Toronto University professor and author Jordan Peterson had a long conversation with Glenn about psychology, faith, fresh beginnings and his upcoming book, “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos,” on today’s show.
In his book, Peterson explored freedom and responsibility while distilling what people should know about the world into 12 rules.
One part of his research involved looking at what persuades individuals to do terrible things. We know people commit acts of great evil, but how do human beings become capable of it?
“I was interested in individual motivation, not the motivation of groups so much, but how and why people could find themselves as individuals in situations where they would be called upon and then do, commit acts of unimaginable brutality,” Peterson said.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article provided courtesy of TheBlaze.
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors.
GLENN: So a couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine introduced me via YouTube to a guy named Jordan Peterson.
He is a clinical psychologist and cultural critic and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto.
He’s a man that apparently makes a lot of people angry, at least those who are progressives and die-hards on the left. We’re pleased to have him on with us now.
Professor, how are you, sir?
JORDAN: I’m very well. How are you doing?
GLENN: I’m good. I’m a new fan of yours. And, quite honestly, one of the most remarkable things I’ve heard you say, at least on a YouTube clip, you were asked the question about whether you believed in the resurrection. And I thought it was such a thoughtful answer. And such a brave answer, that I became an immediate — immediate fan. Do you remember your answer?
JORDAN: I don’t remember that — I don’t remember the specific answer that you’re referring to. So I’m afraid I can’t comment on it further. But I’m glad that you found it useful. I mean, it’s a very difficult question obviously.
GLENN: Can you answer it now? I’d like to see where you stand today, if it’s the same place.
JORDAN: Well, most of what I’ve been doing — I’ve done a 15-part lecture series on the Bible. I’ve been approaching it psychologically. Which is not to say that it can’t be approached religiously or theologically or as literature, in many different ways, but I’ve been approaching it psychologically.
And there’s a deep psychological idea behind the — behind the — the symbol of the resurrection, which is obviously an extraordinarily powerful idea. It’s gripped billions of people for thousands of years. It’s an overwhelmingly powerful idea. And the psychological idea is that in order for human beings to be redeemed, in order for our psyches to be renewed, we have to be willing to let that part of us that’s unworthy die so that a better part can come to life.
And you experience this every time you encounter a serious setback in life. You know, if you are betrayed by someone or you make a catastrophic error, you have to go through your past life with a fine-tooth comb and your assumptions and your actions, and you have to find which ones have served you badly and which ones need to be cast into the fire, so to speak. And that’s very, very painful. It’s something that’s very hard for people to do, because that part of you that’s made a mistake is alive.
And it doesn’t want to be — it doesn’t want to be destroyed and revivified. But it’s something that you need to continually engage in as you move through life, in order to stay on top of the ever changing environment.
It’s like, a forest has to be renewed by fire. And the fire strips out the old growth and the deadwood. But it lets things come to life. And at minimum, from a psychological perspective, the idea of the resurrection portrays that fundamental reality.
It’s the reality of being willing to let your old self die so that your new self — your new better self can come into being. It’s a particularly useful thing to think about around New Year’s, right? Because that’s something we dramatize at New Year’s with the death of the old year and the rebirth of the new year.
It’s associated as well, obviously with the idea of Christmas and the dawn of something new and redemptive.
So I don’t know if that was the same answer —
GLENN: It wasn’t. It wasn’t. That was a good one. It wasn’t. I’ll let others find your talk on that and —
GLENN: But it was a great answer. That was a good answer as well.
I was — I really wanted to talk to you because you have — you’ve led an interesting life. And the path that you have taken, after you finished school, you went over to Europe for about a year. And you decided to — you were moved by the fear of the Cold War and World War II. And how could people do these things to each other?
A very similar journey in some ways that I have made in the last ten years. And I am seeing the seeds of really disturbing things happening in our society all around the world. And I’m wondering if you have an answer to understand it or to diffuse what we seem to be building now.
JORDAN: Well, I can see — when I — I wrote a book in 1999 called Maps Of Meaning, which took me about 15 years to write, so I wrote it between 1985 and 1999. And during that time, I was obsessed with the issues that you just described. And the issues for me were, number one, how — and this is in relationship to the Cold War. So you how did you is it that the world could be split into two opposing, let’s say, ideological camps, or at least two idea-based camps. And that that split was manifested itself with such intensity, that people on both sides of the divide were willing to put the entire — what would you say? Put being itself at risk.
JORDAN: To arm ourselves so heavily, that we could destroy — plausibly destroy everything. And that we might be willing to do that.
Why was it that people were so wedded to their beliefs and their opposing beliefs, that that seemed — well, that that developed, let’s say. Even though no one necessarily thought it was a good idea. It obviously developed.
And then a secondary question was: How is it that in the service of ideological possession — let’s say, people could commit acts of unbelievable brutality like those that characterized the — the death camps in Nazi Germany and the Gulag Archipelagos in the Soviet Union and the absolute mayhem that reigned in Maoist China.
I was interested in individual motivation, not the motivation of groups so much. But how and why people could find themselves as individuals in situations where they would be called upon and then do — commit acts of unimaginable brutality. Even when apparently normal in their psychological makeup.
So I was trying to delve into those two ideas.
The first, in Maps of Meaning. The first I wanted to went out was in this ideological war between the West and the Soviet Union, let’s say, was that merely just a difference of opinion?
Let’s say the post modernists might have it. Because post modernists don’t believe that there are any belief systems that have anymore fundamental utility or reality than any others.
And so I was curious. Was it just a matter of opinion?
You know, with the Soviet Union taking the communitarian stance, let’s say. And the West taking the capitalist democratic stance. But there was no right or wrong at the bottom of that. It was just a matter of arbitrary power.
So I spent a lot of time investigating the understructure of those belief systems, partly as a consequence of reading people like Nietzsche and Carl Jung, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and a variety of others. Some very great people.
And what I concluded was that this was not merely a matter of opinion, that there was something about the way we constituted our belief systems in the West, predicated as they are on the Judeo-Christian tradition that may — and that being in turn predicated on something even deeper, something of even evolutionary significance, I would say, that made it quite evident to me that the idea of the supremacy of the individual that’s emerged in the West is by no means merely another opinion. And the reason for that is two-fold, I think. The first is that the state cannot be the answer to our problems because the state is static, as indicated by its very name. The state is static. And it’s composed of the contribution of the dead in the past. And no matter how great the dead were, they’re dead. And they cannot respond in a vital way to the challenges of the present. The individual has to do that.
So even though the state and tradition is necessary, which every conservative would note in a moment, it’s the individual that has to serve as the eyes and the voice as the state and revivify it when necessary. And it’s part of that rebirth process.
GLENN: What you’re saying is very similar to what Thomas Jefferson talked about. We can write it down now. But this will change and should change, and every single generation has to find it for themselves and has to — and defend it and live it for themselves.
The dead should not rule beyond the grave.
JORDAN: Well, that’s it.
Well, and, you know, you said every generation has to rediscover it. There’s a motif that I’ve concentrated on quite extensively in Maps of Meaning, but also in my YouTube lectures, which is the archetypal motif of rescuing the father from the belly of the beast.
You see that, for example, one of the popular manifestations of that was in the Pinocchio story in the ’30s, right? Where Pinocchio, to stop being a puppet, has to journey down to the darkest place there is and rescue his father.
And that is the — that is the responsibility of the living, to the past. Is that we have to go back — we have to go into chaos. The chaos, let’s say right now being our current polarized political state, and find out what was wise and good and productive about the past and then lend it a new voice, a new vision. And that makes the individual — the individual who does that, has an optimal combination of that dynamic living vision and voice, that’s also symbolized, by the way, by the Christian idea of the word and the traditions of the past.
And that’s the solution. So you said, well, what’s the solution to the polarization that is — is tearing us apart? Well, the polarization is a polarization of group identity, right? It’s the left pushes forward an identitarian perspective, where group identity is the paramount feature of every individual. And the right does the same thing. Now, they’re doing it for different reasons. But they’re driven by the same belief that identification with the group is the highest moral virtue.
And that’s — that’s — well, I would say that’s wrong.
GLENN: It is.
JORDAN: You have to have respect for the group. You have to have respect for your traditions and gratitude for them, rather than pride about them. Because you didn’t produce them. Which is another reason why I think racial pride is — even pride in tradition is a very bad idea.
Pride is a sin and goes before a fall. You should be humble and grateful for what the past has given you. And you should strive to embody the best of it and revivify it. And you should act as an individual. And I do believe the path of the divine individual, let’s say, is actually the proper redemptive path. And I believe that that’s the central message — well, I think it’s the central message of Judaism, especially with regards to the prophetic tradition. But it’s most definitely the central message of Christianity. Because Christianity puts forward the notion that the individual is — well, partakes of divinity.
And one of the things I pointed out in my Biblical lectures is an idea in Genesis, which I’ve studied in-depth, that at the beginning of time, God creates order out of chaos with the word.
And so the idea there — the psychology idea is that there is something about communicative and productive, honest speech that encounters chaos and the unknown. That’s the (foreign language) that exists before the beginning of the universe. And that — that truthful and positive word spoken forth brings order out of chaos. Brings habitable order out of chaos. That’s the creation story in Genesis. And part of that creation story is the idea that human beings are made in the image of God. And what that means is that we have the capacity and the moral obligation to speak truth to the — speak — to orient ourselves to the good and speak truth and to bring habitable order out of chaos.
And that’s — if we don’t do that, then —
GLENN: Then what?
JORDAN: Then — well, then chaos reigns. And things deteriorate into hell.
GLENN: And I think that’s where we’re headed. Back in just a second with Dr. Jordan Peterson.
STU: To hell?
GLENN: To chaos. I mean, we are seeing it grow every single day. And it’s because we’re stifling speech. Dr. Jordan period of time son. Psychology professor. University of Toronto. You can find him on YouTube. And watch the Pinocchio YouTube. It’s remarkable.
GLENN: We’re thrilled to have Jordan Peterson on, he is a professor at the University of Toronto, and a fearless defender of the truth. You get into a lot of trouble for the things that you say, because you don’t agree with political correctness at all.
And, you know, we’re struggling now with a way to tell the truth and not be destroyed by it.
JORDAN: Well, the first thing is that, you know, from one perspective, I’ve got in a lot of trouble. But I would say the net consequence has been overwhelmingly positive in all sorts of way, both personal and social.
But I would also say, a lot of it, Glenn, is having your fears in order. There’s no doubt that telling the truth is a risky enterprise. But it’s not even — it’s not even in the same category of risky as not telling the truth.
Like, the thing is the consequences of telling the truth might be immediate and self-evident. And the consequences of failing to speak the truth, hiding say or lying, are deferred and medium to long-term. But they’re much more grotesque and terrible. Deceit and sins of omission, like failing to say what you really think to be the case, warps your character. And it sets you up for a terrible fall in the future.
And so, you know, people have been commending me on my bravery over the last year. And I think in some sense it’s misguided. I’m not so much brave, as much as terrified of the right thing. And the last thing I want to do, and this is partly because of what I realized by analyzing what happened in Nazi Germany and in the Soviet Union and so forth. The last thing I’m willing to do is sacrifice my voice, let’s say. Like, I’m way more terrified of that than of anything else.
And I just think — I don’t think that as a metaphysical statement. Although, it is
I think of it as a practical statement. If you lose your character because you lose your voice, well, as the Pinocchio movie puts it, you become a brain jackass. A puppet. You stay a puppet and become a brain jackass. And that’s a really bad idea. You end up sold to the salt mines when that happens. It’s not a good thing.
GLENN: Jordan Peterson. He’s coming out with a new book in January. And I’d love to have him back. Twelve Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.
We’re going to continue our conversation with him in just a second.
You can find him online on YouTube. Just — just Google search Jordan Peterson. Dr. Jordan Peterson. And I think you will — you will spend the day really hearing the truth, I think, refreshingly for the first time.
VOICE: You’re listening to the Glenn Beck Program. A guy I want you to get to know. His name is Jordan B. Peterson. JordanBPeterson.com is his web address. You can just find him. He’s on YouTube. He’s written several books.
He’s got a new one coming out on January 12. Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. I actually have an advanced copy. I’m going to be reading it over the holiday.
Professor, I’m glad to have you — glad to have you on. And maybe you can help us find some — some meaning or a direction to go here.
Both sides here in America — I’m sure you’re aware of what’s happening here in America. It’s gotten a little nuts.
JORDAN: Oh, it’s the same in Canada.
GLENN: Is it?
JORDAN: Oh, yes. It’s very bad.
GLENN: We’re sitting here right now arguing over fake news. And it’s amazing, if you’re somebody who just doesn’t have a side, your side is the truth, you’re looking at both sides saying, you’re both lying, and you’re both telling the truth. It just depends on when and where.
And most people don’t have a way to find the truth, or at least they’re just — they’re — they’re willing just to go with whatever is on their side. And so the truth is kind of everywhere and yet nowhere in America.
How do you find the truth? How do you know what truth is?
JORDAN: Well, the first thing I would say is that you have to be very careful, if — when making a claim that you can find the truth or that you know what the truth is.
But this question could still be answered. And I would say the way to start aligning yourself with the truth, which is a good idea, by the way, because the truth reflects reality. And it’s good to have reality on your side, since there’s a lot of it and not very much of you.
The first thing you do is restrict falsehood. And so I would say that if people are interested in telling the truth and abiding by the truth, which is the most practical thing you could do, the first thing is to stop lying. And you can tell when you’re lying. You can do that by omission. You know, by failing to say something you believe to be true. Or by commission. By actually being deceitful.
You can tell if you’re doing that, because it makes you weak. It makes you feel physically weak and ashamed. And everyone knows that. That’s the voice of conscience.
And we — because we’re imaginative and because we can distort, manipulate our perception to our language, we’re very tempted to live out falsehoods and to perceive falsehoods. You have to start humbly, sort of in your own — well, there’s this advice I’ve been giving to people, it’s become somewhat of an internet meme, which is — I think someone just sent me 50 bumper stickers with this on it. I’ve been telling people to clean their rooms, you know. Because one of the things I’ve noticed with the college-type activists is that they’re — they’re very frequently young people who have no control whatsoever over their personal life. Everything about them is in disarray. And yet they’re possessed by the idea that they can critique the general social structure and that they have the wisdom to put it right. It’s like, you should attend to your own mistruths to begin with, your own personal life, and your own family. And get that straight.
It’s very difficult. That’s why it says in the New Testament, that you should remove the beam of wood from your eye before you worry about the dust mote in your neighbor’s eye. That’s a very wise statement. And it’s not one that people like to hear.
Because, you know, when we want to come out for the truth, we want to do it in a grand gesture so that everybody notices. But to come out for the truth is something that you do humbly and privately. And even with a certain degree of embarrassment and shame. Because you become aware very rapidly of how many petty and terrible ways you’re distorting your relationship with reality. It’s embarrassing.
GLENN: But I don’t know if people are embarrassed — I mean, there are people — you know, you know. You’ve got in trouble with them. That will look you straight in the eye and say, there is no biological difference between a man and a woman. Well, that is just —
JORDAN: I don’t know if they’ll look me straight in the eye and say that. You know what I mean? And I don’t — my — my experience has been in situations like that, that words — words of that form are not put forward with any strength.
And one of the things that’s happened to me, Glenn, in the last year that’s been extraordinarily interesting — and I’m unbelievably fortune that it’s occurred, is that every time I’ve been attacked by people who are putting forward the kind of ideology that you’ve been describing, it has backfired unbelievably spectacularly.
And so these untruths, let’s say, they reveal themselves in people’s gestures and attitudes. They make people resentful and vengeful. That’s the worst of it.
But they also deprive their words of any real strength, which is partly why they have to be put forward with such vehemence and force and ideological exactitude. There’s nothing really behind them.
And, well, that becomes quite evident. That becomes quite evident in the course of a genuine public discussion.
GLENN: What does it mean to be a Christian anymore? A lot of us —
JORDAN: I mean, what it should mean — what it should mean — and I’m speaking psychologically again here. I mean, Christ is the archetypal perfect man. Whatever that means. It’s a concept that’s really beyond understanding. Because we don’t know our full extension. We don’t know our full possibility or potentiality.
I mean, Christ himself said that the people that he left behind could do works greater than his, if they were willing to undertake the arduous pathway necessary to make that occur. So there’s no underestimating the potential power and grandeur and nobility of the individual.
But the problem is, is that it requires — it requires the adoption of infinite responsibility, let’s say. You know, one of the things that characterizes Trump technically speaking is that he took the sins of the world unto himself. And that can be interpreted psychologically as well.
Like when I was reading about Auschwitz and about the behavior of the camp guards in Auschwitz, I wasn’t reading about some evil Nazi who wasn’t me doing these things. I was reading about me doing them.
And that’s a terrible thing to apprehend. And to be a Christian, in any real chance, is to understand first that you bear the moral burden of the 20th century. And it’s up to you to do something about it. And not to change other people. But to put yourself together so that the political situation warped and twisted around it, you are called on to do something reprehensible, that you would have the strength of character to refuse to do it. But to even develop that, you have to understand first that you’re the person in that concentration camp who is having the — you know, the person who has just been hauled off the rail cars, crammed in there like cattle, lined up, and then sentenced to carry a wet sack of salt that weighs 100 pounds from one side of the compound to another and back. And that you’re the person who would enjoy doing that to someone, in such a terrible situation.
Well, that’s what it means at least in part to be Christian. It means to first of all come to terms with the fact that the terrible corruption and malevolence of human beings is something that characterizes you and that you have an obligation to understand that and to work to rectify it. Because the consequence of not doing it is dreadful, beyond imagining. So it’s very difficult for people to do that.
You know, in Darthius speak (inaudible), the brothers — the little story called The Grand Inquisitor where Christ comes back to earth and surveils during the time of the Spanish Inquisition. And he’s raising the dead and performing miracles and being a general good guy and causing a lot of trouble. And the inquisitor has him arrested and thrown into prison, and to be executed. And the inquisitor tells him that the burden that he’s placed on human beings is just to great, and that the church has spent centuries trying to modify his demands so that normal people could tolerate it. You know, and there’s really something to that.
The burden — the moral burden that’s placed on someone who claims to be a Christian is so fundamentally unbearable. But the alternative is worse. So that’s where we’re at. We need to bear the burden and the responsibility of constraining evil in your own heart and then trying to work to make the world a better place. Or you invest in the hell that you produce for not doing so.
GLENN: I’m struck by the fact that courage really is a muscle and misunderstood. You’re not going to be able to rise to the occasion in horrific situations like in the past and the 20th century if you don’t rise to the occasion now. If you don’t —
JORDAN: Yes. That’s exactly right. Well, which also shows you that what you do right now, day to day, the way you conduct yourself with your husband or wife and at work and with your family, despite the fact that those things are day to day, they’re not mundane or trivial. They’re vitally important.
Because you put your finger on it precisely. It’s that, if you can manifest a good character under normal circumstances, then perhaps you’ll have developed the sort of character that will enable you to stand up properly in the midst of a catastrophe.
One of the things I’ve been telling people who watch my videos who are overwhelmingly young men, by the way, is that they should strive to be the person who is the most reliable. They should strive to be the most reliable person at their father’s funeral.
That’s a good goal. That’s a goal that’s indicative of the development of some — of a proper tragic sensibility with regards to life, and the formulation of some real character in the face of that tragedy.
Now, young people now are fed such a diet of pablum. You know, they’re told to develop their self-esteem and to be happy and to be free. And to — to follow their impulses wherever they might lead. And it’s not nourishing. Young men, in particular, are dying — I mean, literally, they’re dying because of that. They’re dying spiritually, and they’re dying — well, they’re dying in actuality as well.
Because being human requires a noble mode of being. You can’t tolerate yourself if you’re weak and deceitful and arrogant and resentful. You just hate yourself. And that’s — and then you do harm to yourself and to others.
It’s much better to be called forward to do something noble and courageous. And I’ve been absolutely struck, Glenn, that the thing that’s been most surprising in the last year, I would say, is when I’m doing my public talks. And this is especially evident in this Biblical series, which has been packed, by the way. It’s sold out every day — every time we posted one, which is completely bizarre.
But, anyway, every time in those public forums where I talk about responsibility and truth to these audiences, mostly of young men, they’re on the edge of their seats. Man, you can hear a pin drop. It’s every time. It’s intense. And I think it’s because since the mid-60s, no one has taken — and young men in particular and shook them and said, look, you know, you’re not who you could be. Get your act together. You know, stand up. Tell the truth. Take your place in the world. And fortify our culture, instead of being whiney and resentful and weak and nihilistic and cowardly and ideologically possessed and immature.
GLENN: Dr. Jordan Peterson.
I don’t even feel comfortable anymore calling you by your first name.
Dr. Peterson, I have to tell you, I get an opportunity to talk to a lot of amazing people, and I have met some truly great people. This has been — the last 15 minutes has been one of the more remarkable times of my life. You are a — you are a man for this time. And I — I hope to be able to meet you in person sometime. But we will be watching from afar. I thank you for everything that you’re doing.
JORDAN: Well, thanks for being patient, Glenn. And Merry Christmas to you and all your audience.
GLENN: Merry Christmas.
GLENN: I have to go back and find what he said about the resurrection. And play it for you. Because it was just so honest and so raw and so personal.
And it’s amazing. Because he — he said, I’m — I don’t know what to think. I don’t know what to think. You know, my logic tells me no. But everything in me says yes.
And — and obviously, a man who, whether he’s a Christian or not, boy, seems to exemplify Christianity.