REVIEW: Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

In my email and (not to mention) my snail mail I get requests all the time that I must engage the latest hufflebunny to come out of the sinking holes of professional science. But one name rises above all others in its virility, and that is Jordan Bernt Peterson.Peterson is an expert Canadian who specializes in clinical psychology and delivers not one but many reflections on Carl Jung and the Bible. Don’t believe me? Then click yourself onto this link. In my opinion Peterson’s first book was Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. This book is about the human brain and was written in 1999. Sadly, this means that Peterson was unable to take advantage of the revolution in Brain Studies that began in this journal in circa ten years after that. To my chagrin Peterson has ignored not only the original work aforelinked, but also the many followups: try these two (1 here, and 2 here) on for size. Maps of Meaning is at least 560 pages, so I can imagine that Peterson is none too happy about being out of date so long ago.

This post is not about Maps of Meaning, but I need to get just one edgewise word about it before moving on. Peterson says:

Something we cannot see protects us from something we do not understand. The thing we cannot see is culture, in its intrapsychic or internal manifestation. The thing we do not understand is the chaos that gave rise to culture. If the structure of culture is disrupted, unwittingly, chaos returns. We will do anything––anything––to defend ourselves against that return.

First number one, it is obvious is it not that we can see culture with our eyes, especially in its “intrapsychic or internal manifestation.” Peterson’s book was written before Keeping Up with the Kardashians, which lays bare the culture in exactly this way. Second, chaos does not give rise to culture: chaos is culture! I evidence for you this video:

Plus, Peterson acts like chaos could take over once culture gets going. But this is impossible, as technology, the paragon of order, is irreducibly complex. No matter how much smaller technology gets, it cannot be destroyed or reversed. Hence: never chaos. This is my “Chaos Theory.”

But to the main course we go! Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life consists of 12 rules that will help the young man keep the chaos at bay while the mum is away. We will explore the rules here with ample time for commentaries by me (and you in your brain).

Rule #1: Stand up straight with your shoulders back

While this is extremely terrible and dangerous boding for humans and others with spinal “cord” injuries, Peterson doesn’t mean in his recently beefy heart that everyone should do this. Rather, only some of everyone should do this. But everyone should “conduct his or her life in a manner that requires the rejection of immediate gratification, of natural and perverse desires alike.” This is very doubtful advice, in all of my opinions, since my desires are neither natural nor perverse––and I know that I am not alone, even as you read this. So, what would Peterson tell humans like you and me, and we know who you and me are? Should we, instead, sit down crooked with our elbows forward?

Rule #2: Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping

This advice is very offensive to me personally because it suggests that I am responsible for helping someone other than myself in the first place. I am but who is Peterson to say so?

Rule #3: Make friends with people who want the best for you

Here Peterson directly contradicts Rule #1. The people who want the best for me are the people who will support my unnatural and unperverse desires. Since Peterson doesn’t like those desires one itsy bitsy, would he consider these people my friends?

Rule #4: Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today

This is the first of Peterson’s rules that I can get behind in a really way. When I compare myself to who people like Brian Greene and Steven Pinker are today, I grow unattractively arrogant. After and once in for all, I decimated the theories of Brian Greene not once, but twice. How I pime for the days of my prine!

Rule #5: Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them

Well…I admire Peterson’s warm intentions, but this rule is a little too late. Alois and Klara died over 100 years ago!!! So what’s the point of this rule? Those who come after history are doomed to inherit it.

Rule #6: Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world

As someone without a house who criticizes the world all day every day (and I’m not sorry), I resent very much this rule of Mr. Peterson’s. Maybe he would like to give me a house in Canada that I can perfect, before he criticizes my world? Works both ways much?

Rule #7: Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)

Here Peterson shows his ignorance of basic maths, which maybe is a consequence of universal education in Canada. When Syphilis was pushing the rock up the hill for eternity, his action was anything but expedient yet also everything but meaningful. Do the math, Pete! What is expedient is often the most meaningful, because you can actually get it done.

Rule #8: Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie

If Peterson is such a big fan of the truth, then why does he advance such retrograde theories of the human brain? As I already explained for the umpteenth time in this journal, the brain ain’t in the head.

Rule #9: Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t

This is a very strange rule. If someone knows something that I don’t, then why am I listening to them? This seems backwards and I honestly do not get it. Hopefully some of you can explain in the comments!

Rule #10: Be precise in your speech

Lord knows honest to Betsy that I try to be precise here at Oxford’s Science & Math Defeated. Some of my greatest hits are hits precisely because they literally assassinate ambiguous language. For example, think of my work on infinity. Or on the old linguistic canard that 0.9999….=1. (By the way, curious about what happens when a gaggling bevy of raunchy Redditrolls try to refutate me? Try here for size.)

Rule #11: Do not bother children when they are skateboarding

First, maybe tell that to dentists who tell these very same children to floss. Skaters get teeth problems all the time like they fall out. But more important than that even, Peterson here ironically makes the skaterphobic assumption that his readers are not themselves skaters. It’s skaters who have every reason to bother other skaters, the bad ones. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Then you’re not a skater. Every skater knows that you must beware the infamous Skate Nazi. This is the skater who, according to the journal Urban Dictionary, “blows off work, school and girlfriends to skate. [The term] [“]Skate Nazi[“] is also commonly used to [refer to] an aggressive territorial skateboarder” (emphases mine own).

Rule #12: Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street

Let be said by me here that Peterson is correct that there are many myths that people believe that are negative about stray cats. Many of them are covered here. And these myths always contain a subtle whiffing of antisemitism since there are many stray cats in Jerusalem. So good job to Peterson for denying a theory likely to be beloved on the alt-Right! However, and this is as BIG a caveat as they come––remember that YouTube video above where Peterson talks about developing your “inner psychopath”? Let’s just say that this isn’t Peterson’s first rodeo with YouTube videos about psychopaths. See here. Hmm. How can I put this delicately? Maybe I’ll just give you a headline from a source no less prestigious than Discover Magazine (yes, as in, “Discover scientific facts”):

So, basically, a Canadian man with a proclivity for thinking about human psychopaths is telling you that you should go out of your way to caress non-human psychopaths. Not much I have to say about that!

This concludes my review of 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, by Canadian and clinical psychologist Jordan Bernt Peterson. Please leave feedback in comments below!

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