April 13, 2021
In his 1929 novel, A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway wrote, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” Proclaiming that — irrespective of one’s stature, fame, or integrity — hardship, in one form or another, eventually befalls all.
The overture to Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life, Jordan Peterson’s hotly anticipated sequel to his 2018 bestseller, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, is as powerful of a testament to this as anything.
By 2019, the University of Toronto psychology professor had ascended to celebrity status. Partially buoyed by his most vocal and inane critics, aghast at his determination to challenge the Canadian government’s addition of self-prescribed gender pronouns to its Human Rights Act, Peterson quickly found himself at the forefront of the culture wars. His subsequent book, 12 Rules for Life, became an overnight bestseller; it has sold over four-million copies to date, and accompanied a plethora of speaking events, host to thousands of attendees, on an exhausting tour schedule. Peterson also subsequently launched a podcast and YouTube channel, featuring such guests as Hollywood star, Matthew McConaughey, and quickly amassed millions of listeners, eager to devour Peterson’s shrewd insights.
It was from this dizzying height that Jordan Peterson, perched atop what venture capitalist Eric Weinstein coined The Intellectual Dark Web, found his life spiraling into such psychological and physical destitution that almost appears sourced from the bleak depths of Russian literature.
Mentally and emotionally burdened by his wife’s rare cancer diagnosis and subsequent health ailments from his daughter, Peterson soon developed an addiction to a prescribed narcotic, benzodiazepine — something along the lines of such addictive substances as Valium or Xanax. In the throes of harrowing withdrawals, Peterson checked himself into a special clinic in Russia, where he was placed in a nine-day medically induced coma, in which his mind would remain unconscious while his body battled the burgeoning withdrawal.
Meanwhile, as a consequence of his public prominence, scant details of Peterson’s tribulations, including a fleeting bout with COVID-19, soon trickled their way into news headlines, resulting in reams of consternation around the firebrand intellectual’s health. Beyond Order, the sequel to Peterson’s 2018 phenomenon 12 Rules for Life, was largely written amidst Peterson’s battles with these medical ailments, and despite its turbulent origins, it manages to not only present the same degree of moral and philosophical clarity as its predecessor but offers an even greater variety of stories to embody the author’s ideas.
Much of the philosophy that guides and contours Beyond Order stems from Nietzsche’s belief in an absolute morality against which we measure ourselves, and towards which we must strive. It was the eschewing of this idea which Nietzsche lamented in the late 19th century, with the oft cited quote, “God is dead.” Peterson succinctly explains this idea through passages that organically read like his lectures, writing that Nietzsche’s requiem to the great Deity was out of fear that, “All the Judeo-Christian values serving as the foundation of Western civilization had been made dangerously subject to casual rational criticism, and that the most important axiom upon which they were predicated — the existence of a transcendent, all powerful deity — had been fatally challenged. Nietzsche concluded from this that everything would soon fall apart, in a manner catastrophic both psychologically and socially.”
Peterson’s strength lies in distilling deep philosophical and psychological ideas in simple terms, and ideas which cannot be further simplified, Peterson explains through stories. Stories are a heavily reoccurring theme throughout Beyond Order. For critics who felt 12 Rules for Life was too reliant on Biblical references, its sequel is brimming with an eclectic tapestry of tales, culling from Iron Man to Peter Pan, Pocahontas to Monty Python to Disney fairy tales and even Harry Potter. And if that doesn’t assuage readers, Peterson spices the pallet with ancient myths, such as the Babylon epic of creation, Enuma Elish. Not to mention, adding a seasoning of personal anecdotes from his own cases as a clinical psychologist, which make for some of the most interesting stories throughout. But amidst the wide array of parables, Biblical stories are still in ample supply, as Peterson concedes in the book, the Bible’s storytelling prowess remains unmatched, “the most fundamental stories of the West are found in the Biblical corpus.”
It is through these stories, with a gratuitous use of parentheses (and a plethora of dashes) that Peterson lays out his ideas and asks of the reader to wonder who they are, and who they want to be, proffering ideas on how to ameliorate your life.
His suggestions are both practical and immediately applicable. Peterson’s second rule, for example, suggests imagining who you could be, and aiming single-mindedly at that. Further bolstering this later in the book, in rule VII, “work as hard as you possibly can on at least one thing and see what happens.” Subsequently, through one of his prior clinical cases, Peterson explains how small problems, when left unattended, can quickly snowball into larger ones. He explains in the fourth rule that in all facets of life, opportunity lurks where responsibility is abdicated. A rule any working professional should take to heart. It is important to not only focus on the assigned work at hand, but to gauge what else could be done, to identify what minor things are being left unkempt at work and taking on the responsibility to do them. As Peterson writes, “make yourself invaluable at work.”
Peterson’s Rules, in a nutshell, are not a structured plan, tailored to give you anything specific. Rather, they are a general guideline of how to live a more fulfilling life. Don’t enjoy your job? Don’t let it build up; don’t let it slide, thinking it won’t later creep up and encroach on other facets of your life. Many of the large and seemingly unfathomable problems we face in life started out as pesky nuisances. Peterson writes, “tyranny grows slowly and asks us to retreat in comparatively small steps.” He continues, “If you do not object when the transgressions against your conscience are minor, why presume that you will not willfully participate when the transgressions get truly out offhand?”
Despite claims by embattled critics — and even such petulant staff at his publishing company who rallied to have the book pulled – Beyond Order doesn’t preach any singular political ideology. Its philosophy cautions against the radical upheaval of persisting social institutions, while conceding that change and progress are often necessary.
In his first rule, evoking Lennon’s cynically titled, “Revolution,” in which he sings, “We all want to change the world; but when you talk about destruction; don’t you know that you can count me out,” Peterson likewise admonishes reckless revolutionaries, writing, “do not carelessly denigrate social institutions or creative achievement.” He warns that liberals can be too blithe in their disregard for longstanding institutions that work, while also cautioning that blind worship of the past can leave one like Ayn Rand’s Peter Keating, bereft of original thought, unable to progress or discover new ground.
But where Beyond Order really shines is when Jordan Peterson strays from his bread and butter of Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky, baring his artistic affinities. Expanding on his now ubiquitous and internet-meme turned expressional advice, “clean your room,” Peterson suggests going a step further, not only ensuring everything is in order — but as the book’s title suggests — going beyond order. Ensuring that at least one room is as beautiful as it can be, and brings you joy each time you enter it. In Rule VIII, Peterson advises, “try to make one room in your house as beautiful as possible.”
Delving into his artistic side, Peterson writes, “if you study art, you do it so that you can familiarize yourself with the collected wisdom of our civilization.” He goes on to express in his own, inimitable style, the importance of art in our lives, “Buy a piece of art. Find one that speaks to you and make the purchase. If it is a genuine artistic production, it will invade your life and change it. A real piece of art is a window into the transcendent, and you need that in your life, because you are finite and limited and bounded by your ignorance.”
Peterson continues, exemplifying how, over time, artists have effectively taught us new ways to see and perceive the world around us. “Art is exploration. Artists train people to see. Most people with any exposure to art now regard the work of impressionists, for example, as both self-evidently beautiful and relatively traditional.” Impressionism, however, was itself a rebellious movement, one which cut deep against the grain of the traditional norms of the art establishment of its day — which outright rejected such works as Édouard Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass. It was only through establishing their own galleries that the visionary impressionists were able to thrive over the inexorable hierarchy inhibiting their creativity.
This ties back to Beyond Order’s first rule (on the importance social institutions) amiably; following long periods of stagnation, institutions become stale, in need of modest liberation from their past. Artists, as Peterson noted, train us how to see.
While much of Jordan Peterson’s advice may seem patent upon reading, there comes a time in every person’s life when they feel lost and without a sense of direction. The world breaks everyone, as Hemingway wrote. It is amidst such bleak times that Beyond Order’s clear-cut advice will guide you to shore. And when you make it out, as Jordan Peterson suggests at the end of his book, be grateful in spite of your suffering. Take it from someone who’s been there.
Originally Published on The Daily Wire