12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos – Jordan B. Peterson
Since I first heard of him, a few years ago now, Peterson has since become something of an internet and media sensation. So any encounter with this book is bound to be coloured by what preconceptions the reader has of him from what they’ve seen and read about him in the media or what his now legions of followers say about him. Both of which often distort what he says more than clarify it.
As I said, I came across some of his video lectures and interviews before the furore about him broke, so I had no preconceptions about him at all.
Peterson and I are more or less the same age. We seem to have read many of the same books, thought about similar things and come to some similar conclusions about the world.
Like him, I am very wary and suspicious of ideology – especially authoritarian ideology – whether it classes itself of the right or the left. Like him – if I had to – I would also reluctantly call myself a classic liberal. But in my case with so many provisos that I regard myself as a political atheist rather than a believer in the possibility of politics ever achieving anything of value.
So all that being said I should be generally sympathetic to this book.
And I am.
He simply states each of the 12 rules at the start of its chapter. Then Peterson takes us on a journey into what he means by that rule, how it applies to people and the world, and how it ought to make the reader a better person and their world a better place.
I’m always wary of solutions, especially those offered in self-help books. They always seem glib, simplistic and fragile to me, easily broken on encountering the real world. However, despite this being called a self-help book in some of its marketing, it is more of a psychology /philosophical treatise and should be approached in that way, rather than as a panacea for the individual’s – and the world’s -problems.
There is an absurd reductionist caricature doing the rounds still that puts Peterson down as some sort of creature of what is currently called ‘the alt-right’. Even the briefest exposure to him and his work should be enough to show how ridiculously far from the truth this is and says far more about the people making the accusations and their simplistic Manichean worldviews than it does about Peterson.
I would recommend this book – despite the hype, not because of it. But with the one proviso that it needs better editing in places. However, then that would have been untrue to the rather discursive approach Peterson takes to any subject, where often the asides and diversions are generally as interesting and revealing as the main gist of what he is discussing.
I don’t think Peterson is the Messiah, but neither do I see him as a very naughty boy.
I liked this book enough to start listening to some of his podcasts. But I would say that 12 Rules may work better as pragmatic things to bear in mind rather than as rules to live by.
I will try his other book Maps of Meaning when I have the chance and I do hope he writes more books. Until then though, there are his YouTube videos and media interviews for those who want more of him.
What does everyone in the modern world need to know? Renowned psychologist Jordan B. Peterson’s answer to this most difficult of questions uniquely combines the hard-won truths of ancient tradition with the stunning revelations of cutting-edge scientific research.
Humorous, surprising, and informative, Dr Peterson tells us why skateboarding boys and girls must be left alone, what terrible fate awaits those who criticize too easily, and why you should always pet a cat when you meet one on the street.
What does the nervous system of the lowly lobster have to tell us about standing up straight (with our shoulders back) and about success in life? Why did ancient Egyptians worship the capacity to pay careful attention as the highest of gods? What dreadful paths do people tread when they become resentful, arrogant, and vengeful? Dr Peterson journeys broadly, discussing discipline, freedom, adventure, and responsibility, distilling the world’s wisdom into 12 practical and profound rules for life. 12 Rules for Life shatters the modern commonplaces of science, faith, and human nature while transforming and ennobling the mind and spirit of its readers.