My wife and I were at Dr. Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life lecture on Thursday (Sep. 20) in Grand Rapids, MI. We had VIP seats (3rd row, center) which added a badge, a picture with Peterson, and a separate interactive Q&A session. An unadvertised perk, for which my skinny old butt was grateful, was padded seats. Beyond row G, there was no padding. 20 Monroe live is a venue designed for rock concerts, not lectures, and all the folding chairs were packed closely.
Dave Rubin opened: A couple of decent jokes, and invocation of several Peterson memes (e.g. Cathy Newman, lobsters). All of which drew positive reaction from the audience. Rubin was OK, but has a pretty much canned intro. He welcomed 3,000 people when the capacity (it was filled) is about 1500. Must have been thinking about a previous event? He also told us we were the first audience to cheer for the venue’s announced policy of “no heckling, no video.” Aside from the fact that Peterson ticket buyers come for an intellectual stimulus and wouldn’t want to peer at the man through a forest of cameras held high in the first place, or listen to some SJW ranting instead of what they paid for, I’ve also read of the same reaction elsewhere. Maybe Dave wasn’t at that event.
The audience was about 35% female, 40% young male, and 25% older male. I make that latter distinction because I’m in the category, and it is relevant to the second-hand ad hominem arguments of many of Peterson’s critics. These postmodernist fellow travellers (most of them aren’t aware of how their social justice world views were formed) claim his demographic is overwhelmingly young, alt-right, and male – and mostly incels. They claim this audience proves he is a fascist, homophobic misogynist. Untrue of the demographic, but it’s all they’ve got. Peterson has hundreds of hours of video online going back decades, which you can be sure these SJW’s have minutely combed for any badthink.
On the contrary, the more of him you see the more you will be convinced he is intelligent, articulate, polymathic, grounded, kind, thoughtful and humbly aware of his own exhaustively examined faults. It’s not possible to spend a little time listening to him and come to any other intellectually honest conclusion.
The problem is simple: journalists guilty about inequality portray Peterson as an anti-trans, Cold War lunatic. Then, people who read that commentary and end up watching videos from his Biblical Series, or his Maps of Meaning lectures, do not find a right-wing radical. Instead, they find a passionate lecturer against authoritarianism who is deeply invested in a symbolic, archetypal understanding of human nature. Now, they realize that all these left-leaning outlets have lied to them. Instead of exposing a bigot, they’ve smeared a serious scholar.
For political reasons. But, Peterson’s message is only political in the sense that he looks at the science and comes to different conclusions about human nature than does the collectivist left.
He said nothing political during his speech.
Politics came looking for Peterson, he didn’t go looking for politics. His many years studying psychology, and vast experience as a clinical psychologist, have convinced him that postmodernism is a nihilist threat. Until his government decided to apply group-identitarian principles to him through the mechanism of compelled speech, he was invisible to the Internet. Then he made his conclusions explicitly public.
Back to the event. People I talked to said they were there because they wanted to better understand Peterson’s ideas. They sense the nihilism oozing from academia and media, and don’t want to succumb to it. Only one of them recognized the phrase “long march though the institutions;” and “Gramscian” drew a blank. But they all knew the effects. They’re looking for intellectual ammunition.
It is the first event of this nature I’ve attended which began with a standing ovation. That goes back to a Barry Goldwater campaign rally in 1964. That’s before I could vote.
I think Dr. Peterson had a cold. His voice seemed a little hoarse, or maybe it was the spirit of Kermit. A meme you’ll have to look up if you don’t recognize it.
From 2 minutes in the audience was transfixed. Interruptions by applause decreased as he continued; not because he stopped making valuable points, but because nobody wanted to interrupt the flow. Interrupting a train of thought is his specialty, but he usually does it himself (then jumping right back to his main thread).
Peterson gave an original, insightful, erudite, humble, astoundingly extemporaneous performance. It seemed improvisational. Which is to say, it was typical.
For reference, the 12 rules:
1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back
2. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping
3. Make friends with people who want the best for you
4. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who
someone else is today
5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you
6. Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world
7. Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)
8. Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie
9. Assume that the person you are listening to might know
something you don’t
10. Be precise in your speech
11. Do not bother children when they are skateboarding
12. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street
He started with Rule 1 (this is not necessarily obvious, he skipped around and only directly mentioned rules 1, 3, 2, 5, 9 and 4, in that order, IIRC). He invoked Rule 1 in speaking to the Problem of Evil, and to set up the relationship between responsibility and meaning: Be prepared for tragedy, in part by taking responsibility for yourself. In doing so you find not the answer to the purpose of the universe; but meaning in your life.
He segued to the rule 3, 2, 5 sequence (with excursions to 5, 9 and 4), building the case for treating “yourself like someone you are responsible for helping” because that directly impacts relationships with your spouse, your children, and your community. Not concepts you haven’t heard from him before, but essential to the core element of his message: individual sovereignty requires individual responsibility.
The collectivist counterpoint is: “Treat everyone as a member of a group you need to control in order to ensure your own power.” I.e., power is well-being. Peterson has never specifically said this (AFAIK), but I think the contrast is both accurate and useful.
I’d put the overall experience in the top 90% of the hundred or so hours I’ve watched on YouTube, half of that (so far) his university lectures. I didn’t expect to hear shocking new directions. After all, the talk was about 12 Rules. There were many concepts with which I was familiar, but with different stories, examples, and analogies. I learned from those. JBP spoke of ideas he’d “just figured out in the last 2 weeks.” Nice to be a spectator in that journey.
He is a powerful teacher; he lets you see the mundane as marvelous – again. It’s an encouragement to regain your childlike wonder. Listening to him is a challenge and an invitation to explore the borders of chaos and order.
He was also funny. There were some hilarious riffs on relationships. Peterson had to pause to let the laughter die off.
I’d give a lot to see Peterson’s humour unleashed over a beer or three. I imagine it to be poker-faced and Menckenian, though peppered with, “And that’s that, bucko!”, “Think again, sunshine!”, and “Bloody neo-Marxists!” Hearing him laugh about something is a treat.
In a era where Jerry Seinfeld eschews college campuses because of their near Stalinist humorlessness, we won’t see unconstrained Peterson humor anytime soon. He is pilloried enough without contributing sound bites for the deliberate misinterpretation at mis-re-education camp(use)s. This is a shame.
There was a deserved standing ovation at the end of Dr. Peterson’s address.
The following will likely vary by venue, but for those of you wondering about the content, sequence and timing of activities, as I was, here’s a bit of housekeeping info. The lecture is followed by a general Q&A. In this case, Dave Rubin selected questions submitted online through Slido. This segment completes the basic portion of the show.
Then there’s a delay of 15-20 minutes while they set up for pictures.
It was stated in emails prior to the event that it was OK to give JBP a gift during the picture segment. I did. I gave him a kiddie cup from a dinner I had at Red Lobster on the occasion of my wife’s birthday earlier this month. I expected a laugh from the doctor, and I got one. He asked where it had come from, and I told him Red Lobster via my 10 year old grandson. I have my own cup, from a granddaughter. So I have that in common with him now. ;)
As my 20 seconds ended, I thanked him for the hard work and dedication that made it possible for him to give us the gift of his insights.
We were asked please not to engage in extended conversation, since to move 200-300 people through the process takes 45 minutes – if it’s moving quickly. This is why there’s no book signing, the time would easily double.
You would think that at a Jordan Peterson event, people would be particularly loath to violate this responsibility.
Well, there’s always a couple, aren’t there? You could hear grumbling from everyone both in line and already finished when a couple of people took a minute or two. I was jealous, but proud that my inner child hadn’t done anything that made me dislike him.
The reason people who had already had their picture taken were grumbling is that the last portion of the evening is spent in a more intimate, back and forth Q&A with JBP. They were robbing us of that time. About 50 of us stayed for it.
I paraphrase: The questions ranged from a long exposition (female): “I like STEM. I’m a proven talent. Males and females give me praise for my abilities. It’s still really hard. Should I continue?”, to (female) “What psychedelic drug would you recommend to a beginner?”, to (male) “I have evil tendencies. I’ve always identified with villains. I’ve resisted temptation to do -some unspecified thing- so far. How do I ensure I continue to cope?”
A takeaway for me was the intimate nature of some questions before a group of 50+. Some people had a remarkable level of trust in a bunch of strangers whose only certain characteristic was an interest in Jordan Peterson’s ideas; and a belief JBP could tell them something important about a personal problem.
He handled the serious and the oddball questions with aplomb and real interest. Probably at bit like office hours at UoT, or a clinical session with a client. ;)
This conversation lasted a little over an hour, and my wife and I discussed the evening for our entire 45 minute drive home. A fine evening.
Jordan Peterson is a classical liberal who strongly supports First Amendment principles. His cogent defense of these ideas is a gift to all of us. I highly recommend visiting his website and YouTube channel, particularly the videos of his lectures at the University of Toronto. His passion for teaching and the importance of his thinking can only be appreciated with a deeper exposure than a single lecture, or an interview with an ideologue like Cathy Newman.