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.
Stand Up Straight With Your Shoulders Back
In his first chapter, Peterson posits that we all have something in common with lobsters that is important to understand if we want to be successful. Lobsters have a hierarchy - a pecking order - and the more important lobsters have better homes, the best love life and higher serotonin levels. When a lobster loses a fight for territory with another lobster, its brain chemistry changes and it becomes more likely to lose the fight for territory the next time as well.
Whenever we face tyrants in real life, we humans must muster a strong protective territorial response to survive. Resisting tyranny requires embracing our capacity for violence in defense of our territory. In addition, if we chose to voluntarily ‘accept the burden of Being’, Peterson’s way of saying be proactive, we can respond to challenges in our lives with high serotonin levels - as if we are dominant - rather than with low serotonin levels - as if life has the upper hand on us.
Peterson says that, in the ‘language of the ancients’, this behavior is the same as ‘letting your light shine before men’ and ‘acting to please God’.
Why Are These Ideas Appealing?
What do you guys think?
I think the ideas presented in this chapter are appealing because they make you the hero of your own story and encourage you to find your own identity apart from a real God. Peterson takes Scripture out of context and uses it to support self-realization (basically, though that is not the word he uses). I also think his reliance on evolutionary theory and evolutionary psychology appeals to the modern young person, who feels that by aligning themselves with evolution they are more sophisticated and intelligent.
In addition, our culture needs someone to tell them to ‘stand up straight’ and ‘be a man’ and ‘work hard’. People want to be responsible - they want rites of passage - they want to mature. But so much of our culture is built around enticing us rather than challenging us and so I think Peterson strikes a real need by actually challenging us to mature and take responsibility for ourselves.
Critique of Chapter I
My response to this chapter could be aptly summarized by a quote from Blaise Pascal:
"It is dangerous to explain too clearly to man how like he is to the animals without pointing out his greatness. It is also dangerous to make too much of his greatness without his vileness. It is still more dangerous to leave him in ignorance of both, but it is most valuable to represent both to him. Man must not be allowed to believe that he is equal either to animals or to angels, nor to be unaware of either, but he must know both.” Blaise Pascal
I believe that Peterson fell into the category of explaining how like we are to animals without pointing out our greatness. He has painted us in the Imago Lobster rather than in the Imago Dei. Peterson does not, as far as I can tell, believe we have a spirit. His philosophy in this book is that of a naturalist. The ancient word soul for him describes nothing more than functions of the mind.
In addition, Peterson modifies Scriptures about letting our light shine before men - the light of the Spirit of Christ - into passages meaning nothing more than pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps and facing the world head on. His message is one of self-salvation and knows nothing of a Savior apart from ourselves.
What are your thoughts?
What is your response to this chapter? What are your thoughts?
Quotes from Chapter I
“Wrens are small, and they’re cute, but they’re merciless”
“The songs they sing, so peaceful and beautiful to human ears, are siren calls and cries of domination”
“Lobsters and wrens are obsessed with status and position, like a great many creatures”
“When the aristocracy catches a cold, as it is said, the working class dies of pneumonia”
“A lobster loser’s brain chemistry differs importantly from that of a lobster winner”
“The same brutal principle of unequal distribution applies outside the financial domain - indeed, anywhere that creative production is required” - the top few get the best of everything, from living location to mate
“This (the fact that the lobster has a hierarchy) means that dominance hierarchies have been an essentially permanent feature of the environment to which all complex life has adapted”
“All that maters, from a Darwinian perspective, is permanence - and this dominance hierarchy, however social or cultural it might appear, has been around for some half a billion years. It’s permanent. It’s real.”
“Much of the basic neurochemistry is the same” (between lobsters and humans regarding dominance hierarchy)
“Higher spots in the dominance hierarchy, and the higher serotonin levels typical of those who inhabit them, are characterized by less illness, misery and death, even when factors such as absolute income - or number of decaying food scraps - are held constant. The importance of this can hardly be overstated.”
“When operating at the bottom (of the hierarchy), the ancient brain assumes that even the smallest unexpected impediment might produce an uncontrollable chain of negative events”
“The body, with its various parts, needs to function like a well-rehearsed orchestra. Every system must play its role properly, and at exactly the right time, or noise and chaos ensue. It is for this reason that routine is so necessary. The acts of life we repeat every day need to be automatized. They must be turned into stable and reliable habits, so they lose their complexity and gain predictability and simplicity.”
“The forces of tyranny expand inexorably to fill the space made available for their existence. People who refuse to muster appropriately self-protective territorial responses are laid open.”
“There is very little difference between the capacity for mayhem and destruction, integrated, and strength of character. This is one oft he most difficult lessons in life.”
“Standing up means voluntarily accepting the burden of Being. Your nervous system responds in an entirely different manner when you face the demands of life voluntarily. You respond to a challenge, instead of bracing for a catastrophe…it means acting to please God, in the ancient language”
“Thus emboldened, you will embark on the voyage of your life, let your light shine, so to speak, on the heavenly hill, and pursue your rightful destiny. Then the meaning of your life may be sufficient to keep the corrupting influence of mortal despair at bay”