Existentialism in Australia and New Zealand

I have been touring in Australia and New Zealand since 5th February 2019, speaking in most of the major cities in both countries, to audiences ranging in size from 1500 to 5500. This tour, based on my most recent book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, is part of a lecture schedule that has now encompassed 126 cities in more than a dozen countries. More are planned for Southern and Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. The book, by the way, has sold about 3 million copies, and is slated for translation into 50 languages, which are pretty much all the languages in the world that have a sizable book market.

In total, now, I have spoken live to about 300,000 people. With each lecture, concentrating nominally on one of more the aforementioned 12 Rules, I also try to formulate a problem, so that I can articulate it clearly, and address in a manner that brings the audience along for the journey, so to speak, and furthers my thinking about the topic.

In Christchurch, most recently, the topic was “Toxic Masculinity,” a phrase I particularly despise, one-sided and sexist as it clearly is (concentrating only on what is hypothetically toxic in human behaviour, and therefore failing entirely to separate the wheat from the chaff; and attributing that at least by omission to masculinity, and therefore failing to note that an equal proportion of ignorance and malevolence characterizes femininity, as it most certainly must). I talked about a friend of mine, a man who bought hook line and sinker the idea that human action upon the face of this troubled globe was destined to do nothing but increase the rate at which society disintegrated, individuals collapsed psychologically, and nature suffered under the adverse burden placed upon it by the essential evils of humanity in general, and men in particular. He had a very rough time of it, governed by that belief system, from the time he was a teenager until he committed suicide due in large part to his ideologically-inspired self-loathing at the age of forty.

Each lecture is devoted, at least insofar as I can manage it, to a topic, let’s say, of equal seriousness and gravity. Despite this (that is, despite the darkness of the context within which the discussion takes place) audiences worldwide have been reduced in the main to absolute silence for the two hours or so of serious conversation that takes place between us, as we jointly work to determine what continues to go wrong in this vale of tears that we inhabit, and how we might if not endeavour jointly to improve ourselves, society and nature itself at least diligently attempt to reduce the amount of unnecessary suffering, malevolence and, sometimes, outright hell that we are all individually capable of producing.

It is no simple manner to determine why any of this has been successful (or necessary, as it apparently is). My radical leftist critics insist (mostly as a consequence of reading each other’s opinions) that I am appealing purposefully, effectively, greedily and politically to disaffected and angry young white men, but this is an explanation that is simultaneously self-serving (as I can then be safely ignored) and false: first, because there has not been a single event of any violent or even vaguely aggressive nature at any of the venues I have spoken at, despite the 300,000 hypothetically angry people in attendance; second, because my audience is not particularly young (averaging, I would say, 30-35); third, because at least a third of the people who attend are women, and that is continually increasing (as men make up 80% of the audience of YouTube, the platform that first brought me to public attention, but women buy the bulk of books); fourth, because all the people who attend are by no means young or white, much to the dismay of my critics; fifth, because people are not compelled by any means to buy the books or attend the lectures and greed therefore has nothing to do with it (not that I am in any manner ashamed of the money I am making from my endeavours, being the unrepentant and evil capitalist that I am, and planning to do positive and productive things with the revenue); and sixth, because people are not attending for political reasons—just as I am not speaking for political purposes.

Here is what is actually happening. YouTube and podcasts are revolutionary technologies. They bring long-form complex philosophical and psychological discussion to the very large audiences who have the time and inclination to watch and listen but who may not do the same with books, which always have been and remain a minority taste, unfortunate as that may be. Perhaps five to ten times as many people can and will listen and watch as would read.

Who knows? We’ve been listening to stories for a very long time, historically speaking, but only reading for a small fraction of that time. And people can use found time (exercising, commuting, working around the home) to listen, and that means they have time that once wasn’t usable in that manner to illuminate and enlighten themselves. And there seems to be a vast and heretofore untapped market for precisely that desire. And both these new media forms (YouTube and podcasts) appear to produce very loyal audiences, who are also, as it seems, likely to want to see the people they have been watching and listening to (and reading, when that is relevant) in person. And what happens in these personal lectures?

I talk directly to the audience. No notes. No scaffolding. I tell them, as individuals, what problem we are here to address. It’s generally something of deep existential significance: the tyranny of society, the terror of nature, the ignorance and malevolence that too often characterizes the individual and the family. We talk about the darkness of life, and of suffering, and of betrayal and nihilism and hopelessness and the desire for revenge that all of that can produce. And then we extract some light out of the abysmal depths. There is no discussion of happiness as the goal of life. Happiness, welcome as it is, is a side-effect, an unexpected benefit, a bit of the grace of God. If it comes your way, open your arms to it, embrace it, and enjoy it. But it won’t last. What we all need instead of happiness is meaning—the kind of meaning that will sustain each of us through the suffering that life entails, so that we can endure the self-betrayal and the dissolution of our intimate relationships through death and distance and the illness and aging and disappointment and death that await all of us, just and unjust alike. And I tell my audiences something they all know, but have not been able to fully understand or articulate: the sustaining meaning in life is to be found in the responsibility of life, the load we voluntarily decide to bear (and the heavier the better). We must take care of ourselves, as individuals, in a manner that makes us better for our families, in a manner that sets the community right, such that the ship of state does not list too far right or left and sails forth for the destination that is true and proper. We must take stock of our multitudinous sins, appalling as they are (because none of us is who we could be, and all of us do things we know we should not), attempt to atone for them, accept the adventure of our life, and try to encourage nature to shine her beneficial face upon us, keep the tyranny of our social organizations at bay, improve our characters as individuals and, most importantly, face the unknown with truth and courage so that we can discover what is new and necessary and eternally redemptive. It is in this manner that we cooperate in the creation of what has always been envisioned as the City of God, stumbling uphill towards it as we can.

And it is dead silence that descends on the audiences, all over the world, when I speak of such things, because they resound with the truth that tradition has bestowed upon us and that our consciences remind us of in the painful manner that such reminders generally occur. And it’s not political, and it’s not for young men (but for everyone), and it’s not “self-help,” in any classical sense (even though I have nothing against such things). It’s the attempt to put the great stories of the Judeo-Christian tradition back firmly underneath our great culture, to provide it once again with some honour, some gravitas, some profundity – and some necessary burden. And it’s not like I’m lecturing, from some great position of enlightenment. I am as ignorant, biased and malevolent in potential and spirit as the next (and even more than many) and am including myself in the vast population of people who need to hear such things once again and, more importantly, come to understand them consciously. We have many difficult decisions confronting us, in the next decades, as our technological power continues to grow, exponentially. I am hopeful that wise people can make the proper decisions as to how that unforeseeable power might be used, and that what I am talking about, drawing on solid scientific data, clinical experience, and the wisdom of the past, might help in some small manner make a substantial number of us wiser in exactly that manner, so that we tilt the world toward the ever-more Heavenly place it might well become instead of degenerating into the Hell we all know full well that it could so easily be.