Thursday, March 28, 2019

Jordan Peterson's "12 Rules", well, the executive summary, and the Lobster Metaphor (and "Clean Your Room")

I recently bought a paperback copy of Jordan Peterson’s “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos” (2018).  There has been a lot of controversy about this book being "banned" by some sellers in New Zealand and other places (video). 

Well, I thought I did.  The original book from Random House Canada runs over 400 pages.  What I actually bought was a booklet from the Executive Growth Summaries for Personal Growth series. It runs 80 pages with ISBN 978-172598071-6.  This apparently is not written by Peterson himself. 

Nevertheless, the summary gives you enough to demonstrate the controversy. On page xi, it gives you a QR code to point your smartphone camera at to open a link with the 12 rules.

Furthermore, when I picked up my copy at a UPS store, the teenager working there pointed out to me that Amazon or the UPS driver had opened it “by mistake”.  Spying on someone for buying “right wing” literature?

 A few of the points help demonstrate the controversy.

The most disturbing to some people is the first one, “stand up straight”.  Peterson gets into a metaphor about the life of a male lobster to develop his idea that social hierarchy in nature is essential for anything to work. He sees it as almost a mathematical axiom. But roughly speaking, this sounds like a justification of authoritarianism and “ranking” or “rightsizing” people, a preoccupation of both fascism and communism (as in China today with the idea of a “social credit score”).  This observation might have motivated the 2015 satirical movie “The Lobster”, from director Yorgos Lanthimos, where single people are forced to find partners or be turned into beasts.

Point #6 is the “clean your room” idea, get your own life in order no matter how “unfair” the world has been to you. That call for unconditional self-discipline has drawn a lot of anger and indignation, to say the least.   This sounds like my essay “Assimilate (or join a resistance and assimilate)” or my father’s dictum “to obey is better than to sacrifice”.
Point #12 suggests we have a lot to learn from animals, more from cats (for their independence) than dogs.  It is certainly very good for teenagers to have experiences with wilder animals, and learn communication skills with beings that are a lot smarter (about their own worlds) than we realize. 
Martin Goldberg is very critical of Peterson’s hyperindividualism in his own “clean your room” video, and says people need to be open to joining others with collective activism, sometimes. 
It's not clear how Peterson replies to bullying.

It's interesting that Peterson grew up in a remote town even north of Edmonton, Alberta (the edge of civilization at the West Edmonton Mall).

Wikipedia attribution link for photo of lobsters in a supermarket tank in CT (CCSA 4.0)

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