Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson (Portfolio: 2021), 432 pages.
Deconstruct each rule, tear down each highway signal, and you’ll find yourself misplaced with nowhere to go. This was David Foster Wallace’s warning for a television-saturated world the place postmodernism led us to snicker off the easy concepts that carry which means. Years later, one other man has up to date the identical warning for a digital age: Dr. Jordan Peterson, whose e book Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life units out to construct a GPS for which means within the trendy world.
For Peterson, this mission grew out of an try to search out order as his private life spiraled farther from normalcy. He was whisked from obscurity to worldwide celeb in 2018, however because the stress deepened present cracks, his spouse Tammy was identified with a uncommon type of kidney most cancers, his daughter Mikhaila needed to endure ankle surgical procedure, and, sparked by a extreme autoimmune response to some meals, growing doses of antidepressants lead him right into a year-long abyss of benzodiazepine dependancy and withdrawals. Peterson has returned from the Land of the Sick, as has his household, but it surely left deep scars.
In some methods, Wallace and Peterson are strikingly alike. They even share an curiosity in lobsters. But the place Wallace tried to repackage old school messages in postmodern aesthetics, Peterson douses them in Hobbesian cynicism. He counters youthful nihilism by saying, primarily, “You’re right, bucko, but these old myths are the best map to get through hell.” His summation of the story of Abraham describes his personal work: “It has at its core a strange combination of pessimism and realistic, genuine encouragement.”
This mix is deeply efficient—he can relate to the younger and misplaced like few others—but it surely may also be crippling. Thus the necessity for this sequel to his earlier e book, 12 Rules for Life, which was an “antidote to chaos.” Beyond Order suggests we have to embrace chaos, “to keep one foot within order while stretching the other tentatively into the beyond.” With mattress made and home so as, Peterson needs his reader to open the door to the world, confront chaos, depart Hobbiton, and go on an journey. After a 12 months when the world stopped spinning, this theme couldn’t be extra completely timed.
And but the e book solely sporadically fulfils this promise. In 12 Rules, Peterson leaped from story to analogy to delusion, however his clear, partaking prose meant you by no means felt impatient or misplaced. However odd and seemingly indifferent his digressions had been (e.g. the lobsters), he proved a trusty narrator, neatly tying again to considered one of his guidelines. None of this is applicable to the primary seven chapters of Beyond Order, that are a dour slog. The guidelines are attention-grabbing and instructive—the significance of dedicating your self to even seemingly slight duties, to “have the damn fight,” to assume by way of socialization—however they’re not often talked about. Most chapters are devoted to dense, tenuously linked mythological evaluation, written in a repetitive, cluttered prose, completely devoid of humor. For instance:
“Question: Who are you — or, at least, who could you be? Answer: Part of the eternal force that constantly confronts the terrible unknown, voluntarily; part of the eternal force that transcends naivete and becomes . . .”
And so on. Peterson’s intuition to not condescend to his viewers is commendable, however readability shouldn’t be insulting.
These chapters aren’t with out worth. Peterson’s drawback with ideologies is intriguing, arguing that they permit their adherents to skirt duty by giving them a system to scapegoat their failures onto. Connecting the political and the private is a powerful level for Peterson; it was what introduced him to the general public highlight within the first place, along with his stand in opposition to politically mandated speech, which demonstrated ethical fortitude. But apart from a couple of glimmers, the primary half of the e book drowns in gloom.
Thankfully, stronger writing and numerous references flip the second half round, lastly permitting Peterson to shine. Rule 8 is probably the most notable: “Try to make one room in your home as beautiful as possible.” Tying the purity of “taking a proper walk with a young child” to the significance of nice artwork, he exhibits how each carry us nearer to a transcendent magnificence so usually misplaced in each day life. That chapter is quirky, considerate, and even has some wit; it could make Roger Scruton proud. Similarly, Peterson’s tales of his shoppers are empathetic and riveting: a younger homosexual man falsely identified with schizophrenia (one thing Peterson has current expertise of), or an overprotected “princess” watching an embalming.
The solely stain on the second half is Rule 10, his bizarrely morbid chapter on marriage. It reads as a depressive outcry on the collapse of the establishment, not a consideration in regards to the particular person advantages of marriage itself. He presents marriage as a needed distress: you do it or fall into uncontrollable, countless, despair. His sneering tackle single life solely makes this chapter simpler to dismiss.
The closing chapter is titled “Be grateful in spite of your suffering,” but it surely’s truly a rigorously structured, delicate clarification of the suicidal urge and why life is value dwelling regardless of it. Such pleas normally learn as too preachy and disconnected for the depressed. As Wallace wrote in Infinite Jest, “nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’ can understand the jump. Not really.” Yet Peterson has been on the ledge himself. Slowly constructing from the mythic tropes of Mephistopheles and the philosophy behind anti-natalism, Peterson describes simply how overwhelming struggling might be.
He presents transferring by way of that ache not as naive or silly however “intrepid” and “noble,” a small however actual step on the trail of heroism. As somebody who has stared into the face of suicidal self-hatred, such a message has by no means been extra strongly and fantastically put. I want my youthful self had learn this chapter. I want a buddy, misplaced in his teen years, had as nicely.
It’s a pity that the title Beyond Order describes his prose extra usually than his themes, as a result of the excessive factors of the e book contemplate concepts richer than Peterson has ever explored earlier than. Though the premise is well timed and engaging, to really discover it could require a hope and vibrant readability that Peterson has apparently not but recovered. But, as soon as rested, the nice physician may be the person to complete the duty that Wallace by no means may.
Ross Anderson was a 2020 fellow at Tablet journal.