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While we wait for Peterson

12 Rules for Life. An Antidote to Chaos
Forfatter: Jordan B. Peterson
Forlag: Random House (Canada)
Jordan Peterson's 12 Rules for Life is full of contradictions and the kind of reductionism he himself warns against.  


Roughly speaking, Canadian psychology professor Jordan Peterson has received over 100 full pages in Norwegian newspapers so far this year – and he has not yet arrived in Norway! It happens first 23. October when he is in Oslo in connection with the launch of the Norwegian translation of 12 Rules for Life. An Antidote to Chaos, his self-help book published in January. 

Peterson has managed to coax a philosophy of life through anecdotes from his own life, the biology of evolution, Carl Gustav Jung, existentialism and the Bible. Not least, he floats on broad experience as a therapist, besides being a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. 

The reactions in Norway have been contradictory: Our Country presents him as "a secular seed", and the newspaper Dagen likes to "defend Christian ethics". Ingunn Økland in Aftenposten was both fascinated and ridiculous by reading him. Sturla Haugsgjerd, on the other hand, believes that Peterson is mediocre, while Mohammed Abdi criticizes Peterson for providing "lifesaving to the patriarchy". Sindre Bangstad in Dagbladet writes that Peterson's attack on "cultural Marxism" is very simplistic, while Bjørn Stark claims that Peterson is a ridiculous phenomenon. 

The politicians have also been on the field. Business Minister Torbjørn Røe Isaksen believes that Petersson's "emphasis on personal responsibility, discipline, self-respect and traditional ideals for what it is to be a good person and a good man" makes him "a counterpart to all the symbolic year 1968 represents. His success is an illustration of something in the pipeline ”. 

Sparrow with cannons

One of the reasons for Peterson's success is that in 2016 he attacked a law against discrimination and hate speech. It should protect against harassment of the gender identity of, for example, transgender people. If a transvestite prefers to be accused of "going", then feel free to me. But Peterson thought it was a restriction on freedom of speech. Long-standing legal dissertations explain in detail Peterson's misunderstanding of this law, for example, by Brenda Cossman and Kyle Kirkup of the Toronto Law Journal. The anti-discrimination law will not lead to a totalitarian state – as Peterson painted the situation. The problem with some of those who criticize identity politics is obviously suffering from the same hypersensitivity as they snowflakes og trigger warning-happy safe-spaces-addicts they love to attack. 

Lobster as a self-help metaphor

In his first delivery rule of standing upright with his shoulders back, Peterson compares the humans to the lobster's tug of war. Fortunately, such questionable analogies are not central to Peterson's rules of life. Because humans are truly territorial in the same way as the lobster – can't we rise above the mating match? 

Here, Peterson is contradictory and groping. The lobster has the same nervous system as us, and has existed for 350 million years. Therefore, it is impossible to get rid of hierarchies: Marxists who believe that hierarchies are due to capitalism are thoroughly wrong! 

When Peterson's rule "Stand up straight with your shoulders back" is illustrated with the aggressive lobster, the example becomes self-parodying.

Life is short, illness and misfortunes threaten, and we are all going to die. Our existence is limited. But is this enough to claim that life is suffering? Peterson never discusses the connection between social oppression and the urge for salvation. A relentless and cold sociality and a tormented existence often forces the belief in the beyond. Peterson is a pessimist and states as an axiom that life is tragic. It is relentless, and it is hard to survive in the life struggle: "You are in a war, not a battle, and a war is composed of many battles". In this social Darwinian state, rules are needed to survive.

The Darwinian rationale for economic differences is one of the most inedible aspects of Peterson's thinking. However, the Alfahann analogies of human action are difficult to explain to democracy: Everything is reduced to mating struggles. The hierarchies are important for survival, Peterson believes. This is transmitted directly to class differences: "When the aristocracy catches a cold, as it is said, the working class dies of pneumonia."

Alpha lobsters "can look tall and dangerous, like Clint Eastwood in a Spaghetti Western". "It's the winner-take-all in the lobster world just like it is in human societies, when the top 1 percent have as much loot as the bottom 50 percent." This is a law of nature, according to Peterson. To promote greater equality, it leads to a communist horror scenario: Stalin's GULag or Mao's Cultural Revolution. 

Another rule of thumb is that one should not compare with others. Because then you often isolate one move and forget the rest. If you envy the rich, you forget that they can also be depressed and have poor health. When Peterson compares man and lobster, he is guilty of the kind of reduction he warns against. These contradictions are typical of the book. 

The control of the unconscious

Peterson recommends being attentive to the preconscious and the unconscious, which we are not usually aware of. If you sweep unsaid things under the rug for too long, the displaced can take revenge. Or as Peterson prefers to say: The snake can bite, the dragon comes to life, hell and the underground forces dissolve life into chaos. We must therefore be aware of what we do not see. When a marriage fails, you think back to find little signs of the breakup that you should take more seriously.

It is important to be was the unconscious. Peterson refers to a mix of Jung, the Bible, and other mythology to show this. Some critics have intended to find a political right turn here. But the unconscious is not right-wing. On the other hand, if instinct-proof leadership is cultivated rather than democracy, the matter is another. 

But studying the unconscious sociologically, like Pierre Bourdieu when it comes to taste, does not, of course, imply any right turn. Neither does Peterson discuss in-depth knowledge with Michael Polanyi, or Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann's work on institutionalization and habitual activities. Prior and unconscious knowledge is instead perceived mythologically. The unconscious is transformed into an underworld where monsters can emerge. What we sweep under the blanket nourishes a dragon that can attack us at our weakest moment. 

Idea historical location

Røe Isaksen welcomes Peterson as a welcome response to -68. But Peterson may well be seen as an extension of spiritual currents in the wake of the sixties revolution.

The counter-culture from -68 was delayed to the province of Fairview, Alberta, where Peterson grew up. He describes how some of his friends became addicts: The counterculture showed its demonic side. But Peterson's spirituality is nevertheless deeply rooted in the sixties mindset, and he has spent the rest of his life fighting wars against chaos.

Fans of their 50s have already proudly posted their tickets to the Concert Hall on October 23 on Facebook. 

Timothy Miller's The Hippies and American Values describes the hippies as a religious movement. Jordan Peterson is a kind of organized hippie, a hippie without hashish and LSD who revolt against religious institutions. That is why prominent representatives of the Catholic Right have disliked the book, including John Horvat II, vice president of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property. Alan Watts (1915–1973), in Norway among other famous Zen Road, anticipated the mix of psychotherapy and religion found at Peterson. Watts actually visited CG Jung in 1958.

Carlos Castaneda portrayed in many books the Indian sage Don Juan and the journey into the "nagual" – the part of the perception that is unknown, but still possible to get in touch with. This project has obvious parallels to Peterson, who constantly emphasizes being friends with the unknown. This is an endless project. That's why, basically, political action becomes impossible for Peterson: "Don't reorganize the state until you've ordered your own experience." Since everything we value is a product of "unimaginably lenghty developmental processes, personal, cultural and biological", we understand just a little tab of this. Withdrawing from politics to fix oneself, in practice, leads to acceptance of the existing – and that is why many conservative Peterson presses to his chest.

A straight hippie?

Politics cooked together on the basis of Buddhism, a Christian understanding of life as suffering and a naturalistic rationale for inequality, hierarchies and traditional gender differences can become a rather brown soup. But 12 Rules for Life is primarily about the relationship between ethics and psychology. 

The book is informal. The rules are formulated essayistically through digressions, making it difficult to follow them. The author is anything but "precise in his speech" (rule number 10). On the other hand: When the "stand up straight with your shoulders back" rule is illustrated with the aggressive lobster, the example becomes self-parodying. 

Fans right into their 50s who build identity on being against identity politics have already proudly posted their tickets to the Concert Hall on October 23 on Facebook. 

When the Woodstock film was staged in 1970, there was a thick fog of hashish smoke in the cinema hall. When Peterson arrives at the revival meeting at the Concert Hall, his charisma – which in no way must be underestimated – becomes the only drug. The ideas are taken from the counterculture of the 60s and 70s, but wrapped up for young men who long for order and authority: Clean the room, cut your hair and get a job! 

With the alpha male lobster as a model, they can also fantasize about the success of the ladies. 

Petersen arrives in Oslo 23.10

Eivind Tjønneland
Eivind Tjønneland
Historian of ideas and author. Regular critic in MODERN TIMES. (Former professor of literature at the University of Bergen.)

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