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Podcast Episode Highlights
Intro. [Recording date: January 25, 2018.]
Russ Roberts: Jordan Peterson's latest book is 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, which is the subject of today's conversation. Jordon, welcome to EconTalk....
Russ Roberts: Your book's very, um--it's rather extraordinary. It may be the only self-help book that combines the Bible, Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, Jung, and a lot of Jordan Peterson. I found it provocative, inspiring. Sometimes frustrating. We'll get to that, I hope. And I hope we'll also get to some broader issues outside the book, as well, if time permits. I want to start with happiness.
Jordan Peterson: I found it frustrating, too. So, you are not alone there.
Russ Roberts: I bet you did. Keeping to a mere, what, 300-something, 350-so pages must have been challenging for you. Because I know you have a lot to say. But, I want to start with happiness. I think many people--maybe most--have as their central goal in life to be happy. Is there something wrong with that?
Jordan Peterson: Well, there's a bunch of things wrong with it. First of all, it's simply not true. If you look at what people mean when they say they want to be happy, what they actually want is to not be anxious and miserable. And, the reason I'm making a point of that is because you might think of happiness and sadness as opposites. But, they are actually not, because you have a system in your brain, or a part of your psyche, that is responsible for the production of positive emotion. And you have a separate system that is responsible for the production of negative emotion. And when people say they want to be happy, what they really mean, if you do the psychological analysis properly and question them properly and dig in and, and develop a detailed understanding of what they actually mean, they mean they don't want to be anxious and in pain. And that's not surprising. So, technically, it's not incorrect that people are after happiness. But, then, let's say, metaphysically, and more strictly psychologically, I also think it's a bad goal. Because, there's lots of times in your life--there's going to be lots of times in your life, where you just can't be happy. My neighbor up the street said to me once, 'You're only ever as happy as your least happy child.'
Russ Roberts: Heard that one. Yeah.
Jordan Peterson: Yeah. It's a good one, too.
Russ Roberts: There's something to it.
Jordan Peterson: There is something to it. And, you know, most of the time in life, there's at least one serious thing going wrong. You have a relative who is not well, or you have financial difficulties, or there's a problem in a relationship, or--like, life is hard. And there's often something going wrong. So, if what you want is to be happy and most of the time there's something serious going wrong, then that's not going to work out very well for you. And so, what I recommended in 12 Rules for Life, and what I think wise people have recommended since the beginning of time, is that you look for--you look for meaningful engagement, and significance, and responsibility instead of happiness. Because that can keep you afloat during times of, during tragic and troubled times. And that's better than happiness. It's not like I'm against happiness. Maan, if comes your way, embrace it. But, it's a gift, I think, rather than something that's a proper pursuit.
Russ Roberts: Do you think it's dangerous and unhealthy to assume it's our lot in life? I feel like a lot of people, certainly in America in the 21st century feel like it's their birthright. And if they don't get it, something's terribly unfair.
Jordan Peterson: Oh, yeah. That's not good. That's not good. That's why, in so many religious traditions the fundamental axiom is that life is suffering. It's like, 'Don't be thinking that the default condition is happiness.' That's just--that's a road to purgatory and disaster, that. And it is because the fundamental preconditions of life are tragic. So, and that has to be contended with. You can contend with it. The idea that somehow the default position of human beings is happiness is just--it's the delusion of an extremely naive child.
Russ Roberts: I want to talk about meaning, which runs through the book. I got an interesting question from a listener who wanted me to ask you about the ethics of searching for meaning for life. You always--you have a very poetic way of talking about it in the book, and online. You say things like, 'Lift your gaze beyond yourself.' 'Aim high.' 'Look for starlike--Pinocchio wants to grow up and become a real, genuine, awake human being.' And yet, of course, at the same time, when I was thinking about that, I was thinking about David Foster Wallace, who said, I thought very profoundly, 'Everyone worships.' So, some people said their star and a religious goal, that's maybe a very beautiful, Hayek-minded goal, some set their sites on a religious goal that's maybe dark. Some people set their sites on joining a movement that is hateful at its core, but feeds something deep inside. It seems to me we all want something profoundly greater than ourselves. But what we attach ourselves to, which is David Foster Wallace's point: We should be very careful. What are your thoughts on that?
Jordan Peterson: Well, I think that often people attach themselves to something for the wrong reasons. I wrote about that a fair bit in Rule 6, which is: Set yourself, set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world. Which is a meditation on the desire to commit atrocity. Right? So it's a description of the mindset of people like the Columbine High School shooters and a serial killer and rapist whose psychological state I analyze named Carl Panzram, who wrote a very interesting autobiography describing his motivations. Like, people can go to very dark places because they become bitter and resentful. And then they can align themselves with the desire to do harm. To commit atrocity. To produce suffering for the sake of suffering. And, that's--well, I think that's the gateway to Hell, fundamentally. That's the best way of thinking about it. I do think that people can differ in the--what would you call it--in the metaphysics of their aim. I mean, some people are aiming at having a comfortable life, say, a loving family life. And that's perfectly fine. I think that's a high-order goal--
Russ Roberts: And challenging--
Jordan Peterson: It's very challenging--
Russ Roberts: It's challenging already.
Jordan Peterson: It's very challenging. Absolutely. There's nothing trivial about it at all. It's difficult to put your family in order, properly. It's very, very challenging. And if you can do that, then you build[?] to do a lot of other things as well. But, people, people need to have a goal that's beyond the gratification of the impulses of the moment. Not least because the strategy of gratifying impulses in the moment doesn't work very well. So, it just--from--like, the book, 12 Rules for Life, is a very philosophical book. And, it deals in high-order abstractions very frequently. But the entire point of the book is practicality. I'm trying to outline--I'm trying to provide people with information that's necessary to make the kind of choices in their day-to-day life that would really help put their worlds together. And so, and so: Impulsive gratification of each whim as it appears, is a very bad strategy. It's really the strategy of a 2-year-old. I mean that technically. And, like, 2-year-olds just can't survive in the world. And if left to their own devices, they are often extremely upset. So, you need a goal. You need a transcendent goal. Because a transcendent goal unifies you psychologically. And then unifies that unity with the social world. And both of those things are absolutely necessary if you don't want to suffer stupidly and bitterly.
Russ Roberts: Well, at the same time you emphasize something it takes a while to learn, I think, as you grow up: that, focusing only on the goal rather than the process of getting to the goal is a huge mistake as well. If you set--it's good to have a goal. But if all you do is think, 'Got to have it. Got to have it. Got to have it,' you're going to have a tough time.
Jordan Peterson: Yeah, well, with any luck, you know, if you get the goal right--this is--I do a fairly detailed analysis of the Sermon on the Mount in Rule 7, which is: Do what is meaningful, not what is expedient. And, the advice in the Sermon on the Mount is: Aim at the highest good that you can conceive of; but, having done that, concentrate on the moment. And so, you might say that if you get your goal right--imagine that you get your goal right, okay, whatever right means. And then imagine it means that it's good for you now. And it's good for you next week, and next year. So, you can play it out across time in a successful way. It's an iteratable game. But it's also good for other people at the same time. But, then, it's also the kind of goal that engages you in its pursuit. You want all of that in a goal. Say, well, I'm trying to, I'm trying to build a business. I want to establish a business. And there's some sense of financial security that goes along with that, and financial opportunity and challenge. But if you configure it correctly, then you'll find that the steps that you take on the way to that goal are also in and of themselves worthwhile. And then, the end and the means are aligned. And that's--why not have that? I mean, if you are going to pick a goal, and you can pick it not exactly arbitrary but you have a range of choices, why not pick one that works for you and everyone else, and that works while you are pursuing it and as an end?
Russ Roberts: Yeah. Obviously it can be deeply satisfying.
Russ Roberts: I wonder if you'd reflect for a minute on something that Adam Smith says in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. We talk a lot about that here on EconTalk, which is, he says, "Man naturally desires not only to be loved but to be lovely." And Smith--what he means by that is that people would yearn for the respect of the people around them. They want to be praised. They want to be paid attention to. They want to be looked at. They want to matter. They don't want to be off in the corner. And you talk a lot about posture--both physical and metaphysical, spiritual posture. And in Smith's vision--a person who is--he would never call them 'happy'--but, which is not his goal, either--satisfied. Somebody who is serene, somebody who has some tranquility in their life, is somebody who is paid attention to. And he says there's different ways to get there. Fame and fortune does it, but he urges you to be wise and virtuous. What do you think of that, as a--and you should earn that praise and respect, he says, honestly--which is why he says you should 'be lovely', not just 'loved'?
Jordan Peterson: I think it's brilliant. I think you can see that in the way people look at each other. And I mean that literally. When you are talking with someone, or even talking to a group, you watch, you watch the eyes, and the face, of the individual and the individuals who compose the group. And you look at what they are broadcasting at you. And what you want is, interest. You want their eyes to be open. And their pupils to be slightly dilated. And you want their face to be configured so that they are taking in the information that the interaction with you constitutes, and you want them--what do you say--broadcasting a certain amount of hopeful, positive emotion at you. And that's all--all of that is broadcasting that you are acting in a lovely manner in Adam Smith's, um, in sense of the term. And people are always telling each other exactly how to do that. You know, you want people to laugh at your jokes, because that means you are actually funny. And you want people to listen when you speak, because that means you have something to say. And you want people to be happy when you enter a room, because that means they are glad that you are there. And, people are broadcasting their--they are broadcasting your departure from the ideal at you all the time.
Russ Roberts: Constantly.
Jordan Peterson: Yes. Constantly. And if you pay attention to that, then you can, you can figure out how it is that you should be. And you could get better at being that way. And, there's no loss in that. Well, the one loss is that you have to take the responsibility for it. And you have to let go of everything about you that's interfering with that. So, there are sacrifices to be made. But, there's nothing but ultimate gain, I would say, in every sense of the word.
Russ Roberts: For Smith--those--you just said it in a very rich way. The way I summarize it: When we interact with other people, we have these little feedback loops of approval and disapproval. That's what Smith talks about. And, it's the raised eyebrow. It's that look, that you are talking about, that says, 'I want more. I want to be here.' And, when you get that look, you know you are doing something right.
Jordan Peterson: Right--
Russ Roberts: It's a beautiful signal.
Jordan Peterson: Exactly. I want to be here with you now. That's a good look.
Russ Roberts: And, just to refund that for a second--some of the most transcendent moments of my life have been the handful of times that I've had a conversation where that kind of connection is established, with a person who might be almost, sometimes a stranger. Doesn't have to be your wife--although but if it's your wife, it's lovely, and your children, or your loved ones. But when you can connect with another human being in that open, inviting--it's a delicious thing. It doesn't have to be--it's not someone just telling you a joke. It can be somebody sharing a tragedy that you empathize with that connects them to you in a profound way.
Jordan Peterson: Yeah. Well, I describe that in Chapter 9. That's Rule 9. Assume that the person you are listening to knows something you don't. And it's a guide to having that kind of conversation. And I would say that's a conversation where, speaking metaphysically, I would say that's a conversation where the logos is present, right? Because both of you are developing in the conversation. You are both extending yourself beyond where you are. And that's incredibly engrossing. People love to see that happen. Like, they love to watch athletes do that. If you see an athlete who is extremely well-trained--I always think about this when I'm watching gymnastics at the Olympics because now and then you see, you know, the gymnasts are so highly trained and so skilled that every single move they make is perfect. But, now and then you see someone go beyond perfection. And you think--well, how is that possible? Well, it is possible, because they do everything perfectly; but at the same time they are pushing themselves past their previous limit--just that, just that right amount that puts that on the ragged edge of disaster. And so, they are perfect and developing further, at the same time. And that's something to watch. That's something that will bring an audience to their feet. And you can have that experience in a conversation where you are both exchanging information honestly and you are in a domain of competence while you are doing it, but you are stretching yourself beyond your competence while you are having the conversation. And transforming yourself. And that's a great conversation. That's the kind of conversation you want to have with everyone--
Russ Roberts: Yeah--
Jordan Peterson: if you could--
Russ Roberts: Every day.
Jordan Peterson: Every day.
Russ Roberts: You can never get enough of it.
Jordan Peterson: That's exactly right. You can never get enough of it.
Russ Roberts: And it's a great drug. The side-effects are all positive. And you can't beat it.
Jordan Peterson: Yeah. And it's good for you, and it's good for the people you're having the conversation with, and it's good for the people they know. There's nothing about it that--well, and that's one of the things that's so lovely about--to use Smith's term again--about being a clinical psychologist. You know, because people come to you and they say, 'I'd like to make my life better.' It's like, 'Okay. That sounds like fun. Let's have a conversation about that. What's wrong with your life? What do you think's wrong with it?' That's a long conversation. 'Well, how do you think it could be better?' That's a long conversation. And then, 'Well, let's see if we could come up with a strategy to make it better.' And all of those conversations are super-engrossing. It's like being in a Dostoyevsky novel all the time.
Russ Roberts: Well, it's your fault that I'm a third of the way through The Brothers Karamazov.
Jordan Peterson: How's that going?
Russ Roberts: Well, I don't really love the romantic side plots. I'd be happy with just the philosophy. The philosophy, I'm enjoying tremendously. I'm reading the Constance Garnett translation, by the way. Which I think is--I'm always a big fan of hers. Let's switch gears. I want to talk about parenting. But seriously, I'm grateful for that, because it's an extraordinary book that I missed.
Jordan Peterson: It is. It's an amazing book. You have to put up with the romance, if you are going to read the Russians.
Russ Roberts: I'm getting in there. Don't worry. Not to worry.
Jordan Peterson: And it ties the philosophy together, as the book progresses. So it's not--
Russ Roberts: I'm not concerned. But it's a little bit slow going at times. A lot of crying, a lot of emotions.
Jordan Peterson: Yeah. Well, they are Russians, you know.
Russ Roberts: Yeah. Can't help it.
Russ Roberts: So, I want to ask you about parenting. Bryan Caplan, the economist, has been a guest on the show a number of times, and he argues in a book about children that parents spend too much time trying to influence their children, and how they are going to turn out as adults. And he uses research on twins, adopted children. And he argues that nature dominates nurture dramatically. And that parents have little lasting influence on many aspects of their children's lives.
Jordan Peterson: Yeah. It's not true.
Russ Roberts: Yeah; I suspect you don't agree with that. So, I don't want to get into the weeds on the research--
Jordan Peterson: Well, it's really--it's an interesting thing to think about. Because what happens is that if you set up the preconditions in your household properly, then the shared environmental variance disappears. And so it looks like you are not doing anything. But that's misleading. Like, so, imagine your child has a nature and a fair bit of that is determined temperamentally, biologically. And then what you want to do is establish an individual relationship with that child, so that what they are can maximize. And the statistical processes that are used to analyze those effects aren't sufficiently sophisticated to pick up the individuality of what you are doing. And so they risk throwing the baby away with the bathwater. Like, if you treat all your children as if they are the same, then that's going to be trouble.
Russ Roberts: Well, I happen to agree with you, and I happen to agree with that general thrust on social science research, generally. But, let's get to what you think parents should see as their task in raising children. You have an extraordinary chapter on raising children. Which--I sent the book to my dad--which, the rule on child raising, which I think is--
Jordan Peterson: Don't let your children do anything that makes you dislike them--
Russ Roberts: Yeah. That was my dad's philosophy, as a parent, and with my mom. And I always thought that a profoundly--a radical idea, actually. And it's violated constantly by most--by many parents that I see. So, explain what you mean by that and what you think parents should do.
Jordan Peterson: Well, it's radical for two reasons. The first reason it's radical is because it's the rule that you would adopt if you knew that you were a monster. And you might say, 'Well, I'm not a monster.' It's like, lots of people think that, but I've seen the catastrophic consequences of people mistreating their children physically and psychologically over periods that span decades, and it's far less rare than people would like to think. And so you might say, 'Well, why is there so much misery in families?' And part of the answer to that is that people are a lot more monstrous than they like to think. And so, when I had my little kids--they're in their mid-20s now--I'd already recognized that I was a monster, and I thought, 'Well, I want to make sure that I'm positively pre-disposed to my children as often as possible, so that I'm happy when good things happen to them and unhappy when bad things happen to them.' And what that means is I can't allow them to disturb me deeply, because I definitely take my revenge if they do. And I'm big and strong, and they're little and dependent. So, that's the first thing, is you want to make sure that you like your children so that you don't have to be a monster to them. And that means that you have to understand how dark and terrible you can be; and that's very uncomfortable for people. Because they say, 'Well, of course I love my children, and I never do anything to harm them. Of course I always like them.' And I'm like, 'Yeah, that's all lies.'
Russ Roberts: It's just talk.
Jordan Peterson: It's all lies. Okay. So the next thing is, so then you think: Well, maybe you're a bit crazy. And so, your children are doing perfectly okay child things, and it's bothering you. It's like, well, yeah; you also have to get your act together and you have to talk to your wife and your family and make sure you're not completely out of your mind with your rules. And you don't want to have too many rules. Like, this is all assuming that, apart from the fact that you're a monster, that you're also trying to be a reasonable human being. So, okay. So that's the preconditions. But then why is it that you shouldn't let your children do anything that makes you dislike them, apart from the fact that you will extract revenge? And the answer to that is simple. You're probably more positively predisposed to your children than most people are likely to be, at least on first encounter. So, if what they are doing is bothering you, the probability that it will also bother other people is extremely high. And so, like, I've seen two-year old kids say, maybe they come over to our house with their parents; and the two year old has never been subject to any reasonable regulation of his behavior whatsoever. And so, while we're supposed to be having a nice dinner and a reasonable conversation, the kid is wandering all over the house, tearing books out of the bookshelves, and tumbling down the stairs and standing up underneath tables and pulling the plants off the sidetables. And the parent is right behind them--
Russ Roberts: catching each book--
Jordan Peterson: [?]. Yeah. But, hovering over them like the ultimate tyrant. It's like, it's not helpful. You don't invite people like that back. And you're not happy to see their children. And that's terrible, because children are really delightful. And if their behavior is reasonably regulated, then they can operate in a world where, when adults see them and smile, they mean it. And when other kids meet them, they immediately want to play. And then that means that you can have your child enter a world where everywhere they go, virtually, the adults wear genuine smiles and will interact with them and teach them and listen to them and pat them on the head and tell them that they're cute. And wherever they go, they'll make friends. It's like: Well, what else could you possibly want for your child? That's what you want to have happen to your child by the time they're 4 years of age. That's what you want. And, it isn't that you want to raise their self-esteem or help them be creative or don't interfere with their maximal freedom, or any of that. What you want is to help them understand how to be eminently desirable human beings in the social landscape. And, that sort of ties back to that 'loveliness' that we were talking about earlier.
Russ Roberts: Yeah. One of the challenges, of course, is that a parent--and I'm 63; I have four kids, and my youngest is 18 so I'm done with the young person part of parenting. I'm into the next phase. But, the challenge, of course--and I wish I could do it all over again, right? You make so many mistakes. It's incredible how many mistakes that you make; and you think you're so wise now: I'm sure I'd make a different set if I started over. But what's extraordinary is you see your flaws in your children. And, one of the challenges, I think, of loving them and not extracting that revenge, is to accept those flaws that are your flaws, and that you've created. You've created them genetically; you've created them through the household behaviors. And you still love them.
Jordan Peterson: Well, it's also--often, you know, the philosopher Nietzsche said, 'Great men are seldom credited with their stupidity.' And, I really like that. Because, what he was pointing out in his inimitable way, was that lots of vices have a virtuous side; and vice versa. And I thought about this a lot when I thought about what it meant to love someone--like a child. It's like: Well, children have all sorts of limitations. Of course, so do parents, and so do friends. You might think, 'Well, it would be better if they didn't have those limitations and those weaknesses.' But, you have to be careful about that, because you could throw the baby out with the bathwater. Sometimes what you regard as a flaw is the flip side of a virtue. Not always. But more often than people think. And so, it's useful to think that that particular, peculiar configuration that characterizes someone you love is lovable precisely because it is particular and peculiar.
Russ Roberts: Yeah, I agree.
Russ Roberts: Now, we've talked about suffering a little bit. It runs through the book. And I would say that the way it runs through the book is that it's a fundamental human condition. I can relate to that: it's taken me a long time. I've suffered more--I think it's interesting when you talk to teenagers, if you are lucky to talk to the happier teenagers, they'll say, 'What do you mean by that? What are you talking about?' But, as you get older, and as you point out, tragedies happen, inevitably, to you, to your friends, your loved ones. And your heart opens up. You get changed by it. There's something poignant and beautiful about it, and painful. But one of my few complaints about the book is that it's a little short on joy. And love. I would call it a stern book. It's a bit of a lecture. And, I certainly see this as a time in history when we need a little more seriousness.
Jordan Peterson: It's a lot of a lecture.
Russ Roberts: Yeah.
Jordan Peterson: But I'm lecturing myself, as well--
Russ Roberts: Oh, for sure.
Jordan Peterson: I'm hoping that that redeems it to some degree. Because, I'm hoping that I'm not finger-wagging--
Russ Roberts: No, not at all. There's a lot of self-revelation in it that's clearly well-earned. But I'm just curious why you focus so much on what I would call the dark side of the human heart.
Jordan Peterson: Well, I think it's a corrective--I would say. Because, everyone knows it, but no one will talk about it. And it's a relief to people. I've really noticed this in my public lectures over the last year and a half. And I've talked [?] thousands of people in the last year and a half, now, about the themes that are developed in the book. And I say these things that are really rough--you know, that life is fundamentally tragic, and ridden with suffering, and touched with malevolence and evil; and that goes for you and everyone around you. And that's harsh. And it's a relief to people, because they think, 'Oh my God! I thought I was supposed to be happy.'
Russ Roberts: It's not just me.
Jordan Peterson: 'It's not just me.' Right. It's like, 'Oh, I kind of suspected this is what it is like, but no one's ever actually said it.' And so I really want to make a strong case for that, and just drive it home, so that there's no doubt about it. Because, then I can say: Despite that, despite the horrors, and the betrayal, and the atrocity, even, you have enough nobility of spirit and enough potential to actually live successfully in the face of that. And that that's even more powerful. That, that ability that you have to live a meaningful and responsible and truthful life is--it's more significant than the pain and the malevolence. And that's really saying something. Because, the pain and malevolence is really real. And everyone knows it. So, I think that, I weighted things heavily in the negative direction, let's say, because I want people to understand that the optimism that the book contains--which is a testament, I would say--it's a hymn to the possibilities of the human spirit--it's not naive.
Russ Roberts: Yup.
Jordan Peterson: Like, I'm not saying, 'Oh, things are okay, and we're basically happy, and life is essentially good; and you can go out there and do wonderful things.' I'm saying: No, no. Look, man: Life is terrible. And the people who turn against it, like the Columbine High school shooters--like, they have powerful arguments. Because life is terrible, and there is a lot of malevolence. But it doesn't matter. In the final analysis, good is stronger than evil. And unless you make a hell of a case for evil, you make a weak case for good. So, that's my, I would say that was my philosophical attitude while constructing the book.
Russ Roberts: I like that.
Russ Roberts: This is a long question; I apologize. It brings us back to Adam Smith for a minute. In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, he warned about what he called 'the man of system'--a person who thinks he can manipulate human beings as if they were pieces on a chessboard without taking account of their own internal ways of movement interacting with others, ordering their lives. And this is deeply consonant with your rule that we should fix ourselves before we fix others. And we certainly, all of us, have plenty of work to do. And it resonates incredibly deeply with me. Particularly because I find myself less interested in reading the news, trying to influence the debate, and recognizing there are large forces out there I can't control. And I do my part. But it doesn't get into my bones the way--I don't feel the need to rant, say, about the latest policy blunder the way I used to. And I'm increasingly humble about what I'm sure of. So, that's all good. But at the same time, I worry, as I think you do, that the American experiment or more broadly the Western experiment that celebrates and honors liberty, restrains the power of the state, recognizes the sanctity of the individual--that that's in jeopardy. Maybe serious jeopardy. And I see your book and your book and your videos as a part of an effort to fight against that serious tide. And I want your advice on how to balance tending one's own garden with the chaos that seems to be erupting outside of ourselves and saying, 'Well, I'll just stick here to my little garden. I don't need to solve all that.' I can't. And besides, it's a lot of nonsense, mostly. But, it could be that the house is on fire. I'm getting a little nervous.
Jordan Peterson: Well, I would say that having the sorts of conversations that we're having--I mean, these are public conversations as well. I can't think of anything that's better that you can do. Like, what could you possibly do that would be better than that? You know--you are not in a position at the moment to directly influence large-scale policy decisions, let's say. And you know how difficult it is to formulate those properly to begin with. I believe--I truly believe--that if people tended to what was in front of them, if they paid attention to what they can control and they organized that properly, that that would do the trick. That would solve the policy problems. I believe that it's the right level of analysis. And so, you know, you said, while you have a family and you've raised your family and you're trying to get along with your kids, and you have this podcast, and you are trying to put forth the ideas of Adam Smith--genius-level idea of Adam Smith. And I presume that you find that engaging and meaningful. And it might be that you are working at exactly the right level of resolution. Because, you've got to--you know, you might say, 'Well, you should be concerned with things that are far beyond that.' Like, the fate of Western Civilization. It's like, well, maybe your failure, your failing to do that, and maybe your failure is a consequence of cowardice and ignorance. But maybe it's just proper humility. And moving beyond your domain of immediate competence would be grandiose and destructive. And I believe that it often is. You know, these--we take 18-year-old kids, we put them in Ivy League universities, and we tell them to criticize the system and to act as political activists. And I look at that and I think, 'God, you kids, you don't anything. You don't know anything. You've never had a job. You've never taken care of anyone, including yourself. You can't organize your own household. You've never read anything. You don't know how to write. You don't know how to think. But, it's okay: Your professors can tell you that, now you are in a position to criticize the foundations of Western civilization. It's like--it's horrifying. So, best to operate in your domain of competence. And try to extend it. And I think that's the way to set the world straight. I do believe it. After thinking about it for decades.
Russ Roberts: Well, I agree with that part, deeply. Again, it's just the way I have thought about it for a long time. But, there are a lot of people out there who don't think that way.
Jordan Peterson: I'm shocked. I am aware of that; and also torn about it. Because, I've been engaged, increasingly, in the last year and a half, in political dispute--in my own country [Canada--Econlib Ed.]--for a variety of reasons. Not least because the government here introduced legislation that required compelled speech. Now, they had their high-flying, hypothetically moral reasons for doing so. But, for the first time in our country's history, the content of someone's speech is now being mandated. And that's forced me, I would say, into the political realm. Rather unhappily. And so now I find myself straddling the two positions that you describe. I'd like to be--I'd like to be working locally, as I've been recommending. But, now and then, the political becomes so unstable that it necessarily intrudes into the local. And I do think we're in that position. Unfortunately. I see it's particularly in the universities, which--the universities are absolutely disasters. The Humanities are completely corrupt. And like, this isn't my opinion, you know. Eighty percent of Humanities papers now go uncited. And there's no moderates or, heaven forbid, conservatives, in the Humanities. They are completely gone. And all they are trying to do is produce post-modern, neo-Marxist activists. It's dreadful. And we're going to pay for it. So, yeah, that's very worrisome.
Russ Roberts: But isn't that a bit of an exaggeration? I say that, particularly, because, when people complain to me about the state of the university--and it's typically somebody from the Right, correctly pointing out, as you have, that there's not much of a conservative voice or a libertarian voice represented on campus. And I always think about the Marxist professor droning on in the front of the room while the kids roll their eyes and write the things on the exam they think they are supposed to. But I don't know how many people they actually convince.
Jordan Peterson: They convince enough to have a seriously detrimental effect on our cultural conversation. I mean, we just have the biggest scandal in Canadian history, in the history of Canadian universities, within the last two months in Canada. Because, a woman named Lindsay Shepherd, a TA [Teaching Assistant], a 22-year-old TA, had the temerity to show a video featuring me and a radical left professor debating personal pronouns on a public television show. She showed a 5-minute clip, and was hauled into something basically resembling the Spanish Inquisition by her two professors and an administrator. And she had the presence of mind to tape it--audio tape it. And released it. And it was unbelievably scandalous. And, I mean, I'm not--I don't believe I am exaggerating the pathological condition of the university. I wish I was. Because I am associated with the University. It's not all disciplines. But the Humanities are unbelievably corrupted.
Russ Roberts: It reminded me more of a Communist or a Soviet re-education session than a Spanish Inquisition--if I can just make a subtle distinction there.
Jordan Peterson: Yeah; it's not a subtle distinction. You are absolutely right. That's exactly the proper historical precedent.
Russ Roberts: And it reminded me of an issue we talked about in the Megan McArdle episode on, I think it was that episode, about group-think and what's going on in some tech firms, where certain things are not acceptable to say.
Jordan Peterson: You mean, like, Google?
Russ Roberts: Yeah. Like Google. Recently. Because I have friends who work there and they tell me it does remind them a little bit of a Soviet re-education camp. Which I find--it's startling to hear that. You think, 'Oh, that's an exaggeration.' And it is, for sure, an exaggeration, because it's really nothing like a Soviet reeducation camp in many dimensions. But, it is alarming--our unease, cultural unease, with honest speech. Because honest speech is the way we learn things. And the way we communicate. It's just a dangerous road we are on.
Jordan Peterson: Yes. It's very alarming. And, you know, the people, after the Lindsay Shepherd scandal, her--the people who were attempting to paste over it--I would say, or to wallpaper over the large hole--said: Oh, well, that they misunderstood the legislation, and that was an isolated incident. It's like: No. They didn't misunderstand the legislation. They understood it perfectly well. Especially the administrator that was hired to enforce it. And it wasn't an isolated incident. It was par for the course, as you could tell by the fact that the entire faculty in the Department from which those two professors emerged wrote letters supporting them--supporting what they did. So, I don't believe there's any evidence whatsoever--that it was an isolated incident.
Russ Roberts: And, for listeners who don't know about this case, we'll put a link up to it. But, I say, the best, the most important thing you have to know about it is that, when Lindsay Shepherd said, 'Well, I was just showing this video,' and she showed stuff on the other side, of course; and their attitude was, 'Well, there are some things you can't show.' And that's a very common view now. I think it's not just at universities. It's also at newspapers. There's some sides you don't have to represent: 'There is no other side.' And, of course, sometimes there is no other side. So, that's the challenge of being a grown-up, I think, and a thoughtful person, is that: True, I don't think you should give the Nazis a chance to express their viewpoint widely. They are, or say, Holocaust deniers. But, where you draw that line is not so easy, and you should be aware of that.
Jordan Peterson: Well, and worse, it's not even where you draw the line. It's who is allowed to draw it. And you can say, 'Well, look, there's clearly a line.' And it's like: Okay, fine. No problem. It's not like there's no such thing as hate speech. Although I think we had laws already covering incitement to violence that were working quite well. The issue isn't whether or not there's hate speech. The issue is only: Who gets to decide what constitutes hate? And the answer to that is: Exactly the people that you wish wouldn't have that power. So, beware of who you grant it to, and under what circumstances. So, it's not good. And I wish--like, I also think the fact that 80% of Humanities' papers go uncited, it's a dreadful indictment of the universities. That's a--
Russ Roberts: It's awkward.
Jordan Peterson: Awkward. Heh, heh, heh, heh. Yeah. It's awkward. That's a good way of putting it.
Russ Roberts: Slightly a sign of self-indulgence.
Jordan Peterson: 'Eighty percent of our products don't sell.' That's not good.
Russ Roberts: But you could argue back and say, 'Well, they are hard to sell. It's a tough sell. So you shouldn't expect such a high rate, higher than 20%.' But I'd be interested
Jordan Peterson: But you do see, the sciences have much higher citation rates. Much, much higher. And they are more difficult--it's more difficult to sell them because it requires technical expertise to do the reading. So, I don't think it's merely a matter of difficult--
Russ Roberts: My only complaint about this is that you could argue a lot of it just doesn't sell anyway, even when it's well cited. So, I'm not sure that's the only measure I'd want to use.
Jordan Peterson: Oh, no. I agree.
Russ Roberts: It's an inside game, no matter what, right?
Jordan Peterson: It's true. But, I would also so say--like, I've done an analysis of the situation of the universities across 7 dimensions, of failure. So, here's one: in the United States, of course, the tuition costs are spiraling out of control as the administrative overload increases. And that's happened dramatically over the last 20 years. And what's happened in consequence--to buttress the building against the consequences of that, let's say, is that student loans have been made widely available. But, the trick is that now, if you are an American kid and you have a student loan, you can't declare bankruptcy. And that's corrupt beyond belief. And so my sense is that the administrators have determined how to pick the pockets, the future pockets, of the students, and have essentially transformed a large part of the American population into indentured servants.
Russ Roberts: It's a little bit of melodrama there. But it is somewhat akin to the way that the financial sector in the United States was able to borrow a lot of money knowing that--lenders were willing to lend money to very risky things because they knew that Uncle Sam--which is not a real person, actually--but you--not you, Jordan, but me--is going up being the backstop. And similarly, we've done a similar thing with the student loans, to some extent. We've subsidized my industry of education dramatically, which has allowed demand increase, pushed up prices, and allowed those administrators to collect more money. It's a wonderful--it's nice work if you can get it.
Jordan Peterson: It sure is. Especially when you don't allow people to--you shoulder them with those debts when they are at the point when they should be taking entrepreneurial risks. And you don't allow them to escape from the consequences of their error. It's not good.
Russ Roberts: Yeah, it's a slightly shameful business.
Jordan Peterson: It is. And I would also say that the universities are doing an increasingly bad job of teaching people to write and to think and to read. And I don't see any evidence whatsoever that there's been improvement along those dimensions in the last 20 years. And plenty that things have got worse. And so, I'm not, I'm not happy with the current state of the universities. I'm embarrassed about what's happened. And you'll--on any one dimension it sounds melodramatic. But if you look across the 7 potential dimensions of analysis, the picture is pretty ugly.
Russ Roberts: Yeah. There's this--well, it's a big Pandora's box. I'm going to keep it closed. I'm going to move on to something else.
Jordan Peterson: No problem.
Russ Roberts: Now, this show is nominally about economics. And, I believe economics is the study of how to get the most out of life--among other things. So, I think everything we've talked about so far falls under that category. And we've mentioned that on Smith, of course. But, there is an explicit part of your book that is about--most people would call it economics. Which is trade. And you make the argument: it's a very beautiful idea--that human beings discovered sacrifice and bargaining with the future. And that leads to trade. Can you explain that?
Jordan Peterson: Yeah; well that was one of the things--I would say, that was actually an original, a really original idea that I managed to put forth in 12 Rules for Life, and that is that: I've thought about the idea of sacrifice for a very long time, for a whole variety of reasons, trying to understand what it meant, psychologically--the sorts of sacrifices, for example, that are acted out dramatically in the biblical stories and that were so much a characteristic of ancient cultures. The idea that: You had to sacrifice to please God. It's like, 'What the hell does that mean, exactly?' And, I really thought about that for like, 10 years. And it finally occurred to me, partly because I was thinking about the story of Cain and Abel, which is a really remarkable story: I realized that people were dramatizing the idea that you could give up something of value in the present, and obtain something of greater value in the future. That you could bargain with the future. Or, you could trade with the future. And that would be--it would be in some sense, future people. But it would also be your future self. And so, you could let go of what was impulsively gratifying in the present. And, that, you might regard as a precondition for an advanced morality. And there would actually be a payoff for that in the future. So, you make a sacrifice to God, to please God. And that actually works. Now, I conceptualize God in 12 Rules for Life, for the purpose of that argument, as something like the Future Community. You know, a personification of the future community. If you shared with other people, for example, then you were storing up good will. And that was something that--that's like a bank, in a sense. But it's a really reliable bank, because it--as long as the people with whom you shared are alive, and your reputation is intact, then that's something you can continue to draw on. And so, there's a large discussion, a long discussion, of sacrifice, in there. And exactly what it means. And then, a discussion of, as well, about another idea, which is that: Well, if sacrifice works, to obtain a desired end, then that also produces two philosophical questions. And one would be: 'Well, what's the most desirable future?' And, and so that's sort of like a meditation on paradise or heaven or utopia--although I don't really like that word. I like the religious words better. I think they make more sense. And also, what is the ultimate, proper sacrifice? So, what's the proper sacrificial attitude in life? And so, back to our ideas about conversation. So, let's say we're having a good conversation, and we're throwing ideas back and forth. If I have the proper sacrificial attitude during that conversation, then I'm going to let some of the ideas that you put forth kill some of my ideas. I'm going to sacrifice them. And replace them with better ideas. And there's going to be some pain and some anxiety associated with that, because, like: Who the hell likes to have their conceptual structure flipped upside down? No one likes that. But, if you are willing to let go, if you are willing to sacrifice, you can let your old ideas die. And not you. And that's like, the secret of humanity. It's sacrifice. Make the sacrifices that will bring the proper future into being. And we first dramatize that. You know, that's what, that's what all the archaic people in the Old Testament were doing when they were making sacrifices to God, is they were acting out the idea that you could let go of something in the present that was desirable. And valuable. And receive an enhanced reward in the future. It's the discovery of the future itself. It's the most profound discovery of humankind, I would say.
Russ Roberts: It's an incredibly deep idea. It's basically--it's a response to the idea, which seems very reasonable, that savers are fools. Why would you save anything? That's crazy.
Jordan Peterson: Yes. Exactly.
Russ Roberts: Right. That's lunacy.
Jordan Peterson: Well, and then, so there's a bit of a discussion there in what the ultimate saving might be. It's like, well let's say you could throw your meat in a freezer and keep it for a year. Well, that's one form of saving. But then, another form of saving is, you make a kill: You are a hunter/gatherer; you make a kill and you share the kill with the other hunters. Well then you are saving it. Because you are saving it in the form of your enhanced reputation as a good person. A good, valuable person. And so, then, when someone else hunts in the future, they are going to share with you. It's perfect.
Russ Roberts: And that's how you get to trade, right? Talk about--
Jordan Peterson: Yeahih, yes, that's how you get to trade.
Russ Roberts: Because you can swap some of that--meat. You don't even have to give it away. You could swap it, eventually, you realize, and get something. Or you could get a promise that you could swap something later when their corn grows or whatever.
Jordan Peterson: Well, that's the thing. You can swap what you have now for a promise. Right. And that also shows you why integrity is so important, because, you can't swap something you have now for a promise unless you both have integrity. And so, then you might say, 'Well, integrity is the best form of saving.' That's why it says in the New Testament that you should, that you should pile up treasures in heaven. That's really what it means. Because they are the treasures that can't be destroyed. And it's true.
Russ Roberts: Just, it's--
Jordan Peterson: It's even literally true, which is so cool. It's so funny that that could be the case.
Russ Roberts: So, just as a footnote: John Maynard Keynes blames the idea of savings on the Jews. And blames the idea of the future on the Jews. And views it as a bad thing. It's one of the dark sides of Keynes' ethos. But, he viewed sacrifice--at least in his essay, which we'll put up a link to--he viewed sacrifice as a tragedy. It's like: Why not enjoy it now? That was the hedonistic side of John Maynard Keynes. But the fact that he blames it on the Jews is very interesting, given that you argue also that it comes out of the Old Testament. I'd like you to talk about--
Jordan Peterson: Yes. Well, it's also funny that he would regard that as a catastrophe. It's like, it's not a catastrophe to live for the moment if you are going to die tomorrow. And we also know that that's how people behave. Right? If you put people in an environment where their mortality risk dramatically increases, and they know it, they become increasingly hedonistic. And it's no wonder. Because, well, they are not going to be around. But, the problem with living for the moment is that you are also going to be around for the hangover.
Russ Roberts: Or your children will be. It's a--
Jordan Peterson: Well, there's--yeah. That's also a problem. Yeah!
Russ Roberts: Well, Keynes says, in the long run we're all dead. And I always want to say, 'Yeah, but my kids aren't, I hope.' In which case, I don't want to burden them with whatever it is that you are worried about.
Jordan Peterson: Well, also, the argument, 'In the long run, we're all dead,' that can be used to justify absolutely anything. And I do write a fair bit about that in 12 Rules for Life, too. It's a very--it's a very--it's an argument that breeds nothing good.
Russ Roberts: So, a lot of my listeners are not religious people, or I'd say, atheist intellectually. And talking about the Bible probably gives them the willies.
Jordan Peterson: No doubt.
Russ Roberts: You argue, in a very interesting and thoughtful way, what I would call a Jungian way, to the extent I understand Jung [Carl Jung], that we should read the Bible for nonreligious reasons--just to understand ourselves. And you use a lot of imagery from both the Christian and Jewish Bible extensively, fairly extensively, in the book. Make the case for that. And you are not a Fundamentalist, as far as I know. You don't believe the Bible came from God's hand.
Jordan Peterson: Well, it's certainly not--it's not literally true in the way that scientific theories are true. It's not designed to be that. It's something entirely different. It's a story. It's a story. And it's true the same way that Dostoyevsky is true. Except maybe it's more true. And the reason you need to read it is because our social system is essentially a story. And, whether you like it or not, it's the story that's laid out in the Biblical writings. That's the foundational story. Now, you might say, 'Well, what does that mean?' Well, that's very complicated. It's very, very complicated. And I have explained some of it in 12 Rules for Life. I mean, part of it--I can give you a quick example of why it's useful. There's an idea at the beginning of the Bible, an idea about how things come into being. And so, the idea is that there's a state of potential--that would be chaos. That would be the chaos that God confronts when he's about to generate habitable order. So, there's this state of chaos. And there's a process that has to be undertaken to make that potential real. And then, there's the real that emerges as a consequence of the process. So, those are the things: There's the potential; the process; and the reality. The process is Logos. And Logos is something like truthful, communicative speech. So, the idea is the spirit of God uses Logos to make potential, manifest itself as real. And then--so that's one idea. And then the second idea is that: If it's the Logos that's producing the order, then the order is good. Which is why God repeatedly says, when he makes order, that 'It's good.' So, the idea is that honest, communicative endeavor produces, out of potential, the order that is good. Okay? I believe that that is the case. I believe that to be true. Then, there's another idea: there's an idea that human beings are made in the image of God. And I think what that means is that people have the ability to use their communicative capacity to speak order out of potential. And to do it so that it's good. And, the pattern, that Logos pattern, which is proper speech, let's say, something like that, proper communication--the kind of communication that would inspire a good conversation, let's say--that's the manifestation of the divine in the world. And that's the manner in which potential should be transformed into actuality. That's what people do. And I also believe that that's both literally and metaphysically true. And that's laid out in this symbolic, dramatic language in the Bible. And it's laid out that way because we didn't understand it well enough to lay it out any other way. We had to act it out, just like people acted out the idea of sacrifice. And so, it's time to stop being naive about the Bible. For the Fundamentalists, and for the Atheists alike: It's--we have to get past that. And Carl Jung laid the groundwork for that. I mean, he was an absolute genius. Incalculable genius, I would say.
Russ Roberts: But your argument is also that there is understanding there about the human condition that emerge from the desperate efforts of humanity to understand itself. And we can essentially get a portrait of that understanding that remains true because our natures really haven't changed.
Jordan Peterson: Yeah. And neither has the nature of reality. It's order and chaos, and the process that mediates between them. It's always that way. It will always be that way. And, yeah, it's like, a hundred thousand Shakespeares wrote the Bible. You say, 'Well, is there truth in Shakespeare?' Well, it's a silly question in some sense. Obviously, there's truth in Shakespeare. 'Well, what sort of truth is there in great literature?' Well, whatever that truth is, is in the Bible. Now, you can argue about what that truth is. You could even argue about whether or not it's true--although I think that's a rather futile exercise. You act like it's true. I mean, it's very difficult not to be compelled by a great story. Atheists and believers alike are equally compelled by a great story. So--and these are great stories. And great stories are true. It's just that we don't understand the kind of true that they are.
Russ Roberts: And that's because we're too Descartesian [Rene Descartes]? Too, what?
Jordan Peterson: No, I just think it's too difficult. It's just too difficult. Like, we got there with drama and literature and art, way before we get there with articulated philosophical understanding. Like, it's not easy to understand what it means to say that being is chaos and order. You know, it takes a lot of elaboration to make that into an art--into something that's understandable in an articulated way. I mean, I have a lecture series about that, Maps of Meaning, my class Maps of Meaning--and it takes 39 hours of solid lecturing to make that point.
Russ Roberts: Yeah. I'm very--I'm a big fan of literature as truth. I think it's a shame that it gets taught--and I don't mean at the university level, even. It starts young. You get it in high school. Compare and contrast Madame Bovary with--and I think that's the wrong way to read literature. And I think Alain de Botton has been on this program, as a book, how Proust can change your life. I stole the title from my book on Adam Smith.
Jordan Peterson: Great.
Russ Roberts: But, that's the way we should read literature. And what we can learn from it about the human condition, and what Faulkner [William Faulkner] called the human heart and conflict with itself. Which I think is what we all have to struggle with. And it's a shame we don't read it that way, much.
Jordan Peterson: Exactly. It's the ultimate shame. I mean, you'd think of, Shakespeare as distilled life. And the Bible is distilled Shakespeare. That's a good way of thinking about it. And then you might--you know--you are alluding to this--you say there is a truth in great literature. And that isn't how it's taught. Well, the question is: What is the truth, in great literature? And the truth is something like: This is how the world is--so it's dramatized--this is how the world is. And this is how you should behave, for better or worse, in it. And so it's good and evil against a background of chaos and order. That's the archetypal reality. And, it's--and you think, well, is that just metaphorically true? This is also why I weave a fair bit of neuroscience into 12 Rules for Life, and into my investigations generally speaking. It's not just metaphorically true. If you look at the way that your brain has--if you look at the way that your brain has evolved, your nervous system has evolved, you'll see that you have a module that's specialized for order. That's the left hemisphere. And you have a module that's specialized for chaos. That's the right hemisphere. And this isn't just my opinion--like, I've learned this from studying neuroscience rather than imposing it on the neuroscience. You can read Alcorn and Goldberger[?], or Ramichandran[?] who is a neurologist in California, because they've come to very similar conclusions, as has Iain [McGilchrist-Econlib Ed.]--he wrote The Master and the Emissary--I can't remember his last name--
Russ Roberts: Oh, yeah. I just got that book. Yeah.
Jordan Peterson: Yeah. That's his book. And I just talked to him. And, you know, when you understand that your brain has adapted to chaos and order, it begs a question: How do you know that's not the ultimate reality, then? If your brain itself has adapted to that, then maybe that's what's real. And I would say, meaning--the sense of meaning, the instinct of meaning, emerges when you get the balance between chaos and order right. And the meaning tells you that you've done it. That's what it's for. So, it's the most real thing. And figuring that out--well, it just--I've never recovered from figuring that out. Because I believe it's true.
Russ Roberts: It's very deep. You say it--you write about it at length in the book, and I wish we had more time to talk about just about that, because it's such an interesting idea; and the balance between those and how you can't live in chaos; but if you live only in order, you are not really alive.
Jordan Peterson: Right. Right. You're the dead past, if you only live in order. And if you live in chaos you are nothing but anxiety and pain. Those aren't good options.
Russ Roberts: No.
Russ Roberts: I want to ask you a literature question while we're on it. Through a lot of literature, through a lot of time, the play ends with death. You know--the lovers kill themselves, the king is murdered, the king murders someone, the heroine dies of consumption--in most operas, a lot of operas. They're dark. They're bleak. And you could argue: Well, life was that way. So they are just trying to capture what life was like. And then we went through a period, it seems, where there was a lot of happy endings. And that's what we like now. And then there's sort of sophisticated view that says, 'No, no, no. You don't want a pat ending. You want one that leaves you unsatisfied, because that's what life's like, too.' What do you think about that?
Jordan Peterson: Well, I think there's utility in tragedy and comedy. Tragedy is a good bad example. Hamlet is a good example of that. And in comedy, well comedy doesn't have to be trite. You want your life to be a comedy in some sense--you want to be presented with a problem of substantial magnitude; you want the problem to take you apart and put you back together in a better way. And that's the sort of continually upward spiral of human development. And I think that that's really what you want from literature, is an outline of that pattern. But tragedy is really useful, because it can tell you how you could go wrong in an interesting way. And that's why we like the antihero, and we like tragedy. And we like horror, for that matter. It's like, 'Okay, those are a bunch of things that I shouldn't do.' And a bad example is salutary. And some of it, too, is just a matter of awakening people. Like, if you're naive you might like a trite comedy. And a trite comedy might be one where the ending is happy, but it's not realistic. There's no real problem and nothing has been accomplished, or no transformation has occurred. And if you are naive, you might be living in a fool's paradise, but your boat's going to flip over in the first storm. And so, to expose you to tragedy can undermine your naivete. You might say, 'Well, that's cruel.' It's like: No, it's no more cruel than helping a child grow up. So, you need exposure to tragedy if you're naive. Because it confronts you with a real problem; and then it can launch you on a real adventure. And that's way better than being naive.
Russ Roberts: I wonder if you'd reflect a little bit on the Jordan Peterson phenomenon. I'd never heard of you until about, maybe, a year or so ago when somebody--more than one person--said I should interview you. And I thought, 'Well, who is he?' Well, at first I just ignored it. I'd never heard of you--
Jordan Peterson: That was the best idea.
Russ Roberts: Yeah. But eventually I googled you, and I saw that you were a big advocate for freedom of speech. And I love being an advocate for--I'm a big fan of that. But I thought, 'Nyah, I don't really want to talk about freedom of speech for an hour.' And then I started watching some of your videos--somebody sent me one of them on--probably the idea of God or your advice for Millennials. And I was blown away with your presentation style. Just to start with. Plus the content. Obviously we are both--extremely interesting to me. And I'm not alone. Now, when I mention to people that you're going to be on this program, they say, 'Oh, great!' Or, they'll say, 'Jordan Peterson, he's everywhere.' Or they'll complain: they'll say I shouldn't give you a forum, because you're a pawn of the alt-Right, which I find--
Jordan Peterson: Right--I'm that guy, man--
Russ Roberts: which I find somewhat inexplicable. But my point is, my question is: You've obviously hit a nerve. You've hit a nerve that a lot of people are enormously--
Jordan Peterson: Yeah: I hit it with a hammer--
Russ Roberts: You did. They are enormously gratified that you are saying what you are saying. There's another group that's enormously angry. I'm curious what you think is the explanation for why you've--and your book is Number 1 on Amazon today. It's been out for 2 days, I think. What's going on? What do you think--what explains that?
Jordan Peterson: Who knows what the hell is going on? I ask myself that virtually every minute I'm awake. You know, it's completely overwhelming. But, I think: All right; there's a couple of things. The first is: I definitely have set myself up in opposition, and loud and intense opposition--loud, continual, and intense opposition on all fronts--against the Radical Left.
Russ Roberts: And I'd say, against egalitarianism generally. And postmodernism generally. Which are two religions of people--
Jordan Peterson: Oh, yeah. Egalitarianism, not precisely. I mean, I'm an advocate of equality of opportunity. But equality of outcome--there's no difference between equality of outcome and tyranny. They are the same thing. And people don't understand that. Partly because they don't want to. But I understand it. And so, I don't want to go there. But the whole compelled speech thing, in Canada, it was like, 'No. You know, you're not telling me what I'm going to say. That's not happening.' And I made that clear in the initial videos, when I was complaining about Bill C-16. And I said, 'I don't care--look, I don't know what you do; I'm not going to stand for compelled speech.' And that caused quite a furor. But that's where all the accusations about being alt-Right came from. It's like: Well, I'm in opposition to the Radical Left. Okay, well, it's very convenient, then, for the Radical Left to presume that I'm a Nazi, because if I'm a Nazi, then they don't have to take me seriously. If I'm a reasonable person, then maybe a reasonable person could object to what they are doing. Well, that's not good. That puts people in a state of cognitive dissonance. And so--and it's a trick. It's a rhetorical trick. It's like, 'You're objecting to what we are doing. You must be the most reprehensible of people who could possibly hold an opposing view.' And so, all sorts of pejoratives have flowed my way. The people who were prosecuting, persecuting Lindsay Shepherd compared me to Hitler. Or, Milo Yiannopoulos. Take your pick. Which was, you know, blackly comedic. I think these people are so clueless they can't even get their insults right. It's like, 'Look. You can't be Hitler or Milo Yiannopoulos.' You know what I mean? It's just--it's palpably absurd. So, some of what's come my way is just conceptual confusion. If you stand against the Radical Left, then where exactly do you stand? And so, people have been guessing: Well, maybe I'm on the Radical Right.' It's like, well, yeah, maybe I'm not. I have 200 hours' of lectures about a hundred hours of which are about the horrors of the Nazi, death camps, and the appalling pathology of right-wing totalitarianism. So, it's pretty bloody obvious that I'm not on the Radical Right. With regards to the phenomena itself--well, part of it is, I've taken a lot of psychological wisdom, you know, that's been generated by the great clinicians of the 20th century: Freud, Jung, Adler, Carl Rogers, the existentialists. I'm broadly versed in the classics of clinical psychology. And a lot of what I'm talking to people about is derived from that. It's like, I'm a practical person. I'm a clinical psychologist. I like to help people put their lives together. And so, what I've done in part is put together lectures that say, 'Well, look: Here's a bunch of things that psychologists have learned. A lot of are deep. Some of them are practical. You need to know them, because if you know them and you put them into practice, your life improves.' And, I'm telling people it straight. And I'm taking into account that they have reasons for their misery and suffering. And then, people go off and try them. And they, they come back a month later, and they say, 'Hey, look, man, I put that into practice. And it worked.' I'm in this weird situation now. It's sooo remarkable. I can't believe it. I'll travel to places--I went to London, and my wife and I went out to get some groceries the first day we were there. And we walked into a grocery store. And, a young guy came up to me, and he said, 'Hey, you're Dr. Peterson, aren't you?' I said, 'Yeah, yeah.' He said, ' Well, I've been watching your YouTube videos for about a year, and I've got to tell you: I was in a pretty dark place. And it's really helped.' And he said, 'And now I'm in the London School of Economics, and things are going really well for me. So, like, thank you.' And I think, 'Oh, great! That's wonderful, man.' So, and then I went next door to the electronics shop, and a young guy come up to me and he said the same thing. He said, 'You're Dr. Peterson, aren't you?' I said, 'Yeah. Yeah.' 'What are you doing here?' I said, 'I'm giving a talk.' He said, 'Well, you know, I've been listening to your lectures for the last year. And I've been putting them into practice. And they've really helped.' And then he tells me why. And it's like, there's--this stuff works. But it's not that surprising, because the people who thought up the ideas--like, I'm not taking credit for them. I'm a good aggregator of ideas. You know? And I have my original thoughts. But I'm not trying to take responsibility for archetypes, you know. I didn't invent them.
Russ Roberts: How's that humility thing working for you, when you go to help[?] people like that? And you know, you feel like you've got all the research on your side, and all the wisdom of the past. Doesn't that--you have any issues with hubris?
Jordan Peterson: Well,, there's a paper by Jung called "Relations Between the Ego and the Unconscious." And I read it about 25 years ago. And I understood it, too, which I would say is rare, because it's a hard paper to understand unless you know what it's about. But it's about hubris. And it's a warning about Icarus. And Jung was very clear. He said, 'You have to be careful when you are in the archetypal domain that you don't confuse yourself with the archetypes. Because, you will burn yourself up if you do. And so, I took that to heart. I needed to read that essay at the time that I read it, for reasons I can't go into. But I understood what he meant. And I'm very, very aware of my own shortcomings. Like, painfully aware of them. They are always at the forefront of my mind. And, I am not confusing myself with the wisdom that I fortunate enough to be able to speak about.
Russ Roberts: But I do think it's more than that. There's something about truthtelling, or feeling of truthtelling. You may not be telling the truth. But people are hearing it as a truth that's been hidden or covered or, you know, issues like gender roles where you are tolerant of women who want to, say, raise a child, which is politically not so acceptable, socially not so acceptable these days. And, I think for a lot of people you are a breath of fresh air. And for other people, you are a toxic piece of pollution. So, it's--
Jordan Peterson: It's funny, though. You know, there's a lot more of the first people than there are of the second people. And, you know, I'll tell you something that's really quite fun, and maybe telling you this will change it: I've only got about 5 pieces of hate mail. And I've got at least 25,000 letters in the last 6 months from people who have, who are stating the benefits that they've obtained by listening to the YouTube lectures. And so, the people who are not happy with me, first of all, they very rarely take the time to actually understand what I'm doing. I think the Channel 4 Newscaster, Cathy Newman, was a prime example of that. They're organized and they're noisy. But, they are an unbelievably tiny minority. And they've been after me for about 15 months, throwing everything they can get at me--pejorative accusations. And worse. Undermining my professional standing in a variety of ways. And targeting my neighborhood with posters claiming that I'm a danger to the community. And all of these things. But, you know, it's just not working. So--
Russ Roberts: I'm happy to hear that--
Jordan Peterson: they say: By their fruits, you will know them. And that's fine with me. That's fine with me. If that happens to be the way it plays out, I'm willing to live with that.
Russ Roberts: Let's close with what's next for you. You've written a book that pulls together a lot of what you've been thinking about for a long time. Must be, that's very satisfying. You've put a zillion hours of material up on the web for people to explore. You're interviewed all over the place. This is a short interview for you--a mere hour plus. You've done some that are 2 and 3 hours. What do you want to do next? Keep doing it?
Jordan Peterson: You know, I'm asking myself that on a regular basis. At the moment, like the image that comes to mind when I close my eyes and think about my situation is that I am surfing a 100-foot wave. And that kind of keeps--you don't think about what you are going to do when you get to the shore, when you are surfing a 100-foot wave. You think: Hey, this is pretty exhilarating, but probably I'm going to drown. And so, what I'm doing right now is trying to stay on the curve and not drown. And not do anything stupid. And not say anything unforgiveable. I'm trying very hard not to do that. And then, with regards to the future: I really don't know. I mean, my tentative plan right now is to go around North America and the United Kingdom and Europe and speak, like, once a week, for 6 months or a year. I've made arrangements through Penguin in the United Kingdom to do that. They are not finalized. And I'm playing with that right now with a couple of public presentations. And that's a tentative idea. I would like to interview authors, for my YouTube channel. And I'm in a good position to do that. And I think that would be fun, and worthwhile. But, my life has changed so much. And continues to change, sort of on a moment-to-moment basis, that it's--you know, I tell people look, 3-5 years down the road, and figure out what they would like to see. What they would like to have happen. That's the advice in the self-authoring program. But, I can't look that far ahead, because things are so, transforming so rapidly around me, that there's no predicting what should happen next.
Russ Roberts: I wish you all the best. And my advice is: Aim high.
Jordan Peterson: Heh, heh, heh. Yeah, I'm doing my best to do that. And it seems to be: So far, so good. I'm knocking on wood and not taking it for granted. You know, I think part of--you talked about the sort of tragic sense, in a sense that pervades 12 Rules for Life. I mean, I think that's real. Like, I have a real sense of the fragility of things. I've had experiences of severe depression, although I think I have that under control: I think I have figured out--I think my daughter actually figured out what was causing it. But, be that as it may: I have a real sense of the fragility of things. And I think that also--and I'm old. You know, I'm 55. This sort of fame has come to me relatively late in life. It doesn't have the same effect on you when you are a grandparent as it might when you are 20 years old. I don't see myself as a--look, I love going to talk to people, and it's really something that they are happy to see me and to listen. But, I don't think I'm in any particular danger of letting it go to my head. I'm too aware of what a vicious turn it could take. And, the price of making a mistake. I'm not taking any of this for granted.