Jordan Peterson on gun control

The Canadian professor calls for personal responsibility over legislation.

  • Shortly after the Las Vegas shooting, Jordan Peterson replied to a question about gun control in America.
  • Peterson believes only the police and army being armed is dangerous, and that the citizenry should be equally dangerous.
  • He also feels that legislation would do "zero" to stop school shootings in America.

In 2016, 64 percent of homicides in the United States resulted from gun violence; in Canada, the number was 30.5 percent the year prior. England and Wales posted much lower numbers during those two years: just 4.5 percent of deaths resulted from guns.

We're drowning in statistics. More charts likely exist explaining gun violence in America than any other topic. Each one highlights the same issue: Americans have issues. This we know. When those issues involve firearms, we're particularly ready to claim the American promise of being "number one." No longer do we dominate in education, quality of life, happiness, life expectancy, or health care. But guns, we've got them.

The reasons are manifold; no one denies that. Speculating over why so many guns are fired in this country is useless. But that doesn't stop some people from trying.

When asked if the right to bear arms is equivalent to free speech, Jordan Peterson replies that nothing is as essential as the right to free speech. His father, a hunter, collected 200 single-shot rifles because "he believes in aiming carefully." Northwestern Canada, Peterson continues, is a rural, hunting culture, where "people take their guns seriously."

The right to bear arms, he continues, is an integral part of a free society. If only the police and army are "allowed to be dangerous," there's going to be problems. He attempts to end his response there, then reconsiders.

Jordan Peterson: Las Vegas Shooting and Gun Control

This video is shot in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting on October 1, 2017, in which a lone gunman fired over 1,100 rounds into the Route 91 Harvest music festival. After killing 58 people and injuring another 851, the gunman killed himself. This was the deadliest mass shooting by a single individual in U.S. history.

Peterson notes that gun legislation debates kick off after incidents such as this, with "each side" hunkering down in their corner, refusing to budge. He continues,

"I think that it's unfortunate to use an event like the Las Vegas shooting or the Columbine shooting to make political capital."

It is Peterson's belief that it is a right that the individual should be "allowed or even encouraged to be dangerous, but controlled." He concludes this segment by encouraging individual responsibility, then references his audience to a biblical lecture he gave on Cain and Abel.

It's not hatred for other people that drives someone to shoot down into a defenseless crowd from a hotel window; it's hatred for being itself. Being embittered leads to outrage, which leads to becoming homicidal and even genocidal. Peterson speculates that such shooters are, in essence, out for "revenge against God for the outrage of creation."

This isn't the first time Peterson cited anger at a supreme being as the impetus for murder. When discussing a reckless driver navigating sidewalks in Toronto, killing 10 and injuring 16, he said the murderer, a self-proclaimed incel — "involuntary celibates" believe women are sexual objects and little else — was angry at God for the fact that women reject them. Murderous impulses, it appears, often stem from an offense by the Big Guy Upstairs.

The Las Vegas shooting could have been inspired by neurological pathology, he continues, though he believes the embitterment hypothesis is correct. He cites a Steven Pinker tweet that suggests that the media not publish the names of shooters. Peterson suggests this last-ditch arrogance provides an opportunity for them to be in the spotlight — their meaningless lives have amounted to something, however horrendous that thing might be.

Jordan Peterson during his lecture at UofT, January 10, 2017. Photo credit: Rene Johnston / Toronto Star via Getty Images

That is all to say Peterson appears to believe gun control is useless at best and dangerous at worst, given that it reduces our own opportunity for "dangerousness." When asked if gun legislation would help stop school shootings, he replied:

"I think that in the United States the probability that gun legislation would stop the school shootings is basically zero. School-shooting culture doesn't seem to have manifested itself in other places as much as it has in the U.S. And I can't tell exactly why that is. It's conceivable that it has something to do with the more rough and ready attitude towards guns."

By the time I entered second grade in 1982, I walked the half-mile to Parkview Elementary. Two years later, the mile-plus walk to Joyce Kilmer was how I commuted for the next five years. Times change; today few parents would allow their young children to walk such distances in any suburb or city.

I also never experienced active shooter drills in school. This fact has not biased me against guns. I enjoy shooting skeet; while I've never hunted, I'd be open to trying. Given that I partake in the end cycle of animal life when consuming them, participating in the beginning would be both informative and valuable.

What I couldn't imagine is standing in front of the parents of the children murdered in Sandy Hook, staring them in the eyes and pontificating about the "outrage of creation" or being mad at God for not getting laid. Yes, the country is divided in our reactions to gun control. Yet when the debate leaves the realm of basic human emotions, you have to question its worth.

Not that Peterson is necessarily wrong in this regard. The psychology of murder is as intense as the act of it. We just get so caught up in the debate we forget about the humans these violent actions affect. While I can't imagine the need for owning 200 single-shot rifles, so be it if the hunting brings satisfaction and sustenance. But thinking this problem is going to work itself when more people take personal responsibility is simply ignorant.

Legislation matters. When laws allow for the mentally ill and emotionally disturbed to stockpile armaments, there is no need for debate. Basic common sense suffices — one would hope.

--

Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook.

Stand up against religious discrimination – even if it’s not your religion

As religious diversity increases in the United States, we must learn to channel religious identity into interfaith cooperation.

Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Religious diversity is the norm in American life, and that diversity is only increasing, says Eboo Patel.
  • Using the most painful moment of his life as a lesson, Eboo Patel explains why it's crucial to be positive and proactive about engaging religious identity towards interfaith cooperation.
  • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
Keep reading Show less

Why Epicurean ideas suit the challenges of modern secular life

Sure, Epicureans focused on seeking pleasure – but they also did so much more.

Antonio Masiello/Getty Images
Culture & Religion

'The pursuit of Happiness' is a famous phrase in a famous document, the United States Declaration of Independence (1776). But few know that its author was inspired by an ancient Greek philosopher, Epicurus. Thomas Jefferson considered himself an Epicurean. He probably found the phrase in John Locke, who, like Thomas Hobbes, David Hume and Adam Smith, had also been influenced by Epicurus.

Nowadays, educated English-speaking urbanites might call you an epicure if you complain to a waiter about over-salted soup, and stoical if you don't. In the popular mind, an epicure fine-tunes pleasure, consuming beautifully, while a stoic lives a life of virtue, pleasure sublimated for good. But this doesn't do justice to Epicurus, who came closest of all the ancient philosophers to understanding the challenges of modern secular life.

Epicureanism competed with Stoicism to dominate Greek and Roman culture. Born in 341 BCE, only six years after Plato's death, Epicurus came of age at a good time to achieve influence. He was 18 when Alexander the Great died at the tail end of classical Greece – identified through its collection of independent city-states – and the emergence of the dynastic rule that spread across the Persian Empire. Zeno, who founded Stoicism in Cyprus and later taught it in Athens, lived during the same period. Later, the Roman Stoic Seneca both critiqued Epicurus and quoted him favourably.

Today, these two great contesting philosophies of ancient times have been reduced to attitudes about comfort and pleasure – will you send back the soup or not? That very misunderstanding tells me that Epicurean ideas won, hands down, though bowdlerised, without the full logic of the philosophy. Epicureans were concerned with how people felt. The Stoics focused on a hierarchy of value. If the Stoics had won, stoical would now mean noble and an epicure would be trivial.

Epicureans did focus on seeking pleasure – but they did so much more. They talked as much about reducing pain – and even more about being rational. They were interested in intelligent living, an idea that has evolved in our day to mean knowledgeable consumption. But equating knowing what will make you happiest with knowing the best wine means Epicurus is misunderstood.

The rationality he wedded to democracy relied on science. We now know Epicurus mainly through a poem, De rerum natura, or 'On the Nature of Things', a 7,400 line exposition by the Roman philosopher Lucretius, who lived c250 years after Epicurus. The poem was circulated only among a small number of people of letters until it was said to be rediscovered in the 15th century, when it radically challenged Christianity.

Its principles read as astonishingly modern, down to the physics. In six books, Lucretius states that everything is made of invisible particles, space and time are infinite, nature is an endless experiment, human society began as a battle to survive, there is no afterlife, religions are cruel delusions, and the universe has no clear purpose. The world is material – with a smidgen of free will. How should we live? Rationally, by dropping illusion. False ideas largely make us unhappy. If we minimise the pain they cause, we maximise our pleasure.

Secular moderns are so Epicurean that we might not hear this thunderclap. He didn't stress perfectionism or fine discriminations in pleasure – sending back the soup. He understood what the Buddhists call samsara, the suffering of endless craving. Pleasures are poisoned when we require that they do not end. So, for example, it is natural to enjoy sex, but sex will make you unhappy if you hope to possess your lover for all time.

Epicurus also seems uncannily modern in his attitude to parenting. Children are likely to bring at least as much pain as pleasure, he noted, so you might want to skip it. Modern couples who choose to be 'child-free' fit within the largely Epicurean culture we have today. Does it make sense to tell people to pursue their happiness and then expect them to take on decades of responsibility for other humans? Well, maybe, if you seek meaning. Our idea of meaning is something like the virtue embraced by the Stoics, who claimed it would bring you happiness.

Both the Stoics and the Epicureans understood that some good things are better than others. Thus you necessarily run into choices, and the need to forgo one good to protect or gain another. When you make those choices wisely, you'll be happier. But the Stoics think you'll be acting in line with a grand plan by a just grand designer, and the Epicureans don't.

As secular moderns, we pursue short-term happiness and achieve deeper pleasure in work well done. We seek the esteem of peers. It all makes sense in the light of science, which has documented that happiness for most of us arises from social ties – not the perfect rose garden or a closet of haute couture. Epicurus would not only appreciate the science, but was a big fan of friendship.

The Stoics and Epicureans diverge when it comes to politics. Epicurus thought politics brought only frustration. The Stoics believed that you should engage in politics as virtuously as you can. Here in the US where I live, half the country refrains from voting in non-presidential years, which seems Epicurean at heart.

Yet Epicurus was a democrat. In a garden on the outskirts of Athens, he set up a school scandalously open to women and slaves – a practice that his contemporaries saw as proof of his depravity. When Jefferson advocated education for American slaves, he might have had Epicurus in mind.

I imagine Epicurus would see far more consumption than necessary in my own American life and too little self-discipline. Above all, he wanted us to take responsibility for our choices. Here he is in his Letter to Menoeceus:

For it is not drinking bouts and continuous partying and enjoying boys and women, or consuming fish and the other dainties of an extravagant table, which produce the pleasant life, but sober calculation which searches out the reasons for every choice and avoidance and drives out the opinions which are the source of the greatest turmoil for men's souls.

Do you see the 'pursuit of happiness' as a tough research project and kick yourself when you're glum? You're Epicurean. We think of the Stoics as tougher, but they provided the comfort of faith. Accept your fate, they said. Epicurus said: It's a mess. Be smarter than the rest of them. How modern can you get?Aeon counter – do not remove

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons. Read the original article.


NASA's idea for making food from thin air just became a reality — it could feed billions

Here's why you might eat greenhouse gases in the future.

Jordane Mathieu on Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • The company's protein powder, "Solein," is similar in form and taste to wheat flour.
  • Based on a concept developed by NASA, the product has wide potential as a carbon-neutral source of protein.
  • The man-made "meat" industry just got even more interesting.
Keep reading Show less

Where the evidence of fake news is really hiding

When it comes to sniffing out whether a source is credible or not, even journalists can sometimes take the wrong approach.

Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • We all think that we're competent consumers of news media, but the research shows that even journalists struggle with identifying fact from fiction.
  • When judging whether a piece of media is true or not, most of us focus too much on the source itself. Knowledge has a context, and it's important to look at that context when trying to validate a source.
  • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
Keep reading Show less