This is a series of post on Jordan Peterson’s book ‘12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos’. It has become popular and it is important to understand why it is appealing to this generation and how it is different from the Gospel. Each post will be on a specific chapter or section of the book and the hope is that we can engage in conversation over these matters. I hope to represent his thought accurately - but due to being human may not always do so.
Foreword and Overture
Here is my summary of the foreword and overture:
the foremost rule is that you must take responsibility for your own life
In this section of the book, we learn that Peterson always wondered how people could commit atrocities such as those in the Holocaust. His basic thesis appears to that our brains have evolved to create order out of the chaos of life. We want structure - we want to be judged - we need a moral compass. Rules do not hinder us - they set us free. Differentiating between virtue and vice is the beginning of wisdom. The ancient philosophers like Plato and Aristotle understood this fact and so did ancient religions, both of which gave their adherents tools to bring order to the chaos through psychologically rich stories and open debate.
But in our modern era we have lost the ability of these ancients to handle the chaos - we have reverted to relativism, nihilism and ideology. Relativism helps try to get along with those with whom we disagree, but leaves our personal self in chaos and without a moral compass. Nihilism is nothingness. Ideology replaces the complexity of life with simple rules that make us tyrannical and terrible - like the dictators of our century - defending our own order with violence and terror.
We must once again learn - through the power of mythical stories of heroes and philosophy - to find order in our own lives. When we take the role of hero in our own life and bring order - when we set our own house in order first - then society will flourish. The twelve rules in this book will help you do that.
Why are these ideas appealing?
What do you think? Why do you think people are attracted to these ideas? Share your thoughts!
I think what makes Peterson appealing is that he offers a pseudo-moral framework within which people can attempt to live without the supernatural. He roots his teaching in evolutionary psychology and self-realization. He is feeding people what they need - a moral framework - in a package they are eager to swallow - evolution + self-realization. We all need a moral framework within which to live our lives, but our generation has jettisoned traditional means of finding this framework via naturalism. So Peterson steps in and offers people a reason to be generally good people that is rooted not in creeds but in evolutionary psychology and a need to live in a balance between order and chaos.
In a way, Peterson is encouraging people to be their own gods - to forge their own path - to be responsible for their own Being. They can ‘be like God’ if they can balance order and chaos in their lives. His message is one of self-salvation rooted in evolutionary pop-psychology and I think that is part of where the appeal lies.
In addition, he offers a moral framework without morality. The morality he proposes depends on balancing ‘order and chaos’ and has nothing to do with purity of the heart or of the body. He avoids specifics - he leaves room for the sins (Biblical term here) people want to keep in their lives while allowing them to feel moral. His moral framework aligns exactly with that of our current culture - ‘cause the least suffering to other people’ and knows nothing of holiness. Of course, it is not good to cause others to suffer, but this kind of moral framework knows nothing of the transformed motives/heart or a holy life (Biblically speaking - not holier than thou but truly set apart for God).
Peterson suggests that our nagging sense of shame/doubt needs to be dealt with by asserting our Being and balancing order and chaos. Reconciliation to a real God is not involved - or repentance - or humility before a real God. And I think that appeals to people - salvation without repentance or reconciliation that can and must be achieved by their own effort.
And, finally, Peterson reinterprets the Bible in a way that does not require believing it is historical or that it is of divine origin. He allows his readers to breathe the air of modern culture and integrate the Bible into a naturalistic framework. This is exactly what people who have rejected God and the supernatural but have a strong affinity for the Bible as a result of their upbringing want to do - they want to make sense out of the Bible without having to actually believe it. Peterson offers them a way to do that…
How is this message different from the message of Scripture??? What are some things that Jordan gets right???
How do you think Jordan’s fundamental message is different than the message of the Gospel? What is his view of Scripture and the condition of the human heart?
Where he gets some things right:
- we do need rules to guide our lives
- we do sense the reality and need for justice and judgment
- the modern solutions of relativism, nihilism and ideology do not work
Where he differs:
- Jordan replaces the ideas of sin and salvation with chaos and order
- Jordan makes us the hero of our own story instead of God being the hero
- Jordan denies the historicity of Scripture - rather seeing it as an attempt by the evolved mind to make order out of the chaos of life
- Jordan believes the beginning of wisdom is philosophical - distinguishing virtue and vice, whereas the Bible clearly points out the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord
Quotes from the Foreword and Overture
I did not have time to differentiate between quotes from Norman Doidge, who wrote the foreword, and Peterson’s own words in the Overture. But they both think along the same lines.
“the soul of the individual eternally hungers for the heroism of genuine Being, and that the willingness to take on that responsibility is identical to the decision to live a meaningful life”
“loss of group-centered belief renders life chaotic, miserable, intolerable”
“We must have the meaning inherent in a profound system of value or the horror of existence rapidly becomes paramount”
“as unfamiliar and strange as it sounds, in the deepest part of our psyche, we all want to be judged”
“the best rules do not ultimately restrict us but instead facilitate our goals and make for fuller, freer lives”
“alongside our wish to be free from rules, we all search for structure”
“cultivating judgment about the difference between virtue and vice is the beginning of wisdom”
“And, since we don’t know right from wrong (relativism), just about the most inappropriate thing an adult can do is give a young person advice about how to live — relativism’s closest approximation to virtue is tolerance”
“Jordan showed his students how evolution, of all things, helps to explain the profound psychological appeal and wisdom of many ancient stories…stories about journeying voluntarily into the unknown — the hero’s quest — mirror universal tasks for which the brain evolved”
“we all have to deal with the unknown and we all attempt to move from chaos to order”
“it turns out that many people cannot tolerate the vacuum - the chaos - which is inherent in life, but made worse by this moral relativism; they cannot live without a moral compass”
“ideologies retool the very religious stories they purport to have supplanted, but eliminate the narrative and psychological richness”