Book Review – 12 Rules For Life: Is Jordan Peterson The New “Brene Brown”?
The first time I learned about Jordan Peterson was eight years ago, when no one heard of him, and he was simply a psychology professor at University of Toronto. A friend had him for a couple of courses, and was “in love”. So, when the name started popping up everywhere as of recently, even earning his own nickname “JP” I observed with curiosity.
Jordan Peterson is the “Brene Brown” of white males aged 20 to 45. If you dig Tim Ferris, and stoicism (ok, what IS it about stoicism?), you will probably nod along this book. It will appeal to the macho and hyper masculine (both men and women) – heck, I might have loved this book ten years ago. All that “stand up straight with your shoulders back” and “suck it up, buttercup” talk!
If you are already a fan, then, you will know what to expect in this book. That’s why you bought it – for verbose declarations of obvious things veiled in intellectual terminology and a lot of references to Russian classics – especially, the Gulag Archipelago, and religion.
It was refreshing to hear Peterson speak without all the yelling in the background for once. He is as divisive as it gets, so most of the time, the interviews with him are full of interruptions, swearing, and/or white noise machines.
As for the actual “life lessons”, I believe it IS possible to say: “don’t lie” and “be kind to others” without references to Hitler, Stalin and Mao. But, hey… if you like intellectualizing the Bible, would enjoy a really cerebral discussion of symbolism in Sleeping Beauty, and share JP’s hard-on for Solzhenitsyn, you might just enjoy this book.
The chances of someone just picking this book off a shelf in a bookstore among thousands of comparably vague titles is pretty slim. You bought this because you heard of Peterson. And if you like him, you like verbose and dense.
Here’s a quote:
“Meaning is what manifests itself when the many levels of Being arrange themselves into a perfectly functioning harmony, from atomic microcosm to cell to organ to individual to society to nature to cosmos, so that action at each level beautifully and perfectly facilitates action at all, such that past, present and future are all at once redeemed and reconciled”.
He goes on in this fashion for two pages, and finally tears up (he’s the one reading the book, so you can hear his voice breaking).
Some have suggested that his “life rules” are obvious. Well… of course, they are obvious. This is, essentially, self-help for dudes with a bit (ok, a lot) of Dostoevsky sprinkled in. It’s like buying one of thousands of diet books, and then complaining that it suggests eating less and moving more.
The principles are self-evident – JP leans heavily on the most simplistic interpretations of takeaways from evolutionary and social psychology.
As with many “controversial” figures, 70% of what he says is reasonable, and hard to argue with – confidence is a good thing! yes, it is…. – but the remaining 30% is so jarring, that most simply do not hear the 70%. E.g. if someone quotes Adolph Hitler, and you will have trouble letting that go, then you will have trouble “hearing” Peterson.
A friend pointed out that JP is mischaracterized quite a bit, and I agree. If you have not seen his now-infamous interview on Channel 4 News, you should. It’s hilarious and painful at the same time, and is a great example of how everything you say can be immediately misconstrued.
What I find the most entertaining is that Peterson is quite popular among alt right – a fact that would be surprising to JP himself, as he leans mostly left (yes, he does). Those folks are so thrilled by the 30% of what he says, they do not pay the slightest attention to the 70%.
Sam Harris, Alain de Botton and Christopher Hitchens will all provide a much more readable and well written discussion of “life rules”.