Marts attends talk in Cambridge and meets speaker Prof Peterson, Clinical Psychologist
Dr Jordan B Peterson is a Canadian Clinical Psychologist and a Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto. His main areas of study are in abnormal, social, and personality psychology, with a particular interest in the psychology of religious and ideological belief, and the assessment and improvement of personality and performance.
He is best known for his book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, and also for his book Maps of Meaning: the Architecture of Belief. He has more than 1 million subscribers on YouTube and he lectures all over the world. Dr Peterson has been largely controversial in the topics of hierarchy, equality and freedom of speech. I personally introduced myself to him two years ago when I started to watch his lectures on YouTube, mostly his lectures are at the University of Toronto to students of Psychology.
I recently attended one of his talks at the Cambridge Corn Exchange where he talked about his book, 12 Rules for Life. The talk was particularly focussed on two of his ‘rules’; Rule One: Stand up with your shoulders back and Rule Six: Set your house in perfect order before you criticise the world. I summarise what I learnt and understand from these two rules for you here.
Rule One: Stand up straight with your shoulders back.
This is a particularly interesting rule because it is aimed especially at the younger generation and has gained some controversy around the political sphere. In this rule Dr Peterson specifically refers to lobsters – the short story goes that when a lobster loses a fight (because they fight a lot for dominance in their hierarchies) he crunches down, therefore he looks smaller, however when the lobster wins a fight he stretches out and looks bigger. This characteristic is common among many animals as it is signalling the victory of his fight. To continue, lobsters run on serotonin and if the lobster loses his fight the serotonin levels go down; if he wins serotonin levels go up. The fundamental belief is that if people give anti-depressants to the “loser” lobster, he will stretch out and fight again. People who read this might think that this story is about animals. No! Direct parallels have been drawn between humans and lobsters. Scientists say that we developed from lobsters around 350 million years ago and even now our nervous system works on exactly the same principles (obviously ours is way more complex). The concept here is about hierarchies and how humans live more in ‘competence hierarchies’ than’ dominance’ or ‘power hierarchies’ (even in ‘Westernised’ countries) and therefore if we want to become successful, we need to stretch our shoulders back and sit properly because it is part of our psychophysiological loop which will start to put us on the upward curve. Here clashes methodology and science with politics – Peterson criticises the idea of patriarchy and that the oppressed are there because someone oppresses them. This idea assumes that hierarchies are built only on power, that it is social construction and there is the belief that therefore these social hierarchies should be eliminated. Peterson argues strongly that this is wrong. Lobsters live in hierarchies and have lived in such a way since about a third of a billion years ago. Our nervous systems have adopted hierarchies way before even trees were around us. Hierarchies are not social construction. It is part of ‘being’ in itself. It is true that hierarchies can be tyrannical and dominant, degenerate hierarchies are nothing but tyranny. However, a functional society like ours is not a tyranny. Hierarchy is a structure of society and people are protected within it. The idea Peterson is outlining here is that people should stop victimising themselves by finding an excuse in this modern hierarchy. People should stand up straight with their shoulders back and they should try to be as competent as they can within in the hierarchy they want to live in.
Rule Six: Set your house in perfect order before you criticise the world.
Dr Peterson himself told us that this is the darkest of all rules as to understand it, you need to go through the terrifying thought process of understanding a certain type of person. There are plenty of things to criticise about being/living – there is tragedy and there is malevolence. The thing is that people can complain about it but there is an issue, and the issue is if people adopt this attitude of ‘being’ it leads to places which people would undoubtably avoid if they knew where it leads to. Peterson refers to the Columbine School shooting. Having studied the writing of the perpetrators he said in his talk that he has never ever seen anything like it and that he did not believe people could write such things. The negative attitude towards ‘being’ will lead to the destruction of your own mind unless you pull yourself together. This is an important message to all of us; especially students and teenagers. They have to bring everything they can bear on the problem before they can stand for judgement about ‘being’ itself. Peterson outlined that this is exactly what mass murderers, murderers and even suicidal people do. These types of negative thoughts lead to conclusions of dislike for people – that they are evil, they act badly, that there is too much suffering in the world, and that it would be better if none of it existed, they say: “I am going to be the judge, I am going to make my case and I am going to make it right”. Peterson goes on to argue that it is deeper than this, especially fort the mass murderers. They target the innocent people first to prove their point because hunting down the guilty would be too obvious. The question is then, how to stop this from happening in the first place. Dr Peterson outlines the fact that we perceive that a great deal of bad things happen because of ignorance, which does happen but that is not the actual problem (ignorance can be fixed through education). The problem arises when people know that doing something is bad, but they do it anyway – this is what happens most of the time. Peterson states that to solve the issue we all need to stop lying to others and ourselves and reorganise our own world around us – the space around us, our rooms, offices, homes and so on. Clearly this idea cannot be expressed fully in a single page, however the main message should be clear – set your house in order before you criticise the world.
Although Dr. Peterson may seem political, in my view he is definitely not – he has criticised radical ideologies at both ends of the spectrum.
If you have read this article and you want to find out more I would advise you to read this book, in which there are the ten other rules that Dr Peterson discusses. The way that I first became interested in his work was through watching his lectures and interviews with him on his YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/user/JordanPetersonVideos/videos, or you could do as I did and find out when you can see him in person. All of this information is on his website along with more info about him: https://jordanbpeterson.com/. For me personally, reading his book and attending his lectures have helped me to realise what is important to me. I always try to apply Dr Peterson’s rules to my everyday life.
A great speaker and talk to attend. I highly recommend such talks and lectures to anyone at A level. This talk was at the Cambridge Corn Exchange, and on their website you will find many upcoming events and talks.