Allen Lane, £14.99, ISBN 978-0-241-35164-2
We live in an age of hyperbole, one driven by social media mob mentality that has long leaked onto mainstream media as well. It says a lot that someone like Jordan B Peterson, who would normally be considered someone a little to the right as well as a little to left, depending on his specific positions on certain subjects, is considered an alt-right white nationalist these days just because he decided to take a stand against the increasingly bewildering “politically correct” status of these days. Even the reviews of this book tend to be so polarized that one can correctly guess the political alignment and sex of most of the people doing the reviews.
Well, you can all count of me to be impartial and honest – cough – so here it is, the review of 12 Rules for Life, subtitled An Antidote to Chaos. It was one of the biggest bestsellers of its genre earlier this year and, to Justin Trudeau’s dismay, one of the biggest bestsellers in Canada as well. It took me awhile to finish this book, though, because I have to admit that psychology and motivational books aren’t really my cup of tea, and I put down this book quite often only to forget to pick it up again until much later.
The “Chaos” in the subtitle no doubt refers to the state of today, although if you ask me, the chaos can easily be avoided by someone who stays away from social media, avoids BBC and CNN, and if that person is in college, sticks to their courses and don’t take seriously the so-called “diversity” courses they are forced to attend in order to justify the high salaries of pointless positions such as diversity officers and other people with gender study degrees who can’t find employment elsewhere. Still, it’s hard, and I suppose that’s why this book is published. Some people may point out that Mr Peterson is perhaps cashing in on his notoriety following his catapult into media infamy, but to be fair, he’s been doing this sort of thing for a while now. This just happens to be his book that came out after his appointment as the new leader of the Third Reich by left-wing media.
Of course, having the now former-DC Comics artist turned indie YouTube celebrity Ethan Van Sciver illustrate this book doesn’t help, as Mr Van Sciver is also appointed the leader of the Third Reich by the predominantly left-wing online comics community. mostly for the sin of being openly conservative and, to add salt to the injury, currently the brain behind the most successful crowdfunded independent comic to date – a feat that drives his detractors into epileptic word diarrhea on Twitter day in and day out.
Okay, this book. It’s all about common sense that will resonate with sane people. Rule one: stand up straight with your shoulders back – which is to say, while nature does play a role in determining our attitude and outlook, we can still take control of our lives and change or eliminate destructive behaviors. Rule two: treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping. Rule three: make friends with people who want the best for you. Rule four: compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today. Rule five: do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them. Rule six: set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world. Rule seven: Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient). Rule eight: tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie. Rule nine: assume that the person you are listening to might know something that you don’t. Rule ten: be precise in your speech.
Rule eleven: do not bother children when they are skateboarding – a chapter that will trigger people who believe in concepts such as toxic masculinity and there are no such things as gender, as it is basically a plea to let kids be kids and stop imprinting the new gender norms, all 99 flavors of them, and Marxist values on them. This chapter feels a lot like the author extending his crusade against the current tragicomedy that is political correctness in US and Europe, and hence, it feels tad self-serving and even defensive in a book that is supposedly all about the reader, not the author.
Back to the rules. Rule twelve: pet a cat when you encounter one on the street. Which is to say, enjoy the moment, appreciate the good times and plan for the future during these times, and look for the good during bad times. Or so I think. By that point, the book is so bogged down by philosophical gobbledygook, I’m not sure what exactly the author is trying to say anymore.
That’s my issue with 12 Rules for Life: all the gobbledygook. This is not a self-help book, even if it contains plenty of sane take-home messages, so folks who want a quick read that can let them capture the essential points in one go will have little to savor past the chapter listing which has all the rules laid out. That is the most succinct part of the entire thing. Each chapter contains the author’s personal anecdotes, comparisons of the human spirit and nature to all kinds of things from animals to actual spirits and what not, and discussions on various psychological and spiritual matters that can test the patience of readers who just want to know how to feel better about life. While I personally find the author’s approach intriguing – it certainly keeps me turning the pages long after I discovered that it isn’t what I initially expected it to be, heh – the author also has a laborious and occasionally annoying tendency to go off tangent or launch into treatises that have me going, “What, what is he trying to tell me again?” The message often gets muddled up as a result of all the similes, comparisons, anecdotes, and more. I know, he’s a professor, and he certainly treats the reader as someone attending his lecture. Why stick to three anecdotes when he can launch seven, right? I really wish he’d just get straight to the point more often.
I have to admit, though, each chapter is sensible in its core. This one offers plenty of common sense advice. Sure, one can say we don’t need books like this to tell us these things, but sometimes, we need someone to tell us things that we may already know inside, so that we can be galvanized to finally get our act together. That’s why books like this one, I feel, have a place in our lives.
But do I agree with everything here? Of course not. Mr Peterson, I feel, has a romanticized version of the patriarchal system in culture and in the academia that I fail to appreciate. While I personally refuse to use the term “male privilege” due to how it has been distorted into meaninglessness by the usual suspects these days, I do feel that he, as a man, doesn’t fully get how hard women need to work to be given the same opportunities as men, especially in developing countries. I certainly don’t want things to revert to the “good old days”, that’s for sure. But at the same time, I don’t sense malice or ill-will in Mr Peterson. Judging from this book alone, he comes off as an insightful person who is open to a discussion or two, although it may be hard to get a word in because he has so many stories to tell, heh. No to mention, he is nowhere being radical or extremist here, unlike some of his detractors.
So, should people read this book? Well, as long as they know what they are getting into, I guess: more of a professor’s lecture, less of a succinct, straight-to-the-point self-help book. Folks who have made up their minds that Jordan B Peterson is a white supremacist will have no reason to read this one, of course, but other folks may be surprised to find out that there is nothing here that is remotely close to suggesting that the author is what the left-wing media demonizes him to be. Why, he seems… normal, sensible even. What a quaint notion indeed.