Mike Hosking & Dr Jordan Peterson on his controversial rise, his 12 principles & more


Clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson. Photo / Getty Images

Newstalk ZB

Mike

A clinical psychologist, he came up with the 12 rules of life but got the fame when in an interview on British television last year argued his views on trans-gender pronouns, gender equality, and equal pay. We will work our way through it. Jordon Peterson is with us, good morning.

Jordan

Good morning.

Mike

Nice to meet you. What’s it been like going from whatever you were previously to what you are now in terms of notoriety?

Jordan

Well it’s been good and bad. I mean, the notoriety has been stressful at many times, for the first while um… my job was in danger at the university and my clinical licencing as a clinical psychologist. Had things gone badly, which they didn’t um… then I would have been in trouble. I mean, I was hard to take out because I had three separate sources of income so even if I would have lost my two main jobs, I still wouldn’t have been completely financially strapped but it was very stressful and very very controversial and it lasted a long time. Like a year and a half.

Mike

Well it’s still applicable today, isn’t it?

Jordan

Yeah, though I’m less vulnerable than I have been in the past because pretty much every epithet under the sun has been levelled at me and it hasn’t worked and the reason it hasn’t worked is because the epithets are untrue.

Mike

Did you set out to be controversial or did you have an understanding, in saying some of the stuff you do say, it would be controversial?

Jordan

Well, I set out 25 years ago to solve a very complicated problem which was whether or not there was something that was vital and worth preserving at the basis of western society that, say, distinguished it from totalitarian states or communist society. And I knew that I was dealing with extremely deep and controversial material there, and I could tell that because of the effect that my teaching had on my students over a 30-year period. And that became increasingly, what would you say… um… influential publicly. You know, relatively slowly and then exploded with Youtube.

And so, I had some sense that there was tremendous controversy sitting at the bottom of this, but of course I couldn’t have imagined the magnitude of what’s happened over the last two years.

Mike

Would it have been as controversial in 1909 or 89 or 79 or 59? Or has Youtube just made all the difference?

Jordan

Oh, Youtube and the new technologies have made a huge difference because you can meet… you can… you have access to people in a way that you never could before. Youtube and podcasts in particular have made the spoken word as powerful and as widespread as the written word and that is an absolute revolution. And so, many, many people who wouldn’t be exposed to the sorts of ideas that are generally ensconced in books now have an opportunity to have access to them in audio form primarily. And that makes an immense difference.

Mike

Do you… do you worry that the reaction to you ah… dissipates in some way, shape or form what you’re trying to say because people blinker themselves to you before they’ve even heard it?

Jordan

Um… it does for some people because, and I would say this particularly characterises radical left-wing journalists. All they do is read each other’s comments on what I’ve said and they never go and listen to any of the videos or the podcasts, or read the book for that matter, but for most people what’s happened is the controversy draws them to my website, let’s say to the Youtube site in particular, and they discover that what I’m actually saying and have said for 30-years, because I’ve 30-years of recordings on my Youtube site there’s absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to what I am being accused of.

Mike

Are you a radical?

Jordan

Ah, that would depend on what you mean by radical.

Mike

A radical thinker.

Jordan

Um, I would say to the degree that being a conservative thinker, in some sense in today’s society is radical then I’m a very radical thinker.

Mike

Hmm.

Jordan

So, I think that the west… I think that there’s something unbelievably correct about the Judeo-Christian tradition, I think the fundamental stories upon which our cultures are based… well first of all that they are based on stories, and second that the wisdom that’s contained in the stories is as true as anything that human beings have ever discovered.

Not only true, but also vital and that makes me very radical among academic types because most of them are moral relativists or post modernists or people who are heavily influenced by Marxism and I have no time for any of those doctorates.

Mike

The 12 principles, or the 12 rules are not literal, obviously, but they’re things you picked up. What’s your favourite? What’s the best one and we will work our way through that, do you think?

Jordan

Well, I would say the most immediately practical one is probably rule eight which is to tell the truth or at least not to lie.

Mike

Well that’s practical isn’t it? That’s a… that’s a tangible piece of advice isn’t it.

Jordan

Yes, well it’s tangible because although it’s not that easy to tell the truth because we are all ignorant and what do we know of the truth? It is possible to stop saying things that you know not to be true.

Mike

And you reckon you are winning that battle?

Jordan

Personally, or publicly?

Mike

(Laughs) Publicly.

Jordan

Ah, well I would say that the evidence from the public reaction is that I am winning that battle. I mean I’ve talked to literally thousands of people who have told me that their lives have been set on a much straighter course and often, you know, that that was a matter of life and death for many of them because they’ve decided to um… aim at something high and to be much more careful with what they say and do. And that’s made a huge difference to them. These are… all of these… the book, I think, is popular, at least in part, because it’s a strange combination of extremely high-level abstract thinking and unbelievably useful practical advice.

Mike

But it’s also accessible, it’s accessible… is the key to it.

Jordan

That’s the key. And that’s what you hope for as a behavioural psychologist.


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