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 12
Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street
Life is filled with suffering and tragedy. How do we deal with that fact? How do we find the courage to believe in the goodness of Being when we are surrounded by so many limitations? Learn to appreciate limitations - they are what make being possible, because being also requires becoming. The people you love - their limitations are part of what make them unique. Also, learn to appreciate the small things in life that make it beautiful; that remind you that there is goodness in Being - pet a cat when you see one.
Why are these ideas appealing?
What do you think? Why do you think people are attracted to these ideas?
Our hearts long to focus on the beauty of life rather than the suffering. We long to live that way - to persevere in hope.
Critique of Chapter 12
I disagree somewhat strongly that Nietzsche is one of the clearest thinkers in history, though that is not critical to the point of this chapter. Influential, yes, but in my opinion sometimes his train of thought revels too much in itself to be called clear.
Regarding the main point of the chapter, I think my critique would be similar to what I have said before about a rational basis for the goodness of Being. Peterson is asking us to ‘wish upon a star’ and enjoy the little things that make life beautiful - to allow those things to give us hope in the midst of suffering. And I agree that this path is much better than the alternative of giving into nihilism or despair.
However, Christ offers us a much truer hope - that of redemption and resurrection. He offers us eternal life. We are not doomed to die. Evil does not win in the end. Christ has the victory and we are victorious with Him - His inheritance in the City of Light is ours too. Now that is reason to hope!
In addition, Scripture teaches us that God is sovereign even over suffering. God has a plan for the nations and God knows when even the smallest sparrow falls to the ground. We may not be able to trace God’s hand, but we can trust His heart and know that He is near to the brokenhearted.
Quotes from Chapter 12
Cooperation is for safety, security and companionship. Competition is for personal growth and status. However, if a given group is too small, it has no power or prestige, and cannot fend off other groups. In consequence, being one of its members is not that useful. If the group is too large, however, the probability of climbing near or to the top declines. So, it becomes too hard to get ahead.
What sort of God would make a world where such a thing could happen, at all?—much less to an innocent and happy little girl? It’s a question of absolutely fundamental import, for believer and non-believer alike. It’s an issue addressed (as are so many difficult matters) in The Brothers Karamazov, the great novel by Dostoevsky we began to discuss in Rule 7. Dostoevsky expresses his doubts about the propriety of Being through the character of Ivan who, if you remember, is the articulate, handsome, sophisticated brother (and greatest adversary) of the monastic novitiate Alyosha. “It’s not God I don’t accept. Understand this,” says Ivan. “I do not accept the world that He created, this world of God’s, and cannot agree with it.”
By the 1980s, Superman was suffering from terminal deus ex machina—a Latin term meaning “god from a machine.” The term described the rescue of the imperilled hero in ancient Greek and Roman plays by the sudden and miraculous appearance of an all-powerful god.
People following a story are willing to suspend disbelief as long as the limitations making the story possible are coherent and consistent.
Being of any reasonable sort appears to require limitation. Perhaps this is because Being requires Becoming, as well as mere static existence—and to become is to become something more, or at least something different. That is only possible for something limited.
Can Being itself, with its malarial mosquitoes, child soldiers and degenerative neurological diseases, truly be justified?
And I also don’t think it is possible to answer the question by thinking. Thinking leads inexorably to the abyss. It did not work for Tolstoy. It might not even have worked for Nietzsche, who arguably thought more clearly about such things than anyone in history.
In such situations—in the depths—it’s noticing, not thinking, that does the trick. Perhaps you might start by noticing this: when you love someone, it’s not despite their limitations. It’s because of their limitations.
Christ enjoins His followers to place faith in God’s Heavenly Kingdom, and the truth. That’s a conscious decision to presume the primary goodness of Being. That’s an act of courage. Aim high, like Pinocchio’s Geppetto. Wish upon a star, and then act properly, in accordance with that aim. Once you are aligned with the heavens, you can concentrate on the day. Be careful. Put the things you can control in order.
People are very tough. 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.
And maybe when you are going for a walk and your head is spinning a cat will show up and if you pay attention to it then you will get a reminder for just fifteen seconds that the wonder of Being might make up for the ineradicable suffering that accompanies it.