About 10 years ago, I purchased Meg Meeker's 'Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters'. It was one of the few times in my life I found a sense of purpose from an expert writer that I could immediately use in my life. It was, quite frankly the best self-help book of the decade. I'm sure my daughters are better for me having read it and followed its expert advice. Prior to that, only Sowell's Ethnic America and Bly's Iron John come to mind. I was inches from but never did take Campbell's ride into ancient mythologies. At the time I was into all things Japanese and found the Tao instead. This time with Jordan Peterson's latest book '12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos', Western Civilization is square in the frame. My brother Doc is reading it. I bought a copy for my son. I have a Kindle edition and I'll probably get another hard copy to put prominently on my shelf.
For all the years since 9/11 I have been trying to find a way to understand and defend this Western Civilization, and I find it slightly ironic that it is being best done by a man from a small town in Western Canada. Just listening to him speak is like hearing something both intimately familiar yet markedly unusual yet uncannily consistent. He quotes the Bible. He quotes Dostoyevsky. He puts Neitzsche in perspective. He understands the past. He understands people. He is fierce and calm at the same time. He is the transparent opposite of Woody Allen, and he's not trying to be funny. He is, as he says, surfing a 100 foot wave.
I immediately put Peterson on my T50 list, and am opening myself up to Jung and his heirs because of him. When I talked with Doc over the weekend, he mentioned alexander Solzhenitsyn asking himself, as told by Peterson, what he had done to deserve this Gulag? And he replies with the understanding of himself, he was once a fervent communist agitator. He owned this part of himself. His prior self jailed his current body. So, if I am cursed with memory, I will have plenty to consider for the rest of my life. So I have even opened a new category here in the blog.
What is remarkable about Peterson's book is that the 'self-help' angle goes all the way to the top. It's not just about getting over your particular bad vibe, it is a categorical and canonical framework for taking one from the bottom to the top. That's not the point however, it's not a makeover or shift that gets you into overdrive. It's more like a complete set of tools from which you can, over time, carve out the most perfect sculpture possible. Nothing drives this point home more clearly than his coda at the end of the book, without which I think we might all just be happily informed. No. We are challenged to be our best selves cast as we are in Western society. That makes Peterson more than clever, but wise, and willing to show how a wise man questions himself. Oh but it's difficult.
Peterson understands suffering. Life is full of it, for all of us. And we must ultimately face it. We fail when we do not face it and challenge it. Peterson does not allow us to cower and say that we are weak or undermined or victimized. He steadfastly refuses to allow us to lie to ourselves, and that means there is so much to unwind. Our conventional wisdom has allowed us to assume it to be our nature to be weak. No. There are so many times, having listened to the audiobook where I hear Peterson's voice saying. "That's wrong!" He doesn't elide to the conventional wisdom by making sly references or jokes. Instead he tells us that there are many things that we don't know and that we don't understand, and that we must push ourselves to have faith in Being and in Truth, and in the absence of facts we must engage the eternal. We must deal with our archetypal models of self. We must understand the mythical which shapes our emotions, because facts don't help, or as Eric Raymond says, 'The universe doesn't care about motive'. What makes us suffer? We don't understand cancer. We understand the pain that cancer brings. Facts will not help us face the pain. So what does? Character. Our character informed by the accumulation of wisdom over the ages, and it is ever the job of men like Peterson to show us.
I say men like Peterson to show us rather than scholars like Peterson to teach us because this is the business of living. And I think that's the best compliment I can give. These are rules for life which are both obvious and profound. They are to be applied to keep chaos at bay, because it is always with us. So we must look to our friends, to people we can confide in, to help us on our journeys. This is what Peterson does for a living, to assist others in living. What a responsibility.