’12 Rules for Life’: A Review
A couple of days ago, I finished reading Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson’s bestselling self-help book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. Many of you have doubtless read it by now. I unfortunately had to wait many months with it on hold at my local library, so I hope you will forgive my tardiness.
Essentially, this was a good read. I thought each of the twelve rules were distinct enough from each other, allowing for a rather broad and complete code for living life. Someone can come out of reading this with a better grasp on their relationship with their country, their friends/family, and even with themselves. Some sections were too verbose, but even more were compelling — quite compelling, in fact.
His frank, direct tone made this one of most engaging non-fictional reads I have experienced. In an era where we often receive detached facts or emotional validation at the expense of veracity, Peterson stands rather alone in his style. Yet, there are more reasons for that than just this. He is able to discuss his ideas in varied manners, drawing from his personal history, statistical research, and literary history. The result is a set of guidelines that seems very balanced and very well considered from multiple perspectives.
While often stereotyped as being conservative or only appealing to young men, Peterson offers a dozen proverbs that can be adopted by both sexes of any ideology, the postmodern, neo-Marxist folks notwithstanding. Yes, much of what he writes is widely considered to be an exercise in common sense. It certainly feels like common sense, but so much of it is less common than we might like to think. Perhaps wisdom, then, is what we might call uncommon sense. At the very least, the depth of critical thinking that underlies each rule makes for a rare expression of the common.
I found the most gripping chapter in 12 Rules to be his eleventh: “Do not bother children when they are skateboarding.” Why? Because, nowadays, there is so much disdain for the natural among human beings. People love to believe in conspiracies, that anything wrong in our lives is the result of surgically precise oppression. Indeed, men are taught to hate their traits that may simply be natural in them, as are women. The culture wars that are being waged are often, more accurately, wars against nature, our nature. The liberating concept of “be yourself” is oft’ abandoned as soon as it resembles a tyrannical caricature, whether or not one’s self is a tyrant in any manner at all.
Peterson offers us reassurance that our matching social roles from eras that were, admittedly, more repressive does not necessitate the continuation of that repression. We can be the old and the new and enjoy the best of both worlds. Women can have careers, but women can also be mothers and enjoy the meaning that such may give to their lives. To leave the skateboarding youngsters alone is, therefore, to let people be who they are.
The central tenet of 12 Rules is that while one might not be completely responsible for everything they do, they are primarily responsible for their actions. As such, Peterson urges us to to take charge of ourselves, while also urging us not to sabotage or ruin the affairs of others. This runs counter to the ambitions and temperaments of devout collectivists, who try to dissolve responsibility, accomplishment, and victimhood into the cloud of the group. In some respects, Peterson’s work can be seen as a retort to those on the far-left but not for their policy prescriptions. Rather, it seems to address the spillover of policy-oriented thinking into our personal lives. While ideology usually has only covered what the state ought to do, the current culture wars have brought one’s personal life into the fray, in a kind of ideological total war.
In such a context, this book serves as a breath of fresh air. It advocates personal responsibility, but it does not necessarily refute or deny the value of collective actions. Instead, it properly supposes that for any of us to be useful toward collective efforts, we must first put our best foot forward, through individual cultivation. Society is only as strong as its weakest link, after all, and the socialist utopia can never happen, if we try to raise this impervious edifice while being ourselves very damaged.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who has not yet read it. I cannot guarantee that you will enjoy the same parts that I did or come out with the same lessons. I suspect that is the beauty of this book. The real guarantee is that, whoever you are and whatever voids there are in your soul, there is something for you to learn in this book, so go ahead and buy it, or at least reserve it at your local library as I did.
Sit vis tecum.