Ep 503 – Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris, and Truth – Part 2

Panel Discussion

Posted July 16th, 2018

Glenn, Tom, Bob, and Jake finish (for now…) their discussion of the infamous January 2017 “Truth” debate between Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris.





  • Brett Williams

    Yay, I got a callout!

    I do see your point. Where I think we differ, and where my engaged annoyance with Peterson comes from is skin in the game.

    It seemed to be a hypothetical for you guys, it was my students that he was attacking.

    Remember the John Larsen line about what’s unique about the church is not good, and what is good is not unique? That’s Peterson.

    • I remember that, and it was useful at the time. But interestingly, my perspective has changes a bit since then… I think even when good is not unique and is coming from a source associated with some things that are not good, well, if you’re careful, you can get still get value out of non-unique good wherever you find it.

      For example, if I praise the LDS Church for something good (but not unique) it did, that doesn’t mean that I’m broadcasting my acceptance of everything about them that is not good. Same for Peterson.

      • Brett Williams

        Sure, and if you’re approaching Peterson in his areas of expertise (Big 5 Personality traits, alcoholism, high achieving populations) he’s really, really interesting. He has useful insights, and has made some significant differences in some people’s lives (especially around alcoholism treatment)

        But Peterson’s view of Canadian human rights law was not only wrong, it was either maliciously wrong or delusionally wrong. He has no rational excuse for how wrong he is on this. He has access to the best legal educators in Canada and the third largest library in North America.

        More than anything else…. he took this fight of ideas out on his students.

        So I get it, I think the LDS church has a great way of teaching about telling the truth…. but they also turned a blind eye to decades of sexual abuse and protected themselves with high-powered lawyers. So my evaluation of the LDS church’s teachings on truth (which are quite nice in the Gospel Principles manual) will always be colored by their cover-ups and their legal chicanery. It’s always ‘Yes, but…’.

        Peterson contributions and opinions will always be ‘Yes, but….’ to me.

        • Ironically, Brett, dozens of comments later… I still don’t know what you think about, you know, the discussion we had, i.e., Peterson vs. Harris versions on truth. It’s not in your approved list of Peterson topics, but it’s also not part of what you hate about him (as far as I can remember).

          Just curious if at some point you’ll share an opinion on the topic at hand. 🙂

          • Brett Williams

            The Peterson-Harris conversation on truth was the final nail in the coffin that convinced me he was a charlatan. Peterson’s ideas center around a deep seated fear of totalitarianism that dates from his teenage years (he goes into excruciating depth on this in Maps of Meaning) combined with a grandiose sense of his own importance (Bernard Schiff lays out several examples in his Toronto Star editorial). His definition of what is ‘true’ always ends up being that which coincides with his own interests and ideas.

            It’s remarkably similar to ‘I know the Book of Mormon is true’. True is what makes Jordan Peterson feel good, central and in control. Then it’s larded up with $5 words.

            I don’t hate Peterson, I’m actively annoyed by him and the target environment is rich. I think he’s harmful because of how he treated his students and his attitude towards IRB’s reviewing his research on human subjects.

  • John

    Wow, you guys caught a lot of shit on part 1 of the discussion. I just want to say, I liked it!

    Also, a thought on the word “normative”…. In my academic training, a normative statement has meant something subjective and values based (e.g. a minimum wage is good). This is in contrast to a positive statement that is objective, some might even call it capital T true (e.g. when the price for oil rose, demand fell).

    • Gabriel von Himmel

      On capital T truth
      John, when the demand for truth rises the interest in inquiry falls.
      the more we know of our the chemistry and cranial wiring the normative parameters shrink.
      Neuroscience has a role to play in understanding our origins after swinging from the trees.

      The Peterson ecclesiastical vanity is a tell for his lightness of being ––– ha

  • Delaney Darco

    These last two episodes…awesome. Tom, I related to nearly everything you had to say. And about the motivation to serve. There are secular organizations that do good and provide community. Secular Humanists and a liberal Universalist Unitarian are two I am involved in. My secular humanist group is small, but we meet and do a few service projects a year and connect over leaving religion. If you want to be doing more than do it! You have had a break from insular service to the organization of the church. Now is your chance to help your community. Pick any issue. Poverty, hunger, addiction, suicide, sexual assault, foster care, human trafficking, racism, promoting STEM education, mentoring kids, collect data for research,whatever. Griping on social media doesn’t count. Too much? Get to know your neighbors (even the LDS ones, yikes!) and help where you can. And you don’t even have to read the Ensign to them and get them to come to church. You can just be neighbors. Also, like Glenn said, don’t feel guilty for not doing enough. There’s always a time and a season. Parenting is tough, and sometimes it’s all we can do. We do what we can and that’s okay. But don’t say there is nothing to fill the void. Just because it’s not forced on you doesn’t mean there aren’t places to serve or care. Without the time suck of being a member, I found freedom in finding ways to serve my community in ways that fit my personality and didn’t suck all the life out of my soul. Those were my thoughts on that part of the discussion. Bravo to the thought provoking topic.

    • Delaney Darco

      Ok I had a follow up thought….

      To what Jake was saying about finding motivation to care – I think it’s really hard to find realistic ways to help people that are actually making a difference. We used to pray, fast, teach at church, give blessings, SERVE a mission, go to the temple, etc…all in an effort to help others. But on the other side we are left thinking, “well, shit, those things didn’t actually help anyone!!” (Maybe psychologically but you know what I mean.) So we are more skeptical now that what we do does any good, and it’s hard to know how to help in truly meaningful ways. Also, moving people sucks. Don’t feel bad about it. Thats what moving companies are for. Half the time the family isn’t ready, they don’t even have all their shit in boxes yet, and handling other people’s stuff is kind of gross. Just bring them a plate of cookies later and say welcome to the neighborhood. Beyond that and you start to look like a creeper. Peace.

  • Bill

    I played my wife the tangent where you talk about lack of service opportunities post-Mormonism and she got so pissed she couldn’t finish. 98% of activity within the LDS bubble is not service at all and we should not be lulled (bullied?) into thinking that it is/was. Anything we do now for a legitimate charitable organization is better than anything we ever did for LDS Inc. The money that you gave WAS NOT a charitable contribution. If I give $500 to a legitimate local charity that will do more good that $50k given to that multi-billion $$ corporation. I was disappointed that nobody picked up on that.
    That being said, I was glad for the conversation. It is true that absence makes the heart grow fonder! Thanks Brethren!

    • Hi Bill, thanks to you and your wife for the comment! I’d like to quibble with her characterization, though. Just because “giving” 10% to Mormonism isn’t equivalent to “giving” to a charity… well, I think that’s a moot point, given the context and circumstances surrounding the two forms of giving. Lemme splain:

      At least for me, as an active TBM, the difference between giving to the Church and giving to charity generally was philosophically super tiny at best and non-existent at worst. That is, I thought I was giving to charity when giving that 10%, the government certainly confirmed that as well.

      Now on the other side as an ex-mo, sure, based on my views and beliefs now, it’s a night and day difference. But that’s beside the point. The point being, while in the Church, I was actively giving at least 10% to charity because that’s what I believed I was doing. It doesn’t matter that I view what I was doing then differently now, I did it and thought it was what it was. And that’s super powerful.

      So let’s look at me now today. I know better, but I still like the idea of giving to charity, in principal. But guess what? I don’t really do it anymore. At least, like I said, not even close to like I did when I thought I was giving to charity before.

  • I tried to read Jordan’s book until the library threatened to come get it. I got to about page 8. And I listened to most of the original Harris/Peterson interview, but my narcolepsy was so violently triggered that I nearly fell out of my porch swing.

    If Bombardier (a Canadian company) built a twin-engine commuter jet designed using “higher truths” rather than employing generally accepted aeronautic principles, would Jordan Peterson ride in it? If you want to keep your face out of the dirt, there are plain old true truths that can help you with that.

  • dblagent007

    What implications does JP’s definition of truth have for the assertions made by Donald Trump? Are the things DT says true as long as they are useful?

    • Scary and spot on question, dblagent007. DT is the quintessential negative manifestation of JP’s points and, in my view, is partly why this “survival” version of truth is problematic in broader contexts (ironically, since JP constantly wants us to expand the context of any given situation to make his point stronger wherein here’s a case where that methodology proves the opposite point, e.g., DT is all about survival of his ego via metaphorical truths, as he sees them, for what he’s trying to accomplish).

      • Gabriel von Himmel

        “Some things that are useful are not very true.”

    • Glenn

      Well, this isn’t really a defense of the “it is only true if it is beneficial” argument, but because of the different ways of using the word “true,” you could say that every time Trump tells a lie, he is being “true” to his nature. In that sense, even his lies are true. So there’s always that… 😉

    • Gabriel von Himmel

      Trump Truth is useful when chaos is the aim of the clairvoyant “USEFUL IDIOT” to baffle the basket of deplorables while stuffing the cheeks of oligarchs draped in the regal robes of privilege.
      The wish to share the “trump touch” is infectious when despensing greed to a the bucket of uglies.
      The accolite of Roy Cohn has gone bankrupt only six times.

      He wants to share the fantasy, MAGA MAGA MAGA

      “Some things that are useful are not very true.”

    • Gabriel von Himmel

      “Some things that are useful are not very true.”

      Trump Truth is useful when chaos is the aim of the clairvoyant “USEFUL IDIOT” to baffle the basket of deplorables while stuffing the cheeks of oligarchs draped in the regal robes of privilege.
      The wish to share the “trump touch” is infectious when despensing greed to a bucket of uglies.
      The accolite of Roy Cohn has gone bankrupt only six times.

      He wants to share the fantasy, MAGA MAGA MAGA

      “Some things that are useful are not very true.”
      one might search that phrase to see where it leads

      Bob, for christ’s sake this is not spam fix this ––– MAGA MAGA MAGA

  • dblagent007

    I think this video does a great job explaining the problems with “Peterson truth.”


    I’m sure you hate it when people post links to things debunking Peterson – i.e., the article Glenn read long excerpts from that supposedly debunked Peterson, but was really just a bunch of name calling – but this one is actually concise and well done (with very little name calling – he does call him disingenuous, but only after providing evidence to back it up).

    • Glenn

      Thanks for sharing that. That guy does an excellent job putting those clips together and presenting an interesting argument. But after finishing it, I’m having a hard time understanding exactly the overall point of the video. Is it to clarify what is (or what should) be meant by “true?” Or is it to label Peterson as disingenuous and make people associate him with Deepak Chopra?

      Either way, I don’t think it’s particularly helpful for the grand finale question “do you believe that JESUS literally resurrected?” to be used as a litmus test for either of those two possible points. Has science really proven that there was no divine resurrected Jesus? Is that as solid a truth as the ability to identify or measure energy inside of an atom? I don’t think it is. And yet I don’t need science to provide that level of incontrovertible evidence to personally hold the belief that the story of Jesus is just a story – that resurrection is contrary to natural laws as we understand them (even if we have never had a half-human, half-divine being upon which to run actual scientific tests). So for the interviewer to roll his eyes and claim that Peterson is being “disingenuous” because he is only willing to go as far as to say that he is agnostic on that question… it just doesn’t sit well with me. Of course Peterson’s hesitancy to give a stronger response than “agnostic” doesn’t sit very well with me either, but I don’t feel like that puts him in the realm of disengenuous or Deepak.

      I have more to say on this. But I am tired of typing it out. I’ll do another Patreon recording to flush this out further next week.

  • Josh

    What about the ‘Star Wars’ Truth? Who speaks more truth, Obi Wan as he tells Luke his father is dead, or Vader when he says he’s his Father.
    There seems to be a large valley between Facts and Truths. Religion and Philosophy seem to try and bring truth to facts. Fact that the sun rises every day tends to be truthed in every religion from the beginning of humanoid culture. The percieved truth of which cultures God caused the sun to rise defined their reality, and continues to today, hence the Science vs Religion conflict, Science being simply the newest version of ataching truhts to facts. Current scientific truths have mechanistical truths, possibly though an anthropologist could argue that a dung beetle rolling the sun over the horizon had just as much truth then as GPS today. Maybe though i am simply not smart enough for all of this and should remain quiet in the corner…
    P.S. I get Tom’s frustration that JP uses the Bible as a vessle of truthing, because of the horriblness also contained in it. However, is there any fable/Myth/Story complition that isnt horrible. Shinto ,Norse, Greek, egyption, or even grimms fairy tails, all contain horribleness. Perhaps the horrible is a necessary part of the Truth vessle….

  • Jason Jordan Smith

    I’ve followed Jordan Peterson for quite a while now, and I think that he is being misunderstood here just as he is elsewhere.
    1. People are conflating the word “facts” with the word “truth.” I blame that on our Mormon indoctrination though. We’ve been trained to think of them synonymously. Sam Harris, however, is a different story. He’s a nevermo as far as I know.
    2. Jordan Peterson is NOT attempting to fit everything into a Bible-shaped hole. Western civilization is largely constructed on a Judeo-Christian ethic. That ethic has archetypes attached to it that manifest in the Biblical text. It makes PERFECT sense to refer to Biblical archetypes because they are easy to relate to. Since we operate on a Judeo-Christian ethic (even the atheists among us), these archetypes become easily recognizable.
    3. What Jordan Peterson is really afraid of is the nihilistic attitudes that post-modern and neo-Marxist proponents eventually support, albeit unwittingly at times. Without a metaphysical substrate, societies tend to destabilize.