The best seat in the IDW theater
My discovery of the Intellectual Dark Web has been an eye-opener to many facts, including my own ignorance and lack of proper arguments in delicate topics, the unwillingness of most mainstream media to offer honest views on those who don’t align with their agenda, and the mere existence of people with radically different views who nevertheless favor healthy discussion over forceful—and too often intolerant—pushing of dogmatic ideologies.
When I learned that the Peterson-Rubin caravan was making a stop in my area of residence, I decided to invest a few dollars in tickets, both for Dave Rubin’s comedy show and Jordan Peterson’s book tour. Seeing them live—I reasoned—would be a golden opportunity to get a better insight into their views, charisma and other minor character traits that are just too hard to grasp from a recorded video or audio, even if it was taken live.
Although the overall experience was a positive one, it came with all the nuisances of crowded events. I guess Dave Rubin’s show was a better fit for that atmosphere, as a few loud people stole the spotlight every now and then, which could be expected considering the interactive nature of Dave’s exposition.
Jordan Peterson’s event was an altogether different experience. It was clearly intended as a lecture, with some extra time for questions at the end. For 70 minutes people listened attentively. For a few more we all clapped intensely.
And then it was over. We would make our way home somewhat wiser, or so I assumed, but I should have known better.
Even before walking through the exit door, I had already forgotten most of the interesting details of the lecture, which right after hearing them I told myself “here’s something worth remembering”. Predictably, though, my flashbacks were of funny moments or utterly irrelevant things, like the hand gestures Dr. Peterson keeps doing while he expands on an argument.
Interestingly enough, many months later I don’t regret having attended these events, but nor do I see them as particularly valuable. Yes, I can say that I was there, and yes, I can say that I saw them up close (which is stretching the truth, as I was sitting on the very back row for Dr. Peterson’s lecture), but none of that takes me any closer to the pursuit of truth that drove me to the group in the first place.
As I sat on the bus back home to the smell and taste of a bag of fries and a hamburger, I craved instead the comfort of my chair, my desk, and my computer, where I’ve absorbed the teachings of the IDW through countless hours of watching videos, listening to podcasts, and reading books.
It has been right here where I’ve been able to block everything else to really focus on dense topics. Here, the same spot where I’m typing these words. The same spot where I was sitting when I clicked that intriguing two-hour four horsemen video that kept appearing in my recommendations, which started the avalanche of knowledge and questions that have taken residence in my brain ever since.
Compared to that uncomfortable wooden seat in the back row of an old theater, my Ikea chair is a throne, though my dominions are not lands, and my subjects are not people. Sitting at my desk I’ve scouted the realm of ideas, conquered invading prejudices and expanded the limits of my thoughts.
The feeling of belonging to a community might have been strong as I was surrounded by hundreds of people waiting to hear a skinny professor in an impeccable suit. However, the sense of individuality I get when I challenge my own beliefs and ideas is even stronger.
I want to believe this is a good sign for the ultimate goal of dispensing of identity politics, but I can see the difficulties it entails. Arguing with oneself is not an easy task, and it becomes harder when a longstanding view is revealed as flaky, weak, inconsistent, or just different to what one thought it was.
Even the views that haven’t changed have stirred me in uncomfortable ways, as my arguments have been constantly confronted with opposing cases. I’ve discovered how poorly I could defend my own opinions, and that feels like a self-inflicted blow below the belt.
Moreover, I’ve also developed stronger defenses for positions opposed to my own, which has made me see how steel-manning an argument requires incredible strength of character, as well as a full understanding of a problem’s context.
And if it is already hard to take these blows stoically in the comfort and solitude of my own house, I cannot see them made easier in a packed auditorium. Core political ideas should not be sprung from the booing or cheering of a crowd, but devised carefully in our own minds and after proper debate. These are the ideas that translate into votes, policy and attitude towards others, so it is both irresponsible and unethical to leave them to the masses.
The value of a live event notwithstanding, the best seat in the theater of ideas is probably closer to you than you think, and you might be sitting on it as you read.