Continuing my series on Beyond Order, I’m going over the first half of the chapter containing the third rule. You can read the previous part here. I’ve been breaking down the chapters into halves so that I can give a deep overview of my thoughts on each and not become overwhelmed by length while doing so, but this is a shorter chapter.
I think it’s also part of Peterson’s theories of the mind that he’s never explained this way before, though I’ve heard similar theories from other people and it’s loosely tied to his idea that you should give problems names. There’s a distinct twist on that idea in this chapter, though.
Death by a Thousand Grievances
One example Peterson presents is his father-in-law, a tremendous family man who once got agitated with his wife over the plates that she served lunch on.
This is something out-of-character for him and was noteworthy as an exception to the normally idyllic life they lived.
However, it is an example of how grievances build up over time to result in bigger problems.
Here is the problem: Collect a hundred, or a thousand, of [small issues], and your life is miserable and your marriage doomed.Jordan Peterson, Beyond Order
I won’t go into as much depth as Peterson does; he gives another case from his clinical practice that goes more into detail about how this process can work (which is actually where the quote above is from), but I think that this is important.
One element of my Tolstoyan convictions could be summed up as non-grievance. This is distinct from non-violence, though it’s part of the same theory. I could also express the idea of this as radical forgiveness, but it’s not quite that.
The idea behind non-grievance is this:
- You work to orient your life around mutually positive relationships.
- When a relationship is bad for you, you express this clearly.
- You pursue a resolution that is within your power and do not demand any imposition on others.
One thing that people don’t realize about forgiveness is that it’s expensive. By necessity, it rarely represents a return to the status quo before the forgiveness. It represents openness to new positive relationships.
If you forgive someone that is not an in-road for them to continue to offend against you, even if that is their predisposition. The pacifist solution to that is usually avoidance, and it’s surprising how well that can work if you’re conscious about it. Something that people who aren’t pacifists overlook is that the resources spent pursuing revenge or even reparations can exceed the benefits of those things. It is often better to accept a loss than to demand reparations by force, though there is nothing wrong in making clear how you feel about what has transpired to you.
I relate this to non-violence because I don’t actually see anything wrong in defensive violence when it is associated with this limiting process. There’s something morally corrupting in acts of violence, but there’s also something morally corrupting in permitting people to sink to the level of predators and tolerating their victimization of others.
I probably limit this much more than others, because I don’t believe in military interventions. Some of that is cynicism; I think that they’re a favorite tool of politicians because they’re “cheap” for the elite to pull off. As a result, they resort to wars when they are unnecessary because a better solution (like refusing to do business with genocidal countries and their associates) is unpalatable to the voters but they can sell a war as a heroic endeavor.
But that’s neither here nor there, though this idea of a hundred minor grievances causing a violent end to relationships certainly applies to the interactions between states (and between people and states).
Take-away: Little things matter more than you think, because they’re going to happen a lot.
Don’t Become Bitterness
Using the noun bitterness as opposed to the adjective bitter is pivotal here. A certain degree of emotional response to surrounding events is uncontrollable, though it might be manageable and with wisdom and patience it is possible to avoid acting on negative emotions.
However, I’d say that it’s important to build a self around an identification. This doesn’t have to be megalomaniacal, but it should be positive. You can go back and read my coverage of the second chapter (part 1 and part 2) to get an idea of this, because it’s actually the subject of Rule 2 of Beyond Order (Amazon affiliate link).
So, she kept silent. But she was chronically repressed and constantly resentful, and felt that she had wasted much of the opportunity of her life.Jordan Peterson, Beyond Order
One issue with permitting a problem to exist in perpetuity is that eventually you become your problem in a way that’s hard to explain but seems metaphysical.
We’ve all met people who are consumed by their suffering. We’ve also met people who have overcome a massive amount of suffering. Peterson would argue that this is because of an identification with the archetypal hero, and I think I agree with him to a degree. It doesn’t have to be conscious, of course, since you can imitate that which you see in stories and which is modeled for you without consciously thinking about it.
And that’s the danger of living in problems. You’re always going to live with problems, but you don’t have to welcome them. You don’t need to make them a part of you.
Letting them grow and expand inside you is a way to wind up with less of yourself and more of hell.
One thing that people who do well despite sufferings exemplify is that they don’t devote any time to their suffering that isn’t necessary. Some things can’t be fixed, but people who are successful despite irreparable impediments always focus on getting around them rather than merely managing them.
Take-away: Don’t dwell on your problems. Fix them.
The Infinity of Self-Deception
Self-deception is a hobby of mine, both unfortunately and an academic sense. It’s probably obvious, because I take so much of the influence in my life from Tolstoy. His novella The Death of Ivan Illich, which is a quick read, changed me more than many voluminous tomes.
Peterson assesses self-deception from the works of Freud (and a more sophisticated elaboration of Freud’s work), which is interesting to me because I’m vaguely familiar with Freud but I never really considered my study of him to include self-deception.
Freud understood that the human personality was not unitary. Instead, it consists of a loose, fragmented cacophony of spirits, who do not always agree or even communicate.Jordan Peterson, Beyond Order
I was vaguely aware of Freud’s theories of repression and how they actively manifest, but I always viewed them as a novel dysfunction. But of course, self-deception is a dysfunction, and merely the unconscious equivalent to the conscious behaviors that manifest around repression.
I probably can’t do Peterson justice, but this seems to be a pivotal point in his argument regarding the fog that we can hide things in.
It’s not at all clear, as he points out, that we have to do anything consciously to deceive ourselves.
Our self-deception can be the product of things we don’t even realize, though we’d almost certainly have an awareness of them if we were to look at ourselves from outside.
This is, of course, what psychoanalysis does as its distinctive function that sets it apart from psychology and psychometrics.
I fear I’ll make a hash of any serious exploration of the ideas in more detail, but suffice it to say that the middle section of this chapter is quite interesting and food for deeper thought. Since there are only two more of five sections remaining in this chapter, I’ll revisit it tomorrow.
Take-away: Try to stand outside yourself and wear your own shoes.