Jordan Peterson is quickly becoming one of the most influential intellectuals of our generation. His book Twelve Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos has made him the best-selling Canadian author of all time. While the book has some political undertones, it is largely a book aimed at individuals for living better lives. However, the rules work surprisingly well as political advice.
The premise of this comparison is to think of society as a kind of family. The hierarchies of society to some extent mimic family structure: children are dependents. They are not as capable as the adults. They have less power but also less responsibility. Parents are the most capable ones in a well-working family. They have the power and rightfully so because they are the most knowledgeable and responsible.
Some people in society see themselves as the parents of the less-able population of dependent children. Whether this is wise or desirable is a whole different matter, but the fact is that they do. They want power because they see themselves as better than most. Often, they do have power too, and on extremely rare occasions it is not entirely unwarranted.
What can these people who view society as a big family and themselves as the parents learn from Jordan Peterson? Let’s find out.
Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them
One of Peterson’s rules is that a parent should make sure children behave in a way that makes them likable and good team players so that they get invited to play. If you don’t like your children, surely no-one else will either.
There are so many areas to which this principle could be applied. Let us look at one of them. An uncomfortable fact is that half of the population has an IQ below average. They are not dumb, but by necessity they think in low-resolution categories.
If they constantly hear about Muslim terrorist attacks, they will tend to conclude that Muslims are bad. If they only hear about school shootings, they will think that all people with a gun are bad. If they hear about immigrant crime and exploitation, they will think that all immigrants are bad.
Shaming them and calling them stupid will not help. They are just handling the facts as they see them to the best of their ability.
Is there a better way? One way is to make sure that all the immigrants people meet behave in a manner such that it is easy to categorize them as good people.
Singapore is a country that has done this successfully. A whopping 40% of the population of this small South East Asian nation are non-citizens, but there are strict rules for what kinds of people are allowed into the country, and therefore racism or xenophobia is not a major problem.
First, Singapore requires that all immigrants pay for their own stay. They get no government benefits, and they must be there legally as workers, spouses or investors. Second, there is a zero tolerance for crime. Third, it is exceedingly hard for an immigrant to become a citizen and obtain voting rights.
Consequently, every time an ethnic Singaporean meets an immigrant in Singapore, she knows that it is a legal, hard-working, law-abiding person who cannot vote away her rights, and who doesn’t leech on her tax dollars. The Singaporean government has made it easy to like immigrants, and thereby easy for all Singaporeans think positively about immigrants in general – which they do.
A good parent allows her children to fail
The best thing a parent can do for her child is to allow them to grow strong, independent and capable of solving their own problems. Catastrophes will happen, and it is far better to have been trained to live through them than to have been pampered and set up for inevitable failure.
Most people will recognize the truth in this on a personal level, but it is a principle that scales up well to the level of society.
On a political level it means only necessary and minimal use of force. A nanny state smothers its citizens and turns them into insecure whiny cry-babies. There is a certain type of political animal who likes their constituency to depend on them, but if you truly want what is best for people your greatest gift to them would be to set up a path to independence.
Jordan Peterson has reached millions of people with a message of responsibility. Why on earth would that appeal to so many people? The unearned does not give the same kind of meaning and deep satisfaction as that which you gain through hard work, discipline and responsibility.
Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world
Jordan Peterson argues that if you want to make the world a better place, start locally with yourself. “Clean your room” has become one of those three-word memes that you can find everywhere on social media.
While this is good personal advice, it also scales very well politically. If you cannot even clean your own room, what makes you believe you can clean up the whole world? Society is an amazingly complex system and almost any change to it is going to be bad and lead to unintended consequences.
Therefore, you should have respect for any system that works, albeit imperfectly. The alternative to imperfection is not utopia but the guillotine.
This rule ties in with the idea of only making necessary interventions with minimum use of force. You are probably not competent to do better. Order that grows organically from the local level to the whole is both sustainable and scalable.
The Antidote to Political Chaos
Jordan Peterson is a holistic thinker. His discussions about Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago illustrates that. He makes the point that a totalitarian system is not a top-down endeavor but requires the participation of people at all levels of society, all the way down to the family and individual. In Eastern Germany, 5% of the population were spies and informants, reporting on their peers.
The antidote to the totalitarian impulse is therefore the percolation of truth and responsibility from the individual level through all hierarchies to the top.
The amazing thing about this solution is that you do not have to wait for it to be implemented in Washington. You don’t need a permit to tell the truth and be responsible – at least not yet. Start locally and work your way from there.