Book Summary

12 Rules of Life – Jordan Peterson

INTRODUCTION

I didn’t have any presuppositions before reading this book other than the hope that the book would reveal a step by step guide to “get your life in order”. It wasn’t quite that, the concept was still slightly ambiguous but if you truly read and meditated on the writing then you could pull away actionable steps that are applicable and relevant to you.

Here is Peterson. He is a clinical psychologist and former professor at Toronto University. He is most known for his biblical serious and deconstructing the meta-myth of the narrative.

Rule 1: Stand up straight with your shoulders back

Peterson is synonymously known as the lobster guy because of his deep interest in learning about the neurological structure of the species. Through his research, he discovered that their primordial neurochemistry is rather simple but still important. Their relation in dopamine and octopamine determine their positions in the dominance hierarchy. The more dopamine in the lobster the more “proud” they stand and the less likely they are to back down from a physical altercation. The inverse of this is a “number 10” lobster who is disheveled and defeated.

He talks about the Pareto principle and references Mathew 25:29 as well to better explain the analogy. “To those who have everything, more will be given; from those who have nothing, everything will be taken.” Having a positive position in the dominance hierarchy compounds itself over time.

The concept of shaking hands and kissing babies is older than humanity, neurologically speaking. Alpha animals have awareness of their lower counterparts and tend to their needs and the females and children. The political ploy of baby-kissing is literally millions of years old.

Additionally having an upright posture (exuding dominance and confidence) has “prime real estate and easiest access to the best hunting grounds. He also gets all the girls. It is exponentially more worthwhile to be successful, if you are a lobster, and male.”

Dominance hierarchies are older than trees, biologically speaking. Understanding that truth and learning how to modulate our perception within the hierarchy will allow us to thrive or perish. The primordial part of the brain that tracks your position in the dominance hierarchy is an ancient fundamental truth, Peterson calls it our “master control system”.

He loosely touches on the importance of routine and dopamine, mainly focusing on nutrition and sleep. He strongly prescribes that people wake up at a consistent time each day to ensure that their neurochemistry is in order as well. He then suggests omitting from consuming high sugar foods for breakfast as they have a tendency to create glucose spikes which is detrimental for motivation and mental health.

“I have had many clients whose anxiety was reduced to subclinical levels merely because they started to sleep on a predictable schedule and eat breakfast.”

The discussion of feedback loops being used for our detriment is also lightly covered by Peterson when given an example of how sad people depressed and anxious people develop phobias.

The emphasis is that like lobsters our posture represents our position in the hierarchy. If we look defeated we will be treated as such, and the inverse is equally true.

“To stand up straight with your shoulders back is to accept the terrible responsibility of life, with eyes wide open. It means deciding to voluntarily transform the chaos of potential into the realities of habitable order. It means adopting the burden of self-conscious vulnerability, and accepting the end of the unconscious paradise of childhood, where finitude and mortality are only dimly comprehended. It means willingly undertaking the sacrifices necessary to generate a productive and meaningful reality (it means acting to please God, in the ancient language).

So, attend carefully to your posture. Quit drooping and hunching around. Speak your mind. Put your desires forward, as if you had a right to them — at least the same right as others. Walk tall and gaze forthrightly ahead. Dare to be dangerous. Encourage the serotonin to flow plentifully through the neural pathways desperate for its calming influence.”

Rule 2: Treat yourself like you would someone you are responsible for helping

The title and the first example of this chapter are all that’s needed. He discusses our inability to properly care for ourselves while still maintaining the capacity to care greatly for our dependents (he uses dogs which is my weakness as the epitome). He attributes various factors for WHY people fail to tend to themselves properly while simultaneously caring for their dependents.

He then reverts back to his bread-and-butter which is to say that our life is not only empirically represented by the sciences but also is depicted as a movie, narrative, and drama. He extends that concept by discussing the three constituent elements associated with this drama of life that we reside in: Chaos, order, and the moderator — the (anti-)hero; you. “It is our eternal subjugation to the first two that makes us doubt the validity of existence — that makes us throw up our hands in despair, and fail to care for ourselves properly. It is a proper understanding of the third that allows us the only real way out.”

When the ice you’re skating on is solid, that’s order. When the bottom drops out, and things fall apart, and you plunge through the ice, that’s chaos.

He then digresses by stating when we experience novelty, moderating between the unknown and known, we achieve meaning. We are structured order embedded in a chaotic universe so our eternal position is fixed in the domain of known in the world of the unknown. Mediating between the two creates order and enlightenment.

This concept ties in with the state of flow as discussed in “The Art of Happiness”. When time passes by without acknowledgment because we are engrossed in what we are doing that is the border of the known and unknown. That moment you are experiencing novelty.

He brings up order and chaos only to introduce the concept of good and bad, and evil. Not all that is bad is evil but all that is evil is bad. Evil, as described by Peterson, is the desire to act maliciously and impose malevolence on others.

This is also a consequence of denial and lies. This leads one towards a path of “hell” so to speak. A path of self-destruction.

When Even took a bite from the apple she realized that she was exposed and naked. She became self-conscious as the evil snake lured her into wanting the knowledge of god. Our self-consciousness makes us inherently aware of our own defencelessness, finitude, and mortality. We can feel pain, and self-disgust, and shame, and horror, and we know it. We know what makes us suffer. We know how dread and pain can be inflicted on us — and that means we know exactly how to inflict it on others. We know how we are naked, and how that nakedness can be exploited — and that means we know how others are naked, and how they can be exploited.

Marcus talks about divinity being inner key values that align with morality and societal morality. Walking in accordance with the divine means to pursue the good and repress the bad habits.

Since the fall we have been plagued with innate sin. This means to miss the mark and why care for a wretched creature who fails to miss the mark?

However, he affirms that “If we lived in Truth; if we spoke the Truth — then we could walk with God once again, and respect ourselves, and others, and the world. Then we might treat ourselves like people we cared for. We might strive to set the world straight. We might orient it toward Heaven, where we would want people we cared for to dwell, instead of Hell, where our resentment and hatred would eternally sentence everyone.”

He appends his affirmation by stating, “To treat yourself as if you were someone you are responsible for helping is, instead, to consider what would be truly good for you. This is not ‘what you want.’ It is also not ‘what would make you happy.’ You need to consider the future and think, ‘What might my life look like if I were caring for myself properly?’”

You have the ability to place yourself on a trajectory towards heaven while simultaneously diverting away from your personal manifested version of hell.

Marcus suggests we devote our lives to living in the divine and having an omnipresent god watch over you to ensure you follow his law is a helpful tool used to keep order in a chaotic world of evil and misfortune.

Rule 3: Make friends with people who want the best for you

This lesson is extremely important as your core friend group can heavily influence your decisions and behaviors. He gives an example when “well-meaning counselors place a delinquent teen among comparatively civilized peers. The delinquency spreads, not the stability. Down is a lot easier than up.”

He ends with, “Assume first that you are doing the easiest thing, and not the most difficult.”

He appends his statement by proposing that pursuing a path with least resistance (in this instance temptations and path towards your version of “hell”) without claiming responsibility for placing yours in such a state of suffering than you are preventing them from improving all together and remove their desire to improve as future problems.

“In this manner, you strip him or her of all power.”

He gives an anecdotal expert of his life as a clinician. He said the desire to change must be an intrinsic desire other while your behavior and by extension your habits are forever cemented into the current rigid form of travesty and eternal suffering.

So, as a result, he offers a practical action step for readers to consider implementing. He tells us to ask yourself, “If you have a friend whose friendship you wouldn’t recommend to your sister, or your father, or your son, why would you have such a friend for yourself?”

He earnestly asks the reader to be hyper selective of the people that they choose to surround themselves with. He hopes that you “dare” to aspire upwards. The move upward removes the veil of inadequacy and reveals the future promise of a potential “heaven”.

He ends the chapter by stating surrounding ourselves with positive people is no simple task. And it’s certainly more daunting to be adjacent to someone who is even potentially better than you (See the next chapter heh). That requires a disciplined mind and extreme humility. “Use your judgment, and protect yourself from too-uncritical compassion and pity.”

Rule 4: Compare yourself with who you were yesterday, not with who someone else is today

This concept should’ve been given to me much earlier haha oh the headache this could have prevented. The realization that regardless of my accomplishments and “rank” in the dominance hierarchy there is someone will dwarf your achievements and prestige. There’s a great lesson in that truth, man — its humility.

I love this concept as its something I wrestled with since first learning of stoicism. Marcus amongst other greats countless emphasis the ephemeralness of time and how the future is irrelevant in that you should not desire to seek fame. Peterson defines the distinction a bit better. As he said, “The proper response to that statement is not, ‘Well, then, everything is meaningless.’ It’s, Any idiot can choose a frame of time within which nothing matters.” He finishes his idea with, “It’s a cheap trick of the rational mind.”

This is where the prescriptions become insanely transparent. Consider life as a game. In the game of Life, there are sub-games and MANY of those. There are even a few games that align beautifully with your talent(s). He also makes apparent that we are not only playing one sub-game rather we are playing multiple simultaneously: the game of your career, the game of your relationships, etc. He continues by affirming that many may want to win every game, however, only winning is not any better. That leads to stagnation and you may be winning but you certainly are not improving. Even in failure improving is the most “important form of growing”.

He rhetorically asks, “Should victory in the present always take precedence over trajectory across time?”

He leads with a series of questions he asks us to truthfully answer. “What do you do to avoid conflict, necessary though it maybe? What are you inclined to lie about, assuming that the truth might be intolerable? What do you fake?”

The ending of his book “Maps of Meaning” talked about our instinct for interest is what drives us to thrive, it is the meaning of life. He also states that we are presented in a state of eternal suffering (or heading there) but the future provides hope and potential which is eternally better than the present.

He presents a situation in differentiating the future from the past. The past is fixed while the future is inherent with attainable potential. He proposes that doing better in a single day with minimal engagement over time will compound into a life filled with prosperity. Progress according to him and other great minds like the Dalai Lama, is the path to true happiness.

Once again ask yourself and answer these questions truthfully, “What could I say to someone else — my friend, my brother, my boss, my assistant — that would set things a bit more right between us tomorrow? What bit of chaos might I eradicate at home, on my desk, in my kitchen, tonight, so that the stage could be set for a better play? What snakes might I banish from my closet — and my mind?”

“What could I do, that I would do, that would accomplish that, and what small thing would I like as a reward?” this ties back with feedback loops. Let’s use our knowledge on how to condition the mind to develop positive habits that last. Find out what truly satisfies you and reward yourself. Comparing yourself to the previous day as your baseline is how you compound positively over time. Remember that identity-based habits vs outcome-based habits create more sustainable change.

Hearing about faith again from this perspective helped me on my own. Faith is not a delusion fairy tale. “That is ignorance or even willful blindness. It is instead the realization that the tragic irrationalities of life must be counterbalanced by an equally irrational commitment to the essential goodness of Being.” Setting your sights to improve and be better requires immense sacrifice.

So, the action steps he prescribes is to be aware of our surroundings. This is cultivating the virtue of awareness and attentfullness. Ask yourself three questions: “What is it that is bothering me?” “Is that something I could fix?” and “Would I actually be willing to fix it?” if you answered truthfully the answer should not be a no, but if you do receive a no response “ Aim lower. Search until you find something that bothers you, that you could fix, that you would fix, and then fix it. That might be enough for the day.”

“What could I do, that I would do, to make Life a little better?”

Rule 5: Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them

He prefaces the chapter by asking the reader to reconsider the questions being asked initially. We understand why addiction is catalyzed and why people suffer from anxiety. Those are heavily understood and researched topics. The real questions that should be asked are, why are people so calm even though life is abundant in misfortune and misery? We should be terrified and petrified at the millions of things that can go wrong.

He then deconstructs the psyche of a two-year-old. He references them to a bland man. Both of which are forced to push the limit to test the real boundaries. Where the blind man is seeking for walls the child is looking to see what is permissible behavior. He extends the analysis by suggesting that parents should learn to differentiate the cries of fear and sadness from the ones of anger. Two-year-olds have a proclivity for violence and “bad” valence based behavioral patterns. They are merely exploring and learning. The parents often tend to their children when crying but learning to distinguish between the two can assist the childhood development as anger-based-crying is usually an act of dominance and should be addressed accordingly.

He then discusses conditioning children (teaching them). He mentioned Skinner’s research, who was a realist, in that conditioning a target subject is rather challenging and requires tremendous investment. You have a subject (let’s say your daughter) and you have the desired target (let’s say to be more open and communicate better). Now you must WAIT and monitor. You first must discover a proper reward for the action and something that the subject genuinely desires. Peterson often asserts children being the black hole of attention. In that, they thrive when more attention is given to them. So maybe when she is talking over breakfast you place your phone down and listen intently or run the risk of never being told anything again.

He reaffirms that the goal is not to overly shelter your children from the chaos of the world in an attempt to protect them from failure and misadventure. The goal is to make those learning experiences more valuable while minimizing the cost associated with gaining the newly acquired knowledge.

So, there are two principles parents should follow when raising their children based on the literature. Limit the rules, and use the least force necessary to enforce the limited rules.

He gives a practical example with an angry child. Time out is a great tool used to create awareness for the kid, it shows them that the behavior is unescapable from society and is shunned (temporarily) and only can reintegrate when he is calmed down. Additionally, if the child is careless of the punishment he proposes physically restraining the child firmly with the upper arms until the child is calm. Remember, you are teaching them what NOT to do while quickly showing them what TO DO. Go back to skinners conditioning research.

He then carefully interjects a psychological principle for parents: understand your own capacity (and proclivity) to be harsh, vindictive, arrogant, resentful, angry, and deceitful. This is where the word AGAPE comes into play for me. Its unconditional love from the father and this should be extended to not only our neighbors as prescribed by Christianity but especially to our family and children.

We have a tendency to be selfish, it’s our survival instinct. For this exact reason, its extremely challenging for adults to tolerate being dominated by a child. He proposes that revenge is usually followed by the irritability created by an untamed varmint of a child you are raising.

He ends the chapter by stating parents are to act as proxies for the real world. It’s their primary objective to make their kin socially desirable. “This obligation supersedes any responsibility to ensure happiness, foster creativity, or boost self-esteem.”

Rule 6: Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world

He talks about the vicious cycle of abuse and how many actors who abuse their children have often abused themselves, while the vast majority of those who were abused do not abuse their children at all. This leads into life “falling apart” — so to speak. He asks rhetorically if this is the fault of reality “of God” or is it simply the byproduct of not paying sufficient attention?

He explains that a hurricane is an act of god but not preparing properly enough for the hurricane when given sufficient notice is the fault of man. Therefore he prescribes us to: “Start to stop doing what you know to be wrong. Start shopping today. Don’t waste time questioning how you know that what you’re doing is wrong if you are certain that it is.”

This could be seen as the log in the eye story once again or “let he who has not sinned cast the first stone”. We have our own faults and areas of our lives that need attention. So we must address and manage those affairs before we even dare to traverse into the chaotic universe and manipulate our surroundings to get us towards our ideal future.

Rule 7: Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)

Peterson infers that our recognition of the sacrifice needed for success can be symbolically represented in the meta-myths of religion and stories. We have observed the actions and outcomes of both successful and unsuccessful people for over a millennia. Our mind has evolved to recognize such differences and try to make sense of them in the form of narrative. They recognized that delayed gratification was quintessential for the successful.

Sacrifice a bit today for the higher potential of a better future.

He then suggests that if we “do not see the world that we want” then we must examine our values and habits. He said to eliminate the baggage tactfully and even consider sacrificing what you love in the now for the ability to become who you might become, “instead of staying who you are.”

This portion may be considered blasphemous, but this is how I revere the divine as well. He prescribes that we sacrifice by rectifying the flaws, “repenting” to walk on the path of the divine with the objective to create Heaven on earth and to live a life aimed at the good, to walk with god. He soberly requests that you pursue ultimate meaning which means immense sacrifices will need to be made time from time. The goal is to bring salvation to the world through your actions and sacrifice for the better good.
“No tree can grow to Heaven,” adds the ever-terrifying Carl Gustav Jung, psychoanalyst extraordinaire, “unless its roots reach down to hell.”

Peterson postulates that every human has the ability to detect, a priortise, what is good and even more so what is not. Therefore they understand that the latter is to aim up.

“Pay attention. Fix what you can fix. Don’t be arrogant in your knowledge. Strive for humility, because totalitarian pride manifests itself in intolerance, oppression, torture, and death. Become aware of your own insufficiency — your cowardice, malevolence, resentment, and hatred. Consider the murderousness of your own spirit before you dare accuse others and before you attempt to repair the fabric of the world. Maybe it’s not the world that’s at fault. Maybe it’s you. You’ve failed to make the mark. You’ve missed the target. You’ve fallen short of the glory of God. You’ve sinned. And all of that is your contribution to the insufficiency and evil of the world. And, above all, don’t lie. Don’t lie about anything, ever. Lying leads to Hell. It was the great and the small lies of the Nazi and Communist states that produced the deaths of millions of people.

You may come to ask yourself, ‘What should I do today?’ in a manner that means ‘How could I use my time to make things better, instead of worse?’”
In the end, he says to pursue meaning but that meaning itself is ensued and not manifested on its own accord — as an act of will. Anything less may not be satisfying and you may not even know what you truly want.

Convenience its temporary. Nurture the instinct for interest and pursue daily improvement. Discover the meaning and follow that with one hundred percent capacity. Meaning is the collective of expedient action working together in a symphony of being.

Rule 8: Tell the truth — or, at least, don’t lie

Reading this from his first book really shaped my outlook on life into perspective. I was diagnosed as a sociopath and although I knew right from wrong somehow justified my manipulation. I had a divine intervention and realized that what I was doing was wrong and that I had the ability to defeat this impulse.

Peterson says it best, “I soon came to realize that almost everything I said was untrue. I had motives for saying these things: I wanted to win arguments and gain status and impress people and get what I wanted. I was using language to bend and twist the world into delivering what I thought was necessary. But I was a fake.” The first exposure to his perspective of lying truly resonated with me (hehe truly). I had to practice the new skill of telling the truth or at the minimum try not to lie. Like the heads of hydra the lie multiplies each time it’s told.

“Only the most cynical, hopeless philosophy insists that reality could be improved through falsification.”

Debt is a major problem in Merca but thinks of the lies you told as a form of debt. So to accept the truth is to sacrifice. He metaphorically represents the lie as the forest and fire. Deadwood in the forest accumulates over time. Sometimes the forest burns down the deadwood releasing locked nutrients back into the soil. Sometimes the fires are artificially suppressed and that build-up of deadwood means that the fire is inevitable and will only be 20x stronger and more devastating. But like a phoenix, you can rise from your ashes.

He ends with a mirror statement, “If your life is not what it could be, try telling the truth. If you cling desperately to an ideology, or wallow in nihilism, try telling the truth. If you feel weak and rejected, and desperate, and confused, try telling the truth. In Paradise, everyone speaks the truth. That is what makes it Paradise. Tell the truth. Or, at least, don’t lie.”

Rule 9: Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t

Peterson opens with the concept of memory. Memory is a tool used to help guide us in the future. It allows us to remember the past so that we do not repeat the same mistakes multiple times.

Carl Rogers, one of the twentieth century’s great psychotherapists, knew something about listening. He wrote, “The great majority of us cannot listen; we find ourselves compelled to evaluate because listening is too dangerous. The first requirement is courage, and we do not always have.”

He then suggests that we consider listening more than we speak and listen intently without premature judgment. People will slowly reveal a lot about themselves and inner thoughts without much deceit.

If you listen to someone with the humble understanding that they know more than you, even if it’s to offer anecdotal experience on how not to act then you can truly appreciate conversation as an action.

Rule 10: Be precise in your speech

From what I gathered this chapter was pertaining to the powerful impact speech has with communication and for self-conscious. The words we say are meaningful and possess tremendous significance. Life begins with a word and the word was a god.

We are embedded into a chaotic universe so its easy to deny or hide from danger but avoiding the dragon in the cave is a path of destruction. He ends with “Confront the chaos of Being. Take aim against a sea of troubles. Specify your destination, and chart your course. Admit to what you want. Tell those around you who you are. Narrow, and gaze attentively, and move forward, forthrightly. Be precise in your speech.”

Rule 11: Do not bother children when they are skate-boarding

He said this was a meditation on masculinity in males and women and politics. If you know Peterson then you know that he deeply opposes the ideology of fabricating an endless number of pronouns and rejects the Canadian government for subscribing to such ideology as well. This is not to say that Peterson is homophobic, but its a matter of definition.

I believe it was Jung who developed the most surgically wicked of psychoanalytic dicta: if you cannot understand why someone did something, look at the consequences — and infer the motivation.

Men are limited when climbing the dominance hierarchy, as opposed to women who can dominate both hierarchies. This is a stigma against men who are “good at what girls value” their reputation with their male members diminishes.

He brings up an interesting statement, a reflection on the ones who hate the 1% for example. In hierarchy winners and losers coexist as a consequence of climbing the hierarchy or not. “The winners are, of course, more likely to justify the hierarchy and the losers to criticize it.”

Accumulating power is a phenomenal economic driver and great intrinsic motivation. If we want progress instead of stagnation then good must juxtapose the bad. Competition for the top of the hierarchy is essential for achieving power.

Here is his meditation on politics in the current state of social justice pandemic. “If radical right-wingers were receiving state funding for political operations disguised as university courses, as the radical left-wingers clearly are, the uproar from progressives across North America would be deafening.”

Continuing his conversation on power he notes that well-functioning societies (not to be misconstrued with fictional utopias) are not dependent on power rather competency. So there is some sort of meritocracy creating the hierarchy.

He finally reveals his opposition to the pronoun culture:

Here’s the fundamental problem: group identity can be fractionated right down to the level of the individual. That sentence should be written in capital letters. Every person is unique — and not just in a trivial manner: importantly, significantly, meaningfully unique. Group membership cannot capture that variability. Period.

He somberly ends this chapter by stating, “And if you think tough men are dangerous, wait until you see what weak men are capable of. Leave children alone when they are skateboarding.”

Rule 12: Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street

This chapter was a personal chapter for Peterson. He talked about illness heavily in this one. He reiterates the cruelness of life and pointless suffering.

Yet, he adds the point that you “have to be aware of your suffering and aware of the beauty in life.” Stoics talk about the good and bad being encompassed by the Whole and are two of the same thing.

Do not succumb to the temptation of worrying too much over every moment of misfortune. Conserve your energy because life is a war and its comprised of multiple battles. Hold your composure. Cope with it in a constructive scheduled manner.

“And maybe when you are going for a walk and your head is spinning a cat will show up and if you pay attention to it then you will get a reminder for just fifteen seconds that the wonder of Being might make up for the ineradicable suffering that accompanies it. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.”

CONCLUSION

I would say that the book as a whole offers great invaluable information but the elements that had the biggest impact for me was from the following chapters.
Chapters: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, and 8.

Stand up straight and get your own house in order before you try to tackle the immense difficulty of life. Surround yourself with people who will propel you into greatness rather than drag you down back to hell.

Compare yourself to who you were yesterday and try to improve even just a small bit daily. Comparing yourself to others is like comparing the fish’s climbing abilities to a monkey. You are two different people and must realize people place their best foot forward, publicly.

Pursue meaning through sacrifice instead of happiness through pleasure. Pleasure and thus that type of fulfillment is expedient. The feel is transient.

Tell the truth or try not to lie because the lie is the root of evil and the source of your hell.

Lastly, care for yourself as if you were caring for someone else like you little child or your pet. You would do things for the person even if it made them unhappy or they didn’t want to do it. You’d still force it onto them because you know it would improve their current situation. Treat yourself the same way.