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.

Richard Sylvester on ‘Being a Person’



This is an extract from Richard’s book, ‘I Hope You Die Soon’

Being a Person


The sense of a being a person is so strong. It has been with me all my life and it is the strongest addiction of all. It arises in so many ways.

I have responsibilities. I am a father to two children. I have students. I am chairman of this very important committee. Perhaps I can save the planet in my spare time.

I have fears. Perhaps I have cancer. My house might have dry rot. I might end my days lonely in a single room with dribble down my chin. Maybe on my way to my holiday destination the aeroplane will come screaming out of the sky in flames.

I have hopes. Perhaps I will meet someone in the coffee bar today and fall in love. Maybe I will be promoted at work. I might win the lottery and be able to give up work and buy a Ferrari at last.

I have longings. Many of these are contradictory. I yearn for inclusion and for solitude, for independ-ence and to be looked after, to feel deeply and to be impregnable and unmoved.

I live in a state of contraction, tensed against threat and pain. There is an overwhelming sense that I am in here and everything else is out there bearing down on me. I have to protect myself against all the pressures that could destroy me. I even have to protect myself against my own dear ones, perhaps especially against those who have seen me at my most open. I may be pulled in every direction by contradictory impulses. Because of my yearning for unity I want to be close to another, to be intimate, to be held, to be comforted. Because of my fear of being invaded, I want to be separate, to be distant, to be autonomous. No state can ever bring me satisfaction for long because every state that I desire contradicts a different state that I also want. When I am included I crave separation. When I am excluded I crave belonging.

I am vulnerable, separate, fearful, easily put out, easily put down. I travel between ecstasy and despair, or I remain imprisoned in armoured non-feeling. Above all I have memories of the past and fears and fantasies about the future. I have regrets, guilt, wishes, if onlys, self-consciousness, embarrassment. I am charismatic or shy. I play my games, exercise my ego, know that I am right, justify myself, evan-gelise for my beliefs. The sense of ‘I’ is constantly being created and recreated by every phenomenon, every thought, sensation and feeling.

It is unimaginable that life can go on without the sense of me, that this can simply be seen with no one seeing it. It is impossible to imagine the seeing that there is no one, for who would be seeing it?

Since the first moment of separation the person has been ever-present. Then suddenly in a split second the sense of ‘I’ drops away completely. There is no gradual transcendental diffusion of the person but its complete disappearance. And the unimaginable has happened, the total absence of self has been seen. The void has been recognised. All concepts of space and time become meaning-less. There is only omnipresence. Here and there are seen to be the same.

After this it is very difficult to take your previous life seriously.



Jordan Peterson on his therapeutic approach


Jordan Peterson on his therapeutic approach:

A listening person can reflect the crowd. He can do that without talking. He can do that merely by letting the talking person listen to himself. That is what Freud recommended. He had his patients lie on a couch, look at the ceiling, let their minds wander, and say whatever wandered in. That’s his method of free association. That’s the way the Freudian psychoanalyst avoids transferring his or her own personal biases and opinions into the internal landscape of the patient. It was for such reasons that Freud did not face his patients. He did not want their spontaneous meditations to be altered by his emotional expressions, no matter how slight. He was properly concerned that his own opinions — and, worse, his own unresolved problems — would find themselves uncontrollably reflected in his responses and reactions, conscious and unconscious alike. He was afraid that he would in such a manner detrimentally affect the development of his patients. It was for such reasons, as well, that Freud insisted that psychoanalysts be analysed themselves. He wanted those who practiced his method to uncover and eliminate some of their own worst blind spots and prejudices, so they would not practise corruptly. Freud had a point. He was, after all, a genius. You can tell that because people still hate him. But there are disadvantages to the detached and somewhat distant approach recommended by Freud. Many of those who seek therapy desire and need a closer, more personal relationship (although that also has its dangers). This is in part why I have opted in my practice for the conversation, instead of the Freudian method — as have most clinical psychologists.

It can be worthwhile for my clients to see my reactions. To protect them from the undue influence that might produce, I attempt to set my aim properly, so that my responses emerge from the appropriate motivation. I do what I can to want the best for them (whatever that might be). I do my best to want the best, period, as well (because that is part of wanting the best for my clients). I try to clear my mind, and to leave my own concerns aside. That way I am concentrating on what is best for my clients, while I am simultaneously alert to any cues that I might be misunderstanding what that best is. That’s something that has to be negotiated, not assumed on my part. It’s something that has to be managed very carefully, to mitigate the risks of close, personal interaction. My clients talk. I listen. Sometimes I respond. Often the response is subtle. It’s not even verbal. My clients and I face each other. We make eye contact. We can see each other’s expressions. They can observe the effects of their words on me, and I can observe the effects of mine on them. They can respond to my responses.

I’m a collaborator and opponent even when I’m not talking. I can’t help it. My expressions broadcast my response, even when they’re subtle. So, I’m communicating, as Freud so rightly stressed, even when silent. But I also talk in my clinical sessions. How do I know when to say something? First, as I said, I put myself in the proper frame of mind. I aim properly. I want things to be better. My mind orients itself, given this goal. It tries to produce responses to the therapeutic dialogue that furthers that aim. I watch what happens, internally. I reveal my responses. That’s the first rule. Sometimes, for example, a client will say something, and a thought will occur to me, or a fantasy flit through my mind. Frequently it’s about something that was said by the same client earlier that day, or during a previous session. Then I tell my client that thought or fantasy. Disinterestedly. I say, “You said this and I noticed that I then became aware of this.” Then we discuss it. We try to determine the relevance of meaning of my reaction. Sometimes, perhaps, it’s about me. That was Freud’s point. But sometimes it is just the reaction of a detached but positively inclined human being to a personally revealing statement by another human being. It’s meaningful — sometimes, even, corrective. Sometimes, however, it’s me that gets corrected.

You have to get along with other people. A therapist is one of those other people. A good therapist will tell you the truth about what he thinks. (That is not the same thing as telling you that what he thinks is the truth.) Then at least you have the honest opinion of at least one person. That’s not so easy to get. That’s not nothing. That’s key to the psychotherapeutic process: two people tell each other the truth — and both listen.    [12 Rules… pp. 153-4]

Jordan Peterson on thinking


Jordan Peterson on thinking:

The people I listen to need to talk, because that’s how people think. People need to think. Otherwise they wander blindly into pits. When people think, they simulate the world, and plan how to act in it. If they do a good job of simulating, they can figure out what stupid things they shouldn’t do. Then they cannot do them. Then they don’t have to suffer the consequences. That’s the purpose of thinking. But we can’t do it alone. We simulate the world, and plan our actions in it. Only human beings do this. That’s how brilliant we are. We make little avatars of ourselves. We place those avatars in fictional worlds. Then we watch what happens. If our avatar thrives, then we act like he does, in the real world. Then we thrive (we hope). If our avatar fails, we don’t go there, if we have any sense. We let him die in the fictional world, so that we don’t have to really die in the present.

Imagine two children talking. The younger one says, “Wouldn’t it be fun to climb up on the roof?”  He has just placed a little avatar of himself in a fictional world. But his older sister objects. She chimes in. “That’s stupid,” she says. “What if you fall off the roof? What if Dad catches you?” The younger child can then modify the original simulation, draw the appropriate conclusion, and let the whole fictional world wither on the vine. Or not. Maybe the risk is worth it. But at least now it can be factored in. The fictional world is a bit more complete, and the avatar a bit wiser.

People think they think, but it’s not true. It’s mostly self-criticism that passes for thinking. True thinking is rare — just like true listening. Thinking is listening to yourself. It’s difficult. To think, you have to be at least two people at the same time. Then you have to let those people disagree. Thinking is an internal dialogue between two or more different views of the world. Viewpoint One is an avatar in a simulated world. It has its own representations of past, present and future, and its own ideas about how to act. So do Viewpoints Two, and Three, and Four. Thinking is the process by which these internal avatars imagine and articulate their worlds to one another. You can’t set straw men against one another when you’re thinking, either, because then you’re not thinking. You’re  rationalizing, post-hoc. You’re matching what you want against a weak opponent so that you don’t have to change your mind. You’re propagandizing. You’re using double-speak. You’re using your conclusions to justify your proofs. You’re hiding from the truth.

True thinking is complex and demanding. It requires you to be articulate speaker and careful, judicious listener, at the same time. It involves conflict. So, you have to tolerate conflict. Conflict involves negotiation and compromise. So, you have to learn to give and take and to modify your premises and adjust your thoughts — even your perceptions of the world. Sometimes it results in the defeat and elimination of one or more internal avatar. They don’t like to be defeated or eliminated, either. They’re hard to build. They’re valuable. They’re alive. They like to stay alive. They’ll fight to stay alive. You’d better listen to them. If you don’t they’ll go underground and turn into devils and torture you. In consequence, thinking is emotionally painful, as well as physiologically demanding; more so than anything else — except not thinking. But you have to be very articulate and sophisticated to have all of this occur inside your own head. What are you to do, then, if you aren’t very good at thinking, at being two people at one time? That’s easy. You talk. But you need someone to listen. A listening person is your collaborator and your opponent.

A listening person tests your talking (and your thinking) without having to say anything. A listening person is a representative of common humanity. He stands for the crowd. Now the crowd is by no means always right, but it’s commonly right. It’s typically right. If you say something that takes everyone aback, therefore, you should reconsider what you said. I say that, knowing full well that controversial opinions are sometimes correct — sometimes so much so that the crowd will perish if it refuses to listen. It is for this reason, among others, that the individual is morally obliged to stand up and tell the truth of his or her own experience. But something new and radical is still almost always wrong. You need good, even great, reasons to ignore or defy general, public opinion. That’s your culture. It’s a mighty oak. You perch on one of its branches. If the branch breaks, it’s a long way down — farther, perhaps, than you think. If you’re reading this book, there’s a strong probability that you’re a privileged person. You can read. You have time to read. You’re perched high in the clouds. It took untold generations to get you where you are. A little gratitude might be in order. If you’re going to insist on bending the world to your way, you’d better have your reasons. If you’re going to stand your ground, you’d better have your reasons. You’d better have thought them through. You might otherwise be in for a very hard landing. You should do what other people do, unless you have a very good reason not to. If you’re in a rut, at least you know that other people have travelled that path. Out of the rut is too often off the road. And in the desert that awaits off the road there are highwaymen and monsters. So speaks wisdom.  [12 Rules… pp. 152-3]

Jordan Peterson on Postmodernism and Cultural Marxism


Jordan Peterson on Postmodernism and Cultural Marxism

Here is the text of the first five minutes of the above talk by Jordan Peterson:

I don’t think that you can understand the current situation properly without considering the role that post-modernism plays in this, because post-modernism in many ways, especially as it’s played out politically, is the new skin that the old Marxism now inhabits. So you could think that there’s a postmodern philosophy which we’ll talk about a bit. That really came into its vogue in the 1970s after classic Marxism, especially of the economic type, had been so thoroughly discredited that no one but an absolute reprobate could support it publicly anymore. Even the French intellectuals had to admit that communism was a bad deal by the end of the 1960s, and what happened was that they played a sleight-of-hand game, in some sense, and rebranded themselves under the postmodern guise, and that’s where identity politics came from. That then spread like wildfire from France – especially into the U.S. through Yale University – through the English department there, and then everywhere. What  happened was, you know, was this idea that the Marxists had put forth that the natural landscape, the economic landscape, is a battle. It’s a battle between the proletariat – the working class and the bourgeois – and that the that the economic systems were doomed to continue to enslave people and to keep them poor and downtrodden unless there was a radical economic transformation that was predicated on something more like equity policy. That was then put into place, in many places as you no doubt know, throughout the 20th century with absolute absolutely murderous results. It was the most destructive economic and political doctrine, I think, that has ever been invented by mankind, and that includes National Socialism because the absolute magnitude of the havoc wreaked by the communist systems exceeded that by Hitler, and that’s because Hitler didn’t have quite as long a time to pull his stunts off quite as effectively. But it was a catastrophic system, and one of the things that’s quite interesting is that the full breadth of that catastrophe has, is not something that students are taught in our current educational system. This has always made me very suspicious, for example, as the students I teach usually know nothing at all about what happened in the Soviet Union under Stalin and Lenin between 1919 and 1959. They have no idea that millions, tens of millions of people, were killed and far more tortured and brutalized by that particular regime, to say nothing of Mao. What happened was that by the end of the 1960s, the evidence that communism was a catastrophic failure was so overwhelming that even the French intellectuals, and we’ll return to them later, because the French have a very long lasting and powerful public intellectual tradition. The intellectuals there are very influential, even the French intellectuals like Sartre Jean-Paul Sartre, the famous philosopher had to admit by the end of the 1960s that the Stalinist/communist/Maoist experiment and all of its variants, not just those particular dictators, but all of its variants was an absolute catastrophic failure. What then happened was the post-modernists came onto the scene and they were all Marxists, but they couldn’t be Marxists anymore because you couldn’t be a Marxist and claim that you were human being by the end of the 1960s. So they started to play a sleight of hand, and instead of pitting the proletariat – the working class – against the bourgeoisie, they started to pit the oppressed against the oppressor. That opened up the avenue of identifying any number of groups as oppressed and oppressor, and to continue the same narrative under a different name. It was no longer specifically about economics, it was about power and everything to the post-modernist is about power. That’s actually why they’re so dangerous, because if you’re engaged in a discussion with someone who believes in nothing but power all they are motivated to do is to accrue all the power to them, because what else is there? There’s no logic, there’s no investigation, there’s no negotiation,  there’s no dialogue, there’s no discussion, there’s no meeting of minds and Consensus. There’s power. So since the 1970s, under the guise of post-modernism, we’ve seen the rapid expansion of identity politics throughout the universities. It’s come to dominate all of the humanities which are which are dead, as far as I can tell, and a huge proportion of the social sciences. We’ve been publicly funding extremely radical post-modern leftist thinkers who are hell-bent on demolishing the fundamental substructure of Western civilization, and that’s no paranoid delusion – that’s their self-admitted goal.


Jordan Peterson on ideas, thoughts, George Orwell, and crazy dogmas and ideologies…


Jordan Peterson on ideas, thoughts, George Orwell, and crazy dogmas and ideologies…

Three hundred years before Nietzsche, the great French philosopher René Descartes set out on an intellectual mission to take his doubt seriously, to break things apart, to get to what was essential — to see if he could establish, or discover, a single proposition impervious to his skepticism. He was searching for the foundation stone on which proper Being could be established. Descartes found it, as far as he was concerned, in the “I” who thinks—the “I” who was aware — as expressed in his famous dictum,   cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am). But that “I” had been conceptualized long before. Thousands of years ago, the aware “I” was the all-seeing eye of Horus, the great Egyptian son-and-sun-god, who renewed the state by attending to and then confronting its inevitable corruption. Before that, it was the creator-God Marduk of the Mesopotamians, whose eyes encircled his head and who spoke forth words of world engendering magic. During the Christian epoch, the “I” transformed into the Logos, the Word that speaks order into Being at the beginning of time. It might be said that Descartes merely secularized the Logos, turning it, more explicitly, into “that which is aware and thinks.” That’s the modern self, simply put. But what exactly is that self?

We can understand, to some degree, its horrors, if we wish to, but its goodness remains more difficult to define. The self is the great actor of evil who strode about the stage of Being as Nazi and Stalinist alike; who produced Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau, and the multiplicity of the Soviet gulags. And all of that must be considered with dread seriousness. But what is its opposite? What is the good that is the necessary counterpart of that evil; that is made more corporeal and comprehensible by the very existence of that evil? And here we can state with conviction and clarity that even the rational intellect — that faculty so beloved of those who hold traditional wisdom in contempt — is at minimum something closely and necessarily akin to the archetypal dying and eternally resurrected god, the eternal saviour of humanity, the Logos itself. The philosopher of science Karl Popper, certainly no mystic, regarded thinking itself as a logical extension of the Darwinian process. A creature that cannot think must solely embody its Being. It can merely act out its nature, concretely, in the here-and-now. If it cannot manifest in its behaviour what the environment demands while doing so, it will simply die. But that is not true of human beings. We can produce abstracted representations of potential modes of Being. We can produce an idea in the theatre of the imagination. We can test it out against our other ideas, the ideas of others, or the world itself. If it falls short, we can let it go. We can, in Popper’s formulation, let our ideas die in our stead. Then the essential part, the creator of those ideas, can continue onward, now untrammelled, by comparison, with error. Faith in the part of us that continues across those deaths is a prerequisite to thinking itself.

Now, an idea is not the same thing as a fact. A fact is something that is dead, in and of itself. It has no consciousness, no will to power, no motivation, no action. There are billions of dead facts. The internet is a graveyard of dead facts. But an idea that grips a person is alive. It wants to express itself, to live in the world. It is for this reason that the depth psychologists — Freud and Jung paramount among them — insisted that the human psyche was a battleground for ideas. An idea has an aim. It wants something. It posits a value structure. An idea believes that what it is aiming for is better than what it has now. It reduces the world to those things that aid or impede its realization, and it reduces everything else to irrelevance. An idea defines figure against ground. An idea is a personality, not a fact. When it manifests itself within a person, it has a strong proclivity to make of that person its avatar: to impel that person to act it out. Sometimes, that impulsion (possession is another word) can be so strong that the person will die, rather than allowing the idea to perish. This is, generally speaking, a bad decision, given that it is often the case that only the idea need die, and that the person with the idea can stop being its avatar, change his or her ways, and continue.

To use the dramatic conceptualization of our ancestors: It is the most fundamental convictions that must die — must be sacrificed — when the relationship with God has been disrupted (when the presence of undue and often intolerable suffering, for example, indicates that something has to change). This is to say nothing other than that the future can be made better if the proper sacrifices take place in the present. No other animal has ever figured this out, and it took us untold hundreds of thousands of years to do it. It took further eons of observation and hero-worship, and then millennia of study, to distill that idea into a story. It then took additional vast stretches of time to assess that story, to incorporate it, so that we now can simply say, “If you are disciplined and privilege the future over the present you can change the structure of reality in your favour.”

But how best to do that?

In 1984, I started down the same road as Descartes. I did not know it was the same road at the time, and I am not claiming kinship with Descartes, who is rightly regarded as one of the greatest philosophers of all time. But I was truly plagued with doubt. I had outgrown the shallow Christianity of my youth by the time I could understand the fundamentals of Darwinian theory. After that, I could not distinguish the basic elements of Christian belief from wishful thinking. The socialism that soon afterward became so attractive to me as an alternative proved equally insubstantial; with time, I came to understand, through the great George Orwell, that much of such thinking found its motivation in hatred of the rich and successful, instead of true regard for the poor. Besides, the socialists were more intrinsically capitalist than the capitalists. They believed just as strongly in money. They just thought that if different people had the money, the problems plaguing humanity would vanish. This is simply untrue. There are many problems that money does not solve, and others that it makes worse. Rich people still divorce each other, and alienate themselves from their children, and suffer from existential angst, and develop cancer and dementia, and die alone and unloved. Recovering addicts cursed with money blow it all in a frenzy of snorting and drunkenness. And boredom weighs heavily on people who have nothing to do.

I was simultaneously tormented by the fact of the Cold War. It obsessed me. It gave me nightmares. It drove me into the desert, into the long night of the human soul. I could not understand how it had come to pass that the world’s two great factions aimed mutual assured destruction at each other. Was one system just as arbitrary and corrupt as the other? Was it a mere matter of opinion? Were all value structures merely the clothing of power?

Was everyone crazy?

Just exactly what happened in the twentieth century, anyway? How was it that so many tens of millions had to die, sacrificed to the new dogmas and ideologies? How was it that we discovered something worse, much worse, than the aristocracy and corrupt religious beliefs that communism and fascism sought so rationally to supplant? No one had answered those questions, as far as I could tell. Like Descartes, I was plagued with doubt. I searched for one thing — anything — I could regard as indisputable. I wanted a rock upon which to build my house. It was doubt that led me to it.     [12 Rules…pp. 125-7]