Jordan Peterson | Full Address and Q&A | Oxford Union

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First half felt rushed and low impact, second half was a whole lot of what I really like about JBP.

👍︎︎ 1 👤︎︎ u/Galvaxatron 📅︎︎ Jun 25 2018 🗫︎ replies
[Music] [Music] oh well that's one of the more positive welcomes i've had all right yeah thank you for coming uh if you'd like to give a few opening remarks then we'll move on to some questions okay so i have about half an hour for this i guess um about 15 to 20 minutes for the opening okay that's fine that's fine no problem so i think i'm going to talk to you today a little bit about hierarchy it's a a small talk that i've been developing as i've been doing my public lectures over the last couple of weeks it's an elaboration of some of the ideas i put forth in some of my scientific writings and in maps of meaning but more particularly in 12 rules for life in rule one which is stand up straight with your shoulders back and it's in part of meditation on hierarchy and i want to talk about the political significance of that and let you know how i've been trying to sort that out in my own imagination so i'm going to put and i think it sheds light on on the political on the nature of political debate itself and maybe deeper light on why temperamental factors might contribute to political political framing and perception because we know that people tend to vote their temperament although there are other reasons that influence their political allegiance and their voting behavior so let's start with a couple of simple observations and the first is that um complex biological creatures and even simple biological creatures for that matter have to move forward in the world and so that's the case for any creature that's mobile and that goes all the way down to one celled organisms and the idea that approach and avoidance are the fundamental motivations is a very old biological idea and seems to apply across levels of analysis in the in the animal kingdom and and it's true for us as well and we have to move forward towards things because we have um requirements there are things that we require to keep us alive and to keep us wanting to be alive as well and those are different things and we move forward towards things that we value so there's two propositions there the first is that we have to move forward because there are things to move forward too because there are things we need and want and the second is that to move forward towards something is simultaneously to value it and so one of the implications of that is that we always live in a framework of value there's no escaping that and that we'll move forward i detailed this out quite substantially in my book maps of meaning but we're always at a place and and and we're always moving towards a place that in principle has some advantage over the place we're at otherwise why move towards it and so what that means is that there's no life without value at least there's no human life without value out of necessity and also not only out of necessity at the physiological level but also out of necessity at the psychological level because another thing that you might point out that i think is usefully pointed out is that not only do you have to move from point a to b in life but point a is often a very difficult place to be because we're fragile and bounded and mortal and limited and because we know that and so one of the implications of that as many great religious traditions are at pains to illustrate or demonstrate or proclaim is that life is essentially suffering and i believe that to be a fundamental truth but but perhaps not the most fundamental truth because i think the most fundamental truth is that despite the fact that life is suffering people can transcend that and partly the way they transcend that is by pursuing things of value and so that if there is no value proposition at hand then you have no meaning to justify the difficult conditions of your life and that's brutally difficult for people you know nietzsche said he who has a why can bear any how and you see and i've certainly seen this as a clinical practitioner that people who have no purpose in their life are embittered by the difficulties of their life and they become first bitter and then resentful and then revengeful and then cruel and there's plenty of places to go past cruel that's just where you start if you're really on a downhill path all right so so those are the first propositions the second proposition would be well if you're going to pursue something of value because you're a social creature you're going to pursue that thing of value in a social space and that means you're going to compete and cooperate with people around you in the pursuit of that value and what that inevitably means is that given that the pursuit of anything valuable is going to be a collective enterprise that you're going to produce a hierarchy or maybe more than one hierarchy but at least a hierarchy of competence in relationship to that pursuit so it doesn't matter what you decide to pursue maybe you're going to do that cooperatively you're going to find that you and other people vary in your ability to manage that pursuit effectively and and efficiently and so there's going to be a hierarchy of people from those who are very good at the pursuit maybe it's pole vaulting maybe it's delivering massages maybe it's delivering groceries maybe it's setting up an enterprise it doesn't matter but if it's a valuable pursuit and you pursue it socially you're going to produce a hierarchy and the hierarchy is going to be one of competence and so if you're going to pursue value then you're going to construct a hierarchy and then there's an implication from that which is that if you construct a hierarchy most of the people within that hierarchical structure are a minority of people are going to be fantastically successful at the pursuit and a very large number are going to stack up at the bottom and that's a manifestation of what's what's known as price's law it's mapped by the pareto distribution it's an expression of what's been known among economists as the matthew principle from the new testament to those who have everything more will be given from those who have nothing everything will be taken away and it's an it's an iron law of the distribution of success and hierarchy so if you're going to have value and you're going to have hierarchy then you're going to have inequality and that's a problem now you can't so now now you have a political divide there so the conservative types say well we need the hierarchies and that's self-evident as far as i'm concerned given that set of propositions because if you don't if you're going to pursue something of value which you have to and need to then you're going to produce a hierarchy so if you demolish the hierarchies you demolish value itself and that's not a sustainable attainable move the left wing though says and and to their credit yeah but you have to be very careful with your hierarchies because they tend towards inequality of distribution that's one problem once they're established they always also tend to a form of tyranny because once a hierarchy of competence has been established it can be invaded by people who use power as the means to attain status in the hierarchy and that can corrupt and and destroy even the entire hierarchy so you have to be on guard for that plus if your hierarchy becomes too steep in its distribution so it's too tiny a fraction of people at the top and too great an agglomeration of people at the bottom especially under conditions of genuine privation then the people at the bottom it's not only unjust and unfair and producing excess suffering but the people at the bottom have nothing to lose and might as well just flip the hierarchy on its end and that's not a good way to produce a sustainable society you don't want to put people in a position where they have nothing to lose especially if you have something to lose but also just with regards to principles of like fairness and and justice let's say so it seems to me that that's a decent way of of conceptualizing the political landscape and that gives a that gives you a conceptual framework within which you can put people on the left and right in their proper position the right basically is that portion of the population that's temperamentally that whose temperamental proclivity is to admire and support hierarchies and work effectively within them and that's actually the personality traits that make up a conservative because conservatives by temperament are low in trade openness which is a creativity dimension that's associated with lateral thinking um it's not i would say it's it's very environmentally underdetermined it's it's it's a biological predisposition especially with regards to creativity and high in conscientiousness and the conservative temperamental types make very good managers and administrators that's how they manifest themselves in the world essentially if you set up a hierarchy and it runs on algorithmic it runs algorithmically then the conservatives will do very well in that structure because they can implement an algorithm and they're very good at implementing whereas the liberal types are very good at generating new hierarchies and so and that's and that's because they're high in trade openness they're less conscientious so they're not suited as well to to within hierarchy operation but in a functioning economy and in a functioning democracy i would say you need both types you need the liberal types to establish new territory and to put out new values so that new hierarchies might be organized so that effective movement towards those ends might be instantiated and you need the conservatives to actually implement the processes and so a society of only conservatives becomes static and that's not good because the environment transforms and you have to keep up with it and a society that's only composed of the left-leaning liberal types is very good at generating all sorts of new possibilities but very bad at generating all sorts of new actualities and so we should be first of all cognizant of the fact that hierarchical organization is inescapable if you're also going to pursue value second that if you produce hierarchical structures that you're going to produce inequality inevitably and there are negative consequences as a as a function of that and that the the and that both sides of that equation let's say need need a voice because both of those functions are are valuable necessary but also at odds with one another and at permanent odds because it is the case that you need hierarchies because otherwise you have nothing to do and it's also the case that if you have hierarchies then the poor will always be with you and that's a that's a that's a chronic functional problem that has to be addressed and that's the proper place i would say of the left so that's only 15 minutes so but i'm i'm actually i'm going to stop there i think and you can you can chew on those propositions and see what you think of those but i'm really interested actually in having a discussion with all of you and would be happy to start the question period a little earlier than might otherwise be necessary all right so thank you thank you very much so now we'll move on to some questions um i'll ask to initial questions and then open up to the audience in order to ensure that as many people as possible have a chance of asking questions so my first question is political correctness is a rather vague term that refers to a wide range of issues uh from preventing explicitly racist hate speech to calling out someone for wearing culturally insensitive clothes do you think that we should universally reject political correctness or is there a line that can be drawn well that was the other thing i was thinking about talking about tonight and and i'm actually having a debate in canada about that very proposition tomorrow um so here's what i've been thinking about that i'm trying to formulate my thoughts for my six minute initial opening remarks tomorrow it's a very tight tight time constraint so think about it this way imagine that you need to describe the world into in order to perceive the world and to act in it both of those not just to act in it but also to perceive it and that you need a description at different levels of resolution you know when you can think about how you use your computer when you're when you're dealing with images you know there are sometimes when what you really need is a thumbnail because it doesn't require much processing power and it's sufficiently representative of the reality so that you can do whatever you need to do with the image with the thumbnail and you never replace the thumbnail with a high resolution image if that if the thumbnail will do i really like that i don't think it's an analogy i actually think it's a description of a very large number of cognitive operations and maybe there's a rule of thumb which is never use a high resolution theory when a low resolution theory will do the converse is also true by the way so then let's say that in order to orient ourselves properly in society we need a general purpose low resolution theory existential theory something like that it's not precisely a description of the objective world it's more like an agreed upon um and it's an agreed upon narrative about how the world is constructed in relationship to human experience and how we should act in the world so how we should look at ourselves how we should look at history how we should look at our social being so that we can coexist peacefully so that we can move forward so that our societies function and then imagine that that comes in broadly two forms and i think it does one is a collectivist form and i would say that that's that collectivist form is built very deeply into human nature it's essentially a tribal outlook it's an outlook that you can trace back hundreds of thousands of years and perhaps more deeply than that we know for example that chimpanzees have a tribal outlook and that chimpanzees will patrol the borders of their tribes looking for chimpanzees who aren't of the tribe and when they find them they will tear them into pieces and so that was that was revealed by jane goodall in the 1970s it was very shocking to everyone when that was when that was first discovered because there was a very influential line of thinking mostly derived from people who were influenced by rousseau that you know human beings were innately good and that only culture made them cruel and and capable of atrocity but the fact that the chimpanzees patrol their borders and tear apart their enemies really did that theory in a very serious way um so at least at least made it more complicated so so the collectivist view is essentially that the best way to conceptualize what a human being is is to look at what tribe they belong to and the tribe might be well this is one of the problems with the collectivist view is which of your tribal allegiances is to be paramount and that's actually a fatal problem by the way because there's an infinite number of ways you could be categorized and it isn't obvious which of those tribal allegiances should be canonical and hence the rise of intersectionality which is something that's that's a dragon that will eat its own tail certainly but there's a notion there it's like the most important thing about forget about that for a minute we'll say well the most important about thing about you is your group your gender your sex your race your ethnicity all of the multiple categories that we're supposed to be considering as fundamental realities now and that the best way to construe reality is that it's a battleground between those groups for dominance power and that's the post-modern ethos and it's a pretty decent thumbnail sketch of reality you can sum it up quite quickly you can use it as a guide to action in all sorts of domains um it has its consequences however and one of the consequences is that it's tribal and tribal identities tend towards mayhem now the alternative low resolution view is the view that i think has been articulated most effectively in the west and perhaps of all the places where it's been most effectively articulated in the west the most effective articulation has come from the uk i mean there's something remarkable about what what your country has done with regards to laying out the idea of individual sovereignty in a fully articulated manner in a way that allows a political system to arise predicated on the assumption that the individual is of intrinsic value and if you need a thumbnail view of the world the most effective thumbnail view of the world isn't that you're the member of a tribe even though in many ways you are and the member of many tribes the most effective thumbnail view is that you're to be regarded as a sovereign individual and you're to treat other people that way as well both with regards to their rights but even more importantly and often forgotten with regards to their responsibilities and i think that polities that are based on the first set of presuppositions the tribal degenerate into precisely what you'd expect which is tribal warfare and the second have the possibility of blooming into exactly what they have bloomed into which are the most functional societies the most peaceful societies the most successful societies the societies that are the best at generating wealth along with inequality that the world has ever seen and so i would say we sacrifice the latter to the former at our great peril and i would also say that and this is something that i'm very ashamed of is that the universities broadly speaking are doing absolutely everything they can as fast as they possibly can to ensure that we sacrifice the sovereign individual view for the collective tribal view and i think that is appalling beyond forgiveness and so that's what i think about political correctness so all right um thank you um thank you um as a follow-up question so your conception of truth um as you said um is tailored to what helps us survive and live um doesn't that also mean that your approach to the meaning of truth is very similar to one of a postmodernist which are a group of people you so clearly denounce that's a good question it's wrong but but it's a good question well look you always have to give the devil as due and the there's a central postmodern claim which arises from a very complex conundrum and the conundrum is one that um emerged in domains outside of of the humanities let's say although it domain it it emerged in the domain of literary criticism because what happened in the mid 60s was that a very large number of disciplines simultaneously realized that it was actually technically impossible to perceive the world because there was an infinite number of ways that you could perceive the world and so that bedeviled artificial intelligence i mean people thought for a long time that it would be easy to build machines that could see the world because there was the world and there were the objects and figuring out what the objects were wasn't hard it was maneuvering in the world that was hard but that turned out to be wrong it's really really hard to figure out what the objects are and we actually don't know how we do it now you know 50 years later we have machines that can orient themselves pretty decently in the world but they really had to be built in embodied form and i won't pursue that at the same time um psychologists who are working on perception ran into exactly the same conundrum because they figured out that they couldn't figure out how we could see things and and we're still sorting that out and the literary critics figured out that there was no obvious canonical interpretation for a piece of literature and that raised a specter which was well if there's no obvious canonical interpretation how do you know that one interpretation is better than the other so out of that arose the postmodern notion that um there's no grand narrative there's no justifiable grand narrative um there's an infinite number of ways of interpreting the world and there's no grand narrative and fair enough but well that raises the problem of value like if there's no grant narrative how do you orient yourself in the world and the postmodern answer to that was well let's forget about the complexity of that problem and sneak our closet marxism back into the game and that was into completely intellectually i mean i've been accused of failing to notice that there's a contradiction between post-modernism and marxism it's like it's not like i failed to notice that it's obvious that there's a contradiction but it's equally obvious that the broadly speaking is a thumbnail sketch because they can't solve the problem of how to orient yourself in the world if there's an infinite number of interpretations rely in a completely incomprehensible and paradoxical manner on the dictates of like a defunct 19th century philosophy to provide them with motive force in the world so and that's a non-tenable solution apart from being dangerous beyond belief as the 20th century bears sufficient evidence to so now with regards to my conception of truth and whether it's postmodern it's like no actually it's not so and it's it's a very it's a very complicated thing to sort out um because there is more than one way of conceptualizing truth there's truth as it's manifested in ethics and there's truth as it's manifested in the description let's say of the objective material world and how those two things touch is not something we've we've sorted out well in the in the ethical world what's happened is that a an ethic has evolved over time i would say and that ethic is reflected in the central axioms of civilized human behavior but you can also see deep echoes of it in animal behavior and and it seems to arise out of the fact that the the interactions that take place among paired entities that have to interact repeatedly across time follow a set pattern so one of the things that yak pancett discovered for example was that if you paired rats together to engage in rough and tumble play bouts which you might not think is particularly relevant but actually happens to be dead relevant because that's a special circuitry and it's part of the circuitry upon which human ethics are based um in the if you pair them together first and one rat is bigger than the other then the big rat wins and so you think well play is dominated by power and that's how it works in rats and it's a power issue but if you pair them together repeatedly which is much more naturalistic experiment what you find is that once the large rat dominates the small route the small rat has to ask the large rat to play and if the large rat doesn't let the small rat win 30 of the time in repeated play bouts then the small rat won't play anymore and you think well so what it's like no no no no not so what that's a major discovery that's like nobel prize winning material because what banks have demonstrated there was that there's an uh an ethic of fair play emerges even among rats all you have to do is pair them together and there are there are rules that govern iterated ethical interactions that are emergent properties and those emergent properties are manifested as far as i can tell described in the great mythological stories that we tell in the in the great narratives that underlie our culture and they're not based on arbitrary assumptions they're based on observations of what furthered survival and reproduction to speak in a purely darwinian manner over massive spans of time and so and to point to truth as construed in a darwinian realm and to use the example of say iterated games to buttress that point is by no means similar in any way to participating in the same process that the deconstructionists participate in so i would say well on the on the side of the postmodernist but not only the postmodernists there are an indefinite number of ways of construing the world that that's that's that's been demonstrated technically i don't think there's any debate about that but there's a very constrained number of ways that you can operate successfully in the world a very constrained number of ways and it's not it's not one way precisely because it has its its its scope of variation say across culture and across environments but it's very tightly constrained now what's happened across the course of recorded history let's say is that that ethic this is something nietzsche observed when he was critiquing the history of western philosophy is that ethic manifested itself first at the level of behavior we act it out we don't understand it just like a chimpanzee troop acts out the ethic of their of their hierarchy they can't represent it they can't articulate it the structure emerges the structure and the behaviors that are associated with the structure emerge before that is represented and certainly before it's articulated so first of all the ethic that governs repeated interactions at different scales of social interaction the structure emerges first and then it's mapped and it's first mapped in image and story and then it's articulated and i would say well i talked earlier about the the role that england has played that the uk has played in articulating the political doctrine of the sovereign individual but the idea of the sovereign individual is far or older than those political articulations and it's based in a narrative structure that is in turn based on the observation of behavioral patterns that have emerged reliably across time and so and that's not postmodern in the least it's it's it's a very straightforward claim that there is something that approximates a universal human ethic that's built deep deeply into our biological and social structures and that was constructed in no small part as a consequence of darwinian mechanisms so thank you so now we're going to open up to the audience if you have a question please raise your hand wait for the microphone to reach you and stand up please make sure you only ask one question so for the first question we will go to the hand um about the third row to the right yep wearing glasses uh professor peterson in your twelve rules for life you speak very fondly of the influence of alexander solzhenitsyn during your formative years as a student and he also used several examples from the novels of further dostoyevsky to illustrate certain points about psychology so i was just wondering is there any other way that russian culture history has left a mark on your ideas well they aren't the only russian thinkers who influenced me i i read a lot of tolstoy including the kingdom of god is within you um bogakov who whose master and margarita is i don't even know what to say about that book i've read it three times and i think i could read it another 10 times it's an it's amazing it's an amazing uh it's an amazing tour de force um i certainly don't understand it it's like a complex dream um i've collected russian soviet art era art for a long time i got very interested in constructivist art and supremacist art and that there was a flowering of artistic productivity in the early stages of the soviet revolution which was pretty much clamped down on immediately by stalin in the 1930s and so i have a real affinity for russian thought that i don't i don't understand so so those are some of the additional influences yeah thank you very much thank you um on to the next question we will go to the lady to my right thank you so much for coming to speak to us i'm a really big fan of yours um and i've especially appreciated all that you've written and spoken about regarding meaning as a an antidote for chaos and nihilism um and i'll preface this by saying maps for meaning is on my summer reading list so if you've already answered this question in that book please let me know but i'm wondering um what you would say about what is the what's the source of meaning um if it seems that lots of religions have answered that question with god but if there is no god then it seems that humans would have to kind of artificially impose meaning on the world in which case um all of the meaning that we reap from the world is already given to it by us and there's no net meaning in the world or something like that so i'm wondering what you would say about where meaning comes from that's a really good question i mean so when nietzsche announced the death of god which was something he announced actually in sorrow and trembling i would say rather than triumphantly which is often how that's read because people actually don't read nietzsche they just read one half of a quote from nietzsche um his his his prognostication was that we would have to become creators of our own values and then it wasn't long after that that he died and so what that meant was that any further investigations into that idea by him came to an end now not much later freud came along and freud demonstrated quite clearly even though he doesn't get nearly as much credit for this as he should that there was no evidence whatsoever that people were masters of their own houses and that we were the playthings of the gods in the greek sense that we were driven perceptually and behaviorally emotionally motivationally by forces that weren't exactly under our voluntary control autonomous internal forces and you could think about those as where the gods went when they depopulated the cosmos and that was jung's notion right and jung was a very astute student of nietzsche he gave a seminar on the first half of nietzsche's thus spake zarathustra that's 1600 pages long and so that's an in and it's it's actually quite a dance read as well so it's not 1600 pages written in crayon you know so and jung's sense was that nietzsche's prognostication had to be wrong because human beings cannot create their own values we actually don't have that capacity we might be able to participate in the creation of those values but we have to come to terms with our own nature while we're doing so and i think the biological evidence for that is it's absolutely overwhelming if you don't if you don't believe that then what that means is that either you don't know anything about biology or that you've stuck your head in the sand to the point where you're unable to see now jung was very interested in how that those internal forces manifested themselves but also how they organized themselves across time okay so there's two answers to your question one is that they organize themselves into a hierarchy and there's something at the top and what he believed that what was at the top in the west was symbolized by the figure of christ and he thought of christ as a symbol of the self and the self was an emergent consequence of the internal arranging of motivational states into a hierarchy partly as a consequence of of psychological activity integration maturation but also partly as a consequence of social pressure because how you organize yourself is partly a consequence of who you are and how you organize yourself but it's also partly a consequence of how other people demand that you be organized and so and i think that jean piaget's work fits very nicely into that i think that they were aiming in some sense at the same synthesis all right so with regards to so one one one one place for the derivation of meaning is the consequence of that hierarchical organization of those intrinsic motivational states into something approximating a unity that can operate properly across spans of time so the second answer to that is meaning is actually a manifestation of a very deep instinct and it's an elaboration of something the russian neuropsychologist that's another answer to the question about the russians i was a devotee of the russian neuropsychologists alexander luria and his students sokolov and vinogradova who were arguably the three greatest neuropsychologists of the last half of the 20th century and vinogradova and sokolov discovered the orienting reflex which was probably the biggest discovery in psychophysiology in the last 50 years of the 20th century it's an unbelievably important discovery and this the orienting reflex is the reflex that orients you towards what you don't understand it's the reflex that orients you towards anomaly and what that means is that you have a structure built into you to help you make sense of what you don't understand it's an actual instinct now when the orienting reflex grips you that's when you're surprised by something or startled by something that's the lowest level manifestation of the orienting reflex and it's actually part of the mechanisms that defend you against predators but that orienting reflex is and that's very low level nervous system response very very quick very reflexive requires very little cognitive processing fast enough to have you jump out of the way of a striking snake it's extraordinarily quick and dirty but like many important evolutionary adaptations it's echoed at multiple levels of the nervous system and so the orienting reflex is actually very complex as it unfolds across time and so if something startles you you might spend a year thinking about it depending on how startled you were and that entire year-long process of thinking is actually an extended manifestation of the orienting reflex and that's a deep source of meaning and so so that's like a second answer to the question and a third answer to the question would be something like your hemispheres are specialized in in a particular way it's a low resolution representation by the way so and and and so one of your hemispheres is specialized to operate when you know what's going on and where what you're doing is having the results you intend you can think about that as explored territory that's the left hemisphere in most people the right hemisphere is the hemisphere where the orienting reflex first manifests itself and its job is to orient you where you don't know where things that you don't know are happening so it's also the place where imagination first takes root because imagination is part of the process by which you make sense of what you don't understand that's where the hypotheses are generated the right hemisphere tends to think in metaphor and the left hemisphere is embedded in the metaphorical structure of the right hemisphere and that's quite well documented in the relevant neuropsychological literature from from a multitude of sources even from people who aren't concerned specifically with metaphor the sense of meaning seems to manifest itself when the the the systems that are operating in explored territory and the systems that are operating in unexplored territory are operating optimally together so imagine that what you want to do to to adapt property to properly to life is to stay where you're adapted okay so that's a conservative approach don't go where you don't know how to act the problem with that is that things around you will change without your without your control so you you can't just stay where you are you have to be prepared for the next thing that's coming and so not only do you have to master where you are you have to master what's most likely to happen next and so you have to have one foot in chaos or an order and you have to have one foot in chaos and the way you know that that's happening optimally is that you're imbued with a sense of meaning right so it's actually the most profound part of what actually orients you in the real world it's not a secondary epiphenomena and that in the phenomenologists the the philosophical phenomenologists actually caught on to this in the phenomenological in their phenomenological work for someone like heidegger for example meaning was the most real manifestation and i actually think that's true neurophysiologically that's how your brain operates your brain actually operates as if the most real thing is the meaning of something and the meaning is related and the re the thing about the reason for that is tied back to the darwinian idea is that you're not a describer of the world not fundamentally you're trying to live in the world you're trying to survive in the world and propagate in the world like you have a telos and the meaning is associated with that telos within that darwinian landscape and then you say well is it real it's like it depends on what you mean by real right and then you know people say well that's a postmodern answer it's like no it's not it's not at all it's because there is a conflict between the materialist view that's laid out in the newtonian sense and the evolutionary viewpoint that's laid out in the darwinian sense and the meaning relates to what's real in the darwinian sense not in the newtonian sense but that doesn't mean that it's not real it well it depends it depends on how you sort out your initial axioms but if you're interested in surviving and not being too miserable while you're doing so then i would suggest that you at least give some credence to the darwinian position so that's meaning all right so for the next question we will go to the hand just there yeah don't forget those poor people up there yeah i'll take a couple questions upstairs as well uh thank you very much for your talk dr peterson and i have to say that uh 12 rules was a great break from revision um as i said uh earlier in your talk that conservatives people who are temperamentally conservative always seek to preserve the hierarchy and in a kind of a healthy society and people who are attempting to liberal will always question those hierarchies is it inevitable inevitable sorry inevitable then that we will slowly move in that liberal direction and that eventually those people who are liberally minded will question the very foundations of meaning and we will be in a situation where conservatives don't want to budge because that is a fundamental hierarchy and liberals don't want to stop because it's a logical progression of where they've been going well it's that's an eternal danger like there's dangers on both sides one is the danger of pathological order and the other is the danger of pathological chaos and the problem with the questioning tendency is that it knows no limits and that's actually hard on people like it's very it's actually very difficult orienting yourself in life if you happen to be very high in openness very low in conscientiousness and very high in neuroticism because you question everything and you're not stable and you might be wildly creative like that's a pretty good recipe for wild creativity but that doesn't mean that it's tenable or sustainable because most creative ideas are not only wrong they're they're actually deadly but some of them aren't some of them are absolutely vitally important right and so part of the reason we have political discussion or discussion at all is to separate the wheat from the chaff so the endless proclivity of the questioning tendency of the liberal left is that every axiom is open for infinite questioning well that leaves you bereft but the problem on the right is if you tighten things up too much well then you have no adaptive flexibility left and you're in a sterile tyranny a tyranny of stone and then the environment shifts around you and you're not prepared and then everyone's done so the reason that free speech is so important as far as i'm concerned because well i don't even really think about it as free speech i think it about it as what respect for the manifestation of the logos it's something like that that's the proper way of conceptualizing it is that it keeps the balance between those two tendencies right because you you need the questioning and you need the order and so you think well how much of each and the answer is the recipe changes day to day and so you think well if it changes day to day how are we going to keep up and the answer is by keeping up right here we are we're alive right we we can keep up but we do that by thinking and we think by talking and we we think and talk by disagreeing and and we better disagree conceptually because then we don't have to act out stupid ideas that will kill us right because so so really the abstract the abstract territory of conceptual dispute is the substitute for war and death and it can be a brutal substitute because conceptual disagreement can be very intense but compared to war and death it's hardly intense at all and so you keep the you keep the landscape open for serious dispute including dispute that's offensive obviously because if you're ever going to talk about anything that's difficult and why talk otherwise then you're going to talk about things that are offensive to people and you're going to do it badly you're going to stumble around when you're formulating your thoughts and that's horrible it makes people anxious it alienates them but it's better than pain and death and that's the alternative so thank you uh we'll take a question from um upstairs please project your voice as there will be no microphone to the lady in the black thank you and um relationship that conservatives and liberals have towards it i was wondering whether that formulation is also a kind of attack on individual sovereignty and a kind of tribalism saying here are these two groups of people and here's how they relate to heart and hear their characteristics well it would be if i was trying to reduce all the individual variability to that but to note that people vary across a dimension is not necessarily simultaneously to limit all the variability to those dimensions there's lots of other variability and your question to some degree is whether the active categorization is in itself a limitation on individual freedom i think if you push your question all the way down to the bottom and the answer to that is to some degree yes but it's also a precondition for individual freedom so is that sufficient but but you sort of do have certain predispositions that you're giving in the same way in which people from political correctness are trying to say this is what it means to be a woman these are the kind of things that it is expected from a woman to do to defend herself and it seems to me that you are making a similar claim about this is what conservative people do and this is how they always relate to hierarchy well i don't i i would say that i perhaps am doing that but i don't see how that's the same as what the post-modernists are doing i mean as far as i can tell the post-modernists aren't saying that the groups the individuals within those groups are characterized by any stable characteristics whatsoever except for the fact of their comparative oppression like so i don't understand the first part of your argument i mean part of the reason the post-modern types have been going after me is because i i've dared to say that men and women differ in temperament which by the way they do so now you know that that's actually that that's actually something that might be worth just differentiating quickly because it's actually technically somewhat challenging but also very much worth knowing i was debating someone on a panel this morning on a tv show the right stuff and this was a woman who led the female the women's equality party and she cited some psychological literature that purported to claim that men and women were mostly the same and that's actually true we are more the same than different if you look at our temperaments there's more overlap than there is variance by a substantial amount and so even on the temperamental dimensions where there is most difference between men and women the difference isn't of massive magnitude at the center of the distribution so for example women are less aggressive than men which is by the way why they commit suic try to commit suicide more often but are much less lethal in their actions that's one example but there are many examples if you draw a random woman and a random man out of the population the probability that the man will be more aggressive is sixty percent if you bet on the man you'd win sixty percent of the time that's not a walloping difference it's not 95 percent of the time you know it's it's a difference that is substantive it's significant it's measurable but it's not large by the standards by which such things are judged but that's not the point the point is is that most of the activity takes place at the extremes so out on the tails of the distribution so here's an example about nine out of ten people in prison are male why because to be in prison you have to be the most aggressive person let's say in a hundred okay those differences at the midpoint are large enough so that if you go out to the extremes one in a hundred people you have an overwhelming preponderance of men and so you can have your cake and eat it too you can say well yeah broadly speaking men and women are more the same than different the overlap is greater than the than the than the disjunction but that's not relevant if what's being selected is often at the extremes and it often is so for example with regards to engineering there's a fair bit of evidence that people who are more interested in things than in people become engineers now that's not really going to be lord is that shocking are you shocked by that you shouldn't be shocked by that right you can you can tell that not only by what engineers do but you can tell that by how they think and you can tell that just by talking to them if you know a bunch of engineers so and it turns out that the largest temperamental difference that's known between men and women is actually interest in people versus interest in things and so it has nothing to do with competence but it has a lot to do with interest and because you have to be very interested in things to go be an engineer because that's all you're going to be doing if you're an engineer then only those people who are extremely interested in things tend to become engineers and most of them are men and that's why even in places like scandinavia where a tremendous amount of effort has been put into flattening the socio-cultural landscape and successfully by the way there's still a preponderance of male engineers and there's a preponderance of female nurses and no matter how much sociological gerrymandering goes along goes on those statistics have remained quite intractable over about a 15-year period and so there are differences there are differences they're not massive and then you might ask well are those sociocultural or biological it's like well that's a hard question to answer because it depends on how much variability there is in this sociocultural landscape because the proportion by which something is biological versus sociocultural varies with the sociocultural landscape that's a complicated thing to to to digest because you think of those things as fixed but they're not so but what we have demonstrated quite clearly and this is mainstream science despite the fact that people don't like it this test has already been done so we developed a personality model that's pretty stable across cultures purely derived from statistical from statistical processes and a theoretical model if there ever was one and quite an unattractive model because of that conceptually but that's beside the point then we saw across culturally whether there were differences in the fundamental temperaments of men and women and the answer was yes cross-culturally quite robust women are higher in the experience of anxiety and emotional pain and they're more compassionate and agreeable those are the big differences and they're they're differences of a magnitude that i already pointed out then the next question is well to what degree is that biological versus sociocultural and it's complicated because that variab variable depends on the sociocultural landscape but we'll put that aside you can determine that by stacking up countries from those who have done everything they possibly can to flatten out the sociocultural landscape in relationship to gender to those who haven't that are still very stratified by sex and then what you do is you look at the magnitude of the temperament differences in keeping with the the variability that those countries have in terms of their socio-cultural egalitarianism and the socio-cultural types the the um the social constructionists their prediction is as cultures become more egalitarian men and women become more different more the same sorry more the same because it's environmental that isn't what happens exactly the opposite happens as you flatten out the sociocultural landscape men and women become more different the data is in the experiment is done tens of thousands of people multiple countries and it's not what anyone expected and you might think well it's all the right-wing psychologists it's like all the right-wing psychologists are in this room sitting in this chair thank you um on to the next question the gentleman in glasses i just want to first thank your comments on things like political correctness and the obsession of certain elements of the left on campuses to screen up discourse because i genuinely think that is an issue and problem stairs but following on from there i just want to pick your thoughts on what you say about freedom of speech and discussions in general right because you basically flag that i think in your answers justin that freedom of speech has an instrumental purpose it's there to help us find truth correct me about wrong to identify the correctness or the logos against the possible consequence of blood and death so here's the question if i as an individual i'm affected by discourse in a way that doesn't cause physical violence so that's not bind by hate speech laws and whatnot but makes me feel so deeply uncomfortable they don't belong to society or this community or when i say something whatever whenever i try to say something i'm ridiculous because of my race the way i talk or my gender or where i behave then surely that means that my valuable insight to contribute towards logos towards the pursuit of truth is shot out by other people's more vociferous speech and more dominant speech and this is what we see in cases of campuses whether it be from the right or the left of people using very violent and loud language to drown out descent to drown out those who oppose them on campuses in society and whatnot from donald trump to people in swarthmore we've seen this happen so wouldn't you say that the attempt to claw back or the right of freedom of speech isn't so far absolute as instrumental and based on that therefore there are some cases where freedom of speech of some individuals can be curtailed if we want to get a better appreciation of the logos and a better inclusion of more voices that are currently being shut out as a result of the extremity and radicalism of those select few wouldn't you say that's the case thank you well there's a very simple answer to that which is yes but i'll elaborate i mean the first thing is like i'm not an admirer of hate speech laws but that doesn't mean that i'm naive enough to think that there's no such thing as hate speech so obviously if you've ever been involved in an extremely serious argument you know perfectly well there's such a thing as hate speech because you've probably uttered some so you know so and and there's there's also no doubt that there are forms of speech that are utterly reprehensible and some of those are actually already punished by law you can't incite to violence you can't libel someone right so so we have some restrictions already on what's acceptable discourse um whether it's the case typically speaking that some people have more privileged access to free speech than others well that's obviously the case that's part of that's part of power and power is one of the means by which people climb hierarchies although the more you can climb a hierarchy by exercising power the more that's an indication of the fact that that hierarchy has become corrupt so there's no doubt that these structural impediments to the free exchange of discourse exist there's also no doubt as you already laid out that that's not in everyone's best interest because what you want if you have any sense in your society and this is also why i think that we've put proper emphasis on the sovereignty of the individual is that you want everyone's logos to have the opportunity to clarify the unknown and reconstitute the world and if you shut that down then you risk getting access to the unique insights that that individual might bring okay so i agree with your diagnosis completely and and i and i think that you know even even in the west to ignore the fact that many of our hierarchies tilt towards tyranny and that prejudice still exists in multiple forms is a mistake although it's only one factor among many and shouldn't be identified as the as the primary causal determinant of each individual's life i think that's that's a dreadful error the question is what do you do about it and the devil's in the details and as i said already i'm not an admirer for example of hate speech laws even though there's plenty of hateful speech because i think the best thing to do is to leave free speech alone as much as you possibly can not because that will result in the perfect conditions for free speech but because anything else that you're likely to do is going to make it worse rather than better and so that's how it looks to me very quickly so i just want to pick your brains on hate speech laws because it seems that you agree that the pursuit of logos and logic and some sort of achievement of individualization individual autonomy that is is the end goal of discussion here right so let's assume like correct me ever wrong again that's the end objective here's the thing it seems i wouldn't say that exactly i wouldn't i wouldn't say that exactly i think that's i think that's too individualistic i would say that what you want is two things happening simultaneously is that you want to maximize individual development but you want to do that in a way that brings the the greatest amount of harmony simultaneously possible to the familial unit and also to the broader social unit so those things those interests have to be stacked it's like what's best for you but that's also in a manner that's best for your family and for your community so it's not purely individual so on that basis of achieving communal harmony and individual freedom at the same time wouldn't you say that there's certain forms of free speech or hate speech they're so vehement and so de-dignifying that it disrupts both local harmony within communities but also makes individuals feel as if they can't really engage in retaliatory you know clarificatory discourse against him because they fear the potential repercussions even if it doesn't lead to violence they just fear it so much that it might irrationally or rationally even drive it happens happens all the time in fact it's the standard it's the standard situation you know if you look across the world most societies don't do a good job of either promoting or allowing free speech it's a i don't know how we ever managed it it's so unlikely because it's so it's so hard on people and hard on those who occupy positions of power in tyrannical hierarchies that i can't i can't believe that any society's ever managed to figure it out at all so those dangers are always there and and and i also think the the highest likelihood often is that societies that do put high value on free speech will lose that because it's so difficult to maintain so but with regards to hate speech for example let's say that things would be much better if there was less hateful speech it's like seems highly probable to me especially if you look at the more egregious forms of hateful speech how best to regulate it well my sense is is you let those who wish to utter hateful things do so and let everyone hear them because that's the best way to ensure that what they're saying will be understood and rejected now in order to posit that you have to assume that the population composed of sovereign individuals is wiser than it is foolish and you know that's that's that's a type that that's a hope you might think about it as an axiom of faith but i do believe it to be the case i think that if you if you put the evidence in front of people by and large they will do the right thing i think that if you if you the problem with regulating hate speech it's very simple who defines hate and the answer to that is over any reasonable period of time exactly the people you would least want to have defined hate and so the consequences of the regulation become in incalculably worse as a problem than the problem that they were designed to deal with to think otherwise is to think in a sort of utopian manner it's like well we have a problem hate speech well we can come up with a solution and there will be no problems with that solution it's like no no no that isn't how the world works you know when i'm negotiating with my clinical clients one of the things i always tell them is often because they're in difficult circumstances and often not for psychological reasons it's like no you don't understand you're screwed both ways you don't you don't have an option here where you're not going to suffer that's that that's what it means to be in a bad situation you're going to pay a price both ways you can pick your price okay so we're going to have hate speech or we're going to have the consequences of the arbitrary regulation of hate speech well i know what the consequences are of the arbitrary regulation of hate speech is that things get a lot worse because hate's very difficult to define and that's actually a real problem when you're trying to regulate it because you have to be able to define it and we're already at a point where well you made someone uncomfortable why isn't that hate speech i mean i was basically asked that by one of your by one of your most outstanding journalists or your most popular journalists well why should you have the right to say something that's offensive it's like we can we can think that through let's think that through for a minute so i mean my repos to her essentially although this wasn't directly it was that's not a very smart question for a journalist to be asking right because of all people who should never ask that question will be stand-up comics right and journalists because that's all they ever do that's what it means to be a journalist is to ask a question that's going to be offensive to someone who the hell wants to hear about what you've discovered unless it's about something contentious and important so it was it was a jaw-dropping question as far as i was concerned and the fact that it was a jaw-dropping question was part of the reason why that video went viral okay so now let's think about offensiveness as part of hate okay so the first thing we might say is that you really need to think when you have a difficult problem and a difficult problem is one where there's something at stake it might be your life it might be your well-being but it's it's and then we might say well there's going to be a diversity of opinions about that particular conundrum if it actually happens to be difficult and so even to discuss it because if you discuss it you're going to discuss option a it's going to annoy all the people who want option b or you're going to discuss option b and that's going to annoy all the people that want option a and maybe there's 10 options so if you're going to discuss anything of any real significance whatsoever you're going to make people hot under the caller and you're going to risk offending them okay so why don't you just stop talking about difficult things the answer that is yes and that's what's happening but then there's another problem which is there isn't anything i could conceivably say about anything that isn't going to offend someone if the crowd is large enough so you might say well if you're talking to two people you can't offend one of them so you don't get to offend 50 of the population it's like okay let's say i'm talking to a thousand people and one person finds what i'm saying offensive say well that's hateful it's like well that's one in a thousand so should i stop what if it's one in ten thousand or one in a million like where's the cut off and you might think well we'll work that out it's like no no no no you don't get it the devil's in the details you work it out now when you formulate your restrictions on free speech you don't shunt that off into the future so that it's a problem that will be solved who defines hate insoluble problem don't regulate it because you can't define it that's how it looks to me so you have the the free marketplace of ideas so to speak where the collective can render a judgment on the acceptability of an idea on an ongoing basis and that isn't a great solution because we don't have great solutions we have partial fragmentary solutions that make us somewhat less abjectly miserable than we might be that's what we have and if we try to if we try to eradicate that kind of risk completely all we do is magnify a different kind of risk thank you um so we have time for one or two more questions um so next question will go to the lady just here you talk on a very high level for me i i operate on a kind of quite ordinary kind of street level and the sort of thing that really annoys me about this whole thing is for instance i was listening to um any questions on friday evening and there was the republican um you know person abroad in scotland well the audience had decided that this man can't say anything that i'm ever going to agree with so i'm going to disagree with everything he says well i disagreed with him on some things i don't like fracking but i thought some of the other things he said were quite sensible but it seems to me most people suddenly get a prejudice about a person for instance even donald trump who i'm not a mad fan about but one or two things he said i think quite you know not too stupid and so why can't people start talking about issues instead of sort of you know getting these sort of prejudices about people oh well you know if they if they're on the um so-called um you know demonstration in london for the day of freedom oh they must be all fascists and right-wing and goodness knows what nobody actually listens to what they're saying or what they're doing they've just made up their mind and then you get your tribal warfare and that's what we're getting so much of well some of it some of it's a technical problem like people don't like it when you force them to think at high resolution and it's no wonder because look let's say you're driving your automobile along and you think this is my car and i understand it and your evidence is that as you move the steering thingy it stays on the road that's your understanding of your car as soon as it breaks down it's like you realize you don't understand your car at all not even a bit right and so you actually don't even perceive the car until it breaks down and then you're very unhappy that you have to perceive it because all it is is a whole nest of snakes and you have no idea what to do with any of them and so people don't like having to think at a high resolution and so if someone says on a contentious issue well you know it's complicated and we have to differentiate it like this then you have to go through all the god-awful process of realizing that you don't have the clue what you're talking about in that circumstance and you have to evaluate all those differentiated issues it's way easier just to say well you're probably a neo-nazi and so i don't have to listen to you and and it's well and so that's often what people do that's particularly the case if they have a low resolution ideology that they're trying to protect because that gives them every extra reason to do that kind of instantaneous labeling it's a very bad strategy if you're dealing with an individual one-on-one you know so if you're in a long-term relationship with someone and they bring up their annoyance with something that you do a very bad response to them is that well i don't have to listen to you because you're a terrible person right your relationships are going to collapse completely if you do that every time what you want to do is differentiate the argument to the point where a solution might be generated and have have the argument at that level but it's very hard for people to do that so you end up with these radical oversimplifications that manifest themselves unfortunately in the political polarization that we see we're not going to solve our problems unless we can be a little bit more open about you know issues rather than sort of you know immediately thinking of a prejudice to say about somebody right which is part of the reason why i'm not a fan of political correctness because if we if we make the general diagnosis that the world is a landscaping landscape of competing power groups and and that the fundamental narrative is oppressor versus oppressed and that everything is to be viewed through that light then through that lens then we won't solve our problems we won't we'll just have a bunch of new horrible problems you see i mean i'm much older than all these people and i tend to think oh students have these ideas oh that man's homophobic so i'm not going to listen to any other thing that he has to say you know brendan o'neill who came here for instance you know they they just think oh that's a wrong idea so you can't possibly have any right ideas that isn't going to help is it right not really thank you we have time for one final question um so for the final question we'll go to the second row uh i am canadian and we have a leader who is probably the most attempting to be the most politically correct leader in the world i'd love to hear your response if you had his ear for five minutes and could present very simply to him where he might be going wrong well i guess i would ask him to consider the possibility that his emphasis on tribal inequality might if there's any possibility that he can see any ways that that might do more harm than good because my sense is that the idea that harm might come out of that is never an idea that's even considered i certainly don't see that in our provincial government for example see i see that the the initial low resolution act of dividing people into their tribal groups in that manner as something that can do nothing but bear evil fruit in the long run and the people who do that think no that's how we're going to rectify historical inequities it's useful if you have a theory to think through the worst possible consequences of its application right it's a good antidote to ideological possession it's like well just for a minute imagine that your theory could go spectacularly wrong what would that look like this is one of the things that's so great about the way the americans set up their political system because it was never utopian their idea was look we're probably going be we're probably going to be governed by half wits who are not any smarter than we are it wasn't we're going to set up the perfect system it's like how can we ensure that if we're governed by halfwits that are no smarter than us that we won't end up in hell right and hence the balance of powers and all of those things and so and so they were very sophisticated and as good englishmen should be because they were basically good englishmen right and and well they were they were they came out they absolutely were you know i mean america's freedom is a manifestation of the deeper freedom of great britain anyone with any sense can see that so it's just true historically i mean maybe the americans codified it in a in a creative manner and good for them but the fundamental traditions were already laid down they had enough humility to think through how things could go terribly wrong even if they had good intentions that's the mark of someone who's wise because it's way easier for things to go wrong than it is for them to go right and maybe it's even more important that we are careful about how things don't go terribly wrong than we are to be too concerned with making sure that they go right because hell is a long ways down and we can only make things so much better so i guess that's what i'd ask him just think it through we're tribalizing we're tribalizing our perceptions can you think of any ways that might not work out so well and then how would you mitigate against that the wise social science one of the reasons that i'm a traditionalist let's say because i'm not really temperamentally suited to be a conservative despite the fact that i'd identified myself as the only extant right-wing psychologist that was a joke primarily is because one of the things that wise social scientists know and attempt to transmit to their students is the probability that your well-meaning intervention say at a clinical level or an epidemiological level will have the positive outcome you intend and no other is zero in fact the highest probability is that it will kick back against you and make things worse so you bloody well better be sure when you implement your well-intentioned intervention that you lay out a measurement strategy to determine what the consequences of that intervention are because they're very unlikely to to be an improvement that's especially the case if the system is already working well because if it's already at 85 percent optimal capacity moving it up another five percent is really hard whereas making it work 50 percent worse it's like any fool can manage that so when things are working be very cautious about what you do radically to fix them because you don't know what the consequence of your intervention is going to be and so that's another thing that i might suggest caution and to the degree that i'm a conservative i'm a conservative because because of my apprehension of my own ignorance it's like first do no harm that's also why in my public lectures i counsel people let's say to put their own house in order it's like you're not going to hurt anyone by doing that right all it's going to do is make you a little less chaotic and horrible and then maybe you'll be of a little more benefit to your family that might be a nice thing too and then maybe you could dare to you know extend a tentacle out beyond that and tap something in the real world gently well that isn't what we're taught in universities we're taught that well you're 18 and you can see what's wrong and you should think up some ways of radically transforming the economic system that's right right all right thank you i'd like to remind everyone that there's a book sale going on in the goodman library following this talk please remain seated until we left the chamber and please join me in thanking dr peterson for joining [Music] you
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Keywords: Oxford, Union, Oxford Union, Oxford Union Society, debate, debating, The Oxford Union, Oxford University
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Length: 75min 50sec (4550 seconds)
Published: Sun Jun 24 2018
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