The banality of Jordan Peterson


Psst, wanna read a review of Jordan Peterson’s new book, Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life? It’ll spare you the trouble of reading the whole thing.

Russia got Stalin and Dostoevsky. Who’s Canada’s most dangerous thinker? Professor Dad over here, yelling up the stairs about William Blake and the “overwhelming mystery of Being” and, hey, would it kill you kids to clean up after yourselves once in a while? Some of us have tenured jobs to go to.

This disconnect between the way Peterson is advertised and what he in fact writes is the most deflating thing here. If this is what the enemy looks like to you, you’re going to have to find a new war. This one is too boring to fight.

That’s the impression I got from his first popular book, too — it’s a lot of trite, boring trivialities recited as if they were Deep Thoughts, and what needs to be fought isn’t Peterson, but the shallow wave of ignorance rippling among his devotees.

This requires a lot of explaining, and even, God help us, some poetry. The ratio of sociology-term-paper-gobbledygook to English runs at roughly 2:1, yet we are introduced to “the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates.” This is deep thinking slimmed down for people who aren’t totally sure whether Socrates was the toga guy or the gyro guy.

Here are his 12 new rules:

  1. Do not carelessly denigrate social institutions or creative achievement.
  2. Imagine who you could be and then aim single-mindedly at that.
  3. Do you not hide unwanted things in the fog.
  4. Notice that opportunity lurks where responsibility has been abdicated.
  5. Do not do what you hate.
  6. Abandon ideology.
  7. Work as hard as you possibly can on at least one thing and see what happens.
  8. Try to make one room in your home as beautiful as possible.
  9. If old memories still upset you, write them down carefully and completely.
  10. Plan and work diligently to maintain the romance in your relationship.
  11. Do not allow yourself to become resentful, deceitful, or arrogant.
  12. Be grateful in spite of your suffering.

I do not need to read the book to know that that is incoherent garbage. It’s like being served up a load of bad fortune cookies.

Comments

  1. voidhawk says

    “Do not allow yourself to become resentful, deceitful, or arrogant.”

    Says the man resentful of being asked to call trans people by their pronouns while deceiving people on Canada’s actual laws and arrogantly writing two books purporting to outline the ‘rules’ for a happy life for everyone on Earth.

  2. Sonja says

    The conflation of self-help and actual ideas or principles is my new pet peeve. I’m stunned at how frequently someone’s best argument to confirm the truth of their theory is “well, it helped me.” Great thinkers rarely put their egos into their ideas. Peterson’s rules are just all self-help gobbledygook. Reminds me of Scott Adams or Donald Trump’s philosophies — everything is transactional and the measure truth is “what’s in it for me?”

  3. davidc1 says

    You would have thought he would have mentioned, if life gives you lemons ,i forget the rest.

  4. specialffrog says

    I feel like the first rule should really be split into two. Also does opportunity lurk in the fog with the unwanted things?

  5. rietpluim says

    Oooohh cool! Can we do that too?

    When instantiating, allocate first, initialize second.
    Eat more cookies.
    Do not dry your dirty laundry in the dish washer on Mondays.
    Respect what you disrespect.
    Always be sincere, unless you aren’t; then be sincerely insincere.
    Two magpies are better than one.

  6. raven says

    Abandon ideology.

    I see someone has already pointed this out.
    Peterson is nothing if not a right wingnut ideologue.
    He is basically Fox NoNews crossed with Rush Limpbrain 24/7.

  7. stuffin says

    Some of them almost make sense.

    9- If old memories still upset you, write them down carefully and completely.

    What is the purpose of doing this? And, what the hell does this do for someone?

  8. raven says

    For some reason he has dropped the raging misogyny and all his other hates, which is just about everyone.

    A few of many typical Peterson quotes: Peterson quotes in bold

    ..women have a subconscious wish for brutal male domination
    This is bullcrap. He doesn’t know this.
    ..that it’s unfortunate that men can’t control women who say crazy things because they aren’t allowed to hit them
    How about crazy men like Peterson. We aren’t allowed to hit them either.
    Peterson admires violence and is frustrated that he can’t be violent towards women.
    Guy is a sick puppy.
    ..young women are outraged because they don’t have a baby to suckle
    Gibberish. He doesn’t know this. It’s just a misogynistic insult.
    more….
    ..if a woman doesn’t want to have kids, there’s something wrong with her
    Gibberish. It’s an opinion or an assertion without proof. It’s also wrong.
    It’s a sick puppy thing again.

    Not sure why he dropped the right wingnut hate.
    Maybe because some of his peer group, the Pathetic Boys, were designated a terrorist group in Canada.
    Peterson was well on his way to being classified as a terrorist or terrorist supporter.
    .

  9. raven says

    9- If old memories still upset you, write them down carefully and completely.

    What is the purpose of doing this? And, what the hell does this do for someone?

    Saw this and decided not to mention it. However…

    We all know people who suffer from various sorts of PTSD. Many of us have been there ourselves. And, if not PTSD, everyone has traumas in their past.

    A clinical psychologist told me once back in the Dark Ages, that, “You can control your thoughts”. Meaning that you can overcome your past traumas and deal with your PTSD.
    You can or at least some people are able to. It’s not easy or quick but it will work.

    Letting go and moving on isn’t something that happens.
    It is something that you actively do.

  10. kurt1 says

    What, 12 More rules? How many are there? I already cleaned my room, well appartment, today; even the kitchen. I petted our cats. I feel there is an arbitrary number of rules now, that doesn’t seem like a good system.

    I also feel like the US and the West has already abandoned “ideology”, which to him just seems to mean mass political action, and replaced it with neoliberalism. It doesn’t seem to work all that well, because as Adam Curtis will tell you with his sexy british accent, it doesn’t tell a story about the future.

  11. PaulBC says

    A few years from now: One final rule for living. Get off my lawn!

    Subtitle: I tell ya, these kids today don’t know how good they have it. Why, when I was their age…

  12. PaulBC says

    stuffin@9

    If old memories still upset you, write them down carefully and completely.

    Other than increase the chances of someone else finding out about the most embarrassing things you ever did?

    Actually, this could have some value in taking control of things that pop into your head. I doesn’t sound like a completely terrible idea. It’s just trite to suggest everyone should do it and it will always work. I sort of liked the idea in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). There are things I’d be better off forgetting, if I could keep the lessons learned as a result. Somebody ought to work on that treatment.

  13. InitHello says

    Do not go gentle into that good night,
    Old age should burn and rave at turn of day;
    Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.

  14. PaulBC says

    Do not do what you hate.

    I had to replace the wax ring on a leaking toilet recently. Good thing every moment of that process was pure bliss.

  15. kurt1 says

    “He has said that he has a list of 42 rules, all as banal as the 24 he has published so far.”
    Why not publish them all at once then?! Seems like a ripoff. Could also just have made a youtube video “The 42 ultimate rules for life, 34 will shock you!”

  16. Dunc says

    Do not take advice about how to live your life from someone whose own life is a mess.

  17. Rich Woods says

    Eat a balanced diet, mostly vegetables.

    You’d think he’d have learned that by now. Why wouldn’t he want to share it with an audience who hangs off his every word?

  18. Rich Woods says

    Eat a balanced diet, mostly vegetables.

    That was supposed to be prefixed by the number 13. Damned editor!

  19. PaulBC says

    @21 Die anyway. (No wait, that was Ray Comfort’s Funny Plagiarized Rules for Living.)

  20. Akira MacKenzie says

    Abandon ideology.

    Ah yes, the resurrection of Russel Kirk’s notion that conservatism is the rejection of “ideology” (which Kirk defines as any utopian political belief), and belief that any attempt to to address social and economic inequities will always lead to tyranny because fixing the world’s problems goes against human nature.

    Dogmatically defending an irrational status quo isn’t ideological at all!

  21. brucej says

    “He has said that he has a list of 42 rules, all as banal as the 24 he has published so far.”
    Why not publish them all at once then?! Seems like a ripoff. Could also just have made a youtube video “The 42 ultimate rules for life, 34 will shock you!”

    Rule 42 turns out to be “Do not listen to Vogon Poetry or Jordan Peterson, which is largely the same thing…”

    and it WILL be the answer to Life, The Universe and Everything :-)

  22. raven says

    The Globe and Mail article is behind a pay wall, subscribers only.
    The actual title is…Beyond Order shows the disconnect between how Jordan Peterson is perceived and what he writes

    Cthulhu, the title alone is just wrong. I’ve now wasted 5 seconds of my valuable lifespan on Jordan Peterson. It’s not worth it.

    Jordan Peterson trying to be a scary terrorist:

    He describes debate as “combat” on the “battleground” of ideas and hints at physical violence, too. “If you’re talking to a man who wouldn’t fight with you under any circumstances whatsoever, then you’re talking to someone for whom you have absolutely no respect,” he told Paglia last year, adding that it is harder to deal with “crazy women” because he cannot hit them.
    and
    Interview in Reason Magazine
    “It’s very helpful for people to hear that they should make themselves competent and dangerous and take their proper place in the world.”

    Stossel scoffs, “Competent and dangerous? Why dangerous?”

    “There’s nothing to you otherwise,” Peterson replies. “If you’re not a formidable force, there’s no morality in your self-control. If you’re incapable of violence, not being violent isn’t a virtue. People who teach martial arts know this full well. If you learn martial arts, you learn to be dangerous, but simultaneously you learn to control it … Life is a very difficult process and you’re not prepared for it unless you have the capacity to be dangerous.”

    Peterson is perceived as a supporter of terrorism because he is…a supporter of violence and terrorism.

    FWIW, in for example PZ Myers’s profession of biologist and college professor, being capable of violence or being violent just isn’t all that useful.
    If your students are afraid you will get violent, you won’t have a job for very long.

  23. TGAP Dad says

    The 12 new rules read like corporate motivational posters. I need to throw up now…

  24. nomdeplume says

    @3 “I’m stunned at how frequently someone’s best argument to confirm the truth of their theory is “well, it helped me.” “ Peterson’s rules are the homeopathy of pop psychology.

  25. DrVanNostrand says

    “He has said that he has a list of 42 rules”

    If he really wants to milk it, he should do it like George RR Martin. Turn the last 18 rules into 20,000 pages, stretching them out over 5 more books.

  26. shelldigger says

    Reminds me of Deepak Chopra quantum bullshit. So much so, I wonder if JP ripped off Chopra’s schtick?

    Now aren’t you glad I put that name in your head? ;)

  27. unclefrogy says

    I would suggest that the only one of hose he has been consistent with doing is #6.
    He has clearly just decided to cash in with the easiest segment of the population ignorant to fool consistently.
    it’s only for the money after all, it is certainly worth no more serious consideration then that reader’s digest phlosphy
    uncle frogy

  28. jenorafeuer says

    If you can keep your head when all about you, are losing theirs and blaming it on you…

    … sometimes the folks about you might have a point.

  29. says

    Okay,

    Do not carelessly denigrate social institutions or creative achievement.

    Does that mean he’ll stop denigrating public universities and peer-reviewed journals? Or will this be just like is “free speech absolutism” while licensing his book to a major legacy publisher that supports copyright?

  30. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    “Abandon ideology”. You know, except Christianity. Or the twenty three other rules. Or his conservative belief that you shouldn’t denigrate institutions. (Except liberal institutions. Denigrate those all you like).

    Good rule of thumb: people telling you to abandon ideology often want you to buy theirs.

  31. John Morales says

    183231bcb, Frederic, again: the rule only specifies careless denigration.

  32. KG says

    brucej@25,

    No, no. Rule 42 is:

    All persons more than a mile high to leave the court.

    I have this on the authority of the King of Hearts*, in his judicial capacity, who says it’s the oldest rule in the book.

    *From Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

  33. KG says

    Rule 1: Do not publish lists of rules.
    Rule 2: There is no rule 2! Didn’t you grasp rule 1?

  34. lanir says

    Uh… #12 in particular. Be grateful to who exactly? Somehow I suspect it’s going to end up being whoever is responsible for your suffering.

    I realize psychology in some ways feels like it hasn’t been a mature science as long as some other disciplines. But even with the peripheral contact I’ve had with it through trained professionals and one very basic highschool course I can tell it has a lot going on and quite a lot of useful tools. So how does someone with real training come out the other end promoting a bunch of oversimplified solutions and one-size-fits-all pretend solutions? If that’s not just the sort of ridiculous wishful thinking Peterson rails against I don’t know what is. I feel like the whole affair is a lot less about helping anyone and a lot more about nostalgia for the anything goes self-help market of the 80’s that was about as useful as fad diets. It sounds like he’s just chasing after old grifts and old cons.

  35. Dunc says

    @43: It’s worth remembering that Peterson is a Jungian psychologist, and the vast majority of psychologists have regarded Jung as a crank for decades. He may even be the last practising Jungian in academia. It’s kind of like finding a physicist who still believes in the luminiferous aether.

  36. says

    @Frederic Bourgault-Christie Peterson isn’t a Christian, at least not the kind acceptable to American right wingers. He said when asked whether he thinks God exists “I think the proper response to that is No, but I’m afraid He might exist.” I suspect some of his fans would dump him if they actually figured out he isn’t an evangelical.

    I’d still like to know what, or who, pushed Peterson into the public eye. Why did some obscure academic’s ranting about changes to human rights legislation help turn him into a celeb, instead of whoever else was ranting about Bill C16?

  37. raven says

    It sounds like he’s just chasing after old grifts and old cons.

    Follow the money.
    Jordan Peterson is likely broke by now.

    He ended up with a serious addiction to benzodiazapines. Went to Russia to try to get off of them, ended up with pneumonia on a ventilator. Went to Serbia and caught Covid-19 virus.
    The guy has almost died at least twice and wandering the darker reaches of the world isn’t cheap.

    He needs the money.

  38. raven says

    I suspect some of his fans would dump him if they actually figured out he isn’t an evangelical.

    They wouldn’t care one bit.
    Jordan Peterson hates atheists.
    Like Trump, as long as he hates the right people, they don’t care.

    Peterson quotes:

    But if you’ve looked at life and you think that the suffering of most people is unbearable and life is evil, which is what Stalin thought, you have no problems whatsoever mobilizing everything you can to kill as many people as you can. And if you don’t have any faith, like any faith, in an ultimate authority that says, essentially, that life is sacred, what’s to stop you from stopping that?
    and
    Proof itself, of any sort, is impossible, without an axiom (as Godel proved[note 10]). Thus faith in God is a prerequisite for all proof.[195]
    and
    Peterson: [Answer:] Nazism was an atheist doctrine. So was Marxism.[214]

    Peterson blames Marxism and Nazism on atheism. Which is just wrong.
    The SS which actually carried out the Holocaust prohibited atheists from joining.

    He got Godel wrong. Faith in god is irrelevant for any proof. This is dumb.

    Stalin was not motivated to kill millions by atheism and existential despair. He was a ruthless dictator consolidating his power.

    When you look at Peterson closely, there isn’t anything but reflecting hate back to his followers for money. He isn’t any different from Rush Limpbrain, Ann Coulter, Alex Jones, or Donald Trump.

  39. PaulBC says

    Dunc@44

    It’s worth remembering that Peterson is a Jungian psychologist

    Remind me, if I am talking to someone and Jordan Peterson walks up, I will point to him and say “Here is your dung beetle.” Admittedly, it’s unlikely that I will ever cross paths with Peterson (even after the pandemic ends) but you never know. Synchronicity, right?

  40. eveningchaos says

    Wouldn’t abandoning ideology be Postmodernism? Isn’t that what he claims is the most dangerous element in our society? The Postmodern Marxists? Which is actually an oxymoron.

  41. raven says

    @49 good catch

    Postmodernism is generally defined by an attitude of skepticism, irony, or rejection toward what it describes as the grand narratives and ideologies associated with modernism, often criticizing Enlightenment rationality and focusing on the role of ideology in maintaining political or economic power.

    Postmodernism – Wikipedia

    Postmodernism is so vaguely and broadly defined, that I’m not sure it really means much of anything.
    Wikipedia says Postmodernism rejects “ideologies associated with modernism” whatever that means.

    Peterson himself is nothing but right wingnut Fox NoNews ideology.

  42. PaulBC says

    raven@50

    Postmodernism is so vaguely and broadly defined

    Especially, considering the term was being used for an MTV show in the late 80s.

    The term “modern” is pretty iffy itself. In ordinary conversation, it can still mean “up to date” but it rarely means that in an academic context. “Modern art” refers to trends that are over a century old. Likewise, “modern physics” is no longer new at all. When I hear “modern” the first thing that comes to my mind is the New York of George Gershwin and the “clickety clack of a train ride” that inspired Rhapsody in Blue. I guess anything later than that could be called “post-modern”.

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