Jordan Peterson and the Rise of the New Chautauqua

The Return of Public Lectures Useful to the Public

Back in late 19th and early 20th century America, “Chautauqua circuits” of public lectures swept across the states. This was long before radio and television — and a hundred years before the internet and social media. Chautauqua circuits provided education and entertainment of an intellectual nature to the public, in the setting of large tents pitched in open fields. Appealing to a public of that era who were eager to think and learn, Chautaquas competed with circuses, revival meetings, theatrical productions, and music shows with the express intent to educate as well as entertain. And they were wildly popular.

Lectures were the mainstay of the chautauqua. Prior to 1917, lectures dominated the circuit chautauqua programs. The reform speech and the inspirational talk were the two main types of lecture until 1913.[5] Later topics included current events, travel and stories, often with a comedic twist. __

21st Century Millenials Not so Eager to Ponder Difficult Ideas?

In an age of addictive social media, video games, and internet porn, it would seem that today’s youth are not interested in deeper ideas. Or are they? If we can judge by attendance at public lectures by Jordan Peterson or Sam Harris, perhaps modern and jaded Americans (and Australians, Brits, Canadians, Europeans, etc.) have not lost their desire to struggle with deeper ideas.

Consider how the New York Times describes the new phenomenon of the “Intellectual Dark Web:”

Most simply, it is a collection of iconoclastic thinkers, academic renegades and media personalities who are having a rolling conversation — on podcasts, YouTube and Twitter, and in sold-out auditoriums — that sound unlike anything else happening, at least publicly, in the culture right now. Feeling largely locked out of legacy outlets, they are rapidly building their own mass media channels. __ NYT

Along with Jordan Peterson, we find Sam Harris, Bret Weinstein, Heather Heying, Douglas Murray, Christina Hoff Sommers, and many other academics and rogue intellectuals who are roughly grouped as members of the intellectual dark web.

Peterson is touring North America — and parts of the UK, Europe, and Australia — promoting both his book “12 Rules for Life” and his larger sphere of ideas. In addition to income from book sales and public appearances, Peterson’s patrons gift him roughly $80,000 per month to support his work on the internet.

Other members of “the intellectual dark web” are also touring much of the developed world, bringing “heretical ideas” to a public that has been over-saturated in post-modern multicultural political correctness and other popular cults of deception.

The new Chautauqua of both public lectures and internet lectures and conversations is hitting the larger intellectual world in a most uncomfortable place. Clearly, established lords of the intellectual domain do not appreciate being bypassed by these mavericks of free thought and free speech.

The Empire Strikes Back

Across the media, writers in print and producers of multimedia have been taking potshots at Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris, Cristina Hoff Sommers, and other “dark web” speakers in a growing frenzy of reactionary fear. From UK Channel Four to Australia’s 60 Minutes to Vice Media to American NBC and on and on and on — the ruling lords of media and academia have been desperately burning out their gun barrels in an attempt to blow these upstarts to oblivion.

But strangely, in their mindless fury, the reactionaries of the authoritarian left are only making Peterson and the rest more and more famous and appealing. This odd impotence is something they had not counted on, after all this time of being largely uncontradicted on campus, on the internet, television, in print and in public discourse.

Entering a New Age of Public Intellectual Discourse

One of events that dismayed the leftist thought police of media and academia was a recent endorsement by Kanye West of young Candace Owens and her outspoken ideas against political correctness. They understand that if they lose celebrities in rapper culture and black celebrity culture, that they are definitely in trouble in terms of future political control.

The intellectual dark web is only one manifestation of a wind change that has moved across the American landscape over the past few years. Jordan Peterson could have never achieved current levels of public success in the US without the growing levels of disillusionment toward institutions of media, academia, government, activism, etc. during the Clinton, Bush, and Obama years. Those three dismayingly lightweight presidents set the stage for a larger blowback.

For example, US President Donald Trump was not the first choice for most people who ultimately voted for him, but the voting public (not counting people voting illegally) was in no mood to see the country descend further into an Obamaesque or Clintonesque decay. And so they took their chances with a relative unknown rather than to play a hand that would have been a definite loser.

Jordan Peterson Penetrates Deeply Beneath Ideology and Politics

Most of the attacks on Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris, and other mavericks who dare to contradict the PC thought police, centre on their statements which have political implications — or which most strongly oppose the intolerant and authoritarian leftist crusade of intellectual conquest over all public institutions.

But Peterson — and to a lesser extent Harris — penetrates so deeply beneath the superficial layers of politics and ideology, that virtually none of the critics of the left have the foggiest idea what is being discussed.

It is not so much a “blind spot” as it is a cognitive deficit and comprehensive ignorance among leftist “intellectuals” and media personnel so astoundingly broad and deep so as to discredit them for their automatic bias and groupthinking reflexes. These characteristics of the leftist echo choir are not so difficult to observe and note, for most members of the public.

And So the Media and Academia Accelerate Their Own Decline

These predominantly leftist institutions made their choices toward a brittle intolerance toward open debate a number of decades ago, and have only been tightening the nooses around their own necks since making the fateful choice.

How ironic that now that technology is allowing the heretical outcasts and insider mavericks to bypass the gatekeepers and address the public directly, the public is regaining an appreciation for face-to-face public lectures.

If you go down this list of public lecture venues you will see that until recently, most public lectures have taken place on university campuses and inside the auditoriums of institutions such as museums, libraries, and public/private institutions of science.

Because many of the conventional venues for lectures are controlled by leftist-oriented institutions, the new mavericks of free thought and free speech are renting public auditoriums generally used for musical and theatrical performances. Such an approach bypasses the leftist gatekeepers while providing the public with a chance to view and listen to unconventional thinkers and speakers face to face.

Meanwhile on the internet, more and more people are beginning to think about things that would have been unthinkable — simply because professors, administrators, and media outlets would have never allowed the ideas to see the light of day.

Pay attention. What is happening on the intellectual front is analogous to what happens in meteorology when a warm air mass confronts a cold air mass. Make provisions for turbulence. And take every opportunity to make yourselves Dangerous on all levels.

A recent thought-provoking talk by Jordan Peterson at Lafayette College:

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11 Responses to Jordan Peterson and the Rise of the New Chautauqua

  1. tomaz050959 says:

    Reblogged this on tomaz2015.

  2. Abelard Lindsey says:

    Some alt-right figures, such as Vox Day, are convinced that Jordan Peterson and the other dark web figures you cite here are some sort of “false flag” figures coming from the left. Given how visceral the reaction on the part of the left is towards these figures, I find Vox Day’s assertions to be rather credulous.

    • alfin2101 says:

      Peterson says that he is a “classical liberal,” with many classically left-wing views. Nevertheless, he is an outspoken enemy of the radical left, like most any intelligent, honest, courageous, and independent-thinking person.

      Peterson’s immense value to the public debate has very little to do with his left-right political leanings. I have no knowledge of the figures to which you refer, but people who insist that everyone agree with them on every point are rather tiresome.

  3. bob sykes says:

    I think maybe you mean credible?

    Adam Piggott has also skewered Peterson. Most, if not all, of the IDW are well-known neocons, cuckservatives, lefties, et al.. They most definitely are not speaking out against the current PC dogma, although a few dance around HBD.

    • alfin2101 says:

      It is indeed interesting that Peterson is attacked from all points of the political, philosophical, cultural, and religious spectrums. To me that suggests that he is striking several nerves at once.

      None of the vociferous critics of Peterson seem to understand the slightest bit of his multiple parallel journeys which led him to this point in time. Thus they cannot speak intelligently to either the person or his ideas, lacking the crucial background — and in many cases lacking the cognitive capacity to engage. (most “media personalities” and echo choir “talking point” journolists for example)

      Judging a person on a few tweets or offhand comments out of tens of thousands of casual statements is not the mark of a credible critic. His hard-won volumes of thought and insight — taking decades of intense work — which most of these critics could never achieve or intelligently address in several lifetimes, continue to accumulate in free to view YouTube archives. But virtually none of the critics on all sides of all the issues seem to have taken the trouble to even dip their toes in the streams of thought.

      Bob, which members of the intellectual dark web do you have particular problems with? Please deal with the person by name, and list your problems with specific individuals. The “IDW” is not a coherent or homogeneous group by any means, unlike the inquisitional echo choir of today’s sick culture which the individual members typically oppose.

      Many of these people have a lot to lose if all the powers of the sick culture which they publicly oppose collectively choose to deal with them.

      I will say again, people who continually insist that everyone else agree with all of their viewpoints, are quite tiresome.

    • Abelard Lindsey says:

      When it comes to discussions of human behavior and performance, I am finding that the more technically oriented bloggers such as Steve Hsu, Gregory Cochran, and Razib have far more useful things to say than the more politically oriented bloggers such as Vox Day, Adam Piggott, and the like. The former are certainly far more intelligent than the latter.

      Steve Hsu and Razib have recently posted stuff that indicates that there is an tsunami of data coming that will confirm that both cognitive ability and most behavioral traits (executive function, conscientiousness, etc) are mostly biologically determined (genetics, epigenetics) and very little determined by social environment. If this is true (and I suspect it is) then I see the role of religion, for example, as being near useless for developing methods to improve human performance and behavior. I am coming to believe that neuro-biology and bio-engineering will prove far more useful for these purposes than religion will ever be. This is why I think the emphasis on religion on much of the alt-right is quite useless.

      • alfin2101 says:

        Very interesting comment, thanks.

        As you say, on the point of HBD and the potential for the scientific study of HBD to lead to a boosting of human mental and physical capacity, it is the science-oriented spokespersons such as Cochran, Hsu, and others who are most worth paying attention to (other than reading the research papers directly yourself).

        The new Intellectual Dark Web celebrities reach a lot more people, but none of them have the courage to confront the white-hot leading edge of HBD research. That is not what they are for. From my point of view, what the IDW “superstars” are meant to do is to lead to a broader public understanding and acceptance of the open mind and the open heart.

        The “open mind” concept is easy to understand, and is illustrated by the classical scientific method, as well as the Socratic Method, classical approaches to debate, and the original concept of the university.

        The “open heart” idea is just as important in terms of quality of life, but is too often confused with religion. And “religion” itself is a multi-component concept full of contradictions, so that the word “religion” itself should probably be abandoned in any serious intellectual conversation — unless its used meaning in the conversation has been strapped down on the table and mercilessly dissected before beginning the dialogue.

        Too often philosophy is set against science (esp. by cognitive scientists), with many scientists believing that “science” can replace philosophy altogether. Any person of depth instantly understands the problem of logical levels and potential for infinite regress in such a pursuit.

        Neither can we afford to be sloppy when talking about “religion.” I agree that organised religion has outlived its purpose in any area of advanced research, theory, and technological development — although we should listen to coherent objections by such groups against particular projects, while not granting them veto power. But until humans are replaced by machines — or until all humans are assimilated into the Borg collective — concepts of spirituality and the “open heart” will be indispensable to purposeful living.

        • Abelard Lindsey says:

          I believe that pioneering is the basis of true spirituality. I very much reject the notion of spirituality as something separate and distinct from pioneering.

          • alfin2101 says:

            I would like more clarification on what you are saying here. Perhaps you might recommend a book, article, website, etc. that expands on this idea?

            “… for words are slippery and thought is viscous. __ Henry Brooks Adams

    • Abelard Lindsey says:


      Leftist politics is usually defined as being socialist, in favor of big government, anti-free market, anti-entrepreneurship, and collectivist. Jordan Peterson, in contrast, is pro-free market, pro-entrepreneurship, for limited government, and pro-individualist. the only way he could possibly be associated with the left is if he is some kind of imposter or agent provocateur and that he actually does not believe in the things he espouses.

      Either that, or you have a very different definition of right/left than the one I learned coming of age in the time of Reagan.

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