In July I did two live events in Dublin and London with Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris. At each of these venues (the first at the 3Arena in Dublin, and the second at the O2 Arena in London) there were something in the region or eight or nine thousand people in attendance. All of which makes them some of the biggest speaking events in recent history. In fact the Guinness Book of Records is apparently looking into the whole business.
Anyhow, after a couple of months of delay, videos of these events are now emerging online. They are available at various venues, notably at Pangburn Philosophy’s YouTube channel here (for Dublin) and here (for London). I suspect they will get a fair amount of online views in the days to come.
So I thought I would put down a few words about the context and content of the two events.
First – Dublin and London actually comprised the third and fourth occasions on which Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson had appeared together onstage. A couple of weeks earlier they appeared together on consecutive nights in Vancouver. So these were the last two of four events. The first two evenings were moderated by the excellent Bret Weinstein. I was thrown into the mix for the last two.
Since Sam is a prominent atheist and Jordan is not, all four events were to some extent pitched as a battle between them about God. Philosophically, and on these occasions literally, I sit between the two of them. But my job was not so much to moderate as to help guide, and chip in where I liked.
In Dublin the God part of the debate benefited from a rich recap of Vancouver by both Jordan and Sam and some fascinating new elements thrown in by both as they sharpened their arguments in the aftermath of their first meetings. After going to the audience in Dublin we got off God for a bit, specifically – at Sam’s suggestion – pivoting onto other issues of politics and meaning sparked by Sam’s question of how all three of us might respond to the accusation that we are some type of ‘gateway drug’. I thought the conversation was great fun as well as stimulating and wide-ranging.
I had expected that London would follow a similar format. But for various reasons we stayed on God at the O2. At an early stage in the evening I realised that both Sam and Jordan needed to have the thing out to its endpoint that evening. I chipped in a little, where it felt natural to do so. But otherwise – especially after going to the audience – I saw that both of them needed to finish off an argument and I thought it best to let them get on with doing so. I hope people agree that it was worth it, as the discussion reached a true culmination and as much of a conclusion as it ever could.
Anyhow – I write this partly in order to flag up that the videos are now out there for a wider viewership, and to say that I hope people benefit from them. I also write just to explain that context. The truth is that I feel a little bad for some of the audience at the O2. For both events portions of the audience flew in from all over the world. It was an enormous pleasure meeting some of them at the signings after the events. On each evening there were some people who came for all of us and some for only one of us. But since London I have intermittently heard from people who flew from an extraordinary variety of countries to hear just me and who rightly felt that they didn’t get very many words for the number of miles travelled. I hope they’ll agree that where I did step in it was worth it. But otherwise I can only apologise to these well-travelled folk, and promise to make up for it with considerable verbosity on some future occasion.
For my own part I thought both evenings were deeply moving and inspirational. Most importantly because they saw two vast arenas more commonly used for rock concerts packed with thousands of mainly young, obviously smart and genuinely diverse people listening to – and participating in – some deeply demanding discussions. To be with so many people in such a situation was deeply rewarding to me – as I know it was to Jordan and Sam. People use the word ‘humbled’ far too often and far too blithely. But it was genuinely humbling to be with so many people – against many of the currents of our time – and participate together in the deep conversations of mankind.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.