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The Pursuit of Happiness is a Pointless Goal


Life is tragic, says the provocative Jordan Peterson, and we are all capable of turning into monsters. But this hasn’t stopped millions from watching his online lectures. Tim Lott meets him as he publishes 12 Rules for Life

By Tim Lott / The Guardian

It is uncomfortable to be told to get in touch with your inner psychopath, that life is a catastrophe and that the aim of living is not to be happy.

This is hardly the staple of most self-help books. And yet, superficially at least, a self-help book containing these messages is what the Canadian psychologist Jordan B Peterson has written.

His book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos is an ambitious, some would say hubristic, attempt to explain how an individual should live their life, ethically rather than in the service of self. It is informed by the Bible, Nietzsche, Freud, Jung and Dostoevsky – again, uncommon sources for the genre.

I doubt it has the commercial appeal of The Secret (wish for something and it will come true) and it certainly strays markedly from the territory of How to Win Friends and Influence People. But then Peterson is in a different intellectual league from the authors of most such books. Camille Paglia estimates him to be “the most important Canadian thinker since Marshall McLuhan”.

Peterson, 55, is a psychology professor at the University of Toronto who shot into the headlines in 2016 after refusing to use gender-neutral pronouns at the university which new legislation, Bill C-16, compelled him legally to. Following this he was either hailed as a free-speech martyr or castigated as a transphobe. Demonstrations broke out on campus, and he has been the subject of a campaign of protest by trans activists. More controversy followed when he publicly defended James Damore, the sacked Google employee who suggested there were innate gender differences, as being no more than the scientific consensus.

He certainly doesn’t sit well with the usually left-leaning academic establishment. Apart from anything else, he believes most university humanities courses should be defunded because they have been “corrupted by neo-Marxist postmodernists” – particularly women’s studies and black studies. This has led him to be branded a member of the alt-right – although his support for socialised healthcare, redistribution of wealth towards the poorest and the decriminalisation of drugs suggests this is far from the whole story. He defines himself as a “classic British liberal”. But he also says – when challenged for being a reactionary – that “being reactionary is the new radicalism”.

Peterson has largely been in the news for his blazing, outspoken opposition to much of the far-left political agenda, which he characterises as totalitarian, intolerant and a growing threat to the primacy of the individual – which is his core value and, he asserts, the foundation of western culture.

I first came across Peterson not in any political context but as a teacher of story. His online videos contain extensive deconstructions of narratives and myths, both ancient and modern. I watched his videos on the psychological significance of biblical stories. Although I am a lifelong atheist, for the first time the Bible started to make symbolic sense to me. Peterson can take the most difficult ideas and make them entertaining. This may be why his YouTube videos have had 35m views. Even his biblical lectures have been watched 5m times – quite a figure for a theological analysis of the Old Testament. He is fast becoming the closest that academia has to a rock star.

Peterson’s worldview is complex, although 12 Rules makes a heroic attempt to simplify it into digestible material. It might be encapsulated thus: “Life is tragic. You are tiny and flawed and ignorant and weak and everything else is huge, complex and overwhelming. Once, we had Christianity as a bulwark against that terrifying reality. But God died. Since then the defence has either been ideology – most notably Marxism or fascism – or nihilism. These lead, and have led in the 20th century, to catastrophe.

“‘Happiness’ is a pointless goal. Don’t compare yourself with other people, compare yourself with who you were yesterday. No one gets away with anything, ever, so take responsibility for your own life. You conjure your own world, not only metaphorically but also literally and neurologically. These lessons are what the great stories and myths have been telling us since civilisation began.”

Please read the full story at The Guardian...

12 Rules for LifePeterson’s 12 rules

Rule 1 Stand up straight with your shoulders back

Rule 2 Treat yourself like you would someone you are responsible for helping

Rule 3 Make friends with people who want the best for you

Rule 4 Compare yourself with who you were yesterday, not with who someone else is today

Rule 5 Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them

Rule 6 Set your house in perfect order before you criticise the world

Rule 7 Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)

Rule 8 Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie

Rule 9 Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t

Rule 10 Be precise in your speech

Rule 11 Do not bother children when they are skate-boarding

Rule 12 Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street

 

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