2016 Lecture 01 Maps of Meaning: Introduction and Overview

2016 Lecture 01 Maps of Meaning: Introduction and Overview

So, welcome to Maps of Meaning. So the first
question I guess I might have is, what, why are you here? Anybody got an interesting reason?
>>[Student answers: Uh, I want to be able to manipulate reality to my best interests.]
>>That’s a good plan.>>[Student answers: Yeah.]>>Except for the manipulate part.
[Laughter]>>[Student answers: Maybe my wording is off?]
>>It’s okay.>>It’s better to work with reality, generally,
than to manipulate it cause it tends to hit back. Anyone else? Yeah.
>>[Student answers: Uhh, my friend took this class a couple years ago and he kind of threatened
me to take it.]>>Oh yeah.>>[Student answers: Cause apparently he said
that the course actually changes like�]>>For the, for the better?
>>[Student answers: Yeah.] [Students’ laughter]
>>That’s good.>>[Student answers: You made him write a short
story or something, and made him want to become an author. Now he’s a published author.]
>>Really?>>[Student: Yeah]
>>Is he any good?>>[Student answers: I never read his book
actually.] [Students’ laughter]>>Ooh. Some friend you are. No wonder he threatens
you. Yeah.>>[Student answers: I audited this course
six years ago, and the course changed the way I see the world. So I want to see after
six years what happens now.]>>You want to see if it’ll change back?
[Students’ laughter] Well that’s good. So why did you decide, why, uh, why after
all this time did you decide to come back?>>[Student answers: Well I thought about the
things you discussed in the class over those six years, but now, um, it’s been awhile and
I want to refresh myself and see, you know, with the new experience I’ve had, and the
new things I’ve learned, how and what I can take from it now.]
>>Hmm, hmm. Well that’s very, um, dedicated and hopefully useful.>>[Student answers: My friend said that he
had a spiritual awakening from taking this course.]
>>God, I hope I didn’t see that. He did, eh?>>[Student: Yeah]
>>Did he give you any, any, like, any, description or? Was it associated with an epileptic seizure?
[Students’ laughter]>>[Student: It was associated with a lot of
like, visions]>>Oh really, eh? Oh that’s interesting. Yeah
that can get out of hand, that sort of thing, you know. No, that’s, that’s interesting.
I mean, one of the things that I experienced when I started to learn some of the things
that I’m going to talk to you guys about is a very radical increase in the intensity and
clarity of my dreams. It wasn’t pleasant, by the way. But, it was useful. Most useful
things aren’t that pleasant. So you’re in for some of the same punishment, I guess that’s
the plan, is it? [Student answers]>>Alright, alright, anybody else?
>>[Student answers: I sort of have an independent interest in Existential Psychology. Nietzsche,
Jung, etc. This seemed like a good place to discuss it, and I took your previous class,
personality.] Personality?
>>[Student answers: I liked it a lot.]>>When did you take that?
>>[Student answers: Couple years ago.]>>Yeah? Yeah, well it’s a good preparation
for this class. Now, is there anybody here who doesn’t have any idea what this class
is about, and more or less showed up because the time is right or anything like that? So
you don’t really have any idea what you’re in for? [Student answers] Alright, well I’m gonna jump right into it
because why not? So I’m gonna talk to you for about two hours, and then you can have
a break, and then I’m gonna tell you what you have to do in the class. But, by that
time you’ll know if you wanna take the class because you’ll know whether or not you were
interested in what I told you about. So I’m going to video the class – I always do that.
So the videos will be online, ones from previous years are online as well. So hopefully that’ll
be a useful resource. It shouldn’t take me as much setup time the next time as it did
me today. I’m still getting used to this equipment. So, I wanna tell you why I’m telling you the
things that I’m going to tell you. When I was approximately the same age that you people
are, probably a little bit older as I imagine you guys are around 21 or something like that.
I was probably about your age and a couple years older. First year I was in graduate
school, in particular, which I guess was in 1985, so I was 23 then. That was in 1985, and there are a couple of
times in the late 20th century where the Cold War really came to a peak. And one time, I
guess, was probably in about 1957 when, I think it was 57. I hope I have my dates right.
Whenever Stalin announced that he had developed a hydrogen bomb, and I don’t know how much
you guys know about hydrogen bombs, but all you really need to know about a hydrogen bomb
is that they use atom bombs as a trigger. So they’re quite the weapon, and the USSR
and the US made some very, very big ones. They’re big enough to make the thing that
was dropped on Hiroshima look like dynamite. So, hundreds and hundreds of times bigger
– maybe thousands of times. It’s been awhile since I looked into it. And then in 1962, there was the Cuban Missile
Crisis – I have a good story about that. So, about ten years ago, I went down to Tucson,
Arizona to a conference on consciousness there. And they have that conference fairly frequently
in Tucson. It’s become quite a popular conference even though it isn’t clear to me that we know
anything more about consciousness than we did before the conference started. And, Tucson’s
kind of an interesting town. It’s in the middle of the desert, the cool desert, with the big
sort of Saguaro road runner cactuses. But it’s also extremely dry there which is, of
course, what you’d expect given that it’s a desert. So one of the things that Americans
do with Tucson is store old fighter planes there. And so there is an airplane museum,
which is an amazing place. It has maybe 500 planes including John F Kennedy’s Air Force
One, which is the jet that he used to zoom around the world – it didn’t have a shower
by the way. It’s funny because on the outside it looked
like a modern jet, but on the inside, it looked pretty much like it was from World War Two
because 1962 is a lot closer to World War Two than it is it now, in all sorts of ways.
Even the rockets that went to the moon looked like they were built by people who were using
World War Two technology – they were full switches, mechanical switches, and it’s pretty
basic. Anyways, as well as the airport museum, which is a very interesting place – there’s
B-52 bombers there and all sorts of things. Those things are huge. There’s also an airport
graveyard where they store old fighter jets and there’s a lot of old fighter jets so there’s
acres, and acres, and acres, and thousands and thousands of old mothballed fighter jets
lined up in the desert. So that’s kind of cool in a strange way, but there was one other
thing down there that I went and saw which was a decommissioned nuclear missile site
and it was an intercontinental ballistic missile site and those were built in the fifties and
early sixties, and they were major league rockets, those things. I think the silo, cause
we could go into the silo, and it was certainly farther across in diameter than this room. I would think probably twice as large as this
room, so you can imagine how big a missile that would be – it’s not your grandmother’s
missile. It’s a major league piece of armament, and out on the grounds – these things were
underground, deep underground, because they didn’t want them to get blown up if they were
bombed, so they buried them quite a long ways down and to get into it, you had to go through
this massive steel door that was like a huge safe door except, you know ten times as big,
and ten times as thick. Out in the yard of the nuclear missile site, there were fences
with barbed wire on them of course, and there was a missile cap. It’d be the nose cone of
the missile. Some of these missiles had single warheads, which were more than sufficient
to demolish a city and some of them had multiple warheads, so they would shoot out into space
and then come back into Earth and then they essentialy break apart or disperse into multiple
missiles and then you can really bomb the hell out of whatever you were going to bomb
instead of just destroying one city. And so, the nose cone was sitting out there
and that was a pretty freaky looking thing, I’ll tell you. Like it was big. It was about
seven feet high I would think, and maybe about the same amount across. It was made of this
plastic, kind of variegated plastic material that was about three-quarters of an inch thick
and then it would melt off, of course, on re-entry because as I said these things shot
out into space, and so that was kind of unnerving really, in a serious way. So we’re at the
missile site and you know, I mentioned your grandmother’s missile. There was actually
a reason for that. It was a bit of foreshadowing because it was a very funny place because
at the front of the missile site there was sort of this museum set up, you know, and
it had pictures of Reagan and Gorbachev on it because they decommissioned the missile
sites when detente occurred and then when Perestroika hit, and the Soviet Union started
to collapse, and so there were all these pictures of Reagan and Gorbachev from 1984 and so the
museum was kind of like a time capsule of 1984, and the people who were running it were,
like, retired Arizonans. And they were like your grandparents, assuming you have retired
Arizonans for your grandparents. But they’re real friendly and they’re pretty
happy to show you their nuclear missile museum and it was sort of like being in their rec
room, except that it was a nuclear missile site and they were hospitable and it was weird,
you know. It’s like welcome to – you don’t welcome people to a nuclear missile site.
It’s just not reasonable and so it was very disconcerting and it was disconcerting that
it was locked in the 1980’s and then it was disconcerting that it was friendly and hospitable
and, you know they were kind of proud to show it off and happy to be there, and then when
you went down into the nuclear missile silo proper – the control center, it’s sort of
like Star Trek, you know, from 1966 or 1967 except more primitive. I don’t remember if
the Star Trek control command area was modeled after the nuclear missile site control systems
or if it was the other way around but I suspect it was that they were modeled after the nuclear
controls but that was really 1950’s – like the whole place was painted in that pastel
green that, you know, late fifties and early sixties people really liked. And it had this 1950’s – what would you call
it – aesthetic. And you wouldn’t necessarily think that a nuclear missile site would have
an aesthetic but it does, and it looked like high tech 1957 technology. So they brought
you into the control room and the control desk was probably – or the module or whatever you might
call it – was about three times as long as this – maybe four times. It was a pretty impressive
piece of machinery and the way you launch the missiles was not too secure in my humble
opinion. What happened was, one guy wore the key around his neck. And then another guy wore the key around his neck. In order to launch the sites, you had to put
the keys in the same time, and they were far enough apart so nobody could stretch their
arms, you know, which was kind of the high-tech part of it. So, and, he had to put a key in,
and you both had to turn the key for 10 seconds. Okay, so, and one thing you may know about
ballistic missiles or you may not, is they’re not cruise missiles. Once you set those things
off, they’re not coming back. They’re bullets. That’s what makes them ballistic. You know,
if you aim a gun at someone and you shoot, and you decide halfway, when the bullet’s halfway
there, maybe that wasn’t a good thing to do, it’s a little late because you’re not telling
that bullet to come back. And it’s the same with ballistic missiles,
and those things are going a lot faster than bullets, you know, like a 22 bullet goes about
the speed of sound, but a ballistic missile, that thing has to go around 7 miles a second
to get out of the gravity o f the earth. Now i’m not sure they go quite that fast because
that’s escape velocity right, You need to do that to get out of the gravitational well.
But to get out there into space, you have to be damn close to 7 miles a second. So it’s
a bullet, a very large bullet with a very explosive head on it going 7 miles a second.
And once you turn those two keys man, that’s it. There’s no turning back. That’s that.
And so they took us through a simulated launch which still kind of, it’s still an uncanny
feeling remembering that, you know, because it’s a hell of a thing to apprehend. And then
they told us that the keys were in once. Right. So we were ten seconds away. Now they wouldn’t
tell us when, but we know when. It was during the cuban missile crisis. So, you know, there are a couple of times
in the latter part of the 20th century, where we made it through the eye of a needle, we
barely bloody well made it. And, the cuban missile crisis was one of those points. But
in the early 80’s, things were heating up pretty badly too. In about 1984, there was
a movie that came out, called The Day After. You guys probably don’t know about The Day
After. But it was the most watched movie that had ever been broadcast on TV at that point.
And basically what it showed was, what a city would be like, the day after the United States
had been bombed into total desolation by a Soviet missile attack. And you know, it was
a pretty hair raising movie. And one of the things that was quite interesting about it
was that Ronald Reagan later said that he watched that movie and that was actually part
of the reason that he entered into Detente talks with the Soviets. Now you know, Reagan had been basically been
scaring the hell out of the Soviets. He had called them an evil empire, which the liberals
weren’t very happy about, but the Soviets man, they were an evil empire. There’s absolutely
no doubt about it. It’s not obvious how many people the soviets killed, during their Communist
Revolution and years following that. But the estimates range from twenty to sixty million.
Now that’s a lot of people. Like even if it’s twenty million, that’s three times as many
people as were killed in the holocaust. You know, the Soviets starved six million Ukrainians
in the 1930s and that was just to get warmed up. So the idea that the Soviets were an evil
empire, it’s like, it’s a strong word, but there’s absolutely no doubt that it was true
and the more we learn about what happened, especially during the Stalinist period, although
Lenin was no picnic. He pretty much created the Stalinist monster that followed him. The more we learn about it, the more horrible
it becomes. And the Soviet system was operated, the economy fundamentally ran on slave labor,
for what economy there was. What happened with Reagan in part was, first of all the
soviet union was falling apart because there’s just so long you can keep a sinking ship afloat.
And something that big can die twenty years before it falls over. A system like that can
stumble along half-gutted and still manage. And so, by the time Reagan had come along,
the thing had probably pretty much burned itself out as a consequence of internal contradictions.
But he ramped up american military spending to a staggering degree. And part of the idea
behind that, at least that’s what the Republicans would have everyone believe, and that might
be true, is that they’re just going to spend the Russians right into bankruptcy – and they
basically did, and so that was that for the Soviet Union and it fell over in 1989 which
was like, that was a good day. That was a really good day, and the weird thing is that
no one saw it coming. And that was shocking. One day the Soviet Union was there and the
next day, the SU was gone. And there was gone CIA analysts that said hey yea, they’re about
ready to crumble, you just have to blow on them and they’ll fall over. It was a shock
to everyone. You know, and then, it was very iffy in the
aftermath whether or not it would hold. Yeltsin, who was a terrible drunkard, but actually
a pretty courageous, well he was russian, you know. He was a pretty courageous guy and
he faced down reestablishment by the totalitarians on a tank. You know, that was good for him
because that was pretty frightening too. Anyways I’m telling you all this because when I grew
up, most of the people I knew were convinced that there was no bloody way we were going
to make it to the 20th century. You know, and I think, I remember discussing this with
all of my friends frequently, and you know some people kind of use that as an excuse,
you know like what the hell’s the point, you know, we’re gonna blow ourselves up anyway
so i might as well drink vodka until i fall over. And you know, that’s not really a particularly
moral way of looking at it, but I’m telling you that there was no shortage of thinking
that this was so insane that this would certainly end in absolute catastrophe. And it damn near did, like it wasn’t some
kind of collective delusion. You know, there were times, in fact, there was a story recently
published, about a russian general who was given the order to launch the missiles. There
was a mistake in reading on their display, showing that missiles were coming from north
america across the poles towards russia, and he was told to launch, but he didn’t. Well,
good for him, but, that’s a little too close. Really. And you know, there’s all sorts of
other crazy things that had happened during that period of time. So for example, I read this book by an ex-KGB
guy who said he worked in a biological warfare lab in the soviet union. They killed a number
of people by accident when some of their bugs got out, on the order of 500 people, which
is a lot of people, but it’s not like 250,000 people. But it’s a lot of people. But what
those geniuses were trying to do was cross ebola with smallpox. So small pox is unbelieveably
– the combination of smallpox and ebola is extraordinarily easy to transmit and very
very very fatal. And so, they were trying to cross it and then aerosolize it so you
could distribute it in canisters and blow it over cities. Nice bit of scientific investigation.
Perfectly reasonable scientific question – can it be done? So, you know, it was a pretty crazy period
of time. And all human history – what did Dostoevsky say about human history? The one
thing you can say about it is that it’s not rational. The very word sticks in your throat,
so it’s always been crazy, and it’s crazy now, but it was really crazy then. And so,
we got through that, and thank god, you know, as far as I’m concerned, the world is a lot
better place now than it was, well it is, thirty years ago, forty years ago, fifty years
ago. Things are way better now, you know, you hear a lot of doom and gloom about how
we’re gonna destroy the planet, but we probably aren’t. The population is gonna stabilize
out at around 9 billion. We already have 7, we can handle another 2. There’s gonna be some extinctions – we’re
eating up the ocean like insane piranha – that’s mostly a fault of public policy, but it looks
like we’re probably gonna squeak through the century with a bit of damage and then things
are gonna settle down. It’s highly probable if theres anything vaguely human left in a
hundred years, that the big problem will be population is rapidly decreasing. And that’s
already happening in european countries, it’s happening in japan, it’s going to happen in
china. And so you know, by the year 2100, the most populous country in the world is
going to be nigeria, not china. China is going to lose people like mad, because they have
a one child policy. And everybody in china is getting old, so it’s not going to be hyper
populated. Anyways, so I was interested in all this because i had felt I’d grown up – I
didn’t feel like I’d grown up under its shadow – I had grown up under its shadow. It was something in the back of our minds
all the time. And there was a question underneath that, a couple of them, and one was – how
is this possible? How could it be that the world could divide itself up into two armed
camps – hyper armed camps – tens of thousands of nuclear missiles, more than enough to wipe
out the enemy many times over. I don’t remember what the american arsenal peaked out, but
i think it was more than fifty thousand nuclear weapons. I dont know if theres fifty thousand
towns in the Soviet Union. Maybe they were gonna bomb Moscow fifty times or something,
but after the first two or three, it’s probably more or less irrelevant. So it was really,
it was really crazy. And I don’t know if you know this, but – and I believe this was during
the Kennedy era, I hope I got this right. One of kennedy’s genius boys came up with
the – because kennedy’s administration was run by a lot of harvard graduates and a lot
of ivy league graduates so they were supposed to be pretty intelligent, but intelligence
and wisdom are not the same thing. Anyways, they established a policy which was called
Mutual Assured Destruction, which means if you hit me, I kill you, and then you kill
me so it would be better if we didn’t bother. And the acronym was MAD – Mutual Assured Destruction.
It’s like, you know just thinking about that, it’s a chilling thought – it’s like what horrible
entity thought that up as a joke. You know you think well is that some politicians idea
as wit? Where’d that come from? So thats a hell of a thing to make a joke about. MAD.
Well that was right, it was definitely mad. And you know the odd thing is that we didnt
blow ourselves up and we didnt have a third world war, and you can’t make a solid claim
the invention of nuclear weapons was necessarily the worst thing that could’ve happened because
even the soviets who were completely insane, and of course the Maoists who were probably
even worse, they weren’t insane enough to start a nuclear war. Now Stalin, there’s evidence – there’s debate
about it – but there’s evidence that stalin was basically murdered, partly by Khrushchev,
who was his successor. When Stalin died, Khrushchev and three other people were in his house and
what happened the night stalin had died is not clear. But i read a book recently called
Stalin, interestingly enough, that was written by a guy who had access to the full
Communist party archives, which was a relatively new thing, and that was his conclusion. He
also believed Stalin was gearing up to do an invasion of Europe, and that he didn’t
give a damn about how many cities would have to be bombed in order for the soviets to roll
through. And Stalin, he was like that. Stalin was perfectly capable of taking entire
nations of people out in Eastern Europe by train and shipping them out to Siberia in
the middle of winter with nothing to eat and no tools and letting them live, which of course
they didnt – and that meant women, and children, and men shorn of all their belongings and
thrust out into the middle of nowhere to perish or live as they saw fit. And if they perished,
so much the better, as far as Stalin was concerned. He wasn’t exactly the sort of person the idea
of nuclear war would necessarily stop, and it’s certainly possible that’s what he was
hoping for because when we look at people like Stalin and Hitler, we think they’re after
world domination. You think in some sense that’s kind of a positive motivation – not
really – but it’s like if you have a Corvette and someone steals it, you can think well
I know why they stole it, they wanted to have the Corvette! It’s an understandable motivation
to want power, it’s not necessarily an admirable one, but sometimes power is a perfectly reasonable
thing to pursue. But, I don’t have any idea why we ever assumed that those guys were after
victory. You should never make the presupposition that
everyone is out to win – some people are out to lose, and the more people they take with
them, the better. When Hitler died, he committed suicide in a bunker way down below in Berlin,
when Berlin was on fire and Europe was burning. And as far as I can tell, that was what Hitler
was after from the very beginning. He was interested in fire as a purifying agent. He’s a fire worshipper in some sense, because
if you look at the Nuremberg gatherings of the Nazis, they were spectacular, spectacular
celebrations – unbelievably dramatic and impressive, and they frequently featured fire. And fire
is a purifying agent, and Hitler, by the end of WW2, he was pretty contemptuous of the
Germans because they really hadn’t served him well. Now, it wasn’t like he thought maybe
it wasn’t such a good idea to start a whole second world war, because he was a little
on the narcissistic side you might say. But by the time the Russians came marching
in and Germany was in ruins, Hitler was perfectly happy to have the allies tromp all over the
citizens, because that’s what they deserved anyways. And so, that’s the sort of guy he
was, and so, why we would assume he wanted to win just because that’s what he said is
something I’ve never been able to understand. The kids who shot up Columbine didnt want
to win, they wanted to kill as many people as possible to make a point, and then they
wanted to kill themselves – just in case you didnt exactly get the point. And the point
was: the more destruction, the better, and if i have to go along with it, hey no problem,
that just makes me a little more serious than i’d otherwise been. Those sort of motivations
are not pleasant to understand. We have enough documentation about events like that, especially
the mass killings. Those guys have written down exactly why they do it. I have some excellent
books on extraordinarily vengeful serial killers and mass murderers. I know exactly how they
think.There’s a great book on this sort of thing, if you’re interested in this sort of
thing called Panzram. And Carl Panzram was a serial killer and rapist
who lived pretty much early in the 20th century. He was a tough, delinquency sort of kid, from
a large family. When he was 13, 14, they sent him off to some reform school. It was run
by the same sort of people that had run Canada’s residential schools. So you know, they were
basically predators on children. And of course, he was raped, and brutalized, and tormented
in all sorts of horrible ways, but he was a tough guy. When he came out, he decided
the human race wasn’t really worth that much and that he was going to wreak as much mayhem
as he possibly could for the rest of his life. He raped a thousand men. He killed dozens
of people. He kept track of the dollar value of the buildings he burned down. Like, this
was a serious guy. He was bent on destruction. And that’s that. What were his dying words? First of all, there
was a committee, I believe of women, that intervened on behalf of him, cause they were
anti-capital punishment, and he said to them, if I remember correctly, that he wished the
human race had one neck so he could put his hands around it and squeeze. So that was his
way of pointing out to the people who didn’t think that capital punishment was justified
in his case, that they maybe weren’t thinking clearly. Then to the hangman, he said hurry
up, you hoosier bastard. I could kill ten men in the time it takes you to kill me.
You don’t get a statement like that from someone who isn’t thoroughly committed to what he’s
doing. So, the situation in the world found itself involved in really had me thinking.
Part of it was well, what the hell’s going on with all these weapons, and how can it
possibly be anyone thinks that’s a reasonable solution. How did it come about that this
could even occur, and what are we thinking. There’s that, and there was also the why are
people so damn convinced on either side of this argument that they’re right enough to
risk everything for – which is a perfectly good question.
And then there was the malevolence issue, with how much of this was wanting to see your
side win and everything to do with wanting to see everything lose. And then And then
there was another issue which was, well are
both sides wrong? Are both sides right? Because that’s more of a cultural relativist approach
because yeah, yeah, the Communists believe one thing and the bloody capitalists believe
another and they’re just as bad. Who believes what is completely arbitrary because belief
systems are arbitrary, and so maybe they’re both right or they’re both wrong. I thought
well, either of those conclusions were pretty damn dismal because well, if they’re both
right, what are you gonna do? Have them talk it out? I don’t think so. And if they’re both
wrong, that’s not much better. And then if one’s right and the other’s wrong – well does
that mean anything? Like is it possible for one belief system to be more right than another
belief system because of course, that’s certainly not a tenet of moral relativism, and you might
think of that as the standard intellectual approach to morality, and has been for the
past hundred years. I think, by the way, that that’s a reprehensible morality. I’ll tell you why, as we move through the
course because one of the things I tried to find out was was what we were fighting for
– assuming you give the West a bit of a benefit of the doubt and assume that some of the things
we stand for, we actually stand for and we aren’t just posturing, parading – grounded
in anything? Or was it just arbitrary opinion? So, that’s what we’re going to talk about.
We’re going to talk about why people believe the things they believe. What psychological
function does belief perform. We’re going to talk about malevolence. As far as I can
tell, malevolence is the willingness to do evil, and I think the best definition of evil
– and I’ve thought about this for a long time, like what constitutes evil, and it’s complicated
– but I think if you want a one line summary, it’s the desire to do harm for the sake of
the harm. So you have to think about it as a kind of art form. Look. If you have a terrorist and you think
he’s hidden an atom bomb in the stadium, and you think well, he’s not gonna tell me – you
have good evidence – he’s not gonna tell me unless I torture him. I don’t think you should
torture him because torture is wrong. But you know, if you do that and you really believe
he’s hidden an atom bomb in a stadium, at least you have some justification for what
you’re doing and it’s not necessarily that what you’re doing is evil – it might be wrong.
It might be misguided. But who’s to say in such a situation as that. It certainly should
be illegal. But at least you can say there’s a plausible explanation for it, but lots of
situations where there’s absolute horror, there’s no plausible explanation for whatsoever.
I can give you an example. One of the things that used to happen in Auschwitz, if i remember
correctly – Auschwitz, I don’t know what you guys envision when you guys envision concentration camps.
Concentration camp, it’s a funny name first of all because it’s not really a camp. You
know what i mean, but a concentration camp isn’t like a prison. Thats easy to envision
them like a prison. Those bloody things were cities. They had tens of thousands of people
in them. They were massive. At least, they were large towns. So these were very big places. Anyways, at the typical concentration camp,
the trains would come rolling in and of course people had been packed into the damn trains,
well, worse than animals. They’d be packed standing, and lots of people just died in
the cars, especially if they were old or little or had some respiratory problems or something
like that because they would overheat if they were cramped in the middle of people or they
would freeze to death along the outside because they would freeze against the wood. But that
was okay, it just made the job easier when they finally landed at Auschwitz. And then,
once they were in Auschwitz, the guards would play tricks on them. One trick would be to
get some poor son of a bitch, who’d you know, been torn away from his country, who had his
family destroyed, who knew where he was going, who was half dead for six different reasons.
Maybe he didn’t even speak, or she didn’t even speak that was most common there, guarded
by absolutely ruthless barbarians who wanted to do nothing else but make people as miserable
as possible in the most creative possible ways. And so, what they would do was, some of the
prisoners, they would give them wet sacks of salt – and so those weighed about a hundred
pounds – and they’d have them carry from one side of the compound to the other. Well, that’s
not so bad, when you’re really, really innovative in your capacity to perpetrate evil, and the
next thing they made them did was carry them back. You think about that, you know, and
this is something you have to understand if you really want to understand evil is that
it’s an aesthetic, it’s an art form. The reason that was such a terrible torture was, well
partly because these people were already ruined, and a hundred pounds is a lot of salt, and
maybe it was winter and they didn’t have any shoes, and – you know, like it was just brutal
labor. But Solzhenitsyn, when he wrote about the
Gulag Archipelago, he said, you know even if you were a prisoner and they were having
you build a wall, you could at least take some damn pride in building the wall. You
could lay some bricks out, and you could say well this suck and it’s really horrible and
everything but you know, I built a straight wall. That’s something. But if you have to
take a sack of wet salt from one side of the compound and then carry it back, the net consequence
of that is zero. It’s zero. And of course, the famous sign on the outside of the concentration
camps were Work will set you free. Right? Now that’s another joke. It’s like
mutual assured Destruction, and the only way you could – a joke like that is satanic. There’s
no other way to think about it. A joke like that comes out of the deepest depths of human
malevolence. Then the work that sets you free, it wasn’t even work. It was a parody of work.
And the purpose of the work was to destroy you, but not quickly because that’s not as
terrible as destroying you slowly. So these are very very terrible things. Part of what
I thought about in relation to people’s belief systems was people are territorial. Chimps
– I don’t know if you know this or not – chimps basically go to war.
Jane Goodall discovered that a couple of decades ago and it really, really was hard on her
because she was kind of a Rousseauian. For those of you who don’t know, Jean Jacques
Rousseau was a French philosopher and French philosophers have an awful lot of sins on
their conscience and Rousseau was certainly one of them because Rousseau was the first
fully articulate promoter of the idea that human beings were basically good. So we had
a good soul in a moral sense, but we were corrupted by our social institutions. So,
as far as Rousseau is concerned, it was kind of a noble savage idea. Like the human being in their raw form has
a pure soul and then you give them to parents, and you give them to teachers, and they get
into politics, then there’s group disputes and they get all corrupted. Well that’s it.
I don’t even know what else to say about that except that it’s absolutely moronic, but it’s
an appealing proposition if you’re a naive optimist. I mean, first of all, it doesn’t
explain where malevolence comes from because the people created the institutions, so it
just puts you into an infinite regress. Chicken and egg. If the institutions are reprehensible
but the people who built them aren’t, then where did the reprehensible elements of the
institution come from? He might think thats its an auto generating
consequence of organizing people, but you know it’s a pretty specious theory. Of course
he had a counterpart, a philosophical counterpart, Thomas Hobbes and Hobbes said basically exactly
the opposite, that people were vicious and cruel, and unless you put them in straitjackets
– fundamentally – and made them obey, everything was going to go immediately to hell. And when you saw what happened in Iran when
the Americans waltzed in, and then the power structure disintegrated, it was a hell of
a lot more like Hobbes than Rousseau. You took out the tyrant at the top and it wasn’t
like everyone got all peaceful and loving all of a sudden. It was like absolute chaos
reigned. Of course, you can rationalize that. Anyways, Rousseau had five children by a maid
– an illiteral maid – that was his mistress, and he put every single one of them in orphanages,
and of course they perished because orphanages at Rousseau’s time were not exactly a luxury
resort. Even up until the beginning of the 20th century, who were under one years of
age, who were in care institutions die, partly disease and that sort of thing. But partly
because they weren’t touched, cared for physical, even if they were fed. And 200 years ago,
they weren’t even fed. Anyways, nonetheless, people maintained the optimistic idea that
human beings were basically good and were corrupted by institution. It’s a very common
idea in universities. University people are always complaining about
the corrupt nature about this institution, and that institution, while they sit here
in the warmth with the electricity on. It’s surrounded by wealth that characterizes maybe
one tenth of one percent of the entire world’s population, and they complained about how
oppressed they are and how nasty the institutions are. Well, you know you actually haven’t been
to a nasty institution because they get pretty damn bad. Most of the institutions in the
world are like that. So, it isn’t exactly clear that people are pristine in their heart
and corrupted by institutions, although I’m sure that happened. It happened with Panzram
for example. Anyways, this has been a line of philosophical
speculation that’s – I would say, constituted one of the unspoken fundamental assumptions
of Western intellectuals in particular. Jane Goodall thought, in many ways, the same way.
She thought chimps were basically animals, they’re okay. They co-exist relatively peacefully
with one another. Even Carl Rogers – who I talk about a bit in my Personality class – he
thought that people were basically fundamentally good and that institutions made them bad.
But the problem is, you look at chimps and they’re a fair bit like us. Bonobos – you can look at them too, they’re
genetically quite related to us, so we’re a weird mixture of the two. But chimps, like
those things, there is no evidence that they really have any internal control over their
aggression at all. There was a horrible case about two years ago, where a woman was interacting
with a chimp and it tore her to pieces, and they can do that. It took her face right off,
and they have about the strength of six men. An adult male chimp can break a three hundred
pound test cable. Those things are really, really strong, and they’re not friendly. So in Arnhem zoo for example, there has been
a troop of chimps there that have been followed by an extremely brilliant primatologist named
Frans de Waal, whose work I would very highly recommend. De Waal is a very smart guy, and
he’s looked at the origins of morality in chimpanzees, from you know, a biological perspective.
It’s very, very nice work – very, very clear-headed. But you know, he’s recounted absolutely horrific
stories about chimpanzee behavior. One of the stories he talked about, for example,
was you kind of have this idea that there’s a male chimp hierarchy. It’s roughly true
– there’s a female hierarchy too, but the males in the chimp world anyways, tend to
be the dominant ones. You know, you kind of think of a dominant
primate as a prize fighter. He’s ruling because of his physical prowess. Now that turns out
not to exactly be true. In this particular case, the guy who was running the chimp troop
was a bit of a bully, and he wasn’t making any friends. That’s not such a good idea because
no matter how tough you are by yourself, two weaker guys can probably take you out, and
that’s what happened during Frans de Waal’s observations. Two chimps attacked the leader. They had a
coalition, they were grooming each other, they were pals. And chimps are pretty good
at remembering reciprocal relationships, and having friendships. They have a very highly
social structure. They just tore him apart. The things they did to him, like you don’t
even want to know about. So chimps really have no upper limit on their capacity for
aggression. And when they hunt, because chimps hunt, they like meat – they often hunt Colobus
monkeys, and they weight about 35 pounds. A Colobus monkey is a major league animal,
and they eat those things alive. And they scream while they’re being killed, and that
does not slow the chimps down one bit. So it’s not obvious the chimp is really a creature
of a lot of empathy – especially the males. The females are likely more empathetic because
they have to deal with infants for long periods of time. What seems to inhibit the aggression
of male chimps isn’t anything they hold internally. It seems that when they get hyper aggressive
in the troop, the troop gets more and more agitated and basically shuts them down. So
you can imagine maybe you’re in a rough bar, and some dingbat who’s half-psychopathic and
has had two pints of alcohol, is starting to cause a tremendous amount of trouble. He’s
not going to shut himself down, but the rest of the troop might. And that kind of means
the control over the aggression is externalized. It’s not a consequence of superego control.
We like to think that we control our own aggression, but I’m not so sure about that.
If you read things like – there’s a great book, a horrifying book published about twenty
years ago called the Rape of Nanking, which is – the woman who wrote it committed
suicide and that suffices to tell you what the Rape of Nanking was all about. It’s a
story about the Japanese in WW2 going into a Chinese city called Nanking where, I believe,
about 350,000 people were killed. The Nazis in that story were the good guys,
so you can imagine the kind of brutality that was going on there. But, there’s absolutely,
perfectly well documented evidence that the Japanese soldiers engaged in competitive brutality.
So really what happened was the Japanese had been pretty militarized by World War II, and
they adopted a Prussian education system. The Prussians and Germans, pre 20th century
Germans, were basically interested in educating obedient soldiers because it was a militaristic
culture. The Japanese kind of adopted that because they were pretty sick of being kicked
around by the Europeans – pretty successfully because they defeated the Russians in the
early stages of the 20th century. It was quite a shock to everyone in Europe,
and a cause for great celebration in Japan. Anyways, they militarized the hell out of
their young men, and taught them basically that the Japanese were a master race, and
that other people were subhuman. It’s a very common human way of thinking, by the way.
I would say it’s really the default way human tribes think about other tribes. I mean, it’s
a little more complicated than that because human tribes tend to trade with other tribes. So it’s not all demonization, but a lot of
it is. If you look around the world in the anthropological literature, what you see is
that the names that most tribes have for themselves is something like The Human Beings, or The
People, indicating that the rest of the people aren’t really people. They’re barbarians,
or you know. They live out where the sun is being eaten by the dragon of the night. The
word barbarian is a word that comes from the Greeks making fun of how non-Greeks spoke.
They thought they went bar bar bar bar bar, something like that. So anyways, what
Goodall found was that the chimps – the chimp adolescents in particular, particularly the
males – would patrol the borders of their territory in groups of three or four, often
with a female or two. But the females didn’t seem to be really the – they were more part
of the group rather than the initiators. But what the chimps would do is if they found
a chimp from another troop, even if that was a chimp that had moved from their troop in
the not too distant past and joined another, cause sometimes the males leave and they go
to other troops. If they outnumbered them, they would tear them to pieces. It looked like that was why they were doing
the border patrol. They’re out looking for trouble. They’re gangs, roughly speaking,
and they were looking for trouble. But the point of it is that – and they would only
attack if they outnumbered because chimps can, I wouldn’t say they can count, but they
have a rudimentary notion of group size. i don’t think you can count without being able
to verbalize, but you can estimate at a glance. So when I say tear apart, that’s exactly what
I mean. There’s no upper limit on the brutality. So Goodall discovered that first, and she
didn’t tell anybody about it. Now she had a reason. Some of them might think we’re ideological
– oh the lovely chimps, and fair enough. But some of it was also that she thought that
maybe the chimps had been corrupted as a consequence of their contact with human beings and their
natural behavior had been somehow transformed. And that’s not – it’s reasonable to be cautious
as a scientist before you go out and say hey chimps go to war. Isn’t that revolutionary,
because it is. It just ends the idea that our war-like, malevolent nature is just a
function of culture. Like if chimps do it, well what are they perverted
by their own culture? I don’t think so. I mean there are more and less violent chimp
cultures, and there’s more and less violent baboon cultures. There’s some culture variance,
but since Goodall’s time, this sort of behavior has been documented on many, many chimp troops.
So that’s us, in a nutshell. It’s not self evident if you put the typical adolescent
male, who’s not a very well formulated personality, and you know – because he’s not that individual
and he hasn’t seen much of the world. The typical guy who goes into the army is kind
of on the margins of society. Maybe he’s not particularly bright. I’m not trying to be
insulting by that, but it’s not exactly a high end job. You put someone like that in a place where
there’s no rules. It’s like who leads where there are no rules? Well the probability that
it’s the friendliest and nicest people is very, very low. So what seemed to happen in
Nanking was the Japanese soldiers took their cues from the people with the most brutal
imaginations People can have pretty brutal imaginations,
especially when they start to compete. So, I was interested in that. What exactly was
at the core of that malevolence. I think it’s uniquely human. The chimps would go and tear
apart, but basically they’re just going to kill them. That’s their goal, and maybe it
might take awhile, but it’s not going to take four weeks whereas if you’re a human being,
you can draw out your enemy’s death for a very, very long. Part of that is the desire to produce
the misery and suffering that’s attended on the death. Only human beings have the imagination
to do that. That’s why I think in the book of Genesis where people’s eyes are open and
they become self conscious, they also learn the difference between good and evil. Once
your eyes are open and you know what you’re like, once you know you’re naked and vulnerable,
you can exploit that in other people. Only human beings have that kind of knowledge.
So the fact that we know we can be hurt makes us particularly dangerous because if I know
how I can be hurt, I sure know how you can be hurt. So it’s a nasty situation. I’m kind
of interested in the motivation for that. You look at the Columbine kids, for example,
and the mayhem they produced was trivial to the mayhem they were planning. If it was up
to those two guys, they would have bombed Detroit flat. They had visions of exactly
that. And it was a media spectacular, and they didnt do it because they were poor kids
in some sense who were bullied. That is an idiotic explanation. It’s not true. Everybody
is a bloody outsider. I’m sure there isn’t a single one of you who doesn’t have a memory
from junior high where you were an outcast in one way or another. Maybe some of you weren’t,
but it’s very, very common. To think of that as sufficient motivation
to shoot people cold bloodedly in a high school – sorry, that’s a little on the naive side.
So I’m very, very interested in what makes up that motivation because malevolence plus
nuclear weapons isn’t a very good combination. It doesn’t look to me that we can afford that
unconscious malevolence anymore because we’re just too powerful, and if the wrong person
ends up being like that with the wrong weapons, it’s like game over. I’ve also become convinced
while I’d been looking through this that the problem that we’re discussing is not a sociological
problem, or a political problem, or an economic problem because a lot of what you read – and
a lot of political scientists will tell you this sort of thing because they’re basically
closet Marxists – is that they’ll tell you the reason for struggle between nations is
economic. I think that’s absurd, not because it isn’t
true, but because it doesn’t actually address a more fundamental issue which is okay, economic
struggle is a struggle about who has access to what’s valued. But, there’s nothing self
evident about what’s value. That’s the problem. It’s like you have the idea of natural resource.
Oil is not a natural resource until you have an automobile. The interplay between cultural value structures
and what constitutes a natural resource is so tightly put together – except for maybe
air and water – that saying there are natural resources which means things of intrinsic
value, and that’s what people fight over. Well, you’ve made the mystery disappear inside
the word natural resource. You haven’t solved anything. Well the question is why would people
fight over things that they value? Well because there’s all sorts of things you can value,
like peace. So, it’s not a sufficient explanation and it’s also not clear to me people’s primary
motivations are economic. Well it’s not trivial, but I would say the
motivation isn’t really economic. It’s more related to dominance hierarchy position, and
that’s fundamentally a sexual motivation especially for men because if men are higher up the
dominance hierarchy, women are more attracted to them. So you could say that’s economic.
I don’t think it is. Economic is just a secondary consequence of that. I don’t believe, by the
way, that’s a theory because there’s excellent documentation on hyper aggression in adolescent
males, and the best evidence suggests that adolescent males become hyper aggressive when
you put them in situations where they can’t win. Then they become hyper aggressive and
attempt to formulate a dominance hierarchy so that some of them can rise to the top and
basically be attractive. So you can call that economic if you want,
but I think you’re pushing your luck with that sort of explanation. Well, so that’s
basically the background. So, when I was investigating this, I first started studying political science
and I actually liked that quite a bit in the first couple years because I was basically
reading political philosophy. It’s actually worthwhile reading great political philosophers
because A – they could think – and B – you think like they think even if you don’t know
it because one of the hallmarks of a great philosopher is that his ideas or her ideas
sink into the culture so deeply that a hundred years after they were written, they think
they’ve always thought that way. That’s one of the things that’s happened to
Freud. One of the things people understand is that theres an unconscious and that’s its
motivated by sexual drive. It’s like what’s so brilliant about that? Yeah, well it’s obvious
once Freud points it out. So anyways, I started – I took political science and literature
which I also found was extremely useful because great literary people have great things to
say. Like Dostoevsky’s novels absolutely flatten me. He’s so brilliant and I’ve never read
anyone who takes moral question so seriously. For example, if you look at Crime and Punishment,
which is a book I would highly recommend, Dostoevsky is an absolute model of a true
intellectual. I say that because in Crime and Punishment, for example, Dostoevsky had
this character named Raskolnikov, and you guys can identify with Raskolnikov because
he’s a university student and he’s your age. Now he’s having a rough time because he’s
in St. Petersburg and he doesn’t have any money and he lives in this tiny little room
which basically has a bunch of clothes on the bed which he sleeps in, and he’s basically
starving to death. He only has bread to eat, and he’s a law student.
So he’s having a rough time. St. Petersburg at the end of the 19th century is kind of
a rough place. Some of you guys probably have it pretty bad, but Raskolnikov kind of had
it pretty bad. And so, he’s half starved and half delirious. Also, his ideas are very addled
because he’s one of the first Russians who really considered himself an Atheist. Russia
was a medieval society until the late 1900’s. It was sort of like Quebec before 1960. [Students’ laughter] I’m serious about that, because Quebec was
basically the last European country, so to speak, that underwent a secularization, and
that happened in about 1960. Quebec families went from an average size of about 12 to 13
to about 1.2. Lowest birth rate in the world. And all the Quebecois were married, and none
of them are now, and they were all Catholic, hardly any of them are now. It was an overnight
transformation. That’s partly what fed Quebec nationalism. There was actually a study that
was released by the Gallup organization. I’ve only heard it referred to in one meeting where
they indicated if you were a lapsed Catholic in Quebec, you were ten times more likely
to be a separatist. That’s really worth thinking about right, because religion just collapses
and nationalism just rises up to take its place because you need a bloody belief structure
because, what are you gonna do? Wander around aimlessly? That’s not fun. It’s not useful. So, you just
jump from one structure of belief to another, or you fall apart. So that’s also something
very much worth knowing. Anyways, Raskolnikov, he thinks he’s a pretty educated guy and thinks
he’s pretty smart, and he is pretty smart but he’s like smart arrogant, not smart wise
because he’s 21. What the hell does he know? He doesn’t know anything, but he’s smart.
He’s contemptuous about other people because he’s probably smarter than most of them and
he confuses that with knowing what’s going on. He lives in this little horrible apartment,
and he has a really horrible landlady – this is where Dostoevsky is a genius – like Raskolnikov
hates his landlady, and Dostoevsky tells you why. Then you think well yeah, I’d hate her
too. So, she’s miserable. She owns a bunch of apartments. She charges too much rent for
them. She tortures all the people that rent from
her in every possible way she can. The places are filthy. She doesn’t provide any furniture.
She hoards money, and doesn’t do anything with it, so she lives in absolute poverty
and filth. She’s a cruel person in every possible way. Plus she has a niece who isn’t very bright,
and she basically treats her like a slave. So, she’s not doing anyone any good. That’s
Raskolnikov’s idea. And then, he gets a letter from his mother and his mother basically tells
him that his sister’s going to go marry this rich guy because she’s in love with him, and
that’ll solve all of his monetary problems so he could keep going to law school. But he reads between the lines and he realizes
pretty quickly that this rich guy is a real miserly scum rat, and he’s gonna treat his
sister and his mother absolutely miserably, and his sister doesn’t really love him anyways,
and the only reason she was marrying him is so Raskolnikov can go to school. So he’s not
very happy with that, and fair enough. You can understand his motivation. So he’s starving
and he’s full of these ideas and they’re also sort of Nietzschean. Like Atheistic ideas
hit Russia really hard because it went from seriously orthodox Christian in every possible
way to unbelievably skeptical in one generation. It just fractured the society. It’s partly why Communism became so absolutely
attractive for the Russians, and Dostoevsky also details that extremely brilliantly in
the book called The Possessed or The Devil’s. It’s a wonderful book. It’s hard to get into,
you have to read about 200 pages before it really kicks in, but Russian novels are sort
of like that. So anyways, Raskolnikov is thinking these sort of super man-ish, rationalistic
ideas, and he thinks, well you know there’s no evidence that there’s any real moral hierarchy.
And you can easily make a case that the reason that people aren’t really moral, they’re just
cowardly – and this is a Nietzschean observation. Most of what you’d call your morality isn’t
morality at all. It’s just you’re too afraid to do what you want, and because you’re too
weasly to admit that, you say you don’t do those things because it isn’t moral. But it
isn’t true. You’d love to do them if you were brave enough,
but you aren’t. So people misread that to say what Nietzsche thought that all morality
was cowardice. That isn’t what he thought. He thought all cowardice masqueraded as morality.
That’s a whole different thing. So anyways, Raskolnikov is thinking about these things.
He’s thinking, well I can be lawyer. I can be a good one. I’d help people. I’d help the
poor people. What the hell good is it for me to wander around starving like this. It
doesn’t seem reasonable. My sister’s basically going to go prostitute herself for this rich
guy, and that sucks. There’s my landlady and she’s an absolutely reprehensible creature
and everyone agrees, and she’s old and worn out. And she has this person she keeps as
a slave. Maybe I should just get rid of her. What I love about that is that – like this
happens almost all the time in universities, I would say. Whenever you hear people who
think they’re smart having a discussion. What they generally do is that they have an idea,
and then they have an idea about the person who has a different idea. The idea about the
person who has the different idea is that their idea is stupid. So what they do is produce
a caricature of that person’s idea, and then they blast it. Then they think, wow I’ve won
that argument. Which is really – it’s pathetic. It’s a strawman argument. It’s a sign of a
weak mind. What you do if you really want to have an argument with someone is you help
them. Let’s say you’re a right winger and you’re arguing with a left winger, or you’re
left winger and you’re arguing with a right winger. It’s like, you want to make their
argument as magnificent as you possibly can, and then see if you can undermine it. That’s what you do because then you’re getting
somewhere. Like any idiot can make a strawman and light it. Dostoevsky never does that.
He makes the people – like when he sets up two ideas to go to war, he embodies both sets
of ideas in the most powerful characters he can imagine. So in The Brothers Karamazov,
for example, the two people, the two protagonists basically – there’s a bunch of them – but
basically one of them is named Ilyusha, and the other is named Ivan. And Ilyusha is kind
of an innocent guy. A good guy fundamentally, a little on the naive side. Religious, but
not in the way that he can defend. It’s more like a natural expression spirit, and he’s
in a monastery, and he’s a follower of this famous monk. He’s kind of into Orthodox Christianity
in his benevolent and sincere way. But he’s not much of an intellect. And Ivan, his older brother, he’s good looking
and tall. I believe he’s a soldier. He’s an impressive guy, and he’s got a viciously cutting
intellect. He just tears Ilyusha apart every chance he gets, across the whole book. You
can see two parts of Dostoevsky fighting it out in the book because part of Dostoevsky
was highly spiritualized, not least because he was epileptic and that often – for reasons
we’ll talk about later – that often exaggerates spirituality. Also because he was a deeply
spiritual person and also a tremendous intellect. And so, he was at war inside and he put those
parts of him out into these characters, and let them just go at it. It’s brilliant, you
know. Ivan makes the best argument for Atheism that’s ever been written. It’s really powerful.
He talks about all these terrible things that were being done to children in Russia at the
turn of the century, back in the late 1800’s. He talks about this one situation where the
parents of this one girl locked her in a freezing outhouse overnight. She was crying and screaming,
and telling them that she was sorry. And they just left her in there and she froze to death.
It was like front page news in Russia at the time, maybe in Moscow, or maybe in St. Petersburg.
Dostoevsky lifted that argument and he said to – he had Ivan ask Ilyusha, well this is
the sort of thing God permits? He said the whole damn world isn’t worth that. The suffering
of one child in a situation like that. How can you possibly see that something like
that can exist and wander around with your boneheaded belief and a benevolent god? Would
you lock a girl in an outhouse and let her freeze? If that meant other people would be
happy? And of course Ilyusha says, no I would never do that. So Ivan tells him that, yeah
you wouldn’t do that but this god you imagine exists would be perfectly pleased to let something
like that occur. And you know Ilyusha has no idea what to say about that. That’s just
a fragment of Ivan’s argument. He’s like punching at him like mad. I think the way Ilyusha basically
responds is by trying to live a good life. He can’t argue. Ivan’s better at it than he
is, plus there’s this vicious strain of critical thinking about religion that’s being wafted
in from Western Europe. There’s 300 years of philosophical force behind
it, and Ivan is its mouthpiece. It’s like Ilyusha and Russia itself is just blown apart
by that. They have no defense against that. The bloody Western Europeans had 300 years
to get used to it. The Russians had like ten years. It just fragmented them. They were
like waiting for the new Messiah, and they sure got one. Both Dostoevsky and Nietzsche
prophesied about what happened to Russia forty years before it happened. That’s bloody amazing.
To think you could look that far into the future and actually get it right. I mean,
things didn’t change quite as fast there as they are now, but you know, it wasn’t like
the Victoria times were static. There were a lot of things going on. To get that right
over four decades – those guys were in touch with something very deep that was going on
underneath the substrata of Western civilization. Alright, so I’m thinking about belief structures
and I’m thinking about malevolence and I’m think about the psychological role that these
sorts of things are playing because it occurred to me at some point, something like – an idea
something like this. This actually tormented me for about six months. I would say, when
I had been thinking these things through – I would say about five years at this point – I
was really obsessed by it. I was thinking about this literally every minute of the day,
from the time I woke up till the time I went to sleep. It was really manic, probably. At
one point I got to this conclusion. I thought, okay well here’s the situation. It’s pretty
obvious that people need belief structures because first of all a belief structure orients
them to action so you have to believe that one thing is more valuable than other to just
act. So, why did the chicken cross the road? Well
because he thought the other side of the road was better than the side he was on, obviously. [Students’ laughter] You know, because whenever you’re moving,
the implicit hypothesis of your movement is that the thing you’re moving towards is better
than the thing you’re leaving, unless you’re self destructive because otherwise, why bother?
So what that means is that you don’t move without a value structure, and you don’t get
to not have one. You might say, well I don’t believe in anything. It’s like, well, you
say you don’t believe in anything, so technically you can’t make an argument for what you believe
or you don’t know what you believe. But if you’re not just sitting there, vegetating,
then you believe something otherwise – you act it out. You have to have a belief system or you fall
apart. So you’re nihilistic or depressed or hopeless. That’s certainly – like who wants
that? That’s not good. It’s painful. Depression is no joke. I know someone who had a very
serious illness. It was an illness that destroyed part of this person’s body. It destroyed their
joints, and they also had clinical depression. I asked this person at one point – okay, you
get to have a choice. You get to get rid of the illness that’s destroying your joints,
so they had to be replaced, or you could get rid of the depression. He said, I’d get rid
of the depression first, no problem. So that’s worth thinking about. If you believe nothing,
and you’re hopeless and you’ve got no value structure, the place you end up is not good.
And I’m sure lots of you have experienced that. I mean most people – especially the
people who are more likely to come to this class – most people, by the time they’re your
age, have gone through a dark period or two for whatever reason. Relationship breaks up
or maybe you lose the meaning in your life or someone betrays you or someone gets sick
or you get sick or, you know, some tragedy comes along and knocks you flat. You think,
what the hell, what’s going on? Why isn’t any of this worthwhile? And it’s a good questions,
but you can’t go there because that’s like death. Then the other problem is, let’s say you do
have a belief system. Alright, so what happens if I have a different one? What are we supposed
to do about that? You can’t give up yours cause then you’re done. I’m not gonna give
up mine for the same reason. But it isn’t clear that we can inhabit the same part of
the Earth peacefully if we don’t believe the same things. So I – when I sorted that all
out, I thought well that’s it man. We’re basically – that’s it. We’re done. We can’t not have
a belief system, and if you have one, you can’t not fight. We’re too well armed to fight
now. We’re not just going to collapse into nihilism, although that happens quite a bit.
So, game’s over. Well, it turned out that that was wrong, thank god, but it took me
an awful long time to even begin to understand how that could possibly be wrong because as
far as I could tell, those were the options. So another thing we’re gonna try to figure
out is not only exactly why people have belief systems, exactly what a belief system is,
and why they compete, and why you can’t just get rid of them. But, we’re also gonna figure
out what it is that you might be able to do about the fact that you’re going to inhabit
places with people who don’t have exactly the same belief systems as you. And in some
sense, it’s really a problem of social being, right? And creatures have been trying to solve
this problem ever since, well we don’t know how long. I like to use lobsters as an example
because lobsters arrange themselves into dominance hierarchies, and they have very complex social
behavior. They don’t have much of a brain. So you can have pretty damn complex social
behavior without having much of a brain. Lobsters have been around for around 400 million years. So us, roughly speaking, since we had a shared
ancestor with the lobster a very long time ago, we’ve been trying to figure out how to
coexist with other creatures that don’t precisely share our belief systems for 400 million years.
And we’ve been sufficiently successful about it so that we’re both social, and here we
are. So obviously, there’s ways that it can be dealt with; although I think we don’t necessarily
understand them very well. I didn’t want to just understand what it was about belief systems,
you know, about their necessity and their function, and the way the become pathologist.
I wanted to figure out if there’s also a pattern to the processes by which belief systems are
modified and negotiated so that belief systems that have different structures can coexist
in the same place peacefully. It’s a vital question right? Because most
of you are going to get married, successfully or unsuccessfully. And even if you don’t,
you’re going to live with someone for a long period of time, and you’re going to find out
they’re not like you, and that’s extremely annoying. But, what are you gonna do? You’re
either going to be a slave, or a tyrant, or you’re going to negotiate because those are
your options. And negotiation is extraordinarily difficult because you have to figure out what
you want, and you probably won’t even admit it, and second of all you have to listen to
your stupid partner about what they want. Then you have to try to figure out how to
make both of them possible. Well, slavery, tyranny; that’s comparatively easy from a
cognitive perspective, compared to actually trying to figure how you can be mutually satisfied
in the same space, but you can do it. That’s the thing. There is a process, and
it’s identifiable. So I want to talk to you about belief systems and their psychological
significance. What they’re like. What function they can perform, but I also want to talk
to you about how they transform because they do right? They change, especially with humans.
So they can change – that means they can modify. And that means, at least in principle, that
we could have a dialogue. Now dialogues, that’s rough, but the alternative is war. That’s
partly why you’re supposed to listen to your enemy because if you don’t listen to your
enemy, the only other thing you can do is fight with them. That’s it.>>[Student asks: You talked about how belief
systems can often modify, so they can be close together. Isn’t that what political perspectives
basically is?]>>You mean it’s the desire for that to happen.
Well, I would say it’s partly the desire for that to happen. Thing is, whenever I look
at a political movement, especially an ideological group, I think okay, there’s a bunch of things
you’re for. Fine. What are you against? Because one of the things about people that have adopted
ideological positions like to presume is that all of the right is on their side. That makes
them very unconscious of their shadow, from the Jungian perspective. The Nazis had all
sorts of positive reasons for what they’re doing, but the negative reasons were there
too, and you could easily make it a case that the negative reasons were really the reasons. When I look at ideologues, I always think,
yeah yeah that’s what you’re for, but I don’t really think all the good people are on your
side. And B – I know that negative motivations are more powerful than positive ones. So you
say you’re for things, but you’re against them too, so let’s start with that. I started
thinking about this after I’d read George Orwell. I love George Orwell, by the way.
How many of you know who George Orwell is? Wow, really? That’s impressive. How many don’t?
Okay, well that’s good. That’s amazing. How the hell did you learn about George Orwell?
Is it 1984? Animal Farm?>>[Students answer: Animal Farm.]>>Okay, okay, well that’s good because George
Orwell – I tell you – George Orwell was the first Western intellectual who figured out
what the hell was going on in the Soviet Union. And he did that in the mid forties, early.
It was complicated because we sort of knew what was happening in the twenties and the
thirties. There was Lenin, and that wasn’t so good. There was the Russian civil war.
There was the idea of universal Communism, that wasn’t such a good idea, for as far as
people who didn’t want to become Communists were concerned. And then there was what happened
in the Ukraine in the 1930’s. The evidence was starting to pile up, but unfortunately
what happened was the Spanish Civil War, and the lefties were pretty much the good guys
in the Spanish Civil War. It was like a microcosm of the second world war. The lefties were
fighting the fascists, and some of the lefties were Communists, but some of them, I think,
were people genuinely fighting for freedom. A lot of North American literary figures went
to Spain to fight on the side of the – against the fascists. And so fair enough, the fascists
were obviously reprehensible, clearly. So that kind of muddied the water, right, because
the fascists were bad and that sort of means the people that are fighting them are good,
and some of them are Communists. There was pretty good reason for people to be radically
socialist at that point in human history because the plight of the working man was relatively
unpleasant. George Orwell wrote a book called The Road to Wigan Pier, and he went
up to this town, that was a coal mining town and just looked at their life. So here’s part
of their life. So, you basically work a seven and a half hour shift when you’re a coal miner,
and you think oh that’s not too bad by 1930 standards, and it’s like yeah except you have
to go down to the coal mine tunnels and they’re not eight feet high and carpeted. They’re
like four and a half feet high and rough, and poorly lit, and the air is terrible. So
basically, you have to chimp walk or crawl, up to three miles, just to get to work. And
then you’d have to do that at end of your shift, and you don’t get paid for that. That’s
just your commute. Then of course what you’re doing when you
get there is it’s absolutely filthy. It’s unbelievably noisy and brutally difficult.
Coal miners, they had no teeth, but their bodies were absolutely perfect. They were
unbelievably powerful and strong because all they did was incredibly intense physical labor.
It was bloody rough. And the housing most people had, it’s like fifty families for one
outhouse. That’s probably good enough to describe it. Often they were row houses, and the row
houses had no back doors. They had no paths between them, and all the outhouses were at
the back. So, that meant if it was twenty below and it was the winter, and you were
sick then you’d get to go all the way around your block to get to the damn outhouse and
maybe there was only one there, and you’d line up with fifty people so that – you know.
Orwell, he was an upper class guy basically, and he was trying to help himself overcome
his upper class prejudices. He was a real, documentarian of the terrible working conditions
of working class people. He wrote this book called Road to Wigan
Pier but one of the things that Orwell said – he wrote this story about these poor
god damn coal miners, it’s like yeah how about some social legislation so that these people
and their children aren’t absolutely brutalized nonstop. But then he wrote the last half of
the book and he wrote it for the Left Book Club which was a socialist group that would
publish a book every month or so. What he did was, he wrote a critique of socialism
– of British socialism, and he said yeah this sucks man. It’s like we should be on the side
of the working people, but the socialists I meet, they’re not on the side of the working
people. They’re like tweed wearing middle class hyper intellectuals who never go anywhere
near the working class because of their class prejudices and for all sorts of other reasons. And they don’t like the poor at all, they
just hate the rich. I thought – I had been a member of the NDP for a long time at that
point and there’s always something a little off about it, especially the radical end like
what’s with you guys? It doesn’t look like benevolence as far as I can tell. There’s
a lot of whining and complaining and resentment. What’s that about? I read Orwell, and I thought
aha! Right. If you hate the successful, if you hate the rich – rich by the way is whoever
has more money than you, but that’s how you define rich – and the best way to mask your
resentment is to pretend you’re on the side of poor. And I read that and thought, that’s
exactly right. That’s also what made me psychoanalytically oriented because one thing psychoanalysts
always do, always, is if you say you’re – here’s how I’m positively predisposed, the psychoanalyst
says, how are you using that to mask something easy and malevolent you’re doing? And that’s
a very very useful question. It’s not always correct, but it’s correct a lot more than
people generally like to think. You know, it’s like the mother – or the witch
– in Hansel and Gretel. You know this story right? This guy gets married. He’s got a couple
of kids, and his new wife doesn’t really like the kids. You have a hundred times higher
chance, by the way, of being abused by a stepparent than by a biological parent – just so you
know. So the stepmother doesn’t like the kids. She tells the guy, well why don’t you just
put those kids out in the woods. So out they go, out in the woods. So they’re lost kids,
right, they have nowhere to go. So they’re wandering out there in the forest. What happens?
They come across a gingerbread house. You think wow, you’re a starving kid. Gingerbread
house, that’s good news right. Not only is it a house, but it’s made out of candy! How
could anything be possibly any better? So in they go. Well and then there’s this grandmotherly
type there and she starts to fatten them up. She puts, I think it’s Hansel, in a cage.
She gets Gretel, after a while, to basically work as their scullery maid and it becomes
quite obvious to the children that she’s actually fattening them up so she can put them in the
oven and eat them. And so, I think what Hansel does is I think
Gretel gives him like this bone from some animal and the old witch is half blind, and
every time she reaches in to sort of reach his leg, he gives her the bone and so she’s
just not all that interested in eating him. Anyway, the kids end up pushing her in the
oven and closing it, and getting the hell out of there. So you know it’s a happy ending,
as far as fairy tales go. But it’s an Oedipal story, right? It’s a classic story, but an
Oedipal family. Be bloody wary of people who do too much for you. Right. It’s like if you
have a mother, or any other relative for that matter who’s fattening you up on mercy and
candy, the probability that her basic goal is to eat you enough so that you never leave
– the probability is extraordinarily high. And that’s no joke. You know, one of the things
that you do learn if you read about the sorts of people who burst out of their mother’s
basement and go shoot up Dawson College is often that’s exactly the situation they’ve
been in. They’re burning with resentment in their uselessness down in the basement for
five or six year. They don’t have to leave. They don’t have to become independent. Everything’s
done for them, so they never have to do anything for themselves. It’s not pretty, and so one
of the rules for dealing with people – and I know this is actually a rule for dealing
with elderly people in hopes for retired people – is that do not do anything for anyone they
cannot do for themselves. You’re stealing from them when you do that. And it’s a great
rule of thumb for kids. Once they can dress themselves, they dress themselves. If they
can set the table, even if it takes twenty minutes, it’s like, they’re setting the table.
You’re not doing a favor by helping them do anything they can do themselves. It’s kind
of harsh, but it beats the hell out of the witch in Hansel and Gretel So anyways, one of the things we’re going
to look at as well, is the dark side of positive motivations. Now how are we gonna do this?
One of the things you might ask yourself is how in the world do you know if something
is true? Now, the first thing I would suggest is that the attitude you guys should bring
to this class is that nothing that I tell you is true. Okay, now I don’t mean you should
be arrogantly skeptical because that’s not appropriate. But, you should bring every critical
faculty you have to bear on what I tell you to see if you can chip away at it because
what you want to do is you want to build yourself a body of knowledge that you cannot undermine.
And the way you do that is by trying to undermine it, by hacking away at the foundation with
everything you’ve got, and if the ideas can withstand a total onslaught, then you’ve got
something. You’ve got a foundation. You’ve got something you can stand on that’s gonna
be there when things get rough. So I’m gonna tell you what I found that’s
been useful to me when things got rough, but I don’t expect you to assume that that’s gonna
work for you, and I don’t want you to – like I want you to listen and to think, but I want
you to keep your wits about you. Now, I’m gonna tell you how I go about to determine
whether something is true. Now first of all, there’s different definitions of truth. So
we’re gonna flip back and forth between two. One definition of truth is an objective definition,
but we don’t have to talk much about that cause you guys already know what that is;
but there’s another definition of truth that I think the best way of defining it is as
pragmatically true. Pragmatism is a branch of American philosophy, and it’s a very sophisticated
branch of philosophy. In fact, I actually think it’s the most sophisticated brand of
philosophy. Probably because it makes the least claims.
What the pragmatists state, basically, is well you really don’t know anything. You don’t
have ultimate knowledge about anything, so your knowledge always bottoms out in ignorance.
So then the question is well, how do you know then, if anything is true? And the pragmatists
would say, in a sense you don’t. What you know always is if something is true enough
for a particular function. So for example, your theory about getting to the door might
be that you can stand up and walk there, and you might – well god only knows what might
happen on the way there you know. Maybe there’ll be an earthquake, or a ceiling tile might
fall on you. Who knows? Maybe you’ll have a heart attack. So you don’t know whether
you can get there; you can infer from past experience, but if you get there then what
you can say is my statement about truth was sufficient so that the outcome was what the
theory predicted. So in some sense, what the pragmatists are saying is that every time
you make a statement, especially if it’s related to action, that you offer a theory of truth
along with that statement, implicitly which is that this is true enough if what I predict
happens happens. And so, it’s a very nice theory eh? It doesn’t
require you to be omniscient about anything for things to be true enough, and you are
ignorant – you don’t know everything about anything, and so obviously you’re working
in the world with partial knowledge, and it works – not all the time. You get old, you
get sick, you die. You’re not gonna work it out thoroughly. So we’re gonna use the pragmatic
truth framework and we’re gonna use the objective truth framework. And one of the propositions
that I’m going to make to you is that the stories that are associated with our deepest
moral intuitions are pragmatic truths, and that you need pragmatic truths and you need
objective truths, and you need pragmatic truths because you don’t just need to know what the
world’s made of. You need to know what to do about the fact that the world’s made out
of things. And because human beings are motoric creatures, we act in the world. We act on
the world, so what we need to know is how is it that you should act on the world. That
is not a question that could be addressed by objective methods. Technically right? Because
it’s actually a value question. What should you do? Science, by its very methodologies,
refuses to answer such questions. People confuse the fact that science is value
free, sort of, with the idea that existence is value free. Like that’s philosophically
primitive, I would say, because science was actually set up to get rid of the value of
this objective value in its technique. So you can’t say we set this thing up to get
the values and all the values fall. It’s like there’s no value. No, no, you put that domain
out of the range of consideration. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It’s just a different
– it requires a different philosophy, a different outlook, different techniques, different tools,
different methods of proof. All of these things. So part of what we’re gonna do – I’m gonna
use objective truth as much as I possibly can because I think that a lot of what psychology,
as a science, has been able to offer in the last hundred years has been extraordinarily
useful for elucidating some of the issues that we’re going to discuss. Because we really
have made some progress in understanding the psyche, especially at a biological/behavioral
level. We got some pretty solid information, it’s not perfect but it’s helpful. So we’re gonna draw on a bunch of sources.
We’re gonna draw on stories. We’re gonna draw on literature. We’re gonna draw on philosophy.
We’re gonna draw on religion. We’re gonna draw on mythology. We’re gonna draw on biology
and psychology. There’s this idea which you should’ve learned about – which you should’ve
learned about if you’re a psychologist – called multi method multi trait matrix. This was
invented back in the 1950’s. I think it was Meehl and Cronbach. It was a famous paper
that was published in the 50’s. Everyone’s supposed to know it. No one ever pays attention
to it. But, what they were interested in is how do you know if when you say that something
exists, like let’s say anger, does anger exist? Well, the answer seems self evident. It’s
tricky because generally no one comes up to you and says anger. They tell you a little
story where they use words related to anger in the story and you sort of derive what they
mean by angry from the context. The context is important in defining the reality,
so you don’t know if the central idea, anger, can be pulled out of the context and you can
say that’s a thing like iron is a thing, or like mercury is a thing. Maybe it’s not. Maybe
it’s a pattern or maybe it’s something that is a convention or you know, maybe there’s
all sorts of things that are associated with it. So, one of Cronbach and Meehl’s fundamental
claims was that in order to determine whether or not something existed, you had to be able
to detect it using different methods. Now, it’s tricky because it’s not obvious what
constitutes a different method. So you kind of have to make a judgment but I would say
you use a multi method, multi trait means of determining what’s true with your senses.
How many do you have? Six, because you have proprioception. Why? Well let’s say five,
for the sake of simplicity. Why? Why not one?>>[Student answers: To increase the likelihood
of it being true. You could see something but not touch it. That might be a mirage maybe.
So there’s multiple reasons for it to be pointing to the probability of it being true.]>>Yes, well that’s exactly it. And you want
it to be – so the sense idea is a really good one because you can see sense uses different
modalities. It’s like obviously the eyes rely on electromagnetic radiation and the ears
rely on vibrations in the ear, and touch is really an atomic phenomena in some sense because
you’re feeling the outer surfaces of electrons with your electron surfaces. There’s taste,
which is again a molecular level phenomena. And smell. So our idea kind of is, is if all five of
those things detect it, it’s sufficiently real so we can use it to guide our actions
and we won’t be wrong. So it’s five dimensions – you need a five-dimensional analysis, and
that’s evolved. You might say, well let’s call that a good estimate. You need five ways
of detecting something before you can be sure it’s true. Now you know, when you’re learning
about experimental psychology, p is less than 0.05 and you use a measurement, and then you
determine whether the probability that that has manifested itself exceeds a certain level
of chance. If it does, then the thing exists. But that’s actually not right. It’s not right
for experimental psychology, and experimental psychologists have known it since the late
fifties. You have to demonstrate the damn thing exists multiple different ways. Now,
what constitutes a different way can be subject to debate. It’s a complicated thing to sort
out, but you can kinda figure it out right? Maybe use a physiological measurement and
self report or something like that, or you self report another report. Maybe you don’t
need five, but you probably need three, or something like that depending on the – so
what I’m going to do is tell you a story, roughly speaking, and I wanna make the story
evident at five or six different levels of analysis. And I want to show you how the story
is the same at all these levels of analysis. Now, the one – one of the potential flaws
of that method is this. Joseph Campbell, for example, wrote about hero mythology. Some
of you have probably read The Hero of a Thousand Faces. One of the criticisms about Joseph
Campbell and people like him, is that they read the stories of multiple cultures, but
they have an a priori framework. Because of the a priori framework, they only see what
their theory tells them that they’re going to see. They don’t look for the exceptions, so it’s
a problem with pattern recognition. You may be able to recognize patterns where they don’t
exist. Now, my method could be criticized on that grounds. But, the way I’ve tried to
protect myself against that was to make sure I drew from enough sources so that the probability
I would be able to tell a coherent story across all those different types of methods is vanishingly
small. Now you’re going to have to decide if that’s true. I’ll tell you roughly, the
dimensions of analysis. The ideas that I’m going to talk to you about, I’ve put into
practice personally. They work for me. They work for the people that I’ve taught them
to, so those are family members often, but not only family members, lots of other people
because I’m also a clinician right? So it seems to work quite nicely. I have a lot of
people write to to me and tell me the ideas have worked. So, I’ve got multi rater reliability.
And then, I think it’s manifest biologically, and I think it’s manifest culturally, and
I think it’s manifested in these very, very old stories and anthropologically and so forth.
You know, make up your own mind, you can see. The other thing – I don’t really know what
to do, what to make of this. You know sometimes you have an intuition of truth. It’s like
maybe you’re describing a problem to someone and they say this seems to be at the heart
of it. They give you a formulation, and it kind of goes click. Yeah, that’s how all those
things hang together. It’s a pattern recognition mechanism. People generally have the feeling
that when something like that happens, something of truth has been revealed. Now, a very common
response from the students I had in these courses is that I never tell anyone anything
they don’t already know. And the reason for that, what I’m hoping is the reason, is that
what I’m outlining is archetypal structures and you know, I’ve drawn a lot of my work
from Jung and was very interested in archetypal structures. So, what will happen – and I think
it will happen – is I’ll tell you a story, you’ll think oh yeah right, that’s what that
means, and I see in here all the things that it explains. So you’ll have this sense, and
that’s the – we talked about your friend with the spiritual awakening. Often, one of the
cognitive phenomena that accompanies a spiritual awakening is the connections of many, many
diverse phenomena into an overarching unity. And you feel that, like as a radical simplification.
It’s something like that, a decrease in entropy, or something like that. It’s a very, very
powerful sensation. I mean, there’s other sources of what you might call spiritual experiences
as well, but that’s certainly one of them. And so you can see you know, I’ll tell you
these stories; you can think oh well – how does that story manifest itself in your experience?
That’s a phenomenological level of truth. So the phenomenologists – branch of philosophy
– started by Heidegger, not exactly but let’s say extended as well as anyone extended it,
by Heidegger. Heidegger thought that Western philosophy had gone wrong basically since the
time of Socrates which is quite a long time. And he said that we became interested in what
the world was made of, and how we knew things, and what we should’ve been interested instead
was the nature and quality of being. What he meant by being isn’t the objective world.
What he meant by being was the manner in which you have experience. So there are elements
of being that aren’t objective elements. So I would say pain is a phenomenological
reality. It’s not something you can – you can index it objectively, but the index is
not the phenomena. And you know, is your pain real? This is a question for people who think
there’s no such thing as meaning. Like you try to argue yourself out of pain and see
how far you get. You might think, well that’s not the sort of meaning I meant. Well you
know, a negative meaning is a place to start right? Because if something’s negative and
it’s real, it does imply that there’s something positive that’s real. It might be harder to
get a hold of it, but at least it’s not pain. But, pain – Descartes, and I’ll close with
this. You guys can have a break. Descartes implemented a method called radical doubt
when he went on his philosophical journey. What Descartes looked for was one thing he
couldn’t doubt. Cause he was probably clinically depressed and he was doubting everything, like how do
I know the world isn’t just a mirage made by an evil demon to obfuscate reality from
me. Well his conclusion was that the one thing that he could not dispute was that he was
and could think. Now I don’t think Descartes really meant what we meant by think. I think
he meant more by what we would mean by experience because thought has become a much more narrowly
defined term since the time of Descartes. So I don’t think he meant I think therefore
I am, I think he meant something like I experience. I have experience, therefore I am. Regardless
of that, modern people think about it as thought. Heidegger was different. Heidegger basically
said, the one thing you can’t dispute is that experience is your experience. It exists.
It’s almost by definition, it’s like the definition of exist. And then he was interested in what the fundamental
elements of existence were. And they’re not atoms, like the fundamental elements of the
objective world. They’re more things like pain, and for me that was the thing that stopped
me from doubting. It’s like, I cannot doubt the existence of pain. It seems real. I might
say it seems more real than anything else. Now, you might say you don’t believe that,
but I would say I don’t care what you think you believe. I’ll watch you when you’re in
pain, and every single one of your actions will indicate that you believe in it. And
not only that, but that you can’t not believe in it. It’s there, and it’s there so much
that that’s a meaning. And so it’s in that way that Heidegger thought
out existence, or as experience as composed of meaning. So part of the reason this course
is called Maps of Meaning is that because one of the things we’re going to look at is
the structure of meaning, and we’re going to start with negative meaning because from
my perspective – look you can doubt whether or not good exists. But once I’m done telling
you the things that I know about human history, there won’t be a single person in this room
who thinks that evil doesn’t exist. And you might think that’s a bloody horrible thing
to learn, but it’s not. It’s unbelievably useful because once you can establish something
that you cannot deny, you can move from that. I think you can hypothesize that if you’re
capable of detecting radical evil, I’ll tell you about Unit 731, or you can look it up
yourself – I wouldn’t recommend it by the way. Once you can identify radical evil and you
think, well that’s just – beyond a doubt that’s reprehensible. There’s no justification for
that whatsoever, no matter what, whenever. Well then you’ve got something to stand on,
and you can start thinking, well what’s the absolute opposite of that thing? It might
be, how is it that you can conduct yourself so that in your sphere of influence, the probability
that anything like that is reduced to the absolute maximum? Well, that’s a reasonably
moral question. And I don’t think it’s something you can dispense with with a casual nihilism.
I don’t think a nihilist can dispense with it, because even nihilists suffer. Thank god
for that. It’s their only source of potential salvation. Sometimes they notice it – oh I’m
suffering from all this nihilism, maybe that indicates there’s something flawed in it.
It’s always possible. Okay, so let’s take a break. We will come back at, what time is it? 2:58 2:58? Okay. Come back at 3:15. We will see you then. And then I will talk to you more about the technical elements of the class.

100 thoughts on “2016 Lecture 01 Maps of Meaning: Introduction and Overview

  1. You think Tucson is odd go a couple hours south to Sierra Vista. That's a strange place to be. I spent a lot of time there

  2. So why are you here? Nobody knows why the fuck we are here? He thinks he knows but I dont believe it. The Aesir have tormented and tortured the fae and animals and the land. The shaman know Odin is the Villian and the Children of Loki are the true Heroes. The Human society he advocates is criminal and murderous and cruel to the shade creatures. But he intrigues me- maybe the humans could redeem themselves? You have my blessing mortals- but I dont like you.

  3. Hes right about unit 731. Dont look it up. If curiosity demands it, know that its a ww2 Japanese medical unit that conducted horrid experiments on men women and children. Worse than you can imagine.

  4. I love Dr. Peterson but he has yet to read '200 Years Together' bu Solzhenitsyn. A majority of Soviet leadership from 1917-1989 were not Russian, ESPECIALLY CHRISTIAN Russians.

  5. Maybe the reason the chimps go to war, is because it's a safe way to practice the type of all-out violence they need to be able to commit individually or corporately against the troop leader someday if they wish to advance on the mating hierarchy.

  6. Dr Peterson mentions “the best ever case for atheism”. This is where my detector started to blink.
    Atheism is not a belief or ideology. It’s a categorisation for those who don’t happen to follow other beliefs. As such, you can’t make a case for or against it. I find these arguments self-defeating, as tends to be the case when someone relies on religion as a context for moral judgment. And it puts me in the uncomfortable position of thinking: either Dr Peterson has a fundamentally flawed outlook, and/or an arrogance to assume this is a naturally valid presupposition that one should dumbly accept, and/or (to be uncharitable) a wish to indoctrinate in religious beliefs.
    Otherwise, great stuff.

  7. This man is the reason my life has become much better. I came from the gutter, drug addict,prison,depression, you name it.. now bit by bit i have things in order still lot to do but without mr Peterson im almost sure i would still be using drugs. I live in Finland and never thought a Canadian man would have such a profound impact on my life, my whole familys life actually. I wish there was a way to thank him.

  8. Thankyou Mr. Peterson. You've coherently laid out specific ways we interpret our cognitive thought, the yin yang off our human nature inside the mind, taking in all the greatest philosophers ideas and knowings to lay them out on a table for everyone else to enjoy and absord. I'm almost finished watching this first video, and God.. so many emotions are being brought to my attention that I might have other wise overlooked. I am thoroughly intrigued listening to this first video on maps of meaning. Before moving to the second video, I feel its necessary to rewatch this one multiple times to engrave as much information as I possibly can. Astoundingly enlightening, and I couldn't be more thankful that you have opened the door for everyone to have the opportunity to take a seat in your college level lecture, truly grateful, thankyou.

  9. I couldn't help but think in a good few places this guy is insane if thats what he believes. Take belief systems what is belief? For me belief is impossible if you have evedence or knowledge that what you believe is reality, because that's not belief. If you know and can prove 1+1 is two then you don't belive 1+1 is 2 you know 1+1 is 2 and knowledge is greater than belief. If I knew god or aliens existed because I met them I would have a greater belief in them than someone who just belived in them. That knowledge of mine may prove in the future to be false, if for instance the burning bush was a holographic projection or the alien I met turned out to be a puppet So it's possible to believe in god or aliens as you can't prove he/she or they exist. It's not possible to believe that people will vegitate if they dont have a belief system. Because people get hungry and they know that getting up walking to the fridge and getting some food and eating it will cure the problem of being hungry. So does that mean I believe in eating. No, I know from experience that eating cures hunger it is not a belief because long years of eating and it curing my hunger makes it a fact that eating is a good thing to do when you are hungry. By the way I am not making this point because I dont like Jordan I am making it because I believe he is wrong about belief. People can very easily not believe in anything they can't prove is real without vegatating, because the number of things they can prove is real gives them so much stuff that they can do. Like go out and work because they know they don't like not having enough money to buy food. There is my onlslaught to your belief that people need to have a belief system to not vegitate. Keep up the good work Jordan love your lectures.

  10. So I love Dr Peterson. He is just amazing. But I want to point out 1:28:40 for all of us still in the seventh grade (developmentally-speaking).

  11. 1:28:41…..sounded like someone farted😆🤪 Anyhow I have been listening to Dr peterson for about a year now and am always amazed at the new perspectives I hear from him. Its a good thing he came along when he did. I think he is doing alot of people alot of good.

  12. @01:30:00 I never thought of "touch" as "feeling the outer surfaces of electrons with your electron surfaces" 🙂

  13. Saw the day after at the cinema. Terrified me at the time and made the nuclear fear very real and close. I can still feel the same every time I look back on that time.

  14. I was an average teenager that was annoyed of most responsibilities like work and making a budget and cleaning…I hated cleaning. But I found this man and he changed my mindset. Responsibility is meaning and therefore happiness. And I started having a better mindset, wanted to change my character, didn't want to be so bloody ignorant, made a budget… Thank you Jordan! You told me WHY I should do these things instead which no one explained to me as clearly as you.

  15. You know people are listening because at 1:28:39 someone farted loudly and nobody even giggled lmfao.

  16. mad was really mutual assured distraction according to the pple at top aka the 300 . create as much apathy as possible so everyone is in the i d give a flying [email protected]# attitude . tavistock created this in ww2 when pple were confronted with too many decisions aka info overload 3rdwave they shut down . after ww2 the nuremburg trials left israel usa and soviet israel with the top scientists amdf all 3 created the same ideas same movies same ufos at same time . looking back now . it was real but it was a sham at the top of food chain as long as everyone is a good DOG AND obeyed . jfk and bobby werent good dogs and they were taken out bt the top , theres pple above the 300 . the 13 . prob the jesuits at top cuz they are 500 yrs old / maybe its templars , its a huge web of lies !

  17. This is a very poor introduction to a series of classes. He’s telling stories but goes all over the place.

  18. Little factually incorrect statement, the us had about 30,000 nukes at max, not 50 but doesn’t matter point still stands.

  19. 53:44 yeah being a law student has to be the worst part of that guy's life, it makes sense

  20. I know you'll never see this Dr. P, but I just want to thank you for giving me the cognitive tools to save myself; and be an actual man. I wish I could just shake your hand and thank you in person for being one of the only people willing to stand up for us, the downtrodden silent majority. Godspeed, Doc. 🙏

  21. After my breakup with the" love of my life" who I was convinced that I would spend my life with I had dipped into depression. Not ever pondering suicide, just lost. I had let my relationship define who I was. I found Dr. Peterson and have been listening to anything and everything I can find. Something about the way he speaks really struck me. I was ever only"agreeable" to my X. I was never really an agreeable person before her. Learning how to get in touch with my "shadow" has helped me get back to the person I once was.

  22. Детство , физикика и квантовая физика … как вам такой расклад , учитель….. Давайие о бо всем этом поговорим ?

  23. What an amazing professor. These younger people who are now men and women have no concept of how treacherous the 20th century was. We were almost destroyed as a culture if not as a species many many times. There is zero perspective on how absolutely amazing our modern world is. We are all so lucky to be here and we’re wasting our time complaining about petty bullshit.

  24. 1:19:57 – Parenting advice: Don't do anything for your children that they can do themselves.
    1:35:31 – Pain as the thing you cannot doubt and consequently as the place you can stand on.

  25. Just found this am besides myself with all sorts of great emotions I never though I could be able to listen to such a learned man . I just can't understand how people can think this man is bad. I know they are entitled to their opinion but I just can't see it .

  26. Jordan mentioned in this lecture about how he asked someone if they would choose depression or the illness destroying their joints. After hearing him speak about this more recently, my heart breaks knowing he was referring to his daughter.

  27. I cried a little bit watching the beginning of this video. When the students were telling him why they took the class. Number one… who else has the balls to ask that? Most would say "To get X credits and graduate." How many college courses would get the answers he got. I realized how unique and unlikely it was that a college course with real scientific information could change people's lives so profoundly. I cried because I never met a college professor that impactful and I never will. There should be more professors that have at least half the impact Peterson does.

  28. @Jordan B. Peterson, I appreciate your research into the Columbine shooters. I remember that day vividly. I remember how our teachers in my school were grief stricken because they had connections to the students and teachers that were slain in that school. Though one edit, it wasn't Detroit, it was a suburb of Denver. Thank you.

  29. This guy is bloody brilliant. Really gifted teacher . Very rare. Doing his job challenging young minds . They will never forget this experience as they age


  31. The first question upon entering a magnum opus class that deconstructs why human beings do anything is—. “ so why are you here”. I would expect nothing less.

  32. Thank you for the video, appreciate the content and the insight it provided.
    It may only be the first video for me now, but it won't be the last.

  33. I wonder what the person in the background was typing. It’s odd that they were there for this lecture in person and weren’t fixated on this marvelous speaker.

  34. MAD was not a joke and it worked if both sides know the other side can still kill thm after a first strike there is no advantage to attacing BUT if the number of missles are lowered to a level where one side thinnks I can first strike the other and therewill not be enough left to cause me serious trouble? Nuclear War is certain.

  35. Everytime I see a lecture by Jordan Peterson I get a pang of regret for joining the army at 18 instead of going to University. Then I see the kind of postmodernists and Marxists that teach in the universities around here and I am reminded that not every teacher is Dr Peterson. So I just thank the internet for making this available and my parents for teaching me English.

  36. Mutually Assured Destruction actually maintained the peace. A war that cannot be won is a war that no one wants to start.

  37. This is where Dr.Peterson is coming from when he is advocating for liberty of the individual , do we want to go back to "work will set you free"?
    Thank you

  38. Mutual Assured Destruction is not a purely human concept. I have seen many pictures of two males got stuck in a dominance fight and both died through some misfortune or another.

  39. peterson paraphrases what he calls the most powerful argument for atheism. what a straw man. Jordan doesn't understand atheism. otherwise, great lecture

  40. I didn't believe him about not wanting to know about Unit 731. Not being particularly squeamish, I thought I could handle it. Dear God, was I wrong.

  41. I keep watching this lecture over and over and at this point I'm beginning to feel sorry for those students. That's a lifetime load of information being dumped onto them in a single seating. Easy Peter!!!

  42. Krippen is the guy who said he wished the world had one neck so he could choke it not Panzram.
    In case anyone is keeping score.

  43. I could never sit on my seat for more than 10mins. When jordan peterson speaks I could watch 2 hours straight….. thank you JP

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