Review of Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules For Life

January 2019

Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Random House, Toronto, 2018 (Hardcover, 409 pages)

University of Toronto psychologist Jordan Peterson has been an accomplished academic for almost three decades and published Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief in 1999. Yet his profile has recently spiked with his courageous stand against political correctness, not only on university campuses, but also within the broader society, including within our leftist dominated media. Indeed, he emerged victorious in recent skirmishes with “cool kids” Wendy Mesley (CBC) and Cathy Newman (UK’s Channel 4).

Peterson ranks with Gad Saad, Frances Widdowson, Lindsay Shepherd, William McNally, David Haskell, and Janice Fiamengo, plus The Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship, in defending free speech and the diversity of ideas. His excellent book 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos (2018) is a smash best seller and it is gratifying to hear that this articulate, intelligent, and hard-working intellectual is also doing fabulously well with his videos and speaking engagements and, as such, is well positioned to thumb his nose at those who employ him at the University of Toronto, should he ever wish to do so.

12 Rules For Life is a refreshing change from the postmodernist pablum we have been inundated with. It contains many truths about the natural human condition, enhanced by several references to the Old and New Testaments, as well as to mythology.

Peterson correctly asserts that individuals vary with respect to ambitions, aptitudes, abilities, tastes, and willingness to work hard and each of us possesses differing levels of creativity, intellectual skill, and physical prowess. Hierarchies and inequality are inevitable consequences of individual differences and any government attempting to impose equality of outcome (inevitably by evil totalitarian means) undermines the work ethic and, by extension, the economy.

But inequalities also create domination and submission, which encourages aggression by bullies who are drawn to those who are weaker and easier to intimidate. A better quality of life beyond the peace through appeasement fallacy, ephemeral at best, means not only refusing to play the victim, but also taking control and standing up to bullies who are more apt to be deterred (or not “keep coming”) when they realize that picking a fight means adverse consequences for themselves.

More is the pity that Peterson does not devote a chapter to the postmodern university campus. How much of a stretch is it to attribute the success of our campus “social justice warriors” (SJWs) to bullying? Identity politics, cultural Marxism, postmodernism, safe spaces, trigger warnings, paranoid microaggression obsessions, and rights not to be offended are de rigueur and there are even assaults, shout downs and shutdowns, vandalism, and mischief (setting off fire alarms) to stop events featuring politically incorrect speakers. Indeed, being cowed into submission is understandable when the consequences of challenging politically correct sacred cows gets one labelled a “racist”, “bigot”, “Nazi”, “fascist”, “homophobe”, “transphobe”, “Islamophobe”, “sexist”, or “misogynist” (have I forgotten any epithets?) and perhaps beaten up for good measure.

Thankfully, Peterson follows his own advice by standing up to bullies. Left unchecked, political correctness will only get worse with SJWs becoming even more emboldened each time their antics are met by apologetic appeasement displays.

Peterson emphasizes the importance of the individual and personal responsibility in addition to the need to coexist with others. He pays tribute to what the individual can be and correctly stresses that life is hard for all, albeit harder for some than others. Displacement and genocide, poverty, abuse and starvation are merely a few of the tragedies experienced by many, while others are thankfully spared such horrors. But few will avoid struggles with work, marriage and child rearing, care for elderly parents or other relatives, family tragedies and loss of loved ones, disputes, bills and debts, household and vehicular maintenance plus numerous additional complications that can ruin a day.

Yet Peterson correctly asserts that individuals are not always helpless victims at the mercy of forces beyond their control. Indeed, we are also imperfect souls who “screw up” just fine without help. Those of sound mind and body can nevertheless strive to improve themselves even when lacking opportunities available to others. While some obsess about how they are less successful than others and lament the unfairness of it all, their time is better spent ignoring the plight of peers and, using only themselves as bases for comparison, striving to make themselves better than they were the day before.

Peterson adds that time is well spent reflecting upon past mistakes, eliminating behaviours responsible for them, and doing things differently, even to the point of changing a life’s course or ceasing to be a slave to an ideology. Ask what makes someone a good person and strive to attain requisite qualities. Be polite and try to help others whenever possible and listen to others who just might know something you don’t. Do not strive to “change the world” until you expend the hard work necessary to become someone who can set an example.

Emphasis on personal responsibility also applies to those we are trying to help, argues Peterson. Support and constructive advice can always be provided, but, ultimately, the recipient must want help and employ the hard work required to improve his lot. Otherwise, a helper’s efforts are for naught.

Likewise, Peterson stresses we say “no” to our children when appropriate and set boundaries prior to age four, when other influences begin competing with parents. An inadequately socialized out of control child with no boundaries will be shunned by peers and adults, which increases his potential for isolation, depression, criminal activity and/or nihilism.

Peterson also effectively invokes skateboarding (primarily a preserve of boys) to debunk a pernicious and seemingly popular notion that boys should be socialized to be more like girls. Skateboarding tests the limits, involves risk taking, and helps boys toughen up in ways that feminine pursuits do not. It is preparation for overcoming obstacles and mastering the challenges to come.

Men who accept responsibilities and confront life’s problems make better (and more stable) husbands and fathers, who pull their weight with child rearing, family finances, household chores, and other domestic, as well as civic, responsibilities.

By contrast, attempts to feminize may seem oppressive to some boys or men who may rebel by resorting to crime, political extremism, or other activities perceived to be at odds with feminism. Others opt out (live in parents’ basements?) and are of little use.

In essence, Peterson nails it! One addition to his attempt to help us navigate our way through this mess, although not universally supported, extends beyond his valid recommendation to set aside time to problem solve. Nanosecond technology accelerates the pace of life, which, along with urban overcrowding, fosters incivility, including the loss of proper manners (which increases aggression), and elevates stress levels (also a contributor to bad manners and aggression) which increases potential for cancer, heart ailments, emotional/mental breakdowns and, doubtless, numerous other maladies. We seem poised to maintain this trajectory with no end in sight, in no small measure because this is what too many of us seem to want. Escape to a saner pace of life with less stress in a more rural environment with no phones, televisions, computers, and other techno-gadgets whenever and as often as possible really is another viable solution for those with means, opportunity, and desire who disdain fast paced “progressive” urban lifestyles, which all too often seem horribly out of control. Escaping the rat race, even temporarily from time to time, is preferable to no respite at all. Perhaps this thirteenth rule can nicely supplement Peterson’s twelve. You won’t die, I promise!

All in all, 12 Rules For Life offers common sense advice to help us sift through chaos and label whatever ails us. Only by labelling, confronting, and taking ownership of our problems can we hope to take the steps necessary to overcome them. Furthermore, Peterson’s unwillingness to glorify victims’ hierarchies, grievance mongering, and identity group hustling is a welcome change from the politically correct pap that passes for wisdom these days. After all, nothing is addressed, much less resolved, when we persist in blaming everyone but ourselves for our misfortunes or erroneously attribute personal failures to “systemic” injustices.

Antifa thugs and cultural Marxists can benefit most from reading this great and prophetic book, which stresses individualism and personal responsibility. But as slaves to an ideology that despises Western values and institutions, they are apt to disdain 12 Rules without so much as opening its cover.