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.
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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 10: Language Structures Soul and World
I’m struggling to find the truth behind each rule because there are common themes among them. The truth emerging among the latest rules is: “Your Story is Incomplete”. Which is why you have to pay attention to your sense of meaning (rule 7), to listen (rule 9), to tell the truth (rule 8). All these rules help you update your insufficient story.
So does rule 10. We speek imprecisely for the same reason that we lie: to avoid revealing the scary flaws in our story. But this is dangerous. We think and speak to figure out how to act in the world. By being vague we weaken ourselves, we act less effectively, and finally we render our world more unstable. If we speak precisely we can sharpen our swords, cut dragons down to size and rebuild livable order out of chaos when our life has broken down.
This is why rule 10 is “Be Precise in Your Speech”
Truth 11: Both Femininity and Masculinity have Positive and Negative Poles
This is the most political of Peterson’s chapters. But it is not merely political. The more basic, psychological truth is that masculinity and femininity both have their positive and negative poles. Masculinity can be empowering and tyrannical. Femininity can be nurturing and devouring.
It is part of the Zeitgeist that one can be too masculine (as in overaggressive and overcompetitive) and too little feminine (as in not kind and compassionate enough). Peterson focuses on the other side of the coin.
One can be excessively feminine. If you protect and nurture someone excessively you might end up crippling them. And maybe there is a dark side of you who wants them to never become independent and abandon you. In politics you may want to solve the problem of inequality, out of compassion. But if you want to eliminate all inequality at the cost of denying or even suppressing genuine differences (of personality and competence) between people, you might ask yourself: do i truly feel compassion for the disposessed, or do I feel resentment towards the prosperous?
Conversely, one can be insufficiently masculine, i.e. not be assertive enough, not take enough risks, not strive to be independent enough. This happens especially to people that we overprotect.
This is why rule 11 is “Do Not Bother Children When They Are Skateboarding”
Truth 12: Your Expectations Determine the Goodness You See in the World
As we have already seen, vulnerability is a precondition for existence.
“Imagine a Being who is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. What does such a being lack? The answer? Limitation.”
This makes suffering an inevitable part of life. Which means that sometimes things can become pretty rough. During those times it can become even more tempting to damn existence itself (“I’d rather have Eternal Emptiness.” is the mephistofelian credo). But your responsibility to aim for the good doesn’t change in hard times. The main difference is that it can be dangerous to be too ambitious and optimistic.
“People can survive through much pain and loss. But to persevere they must see the good in Being. If they lose that, they are truly lost.”
Which is why you need to shorten your time horizon. Aim lower. Aim at making the day a bit less bad than it would have been. Notice and appreciate the small things, the small unexpected gifts of existence. They may be “a reminder for just fifteen seconds that the wonder of Being might make up for the ineradicable suffering that accompanies it.”
This is why rule 12 is “Pet a Cat When You Encounter One on the Street”
Stay Tuned for The Final Analysis
These are the truths about life that are behind Jordan Peterson’s rules for life 10 to 12:
- Language structures soul and word (therefore use it carefully)
- Both femininity and masculinity have negative poles, yes, curb aggressiveness but also don’t be overprotective (e.g. don’t bother children when they are skateboarding)
- Your expectations determine the goodness you see in the world, therefore appreciate the small things in moments of crisis (and pet a cat when you encounter one on the street)
Stay tuned for the final analysis, where everything finally comes together, coming next week.