Review of Jordan Peterson’s first “12 Rules” book

Jordan Peterson is best known as a conservative-leaning psychologist who teaches at the University of Toronto, and also is a practising counsellor.

Serious - Ideology debate thread | Page 123 | nebulous
Dr. Jordan Peterson (center), son of Pepe, Prophet of Kek.

Dr. Jordan Peterson has often been pictured hanging out with students who are part of the far right, and has seemed to have gained an attachment to Pepe the Frog, and in the origins of the symbolism of the frog mascot. He has helped the far right gain dignity with its association with Pepe, by associating it with frogs in Egyptian mythology, and so on. Peterson is a big fan of Carl Jung, and so he shares Jung’s fascination for archetypes and how they theoretically play a role in our psyches. However, I am not sure that Jung had in mind a badly-drawn cartoon frog as an example.

Peterson’s hobknobbing with the far right makes him an easy target for others to discredit. This is unfortunate, since the book itself is compelling. Peterson tries to present himself as an intellectual force to be reckoned with. I remember reading the late Thomas Szasz, another dissident in the helping professions and another powerful intellectual who wrote the book Ideology and Insanity some decades ago, whose fatal flaw was rooted in the author’s association with the Church of Scientology. I can’t help but seeing parallels here. I have no general explanation for it.

Neither book is a waste of your money. Ideology and 12 Rules For Life are both compelling reading and were hard for me to put down. Both books will change you in some way. Ideology was considered a game-changer for the practice of psychiatry back in the 1970s. It is largely the reason psychiatry has moved from being mostly a “talking cure” to being more biologically-based and science-based. But also in both cases, you can only trust their intellectual prowess so far. For this article, we will focus on Peterson’s 12 Rules.

Peterson’s account of the genesis of his book appear to be from a much briefer and  skeletal version of his 12 rules, contributed to an onlike wiki called Quora. His rules became popular, so he fleshed out his ideas for his book.

The most  compelling reading of all have to do with those topics that are central to his profession. He discusses child-rearing in ways that are so down-to-earth and with such conviction that it is difficult to argue with his ideas. He does the same for his discussion of marriage, and of of the complex needs and tendencies of those seeking counselling. He seems like a Rock of Gibraltar here. Utterly clear and well-written. The book is hard to put down at this point.

For some of his rules, he deviates into discussions of the Bible. He takes on the same authoritative tone of various Biblical stories, but in my reading of it (being a churchgoer), they are clearly his views, not views sanctioned by general scholarship, or by the Church. His Biblical interpretations and exegeses are taken to be his own, and supportive of his rules. In his circle of intellectualism, his grasp of the Bible extends just outside the center of his intellect. The Bible is just one of his tools used in support of the rules. Other writings used this way are the writings of philosophers such as Nietzsche. His account of Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor in the book The Brothers Karamazov struck me as utterly succinct and clear. So much so, that I find it hard to believe that anyone could be that clear about that chapter in the book. In fact, it drove me to open my copy of Karamzov to check out this chapter that would be familiar to many first-year Arts majors, and read it again (this would be my third time reading it since university). Peterson doesn’t do a bad job, and his knowledge of church history surrounding this work is, well, plausible. But one senses that the association between Dostoyevsky and his rules are a little too neat and tidy.

Jordan Peterson Kek Boys and Pepe the Frog - YouTube
Jordan Peterson, leader of Kekistan (which only makes sense if you follow right-wing internet memes), addresses the misguided youth of today on their turf. The tweet is located here. “Don’t stay in the underworld” refers to Dostoyevsky’s “Notes from the Underground” which he refers to in his 12 Rules. “Seek your 4chan” — 4chan is a psychologically toxic, un-managed chat site which is rife with hate content, doxxing, shaming and cyber-bullying. Ironic that an academic would be advocating for 4chan. For the record, this is actually Peterson’s face pasted on top of actor Steve Buscemi’s face. I have to admit, the ‘shop job is quite convincing and seamless.

He also cites dissident political writers such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a Soviet citizen who suffered the worst of the Gulags and lived to write three hefty books on the experience. This is where things go a little off the rails. While I have long ago given away my copy of the 3-volume Gulag Archipelago, Peterson has used this as an excuse to indulge in the Western intellecutal laziness of conflating communism with a totalitarian dictatorship, the latter of which was the case for the former Soviet Union, which was never close to being a Marxist utopia (indeed, Stalin banned the reading of Karl Marx). This is where Peterson deviates the most from his rules, and where his pronouncements on the evils of Stalinism deviated the most from any semblance the book’s original themes.

It is also where Peterson would find himself the most at odds with scholars such as MIT’s Dr. Richard Wolff, who actually make their living specializing in studying the history and theory of Marxism. This is where Peterson is the most out of his intellectual depth, showing his passive devotion to standard cold war tropes. The only difference these days is, that most socialist voices in our culture have been silenced in recent decades, reducing this to a mostly one-sided debate. This is why in real life, Dr. Peterson can rest on his laurels by challenging “anyone” to a debate about socialism, since he is confident of the success capitalist culture has had in silencing alternative voices, so that no one of any rhetorical skill will take him on. For the record, Dr. Wolff has accepted his challenge, which Peterson has never answered to.

"Pepe Jordan Peterson and screaming Liberal Tears MAGA ...
While we are conflating, Peterson’s support for Pepe has resulted in his likeness being “conflated” with Pepe on various merch, such as bookbags, T-shirts, slacks, aprons and dresses.

Conflating communism with totalitarianism is one thing. Conflating capitalism with freedom is another. Freedom doesn’t come from Capital, it comes from a Bill of Rights, and from laws that protect us. Thus, the tropes of Communism=Totalitarianism and Capitalism=Freedom get aired out here, and it is hard to take since one of his rules tells us to avoid ideology. He fails to see that Capitalism is an ideology just like Communism. He seems hypocritical if he is in jingoistic support of Capitalism while making “avoid ideology” one of his rules. We as a society are so awash in pro-capitalist tropes, that the world doesn’t really need yet another mindless screed against communism, which adds nothing new to the mostly one-sided “debate” about it that exists in our culture.

I would like to state that I am against ideologies also. In politics as in real life, ideologies tend to take a brilliant idea and proceed to completely eviscerate it of all life and meaning. The problem mostly is in the need to enforce ideology. If the ideology was “love”, then we have to love, “or else”. There. I just made love into ideology and ruined it, just like that. Not hard to do. I wouldn’t want to live in that world any more than if the ideology was about something more conventional, like economic systems.

Peterson could have made his point much clearer had he chosen a more neutral ideology. Young adults go through a period of their maturation where they espose many ideologies, and most of these adults are not ideological in a political way. The minute you get it into your head that “All X are Y” or “All X should be Y”, or “All X should do Y”, you are raising an idea or a collection of opinions you once had to a general ideology.  Young adults need to be aware that the world is infinitely more complicated than their ideologies and hard rules, and yes, ideology should be the least important concept in forming a world view. And this, dare I say it, includes the ideology of capitalism.

Peterson’s book on 12 Rules is a good read, so long as you don’t take his views too far beyond his skill in understanding psychology, and take his political views with a grain of salt.

Self-defeating behaviour during the Covid-19 pandemic

A protestor with no understanding of communism, thinks that it is its opposite, and winds up supporting communism by being against that which separates us from being communal.
  • According to a Google search, a Madison media organ will say that a protest against social distancing back on April 25th will be reported by TV stations if their channels are a multiple of 9. Channels 9, 18, and 27 in Madison have reported that the protests where people had been refused a permit to hold the rally in the first place, and violated social distancing orders have defeated their own object by inadvertently shutting down businesses that would normally be open.
  • There has been a spike in serious illnesses and deaths from people ingesting household cleaners, following a suggestion made by Dr. Donald Trump about a week ago. Emergency hotlines from all over the country are receiving calls asking about ingesting household disinfectants.
  • For their Covid-19 medical stats, some countries are counting as “no longer contagious”, dead people.
  • Among the protestors in Michigan, was a woman who told a reporter that there was nowhere where she could get her hair colored. Another told a reporter that it was now difficult to obtain lawn fertilizer or grass seed, body piercings or tattoo services.
  • Florida governor Ron DeSantis has classified live professional wrestling as an essential service.
  • Missouri, a state which begain the re-opening process on May 3, is suing China for economic losses and suffering.
  • Donald Trump, after bragging about brokering a deal with OPEC, saw the oil prices in the United States become negative (-38 dollars a barrel) by April 20. Oil producers were paying buyers to take oil they couldn’t store.
  • Arkansas, whose state had not issued stay-at-home orders except for schools, has now denied visas to Chinese students who wish to study the sciences.
  • Maybe lawyer and former drug company lobbyist Alex Azar, the head of the U. S. Health and Human Services Department, could have done better than to pick Brian Harrisson, a labradoodle breeder, as head of the Coronavirus Task Force (a position later replaced by Vice President Mike Pence, whose background was as a lawyer and former Congressman). Remember to keep away people with science backgrounds at all times.
  • Florida corrections ordered inmates to manufacture face masks without wearing facemasks themselves, or any other protection, risking contamination to the facemasks they were making for the wardens and guards in the correctional facility.

Critique of the “Mindblowing Fact” video on income inequality

The video in question  is quite “mind-blowing” as promised, indeed, at over 13 million hits, it can even be called “viral”, but there are problems in how it presents and handles facts and references. While I don’t have a problem with the facts, and I am quite certain they are based on serious numbers, the presentation was too slick, with style clearly triumphing over detail.

The speaker begins by saying he was disturbed by a Harvard study that said that the actual distribution of wealth, what Americans think that distribution is, and the distribution of wealth idealized by Americans is totally out of whack. Americans are aware of existing inequalities, but have not the slightest idea of the extent of those inequalities. While he cites the Harvard study in his presentation, his only printed citation in his list of references at the end was the Mother Jones website, which, if you scroll down, you will find the “source”. In effect, the speaker, whom I didn’t catch the name of, is in effect citing Mother Jones citing the study by Professor Norton of Harvard Business School. I am aware of “Worstall’s Fallacy”, touted most of all by Forbes commentator Tim Worstall himself (Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute, and self-described as a “world expert on Scandium”, a transition metal), that “income” and “wealth” are different ideas that seem similar, and that the speaker in this video was committing “Worstall’s Fallacy” by confusing the two. I am never told quite where the speaker in the video does this. But then I thought that even if you corrected for that in the video, it would not change the overall message, just dull it a little bit.

But an even more worrisome statement in the video was at around 2:24 or so, where he derides socialism. Why does he feel he has to separate himself from socialists? Socialism should not be considered a dirty word. The distribution he labels “socialism” is actually Communism. You can only have absolutely equal wealth distributions (as in Communism) in a command economy where you have “no freedom to choose your major”, as Abbie Hoffman once said about Maoist China in the late ’60s (why else other than in an unfree society would you study medicine if you were only going to make as much as a janitor?). And the “ideal” American distribution cited as supportable by 9/10 Americans (where rich and poor coexist) would only be possible through wealth redistribution. I think the word for that second option begins with “S” and ends with “m” and rhymes with “populism”, and exists to some extent in most advanced capitalist democracies around the world. In fact, capitalist democracies are the only places I think that socialism is possible.

A choice joke I heard making the rounds is the one about a Union worker, a Tea Party supporter, and a millionaire Industrialist in the same room where there is a plate with a dozen cookies. The Industrialist takes 11 of them, and whispers to the Tea Party supporter: “That Union guy is trying to steal your cookie!”

T-Shirts I’d like to see

The following image is rumored to exist on recent T-shirts, the latest of many “Che” fashion statements:

whothef-k

… well, at least something like it. I haven’t seen it on any shirt, but some are saying that they saw it on some people at one time. But this is the web, and in the spirit of showing rather than telling, I cooked this one up on Photoshop. I would love to have a T-shirt with this image on it. Too bad I couldn’t wear it to work though… 🙁