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Book Review: 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

Called “one of the most important thinkers to emerge on the world stage for many years,” by The Spectator, Dr. Jordan Peterson has been a dishwasher, gas jockey, bartender, short-order cook, beekeeper, oil derrick bit re-tipper, plywood mill labourer, and railway line worker. He’s taught mythology to lawyers, doctors, and businessmen, consulted for the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Sustainable Development; helped his clinical clients manage depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and schizophrenia; served as an advisor to senior partners of major law firms; identified thousands of promising entrepreneurs on six different continents; and lectured extensively in North America and Europe.

His most recent book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos is set to be released next week, and we’ve excerpted a thought-provoking review of it in the British daily, The Times:

I realised there was a right and a wrong way to read this book, and I had been reading it all wrong. I had assumed from the title that it was yet another self-help guide, a genre for which I have little sympathy.

In fact, the right way to read this book is as a stern religious meditation, a hellfire sermon. And I do mean Hell, the real thing, a place in which Peterson fiercely believes. Under Rule 8 (“Tell the truth — or, at least, don’t lie”) he writes: “Hell is eternal. It has always existed. It exists now. It’s the most barren, hopeless and malevolent subdivision of the underworld of chaos, where disappointed and resentful people forever dwell.”

He is consistently right-wing — not what you necessarily expect of a psychologist and academic. He lambasts universities for closing down debate by no-platforming speakers unacceptable to the left and he trashes the left’s identity politics. The politics of gender is also dismissed as a blatant refusal to accept biological reality.

You don’t have to agree with any of these things to like this book for, once you discard the self-help label, it becomes fascinating. Peterson is brilliant on many subjects. Take parenting. “More often than not, modern parents are simply paralysed by the fear that they will no longer be liked or even loved by their children if they chastise them for any reason.”

Children can only be socialised, or even just made likeable, by clear discipline, Peterson thinks. He says he can spot poorly disciplined children in the street: listless, inattentive, incompletely aware. They have been given no limits.

He is fond of limits. In one digression he notes that the Superman brand was almost destroyed by making the hero invincible. The Man of Steel was saved by making him vulnerable. Limitations are, in fact, what bind us most profoundly. “Perhaps you might start by noticing this: when you love someone, it’s not despite their limitations. It’s because of their limitations.”

Read the full review here.