I’ve just returned home from seeing Douglas Murray, Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris on stage at the O2 Arena in London before a crowd of 8,000 people. And I have to say, it was a pretty good show.
Once you’re past the bizarreness of seeing three top-flight intellectuals calmly occupying the same stage normally strutted upon by the likes of Iron Maiden or Def Leppard, it’s tempting to try to evaluate the content of the discussion, score it like a boxing match, or try to figure out which gentleman is the more brilliant or righteous. But those angles, valid as the might be, miss the larger point: namely, that deep conversation, underpinned by goodwill, delivers transformative value that can’t be obtained any other way.
Backstage an hour beforehand, I asked the event’s impresario, Travis Pangburn, what makes for a crackling dialogue: “In order for it to be a good conversation,” he answers, “the stakes have to be large, and the air has to be thick.”
He explained to the assembled journalists that when he initially suggested he could fill up a joint like the O2 with punters coming to see intellectual rock stars, people said he was crazy. Insurers even had trouble writing a line on the event because there were no precedents. “They’d ask me, ‘So what are these men doing on stage? Just talking? Really? There’s no pyrotechnics?’”
A few minutes later, Jordan Peterson strode in to the room and asked “Where should I sit?” Without waiting for an answer, he plunked himself down on a very, very low side table. It made him look like an adult sitting on a kid’s chair in a nursery school, but he was unfazed.
Deciding to front-run the journalists, I ventured: “What question isn’t being asked lately that you wish would be asked?”
He pondered it for a millisecond, then answered: “Why are so many people coming to these events?” He said it’s because they’re hungry for meaning, and because they want to bear witness to extended intellectual discussions.