This past year I took a break from university mainly to avoid the insufferable nonsense of online education. I never expected it to be so difficult to live without the structure of school and the everyday comfort of having something to do.
All of a sudden I needed to decide what to do every moment of everyday and it was HARD. I struggled quite a bit, jumping between different hobbies and shuffling schedules. I’ve never really been a diligent planner so that meant I would go into each day not knowing what I was doing AT ALL until maybe 5 minutes beforehand when I decide to do something silly, like start a blog.
Anyways, one of the discoveries I made during this time was a book written by the popular psychologist Jordan B. Peterson called 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. If you haven’t heard of the guy then either you’ve been living under a rock or otherwise have better things to be doing than listening to some guy talk for hours on YouTube.
Jordan Peterson rose to fame some time around 2016 after taking a controversial political / social stance on Canada’s Bill C16 which mandated the use of preferred pronouns under Canadian law.
But for many years he’s been known as a brilliant psychology professor, intellectual and philosopher on topics ranging from Religion to Personal Development.
If you’ve never seen or heard about him I really recommend watching one of his lectures to get a better idea who he is.
Now, I truly think that Jordan is brilliant in his speech and presentation skills, which are backed up by a wide array of knowledge in psychology, neuroscience and history.
Despite all that background, I do believe that I can break down Jordan Peterson’s main philosophies in one blog post — hopefully in a way that is more easily digestible than his lectures where he speaks for hours.
Not everything about Jordan Peterson will be covered in this post, but I will share some of the important ideas, philosophical concepts and developmental theories starting with a description of certain fundamental concepts.
I wouldn’t call Jordan a developmental psychologist (although he is a clinical psychologist) but he brings up the field several times in his lectures, particularly the work of Jean Piaget, famous for his work on child development. The idea that humans behavior is largely explained by development since birth isn’t new, and is not very controversial. Yet the field of developmental psychology is way too large to go in depth so I will cite a few important takeaways that Jordan often mentions:
1. Taking good care of children from birth is crucial for their later life success and wellbeing (measured in various ways).
It’s not clear exactly what “good care” means, and it varies from person to person with sometimes comparable levels of success, but as I continue it will become more clear what Jordan believes (and I mostly agree with) to be the main indicators of parenting success.
2. Changing your own behavior is crucial to developing yourself.
Pretty self-explanatory. This will be mentioned a lot more later in the post, so I’ll just say that changing your behavior can change the trajectory of your development either towards something better or not, so controlling that is important (but difficult).
Most people think of existentialism as the “life is meaningless” idea, but that’s not entirely correct. Existentialism is essentially the idea that meaning is derived from lived experience; it’s not things themselves that have meaning but the way we use objects or perceive them.
Existentialism emphasizes the importance of individual existence (pretty easy to remember if you take apart the word).
One of the most interesting fields that Peterson frequently touches upon. Plainly put, phenomenology is the study of ‘phenomena’ or more simply — an approach that concentrates on the study of consciousness and the objects of direct experience.
Consciousness is a very strange phenomenon (pardon the pun) and is extremely interesting to both study and philosophize about because we don’t know crap about it.
One thing that Jordan mentions a lot is the difference between objective reality and experienced reality. Or the difference between matter and what matters.
At first it might seem strange. What’s the difference? It’s actually pretty huge, and this is a point Dr. Peterson emphasizes a lot. We perceive the world not as a collection of objects, but as filled with ‘tools’ and ‘obstacles’ that either aid in moving towards an aim / objective or prevent us from moving towards the current goal.
More simply: we always have a current aim or goal, we perceive the world as things that move us towards or away from that goal because THAT is was is important to us.
Let’s look at an example…
Say you are downstairs and haven’t ate for many hours, but were distracted by homework that you FINALLY finished. All of a sudden your brain will likely fall under control of hunger (a motivated state) and your perception will be hyper focused on how to satisfy that motivated state (and thus activate certain reward systems to reinforce that behavior, but that’s a topic for another time).
The kitchen is upstairs so first thing you’ll do is get up out of your chair and align your body and eyes to move towards the stair case. You automatically ignore everything else in the room, because none of that would satisfy your current aim (unless there is a Snickers bar in the corner or something).
Assuming you are familiar with the kitchen, your eyes and ENTIRE perception will focus on where you can find food. Otherwise, if you are not familiar with the kitchen, your brain will utilize abstractions learned from your previous experience in kitchens to perceive a fridge or cupboard that it’s never seen before and assume that is where food can be found.
When you open the fridge, your eyes will focus immediately on the abundance of food, judging how to best satisfy your current motivated state, but you will also be under the influence of other motivated states competing with the state of pure “hunger”.
Maybe you are watching your weight so you are willing to sacrifice appeasing your hunger to in return shed some pounds.
All of these different motivated states can be thought of as micro personalities that ‘take control of you’. Even if they are only biological processes, I find it much easier to think of motivations in terms of micro personalities as it is much more practical.
ANYWAYS, that is enough of Phenomenology. I explained a few things outside of Phenomenology including Freud’s (or Jung’s?) theory of motivation, but hopefully now you get the idea that our consciousness and perceptions are not necessarily concerned with the objective world (assuming one even exists.. see this link for an extremely good video explaining this idea).
So this isn’t a psychological or even philosophical idea, but it is mentioned a lot by Jordan Peterson and I think it is really important to cover.
In fact, Jordan seems to describe truth almost as a religious idea in that using truth to act in the world will make the world better. And that the more that people are truthful, the better the world will be.
Now, it’s important to distinguish ‘telling the truth’ and ‘acting truthfully’ because I believe the second to be most important. You can always tell the truth and lie with your actions, although speaking the truth is a good first step.
When you act truthfully, your speech, actions, thoughts and experience should all be brutally honest. It’s hard to explain how to be truthful, but in Jordan Peterson’s book “12 Rules for Life” he has a chapter titled “Tell the Truth, or At Least Don’t Lie”. It should be quite obvious to you when you have talked, written or acted out a lie. It is important to notice these breaches of truth and try to correct them, don’t let lies slip by.
It’s really hard for me to explain why being truthful to yourself and to others is absolutely and fundamentally important, but it is.
I recommend being honest in every interaction, don’t try to deceive or manipulate, it’s not worth it. Lies will pile up and come back to haunt you.
THIS IS THE LAST THING I WILL TOUCH ON IN THIS POST.
Jordan Peterson (rightfully, in my opinion) believes that the individual is the most fundamental and important element of society.
One of Dr. Peterson’s controversial criticisms of left wing activists and politicians is that they tend to elevate group identity over individual identity. When Peterson believes that individual identity is undeniably most important.
One of the justifications Peterson uses is that with group identities, individuals can have many of them. This makes it hard to know whether to hold a group responsible for the actions of an individual when often the individual is to blame (emphasis on individual responsibility is a topic that I’ll hopefully touch on in Part 2 of this post).
Also, another potential benefit to individualism is that it tends to foster better interactions between people. Tribalism, which occurs when people primarily identify with a group or collection of groups, has historically led to a lot of conflict when compared to individualist interactions which tend to consider that both parties in the interactions are responsible for what they do and say which makes for more respectful interactions.
Last thing about individualism, taking a more practical approach, is that when you act with your individual responsibility in mind, it makes your life more meaningful as taking responsibility makes you an actor in the world that can effect change and by taking responsibility for their actions, people are more likely to effect positive change because that is not only what’s best for society, but for themselves as well.
Anyways, I’ve gone off on a lot of weird tangents in this post and surely haven’t explained myself thoroughly enough to make complete sense. Hopefully when I get part 2 up things will make more sense and Jordan’s philosophy will seem more clear.