“Men are not piano keys” Jordan Peterson on Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground

“Men are not piano keys” Jordan Peterson on Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground


Dostoevsky Dostoevsky was a big influence on Nietzsche, and it’s very interesting to read them in parallel because (Nietzsche) Dostoevsky is of course a dramatist and Nietzsche is a philosopher, and it’s almost as if Dostoyevsky wrote the drama and Nietzsche provided the philosophical commentary. They’re very very powerful to read together. This is from notes from underground. It’s a very short book about this character Who is a bureaucrat, nasty-sort-of bureaucrat He knows he’s a nasty sort of bureaucrat. All he does he spends his whole life trying to make life more miserable for people because he’s so resentful and and crushed and weak and so he just did nothing but abused his bureaucratic position and used his trivial bit of power to lord it over people. He gets a little bit of an inheritance and quits. And this is his confession, Notes From Underground. He’s the Underground man. It’s a brilliant book. It’s viciously funny, and it’s so psychologically alive if you’re interested in psychology it’s a spectacular book and it’s only about a hundred pages long. Anyways, he’s arrogant and nihilistic and resentful and what he does is He tries to justify his life to himself and does a very poor job of it even though he’s trying to be honest. There’s a lot of honesty in it at one point He meets a woman who’s been forced out onto the streets because there weren’t very many options for women in the Victorian period Who had fallen a follow of economic necessity and he basically in a fit of False Messiah-nism offers to save her. Which he can’t because he’s completely useless. He can’t save himself even. But he offers to save her and she more or less accepts, and then when she shows up having sacrificed a tremendous amount to do so he basically tells her that he was toying with her and joking and (3x) makes her situation far worse than it was to begin with. It’s a brilliant book. Because you see he repents and he says what he’s like. He’s this horrible person He knows that weak and resentful and then he confesses and then he says: “Well now I’ve confessed!” “I’m a better person.” Then he tries to do something good But he hasn’t changed a bloody bit, not a bit. The confession was just to make himself feel better and so he offers to help someone and pulls them right into the right under the water where they drown. It’s an amazing book and this is from Notes From Underground. In short, one may say anything about the history of the world anything that might enter the most disordered imagination. The only thing one can’t say is that it’s rational the very word sticks in one’s throat This is a good example of the existential criticism of the idea of rationality Dostoevsky says well. Lots of things operate according to rational principles But let’s think about history for a minute Especially from the perspective of a thinking and feeling being. History is a slaughterhouse. It’s a catastrophe and how would you ever consider that something rational? Dostoyevsky’s point his rationality fails in its analysis of something as complex and terrible as history. The only thing one can’t say is that it’s rational the very word sticks in one’s throat. In short one may (sorry) And indeed, this is the odd thing that is continually happening: There are continually turning up in life moral and rational persons, sages and lovers of humanity who make it their object to live all their lives as morally and rationally as possible, (so) to be, to be, so to speak a light to their neighbors simply in order to show them that it is possible to live morally and rationally in this world And yet we all know that those very people sooner or later have been false to themselves, playing some queer trick, often a most unseemly one. Now I ask you: What can be expected of man since he is a being endowed with such strange qualities? This is a criticism of utopianism. That’s what he’s trying to do right? Because the utopian ideas were starting to emerge in Russia at about this point in the 1880s. The idea that you could reorganize society so that material privation would disappear and that as a consequence the paradise would be ushered in. Well, Dostoyevsky was no fool. He knew perfectly well: a) that that was never going to happen but even more importantly that if you gave people exactly what they wanted, even what they needed, there’s no reason whatsoever to presume that that would make them any more sane than than they already are. Now and then he takes that further because he says well, you can give people cake and material goods until they are satiated and they’ll still be ungrateful and insane. And you might think well, that’s pessimistic. But then he says well–wait a minute. What makes you think that that insanity isn’t EXACTLY what’s valuable about people? What makes you think you would ever want to take that away? And that’s the case that he makes. Shower upon him every earthly blessing, drown him in a sea of happiness, so that nothing but bubbles of bliss can be seen on the surface; give him economic prosperity such that he should have nothing else to do but sleep, eat cakes and busy himself with the continuation of his species, and even then out of sheer ingratitude man would play you some nasty trick. He would even risk his cakes and would deliberately desire the most fatal rubbish, the most uneconomical absurdity simply to introduce into all this positive good sense his fatal fantastic element. It is just his fantastic dreams his vulgar folly that he will desire to retain, simply in order to prove to himself as though that were so necessary– that men are still men and not the keys of a piano which the laws of nature threatened to control so completely that soon one will be able to desire nothing, but by the calendar. And that is not all: even if man really were nothing but a piano key, even if this was proved to him by natural science and mathematics, even then he would not become reasonable, but would purposely do something perverse out of simple ingratitude simply to gain his point. And if he does not find means he will contrive destruction and chaos, will contrive suffering of all sorts just to gain his point. He will launch a curse upon the world. And as man is the only animal that can curse it’s his privilege the primary distinction between him and other animals may be by his curse alone he will attain his object–that is, to convince himself that he’s a man and not a piano key. And if you say that all of this too, can be calculated and tabulated, chaos and darkness and curses, so that the mere possibility of calculating it all beforehand would stop it all, and reason would reassert itself, then man would purposely go bad in order to be rid of reason and gain his point. I believe in it, I answer for it, for the whole work of man really seems to consist in nothing but proving to himself every minute that he’s a man and not a piano key. It might be at the cost of his skin, it might be by cannibalism. And this being so can one help being tempted to rejoice that it has not yet come off and that desire still depends on something we don’t know? You will scream at me (that is, if you condescend to do so) that no one is touching my free will, that all they’re concerned with is that my will should of itself, of its own free will coincide with my own normal interests with the laws of nature and arithmetic. Good Heavens, gentlemen, what sort of free will is left when we come to tabulation and arithmetic, when it will all be a matter of twice two makes four? Twice two makes four without my will. As if free will meant that. It’s brilliant I think. It’s one of the most remarkable criticisms of Utopianism I’ve ever read. It’s like and it’s so intelligent. It’s like, what makes you think that if you had everything you asked for that that would satisfy you? What if being dissatisfied is part of what satisfies you? What if the fact that you have to have limits and need them and that there’s an element of insanity in the world and that there’s an element of insecurity and vulnerability What if that’s what you need? What if it’s what you want? What if that’s, what gives your life meaning? You’re going to be like a lion after he’s eaten a zebra and do nothing but sleep. It hardly constitutes the appropriate human paradise. What makes people think that merely providing economic security would be sufficient? Who wants that? It’s what you offer a cow in its pen so that it remains calm and fat. It’s not something for human beings. And that’s Nietzsche’s fundamental point He formulated that what?–forty years before the damn Soviet Revolution when that sort of utopianism was put into practice with absolutely catastrophic consequences.

100 comments

  1. I study Literature at college in my country, Italy. You may think it's odd for a traditionally conservative (but very chaotic, I know) country like mine, but leftist, SJW mentality is slowly entering college students' mindset even here. I absolutely hate the fact that they seem to think of me as some kind of fascist even though I'd call myself a classic liberal, but the thing I despise the most about them is their blind, cowarldy utopianism. I say cowardly because every time I try to get them to face (by reading, for instance, some good book, like Notes from the Underground, which I love) the fact that their ideology can be refuted, and brilliantly, too, they'll just shrug and not read the thing. Watching these lessons always makes me feel a lot better.

  2. Evolution is happening. Creation is happening. Each of us is fully involved in this eternal process and it might be time for us to look into the darkness within us and come out into the light. Jordan Peterson has some good info about this process. Life is eternal and we will come and go.

  3. It's funny how this is played out in The Matrix, where the machines provide a simulated paradise to humans, only for them all to go insane and kill eachother. They eventually find that creating a highly flawed environment with poverty and war keeps them invested in their reality and never to question that it in fact a simulation.

  4. I liked crime and punishment. Its comforting that back then people were still pawning stuff because they were broke asf.

  5. No joke I've read this exact chapter yesterday and youtube is reccomending me this video. Coincidences like that make me question reality

  6. I get the feeling he destorys atheism too.

    Even when an athiest thinks he has all worked out with science and math, he's never satisisfied and gets more fucked up and angry (seen and felt through experience of others and a little of my own). Theres something mad and unknown, that we gotta make peace with.

  7. 7:59 Makes me think how so many people who have it easy suffer from depression, while others who were dealt a much worse hand fair better.
    Also, to the guy on the left: that's not how you check your pulse.

  8. I am reading the book and while I do not have the critical apparatuses or wish to unpack/analyse it, this is the book that has reached me to the core of my self. I feel seen and this lecture was a joy to experience!

  9. Dostoevsky s writing is dark, but the way this prof. Read it , sounds even darker, his tone of voice ……!

  10. I've Ubered ppl from particular places around north america… and they'll mention "this place has no diversity" (I live in a top 15 city by population in the USA) and I go…we have ppl from india, japan, Latin america, Somalia, nigeria and many other places living here…I drive them to their churches and mosques throughout the week" and they respond "well it's not diverse enough, where I'm from we have real diversity"….all I can respond with is…"I don't think it really matters if one place is more diverse then the other especially if it's based off organic growth"…those rides turn into very interesting things if they've to long…

  11. Dont agree with the statement.

    HISTORY IS RATIONAL

    When you try to supress it that is when it becomes unbalanced and then obviously becomes irrational

  12. Its not prove that utopia is a bad thing, its only prove that humans do not deserve to be in any. There is always to do some science and some art. And getting free from social and economical slavery is actually the best key to do a great science and a great art.

  13. there is nothing wrong with the centralization of tax money so everybody have shelter, free education, free health care, and public transportation
    the problem lies in the corrupt powerful elite (from both left and right wing) and their predatory practices that poison every single attempt for a better Planet
    Canada is experimenting with a new concept that is called the Universal Income – each citizen receives lets say 1,500 from the centralization of national money every month, and they choose either to make a living out of this amount only, or they can make more money and still can keep those 1,500

  14. Maybe this goes a bit far but an orgasm is not so great if it only ☆snap☆ happens. What's really pleasurable is an orgasm after a very thrilling build up. It's the build up, the longing that really makes you have an amazing orgasm. But actually only if the longing is pleasurable, not desperate. I think that's the main thing that makes life hard is that 'the good thing' happening is so uncertain in our perception and we find our waiting and our longing so painful.

  15. We all know it instinctively and we’ve all known that person. The person who isn’t happy until your unhappy.

    Misery loves company. ~ unknown

  16. So Dostoevsky’s idea is that men rather self distract with pain and pleasure than follow the society’s prescription for beautiful and lofty?

  17. As pshcologiest, Peterson sometimes reads too much in the un-bounded side of human nature. The simple question to ask is, where are all your thoughts from. Human thought are a subset of the library the sociaty it resdies in. So blame the culture for it.

  18. I think this idea is related to JP's commentary on Chaos and Order. Somehow, we actually need chaos in our lives, and order equally. After all, doesn't the shadow prove the sunshine? Can there truly be good without an evil to compare it to? Can one choose to do good if there is no Forbidden Fruit to deny?

  19. Turn on god mode in a video game, and then try to play it…. It gets boring really quick…
    The fun lies in the challenge.

  20. The problem with Peterson is he believes we evolved from monkeysThis is a part of the very people he opposes this type of logic

  21. I'm not saying that I didn't have a few good teachers in college, but I really wished to have studied under this man. I know he was speaking to man's innate incompatibility to be satisfied with all of his desires being provided for, and also the irrationality of communism, but there was also a subtle (intended or not) reference to the Judeo-Christian concept of original sin that exists in all of us. Maybe in our current condition, we aren't ready for paradise, because, for us who aren't sanctified, it would be hell. Just a thought.

  22. My takeaway: try to order everything, it'll fall apart. Think people will be predictable and utterly controlled and measured by design, they'll go out of their way to be contrary. Do everything to make people happy, content and complacent, they'll seek out everything but what you give them. Even if the "rules" say things are right, people will find a way to be or make it wrong.

    It makes me think of another phrase I heard decades ago, "Without order, nothing survives. Without chaos, nothing evolves". That makes me think of something else I read once, (paraphrased) "my friends mistakenly associate evolution with improvement. Evolution is about survivability".

  23. How easy Jordan reveals the corrupt indoctrination of destructive thought imposed on men…by those that have and do nothing but whine and claim bias….

  24. I believe one of the purposes in life is to maintain order, and that the world in inherently chaotic or moves towards chaos. For example:
    Don't clean your house,
    don't wash your dished,
    don't maintain your lawn,
    don't fix your car,
    don't fix the leaks in your roof,
    don't maintain your relationship,
    don't work hard,
    don't improve yourself
    and see what happens, your life will slowly start to deteriorate and fall into chaos.
    You are happiest when you have your life in order.

    One rule of life, don't force others to do stuff they don't want to (unless your are responsible for them), some people have to taste the bitterness of chaos in order to learn the value of order.

  25. "some believe we lacked the programming to design your perfect world [utopia]. I believe that humans define their reality through misery and suffering" – agent smith (was reading notes)

  26. This book (Notes From the Underground) floored me when I first read it, though it didn't sink in as well the first time. Dr. Peterson really did a great job here with his commentary. It's a bit startling, the last couple minutes of this video.

  27. Well, we still need things to remain safe and sane. So this whole "if I give you X you will still be shit" is nonsense

  28. He will be relevant at all times, as it affects a lot of topics that require attention and understanding always and almost for any generation. This great writer was a profound psychologist. In his works shows such a depth of penetration into the human soul, which did not dream of modern psychotherapists. Read Dostoevsky, think and develop!

  29. A million dollars could fall into my lap, and I know, without a doubt, that I would still be unhappy. Which is fine, I suppose.

  30. Like squirrel, humans are collectors,
    and i think that is one of the reasons they never will be 100% satisfied.
    And we need a challenge too.
    Combine those two needs, and it will be understandable why money alone never can make us 100% happy.

    Also, if we was 100% happy all the time,
    happy would not be happy, but normal.. 😉

  31. I am sad as I very much resemble this man from Notes from Underground. I realize this..,I am now surely gonna read it all and look an another perception and change

  32. I very seriously believe that since many leftists have killed their transcendent meaning via atheism, they are trying to replace that with utopianism. I think that is why they cling to it so violently.

  33. If I didn't have to work for a living… and grow older… and die, i would be perfectly fullfilled just playing videogames all day. No pressure, just pleasure.

  34. Dostoyevski was a very narrow view of the world and he wrote about that distorted view. His entire analysis is flawed and biased. If you want to know the truth about the human condition is that human beings are largely happy animals with little angst when we live in a tropical climate and can operate as tribal hunter gatherers in a relatively small tight knit group. The concept of sprawling civilization and technology has driven a good animal to large ammounts of suffering and insanity because we are out of balance and out of touch with who we really are that you get people like Dosdoyevski trying to make sense of all the suffering and hardship in the world as just natural to our character when in fact we are so seperated from our natural character we have no fucking clue what real humanity is and we are trained to be bitter and scoff at things that might be helpful to us because we are enslaved to the things that are destroying and perverting us. Human beings in their trueest form operate like fucking hippy communes where there is no money or hierarchies and people operate with simple morality. This so called "Advanced Cilization" is a torture chamber and a prison. It is no wonder ideas like christianity take hold because people are so miserable and yet so intelligent we cant grasp the idea that our parents and their parents before them led us into a false reality to burn in. We didnt get kicked out of Eden human beings left willingly thinking we could do better with knowledge and technology when in reality it is better to just accept the fact we are simple animals and we dont need to understand everything to be happy or live worthwhile lives. It is mans desire for greatness and the greed to not be bound by nature which makes us unhappy and mentally ill.

  35. JP: "You can give people cake and material goods until they're satiated and they'll still be ungrateful and insane"
    Leftists: "That's pessimistic…. Also rich people are privileged ungrateful psychopaths."

  36. Free market. Capitalism. Free market of ideas. Free speech. Liberty. Individual freedom. Small government.

    Founded on Christian concept of free will.

  37. How absurd.
    Yeah right in the thick of the Underground Man’s monologue is a cogent diss track to central planning and Socialism.. come on Dr P.
    That’s YOUR bias, not Dostoyevsky’s.

    Guaranteeing food, shelter, and medicine doesn’t make someone an animal. It makes them a human with moral worth.

    I love Peterson’s take on Dostoyevsky in general, but he is missing the mark here, ENTIRELY. This is about the UM’s irrational state of being. Him living in contradiction to his logical desires.

    Not a diss track.

  38. Life is like a video game. What happens when your character gets the best armor, spells, weapons. Can beat any foe? Has explored the world and completed most of the quests?

    You stop playing or you character so there is some struggle or challenge. We need adversity in life. Not too much to where it destroys us, just enough to keep a continus struggle.

  39. @selenagomez @arianagrande I AM A HORRIBLE MAN. I will fuck you both at the same time somehow.. IF IT IS THE LAST GOD DAM THING I DO. it doesn't have to be rational…

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