After discovering Dr Peterson we binge watched just about every YouTube interview and lecture we could find for a full month. He is a controversial character, and we don't agree with everything he has to say. For example, we find his views on "Gender, Patriarchy and the Slide Toward Tyranny" a bit extreme. He is most known for his outspoken criticisms against identity politics. In short, he argues that we should only view people as individuals and not in terms of race, gender, or religion, or some other "tribe". Unfortunately, many "tribes" have suffered horribly at the hands of other tribes, and as a white male, he makes an easy target. However, his views on these issues shouldn't get in the way of his deep insights into the Necessity of Virtue, definition of God, and his Twelve Rules for Life.
In the Necessity of Virtue, Peterson explains why the pursuit of happiness is a poor roadmap for life. This is tough to swallow because so much of the free market economy and liberalism rides on the underlying belief that society exists to increase happiness for all people over time. Instead he advocates taking personal responsibility for determining what is virtuous.
He argues that what is virtuous comes from only one source...people and their actions. What is good is not constant over time or sent down from the stars. Meaning comes from how we choose to respond to the human condition:
Hell is all around us. Life is mostly suffering.
If we respond to this reality by becoming bitter, resentful, and angry, we bring this hell inside ourselves and inflict it on those around us, especially those we purport to love.
If we respond by taking responsibility for making the world a better place, we can avoid unnecessary suffering for ourselves and others...and can learn to accept this outcome as good enough. We give meaning to our lives by accepting our role in determining whether our future, and our children’s future, becomes more like heaven or hell.
He argues that most people lack the strength to accept this responsibility. It’s easier to believe that morality comes from a higher power, that what we do doesn’t matter, or that the future is predetermined. It’s much harder to accept that we determine the difference between right and wrong by our actions, that what we do really matters. But this is the price of meaning. Responsibility is humanities' cross to bear.
Peterson's definition of God is complicated, as any definition for the most powerful and mystical force in the universe should be. Most people in their 30s probably have a pretty clear picture of what they believe. It's rare that we find a "new take" on such a controversial and deep topic. And yet, that is exactly what we found here.
The fist thing he says about God is that he does not necessarily believe that God exists, but he lives as if God exists. He accepts a commonly held view that having faith in some higher power can improve happiness and tendency towards virtuous behavior.
Here is the transcript from this short talk along with our simple translation in bracketed italics.
[START of TRANSCRIPT]
Part of the concept of God that underlies the Western ethos is the notion that whatever God is is expressed in the truthful speech that rectifies pathological hierarchies, that isn't all it does, it also confronts the chaos of being itself and generates habitable order, that's the metaphysical proposition, and that's best conceptualized as at least one element of God; and so I would think about it as a transcendent reality that's only observable across the longest of time-frames.
[This paragraph seems unnecessarily confusing, but seems to mean that 1) God is a concept that people use to try to establish order out of the chaos of life and 2) One cannot prove the existence of God because it is only observable in the thoughts and actions of living things across many thousands or millions of years.]
Okay, so here's some propositions and they're complicated and they need to be unpacked so I'm just going to read them and that'll have to do for the time being.
God is how we imaginatively and collectively represent the existence of an action of consciousness across time; as the most real aspects of existence manifest themselves across the longest of time-frames but are not necessarily apprehensible as objects in the here and now.
[God exists as a collection of our conscious thoughts and the interconnection of these thoughts through social interactions and relationships across human evolution (and perhaps other forms of life)]
So what that means in some sense is that you have conceptions of reality built into your biological and metaphysical structure that are a consequence of processes of evolution that occurred over unbelievably vast expanses of time and that structure your perception of reality in ways that it wouldn't be structured if you only lived for the amount of time that you're going to live and that's also part of the problem of deriving values from facts because you're evanescent and you can't derive the right values from the facts that portray themselves to you in your life-span which is why you have a biological structure that's like 3.5 billion years old.
[God exists, in part, within the structure of our biology (i.e. DNA). The thoughts and actions of our ancestors and their relationships to others helped share our DNA. Our perceptions are insufficient for fully understanding the meaning of life because it is simply not enough data. This is why life is a mystery. Much of the data we need to fully understand God is embedded within our DNA, but our conscious minds cannot fully comprehend this data and the clues it carries for understanding God.]
So God is that which eternally dies and is reborn in the pursuit of higher being and truth. That's a fundamental element of the hero mythology. God is the highest value in the hierarchy of values; that's another way of looking at it. God is what calls and what responds in the eternal call to adventure. God is the voice of conscience. God is the source of judgment, mercy, and guilt. God is the future to which we make sacrifices and something akin to the transcendental repository of reputation.
[We can derive clues about God by looking for patterns in human behavior; which is ultimately driven by our DNA. Humans strive to live a life that is valuable. Humans seek adventure and the truth of our existence. Humans generally have a conscience that tries to differentiate between right and wrong. Humans sacrifice their time and sometimes their lives for that which they believe to be of higher value. Peterson doesn't mention this here, but an important source of data that we have for understanding how humans have behaved over long periods of time is embedded in the stories of the Bible and other "holy books". In other lectures he points out patterns in this behavior.]
Here's a cool one if you're an evolutionary biologist. God is that which selects among men in the eternal hierarchy of men. So men arrange themselves into hierarchies and men rise in the hierarchy and there's principles that are accordant that determine the probability of their rise and those principles aren't tyrannical power, they're something like the ability to articulate truth and the ability to be competent and the ability to make appropriate moral judgements and if you can do that in a given situation then all the other men will vote you up the hierarchy so to speak and that will radically increase your reproductive fitness and the operation of that process across long expanses of time looks to me like it's codified in something like the notion of God the Father.
[Our DNA is a reflection of historical hierarchies. Women were drawn to men that they considered to be the "best". Thus, the data in our DNA is a reflection of millions of years of evolutionary selection. Peterson argues that this has generally favored competence and good moral judgment. However, it seems that pure strength and brutality might have also been "successful" biological traits during most of human evolution. It also seems likely that what is "successful" changes over time. If so, Peterson would be forced to accept that the nature of God is changing as well.]
It's also the same thing that makes men attractive to women because women peel off the top of the male hierarchy. The question is: 'what should be at the top of the hierarchy'? And the answer right now is tyranny as part of the patriarchy but the real answer is something like the ability to use truthful speech, let's say in the service of well-being and so that's something that operates across tremendous expanses of time and it plays a role in the selection for survival itself which makes it a fundamental reality.
[END of TRANSCRIPT]
Putting it all together...God (according to Peterson) is a concept that is deeply interconnected with all conscious beings including those that are alive today and all of their ancestors. God is embedded in our biology which in turn is a reflection of all the choices and interactions of our ancestors. Our conscious minds are too simple to read the data of our DNA and what it implies about the nature of life and the human condition, but we can gather clues from old stories, listening to our emotions, and observing those around us without judgment. We can share how God evolves over time through our words and actions which ultimately impact the world around us, our relationships, and the biology of future generations.
Everyone has a slightly different understanding of God. We don't agree with everything Peterson has to say on the subject, but we do find his views interesting and worth consideration.
“Twelve Rules for Life” by Jordan Peterson was by far the best lecture of 2018. Lots of original insights from a true expert on relationships and practical steps anyone can take to improve themselves. Here are a few insights from the lecture that you won’t find in most other self-improvement books:
1. Being the #1 Lobster - Humans and lobsters share a common genetic quality that determines how we view our “status” relative to others. Those with higher perceived “status” are less likely to become sick, have higher life expectancy, and spend less mental energy worrying. This is an important insight because it shows that debates around societal hierarchy are not entirely driven by culture, government, or other more recent phenomenon. Peterson provides suggestions for shifting our perception, and how we are perceived by others so we can feel more like a #1 lobster.
2. Don’t let kids do things that make you dislike them - Peterson says this advice is controversial because many parents say that, “nothing could ever make them dislike their kids”. He argues that these are the worst parents. His point is that everyone has the capacity to be unlikable. When parents put up with inappropriate behavior from their kids, even at very early age like 2-4, they set them up for failure because other kids won’t want to play with them, and kids need to socialize/play in order to mature. Kids are resilient...they can take criticism and need it because the difference between right and wrong is not written in the stars.
3. All humans have the capacity for evil - When we talk about horrible people through history we tend to see them as anomalies, not a manifestation of how life’s challenges can lead normal people onto a dark path. Recognizing that we all have the capacity for evil thoughts and deeds is the best vaccine we have against acting on these inclinations. When we hear about horrible things on the news it’s easy to write it off as the product of people who are “different” than ourselves. This conveniently inflates our self-image but at the expense of staving off our own dark sides.
4. A “good person” is someone who is trying to get better. This is easy to dismiss as obvious, but it is actually profound. We tend to focus on the “level” of goodness, but much of this is driven by our early circumstances such as who our parents were and our genetic makeup. Those who are trying to do better are exercising their free will to make the most of themselves no matter their circumstances.
5. Stop talking to people that don’t listen. Doing so only devalues what you say. Watch them when you stop talking and they will give away their true intentions.
While note in this talk, he also says this on the definition of love:
Love is the willingness to give a charitable and generous interpretation of poor behavior. Seek benevolent reasons why it may be unfolding.
Jordan Peterson is one of our heroes, but not because he is perfect. We believe he is trying to help people find meaning and take responsibility for their lives despite the reality that life is mostly suffering. We admire the depth to which he thinks about important problems, his willingness to stand up for his beliefs, and the good he has done for many willing to consider his unique perspective.
We welcome your thoughts!