I have a dedicated coterie of people who regard me as an enemy. There’s no doubt about that. And I think it’s because I am absolutely no fan whatsoever of the radical left. I think the fact that you can actively present yourself on campus as a communist … the fact that that’s allowable is as mysterious as it would be if it was allowable to present yourself as a Nazi.
I am not a fan of the radical left. And I understand the motivations on the radical left, both on the postmodernist end and on the more Marxist end. Because of that, I’m a relatively effective critic, and that makes me very unpopular. And that’s fine because … because what people are being taught, that’s emerged from that brand of absurd and surreal philosophy, is of no utility as a guiding light to anyone.
It’s a catastrophe to take young people in their formative years, when they’re trying to catalyze their adult identity, and to tear the substructure out from underneath them and leave them bereaved. I do believe that that’s what the universities—on the humanities end, and to some degree on the social science end—fundamentally manage to achieve.
I don’t admire that. I think there’s something deeply sadistic about that. There’s something deeply anti-human about that, and it presents itself in the guise of moral virtue, which makes it even worse. Well, that’s why people don’t like me.
Wood: All right. … So, this was [Adam from Vassar College’s] question. He said, “Given the liberal political order bends toward automatization of individuals, e.g. automation and urbanization, how can meaningful community be assured?”
Peterson: You build that for yourself, in part. I mean, Adam, get a girlfriend. People aren’t doing that. That’s falling by the wayside, right? And it’s because it’s trouble … Life is trouble. And it’s trouble to establish a permanent relationship.
We’ve told young people for far too long that they should be happy in their relationships. And it’s like, that’s weak. … God, most of you are married. To be married for 40 years, that’s not a triumph of happiness. It’s a triumph of character. It’s a triumph of negotiation, right? It’s a triumph of will to do that. And that should be celebrated.
But to children today, it should also be pointed out, that no matter who you find, they’re no better than you. And that’s not so good. So, there’s going to be problems.
But that shouldn’t stop you. Find someone. If you’re lucky, you’re going to have the opportunity to sort of sift through about five people in your life. That’s about it. And then you’re going to have to stake yourself on one of those people. It’s a hell of a risk, but with any luck, it’ll make you a better person, that wrestling.
… I did a series of biblical lectures in 2017, which have turned out to be crazily popular of all the insane things to be.
Wood: And I was supposed to ask you, why do you think that is?
Peterson: … Well, one of the things I learned in those lectures—and should’ve known before—was that the word Israel, so the chosen people of God, the people of Israel, are those who wrestle with God. And that’s such an interesting idea. It’s a fascinating idea because it indicates at least—even in our deepest religious texts—that there’s something about existential conflict and engaging in that that’s actually part of the moral substructure of life.
That simple belief, let’s say, whatever that might mean in a deity, isn’t sufficient. There’s an active engagement with the infinite. And it’s a battle in some sense. And I think that’s the proper way to conceptualize. And I think it’s the proper way to conceptualize a relationship. It’s a battle. It’s a battle toward a positive end. It’s a battle toward the transformation of both of you into more than you could’ve otherwise been.
So, you need that. And you need your friends. And you need to develop a network of friendship. And you need to put your family together and to act responsibly toward them. And then you need to move out from that into the broader community. And that’s on you.
That’s how you foster it. You make it a part of the ideal that you’re pursuing, and then you realize that that’s up to you to do. And maybe then you realize that you can do it as well, if you’re willing to make the right sacrifices—which usually means burning off a fair bit of dead wood. And that’s not something that people are particularly excited about doing. And no wonder.
Wood: … Thinking of our theme of standing up against socialism, what have I not asked you about? What have other interviewers not asked you about that would be beneficial for us all to know?
Peterson: Well, you asked a little bit about these biblical lectures, and what was interesting was I rented a theater in Toronto. I rented it 15 times. It was theater of about 500 and sold out every time. And I lectured about Genesis. It was mostly young men who came. They weren’t all young, but they were mostly men, which was very surprising because that’s just not what happens.
The reason that the lectures worked was because I put together something that I don’t think liberals or conservatives have done a good job of putting together. The liberals are more on the happiness and freedom end of things, and the conservatives are more on the duty end of things. And those both have their place.
But I’ve been attempting to develop an argument that’s centered on meaning. And I believe that our most central religious symbols—like the symbol of the cross itself, for example, the bearing of the cross, is an embodiment or a symbolic representation of this idea that you have to have a meaning in life that sustains you. Life is a serious business. You’re all in.
It’s a fatal business, right? Everyone’s in it up to their neck, and it’s dreadful in some sense, in the classic sense. And you need a meaning that can sustain you through that, and that’s to be found in responsibility. And that’s something that we have not communicated, I don’t think, well to ourselves. But we certainly haven’t communicated it to young people. It’s like, “Well, you’re lost? There’s reasons that you could be lost, and they’re real.”
God only knows what terrible things happened to you in your life. It’s like, “How are you going to get out of that?” Well, not by pursuing impulsive happiness. That is not going to work. Not by thinking in the short term. Not by thinking in a narrowly selfish manner, either. But by taking on the heaviest load of responsibility that you can conceptualize and bear. That will do it. It’ll do it for you.
It’ll give you a reason to wake up in the morning. It’ll give you a balm for your conscience when you wake up at night and ask yourself what you’re doing with your life. It’ll make you a credit to yourself and to your family, and it’ll make you a boon to your community. And more than that. There’s more than that.
It’s said in Genesis that every person is made in the image of God. And there’s an idea in Genesis that God is that which confronts the chaos of potential with truth and courage. That’s the logos. If we’re made in the image of God, that’s us. That’s what we do, we confront the potential of chaos, the future, the unformed future.
We confront that consciously, and we decide with every ethical choice we make what kind of world we’re going to bring into being. We transform that potential into actuality. And we do that as a consequence of our ethical decisions.
So, it’s not only a matter of putting yourself together and putting your family together, putting your community together. It’s a matter of bringing the world in its proper shape into being.
I truly believe that that’s the case. I believe that we all believe that. We hold ourselves responsible. You know, that if you’ve made a mistake with your family because you were selfish or narrow-minded or blind in some manner that you regard yourself as culpable. You could have done otherwise. And now you’ve brought something into the world that should not be there. And it’s on you.
We hold ourselves responsible in that manner. So, what that indicates to me is that in a deep sense, we believe that we are the agents that transform the potential of being into reality. … If anything, [that] links us with divinity. It’s our capability to transform what is not yet into what is.
The other thing that happens … is that as God conducts himself through this enterprise of the transformation of potential into actuality, he stops repeatedly and says, “And it was good.” And that’s a mystery. Why is it good?