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Beyond Order

written by Matthew Rensberry, MD MBA on 2021-10-05

I recently finished Jordan Peterson's sequel to 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos called, Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life. I am continually impressed by the common sense, direct, and often blunt approach the author employs. I found this book entertaining, reassuring, and I continued to learn excellent lessons to live my life by. I highly recommend reading both of these books!

Here is a quick summary and some lessons to take away from his rules:

Rule I Do not carelessly denigrate social institutions or creative achievement

Communication with others is necessary to keep our minds organized. We talk about the past to sort out our stories and to avoid stressing over trivial things. We talk about the present and the future so that we can understand where we are and where we are going (and why).

Talking = organizing; The judgments and reactions from others help us with this.

Conservatism and creative transformation are both good, and each has a set of dangers linked to it. People with diverse backgrounds, political thoughts, and personality traits complement each other and maintain the balance (especially when it has moved too much in one direction).

Liberals need to remember that social institutions exist for a reason. The reason they are maintained over long periods is they are doing many things very well.

"If you understand the rules and the need for social institutions, and how they prevent chaos from taking over, but you still believe that an exception is necessary (and that you are a good judge of that), you are serving the spirit of the law rather than the law itself. This is a well-considered moral act. But if you don’t acknowledge the value and necessity of rules (order), and you violate them carelessly, you are breaking down tradition and stability, which will have consequences."

Look at successful individuals and creative inventions as inspiration. All successful societies have had a bottom-up hierarchy. This means [you can have an impact on the world, but you must also accept the balance of society].

Rule II Imagine who you could be and then aim single-mindedly at that

The most successful individuals had to imagine something that had not been seen or done before. They challenged the social order and offered their chaos.

Encourage your imagination and use visualization to make these ideas a reality.

[Everyone needs to have a story] to move from chaos to a framework in which we can structure our actions and perceptions. Every story requires a starting point and an improved ending point.

We must get our stories straight — our past, present, and future. We must aim at something and draw a line or map from where we are to where we need to go. If not, chaos, uncertainty, and unpredictability will drown us.

This path “constitutes the very border between order and chaos, and the traversing of which brings them into balance.”

What about changing plans or paths?

Make sure it’s not just giving up. A good heuristic for that is to see if the new path appears more challenging or difficult. If yes, then you can assume that you’re not just deluding yourself.

Rule III Do not hide unwanted things in the fog

"Best to find out what is true. Best to disperse the fog and best to find out if the sharp objects that were lurking there are real or fantastical. There’s always the danger that some of them are real. But it is better to see them than have them occluded by the fog because you can at least sometimes avoid the danger that you are willing to see."

Many of us are nostalgic about our younger years when things were easier and trust had not yet been broken. As we grow older, many of us become scared of ourselves, others and the world around us.

Peterson describes the fog as a dark time in your life.

We are afraid of not knowing what we want or knowing exactly what we want but failing to acquire it. We are afraid that failure is the most likely outcome. We are also often afraid of defining failure. This is because if we then fail, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we were to blame. The outcome of these fears is we don’t let ourselves know what we want.

Peterson describes the fog that hides as the refusal to notice, attend to and communicate emotions as they arise. To be successful, you must notice, attend to and communicate to others the emotions you have regarding what you do and don’t want. When you can do this, you and your loved ones will help you determine your purpose. This is particularly important because Peterson believes you cannot have happiness without purpose.

"The fog that hides is the refusal to notice – to attend to – emotions and motivational states as they arise, and the refusal to communicate them both to yourself and to the people who are close to you."

Every emotion or anxiety is a signal that points out a deeper problem.

[If you leave all dangers and obstacles (and opportunities as well!) hidden in the fog, they will eventually bury you]. It will grow in the darkness until it starts to overwhelm you, and you won’t have the energy to deal with all issues at once. It’s much better to confront things on time and sort through the issues.

Rule IV Notice that opportunity lurks where responsibility has been abdicated

When people look back at their accomplishments and what they’ve valued the most, it’s usually the things that were hard to do.

"It appears that the meaning that most effectively sustains life is to be found in the adoption of responsibility."

Some degree of difficulty is necessary to achieve meaning.

Positive emotions are a result of the pursuit of valuable goals.

“This implies something crucial: no happiness in the absence of responsibility.”

Taking responsibility yourself offers you the chance to take advantage of areas where others have abdicated responsibility.

Still, most people choose to abdicate responsibility. Peterson uses the example of playing games. People will tend to create more narrow restrictions than the game allows. This means they limit themselves, and they are unable to explore all possibilities. So, try to break through this usual order in your life and [start taking more responsibility].

This will create meaningful paths that encourage happiness.

Disenchantment and disappointment can be an indicator of abdicated responsibility. If something annoys, embitters or frustrates you, you are presented with the opportunity to change it and to take up that responsibility.

Rule V Do not do what you hate

Life is too short to be spending time doing what you hate.

There will be times where you must face and overcome challenges, but you should not make the active decision to deliberately do what you hate.

For example, you must find a career that you enjoy. Work takes up such a significant proportion of your time that you should not do a job that you hate.

[We do the things we do] because we feel they are important and valuable — [they are worth the sacrifice]. If we have to do something stupid and pointless it goes contrary to all this and, in a way, we violate ourselves.

Rule VI Abandon ideology

Move away from strict ideologies. We should respect ideas that have stood the test of time, but we should not follow them blindly. [Admire people and ideas, but also challenge them].

“Beware of intellectuals who make a monotheism out of their theories of motivation. Beware, in more technical terms, of blanket univariate (single variable) causes for diverse, complex problems. […] The attraction of doing so is, however, obvious: simplicity, ease, and the illusion of mastery […] and, let us not forget, the frequent discovery of a villain, or set of villains, upon which the hidden motivations for the ideology can be vented.”

“It is impossible to fight patriarchy, reduce oppression, promote equality, transform capitalism, save the environment, eliminate competitiveness, reduce government, or to run every organization like a business. Such concepts are simply too low-resolution.”

  1. Examples - all things that vastly oversimplify very complex phenomena:
    • the economy
    • the rich
    • the oppressors
  2. These pieces are described as problems and assigned appropriate villains
  3. Then, a small number of causal powers are assigned that explain these problems, and a theory is developed that can describe real-life phenomena in the context of this new school of thought.
  4. Lastly, the propaganda phase starts:
    • Everyone who refuses to acknowledge and use this new system of thought is demonized and excluded

Rule VII Work as hard as you can on at least one thing and see what happens

[Place yourself under pressure by working hard and see what the outcome is].

Diamonds (metaphor to explain the importance of working hard):

Commitment (in terms of studies, a job, a relationship, etc) propels people in the right direction. Having some form of commitment is infinitely better than no commitment and sacrifices.

“There are many things to which we might commit ourselves. A case can be made for arbitrary and even meaningless nature of any given commitment, given the plethora of alternatives, given the corruption of the systems demanding that commitment. But the same case cannot be made for the fact of commitment itself: Those who do not choose a direction are lost. It is far better to become something than to remain anything but become nothing. This is despite all the genuine limitations and disappointments that becoming something entails. Everywhere, the cynic despairs, are bad decisions. But someone who has transcended that cynicism […] objects: the worst decision of all is none.”

Rule VIII Try to make one room in your home as beautiful as possible

Make one room as beautiful as possible, not merely useful for aesthetic reasons. This room can actually act as motivation. Peterson believes that [beauty shows us how the world could be but isn’t]. So, this room can motivate you to go out into the world and create more beauty.

Beauty can be scary. If we are surrounded by beauty, this can further highlight our own imperfections.

Having just one room in your home offers a balance where you don’t feel overwhelmed but are prompted to consider ways you and the world can be improved.

As soon as you have one beautiful thing in your life, you can expand it to other things in your life and that “is the reconnection with the immortality of childhood, and the true beauty and majesty of the Being you can no longer see.”

“Beauty leads you back to what you have lost. Beauty reminds you of what remains forever immune to cynicism. Beauty beckons in a manner that straightens your aim. Beauty reminds you that there is lesser and greater value. Many things make life worth living: love, play, courage, gratitude, work, friendship, truth, grace, hope, virtue, and responsibility. But beauty is among the greatest of these.”

Rule IX If old memories still upset you, write them down carefully and completely

Memories can either upset you as a perpetrator or a victim. Either way, you should not let these memories impact on your life today.

[The best way of addressing these emotions is to write them down carefully and in lots of detail]. You will then be in a better position to address these emotions and stop them from influencing your decisions.

“We literally make the world what it is, from the many things we perceive it could be. Doing so is perhaps the primary fact of our being, and perhaps of Being itself. We face a multitude of prospects […] and by choosing one pathway rather than another, reduce that multitude to the singular actuality of reality. In doing so, we bring the world from becoming into Being.”

“We are cartographers, makers of maps; geographers, concerned with the layout of the land. But we are also, more precisely and accurately, charters of courses, sailors and explorers. We recall the places we started from, the positions we occupied when our stories began. We remember the pitfalls and successes of the past so that we can avoid the former and repeat the latter. To do so, we need to know where we have been, where we currently are, and in what direction we are headed. We reduce that account to its causal structure: we need to know what happened and why, and we need to know it as simply and practically as possible.”

So if our past has not been properly ordered and we still have unresolved issues, it continues to have a negative impact on our current journey. Refusing to acknowledge past errors means “the unknown” surrounding us expands and becomes predatory.

Rule X Plan and work diligently to maintain the romance in your relationship

Most people rely on intuition and passion to maintain their relationships. These approaches will lack consistency and ultimately lead to an unhappy relationship.

[Identify what you want and need from the relationship].

This allows you to better communicate these needs to your partner. You must respond with seriousness if your partner isn’t communicating with you effectively.

You must also avoid being naive about the beauty of love carrying your relationship. Relationships require hard work and you should act as if all-out effort at all times is essential for the relationship’s success. You should also divide the requirements of your household in a manner that you both find acceptable.

Maintaining romance requires a broad relationship-wide strategy. And the success of this strategy is going to [depend on how well you negotiate], which requires knowing what you want and the willingness to discuss this.

“There are three fundamental states of social being: tyranny (you do what I want), slavery (I do what you want), or negotiation.”

Tyranny is not good for the enslaved, but also not good for the tyrant (cynicism, cruelty, anger, et cetera).

Slavery is not good neither, since the slave is miserable, angry, and resentful.

[Negotiation is the only good (but difficult) option in relationships].

Rule XI Do not allow yourself to become resentful, deceitful, or arrogant

Being a human guarantees that we experience uncertainty. Nature can hurt us in painful ways. Society and individual acts of evil can make us suffer.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t still be a good person or that society can’t be improved.

If we all held back our resentment, deceit, and arrogance, the world would be an infinitely better place.

The best way to defend yourself against these negative concepts is through diligence and continual purpose. [Find purpose in your life and diligently reject resent, deceit and arrogance].

“The right attitude to the horror of existence – the alternative to resentment, deceit, and arrogance – is the assumption that there is enough of you, society, and the world to justify existence. That is faith in yourself, your fellow man, and the structure of existence itself: the belief that there is enough to you to contend with existence and transform your life into the best it could be. Perhaps you could live in a manner whose nobility, grandeur, and intrinsic meaning would be of sufficient import that you could tolerate the negative elements of existence without becoming so bitter as to transform everything around you into something resembling hell.”

Rule XII Be grateful in spite of your suffering

We often love other people despite and because of their limitations. Think of suffering in the same way. We can be thankful for our existence despite our suffering. But, we can also be thankful that our suffering makes our experiences of love, happiness and trust even more special. Being grateful for your suffering can help you discover part of the antidote to the abyss and the darkness.

You can be grateful in the same manner as well: even though life can be demanding and is full of suffering, you have made a conscious effort to see the best in yourself and the world. You can be grateful not because there is no suffering, but because you’re thankful for existence and the opportunity and possibilities it brings.