According to the voiceover in the video clip (no longer on YouTube, unfortunately), from a conference on February 25, 2017 where Jordan Peterson was giving a talk about the importance of free speech. Someone in the audience asked a question about Milo Yiannopoulos, and the video is the response to that question. I’m not really interested in Milo himself. My interest is in the topic of free speech and the value of speaking what you believe to be the truth. The audio wasn’t the best, but I tried my best to transcribe it accurately. These are the passages that impressed me most:
Don’t underestimate the power of truth. There is nothing more powerful. Now, in order to speak what you might regard as the truth, you have to let go of the outcome. You have to think, “All right I’m going to say what I think, stupid as I am, biased as I am, ignorant as I am. I’m going to state what I think, clearly as I can, and I’m going to live with the consequences, no matter what they are. Now the reason you think that, that’s an element of faith. The idea is that nothing brings a better world into being than the stated truth. Now you might have to pay a price for that, but that’s fine. You’re going to have to pay a price for every bloody thing you do, and everything you don’t do. You don’t get to choose to not pay a price. You get to choose which poison you’re going to take. That’s it. So, if you’re going to stand up for something, stand up for your truth; it will shape you because people will respond, and object, and tell you why you’re a fool, and a biased moron, and why you’re ignorant. And then if you listen to them, you’ll be just that much less like that the next time you say something. You do that for 5 years, you’ll be so damned tough and articulate, and able to communicate and withstand pressure, that you won’t even recognize yourself. And then you’ll be a force to contend with.
Jordan Peterson talks about how it’s the nature of people to want to wait until they are in a safer place before they speak up. He uses professors as an example. They might say they will wait until they have tenure, until they are an associate professor, or a full professor. There is always a risk in speaking what we think, but there is risk in remaining silent as well.
It is not safe to speak, and it never will be. But the thing you’ve got to keep in mind is that it’s even less safe not to speak. Right? It’s a balance of risks. It’s like you want to pay the price for being who you are and stating your mode of being in the world, or do you want to pay the price for being a bloody serf, or one that’s enslaving him or herself? Well that’s a major price, man. That thing unfolds over decades; you’ll just be a miserable worm at the end of about 20 years of that, right? No self respect, no power, no ability to voice your opinions, nothing left but resentment because everyone’s against you, because of course you’ve never stood up for yourself. It’s like say what you think carefully; pay attention to your words. It’s a price you want to pay if you’re willing to believe that truth is the cornerstone of society, and in the most real sense. If you’re willing to take that leap then tell the truth and see what happens. Nothing better could possibly happen to you. There’ll be ups and downs, and there will be pushback, and it will be controversy—all of that. But it doesn’t matter. The truth is what redeems the world from hell, and that’s the truth.
Jordan Peterson then talks about his own experience, and the consequences of speaking the truth.
So I said what I had to say back in September and I’m sure that I could have done it better, and then people have told me how I could have done it better, although it didn’t mean that they would actually do it. You know my job was at risk, serious risk, for about two months. It destabilized my family to be very brave about this, so thumbs up to them, man. They just stood by me. Here’s the optimistic view: the university has left me alone completely. I shook hands with the dean 2 weeks ago; we’re on friendly terms. They don’t want this to go any farther than it has already. The students were tremendously welcoming when I came back to teaching in January. I haven’t had a single negative incident at university. And I’ve received thousands of letters from all over the world; all of which have been in support. I’ve received 2 negative letters. That’s it—2. So the people have an inchoate longing to have this sort of thing that we’re talking about. Articulate it. Don’t you think that you’re alone. It’s just that people can’t talk, they’re afraid to talk, they don’t know what to say, and those are real problems. So, if you’re reasonably articulate, like, start talking and sharpen yourself up. I mean the enemy is a cloud—they’re a cloud of gnats; they’re only courageous in groups; they’re only courageous in mobs. If you stand your ground, or don’t apologize and articulate things properly, they’ll disperse around you like they’re not even there. So most of it’s illusion. So, be afraid, but be afraid of the right thing; and the right thing you should be afraid of is not saying what you say, ‘cause that’s the same thing as not being. And here you are suffering away; you might as well be at the same time. At least then there’s something to you.