Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: Rules 8 – 12, There Are No Atheists 

This blog is the fifth and last of a series of posts on Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life:  An Antidote to Chaos.  The first four blogs were posted as follows:

Jordan B. Peterson's 12 Rules for Life: Why Every Christian Should Read This Book

Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: Order, Chaos & Being

Jordan B. Peterson's 12 Rules for Life: A Guide to Rules 1 - 6

Jordan B. Peterson on the Meaning of Life. Not.


Rules  8 – 12: 

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 Skateboarding 

RULE 12 – Pet A Cat When You Encounter One On The Street 

As mentioned in previous blog posts, Peterson’s rules are interesting, explained in a disjointed way, entertaining, and unique—and occasionally insightful and often quite quotable. 

RULE 8 – Tell the Truth—Or, At Least, Don’t Lie 

In typical Peterson fashion, it takes him a while to get the rule in question.  He begins with a lot of context.  Peterson explains that, “Untruth corrupts the soul and the state alike, and one form of corruption feeds the other.  I have repeatedly observed the transformation of mere existential misery into outright hell by betrayal and deceit.” [215]  So, we find out the backdrop to why Peterson thinks some level of truth-telling is good. 

Perhaps as a clinical psychologist, he understands the depths of the depravity of human beings.  He states, “The capacity of the rational mind to deceive, manipulate, scheme, trick, falsify, minimize, mislead, betray, prevaricate, deny, omit, rationalize, bias, exaggerate and obscure is so endless, so remarkable, that centuries of pre-scientific thought, concentrating on clarifying the nature of moral endeavour, regarded it as positively demonic.” [217]  Original sin.  Point proven. 

As he does throughout his book, he refers to and comments upon various Christian concepts.  He flippantly remarks, “There is no afterlife fantasy.” [220]  Piles of theology and centuries of analysis dismissed with a literal wave of the condescending hand.  If not heaven, then what about hell?  His take:  “Hell is eternal.  It has always existed.  It exists now.” [220]  What makes things so miserable?  “It is deceit that makes people miserable beyond what they can bear.” [221] 

What to do?  Why and how persist and to establish some direction?  Look backwards.  “Some reliance on tradition can help us establish our aims.  It is reasonable to do what other people have always done…..” [221]  His latter assertion is quite odd; seems like a flimsy basis to proceed. 

Once again Peterson brings in a Christian element to the discussion (especially the first chapter of John in the New Testament).  He explains that, “In the Christian tradition, Christ is identified with the Logos.  The Logos is the Word of God…The Word that produces order from Chaos sacrifices everything, even itself, to God.  That single sentence, wise beyond comprehension, sums up Christianity.” [223] 

But Christianity doesn’t appeal to all.  He says that people make a god of their ambition.  As a result, “All people serve their ambition.  In that matter, there are no atheists.  There are only people who know, and don’t know, what God they serve.” [225] 

He has a tendency to verge on the self-help mode.  “Everyone needs a concrete, specific goal—an ambition, and a purpose—to limit chaos and make intelligible sense of his or her life.  But all such concrete goals can and should be subordinated to what might be considered a meta-goal, which is a way of approaching and formulating goals themselves.” [226-7] 

Peterson refers to the Bible noting that, “At the beginning of time, according to the great Western tradition, the Word of God transformed chaos into Being through the act of speech.” [230] 

What is truth?  “To tell the truth is to bring the most habitable reality into Being.  Truth builds edifices that can stand a thousand years.” [230]  This approach will resonate with readers, where truth is self-determined; there is no external or objective truth.  “[Truth] will instead be personal.  Your truth is something only you can tell, based as it is on the unique circumstances of your life.  Apprehend your personal truth.” [230] 

Peterson offers a shibboleth.  “The truth springs forth ever anew from the most profound well-springs of Being.  It will keep your soul from withering and dying while you encounter the inevitable tragedy of life.” [230] 

So, the moral of the story is as follows:  “If your life is not what it could be, try telling the truth…In Paradise, everyone speaks the truth.  That is what makes it Paradise.” [230] 

RULE 9 – Assume That The Person You Are Listening To Might Know Something You Don’t 

This next rule is useful if not profound.  “If you listen…without premature judgment, people will generally tell you everything  they are thinking—and with very little deceit.” [248]  This is Dale Carnegie 101.  Further, “So, listen, to yourself and to those with whom you are speaking.  Your wisdom then consists not of the knowledge you already have, but the continual search for knowledge, which is the highest form of wisdom.” [255-6] 

RULE 10 – Be Precise In Your Speech 

This next rule is perhaps not worthy of being elevated to a rule; it’s simply a useful principle.  Peterson explains, “When we look at the world, we perceive only what is enough for our plans and actions to work and for us to get by.  What we inhabit, then, is this “enough.”  That is a radical, functional, unconscious simplification of the world—and it’s almost impossible for us not to mistake it for the world itself.” [262] 

His advice:  “It is for this reason that we must be precise in our aim.  Absent that, we drown in the complexity of the world.” [262]  He gets back to one of his central themes:  “Life, after all, is suffering.” [276] 

In life in general, you can’t correct a problem until you clearly know what the problem is!  This is essentially Peterson’s message.  “Why refuse to specify?  Because while you are failing to define success (and thereby rendering it impossible) you are also refusing to define failure, to yourself, so that if and when you fail you won’t notice, and it won’t hurt.” [276] 

He further explains:  “Courageous and truthful words will render your reality simple, pristine, well-defined and habitable.  If you identify things, with careful attention and language, you bring them forward as viable, obedient objects, detaching them from their underlying near-universal interconnectedness.  You simplify them.  You make them specific and useful, and reduce their complexity.” [281] 

This is an iterative process.  “Say what you mean, so that you can find out what you mean.  Act out what you say, so you can find out what happens.  Then pay attention.  Note your errors.  Articulate them.  Strive to correct them.   That is how you discover the meaning of your life.  That will protect you from the tragedy of your life.” [282-3]  

RULE 11 – Do Not Bother Children When They Are Skateboarding 

Again, an intriguing description of a rule with a basic point.  He notes that, “Boys are suffering, in the modern world.”  There is not the scope for spontaneity and adventure.  It’s not all bad, however.  “The highly functional infrastructure that surrounds us, particularly in the West, is a gift from our ancestors.” [302]   

Some degree of order is good, of course.  Peterson explains that, “….it is the pursuit of goals that in large part lends life its sustaining meaning.  We experience almost all the emotions that make life deep and engaging as a consequence of moving successfully towards something deeply desired and valued.” [303] 

His description ventures off in talking about things such as male oppression and gender leveling.  He discusses the need to allow for danger and risk-taking to develop worthy character. 

RULE 12 – Pet A Cat When You Encounter One On The Street 

Even the cat has a role in his book.  Peterson ends with a purr, not a bang.  He gets back to a core message of suffering:  “The idea that life is suffering is a tenet, in one form or another, of every major religious doctrine, as we have already discussed.  Buddhists state it directly.  Christians illustrate it with the cross.” [338] 

Peterson explains, “And it is for this reason, so the story goes, that God created man.  No limitation, no story.” [343]  

So, what about the cat?  Peterson explains, “And maybe when you are going for a walk and your head is spinning a cat will show up and if you pay attention to it then you will get a reminder for just fifteen seconds that the wonder of Being might make up for the ineradicable suffering that accompanies it.” [353]   

When life sucks even a cat can be a useful and existential distraction.