“Beyond Order” is about the dangers of too much security and control, according to Jordan B. Peterson in the introduction to his bestselling book “Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life,” released on Mar. 2. While his first book, “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos,” explored the dangers of venturing without the requisite humility and grounding into the vast unknown, “Beyond Order” considers the dangers of the contrary, a state of too much order. The book, written during Peterson’s own battle with various health difficulties, is refreshingly relevant in a world rattled by race riots and divisions, a global pandemic, and post-election partisan violence.
Peterson has received no shortage of negative press, and despite his spending more than a year out of the public eye, his media foes haven’t let up. The Guardian summed up “Beyond Order” in a headline as “a ragbag of self-help dictums.” Helen Lewis, a journalist Peterson has clashed with before in a viral GQ interview, wrote that his return to the public eye was due to the, “irresistible ordeal of modern cultural celebrity.” Yet Peterson is far from the attention-seeking sycophant his media foes wish him to be, and he is back with a much-needed message to an upset world.
In an age of victimhood, Peterson tells us it is better to confront suffering and make something useful out of it rather than retreat into nihilistic resentment. He does this in 12 chapters — or 12 “rules” — for his audience to follow.
In Rule 6, which bids the reader to “Abandon ideology” Peterson writes of the strange hush that covers the audience every time he brings up the topic of responsibility, something he does quite often. This is because, Peterson argues, people are hungry for it. Young people in particular have been starved for this kind of message and this privation “has left them vulnerable: vulnerable to easy answers and susceptible to the deadening force of resentment.”
Peterson has brought that food of responsibility to a vast, hungry audience. Peterson tells several stories in his book and elsewhere of people who have embraced responsibility for their own destiny and pulled back their life from unimaginable circumstances. They often say Peterson helped articulate what they already really knew. “Helping people bridge the gap between what they profoundly intuit but cannot articulate seems to be a reasonable and valuable function for a public intellectual,” Peterson writes. Today, race problems are “solved” by one group — generally white people—apologizing for their “whiteness”and the accompanying alleged role of oppression they play. Peterson diagnoses the kind of thinking that leads to such displays.
“Since the ideologue can place him or herself on the morally correct side of the equation without the genuine effort necessary to do so validly, it is much easier and more immediately gratifying to reduce the problem to something simple and accompany it with an evildoer who can then be morally opposed.”
Instead, Peterson urges his reader to assume responsibility for that corner of his life he can fix. Then, tentatively, he may attempt to rectify the problems of the world. Hearkening back to Rule 6 of his first book, “12 Rule for Life,” “Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world,” Peterson bids his reader to “have some humility. Clean up your bedroom. Take care of your family. Follow your conscience. Straighten up your life. Find something productive and interesting to do and commit to it.”
After the hardships of the last year, Peterson proffers what may seem like an unlikely response — gratitude in spite of suffering. There’s always a reason — perhaps a really legitimate one — to be a victim. But even so, there’s also always a reason to be grateful. There’s something amazingly simple about such a statement, yet the success of Peterson’s videos, podcasts, and books points to the fact that our world is hungry for such a timeless truth. The antidote to the suffering of the world, Peterson writes, is to, “confront the limitations of life courageously.”
There’s something divine about embracing responsibility and gratitude despite the sinister nature of existence, Peterson argues. “If God is, above all, as he is initially described, that implies that the men and women created in His image share with Him something of import — or, more to the point, they share an analogous destiny, necessity, or responsibility.”
The final pages of Rule 2 are pure Peterson wisdom.
“Imagine who you could be and aim single-mindedly at that,” Peterson writes. He encourages his reader to aim at some attainable goal, or, as he might say in one of his lectures on the archetypal significance of “Pinocchio,” to “wish upon a star.” Once you have outlined a reasonable, attainable, and worthwhile plan, you must “voluntarily confront what stands in your way.” That is fundamental to walking the fine line between the “order and chaos.” The moment you choose responsibility and gratitude in spite of your suffering, you have chosen, “the straight and narrow path that constitutes the very border between order and chaos and that reversing which brings them into balance.” And that is fundamentally what Peterson, in his broader message, and in “Beyond Order,” is encouraging us all to do. Walk the straight and narrow with courage, humility, and gratitude, in spite of your suffering, and in spite of the myriad of justified reasons to descend into resentment. What could be more relevant?