More controversy followed when he publicly defended James Damore , the sacked Google employee who suggested there were innate gender differences, as being no more than the scientific consensus. This has led him to be branded a member of the alt-right — although his support for socialised healthcare, redistribution of wealth towards the poorest and the decriminalisation of drugs suggests this is far from the whole story. Peterson has largely been in the news for his blazing, outspoken opposition to much of the far-left political agenda, which he characterises as totalitarian, intolerant and a growing threat to the primacy of the individual — which is his core value and, he asserts, the foundation of western culture.
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I first came across Peterson not in any political context but as a teacher of story. His online videos contain extensive deconstructions of narratives and myths, both ancient and modern. I watched his videos on the psychological significance of biblical stories. Although I am a lifelong atheist, for the first time the Bible started to make symbolic sense to me. Peterson can take the most difficult ideas and make them entertaining.
This may be why his YouTube videos have had 35m views. Even his biblical lectures have been watched 5m times — quite a figure for a theological analysis of the Old Testament.
He is fast becoming the closest that academia has to a rock star. You are tiny and flawed and ignorant and weak and everything else is huge, complex and overwhelming.
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Once, we had Christianity as a bulwark against that terrifying reality. But God died. Since then the defence has either been ideology — most notably Marxism or fascism — or nihilism. These lead, and have led in the 20th century, to catastrophe. No one gets away with anything, ever, so take responsibility for your own life.
You conjure your own world, not only metaphorically but also literally and neurologically. These lessons are what the great stories and myths have been telling us since civilisation began. Peterson studied political science before shifting to psychology and became obsessed with understanding, at a time when the cold war was ongoing, how two sets of beliefs could be so deeply held it brought the whole of humanity to the brink of destruction. It has driven him ever since to reflect on human nature and the often irrational way in which we generate belief systems.
I Skyped Peterson in Toronto before his visit to London to lecture and promote the book. He simply laughed.
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And I read history as the potential perpetrator — not the victim. That takes you to some very dark places. And a bit of soul-searching would allow them to determine in what manner they are currently indulging them. The fact of our essential darkness may, perhaps, be seen transparently in the flood of hatred, abuse and rage that is now clearly visible on anonymous Twitter feeds.
We must not forget, says Peterson, that we are corrupt and pathetic , and capable of great malevolence. So if we are all monsters, how are we to be saved? The first thing is to understand how our worldview evolves. Crucial to this is a year-old experiment on inattention — the famous Invisible Gorilla experiment.
This involved recording two teams of basketball players and playing back the game to observers, who were asked to count the number of passes their team made. During the game, a man in a gorilla suit walks on to the court, pounds his chest and then walks off. Why is this so important?
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Because, as Peterson notes, you only see what you aim at — not only metaphorically but also literally and physiologically. Your perception is adjusted to your aims. So if your aims are dark and corrupted, you will see the dark and corrupt things that facilitate your aims. And if your aims are high, you will see different things. Belief colours perception.
This fits in with his claim that you must pursue proper meaning rather than happiness.
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Happiness is a great side effect. When it comes, accept it gratefully. And perhaps a suicidal failure. Happiness is like cotton candy. Hackman was nice enough to sit down and chat about why he got into writing novels and offers new writers sage advice. My other job, that thing I did for 60 or so years, was getting tougher as the years slipped by. The characters bouncing around in my head had to play out.
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ST: You were an actor before becoming a writer. Did your training as an actor help your writing in away?
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Elmore Leonard. Twain told stories so simply. Hemingway had a great breadth of experience that commanded the story and Leonard was just Leonard. He once said something to the effect of, "If it sounds like writing, rewrite it. Why the change in genre? Julie Worth seemed decent, professional. To me, it's interesting when a woman does what has traditionally been a man's job. A tough-minded female is always an exciting quandary. ST: Pursuit starts with a bang for the hero, Sergeant Juliette Worth, when she is forced to take down a gunman in a mall.
Do you believe a story needs to start with a big bang to grab the reader's attention early on or did that scene happen naturally? As far as something coming naturally, uh-uh. Not for me. It's all teeth grinding, elbows on the floor. ST: Pursuit has a crisp plot and a ton of character building. How did you develop your writing style? Was it something that came naturally or was it developed over time? ST: What was the writing process like for Pursuit?
Did you do a lot of research on the novel? A female Lieutenant with the Highway Patrol who had been around quite a bit helped with the police business. Also, a close friend, a senior FBI special agent, made some great suggestions. ST: Sergeant Worth is a no-nonsense by the book police officer but a single mother as well. Where did the idea for this multi-faceted hero come from? It got me thinking.
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