Review: 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Peterson's book has much to say but I'm not sure it has much to offer. In many ways, it reminds of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. On one level, both serve as guides for how individuals can build themselves up and strive in a modern, complex society. On the other hand, the ideological tenants that drive the authors and infuse the texts are detrimental in the social sense. For Rand, it creates sociopathic selfish individuals when enacted as a social practice, but for Peterson, he woefully mixes shoddy-history and pseudo-scientific views with a hodge-podge of theological and literary interpretations to create a tapestry that swings back and forth between our Darwinian and biblical origin, making it fit nicely by disregarding all the many things that don't fit neatly into how he is ordering the book. Layered upon this is a gendered vision (man is order, woman is chaos) that renders what he writes as clearly directed toward and relevant to men--occasionally throwing a bone to women in his examples but usually dismissing or paying lip service to respect. It's also often filled with contradictions (a Darwinian-based belief that men seek dominance through violence, but it's the feminist movement that casts men's actions as general destructive; you should embrace culture and its traditions but if it's not a culture that he approves of, it is clearly in need of eradicating) that undermine his very advice. His examples abound with examples of how other people didn't learn the tenant or live up to it, but so very rarely does he deeply personalize the advice that it makes him seem born as fully-formed perfection. In fact, it's this holier attitude that makes me understand so much of why Natalie Wynn in ContraPoints calls him "Daddy."

He can't seem to stay focused on his rules without going off into terrain in which he fixates on communist Russia or China or harangues that scholars in academia are at fault for the problems that his rules for life will indelibly fix. His emphasis on the violence and brutality of Russia and China as a result of their politic lens (Communism) seems absence of irony given the equally damning and violent societies that capitalism has also produced. These deviations are too bad because there are things that Peterson says that I can agree with such as effective body communication (the old, "fake till you make it", which he frames as "stand up straight"--though some of the science on this by Amy Cuddy has been recently called into question) or understanding one's inner workings or simply not lying. And that's just it, the what you should do is not hard to agree upon because it is what makes up so much of pop-psychology books everywhere. Rather, it's the pathway that he takes to get to it, invoking Adam and Eve as our supposed literal ancestors, and overwhelmingly endorsing capitalism as virtuous while never missing a chance to slam the grotesque actions of non-Western and non-capitalist ideas. In that way, it feels like he's arguing that the Western man (and very much man) is the best of all forms. Taken his approach, it is no wonder why so many on the right (and far right) take to this ideology because it is likely to reposition them as the more rightful (powerful) people in the world.

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