So… I have this get it back to the library ASAP (fines are accruing), but I can’t seem to write a short review. I tried, I really did, but it’s hopeless. Here is Part 1, and I hope to have Part 2 up tomorrow.
First, some background…
|Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons|
As I mentioned in a previous post, my purpose in reading this book was to see what the fuss was about. Peterson, a professor at the University of Toronto (and formerly at Harvard and McGill), has become a controversial figure in recent years, for voicing his views on forms of political correctness which he sees as threatening to freedom of speech. It’s a long story which you can read about on Wikipedia, and I only mention it to give some context. Peterson, whose YouTube lectures attract millions of followers, went on two years after the publicity to publish his 2018 book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. This book became a huge bestseller.
Why read the book if you can watch the videos? I’ll be honest, though I’ve seen a few interviews with him, I didn’t find them interesting enough to want to watch more. (Maybe I’m still sick of college lectures.) Also, what fascinates me most is not his speaking, but:
- His following and fans, who come from many different backgrounds (conservatives, libertarians, Christians, atheists). What is about him or his message that generates commonality between such disparate groups?
- His motive. What kind of person, with such a prestigious CV, is so willing to go out on a limb? Is he really courageous, or is there some other reason?
Finally, I’m generally interested in the phenomenon of cultural leaders. In this case, that is people who, for good or bad, end up speaking for a large number of other people (who felt like they had no representative before) and also being influential by providing mentorship or guidance to those people.
I was hoping the book would get to the core of these questions. I was also curious if this was a modern classic in the making, or just another trend…
To start off with, there are (refreshingly) very few political references in this book. For the most part, it’s what I’d call “popular philosophy” with sprinklings of self-help, most vividly in the twelve chapter titles or “rules”:
- Stand up straight with your shoulders back
- Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping
- Make friends with people who want the best for you
- Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today
- Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them
- Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world
- Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)
- Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie
- Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t
- Be precise in your speech
- Do not bother children when they are skateboarding (let kids enjoy an adventurous childhood)
- Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street (appreciate the little everyday blessings)
IMO, the advice, while not all-encompassing, is mostly solid. If you’re going to pick twelve principles to live by, you could do worse.
At this point, I realized I was probably not the target audience, because several of these values I learned from my parents (except #1…they tried, but I still have “nerd posture”). Peterson is known for his father-figure persona, and if you had never heard this advice before, I think it would make a big impact.
Well, that’s all I can fit in to this post tonight…
Part 2 will cover:
Chaos, Order, and Communism
The Bible References – a Christian Perspective
Part 3 will be:
While Peterson has all kinds of interesting and controversial ideas, this book seems to cover the more mundane stuff. I really need to dig into some of his other views.
Those are actually some really good rules to live by! I wonder if #1 has a symbolic, emotional/spiritual meaning as well as a physical one, as well. One of my favorite quotes from Doctor Who comes to mind: \”Chin up, shoulders back–let's see what we're made of, you and I.\” It's as much about physically standing up straight as it is facing the moment with courage and dignity.
I'm definitely looking forward to this series.
hmmm… seems a bit controlling… i guess i favor a more laissez faire approach… i like #9 though… telling people how to act, imo, often backfires however, even when they're young.. or maybe particularly… 11 & 12 are good…
Yeah, if you are already a reader of philosophy, literature, or history, this book covers some already well-worn paths through those subjects. He did write an earlier book called Maps of Meaning, which is more academic and might be worth looking into.
#1 is kind of a spin on \”fake it till you make it,\” the idea that the right posture (mentally or physically) and a bit of courage are going to get you ahead in life. I do think there's truth to that. It's sometimes tempting to let others lead when you should, or not care about appearances, when those things actually matter.
Unfortunately I can only cover a fraction of the book's subject matter across 3 posts! On the plus side, that leaves plenty to be read. 🙂
I'm not fond of rules, either – at least, other people's rules! – and I have a penchant for finding the gray area in everything. Peterson's rambling style is a little more laid-back than the chapter titles indicate. However, he's very much in earnest about his advice.