If You Violate Your Conscience, There Will Be Hell To Pay (Jordan Peterson)

Jordan Peterson talking about lying with the roommates youtube
“Do you think you can warp the structure of reality and get away with it?” Dr. Peterson

Today, I’ve transcribed a fascinating clip, full of quotable segments, in which Jordan Peterson addresses the topic of lying, in particular, and violating our conscience, in general. The interviewer asks Peterson to single out one rule, of Peterson’s 24 rules for life, that is particularly important to adhere to. Peterson said “Tell the truth, or at least don’t lie.” To tell the truth, according to Peterson, is to align oneself with the structure of reality. Any attempt to warp that structure and get away with it–which is the essence of lying–is doomed to failure. Peterson makes the bold claim that in all his years of clinical practice, he has never seen anyone get away with a single lie. Many times we think we get away with lying, but that, according to Peterson, is because we are either too stupid, too blind, or too self-deceptive to understand the consequences of our actions. Peterson argues that when we violate our conscience, we always pay a price, and if we do it enough, that price is a kind of existential hell.

Check out the video and transcript down below! Here are a number of provocative quotes from the segment, which is pretty amazing, given how short it is. Do you agree with Dr. Peterson’s contentions about the importance of telling (and living) the truth?

You think the chickens won’t come home to roost? All that means is you’re too stupid to see what your lies cause—or too blind, or too self-deceptive. You just don’t see it. And so, you don’t get away with anything. Nothing! It’s terrifying to actually understand that. It’s terrifying.

Jordan Peterson

You warp the structure of reality. You think you are someone who can warp the structure of reality with your words—and get away with it—really? No, man. That should terrify you, right to the core of your soul. You’re not God. You can’t do that.

Jordan Peterson

Reality is – you don’t mess with it. It kills you. And it will torture it quite a lot before doing that if you’re particularly unlucky. So, be aware. They say “The fear of God is the beginning if wisdom.” That’s that judgmental God. You violate your conscience man, you will pay—that’s hell.

Jordan Peterson

Part of it is also realizing–really understanding in some way–there’s no escape. There’s no safe path. There’s a noble path, and there’s an honorable path. There’s no safe path. And possibly, you wouldn’t want that anyway, because, well, who are you exactly? Look at you. Warrior stock–every single one of your ancestors has stayed alive for 3 and a half billion years. It’s like, “Good work, man. That’s a lot.” So what makes you so sure you’re built for safety? What makes you so sure that’s what we should strive for?

Jordan Peterson

And then if you want adventure, I’ll tell you an adventure, and what an adventure is. You tell the truth as nearly as you can, and you’ll have the adventure of your life, that’s for sure.

Jordan Peterson

When I looked into atrocity deeply. I looked into it for 15 years, meditated on the human capacity for atrocity. It was pretty awful. It was awful. Reading those stories of what happened in Nazi concentration camps, what happened, well, everywhere, and trying to think what you would have to be like to do that, and then thinking it through–it’s awful. As I was doing that, I realized that all of it was tangled up with lies. That’s part of this issue of male power. How do you keep male power noble and virtuous? With the truth.

Jordan Peterson

It’s lies that turn competence into tyranny, so don’t lie, unless you want to be an incompetent tyrant. And you think that’s easier? In some ways, I suppose. It’s easier because you can slide into that, but existentially, it’s hell. And hell is this weird quality, because it feels like it’s eternal.

Jordan Peterson

FYI, I started transcribing around the 5:00 minute mark. The first 5 minutes of the video cover the topic of pornography, hence the title of the video. You can check out the link for that transcript at Jordan Peterson interview. Minutes 5 until the end are on the topic of this article–lying.

For more, see the complete archive of articles on integrity.

Transcript:

Interviewer: In your opinion, obviously, there are so many rules that are great. If somebody was to read those books, and there’s one rule that you’re like, “This rule, out of the 24 that I’ve given you over the past few years, you can absolutely not get this one wrong—which rule would that be?”

Peterson: Tell the truth, or at least don’t lie, because you can’t tell the truth, right, because who are you to tell the truth? That’s a mighty tall order. But you can stop saying things that you know are lies, and that will change your life if you do that.

Interviewer: How will it change your life?

Peterson: Well, how can you adapt to reality when you falsify it? You think, “Well, I’m just lying to other people.” No, you’re not. You can’t just lie to other people, because what you say becomes you, especially if you practice it, because we build ourselves out of words. And that can be lies in action, too. Don’t say things you know to be false. That’s a good start, man. And it allies yourself with the truth. How can that be a bad idea? Imagine that what is true reflects reality, which is sort of the definition of true. How can failing to align yourself with reality work? How is that possibly going to work?

Well, you say, well I lie, I get out away with something. It’s like, “No, you don’t.” I tell you. I swear this is true. In all my clinical practice, I have never ever seen anyone ever get away with anything even once. You think the chickens won’t come home to roost? All that means is you’re too stupid to see what your lies cause—or too blind, or too self-deceptive. You just don’t see it. And so, you don’t get away with anything. Nothing! It’s terrifying to actually understand that. It’s terrifying.

What if you can’t get away with anything, ever? Well, that’s the judgmental God, fundamentally. That’s a very old idea, and it’s an old idea for a reason. Of course, you can’t get away with anything, because, imagine that you took a flexible, plastic comb, and you bent it backwards, and you say, “Well, I got away with that.” It’s like, “Well, what’s going to happen when you let go?” It’s going to snap back and hit you in the face, and that’s life, man.”

You warp the structure of reality. You think you are someone who can warp the structure of reality with your words—and get away with it—really? No, man. That should terrify you, right to the core of your soul. You’re not God. You can’t do that.

Interviewer: Dr. Peterson, you said that you’ve never seen someone get away with lying, what do you mean by that, because I imagine someone listening to this right now, “Well, I haven’t told the truth, and I got away with plenty of things in my past—what do you mean by that?”

Peterson: And everything is right in your life? Everything is just the way you want it to be—that’s how it is, isn’t it? Good, if you can find someone like that. Great. I’ve never seen anyone like that. Psychopaths, they have no conscience, they lie all the time—well, how do they get away with it? They don’t. They have to move, because people figure out who they are, and they have to move on.

So you can say that that’s getting away with it. Well, no. No long-term relationships. No love. No trust. No brotherly affection. No friends. And, generally, no financial success. Not in the real sense. How is that getting away with it?

Well, you might say, “Well, I’ve got away with it so far.” And it’s like, maybe you have. And maybe your just too dim to see the consequences, because you’ve blinded yourself, and God only knows who you could have been if you wouldn’t have lied your way to where you are now.

And sometimes I work with someone to untangle what had happened to them over multiple years, as things fell apart. And we’d find all sorts of lies. Not always ones they told, but sometimes lies their parents told them, for example. Deep, dark, terrible things, messing things up unbelievable, in catastrophic and tragic ways, and it was absolutely terrifying. But I can’t see how, it just doesn’t make sense. How could you possible defend the idea that you can warp the structure of reality and get away with it?

Like I said, who do you think you are? Reality is – you don’t mess with it. It kills you. And it will torture it quite a lot before doing that if you’re particularly unlucky. So, be aware. They say “The fear of God is the beginning if wisdom.” That’s that judgmental God. You violate your conscience man, you will pay—that’s hell.

Interviewer: That’s really powerful, and I love the metaphysical representation that you talk about throughout your books, because I think that’s something really big in today’s world, where a lot of individuals–there’s a fear of societal consequences and they don’t speak the truth, and they lie–but their spirit and their souls are being torn apart on the inside. Although they appear to be getting away with it, when they sleep at night, they know they’re not being their authentic selves, and they know they’re living a lie.

Peterson: And they get weaker as–you become what you practice. And if you withdraw and lie, you become a lying coward, that’s what happens. You don’t have to practice that much before that’s the case. Is that what you want? “Well, no one will come after me.” Yes, they will.

Part of it is also realizing–really understanding in some way–there’s no escape. There’s no safe path. There’s a noble path, and there’s an honorable path. There’s no safe path. And possibly, you wouldn’t want that anyway, because, well, who are you exactly? Look at you. Warrior stock–every single one of your ancestors has stayed alive for 3 and a half billion years. It’s like, “Good work, man. That’s a lot.” So what makes you so sure you’re built for safety? What makes you so sure that’s what we should strive for?

And then if you want adventure, I’ll tell you an adventure, and what an adventure is. You tell the truth as nearly as you can, and you’ll have the adventure of your life, that’s for sure. That isn’t trying to fit in because you’re naïve, or because you’re too afraid to lie. That doesn’t make you telling the truth, if you’re afraid to lie, you know, in a cowardly sort of way. There’s a wise way of being afraid to lie.

When I looked into atrocity deeply. I looked into it for 15 years, meditated on the human capacity for atrocity. It was pretty awful. It was awful. Reading those stories of what happened in Nazi concentration camps, what happened, well, everywhere, and trying to think what you would have to be like to do that, and then thinking it through–it’s awful. As I was doing that, I realized that all of it was tangled up with lies. That’s part of this issue of male power. How do you keep male power noble and virtuous? With the truth.

It’s lies that turn competence into tyranny, so don’t lie, unless you want to be an incompetent tyrant. And you think that’s easier? In some ways, I suppose. It’s easier because you can slide into that, but existentially, it’s hell. And hell is this weird quality, because it feels like it’s eternal.

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