The Amazon release of Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos is tomorrow, January 23rd. The Western Canadian, Harvard and University of Toronto psychology professor and clinical psychologist, and YouTube and Patreon celebrity is a fascinating personality.
Consider the fact that, two summers ago I spent a couple weeks in Slovakia. Upon meeting several Slovaks my age and saying that I’m from Canada, it was not Céline Dion, Justin Bieber, nor even Justin Trudeau who came to their minds, but Jordan B. Peterson. As unusual as my friends may be, this is still remarkable.
Why is he so compelling? The book jacket describes him saying: “YouTube’s pre-eminent ‘Father Figure’ is the voice of reason a generation has been longing to hear.”
Norman Doidge’s begins his forward to Peterson’s new book discussing the 10 Commandments. “People don’t clamour for rules, even in the Bible…” Yet, Peterson has written a book with not ten rules, but twelve. Already, because of his videos, there are countless daily allusions made to his talks and ideas. Now, with these “12 Rules”, it’s as though Peterson is delivering a set of commandments for a secular age.
If not a tad exaggerated, Doidge goes so far as to compare 12 Rules for Life to the Bible insofar as, he says, “Peterson doesn’t just propose his twelve rules, he tells stories, too, bringing to bear his knowledge of many fields as he illustrates and explains why the best rules do not ultimately restrict us but instead facilitate our goals and make for fuller, freer lives.”
Peterson opens his own book with the hope that it “will help people understand what they already know: that the soul of the individual eternally hungers for the heroism of genuine Being, and that the willingness to take on that responsibility is identical to the decision to live a meaningful life.”
His language reminds me of that of Václav Havel who so well understood: the dehumanization of totalitarian ideologies, the drama of human life, the sincere thirst for freedom, the real dignity of man and its fulfilment through responsibility, and the need to speak about metaphysical topics in secular language that neither takes knowledge of scripture and tradition for granted, nor neglects to account for its orienting and nourishing role in culture.
The first rule in Peterson’s book is: Stand Up Straight With Your Shoulders Back. His point of departure in this chapter is lobsters. The scientific, psychological anecdotes about crestaceans and also birds are interesting enough as he leads readers to his conclusions about the implications of such realities for human beings.
Here’s what Peterson wants us to remember from Rule #1:
But standing up straight with your shoulders back is not something that is only physical, because you’re not only a body. You’re a spirit, so to speak – a psyche – as well. Standing up physically also implies standing up metaphysically. Standing up means voluntarily accepting the burden of Being. Your nervous system responds in an entirely different manner when you face the demands of life voluntarily.
To stand up straight with your shoulders back means building the ark that protects the world from the flood, guiding people through the desert after they have escaped tyranny, making your way away from comfortable home and country, and speaking the prophetic word to those who ignore widows and children.
Peterson is summoning people to lead lives of effort and meaning. And, with his newfound surprisingly wide and receptive audience, he is tutoring those who are suffering, as Doidge put it, “a form of serious intellectual and moral neglect.”
Jordan Peterson’s popularity seems to be, in part, because he has confidence that we are made for the adventure of moral heroism, not “safe spaces”. We are made for, as Rainer Maria Rilke says, “that dangerous insecurity which is so much more human.”