For those of us just joining me, I’ve been reading the (somewhat) controversial Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Amazon Affiliate link). The third chapter contains a lot of stuff that is much more personal in Peterson’s life, and I think is probably stronger for it. While there are still grand allusions to history and literature, the personal element is strong in this chapter and really draws in the reader.
If you just want to hear what I have to say about the book in general, I’ll probably write a review of the book once I’m done. I’m actually as much interested in his Maps of Meaning, since I love anything about archetypes, but I’m a little stingy to spend $50 on a book.
After reading this chapter, it should be of little surprise why Peterson is appealing to the burned out youth of the Millennial generation. After all, growing up in a small town with little future other than a vague promise of “leaving”, and watching many of his friends with even less possibilities will naturally resonate with the disaffected.
The storytelling at the start of this chapter is wonderful and compelling. While I grew up in the city, my family originates from a small town and I was drawn back there; the narrative also reminded me of novels like If I Ever Get Out of Here, where people find themselves in situations where their destiny is decided by their birth in a world where certain things are inadvertently taboo by their nature as being outside the microcosm of the environment.
• Peterson talks about the effects substance abuse had on the idle youth of his hometown. While I’m personally predisposed to have a reactionary view toward recreational drugs, Peterson paints them in the light of a potential destroyer (without demonizing them) by pointing out how they become ends to themselves in a world where few other options exist.
• His fundamental point in this chapter is that finding functional friends, at least for a definition of functional that roughly maps to “wanting others to find their potential” is key.
• Peterson cautions that devoting your life to helping “friends” who have fallen into self-destruction is likely dubious. How much of this is informed by his own experience versus professional judgment is unclear, though he does cite some evidence that this is dangerous both because of the nature of the temptation to help and the psychology behind it:
- Wanting to help could be a sign of desiring martyrdom. By overlooking what your actual duties and contributions are, you can dedicate your life to helping someone who neither wants nor will respond to help, even if it is given with the best intentions in mind. As Peterson is a clinical psychologist, I feel it is important to point out that the tone he takes is not “don’t help people” but rather “becoming friends with people to try to reform them is dangerous” to avoid the accusation of hypocrisy that could otherwise be leveled against him.
His point is, in essence, that it is easy to find oneself in a bad situation if you replace your friends, who should be a support net, with people who are dysfunctional.
Another point he makes is court-mandated therapy: if the patient doesn’t want to be there, they don’t improve (something that is easily observable by laypeople who come into contact with this sort of situation regularly).
- Joining in with others is going to come naturally with the act of acclimating to their ways. Peterson cites a number of psychologists and general trends to back this up, but I remember the early parts of Proverbs having something to say about this:
My son, if sinners entice you,
Do not consent.
If they say, “Come with us,
Let us lie in wait for blood,
Let us ambush the innocent without cause;
Let us swallow them alive like Sheol,
Even whole, as those who go down to the pit;
(Proverbs 1: 10-12)
- One of the important things that Peterson talks about is the power of comparison (which he continues to talk about in Chapter 4, because I’m always running a little behind on writing up my reflections), in this case as a destructive force for apathy:
Your raging alcoholism makes my binge drinking appear trivial. My long serious talks with you about your badly failing marriage convince both of us that you are doing everything possible and that I am helping you to my utmost. It looks like effort. It looks like progress. But real improvement would require far more from both of you.
The third chapter of Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life is much sleeker than the others so far, and shorter too. I was quite sad when the chapter ended, despite having the consolation of a future chapter. Despite this, it feels just as long and meaningful, if for no other reason than the personal nature of its contents. Peterson’s musings and reflections do not leave out details to paint him in a better light, and their raw honesty gives a strength and power rarely seen in this sort of work.