Often times, people take better care of others, even better care of animals, than they do of themselves.
Why is that? Do we not care for ourselves like we should? Jordan Peterson takes an interesting approach to this, an approach that makes one think deeply about his or her self-care.
WHY WON’T YOU JUST TAKE YOUR DAMN PILLS?
Peterson opens up rule number two with an alarming fact. People are better at administering medication to others than they are to themselves.
Out of a hundred people prescribed medication, one-third will not have the prescription filled. “Half of the remaining sixty-seven will fill it, but won’t take the medication correctly” (Peterson, p. 31, 2018). They will miss doses, take it at the wrong times, or they will neglect it completely. “What’s wrong with them? Don’t they want to get better?” asks Peterson.
It gets worse…
You may be thinking to yourself that people don’t really do that when they absolutely have to take their medication, right? Like, people wouldn’t do that after a surgery, or when it is a matter of life and death. Well…
Consider patients that have been waiting for a kidney transplant. Peterson outlines how difficult of a process this can be: the time one must wait, the dialysis, and the fear of the body rejecting the organ. Dialysis involves passing all of the body’s blood through a machine, five to seven times a week, for eight hours at a time.
Rejection of the organ happens when the body detects a foreign object in it, regardless of whether or not the object is intended to help. To stop the rejection from occurring, one must take anti-rejection medication. Even with the medication, recipients can still suffer from rejection, but it is often the fault of the individual.
“It’s more often because those prescribed the drugs do not take them” (Peterson, p. 32, 2018).
Peterson gives possible reasons for why individuals may miss their scheduled medications: often these people are isolated and have multiple health problems; they could be cognitively impaired and depressed; there is mistrust between the patient and doctor; and they could be in a financial circumstance that requires them to ration the drugs, desperately and unproductively (Peterson, 2018).
He asks us to imagine that it isn’t the reader that is sick, it’s one’s animal– say, your dog. After one takes his or her dog to the vet, a prescription is given. Guess what? The thought process and actions change, and it doesn’t need to be life or death for the animal.
“You have just as many reasons to distrust a vet as a doctor. Furthermore, if you cared so little for your pet that you weren’t concerned with what improper, substandard or error-ridden prescription he might be given, you wouldn’t have taken him to the vet in the first place.”
People are better at administering medicine to their animals than they are to themselves.
“It is difficult to conclude anything form this set of facts except that people appear to love their dogs, cats, ferrets and birds (and maybe even their lizards) more than themselves” (Peterson, p 33, 2018).
At first read this comes across as too absurd to be true, I admit; however, let’s ponder on this thought for a moment. Can you think of people that you know that fit this description? I bet that some of you can.
Now, the person you are imagining probably smokes, drinks excessively , puts unhealthy food in his or her body, or makes a number of other, let’s say, less-than-stellar choices. He or she has an animal or two, and takes fantastic care of it. It gets the best food and care around, is socialized with other animals, and has regular visits to the vet; however, the person probably has multiple health issues that are neglected, or you can see them coming down the road. Do you see the juxtaposition now? Animal= greater care; self= less than stellar.
The peculiar realization is this: if said person were to give someone else advice on how to live and care for oneself, I do not think it would reflect his or her lifestyle and choices.
“What could it be about people that makes them prefer their pets to themselves” (Peterson, p. 33, 2018).
Oblige me and take the time to read what’s ahead; it is deep and dark at times, but it is meaningful…
Order, Chaos, & The Domain of What Matters, Not Matter
Roughly 500 years ago the world began to adopt a scientific world view, thanks to the likes of Descartes, Bacon, and Newton. Before that time people were less deterministic and materialistic, and their views were constructed on actions and experience, not things, Peterson explains.
Our lives are much more akin to a story or a drama lived subjectively, with feelings and lived experiences: emotions, dreams, hunger, thirst, and pain.
“Pain matters, more than matter matters” (Peterson, p. 35, 2018).
Because we are so scientific now, it is difficult for many to relate to the way the world was viewed many years ago. “But those who existed during the distant time in which the foundational epics of our culture emerged were much more concerned with the actions that dictated survival than with anything approximating what we now understand as objective truth” (Peterson, p. 34, 2018).
The scientific world can be broken down into: molecules, atoms, and quarks. The world we experience can also be broken down, and the constituents are very familiar once understood (they define drama and fiction): Order, Chaos, and the mediation of the two– Consciousness.
“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 proper understanding of the third that allows us the only real way out.”
The domain of ignorance; unexplored territory; has no limits; the monster under the bed; the foreigner; despair when you know you have been betrayed; the place you end up when things fall apart; when your dreams die, your career collapses, or your marriage ends; the underworld in a fairy tale; skating on thin ice; we all skate on ice, and sometimes it becomes thin and we fall through…
“Chaos is where we are when we don’t know where we are , and what we are doing when we don’t know what we are doing” (Peterson, p. 36, 2018).
Chaos is also the chance, the potential in a situation, hope. Chaos is freedom, but too much freedom can become dreadful.
Explored territory; structure in society; the structure provided by biology; tribe, religion, home and country; the warm, secure place where all is safe; the flag of a nation and its valued currency; tradition; the rows of desks in a classroom and the structure that comes from a teacher; our calendars, schedules, and routines; it’s the politeness with which we greet each other, the facade we put on just because that is what we do in society; order is where the world behaves and acts in a manner in line with our expectations and beliefs; we like order, and order is important; however, order is also where tyranny and stultification can occur…
We rarely leave places that are in order; we do not seek chaos consistently. Order allows for competence and routine, a feeling of calmness and stability.
“Chaos and order are two of the most fundamental elements of lived experience– two of the most basic subdivisions of being itself” (Peterson, p. 38, 2018). They are not inanimate things or objects; they are lived experiences, real and felt.
Chaos and Order: Personality, Female and Male
Humans see what things mean, their usefulness as a tool, their intent, before we perceive what they are. This may be counter-intuitive but, “Perception of things as tools , for example, occurs before or in concert with perception of things as objects” (Peterson, p. 39, 2018).
Because we are intensely social creatures, our hierarchical, typical perceptions, the personalities we have evolved to perceive, have been around forever. The personalities have been male or female.
“The division of life into its twin sexes occurred before the evolution of multi-cellular animals. It was in a still-respectable one-fifth of that time that mammals, who take extensive care of their young, emerged. Thus the category of “parent and/or “child” has been around for 200 million years”.
Peterson argues that the great expanse of time of evolution has created natural categories for us– natural categories that are deeply embedded into our motivational structures. The habitat we lived wasn’t just materialistic trees, water, and dirt, he suggests; it was the the people, our social interactions that were also a part of the environment. Therefore, from a Darwinian perspective, nature, reality itself, is what selected, and the environment cannot be defined in “any more fundamental manner.”
“Reality itself is whatever we contend with when we are striving to survive and reproduce. A lot of that is other beings, their opinions of us, and their communities. And that’s that ” (Peters, p. 39, 2018).
I believe this is where Peterson derives his beliefs regarding the male, female duality and how he applies it to the world. In his opinion, the male, female role is not merely a social construction–it goes deeper than that– it is biological. It formed the social structure itself, not the other way around.
And that is why he gets on television and says what he does; and that is why he doesn’t believe in equal outcomes, but does believe in equality of opportunity.
We are so finely constructed and melded, through millions of years of a conservative evolutionary processes, that an upheaval, a dramatic attempt to change the social structure, is really an attempt to flip the switch of biology: that cannot be done in one fell swoop.
“Our minds are far older than mere humanity. Our categories are far older than our species” (Peterson, p. 40, 2018).
Peterson argues that we have taken that primordial knowledge of structure and used it as a lens to interpret everything.
In the Taoist image of the yin and yang, the white can be interpreted as order and masculinity, while the black is interpreted as chaos and femininity. Inside each half is a small circle; the circles represent the lurking chaos in order and the opportunity for order in chaos.
The known/order, yang, is associated with masculinity, and this is perhaps because of the masculine hierarchy associated with most animals. Peterson lays out other examples: men have been the builders of towns, engineers, brick layers; “order is god the father, the eternal Judge” (Peterson, p. 40, 2018).
It’s the ‘they’ in ‘you know what they say.’
When order is pushed too far, it manifests itself in stultifying evil and oppression. It is the forced migration and concentration camps, the gulags, and soul-crushing conformity.
The unknown– chaos– is associated with the feminine. The unknown represents the idea of being born, coming from a mother, as all beings have done. “Chaos is mater, origin, source mother; materia, the substance from which all things are made” (Peterson, p. 41, 2018).
Chaos, as a positive guise, represents chance, possibility, hope and belief. It is change, gestation, birth. As a negative force, chaos is darkness, the unknown, disorder, and danger.
“Chaos, the eternal feminine, is also the crushing force of sexual selection” (Peterson, p. 41, 2018).
Women are fastidious in their choice of a mate. This is known by all men, but it is also reflected in statistics: women rate 85 percent of men as unattractive on dating websites.
“Women’s proclivity to say no,more than any other force, has shaped our evolution into the creative, industrious, upright, large-brained (competitive, aggressive, domineering) creatures that we are” (Peterson, p. 41, 2018).
Peterson goes on and one about the feminine and masculine, and how it is represented in religion and the implications is has on our lives. His main point is this:
Chaos and order are so fundamental to life that every situation, even every conceivable one, is structured by it. To live in the most fulfilling manner, one must have one foot in order and one in chaos; if the goal is to live a fulfilling life, we do not get that by being too comfortable or too disorderly.
Peterson continues to unpack the feminine and masculine from a religious standpoint, focusing on the Genesis stories and, specifically, on the story of Adam and Eve. Although familiar, it is important to review the story to understand how this ties into order and chaos.
Here are the main points:
- God placed Adam and Eve in a (un)bounded space, with bountiful fruit and two forbidden trees: the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil
- Adam and Eve are not self-conscious
- A serpent appears
We have to focus on the symbolism of the snake in the garden; Peterson breaks this down in a fascinating and poignant way.
The serpent appearing in the garden is the black dot in the yin side of the Taoist symbol. It is the chaos that can show itself and disrupt order.
There is no bounded place where chaos and evil cannot show itself– not in the real world. “So even the ultimate in safe spaces inevitably harbors a snake” (Peterson, p. 46, 2018).
Even if all the snakes could be defeated in our area, walls constructed, and a watchful and determined set of eyes working tirelessly to protect the inhabitants within, chaos still emerges.
Chaos emerges because of a staggering realization.
“As the great Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn insisted, the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being” (Peterson, p. 47, 2018).
It is not possible to wall off a space and keep it safe from all that is evil and chaotic; the capacity for good and evil inhabits all. A serpent will appear…
Peterson then indulges the hypothetical: what if we could render all safe and lead a perfect and orderly life?
He says that is not ideal. “It is far better to render Beings in your care competent than to protect them” (Peterson, p. 47, 2018).
The message is for all, but it is specifically directed at parents. He asks a question at the end of the page to get parents thinking critically. “Do you want to make your children safe, or strong ?”
Back to the story of Adam and Eve…
4. The snake convinces Eve to eat the forbidden fruit
5. She’s conscious and self-conscious for the first time
6. The unawakened man is given the fruit by the woman, rendering him self- conscious
“Women have been making men self-conscious since the beginning of time. They do this primarily by rejecting them– but they also do it by shaming them, if men do not take responsibility” (Peterson, p. 48, 2018).
There is an interesting connection here. The snake has opened our eyes metaphorically, but they may have done so literally.
Dr. Lynn Isbenn suggests that our acute vision comes from the adaptation necessary to co-evolve with snakes in a similar territory; if we could not identify them quickly, they would punish us with an attack.
Peterson suggests that the serpent has given us the vision of God, but that it is also the eternal enemy of humanity. He believes the depiction in the image below may serve as an example of this, among other metaphors. Take notice of the serpent under Mary.
(Krent & Marx, n.d.)
Virgin and Child (c. 1480) by Geertgen tot Sint Jans
Another interesting connection is this: the serpent offers fruit, and fruit is connected with vision, in that the ability to detect colors of fruits allow for one to rapidly collect food.
Our ancestors listened to and were influenced by the snake, resulting in vision– metaphorically and literally. Adam and Eve have awoken, and the first thing they notice is that they’re naked.
What does it mean to know yourself and your partner naked?
It means to be vulnerable and easily damaged, according to Peterson.
“Naked means subject to judgement for beauty and health. Naked means unprotected and unarmed in the jungle of nature and man” (Peterson, p. 50, 2018).
Adam and Eve were ashamed because they could see– and what they could see was themselves. They were embarrassed because their faults and vulnerabilities stood out, so they made themselves loincloths (or aprons) to cover up and protect their egos.
They felt unworthy to stand before God.
Let’s unpack that statement. One can take it literally or metaphorically, but either way the message has strong meaning. Here is how Peterson breaks it down:
“Beauty shames the ugly. Strength shames the weak. Death shames the living– and the Ideal shames us all” (p. 50).
These intense feelings cause fear, resentment and hate, which is the theme of the story of Cain and Abel. We must accept it as a part of life. It is the price that we pay for ambition and achievement.
“But it’s also no wonder that Adam and Eve covered themselves up” (Peterson, p. 50, 2018).
The next part of the story is interesting and rather poignant. God goes looking for Adam but cannot find him. When he does, he asks him why he has been hiding. Adam reveals why: he was naked and hid–he felt shame and vulnerability.
Being afraid to walk with God means that Adam– people– are afraid of their vulnerability, truth, and they find it difficult to mediate between chaos and order.
Peterson takes his analysis to another level here– again.
God asks Adam how he knows of his nakedness, and Adam snitches on Eve. In doing so, he also blames God…
Men, ask yourself if you have ever done something like this. Blamed another, then cursed the heavens because of a decision you made. I bet you have.
“How pathetic– and how accurate. The first woman made the first man self-conscious and resentful. Then the first man blamed the woman. And then the first man blamed God. This is exactly how every spurned male feels, to this day” (Peterson, p. 51, 2018).
God curses the serpent, relegating him to a life on the ground– forever. He tells the woman she will bring forth children in sorrow; moreover, she will desire or need a resentful and unworthy man.
Is God a patriarchal tyrant? Peterson says NO. The story is merely descriptive in his view.
The evolutionary arms race between fetal head and female pelvis, the care needed for babies, and the consequences of child birth, which included death for a long period of history, requires the good graces of problematic and unreliable men.
What about man? What are his consequences?
Essentially he forces man to work for eternity, and Peterson explains God’s plan for man like this:
Because you have been awakened, you have vision, and with vision comes the vision of the present and future. With vision of the future comes the vision of trouble. Thus, you will always have your eyes on the future, sacrificing the present. You will put aside pleasure for security, and it is going to be difficult.
God banishes the first man and woman from paradise, out into the world and the evils and troubles of history.
Peterson entertains the question many have: why banish them and make them suffer? His answer is: who questions God? Moreover, he suggests, “Perhaps Heaven is something you must build, and immortality something you must earn” (Peterson, p. 53, 2018).
So we return to our initial question.
Why do people administer medication so carefully to their animals, but they will not tend to themselves with the same care?
Peterson suggest that we may be asking the wrong question… why would anyone care for the shameful, resentful, naked, ashamed, worthless, cowardly, defensive, and accusatory descendants of Adam? Moreover,
“No one is more familiar than you with all the ways your mind and body are flawed. No one has more reason to hold you in contempt, to see you as pathetic–and by withholding something that might do you good, you can punish yourself for your failings” (Peterson, p. 53, 2018).
I admit, that is a harsh statement and realization. I don’t think it is something that a lot of people will subscribe to, but I do find it fascinating to think about. Do we really view ourselves in that way? Do you?
Much has been contemplated to this point, but there is more. “We are next fated to contemplate morality itself” (Peterson, p. 53, 2018).
Good and Evil
With their eyes open, consciousness seeps in, and Adam and Eve come to know more than their nakedness– they come to know morality (Good and Evil). I am unaware of how common it is to take this approach, but Peterson says it took him many years to figure out what it all meant.
Nakedness clued him in
What is the difference between man and animal? Animals are predators, but we still love them for what they are. It is their nature to be predatory, and they cannot see beyond that.
“They’re hungry, not evil. They don’t have the presence of mind, the creativity– and, above all, the self-consciousness– necessary for the inspired cruelty of man” (Peterson, p.54, 2018).
Nakedness clued Peterson into this realization because our realization of our nakedness is also the beginning of our self-consciousness and rational brain. When we can see our own flaws, we can identify them in others. When we know where we are susceptible to pain, discomfort, shame, and cruelty, we can force it onto 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” (Peterson, p. 54, 2018).
This realization, this power, is more than predatory: it can be evil. “That’s the entry of the knowledge of Good and Evil into the world” (Peterson, p. 54, 2018).
Peterson goes on to explain how the capacity to do wrong, to exacerbate pain intentionally, to voluntarily make things worse, is the reason we are suspicious of ourselves. Why wouldn’t we be?
“And no one understands the darkness of the individual better than the individual himself. Who, then, when ill, is going to be fully committed to his own care” (Peterson, p. 55, 2018).
He continues and ponders whether man is something that should have never been. Who, in their deepest and darkest moments, has not wondered about this? Wouldn’t the world be better if the innocent brutality of the animal is all that there is?
A Spark of the Divine
God creates man and woman in Genesis I in his image, and in his image we, too, have the capacity to transform order and chaos. God looks upon his creation, each step along the way, and pronounces it Good.
Genesis 2 & 3 outline the fall of man, and they describe why our lot is so tragedy-ridden. “The moral in Genesis I is that being brought into existence through true speech is Good” (Peterson, p. 56, 2018). The stories of Cain and Abel, the Flood, and the Tower of Babel make us question ourselves, but we do not forget Genesis I.
We find respite in the prelapsarian state. We remain eternally optimistic and nostalgic of the unconscious and for the innocence of childhood. But there is no going back…
Man and woman, before the awakening, existed in unity with their Creator. However, their perfection was different, and it is not better than earned goodness.
There was no choice in the pre-Fall of the individual, and God knows that is easier.
Maybe goodness that is genuinely earned is better; maybe there is something to be said about free choice. Who knows? Peterson is thinking out loud here, and he says that just because these are difficult things to ponder, they should not be taken off the table.
He considers an alternative to our question of self-care. Maybe it’s not our self-hate, derived from our lowly thoughts of ourselves, that makes us care less about our bodies and minds than we should.
“Perhaps it is instead or unwillingness– reflected in Adam’s shamed hiding– to walk with God, despite our fragility and propensity for evil” (Peterson, p. 57, 2018).
Everything after the fall is structured to show readers how to remedy it, to find a way out of evil. It is humanity’s attempt to set things right, but what would that mean? Is there something we are missing? Yes…
BACK IS THE WAY FORWARD
The answer is implicit in Genesis I. Our way out is to embody the Image of God, to bring order from chaos, but to do so of our own free will. We must bring goodness into the world by changing ourselves first.
“If we wish to take care of ourselves properly, we would have to respect ourselves– but we don’t because we are– not least in our own eyes– fallen creatures. 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 care for to dwell, instead of Hell, where our resentment and hatred would eternally sentence everyone.”
Our past was ridden with barbaric ways, child sacrifices, and bellicose tendencies. The moral issue of the past was to control and diminish these atrocities; and people with those tendencies still remain– although the numbers are diminished greatly.
Many still believe our main societal problem is egotism, arrogance, and narcissism. Peterson says that just isn’t true of our time’s orientation; in fact, we face the opposite problem.
More people shoulder and suffer from self-disgust, self-contempt, shame, and self-consciousness.
“They believe that other people shouldn’t suffer, and they will work diligently and altruistically to help them alleviate it. They extend the same courtesy even to the animals they are acquainted with– but not so easily to themselves.”
Self-sacrifice, Christ’s archetypal death, does not necessarily mean “sacrifice yourself for others.” It is an example of how to accept finitude, not how to victimize oneself for the benefit of others.
One should not suffer silently, while others benefit from said sacrifice. To do so is tyranny and to be treated like a slave.
“It is not virtuous to be victimized by a bully, even if that bully is oneself” (Peterson, p. 59, 2018).
The best way to think of this, according to Peterson, is to understand the philosophy. You don’t just belong to yourself, burdened by your own torture and mistreatment. Your Being is tied up with others, and your self-harm has consequences that move far beyond yourself.
This is best understood in the aftermath of suicide, when those left behind are traumatized and bereft. It is important for us to take note of that, and to do our best to serve ourselves, as well as others.
“We have the semi-divine capacity for consciousness” (Peterson, p. 60, 2018).
Peterson goes on to explain personal experiences, when the resilience of the human spirit prevails. He says that he is often amazed at this ability, but he sees this everyday heroism as the rule, not the exception.
We are all broken is some sense, and if we aren’t at the moment, we know someone who is.
“There are so many ways that things can fall apart, or fail to work altogether, and it is always wounded people who are holding it together” (Peterson, p. 61, 2018).
Some people are overcome, degenerating into the Hell of Being, but most refuse to do so. Our situation is one that no animal endures, and it deserves some sympathy. Peterson outlines the respect we should have for each other and ourselves, and he discusses the responsibility we have to take care of ourselves.
“We deserve some respect. You deserve some respect” (Peterson, p. 62, 2018).
Treating yourself like someone you are responsible for helping means to consider what is truly good for you. It is not “what you want” or “what makes you happy.”
“Happy is by no means synonymous with good. You must get children to brush their teeth. They must put on their snowsuits when they go outside in the cold, even though they might object strenuously.” (Peterson, p. 62, 2018).
You must help a child become virtuous and responsible, able to care of himself and others. Why think differently of yourself?
Think of the direction you are going. Does it make sense for you? Will it force you to put one foot in order and one in chaos? Will it simply render you competent and safe, not strong and growing? Is your vision bringing you forward, or is it keeping you in the same place?
Start with yourself. Define yourself. Refine yourself. That will give you Meaning… Friedrich Netzsche said, “He whose life has a why can bear almost any how.” Find your why– every day.
Treat yourself as if you are someone you are responsible for helping.
Krent, E & Marx, D. (n.d.). Geertgen tot Sint Jans Biography. Retrieved from https://www.wga.hu/html_m/g/geertgen/virgin_c.html
Peterson, J. (2018). 12 rules for life: An antidote to chaos. London etc.: A. Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books.