Wednesday, April 11, 2018

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, by Jordan B. Peterson

Staff review by Chris Saliba

There is both much to agree with and much to be challenged by in Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life.

It’s always interesting to read a book around which there is so much hype or controversy. Jordon B. Peterson is the current bete noire of feminists and leftists. His book, 12 Rules for Life, grew out of some writing he had been doing for the Quora website, where anyone can ask a question and anyone can answer it. His other book, Maps of Meaning, by his own admission is a rather dense, academic work. 12 Rules is for the general reader.

Despite all the controvery swirling around Peterson, there’s not much you could object to in his 12 rules for living a good life. Most of it is fairly basic stuff: don’t be resentful, maintain your dignity, learn what you can from others, don’t let your ego get out of control, don’t tell lies and above all, don’t lie to yourself. Some of it is quite humane and forgiving of the human condition. Each rule is backed up with interesting (sometimes debateable) analysis of some of the world’s best literature: the Bible, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Dostoyevksy, Nietzsche, Freud, Jung, Orwell etc. There is also quite a bit of pop culture analysis, from Disney films to the Simpsons.

Where some readers may take umbrage is the second last chapter, which discusses gender roles and what the author sees as the dangers of forcing men to be too feminine. Peterson has some good points to make about innate male and female characteristics, and how ridiculous it is to try and homogenise the genders and pretend there are no real differences. The book very much argues we can’t escape our evolutionary heritage: violence and aggression is how we got here. But some of his arguments are a bit hair raising. In one part of the book he pretty much condones male workplace bullying; in another he blames the rise of  fascist ideology on men being pushed too hard to feminise. The rise of Trump can also be blamed on this process of feminisation.

The grim, hard tone of the book, with its leaden prose, gives 12 Rules for Life a feel of ominous dread. It’s like conversing with a person who likes to stand too much in your personal space. Peterson perhaps put it best in the acknowledgements to the book, where he thanked the illustrator who provides a drawing that starts every chapter. Without these illustrations, Peterson muses, his book “might otherwise have been a too-dark and dramatic tome”. Dark and dramatic sums the text up pretty well.

A book sure to challenge and test your pre-conceived ideas about the world.

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, by Jordan B. Peterson. Published by Allen Lane. ISBN: 9780241351642  RRP: $35

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