Avoiding the danger of “permanent human infantilism and absolute uselessness”

Avoiding the danger of “permanent human infantilism and absolute uselessness” October 22, 2019


A main library in Toronto
The J. M. Kelly Library, one of several libraries at the University of Toronto, where Jordan Peterson teaches.
(Wikimedia Commons public domain photograph)


Some time ago, having been urged to it by several friends, I read Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Toronto: Random House Canada, 2018).


Here is one of the passages from the book that struck me:


[P]arents should come in pairs.  Raising young children is demanding and exhausting.  Because of this, it’s easy for a parent to make a mistake.  Insomnia, hunger, the aftermath of an argument, a hangover, a bad day at work — any of these things singly can make a person unreasonable, while in combination they can produce someone dangerous.  Under such circumstances, it is necessary to have someone else around, to observe, and step in, and discuss.  This will make it less likely that a whiny provocative child and her fed-up cranky parent will excite each other to the point of no return.  Parents should come in pairs so the father of a newborn can watch the new mother so she won’t get worn out and do something desperate after hearing her colicky baby wail from eleven in the evening until five in the morning for thirty nights in a row.  I am not saying we should be mean to single mothers, many of whom struggle impossibly and courageously — and a proportion of whom have had to escape, singly, from a brutal relationship — but that doesn’t mean we should pretend that all family forms are equally viable.  They’re not.  Period.  (142, italics in the original)


Here, from the very next page, is another:


Parents have a duty to act as proxies for the real world — merciful proxies, caring proxies — but proxies, nonetheless.  This obligation supersedes any responsibility to ensure happiness, foster creativity, or boost self-esteem.  It is the primary duty of parents to make their children socially desirable.  That will provide the child with opportunity, self-regard, and security.  It’s more important even than fostering individual identity.  That Holy Grail can only be pursued, in any case, after a high degree of social sophistication has been established.  (143)


He had already made a not unrelated point earlier:


It is far better to render Beings in your care competent than to protect them.

And even if it were possible to permanently banish everything threatening — everything dangerous (and, therefore, everything challenging and interesting) — that would mean only that another danger would emerge: that of permanent human infantilism and absolute uselessness.  How could the nature of man ever reach its full potential without challenge and danger?  How dull and contemptible would we become if there was no longer reason to pay attention?  Maybe God thought His new creation would be able to handle the serpent, and considered its presence the lesser of two evils.

Question for parents: do you want to make your children safe, or strong?  (47, italics in the original)


This last passage seems to me of profound relevance not merely to human parenting but to the divine plan of sending us to Earth.  It suggests at least one response to the theological problem of evil.



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