Jordan B Peterson stands before a class of undergraduates and lectures about Maps of Meaning.

Peterson: If we don’t develop a moral sense as conscious and as elaborate as our technological sense, the fact that we are capable of becoming increasingly powerful will necessarily destroy us. The bigger your weapons, the smarter you’d better be to control them! Five hundred years ago when we ratcheted up our technological expertise and left our mythological and religious supposition behind—as archaic and, perhaps, as predicated on superstition—maybe we need to spend as much time updating them and bringing them into the domain of clear consciousness and control as we have spend on developing our technological sense.

A raven thumps against a window at the back of the room.

Peterson: Given that we are creatures of tradition, how can we sever the ties that connect us to the past and suffer no ill consequences? People think automatically, and I think for good reasons, that the march of human thought has been unbroken progress towards increased rationality, increased power, increased clarity, but it is certainly the case that as a consequence of the sacrifice of our religious beliefs and our philosophical beliefs, that problems of meaning have become more paramount for the modern person. And then you might ask, well what exactly are the consequences of that? And I think initially, the best perspective to take is one that is historical: as we’ve moved away from a classical, mystical, or mythological world view, a number of dramatic occurrences have unfolded: we’ve become much more technologically powerful, right? The application of a strict empirical model designed to abstract out from everyone’s experience those things that are material and constant, has enabled us to produce technological implements of extreme power, right? Both for good—in terms of medical advances—and for ill—in terms of our ability to use weapons of unbelievable destructive force. So, we are more powerful. Are we any smarter? Or any wiser? Well, I think a casual glance at the history of the twentieth century would suggest that perhaps we are not.

A second raven thumps against the window at the back of the lecture hall.

Peterson: I don’t think there is any indication whatsoever—although perhaps things have improved over the last fifteen years—that an additional consequence of our capacity to extract ourselves from religious modes of thought has been a palpable increase in wisdom, or tolerance, or compassion, or a palpable increase in our ability to understand, explicitly, what might constitute the basis for a suitable and stable state.

Both ravens thumps simultaneously against the back window.

Peterson: So, you might take for example the fact that the twentieth century has been unbelievably bloody, right? Literally, hundreds of millions of people killed in conflicts of one form or another, both external, say in the case of World War Two or Vietnam, and internal in the case of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, or any of the vast array of countries who’ve subjected their citizens to terrible internal repression in the name of the maintenance of order. Alexander Solzhenitsyn estimated that sixty million people dies in the Soviet Union between nineteen-nineteen and nineteen-fifty-nine as a consequence of internal oppression; and his estimates were that perhaps twice that many died during the cultural revolution in China. Looking back on the twentieth century, one thing seems relatively clear, right? Although humanity as a whole has ceased—or had ceased at least—to engage in large scale religious conflicts, although they seem to have been making a vicious comeback in the last five years—our ability to live together still seems incredibly compromised by our capacity to engage in ideological conflict, right?

The two ravens land on the window sill and begin tapping the window with their beaks.

Peterson: And it doesn’t seem to me ridiculous to presume that the battles between Capitalism and Communism, say, or the battles between Capitalism, Communism, and Fascism—or even the emergent struggle between Fundamental Islam and the West—can necessarily be regarded as anything but extensions of our tendency to religious and mythological conflict even though, in principle, systems like Communism and Fascism were not predicated on explicitly religious presuppositions. Well, it seems to me that a logical conclusion from observations of this sort is that, even if eradicate the traditional trappings of a mythological world view, which seems to be what’s happened as a consequence of our rise in empirical knowledge, that you don’t eradicate the tendency for people to formulate groups—belief systems—around conceptions of ways that you should behave that are at the very least religious in structure and action even if they are not religious in name.

A man dressed as a wizard suddenly opens the lecture hall door and stands in the doorway.

Peterson: The theater department is down the hall.


Peterson: I keep the room under clear consciousness and control, so the windows remain shut.

The wizard walks to the front row of students and picks up a student’s mobile phone; he throws the phone at the back window and shatters the glass.

Undergraduate: Hey, that was my mobile phone!

The two ravens hop into the room and fly in circles around the room.

Peterson: I’m going to ask you to leave my classroom, sir.

Wizard: No, Jeremy; I paid to audit this class.

Peterson: Who is Jeremy?

Wizard: Isn’t your name Jeremy?

Peterson: No, my name is Jordan: Jordan B. Peterson.

Wizard: Oh, I’m not good with names!

Peterson: How much are you—what’s your name by the way?

Wizard: Odin.

Peterson: Odin, how much are you paying to audit my class?

Wizard: I paid one satoshi.

Peterson: A satoshi; what is a satoshi?

Wizard: one hundred millionth of a bitcoin.

Peterson: Um, how much is that in dollars?

Wizard: About 0.00005627 dollars.

Peterson: Oh, god so you basically cut a penny into like, um, fifty thousand pieces and paid with one of those pieces of a penny?

Wizard: Yes; well, no, I paid with 2.8135 pieces of those fifty thousand pieces of a penny.

Peterson: Oh, god. Why?

Wizard: Inflation.

Peterson: Okay, but why?

Wizard: Well, Jeremy—I mean Jordan—2.8135 pieces of fifty thousand pieces of a penny will, over time, become worth two thousand dollars, so it is a great idea to pay with 2.8135 pieces of a penny.

Peterson: Jordan; Jeremy: numbers; names: inflation; crypto currencies. Our modern world is rather confusing, isn’t it?


Undergraduate: That’s two! The wizard has made two microaggressions, Dr. Peterson!

Peterson: Microagressions: just look at these kids. To answer you, I keep the window closed because that’s how I keep the room under clear consciousness and control. Just look what I’m dealing with in here.

Undergraduate: Three! That is three microagressions!

Wizard: That is why I broke your window so that Hugin and Munin could fly here.

Peterson: Who are Hugin and Munin?

Wizard: My ravens; their names are Thought and Mind in the common tongue.

Peterson: Oh, my god, that’s such a better concept than mine! Ravens! You are sending out ravens so they can map the irrationality of the world! Like me! To bring back knowledge so that you can construct a map of the irrationality of the world! Like me! You are doing cognitive science long before science existed!


Undergraduate: Four! Four microagressions! I’m telling the dean; I’m telling the dean!

The end.