Jordan Peterson on ‘cultural diversity’ and ‘the unknown’


Jordan Peterson on ‘cultural diversity’ and ‘the unknown’

Every society – every culture – provides protection from the unknown. The unknown itself is a dangerous thing, full of unpredictability and threat. Chaotic social relationships (destructured dominance hierarchies) create severe anxiety and dramatically heighten the potential for interpersonal conflict. Furthermore, the dissolution of culturally-determined goals renders individual life, identified with those goals, meaningless and unrewarding in instrinsic essence. It is neither reasonable nor possible to simply abandon a particular culture, which is a pattern of general adaptation, just because someone else comes along, who does things a different way, whose actions are predicated on different assumptions. It is no simple matter to rebuild social relationships in the wake of the introduction of new ideas. It is no straightforward process, furthermore, to give up a goal, a central unifying and motivating idea. Identification of an individual with a group means that individual psychological stability is staked on maintenance of group welfare. If the group founders suddenly, as a consequence of external circumstance or internal strife, the individual is laid bare to the world, his social context disappears, his reason for being vanishes, he is swallowed up by the unbearable unknown, and he cannot easily survive. Nietzsche states:

“In an age of disintegration that mixes races indiscriminately, human beings have in their bodies the heritage of multiple origins, that is, opposite, and often not merely opposite, drives and value standards that fight each other and rarely permit each other any rest. Such human beings of late cultures and refracted lights will on the average be weaker human beings: their most profound desire is that the war they are should come to an end.”

Of course, the unstated conclusion to Nietzsche’s observation is that the war typifying the person of “mixed-race” (mixed-culture, in more modern terminology) is the affectively-unpleasant precursor to the more thoroughly integrated individual, who has “won” the war. This “victor” – who has organized the currently warring diverse cultural standpoints into a hierarchy, integrated once more – will be stronger than his “unicultural” predecessor, as his behavior and values will be the consequence of the more diverse and broader ranging union of heretofore separate cultures. It is reasonable to presuppose that it was the “unconscious” consideration of the potentially positive outcome of such mixing that led Nietzsche to the revelation of the dawning future “superman.” It is not the mere existence of various previously-separated presuppositions in a single psyche that constitutes the post-contact victory, however. This means that the simplistic promotion of “cultural diversity” as panacea is likely to produce anomie, nihilism and conservative backlash. It is the moulding of these diverse beliefs into a single hierarchy, that is precondition for the peaceful admixture of all. This moulding can only be accomplished by war conducted between paradoxical elements, within the “post-contact” individual psyche. Such a war is so difficult – so emotionally upsetting and cognitively challenging – that the murder of the anomalous “other” in the morally-acceptable guise of war frequently seems a comforting alternative.

Fundamental threats can be posed very easily, between groups of people. Most concretely, foreign behaviors are threatening, unpredictable in particular, terrifying in general – because essential beliefs, challenging beliefs, are most convincingly expressed through actions:

He became to us a reproof of our thoughts;

the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange. (Wisdom 2:14-15 RSV)

A foreign man, a stranger, is threatening because he is not firmly fixed within a social hierarchy, and may therefore behave unpredictably – with unpredictable consequences for the social hierarchy. Signals of safety and threat vary, or may vary, between members of different groups. Unpredictable means potentially dangerous. More abstractly, what the stranger believes, specifically, threatens the integrated structure of historically-determined belief, in general. This does not present a problem, when his foreign actions or ideas do not produce fundamental conflict – do not threaten key beliefs. When basic concepts are threatened, however, the unbearable, terrible unknown once again rises up, and once firm ground begins to give way.   [Maps of Meaning, pp. 200-201]

Jordan Peterson describes the Social Justice Warrior and the Black Lives Matter rioter



An extract from the preface to Jordan Peterson’s Maps of Meaning:

When I was seventeen I left the town I grew up in. I moved nearby and attended a small college, which offered the first two years of undergraduate education.  …I had attended several left-wing party congresses, as a student politician and active party-worker. I hoped to emulate the socialist leaders. The left wing had a long and honorable history in Canada, and attracted some truly competent and caring people. However, I could not generate much respect for the numerous low-level party activists I encountered at these meetings. They seemed to live to complain: had no career, frequently; no family, no completed education – nothing but ideology. They were peevish, irritable, and little, in every sense of the word. I was faced, in consequence, with the mirror image of the problem I encountered on the college board: I could not admire many of the individuals who believed the same things I did. This additional complication furthered my existential confusion.

My college roommate, an insightful cynic, expressed skepticism regarding my ideological beliefs. He told me that the world could not be completely encapsulated within the boundaries of socialist philosophy. I had more or less come to this conclusion on my own, but had not admitted so much in words. Soon afterward, however, I read George Orwell’s Road to Wigan Pier. This book finally undermined me – not only my socialist ideology, but my faith in ideological stances themselves. In the famous essay concluding that book (written for – and much to the dismay of – the British Left Book Club) Orwell described the great flaw of socialism, and the reason for its frequent failure to attract and maintain democratic power (at least in Britain). Orwell said, essentially, that socialists did not really like the poor. They merely hated the rich. His idea struck home instantly. Socialist ideology served to mask resentment and hatred, bred by failure. Many of the party activists I had encountered were using the ideals of social justice, to rationalize their pursuit of personal revenge.

Jordan Peterson receives amazing comment from woman on youtube


Jordan Peterson receives amazing comment from woman on youtube

Speakingfor Crows1 May, 2020 (edited):

[re: Jordan Peterson Destroys Q&A | 25 February 2019]

I am a 28 year old woman who struggled with everything Jordan mentioned regarding the struggle between pursuit of a career or family. I’ve wanted family all my life, and was told that was wrong and not emancipated from my teenage years. I’ve gone through it all: looking into and even supporting feminist views at some point, working for an engineering firm and persuit of career, becoming entirely miserable and losing sight of what I wanted, forming a relationship with a loving man and slowly but surely learning through the safety of my loving relationship that it is okay to be a woman that wants to start a family and care for them. It’s an ongoing process. It took me years to accept my man as a man, sadly for him, due to the toxic beliefs and doubts pushed on me by extremist leftist “friends” – whom I lost the moment I chose to pursue my relationship. Because, and I quote: “You don’t need a man to live your life,” and being called a housewife and weak unemancipated person. Now, I have come to realize that I love and appreciate our differences almost more than our similarities. His masculinity attracts me to him and we’ve found a balance in our lives like two pieces of one puzzle (as cheesy as that sounds). JP has helped tremendously in my struggle for identity and to help me alleviate my serious depression by pursuing what truly matters TO ME. I almost comitted suicide, went to several therapists (sadly also feminists) with no result… and his lectures have helped me back to a MUCH better place in life.

As a woman I can say thay I feel almost entirely represented by JP and completely misrepresented by these so called “feminists”. It’s embarassing to hear their perspectives and blatant disregard for the opposite sex’s perspectives and opinions. I am upset and angry that I ever got involved with such a hateful group of people. I respect and love men – I believe in equality of opportunity, not outcome. And I believe that many women (and men) do.

I feel bad for JP. Almost nobody seems to truly grasp what JP puts forth. Perhaps the material is too complex, perhaps feminists only hear what they want to hear due to their hyper sensitivity to anything possibly “offensive” to their sensibilities. I’ve been there so I would know.

Keep having these discussions and as JP says: don’t appologize (or feel guilty) when you did nothing wrong. Don’t accept being bullied by feminists or being called absurd names. Embrace who you are as a man or a woman, screw what everyone else says.

Thanks JP for continuing to represent us all as true equals, for standing up for freedom of speech, even though many people don’t want to or have the intellect to recognize this. What a sacrifice to make to face such scrutiny and attacks on your character to stand up for true equality. THANK YOU is not enough. Much love from the Netherlands.


‘Replies’ to the comment:

  • Speakingfor Crows 🎉 well said!👏👏👏
  • Good to know people like you still exist. Stay strong.
  • Hey, I like Mrsmidwest she speaks about homemaking and family. I think you may really like her channel. I also like that she doesn’t condemn women who want carriers either. Check her out she and her community may help in support. 🙂
  • You melt my heart. My Mom stayed at home to raise me. I loved it. Also i love you and jordan peterson. 💗👍💗. Glad your around!
  • You go ahead and do what YOU think is right for the rest of your life!!! It’s no one else’s decision.
  • wow you are awesome! 🙂
  • Dankjewel voor je mooie tekst. Respect!!!
  • You have my respect ma’am, I hope I find a woman like you…
  • Feel happy to know genuine people’s struggles with the political motivations of the few.
  • I appreciate your comment. Lady, you are a saint. God bless you.
  • If I could pin this comment to the top of this page I would. As I see you are happy with your life now, and I see you as a winner.
  • God get some therapy or something. You really NEED to dump all this out to strangers in a comments section ffs? Seek help now
  • … and you went out of your way to berate a stranger on the internet.. lmao
  • It’s inspiring to see a woman being moved by Petersons words, because it really highlights the nature of his motives. He’s not concerned with supporting a particular gender, he’s concerned with Truth and Reason in all matters. Thanks Crows.
  • Me too I feel more reasoning with men views than of this two feminists
  • I think the fact this well articulated comment from across the globe not only speaks volume but attests to an underlying chorus. Thank you for sharing. *Damien’s “porn” search history’s fkn disturbing, sick p.o.s
  • what i really like about your story is that even though your saying you somewhat enjoy the “typical” female role that doesn’t make you any less equal to a man. thats what equality is all about, being able to make what ever life choices you want without being harrassed or abused. Fundementally that is what is wrong with modern feminism, because modern feminists dont want women to be mothers or caretakers even if that is what they want for themselves and are too often attacked for wanting a more maternal role. so i applaud your courage in standing up to these hateful feminists and proving what real equality is.
  • You are one of the few females I’ve heard say something like this. You are amazing for having the courage to see through the lies being told to us all, men and women, and then change your way of thinking simply because you took the time to think it through. I wish more people would do that. Be proud to put your family and kids first if that’s what YOU choose for YOUR life. It is, after all, your life. Forget those that bash you for your desires. I’m proud for you!
  • Very heart felt. Thank you for sharing.
  • I’m glad you found your sweetspot in life. I hope everyone will learn that their identity should be according to what they love and want to do. Not according to the ideas of others.
  • Crows – did you hear about Jordan’s stance on MGTOW? It wasn’t good, but I believe he apologized. Anyway, I realized no one is perfect. Krishnamurti always said he didn’t want to be labeled a guru. Just listen to my words and takeaway what you want.
  • your friends who say you don’t need a man, just didn’t find a man that loves them, so they hate on men
  • I love what you just said. I wish you the best from the bottom of my heart.
  • Preach it, sister. Alle the best to you.
  • Ik hoop oprecht dat ik later ook zo’n slimme vrouw krijg echt prachtig verwoord!!
  • This is so refreshing to her coming from a women…There might be hope for us all yet
  • I am glad you were able to resolve your problems. I think the real benefit of seeing Peterson in these discussion is finding something in them that we can apply to our lives. In most of his arguments he eloquently explains his ideology but the others side lacks an equal response. But other people watching understand his view and find it reasonable and fair.
  • Beautifully said! I’m with you. I have never been truly happy until I married a great man and started a family with him. And JP is a gift from God to mankind. EVERYONE has something to learn from him.
  • Niet luisteren naar die Silverman. Je doet het goed. Mijn moeder en grootmoeder waren huisvrouwen en waren echt de baas in de familie – het idee dat we “oppressed” zijn als we thuis blijven met onze kinderen echt belachelijk is.

Jordan Peterson on The devouring mother archetype


Jordan Peterson on The devouring mother archetype

This archetypal behavior was likely not intentional or even conscious to Jill Ker Conway. Like all Devouring Mothers she was doing everything for the children. That was the authentic impulse, certainly. But her conscious goal was to destroy the oppressive patriarchy and so, she must have known her efforts were all about power.

Jordan clarified how Devouring Mothers actually operated in current Western society:

“The devouring mother archetype is one that can be described as a woman who selfishly loves her children, “protecting” them from the real world to such an extent that they become permanent infants— incompetent wards of the mother for life. She is only loving when her children do what she wants, and she is hateful, cruel, and even homicidal when they don’t.

She is the various so-called civil rights movements that seek to suppress free speech in the name of political correctness. And she is the unacknowledged social policy that implores parents to lie to their children in an effort to “keep them safe” all while robbing them of the very life experience they need to face the world with wisdom.

Modern Devouring Mothers, such as university professors and administrators acting in loco parentis, would soon provide safe spaces, trigger warnings, speech codes, banishment of controversial speakers, and free coloring books, milk, and cookies for young adults who had been offended or might feel unsafe with opposing points of view or microaggressions on campus. These same young adults would also be encouraged to skip classes and engage in emotional direct action demonstrations for the rights of the oppressed. Of course, if they challenged the wisdom or motives involved, they were punished with lesser grades, possibly even banishment, forfeiting tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars paid toward a degree that was promised to provide them with the key to wealth for life.”

This was a complete and convincing fairy tale, often lived inside the ivy-covered walls of replicas of medieval castles. They, the children, were fed, attentively cared for, and adopted into an academic family that stretched back generations. They were clothed with the venerable family crests of the University of Toronto, Yale, Dartmouth, and Harvard. They were given champions, warriors in shining helmets, to cheer for on fields of contest. But, like all fairy tales, a dark secret lie in wait, hidden by an enchanting dream.

The promised power to control their lives was being drained day by day. They were being educated with a road map to a life that in no way matched the world outside the fortified walls. Some realized this and rebelled. They were punished. But for most who continued to believe, they were inescapably trapped inside the castle walls, eventually isolated on their cell phones, and the tragic results soon became obvious.

[taken from Savage Messiah, a bio of JP, by Jim Proser]

Jordan Peterson on Ideological Possession



Jordan Peterson on Ideological Possession

In a nod to his growing use of Christian ideas such as demonic possession to describe the world, Jordan Peterson devised the catch-all term ideological possession to describe the mental state of many of his multiplying antagonists. He saw ideological possession in the fierce and often illogical arguments that had begun to be lobbed at him both inside and outside his classrooms. In the emotional pleadings for their rights to a sustainable environment, organic food, the rights of animals, or aggrieved people, these advocates for the oppressed seemed somewhat impervious to logic and resistant to reason. All that apparently mattered were their emotions often stoked by prevalent disinformation, paid instigators, or flash mobs, both online and offline. Some sacrificed their individual ability to think critically and instead embraced the historical, collective ideology of Marxism. They indicated this often consuming collective identity by adopting the title of social justice warrior, or SJW.

Jordan had spent his life studying the causes and results of ideological possession, starting with the ideological possession that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. He suffered its effects firsthand in witnessing the slow mental unraveling and eventual suicide of his early childhood friend Chris, ideologically possessed by his own brand of nihilism, and by the suffering of his landlord Denis, ideologically possessed by the violent code of the Hell’s Angels.

In Maps of Meaning, Jordan wrote extensively on what he had learned about ideological possession, its representation in world mythologies and its concrete effects throughout recorded history.

“The individual who denies his individual identification with the heroic (the striving toward a deep, personal meaning in life as a flawed individual in an unjust world) will come to identify with and serve the tyrannical force of the past—and to suffer the consequences. This principle is aptly illustrated by the mythic story of Judas. Judas sacrifices Christ, the hero, to the authorities of tradition—for all the best reasons—and is then driven to destroy himself in despair.”

[taken from Savage Messiah, a bio of JP, by Jim Proser]

Nathan Gill on awareness, and other things…



Nathan Gill on awareness, and other things…

I first met Nathan a few years back when he was giving a talk in London, and I then went on to attend several more of his talks until he stopped due to ill health. I was immediately struck by what a beautiful person he was, and was very sad to hear of his death.


Concepts are used to point to this which simply is. There is only Consciousness or oneness, which may be described as having two aspects – awareness and the content of awareness. All the images that appear as the present content are being registered in awareness. These images include visual images, thoughts, sensations, emotions, etc. And amongst the thought images, there is a primal thought image which is the ‘I’ thought. This ‘I’ thought appears to arise simultaneously with the body image.

When there is overlooking of the awareness aspect of our true nature and exclusive identification with content this ‘I’ is assumed – ‘I am this character’, and all other thoughts that appear become ‘my’ thoughts, ‘my’ life, ‘my’ story. This play as the identified character seemingly blossoms in this mesmerisation.

Maybe, as part of this play, there is recognition or acknowledgement of the awareness aspect, the registering aspect of our true nature. The mesmerising is seen through, and this ‘I’ and all other thoughts are seen to be appearing as part of the scenery. They have no particular significance over any other image.

When there is identification as ‘I’, there is a sense of separation and, simultaneously, the intuiting or innate knowing of our true nature as oneness. This disparity appears as tension or agitation, manifesting as the search to be free of ‘I’, to escape from ‘I’. But there is no escape. ‘I’ is simply an image, and either the hearing of a message such as this or maybe the appearance in the play of some form of enquiry, some examining of the ‘I’, may appear to lead to seeing it for what it is.

But there is only already oneness, only already awakeness, whether there is mesmerisation as the ‘I’ or whether there is the seeing of it as merely another image.


All that appears, all that arises, is the content being presently registered. That’s all that’s happening. And all attempts and ideas of struggling to be free of identification, to be aware of awareness, all of this is the play.


Already, right now, there’s awareness and the presently arising content. And there may be focus and concentration on the thought story that’s arising as part of the content, which seems to distract from this simple recognition of awareness and content… But it’s only a story. There is only ever presence.


There’s no intelligence behind the scenes. This is God. This is what we traditionally term God. This is the immanent appearance of God, oneness, Consciousness, presence – as this roomful of characters. This is it. And as the search for wholeness subsides and ease is revealed, then seeking for God or oneness or enlightenment becomes ludicrous. There is no need – everything is as it is, it’s OK already.


Then what’s the point of living? => There isn’t one. This movie of life is the cosmic entertainment. That question stems from the viewpoint of ‘me’, the identified character in the movie. When there is identification as the character, then there is the constant looking for a reason for it, looking for a point.


The ordinariness of this roomful of characters is the content of awareness and that’s it – there’s no more to see? => No, nothing more at all. It’s very simple. There is simply the content of awareness, presently. Very simple. All the rest of it is immersion in the thought story. It’s so simple – so obvious – that it’s overlooked. Awareness and presently appearing content, oneness … what could be simpler?


There’s the desire to go back to that state of bliss. Which I suppose is an obstruction really, that desire. => Well, it’s not actually an obstruction because there’s no necessity to any of this, but within the play, it appears as an obstruction, because that very seeking itself is the inherent tension. It’s the focus in the thought story, whereby presence is overlooked in focusing on the desire for this event to happen again in a projected future. There is the overlooking of presence through focus in the story.


Jordan Peterson ponders, “Imagine that you’re unhappy, stuck, and you’re not getting what you need.”


Jordan Peterson ponders, “Imagine that you’re unhappy, stuck, and you’re not getting what you need.”

There’s a profound idea in the ancient Vedic texts (the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, and part of the bedrock of Indian culture): the world, as perceived, is maya — appearance or illusion. This means, in part, that people are blinded by their desires (as well as merely incapable of seeing things as they truly are). This is true, in a sense that transcends the metaphorical. Your eyes are tools. They are there to help you get what you want. The price you pay for that utility, that specific, focused direction, is blindness to everything else. This doesn’t matter so much when things are going well, and we are getting what we want (although it can be a problem, even then, because getting what we currently want can make blind us to higher callings). But all that ignored world presents a truly terrible problem when we’re in crisis, and nothing whatsoever is turning out the way we want it to. Then, there can be far too much to deal with. Happily, however, that problem contains within it the seeds of its own solution. Since you’ve ignored so much, there is plenty of possibility left where you have not yet looked.

Imagine that you’re unhappy. You’re not getting what you need. Perversely, this may be because of what you want. You are blind, because of what you desire. Perhaps what you really need is right in front of your eyes, but you cannot see it because of what you are currently aiming for. And that brings us to something else: the price that must be paid before you, or anyone, can get what they want (or, better yet, what they need). Think about it this way. You look at the world in your particular, idiosyncratic manner. You use a set of tools to screen most things out and let some things in. You have spent a lot of time building those tools. They’ve become habitual. They’re not mere abstract thoughts. They’re built right into you. They orient you in the world. They’re your deepest and often implicit and unconscious values. They’ve become part of your biological structure. They’re alive. And they don’t want to disappear, or transform, or die. But sometimes their time has come, and new things need to be born. For this reason (although not only for this reason) it is necessary to let things go during the journey uphill. If things are not going well for you — well, that might be because, as the most cynical of aphorisms has it, life sucks, and then you die. Before your crisis impels you to that hideous conclusion, however, you might consider the following: life doesn’t have the problem. You do. At least that realization leaves you with some options. If your life is not going well, perhaps it is your current knowledge that is insufficient, not life itself. Perhaps your value structure needs some serious retooling. Perhaps what you want is blinding you to what else could be. Perhaps you are holding on to your desires, in the present, so tightly that you cannot see anything else — even what you truly need.

Imagine that you are thinking, enviously, “I should have my boss’s job.” If your boss sticks to his post, stubbornly and competently, thoughts like that will lead you into in a state of irritation, unhappiness and disgust. You might realize this. You think, “I am unhappy. However, I could be cured of this unhappiness if I could just fulfil my ambition.” But then you might think further. “Wait,” you think. “Maybe I’m not unhappy because I don’t have my boss’s job. Maybe I’m unhappy because I can’t stop wanting that job.” That doesn’t mean you can just simply and magically tell yourself to stop wanting that job, and then listen and transform. You won’t — can’t, in fact — just change yourself that easily. You have to dig deeper. You must change what you are after more profoundly.

So, you might think, “I don’t know what to do about this stupid suffering. I can’t just abandon my ambitions. That would leave me nowhere to go. But my longing for a job that I can’t have isn’t working.” You might decide to take a different tack. You might ask, instead, for the revelation of a different plan: one that would fulfil your desires and gratify your ambitions in a real sense, but that would remove from your life the bitterness and resentment with which you are currently affected. You might think, “I will make a different plan. I will try to want whatever it is that would make my life better — whatever that might be — and I will start working on it now. If that turns out to mean something other than chasing my boss’s job, I will accept that and I will move forward.”

Now you’re on a whole different kind of trajectory. Before, what was right, desirable, and worthy of pursuit was something narrow and concrete. But you became stuck there, tightly jammed and unhappy. So you let go. You make the necessary sacrifice, and allow a whole new world of possibility, hidden from you because of your previous ambition, to reveal itself. And there’s a lot there. What would your life look like, if it were better? What would life itself look like? What does “better” even mean? You don’t know. And it doesn’t matter that you don’t know, exactly, right away, because you will start to slowly see what is “better,” once you have truly decided to want it. You will start to perceive what remained hidden from you by your presuppositions and preconceptions — by the previous mechanisms of your vision. You will begin to learn.

This will only work, however, if you genuinely want your life to improve. You can’t fool your implicit perceptual structures. Not even a bit. They aim where you point them. To retool, to take stock, to aim somewhere better, you have to think it through, bottom to top. You have to scour your psyche. You have to clean the damned thing up. And you must be cautious, because making your life better means adopting a lot of responsibility, and that takes more effort and care than living stupidly in pain and remaining arrogant, deceitful and resentful.

What if it was the case that the world revealed whatever goodness it contains in precise proportion to your desire for the best? What if the more your conception of the best has been elevated, expanded and rendered sophisticated the more possibility and benefit you could perceive? This doesn’t mean that you can have what you want merely by wishing it, or that everything is interpretation, or that there is no reality. The world is still there, with its structures and limits. As you move along with it, it cooperates or objects. But you can dance with it, if your aim is to dance — and maybe you can even lead, if you have enough skill and enough grace. This is not theology. It’s not mysticism. It’s empirical knowledge. There is nothing magical here — or nothing more than the already-present magic of consciousness. We only see what we aim at. The rest of the world (and that’s most of it) is hidden. If we start aiming at something different—something like “I want my life to be better” — our minds will start presenting us with new information, derived from the previously hidden world, to aid us in that pursuit. Then we can put that information to use and move, and act, and observe, and improve. And, after doing so, after improving, we might pursue something different, or higher — something like, “I want whatever might be better than just my life being better.” And then we enter a more elevated and more complete reality.     JP in 12 Rules… p. 74-5

The Invisible Interior of Artistic Humanity by Max Podstolski


The Invisible Interior of Artistic Humanity
by Max Podstolski


It was a glorious morning as I strolled with my family down the steep rural road towards the shimmering bay. At a bend near the bottom a couple of elderly artists, a man and a woman, badges showing they were bona fide members of a provincial art society, had set up easels overlooking the picturesque scene, which they were industriously depicting in watercolour. We got to chatting with the gentleman, an engagingly talkative fellow easily into his ’80s, while the woman kept silently painting, scarcely acknowledging our presence. He confided ­ pointing to his leaning walking stick ­ that being crippled made it difficult to get around much any more, at least without some kind soul to drive him. This was clearly a reference to the middle-aged, sturdy-looking man leaning idly against the paddock fence, attending watchfully to the painting in progress like an admiring acolyte. The master explained that his wife’s refusal to drive on hills was no help whatsoever in getting him to such out of the way places, so he had to rely on the good graces of others in the art society. While she remained securely at home, the proper place for people of advanced age, he continued to venture forth into the wild blue yonder, despite an increasing debility which, nevertheless, didn’t prevent him from standing in front of his easel for hours at a time.

As we moved on I called out “keep up the good work!”, a hypocritical platitude perhaps, as I’ve never considered such quasi-impressionistic landscape painting as “good” in any but the most mediocre sense. But my remark was not meant to be insincere, not at all. Though I have no taste personally for that kind of art, I have nothing but admiration for the artist’s dogged determination to keep doing what he obviously loves ­ plein-air painting in exquisite natural settings ­ given the stubborn recalcitrance of a body which has all but given up the ghost.

Like him, the vast majority of artists will never be famous. Many will achieve limited, parochial renown to be all but forgotten by posterity, except maybe for family members, art society types, dedicated collectors, traditionalist dealers, local or national art history chroniclers: all strictly small-time. A tiny handful will be posthumously resurrected, declared ‘great’ or ‘significant’ in the Van Gogh paradigm or under the banner of ideologically-revisionist art history. The condition for most artists will remain relative anonymity and obscurity, but I stress the word ‘relative’ here: being known and respected in a local community carries its own weight, however insignificant against the wider international benchmark.

But then, why dwell on artists anyway? What makes them so special compared to ‘ordinary’ humans? My considered view is that there is no essential difference, as the human condition is innately artistic. Everyone is potentially an artist: all it takes to become one is the self-realisation that that’s what you already are. It is not what you do that makes you an artist, but your awareness of something within that constitutes an artistic or aesthetic dimension. The primal artwork is one’s own life, indeed life itself as you experience it and reflect on it. There is no barrier between life and art in this sense, the sense which everyone shares.

The usual sense of art, on the other hand, thrives on exactly that opposition to life: artists traditionally depict life, it is not enough to say they merely live it. Asserting that art is life, on that view, is totally meaningless, so why bother? If everyone’s an artist, doesn’t that cheapen the concept, reduce it to the lowest common denominator where no-one can fail at it any more? Art historians surely shouldn’t write about everyone ­ how could they even begin to contemplate such a mammoth absurdity?

In my view art history, the art world, the art market ­ in other words art with a capital “A” ­ is less important than the art which is part of all of us, which we participate in by virtue of being human. I believe it’s more important to succeed at life than art (at least in the usual, commonly-held view of art). Yes, one person’s success is another’s failure: each may easily invert into the other, like the fluctuating interplay between yin and yang. Do you place greatest emphasis on your little time before death, or the big time that stretches endlessly forwards and backwards? It’s not just a question of art, but a philosophical or religious one. The only difference is the way you feel about it in the here-and-now, which is all you can ever truly call your own.

There have certainly been cases of up-and-coming artists who self-destructed prematurely, hastening the inevitable end. For them the opposite may have been true, in sacrificing life for art. Take Philip Clairmont, the New Zealand expressionist painter who ended his talented life while still in his early ’30s. His final creative/destructive act was to treat himself as a painting ­ to be hung, literally. A poignantly tragic finale to a short but brilliant career. His art was intentionally made to fall to bits one day, similar to people, so you could say he was true to himself, as both artist and human. On that view better to go out with a suitably dramatic flourish than merely fade away.

If you define your own art yourself, then you succeed or fail entirely on your own terms. If you equate it with the way you live, then succeeding at life simultaneously implies succeeding at art, and vice versa. It implies thinking about and modifying your own attitudes and values, to enable you to create the life and identity you want. It is only a limitation in thinking, a fixed idea, to presume that art must either be socially visible or not exist at all. The liberating realisation is that art can be totally invisible except to you, the creator, that it need have no other existence than in your own head.

The invisibility of art is the rule, not the exception, despite appearances to the contrary. All artworks imitate something that exists only in the private space of artistic perception and/or conception. In giving form to that private vision the artwork is identified by us, the audience, with the artist’s interior view, but what we are really seeing is our own interior view projected onto the artwork. In doing so we are not recreating the artist’s vision, but creating or recognising our own.

Interior views are universally shared, it is the way we all see, though we can never know for sure that others see exactly what we see. It is looking out from, and looking in towards, the invisible interior that shapes and reinforces our common ­ yet often intensely individualistic ­ artistic humanity.

This article originally appeared in *spark-online, issue 9.0, June 2000

Bridget Riley on her work


Bridget Riley on her work

The desire to be a painter may spring from any of several sources. One might be stirred by other paintings seen in an art gallery or a private house – or one may be prompted by a wish for self-expression, a longing to convey something deeply felt. It may come from a need to make an artefact, to build or fabricate, to shape and organise so as to bring a new entity into existence, or simply from the pleasure of painting itself. All these reasons may play a part but in my case there was an additional one – and that was sight. The pleasures of sight have one characteristic in common – they take you by surprise. They are sudden, swift and unexpected. If one tries to prolong them, recapture them or bring them about wilfully their purity and freshness is lost. They are essentially enigmatic and elusive. One can stare at a landscape, for example, which a moment ago seemed vibrant and find it inert and dull – so one cannot say that this lively quality of sight is simply ‘out there in nature’, or easily available to be commanded as wished. Nor is it a state of mind which, once acquired, can bend the most stubborn and unrewarding aspect of external reality to its own purposes. It is neither the one nor the other but a perfect balance between the two, between the inner and the outer. This balance is a sort of convergence which releases a particular alchemy, momentarily turning the commonplace into the ravishing.

Bridget Riley

Conversation, 1992, Oil on linen, 92 x 126cm

I had to make something which had this essential quality of precipitating itself as ‘surprise’ and, simultaneously, there was no way of knowing with what one was dealing until it existed; so that in order to see one had to paint and through that activity found what could be seen.

It sometimes amazes me when people say ‘How do you work?’ because in fact it is all in the painting, it is absolutely self-evident. If someone is interested enough to look at the painting he will find out all there is to know. Nothing is hidden, other than a few structural lines maybe which I do not want to be visible.

The computer may be excellent at manipulating a given set of data or information, it may even, once it has been instructed, generate variations on my paintings ad infinitum. But it cannot initiate those very particular kinds of dramatic structures which I wanted in my black-and-white paintings in the 1960s. A computer simply does not understand what I called to myself the ‘sense of inevitability’; and its mind would go blank when faced with the task of constructing a visual order which produces and accommodates disorder without yielding to it – as I did in Movement in Squares.

When I started, around 1960, forms such as triangles, squares, circles, rhomboids, etc. were no longer burdened by the heavy load of associations and symbolic overtones which they had carried in the Twenties and Thirties as Constructivist motifs. They were simple forms without any pretensions, in a condition for working with. Just ‘to hand’.

I might for example choose a unit, say an oval, and I ‘pace’ this unit, as I call it. I put it through its paces, I push it to the fullest extent where it loses, or almost loses, its ovalness, its oval characteristics. I see, so to speak, what an oval will do.

I want the spectator to experience the power of these elements. For instance, I called one painting Static in the sense of a field of static electricity. It is visual prickles. But I don’t find that a painful physical thing. It’s a quality: as velvet is smooth, so this is a sparkling texture – visually. The key to this, I think, is in the actual stuff I am dealing with – the elements themselves. People frequently experience visual events in nature which are far more violent, and even blinding, than anything I have done on canvas. A glittering expanse of sea or a shimmering tree is far more disturbing. The hub of the matter seems to be what is expected and what can therefore be accommodated. People would be very shocked indeed if the world itself was as dead in its appearance as they seem to expect a painting to be.

Bridget Riley

The Ivy Painting, 1998, 28.5 x 44.75 ins

In my recent colour work I have been using stripes, either parallel or twisting around each other, because they are unassertive forms. Form and colour seem to be fundamentally incompatible – they destroy each other. In my earlier work, when I was developing complex forms, the energies of the medium could only be fully released by simplifying colour to a black-and-white contrast (with occasional grey sequences). Conversely colour energies need a virtually neutral vehicle if they are to develop uninhibitedly. The repeated stripe seems to meet these conditions.

The ovals in Deny still contain visual energy, as separate entities, rather like the pointillist marks of Seurat did. But a long thin line, essentially ‘edge’, without a large volume to carry, is the ideal element to work with this elusive relationship between colour and light. In the same way that I had to sacrifice distinctive forms in order to release the energy of colour-light, it was necessary to increase the scale of the event to prevent focused looking. The reasoning of my black and white work could not be extended into colour because it depended on a contradiction between stability and disruption. I had to find a new basis and for a long time this eluded me, which was extremely blind of me, because I had already copied Seurat, and that should have taught me certain things. But I had to wait about seven or eight years before I re-understood what I had actually been through. I saw that the basis of colour is its instability. Instead of searching for a firm foundation, I realised I had one in the very opposite. That was solid ground again, so to speak, and by accepting this paradox I could begin to work with the fleeting, the elusive. When played through a series of arabesques the curve is wonderfully fluid, supple and strong. It can twist and bend, flow and sway, sometimes with the diagonal, sometimes against, so that the tempo is either accelerated or held back, delayed.

My paintings are, of course, concerned with generating visual sensations, but certainly not to the exclusion of emotion. One of my aims is that these two responses should be experienced as one and the same.

In everyday language abstraction refers to the process by which one draws a generalised notion or formula from the particularities of real experience. Abstraction in this sense is the result of an intellectual effort that everyone makes in order to cope with everyday experience … But in visual art this is not the meaning of abstraction, although it has often been confused with it … Klee was the first artist to point out that for the painter the meaning of abstraction lay in the opposite direction to the intellectual effort of abstracting: it is not an end, but the beginning. Every painter starts with elements – lines, colours, forms – which are essentially abstract in relation to the pictorial experience that can be created with them. It seems to me that a kind of formal thinking is capable of providing an equivalent to that missing universal vehicle. Properly treated, formalism is not an empty thing but a potentially very powerful answer to this spiritual challenge.

Spirituality in art is never a question of a direct intention projected autonomously onto a work but one of response. As an artist your response is freely made; it cannot be forced. If you look at the great art from the past you will see that its spirit does not lie in any sort of cognitive structure or vision but in an appreciation of life and its celebration: not only the joyful or ecstatic but also the shocking or terrifying aspects. An artist feels a need ‘to do something’ about the very fact of being alive, rather like a bird feels the need to sing.

One has to distinguish between subject matter and content. They are completely different things. The subject of a work which rates as a work of art, whether it’s a poem, a piece of music, or a painting, has been treated in such a way that it appears literally as subject matter, something on which and with which the artist has worked, and it is this involvement – this response – which creates the content. Habitually people expect to recognise in a painting something already known in a literal sense. I wanted to bring about some fresh way of seeing again what had already almost certainly been experienced, but which had been either dismissed or buried by the passage of time; that thrill of pleasure which sight itself reveals. I think paintings should have titles, they can be a small bridge by which the spectator can enter into the painting. I usually draw on memory, memories of sensations in the past which have some sort of correspondence with those in the painting. Even if the painting is burnt the next day, even if you later put a knife through it, I think that it is important to make it as perfectly and thoroughly as one can, because it’s a gesture, a votive something, so it must be done for its own sake, as something in itself: that has nothing to do with value, nothing at all. Value is another matter which other people can decide and is neither here nor there to you as an artist in making the thing.

Bridget Riley

Blue About, 1983/2002, Oil on linen, 5′ 11 x 58 ¾ ins

Jordan Peterson on the True Meaning of Life

Jordan Peterson on the True Meaning of Life

If you become a better person then you start to be good for things, you know you can fix problems.

Q: Happiness. You talk a lot about it, should it be our life goal? If not, what should we be seeking?

Well, it shouldn’t be our life goal because there are times in your life when you’re not going to be happy, and then what are you going to do?  Your goal is demolished, and there are going to be plenty of times in your life when you’re not happy. There might be years, and so it’s a shallow boat in a very rough ocean, and it’s based upon a mis-conceptualization.

Happiness is something that descends upon you. Everyone knows that, you know, it comes upon you suddenly. Then you should be grateful for it, because there’s plenty of suffering and if you happen to be happy, well wonderful! Enjoy it. Be grateful for it and maybe try to meditate on the reasons that it manifested itself, right, because it can come as a mystery, you know.

Q: You don’t necessarily know when you’re gonna be happy?

Something surprising happens and delights you, and you can analyze that, you can think, “Well, I’m doing something right. I’m in the right place right now. Maybe I can hang on to that. Maybe I can learn from that.” What you should be pursuing instead is, well, there’s two things: You should be pursuing who you could be. That’d be the first thing. It’s like, because you’re not who you could be and you know it, you have guilt and shame and regret, and you berate yourself for your lack of discipline and your procrastination and all your bad habits. You know perfectly well that you’re not who you could be and God only knows who you could be. So  that’s how you should be. That’s what you should be striving for. Associated with that, you should be attempting to formulate some conception of the highest good that you can conceive of, that you can articulate, because why not aim for that? It’s like, your life is short and it’s troublesome. Perhaps you need to do something worthwhile with it. If so, then you should do the most worthwhile thing and you should figure out what that is for you. Part of that’s definitely going to be to develop your character as much as possible to dispense with those parts of you that are unworthy, and then maybe if you’re fortunate and you do that carefully, then happiness will descend upon you from time to time. That’s the best you’ve got, and then also perhaps during sorrowful times or worse, evil times, the fact that you’ve strengthened your character and that you’re aiming at the highest that you can conceptualize. That’ll give you the moral fortitude to endure without becoming corrupted during those times and to be someone who can be relied upon in a crisis.

One of the things I’ve told my audiences, and the young guys take to this a lot, is that you should be the strongest person at your father’s funeral. Right? Well, that’s something. Now the generational transition refers to all the people around you who are suffering because of their loss. They have someone to turn to who can illustrate by their behaviour, that the force of character is sufficient to move you beyond the catastrophe, and you need that. That’s a great thing, too. That’s a great thing to hypothesize as your aim, and happiness just evaporates as irrelevant in light of that sort of conceptualization. So when you are the strongest person at your father’s funeral, and have just buried your father, it strikes home.

Q: Should there be joy around that realization, not happiness?

Happiness, like the fizzy bubbles, and you know carbonated beverage. They tickle your tongue, but they go away. Is there a deeper joy? Well, there’s at least the sense that you’ve taken something that could be very much like hell, and made it far better than it could have been. There’s also the fact that you know if you deal with it if you’ve matured enough, let’s say, to deal with the catastrophe of loss and death. You can also be the rallying point for the remnants of your family and pull them together at a moment of crisis, and that’s a payoff to some degree.

I’ve seen this in families who’ve dealt with death properly. The remainder of the family pulls together, you know, they become more integrated and it’s not complete compensation for their loss, but it’s not nothing. It certainly beats the alternative where everyone’s ‘fraction eights’ because everyone’s too weak to cope with the catastrophe. Everything dissolves. So how do you actually become the strongest person at your father’s funeral? What are the steps and is it always about being mission driven? Well, the mission is the improvement of your character. The constant improvement of your character, and I think a lot of that’s done in dialogue with your conscience. It’s like, your conscience is always telling you. Socrates said this thousands of years ago. Your conscience is always telling you what you shouldn’t be doing and one of the things Socrates said was what discriminated him from the run-of-the-mill person, and why perhaps we still know of him so many thousands of years later was that when his conscious told him not to do something he didn’t do it. He   stopped saying the things that he shouldn’t have been saying and he stopped doing the things he shouldn’t have been doing. That’s a start, you know, that that’s a discipline. I would say that’s the ability to follow a certain kind of intrinsic discipline, and maybe that’s merely the cessation of evil, and that’s not exactly the same as the pursuit of positive good. Let’s say you haven’t gone out there yet, but that’s a start.

You clear away the obstacles from your vision by ceasing to engage in those activities you know to be wrong, and then the world starts to lay itself out in more pristine form. Then maybe you can start to apprehend what would be positively good instead of merely not wrong. I mean, not wrong is a good start. The biblical corpus is structured in that way to some degree, at least from a Christian reading. The first rule is – follow the damn rules, right, get yourself together. There are some rules. Follow   them and you discipline yourself, right? You make yourself a reasonably, morally respectable individual and so now you’re not blinded as much by your own proclivity for uselessness and malevolence, and then you can integrate all that you can integrate. All those rules is the beginning of the development of character, and then you can embody, you can embody the union of the rules. It’s something like that, and that’s that ultimate nobility and character like in the Christian corpus Christ is represented.

Let’s think about this psychologically as the perfect individual, right? Just think about that as the psychological representation, and that’s the person who’s taken a disciplinary structure in and integrated it into a personality that acts that out properly in the world. It’s not merely rule-bound either because you have to follow the rules, but you also have to be part of the process that generates new rules when it’s necessary. So you take that onto yourself as an additional responsibility. Now, that makes you more than a blind avatar of authority and stops you from being rigid. You know if you look at a medieval cathedral, one of the things you’ll see, for example, is a representation of the sky, the dome of the sky. Maybe you’ll see an imitation of Christ on them, on the peak of the dome, and think about that as a representation of the ideal individual. Speaking only psychologically, it’s like there’s something I’ve caused. What you’re aiming at is that perfection of yourself and that’ll keep you busy for your entire life, and it’ll do no harm, right? It’ll make you better, it’ll make your family better, it’ll make your community better, and it’ll give you something psychologically meaningful. So there’s all that! It helps you withstand suffering and disperse malevolence. It’s also extraordinarily practical because if you become a better person then you start to be good for things. You know you can fix problems. You can handle a funeral, you can handle a difficult situation, you know.

So it’s not only that it’s psychologically meaningful to pursue the highest of goals and the development of your character. It’s also the best possible thing that you can do practically, here and now, in the material world to make it less terrible than it might otherwise be. Your personal goals are always going to be aligned with the needs of society, the needs of humanity. Well, that’s a trick, you know, it’s optimally the answer. You can think about it like a musical score, you know, how there’s levels in a musical score where each instrument is doing its own thing. Each section is doing its own thing, but it’s all united into a single vision. The critics of the hierarchical structure are wrong, because the proper way to set up a hierarchy is so that your interests are aligned with those of your family. That’s hard. That requires a lot of negotiation and then you and your family have your interests aligned with those of your local community, right? So that all of those levels are reinforcing each other, and then those are united at a higher level, at a higher political structure and that that’s an equilibrium state, to use a phrase from the developmental psychologist Jean Piaget.

It’s a game that everyone wants to play and it’s working for everyone at the same time and so it isn’t based on oppression or dominance from the top down, and so I think that if you formulate your character properly and you put yourself together, you start also to realize that you’re not […]  Look, if you get married to someone the ideas that you become one, right, and so it isn’t just your interest anymore or maybe it’s that your interest isn’t your interest without it also being someone else’s interest, right, it’s insufficiently formulated and you need that conflict with another person to tap you into proper shape. So what you’re aiming at is you, and the development of your character. But more than that, and then you do the same when you introduce children into that, you expand out that characterological capacity and then you can continue to expand that, and so optimally, yes, what serves you should be serving at every level and I believe that part of the reason that music has such an overwhelming effect on people is because that’s what it says it says. Look, everything can work in a multi-level harmony and then people listen to music and it produces a religious like experience in everyone. It transfixes them with the sense of intrinsic meaning. It’s really miraculous that it does that and the question is why, and I’ve puzzled over this for years. It seems to me that the reason is that in the musical piece everything has its proper place at every level, and so that speaks of heaven. That’s the right way to put it, which is why music is so often used in churches. It means that everyone’s interests are being taken into account, you know, and it’s obviously a utopian ideal, but it’s something that has to be constantly worked on. But people often have accused me of an individualistic bias in my moral reasoning. You know that. Well, you should get yourself together. You get yourself together so that you can get your family together, so you can get your community together so that you can get the world together. All of that at the same time.

There’s nothing selfish about that, except the responsibility, which is on you to start that and to bear that and to lift that and to act it out so it has nothing to do with chasing your short-term impulsive pleasure-seeking goals which is the real epiphany for me, because you know what you’re doing. The right thing for your personal growth, when it’s the same thing that society needs from you, is when your needs are in alignment with what society needs you to do for it. Then you’re doing the right thing, probably, for yourself. Well, that’s how it seems. I mean it seems then that you’ve found your niche right where you are. What you have to offer, you know.

I think of people as beasts of burden in some sense, like we’re built for a burden and we’re not happy without that burden. We want to find the one that suits us and that’s difficult. It’s part of the adventure of life. To seek out the burden that suits you, but when you have that then hopefully you’re operating in harmony with the requirements of those around you.  The thing to me is that everything else pales in comparison with that. That’s why it says in the New Testament that you should stack up riches in heaven. It’s like there isn’t anything better than that, you know, you’re functioning well. Your family’s functioning well, you’re contributing to your community. What you’re doing is worthwhile, you know, you’re not tormented by your conscience. You’re aiming at something that the sacrifices that you have to make are that clearly justified, the sacrifices you have to make, maybe even the sacrifice of your life, because you’re in this like this is a mortal game. You’re in this with your whole life and you’d think that what that would mean, at least in part, is that you need to find a game to play that’s of sufficient grandeur and nobility so that perhaps even the fact that mortality is built into the structure now becomes justifiable. I mean, it’s a hell of an ambition, but it doesn’t seem to me to be something that’s impossible. I think you can live your life enough so that it justifies itself, despite its limitation. That’s the real question, Can you do that? I believe that you can and I believe that what that means is that the human spirit fundamentally triumphs over death. So that’s optimism, you know, in the midst of the sorrel and the malevolence. We have the capacity, we have the capacity to transcend that, then there isn’t anything more optimistic than that. There’s nothing in it that isn’t good, right? It’s good for you, it’s good for the people you love, it’s good for the broader society. It’s like, it’s good and that’ll take you through your times of travail. There isn’t anything else that will and then maybe on your deathbed you can think, “I justified my privilege, the terrible privilege of my existence, and maybe that’s good enough. It’s possible that that’s good enough.” You certainly don’t have anything better to do than that, as far as I can tell.

Final comment:

We’ve all gotta find our burden. Doctor Peterson, I appreciate your passion for this. It sinks through, and it’s music as you point it out. They describe the things we all struggle with day in and day out. Words to emotion that most of us can’t even touch. Thank you for being with us.