I will be reviewing each chapter (rule) of Jordan Peterson’s book 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote To Chaos. Even if you don’t agree with him, you will be interested to see his points.
One of the rules is: Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.
Stick around, and we will get to that one! If you aren’t in the mood for reading much, check out some of his videos on Youtube. He has a way of communicating ideas and beliefs that many know to be true but do not know how or why. My thoughts and ideas will become much clearer and concise as we get into each chapter, but before you continue down this road with me, do yourself the favor of picking up the book and forming your own opinion first; then, please come to me and leave your thoughts. I look forward to reviewing this with all of you.
Rule One: Stand up straight with your shoulders back
The book and chapter begins with a discussion on lobsters and birds. As you will find, much of Peterson’s rules are explained through stories– some scientific, some religious, and some personal–and the stories can seem irrelevant until he ties everything together; he does a great job with that for rule 1.
Lobsters and birds are both territorial, and Peterson goes on for a few paragraphs outlining how they go about protecting their living spaces. The impatient reader may want to put the book down (one did not expect to read about lobsters and wrens), but Peterson begins to shed light on the point he is making with the following:
“ Because territory matters, and because the best locales are always in short supply, territory-seeking among the animals produces conflict. Conflict, in turn, produces another problem: how to win or lose without the disagreeing parties incurring too great a cost” (Peterson, 2018).
The cost can be material, such as land and food, but it goes much deeper than that.
When a lobster is defeated in a conflict, be it highly confrontational, resulting in physical damage, or a simple show of dominance through size or pre-fighting rituals, its brain chemistry changes. With the change in brain chemistry comes a new feeling of position in society, be it higher or lower. I can relate, and I am sure many of you can, too. So what exactly happens to the lobster brain after a defeat or victory? In victory, serotonin levels increase, causing an increase in confidence and, interestingly, a stronger regulation of postural flexion. For the loser, the opposite is true. Moreover, there is an increase in the chemical octopamine for the defeated, increasing the likelihood of a flight response and a heightened startle reflex in confrontational or anxiety-inducing moments. Unfortunately, the trend continues: lobsters that win show a greater statistical chance of continuing to do so; defeated lobsters do the opposite, and that even holds true against opponents that were once defeated by said lobster.
“It’s winner-take-all in the lobster world, just as it is in human societies” (Peterson, 2018).
An unexpected and fascinating point follows. Many of you have probably heard of it, but I was unaware until I read this chapter. The winner-take-all idea, the fact that the top 1 percent have as much money as the bottom 50 percent, that isn’t something that is an aberration attributable only to physical dominance or economics; it holds true across many domains. The name of this principle is Price’s law. Here are some examples Peterson gives.:A small portion of cities have almost all the people in them; the majority of mass in the heavenly bodies is made up by a small fraction of the planets; and over 90 percent of communication occurs using 500 words.
Back on track and back to the main point that Peterson finally reveals. The reason all of this is relevant deals with dominance hierarchies, our place in them, and the length of time that they have been around. “A third of a billion years ago, brains and nervous systems were comparatively simple. Nonetheless, they already had the structure and neurochemistry necessary to process information about status and society. The importance of this fact can hardly be overstated” (Peterson, 2018).
Peterson then delves into an explanation of the masculine and feminine, relating the Taoist vision of order and chaos to the genders respectfully. He also gives a deeper explanation of evolution, and that’s where I want to begin to refocus our thoughts. His point in his evolutionary tangent makes its way to the dominance hierarchy and its ancient roots; it is older than trees, he states. That is important for we humans because the part of our brain that contains our knowledge and instinctive understanding of it (the dominance hierarchy) is also exceptionally fundamental to our daily lives. “It is a master control system, modulating our perceptions, values, emotions, thoughts and actions” says Peterson. “This is why, when we are defeated, we act very much like lobsters who have lost a fight” (Peterson, p. 15, 2018). Like lobsters, when defeated we face the ground, feel hurt, anxious, and weak. If things don’t improve, chronic depression can take over. Our serotonin levels drop, and so does our confidence, happiness, and our place in the dominance hierarchy is soon to follow.
Peterson continues by discussing the instinctive, subconscious rating system that we all have deep inside our brains. We know our place in society, and it is based off our lived experiences– some good, some bad. Those at the top know it, and they are more likely to thrive in all areas of their lives. The opposite is true for those at the bottom, and the problems can seem to multiply for those in the direst of circumstances. Living at the bottom is a terrible place to be, and the ancient brain assumes that even the smallest of problems can result in a chain of lasting defeats. Heightened readiness is a characteristic of the bottom dwellers, and so is confusion. “When you don’t know what to do, you must be prepared to do anything and everything, in case it becomes necessary. You’re sitting in your car with the gas and brake pedals both punched to the mat” (Peterson, p. 17, 2018). Living in that manner is physically and emotionally draining, resulting in impaired health and wellness.
If you are struggling, all is not lost, according to Peterson.
He begins to unpack the realistic pitfalls and all-too relatable suffering that comes with Being. Maybe you have been pushed around all of your life, assuming that one day things will turn around.
“Maybe you are a loser. And maybe you’re not-but if you are, you don’t have to continue in that mode. Maybe you just have a bad habit. Maybe you’re even just a collection of bad habits. Nonetheless, even if you came by your poor posture honestly– even if you were unpopular or bullied at home or in grade school– it’s not necessarily appropriate now.”
To change, for some, means to discover one’s capacity for anger. This is where Peterson’s brilliance multiplies, in my opinion. “When naive people discover the capacity for anger within themselves, they are shocked, sometimes severely” (Peterson, p. 24, 2018). However, this recognition and transformation is necessary for one to take his or her life into their respective hands. When the awakening occurs,
“when once-naive people recognize in themselves the seeds of evil and monstrosity, and see themselves as dangerous (at least potentially) their fear decreases. They develop more self-respect” (Peterson, p. 25, 2018).
Wow! If that doesn’t hit you like a ton of bricks…
His message begins to take a new feel and the light beings to shine through. You see, Being necessitates the ugly, along with the good, bad, and mundane. The bad can be terrible: there is addiction, death, wealth disparities, deceit, and flat out bad luck, and standing up straight with your shoulders back will not fix all of that; however, to assume that putting your shoulders back and standing up tall is just a physical act with no other consequences is a mistake…
“Standing up physically also implies and invokes and demands standing up metaphorically. Standing up means voluntarily accepting the burden of Being.Your nervous system responds in an entirely different manner when you face the demands of life voluntarily. You respond to a challenge, instead of bracing for a catastrophe. You see the gold the dragon hoards, instead of shrinking in terror from the all-too-real fact of the dragon. You step forward to take your place in the dominance hierarchy, and occupy your territory, manifesting your willingness to defend, expand and transform it.”
Ahh… That is so refreshingly true and brutally honest. That is why men and women have been hanging on his words, watching his videos, buying his books, and changing their lives for the better. He has a way with words, with ancient stories, with people, and he knows how to connect them all in a compelling and practical manner. Jordan Peterson has described himself as somewhat dark and pessimistic, and his writing often reflects that; however, within all of that pessimism is an extremely bright light, an optimistic message that cannot be missed by those willing to listen: honesty and responsibility in the face of all circumstances will free you.
So, friends, be like the lobster, with its ancient, practical wisdom. Stand up straight, with your shoulders back.
What are your thoughts on this chapter? I know I left a lot out, so if I missed something you found important, share it with me in the comment section.
Thanks for reading,