Beyond Order. Jordan Peterson.

Peterson, Jordan. Beyond Order: 12 More Rules For Life. Random House Canada, Toronto, 2021. NF; 3/21.

Peterson is at it again, here with I think a sadder and maybe not-much wiser version of his 12 Rules For Life (which I found quite inspiring). Fans and any interested members of the general public will be aware that for the better part of four years ending in 2020 he fell into a strange and possibly in part self-induced series of severe illnesses involving fad diet, a real medical autoimmune illness, prescription of Valium-like medication with habituation to same, and eventually an apparent cure in clinics in Russia and Serbia that used methods not sanctioned in the Western world.

Whatever the consequences of all that – hard to see how there could fail to be some serious ones – Dr. Peterson can still inspire with his accessible mix of Christianity, psychotherapy, personal responsibility and self-reliance.

Let me go over the few of the original 12 Rules that struck me as most helpful. Stand up straight with your shoulders back. I loved his statement that the bottom of the dominance hierarchy is a terrifying and dangerous place to be. And agreed with his idea that we must stay away from it by taking responsibility and presenting ourselves as strong and brave in making our way in the world. And the right-of-centre nature of that ignores (says the left) what if you are, and are stuck, at the bottom? There’s the rub. I guess for me you have to take those situations one at a time.

Treat yourself like you are someone you are responsible for helping. This encourages a tolerable reorientation of narcissism: that awful sensation when I catch myself watching myself. It’s okay to observe what you’re doing, just quit allowing that self being observed to be being or doing something I don’t like. As though I was responsible for his – my – well-being. The kind, firm, and judicious parents I clearly still need but lost many decades ago (my mother was a schoolteacher in the 1940s back when they were allowed to be kind, firm, and judicious).

Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today. A slightly different but practical psychological trick to promote self-reliance.

There are similarities to the first 12 Rules here. It is if anything more Christian but also more based on Peterson’s personal cobbled-together mythology. The rules themselves usually appear self-evident in their intent, but in elaborating them Peterson often reorients the sentiment and sometimes wanders pretty far afield from that original intent. There is here a pretty clear and possibly back-pedaling run at the Left and Right which ends up (or tries to be) somewhere in the middle.

Okay, here are the Rules with quick comments:

  1. “Do not carelessly denigrate social institutions or creative achievement.” This is a swipe at change for change’s sake. Traditional social structures are emphatically not mere manifestations of power, but serve good and sanity-preserving purposes that deserve to be seriously considered.
  2. “Imagine who you could be and then aim single-mindedly at that.” Be a Hero and persist in maximizing his/her attributes. Like the big lobster only maybe helping the little ones when you can.
  3. Do not hide unwanted things in the fog.” Pretty clear advice to deal promptly, using a bright and magnified illumination, with bad things in your life.
  4. “Notice that opportunity lurks where responsibility has been abdicated.” The R-word again, with a negative but positively opportunistic twist.
  5. “Do not do what you hate.” This for me repeats “Treat yourself like you are someone you are responsible for helping” from the earlier 12 Rules.

The basic story is this: when order (Apsu) is carelessly threatened or destroyed, the terrible forces of chaos from which the world was originally derived appear once again in their most destructive, monstrous, predatory guise.

6. “Abandon ideology.” I like this one, believing as I do in the fundamental human need for popular ideas and so behaviour of going over the top where they gain power. He doesn’t single out the Left or the Right, just warns against oversimplification:

Beware of intellectuals who make a monotheism out of their theories of motivation. Beware, in more technical terms, of blanket univariate (single variable) causes for diverse, complex problems.

7.”Work as hard as you possibly can on at least one thing and see what happens.” Sounds reasonable…

8. “Try to make one room in your home as beautiful as possible.” Maybe not quite so reasonable…

9. “If old memories still upset you, write them down carefully and completely.” Seems to follow from 3, above.

10. “Plan and work diligently to maintain the romance in your relationship.” Good general advice, a bit higher-class gender-neutral version of “Happy wife happy life”.

11. “Do not allow yourself to become resentful, deceitful, or arrogant.” I had to agree  although embroiled in a years-long squabble with unreasonable idiot in-law family members I do just occasionally get ever-so-slightly RESENTFUL.

12, “Be grateful in spite of your suffering.” Positively biblical. Amen.

Not carelessly denigrating social (conservative) institutions is balanced a couple of times in other Rules with advice like:

(F)ollow the rules until you are capable of being a shining exemplar of what they represent, but break them when those very rules now constitute the most dire impediment to the embodiment of their central virtues.

Peterson seemed to me to be feeling his way toward a legitimacy of change (the Left), but only with an eye on those “central virtues”. One critic said there wasn’t much about women in the book. I thought there was quite a lot about people in general which to me would include women, and that the critic really meant Women as in Feminism. There wasn’t much about the Holocaust, cigarette smoking, racial inequality, the value of the family, drunk driving, global warming, and a lot of other important and celebrated causes either.

I also don’t side with criticism of this new book that interprets Jordan Peterson’s apparently pretty terrible illness as addiction, wiping out as hypocritical inconsistency his iron northern rural self-reliance message. That’s too easy. Even in non-fiction there’s something protective of the best a writer can give us in D H Lawrence’s “Never trust the teller, trust the tale.” Here Peterson gets a little closer to fiction in his stories of his clients, although his mythological plot and characters might not quite ring with the authority of biblical and ancient classics. He means what he says and some of it has helped me quite a bit.

Worth reading if a small but definite cut below the first 12 Rules. 9.0/8.3

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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