For those of us just joining me, I’ve been reading Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Amazon Affiliate link). Rule 6 is probably the most interesting to me so far, which is something that I’ve had to say several times as I go through the book: it focuses on topics especially relevant given recent events.
As I’ve said a couple times before, this isn’t a review. I’m just using this post as a way to reflect on what I’ve read and commit it to memory (though readers are more than welcome to use it to pique their interest in the book or compare it to their own findings). A full review should be coming once I finish the book.
Peterson subtitles this chapter “A Religious Problem” and takes it in directions that you wouldn’t expect. It’s particularly interesting (if interesting is the right word) to me because yesterday when I arrived home I heard of a shooting in Parkland, Florida that left 17 students and staff at a school dead.
Such news is never easy to take, especially as a teacher who works with students every day. I feel an imperative to figure out what went wrong.
By that point I had been reading this chapter of Peterson’s book, which opens with the following:
IT DOES NOT SEEM REASONABLE to describe the young man who shot twenty children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012 as a religious person. This is equally true for the Colorado theatre gunman and the Columbine High School killers. But these murderous individuals had a problem with reality that existed at a religious depth. As one of the members of the Columbine duo wrote:
The human race isn’t worth fighting for, only worth killing. Give the Earth back to the animals. They deserve it infinitely more than we do. Nothing means anything anymore.
It’s difficult to empathize with such a statement in the wake of seeing the things it has caused, but it’s also critically important to understand.
In many ways, even this heinous statement of distilled evil seems to be the modern archetypal spirit. Certainly it is one of the prevailing notions of the 20th century, where the greatest atrocities in the history of mankind were perpetrated in the name of progress and justice.
One of the most important things reading Peterson’s work has done for me is to remind me of the need to see the good in people, in the world. In a previous chapter he writes something along the following lines: It is easy to say that life sucks and then you die, but it carries grave consequences for how you view the world.
One of the quotes that Peterson includes in this chapter comes from Nietzsche, who writes that “Distress… need not produce nihilism…” but rather can produce various results.
The hope that Peterson provides is that ultimately people have the freedom to choose their responses, to pick to end a cycle of violence and pain.
This is important to us in these moments; that we would pick to end the cycle of violence and pain and teach those around us to do the same. Solzhenitsyn, Peterson writes, used an awful experience–that of the Russian gulags–to turn his suffering toward noble causes, and in doing found like-minded souls.
Peterson also uses the example of one of T.S. Eliot’s characters, who hopes that her suffering is caused by her and not God so that the power to possess it is in her reach.
The lesson to be gleaned here is not that the world is good. Any sane person can look at the world and see that it is cold and full of darkness.
However, that is no excuse not to light a fire.