The Canadian clinical psychologist Jordan B Peterson has, in recent years, end up an internet celeb, generating a slew of films and interviews on all manner of political and social subjects. He is acerbic, combative and brazenly contemptuous of his combatants, especially Marxists and “Postmodernists”, for whom he harbors a special animus. He is an enthusiastic and prolific subculture warrior, who has no truck with “white privilege”, “cultural appropriation” and various other thoughts associated with social justice moves. His reluctance to name transgender human beings with the aid of their favored pronouns (unless they ask him to) has earned him a recognition as a transphobe, and even as his perspectives have marginalized him within the educational network, they’ve strengthened his reputation in conservative circles.
His instructional paintings include many papers wherein he seeks to recognize political and spiritual belief in phrases of the so-called “big five” personality tendencies – openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. His work on the psychology of political correctness has raised eyebrows, given his current thought to purge “corrupt” educational departments of courses and teachers he deems inflamed via this pathology.
In an emailed rebuttal to a journalist who termed him a parent of the “a ways right”, he defined his own politics as those of a “traditional British liberal … temperamentally I am excessive on openness which tilts me to the left, even though I am additionally conscientious which tilts me to the proper. Philosophically I am an individualist, not a collectivist of the right or the left. Metaphysically I am an American pragmatist who has been strongly encouraged by the psychoanalytic and scientific contemplating Freud and Jung.”
This reaction captures tons of what, for precise and unwell, informs 12 Rules for Life, his long and regularly strange foray into the self-assist genre. It is an e-book that mixes practical recommendation gleaned from his clinical practice with inspirational anecdotes from his personal lifestyles, accounts of his instructional paintings inside the field of psychology and numerous intellectual history of the “super books” range, which he interprets in pretty tendentious methods.
His writer has desired to gloss over his reputation as a web controversialist, characterizing him tactfully as a “present-day reality teller” and furnishing him with a page-long biography that begins:
Jordan B Peterson, raised and toughened within the frigid wastelands of Northern Alberta, has flown a hammerhead roll in a carbon fibre stunt plane, piloted a mahogany racing sailboat around Alcatraz Island, explored an Arizona meteorite crater with a collection of astronauts, built a Native American longhouse at the upper ground of his Toronto domestic, and been inducted into the coastal Pacific Kwakwaka’wakw tribe.
Once the cloud of testosterone has cleared (leaving at the back of the lingering interest as to why, precisely, one would need a longhouse upstairs), the reader discovers that each of Peterson’s 12 regulations is explained in an essay brought in a baroque style that combines pull-your-socks-up scolding with footnoted references to educational papers and Blavatskyesque metaphysical flights. He likes to capitalize the word “Being” and additionally to speak about “essential, organic and non-arbitrary emergent reality”. Within a page, we’re advised that “expedience is cowardly, and shallow, and incorrect” and “that means is what emerges superbly and profoundly like a newly formed rosebud beginning itself out of nothingness into the mild of solar and God”. The effect is weird, like being shouted at by means of a rugby educate in a sarong.
Peterson’s stern preceptor persona in all likelihood works properly in a medical placing, where he probably encounters damaged humans in need of an expert discern who can provide an external source of order and stability. Most of his policies are to do with personal obligation and making the type of life choices that will permit someone to function efficaciously within the international. We ought to select our friends wisely, lovingly area our kids, respect the information of tradition and so forth. He takes the view that one needs to construct outwards from small-scale non-public picks in the direction of large social and political questions. “Don’t blame capitalism, the unconventional left, or the iniquity of your enemies. Don’t reorganize the nation till you’ve got ordered your personal experience. Have some humility. If you cannot deliver peace in your personal household, how dare you try and rule a city?”
Unfortunately, he is not a person who may be content with a heuristic while he thinks there’s a fundamental reality to be had. As a very good student of Jung, he likes an archetype, ideally, one he can ground in biology. Relativise that, postmodernists! When he desires to talk approximately duality, he unearths it in “the shape of the brain at a gross morphological degree”. Gender is definitely not fluid. “Male and female and figure and child are categories for us – natural classes, deeply embedded in our perceptual, emotional and motivational structures.”
The big duality in 12 Rules for Life is the competition of order and chaos. The factor of the policies is, as the subtitle states, to offer “an antidote to chaos”. The maintenance of order is at the center of Peterson’s worldview. The order is the truth. It is singular and masculine. Chaos is “the everlasting female”, a misty Jungian method that puts the author within the invidious position of selling a how-to manual on suppressing the feminine precept. He fudges this by way of speaking approximately yin and yang, and “straddling dualities”, however, if chaos is certainly the “possibility, boom and adventure” toward which he now and again remembers to genuflect, it’s clear that he is in particular preoccupied with retaining it at bay.
Chaos is the world of lies, of the language of persuasion, of Jacques Derrida and ethnic research and boys who suppose they’re women. These matters are horrific enough in themselves, but they are mainly perfidious because they form a type of gateway drug to totalitarianism. In a podcast interview he explains:
It’s not a smooth factor to live in a truthful manner, however, the alternative is hell … I found out loads approximately the importance of spoken fact as the countervailing pressure towards tyranny and authoritarianism. It isn’t an alternative political shape that’s the countervailing force, it’s spoken reality that’s the countervailing pressure. Why could I place my job on the road to have an opinion approximately forced pronouns? Because the capacity to talk your reality is the bulwark towards hell.
This religious language is not metaphorical. Peterson does no longer like to be asked if he believes in God, complaining to an interviewer that the question is supposed to “container him in”, but 12 Rules for Life is saturated with Christian theology. Many pages are committed to biblical exegesis, and his mind approximately lies lead him first to Goebbels and the “large lie” of propaganda, then to the “father of lies” – now not Derrida, but the devil. When considering the Columbine faculty shootings, he’s moved to surprise whether Eric Harris became no longer, in reality, an incarnation of Satan.
What makes this e-book so tense is Peterson’s failure to follow a number of the policies he units out with such sententiousness. He does now not “expect that the individual he’s listening to might recognize something he doesn’t”. He is a long way from “unique in his speech”, permitting his personal foundational concepts (like “being” and “chaos”) to slide round till they lose any clean that means. He is satisfied to dish out a stern injunction against straw-manning, but his “Postmodernists” and Marxists are the flimsiest of scarecrows, so his chest-thumping highbrow victories appear hollow. He appears honest, and in some ways admirable in his fierce choice for truth, however, he’s much less a long way alongside his journey than he thinks, and one ends his oppressive, hectoring ebook relieved to be free of him.