By now, Jordan Peterson needs no introduction. Everything has been said about his previous book 12 Rules for Life, and he has been characterized by the New York Times as patriarchal, by the LA Review of Books as a ‘surrogate dad for gormless dimwits, and by the New York Review of Books as a shill for fascist mysticism .

In an insightful interview, Martin Weill asks Peterson whether he considers himself a father figure for aimless young men, and Peterson seems to agree. More recently, Ta-Nahesi Coates has compared Peterson to Marvel’s villain Red Skull.

Jordan Peterson

On the other hand, following Peterson’s recent and eventful visit to the country, his biggest fan seems to be Vladimir Putin’s main propaganda platform, Russia Today (RT).

Jordan Petersons

What all of these interpretations have in common, is the insight that Peterson plays the  role of not merely a father figure, but specifically what the world’s top expert on the cognitive unconscious, George Lakoff, calls the ‘Strict Father’ figure who makes the rules and lays down the law (a role that Putin plays in Russia). Our unconscious, which constitutes 95% of our minds, interprets the world in terms of a handful of deep metaphors and archetypes, of which the Strict Father is one of the most common. Lakoff explains that, unconsciously:

In the Strict Father family, father knows best. He knows right from wrong and has the ultimate authority to make sure his children and his spouse do what he says, which is taken to be what is right. When his children disobey, it is his moral duty to punish them painfully enough so that, to avoid punishment, they will obey him (do what is right) and not just do what feels good. What if his children don’t prosper? That means they are not disciplined, and therefore cannot be moral, and so deserve their poverty. The poor are seen as lazy and undeserving, and the rich as deserving their wealth. What you become is only up to you; society has nothing to do with it…

The Strict Father logic extends further. The basic idea is that authority is justified by morality (the Strict Father version), and that, in a well-ordered world, there should be (and traditionally has been) a moral hierarchy in which those who have traditionally dominated SHOULD dominate. The hierarchy is: God above Man, Man above Nature, The Disciplined (Strong) above the Undisciplined (Weak), the Rich above the Poor, Employers above Employees, Adults above Children, Western culture above other cultures, America above other countries. The hierarchy extends to Men above women, Whites above nonwhites, Christians above nonChristians, Straights above gays. – George Lakoff, UT

At the top of the hierarchy, God is the ultimate Strict Father figure, and the default position is to: 1) have faith that Strict Fathers are acting in your best interest (paternalism); 2) to believe what they say; and 3) to obey what they tell you to do (patriarchy).

This trinity of unconscious reflexes is automatic, and it takes effort for the 5% of the mind that is conscious to recognize that 1) although unconscious Strict Father figures are acting in terms of interests, they are not your interests; 2) that what they are telling you to believe is not ‘the True’; and 3) what they are telling you to do is not ‘the Good’.

The Strict Father is thus the archetypal Ruler, and expresses the ubiquitous deep metaphors of control and container. When people’s movement is contained; and behaviour is contained; and thought is contained; and speech is contained, the Strict Father figure has control; ‘Daddy knows best’.

Peterson has now returned with a new book, Beyond Order, which, despite its title, is an additional series of paternalistic ‘rules for life’. His rhetorical approach remains the same as in his previous work: present a rule which seems uncontroversial or even banal, then engage in a rambling elaboration which is only loosely connected with the rule, to convey what is ultimately a patriarchal religious worldview, that encourages deference to traditional authority figures and the status quo.

Rule 1 : Do Not Carelessly Denigrate Social Institutions or Creative Achievement

Peterson writes:

It is useful to take your place at the bottom of a hierarchy. It can aid in the development of gratitude and humility… For this reason, the Tarot deck beloved by intuitives, romantics, fortune-tellers, and scoundrels alike contains within it the Fool as a positive card… The beginner, the fool, is continually required to be patient and tolerant – with himself, and, equally, with others. Much that is great starts small, ignorant and  useless… Thus, it is necessary even for the most accomplished to retain identification with the as yet unsuccessful; to appreciate the striving toward competence, to carefully and with true humility subordinate him or herself to the current game; and to develop the knowledge, self-control  and discipline necessary to make the next move….

Respect for the rules, except when following those rules means disregarding or ignoring or remaining blind to an even higher moral principle  – is represented with stunning power in two different Gospel narratives. In the first, Christ is presented, even as a child, as a master of the Jewish tradition. This makes him fully informed as to the value of the past, and portrays him as characterized by the respect typical, say, of the genuine conservative. 

Despite the evidence of His thorough and even precocious understanding and appreciation of the rules, the adult Christ repeatedly and scandalously violates the Sabbath traditions – at least from the standpoint of the traditionalists in His community, and much to His own peril. He leads His disciples through a cornfield, for example, plucking and eating the grains (Luke 6:1). He justifies this to the Pharisees who object by referring to an account of King David acting in a similar manner, feeding his people when necessity demanded it on bread that was reserved for the priests (Luke 6:4). Christ tells his interlocutors quite remarkably ‘that the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath’ (Luke 6:5).

So for Peterson, the default position is to humbly subordinate yourself to the traditional rules established by the priests, and only disobey them on an exceptional basis if and when 1) you are ‘fully informed as to the value of the past’; 2) you are obeying an even ‘higher moral principle’, i.e. obey Orthodox Judaism, or, obey the ‘higher’ principle of Christianity. It’s like choosing between a D and an F on your report card.

This deference to the past is based on the assumption that what is good about present society is the result of the beliefs and practices of the past. However, as Nietzsche points out, nothing could be further from the truth:

The demand that we should believe that everything is really in the best of hands, that a book, the Bible, offers us definitive assurances about the divine governance and wisdom in the destiny of humanity, is –  translated back into reality – the will to suppress the truth about the pitiful opposite of all this. Namely, that humanity has so far been in the worst of hands, and that it has been governed by the underprivileged, the craftily vengeful, the so-called ‘saints’, those slanderers of the world and violators of humanity. – Nietzsche, Ecce Homo

So instead of Peterson’s rules, we could propose alternative wisdom: Fuck the patriarchal past. What’s important are the present and the future.

Rule 2: Imagine Who You Could Be, and Then Aim Single-mindedly at That

Rule 2 is already in conflict with Rule 1’s advice to ‘take your place at the bottom of a hierarchy’ and ‘to subordinate yourself to the current game’. What if your single-minded aim has nothing to do with ‘the current game’? Peterson contradicts himself constantly, but this is the least of his many faults.

Most of this chapter is a word salad recounting the story of Tiamat, Apsu, Marduk and other deities and monsters, in what resembles the most tedious game of Dungeons & Dragons ever, as told by the most boring and demented former dungeon master. 

Peterson slobbers fawningly over his favourite myth:

The biblical story of Exodus is properly regarded as archetypal (or paradigmatic or foundational) by psychoanalytic and religious thinkers alike, because it presents an example of psychological and social transformation that cannot be improved upon. It emerged as a product of imagination and has been transformed by constant collective retelling and reworking into an ultimately meaningful form that applies politically, economically, historically, personally and spiritually, all at the same time.

It is not until the last 2 pages of the chapter that he gets to what is ostensibly the point:

Aim at something. Pick the best target you can currently conceptualize. Stumble toward it. Notice your errors and misconceptions along the way, face them, and correct them. Get your story straight. Past, present, future – they all matter. You need to map your path. You need to know where you were, so that you do not repeat the mistakes of the past. You need to know where you are, or you will  not be able to draw a line from your starting point to your destination. You need to know where you are going, or you will drown in uncertainty, unpredictability and chaos, and starve for hope and inspiration.

Agreed. But Nietzsche articulates the principle much more eloquently, while at the same time avoiding Peterson’s slavish deference to the past:

Whoever proceeds on their own path encounters no one. That is inherent in ‘proceeding on one’s own path.’ – Nietzsche, Daybreak

Alternative wisdom: Proceed on your own path.

Rule 3: Do Not Hide Unwanted Things in the Fog

Peterson writes:

Imagine that you are afraid. You have reason to be. You are afraid of yourself. You are afraid of other people. You are afraid of the world. You are nostalgic for the lost innocence of the past. The last thing you want is to know more. Better to leave what is enshrouded in mystery. Better, as well, to avoid thinking too much (or at all) about what coud be.

Unfortunately, in the longer term, willful blindness leaves life murky and foggy; leaves it void, unseen, without form, confused.

So what might you do – what should you do – as an alternative to hiding things in the fog? Admit to your feelings.

Every little problem you have every morning, afternoon or evening with your spouse will be repeated for each of the fifteen thousand days that will make up a forty-year marriage. Every trivial but chronic disagreement about cooking, dishes, housecleaning, responsibility for finances, or frequency of intimate contact will be duplicated, over and over, unless you successfully address it.

Do not pretend you are happy with something if you are not, and if a reasonable solution might, in principle, be negotiated. Have the damn fight.

Peterson’s advice is to subordinate yourself to the current social hierarchy, but be brutally honest with your spouse, even if it means a fight, over minor irritants.

This homespun counsel is far from a reliable universal rule. The opposite ‘rule’ could just as plausibly be asserted, that is, ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’, and ‘turn the page’ because, as Nietzsche writes: 

There could be no happiness, no cheerfulness, no hope, no pride, no present, without forgetfulness. – Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals

Alternative wisdom: Let sleeping dogs lie.

Rule 4: Notice that Opportunity Lurks Where Responsibility has been Abdicated

Peterson writes:

The idea that life is suffering is a relatively universal truism of religious thinking. This is the first of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism as well as a key Hindu concept.

People want to be happy, and no wonder. However, I do not believe you should pursue happiness. If you do so, you will run right into the iteration problem, because ‘happy’ is a right-now thing. If you place people in situations where they are feeling a lot of positive emotion, they get present-focused and impulsive. (To paraphrase Peterson: Don’t be happy  – worry!)

What might serve as a more sophisticated alternative to happiness? Imagine it is living in accordance with the sense of responsibility, because that sets things right in the future. Imagine, as well, that you must act reliably, honestly, nobly, and in relationship to a higher good in order to manifest the sense of responsibility properly.

If you want to become invaluable in a workplace – in any community – just do the useful things that no one else is doing. Arrive earlier and leave later than your compatriots (but do not deny yourself your life). People will notice that and begin to appreciate your hard-earned merits.

Your life becomes meaningful in precise proportion to the depths of the responsibility you are willing to shoulder. You are constraining the malevolence in your own heart and the hearts of others. A bricklayer may question the utility of laying his bricks, monotonously, one after another. But perhaps he is not merely laying bricks. Maybe he is  building a wall.  And the wall is part of a building. And the building is a cathedral. And the purpose of the cathedral is the glorification of the Highest Good. And under such circumstances, every brick laid is an act that partakes of the divine.

For Nietzsche, this rule is a quintessential expression of ressentiment (a guilt trip against those who have ‘abdicated responsibility’); of the disparagement of life (‘life is suffering’); and symptomatic of a negative and ascetic will (‘you should shoulder the responsibilities of others rather than pursue happiness’). Nietzsche points out that this is the worldview of a beast of burden, a camel: 

I name you the three metamorphoses of the spirit: how the spirit shall become a camel, and the camel a lion, and the lion at last a child.

There are many heavy things for the spirit, for the strong, weight-bearing spirit in which dwell respect and awe: its strength longs for the heavy, for the heaviest.

What is heavy? Thus asks the weight-bearing spirit, thus it kneels down like the camel and wants to be well-laden…

The weight-bearing spirit takes upon itself all these heaviest things: like a camel hurrying laden into the desert, thus it hurries into its desert.

But in the loneliest desert the second metamorphosis occurs: the spirit here becomes a lion; it wants to capture freedom and be lord in its own desert.

It seeks here its ultimate lord: it will be an enemy to him and to its ultimate God, it will struggle for victory with the great dragon.

What is the great dragon which the spirit no longer wants to call lord and God? The great dragon is called ‘Thou shalt’. But the spirit of the lion says ‘I will!’…

To create freedom for itself and a sacred No even to duty: the lion is needed for that. – Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Alternative wisdom: Create freedom for yourself, and a sacred No even to duty.

Rule 5: Do Not Do What You Hate

Just a few pages earlier, Peterson was telling us ‘not to pursue happiness’, and to ‘shoulder the responsibilities that others disregard or neglect’. Now he’s telling us ‘not to do what you hate’. His readers, like Peterson himself, are by this point hopelessly confused.

He writes:

Prepare now to seek out and ready yourself for another job, hopefully better. And do not begin by presuming that leaving your job, even involuntarily, is necessarily for the worst.

‘Perhaps no one else would want me.’ Well, the rejection rate for new job applications is extraordinarily high. I tell my clients to assume 50:1, so their expectations are set properly. You are going to be passed over, in many cases, for many positions for which you are qualified. But that is rarely personal. It is, instead, a condition of existence, an inevitable consequence of somewhat arbitrary subjection to the ambivalent conditions of worth characterizing society.

 In reality, if everyone who hated their job quit, we would have an unemployment rate of over 50%, and a society of grinding poverty. More pragmatic, Nietzsche observes that ‘Today as always, people fall into two groups: slaves and free people. Whoever has not two-thirds of their time to themselves, is a slave.’

Alternative wisdom: We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once. – Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Rule 6 : Abandon Ideology

Peterson writes:

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously announced ‘God is dead.’ This utterance has become so famous that you can even see it scribbled on the walls of public bathrooms, where it often takes the following form: ‘God is dead’ – Nietzsche. ‘Nietzsche is dead’ – God. Nietzsche did not make this claim in a narcissistic or triumphant manner. The great thinker’s opinion stemmed from his fear that all the Judeo-Christian values serving as the foundation of Western civilization had been made dangerously subject to casual rational criticism, and that the most important axiom upon which they were predicated – the existence of a transcendent, all-powerful deity – had been fatally challenged.

Nietzsche has been the subject of many bad interpretations over the years, but Peterson’s is probably the 3rd worst, after the Nazis’ and Heidegger’s. Even today’s somewhat reactionary star Julien Rochedy, author of Nietzsche l’Actuel (2020), understands Nietzsche much better than does Peterson.

Jordan Petersons

With regard to Nietzsche’s alleged ‘fear’ that Judeo-Christian values had become subject to attack, here is Nietzsche’s own frank and concise summary:

That strange and sick world to which the Gospels introduce us – a world like that of a Russian novel, in which the refuse of society, neurosis and childish idiocy seem to make a rendez-vous… One has to regret that no Dostoyevsky lived in the neighbourhood, I mean someone who could feel the thrilling fascination of the sublime, the sick and the childish.

A certain sense of cruelty towards oneself and others is Christian; hatred of those who think differently; the will to persecute.

Mortal hostility against the masters of the Earth, against the noble (one allows them the body, one wants only ‘the soul’). Hatred of mind, of pride, courage, freedom, libertinage is Christian; hatred of the senses, of the joy of the senses, of joy in general is Christian.

In Christianity, neither morality nor religion come into contact with reality at any point. Nothing but imaginary causes (‘God’, ‘soul’, ‘ego’, ‘spirit’, ‘free will’), nothing but imaginary effects (‘sin’, ‘redemption’, ‘grace’, `punishment’, ‘forgiveness of sins’). Relationships among imaginary beings (‘God’, ‘spirits’, ‘souls’); an imaginary natural science (anthropocentric; complete lack of the concept of natural causes); an imaginary psychology (nothing but self-misunderstandings, interpretations of pleasant or unpleasant general feelings), an imaginary teleology (‘the kingdom of God’, ‘the Last Judgment’, ‘eternal life’).

This purely fictitious world is distinguished from the world of dreams, very much to its disadvantage, by the fact that the latter mirrors reality, while the former falsifies, devalues and denies reality. Once the concept ‘nature’ had been defined as the concept antithetical to ‘God’, ‘natural’ had to be the word for ‘reprehensible’. This entire fictional world has its roots in hatred of the natural (reality!), it is the expression of a profound discontent with reality.

Pure spirit is pure lie. So long as the priest, that denier, slanderer and poisoner of life by profession, still counts as a higher kind of human being, there can be no answer to the question: what is truth? One has already stood truth on its head when the conscious advocate of denial and nothingness counts as the ‘re-presentative of truth’. – Nietzsche, The Antichrist

Jordan Petersons

Alternative wisdom: Abandon Peterson’s ideological reading. If you want to understand Nietzsche, read Nietzsche himself, or Gilles Deleuze’s Nietzsche & Philosophy.

Rule 7: Work as Hard as You Possibly Can on at least One Thing and See What Happens

Peterson writes:

When coal is subjected to intense heat and pressure, far below the Earth’s surface, its atoms rearrange themselves into the perfect repeating crystalline alignment characterizing a diamond. The carbon that makes up coal also becomes maximally durable in its diamond form. Finally, it becomes capable of reflecting light. The combination of durability and glitter gives a diamond the qualities that justify its use as a symbol of value. That which is valuable is pure, properly aligned, and glitters with light – and this is true for the person just as it is for the gem. Light, of course, signifies the shining brilliance of heightened and focused consciousness. Human beings are conscious during the day, when it is light. Much of that consciousness is visual and therefore dependent on light. To be illumined or enlightened is to be exceptionally awake and aware – to attain a state of being commonly associated with divinity.

In this passage, Peterson is expressing four of the 10 deep metaphors with which homo sapiens schematize unconsciously almost all aspects of our existence: purity, transformation, verticality (higher = better) and white/ light (= good). The others are balance, connection, container, control, journey, and resource.

According to these unconscious metaphors, what is pure and white/ light is more good and ‘higher’ than what is impure and dark/ black. The analogy that Peterson is trying to convey here is that being put under extreme pressure by those ‘higher’ than yourself in the hierarchy, or putting yourself under extreme pressure, is a good thing. According to this schema, this extreme pressure results in ‘heightened’ consciousness which brings you closer to ‘divinity’, as you ‘rise’ from your dark and merely Earthly existence to the brilliant light above.

Nietzsche points out that in reality it is not the light of consciousness, but rather the active unconscious which is calling the shots (what Daniel Kahneman calls System 1, 95% of the mind), and Peterson expresses a ridiculous over-estimation of both the power and value of reactive consciousness (System 2, only 5% of the mind):

Consciousness is the last and latest development of the organic and hence also what is most unfinished and weak. Consciousness gives rise to countless errors that lead an animal or person to perish sooner than necessary, ‘exceeding destiny,’ as Homer puts it. If the conserving association of the instincts were not so very much more powerful, and if it did not serve on the whole as a regulator, humanity would have to perish of its misjudgments and its fantasies with open eyes, of its lack of thoroughness and its credulity – in short, of its consciousness. – Nietzsche, The Gay Science

Peterson continues:

Although Christ commits many acts that might be considered revolutionary, He is nonetheless explicitly portrayed in the Gospels as the master of tradition, and says of Himself, ‘Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill’ (Matthew 5:17, KJV). Christ therefore presents Himself as both the product of tradition, and the very thing that creates and transforms it…

It was the bringing together of a warring multiplicity under the unifying doctrines of Christianity that civilized Europe. It could, perhaps, have been Buddhism, Confucianism or Hinduism, insofar as the East is also both broadly civilized and unified. But it could not have been the absence of any doctrine whatsoever. Without a game, there is no peace, only chaos. In any case the rules of Christianity and the rules of Buddhism are by no means arbitrary, by no means nonsensical superstition, any more than the rules of a playable game are merely arbitrary or nonsensically superstitious.

Here Peterson makes a couple of contentious claims: 1) Christianity civilized Europe, and the absence of a single hegemonic doctrine would result in chaos; 2) ‘The East’ is civilized and unified because of Buddhism, Confucianism and Hinduism.

Let’s parse these claims.

Peterson’s assertions that Christianity civilized Europe, and that the absence of a single hegemonic doctrine would result in chaos, would come as a surprise to the pagan Greeks and Romans, who with their multiplicity of deities were much more civilized before Christians forcibly converted them to the ‘one true faith’:

In fourth century France, St. Martin ‘set fire to a most ancient and famous shrine’ before moving on to a different village and a different temple. Here he ‘completely demolished the temple belonging to the false religion and reduced all the altars and statues to dust.’ Martin was no anomaly. Flushed by his success destroying the temple of Serapis, Bishop Theophilus went on to demolish numerous shrines in Egypt. Some of the most famous saints in Western Christianity kicked off their careers – so the stories like to boast – demolishing shrines. Benedict of Nursia, the revered founder of Western monasticism, was also celebrated as a destroyer of antiquities. His first act upon arriving in Monte Cassino, just outside Rome, was to smash an ancient statue of Apollo and destroy the shrine’s altar. He didn’t stop there, but toured the area ‘pulling down the idols and destroying the groves on the mountain, and gave himself no rest until he had uprooted the last remnant of heathenism in those parts’…

In A D 401, Augustine told Christians in Carthage to smash pagan objects because, he said, that was what God wanted and commanded. It has been said that sixty died in riots inflamed by this burst of oratorical fire. A little earlier a congregation of Augustine’s, eager to sack the temples of Carthage, had started reciting Psalm 83. ‘Let them be humiliated and be downcast forever,’ they chanted with grim significance. ‘Let them perish in disgrace.’

Sometimes, as was the case with the bust of Aphrodite in Athens, the statues appear to have been ‘baptized,’ with deep crosses gouged on their foreheads. If this was a ‘baptism’ then it may have helped not only to neutralize the devil within, but also to vanquish any more personal demons that could arise when looking at such beautiful naked figures. Far less easy to feel desire for a statue who had a cross gouged in her head, her eyes blinded and her nose sliced from her face. Today a once-handsome Apollo missing a nose stands in a museum; a statue of Venus that stood in a bathhouse has had her nipples and mons pubis chiseled away; a statue of Dionysus has had his nose mutilated and his genitalia removed’…

In the fourth century AD, Alexandria’s greatest philosopher and mathematician was a woman, Hypatia. She was also a pagan, in a city increasingly divided between pagans and Christians. ‘One day in March A D 415, Hypatia set out from her home to go for her daily ride through the city. As soon as she stood on the street, the Christians, under the guidance of a Church magistrate called Peter, surged round and seized her. They then dragged Alexandria’s greatest living mathematician through the streets to a church. Once inside, they ripped the clothes from her body and, using broken pieces of pottery as blades, flayed her skin from her flesh. Some say that, while she still gasped for breath, they gouged out her eyes. Once she was dead, they torn her body into pieces and threw what was left of the ‘luminous child of reason’ onto a pyre and burned her’…

Modern historians glibly refer to the moment of Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity as the ‘End of Persecution.’ This is simply not true. Empires of tens of millions of people do not abandon religions that they have observed for over a millennium almost overnight without at least some disturbance. At the moment when Constantine had supposedly seen that flaming cross, the vast majority of the empire was not Christian. It has been estimated they made up as little as between seven and ten percent of the empire’s total population. That means that only about four to six million people out of a population of roughly sixty million were Christian. That left over fifty million to be converted.

Were these tens of millions of people singing and dancing in the streets and looking at each other with smiling faces and shining eyes as their temples were smashed? – Catherine Nixey, The Darkening Age

Far more Europeans have been killed by self-proclaimed Christians than by any other group – in ancient times, AND in the Middle Ages, AND in the 20th century.

Peterson’s claim that ‘The East’ is civilized and unified because of Buddhism, Confucianism and Hinduism neglects the reality that there are immense differences among these cultures, and indeed deep antipathies, expressed, for example in authoritarian China’s threats against free Taiwan, and deranged North Korea’s missile testing over Japan.

As for the East being ‘civilized’, the World Values Survey identifies Sweden as being the country with the most postmaterialist, civilized values on Earth (proximity to upper right corner of this perceptual map). Not coincidentally, it is also the least religious country in Europe.


Freedom House points out that Sweden is also the most free country in the world. The most free in Asia is Japan, with a score of 96 out of 100, whereas authoritarian China scores a disgraceful 9 out of 100 on freedom.

Peterson concludes this chapter by suggesting that:

If you work as hard as you can on one thing, you will change. You will start to also become one thing, instead of the clamoring multitude you once were. That one thing, developed properly, is not only the disciplined entity formed by sacrifice, commitment and concentration. It is that which creates, destroys, and transforms discipline itself – civilization itself – by expressing its unity of personality and society.

Rather than pursuing Peterson’s Strict Father version of ‘the Good’ through this ascetic ideal of discipline and sacrifice, Nietzsche’s joyful heuristic is to ask, ‘Does it dance?’

He writes:

One must still have chaos in oneself in order to give birth to a dancing star. – Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Alternative wisdom: Favour diversity over unity, freedom over obedience, and the dance of becoming over the imprisonment of being.

Rule 8: Try to Make One Room in Your Home as Beautiful as Possible

Peterson writes:

Artists are the people who stand on the frontier of the transformation of the unknown into knowledge. They make their voluntary foray out into the unknown, and they take a piece of it and transform it into an image. Maybe they do it by acting, which is a sophisticated form of embodiment and imitation, or by painting or sculpting. Perhaps they manage it through screenwriting, or by penning a novel. After all that come the intellectuals, with philosophy and criticism, abstracting and articulating the work’s representations and rules.

Nietzsche, on the other hand, suggests that art has nothing to do with truth or knowledge, and that it is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are justified. Indeed, art is opposed to knowledge:

Art, in which precisely the lie is sanctified and the will to deception has a good conscience, is much more fundamentally opposed to the ascetic ideal than is science: this was instinctively sensed by Plato, the greatest enemy of art Europe has yet produced. Plato versus Homer: that is the complete, the genuine antagonism.- Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals

Alternative wisdom: Rather than merely making one room of your sedentary home as beautiful as possible, make your entire nomadic dance through life as beautiful as possible.

Rule 9: If Old Memories Still Upset You, Write Them Down Carefully and Completely 

Peterson writes:

The most fundamental stories of the West are to be found, for better or worse, in the biblical corpus. That collection of ancient and eminently influential books opens with God Himself, in His Fatherly guise, portrayed as the ordered entity who confronts chaos and creates habitable order in consequence:

And the Earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters (Genesis 1:2)

Almost immediately after God first reveals Himself, His creative actions, and the initial creation (thus, almost instantly after we are introduced to Him), He creates human beings…

When basic axioms of faith are challenged, the  foundation shakes and the walls crumble. We have every reason to avoid facing the bitter truth. But making what is – and what was – clear and fully comprehended can only protect us. If you are suffering from memories that will not stop tormenting you, there  is possibility –  possibility that could be your very salvation. If old memories still upset you, write them down carefully and completely.

Nietzsche, on the other hand, extols the virtues of forgetting:

Forgetfulness is not just a vis inertiae, as superficial people believe, but is rather an active ability to suppress, positive in thestrongest sense of the word, to which we owe the fact that what we simply live through, experience, take in, no more enters our consciousness during digestion (one could call it spiritual ingestion) than does the thousand-fold process which takes place with our physical consumption of food, our so-called ingestion. To shut the doors and windows of consciousness for a while; not to be bothered by the noise and battle which our underworld of serviceable organs work with and against each other; a little peace, a little tabula rasa of consciousness to make room for something new, above all for the nobler functions and functionaries, for ruling, predicting, predetermining (our organism runs along oligarchic lines, you see) – that, as I said, is the benefit of active forgetfulness, like a doorkeeper or guardian of mental order, rest and etiquette: from which can immediately see how there could be no happiness, cheerfulness, hope, pride, immediacy, without forgetfulness. – Nietzsche, On The Genealogy of Morals

Alternative wisdom: Forget the dead past. What’s done is done. Affirm life in the present and the future.

Rule 10 : Plan and Work Diligently To Maintain the Romance in Your Relationship

Peterson continues with his favourite myth:

Christ has long been regarded as the second (perfected) Adam and, just as there was speculation about the hermaphroditic nature of the first Adam prior to God’s creation of the independent sexes, there is a line of speculation about Christ’s spiritual perfection being a consequence of the ideal balance of masculine and feminine elements. It is very difficult for individuals joining themselves together to become desperate enough to cease their hiding and avoidance, live in truth, and repair themselves in the light cast by their joint existence. It is for this reason that both swear the dread vow of permanence (‘What God has joined together, let no man put asunder’ (Matthew 19:6). 

There must be a broader, relationship-wide strategy in place to maintain romance with your partner across time. Regardless of what that strategy might be, its success is going to depend on your ability to negotiate. To negotiate, you and the person you are negotiating with must first know what you each need (and want) – and second, be willing to discuss both forthrightly. There are many serious obstacles both to knowing what you need and want, and to discussing it. If you allow yourself to know what you want, then you will also know precisely when you are failing to get it. You will benefit, of course, because you will also know when you have succeeded. But you might also fail, and you could well be frightened enough by the possibility of not getting what you need (and  want) that you keep your desires vague and unspecified. And the chance that you will get what you want if you fail to aim for it is vanishingly small.

Rather than viewing love as a business-like negotiated contract, Nietzsche emphasizes the need to be able to have great conversations with your partner.

Alternative wisdom: When marrying, ask yourself this question: Do you believe that you will be able to converse with this person into your old age? Everything else in marriage is transitory. – Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human

Rule 11 : Do Not Allow Yourself to Become Resentful, Deceitful, or Arrogant

Peterson writes:

Why do you and others fall prey to resentment – that terrible hybrid emotional state, an admixture of anger and self-pity, tinged, to various degrees, with narcissism and the desire for revenge? Once you understand the world as a dramatic forum, and you have identified the major players, the reasons become clear. You are resentful because of the absolute unknown and its terrors, because nature conspires against you, because you are a victim of the tyrannical element of culture, and because of the malevolence of yourself and other individuals…

The first conspiracy between deceit and arrogance might be regarded as a denial or rejection of the relationship between divinity, truth and goodness. In the early chapters of Genesis, God creates habitable chaos out of order with the Word, with the Logos: courage, love and truth. The second form of arrogance that enables deceit has something to do with the assumption of the power of divinity itself…

When called upon later to account for his behavior – for eating the forbidden fruit – Adam blames the woman for the development of his painful self-knowledge, and God for making her, saying as he does ‘The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat’ (Genesis 3:12). The first man’s refusal to take responsibility for his actions is associated with resentment (for his acquisition of painful knowledge), deceit (as he knows he made a free choice, regardless of his wife’s behavior), and arrogance (he dares to blame God and the woman the divinity created).

As Proverbs 9:10 has it: ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’. The connection between deception and the deepest of orienting instincts can be profitably comprehended in light of that…

Nietzsche also counsels against resentment, but gives a very different genealogy of its nature and origin:

To be incapable of taking one’s enemies, one’s accidents, even one’s misdeeds seriously for very long—that is the sign of strong, full natures in whom there is an excess of the power to form, to mold, to recuperate and to forget. 

In contrast to this, picture ‘the enemy’ as the person of ressentiment conceives him—and here precisely is his deed, his creation: he has conceived ‘the evil enemy,’ ‘the Evil One,’ and this in fact is his basic concept, from which he then evolves, as an afterthought and pendant, a ‘good one’—himself! – Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals

Alternative wisdom: Don’t fear ‘the Lord’ or other imaginary beings, and don’t lay guilt trips on others (ressentiment) or on yourself (bad conscience).

Rule 12 : Be Grateful in Spite of Your Suffering

Peterson writes:

A few years later, I debated another philosopher, Slavoj Zizek – known much more widely for his Marxist predilections than his religious convictions. 

For those who aren’t familiar with him, Zizek is the most over-rated thinker in Europe. Since Peterson is the most over-rated thinker in North America, it comes as no surprise that their debate was a big disappointment.

Peterson continues:

Zizek said something during our discussion that might be theologically debatable, but that I found of great interest. In the Christian tradition, even God Himself, in the form of Christ, despairs of the meaning of life and the goodness of His Father in the agony of His Crucifixion. At the peak of his suffering, just before death, He utters the words – ‘My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46). This appears to strongly imply, in its narrative way, that the burden of  life can become so great that even God Himself can lose faith when confronted with the unbearable reality of injustice, betrayal, suffering, and death. 

Nietzsche, much more joyful, and – unlike Zizek or Peterson – a genuinely great thinker, writes:

I would believe only in a God that knows how to dance.


If we affirm one single moment, we thus affirm not only ourselves but all existence. For nothing is self-sufficient, neither in us ourselves nor in things; and if our soul has trembled with happiness and sounded like a harp string just once, all eternity was needed to produce this one event—and in this single moment of affirmation all eternity was called good, redeemed, justified, and affirmed. – Nietzsche, The Will to Power

Alternative wisdom: Affirm all of life, of which you are a completely connected part.

In conclusion, the essential difference between Peterson and Nietzsche is not the traditional one between ‘the right’ and ‘the left’, nor between ‘progressives’ and ‘conservatives’. Indeed, during the Covid-19 crisis the political landscape has gone through the looking glass, as most governments around the world followed the example of authoritarian China with abusive and arbitrary lockdowns, which did their societies far more damage than the virus itself.

In contrast, fearless Sweden, at one end of the traditional political spectrum, and Florida and Texas, at the other end, stood together in defence of freedom.

In his brilliant book Behave, Stanford professor Robert Sopolsky observes presciently that:

Like so many other animals, homo sapiens have an often frantic need to conform, belong, and obey. Such conformity can be markedly maladaptive, as we forego better solutions in the name of the foolishness of the crowd. When we discover we are out of step with everyone else, our amygdalae spasm with anxiety, our memories are revised, and our sensory processing regions are even pressured to experience what is not true.  All to fit in.

The pull of conformity and obedience can lead us to  some of our darkest, most appalling places, and far more of us can be led there than we’d like to think. But despite that, even the worst of barrels doesn’t turn all apples bad, and ‘Resistance’ and ‘Heroism’ are often more accessible and less rarefied than assumed. We’re rarely alone in thinking this is wrong, wrong, wrong. And we are usually no less special or unique than those before us who have fought back. – Robert Sapolsky, Behave

Hence, the new social fracture amounts to whether we adopt an unconscious Strict Father schematism of control and containment, expressed consciously as Peterson’s 24 rules for sedentary survival at the lowest degree of intensity; or an unconscious schematism of connection and transformation (Nietzsche’s will to power), expressed consciously as a nomadology of morals, for an affirmation of life at the highest degree of intensity.


Applied to the current context, the question is: Will we cower before the Blitzkrieg of arbitrary rules which sacrifice our freedom, distance us from one another, and destroy our mental health, happiness and quality of life, or will we have the courage to dance again?