“With that mindset, no wonder we feel bitter, absurd, and helpless. Even though we are living in great times, it is hard to see it.”
Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos is filled with not only psychology—but also mythology, literature, subjective views, and even modern references. Who would think when discussing a man’s posture you could reference Fifty Shades of Grey? Moreover, the book undertakes a huge journey with twists and turns into philosophy, psychoanalysis, the world of archetypes, and self-reflection. Just when you think you’ve found a crack in the author’s reasoning, Peterson has an answer waiting on the next page, anticipating your criticism before you can make it.
I desperately looked for an excellent interview with Peterson on the book—or at least an adequate review of the book. I looked for someone who actually read the book—not just the bullet points that publishers release. Sadly, most mainstream media journalists do not read these days. Being on Twitter does not qualify as reading, where sensation and clickbait have taken over. They’ve shut off all the sensors of critical thinking and responsibility. But, this piece is not about the media. It’s about trying to find an in-depth examination of this important book and finding none.
What might surprise people after starting 12 Rules for Life is the long-lost damage done by news and social media. After all, they continuously strive to increase the insanity of our perceptions. When someone hears a title like 12 Rules, or “Five tricks” or “Three Easy Hacks,” they are trained to think these are simple things that are easy to understand and follow. But as soon as one starts to read Peterson, they’re quick to find nothing easy about it.
The book is easy to understand, but impossible for a “fast read.” If you read Peterson’s first book—Maps of Meaning—you know the density of his writing. This book is not as thick. But again, it’s unlike any so-called “self-help book.” Some of the “self-help books” are like the blackboard to a class—the author lists the points and presents some definitions. Some are more akin to working with clay—the author presents a pile of mud and tries to shape the reader along the way.
Peterson, on the other hand, has a very different approach. He tries a simple definition but shows a three-dimensional picture and adds more. Then he moves on to an interdisciplinary approach, assembles a very complicated shape, turns it around and attacks it from every possible direction. This is why a mind accustomed to scrolling through Twitter, or surfing the web can’t keep up. A memory used to write impulsively in 120 or 240 characters is lost—as is one in the habit of popping questions into search engines or reading the first line of Wikipedia. The sort of, “So you are saying” interviews with Jordan Peterson are clear examples of this process, where journalists try to reduce his complex argument to a sound byte.
There is also the religion piece. As Alain De Button puts it in his book, Religion for Atheists, we are so genuinely immersed in the values of the secular world that we do not even want to touch anything that has the scent of religion. For this mindset, 12 Rules for Life is a big shock. Religion, mythology, ethics, and logos are the prime cornerstones of Peterson’s argument. The modern mindset is often unhappy when taken from the world of evolution to the realm of good and evil, the garden of Eden, and how Catholicism interprets suffering. Since it is very typical these days to be anti-anything related to religion—except when it is Islam—everything is allowed. A hardline secular view can’t tolerate anything good about religion.
The other thing to keep in mind is that Jordan Peterson knows very well what he is talking about. Remember, he is an accomplished university professor. Every conclusion he presents is the outcome of years of teaching and research. As Annie Murphy Paul puts it, “Teaching someone else is the best way to learn.” The author goes through the depth of mythology and religion, but he never forgets the road he has taken. You will notice this in almost every passage of the book.
Going through these details aside, let’s see what the 12 Rules of Life is all about. It says loud and clear, we are misled, deceived, forgot, turned irresponsible, and ungrateful. In an accurate reiteration, Jordan Peterson gives his profound diagnosis to our time and what is ailing us. We are dopamine addicts to “likes” and “retweets,” we are not self-reflective, and we are always thinking we are living in the worst of times. If only Facebook can rip us from reality, no wonder elections are interfered and tampered with. The significant power of the book is that the author is not sitting in his ivory tower. He is someone like us: flawed, sinned, curious and looking to be better every day compared to the last.
Peterson screams loud and clear: “The King Is Naked!” We are starting our days with no useful information. All we hear in the news and social media is who tweeted what and who said what, and are forced to pick a side right away—impulsively and quickly. With that mindset, no wonder we feel bitter, absurd, and helpless. Even though we are living in great times, it is hard to see it. Steven Pinker does the best job in Better Angels of Our Nature and Enlightenment Now at drawing attention to the wonderful upsides of modern society. We have access to almost all basic needs in life, and we forget it. We act as if there has never been a worse time to live than today.
Jordan Peterson says that so many things about modern society aren’t right. This direction is not the correct one. Give yourself up, work hard, and be responsible. Then you can see your life improve and how hard it is. It is then that you would find yourself less picky about petty hostilities. No wonder when you monitor social media these days, “justification” is the boldest characteristic and not “responsibility and ethics”.
Kambiz Tavana is an Iranian-American journalist and writer.