After a significant health scare, Jordan Peterson is back in 2021 with the announcement of a new book, Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life, to be released this March. This disclosure has been greeted with both hallelujahs and harangues and reinvigorated attempts by both camps to either consecrate or cancel him. Why does Jordan Peterson engender so much controversy and what can his upcoming book offer a divided world in 2021?
I think the primary reason Peterson is disliked is because he isn’t afraid to criticize the wardrobe of the naked emperors who rule over our political, philosophical and religious kingdoms. His fashion critiques sting because, as a psychologist, he understands the pathology behind delusions of grandeur and is not afraid to make a diagnosis and offer a therapeutic regimen.
Interestingly, the cure he most frequently offers is virtue. I suspect that if he had written his books in the 1950s he wouldn’t have made much of a splash, but in our current postmodern day-and-age his thoughts have become profound cultural correctives. Peterson has made common sense sexy once again but has met resistance from a woke world that finds it surprisingly pornographic.
A cancel culture unable to convince the populace that Peterson’s message is defective is forced to try and take out the messenger. Powerless to refute his persuasive prose, they accuse him of wielding a poison pen.
Peterson’s publisher, Penguin Random House Canada, has even encountered opposition within its own ranks. One employee stated:
“He’s an icon of hate speech and transphobia and the fact that he’s an icon of white supremacy, regardless of the content of his book, I’m not proud to work for a company that published him.”
It appears that what Peterson writes is irrelevant to the fact that he somehow stirs up hatred. What was homophobic, transphobic or misogynistic about his twelve rules? It is a stunningly unfair accusation directed at a man who has dedicated his life to healing those who are broken.
Another employee blamed him for ‘radicalizing’ young people:
“He’s the one who’s responsible for radicalizing and causing this surge of alt-right groups, especially on university campuses.”
The only reason Peterson is considered far right is because the culture has gone so far left that even the middle of the road is barely perceptible on the horizon. If you are afraid of allowing alternative voices on campus then perhaps you no longer attend a university but are actually an inmate in a reeducation camp. It’s interesting that academia considers Peterson an agitator when the true radicalizers are the universities that force faculty and students to adopt the party line or face retribution.
Order and Chaos
One of the recurring themes in Peterson’s work is the balance between the yin and yang of chaos and order. Peterson summarized this idea in his first book:
“Order can become excessive, and that’s not good, but chaos can swamp us, so we drown – and that is also not good. We need to stay on the straight and narrow path…Each of the twelve rules of this book – and their accompanying essays therefore provide a guide to being ‘there’. ‘There’ is the dividing line between order and chaos. That’s where we are simultaneously stable enough, exploring enough, transforming enough, repairing, and cooperating enough. It’s where we find the meaning that justifies life and its inevitable suffering.”
12 Rules for Life was about the proper ordering of chaos but his second book appears more interested in the dangers of being so obsessed with order that one neglects the beautiful potential inherent in chaos. In the promo for his new book, Peterson explains it like this:
“Furthermore, the order we strive to impose on the world can rigidify as a consequence of ill-advised attempts to eradicate from consideration all that is unknown…And so we find ourselves inescapably faced with the need to move beyond order into its opposite chaos. If order is where what we want makes itself known when we act in accordance with our hard-won wisdom, chaos is where what we do not expect or remain blind to leaps forward from the potential that surrounds us.”
Hovering Over the Waters
During his ascent to worldwide fame, Peterson gave a very popular series of lectures that used stories from the Bible to illustrate archetypal truths about our human situation. It was from the creation narrative found in the first chapters of Genesis that he built his case for a proper understanding of order and chaos.
In Ancient Near Eastern cultures, water represented chaos and was often equated with evil. However, in the Genesis account, these waters represented an unformed substrate, which God ordered in a very good way. The God of the Bible, rather than battling against chaotic evil, hovered over its possibilities and ordered it through His spoken Word.
Peterson, similarly, regards chaos positively, defining it as unrealized potential which can be actualized through proper ordering. He views chaos as pregnant with possibility and discourages us from letting our fears become a contraceptive to creativity. Our lives shouldn’t be about avoiding chaos but about hovering over it and contemplating how we can make it something beautiful for God.
Peterson is recovering from a several-year health scare that reduced his once well-ordered life to a primordial chaos. He came face-to-face with the very unrealized potential he so frequently wrote and spoke about. Thankfully, his health continues to improve despite the challenges of navigating the bumpy road of reactualization. While his journey has been painful and frustrating, I suspect his experience will bring an even deeper level of wisdom to his writings.
Wisdom is not measured by level of education, SAT scores, academic awards or publications but by the number of wrinkles and gray hairs we accumulate on our life journeys. Wisdom is found in someone whose life has been a series of personal experiments conducted under the frequently harsh conditions of the world’s laboratory and whose findings are not just theories but actual data. Wisdom is frequently acquired at a higher price than any college tuition. And while Peterson has always brought an academic vigour to his writings, I think his recent graduation from the school of hard knocks has conferred upon him a degree of immeasurably greater scholarly value.
Interestingly, prior to his illness, Peterson made a statement which now seems almost prophetic:
“Conversely, just when everything seems lost, new order can emerge from catastrophe and chaos.” (12 Rules for Life)
We shouldn’t view suffering as drowning in chaos but rather as gestating in the waters of possibility. When faced with tragedy our hope shouldn’t be found in resuscitating an old life but being born again to new life.
The good news is that Peterson’s tears didn’t just fall to the ground but were collected in a divine bottle and may be the life-giving water necessary to save someone else from dying of thirst in a similar desert.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)