Review: 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

I became aware of Jordan B Peterson, as many did, from a now famous youtube video taken by a student at the University of Toronto. The student confronts Peterson and shrilly inquires whether he endorses any neo-Nazis in attendance at a protest. He stands his ground and tries to reason with the growing mob while they hound him, lobbing jeers masked as questions to trip him up and capture the ensuing meltdown for posterity. It backfires - Peterson retains his composure and earnestly attempts to pursue some kind of reasoned conversation, while his would-be interrogators fire slogans that bounce off ineffectually off his cool facade.

If the comments beneath the video are anything to go by, its a confrontation that to many represent just what is wrong with the left: they are far more concerned with pitching slogans and finding a clandestine Nazi behind any academic, than to engage in discussion. Peterson’s main weapon is his composure under fire. His firm tenor dissent undercut the shrill laughs and jeers of the student mob.

At his core Peterson is an old school conservative intellectual. The type of guy that might get on with George Bush Snr. He shuns post-modernism as the precursor to nihilism, staunchly defends the idea that gender is rooted in biology and opposes the feminisation of men as leading to hard-right politics. He has a long list of enemies.

Peterson explains in the introduction how his latest book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos began as a Quora post that reached 3.7 million views. Some of the rules are simple and tongue in cheek - Lesson 1 is Stand up straight with your shoulders straight, for example, while others are axiomatic - Lesson 8 is Tell the truth. Or at least don’t lie. The rules themselves don’t really uncover any new eternal truths but it’s the journey rather than the destination that is important here, and Peterson takes some pretty scenic routes. For example, in lesson 1 Peterson discusses the behavior of lobsters, that their dominance based social hierarchy is older than mammals and therefore resides deep within our brains. By standing up straight as the lobster does, we can life-hack our way to success - fake it till we make it.

It is implied that chaos is the price paid by the left for their intellectual wishywashiness. And by the 12th lesson the author takes some swipes at some of their most sacred cows: men are being raised as women, gender politics is degrading language and people don’t tell the truth anymore. To justify Peterson prefers the canon of European thought and literature visiting Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Goethe, Jung and Freud. To anyone familiar with these bigheads few of the ideas or conclusions drawn from them are revelations.

Instead its when Peterson breaks down biblical stories or fairy tales that things get interesting. Peterson is a clinical psychologist and so is well equipped to dismantle the symbols of every beauty, beast and cigar.

Also more entertaining than his cursory glance at Solzhenitsyn are the anecdotes from growing up in small-town Northern Canada. Days so cold that it was not possible to stop your car for fear it would never start again, the long winters and the weak friends lost to drugs, alcohol and nihilism. Its the latter category that reflects a Nietzchean thread that runs through the book. Peterson clearly believes in the masculine virtues of strength and power over the feminine of compassion and compromise. Life sux get over it, take some responsibility, children need clear boundaries. At some of these moments he is in danger of sounding like a crank - he clearly reveals in the powerplay of babysitting a friend’s child and confining him to his cot instead of letting him watch that “creepy puppet” Elmo. To Peterson - good old fashioned discipline will always win the day.


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