactly that. They want to hold on to that. You can’t hold on to that and live.

RB: Yes, and then there’s a further death. I’m noticing now, in my early forties, that I’m now at the midway point, in a sort of Dante-esque way. Now I’m moving towards the grave, and now there’s a different kind of alertness emerging. Back to Step four and five, this process of inventorying. After you’ve made an inventory and you’ve honestly and openly put down everything: incidents of child abuse, things you’ve said to other people—once you’ve been willing to inscribe your shame, then you tell another person, a person that you trust. In the original literature, it says it could be a cleric, a doctor, or whatever. In 12 Steps, it’s typically a mentor figure. But that’s the role of confession, which is obviously a huge part of psychoanalysis. The part in your book that I think this pertains to is when you talk about the dragon. You said there was that kids book that you read, about the dragon getting bigger and bigger if it’s not identified. I think four and five are somewhat like that.

JP: Yeah, and part of the point of that kid’s book is that, as soon as you turn around and look at something, it tends to shrink. That’s partly because—imagine you have a memory that you won’t confront. Well, there’s something in that memory that’s terrifying, and that means that it’s sort of associated with everything else that’s terrifying. It’s a horrible memory, but then, when you turn around and look at it, you think, "yeah, it’s horrible; but it’s horrible in this precise and defined way." That takes it away from all the other potential horrors of it. It starts to shrink it, right away. It also makes you into the thing that can turn around and look at the horror, which is a real positive transformational act, on your part.

RB: That’s true—that, somehow, being prescriptive and being specific, the problem becomes manageable. Otherwise, it’s limitless in its potential. It becomes apocalyptic, in the end. What’s the worst thing that’s coming? I could be destroyed, and everyone I love could be destroyed, and earth itself could be destroyed. Until you say, "well, actually what this is, is that you feel inadequate, because you weren’t role-modelled correctly." "Well, all right. Maybe I can take care of that."

JP: Right. It’s still bad, but it’s not everything. You phrased that exactly right: without that attentive delimiting, it becomes apocalyptic. That’s a very, very old idea. One of the things that happens in the Mesopotamian creation myth, the Enuma Elis, is that the gods are the offspring of chaos. That’s a good way of thinking about it. They become very careless, and they destroy their category system—they destroy their father, essentially, and chaos comes flooding back. That’s what happens to people who aren’t looking at things and delimiting them properly. They become apocalyptic, and do them in.

RB: But sometimes, in mythology, there is the positive confronting of the God, e.g. Prometheus. So sometimes we need to steal the fire; sometimes we need to challenge these orthodoxies, don’t we?

JP: Yes, absolutely. Part of the death that you’re describing is actually the confrontation with a form of tyrant. Your previously-addicted self was the tyrant over your emergent self.

RB: Yes.

JP: And so it’s an internal tyrant, and you said it was predicated on a false value system—that’s a false set of gods, essentially. So you had to confront that; that is a kind of death.

RB: I also think that addiction, or addictive tendencies—and I don’t mean as severe as chemical dependencies. All forms of addiction are a kind of self-constructed formaldehyde, to preserve you in a state of trauma. The trauma is acknowledged; no means to navigate trauma are present, because of the isolation, because you have no mentor. You have no doctrine, you have no community. So addiction steps in: "This is how I will preserve; this is how I will not die." Notice there is a habit, a repeated pattern to sustain you—a holding pattern—so that you don’t die. There is no way out; there’s no guide; there’s no path. You’re just in the forest, and there isn’t a way out. So I thought that addiction, from personal experience—and I hope and suspect more broadly—is a means for stasis, for preservation, after trauma. The rupture occurs, is not addressed, and a means for survival emerges in a form of addiction. Addiction is not your nemesis: it is your friend.

JP: Well, there’s certainly a literature on addiction that indicates that many people use addictive substances as a form of self-medication. They tend to find the drug that best medicates them, let’s say. For different people, that’s different drugs.

RB: Or even gambling.

JP: Yeah.

RB: One of the other things I’m proposing in my book—to use rather grandiose terminology—is that the template for recovery from obvious forms of addiction could be applicable to less evident forms of addiction, i.e. just patterns and habits.

JP: Yeah. Well, so far, the things you’ve laid out would be in keeping with that idea.

RB: Would they?

JP: Well, you admit to the problem. I think the idea of laying out your resentments is unbelievably useful, because that’s also a way of dealing with the malevolence within you that might interfere with your own recovery.

RB: Yes.

JP: If you’re angry at yourself, if you’re angry at your parents, if you’re angry at the world, the probability that you’re going to be in a mental state that’s going to allow you to chart a positive course for yourself is very, very low.

RB: How can you have a clear and authentic relationship with your wife, if you’ve not correctly understood what you feel about your own mother? If you feel like you were enmeshed or trapped in some way—if I’ve not understood that, if I’ve not gained a new perspective, if I’ve not transcended it by sharing it with another person…

JP: You see that in the Disney Sleeping Beauty story, when the prince is encapsulated in the castle, in the dungeon, at the end. Before he goes and rescues Sleeping Beauty, he has to go and confront his terrible mother. She turns into the dragon of chaos itself. He has to use honesty and truth to confront her. Until he does that, he can’t free the maiden from her sleep.

RB: Yes, yes.

JP: That’s called the "freeing of the anima from the negative mother archetype," in Jungian psychology. It’s precisely that. That negative feminine will be overlaid on your partner, unless you’re able to clarify it, and clarify your relationship with it. That could be something like overprotection, like in your past—or it could be neglect, for that matter. Or it could be the rejection at the hands of many, many women, before you encounter this woman. You’re going to bring that bitterness forward, as a kind of projection.

RB: If we are unwilling to undertake this kind of excavation, then we are doomed to continually have relationships that are cutaneous. The superficial coordinates will govern our experience of relationships.

JP: Yes. That’s the repetition compulsion, from the Freudian perspective. That isn’t how Freud explained it; that’s how a Jungian would explain it. But the simple explanation of it is, well, if you bring the same set of unexamined presuppositions to every situation, the same fate will play out. You might say, "well, all those women are the same." It’s like, "well, actually, no. But the part of them you’re able to make contact with acts the same every time." That’s a very different thing.

RB: Brilliant. This is where six and seven, the next Steps, chronologically occur. Six, having done this inventory, you recognize what patterns have been at play in your life—which "defects of character have governed you:" often pride, wanting to control other people’s perspective, self-pity, self-centredness, intolerance, impatience, greed, jealously, envy, lust, sloth.

JP: That’s where you identify the seven deadly sins, and how they play out in your life, essentially.

RB: Yes. Step 6 is about becoming willing to live differently—saying, "are you actually willing to let go of lust? or do you like lust? do you like being impatient? does it serve you, in some way, to be slothful?"

JP: It’s highly probable that it does. It’s easy; it’s gratifying; it’s powerful; it’s pleasurable—especially in the short term. There are reasons that people are tempted by the seven deadly sins.

RB: They’re kind of glorious—they’re dark glory and beauty.

JP: Oh, absolutely. That’s exactly right. There’s a dark romanticism, and you really see that in the death of celebrities around 27. They fall in love with the allure of that romantic death, and it does them in.

RB: So the anti-libido; the dark libido; the death force. So once you have diagnosed which particular defects of character have been most prominent in your path, and become willing to let go of them, Step 7 is making a concerted and real effort to live without them.

JP: That’s a sacrifice there, eh? That’s, "what are you willing to sacrifice, in order to move forward?" You have to give up something that you love, and you may have to give up the thing that you love best. That’s the fundamental sacrificial motif.

RB: Sacrifice is an unattractive idea in our society, that’s based on consuming and indulgence. This is again, perhaps, where you and I somewhat differ. Whilst this will not change about the individual’s engagement—a kind of Step 1 acknowledgement that there needs to be change—this is where I say there needs to be a social responsibility. For whatever reason, our society’s become a manifestation of these darker impulses. These are the prevalent forces, at least in the kind of society I live in.

JP: Too much emphasis on immediate gratification.

RB: Too much emphasis, because immediate gratification is a tool of consumerism. This would be my argument. But at this point in the program, the spiritual becomes—I find, personally—undeniable. You have to call to something else. You have to, in a sense, lay yourself open. The idea of prayer becomes quite important.

JP: So there’s a Jungian idea, there. The Jungian Self is the thing that guides the ego through transformations. Imagine the ego, which is what you think you are—well, the thing about the ego is that the ego can be wrong, and the ego can die and be reborn. What that indicates is that there’s something underneath the ego that can guide that process of transformation.

RB: Yes, yes.

JP: Partly what you’re calling on, when you call on this higher power, is—at least from the psychological perspective—a decision to rely on that thing that can guide you through transformation.

RB: Yes, because surely—as we said, in relation to another—we are likely relating to a set of coordinates that we impose on the female. The same would be true of the self: we have created an egoic impression; we have constructed an artificial self. But beneath it there is a higher Self, or an ulterior Self.

JP: That’s right. It’s often composed of things that you refuse to or weren’t willing to develop. So when Jung talks about, for example, the incorporation of the shadow—you’ve constructed an ego, and there’s things it can do and can’t do, that it’s allowed to do and isn’t allowed to do. Then there’s a shadow domain that consists of the things you could do, but haven’t. Some of that’s terrible, but some of it’s what you need to break free.

RB: Is there an infinite variety in the shadow, or is there sort of templates, there? Is there, would you say, a common component?

JP: Aggression and lust are the two, because they’re the two that are most difficult to integrate into the ego. Aggression destroys, and, of course, lust subsumes the individual to sexual desire.

RB: Lust is identified as a very powerful self; it can subsume; so I suppose that’s why a lot of theological doctrines focus on the control of lust.

JP: Well, it’s a disruptive force. For example, if you make a medium- to long-term relationship with someone, and you negotiate that, that provides you with a stable structure that can operate across your entire life. It’s good for you; it’s good for them; it’s good for your kids; it’s good for society. But then, if you’re really attracted to someone momentarily, you can be driven to act on that. All the rest of that can burn up. So it’s no wonder that it’s viewed as a force of tremendous disruption. Now, it’s also a force of tremendous life, right? You want to be attracted to people; you want to have that vital libido as part of what’s driving you forward. But hopefully it’s on your side, and not working against you. If you’re successful, and you put yourself together, and you’re disciplined, you should still be maximally sexually attracted. But it should be under your control. You’re not the puppet of that force, anymore. It’s integrated into you, and that’s a much better way to manage it.

RB: In your understanding, how is the shadow incorporated? What rituals, what ceremonies, what behaviours successfully incorporate the shadow, say, using the example of lust? What’s a way back in for the lust that has been disembodied or repressed? What’s the safe way back in? Is there one?

JP: Well, I think part of it is to admit to your desires within your own relationship. You might say, "well, I’m tired of my wife." It’s like, "well, yeah. Maybe—maybe you’re tired of the games that you’re intelligent enough to play with your wife. But she’s as pluripotent as you are." You have to admit to your desires, let’s say, and maybe you have to make them consciously manifest within your own relationship.

RB: Hmm.

JP: People do that by dressing up, or by playing sexually, I would say.

RB: Yeah, play.

JP: Play is a transformative element.

RB: Yes.

JP: It might be that you’re uncomfortable with the idea of your wife as sexual plaything, because you think that a woman that’s married should be proper and prim, and should only behave sexually in a certain way, in which case—well, that becomes stale and dull, and you’re more likely to be tempted by something on the outside.

RB: To me, that’s a very obvious example of how habitualized thinking is prohibitive, even without reaching the extremes of self-destructive, addictive tendencies. If I have a habit of regarding my wife as Object A—even if that’s not objectification as we typically take it, but limiting beliefs about my wife—the tools that break down addictive thought patterns could be used to create new terrains, new liberty, new play. So once you’ve done up to Step 7—you’re right, it’s a sacrifice of the old self, and a handing over to some kind of sublime, divine Self. Step 8, you make a list of people you have harmed and become willing to make amends to them. So you look back and go, "oh, God—I shouldn’t have stolen that; I shouldn’t have done that; I treated that person badly; that was wrong; I lied." So it’s moral; it becomes quite a moral process.

JP: That’s a real repentance and atonement. Atonement is "at-one-ment." If you’re carrying transgressions that you regard as transgressions now, in your life, you don’t want to carry those forward. You want to step forward in life without that moral burden, because you’ll have contempt for yourself, otherwise, and you won’t take care for yourself.

RB: Also, in a sense, what you’re talking about is allowing lust back in—incorporating lust. This is a broader method for incorporating annexed aspects of the Self. Like, "how can I fully love myself, if I know I treated that person abominably?" Well, if I go back, and say "that was wrong; I did you wrong; I owe you an amends," you invite that part of your life in.

JP: That’s right.

RB: You amend your path through life, as well as teaching yourself that is not the way we proceed anymore. That’s Step 8.

JP: That’s real action in the world. It’s not a hypothetical, at the point. It’s kind of like telling people what you’ve written down about your faults, because it makes it real when you’re acting it out with someone else. It’s not only a mental thing, at that point.

RB: Step 8 is, "write up the list of people." Step 9 is, "now go do it." It makes the distinction, I think, to create a space for you where you’re not continually thinking, "I’m not fucking doing that; I’m not going to apologize; I was abused by them; fuck that—they did as much wrong as I did."

JP: Right, which is not the point.

RB: It’s not the point.

JP: They might have done more wrong than you did, but you’re still stuck with the fact that you still did something wrong, and that’s not good.

RB: That’s right, and if you refuse to surmount the obstacle of some arbitrary measure of who is more wrong, then you continue to cast yourself in victimhood.

JP: That’s exactly right.

RB: You have no personal autonomy.

JP: It doesn’t matter if you’re only 5 per cent at fault, and it also doesn’t matter if the other person apologizes to you. They should; it would be better for them; it might make things lay out. That’s not the point.

RB: This, perhaps, is where what I think is significant—now that your life has become not a negotiation between you and other beings as materially present themselves, but between yourself and a higher purpose that has been declared earlier, you are now operating on a spiritual plane. You are no longer about, "if I do that, I get that." It precisely doesn’t matter if the other person goes, "I don’t care if you apologize or not. Fuck off."

JP: In religious language, that would be expressed as the discovery of your Father in Heaven, instead of your earthly father. Your Father in Heaven would be the higher spiritual authority to which you owe allegiance. You can think about that either in religious terms or in nonreligious terms—what you’ve done is you’ve, in some sense, abstracted the idea of a higher authority and a higher purpose, and you’ve decided to devote yourself to that. That’s a religious act.

RB: That’s precisely antithetical to postmodernism: "there is an essence; there is a code; there is a way; there is a truth."

JP: That’s right. That’s what is precisely antithetical. The postmodern claim is that there are multiple ways of looking at the world. That’s true, but the antithesis of that is, "yes, but just because there are multiple ways of looking at the world doesn’t mean that there are multiple proper ways of looking at the world."

RB: Yes.

JP: In fact, there’s a very narrow range of proper ways of looking at the world.

RB: My concern with atheism has always been its sort of easy affiliation with nihilism: "oh, why don’t we just wander over there and start fucking people, then?" That’s where my mind immediately goes. If there is not an order, why not smash everything to smithereens? You’re saying, ideological, that is what’s happening. Ideologically, we are deconstructing God; we’re deconstructing morality; we’re deconstructing gender.

JP: That was the danger that both Nietzsche and Dostoevsky pointed to, clearly. You dispense with the transcendent principle, and you open up the landscape for impulsive nihilism.

RB: They responded to post-enlightenment rationalism. Is that what Dostoevsky and Nietzsche were responding to?

JP: They were responding to, essentially, the idea of the death of God. Both of them, and explicitly.

RB: Is that an enlightenment idea? Where is the death of God happening prior to Nietzsche?

JP: At the hands of a kind of arrogant and narrow rationalism and materialism.

RB: Exponentially, that has led us where we’re going now, which is a kind of digging the earth from beneath our feet, putting ourselves into the abyss.

JP: That’s right. That’s the hypothesis, precisely.

RB: The last three Steps. Step 10 is, like, "continue to make inventory. Let this process continue." For me, in psychoanalytic terms, it’s like when there’s a moment—I know any spike in my energy: if I go, "oh, I felt something. That was interesting. I felt jealous, there. I felt small, in that moment."

JP: Exactly.

RB: These are the moments I know. "How was I participating in that? What belief of mine was being challenged? Is that a helpful belief?" "Belief" being a thought that I like having.

JP: Right. That’s a kind of consciousness: "well, I’m going to fall apart. I’m going to make mistakes. I don’t want to make mistakes. I’m going to keep an eye out for when I do make mistakes, and I’m going to make them conscious. And then I’m going to try to work on them."

RB: Yes—"bringing them into consciousness." My number one fear on a personal level, and possibly on a social level—I don’t quite know how to extrapolate or conflate those two notions—is unconsciousness. I get very afraid when I’m dealing with unconscious individuals—when people don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing. You might see this in violent rage, or in less dramatic or theatrical behaviour.

JP: Yeah. There’s a great idea that lurks at the bottom of the Christian mythological tradition: a little bit of consciousness destroyed the original paradise. We became conscious enough to be aware of our own mortality. The cure for that is way more consciousness, not a return to unconsciousness.

RB: Yes. There’s no going back. I sometimes think the plethora of zombie movies is, you know, "they don’t know they’re already dead!"

JP: That danger of the zombie is the danger of the desire for unconsciousness, as a solution to life’s problems.

RB: I think, again, this something we are being invited to participate in, through consumerism: to live your life continually on the frequency of unconscious energy, such as desire and fear. We’re not being invited to participate on the level of conscious interaction, presence, in the moment.

JP: Well, you could make that case if you made the case that consumerism promotes the gratification of immediate desires, above all else.

RB: I think it does. That’s what I’m pushing for. With this original sin, a little bit of consciousness is a dangerous thing. We become aware of our vulnerability and mortality, our nakedness, our corporeal nature. But the solution to this is…

JP: To become more conscious.

RB: How is that? Is that the whole rest of the Bible?

JP: Yes, I would say so.

RB: So I’m wondering, when does that get resolved? Not when they get kicked out of the garden; not when Cain slays Abel.

JP: Well, part of what happens in the redemptive story is, if you think about Christ as a symbolic figure—symbolic of the process of transformation that we just described—one of the morals of the Christian passion is that you need to radically accept your limitations. Part of this "keeping your sins before your eyes," which you just described: "here’s all the ways I fall short of the glory of God," let’s say. "I make this mistake, I make this mistake, I make this mistake." That’s all consciousness, and it’s painful. You think, "well, you become more conscious of this glorious process of enlightenment," and, overall, it is. But the things that you need to become conscious of are precisely the things that you least want to become conscious of.

This is the motif that Jung identified in the Alchemical tradition. The Alchemical motto, so to speak, was, "that which you most need to find will be found where you least want to look." Right. And everyone knows that’s true. You tell someone that, and they go, "oh, yeah. I know that’s true." It’s also the greatest barrier to enlightenment, because if enlightenment is all tulips and sunshine, then everyone would be enlightened. But it’s not. It’s this continual bringing before yourself all your proclivity for transgression—obviously, because how are you going to solve your problems, if you’re not aware of them?

RB: People don’t want the old discipline, do they, Jordan?

JP: Well, it’s not surprising. But the alternative is far worse. That’s the thing. I was very curious—like I said, I talked about this with Tammy, when we were coming here. I thought, "Russell decided to live when he was 27. I would like to know why." So why did you? Why did you make the decision to not allow what was consuming you to kill you?

RB: In a sense, it was taken out of my hands. For the first time, I encountered positive male authority figures. They were able to address that, in particular. I was sent to a treatment center. I had three months. I had time to think. I passed from childhood directly into addictive behaviours. In fact, those addictive behaviours were already present in childhood, in less toxic forms. In retrospect, my relationship with chocolate was addictive. My relationship with pornography, as an adolescent, was addictive. I was using it for medical purposes. So when substances became an option, in adolescence, it was seamless. That meant that my emotional growth was arrested, at that point. The reason I was able to stop was because I was offered help. I was given help by people at the management company that I was working with. They said, "you’re a serious drug addict. You should go away."

JP: OK, so partly that meant that they regarded you as the sort of valuable commodity that was worth preserving.

RB: Yes, there was a degree of that.

JP: That’s helpful. Even if it’s purely an economic interest, there’s something to that. And so then you went into treatment, and you found some people.

RB: Curiously, the place that I went was run by an atheist, Chip Somers. But the 12-Step principles—you can’t unpick it from the Christian Oxford Group. For me, it is more appealing when you talk about it in Jungian terms, although I have no problem with the sublime and the divine. I live for that shit. I was always trying to get out of my head, off my face. Those were the things I wanted: a sublime experience; an experience of what is beyond the material. That is what I wanna know. But once I was in that environment, and given drugs to help with my addiction to opiates… During that time, I suppose, in a way, I didn’t fully address the issue of addiction, because I was really promiscuous for about a decade. That behaviour was transplanted, kind of effortlessly. But I do remember a kind of moment of epiphany—if "epiphany" is revelation of previously concealed truth—when it first occurred to me: "I suppose you don’t have to do drugs every day." I remember that thought entering, and it being like, "oh, yeah. I never thought about that," because I’d found a solution. It worked for managing pain—for preventing further mental investigation or discovery of conclusions that would have been unhelpful, and that I wouldn’t have been able to deal with.

I think, in a lot of cases—and I’m sure there’s many, many variables—that, actually, chemical dependency is a successful technique for preventing suicide: "this is a holding pattern to stop me from doing something more dramatic." Unless people have access to an ideology, a structure, and support that will help them through that, it’s very difficult to overcome. I was fortunate, in that I was granted that—and then granted this system. As I’ve been working it, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is possibly universal, because I think it is derived from universal ideas. That’s why I think Jung identified something like, "if there’s a spiritual experience, and there’s a community, that’s how someone could be stopped from drinking alcohol continually." Then they took the original 12-Step Fellowship, took the Oxford Group, that had a program of sort of redemption and restitution. It seems—initially, I think, in a materialistic society—counterintuitive to think the solution to addiction is going to be spiritual awakening. But that’s what it is. The final steps are "stay connected." You’re continually inventorying, for the moment. So you’re thinking, "uh-oh—I felt something, there." You want to be in the moment, connected. I have to notice if someone makes me feel inferior, or if I’m sexually attracted to someone. Those are some of the most obvious examples of something that will take me out of my connection. The final step is to help others and remain awake.

JP: Well, that’s the end of the hero’s journey: once you go into the darkness and find something of value, the next thing to do is to bring it back and distribute it within the community.

RB: Jordan, it would be difficult for me to accept that you’ve not been sort of personally affected—angrily, rather than just objectively—because your personal trajectory—in the public eye, at least—began with the situation in Canada, with forced speech, or however it’s termed now. Are you able to distinguish between your sense of personal irritation—because I think for most people—and tell me whether or not you think this is right—academia seems like an ancillary area. It doesn’t seem mainstream, to most people. But to you, it seems very vital. But you are an academic.

JP: Well, OK. So there’s two things, there. People regard academia as ancillary, but it’s not. The reason it’s not is because the universities train the people who run things. Whatever’s mainstream in the universities right now, even though it’s separate from society, is going to be mainstream, everywhere, five years down the road. That’s a big problem.

RB: The vanguard, academia.

JP: Oh, definitely. There’s no doubt about it.

RB: Do you think what’s happening now, in terms of a media and politics, you could preemptively have diagnosed from what was happening five or 10 years ago?

JP: Oh, I think that, in some sense, I was preemptively diagnosing it. I’ve been watching the politically correct postmodern types for quite a long time. I noticed two things about five or six years ago that I really didn’t like. The first is that, because I’m a personality psychologist—as a researcher, not as a clinician—I know the literature on gender differences, in personality. It’s part of my field. I could tell that I was starting to have some reluctance to deliver the lecture on gender differences. Now, I didn’t stop, but felt that I was treading on thin ice, by delivering those lectures. I thought, "oh, that’s not good," because I’m like a comedian: I’m willing to say pretty much anything that I think is true, regardless of the consequences, in some sense, because I’d rather take the consequences of what’s true. I thought, "this isn’t good, because if someone like me—who’s rather uncontrollably mouthy, let’s say—is starting to have second thoughts about teaching what’s a very serious topic, and something about which there’s a very well-developed science, then how much are other people starting to censor?" At the same time, my students, many of whom are female, were telling me that they were really hesitant to talk about gender differences in any of the courses they were running. I thought, "oh, this is not good. This is seriously not good."

It’s certainly the case that my colleagues censor themselves increasingly on campus, with regards to the topics they’re willing to discuss. It’s subtle, because—imagine, in a given lecture, I could discuss any of 10 things, and three of them are taboo. Well, I just won’t discuss those. That’s a kind of invisible censorship. It’s not like I’ll get up, and say, "look, I could have talked to you about gender differences in personality, but I won’t, because I’m afraid." I’ll just pick another topic, because there’s lots of topics to choose from. That means there’s going to be a bunch of topics that are really important—because, actually, the issue of sex differences and personality happens to be really important—that people just won’t talk about.

The other thing that’s so annoying about this is, especially with regards to sex differences in personality—well, let’s say that you’re firmly on the side of women, just for the sake of argument. Well, do you admit to or deny the existence of sex differences in personality? What’s better for women? The radical leftists basically say, "oh, if you talk about sex differences, then you’re part of the oppressive patriarchy, and you’re attributing to women a different kind of temperament in the attempt to continue the suppression." But I could just as easily say, "wait a second—if you want to give the individual the greatest degree of freedom, you say, ‘look, you’re different from another person. You’re different on the basis of a variety of your characteristics—sex being one of them. That’s going to have some effect on what sort of choices you want to make in your life. Go ahead and make whatever choices you want, as far as they’re a direct expression of your Being.’

No serious commentator in the psychological literature, in the personality domain, debates whether or not sex differences in personality exist, or that they have a biological component. What’s also interesting about that is that none of those people are conservatives. There are no conservative psychological researchers, to speak of. They’re in a tiny minority. So the people that have done the research indicating that there are differences between the sexes and personality, and that those differences have, in part, a biological component, are liberal and left-leaning people, who’ve drawn those conclusions despite what their ideological presuppositions might have suggested to them, to begin with. I don’t know what to say about that, except that it’s all appalling.

RB: I suppose the fear must be that difference will ultimately be used for leverage, for status.

JP: Sure, and that’s a reasonable fear, because anything can be manipulated. But claims that people are identical, in some way, can also be used for the same reason. If I insist that everyone is exactly the same on all dimensions—there’s just as much of a totalitarian threat lurking in there as there is in using differences as an excuse. And we’re also not having a serious discussion about this. Yeah, men are overrepresented at the top of the economic apex. That’s true. It’s a small minority of men, by the way. It’s certainly not men in general. But they’re radically overrepresented at the bottom, and, believe me, man: nobody cares about men who are failures. They are like off the bloody radar.

RB: Yeah.

JP: There’s no sympathy for men who are failures. So men stack up at the top and the bottom. We don’t have a discussion about that, and we don’t have a discussion about the fact that women are radically underrepresented in dangerous jobs, although they are—or in trades that require brutal physical labour, or in jobs outside. So the complaint is always, "well, if you look at the top 1 per cent, there are more men than there should be, by pure sex division." It’s like, "well, yeah. But if you look at the bottom, the reverse is true." If we’re going to have the discussion—and I don’t necessarily think we should have that discussion—we should look across the entire economic spectrum.—

RB: I wonder how much of this debate is being governed by unconscious forces. I wonder how much of what we’re experiencing is a manifestation of where cartography has not yet been.

JP: I think a lot of it. Are you thinking about any particular part of it?

RB: I feel like the reason that I imagine that your arguments that are based on research are so successful is because people are expressing feelings as opposed to cogent and researched arguments. It feels like there is a powerful, dominant patriarchy, and no one can deny… I mean, there is power. There is such a thing as power, and there are people who benefit from structures being as they are.

JP: Of course.

RB: That’s the point of those structures, being the way they are. One of the things I’ve observed is that, whenever change is discussed, my tendency has always been to be sympathetic towards movements that are about change or empowerment of what might be termed "disadvantaged groups." When you’re curious about the resistance of change or the difficulties that you face when trying to bring about change, look at who would be negatively impacted, were that change to be brought about. Usually, that means that there’s some people—conservatism makes sense for a particular group of people. One thing I felt when reading your book was that—because I think you’re coming from a perspective of psychoanalysis—the language rings true, and the analysis rings true. But one of the questions I was keen to bring to you was, when you talk about skateboarders—I think it’s in the last-but-one chapter—and that spirit of young people…

JP: Courage.

RB: Yeah, courage—and willingness to try dangerous things and push forward. I wonder how that sits with the idea of an earlier passage in the book, where you talk about the gratitude that we should feel for having time to read a book, and the ability to read a book, and sort of respect for the establishment and systems that have been set up, from which we all benefit. I could find it difficult to dispute your opinion about social justice warriors, and that kind of somewhat rootless, unresearched rage. I identify what you’re saying, there: people that can’t keep their bedrooms tidy—be careful before you let them organize an economic system. But similarly, where is change going to come from? Who is going to challenge tyranny?

JP: Well, those are the sorts of twin forces that we have to contend with, across the political spectrum. I could run through something quickly—to put the things that you just brought up in perspective, let’s say. If you’re going to value some things more than others, then hierarchies are inevitable. And you have to value some things more than others, or you don’t have anything.

RB: Beauty or strength, or something.

JP: Sure, whatever it happens to be. The ability to play the flute. It doesn’t matter what it is.

RB: High on my list.

JP: Obviously, if you value music, then you’re going to value some musicians more than others, because some are better. So you have to value things in order to move forward in life, and you have to value things in order to have something valuable to produce. But if you play out the value in a social landscape, you’re going to produce a hierarchy. The problem with producing a hierarchy is that a small number of people are going to be more successful than the majority, and a very large number of people aren’t going to be successful at all, at that particular thing. It’s inevitable. So you say, "well, we have to put up with that, because we need to pursue things of value."

OK, fine. That’s the right-wing perspective, that the hierarchies are justifiable and necessary. Now, the left-wing perspective is, "yeah, but wait a minute: the problem with hierarchies is that people stack up at the bottom, and that they tilt towards tyranny across time." That’s also true, and so you need that dialectic in society, between the right wing, that says, "we need the hierarchies, and they’re useful, and you should be grateful for them, and they structure you and give you form, and they provide value," and the left, that says, "yeah, but they exclude people, and people stack up at the bottom, and that’s dangerous to the hierarchy itself, and it means that people might not have opportunity," and you have to say "yes" to that.

The situation we’re in, right now, is one where the radical leftists—and this is mostly a problem that, for me, is the universities—say, "yeah, but all hierarchies are just tyrannical power." It’s like, "oh, no, they’re not. Hierarchies are based on competence, in a functioning society, and mostly our society functions. So you can’t go that far." Now, that doesn’t mean that hierarchies don’t tilt towards self-interest and tyranny across time, but that’s a bad thing. It’s even a bad thing from the conservative perspective. So there’s room for the left. There’s room for the left, because the poor will always be with us. That’s the reason that there’s room for the left. The dispossessed need a voice, not least because there are talented people among the dispossessed, and if they’re stuck at zero, everyone suffers, because we don’t have access to their talents. It’s a bad use of resources. But on the right it’s, "no—we need the damn value hierarchies, and we need to be grateful for our traditions and our structures. They stop us degenerating into chaos."

RB: Also, across our society, numerous hierarchies emerge. At some point, decisions are being made: "is being a brilliant flutist, or being brilliant at tennis, or being brilliant at owning land, or at controlling energy resources, or dominating financial systems—which are the hierarchies that are most important?" Also, the way that resources are designated, and challenging those hierarchies, seems to become, well, almost impossible. When I was leaving the hospital that had been taking care of my mother—at the level of crisis and trauma and tragedy there, they’re excellent. They’ve got the best doctors. The guy that operated on her, Martin Griffiths, is a fantastic surgeon—it was in fact him that Trump quoted when he talked about European hospitals with blood-spatted floors from knife crime. It was a mangling of a quote that Martin Griffiths had given. And then I step outside; I’m driving a long way—Chapel Road—and there are electronic advertising boards that require energy to tell me to eat McDonalds or Kit Kats or whatever.

There’s so much poverty on that street. There always has been, in that part of East London. Terrible poverty. There are moments where I helicopter out to the macro—a perspective that no individual can long hold, a weight that can’t be long borne. But in that moment, I think, "why is this hospital struggling for resources, when we can afford to run electronic adverts for McDonalds? Who gets to decide how collectively and individually we determine where resources and where power—both in terms of energy and in terms of human power—end up? How are these decisions made?" As you say, among the dispossessed, there are great resources, great talent. One would imagine—if the research were possible—to the exact same degree as there is power and talent among the possessed, because it’s normally an accident of birth that decrees. Reading about your early life in Canada, in a blue collar community, and the sort of mental health issues, and the anger and agitation that grows there—so much of that is about resources: the dispossession of the native people of that area, the mental health issues of your friend, Chris. For me, we that are rising through these hierarchies, we that have experiences on both sides of that line, well, we are now challenging this evolutionary force. We are now in a position to talk about these hierarchies, how they’re ordered and how they’re organized, and whether there is room for negotiation.

JP: Well, it’s up to us to do that.

RB: Don’t you think there’s a risk in conservatism, of saying, "well, this is how the cards have fallen?"

JP: Of course. That is the risk in conservatism.

RB: How do we confront that?

JP: Well, the risk is that the hierarchies ossify and turn to stone, and then there’s no mobility. The idea that things can turn to stone, and they become tyrannical, is an extraordinarily old idea. For example, in the story of Exodus—the story of Moses—the Egyptians are portrayed in that story as tyrannical conservatives, essentially. They’re masters of stone, and Moses is a master of water, and water is the thing that dissolves. That drama’s being played out in these stories that are thousands of years old. In the ancient Egyptian story of Osiris and Horus, Osiris is the old king who becomes too rigid. What happens to him is that he’s dismembered by evil. That’s the consequence. So even the Egyptians, long ago, knew that the danger of hierarchies is that they become static, corrupt, and tyrannical.

Part of what we do in our ongoing political dialog—when it’s genuine dialog—is to say, "look, we need these systems; they’re not avoidable; but are they functioning properly? Are they loose enough, so that people can move? Are they serving the broader good, or have they degenerated into something that’s too tyrannical?" You kind of pointed to both of those, in the way you formulated that question. You said, "look, my mom was in the hospital, and she needed care. I found a surgeon who was an excellent surgeon." So what you did there, basically, was take a bow to the functional hierarchy of the hospital, and said, "look, the greatest surgeon actually rose to the top, and thank God for that, because otherwise my mother would be dead."

That’s a competency hierarchy, and it could be contaminated by tyranny, in which case it would be the brother of some powerful person who ended up with the surgical position, right? And then everyone dies. That does happen in many, many cultures, where nepotism or connections define your position on every axis. But then you said, "well, then I went out of the hospital, and I was driving down the road, and I saw what appeared to be a misallocation of resources." What we have to do about that is have a discussion about it, constantly. It’s like, "are we allocating resources to the appropriate place?" The other lurking problem there is, "to what degree to decide about the allocation of resources by voluntary effort—by planning—and to what degree do we let the market take care of it?" That’s also something that continually requires negotiation.

RB: Yeah, that market, mate—we can’t trust that.

JP: Well, that’s the question.

RB: We talk about it like it’s a neutral thing, but it’s just a conglomeration of interests of the powerful.

JP: Well, it’s a bunch of things. It can be that, but it can also be the way that we collectively value things.

RB: Yeah, but look at our collective values—and I’ll just quickly say this, first. I heard that, in Sweden, they regulate and control access to alcohol at a state level. Liquor stores are sort of socially run. They’re not allowed to be advertised, in Sweden. Sweden, I guess, is one of those havens of—I don’t know what your views are of Sweden, but I see a lot of stories that make Sweden seem like a postmodern democracy, almost, in some respects. Anyhow, I thought it was curious that they control alcohol in that manner. I envisaged the breweries and liquor distributors saying, "hey, that’s not a free market! You’re controlling access to alcohol!" as if, somehow, the free market was neutral. But there is no neutral: if the market is what has the power, peoples’ desires will be overly stimulated. If people have McDonalds advertised at them, or alcohol advertised at them, people will bloody eat McDonalds and drink alcohol. There has to be some moralizing force. There has to be something that’s not economically led, that’s not the manifestation of greed, that’s in the conversation. Someone in a secular society, where there is no reasonable or trusted voice of God, has to be able to say, "don’t drink too much alcohol or eat too much McDonalds," because they will.

JP: See, I think the most effective solution to that problem is to have the economic system run, let’s say, by distributed individuals, who are themselves aiming at a higher good. So I think the most effective way of regulating the market, so to speak, is to improve the moral character of the people who make up the market, rather than directly regulating the market—not that the market doesn’t necessarily need some regulation, because you might say, "how about we don’t devote alcohol advertising to children under 10?" Most people would agree that’s a reasonable perspective. So that is limitation on market forces. There are places where you can find that limitation being accepted by almost anyone. But part of what you’re pointing to is that, if the only thing that’s governing the market is concern for pure market success, then the market can produce all sorts of excesses. But I think what you want is to help orient people towards a transcendent good that’s over and above market interest.

You might say, "well, what interests should you serve, as you’re trying to make a living as a comedian?" You might want to make sure that you’re conducting yourself appropriately in the market place. You’re concerned about yourself, but also your future self—and that’s partly why addiction is such a catastrophe, because it’s great in the short term; it’s not so good in the medium-to-long run. So you have to take care of yourself and your iterations through the future. You have to take care of yourself in a way that you’re taking care of your family. You have to take care of yourself and your family in a way that you’re benefiting the community, and that should be foremost in your mind. So then, when you start to make economic decisions, even in your business, you’re not saying, "I’m going to do whatever I can to make as much money as I can." You’re going to say, "I’m going to do whatever I can to make as much money as I can, while also making sure that I’m taking care of myself and my future self and my family and my community, and being grateful for all of that, and serving it properly." And then I think the market can work more effectively, but still might require some discussion around the edges, because nothing is simple. The reason that I’m concentrating on the individual and individual development is because I think that’s the best way to do that regulation.

RB: I think that’s important. I think it’s nonnegotiable. I think it’s necessary. But I also believe that, if you have a society that’s predicated on some of the worst aspects of human behaviour—lust, desire, fear. If lust, fear, and desire are so high in the mix, if you’re constantly being prompted towards onanism and consuming, I think that individual improvement will be insufficient. I feel that your success—I don’t know what it’s based on, but I feel, to a degree, that you’ve contacted people: "oh, yeah—I can improve my own life; I can have a bit of personal authority and autonomy." I think that’s hugely positive. But if every time you step out of your house, if every time you interface with society or pick up your phone or look at a screen, the aspect of yourself that’s being nurtured, that’s being invited to participate, are the lower aspects of your nature—because those are the most successful routes to a person’s decision making impulses.

Now, I think it is difficult for these individual projects to succeed. I think that, for certain people, that message will take hold, but for others it won’t. I’m not a big fan of regulation. I understand your irritation at this postmodern deconstructionalist argument of "let’s destroy God; let’s destroy all categories: man, woman—none of it’s real." I believe in essence, the humours, the deities, the gods. I feel these things are present. But I feel that we’re already being subject to a kind of invisible tyranny. It’s already happening, and I don’t think it’s happening as a result of like some critical theory, post-Marxist—that’s not where power is. That feels like it’s sort of bullshit, but it doesn’t feel like it’s as fucking powerful as Glaxo Kline or Halliburton. What I’m interested in is power, real power, and how power is functioning, and how power is negatively impacting ordinary people.

JP: I think it’s perfectly reasonable to point out that there might be multiple ways that people experience tyrannical oppression. Every hierarchy’s going to tilt towards tyrannical form in its own particular way. I’ve been concerned about what’s happening in the university, on the radical left. Your concern—the concern you just brought up—is something like overwhelming, large-scale corporate dominance. I think that’s also a reasonable set of concerns. It might not be for the best, for example, that all of our communication is filtered through Google. That might be a bit too much. The question is always, "what can we do about it?" There’s an answer to that, actually: "we can leave people’s ability to communicate untrammelled"—so that’s why I’m an advocate of free speech—"so that we can have intelligent discussions about those problems as they emerge, and hopefully work towards solutions." We can’t just generate a structure of rules that says, "here’s the 10 rules that are going to deal with that complex situation." Things change too rapidly for that. The reason that freedom of speech—as far as I’m concerned—is the paramount right, and also the paramount moral obligation, is because it’s through our ability to exchange honest opinions that we participate in the process that enables us to keep tyranny of the sort that you described and the sort that I described at bay.

Part of the reason I’ve taken the tack that I have politically is because, well, my government had the gall to implement compelled speech legislation, without noticing what it was that they were interfering with. How do you keep tyranny at bay? The proper exchange of ideas between free individuals keeps tyranny at bay. That’s the best we’ve got. It doesn’t work perfectly, and it’s also, I think, a gift that England, in large part, has given to the rest of the world—to formalize and codify that; put it into a body of law; erect governmental structures that are really predicated on that idea. It’s a remarkable achievement, and it’s something that we should be profoundly grateful for.

RB: Thank you. I want to talk to you about—I was taking that praise on behalf of England, there. As an English person, I accept that. There are two dragons, then—at least until we reach some non-dualistic utopia, where everything is one. There is the inner dragon of our own desires and fears, but I suppose, when we’re talking about management of resources, where does the attention need to go? It’s difficult. There’s something about my background that has led me to identify as the dragon: "oh, it’s consumerism. It’s turning people into consumers," because, obviously, as an addict, that’s what I am: a consumer—an ultra-consumer. And it seems with you, with your background in academia, this neo-Marxist—but when I sort of think about socialism, e.g. "people are working too hard; you should only work four hours a day; there should be time for fishing in the afternoon"—which is in Das Kapital. I think he talks about fishing in the afternoon.

For me, that seems like a very beautiful, fair, and just idea. Also, whilst I can imagine they are irritating on a campus—particularly for somebody who’s researched such a lot—I don’t see them as powerful. That’s part of my intrigue. I suppose it’s comparable to when I was talking to Sam Harris: another person who I admire, but who I’ve got a "yeah, but I don’t know…" Like when I’m talking to Sam Harris about Islam, I go, "but how is Islam going to…" I feel like, even if we’re talking about Saudi Arabia and wahhabism—Saudi Arabia is an economic entity. They’re not an Islamic entity, in terms of, "let’s go do some Islam!" It’s, "let’s go do some business!"

JP: I’m concerned mostly with the emphasis on the collective identity, rather than the individual identity. The process that you just described, I would say—and this is the answer to the question that you posed at the beginning of our conservation: "is there something universal about the process that you laid out?" I think there is, and I think it’s at the core of individual development, and I think it’s the most powerful of forces. And so I think that the individual should be regarded as the proper locus of evaluation. The problem I have with the postmodern neo-Marxist types—apart from the fact that their analysis tends to lead to a kind of nihilism—is that, because they’re making the group the paramount level of analysis, this sort of thing gets ignored. What I’m trying to do in my work—we have a program called the Self Authoring Program, that kind of steps people through these 12 Steps that you’ve just described. The first thing that people do is write about their past—all the emotional experiences. The second thing they do is take an inventory of their personality faults and virtues, so they can rectify the faults and capitalize on the virtues. The third thing they do is chart a course for the future. It takes them into account, and others.

I see it as a reflection of this universal process that you just described. I think it’s the most powerful form of transformation. But more importantly, I think it’s the one that risks doing the least harm. It hasn’t hurt anybody, that you’ve put yourself together. It’s just good, right? It’s good for you; it’s good for the people that know you; and it’s the right level of humility. You took what you knew to be wrong in your experience; you took personal responsibility for it; you made changes for yourself; you didn’t go around pointing the finger at what was wrong with the external world and trying to fix it. It could easily be that, once you have your act together—or maybe even before—you should be doing some things to adjust political or sociological systems. But the problem with that is, "what makes you think you can trust yourself?" It’s like, "well, I’m compassionate." "Maybe—maybe you’re also envious of the successful." The probability of that’s pretty damn high, by the way. So you better know, before you express that compassion—especially in the political domain—whether that is contaminated by things about yourself that you haven’t contended with.

RB: Do you think an honest declaration along those lines—or specifically that—in the political field would be refreshing?

JP: This is a very funny thing. The emperor of ancient Mesopotamia—so this is some of the earliest political documentation we have, by the way. Here’s what they used to do to the emperor: Every New Year’s Day, they would take him outside the wall of the city—so he was responsible for everything within the walls. Outside was chaos and the unknown. They’d take him outside the city; they’d strip him of all his emperor garb, so he’s no longer emperor; they’d make him kneel. If I remember correctly, the priest would hit him with a glove, and say, "name all the ways that you didn’t embody Marduk in the last year." Marduk was the God of the Mesopotamians and the thing that took on the great dragon of chaos. And so it was the responsibility of the emperor to kneel down, and say, "here’s all the ways that I haven’t been acting out my proper self, and that brought the kingdom into disarray." And then he would be forgiven, and they would act out the reconstruction of the cosmos. That was the New Year’s celebration. And then he’d go in and try to be a good king.

RB: I like that.

JP: Yeah! No kidding. Absolutely. It’s like the confession of the emperor: "here’s the way I haven’t been good."

RB: Are there any comparable—are the powerful held up for that kind of evaluation in any form now?

JP: We don’t have rituals for that.

RB: Because we don’t acknowledge the emergence of order from chaos. We don’t acknowledge divine principles. And I think this is possibly because of an assumed meritocracy. People that are in positions of power are there for a reason. You don’t need to start stripping them naked, taking them outside the city, and saying, "how often did you wank in the Oval Office? every day? Get out."

JP: I think there might be something to that; and that’s the danger of pride that goes along with ascension and hierarchy: "well, because I’m here in this position, I must deserve it." It’s like, "yeah, but there should still be something that you’re bowing down to, and that might be the abstract idea of sovereign authority itself." If you think about it only psychologically, that’s a figure that, essentially, has a touch of divinity about it.

RB: The monarchy right now, that’s the Queen: the anointed and appointed monarch. I suppose, in a postsecular nation, she becomes the emblem of Britain, rather than the emblem of God on earth.

JP: Right. Well, I think it actually functions, to some degree.

RB: In the same way.

JP: Well, I do think so. I think your Queen in particular—our Queen, as well.

RB: Maybe, maybe,

JP: I think Elizabeth has been an embodiment of moral virtue. I mean, she’s done a remarkable job over the last—what is it, seventy-five years now. She’s held herself to an incredibly high moral standard, and I think she does sit, in the background, as emblematic of what sovereign authority might look like.

RB: This is an area where… I mean, I’m English. I can’t get away from the love of the Queen. But I would also say that she is an emblem of authority, and of power, and of wealth, and land ownership, and that there is an order that ought be respected and can’t be challenged. Every so often, this country sort of toys with the idea of republicanism. They’re always grateful when there’s a wedding—like there is this week. No one has to think, "is this right, that we’re paying for this bizarre spectacle?"

JP: Yeah, well, it is useful to think about it in a symbolic sense. One of the things that constantly threatens the United States—I think there should be four branches of government: legislative, judicial, executive, and symbolic. The problem in the United States is that the President keeps tilting towards king. Americans like the idea of the First Family and the First Lady. It’s like, "yeah… no." It kind of tilts towards a dynasty, and you’ve seen that happen with the Bushes and the Clintons. It’s not a good thing. It might be nice to have someone take the symbolic load off the President and just act that out. Your Queen does that very nicely, because all of the pomp and circumstance of the state, and all of the drama and ritual of the sovereign, can be played out in that sort of dramatic space, and your legislative and executive branches can go off and do the administration.

RB: It’s interesting that the dynasties exert themselves. In a sense, it’s a demonstration of your argument that there are certain hierarchical systems that find their way into fruition, regardless of regulation. But then, I suppose, there’s rational reasons they would have the resources, the experiences, the connections.

JP: Sure. It’s easier for them. But that’s the danger of a republic: the fact that—and it’s part of the potential corruption of the state—it’s easier for the children of those who have authority to have power. You don’t want people attaining the pinnacle of achievement because of power. You want them attaining the pinnacle of achievement because of competence. Those things always struggle. It takes a society that’s very awake to stop the hierarchies from degenerating into hierarchies of power.

RB: Because degeneration is the tendency.

JP: Sure. Well, It’s easy. It’s easy.

RB: Can you quote that W.B. Yeats poem… You know, that fearsome and terrifying… The falconer poem.

JP: Well, people have recognized that it’s the proclivity of hierarchies towards tyranny for, really, thousands of years—have seen that as a fundamental danger to adaptation. "We need hierarchies." Yes. "But they degenerate into tyranny, and they unfairly oppress." Yes. We have to be on guard against that. But that doesn’t mean that we call all hierarchies "tyrannies," because that’s not helpful—or we call all productive activity "service to the oppressive patriarchy," because that’s seriously not helpful. And we don’t dispense with hierarchies, because then people don’t have anything to do.

RB: Yes. So it’s the, "get the beam out of your eye." So if the individual is attuned; if the individual is a channel… I like the prayer of Saint Francis. I like it as a model. It invites us to find the reverse of each defective characteristic—that we all sin, that we might be living out—to become a channel of some inherent goodness.

JP: One of the things that’s interesting about that—two things, actually. The first is that the word "sin" means "to miss the target." It’s an archery term. So that’s a very interesting way of thinking about it, because it means that—

RB: —there is a target.

JP: There is a target. That’s the thing. But the next thing is—and this comes right out of that—it’s very useful to become aware of your faults, because as soon you posit a fault, you posit the opposite: by merely saying, "well, that’s a fault," you’re saying, implicitly, "well, there’s something that’s the opposite of that." So out of your recognition of faults, immediately some clarity of virtue develops. You might say, "well, this is a fault, and I really know it!" It’s like, "great! You’ve got some bedrock there. Whatever the opposite of that fault is—you might not know what that is, but whatever the opposite of that fault is, is a virtue." And then you might say, "well, I have 20 faults." It’s like, "great! The opposite of the personality that has all those 20 faults is the virtuous you, whatever that might happen to be." Well, great—then you’ve conjured out of the devil a redeemer.

RB: Undoubtedly, both in terms of cosmology and fleeting morality, there is chaos; there is vastness; but there are also patterns; there are patterns that emerge, and whether you call that pattern male, or love, or beauty, there are various patterns. I feel that there is something to get in alignment with. There is a tune; there is harmony; there is melody; there is grace.

JP: That’s all expressed in music, and all you’re using there are musical analogies—musical representations. That’s what music expresses: to have all of that in harmony. People love music because of that. Music is the harmonious interaction of patterns, and you just described all those positive spirits—that’s a good way of thinking about it—as patterns. Well, they are patterns. Then you might think there’s a pattern that is composed of all of those patterns. Well, that’s what you’re after: you’re after the pattern that’s composed of all of those patterns.

RB: Yes.

JP: Yes. Absolutely. And you want to put yourself in harmony with that, and that is a real thing. That’s a real thing. You can feel that. It’s what keeps you alive, essentially, when you’re trying to become conscious.

RB: Yes, yes. There is something important happening. I feel like what we were saying before about the acknowledgement of difference needn’t infer inferiority—that is something that we must invite.

JP: This is part of what the radical leftists keep saying: "we should celebrate diversity." It’s like, "yes! But what that means, first, is the admission that people actually differ. Otherwise, you don’t actually have diversity." I’m glad that there are conservatives. I’m glad that there are leftists. The conservatives run things; the leftists invent them. Good! And they’re really different, those people. If you have a group that’s all conservatives, and they’re going down the right path, they’re going to go down that path really fast. But if they’re going down the wrong path, they’re not going to be able to think laterally and figure out how to get out of it. If you have a group of left-leaning creative types, they’re going to come up with a hundred ideas, but the probability that they’ll organize in a stable hierarchy and implement those effectively is zero.

They’re going to have to call over the conservatives: "look, guys, we finally got a good idea. You can have one idea, because you’re conservatives. Run with it." And then they can all run with it. And so it’s really good that we have people who are like that, on both sides of the distribution. Otherwise, the creative types would sit around and come up with new ideas until they starve to death in squalor, and the conservatives would just ossify and run down a road that got narrower and narrower and narrower, and they’d all end up stuck between two cliffs, and that’d be the end of it for both of them.

RB: Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. We require synthesis.

JP: That’s the interplay of opposites—actual opposites.

RB: Yeah, yeah, yeah. The yin-yang. There needs to be necessary collusion between distinction. But for that to happen, there needs to be acknowledgment and recognition of difference. But trying to achieve equality with the annihilation of category is not a successful route.

JP: Yes. That’s exactly right. That is not a successful route.

RB: Thank you Doctor-Professor Jordan Peterson. We have good chats, don’t we?

JP: That was great. Yeah. That was really good. Absolutely. Thanks for inviting me back.

RB: Oh, no. Thank you. Thank you for your time.