This is the second post of Spectrum’s 2019 Summer Reading Group. Each post will be drawn from chapters of the book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan Peterson. You can view the reading/posting schedule here.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://spectrummagazine.org/arts-essays/2019/summer-reading-group-12-rules-life-chapters-1-2
Lobsters and snakes!
Like you, Will, I found the two basic principles Peterson lays out in the first two chapters to be insightful. I found the way he justifies them to be fascinating–a mix of evolutionary biology, psycho-analytic theory, and Biblical exegesis. (Seems like the real driver is the second, a la Carl Jung.)
Peterson argues that the hierarchical ordering of society is ancient and unavoidable and a way of relating to each other that humans share with other animals, i.e. lobsters. Peterson accepts this as an unchangeable reality. This means many, if not most individuals, are bound to end up lower on some hierarchy, which affects the way they are treated, which affects their bio-chemistry (serotonin levels), which affects they comport themselves, which affects the way they are treated–a vicious feedback loop. On one level, the observation that life is hard/unfair and, in light of this, the advice that one should courageously face this reality with dignity seems sound to me. Yet, it also seems to only partially address the issue. What about the possibility of becoming part of a community whose members relate to each other differently? What about the possibility of changing/challenging/transforming the human tendency to dominate others? Does Peterson have any advice for those who dwell at the top of the food chain?
Yes, humans are animals, perhaps at times exhibiting crustacean tendencies, but we are also rational (and spiritual) animals…
On to snakes. I found Peterson’s reading of Genesis 1-3 to be an insightful interpretation of these passages that go beyond the debates many of us are familiar with in our community–a compelling and clear-eyed explanation of the human condition and depravity that will resonate with contemporary readers. Will be drawing on this in the future to share with students.
Zane, your questions get to (one of) my (many) problem(s) with Peterson. His existentialist approach focuses on individual transformation so that as each of us learns to play by the rules better the world becomes better. He seems to treat societal order with its norms, hierarchies, and rules as essential and dangerous to even question because this leads to chaos. I on the other hand wonder if there are better rules.
I’m not really sure that he would agree that Existentialism is limited by the rules of the world. After all, we fly in large aluminum cans as we attempt to bend these rules, and we project into the future, and we select and crossbreed plants and animals to our advantage.
So, I don’t think he’d argue that simply because we find some embedded behavior in some natural order, then therefore we must follow it. Quite the opposite. Existentialism allows one to formulate structural relationships that can both accommodate certain natural flow of reality, and those that allows us to channel, modify, or even swim against that flow for our collective benefit. I think he objects to reducing human relationships to abstractions that have little to no basis in our biological reality.
George @GeorgeTichy and Kim @cincerity I’m closing my psychiatric practice. The secret is out and soon the patient referrals will dwindle down.
You still might get some referrals from those who are sending out the wrong “signals”.
No Elmer, you can’t do that. It would be a betrayal of those people who are counting on you to help them at the time of the GC-2020. There will be so many needing you that you will be excessively busy. TW’s re-election will trigger major distress in many “believe me, believe me”… LOL
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