Why 12 Rules for Life are Not Enough

At the risk of being grossly reductionist, here is a gross reduction of Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos to the six archetypes on the “Orthodox Cross”.

Rule 1 : “Stand up straight with your shoulders back”. This is the Warrior archetype. It is also the King archetype. The top lobster is a Warrior King. It defeats the Victim Muggle.

Rule 2: “Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping”. There are two you’s here. The you doing the treating and the you being treated. He could have said, “As a Warrior it is your duty to serve your King.” It resists Victimhood.

Rule 3: “Make friends with people who want the best for you”. This points to the need for satsang, good company and the love of true friendship, philia. In other words, surround yourself with people who recognise your innate sovereignty, who also treat you like a King.

Rule 4: “Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.” Again, this is about the self-image we acquire from the people around us. This is how Muggles define themselves. Only the King is exempt from this social comparison on the status hierarchy.

Rule 5: “Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.” As a parent, you have the moral duty to make sure your children behave in line with their own innate sovereignty. Your Warrior must discipline them on behalf of the King or Queen in them.

Rule 6: “Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.” This is also the job of the Warrior, since it is about Karma Yoga, right action. Don’t shirk your basic responsibilities by retreating into idealism. Don’t be a Muppet.

Rule 7: “Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient).” Here Peterson is appealing to the Philosopher, but also to the Monk. The Philosopher seeks meaning, and the Monk avoids self-serving short cuts.

Rule 8: “Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie.” Again we are in the realm of Jnana Yoga, the pursuit of truth by the Philosopher.

Rule 9: “Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.” Again, be an open-minded Philosopher, not a closed-minded Muppet.

Rule 10: “Be precise in your speech.” The more precise your speech, the more precise your thought. More good advice for the Philosopher.

Rule 11: “Do not bother children when they are skateboarding.” In other words, let children take the necessary risks in order to develop their own Warrior natures and avoid turning into over-protected Victim wimps.

Rule 12: “Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.” Appreciate and enjoy the simple beauty of life when it presents itself. Cultivate an attitude of wonder and care. This is Bhakti Yoga, the practice of the Monk.

The first six of Peterson’s 12 Rules are more concerned with the Warrior and the King, and with the composite archetype, the “Warrior King”. The second six focus on the Philosopher and the Monk and the “Philosopher Monk”.

These are powerful and effective antidotes to the “chaos” of the Victim, Muggle, Muppet and Addict archetypes on the Wheel of Samsara. However, there seems to be something missing. Peterson pushes the process of character reformation and character building with the Warrior, with direct action and will-power. It is a call to arms. He calls forth our inner Warrior, King, Philosopher and Monk archetypes.

But deep transformation isn’t as easy as that. It isn’t just a matter of heroic self-transcendence and wishful thinking. If you force yourself to stand up straight with your shoulders back and strike a Warrior pose, you will certainly look and feel like a Warrior. And there is plenty of mileage in “acting as if”. But there is still a strong element of “acting”. The Warrior stance may in fact be just a simulacrum, a pretense, a left hemisphere re-presentation of true Warrior spirit.

For genuine transformation to take place, you can’t start with a simple act of will, or with conscious intent. This is little more than positive thinking. The road to Hell is paved with the good intentions of the left hemisphere. This is a problem with self-help programs in general. You can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps. You’ll just end up getting your knickers in a twist.

Deep, lasting psychological transformation requires you to step out of the ego system altogether, otherwise the ego will always appropriate any changes for its own ends. And it never ends. You will find yourself in interminable analysis or in perpetual war with yourself and the world. The only way out it out. It’s no good walking the line between Order and Chaos, between “explored territory” and “unexplored territory”. You need to put both feet firmly in the right hemisphere. In other words, you need to become a Mystic and a Shaman.

There are no Mystic or Shaman archetypes in Peterson’s system. This is a serious oversight, since there is no escape from samsara without escape from samsara. And samsara is where we invariably end up, no matter how clever and enlightened we think we are.