39 - 12 RULES FOR LIFE: RULE 11 | DO NOT BOTHER CHILDREN WHEN THEY ARE SKATEBOARDING
AN ANTIDOTE TO CHAOS
by Dr. Jordan B Peterson
do not bother children when they are skateboarding
This is the 11th edition of my reflections upon the phenomenal book “12 Rules For Life” by Dr. Jordan B Peterson, who is a professor at the University of Toronto, and a clinical psychologist.
Stream this episode through the player above. Read the notes and follow the basic transcription below.
0:00 - Prologue
2:35 - Interlude
4:53 - Danger & Mastery
7:20 - Success & Resentment
13:45 - Self-Appointed Judges Of The Human Race
16:23 - The Patriarchy: Help Or Hindrance?
32:48 - Lest We Forget: Ideas Have Consequences
37:50 - Boys Into Girls
45:00 - Compassion As A Vice
51:18 - Toughen Up, You Weasel
105:10 - Book end: post reflection.
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DANGER AND MASTERY
When untrammeled—and encouraged—we prefer to live on the edge. There, we can still be both confident in our experience and confronting the chaos that helps us develop. We’re hard-wired, for that reason, to enjoy risk (some of us more than others). We feel invigorated and excited when we work to optimize our future performance, while playing in the present. Otherwise we lumber around, sloth-like, unconscious, unformed and careless. Overprotected, we will fail when something dangerous, unexpected and full of opportunity suddenly makes its appearance, as it inevitably will.
SUCCESS AND RESENTMENT
If you read the depth psychologists—Freud and Jung, for example, as well as their precursor, Friedrich Nietzsche—you learn that there is a dark side to everything.
It is because of of Freud, Jung, Nietzsche—and Orwell—that I always wonder, “What, then, do you stand against?” whenever I hear someone say, too loudly, “I stand for this!” The question seems particularly relevant if the same someone is complaining, criticizing, or trying to change someone else’s behaviour.
I believe it was Jung who developed the most surgically wicked of psychoanalytic dicta: if you cannot understand why someone did something, look at the consequences—and infer the motivation. This is a psychological scalpel. It’s not always a suitable instrument. It can cut too deeply, or in the wrong places. It is, perhaps, a last-resort option. Nonetheless, there are times when its application proves enlightening.
When someone claims to be acting from the highest principles, for the good of others, there is no reason to assume that the person’s motives are genuine. People motivated to make things better usually aren’t concerned with changing other people—or, if they are, they take responsibility for making the same changes to themselves (and first).
SELF-APPOINTED JUDGES OF THE HUMAN RACE
We’ve only just developed the conceptual tools and technologies that allow us to understand the web of life, however imperfectly. We deserve a bit of sympathy, in consequence, for the hypothetical outrage of our destructive behaviour. Sometimes we don’t know any better. Sometimes we do know better, but haven’t yet formulated any practical alternatives. It’s not as if life is easy for human beings, after all, even now—and it’s only a few decades ago that the majority of human beings were starving, diseased and illiterate.
Wealthy as we are (increasingly, everywhere) we still only live decades that can be counted on our fingers. Even at present, it is the rare and fortunate family that does not contain at least one member with a serious illness—and all will face that problem eventually. We do what we can to make the best of things, in our vulnerability and fragility, and the planet is harder on us than we are on it. We could cut ourselves some slack.
THE PATRIARCHY: HELP OR HINDRANCE?
Of course, culture is an oppressive structure. It’s always been that way. It’s a fundamental, universal existential reality. The tyrannical king is a symbolic truth; an archetypal constant. What we inherit from the past is willfully blind, and out of date. It’s a ghost, a machine, and a monster. It must be rescued, repaired and kept at bay by the attention and effort of the living. It crushes, as it hammers us into socially acceptable shape, and it wastes great potential.
But it offers great gain, too. Every word we speak is a gift from our ancestors. Every thought we think was thought previously by someone smarter. The highly functional infrastructure that surrounds us, particularly in the West, is a gift from our ancestors: the comparatively uncorrupt political and economic systems, the technology, the wealth, the lifespan, the freedom, the luxury, and the opportunity.
Culture takes with one hand, but in some fortunate places it gives more with the other. To think about culture only as oppressive is ignorant and ungrateful, as well as dangerous. This is not to say (as I am hoping the content of this book has made abundantly clear, so far) that culture should not be subject to criticism.
Consider this, as well, in regard to oppression: any hierarchy creates winners and losers. The winners are, of course, more likely to justify the hierarchy and the losers to criticize it.
But (1) the collective pursuit of any valued goal produces a hierarchy (as some will be better and some worse at that pursuit no matter what it is)
and (2) it is the pursuit of goals that in large part lends life its sustaining meaning. We experience almost all the emotions that make life deep and engaging as a consequence of moving successfully towards something deeply desired and valued.
The price we pay for that involvement is the inevitable creation of hierarchies of success, while the inevitable consequence is difference in outcome. Absolute equality would therefore require the sacrifice of value itself—and then there would be nothing worth living for. We might instead note with gratitude that a complex, sophisticated culture allows for many games and many successful players, and that a well-structured culture allows the individuals that compose it to play and to win, in many different fashions.
It is also perverse to consider culture the creation of men. Culture is symbolically, archetypally, mythically male. That’s partly why the idea of “the patriarchy” is so easily swallowed. But it is certainly the creation of humankind, not the creation of men (let alone white men, who nonetheless contributed their fair share). European culture has only been dominant, to the degree that it is dominant at all, for about four hundred years. On the time scale of cultural evolution—which is to be measured, at minimum, in thousands of years—such a timespan barely registers.
Furthermore, even if women contributed nothing substantial to art, literature and the sciences prior to the 1960s and the feminist revolution (which is not something I believe), then the role they played raising children and working on the farms was still instrumental in raising boys and freeing up men—a very few men—so that humanity could propagate itself and strive forward.
Here’s an alternative theory: throughout history, men and women both struggled terribly for freedom from the overwhelming horrors of privation and necessity. Women were often at a disadvantage during that struggle, as they had all the vulnerabilities of men, with the extra reproductive burden, and less physical strength.
In addition to the filth, misery, disease, starvation, cruelty and ignorance that characterized the lives of both sexes, back before the twentieth century (when even people in the Western world typically existed on less than a dollar a day in today’s money) women also had to put up with the serious practical inconvenience of menstruation, the high probability of unwanted pregnancy, the chance of death or serious damage during childbirth, and the burden of too many young children.
Perhaps that is sufficient reason for the different legal and practical treatment of men and women that characterized most societies prior to the recent technological revolutions, including the invention of the birth control pill. At least such things might be taken into account, before the assumption that men tyrannized women is accepted as a truism.
It looks to me like the so-called oppression of the patriarchy was instead an imperfect collective attempt by men and women, stretching over millennia, to free each other from privation, disease and drudgery. The recent case of Arunachalam Muruganantham provides a salutary example. This man, the “tampon king” of India, became unhappy because his wife had to use dirty rags during her menstrual period. She told him it was either expensive sanitary napkins, or milk for the family. He spent the next fourteen years in a state of insanity, by his neighbours’ judgment, trying to rectify the problem. Even his wife and his mother abandoned him, briefly, terrified as they became of his obsession. When he ran out of female volunteers to test his product, he took to wearing a bladder of pig’s blood as a replacement.
I can’t see how this behaviour would have improved his popularity or status. Now his low-cost and locally made napkins are distributed across India, manufactured by women-run self-help groups. His users have been provided with freedom they never previously experienced. In 2014, this high-school dropout was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. I am unwilling to consider personal gain Muruganantham’s primary motivation. Is he part of the patriarchy?
In 1847, James Young Simpson used ether to help a woman who had a deformed pelvis give birth. Afterwards, he switched to the better-performing chloroform. The first baby delivered under its influence was named “Anaesthesia.” By 1853, chloroform was esteemed enough to be used by Queen Victoria, who delivered her seventh baby under its influence.
Remarkably soon afterward, the option of painless childbirth was available everywhere. A few people warned of the danger of opposing God’s pronouncement to women in Genesis 3:16: “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children…” Some also opposed its use among males: young, healthy, courageous men simply did not need anaesthesia. Such opposition was ineffectual. Use of anaesthesia spread with extreme rapidity (and far faster than would be possible today). Even prominent churchmen supported its use.
The first practical tampon, Tampax, didn’t arrive until the 1930s. It was invented by Dr. Earle Cleveland Haas. He made it of compressed cotton, and designed an applicator from paper tubes. This helped lessen resistance to the products by those who objected to the self-touching that might otherwise occur. By the early 1940s, 25 percent of women were using them.
Thirty years later, it was 70 percent. Now it’s four out of five, with the remainder relying on pads, which are now hyper-absorbent, and held in place by effective adhesives (opposed to the awkwardly placed, bulky, belted, diaper-like sanitary napkins of the 1970s). Did Muruganantham, Simpson and Haas oppress women, or free them?
What about Gregory Goodwin Pincus, who invented the birth control pill? In what manner were these practical, enlightened, persistent men part of a constricting patriarchy?
Why do we teach our young people that our incredible culture is the result of male oppression? Blinded by this central assumption disciplines as diverse as education, social work, art history, gender studies, literature, sociology and, increasingly, law actively treat men as oppressors and men’s activity as inherently destructive. They also often directly promote radical political action—radical by all the norms of the societies within which they are situated—which they do not distinguish from education.
The Pauline Jewett Institute of Women’s and Gender Studies at Ottawa’s Carleton University, for example, encourages activism as part of their mandate. The Gender Studies Department at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, teaches feminist, anti-racist, and queer theories and “methods that centre activism for social change”—indicating support for the supposition that university education should above all foster political engagement of a particular kind.
LEST WE FORGET: IDEAS HAVE CONSEQUENCES
Power is a fundamental motivational force (“a,” not “the”). People compete to rise to the top, and they care where they are in dominance hierarchies. But (and this is where you separate the metaphorical boys from the men, philosophically) the fact that power plays a role in human motivation does not mean that it plays the only role, or even the primary role.
There are other serious problems lurking in the radical disciplines, apart from the falseness of their theories and methods, and their insistence that collective political activism is morally obligatory. There isn’t a shred of hard evidence to support any of their central claims: that Western society is pathologically patriarchal; that the prime lesson of history is that men, rather than nature, were the primary source of the oppression of women (rather than, as in most cases, their partners and supporters); that all hierarchies are based on power and aimed at exclusion.
Hierarchies exist for many reasons—some arguably valid, some not—and are incredibly ancient, evolutionarily speaking. Do male crustaceans oppress female crustaceans? Should their hierarchies be upended?
In societies that are well-functioning—not in comparison to a hypothetical utopia, but contrasted with other existing or historical cultures—competence, not power, is a prime determiner of status. Competence. Ability. Skill. Not power.
BOYS INTO GIRLS
It has become a tenet of a certain kind of social constructionist theory that the world would be much improved if boys were socialized like girls. Those who put forward such theories assume, first, that aggression is a learned behaviour, and can therefore simply not be taught, and second (to take a particular example) that, “boys should be socialized the way girls have been traditionally socialized, and they should be encouraged to develop socially positive qualities such as tenderness, sensitivity to feelings, nurturance, cooperative and aesthetic appreciation.” In the opinions of such thinkers, aggression will only be reduced when male adolescents and young adults “subscribe to the same standards of behavior as have been traditionally encouraged for women.”
There are so many things wrong with this idea that it is difficult to know where to start. First, it is not the case that aggression is merely learned. Aggression is there at the beginning. There are ancient biological circuits, so to speak, that underlie defensive and predatory aggression. They are so fundamental that they still operate in what are known as decorticate cats, animals that have had the largest and most recently evolved parts of their brain—an overwhelmingly large percentage of the total structure—entirely removed.
This suggests not only that aggression is innate, but that it is a consequence of activity in extremely fundamental, basic brain areas. If the brain is a tree, then aggression (along with hunger, thirst and sexual desire) is there in the very trunk.
Aggression underlies the drive to be outstanding, to be unstoppable, to compete, to win—to be actively virtuous, at least along one dimension. Determination is its admirable, pro-social face.
COMPASSION AS A VICE
Many of the female clients (perhaps even a majority) that I see in my clinical practice have trouble in their jobs and family lives not because they are too aggressive, but because they are not aggressive enough. Cognitive-behavioural therapists call the treatment of such people, generally characterized by the more feminine traits of agreeableness (politeness and compassion) and neuroticism (anxiety and emotional pain), “assertiveness training.”
Insufficiently aggressive women—and men, although more rarely—do too much for others. They tend to treat those around them as if they were distressed children. They tend to be naïve. They assume that cooperation should be the basis of all social transactions, and they avoid conflict (which means they avoid confronting problems in their relationships as well as at work). They continually sacrifice for others.
This may sound virtuous—and it is definitely an attitude that has certain social advantages—but it can and often does become counterproductively one-sided. Because too-agreeable people bend over backwards for other people, they do not stand up properly for themselves. Assuming that others think as they do, they expect—instead of ensuring—reciprocity for their thoughtful actions. When this does not happen, they don’t speak up. They do not or cannot straightforwardly demand recognition. The dark side of their characters emerges, because of their subjugation, and they become resentful.
I teach excessively agreeable people to note the emergence of such resentment, which is a very important, although very toxic, emotion. There are only two major reasons for resentment: being taken advantage of (or allowing yourself to be taken advantage of), or whiny refusal to adopt responsibility and grow up. If you’re resentful, look for the reasons. Perhaps discuss the issue with someone you trust. Are you feeling hard done by, in an immature manner? If, after some honest consideration, you don’t think it’s that, perhaps someone is taking advantage of you. This means that you now face a moral obligation to speak up for yourself.
TOUGHEN UP, YOU WEASEL
Men enforce a code of behaviour on each other, when working together. Do your work. Pull your weight. Stay awake and pay attention. Don’t whine or be touchy. Stand up for your friends. Don’t suck up and don’t snitch. Don’t be a slave to stupid rules. Don’t, in the immortal words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, be a girlie man. Don’t be dependent. At all. Ever. Period. The harassment that is part of acceptance on a working crew is a test: are you tough, entertaining, competent and reliable? If not, go away. Simple as that. We don’t need to feel sorry for you. We don’t want to put up with your narcissism, and we don’t want to do your work.
It is to women’s clear advantage that men do not happily put up with dependency among themselves. Part of the reason that so many a working-class woman does not marry, now, as we have alluded to, is because she does not want to look after a man, struggling for employment, as well as her children. And fair enough. A woman should look after her children—although that is not all she should do. And a man should look after a woman and children—although that is not all he should do.
But a woman should not look after a man, because she must look after children, and a man should not be a child. This means that he must not be dependent. This is one of the reasons that men have little patience for dependent men. And let us not forget: wicked women may produce dependent sons, may support and even marry dependent men, but awake and conscious women want an awake and conscious partner.
When softness and harmlessness become the only consciously acceptable virtues, then hardness and dominance will start to exert an unconscious fascination. Partly what this means for the future is that if men are pushed too hard to feminize, they will become more and more interested in harsh, fascist political ideology.
Men have to toughen up. Men demand it, and women want it, even though they may not approve of the harsh and contemptuous attitude that is part and parcel of the socially demanding process that fosters and then enforces that toughness. Some women don’t like losing their baby boys, so they keep them forever. Some women don’t like men, and would rather have a submissive mate, even if he is useless. This also provides them with plenty to feel sorry for themselves about, as well. The pleasures of such self-pity should not be underestimated.
Men toughen up by pushing themselves, and by pushing each other.
If they’re healthy, women don’t want boys. They want men. They want someone to contend with; someone to grapple with. If they’re tough, they want someone tougher. If they’re smart, they want someone smarter. They desire someone who brings to the table something they can’t already provide. This often makes it hard for tough, smart, attractive women to find mates: there just aren’t that many men around who can outclass them enough to be considered desirable (who are higher, as one research publication put it, in “income, education, self-confidence, intelligence, dominance and social position”).
The spirit that interferes when boys are trying to become men is, therefore, no more friend to woman than it is to man. It will object, just as vociferously and self-righteously (“you can’t do it, it’s too dangerous”) when little girls try to stand on their own two feet. It negates consciousness. It’s antihuman, desirous of failure, jealous, resentful and destructive. No one truly on the side of humanity would ally him or herself with such a thing. No one aiming at moving up would allow him or herself to become possessed by such a thing. And if you think tough men are dangerous, wait until you see what weak men are capable of.