What is the justification of Jordan Peterson’s 12 rules for life? Just like any set of rules, it’s important not to loose track of the principles that originated them. Let’s give them a look. Hang in there.
Looking for the video on the article? Here it is:
Jordan Peterson has a way of getting to the bottom of things, and this is reflected in his new book “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos”. In each chapter of the book, Peterson explores a deep topic, finds a fundamental truth about life and then extracts from it a practical rule to follow. The rules are the titles of the chapters, so it’s easy to remember them, but the core principles behind them are buried between stories and long reflections. Luckily for you, you can find them extracted in this article.
Truth 7: You Can’t Ground Your Life in Thought
I have analyzed this chapter in depth in a separate article, but in that article I didn’t extract a single “truth” from it. So here it is. Expediency, at a fundamental level, is to act exclusively based on a rational model of the world and to manipulate it to get what you want from it. But you can’t ground your life in thought, because either your thinking will be incomplete and thus short-sighted, tyrannical and dehumanizing, or you will never be done thinking (because the world is larger than you). The inescapable reality is that you have to act with an insufficient model of the world, which means you can’t ground your life in that model. The alternative is to ground your life in meaning, which is not a set of axioms but something you can feel, and subordinate your thinking capacity to that principle.
This is why rule 7 is “Pursue What Is Meaningful (Not What Is Expedient)”
Truth 8: Your Map is Incomplete
As we said in the previous part, you can’t ground your life in your map of the world. But having a map is indeed useful. As we said, the problem is that your map is necessarily incomplete. How to deal with it?
If you don’t blindly act out your map but pay attention to your sense of meaning as you go on, things that don’t fit (anomalies) your map will pop up. This will, inevitably, generate anxiety.
At this point you have two options. You can ignore what doesn’t fit (willful blindness) and continue living according to your existing plan (life lie). The consequence, though, is that you split yourself from that part of you that noticed the anomaly, thus compromising your psychological integrity. You become blind to a part of reality and perhaps then you fail to see a coming danger. Please refer to Peterson’s descriptions to get a hint of how hellish life can become when following this path, at a personal and societal level. I found this chapter positively terrifying.
The alternative is to acknowledge that there is something that doesn’t fit your map, observe it carefully and describe it truthfully. This action is akin to a self-sacrifice, because your identity is your story about where you are on the map and where you are going, and because you don’t know how much of it needs to be burned away and replaced when you offer it up for update. Out of the ashes a new story and a new identity emerge that integrate the anomaly, and you can now move through the world with a more accurate map.
This is why rule 8 is “Tell the Truth – Or, at Least, Don’t Lie”
Truth 9: Creation Requires a Mold
Ok, perhaps I went a level deeper than was warranted by this chapter. But it is true: to bring forth something new you need material that you can mold and shape into your new creation. When you think that mold is a part of your mind. That is, you have to split your mind into an active part that molds (thinks), and another that allows itself to be molded (listens). This is a hard process that can fail in many ways: the molding part can start to get in its own way and attempt to mold itself (e.g. question itself or start criticizing its own thoughts before they are fully formed), or the mold can be unstable, fleeting, foggy. That’s why it is much easier to externalize part of the process by using an external mold. People use external matter to represent their thoughts and then manipulate it. Examples include setting important words in stone for long-term memory, using an abacus to perform calculations, but even journaling, brainstorming on a whiteboard, and last but not least, talking to someone. When talking to someone you can hear the sound of your own words, which already has a more “stable” quality than your mere thoughts, and additionally, you can see the impact your words had on your interlocutor. For this to work, though, your interlocutor has to act as a good mold and listen and not try to be the molder. The more your interlocutor shares about their inner experience and reaction to your words, the richer and informative a mold they will be. This is why it is useful if the listener can tell you: “what I hear you say is Blah” and “While you were speaking these feelings, impulses, thoughts and images came up.”
“A good therapist will tell you the truth about what he thinks. (That is not the same thing as telling you what he thinks is the truth.)”
From the listener’s perspective, the benefit of this kind of listening is simply new information. If you try to impose what you already know on what you hear before fully understanding it, you are just reiterating your map without updating it. If you truly listen you might be transformed and expanded by what you hear.
This is why rule 6 is “Assume That the Person You Are Listening to Might Know Something You Don’t”
Stay Tuned for Part 5
These are the truths about life that are behind Jordan Peterson’s rules for life 7 to 9:
- You can’t ground your life in thought, therefore ground it in meaningful action.
- Your map is incomplete, therefore pay attention to the things that don’t fit it (and tell the truth about them).
- Creation requires a mold, be a good mold for people who are crafting their story (and listen) – plus, you might learn something.
Stay tuned for the next 3 truths about life, coming next week.