Disclaimer: The transcript that follows has been generated using artificial intelligence. We strive to be as accurate as possible, but minor errors and slightly off timestamps may be present.
You can click the timestamp to jump to that time.Lex Fridman (00:00):
The following is a conversation with Jordan Peterson, an influential psychologist, lecturer, podcast host, and author of Maps of Meaning, 12 Rules for Life, and Beyond Order. And now a quick few second mention of each sponsor. Check them out in the description. It’s the best way to support this podcast. We’ve got Weights and Biases for Machine Learning, Notion for Startups, Inside Tracker for Longevity, Hate Sleep for Napping, and Blinkist for Non-Fiction. Choose wisely, my friends. And now onto the full ad reads. I never do ads in the middle, because those are annoying. I hate those. They distract, they interrupt the conversation.
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This is the Lex Friedman podcast. To support it, please check out our sponsors in the description. And now, dear friends, here’s Jordan Peterson. Dostoevsky wrote in The Idiot, spoken through the character of Prince Myshkin, that beauty will save the world. Solzhenitsyn actually mentioned this in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech. What do you think Dostoevsky meant by that? Was he right?
Jordan Peterson (07:27):
I guess it’s the divine that saves the world, let’s say. You could say that by definition. And then you might say, well, are there pointers to that which will save the world or that which eternally saves the world? And the answer to that in all likelihood is yes. And that’s maybe truth and love and justice and the classical virtues, beauty, perhaps in some sense foremost among them. That’s a difficult case to make, but definitely a pointer.
Lex Fridman (07:57):
Which direction is the arrow pointing?
Jordan Peterson (07:59):
Well, the arrow’s pointing up. No, I think that which it points to is what beauty points to. It transcends beauty. It’s more than beauty.
Lex Fridman (08:07):
And that speaks to the divine.
Jordan Peterson (08:08):
It points to the divine. And I would say, again, by definition, because we could define the divine in some real sense. So one way of defining the divine is, what is divine to you is your most fundamental axiom? And you might say, well, I don’t have a fundamental axiom. Then I would say, that’s fine. But then you’re just confused because you have a bunch of contradictory axioms. And you might say, well, I have no axioms at all. And then I’d say, well, you’re just epistemologically ignorant beyond comprehension if you think that, because that’s just not true at all.
Lex Fridman (08:40):
So you don’t think a human being can exist within contradictions?
Jordan Peterson (08:43):
Well, yeah, we have to exist within contradiction. But when the contradictions make themselves manifest, say in confusion with regard to direction, then the consequence of that technically is anxiety and frustration and disappointment and all sorts of other negative emotions. But the cardinal negative emotion signifying multiple pathways forward is anxiety. It’s an entropy signal.
Lex Fridman (09:10):
But you don’t think that kind of entropy signal can be channeled into beauty, into love? Why does beauty and love have to be clear, ordered, simple?
Jordan Peterson (09:24):
Well, I would say it probably doesn’t have to be… It can’t be reduced to clarity and simplicity because when it’s optimally structured, it’s a balance between order and chaos, not order itself. If it’s too ordered, if music is too ordered, it’s not acceptable. It sounds like a drum machine. It’s too repetitive. It’s too predictable.
It has to have, well, it has to have some fire in it along with the structure. I was in Miami doing a seminar on Exodus with a number of scholars, and this is a beauty discussion. When Moses first encounters the burning bush, it’s not a conflagration that demands attention. It’s something that catches his attention. It’s a phenomena, and that means to shine forth. And Moses has to stop and attend to it, and he does. And he sees this fire that doesn’t consume the tree.
And the tree, the tree is a structure, right? It’s a tree-like structure. It’s a branching structure. It’s a hierarchical structure. It’s a self-similar structure. It’s a fractal structure. And it’s the tree of life, and it’s the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And the fire in it is the transformation that’s always occurring within every structure. And the fact that the fire doesn’t consume the bush in that representation is an indication of the balance of transformation with structure. And that balance is presented as God. And what attracts Moses to it, in some sense, is the beauty. Now, it’s the novelty and all that. But a painting is like a burning bush. That’s a good way of thinking about it, a great painting. It’s too much for people often. My house was, and will soon be again, completely covered with paintings inside. And it was hard on people to come in there because, well, my mother, for example, would say, well, why would you want to live in a museum? And I’d think, well, I would rather live in a museum than anywhere else in some real sense. But beauty is daunting. It scares people. They’re terrified of buying art, for example, because their taste is on display. And they should be terrified because, generally, people have terrible taste. Now, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t foster it and develop it. And when you put your taste on display, it really exposes you.
Lex Fridman (11:49):
Even to yourself, as you walk past it every day. This is who I am.
Jordan Peterson (11:55):
Yeah, well, and look how mundane that is. And look how trite it is. And look at how cliched it is. And look at how sterile or too ordered it is or too chaotic.
Lex Fridman (12:04):
Or how quickly you start to take it for granted because you’ve seen it so many times.
Jordan Peterson (12:08):
Well, if it’s a real piece of art, that doesn’t happen.
Lex Fridman (12:11):
You notice the little details.
Jordan Peterson (12:12):
The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I mean, there are images, religious images in particular, so we could call them deep images, that people have been unpacking for 4,000 years and still have. I’ll give you an example. This is a terrible example. So I did a lecture series on Genesis. And I got a lot of it unpacked, but by no means all of it. When God kicks Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden, he puts cherubim with flaming swords at the gate to stop human beings from re-entering paradise. I thought, what the hell does that mean, cherubim? And why do they have flaming swords? I don’t get that. What is that exactly?
And then I found out from Matthew Pajo, who wrote a great book on symbolism in Genesis, that cherubim are the supporting monsters of God. It’s a very complicated idea. And that they are partly a representation of that which is difficult to fit into conceptual systems. They’ve also got an angelic or demonic aspect. Take your pick. Why do they have flaming swords? Well, a sword is a symbol of judgment and the separation of the wheat from the chaff. You use a sword to cut away, cut away and to carve.
And a flaming sword is not only that which carves, it’s that which burns. And what does it carve away and burn? Well, you want to get into paradise? It carves away everything about you that isn’t perfect. And so what does that mean? OK, well, here’s part of what it means. This is a terrible thing. So you could say that the entire Christian narrative is embedded in that image. Why? Well, let’s say that flaming swords are a symbol of death. That seems pretty obvious. Let’s say further that they’re a symbol of apocalypse and hell.
That doesn’t seem completely unreasonable. So here’s an idea. Not only do you have to face death, you have to face death and hell before you can get to paradise. Hellish judgment and all that’s embedded in that image. And a piece of art with an image like that has all that information in it. And it shines forth in some fundamental sense. It reaches into the back tendrils of your mind at levels you can’t even comprehend and grips you.
I mean, that’s why people go to museums and gaze at paintings they don’t understand. And that’s why they’ll pay what’s the most expensive objects in the world. If it’s not carbon fiber racing yachts, it’s definitely classic paintings. It’s high level technological implements. Or it’s classic art. Well, why are those things so expensive? Why do we build temples to house the images? Even secular people go to museums. I’m secular. Well, are you in a museum? Yes. Are you looking at art? Yes. Well, what makes you think you’re secular then?
Lex Fridman (15:23):
It’s arguable that the thing many, many centuries from now that will remain of all of human civilization will be our art. Not even the words.
Jordan Peterson (15:32):
Well, you know, a book has remained a very long time, right, the biblical.
Lex Fridman (15:36):
Not that long, a few millennia. That’s right. So that’s in the full arc of living organisms.
Jordan Peterson (15:43):
Yeah. Perhaps it will not be. Well, we have images that are, we have artistic images that are at least 50,000 years old, right, that have survived. And some of those are, they’re already profound in their symbolism, the penis of Willendorf. Yeah, we found them. And they’ve lasted, they’ve lasted that long. And so, and then think about Europe. Secular people all over the world make pilgrimages to Europe.
Well, why? Because of the beauty, obviously. I mean, that’s self-evident. And it’s partly because there are things in Europe that are so beautiful. They take your breath away, right? They make your hair stand on end. They fill you with a sense of awe. And we need to see those things. It’s not optional. We need to see those things. The cathedrals, I was in a cathedral in Vienna, and it was terribly beautiful. Terribly beautiful. Well, it was terribly beautiful.
Lex Fridman (16:39):
Is beauty painful for you? Is that the highest form of beauty that really challenges you? Oh, definitely.
Jordan Peterson (16:45):
Yeah, yeah, I got a good analysis of the statue of David. Michelangelo says, you could be far more than you are. That’s what that statue says. And this cathedral, down, we went down into the understructure of it. And there were three floors of bones from the plague. And there they all are. And then that cathedral’s on top of it. It’s no joke to go visit a place like that.
No, it rattles you to the core. And our religious systems have become propositionally dubious. But there’s no arguing with the architecture, although modern architects like to, with their sterility and their giant middle fingers erected everywhere. But beauty is a terrible pointer to God. And a secular person will say, well, I don’t believe in God. It’s like, have it your way. You cannot move forward into the unforeseen horizon of the future, except on faith.
And you might say, well, have no faith. It’s like, well, good luck with the future then. Because what are you, then, nihilistic and hopeless and anxiety ridden? And if not, well, something’s guiding you forward. It’s faith in something or multiple things, which just makes you a polytheist, which I wouldn’t recommend.
Lex Fridman (18:07):
Well, let me ask you one short-lived biological meat bag to another. Who is God then? Let’s try to sneak up to this question if it’s at all possible. Is it possible to even talk about this?
Jordan Peterson (18:24):
Well, it better be, because otherwise there’s no communicating about it. It has to be something that can be brought down to Earth.
Lex Fridman (18:31):
Well, we might be too dumb to bring it down.
Jordan Peterson (18:34):
It’s not just ignorant. It’s also sinful, right? So because there’s not knowing, and then there’s wanting to know or refusing to know. And so you might say, well, could you extract God from a description of the objective world? Is God just the ultimate unity of the natural reality? And I would say, well, in a sense, there’s some truth in that, but not exactly. Because God, in the highest sense, is the spirit that you must emulate in order to thrive. How is that for a biological definition? Spirit is a pattern, the spirit that you must emulate in order to thrive.
Lex Fridman (19:15):
So it’s a kind of, in one sense, when we say the human spirit, it’s that.
Jordan Peterson (19:22):
It’s an animating principle, yeah. It’s a meta, it’s a pattern. And you might say, well, what’s the pattern? OK, well, I can tell you that to some degree. Imagine that like you’re gripped by beauty, you’re gripped by admiration. And you can just notice this. This isn’t propositional. You have to notice it.
It’s like, oh, turns out I admire that person. So what does that mean? Well, it means I would like to be like him or her. That’s what admiration means. It means there’s something about the way they are that compels imitation, another instinct, or inspires respect or awe even. What is that that grips you? Well, I don’t know. Well, let’s say, OK, fine, but it grips you. And you want to be like that. Kids’ hero worship, for example, and so do adults, for that matter, unless they become entirely cynical.
Lex Fridman (20:17):
I worship quite a few heroes.
Jordan Peterson (20:19):
Well, there you go. Proudly. Yes, well, there you go. And there’s no, that celebration and proclivity to imitate is worship. That’s what worship means most fundamentally. Now imagine you took the set of all admirable people and you extracted out AI learning. You extracted out the central features of what constitutes admirable. And then you did that repeatedly until you purified it to what was most admirable.
That’s as good as you’re going to get in terms of a representation of God. And you might say, well, I don’t believe in that. Well, what do you mean? It’s not a set of propositional facts. It’s not a scientific theory about the structure of the objective world. And then I could say something about that, too, because I’ve been thinking about this a lot, especially since talking to Richard Dawkins. It’s like, OK, the postmodernist types going back way before Derrida and Foucault, maybe back to Nietzsche, who I admire greatly, by the way, says, God is dead.
It’s like, OK. But Nietzsche said, God is dead and we have killed him and we’ll not find enough water to wash away all the blood. So that was Nietzsche. He’s no fool.
Lex Fridman (21:34):
He’s got a way with words.
Jordan Peterson (21:35):
He certainly does. And so then you think, OK, well, we killed the transcendent. Well, what does that mean for science? Well, it frees it up because all that nonsense about a deity is just the idiot superstition that stops the scientific process from moving forward. That’s basically the new atheist claim, something like that. It’s like, wait a second. Do you believe in the transcendent if you’re a scientist? And the answer is, well, not only do you believe in it, you believe in it more than anything else. Because if you’re a scientist, you believe in what objects to your theory more than you believe in your theory. Now, we’ve got to think that through very carefully. So your theory describes the world. And as far as you’re concerned, your description of the world is the world.
But because you’re a scientist, you think, well, even though that’s my description of the world and that’s what I believe, there’s something beyond what I believe. And that’s the object. And so I’m going to throw my theory against the object and see where it’ll break. And then I’m going to use the evidence of the break as a source of new information to revitalize my theory. So as a scientist, you have to posit the existence of the ontological transcendent before you can move forward at all. But more, you have to posit that contact with the ontological transcendent, annoying though it is because it upsets your apple cart, is exactly what will, in fact, set you free. So then you accept the proposition that there is a transcendent reality and that contact with that transcendent reality is redemptive in the most fundamental sense. Because if it wasn’t, well, why would you bother making contact with it? Are you going to make everything worse or better?
Lex Fridman (23:25):
Why does the contact with the transcendent set you free as a scientist?
Jordan Peterson (23:31):
Because you assume that you assume, I mean, freedom in the most fundamental sense. It’s like, well, freedom from want, freedom from disease, freedom from ignorance, that it informs you, the logos in it. So it’s the vibe of science. It is definitely that.
Yeah, it’s the direction, let’s say, the directionality of science. That’s a narrative direction, not a scientific direction. And then the question is, what is the narrative? Well, it posits a transcendent reality. It posits that the transcendent reality is corrective. It posits that our knowledge structures should be regarded with humility. It posits that you should bow down in the face of the transcendent evidence. And you have to take a vow. You know this as a scientist. You have to take a vow to follow that path if you’re going to be a real scientist. It’s like the truth, no matter what. And that means you posit the truth as a redemptive force.
Well, what does redemptive mean? Well, why bother with science? Well, so people don’t starve. So people can move about more effectively. So life can be more abundant, right? So it’s all ensconced within an underlying ethic. So the reason I was saying that while we were talking about belief in God, it’s like, this is a very complicated topic, right? Do you believe in a transcendent reality? OK, now let’s say you buy the argument I just made on the natural front. You say, yeah, yeah, that’s just nature. That’s not God.
And then I’d say, well, what makes you think you know what nature is? Like, see, the problem with that argument is that it already presumes a reductionist materialist objective view of what constitutes nature. But if you’re a scientist, you’re going to think, well, in the final analysis, I don’t know what nature is. I certainly don’t know its origin or destination point. I don’t know its teleology. I’m really ignorant about nature. And so when I say it’s nothing but nature, I shouldn’t mean it’s nothing but what I understand nature to be.
So I could say, will we have a fully reductionist account of cognitive processes? And the answer to that is, yes, but by the time we do that, our understanding of matter will have transformed so much that what we think of as reductionists now won’t look anything like what we think of reductionism now.
Matter isn’t dead dust. I don’t know what it is. I have no idea what it is. Matter is what matters. There is a definition. That’s a very weird definition. But the notion that we have that if you’re a reductionist, a materialist reductionist, that you can reduce the complexity of what is to your assumptions about the nature of matter, that’s not a scientific assumption.
Lex Fridman (26:12):
Your specific limited human assumptions of this century, of this week. So in some sense, without God, in this complicated big definition we’re talking about, there’s no humility, or there’s less likely to be. Or rather, science can err in taking a trajectory away from humility without something much more powerful than an individual human.
Jordan Peterson (26:45):
Yeah, well then, and we know the Frankenstein story comes out of that instantly. And that’s a good story for the current times. It’s like you’re playing around with making new life. You bloody well better make sure you have your arrows pointed up.
Lex Fridman (27:02):
And it’s interesting, because you said science has an ethic to it. It’s embedded in an ethic. Well, science is a big word, and it includes a lot of disciplines that have different traditions. So biology, chemistry, genetics, physics, those are very different communities. And I think biology, especially when you get closer and closer to medicine and to the human body, does have a very serious, first of all, has a history with Nazi Germany of being abused and all those kinds of things, but has a history of taking this stuff seriously. What doesn’t have a history of taking this stuff seriously is robotics and artificial intelligence, which is really interesting.
Because you called me a scientist, and I would like to wear that label proudly, but often people don’t think of computer science as a science. But nevertheless, it will be, I think, the science of one of the major scientific fields of the 21st century, and you should take that very seriously. Oftentimes, when people build robots or AI systems, they think of them as toys to tinker with. Oh, isn’t this cool? And I feel this, too. Isn’t this cool? It is cool. But at a certain moment, you might, isn’t this nuclear explosion cool?
Jordan Peterson (28:28):
Yes, or birth control pill cool, or transistor cool. Yeah. Well, the other thing, too, and this is a weird problem in some sense, robotics engineer types, they’re thing people, right? I mean, the big classes of interest are interest in things versus interest in people.
Lex Fridman (28:47):
Some of my best friends are thing people.
Jordan Peterson (28:50):
Yeah, right. And thing people are very, very clear, logical thinkers, and they’re very outcome-oriented and practical. And that’s all good. That makes the machinery and keeps it functioning. But there’s a human side of the equation.
And you get the extreme thing, people, and you think, yeah, well, what about the human here? And when we’re talking about, we’ve been talking about the necessity of having a technological enterprise embedded in an ethic. And you can ignore that, like, most of the time, right? You can ignore the overall ethic, in some sense, when you’re toying around with your toys. But when you’re building an artificial intelligence, like, well, that’s not a toy. That might be…
Lex Fridman (29:40):
A toy becomes the monster, very quickly.
Jordan Peterson (29:41):
Yeah, yeah, yes, yes. And this is a whole new kind of monster. And maybe it’s already here. Yes, and you notice how many of those things you can no longer turn off. And what is it with you engineers and your inability to put off switches on things now? It’s like, I have to hold this for five seconds for it to shut off, or I can’t figure. I just want to shut it off, click off.
Lex Fridman (30:11):
Well, what is it with you humans that don’t put off switches on other humans? Because there’s a magic to the thing that you notice, and it hurts for both you and perhaps one day the thing itself to turn it off. And so you have to be very careful as an engineer adding off switches to things. I think it’s a feature, not a bug, the off switch. The off switch gives a deadline to us humans to systems of existence. Death is the thing that really brings clarity to life. And I do think…
Jordan Peterson (30:46):
Hence the flaming swords.
Lex Fridman (30:48):
The flaming swords. I do like your view of the flame with the bush and perhaps the sword as a thing of transformation. It’s also a transformation that kind of consumes the thing in the process.
Jordan Peterson (31:00):
Well, it depends on how much of the thing is chaff. This is why you can’t touch the Ark of the Covenant, for example. And this is why people can have very bad psychedelic trips. If you’re 95% deadwood and you get too close to the flame, the 5% that’s left might not be able to make it.
Lex Fridman (31:22):
So you think it’s all chaff, but I think there is some aspect of destruction that is the old Bukowski line of do what you love and let it kill you. Don’t you think that destruction is part of…
Jordan Peterson (31:36):
That’s humility. That’s humility. You bet, you bet, you bet. It’s like inviting the judgment. Inviting the judgment because maybe you can die a little bit instead of dying completely. I think it’s Alfred North Whitehead. We can let our ideas die instead of us. We can have these partial personalities that we can burn off, and we can let them go before they become tyrannical pharaohs and we lose everything. And so, yeah, there’s this optimal bite of death. And who knows what it would mean to optimize that? What if it was possible that if you died enough all the time that you could continue to live? And the thing is, we already know that biologically because if you don’t die properly all the time, well, it’s cancerous outgrowths.
And it’s a very fine balance between productivity on the biological front and the culling of that, right? Life is a real balance between growth and death. And so what would happen if you got that balance right? Well, we kind of know, right? Because if you live your life properly, so to speak, and you’re humble enough to let your stupidity die before it takes you out, you will live longer. That’s just a fact. Well, but then what’s the ultimate extension of that? And the answer is, we don’t know. We have no idea.
Lex Fridman (32:59):
Let me ask you a difficult question because
Jordan Peterson (33:02):
As opposed to the easy ones that you’ve been asking so far.
Lex Fridman (33:05):
Well, Dostoevsky is always just a warm up. So if death every single day is the way to progress through life, you have become quite famous. Death and hell. Death and hell.
Jordan Peterson (33:20):
Yeah, yeah, because you don’t want to forget the hell part.
Lex Fridman (33:23):
Do you worry that your fame traps you into the person that you were before?
Jordan Peterson (33:31):
Yeah, well, Elvis became an Elvis impersonator by the time he died.
Lex Fridman (33:36):
Yeah, do you fear that you have become a Jordan Peterson impersonator? Do you fear of, in some part, becoming the famous suit wearing, brilliant Jordan Peterson, the certainty in the pursuit of truth, always right?
Jordan Peterson (33:54):
I think I worry about it more than anything else. I hope. I hope I do.
Lex Fridman (33:58):
I better. Has fame, to some degree, when you look at yourself in the mirror, in the quiet of your mind, has it corrupted you?
Jordan Peterson (34:07):
No doubt, in some regard. I mean, it’s a very difficult thing to avoid, because things change around you. People are much more likely to do what you ask, for example. And so that’s a danger, because one of the things that keeps you dying properly is that people push back against you optimally. This is why so many celebrities spiral out of control, especially the tyrannical types that, say, run countries.
Everyone around them stops saying, yeah, you’re deviating a little bit there. They laugh at all their jokes. They open all their doors. They always want something from them. The red carpet’s always rolled out. It’s like, well, you think, wouldn’t that be lovely? It’s, well, not if the red carpet is rolled out to you while you’re on your way to perdition. That’s not a good deal. You just get there more efficiently. And so one of the things that I’ve tried to learn to manage is to have people around me all the time who are critics, who are saying, yeah, I could have done that better, and you’re a little too harsh there, and you’re alienating people unnecessarily there, and you should have done some more background work there. And I think the responsibility attendant upon that increases as your influence increases. And that’s as your influence increases, then that becomes a lot of responsibility.
So, you know, and then maybe have an off day. And well, here’s an example. I’ve been writing some columns lately about things that perturb me, like the forthcoming famine, for example. And it’s hard to take those problems on. It’s difficult to take those problems on in a serious manner, and it’s frightening. And it would be easier just to go up to the cottage with my wife and go out on the lake and watch the sunset. And so I’m tempted to draw on anger as a motivating energy to help me overcome the resistance to doing this. But then that makes me more harsh and judgmental in my tone when I’m reading such things, for example, on YouTube than might be optimal. Now, I’ve had debates with people about that, because I have friends who say, no, if you’re calling out the environmentalist globalists who are harassing the Dutch farmers, then a little anger is just the ticket. But then others say, well, you know, you don’t want to be too harsh because you alienate people who would otherwise listen to you.
It’s like, that’s a hard balance to get right.
Lex Fridman (36:44):
But also maybe anger hardens your mind to where you don’t notice the subtle quiet beauty of the world, the quiet love that’s always there that permeates everything. Sometimes you can become deeply cynical about the world if it’s the Nietzsche thing. Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster. And if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.
Jordan Peterson (37:09):
But I would say, bring it on. Right, because that’s why I also say, knowing that he’s absolutely right, but if you gaze into the abyss long enough, you see the light, not the darkness.
Lex Fridman (37:25):
Are you sure about that?
Jordan Peterson (37:27):
I’m betting my life on it.
Lex Fridman (37:30):
Yeah, that’s a heck of a bet. Well, that’s- Because it might distort your mind to where all you see is abyss, is the evil in this world.
Jordan Peterson (37:40):
Well, then I would say you haven’t looked long enough. That’s back to the swords, the flaming swords. It’s like, so I said the whole story of Christ was prefigured in that image. The story of Christ, psychologically, is radical acceptance of the worst possible tragedy. That’s what it means. That’s what the crucifix means. Psychologically, it’s like gaze upon that which you are most afraid of. But that story doesn’t end there, because in the story, Christ goes through death into hell. So death isn’t enough. The abyss of innocent death is not sufficient to produce redemption. It has to be a voluntary journey to hell. And maybe that’s true for everyone.
And that’s like, there is no more terrifying idea than that, by definition. And so then, well, do you gaze upon that? Well, who knows?
Lex Fridman (38:37):
Who knows? How often do you gaze upon death, your own? How often do you remember, remind yourself that this right ends? Personally? Personally. All the time. Because you, as a deep thinker and a philosopher, it’s easy to start philosophizing and forgetting that you’re, you might die today.
Jordan Peterson (38:59):
The angel of death sits on every word. How is that?
Lex Fridman (39:04):
How often do you actually consciously? All the time. Notice the angel.
Jordan Peterson (39:13):
All the time. I think it’s one of the things that made me peculiar. When I was in graduate school, I had the thought of death in my mind all the time. And I noticed that many of the people that I was with, these were people I admired fine. That wasn’t part of their character. But it was definitely part of mine. I’d wake up every morning. This happened for years. Think, time’s short. Get at it. Time’s short. Get at it. There’s things to do. And so that was always, it’s still there. And it’s still there with, I would say, it’s unbearable in some sense.
Lex Fridman (39:49):
Are you afraid of it? Like, what’s your relationship?
Jordan Peterson (39:51):
Yeah. You know, I was ready to die a year ago. And not casually. I had people I loved, you know. So no, I’m not very worried about me. But I’m very worried about making a mistake. Yeah. I heard Elon Musk talk about that a couple of months ago. It was really a striking moment. Someone asked him about death. And he said, just offhand, eh, and then went on with the conversation. He said, that’d be a relief. And then he went on with the conversation.
And I thought, well, you know, he’s got a lot of weight on his shoulders. I’m sure that part of him thinks it’d be easier just if this wasn’t here at all. Now, he said it offhand. But it was a telling moment, in my estimation.
Lex Fridman (40:41):
So for him, that’s a why I live question, the exhaustion of life, if you call it life is suffering, but the hardship.
Jordan Peterson (40:51):
I’m more afraid of hell than death.
Lex Fridman (40:55):
You’re afraid of the thing that follows.
Jordan Peterson (40:59):
I don’t know if it follows or if it’s always here. And I think we’re going to find out.
Lex Fridman (41:06):
What’s the connection between death and hell?
Jordan Peterson (41:09):
I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.
Lex Fridman (41:14):
Is there something that needs to be done before you arrive?
Jordan Peterson (41:18):
You’re more likely to die terribly if you live in a manner that brings you to hell. That’s one connection.
Lex Fridman (41:24):
And terribly is a very deep kind of concept.
Jordan Peterson (41:28):
OK. Yeah, yeah. And that’s the definition, by the way.
Lex Fridman (41:35):
What do you make of Elon Musk? You’ve spoken about him a bit.
Jordan Peterson (41:39):
You met him. I’m struck with admiration.
Lex Fridman (41:42):
That’s what I make of him. And I always think of that as a primary.
Jordan Peterson (41:44):
Well, it’s like, do you find this comedian funny? It’s like, well, I laugh at him. You know what I mean, it’s not propositional again. And so there are things I would like to ask Mr. Musk about, the Mars venture. I don’t know what he’s up to there. It strikes me as absurd in the most fundamental sense, because I think, well, it’d be easier just to build an outpost in the Antarctica or in the desert.
Lex Fridman (42:10):
How much of the human endeavor is absurd?
Jordan Peterson (42:13):
Well, that’s what Nietzsche say. Great men are seldom credited with their stupidity. Who the hell knows what Musk is up to? I mean, obviously, he’s building rockets. Now, he’s motivated because he wants to build a platform for life on Mars. Is that a good idea? Who am I to say he’s building the rockets, man? But I’d like to ask him about it.
Lex Fridman (42:36):
I would like to see that conversation. I do think that, having talked to him quite a bit offline, I think several of his ideas, like Mars, like humans becoming a multiplanetary species, could be one of the things that human civilization looks back at as, duh, I can’t believe he is one of the few people that was really pushing this idea, because it’s the obvious thing for society, for life to survive.
Jordan Peterson (43:07):
Yeah, well, it isn’t obvious to me that I’m in any position to evaluate Elon Musk. Like, I would like to talk to him and find out what he’s up to and why, but I mean, he’s an impossible person. What he’s done is impossible, all of it. Like, he built an electric car that works. Now, does it work completely, and will it replace gas cars, or should it? I don’t know. But if we’re going to build electric cars, he seems to be the best at that, by a lot. And he more or less did that. People carp about him, but he more or less did that by himself. I know he’s very good at distributing responsibility and all of that, but he’s the spearhead. And then that was pretty hard. And then he built a rocket at like one tenth the price of NASA rockets. And then he shot his car out into space. That’s pretty hard. And then he’s building this boring company, more or less, as a, what would you call it? It’s this whimsical joke in some sense, but it’s not a joke. He’s amazing.
Lex Fridman (44:06):
And Neuralink delving into the depths of the mind.
Jordan Peterson (44:10):
And Starlink, it’s like, go Elon, as far as I’m concerned. And then he puts his finger on things so oddly. The problem is underpopulation. It’s like, I think so too. I think it’s a terrible problem that we’re, the West, for example, is no longer at replacement with regard to birthrate. It means we’ve abandoned the virgin and the child in a most fundamental sense. It’s a bloody catastrophe. And Musk, he sees it, clear as can be, and where everyone else is running around going, oh, there’s too many people. It’s like, nope, got that. Not only, see, I’ve learned that there are falsehoods and lies, and there are anti-truths. And an anti-truth is something that’s so preposterous that you couldn’t make a claim that’s more opposite to the truth. And the claim that there are too many people on the planet is an anti-truth.
So people say, well, you have to accept limits to growth and et cetera. It’s like, I have to accept the limits that you’re going to impose on me because you’re frightened of the future. That’s your theory, is it?
Lex Fridman (45:24):
OK. Well, it’s an idea. It could be a right idea. It could be a wrong idea. And I think anti-truth.
Jordan Peterson (45:30):
Here, I’ll tell you why it’s the wrong idea, I think. So imagine that there is an emergency, dragon. There’s a dragon. Someone comes and says, there’s a dragon. I’m the guy to deal with it. That’s what the environmentalists say, the radical types who push limits to growth. Then I look at them and I think, OK, is that dragon real or not? That’s one question.
Lex Fridman (45:56):
Well, is the apocalypse looming on the environmental front?
Jordan Peterson (45:58):
Yes or no? I’ll just leave that aside for the time being. I think you can make a case both ways for a bunch of different reasons. And it’s not a trivial concern. And we’ve overfished the oceans terribly. And there are environmental issues that are looming large. Whether climate change is the cardinal one or not is a whole different question. But we won’t get into that. That’s not the issue. You’re clamoring about a dragon. OK. Why should I listen to you? Well, let’s see how you’re reacting to the dragon. First of all, you’re scared stiff and in a state of panic.
That might indicate you’re not the man for the job. Second, you’re willing to use compulsion to harness other people to fight the dragon for you. So now not only are you terrified, you’re a terrified tyrant. So then I would say, well, then you’re not the Moses that we need to lead us out of this particular exodus.
And maybe that’s a neurological explanation. It’s like, if you’re so afraid of what you’re facing, that you’re terrified into paralysis and nihilism, and that you’re willing to use tyrannical compulsion to get your way, you are not the right leader for the time. So then I like someone like Bjorn Lomborg or Matt Ridley or Marian Tupy. And they say, well, look, we’ve got our environmental problems.
And maybe you could make a case that there’s a Malthusian element in some situations. But fundamentally, the track record of the human race is that we learn very fast and faster all the time to do more with less. And we’ve got this. And I think yes to that idea. And I think about it in a fundamental way. Like, I trust Lomborg, I trust Toopy, I trust Matt Ridley. They’ve thought about these things deeply. They’re not just saying, oh, the environment doesn’t matter, whatever the environment is.
You know, the environment, I don’t even know what that is. That’s everything. The environment. I’m concerned about the environment. It’s like, how is that different than saying I’m worried about everything? How are those statements different semantically?
Lex Fridman (48:20):
Well, yeah, the environment, it could be I’m worried about society. A lot of these complex systems are difficult to talk about because there’s so much involved, for sure.
Jordan Peterson (48:29):
Yeah, everything. And then these models, because people have gone after me because I don’t buy the climate models. Well, I think about the climate models as extended into the economic models. Because the climate model is, well, there’s going to be a certain degree of heating, let’s say, by 2100. It’s like, OK, some of that might be human generated. Some of it’s a consequence of warming after the Ice Age. This has happened before. But fair enough, let’s take your presumption.
Although there are multiple presumptions, and any error in your model multiplies as time extends. But have it your way. OK, now we’re going to extend the climate model, so to speak, into the economic model. So I just did an analysis of a paper by Deloitte, third biggest company in the US. 300,000 employees, major league consultants, they just produced a report in May. I wrote an article for it in The Telegraph, which I’m going to release this week on my YouTube channel. Said, well, if we get the climate problem under control economically, because that’s where the models are now being generated on the economic front. So now we have to model the environment, that’s climate, and we have to model the economy. And then we have to model their joint interaction. And then we have to predict 100 years into the future. And then we have to put $1 value on that. And then we have to claim that we can do that, which we can’t. And then this is our conclusion.
We’re going to go through a difficult period of privation. Because if we don’t accept limits to growth, there’s going to be a catastrophe 50 years in the future or thereabouts. And so to avert that catastrophe, we are going to make people poorer now. How much poorer? Well, not a lot compared to how much richer they’re going to be, but definitely, and they say this in their own models, definitely poorer, definitely poorer than they would be if we just left them the hell alone. And so then I think, OK, poorer, eh?
Who? Well, let’s look at it biologically. Got a hierarchy of stability and security. That’s a hierarchy, or one type. You stress a hierarchy like that, a social hierarchy. So there’s birds in an environment, and an avian flu comes in. And then you look at the birds in the social hierarchy.
The low-ranking birds have the worst nests. So they’re most exposed to wind and rain and sun, and farthest from food supplies, and most exposed to predators. And so those birds are stressed, which is what happens to you at the bottom of a hierarchy. You’re more stressed because your life is more uncertain. You’re more stressed. Your immunological function is compromised because of that. You’re sacrificing the future for the present. An avian flu comes in, and the birds die from the bottom up. That happens in every epidemic. You die from the bottom up. OK, so they say, when the aristocracy catches a cold, the working class dies of pneumonia. All right, so now we’re going to make people poorer.
OK, who? Well, we know who we make poorer when we make people poorer. We make those who are barely hanging on poorer. And what does that mean? It means they die. And so what the Deloitte consultants are basically saying is, well, you know, it’s kind of unfortunate. But according to our models, a lot of poor people are going to have to die so that a lot more poor people don’t die in the future. It’s like, OK, hold on a sec. Which of those two things am I supposed to regard with certainty? The hypothetical poor people that you’re going to hypothetically save 100 years from now, or the actual poor people that you are actually going to kill in the next 10 years. Well, I’m going to cast my lot with the actual poor people that you’re actually going to kill.
And then I think further. It’s like, well, OK, the Deloitte consultants, have you actually modeled the world, or is this a big advertising shtick designed to attract your corporate clients with the demonstration that you’re so intelligent that you can actually model the entire ecosystem of the world, including the economic system, and predict it 100 years forward?
And isn’t there a bit of a moral hazard in making a claim like that? Just like just a trifle, especially when. So I talked to Bjorn Lomborg and Michael Ljon last week. I accepted the UN estimates of starvation this coming year. 150 million people will suffer food insecurity, food insecurity. Yeah, food insecurity, that’s the bloody buzzword. Well, Michael Ljon thought 1.2 billion, and then that it’ll spiral. Because he said, what happens in a famine is that the governments go nuts, crazy.
The governments destabilize, and then they appropriate the food from the farmers. Then the farmers don’t have any money. Then they can’t grow crops. And I think, yeah, that’s exactly what they do. That’s exactly what would happen. And so Ljon told me 1.2 billion. And then Bjorn Lomborg said the same thing. I didn’t even ask him. He just made it as an offhand comment.
Lex Fridman (53:57):
Let me ask you about the famine of the 30s. Yeah. Do you think in the Ukraine? Oh, yeah. Fun, fun, fun. Similar. A lot of the things you mentioned in the last few sentences kind of echo through that part of human history.
Jordan Peterson (54:16):
The whole, no one knows about.
Lex Fridman (54:19):
Well, now I’ve just spent four weeks in Ukraine. There’s different parts of the world that still, even if they don’t know, they know. Yeah, right. They feel history runs in the blood.
Jordan Peterson (54:33):
The Dutch, in some sense, they had a famine at the end of World War II. And part of the reason the Dutch farmers are so unbelievably efficient and productive is that the Dutch swore at the end of World War II that that was not going to happen again. And then they had to scrape land out of the ocean. Because Holland, that’s quite a country. It shouldn’t even exist. The fact that it’s the world’s number two exporter. You know that it’s the world’s number two exporter of agricultural products, Holland.
It’s like, I don’t think it’s as big as Massachusetts. It’s this little tiny place. It shouldn’t even exist. And they want to put, here’s the plan. Let’s put 30% of the farmers out of business. Well, the broader ecosystem of agricultural production in Holland is 6% of their GDP. Now, these centralizing politicians think, tell me if I’m stupid about this. Take an industry. You knock it back by fiat by 30%. Now, it runs on like a 3% profit margin. Now, you’re going to kill 30% of it.
How are you not going to bring the whole thing down, the whole farming ecosystem down? How are you not going to impoverish the transport systems? How are you not going to demolish the grocery stores? You can’t take something like that and pare it back by fiat by 30% and not kill it. I can’t see how you can do that. I mean, look what we did with the COVID lockdowns. We broke the supply chains. We tried buying something lately.
You can’t wait. And aren’t the Chinese threatening Taiwan at the moment? What are we going to do without chips? So I don’t know what these people are thinking. And then I think, OK, what are they thinking? Well, the Deloitte people are thinking, aren’t we smart? Shouldn’t we be hired by our corporate employers? It’s like, OK. Too bad about the poor. What are the environmentalists thinking? We love the planet. It’s like, do you? We love the poor. Do you? OK, let’s pit the planet against the poor. Who wins? The planet. OK, you don’t love the poor that much.
Do you love the planet, or do you hate capitalism? Let’s pit those two things against each other. Oh, well, it turns out we actually hate capitalism. How can we tell? Because you’re willing to break it. And you know what’s going to happen. So what’s going to happen in Sri Lanka with these 20 million people who now have nothing to eat? Are they going to eat all the animals? Are they going to burn all the firewood? They’re stockpiling firewood in Germany. So is your environmental globalist utopia going to kill the poor and destroy the planet? And that’s OK, because we’ll wipe out capitalism. It’s like, OK.
Lex Fridman (57:14):
Yeah, the dragon and the fear of the dragon drives ideologies, some of which can build a better world, some of which can destroy that world.
Jordan Peterson (57:22):
Now, what do you think of that theory about trustworthiness? If the dragon that you’re facing turns you into a terrified tyrant, you’re not the man for the job.
Lex Fridman (57:33):
Is that a good theory? It’s an interesting theory. Let me use that theory to challenge, because what does terror look like? Let me table the turns, turn the tables on you. You are terrified, afraid, concerned about the dragon of something we can call communism, Marxism.
Jordan Peterson (58:03):
Am I terrified of it?
Lex Fridman (58:04):
I’m not terrified enough to be a tyrant. Your theories had two components. Yeah? I’m not paralyzed. You had a dragon.
Jordan Peterson (58:11):
Yeah, I’m not paralyzed, and I don’t want to be a tyrant.
Lex Fridman (58:14):
The tyrant part, I think, is missing with you. You are very concerned. The intensity of your feeling does not give much space, actually, at least in your public persona, for sitting quietly with the dragon and sipping in a couple of beers and thinking about this thing. The intensity of your anger, concern about certain things you’re seeing in society, is that going to drive you off the path that ultimately takes to a better world?
Jordan Peterson (58:48):
That’s a good question. I mean, I’m trying to get that right. So we’ve kind of come to a cultural conclusion about the Nazis. Do you get to be angry about the Nazis? Seems the answer to that is yes.
Lex Fridman (59:03):
Well, actually, let me push back here. I also don’t trust people who are angry about the Nazis. Well, as you know, there’s a lot of people in the world that use actual Nazis to mean a lot of things. One of them is very important.
Jordan Peterson (59:26):
Me, for example. Well, yes. He’s a Nazi, or magical super Nazi, as it turns out.
Lex Fridman (59:33):
I think they actually sort of steelman all their perspectives. I think a lot of people that call you a Nazi mean it. Yeah, I’m aware of that. There’s an important thing there, though. Because I went to the front in Ukraine, and a lot of the people that lost their home or there that got to interact a lot with Russian soldiers, Ukrainian people that interacted with Russian soldiers, they reported that the Russian soldiers really believe they’re saving the people of Ukraine in these local villages from the Nazis. So to them, it’s not just that the Ukrainian government has or Ukraine has some Nazis. It’s like the idea is that the Nazis have taken over Ukraine, and we need to free them. This is the belief. So again, Nazi is still a dragon that lives. And it’s used by people, because it’s safe to sit next to that dragon and spread any kind of ideology you want. So I just want to kind of say that we have agreed on this particular dragon, but I still don’t trust anybody who uses that one.
Jordan Peterson (01:00:53):
Yeah, but we have issues with boundaries, right? No, no, it’s so this is a very complicated problem, right? So René Girard believed that it was a human proclivity to demonize a scapegoat and then drive it out of the village. And I’ve thought about that a lot. We need a place to put Satan seriously. This is a serious issue.
Lex Fridman (01:01:15):
Should he be inside the village or outside?
Jordan Peterson (01:01:17):
Well, maybe he should be inside you, right? That’s the fundamental essence of the Christian doctrine. It’s like Satan is best fought on the battleground of your soul. And that’s right. That’s right.
Lex Fridman (01:01:37):
Can you actually put words to the kind of dragon that you’re fighting? Is it communism?
Jordan Peterson (01:01:42):
It’s the spirit of Cain.
Lex Fridman (01:01:45):
Can you elaborate what the spirit of Cain is?
Jordan Peterson (01:01:51):
So after Adam and Eve are thrown out of paradise for becoming self-conscious, or when they become self-conscious, they’re destined to work. And the reason for that, as far as I can tell, is that to become self-conscious is to become aware of the future. It’s to become aware of death. That certainly happens in the Adam and Eve story, to have the scales fall from your eyes.
And then the consequence of that is that you now have to labor to prevent the catastrophes of the future. That’s work. Work is sacrifice, sacrifice of the present to the future. It’s delay of gratification. It’s maturity. It’s sacrifice to something as well, and in the spirit of something. OK, so now Adam and Eve have two children, Cain and Abel. So those are the first two people in history.
Because the Garden of Eden doesn’t count. And they’re the first two people who are born rather than created. So they’re the first two people. And that’s a hell of a story, because it’s a story of fratricidal murder that degenerates into genocide, flood, and tyranny. So that’s fun for the opening salvo of the story, let’s say. And Abel and Cain both make sacrifices. And for some reason, Abel’s sacrifices please God. It’s not exactly clear why. And Cain’s don’t.
Now, there is an implication in the text that it’s because Cain’s sacrifices are second rate. God says that Abel brings the finest to the sacrificial altar. He doesn’t say that about Cain. So you could imagine that Cain is sacrificing away, but he’s holding something in reserve. He’s not all in. He’s not bringing his best to the table. He’s not offering his best to God. And so Abel thrives like mad.
And everyone loves him. And he gets exactly what he needs and wants, exactly when he needs and wants it. He’s favored of God. And Cain is bearing this terrible burden forward and working. And his sacrifices are rejected. So he gets resentful, really resentful, resentful enough to call God out and say something like, this is quite the creation you’ve got going here. I’m breaking myself in half, and nothing good’s coming my way. What the hell’s up with that? And then there’s Abel. The sun’s shining on him every day. How dare you?
OK. But this is God that Cain’s talking to. And so God says what Cain least wants to hear, which is what God usually says to people. He says, look to your own devices. You’re not making the sacrifices you should. And you know it. And then he says something even worse. He says, sin crouches at your door like a sexually aroused predatory animal.
And you’ve invited it in to have your way, to have its way with you. And so he basically says, you have allowed your resentment to preoccupy yourself. And now you’re brooding upon it and generating something creative, new, and awful, possessed by the spirit of resentment.
And that’s why you’re in the miserable state you’re in. So then Cain leaves. His countenance falls, as you might expect. And Cain leaves. And he’s so incensed by this because God has said, look, your problems are of your own making. And not only that, you invited them in. And not only that, you engaged in this creatively. And not only that, you’re blaming it on me. And not only that, that’s making you jealous of Abel, who’s your actual idol and goal. And Cain, instead of changing, kills Abel.
Right? And then Cain’s descendants are the first people who make weapons of war. And so that’s, OK, you want to know what I think? That’s the eternal story of mankind. And it’s playing out right now, except at 1,000 times
Lex Fridman (01:06:06):
the rate. Can I present to you a difficult truth, perhaps not a truth, but a thought I have, that it is not always easy to know which among us are the Cain. That’s for sure. And resentment. It is possible to imagine you as the person who has a resentment towards a particular world view that you really worry about.
Jordan Peterson (01:06:38):
Yeah, well, I talked to a good friend of mine last week about that publicly. Well, we’ll release it. So I said, well, do I have a particular animus against the left, let’s say? Like, well, probably. OK, why? Well, first of all, I’m a university professor. It’s not like the universities are threatened by the right.
They’re threatened by the left 100%. And they’re not just threatened a little bit. They’re threatened a lot. And that threat made it impossible for me to continue in my profession the way I was. And it cost me my clinical practice, too. And that’s not over yet because I have 10 lawsuits against me out right now from the College of Psychologists because they’ve allowed anyone to complain about me anywhere in the world for any reason and have the choice to follow that up with an investigation, which is a punishment in and of itself, and are doing so.
And then I’ve been tortured nearly to death multiple times by bad actors on the left. Now, I’ve had my fair share of radical right-wingers being unhappy with what I’ve said. But personally, that’s been the left the whole time.
Not only me, but my family put my family at risk in a big way and constantly, like not once or twice, because many people get canceled once or twice. But I’ve been canceled like 40 times. And I know like 200 people now who’ve been canceled. And I can tell you without doubt that it is one of the worst experiences of their life. And that’s if it only happens once.
And then I also know that the communists killed 100 million people in the 20th century, that the intellectuals excused them for it nonstop and still haven’t quit, that almost no one knows about it, and that the specter of resentful Marxism is back in full force. And so do I have a bit of an animus against that? Yes. Does it go too far? I don’t know. I’m trying to figure that out.
Lex Fridman (01:08:48):
The story you just told, it seems nearly impossible for you, an intellectual powerhouse, not to have a tremendous amount of resentment. Well. And this is the, so let me challenge you. Yeah, go right ahead. Let me challenge you. Can you steel man the case that the prime minister of this country, Trudeau, wants the best for this country and actually might do good things for this country as an intellectual challenge?
Jordan Peterson (01:09:19):
Sure. He seems to get along well with his wife. He has some kids. There’s no sexual scandals. And he’s in a position where that could easily be the case. He seems to have done some good things on the oceanic management front. He’s put a fair bit of Canada’s oceans into marine protected areas. And that might be his most fundamental legacy, if it’s real. I’ve been trying to get information about the actual reality of the protection. And I haven’t been able to do that. But that’s a good thing.
Lex Fridman (01:09:49):
So sorry, the family thing is, there’s some aspects to his character. There is some aspect to him that makes him a good man. Well, I mean, there’s the evidence there.
Jordan Peterson (01:09:58):
I mean, he’s not a Jeffrey Epstein profligate on the sexual front. So that’s something. And his wife, they seem to have a real marriage. And he has kids. So good for him.
Lex Fridman (01:10:11):
That’s a good start, by the way, for a leader.
Jordan Peterson (01:10:13):
Yeah, right. To be a great man. Well, then I also thought, OK, well, after the Liberals had brought in a Harvard intellectual, who was a Canadian, to be their last leader, he didn’t work out. And then they’re flailing about for a leader. And the Liberals in Canada are pretty good at maintaining power and leadership, and have been the dominant governing party in Canada for a long time. And so they went to Justin and said, well, you know, it’s you who are a Conservative. And you can imagine that’s not a positive specter for someone who’s on the left, or even a Liberal, especially. And Trudeau is quite a bit on the left. And they said, we need you to run. And then I thought, OK, well, the answer to that should have been no, because Trudeau, Justin, has no training for this, no experience. He’s not, he’s a part-time drama teacher, fundamentally.
He hadn’t run a business. He just didn’t know enough to be prime minister. But then I’m trying to put myself in his position. So it’s like, OK, I don’t know enough, but I’m young. And we don’t want the Conservatives. And they had had to run, a 10-year run, so maybe it was time for a new government. Maybe I could grow into this man. Maybe I could surround myself with good people, and I could learn humbly. And I could become the person I’m now pretending to be, which we all have to do as we move forward. And so then I thought, OK, I think you made a mistake there because you ran only on your father’s name.
You didn’t have the background, but let’s give the devil his due and say, that’s no problem. OK, so now what do you do? Well, you get elected, and your first act is to make the cabinet 50% women, despite the fact that only 25% of the elected members are female. It’s like, OK, you just halved your talent pool. That was a really bad move for your first man.
Lex Fridman (01:12:12):
Can I ask you about that? Do you think, where does that move come from? Deep somewhere in the heart, or is it trying to listen to the social forces of the moment and try to ride those weights towards maybe greater
Jordan Peterson (01:12:29):
popularity? After thinking it through, it’s like, no, you just halved your talent pool for cabinet positions. That’s what you did. There’s enough cabinet positions. You could argue that each of them met threshold. It’s like, there is a big difference between threshold and excellence.
Lex Fridman (01:12:47):
So you don’t think that came from a place of compassion?
Jordan Peterson (01:12:50):
I don’t care if it did. I don’t regard compassion as a virtue. Compassion is a reflex, not a virtue. Judicious compassion is a virtue.
Lex Fridman (01:12:58):
Wait, wait a minute, wait a minute. Compassion can come deep from the human heart and the human mind, I think. Are we talking about the same kind of compassion? Yes. Trying to understand the self.
Jordan Peterson (01:13:09):
Treating adults like infants is not virtuous.
Lex Fridman (01:13:12):
I see. But compassion isn’t treating adults like infants. I mean, those are just terms. Are you sure? Yeah, whatever the term is, maybe love is maybe the better word.
Jordan Peterson (01:13:22):
Edible compassion is.
Lex Fridman (01:13:25):
I mean, I suppose I’m speaking to love. You don’t think those ideas came from concern? Love is a compassion.
Jordan Peterson (01:13:34):
You don’t think those? Love is a blend of compassion and encouragement and truth.
Lex Fridman (01:13:38):
Love is complicated, man. Yeah, it has a lot of good things in it.
Jordan Peterson (01:13:42):
If I love you, is it compassion or encouragement you want from me?
Lex Fridman (01:13:46):
Yeah, it’s a dance. Love is definitely a dance of two humans, ultimately, that leads to the growth of both.
Jordan Peterson (01:13:51):
Well, that’s the thing. The growth element is crucial. Because the growth element, to foster the growth element, that requires judgment. Compassion and judgment have been conceptualized this way forever, two hands of God, mercy and justice. They have to operate in tandem, right? And mercy is flawed as you are, you’re acceptable.
It’s like, well, do you want that? Do you want your flaws to be acceptable? And the answer to that is no. It’s like, well, that’s where the judgment comes in. It’s like, but you could be better. You could be more than you are. And that’s the maternal and the paternal in some fundamental sense. And there has to be an active exchange of information between those two poles. So even if Trudeau was motivated by compassion, it’s like, yeah, just how loving are you, first of all? No, it was a really bad decision. And he’s expressed contempt for monetary policy. I’m not interested in monetary policy. OK, but you’re prime minister.
And he’s expressed admiration for the Chinese Communist Party because they can be very efficient in their pursuit of environmental goals. It’s like, oh, yeah, efficiency, eh? The efficiency of the tyranny in the service of your terror. And I’ve watched him repeatedly, and I’ve listened to him a lot. And I’ve tried to do that clinically and with some degree of dispassion.
And that’s hard, too, because his father, Pierre, devastated the West in 1982 with the national energy policy. And Trudeau is doing exactly the same thing again. And so as a Westerner as well, I have an inbuilt animus and one that’s well-deserved because central Canada, especially the glittery, literati elite types in the Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto triangle have exploited the West and expressed contempt for the West far too much for far too long. And that’s accelerating at the moment, for example, with Trudeau’s recent attack on the Canadian farmers. He’s an enemy of the oil and gas industry. It’s an utter and absolute bloody catastrophe. And look what’s happened in Europe, at least in partial consequence. And he’s no friend to the farmers. So I’ve tried to steel man him. I try to put myself in the position of the people that I’m criticizing. I think he’s a narcissist.
Lex Fridman (01:16:31):
Do you think there’s a degree to which power changed him?
Jordan Peterson (01:16:34):
If you’re not suited for the position, if you’re not the man for the position, you can be absolutely 100% sure that the power will corrupt you. How could it not? I mean, at the least, if you don’t have the chops for the job, you have to devalue the job to the point where you can feel comfortable inhabiting it. So yes, I think that it’s corrupted him. And I mean, look at him doubling down. We wear masks in flights into Canada. We have to fill out an arrive can bureaucratic form on our phones because a passport isn’t good enough. We can’t get a passport.
What if you’re 85 and you don’t know how to use a smartphone? Oh, well, too bad for you. It’s like, yes, it’s corrupted him.
Lex Fridman (01:17:20):
Would you talk to him? If you were to sit down and talk with him and he wanted to talk, would you and what kind of things would you talk about perhaps on your podcast?
Jordan Peterson (01:17:34):
I don’t think I’ve ever said no to talking to anyone, which is, you know, no.
Lex Fridman (01:17:39):
Would you, would that be a first or would you make that conversation? Do you believe in the power of conversation in those kinds of contexts?
Jordan Peterson (01:17:46):
No, I’d ask him. No, if he was willing to talk to me, I’d talk because I’d like to ask him. I have lots of things I’d like to ask him about. I mean, I’ve had political types in Canada on my podcast and tried to ask them questions. So I’d like to know, you know, maybe I’ve got a big part of him wrong. And I probably do. But my observation has been that every chance he had to retreat from his pharaonic position, let’s say, he doubled down. And these, our parliament is not running for the next year.
It’s still zoom in. It’s still COVID lockdown parliament for the next year. It’s already been fatally compromised, perhaps, by the lockdowns for the last couple of years. This is parliament we’re talking about.
Lex Fridman (01:18:38):
There’s a kind of paralysis, fear-driven paralysis, that also imparts some of the most brilliant people I know are lost in this paralysis. I don’t think people assign a word to it, but it’s almost like a fear of this unknown thing that lurks in the shadows. And that, unfortunately, that fear is leveraged by people who are in academic circles, who are in faculty or students and so on, or more administration. And they start to use that fear, which makes me quite uncomfortable. It does lend people in the positions of power who are not good at handling that power to become slowly, day by day, a little bit more corrupt.
Jordan Peterson (01:19:26):
I was really trying to figure out, the last two weeks, thinking this through. It’s like, how do you know? Let’s say someone asked me a question in the YouTube comment. He said, why can I trust your advice on the environmental front? And I thought, that’s a really good question.
OK, let’s see if we can figure out the principles by which the advice would be trustworthy. OK, how do you know it’s not trustworthy? Well, one potential response to that would be the claims are not in accordance with the facts. But facts are tricky things, and it depends on where you look for them. So that’s a tough one to get right, because, for example, Lomborg’s fundamental critics argue about his facts, not just his interpretation of them.
So that can’t be an unerring guide. And so I thought, well, the facts exactly doesn’t work. Because when it’s about everything, there’s too many facts. So then how do you determine if someone’s a trustworthy guide in the face of the apocalyptic unknown? Because that’s really the question. And the answer is, they’re not terrified tyrants. I think that’s the answer. Now, maybe that’s wrong. If someone has a better answer, hey.
Lex Fridman (01:20:42):
How do you know if they’re a terrified tyrant?
Jordan Peterson (01:20:44):
Because they’re willing to use compulsion on other people when they could use goodwill. Like, the farmers in Canada objected. They said, look, we have every economic reason to use as little fertilizer as we can, because it’s expensive. We have satellite maps of where we put the fertilizer. We have cut our fertilizer use so substantially in the last 40 years, you can’t believe it, and we grow way more food. We’re already breaking ourselves in half. And if you know farmers, especially the ones who still survive, you think those people don’t know what they’re doing. It’s like, they’re pretty damn sophisticated, man.
Like, way more sophisticated than our prime minister. And now you tell them, no, it’s a 30% reduction. And we don’t care how much food you’re growing. So it’s not a reduction that’s dependent on amount of food produced per unit of fertilizer used, which would be, at least, you could imagine it. OK, so you’re producing this much food, and you use this much fertilizer, so you’re hyper-efficient. Maybe we take the 10% of farmers who are the least efficient in that metric, and we say to them, you have to get as efficient as the average farmer.
And then they say, well, look, our situation is different. We’re in a more northern clime. The soil’s weaker. You obviously have to bargain with that. But at least you reward them for their productivity. Well, it’s like, well, Holland isn’t going to have beef. Well, where are they going to get it?
Well, you don’t need it. It’s like, oh, I see. You get to tell me what I can eat now, do you? Really? OK. And Holland is going to import food from where? That’s more efficient on the fertilizer front. There’s no one more efficient than Holland. And same with Canada. And isn’t this going to make food prices more expensive? And doesn’t that mean that hungry people die? Because that is what it means.
Lex Fridman (01:22:45):
So ultimately, poor people pay the price of these kinds of policies.
Jordan Peterson (01:22:50):
No, no, no, not ultimately. Now. Today. Today. That’s a crucial distinction, because they say, well, ultimately, the poor will benefit. Yeah, except the dead ones. Yes. Today. Today, right. It seems like the story of war, too,
Lex Fridman (01:23:05):
is a time when the poor people suffer from the decision made by the powerful, the rich. The rich, the political elite. Yeah. Let me ask you about the war in Ukraine.
Jordan Peterson (01:23:22):
Oh, yeah. I got into plenty of trouble about that, too.
Lex Fridman (01:23:26):
You’re just a man in a suit, talking on microphones and writing brilliant articles. There’s also people dying, fighting. It’s their land, it’s their country, it’s their history. This is true for both Russia and Ukraine. It’s people trying to ask, they have many dragons, and they’re asking themselves the question, who are we? What is this? What is the future of this nation? We thought we are a great nation. And I think both countries say this. And they say, well, how do we become the great nation we thought we are? And so first of all, you got in trouble. What’s the dynamics of the trouble? And is it something you regret saying?
Jordan Peterson (01:24:18):
No, no. I thought about it a lot. I laid out four reasons for the war. And then I was criticized in The Atlantic for the argument was reduced to one reason, which was a caricature of the reason. I gave a variety of reasons why the war happened. Mismanagement on the part of the West in relationship to Russia and foreign policy since the wall fell.
It’s understandable because it’s extremely complex. Hyper-reliance on Russia as a cardinal source of energy provision for Europe in the wake of idiot environmental globalist utopianism. The expansionist tendencies of Russia that are analogous in some sense to the Soviet Union empire building. And then the last one, which is the one I got in trouble for, which is Putin’s belief or willingness to manipulate his people into believing that Russia is a salvific force in the face of idiot Western wokeism. And that’s the one I got in trouble for. While you’re justifying Putin, it’s like it’s not only the Russians that think the West has lost its mind. The Eastern Europeans think so too. And do I know that? It’s like, well, I went to 15 Eastern European countries this spring. And I talked to 300 political and cultural leaders. And you might say, well, they were all conservatives. It’s like, actually, no, they weren’t.
Most of them were conservatives because it turns out that they’re more willing to talk to me. But a good chunk of them were liberals by any stretch of the imagination. And a fair number of them were canceled progressives.
Lex Fridman (01:26:09):
Well, because you’re very concerned about the culture wars that perhaps are a signal of a possible bad future for this country and for this part of the world, that reason stands out. And do you, sort of looking back at four reasons, think it deserves to have a place in one of the four? Oh, absolutely. Because it is, you know, it’s a compo-
Jordan Peterson (01:26:39):
Well, the four was bifurcated, eh, because I said, look, Putin might believe this. And I actually think he does. Because I read a bunch of Putin’s speeches. And I have been reading them for 15 years. And my sense of people generally, and this was true of Hitler, it’s like, what did Hitler believe? Well, did you read what he wrote? He just did what he said he was going to do. And you might think, well, some people are so tricky, they have a whole body of elaborated speech that’s completely separate from their personality. And their personality is pursuing a different agenda. And this whole body of speech is nothing but affront.
It’s like, good luck finding someone that sophisticated. First of all, if you say things long enough, you’re going to believe them.
Lex Fridman (01:27:22):
That’s a really interesting and fascinating and important point. Even if you start out as a lie, as a propaganda, I think Hitler is an example of somebody that I think really quickly you start to believe the propaganda.
Jordan Peterson (01:27:35):
Well, you’ve thought a lot about AI systems. It’s like, don’t you become what you practice? And the answer to that is, well, absolutely. We even know the neurology. Like when you first formulate a concept, huge swaths of your cortex are lit up, so to speak. But as you practice that, first of all, the right hemisphere stops participating. And then the left participates less and less until you build specialized machinery for exactly that conceptual frame. And then you start to see it, not just think it.
And so if you’re telling the same lies over and over, who do you think you’re fooling? You think, well, I can withstand my own lies. Not if they’re effective lies. And if they’re effective enough to fool millions of people and then they reflect them back to you, what makes you think you’re going to be able to withstand that? You aren’t. And so I do think Putin believes, to the degree that he believes anything, I do believe that he thinks of himself as a bulwark for Christendom against the degeneration of the West. And that’s that third way that Dugin and Putin have been talking about, the philosopher Aleksandr Dugin and Putin for 15 years. Now, what that is, is very amorphous.
Solzhenitsyn thought the Russians would have to return to the incremental development of Orthodox Christianity to escape from the communist trap. And to some degree that’s happened in Russia because there’s been a return to Orthodox Christianity. Now, you could say, yeah, but the Orthodox Church has just been co-opted by the state. And I would say there’s some evidence for that. I’ve heard, for example, that the Metropolitan owns, now I don’t know if this is true owns $5 billion worth of personal property. And I would say there’s a bit of a moral hazard in that. And it’s possible that the Orthodox Church has been co-opted, but there has been somewhat of an Orthodox revival in Russia. And I don’t think that’s all bad. Now, even if Putin doesn’t believe any of this, if he’s just a psychopathic manipulator, and unfortunately, I don’t think that’s true.
I’ve read his speeches, it doesn’t look like it to me. And he is by no means the worst Russian leader of the last 100 years.
Lex Fridman (01:29:56):
Well, there’s quite a selection there.
Jordan Peterson (01:29:58):
There certainly is. And I say that knowing that even if he doesn’t believe it, he’s convinced his people that it’s true. And so we’re stuck with the claim in either case. And that’s the point I was trying to make in the article.
Lex Fridman (01:30:19):
Sometimes I’m troubled by people that explain things. And a lot of people reached out to me, experts telling me how I should feel, what I should think about Ukraine. Oh, you naive, Lex, you’re so naive. Here’s how it really is. But then I get to see people that lost their home. I get to see people on the Russian side who believe they’re, I genuinely think that there’s some degree to which they have love in their heart. They see themselves as heroes, saving a land from Nazis.
Jordan Peterson (01:30:58):
How else would you motivate young men to go fight?
Lex Fridman (01:31:00):
It’s just, it’s these humans destroying not only their homes, but creating generational hate, destroying the possibility of love towards each other. They’re basically creating hate. What I’ve heard a lot of is on February 24th, this year, hate was born at a scale that region has not seen. Hate towards not Vladimir Putin, hate towards not the soldiers in Russia, but hate towards all Russians.
Hate that will last generations. And then you can see just the pain there. And then when all these experts talk about agriculture and energy and geopolitics and yeah, maybe like what you say with the fighting, the ideologies of the woke and so on, I just feel like it’s missing something deep that war is not fought about any of those things. War started and war is averted based on human beings, based on humanity.
Jordan Peterson (01:32:16):
Well, here’s another ugly thought since we haven’t had enough so far. We locked everything down for COVID. How much face-to-face communication was there between the West and Vladimir Putin? How about none? How about that was the wrong amount? Especially given that Europe was completely dependent on Putin for its energy supplies. Well, not completely, but you know what I mean. Materially and significantly. So maybe I had to go talk to him once every six months. Maybe he’s in a bit of a bubble, probably.
Lex Fridman (01:32:51):
And not just in an information bubble how all these experts tell me about.
Jordan Peterson (01:32:55):
Yeah, no, a human bubble. You bet, man. Look, one of the things I’ve really learned, there’s a real emphasis on hospitality in the Old Testament. I just brought all these scholars together to talk about Exodus. I have this security team with me and they’re tough military guys, but they’re on board for this mission, let’s say.
And so they went out of their way to be hospitable to my academic guests. They laid out nice platters of meat and cheese and crackers. They spent all day preparing this house I had rented so that we could have a hospitable time with these scholars, most of whom I didn’t know well, but who said they would come and spend eight days talking about this book with me. We rented some jet skis. We had a nice house. We had fun. We got to know each other and we got to trust each other because we could see that we could have some fun and that we could let our hair down a bit. We didn’t have to be on guard. And that made the talks way deeper. And then we found out we couldn’t get through Exodus in eight days.
And so I had proposed very early on that we’re going to double the length. And so I pulled eight people out of their lives for eight days. That’s not an easy thing to do. It’s also quite expensive. And the Daily Wire Plus people picked all that up. And they said yes right away. We’d love to do this again. Well, why? Well, partly because intellectually it was unbelievably engaging. I learned so much. It’ll take me like a year to digest it, if I can ever digest it. But they had a really good time. And so when they were offered that combination of intellectual challenge, let’s say in hospitality, it was a no brainer. They just said, every one of them said, if I can do it in any way, I will definitely be there. And I went to Washington a bunch of times.
And the culture of hospitality has broken down in Washington. 40% of congressmen sleep in their offices. They don’t have apartments. Their family isn’t there with them. They don’t have social occasions with their fellow Democrats or Republicans, much less across the table.
And so I tried to have some meetings in Washington that were bilateral a couple of times, get young Republican congressmen and Democrats together to talk. And as soon as they talk, they think, oh, it was so interesting because one of the lunches was about 15 people, half Democrats and half Republicans. And all I’d ask them to do was just spend three minutes talking about why you decided to become a congressman, which is not a job I would take, by the way. You spend 25 hours a week fundraising on the telephone. Your family isn’t there with you. You have to run for re-election every two years. You’re beholden to the party apparatus. You’re vilified constantly. This is not, people think, well, this is a job for the privileged. It’s like, yeah, you go and run for Congress and find out how much fun it is and put your family on the line and then have to beg for your job every two years while the worst of your enemies and the worst of your friends are viciously hen pecking you. And so anyways, we had them all sit around a table and said, OK, just say why you ran for Congress.
It was so cool, especially for a Canadian, because you Americans, you’re so bloody theatrical. It’s something to watch. It was like Mr. Smith goes to Washington for every one of them. It’s like, well, this country has given us so much. Our families have been so, we’ve benefited so much from our time here. We think this is a wonderful country. We really felt that we should give back. Then the next one would talk, and it was exactly the same story. And then it didn’t matter if they were Republican or Democrat. You couldn’t tell the difference. No one could. And was it genuine? It’s like, well, are you genuine? You think these people are worse than you?
First of all, they’re not. Second of all, they’re probably better, all things considered. It’s not that easy to become a congressman. And I’m sure there’s some bad apples in the bunch. But by and large, you walk away from your meetings with these people, and you think, pretty impressive.
Lex Fridman (01:37:00):
They really are giving a part of themselves in the name of service. Maybe over time, they become cynical and become jaded and worn down by the whole system. But I think a lot of it is healed, I think. And I don’t think I’m, well, I’m in part naive, but not fully. And a lot of it is healed through the power of conversation, just basic social interaction. I do think that the effects of this pandemic, just sitting there, and it doesn’t have to be talking about the actual issue. It’s actually humor and all those kinds of things, about personal struggles, all those kinds of things that remind you that you’re all just humans.
Jordan Peterson (01:37:48):
Yeah, well, the great leaders that I’ve met, and I’ve met some now, they go listen to their constituents. It’s not a policy discussion. It’s not an ideology discussion. They go say, OK, what’s your life like, and what are your problems? And tell me about them. And then they listen, and then they’re struck by them. And then they gather up all that misery, and they bring it to the congressional office or to the parliament. And they think, here’s what the people are crying out for. And the good leaders, that’s a leader. Leader listens.
So I talked to Jimmy Carr about comedy. And he’s sold out stages worldwide on a tour, being funny. That’s hard. And he said, stand-up comedy, which is what I do in some real sense, it’s a thing I do that’s most akin to what I’m doing on my book tours, I would say. It’s the closest analog. He said, it’s the most dialogical enterprise. And I thought, well, why? What do you mean? Because it’s just a monologue, and it’s a prepared monologue. I mean, you have to interact dynamically with the audience while you’re telling your jokes, and you got to get the timing right. But you have a body of jokes. He said, well, here’s how you prepare the jokes. And I’ve been told this by other comedians. You go to 50 clubs before you go on your tour, and you got some new material, and you think it’s funny. And you go into a club, and you lay out your new material, and people laugh at some of it.
And you pay attention to what they laugh at and what they don’t laugh at. So you subject yourself to the judgment of the crowd. And you get rid of everything that isn’t funny. And if you do that enough, even if you’re not that funny, the crowd will tell you what’s funny. So you can imagine. Imagine you do 50 shows, and each is an hour long. And you collect two minutes of humor from each show. So you throw away 90. You throw away two hours, more than 98% of it. Collect two minutes per show.
So you’re not very funny at all. You’re not funny 2% of the time. You aggregate that. Man, you’re a scream. So that’s what a leader does. That is what a leader does. Goes out, and he aggregates the misery and the hopes. And then I do think that’s revivifying to someone who would otherwise be cynical and jaded. Because then the person can say to themselves, despite the inadequacies of the system and my inadequacies, I’m gathering up the misery and the hope. And I’m bringing it forward where it can be redressed. Giving it a voice. Yep, giving it. That’s right, giving it a voice.
Lex Fridman (01:40:28):
Can you actually take me through a day, because this is fascinating, through your comedy tour? What does a day in the life of Jordan Peterson look like, which is this very interesting day? Let’s look at the day when you have to speak. Preparing your mind, thinking of what you’re going to talk about. Preparing yourself physically and mentally to interact with the crowd through the actual speaking. How do you adjust what you’re thinking through? And how do you come down from that so you can start all again as a limited biological system?
Jordan Peterson (01:41:07):
Well, I’m usually up by 7 and ready to go by 7.30 or 8.
Lex Fridman (01:41:16):
Jordan Peterson (01:41:17):
No. Steak and water.
Lex Fridman (01:41:20):
How many times a day is steak?
Jordan Peterson (01:41:21):
All, that’s all I eat.
Lex Fridman (01:41:23):
How many times?
Jordan Peterson (01:41:24):
Three or four, depending on the day.
Lex Fridman (01:41:25):
Steak and water.
Jordan Peterson (01:41:27):
Sparkling water. Yeah, so monastic asceticism, man.
Lex Fridman (01:41:31):
Well, I did the proper, I usually eat just once a day. I did the proper Jordan Peterson last night and just ate two steaks. And how was that? It was wonderful.
Jordan Peterson (01:41:42):
Yeah, well, if you have to only eat one thing, you know, could be worse. So anyways, I’m ready to go at 8 because we’re generally moving.
Lex Fridman (01:41:51):
What does moving mean? You’re constantly?
Jordan Peterson (01:41:52):
Flying somewhere. And we usually use private flights now because the commercial airlines aren’t reliable enough. And you cannot not make a venue, right? So that’s rule number one on a tour. You make the show. So everything, and then rule number two is anybody who causes any trouble on the tour is gone. Because there is zero room for error. Now, no, there’s zero room for unnecessary, unaddressed error. So there’s going to be errors. The guys I have around me now, if they make a mistake, they fix it right away. So and that’s great.
Lex Fridman (01:42:32):
There’s a lot of people relying on you to be there.
Jordan Peterson (01:42:35):
So you have to be there. Like 4,000 people, typically. So then I’m on the plane. And I usually write, or often, because there’s no internet on the plane. And that’s a good use of time. So I’m writing a new book. So I write on the plane.
Lex Fridman (01:42:54):
Typing or handwriting?
Jordan Peterson (01:42:56):
Typing. Yeah, typing. And then we land. And we go to, it’s usually early afternoon by then, we go to a hotel. It’s usually a nice hotel. It’s not corporate. I don’t really like corporate hotels. My secretary and one of my logistics guys has got quite good at picking kind of adventurous hotels, boutique hotels. They’re usually in the old parts of the city, especially in Europe, somewhere interesting. And so we go there. And then lunch, usually. And sometimes that’s an air fryer and a steak in the hotel room. And I leave a trail of air fryers behind me all across the world. And then Tammy and I usually go out and have a walk or something and take a look at the city. And then I have a rest for like an hour and a half or an hour, half an hour. Like a nap? Yeah, nap. I have to sleep for 20 minutes. And that’s about all I can sleep. But I need to do that in the late afternoon. And that refreshes your mind. Yeah, that wakes me up again for the evening.
And then Tam has to sleep longer. She’s still recovering from her illness. And so she has to sleep longer in the afternoon. And that’s absolutely necessary for both of us, or things start to get frayed. And so then we go to the venue. And then I usually sit for an hour if I’m going to lecture. I’ve been doing a lot of Q&As. And that’s a little easier. But if I’m going to lecture, I have to sit for an hour. And then I think, OK, what question am I trying to investigate? I have to have that. So that’s the point. What mystery am I trying to unravel?
It’s usually associated with one of the rules in my book. Because technically, it’s a book to her. But each of those rules is an investigation into an ethic. And each of them points to a deeper sort of mystery in some sense. And there’s no end to the amount it can be explored. And so I have the question.
My question might be something like put your house in perfect order before you criticize the world. OK, what does that mean exactly? What does house mean? What does put mean, that active verb? What does perfect and order mean? Why before you criticize the world? What does it mean to criticize? What does it mean to criticize the world? How can you do that properly or improperly? So I start to think about how to decompose the question.
Lex Fridman (01:45:18):
And you start to think, which of these decompositions are important to really dig into?
Jordan Peterson (01:45:23):
Yeah, well, then they’ll strike me. It’s like, OK, there’s something there that I’ve been maybe noodling around on that I would like to investigate further. Then I think, OK, how can I approach this problem? I think, well, I have this story that I know. I have this story, and I have this story. But I haven’t juxtaposed them before. And there’s going to be some interesting interaction in the juxtaposition. So I have the question. And I kind of have a framework of interpretation. And then I have some potential narrative places I can go. And then I think, OK, I can go juggle that and see what happens. And so then what I want to do is concentrate on that process while attending to the audience to make sure that the words are landing.
And then see if I can delve into it deeply enough so that a narrative emerges spontaneously with an ending. Now, I’m sure you’ve experienced this in podcasts, right? Maybe I’m wrong. But my experience has been, if I fall into the conversation and we know about the time frame, there’ll be a natural narrative arc. And then so you’ll kind of know when the midpoint is. And you’ll kind of see when you’re reaching a conclusion. And then if you really pay attention, you can see that’s a good place to stop. It’s kind of you come to a point.
You have to be alert and patient to see that. And you have to be willing to be satisfied with where you’ve got to. But if you do that, and then it’s like a comedian making the punchline work. It’s like, I’ve got all these balls in the air. And they’re going somewhere. And this is how they come together. And people love that, right, to say, oh, this, and this, and this, and this, and this, whack, together. And that’s an insight. And it is very much like a punchline.
Lex Fridman (01:47:05):
Well, that’s interesting because your mind actually, I’m a fan of your podcast too. And you are always driving towards that. I would say for me in a podcast conversation, there’s often a kind of Alice in Wonderland type of exploration. Down the rabbit hole, man. And then you just, a new thing pops up. The more absurd, the wilder, the better. Conversations with Elon are like this. It’s like, actually, the more you drive towards an arc, the more uncomfortable you start to get in a fun, absurd conversation.
Because, oh, I’m now one of the normies. No, I don’t want that. I want to be, I want the rabbit. I want the crazy. Because it makes it more fun. But somehow, throughout it, there is wisdom that you try to grasp at. Well. Such that there is a thread to the thread.
Jordan Peterson (01:47:57):
Well, that’s the thing, man. You’re following the thread, eh? The thread’s the thread. Well, that’s right. That’s what we’re trying to do, that thread. That thread is the proper balance between structure and spontaneity. And it manifests itself as the instinct of meaning. And that’s the logos in the dialogos. And it really is the logos. And God only knows what that means. You know, I mean, the biblical claim is that logos is the fundamental principle of reality. And I think that’s true. I actually think that’s true. Because I think that that meaning that guides you. Well, here’s a way of thinking about it. I’ve been writing about this recently.
What’s real? Matter. It’s like, OK, that’s one answer. What’s real? What matters is real, because that’s how you act. OK, so that’s different than matter. It’s like, OK, what’s the most real of what matters? How about pain? Why is it the most real? Try arguing it away. Good luck. So pain is the fundamental reality. All right. Well, that’s rough.
Doesn’t that lead to nihilism and hopelessness? Yeah, doesn’t it lead to a philosophy that’s antithetical towards being? The most fundamental reality is pain. Yes. Is there anything more fundamental than pain? If you’re in pain, love and truth, that’s what you got. And you know, if they’re more powerful than pain, maybe they’re the most real things.
Lex Fridman (01:49:51):
When you think about reality, what is real? That is the most real thing.
Jordan Peterson (01:49:55):
Well, it’s a tough one, right? Because you have to, because if you’re a scientist, a materialist, think, well, the matter is the most real. It’s like, well, you don’t know what the matter is. So and then when push comes to shove, and it will, you’ll find out what’s most real.
Lex Fridman (01:50:14):
I feel like this is missing. Physical reality is missing some of the things. So of course, pain has a biological component and all those kinds of things. But it’s missing something deep about the human condition that at least the modern science is not able to describe. But it is reaching towards that. Yeah, it is. The reason, one way to describe it as you’re describing is the reason is reaching it is because underneath of science is this assumption that there’s a deep Logos thing to this whole thing we’re trying to do.
Jordan Peterson (01:50:54):
Well, you know, there’s two traditions, right? In some sense, there’s two Logos traditions. There’s the Greek rational enlightenment tradition. That’s a Logos tradition. And it insists that there’s a Logos in nature and that science is the way to approach it. And then there’s the Judeo-Christian Logos, which is more embodied and more spiritual. And I would say the West is actually an attempt to unite those two. And it’s the proper attempt to unite those two because they need to be united. And I see the union coming in your terms. You know, I talked to Frans de Waal, for example, about the animating principle of chimpanzee sovereignty. And that’s pretty close biologically. Is it power? Because that’s the claim even from the biologists often. The most dominant chimp has the best reproductive success.
It’s like, oh, yeah? Dominant, hey? You mean using compulsion? OK, let’s look. Are the chimps who use compulsion the most successful? And the answer is, sporadically and rarely and for short. Well, that’s sporadically, for short periods of time. Why? Because they meet an unpleasant end. The subordinates over whom they exercise arbitrary control wait for a weak moment and then tear them into shreds, right? Every dictator’s terror and for good reason. And de Waal has showed that the alpha chimps, the males, who do have preferential mating access often, are often and reliably the best peacemakers and the most reciprocal. And so even among chimps, the principle of sovereignty is something like iterative, iterated reciprocity.
And that’s a way better principle than power. And it’s something like I’ve been thinking, what’s the antithesis of the spirit of power? I think it’s the spirit of play. And you know, I don’t know what you think about that. But when you have a good podcast conversation, you already described it in some sense as play. It’s like there’s a structure, right? Because it’s an ordered conversation. But you want there to be play in the system. And if you get that right, then it’s really engaging. And then it seems to have its own narrative arc.
I’m not trying to impose that, even though that’s another thing I don’t do. I didn’t come to this conversation at all thinking, here’s what I want out of a conversation with Lex Friedman. Like instrumentally, I thought, I’ll go talk to Lex. Why? I like his podcasts. He’s doing something right. I don’t know what it is. He asks interesting questions. I’ll go have a conversation with him. Where’s it going to go? Wherever it goes.
Lex Fridman (01:53:43):
Embracing the spirit of play. So you have this, when you’re lecturing, you’re going in front of the crowd. You thought of a question. You get on the stage. First of all, are you nervous at all?
Jordan Peterson (01:53:59):
I’m very nervous when I’m sitting down, thinking through the structure initially, which is why my wife and I have been doing Q&As. And that’s easier on me.
Lex Fridman (01:54:10):
It’s the way comedians are nervous. Joe Rogan just did his special this weekend. And so he now has to sit nervously, like a comedian does, which is like, I have no material now. I have to start from scratch.
Jordan Peterson (01:54:26):
When I was doing the lectures constantly, instead of the Q&As, basically what I was doing was writing a whole book chapter every night. And now that’s a bit of an exaggeration, because I would return to themes that I had developed. But it’s not really an exaggeration, because I didn’t ever just go over wrote material, ever. So it’s very demanding. And that part’s nerve-wracking, because I sit down. It’s an hour before the show.
And I think, can I do this? And the answer is, well, you did it 1,000 times. But that’s not this time. It’s like, can I come up with a question? Can I think through the structure? Can I pull off the spontaneous narrative? Can I pull it together? And the answer is, I don’t know. And so then I get it together in my mind, I think. And that’s hard. It takes effort, and it’s nerve-wracking.
OK, I got it. But then there’s the moment you go out on stage, and you think, well, I know I had it, but can I do it? No notes. And then the question is, well, you’re going to find out. Well, you do it. And so then I go out on stage, and I don’t talk to the audience. I talk to one person at a time. And you can talk to one person, because you know how to do that. So I talk to a person. And not too long, because I don’t want to make them too nervous. And then someone else, and someone else. And then I’m in contact with the audience. And then I can tell if the words are landing. And I listen, it’s like, are they rustling around? Are they dead quiet? Because you want dead quiet.
Lex Fridman (01:56:05):
Oh, I see. That’s what focus sounds like. You’re in it together, then.
Jordan Peterson (01:56:12):
You bet. Well, and I also, here’s a good rule if you’re learning to speak publicly. I never say a word until everyone is 100% quiet. And it’s a great way to start a talk, because you’re set in the frame. And if the frame is, well, I’ll talk while you’re talking, the message is, well, you can talk. This is a place where everybody can talk. It’s like, no, it’s not. This is a place where people paid to hear me talk. So I’m not going to talk till everyone’s listening.
And so then you get that stillness. And then you just wait, because that stillness turns into an expectation. And then it turns into a kind of nervous expectation. It’s like, what the hell is he doing? It’s not manipulative. It’s a sense of timing. It’s like, just when that’s right, you think, OK, now it’s time to start.
Lex Fridman (01:57:02):
Well, the interesting thing about that nervous expectation is, from an audience perspective, we’re in it together. I mean, into that silence, there is a togetherness to it.
Jordan Peterson (01:57:12):
Of course, it’s the union of everyone’s attention. Yeah, and that’s a great thing. I mean, you love that at a concert, when everyone, it’s not silence then, but when everyone’s attention is unified and everyone’s moving in unison, it’s like, we’re all worshipping the same thing, right? And that would be the point of the conversation, the point of the lecture. And the worship is the direction of attention towards it. And it’s communion, because everyone’s doing it at the same time.
And so, I mean, there’s not much difference between a lecture theatre and a church in that regard, right? It’s the same fundamental layout and structure. And they’re very integrally associated with one another. One really grew out of the other. The lecture theatre grew out of the church. So it’s perfectly reasonable to be thinking about it in those terms. And then, OK, so after the lecture, we play a piece of music that is a piece of music that I’ve been producing with some musicians for a couple of books I’m going to release in the fall. Terrible books, ABC of Childhood Tragedy, they’re called dark, dark books, dark and comical books, terrible books, heartbreaking illustrations. We set them to music. And so we play a piece from that. And then afterwards, I usually meet about 150 people to have photographs. And so each of those is a little.
Lex Fridman (01:58:35):
Is there a little sparkle of human connection yet?
Jordan Peterson (01:58:41):
A lot. It’s very intense, 10 seconds with every person. You think, how can 10 seconds be intense? It’s like, pay enough attention.
Lex Fridman (01:58:51):
It gets intense real quick. Does it break your heart to say goodbye so many times?
Jordan Peterson (01:58:56):
It’s like being in a wedding lineup, at a wedding that you want to be at. And everybody’s dressed up. And that’s so weird, because I bought these expensive suits when I went on tour. And it broke my heart because I spent so much money on them. I thought, God, that’s completely unconscionable. I thought, no way, man. I’m in this 100%. And so I’m going to dress with respect. And 60% of the audience comes in two or three piece suits. They’re all dressed up. Then there’s this line to greet me. And they’re all happy to see me. That’s not so hard to take, although it is in a sense, because normal interactions are pretty shallow. And you think, I don’t want shallow interactions.
Lex Fridman (01:59:42):
It’s like, yes, you do. Yeah, it’s intense.
Jordan Peterson (01:59:46):
It’s very intense. And I don’t know if you have a taste of this, no doubt, because people recognize me.
Lex Fridman (01:59:48):
Yeah, but I also have, when a person recognizes me and they come with the love, and they’re often brilliant people, one of the thoughts I have to deal with, one of the dragons in my own mind is thinking that I don’t deserve that kind of attention.
Jordan Peterson (02:00:05):
And so, Well, you probably don’t.
Lex Fridman (02:00:07):
Right. But maybe you could. It’s a burden in that I have to step up to be the kind of person that deserves that, not deserves that, but in part, deserves that kind of attention. And that’s like, holy shit.
Jordan Peterson (02:00:20):
It’s crucially important, too, because if someone comes up to you in an airport, and they know who you are, and they’re brave enough to admire you or who you are attempting to be, and you make a mistake, they will never forget it. Yeah. So it’s a high stakes enterprise.
Lex Fridman (02:00:38):
And the flip side of that, especially with young people, a few words you can say can change the direction of their life.
Jordan Peterson (02:00:44):
One way or another. And so I really have to watch this, too, in airports. I do not like airports. I do not like the creeping totalitarianism in airports. They’ve always bothered me. Yes. They really bother me. And I’m an unpleasant travel companion for my wife sometimes because of that, although I think we’ve worked that out, thank God, because we’re doing a lot of traveling. But most of the security guards and the border personnel, all those people, they know me. And as a general rule, they’re positively predisposed to me. And so if I’m peevish or irritable, then, well, that’s not good. It’s not good. And so that’s a tightrope to walk, too, because I do not like that creeping totalitarianism. But by the same token, if you’re just one of the crowd just, sometimes it’s good just to be one of the crowd. And then you’re a little irritable. And people can just brush that off. But if you’re someone they have dared to open their heart to, because that’s what admiration is, and you betray that, then that’s a real, they’ll never forget it. And then they’ll tell everyone, too. So that takes a lot of alertness. And so Tammy and I, our life has got complicated. Because in Toronto, for example, we can’t really just go for a walk.
It’s always a high drama production, because always people come up, and they have some heart-rending story to tell. And I’m not being cynical about that. Yes. It’s a hard thing to bear, because people don’t do that. They don’t just open themselves up to you like that and share the tragedy of their life. But that’s an everyday occurrence. And so when we go up to our cottage, which is out of the city, it’s a relief.
Because as wonderful as that is, I have a weird life. Because everywhere I go, it’s very weird. It’s like I’m surrounded by old friends. Because I walk down the street in any city now, virtually. And people say, hello, Dr. Peterson. So nice to see you. Or they say better things than not, very rarely bad things. One experience in 5,000 maybe, very rare, although you don’t forget those either. But it’s very strange.
Lex Fridman (02:03:08):
And there’s an intimacy. They know you well. And because they leap into, they avoid the small talk often. They leap into familiarity. It really is like it’s an old friend, and it feels like that. For me, personally, the experience is the goodbye hurts. Because there’s a sense where you’re never going to see that friend again. Right. Yeah, that’s a strange thing, eh? To me, a lot of it just feels like goodbyes.
Jordan Peterson (02:03:39):
And it is. You’re right about that. I suppose, in some sense, part of the pain of opening yourself up to people, because they also, Tammy has been struck particularly. She said, I really never knew what men were like. I said, well, what do you mean? She said, I cannot believe how polite the men are when they come and talk to you, because it’s always the same. The pattern’s very similar. The person comes up. They’re mostly men, not always, but mostly.
And they’re tentative, and they’re very polite, very, very polite. And they say, I hope I’m not bothering you. Do you mind it? I say, they’re not bothering me, and I’m doing everything I can to not be the guy who’s bothered by that. It’s like, who do you think you are?
Yeah. You’re the guy that, what, is famous and now is above that? Yeah. You don’t want to be that guy. So you want to be grateful all the time when people open up like that. And so you got to be alert and on point to do that properly, like right away. Because for you, it’s five seconds, or 10 seconds, or 20 seconds, whatever it is. But for them, they’ve opened up. And so you can really nail them if you’re foolish.
Lex Fridman (02:04:57):
After the 150 people, how do you come down from that? How do you find yourself again?
Jordan Peterson (02:05:04):
Well, that was often when I got caught in Twitter traps. Because I’m so burnt out by then from the talk and the audience interactions and the whole day. Because it’s a new city. It’s a new hotel. It’s a new 5,000 people. It’s a new book chapter. It’s a whole new horizon of ideas. And it’s off to another city the next day. I’m so burnt out by then that I’m so burnt out by then that I’m not as good at controlling my impulses as I might be. And Twitter was a real catastrophe for that because it would hook me. And then I couldn’t. Like I used to, when I was working on my book a lot, I used to call Tammy. I’d say, look, you have to come and get me. I can’t stop. I can’t stop. I got tired. And then I kind of, because it’s part of a kind of hypomanic focus, I couldn’t quit. It’s like, oh, no, I’m still writing. I need to get away from this, but I couldn’t stop.
And so it’s better to read something.
Lex Fridman (02:06:04):
Jordan Peterson (02:06:07):
Fiction. Stephen King. I was reading a lot of Stephen King when I was on tour last time. That was good. I like Stephen King a lot. So great narratives. Great, and great characterization. And there’s a familiarity about Stephen King’s writing, too.
He writes about people you know. And so I really found that a relief. And so that was useful. And that in order to tolerate this, let’s say, or to be able to sustain it, well, that’s taken a lot of negotiation on the part of Tammy and I because she’s dragged into this. And her life is part of this, whatever this is. And she’s had to find her way. And has, for example, now she has a different hotel room than me when we travel. And she found that she didn’t want to be on the tour this spring. And I was ill again for part of it. And that made it complicated.
But she went away back home. And she came back, and she said, and she was nervous about it. She said, I think I need my own room. And part of me was not happy with that. It’s like, what do you mean you need your? Are we not married anymore? It’s like you need your own room. And she said, well, you know, I can’t. She has to do exercises because she was really sick. And she has to keep herself in shape. And she has to have some time to do that. And she does a lot of prayer and meditation. And she needs the time. And she has her own podcast, which is going quite well. And she needs the time. And I trust her. And she said, well, I need this in order to continue. And I thought, well, OK. If you need this in order to continue, yes.
Because she went away and didn’t say, well, I don’t want to be on the tour. I don’t want to do this anymore. She went away and prayed, let’s say. How can I continue to do this? And that was the answer. And so she has her own hotel room. And that was a really good decision on her part. And she’s very good and getting better all the time at figuring out what has to happen for her to make this sustainable. And all that’s been is a plus. Because I don’t want to travel without her. And I don’t want her life to be miserable. And I want her to be fully on board. And so she has to be properly selfish, like everyone does in a relationship.
Lex Fridman (02:08:20):
And you have to not just that. This is a weird thing that you’re doing. And both you and her have to figure out how to manage this very intense intellectual social journey.
Jordan Peterson (02:08:32):
Well, there’s another element to it, too, that I didn’t tell you about. So that was a typical day. But it’s missing a big component. Because usually, we also have a dinner with like 30 cultural representatives, I suppose, 10 to 30 from each country. Because I have a network of people who have networks who are setting me up with key decision makers in each country. And so then we have like an hour and a half of that. Now, sometimes that’s on a day when I don’t have a talk. But sometimes the talks are back to back. And so she also has to manage that and to be gracious. And then people are showing us exciting things and tours in the cities, which is all like it’s a surfight of wonderful.
Lex Fridman (02:09:15):
Yes, exactly. But it’s still, yeah, you have to be there for it. You have to be present for it mentally, as a curious mind, as an intellectual mind. How do you get to sleep?
Jordan Peterson (02:09:27):
Fortunately, that is almost never a problem. Even when I was unbelievably ill for about three years, I thought about that a lot, too. I didn’t do a really good job of explaining that while I was ill, because it appeared, in some sense, that the reason I was ill was because I was taking benzodiazepines. That isn’t why. I was ill, and then I took them. And very low dose, and I took that for a long time. And it helped, whatever was wrong with me. And it looks like it was an allergy, or maybe multiple allergies.
And then that stopped working. And so I took a little bit more for about a month. And that made it way worse. And so then I cut back a lot. And then, then things really got out of hand.
Lex Fridman (02:10:14):
So there was a deeper thing in the Benzo.
Jordan Peterson (02:10:16):
Lex Fridman (02:10:18):
Can you put words, too?
Jordan Peterson (02:10:19):
Well, I had a lot of immune. Well, my daughter, as everyone knows, has a very reactive immune system. And Tammy has three immunological conditions, each of them quite serious. And I had psoriasis and peripheral uveitis, which is an autoimmune condition, and alopecia areata, and chronic gum disease, all of which appeared to be allergy-related. And so Michaela seems to have got all of that. And so that, I think, was at the bottom of it, because I also had this proclivity to depression that was part of my family history. But I think that was all immunological, as far as I can tell. So one of the things that’s happened to me, I always noticed I really couldn’t breathe. Like, I could breathe about one fifth as much as I sometimes could.
And so I was always short of breath. And it looks like what that was, perhaps, was I was always on the border of an anaphylactic reaction, which is not pleasant. And that’s hypersympathetic activation, no parasympathetic activation. I couldn’t relax.
Lex Fridman (02:11:24):
That’s an immunological response.
Jordan Peterson (02:11:26):
Allergic response, yeah. So anyways, that was what seemed, now, I don’t like to talk about this much, because it’s so bloody radical, and I don’t like to propagate it. But this diet seems to have stopped all of that. I don’t have psoriasis. All of the patches have gone. My gum disease, which is incurable, I had multiple surgeries to deal with it, is completely gone. Took three years. My right eye, which was quite cloudy, it’s cleared up completely, what else has changed? Well, I lost 50 pounds, like instantly.
Lex Fridman (02:11:60):
I should mention that I, too, am not a deep investigator of nutritional science. I have my skepticism towards the degree to which it is currently is the science, because a lot of complex systems, it’s full of mystery, and full of profiteers, the people that profit of different kinds of diets, but I should say, for me, personally, it does seem that I feel by far the best when I eat only meat. It’s very interesting, and I discovered that a long time ago. First of all- How do you discover it? So by, the discovery went like this.
I started listening to ultra marathon runners about 15 years ago, and they started talking about fat-adapted running. So I first discovered that I don’t have to run super fast to enjoy running, and in fact, I really enjoy running at a slower pace. So that was like step one, it’s like, oh, okay, if I maintain something called the MAF rule, which is pretty low heart rate, if I maintain that, you can actually get pretty fast while maintaining a pretty slow average speed in general. Anyway, they fuel themselves on low-carb diets.
So I got into that. On top of that, they also fast often. So I discovered how incredible my mind feels when fasted, you know, people call it intermittent fasting, but-
Jordan Peterson (02:13:27):
Well, that’s an optimization of death, eh, because when you fast, your body, logically and obviously, if you think about it biologically, is, well, what is your body scavenge first? Well, damaged tissue. So, and I know the literature on fasting to some degree, and it’s very compelling literature. If you starve dogs down, I think it’s 20% below rats too, below their optimal body weight, they live 30% longer. Yeah. That’s a lot, 30%, like it’s like 30%, yeah, 30%. Well, there is aspect to a lot of these things
Lex Fridman (02:14:03):
that make me nervous, because I always feel like there’s no free lunch, that I’m going to pay for it somehow. But there is a focus that I am able to attain when I fast, especially when I eat once a day. My mind is almost like nervously focused. It’s almost like an anxiety, but a positive one, or one that I can channel into just like an excitement.
Jordan Peterson (02:14:26):
You know, I wonder how much of that’s associated with, well, imagine that that signifies lack of food, which not that hard to imagine, well, maybe you should be a lot more alert in that situation, right, biologically speaking, because you’re in hunting mode, let’s say, you know, not desperate, but in hunting mode. And God only knows, maybe human beings should be in hunting mode all the time.
Lex Fridman (02:14:50):
Often, but we don’t know that. So I wonder if it has a stress on the system that long-term causes the system to get to it. It doesn’t look like it. Okay, it seems in the case of fasting, not. And then on top of that, I discovered that the thing I enjoy, I just don’t enjoy eating fat as much, so I love eating meat when you talk about low-carb diets. So I just discovered through that process, if someone’s fat in meat, but just meat, I just feel a lot of the things that make me feel weird about food, like a little groggy, or like full, or just, whatever.
The aspects of food that I don’t enjoy, they’re not there with meat. And I’m still able to enjoy company. And when I eat once a day and eat meat, I say at least in Texas, you could still have all the merriment of, you have dinner with friends, now I don’t do the, you have a very serious thing that there’s health benefits that you are very serious about. For me, I could still drink whiskey. I’ll still do the things that add a little bit of- Spice. Spice into the thing. Yeah. Now, when you completely remove the spice, it does become more difficult.
Jordan Peterson (02:16:11):
Yeah, it’s more difficult socially. And Tammy seems to only be able to eat lamb, although she might be able to eat non-aged beef. And that makes traveling complicated too, right? Because, well, for obvious reasons, it’s like, really, that’s all you can eat? Yeah, well, c’est la vie. And maybe that’s a form of craziness, but-
Lex Fridman (02:16:31):
If we could return to actually the thing you were talking about, when you were thinking about a question before the lecture. Yeah. Let me ask you about thinking in general. This is something maybe that you and Jim Keller think a lot about, is thinking how to think. How do you think through an idea?
Jordan Peterson (02:16:52):
Well, first of all, I think, okay, that’s a really good question. We’ve tried to work that out with this essay app that my son and I have developed, because if you’re gonna write, the first question is, well, what should I write about? Well, essay.app, and well, the first question is, well, what bugs you? What’s bugging you? This is such a cool thing. It’s like, where’s my destiny? Well, what bothers you? Well, that’s where your destiny is. Your destiny is to be found in what bothers you. Why did those things bother you? There’s a lot of things you could be bothered by.
Like a million things, man, but some things grip you. They bug you, and they might make you resentful and bitter, because they bug you so much. Like, they’re your things, man, they’ve got you. So then, I look for a question that I would like the answer to, that I don’t, and I would really like the answer to it, so I don’t assume I already have the answer, because I would actually really like to have the answer. So if I could get a better answer, great. And so that’s the first thing, and that’s like a prayer. It’s like, okay, here’s a mystery.
I would like to delve into it further. Well, so that’s humility. It’s like, here’s a mystery, which means I don’t know. I would like to delve into it further, which means I don’t know enough already. And then comes the revelation. It’s like, well, what’s a revelation? Well, if you ask yourself a question, it’s a real question. Do you get an answer or not? And the answer is, well, yeah, thoughts start to appear in your head.
Lex Fridman (02:18:34):
Jordan Peterson (02:18:34):
Lex Fridman (02:18:35):
From somewhere. Where do they come from? Do you have a sense?
Jordan Peterson (02:18:38):
It depends on what you’re aiming at.
Lex Fridman (02:18:41):
Depends on the question.
Jordan Peterson (02:18:41):
No, it does to some degree. It depends on your intent. So imagine that your intent is to make things better. Then maybe they come from the place that’s designed to make things better. Maybe your intent is to make things worse. Then they come from hell. And you think, not really. Like, you’re so sure about that, are you?
Lex Fridman (02:19:05):
Is your intent conscious? Like, are you able?
Jordan Peterson (02:19:07):
It’s conscious and habitual, right? Because as you practice something consciously, it becomes habitual, but it’s conscious. It’s like, when I sit down before I do a lecture, I think, OK, what’s the goal here? To do the best job I can. To what end? Well, people are coming here not for political issues. They’re coming here because they’re trying to make their lives better. OK, so what are we doing? We’re conducting a joint investigation into the nature of that which makes life better. What’s my role? To do as good a job about that as possible. What state of mind do I have to be in? Am I annoyed about the theater?
Or am I clued in and thrilled that 4,000 people have showed up at substantial expense and trouble to come and listen to me talk? And if I’m not in that state of mind, I think, well, maybe I need something to eat, or maybe I need to talk to someone.
Because ingratitude is no place to start. It’s like, I should be thrilled to be there, obviously. And so that orientation has to be there. And then is it conscious? All this is conscious. What am I serving? The highest good I can conceptualize. What is that? I have some sense, but I don’t know it in the final analysis, which is why the investigation is being conducted. Who’s doing it? Me, whoever I’m communing with, and the audience. And so I try to get myself. And I chase everybody away for that. I have to do that by myself.
Lex Fridman (02:20:32):
Are you writing stuff down?
Jordan Peterson (02:20:35):
Yes, at that point, I just make point notes. And it’s usually about maybe 30 notes. But then on stage, I never refer to them. And I often don’t even use the structure that I laid out.
Lex Fridman (02:20:47):
Kind of an interesting thing, from where do powerful phrases come from? Do you try to encapsulate an idea into a sentence or two?
Jordan Peterson (02:20:57):
Well, when I talk, and I’ve practiced this consciously since 1985, I try to feel and see if the words are stepping stones or foundation stones. It’s like, is this solid? Is this word solid? Is this phrase solid? Is this sentence solid? It’s a real sense of fundamental foundation under each word. And I suppose people ask me if I pray. And I would say, I pray before every word.
Well, when you’re asking questions, you’re very clear-headed and present in your ability to ask questions and inquire. So how do you do that?
Lex Fridman (02:21:46):
So first of all, I’m worried that my mind easily gets trapped when I step on a word, and I know it’s unstable. You kind of realize that you don’t really know the definitions of any words you use. And that can be debilitating. So I kind of try to be more carefree about the words I use. Because otherwise, you get trapped. You don’t want to be obsessional. Literally, my mind halfway through the sentence will think, well, what does the word sentence mean?
Jordan Peterson (02:22:28):
Right, right, right. Well, you know, neurologically.
Lex Fridman (02:22:29):
And then everything else just explodes. You’re a big picture idea explodes, and you lost yourself in the minutia.
Jordan Peterson (02:22:37):
Neurologically, there is a production center and an editing center. And those can be separately affected by strokes. And so often, when people are writing or talking, they try to activate both at the same time. And so people will try to write an essay and get every sentence right in the first draft. That’s a big mistake. So then you might say, well, how can you be careful with your words but carefree? And the answer is, orient yourself properly. While in the conversation we’re having, you have an orientation structure. You want to be prepared. You want to be attentive.
Then you want to have an interesting conversation. And you want to have the kind of interesting conversation that other people want to listen to that will be good for them in some manner. OK, so that’s a pretty good frame. And then you kind of scour your heart, and you think, is that really what you want? Are you after fame or after notoriety? Are you after money? I’m not saying any of those things are necessarily bad.
They’re not optimal, especially if you’re not willing to admit them, right? And so they can contaminate you. So you want to be decontaminated. So you have the right trip, let’s say. And so you have to put yourself, that’s a meditative practice. You have to put yourself in the right receptive position with the right goal in mind. Then you can, and I think you can get better and better at this, then you can trust what’s going to happen. So for example, before I came here, I presume you have a reason for doing the podcast with me. What’s the reason?
Lex Fridman (02:24:17):
I mean, we wanted to talk for a long time, so the reason has evolved. One of the reasons is I’ve listened to you for quite a long time. So you’ve become a one-way friend. And I have many one-way friends. Some of my best friends don’t even know I exist. I’m a big fan of podcasts and audiobooks. Actually, most of my friends are dead. Yeah, right. The writer.
Jordan Peterson (02:24:48):
The definition of a reader. I’m with a lot of dead, great dead friends.
Lex Fridman (02:24:53):
So I wanted to meet this one-way friend, I suppose, and have a conversation. And then there’s this kind of puzzle that I’ve been longing to solve, the same reason I went to Ukraine, of asking this question of myself, who am I? And what was this part of the world? What is this thing that happened in the 20th century? That I lost so much of my family there, and I feel so much of my family’s defined by that place. Now, that place includes the Soviet Union.
It includes Russia and Ukraine. It includes Nazi Germany. It includes these big, powerful leaders and huge millions of people that were lost in the beauty, the power of the dream, but were also the torture, the torture that was forced onto them through different governmental institutions. And you are somebody that seemed from some angle to also be drawn to try to understand what was that. And not in some sort of historical sense, but in a deeply psychological human sense. What is that? Will it repeat again? In what way is it repeating again?
Jordan Peterson (02:26:11):
And how can we stop it?
Lex Fridman (02:26:12):
And how can we stop it? And so that’s the crucial issue. I felt I wanted to, from very different backgrounds, pull at the thread of that curiosity. I’m an engineer. You’re a psychologist, both lost in that curiosity, and both wear suits, and talk with various levels of eloquence about the shadows that that history casts on us.
And so that was one. And also the psychology. I wanted to be a psychiatrist for a long time. I was fascinated by the human mind until I discovered artificial intelligence, the fact that I could program and make a robot move. And until I discovered that magic, I thought I wanted to understand the human mind by being a psychiatrist, by talking to people, by through talk therapy, psychotherapy.
Jordan Peterson (02:27:14):
So now you’ve got the best of both worlds because you get to talk to people, you get to build robots.
Lex Fridman (02:27:19):
Yeah, I mean, but the dream ultimately is the robot. That I felt like by building the thinking, you start to try to understand it. That’s one way. I mean, we all have different skills and proclivities. So my particular one has to do with I learn by building.
I think through a thing by building it. And programming is a wonderful thing because it allows you to build a little toy example. So in the same way, you can do a little thought experiment. Programming allows you to create a thought experiment in action. It can move, it can live, and then you can ask questions of it. So all of those, because of my interest in Freud and Jung, you’re also in different ways have delved deeply into humanity, the human psyche, through the perspective of those psychologists. So for all those reasons, I thought our path should cross.
Jordan Peterson (02:28:22):
Yeah, well, so that’s quite a frame for a discussion, right? You had all sorts of reasons, and then you think, well, are you just letting the conversation go where it will? It’s like, well, not exactly. You spent all this time. It’s not like this came about by accident, this conversation. You spent all this time framing it. And so all of that provides the implicit substructure for the play in the conversation. And if you have that implicit, here’s another way. This is very much worth knowing is if you get the implicit structure of perception, everything becomes a game. And not only that, a game you want to play. And maybe in the final analysis, a game you’d want to play forever.
So that’s obviously a distant beckoning ideal. But we know games need rules, or there’s no play.
Lex Fridman (02:29:17):
Is there advice you can give now that we know the frame, to give to me, Lex, about how to do this podcast better, how to think about this world, how to be a good engineer, how to be a good human being?
Jordan Peterson (02:29:44):
From what you know about me. Take your preoccupation with suffering seriously. It’s a serious business. And that’s part of that, to circle back to the beginning, let’s say, that’s that willingness to gaze into the abyss, which is obviously what you were doing when you went to Ukraine. It’s like it’s gazing into the abyss that makes you better. The thing is, and this is maybe where Nietzsche’s idea is not as differentiated as it became, sometimes your gaze can be forcefully directed towards the abyss. And then you’re traumatized. If it’s involuntary and accidental, it can kill you. The more it’s voluntary, the more transformative it is.
And that’s part of that idea about facing death and hell. It’s like, can you tolerate death and hell? And the answer is, this terrible answer is, yes, to the degree that you’re willing to do it voluntarily. And then you might ask, well, why should I have to subject myself to death and hell? I’m innocent. And then the answer to that is, even the innocent must be voluntarily sacrificed to the highest.
Lex Fridman (02:31:13):
That’s such an interesting distinction. Voluntary suffering. Voluntary, yeah.
Jordan Peterson (02:31:21):
Well, that’s why the central Christian doctrine is pick up your cross and follow me. And I’m speaking not in religious terms saying that. I’m just speaking as a psychologist. It’s like one of the things we’ve learned in the last 100 years is voluntary exposure to that which freezes and terrifies you in measured proportions is curative.
Lex Fridman (02:31:46):
So a form of, at least in part, involuntary suffering is depression. Do you have advice for people on how to find a way out? You’re a man who has suffered in this way, perhaps continue to suffer in this way. How do you find a way out?
Jordan Peterson (02:32:11):
The first thing I do as a clinician, if someone comes to me and says they’re depressed, is ask myself a question. Well, what does this person mean by that? So I have to find out because maybe they’re not depressed. Maybe they’re hyperanxious. Or maybe they’re obsessional, like there’s various forms of powerful negative emotion. So they need to be differentiated. But then the next question you have to ask is, well, are you depressed? Or do you have a terrible life? Or is it some combination of the two? So if you’re depressed, as far as I can tell, you don’t have a terrible life. You have friends, you have family, you have an intimate relationship, you have a job or a career. You’re about as educated as you should be given your intelligence. Use your time outside of work wisely. You’re not beholden to alcohol or other temptations.
You’re engaged in the community in some fundamental sense. And all that’s working. Now, if you have all that and you’re feeling really awful, you’re either ill or you’re depressed. And so then sometimes there’s a biochemical route to that, treatment of that. My experience has been, as a clinician, is if you’re depressed but you have a life and you take an antidepressant, it will probably help you a lot. Now, maybe you’re not depressed. Exactly. You just have a terrible life. What does that look like? You have no relationship. Your family is a mess. You’ve got no friends. You’ve got no plan. You’ve got no job.
You use your time outside of work not only badly, but destructively. You have a drug or alcohol habit or some other vice, pornography addiction. You are completely unengaged in the surrounding community. You have no scaffolding whatsoever to support you in your current mode of being or you move forward. And then as a therapist, well, you do two things. Well, if it’s depression, per se, well, like I said, there’s sometimes a biochemical route, a nutritional route. There’s ways that can be addressed. It’s probably physiological if you’re, at least in part, if you’re depressed but you have an OK life. Sometimes it’s conceptual.
You can turn to dreams sometimes to help people because dreams contain the seeds of the potential future. And if your person is a real good dreamer and you can analyze dreams, that can be really helpful. But that seems to be only true for more creative people. And for the people who just have a terrible life, it’s like, OK, you have a terrible life. Well, let’s pick a front. How about you need a friend, like one sort of friend? Do you know how to shake hands and introduce yourself? I’ll have the person show me. So let’s do it for a sec.
So this, hi, I’m Jordan. And people don’t know how to do that. And then they can’t even get the ball rolling.
Lex Fridman (02:35:08):
For the listener, Jordan just gave me a firm hand.
Jordan Peterson (02:35:10):
Yeah, as opposed to a dead fish. And there’s these elementary social skills that, hypothetically, if you were well cared for, you learned when you were like three. And sometimes people have, I had lots of clients to whom no one ever paid any attention. And they needed like 10,000 hours of attention. And some of that was just listening because they had 10,000 hours of conversations they never had with anyone. And they were all tangled up in their head. And they had to just, one client in particular, I worked with this person for 15 years.
And what she wanted from me was for me just to shut the hell up for 50 minutes, which was very hard for me, and to just tell me what had happened to her. And then what happened at the end of the conversation, then I could discuss a bit with her. And then as we progressed through the years, the amount of time that we spent in discussion increased in proportion in the sessions until, by the time we stopped seeing each other, when my clinical practice collapsed, we were talking about 80% of the time. But she literally, she’d never been attended to properly, ever. And so she was an uncarved block in the Taoist sense, right? She hadn’t been subjected to those flaming swords that separated the wheat from the chaff. And so you can do that in therapy. If you’re listening and you’re depressed, I would say if you can’t find a therapist, and that’s getting harder and harder because it’s actually become illegal to be a therapist now because you have to agree with your clients, which is a terrible thing to do with them, just like it’s terrible just to arbitrarily oppose them, you could do the self-authoring program online because it helps you write an autobiography. And so if you have memories that are more than 18 months old that bother you when you think them up, part of you is locked inside that. An undeveloped part of you is still trapped in that.
That’s a metaphorical way of thinking about it. That’s why it still has emotional significance. So you can write about your past experiences. But I would say wait for at least 18 months if something bad has happened to you because otherwise you just hurt yourself again by encountering it. You can bring yourself up to date with an autobiography. There is an analysis of faults and virtues. That’s the present authoring. And then there’s a guided writing exercise that helps you make a future plan. That’s young men who do that could go to college. Young men who do that, 90 minutes, just the future authoring, 90 minutes, they’re 50% less likely to drop out. That’s all it takes.
Lex Fridman (02:37:58):
So sometimes depression is this heavy cloud that makes it hard to even make a single step towards it. Or you said isolate, make a friend.
Jordan Peterson (02:38:08):
Oh, man, sometimes. The first step is extremely difficult. Oh, my god, sometimes it’s way worse than that. I had clients who were so depressed they literally couldn’t get out of bed. So what’s their first step? It’s like, can you sit up once today? No. Can you prop yourself up on your elbows once today? Like you just scale back the dragon till you find one that’s conquerable that moves you forward. There’s a rubric for life, scale back the dragons till you find one conquerable. And it’ll give you a little bit of goal, commensurate with the struggle. But the plus side of that, because you think, god, that’s depressing. You mean I have to start by sitting up? Well, you do if you can’t sit up.
But the plus side of that is it’s the Pareto distribution issue is that aggregates exponentially increase. And failures do, too, by the way. But aggregates exponentially increase. So once you start the ball rolling, it can get zipping along pretty good. This person that I talked about was incapable of sitting with me in a cafe when we first met, just talking, even though I was her therapist. But by the end, she was doing stand-up comedy.
So it took years, but still, most people won’t do stand-up comedy. That’s quite the bloody achievement. She would read her poetry on stage, too. So for someone who was petrified into paralysis by social anxiety and who had to start very small, it was a hell of an accomplishment.
Lex Fridman (02:39:51):
Yeah, it all starts with one step. Do you have advice for young people? In high school, you’re given a lot of people look up to you for advice, for strength, for strength to search for themselves, to find themselves.
Jordan Peterson (02:40:07):
Take on some responsibility. Do something for other people. You’re doing something for yourself while you’re doing that, even if you don’t know it, for sure, because you’re a community across time. Find something to serve.
Lex Fridman (02:40:22):
Somebody to help.
Jordan Peterson (02:40:23):
Someone to help. A job to find a job. Do your best with the customers. Don’t be above your job. You’re going to get an entry level job when you’re a kid. Well, what else would you want? You want to be the boss? What do you know? You don’t know anything. You could be the boss of your job. If you’re working in a grocery store or you’re working in a convenience store, assuming you’re not working for terrified tyrants, you can be nice to the customers. You can develop your social skills. You can learn how to handle a boss-employee relationship. You can be there 15 minutes early and leave 15 minutes late. Like, you can learn in an entry level job, man. And I’ll tell you, if you take an entry level job and you learn, and it’s a reasonably decent place, you will not be in an entry level job for long. Because everyone who’s competent is desperate for competent people. And if you go and show yourself as competent, there’ll be a trial period. But if you go show yourself as competent, all sorts of doors you didn’t even know were there will start opening like mad.
Lex Fridman (02:41:20):
So you strive for competence, for craftsmanship.
Jordan Peterson (02:41:23):
Yeah, yeah, yeah, for discipline. You know, I mean, I said in one of the chapters in my books is focused on putting your house in order. It’s like, well, how do you start? Make your bed. You know, it actually took me quite a long time in my life before I made my bed regularly in the morning. Most of my life was put in pretty good order, but that was one thing I didn’t have in order. My clothes and my closet as well, all that’s in order. Not all of it. I’m cleaning out some drawers right now, but.
Look around and see what bugs you in your room. Just look. It’s like, OK, I’m in my room. Do I like this room? No, it bugs me. OK, why? Well, the paint’s peeling there, and it’s dusty there, and the carpet’s dirty, and that corner’s kind of ugly, and the light there isn’t very good. And my clothes closet’s a mess, so I don’t even like to open it. OK, that’s a lot of problems. That sucks. That’s a lot of opportunity. Pick something and fix it.
Lex Fridman (02:42:23):
Something that bugs you.
Jordan Peterson (02:42:25):
Yeah, but not too much. So the rule is pick something you know would make. Pick a problem. Pick a solution to it that you know would help, that you could do, that you would do. So you have to negotiate with yourself. It’s like, well, I won’t clean up this room. How do you know? I’ve been in here for 10 years, and I’ve never cleaned it up. It’s like, well, obviously, that’s too big a dragon for you. Would you clean one drawer? Find out.
And so imagine now you want to be happy when you open that drawer. And you think, well, that’s stupid. It’s like, is it? Maybe it’s your sock drawer, which I cleaned up in my room the other day, by the way. You’re going to open that every morning. That’s like 30 seconds of your life every day. OK, so that’s three minutes a week. That’s 12 minutes a month. That’s two hours a year. So maybe your life is made out of you’ve got 16 hours a day. Let’s figure this out. 5, 12 in an hour, 12 in an hour, 144 in 12 hours. Yeah, let’s say 200, 205 minute chunks.
Lex Fridman (02:43:31):
That’s your life. Ladies and gentlemen, Jordan Peterson did just some math how many five minute chunks there are in it.
Jordan Peterson (02:43:36):
OK, and I’m pretty sure that’s pretty accurate. It’s approximately right. So you got 200 five minute chunks, and they repeat. A lot of them repeat. So if you get every one of those right, they’re trivial, right? Who cares what my sock drawer looks like? It’s like, fair enough, man, but that’s your life. The things you repeat every day, the mundane things. I could get all those mundane things right. That’s the game rules. It’s like, now all the mundane is in place. Now you can play, because all the mundane’s in place. And this is actually true with children.
Imagine you want your children to play. Well, play is very fragile neurologically. Any competing motivation or emotion will suppress play. So everything has to be in order. Everything has to be a walled garden before the children will play. That’s a good way of thinking about it. So you put everything in order, and you think, oh my god, now I’m tyrannized by this order. It’s like, no, you aren’t, not if it’s voluntary.
And then the order is the precondition for the freedom. And so then all of a sudden, you get all these things in order. It’s like, oh, look at this. I’ve got some room to play here. And then maybe you’re not depressed. No, it’s often not that simple. It’s not that simple. Try putting your room in order, perfect order. That’s hard.
Lex Fridman (02:44:51):
I mean, it’s a really powerful way to think about those five-minute chunks. Just get one of them right in a day.
Jordan Peterson (02:44:56):
Yeah, well, if you do that for 200 days, your life is in order. You know, I thought I did that with my clients a lot. So a lot of them would come home from work, the guys, hey, and their wives would meet them at the door, and it’d be a fight right away. And it’s a clash there, because he comes home, and he’s tired and hungry. He’s worked all day, and he’s hoping that, you know, he gets welcomed when he comes back to the home. But then the wife is at home, and she’s been with the kids all day. And she’s tired and hungry, and she’s hoping that when he comes home, he’ll show her some appreciation for what’s happened today. And then they clash, and then they both have problems to discuss, because they’ve had their troubles during the day. And so then every time they get together, they are not like it’s a bit of a fight for 20 minutes, and then the whole evening is screwed. And so then you think, OK, here’s the deal.
It’s knocking, the door will open. You get to pick what happens when you come home. But you have to figure out what it is. So now this is the deal. You treat yourself properly. You imagine coming home, and it goes the way you want and need it to go. OK, what does that look like? You get to have it, but you have to know what it is. What does it look like? And you think, OK, I want to come home. I want to be happy about coming home. I come home. I open the door. I say, hello, honey, I’m home.
My wife says, hi, it’s so nice to hear your voice. She comes up. She says, hi, dear. She gives you a hug. She says, how was your day? And you say, well, we’ll sit and talk about that. How was your day? Well, we’ll sit and talk about that. Do you need something to eat? Probably. Let’s go sit and talk about our day. It’s like, that sounds pretty good. OK, that sounds pretty good. Might not be perfect, but it sounds a hell of a lot better than what we’re doing now. So how about we go talk to your wife? Say, OK, this is what’s happening when I come home. I would like it to be better. What would you like to have happen if you could have what you wanted? And so she sits down, and she thinks, OK, if he comes home, what do I want to have happen? And then now you’ve got two visions, and you say, well, what would you like? And you listen, and she says, what would you like?
And you tell her. And then you think, OK, now how can we bring these visions together? So not only do we both get what we want, but because we’ve brought them together, we even get more than we want. Well, who wouldn’t agree to that unless they were even down? And that’s so exciting. It’s not a compromise. It’s a union of ideals that even makes a better ideal. And then you get to come home, and then there’s another rule that goes along with that, which is, please, dear, have the grace to allow me to do this stupidly and badly while I learn at least 20 times and all give you the same leeway. And then we’ll practice stupidly for 20 times, and we’ll talk about it. And then maybe we’ll get it right for the next 10,000 times, right? And you can do that with your whole life, and you can do that with your kids, and you can do that with your family. It’s not easy, but you can do it. It’s a lot easier than the alternative.
Lex Fridman (02:48:03):
Let me ask for some dating advice from Jordan Peterson. How do you find on that topic the love of your life?
Jordan Peterson (02:48:12):
That’s a good question. I was asked that multiple times on my tour, three times in a row, in fact, because we ask people to use this Slido gadget.
Lex Fridman (02:48:23):
That’s a popular question.
Jordan Peterson (02:48:24):
Too very. It always came up to the top, and I got asked that three times in a row, and I didn’t have a good answer. And then I thought, why don’t I have a good answer? I thought, oh, I know why, because that’s a stupid question. So why? Why? Because it’s putting the cart before the horse. Here’s the right question. How do I make myself into the perfect date? You answer that question, and you will not have any problem answering the previous question.
It’s like, what I want in a partner, if I offered everything I could to a partner, who would I be? You work on that. Ask that question. Just ask. Just ask yourself, OK. I have to be the person that women would want. OK, what do they want? Clean. That’s not a bad start. Reasonably good physical shape. So healthy, productive, generous, honest, willing to delay gratification. So you dance with a woman, it’s like, what’s she doing? What are you two doing? Well, there’s patterns happening around you. That’s the music, patterns, patterns of being. That’s the music. Now, can you align yourself with the patterns of being gracefully? That’s what she’s checking out. And then can you do that with her?
And then can you do that in a playful and attentive manner and keep your bloody hands to yourself for at least a minute? And so can you dance in a playful manner? It’s like, you can go through this in your imagination. And you know, you’ll know. And then you think, well, how far am I from those things? And the answer is usually, man, it’s a pretty horrible abyss separating you from that ideal. But the harder you work on offering other people what they need and want, the more people will line up to play with you. And so it’s the wrong question. It’s like, how can I be the best partner possible?
And then you think, well, if I do that, people will just take advantage of me. And that’s the non-naive objection, right? Because the naive person is saying, well, I’ll be good. And everyone will treat me right. It’s like, the cynic says, no, I’ll be good. And someone will take me out. And then you think, well, what do you do about that objection? And the answer is, well, you factor that in. And that’s why you’re supposed to be, what is it? As soft as a dove and as wise as a serpent. It’s like, I know you’re full of snakes. I know it. Maybe I know it more than you do.
But we’ll play anyways. And that’s a good. Take the risk anyway. That’s right, voluntarily, right? And what’s so cool about that is that even though the person you’re dealing with is full of snakes, if you offer your hand in trust and it’s real, you will evoke the best in them. And that’s true even. I’ve dealt with people who are pretty damn criminal and pretty psychopathic, and sometimes dangerously so.
And you tread very lightly when you’re dealing with someone like that, especially if they’re intoxicated. And even then, your best bet is that alert trust. It’s the only fact, the only thing I know that. I had one client who was a paranoid psychopath. That’s a bad combination. He was a bad guy, man. He had like four restraining orders on him.
And restraining orders don’t work on the sort of people that you put restraining orders on. And he used to be harassed now and then by a bureaucrat in a bank with delusions of power. And he would say to them, he used to kind of act this out to me when I was talking to him. He’d say, I’m going to be your worst nightmare. And he meant it. And he would do it. He had this obsessional psychopathic vengeance that was just like right there, paranoid to the hilt. And paranoid people are hyper acute. So they’re watching you for any sign of deceit or manipulation.
And they’re really good at it because they’re 100%. That’s what paranoia is. It’s 100% focus on that. And even under those circumstances, if you step carefully enough, maybe you can avoid the acts. That’s a good thing to know if you ever meet someone truly dangerous.
Lex Fridman (02:53:21):
Absolutely. I believe in that, that being fragile, nevertheless, taking that leap of trust towards another person, even when they’re dangerous, especially when they’re dangerous. If you care, if there’s something there in those hills you want to find, then that’s probably the only way you’re going to find is taking that risk. I have to ask you about Gulag Archipelago by Solzhenitsyn that speak to this very point. There’s so many layers to this book we could talk about it forever.
I’m sure in many ways we are talking about it forever. But there is sort of one of the themes captured in the few ways that was described in the book is that line between good and evil that runs through every human being. As he writes, the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. During the life of any heart, this line keeps changing place. Sometimes it is squeezed one way to exuberant evil, and sometimes it shifts to allow enough space for good to flourish.
One and the same human being is, at various ages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being. At times, he’s close to being a devil. At times, the sainthood. But his name doesn’t change. And to that name, we ascribe the whole lot, good and evil. What do you think about this line? What do you think about this thing where we talked about, if you give somebody a chance, you actually bring out the best in them? What do you think about this other aspect that, throughout time, that line shifts inside each person? And you get to define that shift. What do you think about this line? Are we all capable of evil?
Jordan Peterson (02:55:08):
Well, you know, the cosmic drama, that’s Satan versus Christ. It’s like, well, who’s that about, if it’s not about you? I’m speaking just as a psychologist or as a literary critic. Those are characters. At least they’re that. Well, are they human characters? Well, obviously. Well, are they archetypal human characters? Yes. What does that mean cosmically and ontologically? I don’t know. Is the world a story?
Lex Fridman (02:55:42):
Maybe. But the way stories are often told is the characters embody a stable.
Jordan Peterson (02:55:45):
Those are unsophistic, not great literature, though. It’s very rare in great literature. What you have in great literature generally is the internal drama, right? And as the literature becomes more pop, I would say, the characters are more unitary. So there’s a real bad guy, and he’s all bad, and there’s a real good guy, and he’s all good. And that’s not as interesting. It’s not as sophisticated. When you reach Dostoevsky in Heights in literary representation or Shakespearean Heights, you can identify with the villain. And that’s when literature really reaches its pinnacle in some sense.
Lex Fridman (02:56:25):
And also the characters change throughout, they shift throughout, they’re unpredictable throughout. I’m taking the speaking of Russia more seriously recently, and I’ve gotten to talk to translators of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy and Chekhov and those kinds of folks. One of the mistakes that translators made with Dostoevsky for the longest time is they would, quote unquote, fix the chaotic mess that is Dostoevsky. Because there was a sense like he was too rushed in his writing.
It seemed like there was tangents that had nothing to do with anything. The characters were unpredictable and not inconsistent. There’s parts or phrases that seem to be incomplete, that kind of stuff. And what they realized that is, that’s not, that’s actually crafted that way. It’s not, you know, it’s like editing James Joyce like Finnegan’s Wake or something because it doesn’t make any sense. They realize that that is the magic of it, that captures the humanity of these characters, that they are unpredictable, they change throughout time. There’s a bunch of contradictions.
On which point I got to ask, is there a case to be made that Brothers Karamazov is the greatest book ever written?
Jordan Peterson (02:57:37):
Yeah, there is a case to be made for that. I don’t know, is it better than Crime and Punishment?
Lex Fridman (02:57:42):
Jordan Peterson (02:57:43):
You think so? Why do you, I’m not arguing with it.
Lex Fridman (02:57:46):
Why do you think that? Well, this is, every book is a personal, some of my best friends are inside that book.
Jordan Peterson (02:57:52):
Yeah, it’s an amazing book and there’s no doubt about it.
Lex Fridman (02:57:53):
I think some books are defined by your personal relationship with them and that one was definitive and I almost graduated to that one because for the longest time, The Idiot was my favorite book of all because I identified with the ideas represented by Prince Mishkin. I also identified. Oh, that’s interesting. To Prince Mishkin as a human being. The holy fool. The fool, because the world kind of, my whole life still kind of sees me, saw me in my perception, my narrow perception as kind of the fool and I, different from the interpretation that a lot of people take of this book, I see him as a kind of hero to be a naive quote unquote fool, but really just the naive optimist and naive in the best possible way. I do believe that that’s childlike, yeah, childlike is a better, so naive is usually seen as, it’s childish, naive, yeah, but childlike.
Jordan Peterson (02:59:02):
That’s why no one enters the kingdom of heaven unless they become like a child. That’s Prince Mishkin, Dostoevsky knew that. So that’s why you like The Idiot. That’s so interesting. See I think I like Crime and Punishment because while you identified with Mishkin, I think I identified more with Raskolnikov because I was tempted by Luciferian intellect in a manner very similar to the manner he was tempted. But I mean, I think you can make a case that The Brothers Karamazov is Dostoevsky’s crowning achievement and that’s something, man. He ruined literature for me because everything else just felt insipid afterwards.
Not everything, not everything. I found some books that in my experience hit that pinnacle. The Master and Margarita, that’s a deadly book. I’ve read that I think four times and I still, it’s unbelievably deep. There’s a Nikos Kazantzakis, a Greek writer. Some of his books are, his writing is amazing as well.
Lex Fridman (03:00:08):
Did you ever connect with the literary like existentialist Camus or people like Herman Hesse or even Kafka, did you ever connect with those?
Jordan Peterson (03:00:19):
To the same degree? Yeah, to the same degree. Enough to be an influence. You have to be deaf in some fundamental sense not to encounter a great dead friend and fail to learn. And I mean, I tried to separate the wheat from the chaff when I read all the great clinicians, all of them, perhaps not, those who are foremost in the pantheon and I tried to pull out what I could and that was a lot. I learned a lot from Freud, I learned a lot from Rogers and I learned a lot from Dostoevsky and Nietzsche. I’m going to do a course on Dostoevsky and Nietzsche for this Peterson Academy. This is coming up in January.
Lex Fridman (03:00:58):
Oh, that will be done together. I’m really looking forward to it. You’re weaving.
Jordan Peterson (03:01:03):
I hadn’t thought about doing them together. Oh. That’d be fun.
Lex Fridman (03:01:07):
That’s a good idea. Well, there’s an interesting.
Jordan Peterson (03:01:10):
Steal that idea.
Lex Fridman (03:01:12):
You often weave them together really masterfully because there is religious in the broad sense of that word themes throughout the writing of both.
Jordan Peterson (03:01:23):
You know, there’s uncanny parallelisms in their writing and their lives. And Dostoevsky is deeper than Nietzsche, but that’s because he was a writer of fiction.
Lex Fridman (03:01:34):
Nietzsche is almost a character in a Dostoevsky.
Jordan Peterson (03:01:37):
He is definitely that. He is definitely that. Yes. And apparently Nietzsche knew more about Dostoevsky than people had thought. There’s been some recent scholarship on that grounds. Dostoevsky didn’t know anything about Nietzsche as far as I know, I could be wrong about that. But the thing that Dostoevsky had over Nietzsche is Nietzsche had to make things propositional in some real sense because he was a philosopher. And it’s hard to propositionalize things that are outside your ken, but you can characterize them. And so in the Brothers Karamazov, Ivan is a more developed character than Alyosha.
In the explicit sense, he can make better arguments, but Alyosha wins like Mishkin because he’s the better man. And Dostoevsky can show that in the actions. He can’t render it entirely propositional, but that’s probably because what’s good can’t be rendered entirely propositional. And so Dostoevsky had that edge over Nietzsche. He said, well, Ivan is this brilliant rationalist, atheist, materialist, and puts forward an argument on that front that’s still unparalleled as far as I’m concerned and overwhelms Alyosha who cannot respond. But Alyosha is still the better man. Which is very interesting.
Lex Fridman (03:02:52):
You know, the funny thing about those two characters is you, Jordan Peterson, seem to be somebody that at least in part embodies both. Because you are one of the intellectuals of our time, rigorous in thought, but also are able to have that kind of, what would you describe, if you remove the religiosity of Alyosha, there’s a, what’s a good word, love towards the world, spirit of encouragement.
Jordan Peterson (03:03:23):
Yes. Which one? It’s, you know, one of the things I did learn, perhaps from looking into the abyss to the degree that I have had to, or was willing to, was that at some level, you have to make a fundamental statement of faith. When God creates the world, after each day, he says, he saw that it was good. You think, well, is it good? It’s like, well, there’s a tough question. I mean, you know, do you want to bring a child into a world such as this, which is a fundamental question of whether or not it’s good.
It’s an act of faith to declare that it’s good because the evidence is ambivalent. And so then you think, okay, well, am I going to act as if it’s good and what would happen if I did? And maybe the answer to that is, I think this is the answer. The more you act out the proposition that it’s good, the better it gets.
And so that’s it. Dostoevsky said, this is something else. Every man is not only responsible for everything he does, but for everything everyone else does, it’s like, what is that profound or are you just insane? Then you think, is what you receive back proportionate to what you deliver? And the answer to that might be yes. That’s a terrifying idea, man. And it’s certainly you can see that it’s true in some sense, because people certainly respond to you in kind with how you treat them. That’s certainly the case.
Lex Fridman (03:05:06):
I mean, it’s terrifying and it’s exciting.
Jordan Peterson (03:05:09):
Yeah, right. That’s an adventure, isn’t it?
Lex Fridman (03:05:12):
You create the world by the way you live it. The world you experience is defined by the way you live that world. And that’s really interesting. And then taken as a collective, we create the world together in that way. What do you think is the meaning of it all? What’s the meaning of life, Jordan Peterson? We’ve defined it many, many times throughout this conversation.
Jordan Peterson (03:05:38):
The adventure along the route, man. And I would say, where’s that adventure to be found in faith? What’s the faith? The highest value is love and truth is it’s handmaiden. That’s a statement of faith, right? Because you can’t tell. You have to act it out to see if it’s true. And so you can’t even find out without, and that’s so peculiar. You have to make the commitment a priori. It’s like a marriage. It’s the same thing. It’s like, well, is this the person for me? Oh, that’s the wrong question.
How do I find out if this is the person for me? By binding myself to them. Well maybe the same thing is true of life, right? You bind yourself to it. And that tighter you bind yourself to it, the more you find out what it is. And that’s like a radical embrace. And it’s a really radical embrace, that’s the crucifix symbol. And more than that, because like I said, the full passion story isn’t death. It isn’t even unjust death. It isn’t even unjust death and the crucifixion of the innocent, which is really getting pretty bad. It’s unjust, torturous, innocent death, attendant upon betrayal and tyranny, followed by hell.
Well that’s a hell of a thing to radically embrace. It’s like, bring it on.
Lex Fridman (03:07:13):
I think a lot of people put truth as the highest ideal and think they can get to that ideal while living in a place of cynicism and ultimately escape from life and hiding from life, afraid of life. And it’s beautifully put that love is the highest ideal to reach for, and truth is…
Jordan Peterson (03:07:37):
It’s handmaiden. I thought about that for a long time, right? This hierarchy of ideal. And the thing about truth, that bitter truth, let’s say, that cynical truth, is it can break the shackles of naivete. And actually, a burnt cynicism is a moral improvement over a blind naivete. Even though one is in some ways positive, but only because it’s protected. And the other is bitter and dark, but still bitter. But you’re not done at that point. You’re just barely started. It’s like, you’re cynical? You’re not cynical enough.
How cynical are you? Are you, I’m an Auschwitz prison guard level of cynical? You have to go down pretty deep into the weeds before you find that part of you. But you can find it if you want. And then you think, well, I want to stop this. That was the question you posed in some sense. You’re obsessed with, say, what happened on these mass-scale catastrophes in the communist countries, it’s like, well, millions of people participated. So you could have, and maybe you would have enjoyed it. So what part of that is you? And you can find it if you want.
Lex Fridman (03:08:54):
It’s all there. The prisoner, the interrogator.
Jordan Peterson (03:08:58):
The Judas, Pontius Pilate.
Lex Fridman (03:09:02):
All of it. And all of it is inside us. And you just have to look. And once you do, maybe eventually you can find the love. Jordan, you’re an incredible human being. I’m deeply honored you would talk to me. Thank you for being a truth seeker in this world and thank you for the love.
Jordan Peterson (03:09:21):
Hey, thanks for the invitation, man.
Lex Fridman (03:09:24):
Thanks for listening to this conversation with Jordan Peterson. To support this podcast, please check out our sponsors in the description. And now let me leave you with some words from Friedrich Nietzsche. You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star. Thank you for listening and hope to see you next time.