An Atheist in the Realm of Myth | Stephen Fry | Jordan B Peterson Podcast - S4: E22

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What an absolute treat!

πŸ‘οΈŽ︎ 1 πŸ‘€οΈŽ︎ u/letsgocrazy πŸ“…οΈŽ︎ May 17 2021 πŸ—«︎ replies

On this episode of the Jordan B Peterson Podcast, I am joined by Stephen Fry. Stephen Fry is a noted British actor, writer, comedian, political figure, journalist, poet, intellectual and much more. You may have seen him in the films Chariots of Fire, A Fish Called Wanda, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, V for Vendetta, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, and The Hobbit film series. He’s also served as the president of a mental health charity. Stephen’s list of accomplishments is far too long to list here.

Stephen and I discussed a variety of topics in the realm of drama, literature, and politics. We also discuss among other topics, atheism, religion, rationalism, empiricism, myth/story, bartering with reality, Greek mythology, Egyptian mythology, resentment, cruelty in the world, constitutional monarchy versus a democratic republic, and much more.

Find more of Stephen Fry on Twitter @stephenfry, his website, check IMDB for his many movie and television appearances, and his many books.

This episode was recorded on March 28th, 2021.

πŸ‘οΈŽ︎ 10 πŸ‘€οΈŽ︎ u/letsgocrazy πŸ“…οΈŽ︎ May 17 2021 πŸ—«︎ replies

I first became interested in the Christian stories because I'd long been fascinated by Greek mythology. I saw similarities in how they could be used for allegory and allusion in literature.

Then I realised how both went much deeper than that and that led me to Jordan Peterson.

πŸ‘οΈŽ︎ 9 πŸ‘€οΈŽ︎ u/SalfordSamizdat πŸ“…οΈŽ︎ May 18 2021 πŸ—«︎ replies

Nice try, Stephen Fry.

πŸ‘οΈŽ︎ 5 πŸ‘€οΈŽ︎ u/frostywafflepancakes πŸ“…οΈŽ︎ May 18 2021 πŸ—«︎ replies

For me this is his best podcast yet.

πŸ‘οΈŽ︎ 5 πŸ‘€οΈŽ︎ u/itsamemmario πŸ“…οΈŽ︎ May 18 2021 πŸ—«︎ replies

I found it fascinating, was listening whilst driving and found myself a lot more engaged when JP was talking. Stephen Fry is eloquent and charming but I find it masks a lot of pain and almost a desire to be loved, hence the skilfull sitting on the fence regarding the appalling bullying of JK Rowling.

There is an advert on advert on British TV where another member of the metropolitan elite Sandi Totsvig skilfully plays a dinner party bore.... who engages in mildly interesting monologues that alienates everyone around the table. She is much more wrappped up in how interesting she is than if anyone is interested in what she has to say.

That's how I felt at times listening to Fry, and it was interesting towards the end of the discussion how Peterson started to speak more. Fry is inconsistent and describing Christmas and the Royal Family as absurd and preposterous but useful, was breathtaking in its condescension.

I think this is the great danger of our bitterly divided time, how a small smug elite seem to be oblivious of how they are humiliating so many peoples cherished beliefs and values.

I'm afraid that may be a bit harsh, but blunt and more honest than the soft Liberal that Fry pretends to be, disguising a mean intolerance that certainly doesn't make him a national treasure in my eyes...

πŸ‘οΈŽ︎ 2 πŸ‘€οΈŽ︎ u/TJB74 πŸ“…οΈŽ︎ May 20 2021 πŸ—«︎ replies

It was interesting to finally delve in to Jordans religious experience in an depth manner. Personally it's this side of him which I find the most hard to understand considering how rational his opinions are on other topics. To be quite honest I'm still rather unsure on whether he actually believes in a supernatural God or just finds metaphorical value in religious texts, in any case it was enjoyable to hear the interpretations made by both him and Stephen.

I think the key difference is that Jordan sees spirituality as something that exists externally and that it's our duty as humans to decipher the universe through these narratives in order to find values which bring us to a higher level of greatness, "higher motive" as he calls it. Correct me if I'm wrong but there seems to be a sort of supernatural element to his arguments almost as if he believes in the existence of an ultimate truth or value system, not created by us but something we instead need to work to align ourselves with in order to be fulfilled.

Stephen on the hand sees spirituality and narrative as something which is internal, something that humans create as a metaphor to understand life. I.e it's not something that is intrinsic to the universe or something we have to actively search for because we create these values ourselves based on what we want to project to the world.

it seems like Jordan is trying to justify the intense emotional attachment he as to religion by postulating that the effectiveness of certain teachings like sacrifice or simply having a conscience serves as proof for christianity itself. The reality is that both these things have evolutionary bases which also coincide with the subjective moral codes we've developed over time.

He also seems to think that religion has been corrupted by humans and that atheists are actively ignoring the true nature of these believes. While I do agree that atheists may have a tendency to disregard certain positive aspects of religion I don't think it's fair to say it's just matter of corrupt interpretations. First of all who is he to say which interpretations are corrupt or not (presumably the ones which happen to shed religion in a negative light) and secondly it's completely farcical to assume the existence of some sort of vein of supernatural ultimate truths from which humans can't extract from with out causing corruption. He only gave Stephen two options, either humans have corrupt religion or religion is corrupt in itself, ignoring the question of whether it actually exists in the first place. The real question is what actually makes believing in religion worth it when you can gain the exact same values from a materialistic standpoint and without having to wade through all the negative baggage.

πŸ‘οΈŽ︎ 1 πŸ‘€οΈŽ︎ u/JoshDRees πŸ“…οΈŽ︎ May 23 2021 πŸ—«︎ replies
i'd like to announce my new book beyond order 12 more rules for life unlike my previous book beyond order explores as its overarching theme how the dangers of too much security and control might be profitably avoided because what we understand is insufficient we need to keep one foot within order while stretching the other tentatively into the beyond i hope that people find this book as helpful personally as they seem to have found the first set of 12 rules [Music] [Music] i'm pleased to have with me today mr stephen fry who's been described by more than one of his compatriots as a national treasure if you want to develop a quick inferiority complex i would recommend going and reading steven's wikipedia page he's a prolific actor screenwriter playwright journalist poet intellectual comedian television presenter advertisement presenter magazine author autobiographist um it's it's a remarkable body of achievement and an and an intellectual figure in his own right who's known at least in part for his discussions with uh richard dawkins and christopher hitchens and and the humanist atheists and it's partly for that reason that i wanted to talk to him i met stephen much to my pleasure during the monk debates in toronto about three years ago when we discussed political correctness which is one of the things i want to talk about and touch upon today but mostly i'm interested in talking to him about the relationship between narrative and empiricism and rationalism and so thank you very much for agreeing to talk to me my pleasure lovely to be here so let me ask you and and then we'll we'll go forward formally um what do you think we would be best what do you think would have the greatest impact with regards to our conversation as far as you're concerned i mean there must have been a reason that you some reason apart from just being agreeable to to do this what do you think we might be able to accomplish well uniquely it's it's a little like um that monk debate we we shared a platform with um it's really because i'm i'm so tired and distressed and worried by the the the great physio that has opened up the culture wars whatever we like to call it the assumption that um that there is your friends and your enemy and no ground in between no commonality of no cohesion of viewpoint no shared things that can happen between people who apparently represent different ways of looking at the world or different ways of trying to organize the world or whatever it might be and the very fact that i knew some friends of mine who disapproved of you um would would think i was doing something wrong by associating with you and and uh i i hope our debate showed that that wasn't the case and i felt this would take that further forward too um i i do i do think the you know the last best hope for our society in whichever way you want to look at whether you want to look at it as some version of the west being able to stand up to the pressures put upon it by china and russia and other countries that are less interested in liberality in economics and in the traditional political sense of liberality or kind of open society whatever you want to call it um that that if we continue to fracture and we continue to find enemies amongst our own kind so much um then really it's a very very sad look at i mean i'm hardly the first person to say this but and and i think you are you know a very interesting um thinker and writer and and talker um but it's it's clear that there are many who would really admire you and like you and follow you uh who with whom i would have less in common than perhaps with you um i think on both sides if you want to call them sides it's very easy to be a bit lacks about disavowing people who like one but whom one doesn't like if you see what i mean uh it's it's it's so flattering to the ego to have followers to have people say you're great i love the things you say that um it's quite hard to say no but you've misunderstood me that's not what i meant that's not what i meant at all to quote elliot so obviously i've spent some time pointing out what i regard as the excesses of the radical left i've certainly spent no shortage of time pointing out the excesses of the radical right in my classes particularly but i'm not publicly known for that specifically it's it's my resistance or or yeah my resistance to certain maneuvers on the side of the radical left that propelled me into the public eye um i've thought for a long while that the only people who can probably control the excesses of the radical left are people who are in the moderate left not people on the right or on the extreme right they're out of the argument to begin with and it it it's this is associated in some sense the difficulty of this is in some sense the difficulty that you just described if people have an affiliation with you then it's much more difficult to differentiate perhaps where you should and so perhaps you see on the left the moderate leftists and then the more extreme leftists but the left extreme leftists are also on the left and they're friends of a type and drawing that line is extraordinarily difficult and that's actually why at least part of the reason why i'm leery of any attempts to restrict free speech because in those cases of difficult differentiation the only possible solution we have is dialogue about the problem about exactly where to draw the line because otherwise we can't no one knows how and i guess it's because extremism also also exists in degrees and so you say where do you stop and well that's very very difficult to say especially among those who think like you except for certain exceptions yes this is this is very true and it's a sort of basic philosophical point isn't it that you can draw lines um between what is reasonable and they can be very narrow lines but if you keep drawing them out they become extreme so for example you can have a what some people might regard as a reasonable age for the termination of a pregnancy due to some you know some issue but if you keep adding days to it it then becomes a serious problem and anything in that nature of uh of of differentiating and drawing lines he's bound to is bound to cause that to be a problem and i i however i'm less confident than you are that the left would be persuaded by someone like me the hard left the uh one wants to call it extreme left or the radical left wherever it is um and this may sound a bit like a bit of boo-hooing which is very easy to do but if you're a soft liberal as i think of myself i can't find any other designation but that sort of thing the centrist um these are insults to the left i mean in english politics recently for example centrist was the boo word of the corbinistas the the the more socialist end of the labour party a party i've been a member of since since i could vote and i i felt very very very much um buffeted about and despised for my oh dear but really and oh must we you know i it's very you know i do think of myself as a sort of cardigan slippered old fool who is loathed on both sides and and it is of course historically true that in the 1930s which is the decade we always go back to when we were very worried about the the direction we're traveling in now um the communists and and the nazis both were absolutely on one mind when it came to people like me jewish semi-intellectual soft liberals who you know who won't oh no but shush um because we didn't have any positivity any certainty we didn't turn we didn't you know it's and as i say i know it sounds like i'm sort of taking on a victim status here that oh poor liberals because after all we've ruled the world for 200 years and part of the political and cultural argument in the world at the moment is that the liberal project the enlightenment project if you want to call it that has failed um i would say we've cooperatively guided the world because i think ruled is the wrong term tyrant's rule and and it's a really important distinction because the power is grounded in the sovereignty of the people and imperfect as that may be it's more grounded in the sovereignty of the people than any other system we've ever managed to whip up so i mean it's it's difficult also because it central it's difficult to make centrism dramatic and romantic and it's much easier to make extremism dramatic and romantic and that's one of its primary attractions and that attraction should not be underestimated and it's partly why i'm so interested in talking to you because you are this incredible dramatist you have this unbelievable talent that manifests itself in a manner that i thought i was reading your weak wikipedia biography in some detail and it requires that i thought if you want to give yourself an inferiority complex quickly going through your wikipedia entry is a very good way of doing that i mean you have 50 films and like 40 tv shows and five novels and seven autobiographies and a career in comedy that was absolutely outstanding that would have been uh a lifetime achievement in and of itself and a whole variety of honorary doctorates and and you have an intellectual end that's not trivial as well because you were involved with hitchens and dawkins and the horsemen of the um of the atheist movement yeah and i want to really want to talk to you about that too because i especially am interested in your opinions because of all those people you're the one that has the most connection with you with with uh with drama and literature and fiction and you you you just published a couple of books mythos um heroism heroes heroes and there's there's a third one in that trilogy it just escapes my mind troy and so you're obviously extraordinarily sensitive to the power and necessity of literary accounts but then you're also a humanistic atheist and that's very i'm very curious about that i mean someone like dawkins he's so rational that i think for him and i don't know if this is fair it might be a bit of a of a stereotype but it'll do for rhetorical purposes he's not gripped by drama in the same way you are and there's a truth in drama that's not trivial and that truth is allied with religious truth so i want to go there too i can't speak for richard it's just been his 80th birthday so we wish him happy birthday and he's he's not the the shrill beast of of atheism that some people regard him as but i won't speak for him obviously but but what i would say is that yes you're right he's a rationalist and i don't think i am i think i'm an empiricist and i i think that's part of my love of drama and myth and story and literature and history even is these are all to do with experience with human experience the register of human experience of of testing an idea against what actually happens and how people actually behave rather than uh devising a system of reason um and it's not the reason when empiricism are always absolutely opposed but they sometimes are and in the in in the history of science they have been you know you could argue that pascal was a rationalist and and uh newton was an empiricist for all his you know great mathematics and so on he actually took a piece of cardboard and punched a hole in it which is something that a rationalist probably wouldn't wouldn't do so it's experimenting in the crucible of human activity and observing what people say and hear these are the things comedians do all the time it's the comic it's it's the comic mode is to hear somebody say something grand and then say yes but g.k chesterton is a perfect example of that now he was he was certainly no atheist he was a very religious man indeed and and a great hero of the catholic church and some people even believe he should be if not beatified even sanctified but um he he was a huge influence on me as a teenager growing up because i read his essays and here's an example uh um he read he he opens an essay by saying i read in the newspaper the other day this following sentence at the trumpet call of ibsen and shaw modern woman rises to take her place in society and i thought to myself this is very good news very encouraging i wonder if it's true let's see now who's a modern woman oh mrs buttons she comes in to clean every tuesday and every thursday she lives in clapham she comes on the omnibus and she scrubs the floors and she has three children and if i say to myself at the trumpet call of ibsen and shaw mrs buttons rises to take her place in society i realize the sentence is not only nonsense it's pernicious nonsense and and that's a sort of almost comical example really of saying you don't trust an abstract statement you do not trust someone saying a plus a equals 2a because there is no such thing in the universe as a and although we're all capable of doing substitutional metaphorising or algebra as it were with ideas the fact is it's much better to say one thing of something that is real that we know plus another thing of something that is real that we know and have experienced is two of those things once you start abstracting and and and that's what rationalism often is it's it's going off on an algebraic journey which can produce beautiful thoughts and ideas and beautiful schemes but for me it is beating that out on the anvil of human experience is the absolute key and it's a non-intellectual tradition empiricism and uh i think we're in danger of losing it in a way because okay i want to unpack three things that you that you just said that are very very complicated so the first thing you did was draw a distinction between rationalism and empiricism and you associated dawkins more with rationalism and yourself more with empiricism yes entirely but yeah no no no fair enough just as example and and you you did that in an attempt to also describe um the effect or influence or consequence or reason for your interest in drama or for the fact that drama grips you so i want to start with the distinction between human or between empiricism and rationalism so everyone listening understands so walk us through that first well empiricism is is um is an intellectual tradition of of using experience or trial and error or or experiment to to prove or disprove or to investigate an idea so if you have an idea i mean a perfect example is in the 18th and 19th century a lot of women were dying of childbirth at childbirth appalling deaths what we would now call septicemia the babies and the mothers were dying and nobody knew why because there was no germ theory nobody had an idea that there were these tiny things that could infect our systems so people tried to reason and they said well maybe it's the smell because it's a bad smell and there was a miasma theory um and other people just said it was god or other people said that it was some moral quality on the part of the women um and but a man called semovice in in hungary ignacimo vice um tried lots of different experiments he he he chose a certain number of people to do different things on what we now call cohort testing you know raw not quite random double blind testing such as used as in meds in medicine to prove the efficacy of something but eventually he he got a group of medical students who were attending on these births to wash their hands before doing it it was an almost random thing to do and suddenly the death rate dropped i mean absolutely plummeted and the reward for semmelweis he was sent to a madhouse because nobody believed where he died because the rationalist said there's no reason that that could be that could be right but a true empiricist would say it almost doesn't matter what the reason is the fact is it's repeatable and verifiable and and even not understanding because it took later till and pasteur and microscopes could show what the process was he he actually did end up in a you know and he's a hero man i ran actually went to budapest to go to the ignac several vice museum in in buddha just to sort of pay homage to this remarkable man and i mean it's a bit unfair on the doctors they had no reason to know if you like but that's the point they had no reason to know an example we all deal with empiricism which can be very annoying is in insurance what's called actuarial tables or actuaries are people in insurance companies who look at the statistics and if they discovered that when your name is jordan you are 10 more likely to have a car crash you would pay 10 more of premium on your insurance and it's no good you saying but why they would just say those are the odds that's the empirical truth that's the epidemiology of accidents if you like is that people call jordan or more famously of course actors pay more and you can then try and look for a reason and that's a very valuable thing to do of course we all want to know the reason but um sometimes i think there is a beauty in testing and looking and seeing and trying things out and experimenting it's not a discard reason that the two go together in yes finding out the truth so so how do you associate that with your interest in in literature and your clear recognition that the the dramatic end of existence is valuable well i suppose it's i mean in an obvious way uh all literature people literature snobs i might say uh will look at politics i mean all through my life i've looked at people like i don't know margaret thatcher or indeed on the other side gordon brown and thought if only they read shakespeare why why why do people read books of political philosophy and and and books on this being a good idea on you know how parliamentary history without actually reading about how humans behave and seeing how evil and good are played out in in drama because i think not just like teacher but ceremony and ritual are extremely important in in understanding uh everything um and you don't have to be religious to to believe in ritual i love liturgy i love church liturgy i am absolutely passionate about hymns and and psalms and and the eucharist and and the language of it you know the the um the outward invisible sign of an inward invisible grace is one of the most beautiful phrases uh i think ever written in the in the in the in the book of the eucharist of the episcopalian church as americans call it all the anglican churches we call it and and there are magnificent um shortcuts available if if you look at ceremony and the dramatization of of human issues rather than attempting to abstract some essence from them some truth that you can say that is applicable to all it's in the sense we're all children who have to be shown puppets before we understand do you know what i mean does that mean yes yeah i've stopped sorry no no no no well it's just it's just stopped and and made me think i mean the reason i got in interested in religious thinking i went down the pathway that you're describing i mean that's why i got interested in religious thinking because from a psychological perspective i mean the first thing that i realized and i believe this is what you just pointed out is that there are truths embedded in fiction for example or in spectacle ritual drama and well then you ask well what is it though those are attractive and they're entertaining and they they automatically engage our interest and but way more than that they're also that which culture centers itself around greek tragedy for example which seemed to be integrally associated with the elusive greek mystery is something that we we know very little about unfortunately but for me and and i was influenced by carl jung in this mode of thinking culture is nested inside a narrative structure by by necessity i even believe that science is nested inside an uh a narrative structure because the narrative structure is what makes the science practically applicable and useful yes what what else is the standard model but another way of saying a a narrative structure the standard model is just that and that is the basis of physics today isn't it it's a story well well in the the idea that we have that science is a useful endeavor the fact that we're looking to the material world for redemption that's all part of the narrative and i was absolutely staggered by jung's analysis of the emergence of science out of alchemy and his notion was that the alchemical tradition was a 2 000 year old dream a narrative dream counter position to christianity with its emphasis on abstracted spirituality suggesting that what we lacked could be found in the depths of the material world and that was and and so there was this motivational dream that if we paid enough attention to the transformations of matter we could find that which would confer upon us uh eternal life infinite health and wealth and jung's point was well until that dream was in place there would be no motivation to undertake the process of the painstaking analysis of the material world that didn't produce any immediate gratification and it took thousands of years for that idea to assemble itself with enough force so that we could start to have scientists so the narrative was operative thousands of years before the before the before the technical process was instituted and it laid the groundwork for it and maybe also took that time for uh for the brain of humans uh if you believe julian james and and i i kind of do in in a metaphorical way i don't if you know his book yes i'm sure you do yeah um that maybe you know our brains weren't even capable of processing in that way around the time of uh between language and writing the you know that sort of time uh we we were finding ways of of describing the world in the to the egyptian i believe i'm right in saying this is the derivation el hamet the the magic became alchemy uh which then became chemistry um and and it became drilled down into a an investigation but first you had to believe that there was a ahem it was a magic inside everything inside substance um to which we could be tuned and yes um right a redemptive magic yes if you like and this is not to repudiate science and numbers and you know i'm a a very good friend of mine who was a priest said uh um you know physics is a theology that makes machines work and there's there's some there's some sort of truth in that and i i love for example the story i i tell it in a footnote in mythos but it's very very early on in greek mythology um when the the first the primal the primal entities the primal deities are uranus the sky or uranus as children we love to call him um and gaia the earth who mate the sky and the earth mate is a common theme in uh what they call a mithim in lots of different myths as you can imagine the sky and the earth mate and they produce whatever is in between the zone which we inhabit between sky and earth and that next generation are called the titans of of course but uh and and there's the the famous story of the the birth of zeus his father the titan eats all his children and the mother raya is determined that the last child zeus shouldn't be eaten so she goes and gets a rock um from close by where where where she she lives on montauk authoris and uh she covers it in swaddling and hides it under her legs and then makes the child makes the noise of childbirth and kronos the the titan comes thinks it's a new baby swallows it whole um and the actual baby is then born on crete and becomes zeus the leader of the next generation of gods but the stone she takes is from magnesium in in greece which is near thessaly and it's a stone that the greeks have noticed had a very extraordinary property which is the most interesting property that any object can have on earth and is very rare and that it can attract things remotely from a distance that that without there being a physical force connecting them apparently a piece of fluff or paper could fly towards this stone from magnesium and so stones that have this property are named after that part of the world they're called magnetites and from magnetites we get magnets and the story of magnets and how magnets were then joined by thompson and faraday and others to to make him uh and maxwell to to to to make the electromotive force that allows you and me to talk the way we do and to use that action at a distance which science is brilliant at turning into extraordinary magical machines the greek for at a distance is tele so it's tele communication telephone television and teleporting anything that goes from one distant telegrams and tele you know and so on telegraphs um and and that is the and and gravity is the same thing something moves and there's nothing between it and and it it makes us thrill and science can do that um and what we've never found a way to do is is or at least what we try to find a bit is to do the same with with our fellow people but our fellow people are you know the world is surprisingly stable there's magnet magnets around the place and there's gold and there's stuff and you dig it up and and you can do terrible damage to it as we have but we have moved from from small groups clans to tribes to nations to this strange myth of the nation and so on and the individuals within it um are much less controllable than the objects around us and yet we can control those objects so superbly that it gives us an idea that we that we have a special place and a special power um and it's i suppose really what we want to do is to reconnect ourselves to the same motive forces that that are thrilling like magnetism and electricity that exist in in also all throughout nature that we look at them you know which of us can't honestly almost sob with joy when spring happens and you see that once again these leaves are being pushed out of dead branches and blossoms there and insects are flying towards them there's this fantastic process going on and somehow we've allowed ourselves to feel outside it as if we are special we've given ourselves a godlike status which is very dangerous i think and very foolish um and the more i look back the more confidence i have in looking forward i suppose that's one of the other reasons i love myth so much so okay so all right so um you you described yourself as an empiricist and then you talked about you started to talk about the attraction that the mythological and and narrative world has for you and and some of the reasons for that and then but you also just differentiated between you and dawkins to some degree and impair and so while i'm curious about why oh but i mean he's i mean i i'm as i said i can't speak for him but you use the word wrestling and i understand originally and and i don't i don't have any particular points of disagreement with him i'm really fond of him he's a friend and i i only feel sorry sometimes that uh and this is a cheap point um it's you know where most of it's a bit fed up with this attitude that it's all about presentation and i could argue that richard's presentation his passion is real his love of science is real his love of the joy and the wonder of discovery is real he's written books on wonder which is a huge and marvelous and much under explored human quality and a primary religious instinct yes and and yet science has shown us and it really can just can't be contested that we are part of a continuum of life dna demonstrates this the dna we share not just with our close um uh uh ape-like and and and other mammals but also with plants and flowers that also have dna and as we know soda viruses and and um and yet or rna and um and yet i don't think i think it's fair to say that blackbirds don't look at the sunset and go my god that's so beautiful did you see that i want to paint it i want to remember it how is it you know this this sense of literally of marveling it's the only world we know when we're born we don't think of course there are 70 000 other globes with much better sunsets this is the only thing we've ever seen and yet it staggers us it surprises us we're surprised by what is the case to use the phrase that wittgenstein loved you know the case is everything around us and we don't know another one um and yet we go wow why should we go wow what is absolutely ordinary there there must be a a reason i suspect that we are astonished by the everyday by the fact of what we see when we look out of the window or when we go for a walk we're astonished by buds and grass and rabbits and sky and clouds and these things aren't well we're astonished we're astonished by what we want to imitate yeah yeah yeah and i mean i've thought about that idea for a long time it's not a casual response to your question well the son is a hero the son is the hero that fights the darkness at night and rises anew in the morning the sun is associated with consciousness yeah and we have to imitate the hero and we see what we have to imitate everywhere and it reduces us to a state of of awe and awe is an invitation to imitate and and imagine so you you see what you are not yet but what you could be and you need to see that because you need to turn into what you could be because what you are is not sufficient to redeem you well i see that from a jungian point of view but i'm and joseph camberley sort of way too but in terms of the way myths and then religions developed the idea of imitating these symbols of this of complete power and creation like the sun whether it's raw or whether it's apollo or any other deity or sense of solar greatness you are supposed to supplicate or sacrifice to or acknowledge your weakness too but we could look at sacrifice look at sacrifice that's a great that's a great inward point so i ask my students especially the children of first generation immigrants what did your parents sacrifice to put you here and they can answer that instantly and sacrifice like we look at sac ancient sacrifice and we think about about it as something primordial or even detestable especially in its more extreme forms and no wonder but we had to act out sacrifice before we could psychologize it and understand it and what we learned and this is absolutely crucial this issue of sacrifice what we learned was that if we gave up something that we valued in the present and so that could be a false idol that's one way of thinking about it if we gave up something in the present that we valued the future would improve we learned that we could bargain with reality itself by sacrificing counterproductive values to move ahead and so we acted that out long before we could make it into a psychological uh uh truism and so it's there is that supplication element but but it's also the case that you should be prostate in some prostrate in some sense in front of what's ultimately ideal because otherwise you don't have the proper humility um yes i i mean i i see what you're saying again it makes rational sense but then the empiricist in me says well okay i'm the mother of some of those children in mexico who are being slaughtered uh to the gods in order to make the harvest better and lo and behold it doesn't work because there is no causal relation between sacrificing children on a pyramid in in texas and the harvest improving in fact there may well be an earthquake the next day and more people die that very often did happen in whole civilizations mayan and mexican and others disappeared and the more they were threatened the more they sacrificed and the less use it was so there was no it may have had a psychological purpose that i don't know i mean it seems to me the psychology of sacrificing your children or even your very rare cattle uh upon which you may depend for a year to eat uh to gods uh who will apparently placate you by making a better harvest or not send a tidal wave this year that will destroy the port and all the other things that our ancestors found in the contingent world in which they an unstable world in which they lived so i i can understand why a 19th century figure like frasier or you know in the golden bow or or or like mary mccarthy or young or um joseph campbell can can make wonderful myths out of myths they're telling a story about stories and telling us what they mean well i i i don't refute it i repudiate i i i allow myself to believe no actually yes it's it's all very well and you can you can build a very nice theory about what these myths mean and who these hero are what these quests are and how they're only seven stories and yes but again the the stand-up comedian type empirici system he says okay so i'm a small roman person uh under those circumstances and what is this really meaning to me i'm sorry no i've i've got as wordsworth put it it's getting and spending and doing and having children and looking and hoping life gets better and enjoying life with my friends but to erect it into a spiritual language and a theater of of of uh of human meaning uh is delightful and it but i think we have to recognize that it's a game to some extent it may be it may indeed be true i mean i you know i'm not saying this to to to demolish your argument but i'm saying it's yes but you know in terms of the butts are important yeah and the skepticism is necessary because you don't want to leave anything standing except that which can't survive the onslaught yes and there's no doubt that there's no doubt that the sacrificial idea can go dreadfully wrong and i i but i would say that that's in the nature of of the attempt because it's obviously the case that sometimes you make sacrifices towards a certain end which is clearly an attempt to bargain with the future as if it's something that can be bargained with yes but sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't and later after that the the cultures of sacrifice around the world there came a new uh system where it was the gods who sacrificed themselves which is like the christian myth or the many of the dying and re re reborn kings in in various myths that that james fraser in particular wrote about and um their christ ransomed himself uh as it was so so so suddenly it's it's as if humans said this sacrifice is getting us nowhere if god really loves us he would sacrifice himself or herself for us and that is one of the one of the meanings of the um the incarnation and then the the the the christian story is it not uh and it's not unique in any way there are there are many other stories of of divine divine figures uh being sacrificed to save the society that they in which they they make themselves flash you sacrifice your short-term impulses for the long-term good i suppose that's one way of thinking about the discovery of the future that speaks very well to your books that speaks very well to your books because you know underlying both your excellent books of you know rules and behavior is that that i don't mean this in a bad way the the simple truth of of deferred pleasure being something that seems to be or deferred advantage being something that seems to have gone out of human culture lately that we you know we're all a bit verruck assault i want it i want it now you know and um as you said about sacrifices you you you suffer or you uh you find you know in in some way you uh you defer um what what what pleasure might positively be yours now in order to have a future advantage yeah right and and then we have an immense discussion that lasts forever about what that optimal future advantage is and that that's part of this religious investigation because you might say and this is something that's manifesting itself in christianity which is well we're trying to produce something better in the future and so then you ask yourself what does better mean that's the first question and what the f what does the future mean those need to be answered and then the net the final question is well what's the most appropriate sacrifice and so you get an extreme version of that in christianity hence its narrative power which is well you sacrifice the most valuable possible thing for what's of ultimate eternal value that's the underlying structure and in some sense it it hits a limit because it's god himself who sacrificed and the purpose of the sacrifice is the is the establishment the redemption of humanity and the establishment of of the kingdom of heaven eternally so that there isn't anything better than that by definition well i i know if i was to raise altuser or a marxist view of this and say that it's about the power over the people which basically denies them any kind of pleasure now on a promise which is unprovable of a future glorification of some kind or another either for their children or for themselves in a heaven uh whose direction they can't point to um and then not just altocerin marxists of course many many secularists and atheists like myself have said you know there there is a there is a story to be told about religion uh basically stopping ordinary citizens from having any say um in in in their life and their world they are told what the truth is they are told where power comes from and where it resides and they are told that their poverty and their subservience and their sacrifice are for the greater good and they they must take that authority on its word and the meaning of the enlightenment was the the throwing off of those shackles of aristotelian ecclesiasticism which constantly laid down these these categories of authority um and people began to question them and say i wonder because i think we might just talk about is i know it interests you and and there are people written quite a few books about it lately is the distinction between a hierarchy and a network um in terms of how you order society that and these religions and these sacrifices all came in hierarchical societies rather it seems in in ones that might be called networked nodal or some other word i know neil ferguson has written about this isn't he in the book that i can't remember its title it's got the word tower in it but it's one of the objections people have to the modern liberally produced world is that morality is relative and that hierarchies are toppled and that power and authority are no longer seen to reside in something some agree you know the curtain is pulled away and the wizard of oz is revealed to be nothing a silly foolish snake oil salesman and the answer lies within ourselves okay so i have to stop you there because i can't answer i won't be able to ask this question there's so many things that you're saying that i want to ask about i they're they're they're there's okay so with regards to the idea of the opiate of the masses okay well the first thing we might note i think reasonably is that marxism is the methamphetamine of the masses and whatever whatever flaws judeo-christianity might have had in terms of its corruption was certainly matched by the instantaneous corruption yes but the fact that a marxist has a critique of religion does not mean that it falls because marxism itself falls okay so that there's a second question there and so the second question would be something like is the corruption of the church that you described intrinsic to the nature of the church and its doctrine or is it the corruption of something that's valuable now let me make two arguments for that one is that the corruption is intrinsic and the whole thing should be just dispensed with and i would say that that's the perspective of the four horsemen fundamentally um yeah and it might and of religious people themselves i mean thomas cranmer who wrote the the prayer book uh during the reformation there's a great phrase in it there was not anything by the wit of man devised that hath not been in time in part or in whole corrupted absolutely and and i think that's also an existential truth i mean you just talked about kronos kronos devours his sons well kronos is the archetypal tyrant and he's also time and both time and the archetypal tyrant devour their own sons so if you're a tyrannical father or a tyrannical statesman instead of encouraging the development of the young people in your charge you'll crush them and destroy them he also castrated his own father with so that's i would say that that's that's uh that's something like demolition of the utility of tradition i mean in in the egyptian in egyptian mythology you see horus who's the son fundamentally both the actual son the heavenly son and the son and osiris and for the egyptians horus and osiris had to rule simultaneously so horus didn't castrate osiris he rescued him from the underworld and joined with them so that the tradition which was represented by osiris which had a chronos-like element because it was tyrannical and destruction destructive had to be allied with horus who was essentially something like i would say something like empirical attention it's some because the symbol is the eye and so it was like alert tradition and that's different than the castration of the father that's the rescuing of the father from the underworld when he becomes corrupt and senile now when you just published mythos we refer to this mythos heroes and troy and so i would say and you tell me if i'm wrong but from the outside it looks to me like you're involved in an uh philosophical archaeological expedition to find things of value in the past and to bring them forward into the future and and that's what i am trying to do at least for me i would say with regards to christianity it's like i know the critiques and i understand the critiques and it's not like i'm not what would you call um sensitive to their finer points it is an open question right how much of the tradition look i know in britain right now there are people who say that flying the flag is an imperialist act and so what are they asking they're saying well is our tradition so irredeemably corrupt that we have to abandon it wholeheartedly i can speak to this very directly because it it's something i find very very interesting again it's a so much of it is historical ignorance um for those who who are obsessed with the flag and the politicians who want to to fly the i would urge them to read rudyard kipling who is supposed to be uh in some people's eyes the poet and bard of british empire of the raj that the spokesman for this very thing there is a scene in one of his masterpieces stalking co the book set in a school where a politician comes to the school to give a speech and he has a flag and he and the the school children are outraged absolutely horrified this takes place in the second year of gladstone's five-year premiership at the absolute height of the british empire the queen is on the throne she's you know her crown and her flag are fluttering all over the world and these boys are at this special school which is actually a kind of feeder for the british empire they're all be sent out to fight in afghan wars and in india and in the bir war later on and and kipling describes how they die but the idea to them that anybody would dare to wave a flag and ask them to value it was so disgusting they could barely speak it's a very extraordinary passage where he describes their horror at this politician using the flag and claiming to own it he makes the point that one's relationship to one's country is intensely private and it may be that one has great love for it but it's a love that is complex and confounded with all kinds of disappointment and hatred and and fear and shame as well as love and it is one's own thing but to fly it and to wave it and to say that it means this is is a lie and an imposition on the personal experience of those boys in that story and i would urge everyone to read that because it comes from a surprising source it's no accident that the best writer you say the same about burning it is it the same kind because you you just offered a balanced account because you said well if you're sensible let's say and and that that your feelings for your country so let's say your feelings for your tradition or your regard for your tradition is a complex mix of of emotions from uh abhorrence and shame and contempt to love that entire distribution okay that seems to me to be appropriate and i my sense is that that's expressed mythologically by two figures of tradition one the wise king and the other the evil tyrant and all cultures are a meld of both although to to a greater or lesser degree because you get pure forms of tyranny and pure forms of a benevolent rule okay hopefully i think that's a reasonable proposition okay so it's complex but you're willing to accept that complexity but what i and and what i see and maybe this will tie us back into the political discussion that we sort of started this off with is that um in radical movements radical critical movements and i think i place the the atheist horsemen in that category there's no the love is not there the respect is not there the the pointing out of the flaws is there and the contempt is there but the attempt that's not good enough look if you read a piece of literature you want to dismiss that which is no longer relevant and extract out that which is crucial that's critical reading yeah it's but the purpose isn't to dismiss no fundamentally the purpose is to mine no and i would say another um another very central piece of literature for me higher literature than than kipling most people would say is is one of flaubert's um short stories uh uh uh and cursed sampler simple heart which is about a this poor peasant woman felicity i think her name is uh and that there's a scene in which she kneels in front of a stained glass window and and this is where the parrot comes from that julian barnes wrote about so brilliantly in flaubert's parrot but she's incredibly simple and incredibly ignorant and uneducated but also incredibly devout and she kneels there with her her knees are in desperate pain because she spends her whole life on them scrubbing floors um and she sees this extraordinary stained glass and flow bear is able to describe the incredible corruption and venality that went into the spending of the money on this spain stained glass and the lives of the corrupt priests who did it but also showed the light coming from her rather than from behind the glass it's a very holy moment and it's anybody who dismisses religion would be well to remember that devotion and piety can be wonderful things as well as terribly brutal things and okay so i want to understand the difference right okay i'm going to read something and forgive me no i want to go here you're face to face with god bone cancer in children what's that about how dare you how dare you create a world where there is such misery that's not our fault it's utterly utterly evil why should i respect a capricious mean-minded stupid god who creates a world so full of injustice and pain and then one more because the god who created this universe if it was created by god is quite clearly a maniac other maniac ivan in the brothers karamazov yeah right right now it's in okay so what happens in the brothers karamazov is that ivan wins the argument yeah but elotia is the better person completely so and we love it yeah it's a book very interesting i would urge everyone to read the brothers karamazov because i do think it's a work of genius there's a lot about dostoevsky i really dislike because of his influences again people who don't understand dostoyevsky think he's a champion of right-wing religiosity without understanding that he went through an extraordinary life experience to come to where he did come and that his novels show his full understanding of all kinds of different points of view but in terms of the dialectic of of of that issue about how how there can be a god i i mean i was answering a question that i was asking i know and i'm not trying i'm not clearly not trying to put you on this side my point is i don't believe there is such a being but if there were and he were the kind of being that has been worshipped and described by various religions around the world of monotheistic religions then i would have many bones to pick with him um but of course i don't believe there is such a thing but the the argument from evil as it's known is a is a very old one and it goes back through through the through you know medieval religious figures as well as uh later humanists that this idea that uh it is it is very hard to square this loving god who has uh knowledge of every hair on our head and adores us and um and adores little kittens but he also as i say bone cancer in in in children but also life cycles of insects that whose whole aim is to burrow into the eyes of children in africa and and lay their eggs there and cause blindness for those children i mean you could quite easily picture a universe in which there weren't such an animal and in which children were not sent blind with pain and horror by the various bugs and fungus fungi and insects and viruses in the world there's a worm in africa that burrows under the skin and it's long worm and if you you can pull it out with a pencil and wrap it but it breaks it's fragile and then it gets infected it's a terrible thing and a doctor recently made it his life's work to eradicate that and did it successfully yeah and so then i would so i read what you wrote and i mean i i take it very seriously and and i it wasn't i wasn't throwing it in your face i brought it up actually because of what you said about flaubert's attitude you know because what that lacks what your statement lacks is exactly what flo bear highlighted in that woman on her knees and and i'm not saying this is a simple solution right it's and and i would say so let's take the argument you made there and there's a there's a direction that goes in that's nihilistic and resentful and vengeful and angry and all understandable but to me counter it doesn't look to me like there's anything good in it it looks like it's entirely counterproductive it it it makes the problem it purports to uh have been generated by worse so then the question is what's the appropriate attitude given that the argument you make is actually an extraordinarily powerful argument and i don't know the answer to that but i but i do know i think that resentment and anger and even the motive that would make you want to say that to god himself i think that's probably not helpful even though it's so well it i came to that with great difficulty i mean i've had my reasons to be resentful and angry especially recently and because i'm suffering a lot of pain and it makes me resentful and angry and wanting to shake my fist but i found upon intense consideration that there was nothing in that that didn't make it worse and that therefore that must be wrong even though it's justifiable right i completely understand and you must remember that my response was to a question i didn't see coming and it was amused it was because i don't believe in this god it's not an issue i'm not really resentful and angry about the fact that there's evil in the world i'm sorrowful very often and i'm united in my admiration for the fact and the real belief i have that most people fundamentally given this dysfunction or this deep trauma most people are so good are so anxious to be good are deontically good have a sense of obligation and and and drive in them to be better than they are i think that's that's one of the key things that i love about humanity is not just that we are dissatisfied with things that are wrong and can be improved but with ourselves we are dissatisfied and that most of us want to be better i i know that's true of me all the time every time i go off to sleep i think how did i screw up tonight today how can i be better tomorrow why am i so bad at this if only i could manage that in in moral terms genuine moral terms yes i think that's an extraordinarily common experience very much under noticed and part of the reason as far as i can tell that the talks that i've been giving let's say have had the effect that they've had is because i do point out that that's an extraordinarily common experience yeah that that that self torture by conscience and it does indicate um this striving towards a higher mode of being the other question i have when i look at the the response that that i just read is that the amount of the world's evil that's a consequence of our voluntary moral insufficiencies is indeterminate you know so you might say hypothetically speaking that as part of god's creation we actually have important work to do and if we shirk it the consequences are real and you might say well that's just an apology for god and perhaps that's the case and perhaps there's no god at all and so what the hell are we talking about but but i do think it's an important issue i mean your life is characterized by a stellar level of constant productive creativity that's that that's you and you're offering that to the world and that seems necessary and maybe it's because the problems are real and important and and the role we have to play ethically is of paramount importance truly yeah why else would we torture ourselves with conscience and and i would say that's the flowering of the religious instinct within you well you could describe it as that but then you know there are phrases i mean you used a phrase earlier then i i wanted to say whoa hang on i'm not sure i know what that means a higher mode of existence um i i don't see i remember having this argument with john cleese of all people some years ago he he was a great lover of the tibetan book of the dead and gilbran and people like that and and i've always found them slightly hard to take and he talked about a he i think the phrase he used was a higher level of consciousness and i said i don't and again this is my empiricist thing it sounds cynical and skeptical it's not meant to be but what level who's a what a describer level what is a higher mode why higher what's higher than another are you saying it in terms of animals um it's a view it's an old-fashioned huxley in view of evolution that most modern uh richard dawkins for example most modern evolutionary scientists and and so on the ethologists would would deprecate to say that there is a higher level of being a higher mode of consciousness is it just like saying well you're better educated you've read more you know more is it you've somehow been enlightened a fair clown's effect as the germans would say which is um which is not necessarily intellectual but is somehow spiritual and ah if so show me an example of it show me someone who has a higher mode of existence than i do uh or the i can i can answer that i think to some degree three ways three ways one that higher mode of existence is what your conscience tortures you for not attaining right okay okay i don't think my conscience tortures me for not attaining is that i was rude to someone yesterday and i shouldn't have been right but it's the shouldn't part of it yes the obligation it's the t exactly david hume is the problem of ought yeah well and then you think that you think you think about how it manifests itself you don't this is why nietzsche was wrong you cannot create your own values right the values impose themselves on you independent of your will now maybe there you partic well that's what your conscience does and good luck trying to control it this is very anti-nature isn't it it's well i'm a great admirer i know you are that's why i was that's why i made the point well opposite to his philosophy but it's well so jung embarked on a lengthy critique of nietzsche and it's part of his work that isn't well known i would say but and we'll leave that be except to say that the psychoanalysts starting with freud well not really but popularized by freud and systematized showed that we weren't masters in our own psychological house nice there were there were autonomous entities yes and those would be the greek gods to some degree that operated within us and we were which is julian james's point exactly yes we're in yes yes i have my problems with jane's but as a overarching idea there's interest in it okay so there are things happening with us and to us in the moral domain that we cannot control yeah and that's uh that stunned me when i first learned it as a proposition it's oh yes look at that here's one what are you interested in yeah well that grips you okay number two what does your conscience bother you about okay that's you're inadequate by your own standards now what adequate would mean that's a different question but it's defined negatively by conscience yes and then better there's one that i said i would lay out three you can look at jean piaget's work on developmental psychology the development of the subject yes he was a genetic epistemologist he wanted to do this is what he wanted to do he wanted to unite science and religion that was his goal and he wanted to look at the empirical development of values and what he concluded at least in part was that a moral stance that's better than a previous moral stance does all the things that the previous moral stance does plus something else yes yes and you can say the same thing no as a scientific theory i remember i i had a great i i loved piaget and i uh his observation was so empirical of course yes absolutely the development of the child and the uh not quite the theory of mind that wasn't his thing but but but similar developments and signposts where people become aware of self okay so so now piaget looked specifically at the development of morality and he was one of the first people to emphasize the importance of games yeah and what he showed what he showed was that at two years old let's say a child can only play a game with him or herself but at three both children can identify an aim and then share it in a fictional world and so that's partly pretend play and the beginnings of drama and then cooperate and compete within that domain yeah and then what happens and the game theorists have shown this is that games out of games morality emerges yeah there's a result so i'll give you an example this is a crucial example so if you pair juvenile rats together the males they have to play they have to rough and tumble play because their prefrontal cortexes don't develop properly if they don't anyways they have to play you pair a big rat and a little rat teenage rats together and the big rat will stomp the little rat yeah first first encounter so then you say power determines hierarchy yeah okay but then you pair the routes multiple times like 50 then if the big rat doesn't let the little rat win 30 of the time the little rat will stop inviting him to play and so you get an emergent reciprocity even at the level of the rat yeah and it's it's fascinating isn't it and it's it's not dissimilar to the theory of mind uh games that were devised by simon baron cohen and others um uh in the question of showing how neurodivergence um develops in the autistic spectrum for example but what one of the things so interests me at the moment because of the pandemic which is slightly close to this that you might be able to help me with is i've been very interested in as i have been over the years at how completely out of favor bf skinner and and the behavioralists have become uh since i guess since man you probably don't admire that much since noam chomsky rather demolished bf skinner famously um and on the language front on the language front but also the whole nature of behavioralism and looking at rats and and their behavior has but when it came to this pandemic one of the things that was hidden from the public was that every country had its scientific committees which were mainly composed of course of virologists and epidemiologists and immunologists but always behaviorologists too because the secret to getting out of the pandemic wasn't just following science and tracking a microbe an invisible virus in the air it was how people would take it and sherlock holmes in the second sherlock holmes book which is called the sign of four says to watson i remember this it's very interesting he says you know watson the statistician has shown that we can predict to an extraordinary order of accuracy the behavior of the average man who uses the word man where was now we would have to say human or man or woman be not i mean the average man we can absolutely predict how they will behave but no one has yet and probably never will be able to to predict how an individual will behave so we we can be talked about as a mass and advertisers and politicians and psyphologists and all kinds of other people are very good at knowing how we behave as a group but as individuals we are unknowable without face-to-face conversations in the history and so on um so that was one and the other one which i think is connected was i believe it was a bf skinner experiment and it's one i absolutely love because it makes me wonder whether all these kind of conversations are maybe ultimately a waste of time but he said if you take a load of mice and put them on a perspex tray and float them on the water because they are unaware of the risk they're in they move around randomly and their random movement makes the tray even they're just randomly moving around if you scale it up and put humans on it they sink within seconds because they think oh we're tipping we must run to this end and of course they all run to that end and so it tips over in other words consciousness of the problem attempting to deal with it being aware of it is the the biggest problem of all and that's something new to us because in the old days we lived in small groups who just didn't know how awful humanity was what sins we were committing how dreadful we were making the world it was only through the telecommunication and through the the you know the recent uh development of the global village or whatever you want to call it your countryman mcluhan um that we have actually become aware and are now likely to be running around in that tank and causing it to fall over whereas really we should just be unconscious and get on with living and and and randomly run about in our tank and then we'll never sing does that make sense i want to answer the behaviors questions um it's transformed into behavioral neuroscience and and and affective neuroscience and being taken over primarily by the biologists yeah and part of the reason it's vanished is because it's become more and more difficult to do animal experimental work for all sorts of reasons and because it requires a tremendous amount of technical expertise right so um so that theory of conditioning has also vanished with it i know it's transmuted and become more sophisticated and been incorporated into all sorts of theories the most outstanding behaviorist was jeffrey gray and he wrote a book called the neuropsychology of anxiety which is an absolute work of genius and it's very heavily influenced by the schenerian tradition right um so um i i want to tie something back again and i've been poking you about this and i don't want to stop yet back to um the distinction between you and and um dawkins you're because i see you as a border figure you you've got one foot in the the rationalist human rationalist humanist atheist um empiricist world firmly planted but then there's the artist in you which is a major part of your personality and and and and obviously a part that's incredibly productive and very well received and that has an intellectual end and as well the that domain that second domain that you occupy isn't formalized the investigation of that isn't formalized as well by the atheist community oh you're right they lose what's there and they don't value it properly and they and that's a that's a problem like with dawkins for example i i get letters from lots of people lots and lots of people and lots of them are nihilistic and because they're nihilistic they're suicidal i had a friend i went for a walk with him the other week and he was a communist atheist when he was a kid he grew up in poland and he had criticized his family for celebrating christmas because it was irrational and then he realized at one point he said i could kill christmas and we'd just have another week weekend that wouldn't actually right right because right there's a magic there that that rationalism can destroy yeah and and and exactly that problem politically with the royal family which on the face of it is of course preposterous more preposterous even than christmas and religion is the idea that we still have a royal family but my belief in ceremony and ritual and symbolism is i look at america and i think if only donald trump and and now uh biden if every week they had to walk up the hill and go into a mansion in washington and there was uncle sam in a top hat and striped trousers a living embodiment of their nation more important than they were that's the key he uncle sam is america the president is a fly-by-night politician voted for by less than half the population and he has to bow in front of this personification of his country every week and that personification uncle sam can't tell him what to do uncle sam can't say no pass this act and don't pass that act and uh free these people give them a pardon all he can do is say tell me young fella what you done this week and he'll bow and say well uncle sam say oh you think that's the right thing for my country well that's what a constitutional monarchy is and um of course it's absurd but the fact that churchill and thatcher and everyone had to bow every week in front of this something there's something and also empirically look at the happiest countries in the world that's all you need do and they happen to be constitutional monarchies norway sweden benelux japan they're always right up there on the list now it may be that we can't find the causal link between the constitutional monarchy but it might just be something to do with that and and and that's it's it's a way of answering your question in the same with religion is is that um i i i can see the absurdities of the claims of many religions and i can see the history of the wickedness and depression and suppression particularly in my own instance uh you know being gay growing up gay and i there's a long history of religion in particular being intolerant and to this day even this pope francis whom i had some hopes for it seems to be beginning to add to an ancient slander and and nonsensical attitude towards sexuality which is extremely annoying and upsetting but um you know i i kind of that doesn't mean i throw the whole baby out with the bath water i can see in the same way that i don't believe in in in greek mythology in actual fact i don't believe that on olympus zeus lived there with his wife hira but i do believe hermes and hira and zeus live within us there is a hermes inside me there is a there is a trickster a liar a joker a cute funny side as well as a harmonic apollonian and a bestial dionysian side which is appetitive and addictive and and and frenzied and and and i see the value and the truth in in that in those religious manifestations those principles those elements of of my character and the character of the human family in in in mesopotamia the the the god who became supreme was marduk he had 50 different names and one of them was um he who makes ingenious things as a consequence of the combat with tiamat chaos essentially which is a brilliant brilliant name but so marduk was the aggregation of 50 gods so imagine that each of those gods was the representative of a tribe at one point yes and that would be the value system of the tribe personified something like that and indeed the greek gods derived from those mesopotamian gods they came here exactly fundamental uh what development in the history of religious thinking and dramatic thinking well let's say each god is a manifestation of a value structure yeah and we say well value structures have some commonalities across them just like games have some commonalities across them are or languages have some commonalities across them so then you start to aggregate gods yeah and you produce a metagod and the metagod is marduk and he's all eyes because he pays attention like an empiricist let's say and speech yeah and so the mesopotamians had already figured out that attention and speech were the key elements of proper sovereignty yes right brilliant and the egyptians right they worshipped the eye same idea and it was the eye in part that the egyptians associated with the immortal soul and they associated that with the proper local of sovereignty yeah because they started to abstract out the idea of sovereignty from the sovereign and so the sovereignty could be something that was now not embodied in any specific person sort of like the uncle sam figure that you described yes wouldn't be the i often thought with presidents they'd have a much easier job if the symbolic weight was lifted from their shoulders a fourth branch of government right symbolic ex which is what a constitutional monarchy exactly is by accident of history certainly not by design but it just somehow the the the bits of the sovereign that were inimical to to human development the the tyranny the autocracy the whimsical caprice all these were sort of chipped away because of the human failings of different sovereigns until by 1688 what we call in british history the glorious revolution when when the bill of rights was written and so on which was the same as the american bill of rights 100 years later essentially but and it became a constitutional monarchy and that was slowly refined as well and and of course i know many people find it absurd and outrageous and they live in palaces and they've got all this money and it's unjust and of course all that is true and i wouldn't defend it on any rational uh uh grounds but but i would on empirical grounds okay okay and maybe that's a good difference between rationalism and empiricism so this uh you were talking about the gods within okay and you said well you you believe that the gods are within and yes i know that i know i understand the claim that you're making and and the limits of that claim but i want to explore that okay so as humanity advances we'll say advancement is the aggregation of larger societies our more sophisticated view of the world more technological power that sort of thing more ability to predict and control and indeed a longer lifetime yes yes and the things that come along with that and more peace by the looks of things and more food and and the stephen pinker things right right this exactly that so the gods aggregate and unify that happens across as cultures collide and integrate the gods integrate and unify it's the battle between the gods in heaven that's the parallel development to the battle between tribes for dominance on earth but it's an integrative process as well as a submission process yeah okay so those those are within yes now you have an integrated god within yes that's what torches you with your conscience yes that's your jiminy cricket it's your uh what philosophy is called your deontic or deontological uh voice then then you ask yourself and this is a dead serious question so imagine that people are exploring the moral domain whose reality is blatantly obvious but but difficult to formalize let's say we're exploring the nature of the moral realm tentatively and we develop more powerful and more integrated theories as we progress and you end you end up with a unified god so it's a monotheism there's a god within then the question is well what exactly is that god within does it correspond to something that's real or is it just a figure of the imagination but then you say well if it's just a figure of the imagination what exactly is the imagination you see christian i think partly christianity insists that this integrated god figure also had a real existence that's that's how christianity tries to to solve this particular problem yes and and people like c.s lewis and jung to some degree as well would say well once in history someone acted out that unified god so completely that something happened that's the proposition okay well that's the limit of the proposition and then the question is well how real is this moral striving it's real enough so you torture yourself when you don't engage in it properly it's real enough so you can't avoid its call it's real enough so that you can make moral errors that are so severe that you can doubt the validity of your own existence it's real enough for that and and this is an honest question it's like i i don't know but it's amazing i certainly see how much good is done when people are good and how much evil is done when they're evil yes but it's very hard i think empirically to be really boring and use the word again it's quite you know to build up a list and show that there is more morality on the side of those who followed a particular faith a particular systematic religion than than those who didn't uh um i mean you know that it's okay well that's really the question you could certainly have morality without religion that that is okay okay let's let's take that for a second move back to the political yeah okay because that's the key issue yes so let's say we're going to defend the values of the west to the degree that they're worth defending then we are making a claim that the inheritors of a particular tradition have something valued valid morally on their side or we cannot defend that position and and we can't defend the position i mean look i know this is bothering you what's happening in the broader public landscape you got tangled up for example with jk rowling right with what's happening around her yeah and she's a friend and we'll remember your friend but i'm also sorry that people are upset you know the two things are not incompatible i don't have to break links with jk rowling to say that i i have huge sympathy and and i endorse the efforts of trans people everywhere to to live the lives that they they feel they want to leave a lead and and i hate how they they are often you know treated and and i recognize the courage it takes to to to yes and you've put your money where your mouth is on that front over the course of your whole life i've tried to yes yes so it's not just a claim you can look at your biography and see that but but but you're disturbed nonetheless at what's let's say there's something that's happening in our culture that's not sitting right with you okay how do you defend the damn culture against it without making the claim that we do have something of let's say higher value that is the consequence of following a particular tradition uh yes because without that you lost you lose the argument instantly i i mean i think a lot of it is to do with the the the necessity that we we all have of redefining it we have to remember that morality is is a question of manners it is literally what morality means that our parents and grandparents had a very very different and very firm sense of what was immoral if the word immoral was used in a newspaper or by a person then that person's immoral it would have a sexual meaning it would mean that they lived with someone with whom they weren't married or they lived with someone of the same sex or that in some way they they were philanderers or loose in their morals meant entirely to do with the bedroom these were the unforgivable behaviors of a generation that close to us we can still hug them if we're allowed to in the garden in covid times that that's how quickly morality changes so the idea of the culture is a false one there is no the culture um that there you know it's not like a human version of a biosphere even i don't think that there is the state of things as now exist but like when when you were talking about religion and saying this you know this god that what religion has been brilliant at and it's needed to be but so has science is redefining what god is what god was in 1400 it was cape god was capable of being remarkable things he was answerable for everything and we worshipped him for it a couple of hundred years later a few things had been taken away from him and we could answer for travelling the world and knowing it and discovering how the stars actually were not holes in a black cloth but maybe were celestial objects uh with the you know and then a few hundred years later and similarly science we use the word cosmos well cosmos used to mean a very small sphere of the the you know as a section of the of the of the solar system and now it's some infinite thing and there may indeed be dozens of them millions of them who knows according to string theory and quantum theory and all kinds of schrodinger's number and all the rest of it that everything is redefined in each generation so what is left that is absolute and this is where religion has an argument with intellectual progress because it wants to hang on to something that it believes is eternal and and and permanent and utterly always true but there is no such thing the morality you know i mean i did a debate with christopher hitchens actually about the catholic church and and the people defending it when we attacked the their attitude towards child sex scandal said well but in the 1960s it wasn't such a big sin and what that is actually true but it's not true coming from a catholic whose whole point is that they are eternally true that their morality is as true now as it was when saint peter founded the church that their enemy is people like me who are relativists who say that there is no absolute morality but that things change according to situation circumstance and knowledge and so that is true of god god alters every day he adds a little bit of a quality here or she does and takes away another bit now no longer responsible for disease and no longer responsible for earthquakes but may be responsible for something else but it's a shrinking kingdom and so the idea of there being an absolute and an eternal it just doesn't seem to square with the way we have developed over the certainly over history which is to say over the last five thousand years since we've been able to write things down before that we can only judge how and who we were according to objects and artifacts and architecture but since we've been able to write it's pretty clear that the the instability of and and i'm not saying this in a deridar way of instability of meaning although i do think you've misunderstood terry darden i hope you've read peter salmon's biography by the way it might change your mind about him but that's a whole other subject um but um yeah so i'm sorry let's go back okay so let's go let's let's go after the eternal verities yeah uh idea yeah clearly religious conceptions shift although there is there's a core tradition that remains intact uh well the tradition by definition stays intact there's something that identifies it as the same entity across time yes right maybe that's even mutable but i've looked for what might be regarded as eternal verities in the moral domain so let me put a few forward um the beautiful is more valuable than the ugly yeah truth truth is to be sought after in opposition to falsehood yeah um that's particularly true in relationship to the spoken word uh the spoken word brings about remarkable transformations of reality itself and it's for that reason that verbal truth is constitutive but also of vital ethic ethical significance doesn't that make it all the more important to look at the discourse beneath verbal speech to uh to i hesitate to use the word but to deconstruct it to or at least to attempt to look at the currents that run through speech to see and they're not all deridarian or you know the canyon or foucaultian or whatever the adjective of foucault is they're not all about power they're not all necessarily marxist the the project you know the so syrian project and the others of looking at where language comes from not just in a philological sense of derivation but in the sense of where the discourses come from is is paramount therefore and so to say verbal you know it's not just an utterance is in and of itself transformative or if it is transformative it might be wickedly so or it might be negatively so at least is that not right well with regards to your point about the analysis of the of the narratives and even the deconstruction i would say it depends on the motive and it's the motive and this is i suppose to some degree why i'm skeptical let's say of the atheist skepticism it it's it's destructive there's a destructive element to it there's not a there's there's no archaeological redemption but that's nothing you said it was all about about that's not necessarily the case that it has nothing to do with motive motive motive's a tough one yeah it is i mean my motive is to make money and i make a great discovery it's as valuable as if my motive was to make a great discovery and i made a great discovery the great discovery is made how is the motive relevant well because your motives determine the decisions you make along the way yeah so if i'm fundamentally motivated by the belief that being is worth preserving let's say because on the whole it's a good i'm going to react and think much differently than if i'm ambivalent about that or if i feel at the bottom of my soul that the whole bloody project is of questionable utility and might as well be shelved and that that that dichotomy that characterizes us you know we have cain and abel inhabiting us there's no doubt about that that's that's a fundamental truth and if cain has the upper hand even if it's in the scientific endeavor the consequences of that manifest themselves and they manifest themselves destructively that's why that's why it's interesting you have to say cain and abel because i think this brings us back to the very beginning is is the importance of myth and and also of parable and and i'd like to end because we're getting towards a bit where i have to move away um but um it oscar wilde is known as an you know a master of epigrams and wit and people mistakenly think of him as shallow or trivial or facetious or vain or peacocky or something but he was very profound in fact and of course he could be peacocky too but um there's a story that isn't necessarily at odds with no they said they don't rule each other out but here's an example of a great parable um which is which is why again it's why i love literature and and and the art of of wit because it it zooms to the truth so much more quickly it seems to me than so many other attempts to describe or rationalize truth and here's one where uh while was at a at a dinner and uh someone was being rather kind of uh envious of someone and being rather unpleasant and while suddenly said the devil was walking one day in the libyan desert and he saw a monk being tormented by some of his demons and he approached and the demons bowed in front of him and said master and he said what goes on here they said master for 39 days and 39 nights we have tried to tempt this holy monk away from his god and his religion but he has stayed steadfast and holy to his god and his religion we have offered him powers and principalities we've had offered him the joys of the flesh we have offered him wine and food and riches but he has turned us down there's nothing that we can do to win this holy man to our cause and the devil said out of my way and he whispered in the monk's ear and instantly the monk took the pectoral cross around his neck and snapped it and filled the air with hideous curses against his god and his church and his religion and swore he would never follow christ again and the demons fell down and in front of the the devil and said master what can you have said in one second that we could not what did you say to him and the devil said oh it was very simple i just told him his brother had been made bishop of alexandria now that seems to me a it's very funny but b it is profoundly truthful and it is this this is the way we show people how envy and resentment are so much a part of who we are that that if you know i mean it seems like a trivial example but it just it's a model to me that if you want to say something and you want to change minds and you want to how to burn people with the the flame of love and hope and connection that we all secretly believe in them that you know that makes us gasp when we read poetry or makes us feel what love is and joy and all the things that we're mostly too embarrassed to talk about because they're a bit soppy but truly they matter more than anything else we displace them on kittens and so on but we really really we care about these things and and the way i think to to bond people to it is not to talk abstractly about ideas necessarily unless you're talking to someone who has the same reading as you and that sounds a snobbish point but unless you're talking to someone who's also read the same books or at least has the same ideas as you e or is open to them it just becomes a bit lecturey whereas if you can tell a story instead or a parable that's especially if it's funny or it's sexy or it's a you know got some quality that just tickles you know that strokes us then then you bring people to to a to a connection to to and unfortunately most of the most of the world who use the art of rhetoric and persuasion and and uh do it for nefarious purposes and maybe that's the key is to try and uh to try and build up as as you are doing and i hope i'm doing it my own way the value of story and um looking deeply into the nature of characters within stories that even though it's just a story it might actually be a portal to something really profound that will touch you and change your life that's just exactly the right place to stop good i'm sorry it has to stop but it's been one of them three quarters i knew that we would i was primarily worried about this conversation because there were so many things that i wanted to talk to you about i didn't know what i would talk to you about well i have to have we may have to have a second one in a few months yes well after we digest this one yeah [Music] you
Channel: Jordan B Peterson
Views: 2,152,284
Rating: 4.8916945 out of 5
Keywords: Jordan Peterson, Jordan B Peterson, psychology, psychoanalysis, Jung, existentialism
Id: fFFSKedy9f4
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Length: 98min 33sec (5913 seconds)
Published: Mon May 17 2021
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