Jordan B. Peterson has captured the attention of many people like me who are yearning for some heterodoxy. Upon hearing or reading his dissidence, you’ll think it is what used to be called common sense. JBP reads a lot, thinks even more, and has written a best seller that cannot be reviewed as one book because it is so full. I’m taking a few of my favorite chapters and giving you my take. Get your hands on that book though. Or listen to his podcast. Or hear him interviewed on someone else’s podcast.
Rule 2 Treat Yourself Like Someone You Are Responsible For Helping is not 33 pages of looking in the mirror and speaking self-affirmation. That’s unless the mirror is the two biblical creation stories and a glance at the naked ape.
The chapter begins with Peterson questioning why a third of people don’t fill their prescription for medication, and why of the those who do fill it, half don’t take the medication correctly.
He notes, however, that people will fill and properly administer medication for their pets. That predicament leads this psychologist to wonder what makes people prefer their pets and how much shame must exist for that to be true. Peterson has some answers that are well thought out and researched, but hardly take you on a straight line. You might have to read paragraphs more than once but you’ll see some things make sense, especially if you believe in God.
Shame is the start of the journey through Genesis into the nature of the world. Scientific truths can only account for the past 500 years worth of viewing the world. Man viewed the world before that as a subjective story of shared humanity. Every drama or story contains the elements of chaos, order, and consciousness.
Chaos is the unexplored territory. It’s “all those things and siturations we neither know nor understand.” Chaos is freedom too, and freedom can bring forth all kinds of good and bad.
Order is explored territory. It’s the structure and certainty of life. But when man relies too heavily on it, “order is sometimes tyranny and stultification [tedious and routine].”
Back to the first creation story, where we are introduced to chaos and order. Chaos was the unformed world and order was spoken forth by the creator who said it was good. (Does true speech always brings order to chaos?) As the human brain developed over millennia (our minds are older than mere humanity), it represents the expressions of these two views as a hemispheric structure. Order and chaos. Right and left brain. The hemispheres in the cortex reflect the division between order and chaos. After all, every human understands that chaos, disaster, and mayhem can rear its ugly head anytime, especially when things are going very well.
Allstate embodies this in their commercials with the cocky antagonist Mayhem who envisions and brings about the worst case scenario that no one forsees – which is why you buy insurance. Mayhem is good at what he does and we can all relate to it.
“We eternally inhabit order, surrounded by chaos. We eternally occupy known territory, surrounded by the unknown.” Petersen says. “We experience meaningful engagement when we mediate appropriately between them.” It’s the yin and the yang, baby! The human condition.
That leads us to the second creation story (as both Genesis stories were combined from two different Middle Eastern sources into one account): Adam and Eve, Eden, the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Who read that account and didn’t emerge with lots of questions?
Adam and Eve represent the consciousness needed in a drama, that mediating between order and chaos. Because their story begins with relative innocence and unconsciousness also known as nakedness.
The snake comes with the chaos enticing the humans with the thrill of the unknown, the adventure of a new dimension, the promise of improving their lot. or the Prior to the snake, their only danger was what order-only brings: remaining permanently stilted and immature, and having no purpose. Was that more or less dangerous than the challenge of the snake? God knew.
But what does that have to do with nakedness? Shame is the crux. Shame, self-consciousness, and self-contempt to be more precise. However, the story unfolds to show that the human’s nakedness unsettled them to such a degree that they hid and lied. Fear was introduced. And sometimes you hate the thing you fear. They were awakened to their flaws and inadequacies – to be able to look at themselves with contempt. Enough to want to withhold prescription medication for yourself and not your dog?
Dogs, like most mammals, are predators. They kill to eat. They destroy the life of another to survive. They aren’t mean. They don’t know their weaknesses and vulnerabilities. They don’t act out of malice. Humans know “how and where we can be hurt, and why. That’s as good a definition as any of self-consciousness.” according to Peterson.
Good and Evil enters the world as humans who hurt others because they now know how badly it inflicts damage. Through premeditated suffering. Through the terror we enact. Animals didn’t and can’t create the guillotine or the bomb. The rise of self-consciousness exposed humanity’s free will (chaos) and its reluctance (Adam hiding) to walk with God and embrace our divine spark to speak out the truth (order).
In order to care for ourselves properly then, we need to no longer see ourselves as fallen creatures and be able to respect ourselves again. Living in Truth, “we might treat ourselves like people we cared for.”
Humanity suffers less from its violent impulses as it did in its barbaric past but instead is bogged down in shame and self-contempt. But Peterson teaches, “It is not virtuous to be victimized by a bully, even if that bully is yourself.”
Peterson builds up a linear argument that is challenging to summarize. But we should treat ourselves well because our well being affects those with whom we are linked. We should respect ourselves, our diving spark, our human ability to overcome and thrive. We even deserve some sympathy for being “subjugated to our mortal vulnerability, tyranny of the state, and the depredations of nature.” So we should cut ourselves some slack.
Respect and care for yourself despite being fundamentally flawed. Respect your being and its divine spark. Consider what is truly good for you. (Since a theme of this book is responsibility, what is good for you might not be what makes you “happy.”) Define who you are and articulate it. Ensure your life has meaning. Once again “walk with God in the Garden,”
Half way through this chapter when Peterson is explaining the evolution of the human brain and the intricacies of the creation stories, you might lose track of the original treatise. But he gets you there, and you feel as if you understand it better than ever before.