Transcribed from Jordan Peterson’s dialogue with Dennis Prager, on Prager U, May 23, 2019.
35.00-42.20 This segment speaks about the postmodernist collectiviststranglehold on universities, and its doctrine denying the reality of the individual.
Jordan Peterson: I think that universities do more harm than good now, and I’m very loath to say that, you know, because I’ve been part of the academy for thirty years and taught at great institutions.
But the postmodern collectivist doctrine isso psychologically and politically toxicthat I think that academia now does more harm than good.
And it is not only what it teaches which is the ideology, this ungrateful ideology, which denies the existence of the individual.
One of the things I might tell you, just so you know this, is that, you know, you hear that there are debates about free speech on campus, about who should talk and who shouldn’t, and people think that that’s what the debate is about, about who should talk and who shouldn’t, but that’s not what the debate is about. You’re not even scraping the surface of the debate if that’s what you think it’s about.
The debate on campus is about whether or not a human being has the capacity to communicate intelligibly as an individual or not, and the answer forthe postmodernist collective types is that there is no such thing as an individual. And therefore the very notion of free speech is absurd, because free speech is predicated on the idea that each of us have something to say that’s ours, that’s a consequence of our unique individuality, not our group identity, or the multiplicity of our group identities, but something, that’s something that we have that speaks from our spirit that can speak to the spirit of another and produce a negotiated peace, and that’s what’s being debated.
The war that’s going on philosophically or theologically in the campuses is far deeper than you think. The entire notion of the reality of the individual, which is, I think, also the entire notion of the idea that human beings are made in the image of God most fundamentally. That is what’s being attacked.
It wasn’t for nothing that Derrida called western culture, phallogocentric, phallus for masculine and logos for logos, for truth and courage, and centric for centric. That was a criticism from his perspective, the idea of the sovereignty of the individual.
If you don’t have the idea of the sovereignty of the individual‘cause there is no individual, there’s no free speech.All you are is an avatar of your group interests and if I’m not in your group it’s not in my interest to let you speak. There’s nothing that we have to say to one other. There’s nothing but power. It’s a Hobbesian nightmare of group against group, and that’s the postmodern doctrine.
And so, it’s, to call it appalling is to barely scrape the surface. It’s an assault, it is truly an assault on the most fundamental principles by which the West is governed. It’s not surface level philosophy. It goes all the way to the bottom and this is partly why I have been concentrating on religious themes in my lectures, let’s say, because the argument goes all the way down to first principles.
Is there, is the idea of the sovereignty of the individualcorrect? The Western answer is, it’s the great discovery of the West, the Western answer is, that’s the most fundamental truth. That is exactly what is under assault at the universities. The reason that the collectivist types hate me is because I’ve got their number. I know what they’re up to.
And I think further that they do not wish to shoulder the unbearable responsibility of being a sovereign individual, so not only is it – and that accounts for the cowardice, and that accounts for the attempt to weaken the spirit of the people that they’re teaching by overprotecting them — they’re not willing to take on the responsibility, and the fault has to lie elsewhere.
And I think that’s a good judge of someone, someone’s character in general. It’s like, well the world is in a messy state, let’s say, and the question is, “Whose fault is it?” And the answer is: yours. That’s the right answer.
It’s not the patriarchy, it’s not some identifiable group, it’s not some structure that’s gone wrong, even though those things can go wrong.
And that’s the other fundamental truth of the West, is that,things would be a lot better if you were a lot better. And you have to decide if you’re willing to accept that, and you have every reason not to. It’s a terrible thought.
You know, it was Solzhenitsyn, I think—this is a paraphrase but I think it’s close enough—he said that one person who stopped lying could bring down a tyranny, and when I first read that I thought that can’t possibly be true, and as I understood I thought that can’t possibly not be true because the only thing that can break the spine of a tyranny is the truth, and the only person that, and the only way that the truth can be told is that some individual tells it, and so it’s necessarily the case that tyranny is broken by the truth of the individual.
But then the question is, well is it gonna be you that’s going to do that?It’s no trivial thing. You know, people come and tell me, very frequently, and they write me, and they say well, you know, I agree with what you say and this terrible thing is happening in my workplace and, you know, I don’t know what to do about it, and I don’t want you to make my story public, and because of the potential for repercussion.
And I think, yeah, well I understand your position. It’s no joke to, it’s no joke to stand up when the amateur totalitarians are knocking on your office door, but if you don’t, then sooner than you think, it will be the professional totalitarians, and then you will be in the sort of trouble that unless you’ve tried to imagine it, you can’t possibly imagine it. So.