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. I just finished the first half of the chapter dedicated to the fourth rule, and this is the second part to follow it.
I felt somewhat disconnected as I went through the second half of this chapter. I don’t know if it’s Peterson’s fault or the fact that I had too much on my plate last week and I’ve been writing these sections a few days after I read, so almost a whole week had passed between reading the first half of this chapter and the second.
I think that there’s a connection between this and the fact that the tangible action steps in this chapter are like the ones in the previous chapters. That’s not necessarily bad, because Peterson creates a novel framework for pursuing those goals, but there is a limit to how much the same advice seems helpful, even though the case for it may be made stronger with each passing argument.
One theme that recurs throughout this chapter is the idea that you find a place where you can do good and then do it, with an emphasis on how to look for it rather than so much the idea of how to go about achieving it (which is discussed in earlier chapters).
A sense of right can therefore be developed and honed through careful attention to what is wrong. You act and betray yourself, and you feel bad about that. You do not know exactly why.Jordan Peterson, Beyond Order
One concept that occupies a lot of Peterson’s attention is the idea of the conscience. I don’t particularly like his version of it, though I don’t disagree in what he seems to think it to be so much as how he talks about it being experienced.
There is some truth to the idea that conscience presents us with a sense of deterioration when we commit immoral acts. But it’s not as clear a guide as what Peterson makes it out to be.
I view the conscience like a canyon. It’s not a guide so much as a place. You might sense when you go down a winding off-shoot that leads into darkness, but it is not infallible.
First, there is the problem of distance. While it is certainly possible that our immoral actions can cause us instant shame and remorse, they can also go unnoticed. We can pass them off for a time, or be ignorant of their significance. When we wind up facing the consequences for them, it is all too easy to wind up choosing bitterness and resentment.
I think this might be a limitation of Peterson’s personality, much how Freud’s personality limited the effectiveness of his work. Peterson is very conscientious, and as a result he places great degrees of attention on things that other people might remain blissfully ignorant of for most of their lives.
It is possible to get lost in the complexes of the conscience without ever reaching a sufficiently dark point to cause an awakening.
It is also worth pointing out that the conscience often seems to be more of a safeguard than a guide. It causes hesitance, not reformation. The proper way out of the canyon remains mired in fog even after one figures out the truth that they have strayed.
Of course, I am a fan of organized religion, and as a Christian I don’t believe that it is the general rule that people can find their way out of moral crisis without a significant structure.
The orientation toward a goal comes after the discourse on the concept of the conscience, and I think Peterson has some interesting ideas here. Of course, I’d argue that Jung probably articulates what Peterson’s going for more clearly, but Peterson is attempting to work in the framework of postmodernism (which Jung foresaw but dismissed as spiritually bankrupt and dissatisfying, something which is accurate but ultimately useless because one of the damning flaws of postmodernism is its insistence that everything else be as meaningless as itself).
It is necessary to lift your eyes above the horizon, to establish a transcendent goal, if you wish to cease being a puppet, under the control of things you do not understand and perhaps do not want to understand.Jordan Peterson, Beyond Order
The idea of a transcendent goal carries more thought than it may imply.
We often have that word become diluted, in part through lack of exposure (as opposed to the word “awesome” which has been diluted by over-use).
Transcendence is the idea of something that is above and beyond human potential.
Aiming at that as a goal may seem counter-productive. After all, it is something that may be deliberately unobtainable.
But there are advantages to that.
You can always be assured that a transcendental goal is something that challenges you to your utmost and fulfills your capacity.
Because it is unobtainable, a careful understanding of that can lead the pursuit of a transcendent goal toward a position of life-fulfilling destiny.
Further, in the odd chance we achieve the transcendent apex, there is the possibility for a sublime transformation of the world (or, to be pretentious, the phenomenological universe).
How to Start
This chapter ends interestingly. Peterson pivots into the idea of how to strive toward meaning with less of a focus on the goal but rather how one figures out that one is, indeed, striving toward meaning.
He uses music as an example, citing it as a connection to universal patterns that we tap into on an instinctual level.
If I had to characterize it (and by taking a rather lengthy discussion and cramming it into this space I lose a lot of resolution), I’d say that it involves tapping into purpose.
It’s not enough to say that it’s a call. The call can be one way that things start, and at some point the call to adventure is part of the archetypal heroic journey that we encounter in our lives.
But it often starts in low places, as Peterson will point out in his frequent mentions of the alchemical notion that the process of transmutation begins with filth.
Disillusionment is one way that the journey begins. It’s a living awareness that one’s potential is not being utilized. This is the space within one’s life that can be abdicated to present an opportunity for future responsibility.
In this way, the chapter ends with an introversion, rather than a focus on the outside world. It’s not what I expected, but it feels right.
But if God’s call comes, it is better to heed it, no matter how late (and in that, there is real hope, for those who believe that they have delayed too long).Jordan Peterson, Beyond Order
This chapter was not what I expected. Between splitting up the reading and having that difficulty in predicting what would come next, I didn’t understand it as I could have under better circumstances.
Despite my issues with the text, I’m still enjoying Beyond Order. It’s a heck of a book and draws upon some really interesting and deep ideas.