Don’t Trust the Old Man’s Map, or What’s Up with Jordan Peterson?

Jordan Peterson describes the modern world as chaotic and claims to offer you a map that will help you safely navigate through it. But as the world changes, maps go out of date and lead you astray. And since the Chaos is not going away, it’s time you stop fearing it and learn to surf it.

To Caesar what is Caesar’s

I might be a progressive, but there is much I agree with when reading Peterson’s books. You should certainly develop self-respect, tell the truth, pursue that which has real value, learn to appreciate the small things in life, and so on.

I think his writing style is captivating and while some take issue with the references to myth and archetypes, I think they are great. Humans have been using those to make sense of the world for millennia for a reason.

I also admire his capacity to inspire people to improve their lives without judgment or making them feel like failures. There is much that progressive commentators could learn from him.

But most importantly, I think that he correctly and very astutely identifies the pains of modernity — and of modern men in particular. The confusion, being lost, feeling like the carpet has been pulled from under our feet. Like we’ve been taught one thing, but now we’re told it’s all wrong.

The Chaos.

Hurts, doesn’t it? Being lied to. Being told you’re one thing and then learning it’s all a fiction.

Thus, men absolutely do need some way to deal with all this Chaos around us and Peterson’s charisma pulls many towards following his Map.

I’m not going to discuss his rules or ideas. Nor do I care what you think about them either. I’ve got a more fundamental issue to raise.

You see, there is a problem with printing maps.

They go out of date.

Change and Chaos

As the world keeps changing, things are no longer what and where they used to be. An old map might get you to many places just fine, but all too often following it will leave you looking for stuff that’s no longer there or surprised at encountering things you didn’t expect to find.

The problem with Peterson’s map is worse though: it was way out of date already at the point of publishing. It seems like he drew it from memory, showing the world as it was in thelast century’s Alberta.

Perhaps on Peterson’s old map climate change wasn’t a problem (yet) and people getting to choose their gender was the domain of science fiction. Perhaps the social power dynamics were different. But the world has changed.

Peterson doesn’t seem to like change. To him, that’s just Chaos. It’s the dreaded Relativism of not knowing what’s what anymore.

But, well, the world doesn’t care.

It keeps changing anyway and does so at a faster pace than ever.

Since Peterson released his 12 Rules For Life, we have witnessed a pandemic, a recession, a war which brought back the spectre of nuclear extinction, reinvigorated old alliances and changed international dynamics, and the emergence of generative AIs which are already completely reshaping our lives.

Meanwhile, the world power balance continues to shift eastwards, new media change how we consume information and build relations with other people, and nobody is having kids anymore so we need to seriously rethink the entire economy to make sure we won’t all starve once we ‘retire’.

Since at least 2016 I have been celebrating every New Year’s Eve saying: may there be no more of this mess going forward! If the Universe was listening, it was clearly laughing at me.

We live in interesting times. The boundaries of states, of power, of who gets to do what, of what is normal, of the very fabric of our society, are redrawn every day. Do you feel like someone is pulling the carpet from under your feet? It’s not the carpet! The whole damn world is shifting!

This is not a world in which you can rely on a map an old man has drawn from memory of his younger years.

In this world, you need to go back to something more fundamental, more universal, more basic than that.

That’s why I like the Compass metaphor. The world might be changing, but the fundamental directions, the fundamental Values can still guide you. And, as Aristotle has argued, developing Excellence in a range of Virtues will allow you to keep your direction.

Surfing the Chaos

Peterson does draw our attention to the positive sides of Chaos, too. It’s Chaos that brings opportunities, enables creativity and challenges ossified traditions, he admits.

But it is pretty clear that all of those matter much less to him than Order. He claimed that his Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life is more directed towards harnessing Chaos, but let’s be honest, these rules are not half as good as the first twelve and you can tell his heart wasn’t in it.

So at this point, I would like to thank Dr Peterson for his good work on drawing some decent maps that are clearly better than nothing and can help some people get out of the deep waters.

But that’s where we part. He continues to pretend that the changing world can still be navigated based on those old maps. He continues to treat Chaos as something to avoid and thwart wherever possible.

I say: don’t fear Chaos. Chaos might bring some instability. It might make you feel that you may lose. Sometimes painfully. But you won’t die. You will survive, because Chaos is also the source of life, an opportunity to become anything you want, to shape the world and build new and awesome things.

You might feel like you’re falling for thirty minutes, but you’ll be fine. You just need to throw away the map, take out your Compass, and get a surfboard. Where does the surfboard come from? I don’t know. Chaos provides.

Because the world is changing faster than ever and it won’t stop just because Dr Peterson wants it to. If you don’t move on with it, you will be left behind. You won’t have a say in shaping it.

The history of humanity is the history of changing the world. Of transcending what is natural and developing new, better ways to be. Of creating stuff that wasn’t there before and throwing away what’s old and outdated. Of wrestling possibilities out of Chaos and making them real.

Be a part of that history and I assure you, brother, the sun will shine on us again.

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