Peterson’s Beyond Order: Unstructured Mess With The Occasional Jewel

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Few books I have anticipated as much as Jordan Peterson’s “Beyond Order”. Although I have criticized his last book “12 Rules For Life” on this same blog, I have been somewhat of a fan of Peterson’s and the ideas he was popularizing on YouTube and the various podcasts he was invited at. I believe opposition to the dominant left-wing, progressive narrative is essential, now more than ever and he came with healthy ideas about responsibility, wrapped in Jungian psychoanalysis and a love of myths and religion that simply proved to be irresistible to the mass of people who were starving to hear opposition to the “standard social science”, leftist model.

I should start by prefacing that I don’t consider Jordan Peterson to be truly great intellectual. Perhaps, in his defense, this is true of public intellectuals in general. They sacrifice much of the depth of true and original philosophical systems in order to appeal to greater audiences. However, in spite of all this, it’s undeniable that Peterson struck a chord to millions of people, for the reasons mentioned above.

“Beyond Order” comes out after a hiatus in activity and retreat from public life and discourse due to severe illness. Despite the anticipation, or perhaps because of it, the book does not live up to (intellectual) expectations. It starts out pretty powerfully, but I found it difficult to read and enjoy in the latter half. It suffers from bad writing style, as Peterson formulates his discourse as if he were speaking to a live audience, which comes off as a sloppy technique, as well as from incoherence at chapter-level, with all sorts of dis- or loosely-jointed paragraphs or ideas. Many of the subsections feel like they contribute nothing to the point he is arguing for in that specific chapter, but he wanted an excuse to talk about it anyway. He jumps too much from one idea to another and you quickly forget what the connections between them were (if any). The work is structured again in 12 rules, one for each chapter, and I will list them all, as well as provide commentary to some of the ideas I found most interesting or important. Thus, the following does not constitute a review proper, so much as my subjective highlighting and interpretation of certain passages.

Rule 1: Do not carelessly denigrate social institutions or creative achievement

Rule 2: Imagine who you could be and aim single-mindedly at that

Concerned with the concepts of potentiality and becoming, Peterson notes: “The danger is, of course, signified by the presence of the immortal, predatory reptile; the promise is hinted at, as a dragon archetypally guards a great treasure”. That is to say, you get something after facing the dragon, which represents danger. Or, as in the hero’s journey to the Underworld, “that which you need to find will be found where you least wish to look”. The hero embodies “virtue that constraints malevolence” and they go through a “death-and-rebirth transformation” as a sort of escape and transcendence. It’s this sort of Jungian mythological interpretation that Peterson (and, frankly, myself a little bit) is quite obsessed with. In some respects, his appeal comes from a slight abandoning of the overly-scientific, cognitive science approach and going back to stories, myths, archetypes, and religion. Consider the quote:

“It is the case, instead (and this is a genuine reversal of the presumption in question), that we directly and naturally perceive reality as personified, and then must work very diligently to strip that personification away, so that we can detect “objective reality”

― Jordan B. Peterson, Beyond Order

He also speaks about Eliade’s concept of the war of the gods in Heaven, out of which a sort of meta-god emerges victorious, and how this is a possible explanation for attempts at uniting different tribes under one nation. His particular example comes from the Mesopotamian civilization, however this theory has been put forward for the Israeli people as well. Although there are numerous mentions of other gods in the Old Testament, this explanation of monotheism as emerging from a struggle to unite peoples seems a tad too simplistic for my taste. It’s interesting to notice, however, that both Marduk, who can “speak magic words”, and Jehova have divine power behind their speech. Words generate the cosmos.

Rule 3: Do not hide unwanted things in the fog.

“No ideals? No judge. But the price paid for that is purposelessness. This is high price. No purpose? Then, no positive emotion, as most of what drives us forward with hope intact is the experience of approaching some thing we deeply need and want. And worse, when we are without purpose: chronic, overwhelming anxiety, as focused purpose constrains what is otherwise likely to be the intolerable chaos of unexploited possibility and too much choice.”

― Jordan B. Peterson, Beyond Order

Rule 4: Notice that opportunity lurks where responsibility has been abdicated.

“If you want to become invaluable in a workplace-in any communityjust do the useful things no one else is doing.”

― Jordan B. Peterson, Beyond Order

“It appears that the meaning that most effectively sustains life is to be found in the adoption of responsibility.”

― Jordan B. Peterson, Beyond Order

There is also an interesting section about how limitations and constraints can be useful in life, even though we might tend to think otherwise:

“Every time we play a game, for example, we accept a set of arbitrary restrictions. We narrow and limit ourselves, and explore the possibilities thereby revealed. That is what makes the game. But it does not work without the arbitrary rules. You take them on voluntarily, absurdly, as in chess: “I can only move this knight in an L. How

ridiculous. But how fun!” Because it is not fun, oddly enough, if you can move any piece any where. It is not a game anymore if you can make any old move at all. Accept some limitations, however, and the game begins. Accept them, more broadly speaking, as a necessary part of Being and a desirable part of life.”

― Jordan B. Peterson, Beyond Order

From Harry Potter, to Peter Pan, to ancient Egyptian mythology, Peterson embarks on a wild series of re-interpretations. Some more successful than others. In this chapter he talks about how Osiris, who, in his representation, is the State/Order and why he does not completely die after being butchered by his brother, Seth. Peterson argues that “it is not possible to finally kill Osiris, the eternal human impulse toward social organization. That is a force that will not die”. It is possible that is is linked to a basic, human “instinct for meaning”, however that could be a book in itself.

Other ideas presented throughout the book, in a seemingly random manner, represent re-packaging of pieces of his discourse that went viral at The Joe Rogan Experience or other clips on the internet. Take for example the idea that the point (in life) is not to win a game, but a series of games, that is simply pasted here towards the end of this chapter:

“If you treat the person you are committed to in a manner that does does not work when it is repeated cross time, then you are playing a degenerating game, and you are both going to suffer terribly for it.”

― Jordan B. Peterson, Beyond Order

Rule 5: Do not do what you hate

Rule 6: Abandon ideology

Part of the danger with ideology, it is correctly argued, is that is relies on vague over-simplifications (“the nation”, “the patriarchy”, “the rich”, “the oppressors”, etc) of what are, in fact, “extraordinarily complex and diverse phenomena”. The ideologues try to fit an entire world view to a couple of low-resolution, cherry picked causes, that, according to them, are capable of providing insight into the horrible complexities of existence. Which is, of course, utter nonsense.

Rule 7: Work as hard as you possibly can on at least one thing and see what happens

“Why bother? What difference is it going to make in a thousand years?” Peterson argues that it will make a great deal of difference in yourself.

Rule 8: Try to make one room in your home as beautiful as possible

“A real piece of art is a window into the transcendent, and you need that in your life, because you are finite and limited and bounded by your ignorance. Unless you can make a connection to the transcendent, you will not have the required strength to prevail when the challenges of life become daunting.

[…]

We live by beauty. We live by literature. We live by art. We cannot live without some connection to the divineand beauty is divine–because”

― Jordan B. Peterson, Beyond Order

Rule 9: If old memories still upset you, write them down carefully and completely

An interesting idea is offered here about the possibility of self-made values:

“And what is the source for that inescapable conscience? If we were the source of our own values and masters of our own houses, then we could act or fail to act as we choose and not suffer the pangs of regret, sorrow, and shame.”

― Jordan B. Peterson, Beyond Order

Nietzsche and Jung explore this idea quite in depth and it is not clear that we can successfully create our own values out of pure subjective experience.

Rule 10: Plan and work diligently to maintain the romance in your relationship

I found a great pharsing in this chapter about freedom, although I cannot say whether or not it was intentional. The phrase in question is “the part of you that claims to desire freedom”. People sometimes come to realize that perhaps freedom is not what they want. Freedom is terrifying. Kierkegaard has an entire concept about this, called ‘dizziness of freedom’ that is worth researching.

Rule 11: Do not allow yourself to become resentful, deceitful, or arrogant

For those traits lead to evil.

This is one of the chapters that best exemplifies (and this is my conclusion for the entire book as well) how Peterson is trying to blend science and strong argumentation with dreams interpreted as “visions” and Jung-ian analysis of fictional characters, among other things. He tries to grasp for a multi-faceted truth and misses most of time.

Rule 12: Be grateful in spite of your suffering

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