Amongst millennials Jordan Peterson has become a sort of demigod, his YouTube channel has touched the lives of millions around the world. In his new book he tells us to toughen up and take responsibility for our lives.
I must admit, before reading Petersons book I came in with a positive bias. I am one of the millions who has spent hours watching through his YouTube videos. I suppose then that when I read through reviews of his new book, from some of his critics, I see biased political opponents who are deliberately misrepresenting some of his views, simply attacking the man because that is what there ideology says they are supposed to do. It is no surprise that the reviews from the likes of The Guardian and The Financial Times have been negative. Peterson could have written anything and he would not receive a positive review from these papers.
I suppose this then got me thinking. Am I and other right wing commentators simply doing the same thing in reverse. If so is there any such thing as objectivism, are any of us truly able to observe the work of others, giving fair and reasoned critique without playing the man or letting our own political views pervade our thinking. In essence does free thinking really exist? The answer is, frankly, I do not know. Thinking about this, one realises how important it is when consuming media, to understand the biases of the particular outlet. I suppose the best defence we have against this kind of thing is the free market and by god has the market responded positively to Peterson. Before going into this review then I therefore give you my biases openly and plainly.
I like Peterson. His message has resonated with young men who have been told all of their lives that they are oppressive, misogynistic, tyrants who are responsible for all of the worlds evils. Young men who have suffered through an education system not designed to foster creativity and critical thought. An education system designed to tell you what to think rather than how to think. To me Peterson’s views are backed by logic and reason. I purchased this book on the day it came out, with a great deal of enthusiasm.
The use of abstraction and storytelling as a means of fleshing out ideas and capturing the reader’s attention is used heavily in Peterson’s writing. This is a tactic used by many successful writers and linguists, yet strangely seems to be one the main sticks, used by Petersons left wing critics, to beat him with. Understanding things in abstraction whether that be through complex algebra used in the sciences, or the observation of human behaviour through stories (Think Shakespeare), is the height of intelligent being.
The first chapter starts by observing lobsters and how lobsters behave in the natural world. Peterson uses the lobster to show us that hierarchies exist within nature. i.e. that they are not man made constructs. Thus dispelling the Marxist myth that we can simply do away with them. To state the obvious, this is not to say that lobsters are analogous to human beings. Of course we homo sapiens are much more complex creatures, but clearly we are part of nature and share traits with other living beings. Understanding why certain traits have survived the process of natural selection surely must be the starting point before we think about making change. This is the point that Peterson was making here that many who picked up on the lobster analogy have deliberetly misrepresented.
Being ignorant of the natural world. Not watching enough David Attenborough. The idea that other beings, without the human capacity for thought, organise themselves in a similar way, is truly fascinating. That hierarchies come before free thinking in the timeline of evolution should make us stop and consider before we take an axe to the system. Could it be that the inequality of the world as it, is perfectly natural? Is this inequality necessarily a bad thing, as most of us now accept?
Some of the other rules that Peterson proposes seem to me, to be common sense. Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient for instance is clear kick in the back side for all us who have given in, to the easy path. How many of us stay in relationships we are not happy with because we are too afraid of being alone? How many of us stay in jobs we hate because the thought of entering the market, fills us with dread? How many of us stop reading and stop growing as we get older because it is much easier to succumb to the drudgery of routine? This is a rule which should seem obvious but it is nice to be reminded of now and again.
I must admit controversially I do not quite agree with the rule, always tell the truth. Listening to Peterson’s lectures and reading though his logic, it is certainly true that pathological lying is both bad for the individual and on a societal level bad for society. A society where everyone lies all the time is truly catastrophic, however I do think white lies are sometimes necessary. When your heavily pregnant wife asks you if she looks good before she goes out in her pregnancy clothes, my advice in that circumstance would be to transgress this law. Indeed if you can make an argument that social hierarchies are ingrained in nature, you could also make the argument that lying is an evolved trait, key to our survival. How many other creatures on this planet have the ability to state something which is the precise opposite of the truth? Surely we humans have kept this skill for a reason.
One of the rules that really resonated with me was the rule regarding friendships and charity. It is no doubt true that in life, to grow, sometimes means to outgrow some of your friends. Deriving inner peace from others and keeping around friends who are nothing but a negative influence is the pathway to misery. Peterson hits the nail on the head when he states that such friends will likely drag you down. Learning to let go of others belongs in any self help guide worth its salt.
Peterson is spot on about charity. Quoting the great man Nietzsche “if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” Too often well meaning people go out to help others through charity and find that far from helping others up, they are themselves dragged into the abyss. Experience of life should teach us that we can only really help others to help themselves. We do this by looking after ourselves, our families and being good role models for the young.
Throughout the book there are long passages which use stories from the bible, to make an argument for how to be moral. I must admit it is these passages that almost lost me. Pushing through and really thinking about these stories however, I now see Christianity in a new light. If you take the stories of the old testament not literally, but as abstractions in the same way we do when we watch a Shakespeare play, does the story of Caine and Able not warn us about the dangers of resentment and jealousy in the same way as Othello? Does the story of Adam and Eve not warn us against unscrupulous greed and ambition in the same way as Macbeth? Seen in this way, religion as a code of ethics perhaps has much to offer.
Overall, I really enjoyed Peterson’s book. I do not agree with Peterson on everything, but that is beside the point, the man clearly has a lot of fascinating in
sight to offer. His message is clear, take responsibility for your life, start doing the things you need to do but are putting off, starting with cleaning your room and do not give intoresentment and the green eyed monster.