📰 Beyond Order by Jordan Peterson Review – More Rules for Life | Jordan Peterson | the Guardian
Full Title: 📙 Beyond Order by Jordan B. Peterson Review – More Rules for Life | Jordan Peterson | the Guardian
Amid all this discord, it’s jarring to open Beyond Order to be reminded that Peterson isn’t best understood as a debater of politics or culture, but as a sui generis kind of personal trainer for the soul. He is stern, sincere, intolerant of fools, sometimes hectoring, fond of communicating harsh truths by means of Bible stories, ancient mythology, the works of JK Rowling and JRR Tolkien, and lengthy flights of Jungian-tinged abstraction about the Dragon of Chaos, the Benevolent Queen, the Wise King, and assorted other archetypes. Hari Kunzru’s description of reading Peterson’s last book – “like being shouted at by a rugby coach in a sarong” – has yet to be surpassed.
Beyond Order is presented as a counterweight to 12 Rules for Life, offering a dozen new rules organised (loosely) around the idea that as well as fighting the chaos that constantly threatens to engulf our lives, we must find ways to live with it, too; the book, Peterson writes, is an attempt to explain “how the dangers of too much security and control might be profitably avoided”. In fact the prescription turns out to be similar to last time: assume responsibility for your situation, dig deep to discover your capacity for self-discipline, and face life’s inevitable awfulness as unflinchingly as you can.
The main difference is a less individualistic approach, with more focus on friendship, marriage and parenting, as if Peterson’s trials had underscored for him the degree to which we can only make it through life together. Human beings “outsource the problem of sanity”, he writes: a meaningful life is impossible in isolation, so we must take responsibility for reaching out to others, and getting along with them. (Rule 10: “Plan and work diligently to maintain the romance in your relationship.”) We need courage in order to face the terrors of mortal existence, but we need love too. And love takes work.
The confused public conversation about Peterson arises, if you ask me, from the fact that there are two main kinds of suffering. There is the kind that results from power disparities between groups: racism, sexism, economic inequality. Then there is the universal kind that comes with being a finite human, faced with a limited lifespan, the inevitability of death, the unavoidability of grief and regret, the inability to control the present or predict the future and the impossibility of ever fully knowing even those to whom we’re closest. Modern progressives rightly focus much energy on the first kind of suffering. But we increasingly talk as if the second kind barely counts, or doesn’t even exist – as if everything that truly matters were ultimately political. Peterson, by contrast, takes the second sort of suffering very seriously indeed.
If the result sometimes borders on the banal – Peterson advises readers to make lasting romantic commitments; to allow themselves to be vulnerable with their partners; to keep beautiful objects in their homes; and to deal with distressing memories by writing them down – that’s partly because the best ways to cope with the darkness of life have been evolving since the beginning of civilisation. By this point, some of them are bound to sound familiar.
The widespread reluctance among progressives to see life as anything but a matter of power struggles helps explain, among many other examples, why a writer for Vox might perceive Peterson to be telling his followers that “the world can and should revolve around them and their problems”. He isn’t; but he does write as if each reader had a moral responsibility to treat their own situation, and the development of their own character, as a matter of life and death for them, because it is.
Peterson’s biggest failing as a writer is one he shares with many of his loudest critics: the absence of a sense of humour. He takes the agonising human predicament seriously – but boy does he also take it seriously. This is understandable, in light of what he’s endured; but the effect is to deny his readers another essential tool for coping with life. We need courage and love, but it also helps to find a way to laugh at the cosmic joke.
It’s often been observed that Peterson has a religious attitude toward life. But he is, you might say, overly Protestant and insufficiently Jewish about the whole business; he has none of the wry forbearance in the face of pain of the man in the Henny Youngman joke, helped on to a stretcher after a car crash. Paramedic: “Are you comfortable?” The injured man, shrugging: “I make a living.”
Peterson’s final rule is to “be grateful in spite of your suffering”. This carries the implication that you ought to accept your lot in life – which is an offensive thing to say, of course, to someone fighting the impact of poverty, sexism or racism. But it’s very wise advice for anyone facing the universal catastrophe of having been born.