Authoritarianism is having a moment here in the United States and Jordan Peterson has the right tone to capitalize on it. In 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Peterson proclaims his 12 practical self-help rules with an authoritative voice that demands attention for better or worse.
If for the better, then like Peterson, you probably take a modern, rational, dualistic approach to life. Peterson sees hierarchy as essential and arising organically from our biology, history, and society. Thus, he encourages readers to become more competent through following his 12 rules to move up the hierarchy. He rejects postmodernism, Marxism, and political correctness. He calls for a transformation of individuals to maintain the status quo rather than a transformation of the status quo to empower the least of these. He warns us away from the danger of chaos which he equates with feminism and liberalism. When he does these things, many of my conservative friends respond to his authoritative approach with great enthusiasm.
On the other hand, Peterson employs his extensive library and psychoanalytic mind on an inspiring more-than-literal approach to biblical interpretation. When he describes human and societal development with an evolutionary deep-time perspective, he demonstrates an appreciation for the best of modern science. The rules he proposes are excellent personal self-help maxims. He gives lip service to the dangers of too much order which he compares to masculinity and conservative values. And yet, many of my conservative friends find these ideas just as unacceptable as I find them laudable.
It is no wonder then that Peterson is a highly polarizing figure with ardent supporters and indignant critics. However, it is my hope that we can take a more nuanced, non-dualistic approach to this book than the author himself employs. Despite Peterson’s conflation of postmodernism with relativism, our conversation on this book should be postmodern in the best sense as described by John Caputo:
“Postmodernism thus is not relativism or skepticism, as its uncomprehending critics almost daily charge, but minutely close attention to detail, a sense for the complexity and multiplicity of things, for close readings, for detailed histories, for sensitivity to differences” (John Caputo, Philosophy and Theology pg. 50).
We have a diverse group of facilitators to guide us through the fraught territory of Peterson’s thoughts and help us find a balance between order and chaos.
Here is the schedule:
July 26 — Introduction, Brenton Reading
August 23 — Rule 7: Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient) and Rule 8: Tell the truth — or, at least, don't lie, Lisa Clark Diller
August 30 — Rule 9: Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don't and Rule 10: Be precise in your speech, TBD
September 6 — Rule 11: Do not bother children when they are skateboarding and Rule 12: Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street, Carmen Lau
Feel free to leave a comment if you plan on joining us or if you want to respond to anything in the introduction.
Brenton Reading lives with his wife and three children in Shawnee, Kansas (a suburb of Kansas City), where he practices Pediatric Interventional Radiology.
Book cover image courtesy of Random House.
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