One of the most interesting things about getting older is that you start to accumulate repeated experiences. The number of times I have had the honour of attending speeches or debates featuring major international public intellectuals has gone beyond “once” or “a couple of times.” It is now something I have had the privilege of doing several times. And throughout repeated experiences, it becomes natural to start highlighting the differences between events which seem like they should be nearly identical.
For example, I can confidently declare that the 12 Rules for Life tour surpassed the expectations set by my previous experiences.
It was basically a whim that led me to see Dr. Jordan Peterson live. Under the premise that the vast majority of his events are eventually posted online for easy access anyway, I’ve believed that there is little incentive to go out of your way to see him. Plus, he has never been a major philosophical, political or literary influence on me. (I could be accurately described as being in the hipster category of people who think he was much better suited to his role as a psychology lecturer prior to his forceful entry into the political arena.)
Despite this, after his tour passed through Australia last year—and I missed all of those shows—it was announced that he would return in early 2019. “I may as well,” I thought to myself. “If I am not busy I could likely catch one of those shows.” Ironically, by the time I recalled this haphazard plan, all the tickets for his main show in Sydney had sold out.
Instead, it was off to the second show for me. Back when I got my ticket it did not seem like it would be nearly as crowded of an event as the first show. It was the closing of his Australian tour and was missing the other half of his act in Dave Rubin. The day itself was another story altogether. Peterson managed the noteworthy feat of selling out the 8,000 seat capacity ICC theatre: For comparison, when he first came to Sydney last year, he only did his show for a modest crowd of 1,000 people.
Peterson’s place in the wider culture as a political divisive figure builds certain expectations about the atmosphere of his events; one might expect something akin to a political rally with open advocacy of political agendas and angry, adversarial attitudes toward the nebulous “enemy.” Instead, the air was overwhelmingly positive, especially compared to similar debates and speeches I’ve attended in the past.
In place of ideological paraphernalia, the crowd were dressed modestly and respectably. When I went to see Dr. Cornel West last year I witnessed numerous pro-socialist t-shirts and at least one MAGA hat. A glance across the patiently seated crowd of the ICC theatre revealed collared shirts and modest, comfortable dresses instead. The aforementioned debate featuring Dr. West featured regular hecklers from both sides of the political divide. In contrast, the only interruptions to be found at Peterson’s show were two lengthy rounds of standing applause—book ending the event at the beginning and finale.
The whole image of a political rally for young, conservative men falls apart once you see the content of a Peterson show. Considering how political our culture is at this moment, it could be argued that Peterson’s show is a relatively apolitical experience, an opportunity to get away from all of that. Other than a segue about the philosophy of Karl Marx, his lecture’s content was simply not concerned with politics. The primary topics of the night were God, mythology and Carl Jung.
To be frank, the whole idea that today’s conservative youth are secretly meeting to inflame their fascist agenda by listening to a Canadian psychoanalyst seems ill-suited at first glance. There is nothing fundamentally political about a philosophy that places Freud above Ayn Rand in terms of importance. Even I, as a contrarian lefty, hardly felt unwelcome here: That would not hold true at a Trump rally or a Ben Shapiro event.
Even as I write this, and solemnly believe Peterson’s message is not intended as political dogma, I am reminded that everything has political consequences. And if there was a unifying theme to a Peterson show, it is that you fix society by fixing yourself. On that point, at least, I advocate his position.
His cultural Marxism crank conspiracy theories are a tired cliché, but he shares perhaps the most important insight about politics that can be made: We are wealthier and more powerful now than at any other time in human history, yet people feel victimised and powerless like never before. In place of ideological explanations, perhaps the simplest interpretation is that we victimise ourselves more than society does.
As we have gotten wealthier and more advanced and cured diseases and hunger, education has become a mess and we have gotten fatter and lazier and less well read and culture has eschewed sophistication for consumption. Perhaps it is not society that is getting worse, it is us, those who populate it, who have failed society.
If that is the idea that Peterson is seeking to share with the world, it is perhaps no surprise that the stupid narcissists that run our media are less than enthused by his rising popularity. There is money for advertisers to be made by the notion that a Hashtag will get us past Trump, less so in the idea that Trump is the fault of our personal irresponsibility and shortcomings.
If it helps undermine these sorts of delusions, perhaps a rule or two from Peterson’s book won’t do much harm. At the very least, it would be better if we judged him ourselves, rather than relying on our incredibly insufficient media to do it for us.
For that reason alone, going out of my way to see Peterson live was much more treat than chore.