Dr. Jordan B. Peterson. Digital Image. The Varsity. 8 October, 2017. Web. 12 February, 2018. <thevarsity.ca>
An Antidote to Chaos
His international book launch tour is in full swing, with the most recent of talks being given at his old stomping ground, the Grande Prairie Regional College on February 10. Peterson discussed the release of his new book, 12 Rules for Life – An Antidote to Chaos to a sold out and enthusiastic crowd.
If you’ve been watching the news, walking the bookstores, or doing almost anything else – there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Jordan Peterson. An Alberta-born professor at the University of Toronto and clinical psychologist, Peterson has made headlines of late in his response to Canada’s compelled speech laws (Bill C-16), and his adamant opposition to postmodern rhetoric and social justice advocacy.
If all you know about Peterson came from the news, there’s a good chance you’ve got a narrow understanding of his philosophy, and of his approach to life. Despite all the contentious news coming out of Peterson’s outspoken dissent to compelled speech and the polarizing sound bites our media is so oft to provide, Peterson is an encyclopedia of knowledge and insight, and a figure worthy of consideration and pride among Albertans and Canadians alike.
With nearly 300 YouTube videos and over 800,000 followers, it’s hard to say his insights are limited to the issues that have brought him visibility in the public sphere. A true intellectual, Peterson’s breadth of expertise extends from the political sciences, to clinical psychology (PhD McGill University 1991). He taught at Harvard University (’93-’98) before returning to Canada for the University of Toronto (current).
Peterson expresses keen interest and knowledge in 20th century history, including but not limited to the world wars and their impact on our understanding of the collective human psyche. He is a library of knowledge where it relates to prominent thinkers and philosophical figures from Nietzsche to Jung, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Piaget. Integrated in his philosophical teachings is his understanding and work with mythology and religion, attempting to attribute applicability of the stories of the past to the relevant present. His overall message? Stop complaining and fix your life – something our youth has hungered for, and something that twenty and thirty something males are gobbling up at a desperate rate.
Peterson On the Fly
Peterson spoke for nearly 3 hours, discussing everything from the nervous systems of crustaceans to the development and rearing of malevolent psychopaths and their manifestation in society (via rules #1, 6 and 7). His improvisation on stage is something to be observed, often determining the lecture topic once he’s got a clear view of his audience. Perhaps even more compelling, though, is the sobering existential dialogue that often results from question period. Taking 6 questions from the audience, we saw Peterson at his philosophical best. Questions were heard with interest, and responses were laid out with the wisdom of what could only be expected from one of the greatest thinkers of our time, and the accuracy of a seasoned clinician.
12 Rules for Life. Digital Image. Goodreads. Web. 12 February, 2018. <goodreads.com>
We watched with heavy hearts as one audience member asked how to progress in life in the aftermath of having witnessed the brutal murder of a family member as a child, and the continued malevolent emotional trauma he has since endured. Peterson took in the question with a sincere interest, and remained stoic throughout his response. The manner of his response was reminiscent of the parenting expression ‘meet them where they’re at’. He met this person where he was, showed sincere appreciation for the magnitude of his despair, and offered him a way forward. Without fanfare or drama, he discussed the perceived need to put distance between the subject’s family and himself, while putting emphasis on fostering connections with other trauma survivors to anchor away the sense of loneliness and isolation that these experiences can no doubt cause.
Questions around how to live in a time of such chaos were tempered with Peterson’s wisdom about the role that media has in generating a sense of chaos and confusion for its consumers, and his feeling that all is certainly not lost in the West. Regarding efforts to help others being swallowed up by tragedy and despair, he offered the biblical reference: “Cast not pearls before swine”. In other words, put your efforts into helping those who wish to be willing participants in the process.
Look Elsewhere for a Pick-Me-Up
For many of Peterson’s followers, the book offers non-academics their first opportunity to consume his written work. His previous work, Maps of Meaning – the Architecture of Belief, is a lengthy and highly academic read coming in at nearly $140.00 at local bookstores. Those of us not living in the world of academia and clinical studies have struggled to digest the work to extract the full meaning of his writings. His new book offers the best of Peterson’s take on life in language we can all understand, with all its inherent darkness and even more-so, its inherent inspiration.
“…life is complex and tragic and difficult. And the problem with the public portrayal of the ideal state of humanness as happiness is that it makes all of these young people feel ashamed of their own suffering. …If you’re constantly in a state of satisfaction and happiness, then nothing is going to affect you deeply enough so that you’ll become deep. And life without depth is, by definition, shallow and meaningless. In order to regard anything as truly important, you also have to regard its loss as truly meaningful and that means that to open yourself up to experiences of deep meaning also simultaneously means that you have to open yourself up to the possibility of deep hurt and sorrow.”-Jordan Peterson
[transcribed from Jordan Peterson on Why Happiness is Deceiving. YouTube. Rob Velzeboer, 2017].
Peterson describes the book as intentionally dark, and delves further into his insights on the embodiment of the logos (reason and logic in Jungian psychology), in an effort to maintain balance between the worlds of order and chaos inherent in all of our lives. Peterson’s 12 steps remind us to take our life and our responsibilities seriously. Rather than strive for happiness, to strive to become [someone] worthy of, above all else, our own self-respect.