Jordan B. Peterson’s book, “12 Rules for Life”, has sold 2.2 million copies in 10 months. Around 2,000 of those people bought a ticket to see Dr Peterson as his “12 Rules For Life” tour stopped in Cambridge.
This was something like the tour’s 90th stop. Peterson arrived in Cambridge that morning, having spent the previous three days in Amsterdam (where he ran up against the usual intolerant leftists). He landed, checked into his hotel, grabbed four hours sleep then headed to the venue.
One of the book’s messages is the value, indeed the necessity, of work. With the constant whirlwind of mostly hostile media interviews plus his other projects (he gave us a tantalizing glimpse of a kind of on-line university he’s working on), Dr Peterson’s energy and work ethic are admirable. Nobody can accuse the Canadian psychologist of not practicing what he preaches.
It’s fair to say that the residents of Cambridge are, on average, not among the most receptive to what Jordan Peterson has to say. Certainly among the large student population his ideas will be considered verboten. This is a city that voted Remain; a city that voted for Corbyn’s far-left Labour. Having lived and worked in Cambridge for many years, I consider it part of what I call the “BBC” – Bristol, Brighton and Cambridge – the main bastions of leftist, politically correct, “BBC-think” outside of North London.
I was half expecting a protest from the usual “anti-fascist” fascists outside, but if there was one, I didn’t see it. The venue was sold out. Even the seats behind pillars with no view of the stage. The lights dimmed. A voice announced no flash photography and a zero tolerance policy toward any heckling or interruptions from the audience. They needn’t have worried. Dr Peterson arrived on stage in his trademark three piece suit to a standing ovation, and he left over two hours later to a standing ovation.
What came between these ovations was quite remarkable. What strikes me most about Dr Peterson in person is the precision of his language. He is willing to stand in front of 2,000 people and pause mid-sentence until he finds precisely the right word to express his thought. That takes courage, or perhaps more accurately, it takes a strong belief that words matter. Hardly surprising given that Rule 10 is “Be Precise In Your Speech”, but still remarkable given the speed and fluency with which he speaks. I welcomed these occasional pauses, and indeed found myself wishing for a pause button – stop to consider some interesting point and you’ll be left behind.
Each stop on the tour focuses on one chapter of the book. In Cambridge we were treated to Rule 6: “Set Your House In Perfect Order Before You Criticise the World”. Dr Peterson spoke fluidly, rapidly, insightfully for more than an hour on this, perhaps the darkest of his book’s chapters.
Although the shortest chapter in the book, Peterson said he finds it by far the hardest and most challenging. It deals with the nature of evil. Where does evil come from? Evil such as that seen in the Columbine high school shooters. Peterson quoted one of the mass-murderers:
The human race isn’t worth fighting for, only worth killing. Give the Earth back to the animals. They deserve it infinitely more than we do. Nothing means anything any more.
Sounds like the opening line from the Green Party manifesto. Such anti-human nihilism is widespread among the radical left. It is often dressed up as social justice or a fight for equality, whatever that means, but hatred is what drives the left. Hatred of men, of white people, of the West, of the successful… hatred of anyone they can’t label as a “victim” and use as a human shield to get their way.
When that hatred is cloaked in enviro-mentalism it is suddenly acceptable to think of the human race as a cancer or plague on the planet. That is a genocidal thought, an unacceptable view when directed to any particular section of mankind, but somehow “right-on” when David Attenborough voices it about the entirety of mankind.
It is the same nihilism and anti-human sentiment that motivated the Columbine killers that we see in the post-modernism, Cultural Marxism and identity politics of the left today. At the “cuddly” end of this you have mainstream politicians working to shut down our economies to “save the planet”; at the sharp end you have mass shootings. The essential motivation is the same, in my view – fundamental distrust and dislike of human beings.
It is no easy thing to talk seriously about evil for an hour. Evil such as the Soviet gulags (Peterson wrote the foreword for the just published 50th anniversary abridged edition of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago”). To attempt to understand the origins of such evil is even harder, with Peterson drawing on everything from biblical references such as Cain’s murder of Abel to Goethe’s Mephistopheles.
To those who have read the book and watched his many stunningly popular on-line interviews and lectures, there was a slight sense that we were watching “Jordan Peterson’s greatest hits”. We had heard the anecdotes, the references to The Brothers Karamazov, the quotes from Milton, before. But that does not matter. It would be unreasonable in the extreme to expect otherwise. What we were witnessing was a live performance of “greatest hits” that have been years in the making.
After a 15 minute interval we were treated to a Q&A session. Hosted by noted classical liberal and all round sound guy, David Rubin (of The Rubin Report fame) this section had a completely different kind of energy about it.
Asked questions that varied from “why do we always focus on the negative when there’s so much positive around?” (partly because the mainstream media is dying and so gives emphasis to extreme stories in a bid to win attention) to “Will you do another interview with Channel 4’s Cathy Newman? (he’s offered, no response as yet), Peterson gave knowledgeable, considered and sometimes amusing answers.
I had no idea how expressive Dr Peterson was in person. His hands and arms punctuated and illustrated every word. His entire body is used to express his thoughts. This is not easy to fake. This is clearly a man who has thought deeply, thought long, and believes in what he is saying. That kind of authenticity is rare, and almost always worth the admission price alone.
Dr Peterson also strikes me as a very emotional man. He cares, deeply, about his subject. It matters. More than once on the audiobook version of 12 Rules For Life his voice breaks and a tear is shed. On stage I’m sure I detected a crack in the voice as he recounted Dostoyevsky’s story of the young girl sent to the outhouse as punishment for some minor transgression, whose cries are ignored by the neighbours, and who freezes to death alone.
For some reason our society characterises thinkers, followers of reason and searchers for truth, as cold, calculating and unemotional. It seems to me that the opposite must be true – it is those who think, perhaps those especially who think too much, who will be the most emotional. And love him or loathe him, Jordan Peterson WILL make you think.