Jordan Peterson personifies the strong, courageous virtues he champions. The following is the full transcript of an interview he did in January 2018 with Cathy Newman of Britain’s Channel 4 News. Newman sensed that there was something disruptive to progressive orthodoxy in Peterson’s worldview, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. So, as Conor Friedersdorf noted in The Atlantic, she did what a lot of people do in argument these days. Instead of actually listening to Peterson, she just distorted, simplified and restated his views to make them appear offensive and cartoonish.
Peterson calmly and comprehensibly corrected and rebutted her. It is the most devastatingly one-sided media confrontation you will ever see.
“A stupid man’s report of what a clever man says can never be accurate,
because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.”
― Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy
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Cathy Newman: Jordan Peterson you’ve said that men need to, quote, “grow the hell up.” Tell me why.
Jordan Peterson: Well because there’s nothing uglier than an old infant. There’s nothing good about it. People who don’t grow up don’t find the sort of meaning in their life that sustains them through difficult times and they are certain to encounter difficult times and they’re left bitter and resentful and without purpose and adrift and hostile and resentful and vengeful and arrogant and deceitful and of no use to themselves and of no use to anyone else and no partner for a woman and there’s nothing in it that’s good.
Newman: So you said… I mean, that sounds pretty bad… you are saying that there’s a crisis of masculinity. I mean, what do you do about it?
Peterson: You tell… you help people understand why it’s necessary and important for them to grow up and adopt responsibilities why that isn’t a shake your finger and get your act together sort of thing why it’s more like but why it’s more like a delineation of the kind of destiny that makes life worth living. I’ve been telling young men… but it’s not I wasn’t specifically aiming this message at young men to begin with it just kind of turned out that way.
Newman: And it’s mostly—you admit—it’s mostly men listening. I mean 90% of your audience is male, right?
Peterson: Well, it’s about 80 percent on YouTube which is a… YouTube is a male domain primarily, so it’s hard to tell how much of it is because YouTube is male and how how much of it is because of what I’m saying, but what I’ve been telling young men is that there’s an actual reason why they need to grow up, which is that they have something to offer, you know, that people have within them this capacity to set the world straight and that’s necessary to manifest in the world and that also doing so is where you find the meaning that sustains you in life.
Newman: So what’s gone wrong then?
Peterson: Oh god, all sorts of things have gone wrong. I think that… I don’t think that young men are here words of encouragement some some of them never in their entire lives as far as I can tell, that’s what they tell me, and the fact that the words that I’ve been speaking, the YouTube lectures that I’ve done and put online for example, have had such a dramatic impact is indication that young men are starving for this sort of message because, like why in the world would they have to derive it from a lecture on YouTube? Now they’re not being taught that it’s important to develop yourself.
Newman: It doesn’t bother you that your audience is predominantly male. Isn’t that a bit divisive?
Peterson: No, I don’t think so. I mean, it’s no more divisive than the fact that YouTube is primarily male and Tumblr is primarily female.
Newman: That’s pretty divisive, isn’t it?
Peterson: Tumblr is primarily female.
Newman: But you’re just saying that’s the way it is.
Peterson: I’m not saying anything. It’s just an observation that that’s the way it is. There’s plenty of women that are watching my lectures and coming to my talks and buy my books it’s just that the majority of them happen to be men.
Newman: What’s in it for the women, though?
Peterson: Well, what sort of partner do you want? Do you want an overgrown child? Or do you want someone to contend with, who is going to help you?
Newman: So you’re saying, that women have some sort of duty to help fix the crisis of masculinity.
Peterson: It depends on what they want. It’s exactly how I laid it out. Women want deeply men who are competent and powerful. And I don’t mean power in that they can exert tyrannical control over others. That’s not power. That’s just corruption. Power is competence. And why in the world would you not want a competent partner? Well, I know why, actually, you can’t dominate a competent partner. So if you want domination—
Newman: So you’re saying women want to dominate, is that what you’re saying?
Peterson: No, I’d say women who have had impaired their relationships with men, impaired and who are afraid of such relationships will settle for a weak partner because they can dominate them. But it’s a suboptimal solution.
Newman: Do you think that’s what a lot of women are doing?
Peterson: I think there’s a substantial minority of women who do that and I think it’s very bad for them. They’re very unhappy, it’s very bad for their partners–although the partners get the advantage of not having to take any responsibility.
Newman: What gives you the right to say that? I mean, maybe that’s how women want their relationships those women. I mean you’re making these vast generalizations.
Peterson: I’m a clinical psychologist.
Newman: Right so you’ve you’re saying you’ve done your research and women are unhappy dominating men.
Peterson: I didn’t say they were unhappy dominating men, I said it was a bad long-term solution
Newman: Okay, you said it was making them miserable.
Peterson: Yes it is. It depends on the time frame. There’s intense pleasure in momentary domination. That’s why people do it all the time. But it’s no formula for a long-term successful long-term relationship. That’s reciprocal. Any long-term relationship is reciprocal, firstly by definition.
Newman: Let me put it quite to you from the book where you say “there are whole disciplines in universities forthrightly hostile towards men. These are the areas of study dominated by the postmodern stroke neo-Marxist claim the Western culture in particular is an oppressive structure created by white men to dominate and exclude women.” But then I want to put you…
Peterson: Minorities too, dominate…
Newman: Okay, sure, but I want to put to you… here in the UK, for example, let’s say that as an example, the gender pay gap stands at just over 9%. You’ve got women at the BBC recently saying that the broadcaster is illegally paying them less than men to do the same job. You’ve got only seven women running the top footsie 100 companies.
Newman: So it seems to a lot of women that they still being dominated and excluded, to quote your words back to you.
Peterson: It does seem that way. But multivariate analysis of the pay gap indicate that it doesn’t exist.
Newman: But that’s not true, is it? That 9 percent pay gap, that’s a gap between median hourly earnings between men and women. That exists.
Peterson: Yes. But there’s multiple reasons for that. One of them is gender, but that’s not the only reason. If you’re a social scientist worth your salt, you never do a univariate analysis. You say women in aggregate are paid less than men. Okay. Well then we break its down by age; we break it down by occupation; we break it down by interest; we break it down by personality.
Newman: But you’re saying, basically, it doesn’t matter if women aren’t getting to the top, because that’s what is skewing that gender pay gap, isn’t it? You’re saying that’s just a fact of life, women aren’t necessarily going to get to the top.
Peterson: No, I’m not saying it doesn’t matter, either.
Newman: You’re saying that it’s a fact of life…
Peterson: I’m saying there are multiple reasons for it.
Newman: Yeah, but why should women put up with those reasons?
Peterson: I’m not saying that they should put up with it! I’m saying that the claim that the wage gap between men and women is only due to sex is wrong. And it is wrong. There’s no doubt about that. The multivariate analysis have been done. So I can give you an example––
Newman: I’m saying that nine percent pay gap exists. That’s a gap between men and women. I’m not saying why it exists but it exists. Now you’re a woman that seems pretty unfair.
Peterson: You have to say why it exists.
Newman: But do you agree that it’s unfair if you’re a woman…
Peterson: Not necessary
Newman: …and on average you’re getting paid nine percent less than a man that’s not fair, is it?
Peterson: It depends on why it’s happening. I can give you an example. Okay, there’s a personality trait known as agreeableness. Agreeable people are compassionate and polite. And agreeable people get paid less than disagreeable people for the same job. Women are more agreeable than men.
Newman: Again, a vast generalization. Some women are not more agreeable than men.
Peterson: That’s true. And some women get paid more than men.
Newman: So you’re saying by and large women are too agreeable to get the pay raises that they deserve.
Peterson: No, I’m saying that is one component of a multivariate equation that predicts salary. It accounts for maybe 5 percent of the variance, something like that. So you need another 18 factors, one of which is gender. And there is prejudice. There’s no doubt about that. But it accounts for a much smaller portion of the variance in the pay gap than the radical feminists claim.
Newman: Okay, so rather than denying that the pay gap exists, which is what you did at the beginning of this conversation, shouldn’t you say to women, rather than being agreeable and not asking for a pay raise, go ask for a pay raise. Make yourself disagreeable with your boss.
Peterson: Oh, definitely. But also I didn’t deny it existed. I denied that it existed because of gender. See, because I’m very, very, very careful with my words.
Newman: So the pay gap exists. You accept that. But you’re saying… I mean the pay gap between men and women exists—you’re saying it’s not because of gender, it’s because women are too agreeable to ask for pay raises.
Peterson: That’s one of the reasons.
Newman: Okay, one of the reasons… so why not get them to ask for a pay raise? Wouldn’t that be fairer way of proceeding?
Peterson: I’ve done that many, many, many times in my career. So one of the things you do as a clinical psychologist is assertiveness training. So you might say––often you treat people for anxiety, you treat them for depression, and maybe the next most common category after that would be assertiveness training. So I’ve had many, many women, extraordinarily competent women, in my clinical and consulting practice, and we’ve put together strategies for their career development that involved continual pushing, competing, for higher wages. And often tripled their wages within a five-year period.
Newman: And you celebrate that?
Peterson: Of course! Of course!
Newman: So do you do you agree that you would be happy if that pay gap was eliminated completely? Because that’s all the radical feminists are saying.
Peterson: It would depend on how it was eradicated and how the disappearance of it was measured.
Newman: And you’re saying if that’s at a cost of men, that’s a problem.
Peterson: Oh there’s all sorts of things that it could be at the cost of it. It could even be at the cost of women’s own interests.
Newman: Because they might not be happy if they could equal pay.
Peterson: No, because it might interfere with other things that are causing the pay gap that women are choosing to do.
Newman: Like having children.
Peterson: Well, or choosing careers that actually happen to be paid less, which women do a lot of.
Newman: But why shouldn’t women have the right to choose not to have children or the right to choose those demanding careers?
Peterson: They do. They can, yeah, that’s fine.
Newman: But you’re saying that makes them unhappy, by and large.
Peterson: I’m saying that… No, I’m not saying that, and I actually haven’t said that so far in the program…
Newman: You’re saying it makes them miserable, at the beginning.
Peterson: No, I said what was making them miserable was having part was having weak partners. That makes them miserableI would say that many women around the age of I would say between 28 and 32 have a career family crisis that they have to deal with and I think that’s partly because of the for short and timeframe that women have to contend with. Women have to get the major pieces of their life put together faster than men which is also partly why men aren’t under so much pressure to grow up. So because for the typical woman she has to have her career and family in order pretty much by the time she’s 35, because otherwise the options start to run out and so that puts a tremendous amount of stress on women especially at the end of their 20s.
Newman: I think I take issue with the idea of the typical woman because, you know, all women are different. I want to just put another quote to you from the book…
Peterson: No, they are different in some ways and the same same in others…
Newman: Okay, you say “women become more vulnerable when they have children”…
Peterson: Oh yes.
Newman: …and you talked to one of your YouTube interviews about “crazy harpy sisters”. So… simple question: is gender equality a myth in your view? is that something that’s just never gonna happen?
Peterson: It depends on what you mean by equality. If you mean men and women….
Newman: …getting the same opportunities…
Peterson: Fairly people… We could get to a point where people were treated fairly or more fairly. I mean people are treated pretty fairly in Western culture already. But we can improve that.
Newman: They are really not though, are they? I mean otherwise why would there only be seven women running footsie 100 companies in the UK? Why would there still be a pay gap which we’ve discussed? Why are women at the BBC saying that they’re getting paid illegally less the men to do the same job? That’s not fair, is it?
Peterson: Well, let’s go to the first question. They both are complicated questions. Seven women, repeat that one, there’s…
Newman: Seven women running the top footsie 100 companies in the UK. I mean, that’s no fair.
Peterson: Well, the first question might be… why would you want to do that?
Newman: Why would a man want to do it? It’s a lot of money, it’s an interesting job…
Peterson: There’s a certain number of men, although not that many, who are perfectly willing to sacrifice virtually all of their life to the pursuit of a high-end career. So they’ll work… these are men that are very intelligent; they’re usually very very conscientious,; they’re very driven; they’re very high-energy; they’re very healthy; and they’re willing to work 70 or 80 hours a week, non-stop, specialised at one thing to get to the top.
Newman: So you think women are just more sensible. They don’t want that because it’s not a nice level.
Peterson: I’m saying that’s part of it, definitely. And so I worked…
Newman: So you don’t think there are barriers in their way that prevent them getting to the top of those companies.
Peterson: There are some barriers, yeah, like… men for example, I mean, to get to the top of any organisation is an incredibly competitive enterprise and the men that you’re competing with are simply not going to roll over and say “please take the position”. It’s absolutely all-out warfare.
Newman: Let me come back to my question: Is gender equality a myth?
Peterson: I don’t know what you mean by the question. Men and women aren’t the same. And they won’t be the same. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be treated fairly.
Newman: Is gender equality desirable?
Peterson: If it means equality of outcome then it is almost certainly undesirable. That’s already been demonstrated in Scandinavia. Because in Scandinavia…
Newman: What do you mean by that? “Equality of outcome is undesirable.”
Peterson: Men and women won’t sort themselves into the same categories if you leave them to do it of their own accord. In Scandinavia it’s 20 to 1 female nurses to male, something like that–it might not be that extreme. And approximately the same male engineers to female engineers. That’s a consequence of the free choice of men and women in the societies that have gone farther than any other societies to make gender equality the purpose of the law. Those are ineradicable differences––you can eradicate them with tremendous social pressure, and tyranny, but if you leave men and women to make their own choices you will not get equal outcomes.
Newman: Right, so you’re saying that anyone who believes in equality, whether you call them feminists or whatever you want to call them, should basically give up because it ain’t going to happen.
Peterson: Only if they’re aiming at equality of outcome.
Newman: So you’re saying give people equality of opportunity, that’s fine.
Peterson: It’s not only fine, it’s eminently desirable for everyone, for individuals and for societies.
Newman: But still women aren’t going to make it. That’s what you’re really saying.
Peterson: It depends on your measurement techniques they’re doing just fine in medicine. In fact there are far more female physicians than there are male physicians. There are lots of disciplines that are absolutely dominated by women. Many, many disciplines. And they’re doing great. So…
Newman: Let me put something else to you from the book you say “the introduction of the equal pay for equal work argument immediately complicates even salary comparison beyond practicality for one simple reason: who decides what work is equal? It’s not possible”. So the simple question is: do you believe in equal pay?
Peterson: Well, I made the argument there. It’s like it depends on who defines them…
Newman: …so you don’t believe in equal pay…
Peterson: Ahahah! No, I’m not saying that at all!
Newman: Because a lot of people listening to you will just say, are we going back to the dark ages?
Peterson: That’s because you’re actually not listening, you’re just projecting what they think.
Newman: I’m listening very carefully, and I’m hearing you basically saying that women need to just accept that they’re never going to make it on equal terms—equal outcomes is how you defined it.
Peterson: No, I didn’t say that. I said that equal…
Newman: If I was a young woman watching that, I would go, well, I might as well go play with my Cindy dolls and give up trying to go school, because I’m not going to get the top job I want, because there’s someone sitting there saying, it’s not possible, it’s going to make you miserable.
Peterson: I said that equal outcomes aren’t desirable. That’s what I said. It’s a bad social goal. I didn’t say that women shouldn’t be striving for the top, or anything like that. Because I don’t believe that for a second.
Newman: Striving for the top, but you’re going to put all those hurdles in their way, as have been in their way for centuries. And that’s fine, you’re saying. That’s fine. The patriarchal system is just fine.
Peterson: No! I really think that’s silly! I do, I think that’s silly. I really do. I mean, look at your situation. You’re hardly unsuccessful.
Newman: Yeah, and I had to work hard to get where I got to.
Peterson: Exactly! Good for you!
Newman: That’s ok, battling is good. This is all about the fight.
Peterson: It’s inevitable.
Newman: But you talk about man fight. Let me just put another thing to you. You’re saying…
Peterson: Why would you have to battle for a high-quality position?
Newman: Well, I notice in your book you talk about real conversations between men containing, quote, “an underlying threat of physicality.”
Peterson: Oh there’s no doubt about that.
Newman: What about real conversation between women. Is that something… or are we sort of too amenable and reasonable.
Peterson: No, it’s just that the domain of physical conflict is sort of off-limits for you.
Newman: But you just said that I fought to get where I got… what does that make me, some sort of proxy man or something?
Peterson: I don’t imagine that you… Yeah, to some degree I suspect you’re not very agreeable. So that’s the thing. Successful women–
Newman: I’m not very agreeable…
Peterson: Right, I noticed that actually in this conversation! And I’m sure it served your career well.
Newman: Successful women, though, basically have to wear the trousers, in your view. They have to sort of become men to succeed. Is it what you’re saying?
Peterson: Well, if they are going to compete against men, certainly masculine traits are going to be helpful. I mean, one of the things I do in my counseling practice, for example, when I’m consulting with women who are trying to advance their careers, is to teach them how to negotiate and to be able to say no and to not be easily pushed around. And to be formidable. If you’re gonna be successful you need to be smart, conscientious and tough.
Newman: Well, here’s a radical idea. Why don’t the bosses adopt some–male bosses shall we say–adopt some female traits so the women don’t have to fight and get their sharp elbows out for the pay rises. It’s just accepted if they’re doing the same job they get the same pay!
Peterson: Well, I would say partly because it’s not so easy to determine what constitutes the same job and…
Newman: That’s because, arguably, there are still men dominating our industries, our society and therefore they’ve dictated the terms for so long that women have to battle to be like the men.
Peterson: No, it’s not true. It’s not true. So, for example…
Newman: Where is the evidence?
Peterson: I can give you an example very quickly. I worked with women who worked in high-powered law firms in Canada for about 15 years and they were as competent and put together as anybody you would ever meet. And we were trying to figure out how to further their careers. And there was a huge debate in Canadian society at that point that was basically ran along the same lines as your argument. If the law firms didn’t use these masculine criteria then perhaps women would do better. But the market sets the damn game. It’s like…
Newman: And the market is dominated by men.
Peterson: No, it’s not. The market is dominated by women. They make 80 percent of the consumer decisions. That’s not the case at all. 80 percent…
Newman: If you talk about people who stay at home looking after children, by and large they are still women. So they’re going out doing the shopping. But that is changing.
Peterson: They make all the consumer decisions. The market is driven by women, not men.
Peterson: Ok, and if you’re a lawyer in Canada…
Newman: And they still pay more for the same sort of goods. That’s been proven. That men, for the… you buy a blue bicycle helmet, it’s gonna cost less than a pink one. Anyway, we’ll come on to that.
Peterson: It’s partly because men are less agreeable. Because they won’t put up with it.
Newman: I want to ask you: is it not desirable to have some of those female traits you’re talking about–I’d say that’s a generalization, but you’ve used the words female traits–is it not desirable to have some of them at the top of business. I mean, maybe they wouldn’t…
Peterson: They don’t predict success in the workplace. The things that predict success in the workplace are intelligence and conscientiousness. Agreeableness negatively predicts success in the workplace. And so does high negative emotion.
Newman: So you are saying that women aren’t intelligent enough to run these top companies?
Peterson: No, I didn’t say that at all.
Newman: You said that female traits don’t predict success.
Peterson: But I didn’t say that intelligence wasn’t. I didn’t say that intelligence and conscientiousness weren’t female traits…
Newman: Well, you were saying that intelligence and conscientiousness by implication are not female traits.
Peterson: No, no. I’m not saying that at all!
Newman: Are women less intelligent than men?
Peterson: No, they’re not. No, that’s pretty clear. The average IQ for a woman and the average IQ for a man is identical. There is some debate about the flatness of the distribution. Which is something that James D’Amore pointed out, for example, in his memo. But there’s no difference at all in general cognitive ability. There’s no difference to speak of in conscientiousness. Women are a bit more orderly than men and men are a little bit more industrious than women. The difference isn’t big.
Newman: Feminine traits. Why are they not desirable at the top?
Peterson: It’s hard to say. I’m just laying out the empirical evidence. We know the traits that predict success.
Newman: But we also know because companies by and large have not been dominated by women over the centuries. We have nothing to compare it to. It’s an experiment.
Peterson: True. And it could be the case that if companies modified their behavior and became more feminine they would be successful. But there’s no evidence for it.
Newman: You seem doubtful about that.
Peterson: I’m not neither doubtful nor non doubtful. There’s no evidence for it.
Newman: So why not give it a go as the radical evidence…
Peterson: Because the evidence suggests… Well, it’s fine. If someone wants to start a company and make it more feminine and compassionate, let’s say, and caring in its overall orientation towards its workers and towards the marketplace, that’s a perfectly reasonable experiment to run. My point is that there is no evidence that those traits predict success in the workplace and there’s evidence…
Newman: Because it’s never been tried.
Peterson: Well, that’s not really the case. Women have been in the workplace for at least–ever since I’ve been around the representation of women in the workplace has been about 50 percent. So we’ve run the experiment for a fairly reasonable period of time. But certainly not for centuries.
Newman: Let me move on to another debate that’s been very controversial for you. You got in trouble for refusing to call trans men and women by their preferred personal pronouns.
Peterson: No, that’s not actually true. I got in trouble because I said I would not follow that compelled speech dictates of the federal and provincial government. I actually never got in trouble for not calling anyone anything.
Newman: Right. You wouldn’t follow the change of law which was designed to outlaw discrimination.
Peterson: No. Well, that’s what it has been said it was design to do.
Newman: Okay. You cited freedom of speech in that. Why should your right to freedom of speech trump a trans person’s right not to be offended?
Peterson: Because in order to be able to think, you have to risk being offensive. I mean, look at the conversation we’re having right now. You’re certainly willing to risk offending me in the pursuit of truth. Why should you have the right to do that? It’s been rather uncomfortable.
Newman: Well, I’m very glad I put you on this part…
Peterson: You get my point. You’re doing what you should do, which is digging a bit to see what the hell is going on. And that is what you should do. But you’re exercising your freedom of speech to certainly risk offending me, and that’s fine. More power to you, as far as I’m concerned.
Newman: So you haven’t sat there and… I’m just… I’m just trying to work that out… I mean… [long pause]
Peterson: Ha! Gotcha!
Newman: You have caught me. You have caught me. I’m trying to work that up through my head… yeah I took a while… it took a while…
Peterson: It did, it did, yeah.
Newman: You have voluntary co… you have voluntarily come into the studio and agreed to be questioned. A trans person in your class has come to your class and said they want to be called “she”.
Peterson: No, that’s never happened. And I would call them “she.”
Newman: So you would. So you’ve kind of changed your tune of line.
Peterson: No. No, no, I said that right from the beginning. What I said at the beginning was that I was not going to cede the linguistic territory to radical leftists, regardless of whether or not it was put in law. That’s what I said. An then the people who came after me said “oh you must be transphobic and you’d mistreat a student in your class.” It’s like, I never mistreated a student in my class, I’m not transphobic and that isn’t what I said.
Newman: Well it said you’ve also called trans campaigners authoritarian. Isn’t that…
Peterson: Only in the broader context of my claims that radical leftist ideologues are authoritarian. Which they are.
Newman: You are saying someone who’s trying to work out their gender identity, who may well have struggled with that, who had quite though time over the years, you’re comparing them with, you know, Chairman Mao, who saw…
Peterson: No, just the activists.
Newman: …the deaths of millions of people. Well, even if the activists, you know, they’re trans people too. They have a right to say these things…
Peterson: Yeah, but they don’t have the right to speak for whole community.
Newman: … to compare them to Chairman Mao, you know, Pinochet, Augusto Pinochet, I mean… you know, this is grossly insensitive.
Peterson: I didn’t compare them to Pinochet…
Newman: Well, he was an autoritarian…
Peterson: …I did compare them to Mao… He’s a right-winger though. I was comparing them to the left-wing totalitarians and I do believe they are left-wing totalitarians…
Newman: Under Mao millions of people die. I mean, there’s no comparison between Mao and a trans activist, is there.
Peterson: Why not?
Newman: Because trans activist aren’t killing millions of people.
Peterson: The philosophy that’s guiding their utterances is the same philosophy.
Newman: The consequences are…
Peterson: Not yet.
Newman: You’re saying that trans activists could lead to the deaths of millions of people?
Peterson: No, I’m saying that the philosophy that drives their utterances is the same philosophy that already has driven us to the deaths of millions of people.
Newman: Okay, tell us how that philosophy is in any way comparable.
Peterson: Sure, that’s no problem. The first thing is that their philosophy presumes that group identity is paramount. That’s the fundamental philosophy that drove the Soviet Union and Mao is China. And it’s the fundamental philosophy of the left-wing activists. It’s identity politics. Doesn’t matter who you are as an individual, it matters who you are in terms of your group identity.
Newman: You’re just saying so to provoke, aren’t you? I mean, you are a provocateur.
Peterson: I never say say anything…
Newman: You’re like the old right that you hate to be compared to. You want to stir things up.
Peterson: I’m only a provocateur insofar as when I say what I believe to be true it’s provocative. I don’t provoke. Maybe for humor.
Newman: You don’t set out to provoke.
Peterson: I’m not interested in provoking.
Newman: What about the thing about, you know, fighting and the lobster. Tell us about the lobster.
Peterson: Ha, well that’s quite a segue! Well, the first chapter I have in my book is called “Stand up straight with your shoulders back” and it’s an injunction to be combative, not least to further your career, let’s say. But also to adopt a stance of ready engagement with the world and to reflect that in your posture. And the reason that I write about lobsters is because there’s this idea that hierarchical structures are a sociological construct of the Western patriarchy. And that is so untrue that it’s almost unbelievable. I use the lobster as an example: We diverged from lobsters evolutionary history about 350 million years ago. Common ancestor. And lobsters exist in hierarchies. They have a nervous system attuned to the hierarchy. And that nervous system runs on serotonin, just like our nervous system do. The nervous system of the lobster and the human being is so similar that anti-depressants work on lobsters. And it’s part of my attempt to demonstrate that the idea of hierarchy has absolutely nothing to do with socio-cultural construction, which it doesn’t.
Newman: Let me get this straight. You’re saying that we should organize our societies along the lines of the lobsters?
Peterson: I’m saying it is inevitable that there will be continuities in the way that animals and human beings organize their structures. It’s absolutely inevitable, and there is one-third of a billion years of evolutionary history behind that … It’s a long time. You have a mechanism in your brain that runs on serotonin that’s similar to the lobster mechanism that tracks your status—and the higher your status, the better your emotions are regulated. So as your serotonin levels increase you feel more positive emotion and less negative emotion.
Newman: So you’re saying like the lobsters, we’re hard-wired as men and women to do certain things, to sort of run along tram lines, and there’s nothing we can do about it.
Peterson: No, I’m not saying there’s nothing we can do about it, because it’s like in a chess game, right, there’s lots of things you can do, although you can’t break the rules of the chess game and continue to play chess. Your biological nature is somewhat like that, it sets the rules of the game, but within those rules you have a lot of leeway. But one thing we can’t do is say that hierarchical organisation is a consequence of the capitalist patriarchy, it’s like that’s patently absurd. It’s wrong. It’s not a matter of opinion, it’s seriously wrong.
Newman: Aren’t you just whipping people up into a state of anger?
Peterson: Not at all.
Newman: Divisions between men and women. You’re stirring things up. Any critics of you online get absolutely lambasted by your followers.
Peterson: And by me generally.
Newman: Sorry, your critics get lambasted by you? I mean, isn’t that irresponsible?
Peterson: Not at all. If an academic is gonna come after me and tell me that I’m not qualified and that I don’t know what I’m talking about… I can seriously…
Newman: So you are not going to say to your followers now “quit the abuse, quit the anger.”
Peterson: Well, we need some substantial examples of the abuse and the anger before I could detail that question.
Newman: There’s a lot out there.
Peterson: Well, let’s take a more general perspective on that. I have had 25,000 letters since June–something like that–from people who told me that I’ve brought them back from the brink of destruction. And so I’m perfectly willing to put that up against the rather vague accusations that my followers are making the lives of people that I’ve targeted miserable.
Newman: Jordan Peterson, thank you.
Peterson: My pleasure, nice talking with you.
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Conor Friedersdorf, “Why Can’t People Hear What Jordan Peterson Is Saying?”, The Atlantic, January 22, 2018