|Synopsis||Following the mega-success of his 2018 self-help novel 12 Rules for Life, Dr. Peterson has returned with twelve more rules to help teach his readers how to find meaning in change and novelty.|
|Author||Dr. Jordan B. Peterson|
|Publisher||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Release Date||March 2nd, 2021|
Dr. Peterson has been very busy for the three years since he published 12 Rules for Life. He initially came to prominence in late 2016 as a Canadian free-speech advocate. Since then, he’s debated dozens of prominent intellectuals, gone on a world-wide lecture tour, accrued enormous praise and criticism, suffered a near psychological breakdown due to his wife contracting cancer, developed an anxiety drug addiction, went into an induced coma, and retreated from public appearances for almost two years.
That’s a lot of baggage to carry into his third published book (counting his 1999 book Maps of Meaning). I’ve read and reviewed many books on Dr. Peterson, including 12 Rules for Life, Myth and Meaning in Jordan Peterson and Jordanetics. I find the ideas and controversies surrounding his prominence fascinating.
I’ve eagerly awaited his return and next big project. While his future speaking tours and the two planned sequels to his Psychology of the Bible lecture series remain in the wings, we now can look through his next major book.
Spiritual Content: Extensive drawing on the Bible to explain the mythological and psychological significance of human stories
Language/Crude Humor: None
Sexual Content: Discussions of proper sexual relationships and the role of romance and intimacy
Drug/Alcohol Use: I believe there are references to alcohol and drug use.
Other Negative Themes: Elements of pride and indifference to spiritual truth
Positive Content: Themes of self-help, the necessity for change, and an exploration of Biblical themes
It’s been three years since Dr. Jordan Peterson’s bestselling book 12 Rules for Life hit shelves. A lot has happened since then.
Dr. Peterson has started a lot of debates and a number of feuds since 2018. He’s debated Sam Harris, Slavoj Zizek, Michael Eric Dyson, Roger Scruton, and other major public intellectuals. He’s lost several of these debates, had his name dragged through the mud dozens of times, and then had to step out of the public light to deal with an onset of dependency on anxiety drugs.
Thus, it feels like there’s a lot of baggage that comes with approaching a text like Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life. What has Dr. Peterson learned in the last three years of debates and trials that he can bring to light now?
Like the original twelve, the book is comprised of a new set of 12 rules culled from the 42 he originally listed in his Quora Q-and-A that originated the experiment. The book definitely evolved with its writing, though. Many of the chapters are newly rewritten and focused on their outline names.
As the title would suggest, Beyond Order is a direct continuation of the themes of the first book. Once again, it’s a self-help book rooted in cognitive psychology, mythology, and spiritual allusions, which draws heavily on Christianity (more so in this book than the first one).
The big shift in Dr. Peterson’s approach is to push the reader beyond the point of order once their life has gained some balance and stability. As he suggests, not every problem in life is caused by an excess of chaos. Some problems are caused by an excess of complacency, sterility, and a lack of change and effort. Additional action is necessary on the part of the individual to find meaning and beauty past the point where order is created.
As Ben Sixsmith writes in his review for Athwart, “Do not just clean your room, in other words, but make it beautiful.”
There’s more than a little value to that sentiment. One need not merely function at the most basic level but prosper in a beautiful and meaningful life. By turning into that chaos, embracing the chaotic nature of being, avoiding the rigidity of ideologies, and allowing one’s self to take risks, Peterson seems to suggest greater meaning can be found.
In my previous book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, I focused more on how the consequences of too much chaos might be remediated…
But that does not imply in any manner that chaos should be eliminated (an impossibility, in any case), although what is unknown needs to be managed carefully, as my previous book repeatedly stressed. Whatever is not touched by the new stagnates, and it is certainly the case that a life without curiosity — that instinct pushing us out into the unknown — would be a much-diminished form of existence. What is new is also what is exciting, compelling, and provocative, assuming that the rate at which it is introduced does not intolerably undermine and destabilize our state of being…
Unlike my previous book, Beyond Order explores as its overarching theme how the dangers of too much security and control might be profitably avoided.
Evidently, Dr. Peterson has heard some of what his critics have said about him these past two years, and he addresses it. That doesn’t mean the book is ABOUT his rise to prominence. He mostly dismisses the relevance of his drug dependency and the COVID pandemic by writing it off in the book’s introduction. He wants this piece to stand on its own. In so far as he addresses his critics at all, it’s in regards to his philosophical points from the previous book.
He does directly address two of the largest criticisms laid against him, though:
1. Why doesn’t HE keep his room clean when he gives that advice to others?
2. What point is there in cleaning your room when society around you is falling apart?
Dr. Peterson’s office is infamously unorganized. It’s an amusing coincidence from a man whose work is defined by teaching people to organize their own lives before trying to rebuild the world. It’s a hypocrisy he owns up to.
In regards to the second criticism, he doubles down on his famous assertion that the individual needs to set his own house in order before he reorganizes the world. Change, in his conception, is not something laid down by fiat. It’s born of change at the level of the individual.
Virtue flows out of the individual and creates the world around us. Just how one person having a bad attitude can change the mood of a room, one person’s unnatural virtue can raise up the humanity around them. It is this virtue he encourages his readers to build.
The rest of the book follows his central thesis of exploring the core of novelty, progress, and necessary change in light of this reality. As becomes clear, Dr. Peterson is not merely someone who advocates for stifling order, complacency, or conservatism. He praises the role of artists in society and states their job of revivification is a necessary party of society. The book is about the need for novelty, change, and progress and how those ideas can manifest in everyday life, where necessary.
The twelve new rules he introduces to his readers are as follows:
Do not carelessly denigrate social institutions or creative achievement.
Imagine who you could be and then aim single-mindedly at that.
Do not hide unwanted things in the fog.
Notice that opportunity lurks where responsibility has been abdicated.
Do not do what you hate.
Work as hard as you possibly can on at least one thing and see what happens.
Try to make one room in your home as beautiful as possible.
If old memories still upset you, write them down carefully and completely.
Plan and work diligently to maintain the romance in your relationship.
Do not allow yourself to become resentful, deceitful, or arrogant.
Be grateful in spite of your suffering.
Each of the Rules ties back to the theme of change and explores how a lack of change can stifle people’s lives or how the opportunity for change creates opportunities for meaningful action.
At times, Beyond Order is a very frustrating book. Dr. Peterson is a challenging writer with a very roundabout style, but here the flow of the narrative of the book’s chapters feels more tenuous. With the first book, the reader at least could grapple with the sense that each of the chapters addressed the way small changes and proper habits grow into long-term change.
After my first reading, I’m at a loss to explain how every rule ties back to the book’s central thesis. It’s not an easy foundation for a novel, and at times it feels as though he’s repeating similar sentiments to the first book. Many of the chapters are very long and continue strains of thought that earlier chapters set up. It can be quite complex and each of the book’s ideas requires a deep and contemplative reflection in light of the thesis.
It definitely feels like the first book on hard mode. In that, I’m not exactly sure I’d recommend it as instantly as the first one. I gave away at least two or three copies of 12 Rules for Life as gifts. I wouldn’t even recommend Beyond Order to someone unless they’re already intimately familiar with the first book and knew what they were getting into.
There is brilliance in this book, no doubt. If I’m ever going to understand it fully, I’ll need to do a few read-throughs and spend more time with it.
Despite being more open to novelty and change in this book, his vision for progress is still a limited and cautious one. He rejects grand political ideologies like communism, socialism, and intersectional progressivism, as well as far-rightism and fundamentalism. It’s clear he’s very wary of any idea set that stinks of Utopianism that doesn’t account for the fallen nature of humanity. To that degree, the book can be described as a thematic counterpart to its predecessor. However, it’s undercut by the fact the book is ENTIRELY driven by Peterson’s cautious instincts.
Thankfully, there is much interesting content to chew on. Most of the book’s best content comes in his relaying of anecdotes. Whether he’s explaining the virtue of disobedience in the Harry Potter franchise or pondering the implications of the life of Christ, he always finds a clever way to relay stories into means of understanding life better.
The book’s best content is easily his stories from his time as a psychoanalyst. The book is loaded with multiple long and emotional stories of clients struggling with their day-to-day lives and he finds brilliant ways to dig out the insights and meaning of the events that happen in regular people’s lives.
One story involves him doing intense bouts of psychoanalysis with a gay man who was deeply sheltered as a child and then suffered horrible abuse at the hands of his boyfriend. The result was that he began suffering intense night terrors and involuntarily found himself balling into the fetal position at night.
In another example, he treats a young man who struggles with crippling social anxiety, loneliness, and an inability to converse with others around him comfortably. In yet another, he discusses the life of a young woman dealing with intense emotional pain and an inability to even be in the same room as meat because of her intense conviction to Veganism.
In another, he discusses the case of a married couple whose marriage is destroyed by small acts of cruelty and compromises that compound on the relationship until it results in a screaming match over how the house is decorated.
In both of these examples, Dr. Peterson explains how digging into the life experiences of the people involved and challenging them to question their worldviews released them from their tensions and allowed them to gain a wise view on life that eased their traumas. Through the use of exposure therapy, hypnosis, exposure to extremely dark literature (books like Ordinary Men and The Rape of Nanking), and allowing the individuals to talk through their trauma, he was able to help these individuals progress in their lives.
By the end of the book, Dr. Peterson neither advocates for complacency nor radicalism. Instead, he seems to call for prudence and proper judgment. He calls for society to respect social institutions but also reject the rigid ideologies that make them unchangeable.
“We must support and value the past, and we need to do that with an attitude of gratitude and respect. At the same time, however, we must keep our eyes open — we, the visionary living — and repair the ancient mechanisms that stabilize and support us when they falter … simultaneously respecting the walls that keep us safe and allowing in enough of what is new and changing so that our institutions remain alive and healthy.”
In another anecdote, Peterson discusses a waiter who approached him one day while he was dining out. The man had previously been living a bitter life, unhappy with his career and life circumstances. After considering Dr. Peterson’s advice, he decided to start investing in his job and living as though it was a job that mattered and he cared for. As a result, he was promoted within months and radically advanced his station in life.
“[W]here before he was blinded, essentially, by his pride. He stopped denigrating the social institution he found himself part of and began to play his part properly. And that increment in humility paid off in spades.”
Change is good and necessary. Questioning corrupt authority and taking responsibility where none is being taken can also be deeply virtuous. Dr. Peterson, though, clearly approaches such needs with caution and encourages the reader to do so as well. Though he remains largely irreligious, his work is essentially a call to take up our crosses and live our lives joyfully in spite of the pain. He encourages the reader to reject despair and hatred for the sake of preserving our own virtues. In that, he sees the heart of true change. He sees the true ability for mankind to transform his world by looking inward and rebuilding the heart at the level of the individual.
+ Well Researched Psychology and Religious Work
+ Fascinating Anecdotes That Relate How to Challenge Ones Self and Improve Life
+ Fun Exploration of Storytelling and Biblical Ideas
- Somewhat Ponderous Exploration of Themes
- Roundabout Approach to Exploring the Necessity of Change and Progress in Life
The Bottom Line
Beyond Order is a book I wouldn't necessarily recommend to non-Peterson fans. Its more challenging than its predecessor. That said, its necessary reading for Peterson fans who want to challenge themselves further.