A “discussion”between Jordan Peterson and Richard Dawkins is really a monologue by Peterson

May 31, 2022 • 10:45 am

Here we have a 1.5-hour discussion between Jordan Peterson and Richard Dawkins recorded in audio (but not video) in November 2021. I wanted to listen to all of it as I still don’t have much of a sense of Peterson, who sometimes says sensible things and sometimes goes way off the rails. Well, I have a better sense now.

The discussion (it’s more of a monologue) is seriously weakened by Peterson’s totally dominating the conversation as well as—Richard points this out—going from point to disparate point in a seemingly random manner.

The object of the talk was supposed to be a paper Richard sent Peterson called “The organism as a model”, which has as its thesis a view that the organism embodies in its genome information about the environment. (For example, a stick insect gives information, via the body for which it codes, about what sticks look like in nature.) This paper is apparently a precis of Dawkins’s next book, The Genetic Book of the Dead. And that is an interesting idea worth exploring. But apparently not to Peterson!

Richard is polite, but his impatience and frustration with Peterson’s circumlocution and inability to stay on topic are obvious. By the end of the first 40 minutes, with Peterson taking up about 95% of the the conversation time, I gave up. Perhaps Dawkins gets to talk later on, but I couldn’t wade through the swamp of Peterson’s verbiage any longer, and I pressed the “stop” button when he began blathering about the drug ayahuasca.

Perhaps readers can tolerate thislonger, but I’d prefer to read Dawkins’s book than hear Peterson riff on it.  Clearly, the Canadian has such a high opinion of himself that he has no interest in what his co-discussant has to say. I find this brand of self-centeredness odious, and tend to avoid people who monologue. They have no idea how human communication is supposed to work, and in some sense are diminishing the worth of the person who gets talked at.

57 thoughts on “A “discussion”between Jordan Peterson and Richard Dawkins is really a monologue by Peterson

  1. I have never understood the appeal of Peterson. He does clearly think very highly of himself and I have seen him become quite petulant when people disagree with him – I think in a discussion with Sam Harris.

    I keeping hoping that people will realize that he is not the wonder they think he is and he will just fade away.

    1. My thoughts exactly. I really don’t understand why people of stature, such as Richard Dawkins & Sam Harris want to bother with him. I’d be a better guest and I’m a nobody.

          1. Professor Dawkins to Dr. Jordan Peterson: “You love symbols. I mean, you’re obsessed with symbols. You’re almost drunk on symbols.”

    2. My hunch is that many believers see him as the link between what they know to be true and the material world of science and knowledge. To them, he’s someone who articulates their case in a way that makes it sound studious and plausible. I’ve watched several hours of his Biblical series and it really opened my eyes to what the Bible is, how it was constructed by simple, ignorant humans, and what the stories mean, and it greatly confirmed my atheism.

  2. I can never understand why Peterson gets the attention and exposure he does. Quite frankly, I find it hard to understand what he tries to communicate. On the other hand, Dawkins is very clear even when communicating complex ideas.

    1. I think our host captured it well with “[Peterson] sometimes says sensible things”. He has good delivery and stage sense. Still, his 15 minutes were up long ago, IMHO. I have to think that anyone following him now is doing so as member of a personality cult.

    1. I think RD coined the term in one of his earlier, classic books. Was it Unweaving the Rainbow?

      Even just writing that makes me want to read the whole lot again.

  3. “… “The organism as a model”, which has as its thesis a view that the organism embodies in its genome information about the environment. ”

    YE-HE-HE-HESSSSSS….

    ^^^^ that is hipster for “this is going to be GREAT!” I sense Dawkins returning to his roots.

  4. As a Canadian I would like to apologize for foisting this Peterson fellow on Professor Dawkins.

  5. Jordan Peterson — never in the field of human intellection has so much been thought by so many (including himself) of so little.

  6. I have to agree with all of the above comments. Peterson appeals to that segment of the population who agree with his opinions. Does that remind you of anyone else in recent history? I’ve never been able to force myself to read any of his writings or listen to any of his lectures. Guess I’m not alone.

  7. Three or four years ago Peterson was both interesting and non-boring. I’m afraid time has not been kind to him. Nor am I in the least impressed with the more woo-like aspects of his thought – eat nothing but red meat and listen to your silly daughter pretend she knows how to cure juvenile rheumatoid and save her father from being a drug addict. Not for me at all.

    1. Out of painful curiousity, I once read an article by him for which part of his therapy for a patient who was vegan (who had anxiety and depression perhaps?) involved taking her to a butcher so she could see “what the world really is.” I’m summarizing- this involved a lot of word salad (word offal, in this case). I was shocked he foisted his beliefs onto a patient so cruelly. Like not eating animals was a symptom of her mental illness and a phobia she needed exposure therapy for and then she was “cured.” It was pretty gross.

  8. I’d gladly listen to Dawkins talk about these subjects for hours, but not sure if I’m willing to indulge over an hour of Peterson for 4.5 minutes of Dawkins sprinkled in. Glad to hear Richard is in apparent good health.

    The thesis’ short description itself first sounds awesome (in the original sense), however also somewhat obvious — which perhaps makes it a great blurb. I’m sure Dawkins will find interesting aspects in this perspective, just as he did with, say, selfish genes piloting altruistic survival machines — looking forward to it.

    1. The thesis is not that obvious to someone (like me) who thinks that genes’ interactions with other genes would obscure whatever information about the environment can be read off the DNA. I bet it would work for a small fraction of genes, but what do I know. Perhaps we could all take DMT and have a gander at our DNA to see what we find? (credit to Peterson for the methodological insight :).

  9. I liked the ending and the ‘loosely associative thinking’ that came before that 🙂

  10. With the number of times Peterson lurches back to the subject of sexual selection, I really think the entire point of his philosophical journey is to figure out why he didn’t get laid more in high school.

    Let’s see of this comment survives the moderator’s scrutiny. 🙂

  11. Dr. Coyne, I totally align with your assessment of Peterson. I’ve had that opinion of him for years. He makes things worse by coming across as needing to be a beligerant dick no matter who he is talking to.

  12. Hats off for the 40 minutes patience. I made it up to 31 minutes — pretty close!

    I think Dawkins also didn’t have much of a sense of Peterson and because of that he quickly abandoned what it was supposed to be the discussion’s topic and then he was just sitting there, figuring out what and how Peterson is thinking. Out of mere curiosity maybe?

    Anyway. Not everything that is being thought, said, or discussed is worth publishing, and I think that peculiar discussion was such a case.

    It’s quite funny though how at some point, relatively in the beginning, Peterson himself says that he wants to talk about the paper Dawkins sent to him and at the same time he begins talking about all sort of other things.

    1. When Peterson says, “I want to ask you about . . . ” he really means, “I want to talk about . . . . “

  13. This podcast is on Peterson’s channel and he sees himself as the star. He must have forgotten that Dawkins is his guest, and he should yield the floor at least half the time. It’s telling when he describes Dawkins’ style of communicating as ‘precise’. The flip side of it is that Jordan’s stye is imprecise. It’s hard to endure 1hr and 20 minutes of imprecise lecturing. The guy sounds like he’s under the influence of something. Dawkins aptly says, “We’re rambling around again”. Juciest bit is around 41 mins. when Peterson describes his ‘almost shamanic experience’ under the influence of psilocybin. Dawkins challenges him as being ‘drunk on symbols’. At one point, Peterson says he’s talked too much on the call …. Dawkins gets to speak (well, read at length from a book) around 48 minutes. Then more torturous expounding from Peterson.

  14. I’ve never been able to articulate my distaste for Petergoober any more than “he’s a dick” – I am a simple man. I think you’ve nailed him nicely.

  15. I have never learned much about Peterson, and now I am glad I didn’t waste time. The fact that Dawkins was the guest on Peterson’s podcast – as smokedpaprika points out – makes it all the worse.

  16. As I’ve said here before, I’ve known Peterson for years as the cranky contrarian they would drag out on TV Ontario’s The Agenda whenever they needed one. I liked someone’s characterization of him on this website (I can’t remember who, sorry): much of what he says is cogent and original, but what is cogent isn’t original and what is original isn’t cogent.

      1. Also from Ken…

        “Jordan Peterson — if you could buy that guy for what he’s worth, and sell him for what he and his fanboys think he’s worth, you’d be in fat city on the spread between the two.”

  17. I still can’t reconcile the courageous fighter for free speech at his university, fending off the idiocy and blows of the woke and the identity Politics jerks all on his own, and the new addled self righteous thinker who once encouraged skepticism and critical thinking, and then disparaged students who disagreed with his dismissal of climate change, and his crush on Bjorn Lomborg, the leading climate charlatan. This started before his magic mushroom meal, which apparently made it worse. It is in fact a very sad story, one in which a formerly rational clear thinker descends into a kind of madness and egotism. n effect he self destructed, after giving young insecure males lots of reasons to defend their behavior. He is now a completely different person, and not one to be emulated or followed.

    1. Was he ever a rational, clear, thinker, or did we just think he was because he had some ideas that made sense to us?

    2. I still can’t reconcile the courageous…

      It is an empirical reality that a person you thought was a ‘rational, clear thinker‘ later ‘descends into a kind of madness and egotism’. Or maybe he was always a mix of both.

      …not one to be emulated or followed.

      Perhaps it’s good to focus on ideas — the good that a person does — but not so much on the person.

  18. Peterson waffles way too much to be taken seriously. It’s like asking them both their favourite colour.

    Richard what’s your favourite colour…. It’s blue and there’s strong evidence to support this.

    Jordan what’s your favourite colour……..

    “Well that depends on what you mean by favourite. And it also depends on what you mean by colour. This is a very complex question… One must acknowledge the underlying verisimilitude that is irrevocably nested within a multi-layered metaphysical substrate which many people fundamentally conflate with their ideological presuppositions with no uncertain irregularity, causing the inadvertent dismissal of Jung’s archetypal extrapolation of the quintessential axiomatic juxtaposition required to achieve Raskolnikov’s magnitude of Neo-Marxist existential nihilism…”

    Richard…. ok so that means it’s green right?

    1. I read that in his voice.
      Nailed it.
      But now I’m worried about YOU (and that voice i your head…) 🙂

    2. Oh ughhh… But yes, you channeled Peterson perfectly there. I became aware of him several years ago and gave him a listen, enough to recognize that babble-jargon for the rest of my life. I think before he went overseas to battle his benzo habit he was just barely tolerable. Lately I am stopped cold whenever I notice one particular widely circulated publicity photo of him, what an obnoxious expression on his face, it’s like a stop sign and it repels me. Because I know what’s going to come out of his face lol and it’s a tired old game by now.

  19. I’m reminded of an acquaintance of some years ( who now resides several hundred miles away – thankfully). In interacting with him, I learned quickly-enough before broaching a topic, to weigh in the balance, to do a cost-benefit analysis to determine, whether it was worth it (to try) to hold forth without this self-absorbed soul interrupting. (Sometime because his pinging smartphone was a higher priority.) And to steel oneself to keep one’s mouth shut in response in order to Keep The Peace.

    One could get two or three sentences out of one’s mouth before he would interrupt and have to tell a tale about something from his personal experience of which he was reminded. The several others present would wait him out. At the end of his oration he sometimes would deign to say, “Go ahead” to the initial speaker. Or he would forget (or wouldn’t care) that he had interrupted, and it would fall upon one of the several others present to pointedly ask the initial speaker to please continue.

    Perhaps not a few readers here have had similar experiences.

    I’ve stopped listening to Peterson because I’m fatigued with his interrupting his guests and going off on long-winded tangents.

    (Parenthetically, sometimes I have to get a little likkered up to tolerate slogging through Lawrence Krauss’s podcasts. I do so because the topics are generally interesting. At least a few podcasters should be tied to a chair and made to listen to the audio of themselves and/or made to read out loud transcripts – interruptions, vocal tics, etc. – of their presentations, so as to contemplate whether they are abusing the good will of their listeners.)

  20. Peterson is a very bright guy. He seems to have a vast array of knowledge at his finger tips. Unfortunately, he seems to be obsessive and can’t seem to think straight. He digresses incessantly. Richard, ever the polite English gentleman, has extraordinary patience with the poor guy. The “discussion” was not a total waste of time, but mostly so.

  21. No, Dawkins never really spoke. At the end of the conversation Dawkins just cut it off and left abruptly. I suspect he was not very pleased, although he was patient. I don’t understand it. Peterson has a tendency to ramble, but in other conversations he concedes the guest plenty of time to speak, and he stops talking as soon as the guest begins to say something. Here, Peterson rambled and rambled and Dawkins didn’t seem to follow or be interested in what Peterson was saying (somewhat similar to his conversation with Bret Weinstein). Also, Peterson *interrupted* Dawkins all the time and barely let him formulate his thoughts. Really bad conversation.

  22. Have to agree with the author here. Jordan isn’t a very effective communicator imo. I’ve a reasonable grasp of the English language, yet I’ve rarely a clue of what JP is blathering about. I doubt his fan boys do either. I just imagine they put it down to some profound intelligence.

    I’m not sure Dawkins could even decipher half of it himself.

    Most interesting for me though, was JPs apparent lack of social awareness here. He was rabbiting on and on despite Dawkins being clearly irked and frustrated. That he was seemingly oblivious to the cues Dawkins was giving, was most fascinating, given that JP is a clinical psychologist.

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