The new 12 Rules are very like the old 12 Rules; there’s no sign that Jordan P has lost it ... Where he is more opaque but very much in American middle brow mode, is illustrating his ideas with assorted myth, legend or archetype: he gives us Mesopotamian epic to make a point about order and chaos, or the story of Osiris and Horus to illustrate a point about the importance of tradition plus youthful vigour. Sometimes the attempt falls flat as when he deploys Harry Potter anecdotes, and can I just say that he got Peter Pan all wrong when he asserts that Peter’s problem is that Captain Hook is his role model ... But Jordan Peterson is by profession a clinical psychologist and some of his most useful insights come from encounters with people ... most of this book is given to similarly humane and perfectly sensible observations about human nature. Indeed, when he describes his clients, you note the compassion as well as the rigour. And his prescription against chaos, that you should start by tidying your own room and sorting yourself out before you deal with the universe, has much to commend it ... there are useful big ideas here which are all the more useful in being, as he admits, unoriginal ... There’s plenty here for his critics to get stuck into.
YouTube is where [Peterson] flourishes: his charisma, authority and dazzling spontaneous intellect make his video lectures addictive. His prose is the opposite of addictive: repetitious, unvariegated, rhythmless, opaque and possessed of a suffocating sense of its own importance. It is a style that relies on readers knowing the author’s voice and supplying the cadences themselves ... Ideas that flit and glimmer in Peterson’s videos look bloated and dead when strapped to the page. The problem, I think, is that the internet favours personalities and Peterson is famous because of his personality, which is compelling, not because of his philosophy, which is bonkers. Curiously, though, the bonkers philosophy is the foundation for rules that are often anticlimactically sensible ... It may help to think of him as a lifestyle influencer as much as a philosopher ... That said, I tend to believe that society needs to be prodded by bonkers, renegade intellectuals such as Peterson (reading the new book you notice how much he has in common with bonkers renegade intellectual extraordinaire Camille Paglia). So long as employees at Penguin burst into tears on learning that the company is publishing Peterson’s latest book, or a lecturer at a Canadian university is reprimanded for showing a class one of Peterson’s videos it is clear that there is a strain of closed-minded liberal complacency that will only benefit from being rubbed up the wrong way. It does not follow that we are required to take his thinking seriously ... in many respects reads like a more chaotic rewrite of 12 Rules for Life ... nails together shower thoughts, random prejudices and genuine insights into a decidedly rickety structure ... Harry Potter, the Bible, Egyptian myths and Sumerian legends are polished into flattering mirrors for the Jordan Peterson view of the meaning of life, which, unsurprisingly, is just the sort of pessimistic heroic individualism you might expect from a baby boomer who grew up in remote Canada in the 1970s reading too much Nietzsche ... You notice quite soon that for Peterson almost every myth or story is valued according to how easily it can be bent to his philosophical will ... characterised by the same atmosphere of grinding undifferentiated portentousness you get in big-budget superhero movies where the plot is almost incomprehensible, but every fight is a fight to the death and requires inevitable, endless, wearying CGI explosions.
This book is humbler than its predecessor, and more balanced between liberalism and conservatism—but it offers a similar blend of the highbrow and the banal. Readers get a few glimpses of the fiery online polemicist, but the Peterson of Beyond Order tends instead to two other modes. The first is a grounded clinician, describing his clients’ troubles and the tough-love counsel he gives them. The other is a stoned college freshman telling you that the Golden Snitch is, like, a metaphor for '‘round chaos’ … the initial container of the primordial element.' Some sentences beg to be prefaced with Dude ... Reading Peterson the clinician can be illuminating; reading his mystic twin is like slogging through wet sand. His fans love the former; his critics mock the latter ... The prose swirls like mist, and his great insight appears to be little more than the unthreatening observation that life is complicated. (If the first book hadn’t been written like this too, you’d guess that he was trying to escape the butterfly pins of his harshest detractors.) After nearly 400 pages, we learn that married people should have sex at least once a week, that heat and pressure turn coal into diamonds, that having a social life is good for your mental health, and that, for a man in his 50s, Peterson knows a surprising amount about Quidditch ... On the rare occasion that Beyond Order strays overtly into politics, Peterson still can’t resist fighting straw men ... Is he arguing with Gloria Steinem or princess_sparklehorse99 on Tumblr? A tenured professor should embrace academic rigor ... The book leaves you wishing that Peterson the tough therapist would ask hard questions of Peterson the public intellectual.