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.
Summary Chapter 11
Do not bother children when they are skateboarding
Too much protection devastates the developing soul. We must foster the independence of children, even if it is hard to see them struggle and take risks. Children push against authority to see if there is real authority there and that is a good thing. Determination is the socialized face of aggression, so we should harness aggression by turning it into determination rather than simply punishing it or trying to alter it into more feminine virtues. Only wicked mothers produce dependent sons and healthy women want to marry men who can contend with them; not boys. Women must look after their children; their husband should not be a child.
Culture is by its very nature an oppressive force. It sets boundaries and determines roles. There are downsides to culture but also great benefits. We should be wary of people who try to condemn a culture based on single cause interpretations - male hierarchy was the problem, for example. Actually, the male hierarchy was an attempt by both men and women to mutually climb out of deprivation and poverty.
Another example of a single cause interpretation is that the existence of wealthy people causes oppression, so let’s redistribute the wealth. We don’t know how to redistribute wealth without introducing a whole host of other problems. History teaches us that trying to do so results in a great deal of suffering. Single cause interpretations are not helpful and they lead to ideologues and communism.
Why are these ideas appealing?
What do you think? Why do you think people are attracted to these ideas?
I think these ideas are appealing because they are something that really resonate in our cultural moment. Many people are frustrated with how we try to protect our children from risk and offense when those are the very things they need to make them strong - to grow - to know how to get along with others who genuinely disagree with them. Kids need to know how to lose and pick themselves back up - to fight - to keep running the race even when it isn’t easy. Many people would also resonate with the fact that Peterson recognizes the clear differences between men and women and his arguments against communism.
Also, some men feel that our culture is demeaning male roles in an attempt to elevate women. For example, a man will be portrayed as incompetent alongside a highly successful female character. Peterson claims that in real life this is not likely if the man and woman are healthy - women seek more capable mates because of the risks of having children and he is clear that men should be men; not boys.
Critique of Chapter 11
The only specific thing I can point out in this chapter that I have not already mentioned is the idea that determination is the socialized face of aggression. Of course Peterson is hailing back to his belief in evolution as the source of emotion. But from a Biblical perspective I think that perseverance and anger are two different emotions. Anger can be godly or ungodly. And anger is very closely tied to aggression.
Rather than saying determination is the socialized face of aggression, I would say that a person sanctified in Christ will display righteous anger rather than unrighteous anger. And that perseverance is rooted in our reliance upon God and is not simply another face of aggression.
I feel like we could have a good discussion about the Biblical view of culture and of male/femaleness in the Scriptures as compared to Peterson’s explanation, but I have not quite put my finger upon how just yet.
After some consideration, I believe that Peterson arrives at his definitions of maleness and femaleness in a way that is very different from Scripture. For Peterson, we are who we are because of evolutionary processes and the way in which culture has developed. He sees our maleness / femaleness as a real entity - an undeniable reality.
However, from a Christian perspective, God created us male and female from the beginning. We are not simply the result of evolutionary processes and cultural development. Our maleness and femaleness are not arbitrary - they are part of God’s good design. I think that makes a huge difference. The Biblical framework offers us a means of celebrating maleness and femaleness - not simply recognizing that maleness and femaleness are a reality.
Peterson’s view seems to require a logical leap to get from ‘maleness and femaleness exist’ to ‘maleness and femaleness are good things’.
Quotes from Chapter 11
People, including children (who are people too, after all), don’t seek to minimize risk. They seek to optimize it. They drive and walk and love and play so that they achieve what they desire, but they push themselves a bit at the same time, too, so they continue to develop. Thus, if things are made too safe, people (including children) start to figure out ways to make them dangerous again.
If you read the depth psychologists—Freud and Jung, for example, as well as their precursor, Friedrich Nietzsche—you learn that there is a dark side to everything. Freud delved deeply into the latent, implicit content of dreams, which were often aimed, in his opinion, at the expression of some improper wish. Jung believed that every act of social propriety was accompanied by its evil twin, its unconscious shadow. Nietzsche investigated the role played by what he termed ressentiment in motivating what were ostensibly selfless actions—and, often, exhibited all too publicly.
Boys can’t (won’t) play truly competitive games with girls. It isn’t clear how they can win. As the game turns into a girls’ game, therefore, the boys leave. Are the universities—particularly the humanities—about to become a girls’ game? Is this what we want?
I recently watched a McGill University professor, female, lecture a room full of female law partners or near-partners about how lack of childcare facilities and “male definitions of success” impeded their career progress and caused women to leave. I knew most of the women in the room. We had talked at great length. I knew they knew that none of this was at all the problem. They had nannies, and they could afford them.
First, women have a strong proclivity to marry across or up the economic dominance hierarchy.
women become more vulnerable when they have children. They need someone competent to support mother and child when that becomes necessary.
culture is an oppressive structure. It’s always been that way. It’s a fundamental,
Culture takes with one hand, but in some fortunate places it gives more with the other. To think about culture only as oppressive is ignorant and ungrateful, as well as dangerous.
any hierarchy creates winners and losers.
(1) the collective pursuit of any valued goal produces a hierarchy (as some will be better and some worse at that pursuit no matter what it is) and (2) it is the pursuit of goals that in large part lends life its sustaining meaning.
Absolute equality would therefore require the sacrifice of value itself—and then there would be nothing worth living for. We might instead note with gratitude
It looks to me like the so-called oppression of the patriarchy was instead an imperfect collective attempt by men and women, stretching over millennia, to free each other from privation, disease and drudgery.
Why do we teach our young people that our incredible culture is the result of male oppression?
One of the primary architects of the horrors of the Khmer Rouge, Khieu Samphan, received a doctorate at the Sorbonne before he became the nominal head of Cambodia in the mid-1970s. In his doctoral thesis, written in 1959, he argued that the work done by non-farmers in Cambodia’s cities was unproductive: bankers, bureaucrats and businessmen added nothing to society. Instead, they parasitized the genuine value produced through agriculture, small industry and craft. Samphan’s ideas were favourably looked upon by the French intellectuals who granted him his Ph.D. Back in Cambodia, he was provided with the opportunity to put his theories into practice. The Khmer Rouge evacuated Cambodia’s cities, drove all the inhabitants into the countryside, closed the banks, banned the use of currency, and destroyed all the markets. A quarter of the Cambodian population were worked to death in the countryside, in the killing fields.
Many more met their fate at the hands of their most jealous, resentful and unproductive neighbours, who used the high ideals of communist collectivization to mask their murderous intent.
Despite more than mere rumours of such atrocities, attitudes towards communism remained consistently positive among many Western intellectuals.
Certain watchful eyes remained open, nonetheless. Malcolm Muggeridge published a series of articles describing Soviet demolition of the peasantry as early as 1933, for the Manchester Guardian. George Orwell understood what was going on under Stalin, and he made it widely known. He published Animal Farm, a fable satirizing the Soviet Union, in 1945, despite encountering serious resistance to the book’s release. Many who should have known better retained their blindness for long after this.
the fact that power plays a role in human motivation does not mean that it plays the only role, or even the primary role.
Beware of single cause interpretations—and beware the people who purvey them.
We don’t know how to redistribute wealth without introducing a whole host of other problems.
I do not understand why our society is providing public funding to institutions and educators whose stated, conscious and explicit aim is the demolition of the culture that supports them.
We do not teach our children that the world is flat. Neither should we teach them unsupported ideologically-predicated theories about the nature of men and women—or the nature of hierarchy.
Gender is constructed, but an individual who desires gender re-assignment surgery is to be unarguably considered a man trapped in a woman’s body (or vice versa). The fact that both of these cannot logically be true, simultaneously, is just ignored
The claim that all gender differences are a consequence of socialization is neither provable, nor disprovable, in some sense, because culture can be brought to bear with such force on groups or individuals that virtually any outcome is attainable, if we are willing to bear the cost.
Aggression underlies the drive to be outstanding, to be unstoppable, to compete, to win—to be actively virtuous, at least along one dimension. Determination is its admirable, pro-social face.
Because too-agreeable people bend over backwards for other people, they do not stand up properly for themselves. Assuming that others think as they do, they expect—instead of ensuring—reciprocity for their thoughtful actions. When this does not happen, they don’t speak up. They do not or cannot straightforwardly demand recognition. The dark side of their characters emerges, because of their subjugation, and they become resentful.
you can push your point past the first four responses and stand fast against the consequent emotion, you will gain your target’s attention—and, perhaps, their respect. This is genuine conflict, however, and it’s neither pleasant nor easy.
You must also know clearly what you want out of the situation, and be prepared to clearly articulate your desire. It’s a good idea to tell the person you are confronting exactly what you would like them to do instead of what they have done or currently are doing.
It would be lovely if the opposite of a criminal was a saint—but it’s not the case. The opposite of a criminal is an Oedipal mother, which is its own type of criminal.
The Oedipal mother makes a pact with herself, her children, and the devil himself. The deal is this: “Above all, never leave me. In return, I will do everything for you. As you age without maturing, you will become worthless and bitter, but you will never have to take any responsibility, and everything you do that’s wrong will always be someone else’s fault.
Too much protection devastates the developing soul.
She fostered the independence of her children, even though doing so was often hard on her. She did the right thing, even though it caused her emotional distress.
But a woman should not look after a man, because she must look after children, and a man should not be a child.
wicked women may produce dependent sons, may support and even marry dependent men, but awake and conscious women want an awake and conscious partner.
they were pushing against authority, to see if there was any real authority there—the kind that could be relied on, in principle, in a crisis.
If they’re healthy, women don’t want boys. They want men. They want someone to contend with; someone to grapple with.