12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson
I read it as a: hardback
Source: my own collection
Length: 448 pp
Publisher: Random House
Jordan Peterson is a clinical psychologist, and this book is his formula for things to do, or not to do, to be a successful human being. He covers, as you may suspect, 12 basic rules, ranging from things such as stand up straight to make your kids act like civilized humans to tell the truth. Generally, it is a fairly standard sort of rule book.
This is quite long, so I’ll put the rest behind a cut.
I first heard about this book when Peterson was on an episode of Real Time earlier this year. I thought he was interesting and said a lot of things I agreed with. It made me want to read his book, which I then bought with a gift certificate I got for my birthday. There is a lot to like about the book. I approve of common sense, which is really all this book tries to be. I say tries. More on that later. But yep, I’m an advocate for not letting your kids act like feral monsters who no one likes. You’re their parent, not their friend; make them mind. Everyone will thank you, including your child. Take care of yourself as though you are someone you are responsible for and worth caring about, as you would your children or your pets. You can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself first, including taking your medicine, eating healthy food, and exercising. Your friends and loved ones will appreciate it if you care well for yourself. As an adult, don’t expect everything to have bubble wrapping and safe spaces; basically, grow up and take accountability and responsibility for yourself. Don’t be lazy or do things just because they are convenient; do things that are actually worthwhile.
I do not, however, think there is anything at all unique about this book. Nothing in here hasn’t been said before, going back to ancient Stoicism and probably earlier. I also hated the multiple references and quotes from the Bible, as though that is some kind of actual moral authority. I’m not too inclined to get my morality from a book that advocates stoning disobedient children. Even if you cherry-pick just the nice parts, the Bible isn’t the only book of morality available, nor is it even the best or most interesting. Why not reference those Stoics? Where is Seneca? Epictetus? Marcus Aurelius? Those would be good to cite. And what’s with holding up Jesus as the ideal man, anyway? I can point to a lot of reasons why he isn’t an example of a good man, let alone an ideal man. Christianity has been a foundational block for Western civilization basically since Constantine converted and made the Roman Empire follow suit. That doesn’t mean it should remain so, or that ignoring humanism, rationalism, science, and progress is a viable option at this point. I think someone with Peterson’s credentials should be able to come up with better examples, but it seems he just wants to blindly follow a specific dogma. The argument “Life sucks, so believe in God” doesn’t work for me. I find it intellectually lazy, something Peterson says people shouldn’t be. So he is being hypocritical there. He has also really mastered confirmation bias in his arguments.
There is a lot of unnecessary material. I don’t need a dissertation on lobsters. People are not lobsters; the analogy isn’t really that compelling. Also, there are rather a lot of logical fallacies throughout the book. And a lot of misogyny – apparently, women are chaos and men are order. That might fly in the Bronze Age, when the Old Testament was written, but it’s just gross in the 21st century. He really likes referencing Eve as that woman who fucked it up for everyone, and why gender norms should be enforced. First, fuck you. Second, why no mention at all of Pandora or any other mythological women who might work better here? He is too in love with the bible, even when it doesn’t best serve his point. He needs to read more diversely. But that isn’t likely to happen, either, because he seems to think diversity is a problem. See page 119: “…altering our ways of social being carelessly in the name of some ideological shibboleth (diversity springs to mind) is likely to produce far more trouble than good….” Seriously, what the hell? Diversity is bad? Who would actually think this? Racists, that’s who.
Also, holy comma splices, Batman! Where was his editor? Why doesn’t he know how to use a comma correctly? For someone who is supposedly a scholar, he is a terrible writer.
Then there are the issues with the male insecurities he apparently has. Why do some men manage to get through life totally fine and happy to see people, usually women, succeed on their own, yet others seem completely threatened by it? Case in point: in the chapter for Rule 5 (Do Not Let Your Children Do Anything That Makes You Dislike Them), Peterson says that children must have two parents. Fuck you, Jordan Peterson. I think he’s threatened by the notion that women don’t actually need men and he doesn’t like it. There had been a steadily growing sense of male butt-hurt up to that point, and that really put it over the top. Children need two parents…pffft. I chose to have my child on my own via artificial insemination because I wanted her. How many kids do you know who are only here because the rubber broke, or the pill failed, or mom wanted a baby but dad didn’t, or because they had a baby only because they got married and now that is what their parents/church/society demands of them? How many kids have an abusive parent, or two of them? You’re telling me it’s better for that kid to have two parents rather than one who actually wants them? What about kids who had a parent die? Are they somehow less because they are half-orphaned? What about kids whose parents love them but hate each other and have to live on separate coasts to get along? Trust me, that kid wants their parents to get divorced and just make do with visiting the other parent every so often. Sometimes, plenty of times, even, kids do better with one loving parent who wants them than with two parents who are indifferent, neglectful, don’t really enjoy being parents, who don’t like each other, or any number of factors. So, let me repeat myself: fuck you, Jordan Peterson. There isn’t one right way to be a parent. Fuck right off. Your small town bumblefuck roots are showing.
He thinks hitting your kids is fine. No, it’s not. I do NOT agree with Peterson when he says it is ok to flick your kid’s hand or arm or back of the head if they are misbehaving. I got flicks or thumps like that throughout my childhood. Being thumped on your head hurts physically, and it makes you feel stupid, like you are beneath even getting a normal spank like other kids might. You flick a bug off of you. Flicking your kid makes them feel similarly unimportant, like they’re a bug you’re flicking away. Your parent should not make you feel that way.
It is easy to see why Peterson is accused of being a conservative, or why alt-right, white supremacists and religious whackjobs like this book. Because it smacks of alt-right conservatism. If it looks like a thing, acts like a thing, and sounds like a thing, maybe it IS a thing.
Although there were a few things I did like about this book, I didn’t find it at all original; there was entirely too much emphasis on religious faith; other, better thinkers were ignored altogether; it espoused ideology that I find repugnant; and I am turned off by privileged, white, male authors who ooze the feeling that white males are somehow under threat. It was, however, somewhat encouraging to see how many of the very well written one-star reviews on Goodreads were written by men, and that they also thought many of the same things as me. I have hopes for the younger generations. Maybe Peterson’s lectures are better (I doubt it), but this book was just awful. I’m so glad I got this with gift money and not my own. I’d be pissed if I spent my own money on this. I’d say wave off and don’t bother with this unless you’re a fan of alt-right, crazy religious (not to be confused for normal, non-hateful religious), white supremacist, misogynistic gasbags.