Continuing my series on Beyond Order, I’m going over the second half of the chapter containing the second rule. You can read the previous part here. I didn’t do a great job at actually breaking the chapter down equally, so I actually just have like a third of the chapter in this deep dive, but it was a part of the text that I highlighted pretty heavily as I went through because it was interesting.
This part of Beyond Order draws heavily on Peterson’s Maps of Meaning (both Amazon affiliate links), though it also treads new grounds. I’m not sure how much of this stems from Peterson’s recent experiences and how much of it comes from a different analytical lens toward his source material, but I enjoyed this chapter more than any other part of Peterson’s writing except perhaps portions of Maps of Meaning.
Humanity Through Stories
One element of this chapter that carries over from the first part is the idea that stories instill our potential within us. We can imitate before we can act independently. We might not even possess the capability to articulate our actions and motives clearly, but we can still follow the images set forward for us.
It is because our own experience is genuinely literary, narrative, embodied, and storylike that we are so attracted to fictional representations.Jordan Peterson, Beyond Order
What leads us to this point is the fact that we perceive the world as we perceive stories.
The illustrative idea of dualism from alchemy is key here.
There’s the emotional world and the rational world. We are intermediaries, and potential as materia prima represents that.
We don’t really interact with the rational world in our daily lives. Everything holds a particular meaning for us, and that is what we perceive. Even when we think we see clearly we still assign value and arbitrary elements.
A good way to think of this is possession. Very few things we own are really ours in an essential self. But yet we know that objects have associations with people. To behave as if they did not would be problematic. Further, that element of possession can be more essential to our interactions with objects than its rationally observable properties.
One point Peterson raises is that people perceive personified objects as ordinary. They don’t blink at the idea of personifying an object in a children’s book. I’d go a step further and argue that the ability to recognize faces in simple abstract designs is an example of this personification.
We don’t see a smiling face drawn crudely on a surface as a mere illustration, but rather assign an emotional valance to it.
Take-away: We see through the lens of stories, including our own.
The Hierarchy of Gods
While I’m breaking from the structure of the chapter pretty heavily now, I want to talk about Peterson’s breakdown of the divine hierarchy in myth.
He uses the Enuma Elish as his source for a fairly lengthy discussion about Tiamat and Marduk, which then later rolls into discussions of Horus and Christ.
Of course, a lot of this is familiar from Maps of Meaning, but there are novel elements (or at least a sufficiently clearer exposition) that make the retelling in Beyond Order interesting.
We understand reality, therefore, as if it is constructed of personalities.Jordan Peterson, Beyond Order
One idea here is the distinction between polytheism and monotheism. There’s a theory in Jungian thought (or at least in Campbell and Pearson, who borrow from Jung but operate in slightly different disciplines) that our heroes over time started out godlike and became mortal.
However, Pearson’s take here is different. What we see in the creation myth of the Enuma Elish and later in the example of Horus is one deity emerging from a multitude to become a king of the gods.
This hierarchy represents something like an integrated–individuated–person. Marduk and Horus are examples of what a person who operates at the peak of their potential can hope to approximate, though they are obviously divine and mythological figures.
The distinction between them and their forefathers is something like the knowledge of good and evil, supreme discernment. Marduk has an entire array of eyes that circle around his head, while Horus’ symbol is an eye.
They represent something like a person who weighs all things, and who has achieved the level of knowledge needed to take moral action in unclear situations.
This makes them law-givers and caretakers for others, and they sit at the top of the hierarchy of the gods.
Take-away: The highest of the gods in the pantheon is the one who understands.
Life is Suffering
One issue for mortals that the divines may or may not have to deal with is sacrifice. Because of our finitude and the limited amount of workable solutions available to us, we must make choices.
Often these choices are themselves a source of distress and anxiety, especially with the imperfect information available to us.
However, sometimes the problem lies with the fact that the best choice is still flawed because of our universe.
This requires at the very least a metaphorical process of death and rebirth, of giving up the things that lead us on the path to death by confronting them rather than running from them.
Peterson doesn’t talk at length about Jung’s idea of the shadow here. However, it’s important to note that under Jungian theories of the mind, it is necessary for an individual to peek into the darkest parts of themselves in order to discover where their weaknesses (and sometimes strengths) lie.
A good connection would be to say that you can’t work on your vices until you know what they are.
However, this is often a deeply troublesome, disturbing, and destructive process, because the shadow is a part of the self. It may be necessary to work around even parts of oneself in order to avoid calamity.
By accepting life’s suffering, therefore, evil may be overcome. The alternative is hell, at least in its psychological form: rage, resentment, and the desire for revenge and destruction.Jordan Peterson, Beyond Order
Something Peterson doesn’t talk about, but which ties back to the 12 Rules for Life, is the idea that resentment can spring from a bitterness with reality. However, if we were being objective with our understanding of the universe, we would realize that much of what we could claim grievances against is not something we should continue to interact with.
As a neo-Tolstoyan, I find something interesting in the idea that we need to accept suffering in order to become virtuous. One part of my creed, besides the Christian edict to pick up one’s cross, is the notion of radical forgiveness and pacifism.
While I’m more of the Quaker school of pacifism (i.e. self-defense fine but severely constrained, all other violence abhorrent) with Tolstoyan justice (i.e. absolute rejection of all claims for grievance), it’s interesting to note that Peterson equates hell with the desire for revenge, which I think is true on layers of meaning that are beyond my capacity to articulate.
Take-away: Do not let resentment turn you into its slave.
Chapter 2 of Beyond Order is phenomenal. While it’s shorter than Chapter 1, I feel like I got into the groove of it better. I certainly highlighted nearly twice as many bits of Chapter 2 as I did from Chapter 1.
This chapter had quite an emotional effect on me, despite a lot of it already being familiar from Peterson’s other work or my experiences with Jung. I’ve only done it a fraction of the service it deserves in my analysis.