This article contains my transcript of a section of an interview with Jordan Peterson.
The original interview can be viewed here.
Details of the source:
Title: Dr Jordan B Peterson | *full-length* 2015 interview
Corporate entity: Transliminal Media
Interviewer: Jordan Levine
Notes: The video includes some overlay text indicating that the interview took place in 2014. The date of publication is 9 November 2015.
I transcribed the section of the video that runs from 56:16 to 1:04:11.
I have substantially rewritten my transcript.
The original raw transcript can be downloaded here.
=== Jordan Peterson:
Christians say that if you believe in Christ you're saved.
Well, what do you mean by "believe"?
You say "Jesus Christ is the son of God" and you say you believe it.
Just because you say that doesn't mean you believe it at all.
Saying that has almost no bearing on what you believe.
The question is: How do you act?
And the fundamental question that's under all that is: Is your speech true?
Now, you might ask "well, what does 'true' mean"?
Well, the answer to that is twofold. What are you trying to do with your speech?
One: You can manipulate reality so that it does what you want it to do.
This is the sort of speech that people use when they're trying to get what they want. The problem with that is that they can't actually know what they want. They just hypothesise what it is that they want, based on some theory, and then they try to manipulate the world so that they get what they want, but it's an unsatisfying venture and often when they do get it it's not good anyway, and it involves a kind of falsity of speech.
Two: You can try to say what you mean and think and perceive as clearly as you possibly can, always, and see what happens.
Now the story that underlies Christianity (and not only Christianity, but it's Christianity that I'm most familiar with) is the second approach.
The rule is: Live in accordance with the truth and see what happens.
In the Sermon on the Mount, for example, Christ basically says: Set your sights on allegiance to God ("God" is, well, "whatever the highest value is", let's say). Act in a manner that's concordant with that allegiance. That's your goal. Then pay attention to the here and now. There - that's your best strategy for the future.
Then you might say "prove that".
Well, that's where the question starts to become existential. You can't prove it. You have to try it. It's like Kierkegaard's leap of faith. You cannot tell if this works unless you do it.
The manipulative way of being - that's an adversarial way of being, archetypally. It's manipulative, it's got the lie at its core. That's completely different than this path.
This path, well, this path is a hypothesis. It's a hypothesis that Jung did a good job of elaborating, although even with Jung, it's not fully articulated. He's still saturated in image to a large degree, but no wonder, it's very complicated to make this sort of thing fully articulated.
I read Solzhenitsyn and I think "okay, why did the Soviet Union become the absolute hellhole that it was?".
And Solzhenitsyn says "because everyone lied".
And I think "isn't that interesting - that isn't a hypothesis that you hear every day".
And then I think about Freud, and about the major cause of mental illness: Repression. Well, that's a lie, fundamentally.
Freud played around with this to some degree. It's more like lying by omission, actually, than lying by commission, but it doesn't matter, it's still lying. Jung says the same thing. Wouldn't it be interesting if the fundamental root of psychopathology was the lie?
What if that's what's demolishing your life? People think, especially when they're nihilistic and they become destructive, that the universe is an unfair and arbitrary place and it's basically bent on their random destruction while they suffer.
Well, yeah. Right.
Okay, what do you do under those circumstances? That's the question.
One potential answer is: Twist the thing so that you can maybe get what you hypothetically want out of it.
The other is: Rely on your perceptions and your capacity for accurate representation, communicate that, and take your chances.
Which way is right? Well, that's the continual battle between good and evil.
I think it's important to frame this notion of right and truth that you're talking about in terms of action. Action is almost the unit of truth that you're working with here. But most people, when they hear the word "truth", especially people in academia or who are involved in the sciences in any way, they think of something very different. Could you perhaps elaborate on that?
=== Jordan Peterson
That's partly why the Catholic Church, historically, has been so put off by the rational intellect. People like Dawkins say that they went after Galileo because he was undermining their superstitions. Well, that's partly right.
The other part was...
The figure of evil throughout history, whatever he's called, Seth, Lucifer, etc, is always the hyper-rational intellect. The reason for that is that the intellect is God's highest angel (that's Lucifer) and it falls in love with its own creations. It likes to make totalities out of its own creation. Once there's a totality there's no room for the transcendent, there's no God, and everything immediately turns into hell.
Now, that was all put together particularly well by Milton. Milton was a visionary, and what he felt and put together was the imagistic substrate out of which the totalitarian states were going to grow. He envisioned it, he saw it as a battle between heavenly agents, he codified it, and he said "here's the approaching problem". The totalitarian intellect.
And that's exactly right. If you talk to people who are suffering existentially, they're always in love with the products of their intellect. They do not pay attention. They say "well, I can't see how my life has any meaning".
The answer to that is: You're not seeing, you're thinking. You can easily think yourself into a corner where your life has no meaning. It's a cheap trick. I can say "who cares about this documentary, it's not going to matter in a billion years". Or in a hundred years. Or however long. I can pick a time frame within which any event is irrelevant.
So, from that fact, you can derive the conclusion that any event is irrelevant, or you can derive the conclusion that that's a stupid way to think.
You can derive the conclusion that that's a stupid way to think if you haven't made thinking your God.
There's lots of other things that work better than thinking. Paying attention is better than thinking. It's much better. Paying attention allows you to listen to people who don't agree with you. Paying attention allows you to learn things that you don't already know.
If it's thinking or attention that should be the God, well, attention rules. Thinking, that's a subordinate phenomenon, but it likes to try to take over, because it likes its little tight theories and it likes to be right.
Well, forget that. You're not going to be right.