I’ve been working through Jordan Peterson’s new book Beyond Order (Amazon affiliate link), breaking down each chapter into halves so I can give each a fair treatment. This is a longer chapter, and as a bachelor I have some limitations regarding the subject Peterson is focusing on here.
However, that really just means that I’m going to go off on tangents more than usual as I go through this chapter, because it’s still quite interesting. There’s some stuff that is really similar to earlier stuff in Beyond Order (especially the chapter about hiding things in the fog), at least in the first part of this chapter.
However, there is a different focus, and I’m not sure that I can articulate it clearly. In the first exploration of the concept, Peterson wrote more about not setting yourself up for misery and causing more harm than you intend. In this chapter it focuses more on some of the consequences for relationships than the consequences for individuals.
Although I do not consider myself an overly cynical person, I have certain objections to what we call a naïve view of the world.
To start, I do not believe that there is such a thing as a good person. In fact, on a few occasions people have called me a good person, and it often led me to resent those people because I do not believe that it is beneficial to conceive of people as good and I do not wish to be led to (or contribute to) something I consider a false belief.
This does not mean that I do not believe that people are capable of good. But I believe that even the best person merely seeks to be good.
Some of this comes from my religious faith, and the humble knowledge that none of us are sufficiently noble to be even a feeble imitation of God.
But it’s also something where we easily perceive an image rather than a thing. I might give to charity because I hate paying taxes, not because I desire to build a world in which the orphans are clothed and fed (though both these things may be true simultaneously).
And that is a relatively benign hidden sin.
A consequence of thinking this way as it informs my ability to make relationships is that I find it difficult to trust. And I have good reason to have difficulty in trusting, because I have been victimized through no fault of my own because of assumptions made about who I was, and that is not an experience I would ever desire to repeat–nor would I wish it upon anyone!
Romance requires trust–and the deeper the trust, the deeper the possibility for romance.Jordan Peterson, Beyond Order
One part of engaging truthfully and forwardly in a relationship is accepting vulnerability. However, there’s two ways to do this.
The first is the cynical exchange. It involves accepting that you will be hurt, and seeking greater return on investment. The presumption is that injury is deliberate as a result of seeking personal influence, and that both parties are engaging in such a way that suits their own relationship.
The second is mature trust. While there is still the recognition that relationships hurt, the presuppositions differ. First, there is a presumption that the harms brought about during a relationship stem from error, not deliberate power games. Mutual benefit is the desired end-goal.
There’s a parallel here to societies’ assumption of guilt or innocence.
When a society believes that those accused are guilty before they see valid evidence, it is the equivalent of someone that holds a cynical view toward relationships.
When a society believes that those accused are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, it is the equivalent of someone who engages in mature trust.
These perceptions may stem from deep and unconscious places, but it is possible to pursue the orientation you desire with regards to your outlook on other people.
I mentioned Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective people constantly in the break-downs I did of Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life, but there are some really good rules in that which set the basis for a trust-driven relationship (and not just in business, despite Covey’s work having a business angle to it).
One idea to take is that you’re aiming at a win-win relationship. By contributing your best (honestly and with initiative), you encourage your romantic partner to contribute their best. In doing so, you strengthen each other.
This results in a positive feedback loop.
I try to be positive in my interactions with other people in general. I’ve had enough pain in my life that I don’t feel like causing it for other people. That doesn’t mean I’ll never break out some harsh words, and I’m certainly capable of using my words to condemn that which I consider wrong, but you want to recognize and encourage both the behaviors and the outlooks that benefit people.
One step there is being honest.
Another step is bringing yourself as you have potential.
One advantage of a positive orientation toward the universe and human capability is the fact that it encourages and edifies people who practice it.
The Bride of Christ
One thing that I find interesting is the New Testament metaphor of the church as the bride of Christ.
I’ve often seen this presented through the metaphor of a post-millennial celebration expressed in the idea that after our worldly ordeals we will eventually be united with Christ.
But I’ve never felt quite happy about that.
Peterson raises some good ideas about that here, namely the idea that in order to commit to someone, you need to be willing to sacrifice a part of yourself for the whole.
Of course, God doesn’t sacrifice His aims (though He did sacrifice Christ, who extends His person while simultaneously being God), but we can sacrifice ours to align them with His.
We know this process as sanctification in the tradition I come from, and it’s important as a part of the Christian life.
But there’s an important question here: one of free will.
In a theological sense, the question of free will is not strictly the same as in the secular scientific sense. While there are certainly parallels and it is difficult to reconcile different opinions in each, there is one thing that comes across from Christian teachings.
Namely, that God desires us to seek His will.
And there’s a reason for this. If we are to join God in paradise, we will be returning to an Edenic world without the Fall.
That means that we must be perfectly aligned with God, or the whole thing falls apart.
Those who question how a loving God could send people to hell forget this. The alternative would be something like kidnapping, an action that could be presented in a statement like this:
“I shall break your will in order that you may join me.”
And that clicked for me after reading the following passage:
You are shackled together, like two angry cats at the bottom of a barrel with the lid on. In principle, there is no escape. If you have any sense (besides the optimism of new love) you also think, “Oh, God. That is a horrifying possibility.”Jordan Peterson, Beyond Order
When people talk about a condemning God, it is important to remember that it is a partial understanding of the situation.
It is not so much that God condemns us as we get a choice between devoting ourselves to Him or going our own way.
Understood that way, it’s important to understand that the matter is not one of gleeful destruction or a reckoning for the unrighteous. Though the unrighteous face judgment, we should not presume that we who would consider ourselves righteous are without sin. In fact, were it not for grace, we would be cast out and destroyed for our impurities and flaws.
We commit eternally to God as He commits eternally to us when we enjoy the new life which is a rebirth in Christ.
We build relationships on interactions, but healthy relationships involve a balance. It’s not even a question of give-and-take, not really. There may be some of that on the side, but that entirely depends on circumstances and compatibility.
Rather, the proper form of balance is a balance of humility.
Neither participant rules the other. Instead, both bow to the principle of illumination. In that circumstance, it is not that one must abide by what the other wants (or vice versa). Instead, it is that both should be oriented toward the most positive future possible, and agree that speaking the truth is the best pathway forward.Jordan Peterson, Beyond Order
The first step in making anything work is the recognition that you might be wrong. This healthy form of skepticism leaves you open to re-orient yourself and serves as a barrier against self-deception.
When you begin from the central premise that you are going to make mistakes, mistakes are cheap. That’s why humility is a virtue and pride is a sin. You can do great things with pride–in the short term. But humility is not incompatible with confidence, which is what pride’s fleeting accomplishments approximate.
True confidence comes from working through the flaws in your own strategies for approaching the world. You start from the bottom and you pursue the peaks with integrity and without letting yourself become bitter.
If you succeed at that, then you become all that you can be, at least within certain value structures. You can’t become what you don’t pursue, and that’s the ironic source of pride’s downfall. Humility puts you on the path.
Many Eastern religions share a concept of the Way (or dao/tao) which represents something that we might call the proper moral way of life. While I put little stock in any faith beyond Christianity, I think people can approximate truth. There’s some danger there because you can approximate truth and still be far off with causality and the significance of certain things.
And the truth that the dao approximates is this:
When you do what you’re supposed to, and do it again and again, you wind up something very different from the raw and unrefined person that struggles in life.
Remember that the natural state of humanity is naked, cold (or hot, if you live in certain climates), hungry, and afraid.
It takes a lot of effort to get out of that. It takes even more to get out of that and do so in a way that provides other people a chance to get out of the natural state. It’s another exponential level of achievement beyond to create something that perpetuates the elevated state across generations.
“Do not casually denigrate social institutions,” right?
Purpose in Marriage
One noble thing about marriage, as I’ve sort of skirted around when I talked about the idea of the bride of Christ, is that it is theoretically permanent.
A marriage is a vow, and there is a reason for it. You announce jointly, publicly: “I am not going to leave you, in sickness or health, in poverty or wealth–and you are not going to leave me.”Jordan Peterson, Beyond Order
This does not mean that marriages are all eternal, of course. The traditional vow points out that death will end a marriage and divorce is commonplace in our society.
But there are serious costs to breaking vows.
First, unless you did everything possible to avoid breaking that vow–and the other party may force you into it, but that still calls for some serious introspection on your part–you have indicated that you do not always commit as wholly as you might be able to.
Socially, the consequences for this can be huge. The consequences of being with someone who backs out of even a contractual arrangement like secular marriage, to say nothing of those who are religious who end marital relationships, can be quite dire.
Spiritually and psychologically, you have given a part of yourself to something you have rejected. That’s a place that is not somewhere you want to be lightly.
A broken relationship echoes through time. This is one reason why a suicide impacts people around the victim so heavily.
Barring a situation like abuse, where the cost of remaining in the relationship is unbearable and we may truly say the victim is without fault, people who abandon a relationship find themselves in a place where they have often chosen the more expensive option, and I’m not talking about money.
This is, coincidentally, something that victims of abuse who struggle to leave their relationships recognize, if unconsciously. When we encounter these people we should always be sure to edify them and encourage them: they are brave in ways that are difficult to articulate in a way that does them justice.
Starting something new, especially after the tragic failure of a past romantic commitment, is a tremendous risk. And the risk is worse because of psychological perceptions in trend analysis.
It may be hell to be in a dysfunctional relationship, but it is easier–with humility–to fix a relationship if both parties honestly seek to do so than it is to start a new relationship.
And starting a new relationship may leave you alone. That’s not a great place to be, even if you handle it well compared to the average person. There are too many variables in the world for a single person to stand much of a chance, and even then the sacrifices made by being alone are multitudinous.