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March 12, 2018

Peterson's 12 Rules for Life: A discussion not a lecture

Professor Jordan B. Peterson of the University of Toronto first came to my attention due to his opposition to Bill C-16; an amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code that added gender expression and identity to the list of "prohibited grounds of discrimination."

Peterson claimed that the Bill would impede on free speech and lead down a slippery slope towards certain speech, such as someone’s chosen pronoun, being forced upon people (compelled speech).

With identity politics being a touchy subject, Peterson almost instantly became controversial, and as is the new rule, engendered himself to become Internet famous.

As far as I can tell, this new found fame was not Peterson's intention, yet this has not deterred him from any opportunity to discuss, argue and explain his ideas with a spectrum of intellectuals, talk show hosts and in some cases angry university students.

In the past couple of years he has been on The Joe Rogan Experience, the Waking Up podcast with Sam Harris, The Rubin Report, Vice, Channel 4 News in Britain, and many Canadian news shows, to name a few.

And what does one do when they have such a following? They write a book of course.

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos was released earlier this year and currently sits atop the list of best selling books on Amazon (Canada and the US).

It's evident that Peterson has struck a chord that is resonating with quite a few people (or at least men), but what isn't evident is whether Peterson has answers to the questions many of us have about how to "live properly", or if he is simply taking advantage of his new found fame.

Let's take a look at what Peterson is selling (and what he isn't):

As a Clinical Psychologist and Professor of Psychology, Peterson has spent, "a very long time researching...history, mythology, neuroscience, psychoanalysis, child psychology, poetry, and large sections of the Bible".

Many of his ideas in 12 Rules draw from this research and from his only other published book Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief, in which he proposes, "that the great myths and religious stories of the past...were moral in their intent, rather than descriptive" and "our ancestors portrayed the world as a stage - a drama - instead of a place of objects".

Existence to Peterson is, "suffering and transformation" and the conflict between these two states can be solved, "through the elevation and development of the individual" and by each individual adopting, "as much responsibility as possible for individual life, society and the world".

Peterson believes, "that the willingness to take on that responsibility is identical to the decision to live a meaningful life".

In 12 Rules Peterson lays out a path towards individual responsibility and meaning and hopes that his rules "will help people understand...that the soul of the individual eternally hungers for the heroism of genuine Being".

Although the title suggests that 12 Rules is a "self-help" book, certain aspects incline me towards putting it in the philosophy category.

The most apparent example of this is Peterson's own admission that he is not "entirely correct or complete" in his thinking.

With many of his "fans" and followers labelling him the most important intellectual in the Western World today, I feel that it is relevant to clarify that at no point does Peterson say he is selling the definitive answers for Being, saying, "I'm simply offering the best I can manage."

12 Rules is a book of maybe, not of definitely (see Chapter 10). Maybe you read it and agree with it all. Maybe you read it and agree with none of it. Maybe you find some parts interesting and some parts boring. Maybe sometimes you think Peterson is a genius and sometimes you think he is an idiot. That's okay with Peterson. His book is a discussion not a lecture.

His motivation (whether you believe it or not) is not to blame anyone, but to help by offering ideas drawn from his experience that his reader may not have thought of before.

Maybe 12 Rules of Life: The Antidote to Chaos ends up helping you, and maybe it doesn't.

Did 12 Rules help me?

Like many self-help books (again not how I would categorize it), 12 Rules reminded me that even the smartest people don't know all the answers to the most important questions of Being.

As Peterson says, "Being is far more complicated than one person can know…". It's for that reason I spent half an hour coming up with my own "Rules for Life" (for fun) which I hope you objectively compare to Peterson's list and decide which is better ;) I encourage you to come up with your own list.

My list of Rules of life:

1. Love yourself.

2. Treat people the way they want to be treated unless it is a detriment to them. If you don't know how they want to be treated ask them. If you can't ask them assume they want to be treated with respect, not like shit. If all else fails, treat them how you would want them to treat you.

3. Do whatever you want as long as it doesn't contradict Rule #1 and Rule #2 and you are aware of the consequences of your actions.

You’ll notice that my list doesn’t answer all the questions of Being either.  If you write a list, yours probably won’t either (if it does, you’ll be Internet famous!). 

But just like Peterson (if he has time), I would be happy to have a discussion with you about the ideas.

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