The Possibilities of the Day: Jordan Peterson at 20 Monroe Live
The drive out to Grand Rapids takes two hours. When I leave the Metro Detroit area it feels like late September is supposed to feel — cool, cloudy. I get my favorite cinnamon donuts from my favorite apple orchard and hit the road. By the time I get to Grand Rapids the sun is out again and it feels like late August — 90 degrees and humid.
20 Monroe Live is Grand Rapid’s Fillmore, though it’s newer and feels less like a theater and more like a gymnasium. The line is already swelling around the block when I take my spot. There’s some art fair going on in the city today, with things like a giant metal dragon sculpture belching fire behind us and a guy with a gas mask spray painting different sketches of planets.
Everyone converses. There are three young guys behind me, one of whom looks like Blake Anderson from Workaholics.
“He’s a conservative, but, like, he’s just a cool guy…”
Seeing I still have at least twenty minutes until the doors open, I get out of line and go get a salad at a nearby restaurant.
The two guys at the next table are there for the show too. I can tell because they’re talking about him.
“He was just a professor, and then all of a sudden…”
I finish my salad and get back in line, which is even longer than it was before.
There’s two old guys in front of me.
“You see, I’m 67 years old, you’re 67 in two weeks, and here we are standing in line to see this guy…”
The venue is much cooler than outside, a nice cement floor mid-sized venue. Blue lights onstage like when I saw him in May. Black chairs set up airplane-tight on the cement floor for the audience. Square balcony over it all. A couple bars around the perimeter of the general seating area. The place is sold out.
My seat is in the second row, dead center. Jordan’s stool with his two Perriers is right in front of me, not ten feet away.
Dave Rubin of The Rubin Report is introduced. He does a warm up with canned lines, acting as Jordan’s hype man.
“Wow, you guys are so much nicer than the YouTube commenters,” is the first thing out of his mouth.
He jokes about Cathy Newman being Jordan’s first choice to open for him. He jokes about enforced monogamy, including how there’s too many guys in the audience compared to women so we might have to do some gay monogamy. Rubin is gay, so maybe he was covertly looking for some groupies or something.
He knows he’s not the reason we’re there, and keeps it mercifully short. He introduces Jordan, and there’s the professor, less than ten feet away and five feet off the ground. The blue lights behind him making him look like a preacher or something. I see all the little things that you don’t notice until you see a famous person up close — his lips are thicker than they look on TV, his skin is more leathery. His tuxedo is almost circus blue. He wears a gold tie. His hair is a slick-whirl matrix of grey and white and black. He shaved that beard he had last spring.
“Look at all of you,” he says quietly, giving us a pleasant introductory smile. “…here to discuss psychology and neuroscience.”
He delves into the lecture.
He paces one end of the stage to the other, he articulates with his hands, making little tickling motions and slashing motions and karate chops. He says he’s going to go through all 12 rules but he ends up only going through the first five with brief mentions of the ninth and one other I can’t remember now. I try to take as much in as I can but it’s dizzying, especially when certain parts of the lecture are delivered directly into my face.
This is what it felt like to be his classes, I think.
I have specific memories of the things he said when he looks directly into my eyes. The shadows from the stage lights give him a sinister look when he lowers his head. He says certain words with dead forcefulness. If the guy was an American, people would be begging him to run for office. He’s as good a speaker as any master politician, and probably better.
“…you want to live in a way that justifies its difficulty…”
“…Happiness is not the purpose of life…”
“…maybe you’re not that smart…”
He talks about consciousness. He talks about family. He talks about raising your kids. He talks about the three main problems everyone has in life just as living organisms— the universe is indifferent and hostile and trying to kill you, we live in heirarchies which are easily given to tyranny, and people are easily prone to malevolence. He talks about seizing the possibilities of the day (another thing he says looking right at me) and turning the potential of the future into the present as best you can and then into the past. It goes on like this. We’re subjected to his stream of consciousness, flowing wherever it feels like flowing from topic to topic.
I don’t know how long the lecture is, but all of a sudden he’s saying, “It was nice talking with you and I’ll be back in two minutes.”
Rubin comes out and does more hype man stuff. Stagehands bring two comfy silver chairs out and Jordan reappears in less than two minutes and answers a few questions. The first is “What would you ask God?” and Jordan refuses to answer it, saying he answered it the night before and he, “doesn’t replicate his answers very well.” He answers a question about Elon Musk on Joe Rogan and spends the most time on a question about how to find a therapist, and for a second you can actually see the guy he used to be before YouTube turned him into an A-list intellectual selling out theaters all across the Western world. He was just a psychologist, interested in hearing what people had to say.
He’s no longer the white hot cultural touchbutton he was at the beginning of the summer. His schtick is all the same. He’s damn good at what he does. When he’s really on his game — and he and Rubin talked about this, comparing their conversations
The IDW (Rubin actually called it that, the abbreviation) is self-aware now, and self-awareness is the first step towards self-destruction. It won’t be long before individuals that comprise it start focusing on staying popular instead of the ideas that made them popular in the first place.
It’s turning into tribalism — our smart group against their dumb group. It’s turning into a commodity. It’s turned into cheap applause lines and “Are you ready for this person!?”- type showmanship. It’s turning into something to be sold to people who aren’t looking for anything other than a cheap dopamine hit. That’s unfortunate, but it’s also inevitable in a capitalist society.
I don’t know where Jordan Peterson will end up with it, but I’m glad I paid to see him in person two separate times.
At the end of the Q&A, Jordan stands up and walks towards us one last time. I’m the first one in my row to stand up applauding, and he looks right at me and gives a diplomatic smile and nod of thanks. I try not to get starstruck or solipsistic, but I’ll remember that nod for the rest of my life.
Rock Lobster by the B-52’s plays as we all leave and I don’t figure out why until I’m almost home.