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Critiquing PCness: Jordan Peterson's 12 Rules for Life

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Eric Walberg       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   1 comment

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Peterson's controversial bestseller
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The furor surrounding Peterson as related in the mainstream media left me with a wariness of the guy, portrayed in Canadian media as rude, a bigot, a tyrant to a handful of outspoken critics. A prickly character, not your average psychotherapist. He had become notorious, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt and ordered his book from the public library (as of this writing, there are 1162 holds on 176 copies).

By the time it arrived months later, I had forgotten about him and what seemed a strident but sensible feint in the ongoing feminist/ gay war against the white male. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. I thought - what a corny title! Why did I ever order such a trite self-help book? I grudgingly picked it up - and was soon blown away. It slowly dawned on me that this is 'that guy', but it was neither strident, nor flakey.

Is mainstream media really so distorting as to leave us all so prejudiced? A spot on a panel on Steve Paikin's TVO news show, but no platform in the public eye beyond his own youtube site. Are transactivists on campus, the darlings of mainstream media, just hysterical, spoiled brats trying to destroy the English language, dump all traditions as sexist, etc.?

Peterson is the quintessential renaissance man, bringing together many ideas from the natural and social sciences, projecting a refreshing understanding of the conundrum of human existence -- both Old and New Testaments, history and philosophy (though he came to believe that Marxism is a murderous ideology and lumps Stalin with Hitler), and of course psychology, with Freud, Jung, Skinner all providing insight into the various paths to self-understanding. This is not easy stuff; he's bound to get some things wrong, and his own strong opinions are guaranteed to offend just about everyone in some way.

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It is occasionally long-winded and unfocused, but worth plowing through to the end. I suspect Peterson finished it in a rush, hounded by the university, government, and the omnipresent political-thought policy. Capitalizing on his notoriety, he caught the moment to make 12 Rules a bestseller.

His thesis: The postmodern left reduces morality/ ideals to a cynical power grab, leaving only relative/ personal 'value judgments'. All we're left with is tolerance/ compassion for people who think differently/ different cultures.

Peterson looks to myth from oral traditions, which were not just stories, but were moral in intent, telling us how humans should act. The world is a stage/ drama, not a mere place of objects.

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The human dialectic is between chaos/ order, female and male, yang and yin, epitomized by the tao circle. Meaning is found in the tension on the border between that ever-entwined pair. To walk that border is to stay on the path of life. Resolve chaos into order via language. I.e., language is vital, even sacred, like marriage and other human heritage, not to be treated lightly.

We need a shared belief system as a code for mutually predictable relations, expectations, desires allowing for cooperation, peaceful competition. We need a clear value system because both perception and action require a goal. For this to work, we need to take responsibility to strive for goals consistent with reality. Hey, this is Islam or Christianity!


Mr Alpha Lobster keeps order
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Feminists will fume at Peterson's use of lobsters as the oldest of reasonably intelligent life (140m years ago). The Alpha male syndrome in 'society' is already in place. Mr Alpha enjoys higher serotonin and struts cockily over his brood, rousting subordinate male from shelters at night to remind them who's top dog. When the defeated male lobster regains courage, he is more likely than the victor to lose in future battles.

Peterson's conclusions: 1/ We too are hardwired by serotonin. Dominance hierarchies are basic to all living 'souls'. If peers despise you, your serotonin is low, a self-fulfilling prophecy as you stumble through life. This can even shut down your immune system, or render you dangerously impulsive. You see change as leading to disaster, not opportunity.

2/ Winner-takes-all. Unequal distribution is also hardwired; i.e., the pareto concept of rich get richer, the Matthew (25: 28-9) effect.*

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3/ So you need a balance of compassionate self-sacrificing vs self-protective anger to defend yourself. If you can bite, you generally don't have to. The mere ability to respond, even for the lobster, is not the same as 'might makes right, but there is a whiff of it.

4/ Boys will be boys. Guys are hardwired with aggression and higher testosterone. Rather than labelling antsy boys with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and pumping them with Ritalin, sapping their natural energy, schooling should be structured to nurture them, not to try to turn them into little girls.

Peterson's book is worth it just for his advice to parents. It's full of gems: the first four years are crucial, a child really needs both a mother and father, memory is there not to be nostalgic, but to consolidate a useful version of the past to help you navigate the present and future. This is the foundation of his counselling practice, and his fame is deserved as a first-rate counsellor.

The real Marx

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Eric writes for Al-Ahram Weekly and PressTV. He specializes in Russian and Eurasian affairs. His "Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics and the Great Games" and "From Postmodernism to Postsecularism: Re-emerging Islamic Civilization" are available at (more...)
 

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