Beyond Order is the follow-up from Peterson’s very successful previous book, 12 Rules for Life, and presents an additional 12 rules following the same format. Where the first book focused on the results of too much chaos, and how to handle that, this one focuses on the results of too much order, and how to solve that.
In a way, the books are counterbalancing each other. Peterson himself described it as the “pathologies of chaos” vs. the “pathologies of order”, where the first book would appeal more to conservative types and the second more to liberal types.
Personally speaking, I thought this book was a bit weaker than the first one, especially since it repeats many of the same themes. But – and this is true for both books – they are for sure interesting to read. In the end, even though you might not agree with all of Peterson’s arguments and hypotheses, they do make you think and wonder and that’s always a positive sign to look for in a book.
For more details and reviews go to Amazon.
Book Summary & Notes
All text between quotation marks is taken directly from the book.
The first “rules for life” book (notes, Amazon) focused on the results of too much chaos, and how that can be solved. Beyond Order, on the other hand, focuses on the opposite: too much order, and what to do about it.
Order is what Peterson calls “explored territory” where the things that happen are predicted and, in many cases, desired. Chaos is unpredictability, novelty, and disruption. So when there’s too much order – for example in the case of totalitarianism – there is a need to move beyond order, and into the domain of chaos to find renewal.
“We need to keep one foot within order while stretching the other tentatively into the beyond. And so we are driven to explore and find the deepest of meanings in standing on the frontier, secure enough to keep our fear under control, but learning, constantly learning, as we face what we have not yet made with or adapted to. It is this instinct of meaning […] that orients us properly in life, so that we do not become overwhelmed by what is beyond us, or equally dangerously, stultified and stunted by dated, too narrow, or too pridefully paraded systems of value and belief.”
Rule 1: Do not carelessly denigrate social institutions or creative achievement
People need to communicate with others to keep their own 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 through this all equals organizing, and the judgments and reactions from others help with this.
“We outsource the problem of sanity. People remain mentally healthy not merely because of the integrity of their own minds, but because they are constantly being reminded how to think, act, and speak by those around them.”
This is also why Peterson in his psychological practice starts with an assessment of the patient’s “social worlds.” Are they educated? Do they use their free time productively? Do they have a plan for the future? Do they have economic problems or health issues? Do they have friends and/or family? A relationship? A career? If too many of these questions are negative he considers that the client is not properly embedded in the world and that there is a psychological risk.
“A good solution to a problem involving suffering must be repeatable, without deterioration across repetitions – iterable, in a word – across people and across time.”
Peterson describes the case of a patient who spent months in bed, being morally paralysed about the state of the world and the negative elements of humanity. She felt a moral superiority even though she was not a productive member of society. Peterson states that as a beginner you need to accept your place in the hierarchy and walk before you attempt to run.
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).
“Stories provide us with a broad template. They outline a pattern specific enough to be of tremendous value, if we can imitate it, but general enough to apply even to new situations. In stories, we capture observations of the ideal personality.”
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.
Rule II: Imagine who you could be, and then aim single-mindedly at that
“How do you know who you are? After all, you are complex beyond your own understanding; more complex than anything else that exists, excepting other people; complex beyond belief. And your ignorance is further complicated by the intermingling of who you are with who you could be. You are not only something that is. You are something that is becoming – and the potential extent of that becoming also transcends your understanding. Everyone has the sense, I believe, that there is more to them than they have yet allowed to be realized. That potential is often obscured by poor health, misfortune, and the general tragedies and mishaps of life. But it can also be hidden by an unwillingness to take full advantage of the opportunities that life offers – abetted by regrettable errors of all sorts, including failures of discipline, faith, imagination, and commitment. Who are you? And, more importantly, who could you be, if you were everything you could conceivably be?”
Peterson answers the question of ‘who are you?’ by stating that we are all part of a force that confronts the unknown, understands evil, and turns chaos into order or that reduces order into chaos (if the pendulum has swung too far in that direction). He states that this is vital for human survival but difficult to understand. And what we aim for – in terms of values, goals – is told through stories that give us direction.
Everyone needs to have a story to move from chaos to a framework in which we can structure our actions and perceptions. And every story requires a starting point and an ending point that is ‘better’.
Peterson suggests we get our stories straight – our past, present and future. That we aim at something and that we 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, and 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
“Life is what repeats, and it’s worth getting what repeats right.” This is why things that happen every day are important, and if there is some minor issue or bother it’s worth addressing right away. Most people tend to avoid discussions or fights over minor, trivial things. But this is unhealthy since they repeat again and again, and at some point, it won’t be just a minor problem any more.
“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. So 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.” So some degree of difficulty is necessary to achieve meaning.
“You must sacrifice something of your manifold potential in exchange for something real in life. Aim at something. Discipline yourself. Or suffer the consequences. And what is that consequence? All the suffering of life, with none of the meaning. Is there a better description of hell?”
People prepare for the future, not just for what happens right now. Those future states are states of potential, but we treat it as a reality that might be. There’s a good probability that the future will become the now, and this drives many of our actions that seem otherwise wasteful or unproductive.
Positive emotions are a result of the pursuit of valuable goals. “This implies something crucial: no happiness in the absence of responsibility.”
“Your life becomes meaningful in precise proportion to the depths of the responsibility you are willing to shoulder. That is because you are no genuinely involved in making things better. You are minimizing the unnecessary suffering. You are encouraging those around you, by example and word. You are constraining the malevolence in your own heart and the hearts of others.”
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
When someone gives you a pointless task, it feels demoralizing and demotivating. Why? Because 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.
“People often act in spite of their conscience […] and hell tends to arrive step by step, one betrayal after another. […] If you do not object when the transgressions against your conscience are minor, why presume that you will not wilfully participate when the transgressions get truly out of hand?”
“[T]here is no doubt that the road to hell, personally and socially, is paved not so much with good intentions as with the adoption of attitudes and undertaking of actions that inescapably disturb your conscience.”
Rule VI: Abandon ideology
The process of creating an ideology or an “ism” is quite simple at the start. First, the “ideologue begins by selecting a few abstractions in whose low-resolution representations hide large, undifferentiated chunks of the world.” For example, the economy, the rich, the oppressors – all things that vastly oversimplify very complex phenomena.
After that, these pieces are described as problems and appropriate villains are assigned. Next, 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. Finally, the propaganda phase starts: everyone who refuses to acknowledge and use this new system of thought is demonized and excluded.
“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.”
Rule VII: Work as hard as you possibly can on at least one thing and see what happens
Aiming at something is part of maturation and is necessary to make progress. If there’s no goal or direction, then every little thing will bring you down, and you will have nowhere to go and nothing to do.
Through his clinical practice experience, Peterson argues that commitment propels people in the right direction. Commitment in terms of studies, a job, a relationship, et cetera – this is not perfect of course, but 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
Making something beautiful is not easy, but Peterson argues that it is worthwhile. 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.”
“It can be overwhelming to open ourselves up to the beauty in the world that we as adults have painted over with simplicity. In not doing so, however […] we lose track of the grandeur and the awe the untrammelled world is constantly capable of producing, and reduce our lives to bleak necessity.”
In many cultures, there are sayings that warn of the risk of standing out. Creative endeavours are high-risk, and have a high chance of failure – but they are absolutely necessary for change and transformation. “We need the new, merely to maintain our position.”
“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
In order to have a good orientation in the world, we need to know where we are coming from and where we are going towards. This also means having a good understanding of our past experiences – if you don’t know where you came from, how can you know where you are? The end result is a map that we use and that gives us directions.
“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.
Plan X: Plan and work diligently to maintain the romance in your relationship
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. This is not easy – even if you know exactly what you want, you might see an obstacle in sharing it openly since it opens up the possibility of failure or ridicule. So some people keep their wishes quiet and vague.
“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. So negotiation is the only good (but difficult) option in relationships.
Rule XI: Do not allow yourself to become resentful, deceitful, or arrogant
Peterson describes a patient’s case in which their family had tried to protect the child from all negative and evil things in life. But, as a consequence, this left her unprepared for the general harshness of life and unable to deal with life’s responsibilities. The solution that worked for her, in the end, was exposure to and exploration of those things that she was trying to avoid.
Why do people become resentful? “You are resentful because of the absolute unknown and its terrors, because nature conspires against you, because you are a victim of the tyrannical element of culture, and because of the malevolence of yourself and other individuals.”
Self-deceptions corrupts and distorts the “fundamental instinct that guides you through the difficulties of life”. If a person is truthful they can rely on their guide and senses, but if you deceive yourself then you can no longer trust your own judgment and instincts.
“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
“Even though I regard the inevitability of suffering and its exaggeration by malevolence as unshakable existential truths, I believe even more deeply that people have the ability to transcend their suffering, psychologically and practically, and to constrain their own malevolence, as well as the evils that characterize the social and the natural worlds.”
Peterson describes a few examples of people who face suffering courageously and try to make a difference under those circumstances. Due to that, he states that he is optimistic, and finds optimism more reliable than pessimism. It’s easy to be naive and optimistic, but if people look at darkness and still remain hopeful and optimistic (and not cynic), it’s something else.
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.
Interested in Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life? Get the book on Amazon.